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The Room in the Dragon Volant by J. Sheridan LeFanu

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Chapter XI

THE DRAGON VOLANT

I took one look about me.

The building was picturesque; the trees made it more so. The antique and
sequestered character of the scene contrasted strangely with the glare
and bustle of the Parisian life, to which my eye and ear had become
accustomed.

Then I examined the gorgeous old sign for a minute or two. Next I
surveyed the exterior of the house more carefully. It was large and
solid, and squared more with my ideas of an ancient English hostelrie,
such as the Canterbury Pilgrims might have put up at, than a French
house of entertainment. Except, indeed, for a round turret, that rose at
the left flank of the house, and terminated in the extinguisher-shaped
roof that suggests a French chateau.

I entered and announced myself as Monsieur Beckett, for whom a room had
been taken. I was received with all the consideration due to an English
milord, with, of course, an unfathomable purse.

My host conducted me to my apartment. It was a large room, a little
somber, paneled with dark wainscoting, and furnished in a stately and
somber style, long out of date. There was a wide hearth, and a heavy
mantelpiece, carved with shields, in which I might, had I been curious
enough, have discovered a correspondence with the heraldry on the outer
walls. There was something interesting, melancholy, and even depressing
in all this. I went to the stone-shafted window, and looked out upon a
small park, with a thick wood, forming the background of a chateau which
presented a cluster of such conical-topped turrets as I have just now
mentioned.

The wood and chateau were melancholy objects. They showed signs of
neglect, and almost of decay; and the gloom of fallen grandeur, and a
certain air of desertion hung oppressively over the scene.

I asked my host the name of the chateau.

"That, Monsieur, is the Chateau de la Carque," he answered.

"It is a pity it is so neglected," I observed. "I should say, perhaps, a
pity that its proprietor is not more wealthy?"

"Perhaps so, Monsieur."

"_Perhaps_?" I repeated, and looked at him. "Then I suppose he is
not very popular."

"Neither one thing nor the other, Monsieur," he answered; "I meant only
that we could not tell what use he might make of riches."

"And who is he?" I inquired.

"The Count de St. Alyre."

"Oh! The Count! You are quite sure?" I asked, very eagerly.

It was now the innkeeper's turn to look at me.

"_Quite_ sure, Monsieur, the Count de St. Alyre."

"Do you see much of him in this part of the world?"

"Not a great deal, Monsieur; he is often absent for a considerable
time."

"And is he poor?" I inquired.

"I pay rent to him for this house. It is not much; but I find he cannot
wait long for it," he replied, smiling satirically.

"From what I have heard, however, I should think he cannot be very
poor?" I continued.

"They say, Monsieur, he plays. I know not. He certainly is not rich.
About seven months ago, a relation of his died in a distant place. His
body was sent to the Count's house here, and by him buried in Pere la
Chaise, as the poor gentleman had desired. The Count was in profound
affliction; although he got a handsome legacy, they say, by that death.
But money never seems to do him good for any time."

"He is old, I believe?"

"Old? We call him the 'Wandering Jew,' except, indeed, that he has not
always the five _sous_ in his pocket. Yet, Monsieur, his courage
does not fail him. He has taken a young and handsome wife."

"And she?" I urged--

"Is the Countess de St. Alyre."

"Yes; but I fancy we may say something more? She has attributes?"

"Three, Monsieur, three, at least most amiable."

"Ah! And what are they?"

"Youth, beauty, and--diamonds."

I laughed. The sly old gentleman was foiling my curiosity.

"I see, my friend," said I, "you are reluctant--"

"To quarrel with the Count," he concluded. "True. You see, Monsieur, he
could vex me in two or three ways, so could I him. But, on the whole, it
is better each to mind his business, and to maintain peaceful relations;
you understand."

It was, therefore, no use trying, at least for the present. Perhaps he
had nothing to relate. Should I think differently, by-and-by, I could
try the effect of a few Napoleons. Possibly he meant to extract them.

The host of the Dragon Volant was an elderly man, thin, bronzed,
intelligent, and with an air of decision, perfectly military. I learned
afterwards that he had served under Napoleon in his early Italian
campaigns.

"One question, I think you may answer," I said, "without risking a
quarrel. Is the Count at home?"

"He has many homes, I conjecture," said the host evasively. "But--but I
think I may say, Monsieur, that he is, I believe, at present staying at
the Chateau de la Carque."

I looked out of the window, more interested than ever, across the
undulating grounds to the chateau, with its gloomy background of
foliage.

"I saw him today, in his carriage at Versailles," I said.

"Very natural."

"Then his carriage, and horses, and servants, are at the chateau?"

"The carriage he puts up here, Monsieur, and the servants are hired for
the occasion. There is but one who sleeps at the chateau. Such a life
must be terrifying for Madame the Countess," he replied.

"The old screw!" I thought. "By this torture, he hopes to extract her
diamonds. What a life! What fiends to contend with--jealousy and
extortion!"

The knight having made his speech to himself, cast his eyes once more
upon the enchanter's castle, and heaved a gentle sigh--a sigh of
longing, of resolution, and of love.

What a fool I was! And yet, in the sight of angels, are we any wiser as
we grow older? It seems to me, only, that our illusions change as we go
on; but, still, we are madmen all the same.

"Well, St. Clair," said I, as my servant entered, and began to arrange
my things.

"You have got a bed?"

"In the cock-loft, Monsieur, among the spiders, and, _par ma foi_!
the cats and the owls. But we agree very well. _Vive la bagatelle_!"

"I had no idea it was so full."

"Chiefly the servants, Monsieur, of those persons who were fortunate
enough to get apartments at Versailles."

"And what do you think of the Dragon Volant?"

"The Dragon Volant! Monsieur; the old fiery dragon! The devil himself,
if all is true! On the faith of a Christian, Monsieur, they say that
diabolical miracles have taken place in this house."

"What do you mean? _Revenants_?"

"Not at all, sir; I wish it was no worse. _Revenants_? No! People
who have never returned--who vanished, before the eyes of half-a-dozen
men all looking at them."

"What do you mean, St. Clair? Let us hear the story, or miracle, or
whatever it is."

"It is only this, Monsieur, that an ex-master-of-the-horse of the late
king, who lost his head--Monsieur will have the goodness to recollect,
in the revolution--being permitted by the Emperor to return to France,
lived here in this hotel, for a month, and at the end of that time
vanished, visibly, as I told you, before the faces of half-a-dozen
credible witnesses! The other was a Russian nobleman, six feet high and
upwards, who, standing in the center of the room, downstairs, describing
to seven gentlemen of unquestionable veracity the last moments of Peter
the Great, and having a glass of _eau de vie_ in his left hand, and
his _tasse de cafe,_ nearly finished, in his right, in like manner
vanished. His boots were found on the floor where he had been standing;
and the gentleman at his right found, to his astonishment, his cup of
coffee in his fingers, and the gentleman at his left, his glass of
_eau de vie_--"

"Which he swallowed in his confusion," I suggested.

"Which was preserved for three years among the curious articles of this
house, and was broken by the _cure_ while conversing with
Mademoiselle Fidone in the housekeeper's room; but of the Russian
nobleman himself, nothing more was ever seen or heard. _Parbleu_!
when _we_ go out of the Dragon Volant, I hope it may be by the
door. I heard all this, Monsieur, from the postilion who drove us."

"Then it _must_ be true!" said I, jocularly: but I was beginning to
feel the gloom of the view, and of the chamber in which I stood; there
had stolen over me, I know not how, a presentiment of evil; and my joke
was with an effort, and my spirit flagged.

Chapter XII

THE MAGICIAN

No more brilliant spectacle than this masked ball could be imagined.
Among other _salons_ and galleries, thrown open, was the enormous
Perspective of the "Grande Galerie des Glaces," lighted up on that
occasion with no less than four thousand wax candles, reflected and
repeated by all the mirrors, so that the effect was almost dazzling. The
grand suite of _salons_ was thronged with masques, in every
conceivable costume. There was not a single room deserted. Everyplace
was animated with music voices, brilliant colors, flashing jewels, the
hilarity of extemporized comedy, and all the spirited incidents of a
cleverly sustained masquerade. I had never seen before anything in the
least comparable to this magnificent _fete._ I moved along,
indolently, in my domino and mask, loitering, now and then, to enjoy a
clever dialogue, a farcical song, or an amusing monologue, but, at the
same time, keeping my eyes about me, lest my friend in the black domino,
with the little white cross on his breast, should pass me by.

I had delayed and looked about me, specially, at every door I passed, as
the Marquis and I had agreed; but he had not yet appeared.

While I was thus employed, in the very luxury of lazy amusement, I saw a
gilded sedan chair, or, rather, a Chinese palanquin, exhibiting the
fantastic exuberance of "Celestial" decoration, borne forward on gilded
poles by four richly-dressed Chinese; one with a wand in his hand
marched in front, and another behind; and a slight and solemn man, with
a long black beard, a tall fez, such as a dervish is represented as
wearing, walked close to its side. A strangely-embroidered robe fell
over his shoulders, covered with hieroglyphic symbols; the embroidery
was in black and gold, upon a variegated ground of brilliant colors. The
robe was bound about his waist with a broad belt of gold, with
cabalistic devices traced on it in dark red and black; red stockings,
and shoes embroidered with gold, and pointed and curved upward at the
toes, in Oriental fashion, appeared below the skirt of the robe. The
man's face was dark, fixed, and solemn, and his eyebrows black, and
enormously heavy--he carried a singular-looking book under his arm, a
wand of polished black wood in his other hand, and walked with his chin
sunk on his breast, and his eyes fixed upon the floor. The man in front
waved his wand right and left to clear the way for the advancing
palanquin, the curtains of which were closed; and there was something so
singular, strange and solemn about the whole thing, that I felt at once
interested.

I was very well pleased when I saw the bearers set down their burthen
within a few yards of the spot on which I stood.

