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The Room in the Dragon Volant by J. Sheridan LeFanu

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qualm about it. When once we engage in secret and guilty practices we
are nearer other and greater crimes than we at all suspect.

"There's the statue," said the Colonel, in his brief discordant tones.
"That's the figure."

"Alluded to in the stanzas?" inquired his companion.

"The very thing. We shall see more next time. Forward, Monsieur; let us
march." And, much to my relief, the gallant Colonel turned on his heel
and marched through the trees, with his back toward the chateau,
striding over the grass, as I quickly saw, to the park wall, which they
crossed not far from the gables of the Dragon Volant.

I found the Countess trembling in no affected, but a very real terror.
She would not hear of my accompanying her toward the chateau. But I told
her that I would prevent the return of the mad Colonel; and upon that
point, at least, that she need fear nothing. She quickly recovered,
again bade me a fond and lingering good-night, and left me, gazing after
her, with the key in my hand, and such a phantasmagoria floating in my
brain as amounted very nearly to madness.

There was I, ready to brave all dangers, all right and reason, plunge
into murder itself, on the first summons, and entangle myself in
consequences inextricable and horrible (what cared I?) for a woman of
whom I knew nothing, but that she was beautiful and reckless!

I have often thanked heaven for its mercy in conducting me through the
labyrinths in which I had all but lost myself.

Chapter XX

A HIGH-CAULD-CAP

I was now upon the road, within two or three hundred yards of the Dragon
Volant. I had undertaken an adventure with a vengeance! And by way of
prelude, there not improbably awaited me, at my inn, another encounter,
perhaps, this time, not so lucky, with the grotesque sabreur.

I was glad I had my pistols. I certainly was bound by no law to allow a
ruffian to cut me down, unresisting.

Stooping boughs from the old park, gigantic poplars on the other side,
and the moonlight over all, made the narrow road to the inn-door
picturesque.

I could not think very clearly just now; events were succeeding one
another so rapidly, and I, involved in the action of a drama so
extravagant and guilty, hardly knew myself or believed my own story, as
I slowly paced towards the still open door of the Flying Dragon. No sign
of the Colonel, visible or audible, was there. In the hall I inquired.
No gentleman had arrived at the inn for the last half hour. I looked
into the public room. It was deserted. The clock struck twelve, and I
heard the servant barring the great door. I took my candle. The lights
in this rural hostelry were by this time out, and the house had the air
of one that had settled to slumber for many hours. The cold moonlight
streamed in at the window on the landing as I ascended the broad
staircase; and I paused for a moment to look over the wooded grounds to
the turreted chateau, to me, so full of interest. I bethought me,
however, that prying eyes might read a meaning in this midnight gazing,
and possibly the Count himself might, in his jealous mood, surmise a
signal in this unwonted light in the stair-window of the Dragon Volant.

On opening my room door, with a little start, I met an extremely old
woman with the longest face I ever saw; she had what used to be termed a
high-cauld-cap on, the white border of which contrasted with her brown
and yellow skin, and made her wrinkled face more ugly. She raised her
curved shoulders, and looked up in my face, with eyes unnaturally black
and bright.

"I have lighted a little wood, Monsieur, because the night is chill."

I thanked her, but she did not go. She stood with her candle in her
tremulous fingers.

"Excuse an old woman, Monsieur," she said; "but what on earth can a
young English _milord_, with all Paris at his feet, find to amuse
him in the Dragon Volant?"

Had I been at the age of fairy tales, and in daily intercourse with the
delightful Countess d'Aulnois, I should have seen in this withered
apparition, the _genius loci_, the malignant fairy, at the stamp of
whose foot the ill-fated tenants of this very room had, from time to
time, vanished. I was past that, however; but the old woman's dark eyes
were fixed on mine with a steady meaning that plainly told me that my
secret was known. I was embarrassed and alarmed; I never thought of
asking her what business that was of hers.

"These old eyes saw you in the park of the chateau tonight."

"_I_!" I began, with all the scornful surprise I could affect.

"It avails nothing, Monsieur; I know why you stay here; and I tell you
to begone. Leave this house tomorrow morning, and never come again."

She lifted her disengaged hand, as she looked at me with intense horror
in her eyes.

"There is nothing on earth--I don't know what you mean," I answered,
"and why should you care about me?"

"I don't care about you, Monsieur--I care about the honor of an ancient
family, whom I served in their happier days, when to be noble was to be
honored. But my words are thrown away, Monsieur; you are insolent. I
will keep my secret, and you, yours; that is all. You will soon find it
hard enough to divulge it."

The old woman went slowly from the room and shut the door, before I had
made up my mind to say anything. I was standing where she had left me,
nearly five minutes later. The jealousy of Monsieur the Count, I
assumed, appears to this old creature about the most terrible thing in
creation. Whatever contempt I might entertain for the dangers which this
old lady so darkly intimated, it was by no means pleasant, you may
suppose, that a secret so dangerous should be so much as suspected by a
stranger, and that stranger a partisan of the Count de St. Alyre.

Ought I not, at all risks, to apprise the Countess, who had trusted me
so generously, or, as she said herself, so madly, of the fact that our
secret was, at least, suspected by another? But was there not greater
danger in attempting to communicate? What did the beldame mean by
saying, "Keep your secret, and I'll keep mine?"

I had a thousand distracting questions before me. My progress seemed
like a journey through the Spessart, where at every step some new goblin
or monster starts from the ground or steps from behind a tree.

Peremptorily I dismissed these harassing and frightful doubts. I secured
my door, sat myself down at my table and, with a candle at each side,
placed before me the piece of vellum which contained the drawings and
notes on which I was to rely for full instructions as to how to use the
key.

When I had studied this for awhile I made my investigation. The angle of
the room at the right side of the window was cut off by an oblique turn
in the wainscot. I examined this carefully, and, on pressure, a small
bit of the frame of the woodwork slid aside, and disclosed a key-hole.
On removing my finger, it shot back to its place again, with a spring.
So far I had interpreted my instructions successfully. A similar search,
next the door, and directly under this, was rewarded by a like
discovery. The small end of the key fitted this, as it had the upper
key-hole; and now, with two or three hard jerks at the key, a door in
the panel opened, showing a strip of the bare wall and a narrow, arched
doorway, piercing the thickness of the wall; and within which I saw a
screw staircase of stone.

Candle in hand I stepped in. I do not know whether the quality of air,
long undisturbed, is peculiar; to me it has always seemed so, and the
damp smell of the old masonry hung in this atmosphere. My candle faintly
lighted the bare stone wall that enclosed the stair, the foot of which I
could not see. Down I went, and a few turns brought me to the stone
floor. Here was another door, of the simple, old, oak kind, deep sunk in
the thickness of the wall. The large end of the key fitted this. The
lock was stiff; I set the candle down upon the stair, and applied both
hands; it turned with difficulty and, as it revolved, uttered a shriek
that alarmed me for my secret.

