Part 1 out of 3
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THE ROOM IN THE DRAGON VOLANT
By J. Sheridan LeFanu
_Other books by J. Sheridan LeFanu_
The Cock and Anchor
The Home by the Churchyard
The Wyvern Mystery
Ghost Stories and Tales of Mystery
The Chronicles of Golden Friars
In a Glass Darkly
The Purcell Papers
The Watcher and Other Weird Stories
A Chronicle of Golden Friars and Other Stories
Madam Crowl's Ghost and Other Tales of Mystery
Green Tea and Other Stones
Sheridan LeFanu: The Diabolic Genius
Best Ghost Stories of J.S. LeFanu
The Best Horror Stories
The Vampire Lovers and Other Stories
Ghost Stories and Mysteries
The Hours After Midnight
J.S. LeFanu: Ghost Stories and Mysteries
Ghost and Horror Stones
Green Tea and Other Ghost Stories
Carmilla and Other Classic Tales of Mystery
The Room in the Dragon Volant
_The curious case which I am about to place before you, is referred
to, very pointedly, and more than once, in the extraordinary Essay upon
the Drug of the Dark and the Middle Ages, from the pen of Doctor
_This Essay he entitles_ Mortis Imago, _and he, therein, discusses the_
Vinum letiferum, _the_ Beatifica, _the_ Somnus Angelorum, _the_ Hypnus
Sagarum, _the_ Aqua Thessalliae, _and about twenty other infusions and
distillations, well known to the sages of eight hundred years ago, and
two of which are still, he alleges, known to the fraternity of thieves,
and, among them, as police-office inquiries sometimes disclose to this
day, in practical use_.
_The Essay,_ Mortis Imago, _will occupy, as nearly as I can at
present calculate, two volumes, the ninth and tenth, of the collected
papers of Dr. Martin Hesselius_.
_This Essay, I may remark in conclusion, is very curiously enriched by
citations, in great abundance, from medieval verse and prose romance,
some of the most valuable of which, strange to say, are Egyptian_.
_I have selected this particular statement from among many cases
equally striking, but hardly, I think, so effective as mere narratives;
in this irregular form of publication, it is simply as a story that I
ON THE ROAD
In the eventful year, 1815, I was exactly three-and-twenty, and had just
succeeded to a very large sum in consols and other securities. The first
fall of Napoleon had thrown the continent open to English excursionists,
anxious, let us suppose, to improve their minds by foreign travel; and
I--the slight cheek of the "hundred days" removed, by the genius of
Wellington, on the field of Waterloo--was now added to the philosophic
I was posting up to Paris from Brussels, following, I presume, the route
that the allied army had pursued but a few weeks before--more carriages
than you could believe were pursuing the same line. You could not look
back or forward, without seeing into far perspective the clouds of dust
which marked the line of the long series of vehicles. We were
perpetually passing relays of return-horses, on their way, jaded and
dusty, to the inns from which they had been taken. They were arduous
times for those patient public servants. The whole world seemed posting
up to Paris.
I ought to have noted it more particularly, but my head was so full of
Paris and the future that I passed the intervening scenery with little
patience and less attention; I think, however, that it was about four
miles to the frontier side of a rather picturesque little town, the name
of which, as of many more important places through which I posted in my
hurried journey, I forget, and about two hours before sunset, that we
came up with a carriage in distress.
It was not quite an upset. But the two leaders were lying flat. The
booted postilions had got down, and two servants who seemed very much
at sea in such matters, were by way of assisting them. A pretty little
bonnet and head were popped out of the window of the carriage in
distress. Its _tournure_, and that of the shoulders that also
appeared for a moment, was captivating: I resolved to play the part of
a good Samaritan; stopped my chaise, jumped out, and with my servant lent
a very willing hand in the emergency. Alas! the lady with the pretty
bonnet wore a very thick black veil. I could see nothing but the pattern
of the Brussels lace as she drew back.
A lean old gentleman, almost at the same time, stuck his head out of the
window. An invalid he seemed, for although the day was hot he wore a
black muffler which came up to his ears and nose, quite covering the
lower part of his face, an arrangement which he disturbed by pulling it
down for a moment, and poured forth a torrent of French thanks, as he
uncovered his black wig, and gesticulated with grateful animation.
One of my very few accomplishments, besides boxing, which was cultivated
by all Englishmen at that time, was French; and I replied, I hope and
believe grammatically. Many bows being exchanged, the old gentleman's
head went in again, and the demure, pretty little bonnet once more
The lady must have heard me speak to my servant, for she framed her
little speech in such pretty, broken English, and in a voice so sweet,
that I more than ever cursed the black veil that baulked my romantic
The arms that were emblazoned on the panel were peculiar; I remember
especially one device--it was the figure of a stork, painted in carmine,
upon what the heralds call a "field or." The bird was standing upon one
leg, and in the other claw held a stone. This is, I believe, the emblem
of vigilance. Its oddity struck me, and remained impressed upon my
memory. There were supporters besides, but I forget what they were. The
courtly manners of these people, the style of their servants, the
elegance of their traveling carriage, and the supporters to their arms,
satisfied me that they were noble.
The lady, you may be sure, was not the less interesting on that account.
What a fascination a title exercises upon the imagination! I do not mean
on that of snobs or moral flunkies. Superiority of rank is a powerful
and genuine influence in love. The idea of superior refinement is
associated with it. The careless notice of the squire tells more upon
the heart of the pretty milk-maid than years of honest Dobbin's manly
devotion, and so on and up. It is an unjust world!
But in this case there was something more. I was conscious of being
good-looking. I really believe I was; and there could be no mistake
about my being nearly six feet high. Why need this lady have thanked me?
Had not her husband, for such I assumed him to be, thanked me quite
enough and for both? I was instinctively aware that the lady was looking
on me with no unwilling eyes; and, through her veil, I felt the power of
She was now rolling away, with a train of dust behind her wheels in the
golden sunlight, and a wise young gentleman followed her with ardent
eyes and sighed profoundly as the distance increased.
I told the postilions on no account to pass the carriage, but to keep it
steadily in view, and to pull up at whatever posting-house it should
stop at. We were soon in the little town, and the carriage we followed
drew up at the Belle Etoile, a comfortable old inn. They got out of the
carriage and entered the house.
At a leisurely pace we followed. I got down, and mounted the steps
listlessly, like a man quite apathetic and careless.
Audacious as I was, I did not care to inquire in what room I should find
them. I peeped into the apartment to my right, and then into that on my
left. _My_ people were not there. I ascended the stairs. A
drawing-room door stood open. I entered with the most innocent air in
the world. It was a spacious room, and, beside myself, contained but one
living figure--a very pretty and lady-like one. There was the very
bonnet with which I had fallen in love. The lady stood with her back
toward me. I could not tell whether the envious veil was raised; she was
reading a letter.
I stood for a minute in fixed attention, gazing upon her, in vague hope
that she might turn about and give me an opportunity of seeing her
features. She did not; but with a step or two she placed herself before
a little cabriole-table, which stood against the wall, from which rose
a tall mirror in a tarnished frame.
I might, indeed, have mistaken it for a picture; for it now reflected a
half-length portrait of a singularly beautiful woman.
She was looking down upon a letter which she held in her slender
fingers, and in which she seemed absorbed.
The face was oval, melancholy, sweet. It had in it, nevertheless, a
faint and undefinably sensual quality also. Nothing could exceed the
delicacy of its features, or the brilliancy of its tints. The eyes,
indeed, were lowered, so that I could not see their color; nothing but
their long lashes and delicate eyebrows. She continued reading. She must
have been deeply interested; I never saw a living form so motionless--I
gazed on a tinted statue.
Being at that time blessed with long and keen vision, I saw this
beautiful face with perfect distinctness. I saw even the blue veins that
traced their wanderings on the whiteness of her full throat.
I ought to have retreated as noiselessly as I came in, before my
presence was detected. But I was too much interested to move from the
spot, for a few moments longer; and while they were passing, she raised
her eyes. Those eyes were large, and of that hue which modern poets term
These splendid melancholy eyes were turned upon me from the glass, with
a haughty stare, and hastily the lady lowered her black veil, and turned
I fancied that she hoped I had not seen her. I was watching every look
and movement, the minutest, with an attention as intense as if an ordeal
involving my life depended on them.
THE INN-YARD OF THE BELLE ETOILE
The face was, indeed, one to fall in love with at first sight. Those
sentiments that take such sudden possession of young men were now
dominating my curiosity. My audacity faltered before her; and I felt
that my presence in this room was probably an impertinence. This point
she quickly settled, for the same very sweet voice I had heard before,
now said coldly, and this time in French, "Monsieur cannot be aware that
this apartment is not public."
I bowed very low, faltered some apologies, and backed to the door.
I suppose I looked penitent, and embarrassed. I certainly felt so; for
the lady said, by way it seemed of softening matters, "I am happy,
however, to have an opportunity of again thanking Monsieur for the
assistance, so prompt and effectual, which he had the goodness to render
It was more the altered tone in which it was spoken, than the speech
itself, that encouraged me. It was also true that she need not have
recognized me; and if she had, she certainly was not obliged to thank me
All this was indescribably flattering, and all the more so that it
followed so quickly on her slight reproof. The tone in which she spoke
had become low and timid, and I observed that she turned her head
quickly towards a second door of the room; I fancied that the gentleman
in the black wig, a jealous husband perhaps, might reappear through it.
Almost at the same moment, a voice at once reedy and nasal was heard
snarling some directions to a servant, and evidently approaching. It was
the voice that had thanked me so profusely, from the carriage windows,
about an hour before.
"Monsieur will have the goodness to retire," said the lady, in a tone
that resembled entreaty, at the same time gently waving her hand toward
the door through which I had entered. Bowing again very low, I stepped
back, and closed the door.