The bearers and the men with the gilded wands forthwith clapped their
hands, and in silence danced round the palanquin a curious and
half-frantic dance, which was yet, as to figures and postures, perfectly
methodical. This was soon accompanied by a clapping of hands and a
ha-ha-ing, rhythmically delivered.

While the dance was going on a hand was lightly laid on my arm, and,
looking round, a black domino with a white cross stood beside me.

"I am so glad I have found you," said the Marquis; "and at this moment.
This is the best group in the rooms. _You_ must speak to the
wizard. About an hour ago I lighted upon them, in another _salon,_
and consulted the oracle by putting questions. I never was more amazed.
Although his answers were a little disguised it was soon perfectly plain
that he knew every detail about the business, which no one on earth had
heard of but myself, and two or three other men, about the most cautious
Persons in France. I shall never forget that shock. I saw other people
who consulted him, evidently as much surprised and more frightened than
I. I came with the Count de St. Alyre and the Countess."

He nodded toward a thin figure, also in a domino. It was the Count.

"Come," he said to me, "I'll introduce you."

I followed, you may suppose, readily enough.

The Marquis presented me, with a very prettily-turned allusion to my
fortunate intervention in his favor at the Belle Etoile; and the Count
overwhelmed me with polite speeches, and ended by saying, what pleased
me better still:

"The Countess is near us, in the next salon but one, chatting with her
old friend the Duchesse d'Argensaque; I shall go for her in a few
minutes; and when I bring her here, she shall make your acquaintance;
and thank you, also, for your assistance, rendered with so much courage
when we were so very disagreeably interrupted."

"You must, positively, speak with the magician," said the Marquis to the
Count de St. Alyre, "you will be so much amused. _I_ did so; and, I
assure you, I could not have anticipated such answers! I don't know what
to believe."

"Really! Then, by all means, let us try," he replied.

We three approached, together, the side of the palanquin, at which the
black-bearded magician stood.

A young man, in a Spanish dress, who, with a friend at his side, had
just conferred with the conjuror, was saying, as he passed us by:

"Ingenious mystification! Who is that in the palanquin? He seems to know
everybody!"

The Count, in his mask and domino, moved along, stiffly, with us, toward
the palanquin. A clear circle was maintained by the Chinese attendants,
and the spectators crowded round in a ring.

One of these men--he who with a gilded wand had preceded the
procession--advanced, extending his empty hand, palm upward.

"Money?" inquired the Count.

"Gold," replied the usher.

The Count placed a piece of money in his hand; and I and the Marquis
were each called on in turn to do likewise as we entered the circle. We
paid accordingly.

The conjuror stood beside the palanquin, its silk curtain in his hand;
his chin sunk, with its long, jet-black beard, on his chest; the outer
hand grasping the black wand, on which he leaned; his eyes were lowered,
as before, to the ground; his face looked absolutely lifeless. Indeed, I
never saw face or figure so moveless, except in death. The first
question the Count put, was: "Am I married, or unmarried?"

The conjuror drew back the curtain quickly, and placed his ear toward a
richly-dressed Chinese, who sat in the litter; withdrew his head, and
closed the curtain again; and then answered: "Yes."

The same preliminary was observed each time, so that the man with the
black wand presented himself, not as a prophet, but as a medium; and
answered, as it seemed, in the words of a greater than himself.

Two or three questions followed, the answers to which seemed to amuse
the Marquis very much; but the point of which I could not see, for I
knew next to nothing of the Count's peculiarities and adventures.

"Does my wife love me?" asked he, playfully.

"As well as you deserve."

"Whom do I love best in the world?"

"Self."

"Oh! That I fancy is pretty much the case with everyone. But, putting
myself out of the question, do I love anything on earth better than my
wife?"

"Her diamonds."

"Oh!" said the Count. The Marquis, I could see, laughed.

"Is it true," said the Count, changing the conversation peremptorily,
"that there has been a battle in Naples?"

"No; in France."

"Indeed," said the Count, satirically, with a glance round.

"And may I inquire between what powers, and on what particular quarrel?"

"Between the Count and Countess de St. Alyre, and about a document they
subscribed on the 25th July, 1811."

The Marquis afterwards told me that this was the date of their marriage
settlement.

The Count stood stock-still for a minute or so; and one could fancy that
they saw his face flushing through his mask.

Nobody, but we two, knew that the inquirer was the Count de St. Alyre.

I thought he was puzzled to find a subject for his next question; and,
perhaps, repented having entangled himself in such a colloquy. If so, he
was relieved; for the Marquis, touching his arms, whispered.

"Look to your right, and see who is coming."

I looked in the direction indicated by the Marquis, and I saw a gaunt
figure stalking toward us. It was not a masque. The face was broad,
scarred, and white. In a word, it was the ugly face of Colonel
Gaillarde, who, in the costume of a corporal of the Imperial Guard, with
his left arm so adjusted as to look like a stump, leaving the lower part
of the coat-sleeve empty, and pinned up to the breast. There were strips
of very real sticking-plaster across his eyebrow and temple, where my
stick had left its mark, to score, hereafter, among the more honorable
scars of war.

Chapter XIII

THE ORACLE TELLS ME WONDERS

I forgot for a moment how impervious my mask and domino were to the hard
stare of the old campaigner, and was preparing for an animated scuffle.
It was only for a moment, of course; but the count cautiously drew a
little back as the gasconading corporal, in blue uniform, white vest,
and white gaiters--for my friend Gaillarde was as loud and swaggering in
his assumed character as in his real one of a colonel of dragoons--drew
near. He had already twice all but got himself turned out of doors for
vaunting the exploits of Napoleon le Grand, in terrific mock-heroics,
and had very nearly come to hand-grips with a Prussian hussar. In fact,
he would have been involved in several sanguinary rows already, had not
his discretion reminded him that the object of his coming there at all,
namely, to arrange a meeting with an affluent widow, on whom he believed
he had made a tender impression, would not have been promoted by his
premature removal from the festive scene of which he was an ornament, in
charge of a couple of _gendarmes_.

"Money! Gold! Bah! What money can a wounded soldier like your humble
servant have amassed, with but his sword-hand left, which, being
necessarily occupied, places not a finger at his command with which to
scrape together the spoils of a routed enemy?"

"No gold from him," said the magician. "His scars frank him."

"Bravo, Monsieur le prophete! Bravissimo! Here I am. Shall I begin,
_mon sorcier_, without further loss of time, to question you?"

Without waiting for an answer, he commenced, in stentorian tones. After
half-a-dozen questions and answers, he asked: "Whom do I pursue at
present?"

"Two persons."

"Ha! Two? Well, who are they?"

"An Englishman, whom if you catch, he will kill you; and a French widow,
whom if you find, she will spit in your face."

"Monsieur le magicien calls a spade a spade, and knows that his cloth
protects him. No matter! Why do I pursue them?"

"The widow has inflicted a wound on your heart, and the Englishman a
wound on your head. They are each separately too strong for you; take
care your pursuit does not unite them."

"Bah! How could that be?"

"The Englishman protects ladies. He has got that fact into your head.
The widow, if she sees, will marry him. It takes some time, she will
reflect, to become a colonel, and the Englishman is unquestionably
young."

"I will cut his cock's-comb for him," he ejaculated with an oath and a
grin; and in a softer tone he asked, "Where is she?"

"Near enough to be offended if you fail."

"So she ought, by my faith. You are right, Monsieur le prophete! A
hundred thousand thanks! Farewell!" And staring about him, and
stretching his lank neck as high as he could, he strode away with his
scars, and white waistcoat and gaiters, and his bearskin shako.

I had been trying to see the person who sat in the palanquin. I had only
once an opportunity of a tolerably steady peep. What I saw was singular.
The oracle was dressed, as I have said, very richly, in the Chinese
fashion. He was a figure altogether on a larger scale than the
interpreter, who stood outside. The features seemed to me large and
heavy, and the head was carried with a downward inclination! The eyes
were closed, and the chin rested on the breast of his embroidered
pelisse. The face seemed fixed, and the very image of apathy. Its
character and _pose_ seemed an exaggerated repetition of the
immobility of the figure who communicated with the noisy outer world.
This face looked blood-red; but that was caused, I concluded, by the
light entering through the red silk curtains. All this struck me almost
at a glance; I had not many seconds in which to make my observation. The
ground was now clear, and the Marquis said, "Go forward, my friend."

I did so. When I reached the magician, as we called the man with the
black wand, I glanced over my shoulder to see whether the Count was
near.

No, he was some yards behind; and he and the Marquis, whose curiosity
seemed to be by this time satisfied, were now conversing generally upon
some subject of course quite different.

I was relieved, for the sage seemed to blurt out secrets in an
unexpected way; and some of mine might not have amused the Count.

I thought for a moment. I wished to test the prophet. A
Church-of-England man was a _rara avis_ in Paris.

"What is my religion?" I asked.

"A beautiful heresy," answered the oracle instantly.

"A heresy?--and pray how is it named?"

"Love."

"Oh! Then I suppose I am a polytheist, and love a great many?"

"One."

"But, seriously," I asked, intending to turn the course of our colloquy
a little out of an embarrassing channel, "have I ever learned any words
of devotion by heart?"

"Yes."

"Can you repeat them?"

"Approach."

I did, and lowered my ear.

The man with the black wand closed the curtains, and whispered, slowly
and distinctly, these words which, I need scarcely tell you, I instantly
recognized:

_"I may never see you more; and, oh! I that I could forget
you!--go--farewell--for God's sake, go!"_

I started as I heard them. They were, you know, the last words whispered
to me by the Countess.

"Good Heavens! How miraculous! Words heard most assuredly, by no ear on
earth but my own and the lady's who uttered them, till now!"

I looked at the impassive face of the spokesman with the wand. There was
no trace of meaning, or even of a consciousness that the words he had
uttered could possibly interest me.