For some minutes I did not move. In a little time, however, I took
courage, and opened the door. The night-air floating in puffed out the
candle. There was a thicket of holly and underwood, as dense as a
jungle, close about the door. I should have been in pitch-darkness, were
it not that through the topmost leaves there twinkled, here and there, a
glimmer of moonshine.

Softly, lest anyone should have opened his window at the sound of the
rusty bolt, I struggled through this till I gained a view of the open
grounds. Here I found that the brushwood spread a good way up the park,
uniting with the wood that approached the little temple I have
described.

A general could not have chosen a more effectually-covered approach from
the Dragon Volant to the trysting-place where hitherto I had conferred
with the idol of my lawless adoration.

Looking back upon the old inn I discovered that the stair I descended
was enclosed in one of those slender turrets that decorate such
buildings. It was placed at that angle which corresponded with the part
of the paneling of my room indicated in the plan I had been studying.

Thoroughly satisfied with my experiment I made my way back to the door
with some little difficulty, remounted to my room, locked my secret door
again; kissed the mysterious key that her hand had pressed that night,
and placed it under my pillow, upon which, very soon after, my giddy
head was laid, not, for some time, to sleep soundly.

Chapter XXI

I SEE THREE MEN IN A MIRROR

I awoke very early next morning, and was too excited to sleep again. As
soon as I could, without exciting remark, I saw my host. I told him that
I was going into town that night, and thence to ----, where I had to see
some people on business, and requested him to mention my being there to
any friend who might call. That I expected to be back in about a week,
and that in the meantime my servant, St. Clair, would keep the key of my
room and look after my things.

Having prepared this mystification for my landlord, I drove into Paris,
and there transacted the financial part of the affair. The problem was
to reduce my balance, nearly thirty thousand pounds, to a shape in which
it would be not only easily portable, but available, wherever I might
go, without involving correspondence, or any other incident which would
disclose my place of residence for the time being. All these points were
as nearly provided for as, they could be. I need not trouble you about
my arrangements for passports. It is enough to say that the point I
selected for our flight was, in the spirit of romance, one of the most
beautiful and sequestered nooks in Switzerland.

Luggage, I should start with none. The first considerable town we
reached next morning, would supply an extemporized wardrobe. It was now
two o'clock; _only_ two! How on earth was I to dispose of the
remainder of the day?

I had not yet seen the cathedral of Notre Dame, and thither I drove. I
spent an hour or more there; and then to the Conciergerie, the Palais de
Justice, and the beautiful Sainte Chapelle. Still there remained some
time to get rid of, and I strolled into the narrow streets adjoining the
cathedral. I recollect seeing, in one of them, an old house with a mural
inscription stating that it had been the residence of Canon Fulbert, the
uncle of Abelard's Eloise. I don't know whether these curious old
streets, in which I observed fragments of ancient Gothic churches fitted
up as warehouses, are still extant. I lighted, among other dingy and
eccentric shops, upon one that seemed that of a broker of all sorts of
old decorations, armor, china, furniture. I entered the shop; it was
dark, dusty, and low. The proprietor was busy scouring a piece of inlaid
armor, and allowed me to poke about his shop, and examine the curious
things accumulated there, just as I pleased. Gradually I made my way to
the farther end of it, where there was but one window with many panes,
each with a bull's eye in it, and in the dirtiest Possible state. When I
reached this window, I turned about, and in a recess, standing at right
angles with the side wall of the shop, was a large mirror in an
old-fashioned dingy frame. Reflected in this I saw what in old houses I
have heard termed an "alcove," in which, among lumber and various dusty
articles hanging on the wall, there stood a table, at which three
persons were seated, as it seemed to me, in earnest conversation. Two of
these persons I instantly recognized; one was Colonel Gaillarde, the
other was the Marquis d'Harmonville. The third, who was fiddling with a
pen, was a lean, pale man, pitted with the small-pox, with lank black
hair, and about as mean-looking a person as I had ever seen in my life.
The Marquis looked up, and his glance was instantaneously followed by
his two companions. For a moment I hesitated what to do. But it was
plain that I was not recognized, as indeed I could hardly have been, the
light from the window being behind me, and the portion of the shop
immediately before me being very dark indeed.

Perceiving this, I had presence of mind to affect being entirely
engrossed by the objects before me, and strolled slowly down the shop
again. I paused for a moment to hear whether I was followed, and was
relieved when I heard no step. You may be sure I did not waste more time
in that shop, where I had just made a discovery so curious and so
unexpected.

It was no business of mine to inquire what brought Colonel Gaillarde and
the Marquis together, in so shabby and even dirty a place, or who the
mean person, biting the feather end of his pen, might be. Such
employments as the Marquis had accepted sometimes make strange
bed-fellows.

I was glad to get away, and just as the sun set I had reached the steps
of the Dragon Volant, and dismissed the vehicle in which I arrived,
carrying in my hand a strong box, of marvelously small dimensions
considering all it contained, strapped in a leather cover which
disguised its real character.

When I got to my room I summoned St. Clair. I told him nearly the same
story I had already told my host. I gave him fifty pounds, with orders
to expend whatever was necessary on himself, and in payment for my rooms
till my return. I then ate a slight and hasty dinner. My eyes were often
upon the solemn old clock over the chimney-piece, which was my sole
accomplice in keeping tryst in this iniquitous venture. The sky favored
my design, and darkened all things with a sea of clouds.

The innkeeper met me in the hall, to ask whether I should want a vehicle
to Paris? I was prepared for this question, and instantly answered that
I meant to walk to Versailles and take a carriage there. I called St.
Clair.

"Go," said I, "and drink a bottle of wine with your friends. I shall
call you if I should want anything; in the meantime, here is the key to
my room; I shall be writing some notes, so don't allow anyone to disturb
me for at least half an hour. At the end of that time you will probably
find that I have left this for Versailles; and should you not find me in
the room, you may take that for granted; and you take charge of
everything, and lock the door, you understand?"

St. Clair took his leave, wishing me all happiness, and no doubt
promising himself some little amusement with my money. With my candle in
my hand, I hastened upstairs. It wanted now but five minutes to the
appointed time. I do not think there is anything of the coward in my
nature; but I confess, as the crisis approached, I felt something of the
suspense and awe of a soldier going into action. Would I have receded?
Not for all this earth could offer.