I ran down the stairs, very much elated. I saw the host of the Belle
Etoile which, as I said, was the sign and designation of my inn.
I described the apartment I had just quitted, said I liked it, and asked
whether I could have it.
He was extremely troubled, but that apartment and two adjoining rooms
"People of distinction."
"But who are they? They must have names or titles."
"Undoubtedly, Monsieur, but such a stream is rolling into Paris, that we
have ceased to inquire the names or titles of our guests--we designate
them simply by the rooms they occupy."
"What stay do they make?"
"Even that, Monsieur, I cannot answer. It does not interest us. Our
rooms, while this continues, can never be, for a moment, disengaged."
"I should have liked those rooms so much! Is one of them a sleeping
"Yes, sir, and Monsieur will observe that people do not usually engage
bedrooms unless they mean to stay the night."
"Well, I can, I suppose, have some rooms, any, I don't care in what part
of the house?"
"Certainly, Monsieur can have two apartments. They are the last at
I took them instantly.
It was plain these people meant to make a stay here; at least they would
not go till morning. I began to feel that I was all but engaged in an
I took possession of my rooms, and looked out of the window, which I
found commanded the inn-yard. Many horses were being liberated from the
traces, hot and weary, and others fresh from the stables being put to. A
great many vehicles--some private carriages, others, like mine, of that
public class which is equivalent to our old English post-chaise, were
standing on the pavement, waiting their turn for relays. Fussy servants
were to-ing and fro-ing, and idle ones lounging or laughing, and the
scene, on the whole, was animated and amusing.
Among these objects, I thought I recognized the traveling carriage, and
one of the servants of the "persons of distinction" about whom I was,
just then, so profoundly interested.
I therefore ran down the stairs, made my way to the back door; and so,
behold me, in a moment, upon the uneven pavement, among all these sights
and sounds which in such a place attend upon a period of extraordinary
crush and traffic. By this time the sun was near its setting, and threw
its golden beams on the red brick chimneys of the offices, and made the
two barrels, that figured as pigeon-houses, on the tops of poles, look
as if they were on fire. Everything in this light becomes picturesque;
and things interest us which, in the sober grey of morning, are dull
After a little search I lighted upon the very carriage of which I was in
quest. A servant was locking one of the doors, for it was made with the
security of lock and key. I paused near, looking at the panel of the
"A very pretty device that red stork!" I observed, pointing to the
shield on the door, "and no doubt indicates a distinguished family?"
The servant looked at me for a moment, as he placed the little key in
his pocket, and said with a slightly sarcastic bow and smile, "Monsieur
is at liberty to conjecture."
Nothing daunted, I forthwith administered that laxative which, on
occasion, acts so happily upon the tongue--I mean a "tip."
The servant looked at the Napoleon in his hand, and then in my face,
with a sincere expression of surprise. "Monsieur is very generous!"
"Not worth mentioning--who are the lady and gentleman who came here in
this carnage, and whom, you may remember, I and my servant assisted
today in an emergency, when their horses had come to the ground?"
"They are the Count, and the young lady we call the Countess--but I know
not, she may be his daughter."
"Can you tell me where they live?"
"Upon my honor, Monsieur, I am unable--I know not."
"Not know where your master lives! Surely you know something more about
him than his name?"
"Nothing worth relating, Monsieur; in fact, I was hired in Brussels, on
the very day they started. Monsieur Picard, my fellow-servant, Monsieur
the Comte's gentleman, he has been years in his service, and knows
everything; but he never speaks except to communicate an order. From him
I have learned nothing. We are going to Paris, however, and there I
shall speedily pick up all about them. At present I am as ignorant of
all that as Monsieur himself."
"And where is Monsieur Picard?"
"He has gone to the cutler's to get his razors set. But I do not think
he will tell anything."
This was a poor harvest for my golden sowing. The man, I think, spoke
truth, and would honestly have betrayed the secrets of the family, if he
had possessed any. I took my leave politely; and mounting the stairs
again, I found myself once more in my room.
Forthwith I summoned my servant. Though I had brought him with me from
England, he was a native of France--a useful fellow, sharp, bustling,
and, of course, quite familiar with the ways and tricks of his
"St. Clair, shut the door; come here. I can't rest till I have made out
something about those people of rank who have got the apartments under
mine. Here are fifteen francs; make out the servants we assisted today
have them to a _petit souper_, and come back and tell me their
entire history. I have, this moment, seen one of them who knows nothing,
and has communicated it. The other, whose name I forget, is the unknown
nobleman's valet, and knows everything. Him you must pump. It is, of
course, the venerable peer, and not the young lady who accompanies him,
that interests me--you understand? Begone! fly! and return with all the
details I sigh for, and every circumstance that can possibly interest
It was a commission which admirably suited the tastes and spirits of my
worthy St. Clair, to whom, you will have observed, I had accustomed
myself to talk with the peculiar familiarity which the old French comedy
establishes between master and valet.
I am sure he laughed at me in secret; but nothing could be more polite
With several wise looks, nods and shrugs, he withdrew; and looking down
from my window, I saw him with incredible quickness enter the yard,
where I soon lost sight of him among the carriages.
DEATH AND LOVE TOGETHER MATED
When the day drags, when a man is solitary, and in a fever of impatience
and suspense; when the minute hand of his watch travels as slowly as the
hour hand used to do, and the hour hand has lost all appreciable motion;
when he yawns, and beats the devil's tattoo, and flattens his handsome
nose against the window, and whistles tunes he hates, and, in short,
does not know what to do with himself, it is deeply to be regretted that
he cannot make a solemn dinner of three courses more than once in a day.
The laws of matter, to which we are slaves, deny us that resource.
But in the times I speak of, supper was still a substantial meal, and
its hour was approaching. This was consolatory. Three-quarters of an
hour, however, still interposed. How was I to dispose of that interval?
I had two or three idle books, it is true, as companions-companions; but
there are many moods in which one cannot read. My novel lay with my rug
and walking-stick on the sofa, and I did not care if the heroine and the
hero were both drowned together in the water barrel that I saw in the
inn-yard under my window. I took a turn or two up and down my room, and
sighed, looking at myself in the glass, adjusted my great white
"choker," folded and tied after Brummel, the immortal "Beau," put on a
buff waist-coat and my blue swallow-tailed coat with gilt buttons; I
deluged my pocket-handkerchief with Eau-de-Cologne (we had not then the
variety of bouquets with which the genius of perfumery has since blessed
us) I arranged my hair, on which I piqued myself, and which I loved to
groom in those days. That dark-brown _chevelure_, with a natural
curl, is now represented by a few dozen perfectly white hairs, and its
place--a smooth, bald, pink head--knows it no more. But let us forget
these mortifications. It was then rich, thick, and dark-brown. I was
making a very careful toilet. I took my unexceptionable hat from its
case, and placed it lightly on my wise head, as nearly as memory and
practice enabled me to do so, at that very slight inclination which the
immortal person I have mentioned was wont to give to his. A pair of
light French gloves and a rather club-like knotted walking-stick, such
as just then came into vogue for a year or two again in England, in the
phraseology of Sir Walter Scott's romances "completed my equipment."
All this attention to effect, preparatory to a mere lounge in the yard,
or on the steps of the Belle Etoile, was a simple act of devotion to the
wonderful eyes which I had that evening beheld for the first time, and
never, never could forget! In plain terms, it was all done in the vague,
very vague hope that those eyes might behold the unexceptionable get-up
of a melancholy slave, and retain the image, not altogether without
As I completed my preparations the light failed me; the last level
streak of sunlight disappeared, and a fading twilight only remained. I
sighed in unison with the pensive hour, and threw open the window,
intending to look out for a moment before going downstairs. I perceived
instantly that the window underneath mine was also open, for I heard two
voices in conversation, although I could not distinguish what they were
The male voice was peculiar; it was, as I told you, reedy and nasal. I
knew it, of course, instantly. The answering voice spoke in those sweet
tones which I recognized only too easily. The dialogue was only for a
minute; the repulsive male voice laughed, I fancied, with a kind of
devilish satire, and retired from the window, so that I almost ceased to
The other voice remained nearer the window, but not so near as at first.
It was not an altercation; there was evidently nothing the least
exciting in the colloquy. What would I not have given that it had been a
quarrel--a violent one--and I the redresser of wrongs, and the defender
of insulted beauty! Alas! so far as I could pronounce upon the character
of the tones I heard, they might be as tranquil a pair as any in
existence. In a moment more the lady began to sing an odd little
chanson. I need not remind you how much farther the voice is heard
singing than speaking. I could distinguish the words. The voice was of
that exquisitely sweet kind which is called, I believe, a
semi-contralto; it had something pathetic, and something, I fancied, a
little mocking in its tones. I venture a clumsy, but adequate
translation of the words:
"Death and Love, together mated,
Watch and wait in ambuscade;
At early morn, or else belated,
They meet and mark the man or maid.
Burning sigh, or breath that freezes,
Numbs or maddens man or maid;
Death or Love the victim seizes,
Breathing from their ambuscade."
"Enough, Madame!" said the old voice, with sudden severity. "We do not
desire, I believe, to amuse the grooms and hostlers in the yard with our
The lady's voice laughed gaily.
"You desire to quarrel, Madame!" And the old man, I presume, shut down
the window. Down it went, at all events, with a rattle that might easily
have broken the glass.
Of all thin partitions, glass is the most effectual excluder of sound. I
heard no more, not even the subdued hum of the colloquy.
What a charming voice this Countess had! How it melted, swelled, and
trembled! How it moved, and even agitated me! What a pity that a hoarse
old jackdaw should have power to crow down such a Philomel! "Alas! what
a life it is!" I moralized, wisely. "That beautiful Countess, with the
patience of an angel and the beauty of a Venus and the accomplishments
of all the Muses, a slave! She knows perfectly who occupies the
apartments over hers; she heard me raise my window. One may conjecture
pretty well for whom that music was intended--aye, old gentleman, and
for whom you suspected it to be intended."