"What do I most long for?" I asked, scarcely knowing what I said.

"Paradise."

"And what prevents my reaching it?"

"A black veil."

Stronger and stronger! The answers seemed to me to indicate the minutest
acquaintance with every detail of my little romance, of which not even
the Marquis knew anything! And I, the questioner, masked and robed so
that my own brother could not have known me!

"You said I loved someone. Am I loved in return?" I asked.

"Try."

I was speaking lower than before, and stood near the dark man with the
beard, to prevent the necessity of his speaking in a loud key.

"Does anyone love me?" I repeated.

"Secretly," was the answer.

"Much or little?" I inquired.

"Too well."

"How long will that love last?"

"Till the rose casts its leaves."

The rose--another allusion!

"Then--darkness!" I sighed. "But till then I live in light."

"The light of violet eyes."

Love, if not a religion, as the oracle had just pronounced it, is, at
least, a superstition. How it exalts the imagination! How it enervates
the reason! How credulous it makes us!

All this which, in the case of another I should have laughed at, most
powerfully affected me in my own. It inflamed my ardor, and half crazed
my brain, and even influenced my conduct.

The spokesman of this wonderful trick--if trick it were--now waved me
backward with his wand, and as I withdrew, my eyes still fixed upon the
group, and this time encircled with an aura of mystery in my fancy;
backing toward the ring of spectators, I saw him raise his hand
suddenly, with a gesture of command, as a signal to the usher who
carried the golden wand in front.

The usher struck his wand on the ground, and, in a shrill voice,
proclaimed: "The great Confu is silent for an hour."

Instantly the bearers pulled down a sort of blind of bamboo, which
descended with a sharp clatter, and secured it at the bottom; and then
the man in the tall fez, with the black beard and wand, began a sort of
dervish dance. In this the men with the gold wands joined, and finally,
in an outer ring, the bearers, the palanquin being the center of the
circles described by these solemn dancers, whose pace, little by little,
quickened, whose gestures grew sudden, strange, frantic, as the motion
became swifter and swifter, until at length the whirl became so rapid
that the dancers seemed to fly by with the speed of a mill-wheel, and
amid a general clapping of hands, and universal wonder, these strange
performers mingled with the crowd, and the exhibition, for the time at
least, ended.

The Marquis d'Harmonville was standing not far away, looking on the
ground, as one could judge by his attitude and musing. I approached, and
he said:

"The Count has just gone away to look for his wife. It is a pity she was
not here to consult the prophet; it would have been amusing, I daresay,
to see how the Count bore it. Suppose we follow him. I have asked him to
introduce you."

With a beating heart, I accompanied the Marquis d'Harmonville.

Chapter XIV

MADEMOISELLE DE LA VALLIERE

We wandered through the _salons_, the Marquis and I. It was no easy
matter to find a friend in rooms so crowded.

"Stay here," said the Marquis, "I have thought of a way of finding him.
Besides, his jealousy may have warned him that there is no particular
advantage to be gained by presenting you to his wife; I had better go
and reason with him, as you seem to wish an introduction so very much."

This occurred in the room that is now called the "Salon d'Apollon." The
paintings remained in my memory, and my adventure of that evening was
destined to occur there.

I sat down upon a sofa, and looked about me. Three or four persons
beside myself were seated on this roomy piece of gilded furniture. They
were chatting all very gaily; all--except the person who sat next me,
and she was a lady. Hardly two feet interposed between us. The lady sat
apparently in a reverie. Nothing could be more graceful. She wore the
costume perpetuated in Collignan's full-length portrait of Mademoiselle
de la Valiere. It is, as you know, not only rich, but elegant. Her hair
was powdered, but one could perceive that it was naturally a dark brown.
One pretty little foot appeared, and could anything be more exquisite
than her hand?

It was extremely provoking that this lady wore her mask, and did not, as
many did, hold it for a time in her hand.

I was convinced that she was pretty. Availing myself of the privilege of
a masquerade, a microcosm in which it is impossible, except by voice and
allusion, to distinguish friend from foe, I spoke:

"It is not easy, Mademoiselle, to deceive me," I began.

"So much the better for Monsieur," answered the mask, quietly.

"I mean," I said, determined to tell my fib, "that beauty is a gift
more difficult to conceal than Mademoiselle supposes."

"Yet Monsieur has succeeded very well," she said in the same sweet
and careless tones.

"I see the costume of this, the beautiful Mademoiselle de la Valiere,
upon a form that surpasses her own; I raise my eyes, and I behold a
mask, and yet I recognize the lady; beauty is like that precious stone
in the 'Arabian Nights,' which emits, no matter how concealed, a light
that betrays it."

"I know the story," said the young lady. "The light betrayed it, not in
the sun but in darkness. Is there so little light in these rooms,
Monsieur, that a poor glowworm can show so brightly? I thought we were
in a luminous atmosphere, wherever a certain Countess moved?"

Here was an awkward speech! How was I to answer? This lady might be, as
they say some ladies are, a lover of mischief, or an intimate of the
Countess de St. Alyre. Cautiously, therefore, I inquired,

"What Countess?"

"If you know me, you must know that she is my dearest friend. Is she not
beautiful?"

"How can I answer, there are so many countesses."

"Everyone who knows me, knows who my best beloved friend is. You don't
know me?"

"That is cruel. I can scarcely believe I am mistaken."

"With whom were you walking, just now?" she asked.

"A gentleman, a friend," I answered.

"I saw him, of course, a friend; but I think I know him, and should like
to be certain. Is he not a certain Marquis?"

Here was another question that was extremely awkward.

"There are so many people here, and one may walk, at one time with one,
and at another with a different one, that--"

"That an unscrupulous person has no difficulty in evading a simple
question like mine. Know then, once for all, that nothing disgusts a
person of spirit so much as suspicion. You, Monsieur, are a gentleman of
discretion. I shall respect you accordingly."

"Mademoiselle would despise me, were I to violate a confidence."

"But you don't deceive me. You imitate your friend's diplomacy. I hate
diplomacy. It means fraud and cowardice. Don't you think I know him? The
gentleman with the cross of white ribbon on his breast? I know the
Marquis d'Harmonville perfectly. You see to what good purpose your
ingenuity has been expended."

"To that conjecture I can answer neither yes nor no."

"You need not. But what was your motive in mortifying a lady?"

"It is the last thing on earth I should do."

"You affected to know me, and you don't; through caprice, or
listlessness, or curiosity, you wished to converse, not with a lady, but
with a costume. You admired, and you pretend to mistake me for another.
But who is quite perfect? Is truth any longer to be found on earth?"

"Mademoiselle has formed a mistaken opinion of me."

"And you also of me; you find me less foolish than you supposed. I know
perfectly whom you intend amusing with compliments and melancholy
declamation, and whom, with that amiable purpose, you have been
seeking."

"Tell me whom you mean," I entreated. "Upon one condition."

"What is that?"

"That you will confess if I name the lady."

"You describe my object unfairly," I objected. "I can't admit that I
proposed speaking to any lady in the tone you describe."

"Well, I shan't insist on that; only if I name the lady, you will
promise to admit that I am right."

"_Must_ I promise?"

"Certainly not, there is no compulsion; but your promise is the only
condition on which I will speak to you again."

I hesitated for a moment; but how could she possibly tell? The Countess
would scarcely have admitted this little romance to anyone; and the mask
in the La Valliere costume could not possibly know who the masked domino
beside her was.

"I consent," I said, "I promise."

"You must promise on the honor of a gentleman."

"Well, I do; on the honor of a gentleman."

"Then this lady is the Countess de St. Alyre."

I was unspeakably surprised; I was disconcerted; but I remembered my
promise, and said:

"The Countess de St. Alyre _is_, unquestionably, the lady to whom I
hoped for an introduction tonight; but I beg to assure you, also on the
honor of a gentleman, that she has not the faintest imaginable suspicion
that I was seeking such an honor, nor, in all probability, does she
remember that such a person as I exists. I had the honor to render her
and the Count a trifling service, too trifling, I fear, to have earned
more than an hour's recollection."

"The world is not so ungrateful as you suppose; or if it be, there are,
nevertheless, a few hearts that redeem it. I can answer for the Countess
de St. Alyre, she never forgets a kindness. She does not show all she
feels; for she is unhappy, and cannot."

"Unhappy! I feared, indeed, that might be. But for all the rest that you
are good enough to suppose, it is but a flattering dream."

"I told you that I am the Countess's friend, and being so I must know
something of her character; also, there are confidences between us, and
I may know more than you think of those trifling services of which you
suppose the recollection is so transitory."

I was becoming more and more interested. I was as wicked as other young
men, and the heinousness of such a pursuit was as nothing, now that
self-love and all the passions that mingle in such a romance were
roused. The image of the beautiful Countess had now again quite
superseded the pretty counterpart of La Valliee, who was before me. I
would have given a great deal to hear, in solemn earnest, that she did
remember the champion who, for her sake, had thrown himself before the
saber of an enraged dragoon, with only a cudgel in his hand, and
conquered.

"You say the Countess is unhappy," said I. "What causes her
unhappiness?"

"Many things. Her husband is old, jealous, and tyrannical. Is not that
enough? Even when relieved from his society, she is lonely."

"But you are her friend?" I suggested.

"And you think one friend enough?" she answered; "she has one alone, to
whom she can open her heart."

"Is there room for another friend?"

"Try."

"How can I find a way?"

"She will aid you."

"How?"

She answered by a question. "Have you secured rooms in either of the
hotels of Versailles?"

"No, I could not. I am lodged in the Dragon Volant, which stands at the
verge of the grounds of the Chateau de la Carque."

"That is better still. I need not ask if you have courage for an
adventure. I need not ask if you are a man of honor. A lady may trust
herself to you, and fear nothing. There are few men to whom the
interview, such as I shall arrange, could be granted with safety. You
shall meet her at two o'clock this morning in the Park of the Chateau de
la Carque. What room do you occupy in the Dragon Volant?"