I bolted my door, put on my greatcoat, and placed my pistols one in each
pocket. I now applied my key to the secret locks; drew the wainscot door
a little open, took my strong box under my arm, extinguished my candle,
unbolted my door, listened at it for a few moments to be sure that no
one was approaching, and then crossed the floor of my room swiftly,
entered the secret door, and closed the spring lock after me. I was upon
the screw-stair in total darkness, the key in my fingers. Thus far the
undertaking was successful.

Chapter XXII

RAPTURE

Down the screw-stair I went in utter darkness; and having reached the
stone floor I discerned the door and groped out the key-hole. With more
caution, and less noise than upon the night before, I opened the door
and stepped out into the thick brushwood. It was almost as dark in this
jungle.

Having secured the door I slowly pushed my way through the bushes, which
soon became less dense. Then, with more case, but still under thick
cover, I pursued in the track of the wood, keeping near its edge.

At length, in the darkened air, about fifty yards away, the shafts of
the marble temple rose like phantoms before me, seen through the trunks
of the old trees. Everything favored my enterprise. I had effectually
mystified my servant and the people of the Dragon Volant, and so dark
was the night, that even had I alarmed the suspicions of all the tenants
of the inn, I might safely defy their united curiosity, though posted at
every window of the house.

Through the trunks, over the roots of the old trees, I reached the
appointed place of observation. I laid my treasure in its leathern case
in the embrasure, and leaning my arms upon it, looked steadily in the
direction of the chateau. The outline of the building was scarcely
discernible, blending dimly, as it did, with the sky. No light in any
window was visible. I was plainly to wait; but for how long?

Leaning on my box of treasure, gazing toward the massive shadow that
represented the chateau, in the midst of my ardent and elated longings,
there came upon me an odd thought, which you will think might well have
struck me long before. It seemed on a sudden, as it came, that the
darkness deepened, and a chill stole into the air around me.

Suppose I were to disappear finally, like those other men whose stories
I had listened to! Had I not been at all the pains that mortal could to
obliterate every trace of my real proceedings, and to mislead everyone
to whom I spoke as to the direction in which I had gone?

This icy, snake-like thought stole through my mind, and was gone.

It was with me the full-blooded season of youth, conscious strength,
rashness, passion, pursuit, the adventure! Here were a pair of
double-barreled pistols, four lives in my hands? What could possibly
happen? The Count--except for the sake of my dulcinea, what was it to me
whether the old coward whom I had seen, in an ague of terror before the
brawling Colonel, interposed or not? I was assuming the worst that could
happen. But with an ally so clever and courageous as my beautiful
Countess, could any such misadventure befall? Bah! I laughed at all such
fancies.

As I thus communed with myself, the signal light sprang up. The
rose-colored light, _couleur de rose_, emblem of sanguine hope and
the dawn of a happy day.

Clear, soft, and steady, glowed the light from the window. The stone
shafts showed black against it. Murmuring words of passionate love as I
gazed upon the signal, I grasped my strong box under my arm, and with
rapid strides approached the Chateau de la Carque. No sign of light or
life, no human voice, no tread of foot, no bark of dog indicated a
chance of interruption. A blind was down; and as I came close to the
tall window, I found that half-a-dozen steps led up to it, and that a
large lattice, answering for a door, lay open.

A shadow from within fell upon the blind; it was drawn aside, and as I
ascended the steps, a soft voice murmured--"Richard, dearest Richard,
come, oh! come! how I have longed for this moment!"

Never did she look so beautiful. My love rose to passionate enthusiasm.
I only wished there were some real danger in the adventure worthy of
such a creature. When the first tumultuous greeting was over, she made
me sit beside her on a sofa. There we talked for a minute or two. She
told me that the Count had gone, and was by that time more than a mile
on his way, with the funeral, to Pere la Chaise. Here were her diamonds.
She exhibited, hastily, an open casket containing a profusion of the
largest brilliants.

"What is this?" she asked.

"A box containing money to the amount of thirty thousand pounds," I
answered.

"What! all that money?" she exclaimed.

"Every _sou_."

"Was it not unnecessary to bring so much, seeing all these?" she said,
touching her diamonds. "It would have been kind of you to allow me to
provide for both, for a time at least. It would have made me happier
even than I am."

"Dearest, generous angel!" Such was my extravagant declamation. "You
forget that it may be necessary, for a long time, to observe silence as
to where we are, and impossible to communicate safely with anyone."

"You have then here this great sum--are you certain; have you counted
it?"

"Yes, certainly; I received it today," I answered, perhaps showing a
little surprise in my face. "I counted it, of course, on drawing it from
my bankers."

"It makes me feel a little nervous, traveling with so much money; but
these jewels make as great a danger; that can add but little to it.
Place them side by side; you shall take off your greatcoat when we are
ready to go, and with it manage to conceal these boxes. I should not
like the drivers to suspect that we were conveying such a treasure. I
must ask you now to close the curtains of that window, and bar the
shutters."

I had hardly done this when a knock was heard at the room door.

"I know who this is," she said, in a whisper to me.

I saw that she was not alarmed. She went softly to the door, and a
whispered conversation for a minute followed.

"My trusty maid, who is coming with us. She says we cannot safely go
sooner than ten minutes. She is bringing some coffee to the next room."

She opened the door and looked in.

"I must tell her not to take too much luggage. She is so odd! Don't
follow--stay where you are--it is better that she should not see you."

She left the room with a gesture of caution.

A change had come over the manner of this beautiful woman. For the last
few minutes a shadow had been stealing over her, an air of abstraction,
a look bordering on suspicion. Why was she pale? Why had there come that
dark look in her eyes? Why had her very voice become changed? Had
anything gone suddenly wrong? Did some danger threaten?

This doubt, however, speedily quieted itself. If there had been anything
of the kind, she would, of course, have told me. It was only natural
that, as the crisis approached, she should become more and more nervous.
She did not return quite so soon as I had expected. To a man in my
situation absolute quietude is next to impossible. I moved restlessly
about the room. It was a small one. There was a door at the other end. I
opened it, rashly enough. I listened, it was perfectly silent. I was in
an excited, eager state, and every faculty engrossed about what was
coming, and in so far detached from the immediate present. I can't
account, in any other way, for my having done so many foolish things
that night, for I was, naturally, by no means deficient in cunning.
About the most stupid of those was, that instead of immediately closing
that door, which I never ought to have opened, I actually took a candle
and walked into the room.

There I made, quite unexpectedly, a rather startling discovery.

Chapter XXIII

A CUP OF COFFEE

The room was carpetless. On the floor were a quantity of shavings, and
some score of bricks. Beyond these, on a narrow table, lay an object
which I could hardly believe I saw aright.

I approached and drew from it a sheet which had very slightly disguised
its shape. There was no mistake about it. It was a coffin; and on the
lid was a plate, with the inscription in French:

PIERRE DE LA ROCHE ST. AMAND.
AGE DE XXIII ANS.