In a very agreeable flutter I left my room and, descending the stairs,
passed the Count's door very much at my leisure. There was just a chance
that the beautiful songstress might emerge. I dropped my stick on the
lobby, near their door, and you may be sure it took me some little time
to pick it up! Fortune, nevertheless, did not favor me. I could not stay
on the lobby all night picking up my stick, so I went down to the hall.
I consulted the clock, and found that there remained but a quarter of an
hour to the moment of supper.
Everyone was roughing it now, every inn in confusion; people might do at
such a juncture what they never did before. Was it just possible that,
for once, the Count and Countess would take their chairs at the
Full of this exciting hope I sauntered out upon the steps of the Belle
Etoile. It was now night, and a pleasant moonlight over everything. I
had entered more into my romance since my arrival, and this poetic light
heightened the sentiment. What a drama if she turned out to be the
Count's daughter, and in love with me! What a delightful--_tragedy_
if she turned out to be the Count's wife! In this luxurious mood I was
accosted by a tall and very elegantly made gentleman, who appeared to be
about fifty. His air was courtly and graceful, and there was in his
whole manner and appearance something so distinguished that it was
impossible not to suspect him of being a person of rank.
He had been standing upon the steps, looking out, like me, upon the
moonlight effects that transformed, as it were, the objects and
buildings in the little street. He accosted me, I say, with the
politeness, at once easy and lofty, of a French nobleman of the old
school. He asked me if I were not Mr. Beckett? I assented; and he
immediately introduced himself as the Marquis d'Harmonville (this
information he gave me in a low tone), and asked leave to present me
with a letter from Lord R----, who knew my father slightly, and had
once done me, also, a trifling kindness.
This English peer, I may mention, stood very high in the political
world, and was named as the most probable successor to the distinguished
post of English Minister at Paris. I received it with a low bow, and
My Dear Beckett,
I beg to introduce my very dear friend, the Marquis d'Harmonville, who
will explain to you the nature of the services it may be in your power
to render him and us.
He went on to speak of the Marquis as a man whose great wealth, whose
intimate relations with the old families, and whose legitimate influence
with the court rendered him the fittest possible person for those
friendly offices which, at the desire of his own sovereign, and of our
government, he has so obligingly undertaken. It added a great deal to my
perplexity, when I read, further:
By-the-bye, Walton was here yesterday, and told me that your seat was
likely to be attacked; something, he says, is unquestionably going on at
Domwell. You know there is an awkwardness in my meddling ever so
cautiously. But I advise, if it is not very officious, your making
Haxton look after it and report immediately. I fear it is serious. I
ought to have mentioned that, for reasons that you will see, when you
have talked with him for five minutes, the Marquis--with the concurrence
of all our friends--drops his title, for a few weeks, and is at present
plain Monsieur Droqville. I am this moment going to town, and can say no
I was utterly puzzled. I could scarcely boast of Lord R----'s I
acquaintance. I knew no one named Haxton, and, except my hatter, no one
called Walton; and this peer wrote as if we were intimate friends! I
looked at the back of the letter, and the mystery was solved. And now,
to my consternation--for I was plain Richard Beckett--I read:
"_To George Stanhope Beckett, Esq., M.P._"
I looked with consternation in the face of the Marquis.
"What apology can I offer to Monsieur the Mar---- to Monsieur Droqville?
It is true my name is Beckett--it is true I am known, though very
slightly, to Lord R----; but the letter was not intended for me. My name
is Richard Beckett--this is to Mr. Stanhope Beckett, the member for
Shillingsworth. What can I say, or do, in this unfortunate situation? I
can only give you my honor as a gentleman, that, for me, the letter,
which I now return, shall remain as unviolated a secret as before I
opened it. I am so shocked and grieved that such a mistake should have
I dare say my honest vexation and good faith were pretty legibly written
in my countenance; for the look of gloomy embarrassment which had for a
moment settled on the face of the Marquis, brightened; he smiled,
kindly, and extended his hand.
"I have not the least doubt that Monsieur Beckett will respect my little
secret. As a mistake was destined to occur, I have reason to thank my
good stars that it should have been with a gentleman of honor. Monsieur
Beckett will permit me, I hope, to place his name among those of my
I thanked the Marquis very much for his kind expressions. He went on to
"If, Monsieur, I can persuade you to visit me at Claironville, in
Normandy, where I hope to see, on the 15th of August, a great many
friends, whose acquaintance it might interest you to make, I shall be
I thanked him, of course, very gratefully for his hospitality. He
continued: "I cannot, for the present, see my friends, for reasons which
you may surmise, at my house in Paris. But Monsieur will be so good as
to let me know the hotel he means to stay at in Paris; and he will find
that although the Marquis d'Harmonville is not in town, that Monsieur
Droqville will not lose sight of him."
With many acknowledgments I gave him, the information he desired.
"And in the meantime," he continued, "if you think of any way in which
Monsieur Droqville can be of use to you, our communication shall not be
interrupted, and I shall so manage matters that you can easily let me
I was very much flattered. The Marquis had, as we say, taken a fancy to
me. Such likings at first sight often ripen into lasting friendships. To
be sure it was just possible that the Marquis might think it prudent to
keep the involuntary depositary of a political secret, even so vague a
one, in good humor.
Very graciously the Marquis took his leave, going up the stairs of the
I remained upon the steps for a minute, lost in speculation upon this
new theme of interest. But the wonderful eyes, the thrilling voice, the
exquisite figure of the beautiful lady who had taken possession of my
imagination, quickly re-asserted their influence. I was again gazing at
the sympathetic moon, and descending the steps I loitered along the
pavements among strange objects, and houses that were antique and
picturesque, in a dreamy state, thinking.
In a little while I turned into the inn-yard again. There had come a
lull. Instead of the noisy place it was an hour or two before, the yard
was perfectly still and empty, except for the carriages that stood here
and there. Perhaps there was a servants' table-d'hote just then. I was
rather pleased to find solitude; and undisturbed I found out my
lady-love's carriage, in the moonlight. I mused, I walked round it; I
was as utterly foolish and maudlin as very young men, in my situation,
usually are. The blinds were down, the doors, I suppose, locked. The
brilliant moonlight revealed everything, and cast sharp, black shadows
of wheel, and bar, and spring, on the pavement. I stood before the
escutcheon painted on the door, which I had examined in the daylight. I
wondered how often her eyes had rested on the same object. I pondered in
a charming dream. A harsh, loud voice, over my shoulder, said suddenly:
"A red stork--good! The stork is a bird of prey; it is vigilant, greedy,
and catches gudgeons. Red, too!--blood red! Hal ha! the symbol is
I had turned about, and beheld the palest face I ever saw. It was broad,
ugly, and malignant. The figure was that of a French officer, in
undress, and was six feet high. Across the nose and eyebrow there was a
deep scar, which made the repulsive face grimmer.
The officer elevated his chin and his eyebrows, with a scoffing chuckle,
and said: "I have shot a stork, with a rifle bullet, when he thought
himself safe in the clouds, for mere sport!" (He shrugged, and laughed
malignantly.) "See, Monsieur; when a man like me--a man of energy, you
understand, a man with all his wits about him, a man who has made the
tour of Europe under canvas, and, _parbleu_! often without it--
resolves to discover a secret, expose a crime, catch a thief, spit a
robber on the point of his sword, it is odd if he does not succeed. Ha!
ha! ha! Adieu, Monsieur!"
He turned with an angry whisk on his heel, and swaggered with long
strides out of the gate.
SUPPER AT THE BELLE ETOILE
The French army were in a rather savage temper just then. The English,
especially, had but scant courtesy to expect at their hands. It was
plain, however, that the cadaverous gentleman who had just apostrophized
the heraldry of the Count's carriage, with such mysterious acrimony, had
not intended any of his malevolence for me. He was stung by some old
recollection, and had marched off, seething with fury.
I had received one of those unacknowledged shocks which startle us,
when, fancying ourselves perfectly alone, we discover on a sudden that
our antics have been watched by a spectator, almost at our elbow. In
this case the effect was enhanced by the extreme repulsiveness of the
face, and, I may add, its proximity, for, as I think, it almost touched
mine. The enigmatical harangue of this person, so full of hatred and
implied denunciation, was still in my ears. Here at all events was new
matter for the industrious fancy of a lover to work upon.
It was time now to go to the table-d'hote. Who could tell what lights
the gossip of the supper-table might throw upon the subject that
interested me so powerfully!
I stepped into the room, my eyes searching the little assembly, about
thirty people, for the persons who specially interested me. It was not
easy to induce people, so hurried and overworked as those of the Belle
Etoile just now, to send meals up to one's private apartments, in the
midst of this unparalleled confusion; and, therefore, many people who
did not like it might find themselves reduced to the alternative of
supping at the table-d'hote or starving.
The Count was not there, nor his beautiful companion; but the Marquis
d'Harmonville, whom I hardly expected to see in so public a place,
signed, with a significant smile, to a vacant chair beside himself. I
secured it, and he seemed pleased, and almost immediately entered into
conversation with me.
"This is, probably, your first visit to France?" he said.
I told him it was, and he said:
"You must not think me very curious and impertinent; but Paris is about
the most dangerous capital a high-spirited and generous young gentleman
could visit without a Mentor. If you have not an experienced friend as a
companion during your visit--." He paused.
I told him I was not so provided, but that I had my wits about me; that
I had seen a good deal of life in England, and that I fancied human
nature was pretty much the same in all parts of the world. The Marquis
shook his head, smiling.