I was amazed at the audacity and decision of this girl. Was she, as we
say in England, hoaxing me?

"I can describe that accurately," said I. "As I look from the rear of
the house, in which my apartment is, I am at the extreme right, next the
angle; and one pair of stairs up, from the hall."

"Very well; you must have observed, if you looked into the park, two or
three clumps of chestnut and lime trees, growing so close together as to
form a small grove. You must return to your hotel, change your dress,
and, preserving a scrupulous secrecy as to why or where you go, leave
the Dragon Volant, and climb the park wall, unseen; you will easily
recognize the grove I have mentioned; there you will meet the Countess,
who will grant you an audience of a few minutes, who will expect the
most scrupulous reserve on your part, and who will explain to you, in a
few words, a great deal which I could not so well tell you here."

I cannot describe the feeling with which I heard these words. I was
astounded. Doubt succeeded. I could not believe these agitating words.

"Mademoiselle will believe that if I only dared assure myself that so
great a happiness and honor were really intended for me, my gratitude
would be as lasting as my life. But how dare I believe that Mademoiselle
does not speak, rather from her own sympathy or goodness, than from a
certainty that the Countess de St. Alyre would concede so great an
honor?"

"Monsieur believes either that I am not, as I pretend to be, in the
secret which he hitherto supposed to be shared by no one but the
Countess and himself, or else that I am cruelly mystifying him. That I
am in her confidence, I swear by all that is dear in a whispered
farewell. By the last companion of this flower!" and she took for a
moment in her fingers the nodding head of a white rosebud that was
nestled in her bouquet. "By my own good star, and hers--or shall I call
it our 'belle etoile?' Have I said enough?"

"Enough?" I repeated, "more than enough--a thousand thanks."

"And being thus in her confidence, I am clearly her friend; and being a
friend would it be friendly to use her dear name so; and all for sake of
practicing a vulgar trick upon you--a stranger?"

"Mademoiselle will forgive me. Remember how very precious is the hope of
seeing, and speaking to the Countess. Is it wonderful, then, that I
should falter in my belief? You have convinced me, however, and will
forgive my hesitation."

"You will be at the place I have described, then, at two o'clock?"

"Assuredly," I answered.

"And Monsieur, I know, will not fail through fear. No, he need not
assure me; his courage is already proved."

"No danger, in such a case, will be unwelcome to me."

"Had you not better go now, Monsieur, and rejoin your friend?"

"I promised to wait here for my friend's return. The Count de St. Alyre
said that he intended to introduce me to the Countess."

"And Monsieur is so simple as to believe him?"

"Why should I not?"

"Because he is jealous and cunning. You will see. He will never
introduce you to his wife. He will come here and say he cannot find her,
and promise another time."

"I think I see him approaching, with my friend. No--there is no lady
with him."

"I told you so. You will wait a long time for that happiness, if it is
never to reach you except through his hands. In the meantime, you had
better not let him see you so near me. He will suspect that we have been
talking of his wife; and that will whet his jealousy and his vigilance."

I thanked my unknown friend in the mask, and withdrawing a few steps,
came, by a little "circumbendibus," upon the flank of the Count. I
smiled under my mask as he assured me that the Duchess de la Roqueme had
changed her place, and taken the Countess with her; but he hoped, at
some very early time, to have an opportunity of enabling her to make my
acquaintance.

I avoided the Marquis d'Harmonville, who was following the Count. I was
afraid he might propose accompanying me home, and had no wish to be
forced to make an explanation.

I lost myself quickly, therefore, in the crowd, and moved, as rapidly as
it would allow me, toward the Galerie des Glaces, which lay in the
direction opposite to that in which I saw the Count and my friend the
Marquis moving.

Chapter XV

STRANGE STORY OF THE DRAGON VOLANT

These _fetes_ were earlier in those days, and in France, than our
modern balls are in London. I consulted my watch. It was a little past
twelve.

It was a still and sultry night; the magnificent suite of rooms, vast as
some of them were, could not be kept at a temperature less than
oppressive, especially to people with masks on. In some places the crowd
was inconvenient, and the profusion of lights added to the heat. I
removed my mask, therefore, as I saw some other people do, who were as
careless of mystery as I. I had hardly done so, and began to breathe
more comfortably, when I heard a friendly English voice call me by my
name. It was Tom Whistlewick, of the --th Dragoons. He had unmasked,
with a very flushed face, as I did. He was one of those Waterloo heroes,
new from the mint of glory, whom, as a body, all the world, except
France, revered; and the only thing I knew against him, was a habit of
allaying his thirst, which was excessive at balls, _fetes_, musical
parties, and all gatherings, where it was to be had, with champagne;
and, as he introduced me to his friend, Monsieur Carmaignac, I observed
that he spoke a little thick. Monsieur Carmaignac was little, lean, and
as straight as a ramrod. He was bald, took snuff, and wore spectacles;
and, as I soon learned, held an official position.

Tom was facetious, sly, and rather difficult to understand, in his
present pleasant mood. He was elevating his eyebrows and screwing his
lips oddly, and fanning himself vaguely with his mask.

After some agreeable conversation I was glad to observe that he
preferred silence, and was satisfied with the _role_ of listener,
as I and Monsieur Carmaignac chatted; and he seated himself, with
extraordinary caution and indecision, upon a bench, beside us, and
seemed very soon to find a difficulty in keeping his eyes open.

"I heard you mention," said the French gentleman, "that you had engaged
an apartment in the Dragon Volant, about half a league from this. When I
was in a different police department, about four years ago, two very
strange cases were connected with that house. One was of a wealthy
_emigre_, permitted to return to France by the Em--by Napoleon. He
vanished. The other--equally strange--was the case of a Russian of rank
and wealth. He disappeared just as mysteriously."

"My servant," I said, "gave me a confused account of some occurrences,
and, as well as I recollect, he described the same persons--I mean a
returned French nobleman and a Russian gentleman. But he made the whole
story so marvelous--I mean in the supernatural sense--that, I confess, I
did not believe a word of it."

"No, there was nothing supernatural; but a great deal inexplicable,"
said the French gentleman. "Of course, there may be theories; but the
thing was never explained, nor, so far as I know, was a ray of light
ever thrown upon it."

"Pray let me hear the story," I said. "I think I have a claim, as it
affects my quarters. You don't suspect the people of the house?"

"Oh! it has changed hands since then. But there seemed to be a fatality
about a particular room."

"Could you describe that room?"

"Certainly. It is a spacious, paneled bedroom, up one pair of stairs, in
the back of the house, and at the extreme right, as you look from its
windows."

"Ho! Really? Why, then, I have got the very room!" I said, beginning to
be more interested--perhaps the least bit in the world, disagreeably.
"Did the people die, or were they actually spirited away?"

"No, they did not die--they disappeared very oddly. I'll tell you the
particulars--I happen to know them exactly, because I made an official
visit, on the first occasion, to the house, to collect evidence; and
although I did not go down there, upon the second, the papers came
before me, and I dictated the official letter dispatched to the
relations of the people who had disappeared; they had applied to the
government to investigate the affair. We had letters from the same
relations more than two years later, from which we learned that the
missing men had never turned up."

He took a pinch of snuff, and looked steadily at me.

"Never! I shall relate all that happened, so far as we could discover.
The French noble, who was the Chevalier Chateau Blassemare, unlike most
_emigres_ had taken the matter in time, sold a large portion of his
property before the revolution had proceeded so far as to render that
next to impossible, and retired with a large sum. He brought with him
about half a million of francs, the greater part of which he invested in
the French funds; a much larger sum remained in Austrian land and
securities. You will observe then that this gentleman was rich, and
there was no allegation of his having lost money, or being in any way
embarrassed. You see?"

I assented.

"This gentleman's habits were not expensive in proportion to his means.
He had suitable lodgings in Paris; and for a time, society, and
theaters, and other reasonable amusements, engrossed him. He did not
play. He was a middleaged man, affecting youth, with the vanities which
are usual in such persons; but, for the rest, he was a gentle and polite
person, who disturbed nobody--a person, you see, not likely to provoke
an enmity."

"Certainly not," I agreed.

"Early in the summer of 1811 he got an order permitting him to copy
a picture in one of these _salons_, and came down here, to
Versailles, for the purpose. His work was getting on slowly. After a
time he left his hotel here, and went, by way of change, to the Dragon
Volant; there he took, by special choice, the bedroom which has fallen
to you by chance. From this time, it appeared, he painted little; and
seldom visited his apartments in Paris. One night he saw the host of the
Dragon Volant, and told him that he was going into Paris, to remain for
a day or two, on very particular business; that his servant would
accompany him, but that he would retain his apartments at the Dragon
Volant, and return in a few days. He left some clothes there, but packed
a portmanteau, took his dressing case and the rest, and, with his
servant behind his carriage, drove into Paris. You observe all this,
Monsieur?"

"Most attentively," I answered.

"Well, Monsieur, as soon as they were approaching his lodgings, he
stopped the carriage on a sudden, told his servant that he had changed
his mind; that he would sleep elsewhere that night, that he had very
particular business in the north of France, not far from Rouen, that he
would set out before daylight on his journey, and return in a fortnight.
He called a _fiacre_, took in his hand a leather bag which, the
servant said, was just large enough to hold a few shirts and a coat, but
that it was enormously heavy, as he could testify, for he held it in his
hand, while his master took out his purse to count thirty-six Napoleons,
for which the servant was to account when he should return. He then sent
him on, in the carriage; and he, with the bag I have mentioned, got into
the _fiacre_. Up to that, you see, the narrative is quite clear."

"Perfectly," I agreed.