I drew back with a double shock. So, then, the funeral after all had not
yet left! Here lay the body. I had been deceived. This, no doubt,
accounted for the embarrassment so manifest in the Countess's manner.
She would have done more wisely had she told me the true state of the
case.

I drew back from this melancholy room, and closed the door. Her distrust
of me was the worst rashness she could have committed. There is nothing
more dangerous than misapplied caution. In entire ignorance of the fact
I had entered the room, and there I might have lighted upon some of the
very persons it was our special anxiety that I should avoid.

These reflections were interrupted, almost as soon as began, by the
return of the Countess de St. Alyre. I saw at a glance that she detected
in my face some evidence of what had happened, for she threw a hasty
look towards the door.

"Have you seen anything--anything to disturb you, dear Richard? Have you
been out of this room?"

I answered promptly, "Yes," and told her frankly what had happened.

"Well, I did not like to make you more uneasy than necessary. Besides,
it is disgusting and horrible. The body is there; but the Count had
departed a quarter of an hour before I lighted the colored lamp, and
prepared to receive you. The body did not arrive till eight or ten
minutes after he had set out. He was afraid lest the people at Pere la
Chaise should suppose that the funeral was postponed. He knew that the
remains of poor Pierre would certainly reach this tonight, although an
unexpected delay has occurred; and there are reasons why he wishes the
funeral completed before tomorrow. The hearse with the body must leave
this in ten minutes. So soon as it is gone, we shall be free to set out
upon our wild and happy journey. The horses are to the carriage in the
_porte-cochere_. As for this _funeste_ horror" (she shuddered
very prettily), "let us think of it no more."

She bolted the door of communication, and when she turned it was with
such a pretty penitence in her face and attitude, that I was ready to
throw myself at her feet.

"It is the last time," she said, in a sweet sad little pleading, "I
shall ever practice a deception on my brave and beautiful Richard--my
hero! Am I forgiven?"

Here was another scene of passionate effusion, and lovers' raptures and
declamations, but only murmured lest the ears of listeners should be
busy.

At length, on a sudden, she raised her hand, as if to prevent my
stirring, her eyes fixed on me and her ear toward the door of the room
in which the coffin was placed, and remained breathless in that attitude
for a few moments. Then, with a little nod towards me, she moved on
tip-toe to the door, and listened, extending her hand backward as if to
warn me against advancing; and, after a little time, she returned, still
on tip-toe, and whispered to me, "They are removing the coffin--come
with me."

I accompanied her into the room from which her maid, as she told me, had
spoken to her. Coffee and some old china cups, which appeared to me
quite beautiful, stood on a silver tray; and some liqueur glasses, with
a flask, which turned out to be noyau, on a salver beside it.

"I shall attend you. I'm to be your servant here; I am to have my own
way; I shall not think myself forgiven by my darling if he refuses to
indulge me in anything."

She filled a cup with coffee and handed it to me with her left hand; her
right arm she fondly passed over my shoulder, and with her fingers
through my curls, caressingly, she whispered, "Take this, I shall take
some just now."

It was excellent; and when I had done she handed me the liqueur, which I
also drank.

"Come back, dearest, to the next room," she said. "By this time those
terrible people must have gone away, and we shall be safer there, for
the present, than here."

"You shall direct, and I obey; you shall command me, not only now, but
always, and in all things, my beautiful queen!" I murmured.

My heroics were unconsciously, I daresay, founded upon my ideal of the
French school of lovemaking. I am, even now, ashamed as I recall the
bombast to which I treated the Countess de St. Alyre.

"There, you shall have another miniature glass--a fairy glass--of
noyau," she said gaily. In this volatile creature, the funereal gloom of
the moment before, and the suspense of an adventure on which all her
future was staked, disappeared in a moment. She ran and returned with
another tiny glass, which, with an eloquent or tender little speech, I
placed to my lips and sipped.

I kissed her hand, I kissed her lips, I gazed in her beautiful eyes, and
kissed her again unresisting.

"You call me Richard, by what name am I to call my beautiful divinity?"
I asked.

"You call me Eugenie, it is my name. Let us be quite real; that is, if
you love as entirely as I do."

"Eugenie!" I exclaimed, and broke into a new rapture upon the name.

It ended by my telling her how impatient I was to set out upon our
journey; and, as I spoke, suddenly an odd sensation overcame me. It was
not in the slightest degree like faintness. I can find no phrase to
describe it, but a sudden constraint of the brain; it was as if the
membrane in which it lies, if there be such a thing, contracted, and
became inflexible.

"Dear Richard! what is the matter?" she exclaimed, with terror in her
looks. "Good Heavens! are you ill? I conjure you, sit down; sit in this
chair." She almost forced me into one; I was in no condition to offer
the least resistance. I recognized but too truly the sensations that
supervened. I was lying back in the chair in which I sat, without the
power, by this time, of uttering a syllable, of closing my eyelids, of
moving my eyes, of stirring a muscle. I had in a few seconds glided into
precisely the state in which I had passed so many appalling hours when
approaching Paris, in my night-drive with the Marquis d'Harmonville.

Great and loud was the lady's agony. She seemed to have lost all sense
of fear. She called me by my name, shook me by the shoulder, raised my
arm and let it fall, all the time imploring of me, in distracting
sentences, to make the slightest sign of life, and vowing that if I did
not, she would make away with herself.

These ejaculations, after a minute or two, suddenly subsided. The lady
was perfectly silent and cool. In a very business-like way she took a
candle and stood before me, pale indeed, very pale, but with an
expression only of intense scrutiny with a dash of horror in it. She
moved the candle before my eyes slowly, evidently watching the effect.
She then set it down, and rang a handball two or three times sharply.
She placed the two cases (I mean hers containing the jewels and my
strong box) side by side on the table; and I saw her carefully lock the
door that gave access to the room in which I had just now sipped my
coffee.

Chapter XXIV

HOPE

She had scarcely set down my heavy box, which she seemed to have
considerable difficulty in raising on the table, when the door of the
room in which I had seen the coffin, opened, and a sinister and
unexpected apparition entered.

It was the Count de St. Alyre, who had been, as I have told you,
reported to me to be, for some considerable time, on his way to Pee la
Chaise. He stood before me for a moment, with the frame of the doorway
and a background of darkness enclosing him like a portrait. His slight,
mean figure was draped in the deepest mourning. He had a pair of black
gloves in his hand, and his hat with crape round it.

When he was not speaking his face showed signs of agitation; his mouth
was puckering and working. He looked damnably wicked and frightened.

"Well, my dear Eugenie? Well, child--eh? Well, it all goes admirably?"

"Yes," she answered, in a low, hard tone. "But you and Planard should
not have left that door open."