"You will find very marked differences, notwithstanding," he said.
"Peculiarities of intellect and peculiarities of character, undoubtedly,
do pervade different nations; and this results, among the criminal
classes, in a style of villainy no less peculiar. In Paris the class who
live by their wits is three or four times as great as in London; and
they live much better; some of them even splendidly. They are more
ingenious than the London rogues; they have more animation and
invention, and the dramatic faculty, in which your countrymen are
deficient, is everywhere. These invaluable attributes place them upon a
totally different level. They can affect the manners and enjoy the
luxuries of people of distinction. They live, many of them, by play."
"So do many of our London rogues."
"Yes, but in a totally different way. They are the _habitues_ of
certain gaming-tables, billiard-rooms, and other places, including your
races, where high play goes on; and by superior knowledge of chances, by
masking their play, by means of confederates, by means of bribery, and
other artifices, varying with the subject of their imposture, they rob
the unwary. But here it is more elaborately done, and with a really
exquisite _finesse_. There are people whose manners, style,
conversation, are unexceptionable, living in handsome houses in the best
situations, with everything about them in the most refined taste, and
exquisitely luxurious, who impose even upon the Parisian bourgeois, who
believe them to be, in good faith, people of rank and fashion, because
their habits are expensive and refined, and their houses are frequented
by foreigners of distinction, and, to a degree, by foolish young
Frenchmen of rank. At all these houses play goes on. The ostensible host
and hostess seldom join in it; they provide it simply to plunder their
guests, by means of their accomplices, and thus wealthy strangers are
inveigled and robbed."
"But I have heard of a young Englishman, a son of Lord Rooksbury, who
broke two Parisian gaming tables only last year."
"I see," he said, laughing, "you are come here to do likewise. I,
myself, at about your age, undertook the same spirited enterprise. I
raised no less a sum than five hundred thousand francs to begin with; I
expected to carry all before me by the simple expedient of going on
doubling my stakes. I had heard of it, and I fancied that the sharpers,
who kept the table, knew nothing of the matter. I found, however, that
they not only knew all about it, but had provided against the
possibility of any such experiments; and I was pulled up before I had
well begun by a rule which forbids the doubling of an original stake
more than four times consecutively."
"And is that rule in force still?" I inquired, chapfallen.
He laughed and shrugged, "Of course it is, my young friend. People who
live by an art always understand it better than an amateur. I see you
had formed the same plan, and no doubt came provided."
I confessed I had prepared for conquest upon a still grander scale.
I had arrived with a purse of thirty thousand pounds sterling.
"Any acquaintance of my very dear friend, Lord R----, interests me; and,
besides ray regard for him, I am charmed with you; so you will pardon
all my, perhaps, too officious questions and advice."
I thanked him most earnestly for his valuable counsel, and begged that
he would have the goodness to give me all the advice in his power.
"Then if you take my advice," said he, "you will leave your money in the
bank where it lies. Never risk a Napoleon in a gaming house. The night I
went to break the bank I lost between seven and eight thousand pounds
sterling of your English money; and my next adventure, I had obtained an
introduction to one of those elegant gaming-houses which affect to be
the private mansions of persons of distinction, and was saved from ruin
by a gentleman whom, ever since, I have regarded with increasing respect
and friendship. It oddly happens he is in this house at this moment. I
recognized his servant, and made him a visit in his apartments here, and
found him the same brave, kind, honorable man I always knew him. But
that he is living so entirely out of the world, now, I should have made
a point of introducing you. Fifteen years ago he would have been the man
of all others to consult. The gentleman I speak of is the Comte de St.
Alyre. He represents a very old family. He is the very soul of honor,
and the most sensible man in the world, except in one particular."
"And that particular?" I hesitated. I was now deeply interested.
"Is that he has married a charming creature, at least five-and-forty
years younger than himself, and is, of course, although I believe
absolutely without cause, horribly jealous."
"And the lady?"
"The Countess is, I believe, in every way worthy of so good a man," he
answered, a little dryly. "I think I heard her sing this evening."
"Yes, I daresay; she is very accomplished." After a few moments' silence
"I must not lose sight of you, for I should be sorry, when next you meet
my friend Lord R----, that you had to tell him you had been pigeoned in
Paris. A rich Englishman as you are, with so large a sum at his Paris
bankers, young, gay, generous, a thousand ghouls and harpies will be
contending who shall be the first to seize and devour you."
At this moment I received something like a jerk from the elbow of the
gentleman at my right. It was an accidental jog, as he turned in his
"On the honor of a soldier, there is no man's flesh in this company
heals so fast as mine."
The tone in which this was spoken was harsh and stentorian, and almost
made me bounce. I looked round and recognized the officer whose large
white face had half scared me in the inn-yard, wiping his mouth
furiously, and then with a gulp of Magon, he went on:
"No one! It's not blood; it is ichor! it's miracle! Set aside stature,
thew, bone, and muscle--set aside courage, and by all the angels of
death, I'd fight a lion naked, and dash his teeth down his jaws with my
fist, and flog him to death with his own tail! Set aside, I say, all
those attributes, which I am allowed to possess, and I am worth six men
in any campaign, for that one quality of healing as I do--rip me up,
punch me through, tear me to tatters with bomb-shells, and nature has me
whole again, while your tailor would fine--draw an old coat.
_Parbleu_! gentlemen, if you saw me naked, you would laugh! Look at
my hand, a saber-cut across the palm, to the bone, to save my head,
taken up with three stitches, and five days afterwards I was playing
ball with an English general, a prisoner in Madrid, against the wall of
the convent of the Santa Maria de la Castita! At Arcola, by the great
devil himself! that was an action. Every man there, gentlemen, swallowed
as much smoke in five minutes as would smother you all in this room! I
received, at the same moment, two musket balls in the thighs, a grape
shot through the calf of my leg, a lance through my left shoulder, a
piece of a shrapnel in the left deltoid, a bayonet through the cartilage
of my right ribs, a cut-cut that carried away a pound of flesh from my
chest, and the better part of a congreve rocket on my forehead. Pretty
well, ha, ha! and all while you'd say bah! and in eight days and a half
I was making a forced march, without shoes, and only one gaiter, the
life and soul of my company, and as sound as a roach!"
"Bravo! Bravissimo! Per Bacco! un gallant' uomo!" exclaimed, in a
martial ecstasy, a fat little Italian, who manufactured toothpicks and
wicker cradles on the island of Notre Dame; "your exploits shall resound
through Europe! and the history of those wars should be written in your
"Never mind! a trifle!" exclaimed the soldier. "At Ligny, the other day,
where we smashed the Prussians into ten hundred thousand milliards of
atoms, a bit of a shell cut me across the leg and opened an artery. It
was spouting as high as the chimney, and in half a minute I had lost
enough to fill a pitcher. I must have expired in another minute, if I
had not whipped off my sash like a flash of lightning, tied it round my
leg above the wound, whipt a bayonet out of the back of a dead Prussian,
and passing it under, made a tourniquet of it with a couple of twists,
and so stayed the haemorrhage and saved my life. But, _sacrebleu_!
gentlemen, I lost so much blood, I have been as pale as the bottom of a
plate ever since. No matter. A trifle. Blood well spent, gentlemen." He
applied himself now to his bottle of _vin ordinaire_.
The Marquis had closed his eyes, and looked resigned and disgusted,
while all this was going on.
"_Garcon_," said the officer, for the first time speaking in a low
tone over the back of his chair to the waiter; "who came in that
traveling carriage, dark yellow and black, that stands in the middle of
the yard, with arms and supporters emblazoned on the door, and a red
stork, as red as my facings?"
The waiter could not say.
The eye of the eccentric officer, who had suddenly grown grim and
serious, and seemed to have abandoned the general conversation to other
people, lighted, as it were accidentally, on me.
"Pardon me, Monsieur," he said. "Did I not see you examining the panel
of that carriage at the same time that I did so, this evening? Can you
tell me who arrived in it?"
"I rather think the Count and Countess de St. Alyre."
"And are they here, in the Belle Etoile?" he asked.
"They have got apartments upstairs," I answered.
He started up, and half pushed his chair from the table. He quickly sat
down again, and I could hear him _sacre_-ing and muttering to
himself, and grinning and scowling. I could not tell whether he was
alarmed or furious.
I turned to say a word or two to the Marquis, but he was gone. Several
other people had dropped out also, and the supper party soon broke up.
Two or three substantial pieces of wood smoldered on the hearth, for the
night had turned out chilly. I sat down by the fire in a great armchair
of carved oak, with a marvelously high back that looked as old as the
days of Henry IV.
"_Garcon_," said I, "do you happen to know who that officer is?"
"That is Colonel Gaillarde, Monsieur."
"Has he been often here?"
"Once before, Monsieur, for a week; it is a year since."
"He is the palest man I ever saw."
"That is true, Monsieur; he has been often taken for a _revenant_."
"Can you give me a bottle of really good Burgundy?"
"The best in France, Monsieur."
"Place it, and a glass by my side, on this table, if you please. I may
sit here for half-an-hour."
I was very comfortable, the wine excellent, and my thoughts glowing and
serene. "Beautiful Countess! Beautiful Countess! shall we ever be better
THE NAKED SWORD
A man who has been posting all day long, and changing the air he
breathes every half hour, who is well pleased with himself, and has
nothing on earth to trouble him, and who sits alone by a fire in a
comfortable chair after having eaten a hearty supper, may be pardoned
if he takes an accidental nap.
I had filled my fourth glass when I fell asleep. My head, I daresay,
hung uncomfortably; and it is admitted that a variety of French dishes
is not the most favorable precursor to pleasant dreams.