"Now comes the mystery," said Monsieur Carmaignac. "After that, the
Count Chateau Blassemare was never more seen, so far as we can make out,
by acquaintance or friend. We learned that the day before the Count's
stockbroker had, by his direction, sold all his stock in the French
funds, and handed him the cash it realized. The reason he gave him for
this measure tallied with what he said to his servant. He told him that
he was going to the north of France to settle some claims, and did not
know exactly how much might be required. The bag, which had puzzled the
servant by its weight, contained, no doubt, a large sum in gold. Will
Monsieur try my snuff?"

He politely tendered his open snuff-box, of which I partook,
experimentally.

"A reward was offered," he continued, "when the inquiry was instituted,
for any information tending to throw a light upon the mystery, which
might be afforded by the driver of the _fiacre_ 'employed on the
night of' (so-and-so), 'at about the hour of half-past ten, by a
gentleman, with a black-leather bag-bag in his hand, who descended from
a private carriage, and gave his servant some money, which he counted
twice over.' About a hundred-and-fifty drivers applied, but not one of
them was the right man. We did, however, elicit a curious and unexpected
piece of evidence in quite another quarter. What a racket that plaguey
harlequin makes with his sword!"

"Intolerable!" I chimed in.

The harlequin was soon gone, and he resumed.

"The evidence I speak of came from a boy, about twelve years old, who
knew the appearance of the Count perfectly, having been often employed
by him as a messenger. He stated that about half-past twelve o'clock, on
the same night--upon which you are to observe, there was a brilliant
moon--he was sent, his mother having been suddenly taken ill, for the
_sage femme_ who lived within a stone's throw of the Dragon Volant.
His father's house, from which he started, was a mile away, or more,
from that inn, in order to reach which he had to pass round the park of
the Cheteau de la Carque, at the site most remote from the point to
which he was going. It passes the old churchyard of St. Aubin, which is
separated from the road only by a very low fence, and two or three
enormous old trees. The boy was a little nervous as he approached this
ancient cemetery; and, under the bright moonlight, he saw a man whom he
distinctly recognized as the Count, whom they designated by a sobriquet
which means 'the man of smiles.' He was looking rueful enough now, and
was seated on the side of a tombstone, on which he had laid a pistol,
while he was ramming home the charge of another.

"The boy got cautiously by, on tiptoe, with his eyes all the time on the
Count Chateau Blassernare, or the man he mistook for him--his dress was
not what he usually wore, but the witness swore that he could not be
mistaken as to his identity. He said his face looked grave and stern;
but though he did not smile, it was the same face he knew so well.
Nothing would make him swerve from that. If that were he, it was the
last time he was seen. He has never been heard of since. Nothing could
be heard of him in the neighborhood of Rouen. There has been no evidence
of his death; and there is no sign that he is living."

"That certainly is a most singular case," I replied, and was about to
ask a question or two, when Tom Whistlewick who, without my observing
it, had been taking a ramble, returned, a great deal more awake, and a
great deal less tipsy.

"I say, Carmaignac, it is getting late, and I must go; I really must,
for the reason I told you--and, Beckett, we must soon meet again."

"I regret very much, Monsieur, my not being able at present to relate to
you the other case, that of another tenant of the very same room--a case
more mysterious and sinister than the last--and which occurred in the
autumn of the same year."

"Will you both do a very good-natured thing, and come and dine with me
at the Dragon Volant tomorrow?"

So, as we pursued our way along the Galerie des Glaces, I extracted
their promise.

"By Jove!" said Whistlewick, when this was done; "look at that pagoda,
or sedan chair, or whatever it is, just where those fellows set it down,
and not one of them near it! I can't imagine how they tell fortunes so
devilish well. Jack Nuffles--I met him here tonight--says they are
gypsies--where are they, I wonder? I'll go over and have a peep at the
prophet."

I saw him plucking at the blinds, which were constructed something on
the principle of Venetian blinds; the red curtains were inside; but they
did not yield, and he could only peep under one that did not come quite
down.

When he rejoined us, he related: "I could scarcely see the old fellow,
it's so dark. He is covered with gold and red, and has an embroidered
hat on like a mandarin's; he's fast asleep; and, by Jove, he smells like
a polecat! It's worth going over only to have it to say. Fiew! pooh! oh!
It is a perfume. Faugh!"

Not caring to accept this tempting invitation, we got along slowly
toward the door. I bade them good-night, reminding them of their
promise. And so found my way at last to my carriage; and was soon
rolling slowly toward the Dragon Volant, on the loneliest of roads,
under old trees, and the soft moonlight.

What a number of things had happened within the last two hours! what a
variety of strange and vivid pictures were crowded together in that
brief space! What an adventure was before me!

The silent, moonlighted, solitary road, how it contrasted with the
many-eddied whirl of pleasure from whose roar and music, lights,
diamonds and colors I had just extricated myself.

The sight of lonely nature at such an hour, acts like a sudden sedative.
The madness and guilt of my pursuit struck me with a momentary
compunction and horror. I wished I had never entered the labyrinth which
was leading me, I knew not whither. It was too late to think of that
now; but the bitter was already stealing into my cup; and vague
anticipations lay, for a few minutes, heavy on my heart. It would not
have taken much to make me disclose my unmanly state of mind to my
lively friend Alfred Ogle, nor even to the milder ridicule of the
agreeable Tom Whistlewick.

Chapter XVI

THE PARC OF THE CHATEAU DE LA CARQUE

There was no danger of the Dragon Volant's closing its doors on that
occasion till three or four in the morning. There were quartered there
many servants of great people, whose masters would not leave the ball
till the last moment, and who could not return to their corners in the
Dragon Volant till their last services had been rendered.

I knew, therefore, I should have ample time for my mysterious excursion
without exciting curiosity by being shut out.

And now we pulled up under the canopy of boughs, before the sign of the
Dragon Volant, and the light that shone from its hall-door.

I dismissed my carriage, ran up the broad stair-case, mask in hand, with
my domino fluttering about me, and entered the large bedroom. The black
wainscoting and stately furniture, with the dark curtains of the very
tall bed, made the night there more somber.

An oblique patch of moonlight was thrown upon the floor from the window
to which I hastened. I looked out upon the landscape slumbering in those
silvery beams. There stood the outline of the Chateau de la Carque, its
chimneys and many turrets with their extinguisher-shaped roofs black
against the soft grey sky. There, also, more in the foreground, about
midway between the window where I stood and the chateau, but a little to
the left, I traced the tufted masses of the grove which the lady in the
mask had appointed as the trysting-place, where I and the beautiful
Countess were to meet that night.

I took "the bearings" of this gloomy bit of wood, whose foliage
glimmered softly at top in the light of the moon.

You may guess with what a strange interest and swelling of the heart I
gazed on the unknown scene of my coming adventure.

But time was flying, and the hour already near. I threw my robe upon a
sofa; I groped out a pair of hoots, which I substituted for those thin
heelless shoes, in those days called "pumps," without which a gentleman
could not attend an evening party. I put on my hat and, lastly, I took a
pair of loaded pistols, which I had been advised were satisfactory
companions in the then unsettled state of French society; swarms of
disbanded soldiers, some of them alleged to be desperate characters,
being everywhere to be met with. These preparations made, I confess I
took a looking-glass to the window to see how I looked in the moonlight;
and being satisfied, I replaced it, and ran downstairs.

In the hall I called for my servant.

"St. Clair," said I; "I mean to take a little moonlight ramble, only ten
minutes or so. You must not go to bed until I return. If the night is
very beautiful, I may possibly extend my ramble a little."

So down the steps I lounged, looking first over my right, and then over
my left shoulder, like a man uncertain which direction to take, and I
sauntered up the road, gazing now at the moon, and now at the thin white
clouds in the opposite direction, whistling, all the time, an air which
I had picked up at one of the theatres.

When I had got a couple of hundred yards away from the Dragon Volant, my
minstrelsy totally ceased; and I turned about, and glanced sharply down
the road, that looked as white as hoar-frost under the moon, and saw the
gable of the old inn, and a window, partly concealed by the foliage,
with a dusky light shining from it.

No sound of footstep was stirring; no sign of human figure in sight. I
consulted my watch, which the light was sufficiently strong to enable me
to do. It now wanted but eight minutes of the appointed hour. A thick
mantle of ivy at this point covered the wall and rose in a clustering
head at top.

It afforded me facilities for scaling the wall, and a partial screen for
my operations if any eye should chance to be looking that way. And now
it was done. I was in the park of the Chateau de la Carque, as nefarious
a poacher as ever trespassed on the grounds of unsuspicious lord!

Before me rose the appointed grove, which looked as black as a clump of
gigantic hearse plumes. It seemed to tower higher and higher at every
step; and cast a broader and blacker shadow toward my feet. On I
marched, and was glad when I plunged into the shadow which concealed me.
Now I was among the grand old lime and chestnut trees--my heart beat
fast with expectation.

This grove opened, a little, near the middle; and, in the space thus
cleared, there stood with a surrounding flight of steps a small Greek
temple or shrine, with a statue in the center. It was built of white
marble with fluted Corinthian columns, and the crevices were tufted with
grass; moss had shown itself on pedestal and cornice, and signs of long
neglect and decay were apparent in its discolored and weather-worn
marble. A few feet in front of the steps a fountain, fed from the great
ponds at the other side of the chateau, was making a constant tinkle and
splashing in a wide marble basin, and the jet of water glimmered like a
shower of diamonds in the broken moonlight. The very neglect and
half-ruinous state of all this made it only the prettier, as well as
sadder. I was too intently watching for the arrival of the lady, in the
direction of the chateau, to study these things; but the half-noted
effect of them was romantic, and suggested somehow the grotto and the
fountain, and the apparition of Egeria.

As I watched a voice spoke to me, a little behind my left shoulder. I
turned, almost with a start, and the masque, in the costume of
Mademoiselle de la Valliere, stood there.