This she said sternly. "He went in there and looked about wherever he
liked; it was fortunate he did not move aside the lid of the coffin."

"Planard should have seen to that," said the Count, sharply. "_Ma
foi!_ I can't be everywhere!" He advanced half-a-dozen short quick
steps into the room toward me, and placed his glasses to his eyes.

"Monsieur Beckett," he cried sharply, two or three times, "Hi! don't you
know me?"

He approached and peered more closely in my face; raised my hand and
shook it, calling me again, then let it drop, and said: "It has set in
admirably, my pretty _mignonne_. When did it commence?"

The Countess came and stood beside him, and looked at me steadily for
some seconds. You can't conceive the effect of the silent gaze of those
two pairs of evil eyes.

The lady glanced to where, I recollected, the mantel piece stood, and
upon it a clock, the regular click of which I sharply heard.
"Four--five--six minutes and a half," she said slowly, in a cold hard
way.

"Brava! Bravissima! my beautiful queen! my little Venus! my Joan of Arc!
my heroine! my paragon of women!"

He was gloating on me with an odious curiosity, smiling, as he groped
backward with his thin brown fingers to find the lady's hand; but she,
not (I dare say) caring for his caresses, drew back a little.

"Come, _ma chere,_ let us count these things. What is it?
Pocket-book? Or--or--_what?_"

"It is _that_!" said the lady, pointing with a look of disgust to
the box, which lay in its leather case on the table.

"Oh! Let us see--let us count--let us see," he said, as he was
unbuckling the straps with his tremulous fingers. "We must count
them--we must see to it. I have pencil and pocket-book--but--where's the
key? See this cursed lock! My--! What is it? Where's the key?"

He was standing before the Countess, shuffling his feet, with his hands
extended and all his fingers quivering.

"I have not got it; how could I? It is in his pocket, of course," said
the lady.

In another instant the fingers of the old miscreant were in my pockets;
he plucked out everything they contained, and some keys among the rest.

I lay in precisely the state in which I had been during my drive with
the Marquis to Paris. This wretch, I knew, was about to rob me. The
whole drama, and the Countess's _role_ in it, I could not yet
comprehend. I could not be sure--so much more presence of mind and
histrionic resource have women than fall to the lot of our clumsy
sex--whether the return of the Count was not, in truth, a surprise to
her; and this scrutiny of the contents of my strong box, an extempore
undertaking of the Count's. But it was clearing more and more every
moment: and I was destined, very soon, to comprehend minutely my
appalling situation.

I had not the power of turning my eyes this way or that, the smallest
fraction of a hair's breadth. But let anyone, placed as I was at the end
of a room, ascertain for himself by experiment how wide is the field of
sight, without the slightest alteration in the line of vision, he will
find that it takes in the entire breadth of a large room, and that up to
a very short distance before him; and imperfectly, by a refraction, I
believe, in the eye itself, to a point very near indeed. Next to nothing
that passed in the room, therefore, was hidden from me.

The old man had, by this time, found the key. The leather case was open.
The box cramped round with iron was next unlocked. He turned out its
contents upon the table.

"Rouleaux of a hundred Napoleons each. One, two, three. Yes, quick.
Write down a thousand Napoleons. One, two; yes, right. Another thousand,
_write_!" And so on and on till the gold was rapidly counted. Then
came the notes.

"Ten thousand francs. _Write_. Then thousand francs again. Is it
written? Another ten thousand francs: is it down? Smaller notes would
have been better. They should have been smaller. These are horribly
embarrassing. Bolt that door again; Planard would become unreasonable if
he knew the amount. Why did you not tell him to get it in smaller notes?
No matter now--go on--it can't be helped--_write_--another ten
thousand francs--another--another." And so on, till my treasure was
counted out before my face, while I saw and heard all that passed with
the sharpest distinctness, and my mental perceptions were horribly
vivid. But in all other respects I was dead.

He had replaced in the box every note and rouleau as he counted it, and
now, having ascertained the sum total, he locked it, replaced it very
methodically in its cover, opened a buffet in the wainscoting, and,
having placed the Countess' jewel-case and my strong box in it, he
locked it; and immediately on completing these arrangements he began to
complain, with fresh acrimony and maledictions of Planard's delay.

He unbolted the door, looked in the dark room beyond, and listened. He
closed the door again and returned. The old man was in a fever of
suspense.

"I have kept ten thousand francs for Planard," said the Count, touching
his waistcoat pocket.

"Will that satisfy him?" asked the lady.

"Why--curse him!" screamed the Count. "Has he no conscience? I'll swear
to him it's half the entire thing."

He and the lady again came and looked at me anxiously for a while, in
silence; and then the old Count began to grumble again about Planard,
and to compare his watch with the clock. The lady seemed less impatient;
she sat no longer looking at me, but across the room, so that her
profile was toward me--and strangely changed, dark and witch-like it
looked. My last hope died as I beheld that jaded face from which the
mask had dropped. I was certain that they intended to crown their
robbery by murder. Why did they not dispatch me at once? What object
could there be in postponing the catastrophe which would expedite their
own safety. I cannot recall, even to myself, adequately the horrors
unutterable that I underwent. You must suppose a real night-mare--I mean
a night-mare in which the objects and the danger are real, and the spell
of corporal death appears to be protractible at the pleasure of the
persons who preside at your unearthly torments. I could have no doubt as
to the cause of the state in which I was.

In this agony, to which I could not give the slightest expression, I saw
the door of the room where the coffin had been, open slowly, and the
Marquis d'Harmonville entered the room.

Chapter XXV

DESPAIR

A moment's hope, hope violent and fluctuating, hope that was nearly
torture, and then came a dialogue, and with it the terrors of despair.

"Thank Heaven, Planard, you have come at last," said the Count, taking
him with both hands by the arm, and clinging to it and drawing him
toward me. "See, look at him. It has all gone sweetly, sweetly, sweetly
up to this. Shall I hold the candle for you?"

My friend d'Harmonville, Planard, whatever he was, came to me, pulling
off his gloves, which he popped into his pocket.

"The candle, a little this way," he said, and stooping over me he looked
earnestly in my face. He touched my forehead, drew his hand across it,
and then looked in my eyes for a time.

"Well, doctor, what do you think?" whispered the Count.

"How much did you give him?" said the Marquis, thus suddenly stunted
down to a doctor.

"Seventy drops," said the lady.

"In the hot coffee?"

"Yes; sixty in a hot cup of coffee and ten in the liqueur."

Her voice, low and hard, seemed to me to tremble a little. It takes a
long course of guilt to subjugate nature completely, and prevent those
exterior signs of agitation that outlive all good.