I had a dream as I took mine ease in mine inn on this occasion. I
fancied myself in a huge cathedral, without light, except from four
tapers that stood at the corners of a raised platform hung with black,
on which lay, draped also in black, what seemed to me the dead body of
the Countess de St. Alyre. The place seemed empty, it was cold, and I
could see only (in the halo of the candles) a little way round.
The little I saw bore the character of Gothic gloom, and helped my fancy
to shape and furnish the black void that yawned all round me. I heard a
sound like the slow tread of two persons walking up the flagged aisle. A
faint echo told of the vastness of the place. An awful sense of
expectation was upon me, and I was horribly frightened when the body
that lay on the catafalque said (without stirring), in a whisper that
froze me, "They come to place me in the grave alive; save me."
I found that I could neither speak nor move. I was horribly frightened.
The two people who approached now emerged from the darkness. One, the
Count de St. Alyre, glided to the head of the figure and placed his long
thin hands under it. The white-faced Colonel, with the scar across his
face, and a look of infernal triumph, placed his hands under her feet,
and they began to raise her.
With an indescribable effort I broke the spell that bound me, and
started to my feet with a gasp.
I was wide awake, but the broad, wicked face of Colonel Gaillarde was
staring, white as death, at me from the other side of the hearth. "Where
is she?" I shuddered.
"That depends on who she is, Monsieur," replied the Colonel, curtly.
"Good heavens!" I gasped, looking about me.
The Colonel, who was eyeing me sarcastically, had had his _demitasse_
of _cafe noir_, and now drank his _tasse_, diffusing a pleasant
perfume of brandy.
"I fell asleep and was dreaming," I said, lest any strong language,
founded on the _role_ he played in my dream, should have escaped
me. "I did not know for some moments where I was."
"You are the young gentleman who has the apartments over the Count and
Countess de St. Alyre?" he said, winking one eye, close in meditation,
and glaring at me with the other.
"I believe so--yes," I answered.
"Well, younker, take care you have not worse dreams than that some
night," he said, enigmatically, and wagged his head with a chuckle.
"Worse dreams," he repeated.
"What does Monsieur the Colonel mean?" I inquired.
"I am trying to find that out myself," said the Colonel; "and I think I
shall. When _I_ get the first inch of the thread fast between my
finger and thumb, it goes hard but I follow it up, bit by bit, little by
little, tracing it this way and that, and up and down, and round about,
until the whole clue is wound up on my thumb, and the end, and its
secret, fast in my fingers. Ingenious! Crafty as five foxes! wide awake
as a weasel! _Parbleu_! if I had descended to that occupation I
should have made my fortune as a spy. Good wine here?" he glanced
interrogatively at my bottle.
"Very good," said I. "Will Monsieur the Colonel try a glass?"
He took the largest he could find, and filled it, raised it with a bow,
and drank it slowly. "Ah! ah! Bah! That is not it," he exclaimed, with
some disgust, filling it again. "You ought to have told _me_ to
order your Burgundy, and they would not have brought you that stuff."
I got away from this man as soon as I civilly could, and, putting on my
hat, I walked out with no other company than my sturdy walking-stick. I
visited the inn-yard, and looked up to the windows of the Countess's
apartments. They were closed, however, and I had not even the
unsubstantial consolation of contemplating the light in which that
beautiful lady was at that moment writing, or reading, or sitting and
thinking of--anyone you please.
I bore this serious privation as well as I could, and took a little
saunter through the town. I shan't bore you with moonlight effects, nor
with the maunderings of a man who has fallen in love at first sight with
a beautiful face. My ramble, it is enough to say, occupied about half an
hour, and, returning by a slight detour, I found myself in a little
square, with about two high gabled houses on each side, and a rude stone
statue, worn by centuries of rain, on a pedestal in the center of the
pavement. Looking at this statue was a slight and rather tall man, whom
I instantly recognized as the Marquis d'Harmonville: he knew me almost
as quickly. He walked a step towards me, shrugged and laughed:
"You are surprised to find Monsieur Droqville staring at that old stone
figure by moonlight. Anything to pass the time. You, I see, suffer from
_ennui_, as I do. These little provincial towns! Heavens! what an
effort it is to live in them! If I could regret having formed in early
life a friendship that does me honor, I think its condemning me to a
sojourn in such a place would make me do so. You go on towards Paris, I
suppose, in the morning?"
"I have ordered horses."
"As for me I await a letter, or an arrival, either would emancipate me;
but I can't say how soon either event will happen."
"Can I be of any use in this matter?" I began.
"None, Monsieur, I thank you a thousand times. No, this is a piece in
which every _role_ is already cast. I am but an amateur, and
induced solely by friendship, to take a part."
So he talked on, for a time, as we walked slowly toward the Belle
Etoile, and then came a silence, which I broke by asking him if he knew
anything of Colonel Gaillarde.
"Oh! yes, to be sure. He is a little mad; he has had some bad injuries
of the head. He used to plague the people in the War Office to death. He
has always some delusion. They contrived some employment for him--not
regimental, of course--but in this campaign Napoleon, who could spare
nobody, placed him in command of a regiment. He was always a desperate
fighter, and such men were more than ever needed."
There is, or was, a second inn in this town called l'Ecu de France. At
its door the Marquis stopped, bade me a mysterious good-night, and
As I walked slowly toward my inn, I met, in the shadow of a row of
poplars, the garcon who had brought me my Burgundy a little time ago. I
was thinking of Colonel Gaillarde, and I stopped the little waiter as he
"You said, I think, that Colonel Gaillarde was at the Belle Etoile for a
week at one time."
"Is he perfectly in his right mind?"
The waiter stared. "Perfectly, Monsieur."
"Has he been suspected at any time of being out of his mind?"
"Never, Monsieur; he is a little noisy, but a very shrewd man."
"What is a fellow to think?" I muttered, as I walked on.
I was soon within sight of the lights of the Belle Etoile. A carriage,
with four horses, stood in the moonlight at the door, and a furious
altercation was going on in the hall, in which the yell of Colonel
Gaillarde out-topped all other sounds.
Most young men like, at least, to witness a row. But, intuitively, I
felt that this would interest me in a very special manner. I had only
fifty yards to run, when I found myself in the hall of the old inn. The
principal actor in this strange drama was, indeed, the Colonel, who
stood facing the old Count de St. Alyre, who, in his traveling costume,
with his black silk scarf covering the lower part of his face,
confronted him; he had evidently been intercepted in an endeavor to
reach his carriage. A little in the rear of the Count stood the
Countess, also in traveling costume, with her thick black veil down, and
holding in her delicate fingers a white rose. You can't conceive a more
diabolical effigy of hate and fury than the Colonel; the knotted veins
stood out on his forehead, his eyes were leaping from their sockets, he
was grinding his teeth, and froth was on his lips. His sword was drawn
in his hand, and he accompanied his yelling denunciations with stamps
upon the floor and flourishes of his weapon in the air.
The host of the Belle Etoile was talking to the Colonel in soothing
terms utterly thrown away. Two waiters, pale with fear, stared uselessly
from behind. The Colonel screamed and thundered, and whirled his sword.
"I was not sure of your red birds of prey; I could not believe you would
have the audacity to travel on high roads, and to stop at honest inns,
and lie under the same roof with honest men. You! _you! both_--vampires,
wolves, ghouls. Summon the _gendarmes_, I say. By St. Peter and all
the devils, if either of you try to get out of that door I'll take your
For a moment I had stood aghast. Here was a situation! I walked up to
the lady; she laid her hand wildly upon my arm. "Oh! Monsieur," she
whispered, in great agitation, "that dreadful madman! What are we to do?
He won't let us pass; he will kill my husband."
"Fear nothing, Madame," I answered, with romantic devotion, and stepping
between the Count and Gaillarde, as he shrieked his invective, "Hold
your tongue, and clear the way, you ruffian, you bully, you coward!" I
A faint cry escaped the lady, which more than repaid the risk I ran, as
the sword of the frantic soldier, after a moment's astonished pause,
flashed in the air to cut me down.
THE WHITE ROSE
I was too quick for Colonel Gaillarde. As he raised his sword, reckless
of all consequences but my condign punishment and quite resolved to
cleave me to the teeth, I struck him across the side of his head with my
heavy stick, and while he staggered back I struck him another blow,
nearly in the same place, that felled him to the floor, where he lay as
I did not care one of his own regimental buttons, whether he was dead or
not; I was, at that moment, carried away by such a tumult of delightful
and diabolical emotions!
I broke his sword under my foot, and flung the pieces across the street.
The old Count de St. Alyre skipped nimbly without looking to the right
or left, or thanking anybody, over the floor, out of the door, down the
steps, and into his carriage. Instantly I was at the side of the
beautiful Countess, thus left to shift for herself; I offered her my
arm, which she took, and I led her to the carriage. She entered, and I
shut the door. All this without a word.
I was about to ask if there were any commands with which she would honor
me--my hand was laid upon the lower edge of the window, which was open.
The lady's hand was laid upon mine timidly and excitedly. Her lips
almost touched my cheek as she whispered hurriedly:
"I may never see you more, and, oh! that I could forget you.
Go--farewell--for God's sake, go!"
I pressed her hand for a moment. She withdrew it, but tremblingly
pressed into mine the rose which she had held in her fingers during the
agitating scene she had just passed through.
All this took place while the Count was commanding, entreating, cursing
his servants, tipsy, and out of the way during the crisis, my conscience
afterwards insinuated, by my clever contrivance. They now mounted to
their places with the agility of alarm. The postilions' whips cracked,
the horses scrambled into a trot, and away rolled the carriage, with its
precious freightage, along the quaint main street, in the moonlight,
I stood on the pavement till it was quite lost to eye and ear in the
With a deep sigh, I then turned, my white rose folded in my
handkerchief--the little parting _gage_--the
Favor secret, sweet, and precious,
which no mortal eye but hers and mine had seen conveyed to me.