"The Countess will be here presently," she said. The lady stood upon the
open space, and the moonlight fell unbroken upon her. Nothing could be
more becoming; her figure looked more graceful and elegant than ever.
"In the meantime I shall tell you some peculiarities of her situation.
She is unhappy; miserable in an ill--assorted marriage, with a jealous
tyrant who now would constrain her to sell her diamonds, which are--"

"Worth thirty thousand pounds sterling. I heard all that from a friend.
Can I aid the Countess in her unequal struggle? Say but how the greater
the danger or the sacrifice, the happier will it make me. _Can_ I
aid her?"

"If you despise a danger--which, yet, is not a danger; if you despise,
as she does, the tyrannical canons of the world; and if you are
chivalrous enough to devote yourself to a lady's cause, with no reward
but her poor gratitude; if you can do these things you can aid her, and
earn a foremost place, not in her gratitude only, but in her
friendship."

At those words the lady in the mask turned away and seemed to weep.

I vowed myself the willing slave of the Countess. "But," I added, "you
told me she would soon be here."

"That is, if nothing unforeseen should happen; but with the eye of the
Count de St. Alyre in the house, and open, it is seldom safe to stir."

"Does she wish to see me?" I asked, with a tender hesitation.

"First, say have you really thought of her, more than once, since the
adventure of the Belle Etoile?"

"She never leaves my thoughts; day and night her beautiful eyes haunt
me; her sweet voice is always in my ear."

"Mine is said to resemble hers," said the mask.

"So it does," I answered. "But it is only a resemblance."

"Oh! then mine is better?"

"Pardon me, Mademoiselle, I did not say that. Yours is a sweet voice,
but I fancy a little higher."

"A little shriller, you would say," answered the De la Valliere, I
fancied a good deal vexed.

"No, not shriller: your voice is not shrill, it is beautifully sweet;
but not so pathetically sweet as hers."

"That is prejudice, Monsieur; it is not true."

I bowed; I could not contradict a lady.

"I see, Monsieur, you laugh at me; you think me vain, because I claim in
some points to be equal to the Countess de St. Alyre. I challenge you to
say, my hand, at least, is less beautiful than hers." As she thus spoke
she drew her glove off, and extended her hand, back upward, in the
moonlight.

The lady seemed really nettled. It was undignified and irritating; for
in this uninteresting competition the precious moments were flying, and
my interview leading apparently to nothing.

"You will admit, then, that my hand is as beautiful as hers?"

"I cannot admit it. Mademoiselle," said I, with the honesty of
irritation. "I will not enter into comparisons, but the Countess de St.
Alyre is, in all respects, the most beautiful lady I ever beheld."

The masque laughed coldly, and then, more and more softly, said, with a
sigh, "I will prove all I say." And as she spoke she removed the mask:
and the Countess de St. Alyre, smiling, confused, bashful, more
beautiful than ever, stood before me!

"Good Heavens!" I exclaimed. "How monstrously stupid I have been. And it
was to Madame la Comtesse that I spoke for so long in the _salon!_"
I gazed on her in silence. And with a low sweet laugh of good nature she
extended her hand. I took it and carried it to my lips.

"No, you must not do that," she said quietly, "we are not old enough
friends yet. I find, although you were mistaken, that you do remember
the Countess of the Belle Etoile, and that you are a champion true and
fearless. Had you yielded to the claims just now pressed upon you by the
rivalry of Mademoiselle de la Valiere, in her mask, the Countess de St.
Alyre should never have trusted or seen you more. I now am sure that you
are true, as well as brave. You now know that I have not forgotten you;
and, also, that if you would risk your life for me, I, too, would brave
some danger, rather than lose my friend forever. I have but a few
moments more. Will you come here again tomorrow night, at a quarter past
eleven? I will be here at that moment; you must exercise the most
scrupulous care to prevent suspicion that you have come here, Monsieur.
_You owe that to me_."

She spoke these last words with the most solemn entreaty.

I vowed again and again that I would die rather than permit the least
rashness to endanger the secret which made all the interest and value of
my life.

She was looking, I thought, more and more beautiful every moment. My
enthusiasm expanded in proportion.

"You must come tomorrow night by a different route," she said; "and if
you come again, we can change it once more. At the other side of the
chateau there is a little churchyard, with a ruined chapel. The
neighbors are afraid to pass it by night. The road is deserted there,
and a stile opens a way into these grounds. Cross it and you can find a
covert of thickets, to within fifty steps of this spot."

I promised, of course, to observe her instructions implicitly.

"I have lived for more than a year in an agony of irresolution. I have
decided at last. I have lived a melancholy life; a lonelier life than is
passed in the cloister. I have had no one to confide in; no one to
advise me; no one to save me from the horrors of my existence. I have
found a brave and prompt friend at last. Shall I ever forget the heroic
tableau of the hall of the Belle Etoile? Have you--have you really kept
the rose I gave you, as we parted? Yes--you swear it. You need not; I
trust you. Richard, how often have I in solitude repeated your name,
learned from my servant. Richard, my hero! Oh! Richard! Oh, my king! I
love you!"

I would have folded her to my heart--thrown myself at her feet. But this
beautiful and--shall I say it--inconsistent woman repelled me.

"No, we must not waste our moments in extravagances. Understand my case.
There is no such thing as indifference in the married state. Not to love
one's husband," she continued, "is to hate him. The Count, ridiculous in
all else, is formidable in his jealousy. In mercy, then, to me, observe
caution. Affect to all you speak to, the most complete ignorance of all
the people in the Chateau de la Carque; and, if anyone in your presence
mentions the Count or Countess de St. Alyre, be sure you say you never
saw either. I shall have more to say to you tomorrow night. I have
reasons that I cannot now explain, for all I do, and all I postpone.
Farewell. Go! Leave me."

She waved me back, peremptorily. I echoed her "farewell," and obeyed.

This interview had not lasted, I think, more than ten minutes. I scaled
the park wall again, and reached the Dragon Volant before its doors were
closed.

I lay awake in my bed, in a fever of elation. I saw, till the dawn
broke, and chased the vision, the beautiful Countess de St. Alyre,
always in the dark, before me.

Chapter XVII

THE TENANT OF THE PALANQUIN

The Marquis called on me next day. My late breakfast was still upon the
table. He had come, he said, to ask a favor. An accident had happened to
his carriage in the crowd on leaving the ball, and he begged, if I were
going into Paris, a seat in mine. I was going in, and was extremely glad
of his company. He came with me to my hotel; we went up to my rooms. I
was surprised to see a man seated in an easy chair, with his back
towards us, reading a newspaper. He rose. It was the Count de St. Alyre,
his gold spectacles on his nose; his black wig, in oily curls, lying
close to his narrow head, and showing like carved ebony over a repulsive
visage of boxwood. His black muffler had been pulled down. His. right
arm was in a sling. I don't know whether there was anything unusual in
his countenance that day, or whether it was but the effect of prejudice
arising from all I had heard in my mysterious interview in his park, but
I thought his countenance was more strikingly forbidding than I had seen
it before.

I was not callous enough in the ways of sin to meet this man, injured at
least in intent, thus suddenly, without a momentary disturbance.

He smiled.

"I called, Monsieur Beckett, in the hope of finding you here," he
croaked, "and I meditated, I fear, taking a great liberty, but my friend
the Marquis d'Harmonville, on whom I have perhaps some claim, will
perhaps give me the assistance I require so much."

"With great pleasure," said the Marquis, "but not till after six
o'clock. I must go this moment to a meeting of three or four people whom
I cannot disappoint, and I know, perfectly, we cannot break up earlier."

"What am I to do?" exclaimed the Count, "an hour would have done it all.
Was ever _contretemps_ so unlucky?"

"I'll give you an hour, with pleasure," said I.

"How very good of you, Monsieur, I hardly dare to hope it. The business,
for so gay and charming a man as Monsieur Beckett, is a little
_funeste_. Pray read this note which reached me this morning."

It certainly was not cheerful. It was a note stating that the body of
his, the Count's cousin, Monsieur de St. Amand, who had died at his
house, the Chateau Clery, had been, in accordance with his written
directions, sent for burial at Pere la Chaise, and, with the permission
of the Count de St. Alyre, would reach his house (the Chateau de la
Carque) at about ten o'clock on the night following, to be conveyed
thence in a hearse, with any member of the family who might wish to
attend the obsequies.

"I did not see the poor gentleman twice in my life," said the Count,
"but this office, as he has no other kinsman, disagreeable as it is, I
could scarcely decline, and so I want to attend at the office to have
the book signed, and the order entered. But here is another misery. By
ill luck I have sprained my thumb, and can't sign my name for a week to
come. However, one name answers as well as another. Yours as well as
mine. And as you are so good as to come with me, all will go right."

Away we drove. The Count gave me a memorandum of the Christian and
surnames of the deceased, his age, the complaint he died of, and the
usual particulars; also a note of the exact position in which a grave,
the dimensions of which were described, of the ordinary simple kind, was
to be dug, between two vaults belonging to the family of St. Amand. The
funeral, it was stated, would arrive at half--past one o'clock A.M. (the
next night but one); and he handed me the money, with extra fees, for a
burial by night. It was a good deal; and I asked him, as he entrusted
the whole affair to me, in whose name I should take the receipt.

"Not in mine, my good friend. They wanted me to become an executor,
which I, yesterday, wrote to decline; and I am informed that if the
receipt were in my name it would constitute me an executor in the eye of
the law, and fix me in that position. Take it, pray, if you have no
objection, in your own name."

This, accordingly, I did.

You will see, by--and--by, why I am obliged to mention all these
particulars.

The Count, meanwhile, was leaning back in the carriage, with his black
silk muffler up to his nose, and his hat shading his eyes, while he
dozed in his corner; in which state I found him on my return.

Paris had lost its charm for me. I hurried through the little business I
had to do, longed once more for my quiet room in the Dragon Volant, the
melancholy woods of the Chateau de la Carque, and the tumultuous and
thrilling influence of proximity to the object of my wild but wicked
romance.