The doctor, however, was treating me as coolly as he might a subject
which he was about to place on the dissecting-table for a lecture.

He looked into my eyes again for awhile, took my wrist, and applied his
fingers to the pulse.

"That action suspended," he said to himself.

Then again he placed something, that for the moment I saw it looked like
a piece of gold-beater's leaf, to my lips, holding his head so far that
his own breathing could not affect it.

"Yes," he said in soliloquy, very low.

Then he plucked my shirt-breast open and applied the stethoscope,
shifted it from point to point, listened with his ear to its end, as if
for a very far-off sound, raised his head, and said, in like manner,
softly to himself, "All appreciable action of the lungs has subsided."

Then turning from the sound, as I conjectured, he said:

"Seventy drops, allowing ten for waste, ought to hold him fast for six
hours and a half-that is ample. The experiment I tried in the carriage
was only thirty drops, and showed a highly sensitive brain. It would not
do to kill him, you know. You are certain you did not exceed
_seventy_?"

"Perfectly," said the lady.

"If he were to die the evaporation would be arrested, and foreign
matter, some of it poisonous, would be found in the stomach, don't you
see? If you are doubtful, it would be well to use the stomach-pump."

"Dearest Eugenie, be frank, be frank, do be frank," urged the Count.

"I am _not_ doubtful, I am _certain_," she answered.

"How long ago, exactly? I told you to observe the time."

"I did; the minute-hand was exactly there, under the point of that
Cupid's foot."

"It will last, then, probably for seven hours. He will recover then; the
evaporation will be complete, and not one particle of the fluid will
remain in the stomach."

It was reassuring, at all events, to hear that there was no intention to
murder me. No one who has not tried it knows the terror of the approach
of death, when the mind is clear, the instincts of life unimpaired, and
no excitement to disturb the appreciation of that entirely new horror.

The nature and purpose of this tenderness was very, very peculiar, and
as yet I had not a suspicion of it.

"You leave France, I suppose?" said the ex-Marquis.

"Yes, certainly, tomorrow," answered the Count.

"And where do you mean to go?"

"That I have not yet settled," he answered quickly.

"You won't tell a friend, eh?"

"I can't till I know. This has turned out an unprofitable affair."

"We shall settle that by-and-by."

"It is time we should get him lying down, eh," said the Count,
indicating me with one finger.

"Yes, we must proceed rapidly now. Are his night-shirt and
night-cap--you understand--here?"

"All ready," said the Count.

"Now, Madame," said the doctor, turning to the lady, and making her, in
spite of the emergency, a bow, "it is time you should retire."

The lady passed into the room in which I had taken my cup of treacherous
coffee, and I saw her no more. The Count took a candle and passed
through the door at the further end of the room, returning with a roll
of linen in his hand. He bolted first one door then the other.

They now, in silence, proceeded to undress me rapidly. They were not
many minutes in accomplishing this.

What the doctor had termed my night-shirt, a long garment which reached
below my feet, was now on, and a cap, that resembled a female nightcap
more than anything I had ever seen upon a male head, was fitted upon
mine, and tied under my chin.

And now, I thought, I shall be laid in a bed to recover how I can, and,
in the meantime, the conspirators will have escaped with their booty,
and pursuit be in vain.

This was my best hope at the time; but it was soon clear that their
plans were very different. The Count and Planard now went, together,
into the room that lay straight before me. I heard them talking low, and
a sound of shuffling feet; then a long rumble; it suddenly stopped; it
recommenced; it continued; side by side they came in at the door, their
backs toward me. They were dragging something along the floor that made
a continued boom and rumble, but they interposed between me and it, so
that I could not see it until they had dragged it almost beside me; and
then, merciful heaven! I saw it plainly enough. It was the coffin I had
seen in the next room. It lay now flat on the floor, its edge against
the chair in which I sat. Planard removed the lid. The coffin was empty.

Chapter XXVI

CATASTROPHE

"Those seem to be good horses, and we change on the way," said Planard.
"You give the men a Napoleon or two; we must do it within three hours
and a quarter. Now, come; I'll lift him upright, so as to place his feet
in their proper berth, and you must keep them together and draw the
white shirt well down over them."

In another moment I was placed, as he described, sustained in Planard's
arms, standing at the foot of the coffin, and so lowered backward,
gradually, till I lay my length in it. Then the man, whom he called
Planard, stretched my arms by my sides, and carefully arranged the
frills at my breast and the folds of the shroud, and after that, taking
his stand at the foot of the coffin made a survey which seemed to
satisfy him.

The Count, who was very methodical, took my clothes, which had just been
removed, folded them rapidly together and locked them up, as I
afterwards heard, in one of the three presses which opened by doors in
the panel.

I now understood their frightful plan. This coffin had been prepared for
me; the funeral of St. Amand was a sham to mislead inquiry; I had myself
given the order at Pere la Chaise, signed it, and paid the fees for the
interment of the fictitious Pierre de St. Amand, whose place I was to
take, to lie in his coffin with his name on the plate above my breast,
and with a ton of clay packed down upon me; to waken from this
catalepsy, after I had been for hours in the grave, there to perish by a
death the most horrible that imagination can conceive.

If, hereafter, by any caprice of curiosity or suspicion, the coffin
should be exhumed, and the body it enclosed examined, no chemistry could
detect a trace of poison, nor the most cautious examination the
slightest mark of violence.

I had myself been at the utmost pains to mystify inquiry, should my
disappearance excite surmises, and had even written to my few
correspondents in England to tell them that they were not to look for a
letter from me for three weeks at least.

In the moment of my guilty elation death had caught me, and there was no
escape. I tried to pray to God in my unearthly panic, but only thoughts
of terror, judgment, and eternal anguish crossed the distraction of my
immediate doom.

I must not try to recall what is indeed indescribable--the multiform
horrors of my own thoughts. I will relate, simply, what befell, every
detail of which remains sharp in my memory as if cut in steel.

"The undertaker's men are in the hall," said the Count.

"They must not come till this is fixed," answered Planard. "Be good
enough to take hold of the lower part while I take this end." I was not
left long to conjecture what was coming, for in a few seconds more
something slid across, a few inches above my face, and entirely excluded
the light, and muffled sound, so that nothing that was not very distinct
reached my ears henceforward; but very distinctly came the working of a
turnscrew, and the crunching home of screws in succession. Than these
vulgar sounds, no doom spoken in thunder could have been more
tremendous.

The rest I must relate, not as it then reached my ears, which was too
imperfectly and interruptedly to supply a connected narrative, but as it
was afterwards told me by other people.

The coffin-lid being screwed down, the two gentlemen arranged the room
and adjusted the coffin so that it lay perfectly straight along the
boards, the Count being specially anxious that there should be no
appearance of hurry or disorder in the room, which might have suggested
remark and conjecture.