The care of the host of the Belle Etoile, and his assistants, had raised
the wounded hero of a hundred fights partly against the wall, and
propped him at each side with portmanteaus and pillows, and poured a
glass of brandy, which was duly placed to his account, into his big
mouth, where, for the first time, such a godsend remained unswallowed.
A bald-headed little military surgeon of sixty, with spectacles, who had
cut off eighty-seven legs and arms to his own share, after the battle of
Eylau, having retired with his sword and his saw, his laurels and his
sticking-plaster to this, his native town, was called in, and rather
thought the gallant Colonel's skull was fractured; at all events, there
was concussion of the seat of thought, and quite enough work for his
remarkable self-healing powers to occupy him for a fortnight.
I began to grow a little uneasy. A disagreeable surprise, if my
excursion, in which I was to break banks and hearts, and, as you see,
heads, should end upon the gallows or the guillotine. I was not clear,
in those times of political oscillation, which was the established
The Colonel was conveyed, snorting apoplectically, to his room.
I saw my host in the apartment in which we had supped. Wherever you
employ a force of any sort, to carry a point of real importance, reject
all nice calculations of economy. Better to be a thousand per cent, over
the mark, than the smallest fraction of a unit under it. I instinctively
I ordered a bottle of my landlord's very best wine; made him partake
with me, in the proportion of two glasses to one; and then told him that
he must not decline a trifling _souvenir_ from a guest who had been
so charmed with all he had seen of the renowned Belle Etoile. Thus
saying, I placed five-and-thirty Napoleons in his hand: at touch of
which his countenance, by no means encouraging before, grew sunny, his
manners thawed, and it was plain, as he dropped the coins hastily into
his pocket, that benevolent relations had been established between us.
I immediately placed the Colonel's broken head upon the _tapis_. We
both agreed that if I had not given him that rather smart tap of my
walking-cane, he would have beheaded half the inmates of the Belle
Etoile. There was not a waiter in the house who would not verify that
statement on oath.
The reader may suppose that I had other motives, beside the desire to
escape the tedious inquisition of the law, for desiring to recommence my
journey to Paris with the least possible delay. Judge what was my horror
then to learn that, for love or money, horses were nowhere to be had
that night. The last pair in the town had been obtained from the Ecu de
France by a gentleman who dined and supped at the Belle Etoile, and was
obliged to proceed to Paris that night.
Who was the gentleman? Had he actually gone? Could he possibly be
induced to wait till morning?
The gentleman was now upstairs getting his things together, and his name
was Monsieur Droqville.
I ran upstairs. I found my servant St. Clair in my room. At sight of
him, for a moment, my thoughts were turned into a different channel.
"Well, St. Clair, tell me this moment who the lady is?" I demanded.
"The lady is the daughter or wife, it matters not which, of the Count
de St. Alyre--the old gentleman who was so near being sliced like a
cucumber tonight, I am informed, by the sword of the general whom
Monsieur, by a turn of fortune, has put to bed of an apoplexy."
"Hold your tongue, fool! The man's beastly drunk--he's sulking--he
could talk if he liked--who cares? Pack up my things. Which are Monsieur
He knew, of course; he always knew everything.
Half an hour later Monsieur Droqville and I were traveling towards Paris
in my carriage and with his horses. I ventured to ask the Marquis
d'Harmonville, in a little while, whether the lady, who accompanied the
Count, was certainly the Countess. "Has he not a daughter?"
"Yes; I believe a very beautiful and charming young lady--I cannot
say--it may have been she, his daughter by an earlier marriage. I saw
only the Count himself today."
The Marquis was growing a little sleepy, and, in a little while, he
actually fell asleep in his corner. I dozed and nodded; but the Marquis
slept like a top. He awoke only for a minute or two at the next
posting-house where he had fortunately secured horses by sending on his
man, he told me. "You will excuse my being so dull a companion," he
said, "but till tonight I have had but two hours' sleep, for more than
sixty hours. I shall have a cup of coffee here; I have had my nap.
Permit me to recommend you to do likewise. Their coffee is really
excellent." He ordered two cups of _cafe noir_, and waited, with
his head from the window. "We will keep the cups," he said, as he
received them from the waiter, "and the tray. Thank you."
There was a little delay as he paid for these things; and then he took
in the little tray, and handed me a cup of coffee.
I declined the tray; so he placed it on his own knees, to act as a
"I can't endure being waited for and hurried," he said, "I like to sip
my coffee at leisure."
I agreed. It really _was_ the very perfection of coffee.
"I, like Monsieur le Marquis, have slept very little for the last two or
three nights; and find it difficult to keep awake. This coffee will do
wonders for me; it refreshes one so."
Before we had half done, the carriage was again in motion.
For a time our coffee made us chatty, and our conversation was animated.
The Marquis was extremely good-natured, as well as clever, and gave me a
brilliant and amusing account of Parisian life, schemes, and dangers,
all put so as to furnish me with practical warnings of the most valuable
In spite of the amusing and curious stories which the Marquis related
with so much point and color, I felt myself again becoming gradually
drowsy and dreamy.
Perceiving this, no doubt, the Marquis good-naturedly suffered our
conversation to subside into silence. The window next him was open. He
threw his cup out of it; and did the same kind office for mine, and
finally the little tray flew after, and I heard it clank on the road; a
valuable waif, no doubt, for some early wayfarer in wooden shoes.
I leaned back in my corner; I had my beloved souvenir--my white
rose--close to my heart, folded, now, in white paper. It inspired all
manner of romantic dreams. I began to grow more and more sleepy. But
actual slumber did not come. I was still viewing, with my half-closed
eyes, from my corner, diagonally, the interior of the carriage.
I wished for sleep; but the barrier between waking and sleeping seemed
absolutely insurmountable; and, instead, I entered into a state of novel
and indescribable indolence.
The Marquis lifted his dispatch-box from the floor, placed it on his
knees, unlocked it, and took out what proved to be a lamp, which he hung
with two hooks, attached to it, to the window opposite to him. He
lighted it with a match, put on his spectacles, and taking out a bundle
of letters began to read them carefully.
We were making way very slowly. My impatience had hitherto employed four
horses from stage to stage. We were in this emergency, only too happy to
have secured two. But the difference in pace was depressing.
I grew tired of the monotony of seeing the spectacled Marquis reading,
folding, and docketing, letter after letter. I wished to shut out the
image which wearied me, but something prevented my being able to shut my
eyes. I tried again and again; but, positively, I had lost the power of
I would have rubbed my eyes, but I could not stir my hand, my will no
longer acted on my body--I found that I could not move one joint, or
muscle, no more than I could, by an effort of my will, have turned the
Up to this I had experienced no sense of horror. Whatever it was, simple
night-mare was not the cause. I was awfully frightened! Was I in a fit?
It was horrible to see my good-natured companion pursue his occupation
so serenely, when he might have dissipated my horrors by a single shake.
I made a stupendous exertion to call out, but in vain; I repeated the
effort again and again, with no result.
My companion now tied up his letters, and looked out of the window,
humming an air from an opera. He drew back his head, and said, turning
"Yes, I see the lights; we shall be there in two or three minutes."
He looked more closely at me, and with a kind smile, and a little shrug,
he said, "Poor child! how fatigued he must have been--how profoundly he
sleeps! when the carriage stops he will waken."
He then replaced his letters in the box-box, locked it, put his
spectacles in his pocket, and again looked out of the window.
We had entered a little town. I suppose it was past two o'clock by this
time. The carriage drew up, I saw an inn-door open, and a light issuing
"Here we are!" said my companion, turning gaily to me. But I did not
"Yes, how tired he must have been!" he exclaimed, after he had waited
for an answer. My servant was at the carriage door, and opened it.
"Your master sleeps soundly, he is so fatigued! It would be cruel to
disturb him. You and I will go in, while they change the horses, and
take some refreshment, and choose something that Monsieur Beckett will
like to take in the carriage, for when he awakes by-and-by, he will, I
am sure, be hungry."
He trimmed his lamp, poured in some oil; and taking care not to disturb
me, with another kind smile and another word of caution to my servant he
got out, and I heard him talking to St. Clair, as they entered the
inn-door, and I was left in my corner, in the carriage, in the same
A THREE MINUTES' VISIT
I have suffered extreme and protracted bodily pain, at different periods
of my life, but anything like that misery, thank God, I never endured
before or since. I earnestly hope it may not resemble any type of death
to which we are liable. I was, indeed, a spirit in prison; and
unspeakable was my dumb and unmoving agony.
The power of thought remained clear and active. Dull terror filled my
mind. How would this end? Was it actual death?
You will understand that my faculty of observing was unimpaired. I could
hear and see anything as distinctly as ever I did in my life. It was
simply that my will had, as it were, lost its hold of my body.
I told you that the Marquis d'Harmonville had not extinguished his
carriage lamp on going into this village inn. I was listening intently,
longing for his return, which might result, by some lucky accident, in
awaking me from my catalepsy.
Without any sound of steps approaching, to announce an arrival, the
carriage-door suddenly opened, and a total stranger got in silently and
shut the door.
The lamp gave about as strong a light as a wax-candle, so I could see
the intruder perfectly. He was a young man, with a dark grey loose
surtout, made with a sort of hood, which was pulled over his head. I
thought, as he moved, that I saw the gold band of a military undress cap
under it; and I certainly saw the lace and buttons of a uniform, on the
cuffs of the coat that were visible under the wide sleeves of his
This young man had thick moustaches and an imperial, and I observed that
he had a red scar running upward from his lip across his cheek.
He entered, shut the door softly, and sat down beside me. It was all
done in a moment; leaning toward me, and shading his eyes with his
gloved hand, he examined my face closely for a few seconds.