I was delayed some time by my stockbroker. I had a very large sum, as I
told you, at my banker's, uninvested. I cared very little for a few
day's interest--very little for the entire sum, compared with the image
that occupied my thoughts, and beckoned me with a white arm, through the
dark, toward the spreading lime trees and chestnuts of the Chateau de la
Carque. But I had fixed this day to meet him, and was relieved when he
told me that I had better let it lie in my banker's hands for a few days
longer, as the funds would certainly fall immediately. This accident,
too, was not without its immediate bearing on my subsequent adventures.

When I reached the Dragon Volant, I found, in my sitting-room, a good
deal to my chagrin, my two guests, whom I had quite forgotten. I
inwardly cursed my own stupidity for having embarrassed myself with
their agreeable society. It could not be helped now, however, and a word
to the waiters put all things in train for dinner.

Tom Whistlewick was in great force; and he commenced almost immediately
with a very odd story.

He told me that not only Versailles, but all Paris was in a ferment, in
consequence of a revolting, and all but sacrilegious practical joke,
played of on the night before.

The pagoda, as he persisted in calling the palanquin, had been left
standing on the spot where we last saw it. Neither conjuror, nor usher,
nor bearers had ever returned. When the ball closed, and the company at
length retired, the servants who attended to put out the lights, and
secure the doors, found it still there.

It was determined, however, to let it stand where it was until next
morning, by which time, it was conjectured, its owners would send
messengers to remove it.

None arrived. The servants were then ordered to take it away; and its
extraordinary weight, for the first time, reminded them of its forgotten
human occupant. Its door was forced; and, judge what was their disgust,
when they discovered, not a living man, but a corpse! Three or four days
must have passed since the death of the burly man in the Chinese tunic
and painted cap. Some people thought it was a trick designed to insult
the Allies, in whose honor the ball was got up. Others were of opinion
that it was nothing worse than a daring and cynical jocularity which,
shocking as it was, might yet be forgiven to the high spirits and
irrepressible buffoonery of youth. Others, again, fewer in number, and
mystically given, insisted that the corpse was _bona fide_
necessary to the exhibition, and that the disclosures and allusions
which had astonished so many people were distinctly due to necromancy.

"The matter, however, is now in the hands of the police," observed
Monsieur Carmaignac, "and we are not the body they were two or three
months ago, if the offenders against propriety and public feeling are
not traced and convicted, unless, indeed, they have been a great deal
more cunning than such fools generally are."

I was thinking within myself how utterly inexplicable was my colloquy
with the conjuror, so cavalierly dismissed by Monsieur Carmaignac as a
"fool"; and the more I thought the more marvelous it seemed.

"It certainly was an original joke, though not a very clear one," said
Whistlewick.

"Not even original," said Carmaignac. "Very nearly the same thing was
done, a hundred years ago or more, at a state ball in Paris; and the
rascals who played the trick were never found out."

In this Monsieur Carmaignac, as I afterwards discovered, spoke truly;
for, among my books of French anecdote and memoirs, the very incident is
marked by my own hand.

While we were thus talking the waiter told us that dinner was served,
and we withdrew accordingly; my guests more than making amends for my
comparative taciturnity.

Chapter XVIII

THE CHURCHYARD

Our dinner was really good, so were the wines; better, perhaps, at this
out-of-the-way inn, than at some of the more pretentious hotels in
Paris. The moral effect of a really good dinner is immense--we all felt
it. The serenity and good nature that follow are more solid and
comfortable than the tumultuous benevolences of Bacchus.

My friends were happy, therefore, and very chatty; which latter relieved
me of the trouble of talking, and prompted them to entertain me and one
another incessantly with agreeable stories and conversation, of which,
until suddenly a subject emerged which interested me powerfully, I
confess, so much were my thoughts engaged elsewhere, I heard next to
nothing.

"Yes," said Carmaignac, continuing a conversation which had escaped me,
"there was another case, beside that Russian nobleman, odder still. I
remembered it this morning, but cannot recall the name. He was a tenant
of the very same room. By-the-by, Monsieur, might it not be as well," he
added, turning to me with a laugh, half joke whole earnest, as they say,
"if you were to get into another apartment, now that the house is no
longer crowded? that is, if you mean to make any stay here."

"A thousand thanks! no. I'm thinking of changing my hotel; and I can run
into town so easily at night; and though I stay here for this night at
least, I don't expect to vanish like those others. But you say there is
another adventure, of the same kind, connected with the same room. Do
let us hear it. But take some wine first."

The story he told was curious.

"It happened," said Carmaignac, "as well as I recollect, before either
of the other cases. A French gentleman--I wish I could remember his
name--the son of a merchant, came to this inn (the Dragon Volant),
and was put by the landlord into the same room of which we have been
speaking. _Your_ apartment, Monsieur. He was by no means young--past
forty--and very far from good-looking. The people here said that he was
the ugliest man, and the most good-natured, that ever lived. He played
on the fiddle, sang, and wrote poetry. His habits were odd and desultory.
He would sometimes sit all day in his room writing, singing, and
fiddling, and go out at night for a walk. An eccentric man! He was
by no means a millionaire, but he had a _modicum bonum_, you
understand--a trifle more than half a million of francs. He consulted
his stockbroker about investing this money in foreign stocks, and drew
the entire sum from his banker. You now have the situation of affairs
when the catastrophe occurred."

"Pray fill your glass," I said.

"Dutch courage, Monsieur, to face the catastrophe!" said Whistlewick,
filling his own.

"Now, that was the last that ever was heard of his money," resumed
Carmaignac. "You shall hear about himself. The night after this
financial operation he was seized with a poetic frenzy: he sent for the
then landlord of this house, and told him that he long meditated an
epic, and meant to commence that night, and that he was on no account to
be disturbed until nine o'clock in the morning. He had two pairs of wax
candles, a little cold supper on a side-table, his desk open, paper
enough upon it to contain the entire Henriade, and a proportionate store
of pens and ink.

"Seated at this desk he was seen by the waiter who brought him a cup of
coffee at nine o'clock, at which time the intruder said he was writing
fast enough to set fire to the paper--that was his phrase; he did not
look up, he appeared too much engrossed. But when the waiter came back,
half an hour afterwards, the door was locked; and the poet, from within,
answered that he must not be disturbed.

"Away went the _garcon_, and next morning at nine o'clock knocked
at his door and, receiving no answer, looked through the key-hole; the
lights were still burning, the window-shutters were closed as he had
left them; he renewed his knocking, knocked louder, no answer came. He
reported this continued and alarming silence to the innkeeper, who,
finding that his guest had not left his key in the lock, succeeded in
finding another that opened it. The candles were just giving up the
ghost in their sockets, but there was light enough to ascertain that the
tenant of the room was gone! The bed had not been disturbed; the
window-shutter was barred. He must have let himself out, and, locking
the door on the outside, put the key in his pocket, and so made his way
out of the house. Here, however, was another difficulty: the Dragon
Volant shut its doors and made all fast at twelve o'clock; after that
hour no one could leave the house, except by obtaining the key and
letting himself out, and of necessity leaving the door unsecured, or
else by collusion and aid of some person in the house.

"Now it happened that, some time after the doors were secured, at
half-past twelve, a servant who had not been apprised of his order to be
left undisturbed, seeing a light shine through the key-hole, knocked at
the door to inquire whether the poet wanted anything. He was very little
obliged to his disturber, and dismissed him with a renewed charge that
he was not to be interrupted again during the night. This incident
established the fact that he was in the house after the doors had been
locked and barred. The inn-keeper himself kept the keys, and swore that
he found them hung on the wall above his head, in his bed, in their
usual place, in the morning; and that nobody could have taken them away
without awakening him. That was all we could discover. The Count de St.
Alyre, to whom this house belongs, was very active and very much
chagrined. But nothing was discovered."

"And nothing heard since of the epic poet?" I asked.

"Nothing--not the slightest clue--he never turned up again. I suppose he
is dead; if he is not, he must have got into some devilish bad scrape,
of which we have heard nothing, that compelled him to abscond with all
the secrecy and expedition in his power. All that we know for certain is
that, having occupied the room in which you sleep, he vanished, nobody
ever knew how, and never was heard of since."

"You have now mentioned three cases," I said, "and all from the same
room."

"Three. Yes, all equally unintelligible. When men are murdered, the
great and immediate difficulty the assassins encounter is how to conceal
the body. It is very hard to believe that three persons should have been
consecutively murdered in the same room, and their bodies so effectually
disposed of that no trace of them was ever discovered."

From this we passed to other topics, and the grave Monsieur Carmaignac
amused us with a perfectly prodigious collection of scandalous anecdote,
which his opportunities in the police department had enabled him to
accumulate.

My guests happily had engagements in Paris, and left me about ten.

I went up to my room, and looked out upon the grounds of the Chateau de
la Carque. The moonlight was broken by clouds, and the view of the park
in this desultory light acquired a melancholy and fantastic character.

The strange anecdotes recounted of the room in which I stood by Monsieur
Carmaignac returned vaguely upon my mind, drowning in sudden shadows the
gaiety of the more frivolous stories with which he had followed them. I
looked round me on the room that lay in ominous gloom, with an almost
disagreeable sensation. I took my pistols now with an undefined
apprehension that they might be really needed before my return tonight.
This feeling, be it understood, in no wise chilled my ardor. Never had
my enthusiasm mounted higher. My adventure absorbed and carried me away;
but it added a strange and stern excitement to the expedition.

I loitered for a time in my room. I had ascertained the exact point at
which the little churchyard lay. It was about a mile away. I did not
wish to reach it earlier than necessary.

I stole quietly out and sauntered along the road to my left, and thence
entered a narrower track, still to my left, which, skirting the park
wall and describing a circuitous route all the way, under grand old
trees, passes the ancient cemetery. That cemetery is embowered in trees
and occupies little more than half an acre of ground to the left of the
road, interposing between it and the park of the Chateau de la Carque.