When this was done, Doctor Planard said he would go to the hall to
summon the men who were to carry the coffin out and place it in the
hearse. The Count pulled on his black gloves, and held his white
handkerchief in his hand, a very impressive chief-mourner. He stood a
little behind the head of the coffin, awaiting the arrival of the
persons who accompanied Planard, and whose fast steps he soon heard
approaching.

Planard came first. He entered the room through the apartment in which
the coffin had been originally placed. His manner was changed; there was
something of a swagger in it.

"Monsieur le Comte," he said, as he strode through the door, followed by
half-a-dozen persons, "I am sorry to have to announce to you a most
unseasonable interruption. Here is Monsieur Carmaignac, a gentleman
holding an office in the police department, who says that information to
the effect that large quantities of smuggled English and other goods
have been distributed in this neighborhood, and that a portion of them
is concealed in your house. I have ventured to assure him, of my own
knowledge, that nothing can be more false than that information, and
that you would be only too happy to throw open for his inspection, at a
moment's notice, every room, closet, and cupboard in your house."

"Most assuredly," exclaimed the Count, with a stout voice, but a very
white face. "Thank you, my good friend, for having anticipated me. I
will place my house and keys at his disposal, for the purpose of his
scrutiny, so soon as he is good enough to inform me of what specific
contraband goods he comes in search."

"The Count de St. Alyre will pardon me," answered Carmaignac, a little
dryly. "I am forbidden by my instructions to make that disclosure; and
that I _am_ instructed to make a general search, this warrant will
sufficiently apprise Monsieur le Comte."

"Monsieur Carmaignac, may I hope," interposed Planard, "that you will
permit the Count de St. Alyre to attend the funeral of his kinsman, who
lies here, as you see--" (he pointed to the plate upon the coffin)--"and
to convey whom to Pere la Chaise, a hearse waits at this moment at the
door."

"That, I regret to say, I cannot permit. My instructions are precise;
but the delay, I trust, will be but trifling. Monsieur le Comte will not
suppose for a moment that I suspect him; but we have a duty to perform,
and I must act as if I did. When I am ordered to search, I search;
things are sometimes hid in such bizarre places. I can't say, for
instance, what that coffin may contain."

"The body of my kinsman, Monsieur Pierre de St. Amand," answered the
Count, loftily.

"Oh! then you've seen him?"

"Seen him? Often, too often." The Count was evidently a good deal moved.

"I mean the body?"

The Count stole a quick glance at Planard.

"N--no, Monsieur--that is, I mean only for a moment."

Another quick glance at Planard.

"But quite long enough, I fancy, to recognize him?" insinuated that
gentleman.

"Of course--of course; instantly--perfectly. What! Pierre de St. Amand?
Not know him at a glance? No, no, poor fellow, I know him too well for
that."

"The things I am in search of," said Monsieur Carmaignac, "would fit in
a narrow compass--servants are so ingenious sometimes. Let us raise the
lid."

"Pardon me, Monsieur," said the Count, peremptorily, advancing to the
side of the coffin and extending his arm across it, "I cannot permit
that indignity--that desecration."

"There shall be none, sir--simply the raising of the lid; you shall
remain in the room. If it should prove as we all hope, you shall have
the pleasure of one other look, really the last, upon your beloved
kinsman."

"But, sir, I can't."

"But, Monsieur, I must."

"But, besides, the thing, the turnscrew, broke when the last screw was
turned; and I give you my sacred honor there is nothing but the body in
this coffin."

"Of course, Monsieur le Comte believes all that; but he does not know so
well as I the legerdemain in use among servants, who are accustomed to
smuggling. Here, Philippe, you must take off the lid of that coffin."

The Count protested; but Philippe--a man with a bald head and a smirched
face, looking like a working blacksmith--placed on the floor a leather
bag of tools, from which, having looked at the coffin, and picked with
his nail at the screw-heads, he selected a turnscrew and, with a few
deft twirls at each of the screws, they stood up like little rows of
mushrooms, and the lid was raised. I saw the light, of which I thought I
had seen my last, once more; but the axis of vision remained fixed. As I
was reduced to the cataleptic state in a position nearly perpendicular,
I continued looking straight before me, and thus my gaze was now fixed
upon the ceiling. I saw the face of Carmaignac leaning over me with a
curious frown. It seemed to me that there was no recognition in his
eyes. Oh, Heaven! that I could have uttered were it but one cry! I saw
the dark, mean mask of the little Count staring down at me from the
other side; the face of the pseudo-Marquis also peering at me, but not
so full in the line of vision; there were other faces also.

"I see, I see," said Carmaignac, withdrawing. "Nothing of the kind
there."

"You will be good enough to direct your man to re-adjust the lid of the
coffin, and to fix the screws," said the Count, taking courage;
"and--and--really the funeral must proceed. It is not fair to the
people, who have but moderate fees for night-work, to keep them hour
after hour beyond the time."

"Count de St. Alyre, you shall go in a very few minutes. I will direct,
just now, all about the coffin."

The Count looked toward the door, and there saw a _gendarme_; and
two or three more grave and stalwart specimens of the same force were
also in the room. The Count was very uncomfortably excited; it was
growing insupportable.

"As this gentleman makes a difficulty about my attending the obsequies
of my kinsman, I will ask you, Planard, to accompany the funeral in my
stead."

"In a few minutes;" answered the incorrigible Carmaignac. "I must first
trouble you for the key that opens that press."

He pointed direct at the press in which the clothes had just been locked
up.

"I--I have no objection," said the Count--"none, of course; only they
have not been used for an age. I'll direct someone to look for the key."

"If you have not got it about you, it is quite unnecessary. Philippe,
try your skeleton-keys with that press. I want it opened. Whose clothes
are these?" inquired Carmaignac, when, the press having been opened, he
took out the suit that had been placed there scarcely two minutes since.

"I can't say," answered the Count. "I know nothing of the contents of
that press. A roguish servant, named Lablais, whom I dismissed about a
year ago, had the key. I have not seen it open for ten years or more.
The clothes are probably his."

"Here are visiting cards, see, and here a marked
pocket-handkerchief--'R.B.' upon it. He must have stolen them from a
person named Beckett--R. Beckett. 'Mr. Beckett, Berkeley Square,' the
card says; and, my faith! here's a watch and a bunch of seals; one of
them with the initials 'R.B.' upon it. That servant, Lablais, must have
been a consummate rogue!"

"So he was; you are right, Sir."

"It strikes me that he possibly stole these clothes," continued
Carmaignac, "from the man in the coffin, who, in that case, would be
Monsieur Beckett, and not Monsieur de St. Amand. For wonderful to
relate, Monsieur, the watch is still going! The man in the coffin, I
believe, is not dead, but simply drugged. And for having robbed and
intended to murder him, I arrest you, Nicolas de la Marque, Count de St.
Alyre."