This man had come as noiselessly as a ghost; and everything he did was
accomplished with the rapidity and decision that indicated a
well-defined and pre-arranged plan. His designs were evidently sinister.
I thought he was going to rob and, perhaps, murder me. I lay,
nevertheless, like a corpse under his hands. He inserted his hand in my
breast pocket, from which he took my precious white rose and all the
letters it contained, among which was a paper of some consequence to me.
My letters he glanced at. They were plainly not what he wanted. My
precious rose, too, he laid aside with them. It was evidently about the
paper I have mentioned that he was concerned; for the moment he opened
it he began with a pencil, in a small pocket-book, to make rapid notes
of its contents.
This man seemed to glide through his work with a noiseless and cool
celerity which argued, I thought, the training of the police department.
He re-arranged the papers, possibly in the very order in which he had
found them, replaced them in my breast-pocket, and was gone. His visit,
I think, did not quite last three minutes. Very soon after his
disappearance I heard the voice of the Marquis once more. He got in, and
I saw him look at me and smile, half-envying me, I fancied, my sound
repose. If he had but known all!
He resumed his reading and docketing by the light of the little lamp
which had just subserved the purposes of a spy.
We were now out of the town, pursuing our journey at the same moderate
pace. We had left the scene of my police visit, as I should have termed
it, now two leagues behind us, when I suddenly felt a strange throbbing
in one ear, and a sensation as if air passed through it into my throat.
It seemed as if a bubble of air, formed deep in my ear, swelled, and
burst there. The indescribable tension of my brain seemed all at once to
give way; there was an odd humming in my head, and a sort of vibration
through every nerve of my body, such as I have experienced in a limb
that has been, in popular phraseology, asleep. I uttered a cry and half
rose from my seat, and then fell back trembling, and with a sense of
The Marquis stared at me, took my hand, and earnestly asked if I was
ill. I could answer only with a deep groan.
Gradually the process of restoration was completed; and I was able,
though very faintly, to tell him how very ill I had been; and then to
describe the violation of my letters, during the time of his absence
from the carriage.
"Good heaven!" he exclaimed, "the miscreant did not get at my box-box?"
I satisfied him, so far as I had observed, on that point. He placed the
box on the seat beside him, and opened and examined its contents very
"Yes, undisturbed; all safe, thank heaven!" he murmured. "There are
half-a-dozen letters here that I would not have some people read for a
He now asked with a very kind anxiety all about the illness I complained
of. When he had heard me, he said:
"A friend of mine once had an attack as like yours as possible. It was
on board ship, and followed a state of high excitement. He was a brave
man like you; and was called on to exert both his strength and his
courage suddenly. An hour or two after, fatigue overpowered him, and he
appeared to fall into a sound sleep. He really sank into a state which
he afterwards described so that I think it must have been precisely the
same affection as yours."
"I am happy to think that my attack was not unique. Did he ever
experience a return of it?"
"I knew him for years after, and never heard of any such thing. What
strikes me is a parallel in the predisposing causes of each attack. Your
unexpected and gallant hand-to-hand encounter, at such desperate odds,
with an experienced swordsman, like that insane colonel of dragoons,
your fatigue, and, finally, your composing yourself, as my other friend
did, to sleep."
"I wish," he resumed, "one could make out who the _coquin_ was who
examined your letters. It is not worth turning back, however, because we
should learn nothing. Those people always manage so adroitly. I am
satisfied, however, that he must have been an agent of the police. A
rogue of any other kind would have robbed you."
I talked very little, being ill and exhausted, but the Marquis talked on
"We grow so intimate," said he, at last, "that I must remind you that I
am not, for the present, the Marquis d'Harmonville, but only Monsieur
Droqville; nevertheless, when we get to Paris, although I cannot see you
often I may be of use. I shall ask you to name to me the hotel at which
you mean to put up; because the Marquis being, as you are aware, on his
travels, the Hotel d'Harmonville is, for the present, tenanted only by
two or three old servants, who must not even see Monsieur Droqville.
That gentleman will, nevertheless, contrive to get you access to the box
of Monsieur le Marquis, at the Opera, as well, possibly, as to other
places more difficult; and so soon as the diplomatic office of the
Marquis d'Harmonville is ended, and he at liberty to declare himself, he
will not excuse his friend, Monsieur Beckett, from fulfilling his
promise to visit him this autumn at the Chateau d'Harmonville."
You may be sure I thanked the Marquis.
The nearer we got to Paris, the more I valued his protection. The
countenance of a great man on the spot, just then, taking so kind an
interest in the stranger whom he had, as it were, blundered upon, might
make my visit ever so many degrees more delightful than I had
Nothing could be more gracious than the manner and looks of the Marquis;
and, as I still thanked him, the carriage suddenly stopped in front of
the place where a relay of horses awaited us, and where, as it turned
out, we were to part.
GOSSIP AND COUNSEL
My eventful journey was over at last. I sat in my hotel window looking
out upon brilliant Paris, which had, in a moment, recovered all its
gaiety, and more than its accustomed bustle. Everyone had read of the
kind of excitement that followed the catastrophe of Napoleon, and the
second restoration of the Bourbons. I need not, therefore, even if, at
this distance, I could, recall and describe my experiences and
impressions of the peculiar aspect of Paris, in those strange times. It
was, to be sure, my first visit. But often as I have seen it since, I
don't think I ever saw that delightful capital in a state, pleasurably
so excited and exciting.
I had been two days in Paris, and had seen all sorts of sights, and
experienced none of that rudeness and insolence of which others
complained from the exasperated officers of the defeated French army.
I must say this, also. My romance had taken complete possession of me;
and the chance of seeing the object of my dream gave a secret and
delightful interest to my rambles and drives in the streets and
environs, and my visits to the galleries and other sights of the
I had neither seen nor heard of Count or Countess, nor had the Marquis
d'Harmonville made any sign. I had quite recovered the strange
indisposition under which I had suffered during my night journey.
It was now evening, and I was beginning to fear that my patrician
acquaintance had quite forgotten me, when the waiter presented me the
card of "Monsieur Droqville"; and, with no small elation and hurry, I
desired him to show the gentleman up.
In came the Marquis d'Harmonville, kind and gracious as ever.
"I am a night-bird at present," said he, so soon as we had exchanged the
little speeches which are usual. "I keep in the shade during the
daytime, and even now I hardly ventured to come in a close carriage. The
friends for whom I have undertaken a rather critical service, have so
ordained it. They think all is lost if I am known to be in Paris. First,
let me present you with these orders for my box. I am so vexed that I
cannot command it oftener during the next fortnight; during my absence I
had directed my secretary to give it for any night to the first of my
friends who might apply, and the result is, that I find next to nothing
left at my disposal."
I thanked him very much.
"And now a word in my office of Mentor. You have not come here, of
course, without introductions?"
I produced half-a-dozen letters, the addresses of which he looked at.
"Don't mind these letters," he said. "I will introduce you. I will take
you myself from house to house. One friend at your side is worth many
letters. Make no intimacies, no acquaintances, until then. You young men
like best to exhaust the public amusements of a great city, before
embarrassing yourselves with the engagements of society. Go to all
these. It will occupy you, day and night, for at least three weeks. When
this is over, I shall be at liberty, and will myself introduce you to
the brilliant but comparatively quiet routine of society. Place yourself
in my hands; and in Paris remember, when once in society, you are always
I thanked him very much, and promised to follow his counsels implicitly.
He seemed pleased, and said: "I shall now tell you some of the places
you ought to go to. Take your map, and write letters or numbers upon the
points I will indicate, and we will make out a little list. All the
places that I shall mention to you are worth seeing."
In this methodical way, and with a great deal of amusing and scandalous
anecdote, he furnished me with a catalogue and a guide, which, to a
seeker of novelty and pleasure, was invaluable.
"In a fortnight, perhaps in a week," he said, "I shall be at leisure to
be of real use to you. In the meantime, be on your guard. You must not
play; you will be robbed if you do. Remember, you are surrounded, here,
by plausible swindlers and villains of all kinds, who subsist by
devouring strangers. Trust no one but those you know."
I thanked him again, and promised to profit by his advice. But my heart
was too full of the beautiful lady of the Belle Etoile, to allow our
interview to close without an effort to learn something about her. I
therefore asked for the Count and Countess de St. Alyre, whom I had had
the good fortune to extricate from an extremely unpleasant row in the
hall of the inn.
Alas! he had not seen them since. He did not know where they were
staying. They had a fine old house only a few leagues from Paris; but he
thought it probable that they would remain, for a few days at least, in
the city, as preparations would, no doubt, be necessary, after so long
an absence, for their reception at home.
"How long have they been away?"
"About eight months, I think."
"They are poor, I think you said?"
"What _you_ would consider poor. But, Monsieur, the Count has an
income which affords them the comforts and even the elegancies of life,
living as they do, in a very quiet and retired way, in this cheap
"Then they are very happy?"
"One would say they _ought_ to be happy."
"And what prevents?"
"He is jealous."
"But his wife--she gives him no cause."
"I am afraid she does."
"I always thought she was a little too--_a great deal_ too--"
"Too _what_, Monsieur?"
"Too handsome. But although she has remarkable fine eyes, exquisite
features, and the most delicate complexion in the world, I believe that
she is a woman of probity. You have never seen her?"
"There was a lady, muffled up in a cloak, with a very thick veil on, the
other night, in the hall of the Belle Etoile, when I broke that fellow's
head who was bullying the old Count. But her veil was so thick I could
not see a feature through it!" My answer was diplomatic, you observe.
"She may have been the Count's daughter. Do they quarrel?"
"Who, he and his wife?"
Oh! and what do they quarrel about?"