Here, at this haunted spot, I paused and listened. The place was utterly
silent. A thick cloud had darkened the moon, so that I could distinguish
little more than the outlines of near objects, and that vaguely enough;
and sometimes, as it were, floating in black fog, the white surface of a
tombstone emerged.

Among the forms that met my eye against the iron-grey of the horizon,
were some of those shrubs or trees that grow like our junipers, some six
feet high, in form like a miniature poplar, with the darker foliage of
the yew. I do not know the name of the plant, but I have often seen it
in such funereal places.

Knowing that I was a little too early, I sat down upon the edge of a
tombstone to wait, as, for aught I knew, the beautiful Countess might
have wise reasons for not caring that I should enter the grounds of the
chateau earlier than she had appointed. In the listless state induced by
waiting, I sat there, with my eyes on the object straight before me,
which chanced to be that faint black outline I have described. It was
right before me, about half-a-dozen steps away.

The moon now began to escape from under the skirt of the cloud that had
hid her face for so long; and, as the light gradually improved, the tree
on which I had been lazily staring began to take a new shape. It was no
longer a tree, but a man standing motionless. Brighter and brighter grew
the moonlight, clearer and clearer the image became, and at last stood
out perfectly distinctly. It was Colonel Gaillarde. Luckily, he was not
looking toward me. I could only see him in profile; but there was no
mistaking the white moustache, the _farouche_ visage, and the gaunt
six-foot stature. There he was, his shoulder toward me, listening and
watching, plainly, for some signal or person expected, straight in front
of him.

If he were, by chance, to turn his eyes in my direction, I knew that I
must reckon upon an instantaneous renewal of the combat only commenced
in the hall of Belle Etoile. In any case, could malignant fortune have
posted, at this place and hour, a more dangerous watcher? What ecstasy
to him, by a single discovery, to hit me so hard, and blast the Countess
de St. Alyre, whom he seemed to hate.

He raised his arm; he whistled softly; I heard an answering whistle as
low; and, to my relief, the Colonel advanced in the direction of this
sound, widening the distance between us at every step; and immediately I
heard talking, but in a low and cautious key. I recognized, I thought,
even so, the peculiar voice of Gaillarde. I stole softly forward in the
direction in which those sounds were audible. In doing so, I had, of
course, to use the extremest caution.

I thought I saw a hat above a jagged piece of ruined wall, and then a
second--yes, I saw two hats conversing; the voices came from under them.
They moved off, not in the direction of the park, but of the road, and I
lay along the grass, peeping over a grave, as a skirmisher might
observing the enemy. One after the other, the figures emerged full into
view as they mounted the stile at the roadside. The Colonel, who was
last, stood on the wall for awhile, looking about him, and then jumped
down on the road. I heard their steps and talk as they moved away
together, with their backs toward me, in the direction which led them
farther and farther from the Dragon Volant.

I waited until these sounds were quite lost in distance before I entered
the park. I followed the instructions I had received from the Countess
de St. Alyre, and made my way among brushwood and thickets to the point
nearest the ruinous temple, and crossed the short intervening space of
open ground rapidly.

I was now once more under the gigantic boughs of the old lime and
chestnut trees; softly, and with a heart throbbing fast, I approached
the little structure.

The moon was now shining steadily, pouring down its radiance on the soft
foliage, and here and there mottling the verdure under my feet.

I reached the steps; I was among its worn marble shafts. She was not
there, nor in the inner sanctuary, the arched windows of which were
screened almost entirely by masses of ivy. The lady had not yet arrived.

Chapter XIX

THE KEY

I stood now upon the steps, watching and listening. In a minute or two I
heard the crackle of withered sticks trod upon, and, looking in the
direction, I saw a figure approaching among the trees, wrapped in a
mantle.

I advanced eagerly. It was the Countess. She did not speak, but gave me
her hand, and I led her to the scene of our last interview. She
repressed the ardor of my impassioned greeting with a gentle but
peremptory firmness. She removed her hood, shook back her beautiful
hair, and, gazing on me with sad and glowing eyes, sighed deeply. Some
awful thought seemed to weigh upon her,

"Richard, I must speak plainly. The crisis of my life has come. I am
sure you would defend me. I think you pity me; perhaps you even love
me."

At these words I became eloquent, as young madmen in my plight do. She
silenced me, however, with the same melancholy firmness.

"Listen, dear friend, and then say whether you can aid me. How madly I
am trusting you; and yet my heart tells me how wisely! To meet you here
as I do--what insanity it seems! How poorly you must think of me! But
when you know all, you will judge me fairly. Without your aid I cannot
accomplish my purpose. That purpose unaccomplished, I must die. I am
chained to a man whom I despise--whom I abhor. I have resolved to fly. I
have jewels, principally diamonds, for which I am offered thirty
thousand pounds of your English money. They are my separate property by
my marriage settlement; I will take them with me. You are a judge, no
doubt, of jewels. I was counting mine when the hour came, and brought
this in my hand to show you. Look."

"It is magnificent!" I exclaimed, as a collar of diamonds twinkled and
flashed in the moonlight, suspended from her pretty fingers. I thought,
even at that tragic moment, that she prolonged the show, with a feminine
delight in these brilliant toys.

"Yes," she said, "I shall part with them all. I will turn them into
money and break, forever, the unnatural and wicked bonds that tied me,
in the name of a sacrament, to a tyrant. A man young, handsome,
generous, brave, as you, can hardly be rich. Richard, you say you love
me; you shall share all this with me. We will fly together to
Switzerland; we will evade pursuit; in powerful friends will intervene
and arrange a separation, and shall, at length, be happy and reward my
hero."

You may suppose the style, florid and vehement, in which poured forth my
gratitude, vowed the devotion of my life, and placed myself absolutely
at her disposal.

"Tomorrow night," she said, "my husband will attend the remains of his
cousin, Monsieur de St. Amand, to Pere la Chaise. The hearse, he says,
will leave this at half-past nine. You must be here, where we stand, at
nine o'clock."

I promised punctual obedience.

"I will not meet you here; but you see a red light in the window of the
tower at that angle of the chateau?"

I assented.

"I placed it there, that, tomorrow night, when it comes, you may
recognize it. So soon as that rose-colored light appears at that window,
it will be a signal to you that the funeral has left the chateau, and
that you may approach safely. Come, then, to that window; I will open it
and admit you. Five minutes after a carriage-carriage, with four horses,
shall stand ready in the _porte-cochere_. I will place my diamonds
in your hands; and so soon as we enter the carriage our flight
commences. We shall have at least five hours' start; and with energy,
stratagem, and resource, I fear nothing. Are you ready to undertake all
this for my sake?"

Again I vowed myself her slave.

"My only difficulty," she said, "is how we shall quickly enough convert
my diamonds into money; I dare not remove them while my husband is in
the house."

Here was the opportunity I wished for. I now told her that I had in my
banker's hands no less a sum than thirty thousand pounds, with which, in
the shape of gold and notes, I should come furnished, and thus the risk
and loss of disposing of her diamonds in too much haste would be
avoided.

"Good Heaven!" she exclaimed, with a kind of disappointment. "You are
rich, then? and I have lost the felicity of making my generous friend
more happy. Be it so! since so it must be. Let us contribute, each, in
equal shares, to our common fund. Bring you, your money; I, my jewels.
There is a happiness to me even in mingling my resources with yours."

On this there followed a romantic colloquy, all poetry and passion, such
as I should in vain endeavor to reproduce. Then came a very special
instruction.

"I have come provided, too, with a key, the use of which I must
explain."

It was a double key--a long, slender stem, with a key at each end--one
about the size which opens an ordinary room door; the other as small,
almost, as the key of a dressing-case.

"You cannot employ too much caution tomorrow night. An interruption
would murder all my hopes. I have learned that you occupy the haunted
room in the Dragon Volant. It is the very room I would have wished you
in. I will tell you why--there is a story of a man who, having shut
himself up in that room one night, disappeared before morning. The truth
is, he wanted, I believe, to escape from creditors; and the host of the
Dragon Volant at that time, being a rogue, aided him in absconding. My
husband investigated the matter, and discovered how his escape was made.
It was by means of this key. Here is a memorandum and a plan describing
how they are to be applied. I have taken them from the Count's
escritoire. And now, once more I must leave to your ingenuity how to
mystify the people at the Dragon Volant. Be sure you try the keys first,
to see that the locks turn freely. I will have my jewels ready. You,
whatever we divide, had better bring your money, because it may be many
months before you can revisit Paris, or disclose our place of residence
to anyone: and our passports--arrange all that; in what names, and
whither, you please. And now, dear Richard" (she leaned her arm fondly
on my shoulder, and looked with ineffable passion in my eyes, with her
other hand clasped in mine), "my very life is in your hands; I have
staked all on your fidelity."

As she spoke the last word, she, on a sudden, grew deadly pale, and
gasped, "Good God! who is here?"

At the same moment she receded through the door in the marble screen,
close to which she stood, and behind which was a small roofless chamber,
as small as the shrine, the window of which was darkened by a clustering
mass of ivy so dense that hardly a gleam of light came through the
leaves.

I stood upon the threshold which she had just crossed, looking in the
direction in which she had thrown that one terrified glance. No wonder
she was frightened. Quite close upon us, not twenty yards away, and
approaching at a quick step, very distinctly lighted by the moon,
Colonel Gaillarde and his companion were coming. The shadow of the
cornice and a piece of wall were upon me. Unconscious of this, I was
expecting the moment when, with one of his frantic yells, he should
spring forward to assail me.

I made a step backward, drew one of my pistols from my pocket, and
cocked it. It was obvious he had not seen me.

I stood, with my finger on the trigger, determined to shoot him dead if
he should attempt to enter the place where the Countess was. It would,
no doubt, have been a murder; but, in my mind, I had no question or

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