"It is a long story; about the lady's diamonds. They are valuable--they
are worth, La Perelleuse says, about a million of francs. The Count
wishes them sold and turned into revenue, which he offers to settle as
she pleases. The Countess, whose they are, resists, and for a reason
which, I rather think, she can't disclose to him."
"And pray what is that?" I asked, my curiosity a good deal piqued.
"She is thinking, I conjecture, how well she will look in them when she
marries her second husband."
"Oh?--yes, to be sure. But the Count de St. Alyre is a good man?"
"Admirable, and extremely intelligent."
"I should wish so much to be presented to the Count: you tell me he's
"So agreeably married. But they are living quite out of the world. He
takes her now and then to the Opera, or to a public entertainment; but
that is all."
"And he must remember so much of the old _regime_, and so many of
the scenes of the revolution!"
"Yes, the very man for a philosopher, like you! And he falls asleep
after dinner; and his wife don't. But, seriously, he has retired from
the gay and the great world, and has grown apathetic; and so has his
wife; and nothing seems to interest her now, not even--her husband!"
The Marquis stood up to take his leave.
"Don't risk your money," said he. "You will soon have an opportunity of
laying out some of it to great advantage. Several collections of really
good pictures, belonging to persons who have mixed themselves up in this
Bonapartist restoration, must come within a few weeks to the hammer. You
can do wonders when these sales commence. There will be startling
bargains! Reserve yourself for them. I shall let you know all about it.
By-the-by," he said, stopping short as he approached the door, "I was so
near forgetting. There is to be next week, the very thing you would
enjoy so much, because you see so little of it in England--I mean a
_bal masque_, conducted, it is said, with more than usual splendor.
It takes place at Versailles--all the world will be there; there is such
a rush for cards! But I think I may promise you one. Good-night! Adieu!"
THE BLACK VEIL
Speaking the language fluently, and with unlimited money, there was
nothing to prevent my enjoying all that was enjoyable in the French
capital. You may easily suppose how two days were passed. At the end of
that time, and at about the same hour, Monsieur Droqville called again.
Courtly, good-natured, gay, as usual, he told me that the masquerade
ball was fixed for the next Wednesday, and that he had applied for a
card for me.
How awfully unlucky. I was so afraid I should not be able to go.
He stared at me for a moment with a suspicious and menacing look, which
I did not understand, in silence, and then inquired rather sharply. And
will Monsieur Beckett be good enough to say why not?
I was a little surprised, but answered the simple truth: I had made an
engagement for that evening with two or three English friends, and did
not see how I could.
"Just so! You English, wherever you are, always look out for your
English boors, your beer and _'bifstek'_; and when you come here,
instead of trying to learn something of the people you visit, and
pretend to study, you are guzzling and swearing, and smoking with one
another, and no wiser or more polished at the end of your travels than
if you had been all the time carousing in a booth at Greenwich."
He laughed sarcastically, and looked as if he could have poisoned me.
"There it is," said he, throwing the card on the table. "Take it or
leave it, just as you please. I suppose I shall have my trouble for my
pains; but it is not usual when a man such as I takes trouble, asks a
favor, and secures a privilege for an acquaintance, to treat him so."
This was astonishingly impertinent.
I was shocked, offended, penitent. I had possibly committed unwittingly
a breach of good breeding, according to French ideas, which almost
justified the brusque severity of the Marquis's undignified rebuke.
In a confusion, therefore, of many feelings, I hastened to make my
apologies, and to propitiate the chance friend who had showed me so much
I told him that I would, at any cost, break through the engagement in
which I had unluckily entangled myself; that I had spoken with too
little reflection, and that I certainly had not thanked him at all in
proportion to his kindness, and to my real estimate of it.
"Pray say not a word more; my vexation was entirely on your account; and
I expressed it, I am only too conscious, in terms a great deal too
strong, which, I am sure, your good nature will pardon. Those who know
me a little better are aware that I sometimes say a good deal more than
I intend; and am always sorry when I do. Monsieur Beckett will forget
that his old friend Monsieur Droqville has lost his temper in his cause,
for a moment, and--we are as good friends as before."
He smiled like the Monsieur Droqville of the Belle Etoile, and extended
his hand, which I took very respectfully and cordially.
Our momentary quarrel had left us only better friends.
The Marquis then told me I had better secure a bed in some hotel at
Versailles, as a rush would be made to take them; and advised my going
down next morning for the purpose.
I ordered horses accordingly for eleven o'clock; and, after a little
more conversation, the Marquis d'Harmonville bade me good-night, and ran
down the stairs with his handkerchief to his mouth and nose, and, as I
saw from my window, jumped into his close carriage again and drove away.
Next day I was at Versailles. As I approached the door of the Hotel de
France it was plain that I was not a moment too soon, if, indeed, I were
not already too late.
A crowd of carriages were drawn up about the entrance, so that I had no
chance of approaching except by dismounting and pushing my way among the
horses. The hall was full of servants and gentlemen screaming to the
proprietor, who in a state of polite distraction was assuring them, one
and all, that there was not a room or a closet disengaged in his entire
I slipped out again, leaving the hall to those who were shouting,
expostulating, and wheedling, in the delusion that the host might, if he
pleased, manage something for them. I jumped into my carriage and drove,
at my horses' best pace, to the Hotel du Reservoir. The blockade about
this door was as complete as the other. The result was the same. It was
very provoking, but what was to be done? My postilion had, a little
officiously, while I was in the hall talking with the hotel authorities,
got his horses, bit by bit, as other carriages moved away, to the very
steps of the inn door.
This arrangement was very convenient so far as getting in again was
concerned. But, this accomplished, how were we to get on? There were
carriages in front, and carriages behind, and no less than four rows of
carriages, of all sorts, outside.
I had at this time remarkably long and clear sight, and if I had been
impatient before, guess what my feelings were when I saw an open
carriage pass along the narrow strip of roadway left open at the other
side, a barouche in which I was certain I recognized the veiled Countess
and her husband. This carriage had been brought to a walk by a cart
which occupied the whole breadth of the narrow way, and was moving with
the customary tardiness of such vehicles.
I should have done more wisely if I had jumped down on the
_trottoir_, and run round the block of carriages in front of the
barouche. But, unfortunately, I was more of a Murat than a Moltke, and
preferred a direct charge upon my object to relying on _tactique_.
I dashed across the back seat of a carriage which was next mine, I don't
know how; tumbled through a sort of gig, in which an old gentleman and a
dog were dozing; stepped with an incoherent apology over the side of an
open carriage, in which were four gentlemen engaged in a hot dispute;
tripped at the far side in getting out, and fell flat across the backs
of a pair of horses, who instantly began plunging and threw me head
foremost in the dust.
To those who observed my reckless charge, without being in the secret of
my object, I must have appeared demented. Fortunately, the interesting
barouche had passed before the catastrophe, and covered as I was with
dust, and my hat blocked, you may be sure I did not care to present
myself before the object of my Quixotic devotion.
I stood for a while amid a storm of _sacre_-ing, tempered
disagreeably with laughter; and in the midst of these, while endeavoring
to beat the dust from my clothes with my handkerchief, I heard a voice
with which I was acquainted call, "Monsieur Beckett."
I looked and saw the Marquis peeping from a carriage-window. It was a
welcome sight. In a moment I was at his carriage side.
"You may as well leave Versailles," he said; "you have learned, no
doubt, that there is not a bed to hire in either of the hotels; and I
can add that there is not a room to let in the whole town. But I have
managed something for you that will answer just as well. Tell your
servant to follow us, and get in here and sit beside me."
Fortunately an opening in the closely-packed carriages had just
occurred, and mine was approaching.
I directed the servant to follow us; and the Marquis having said a word
to his driver, we were immediately in motion.
"I will bring you to a comfortable place, the very existence of which is
known to but few Parisians, where, knowing how things were here, I
secured a room for you. It is only a mile away, and an old comfortable
inn, called the Le Dragon Volant. It was fortunate for you that my
tiresome business called me to this place so early."
I think we had driven about a mile-and-a-half to the further side of the
palace when we found ourselves upon a narrow old road, with the woods of
Versailles on one side, and much older trees, of a size seldom seen in
France, on the other.
We pulled up before an antique and solid inn, built of Caen stone, in a
fashion richer and more florid than was ever usual in such houses, and
which indicated that it was originally designed for the private mansion
of some person of wealth, and probably, as the wall bore many carved
shields and supporters, of distinction also. A kind of porch, less
ancient than the rest, projected hospitably with a wide and florid arch,
over which, cut in high relief in stone, and painted and gilded, was the
sign of the inn. This was the Flying Dragon, with wings of brilliant red
and gold, expanded, and its tail, pale green and gold, twisted and
knotted into ever so many rings, and ending in a burnished point barbed
like the dart of death.
"I shan't go in--but you will find it a comfortable place; at all events
better than nothing. I would go in with you, but my incognito forbids.
You will, I daresay, be all the better pleased to learn that the inn is
haunted--I should have been, in my young days, I know. But don't allude
to that awful fact in hearing of your host, for I believe it is a sore
subject. Adieu. If you want to enjoy yourself at the ball, take my
advice and go in a domino. I think I shall look in; and certainly, if I
do, in the same costume. How shall we recognize one another? Let me see,
something held in the fingers--a flower won't do, so many people will
have flowers. Suppose you get a red cross a couple of inches long--
you're an Englishman--stitched or pinned on the breast of your domino,
and I a white one? Yes, that will do very well; and whatever room you go
into keep near the door till we meet. I shall look for you at all the
doors I pass; and you, in the same way, for me; and we _must_ find
each other soon. So that is understood. I can't enjoy a thing of that
kind with any but a young person; a man of my age requires the contagion
of young spirits and the companionship of someone who enjoys everything
spontaneously. Farewell; we meet tonight."
By this time I was standing on the road; I shut the carriage-door; bid
him good-bye; and away he drove.