In another moment the old villain was a prisoner. I heard his discordant
voice break quaveringly into sudden vehemence and volubility; now
croaking--now shrieking as he oscillated between protests, threats, and
impious appeals to the God who will "judge the secrets of men!" And thus
lying and raving, he was removed from the room, and placed in the same
coach with his beautiful and abandoned accomplice, already arrested;
and, with two _gendarmes_sitting beside them, they were immediate
driving at a rapid pace towards the Conciergerie.

There were now added to the general chorus two voices, very different in
quality; one was that of the gasconading Colonel Gaillarde, who had with
difficulty been kept in the background up to this; the other was that of
my jolly friend Whistlewick, who had come to identify me.

I shall tell you, just now, how this project against my property and
life, so ingenious and monstrous, was exploded. I must first say a word
about myself. I was placed in a hot bath, under the direction of
Planard, as consummate a villain as any of the gang, but now thoroughly
in the interests of the prosecution. Thence I was laid in a warm bed,
the window of the room being open. These simple measures restored me in
about three hours; I should otherwise, probably, have continued under
the spell for nearly seven.

The practices of these nefarious conspirators had been carried on with
consummate skill and secrecy. Their dupes were led, as I was, to be
themselves auxiliary to the mystery which made their own destruction
both safe and certain.

A search was, of course, instituted. Graves were opened in Pere la
Chaise. The bodies exhumed had lain there too long, and were too much
decomposed to be recognized. One only was identified. The notice for the
burial, in this particular case, had been signed, the order given, and
the fees paid, by Gabriel Gaillarde, who was known to the official
clerk, who had to transact with him this little funereal business. The
very trick that had been arranged for me, had been successfully
practiced in his case. The person for whom the grave had been ordered,
was purely fictitious; and Gabriel Gaillarde himself filled the coffin,
on the cover of which that false name was inscribed as well as upon a
tomb-stone over the grave. Possibly the same honor, under my pseudonym,
may have been intended for me.

The identification was curious. This Gabriel Gaillarde had had a bad
fall from a runaway horse about five years before his mysterious
disappearance. He had lost an eye and some teeth in this accident,
beside sustaining a fracture of the right leg, immediately above the
ankle. He had kept the injuries to his face as profound a secret as he
could. The result was, that the glass eye which had done duty for the
one he had lost remained in the socket, slightly displaced, of course,
but recognizable by the "artist" who had supplied it.

More pointedly recognizable were the teeth, peculiar in workmanship,
which one of the ablest dentists in Paris had himself adapted to the
chasms, the cast of which, owing to peculiarities in the accident, he
happened to have preserved. This cast precisely fitted the gold plate
found in the mouth of the skull. The mark, also, above the ankle, in the
bone, where it had reunited, corresponded exactly with the place where
the fracture had knit in the limb of Gabriel Gaillarde.

The Colonel, his younger brother, had been furious about the
disappearance of Gabriel, and still more so about that of his money,
which he had long regarded as his proper keepsake, whenever death should
remove his brother from the vexations of living. He had suspected for a
long time, for certain adroitly discovered reasons, that the Count de
St. Alyre and the beautiful lady, his companion, countess, or whatever
else she was, had pigeoned him. To this suspicion were added some others
of a still darker kind; but in their first shape, rather the exaggerated
reflections of his fury, ready to believe anything, than well-defined
conjectures.

At length an accident had placed the Colonel very nearly upon the right
scent; a chance, possibly lucky, for himself, had apprised the scoundrel
Planard that the conspirators--himself among the number--were in danger.
The result was that he made terms for himself, became an informer, and
concerted with the police this visit made to the Chateau de la Carque at
the critical moment when every measure had been completed that was
necessary to construct a perfect case against his guilty accomplices.

I need not describe the minute industry or forethought with which the
police agents collected all the details necessary to support the case.
They had brought an able physician, who, even had Planard failed, would
have supplied the necessary medical evidence.

My trip to Paris, you will believe, had not turned out quite so
agreeably as I had anticipated. I was the principal witness for the
prosecution in this _cause celebre_, with all the _agremens_
that attend that enviable position. Having had an escape, as my friend
Whistlewick said, "with a squeak" for my life, I innocently fancied that
I should have been an object of considerable interest to Parisian
society; but, a good deal to my mortification, I discovered that I was
the object of a good-natured but contemptuous merriment. I was a
_balourd, a benet, un ane_, and figured even in caricatures. I
became a sort of public character, a dignity,

"Unto which I was not born,"

and from which I fled as soon as I conveniently could, without even
paying my friend, the Marquis d'Harmonville, a visit at his hospitable
chateau.

The Marquis escaped scot-free. His accomplice, the Count, was executed.
The fair Eugenie, under extenuating circumstances--consisting, so far as
I could discover of her good looks--got off for six years' imprisonment.

Colonel Gaillarde recovered some of his brother's money, out of the not
very affluent estate of the Count and soi-disant Countess. This, and the
execution of the Count, put him in high good humor. So far from
insisting on a hostile meeting, he shook me very graciously by the hand,
told me that he looked upon the wound on his head, inflicted by the knob
of my stick, as having been received in an honorable though irregular
duel, in which he had no disadvantage or unfairness to complain of.

I think I have only two additional details to mention. The bricks
discovered in the room with the coffin, had been packed in it, in straw,
to supply the weight of a dead body, and to prevent the suspicions and
contradictions that might have been excited by the arrival of an empty
coffin at the chateau.

Secondly, the Countess's magnificent brilliants were examined by a
lapidary, and pronounced to be worth about five pounds to a tragedy
queen who happened to be in want of a suite of paste.

The Countess had figured some years before as one of the cleverest
actresses on the minor stage of Paris, where she had been picked up by
the Count and used as his principal accomplice.

She it was who, admirably disguised, had rifled my papers in the
carriage on my memorable night-journey to Paris. She also had figured as
the interpreting magician of the palanquin at the ball at Versailles. So
far as I was affected by that elaborate mystification it was intended to
re-animate my interest, which, they feared, might flag in the beautiful
Countess. It had its design and action upon other intended victims also;
but of them there is, at present, no need to speak. The introduction of
a real corpse--procured from a person who supplied the Parisian
anatomists--involved no real danger, while it heightened the mystery and
kept the prophet alive in the gossip of the town and in the thoughts of
the noodles with whom he had conferred.

I divided the remainder of the summer and autumn between Switzerland and
Italy.

As the well-worn phrase goes, I was a sadder if not a wiser man. A great
deal of the horrible impression left upon my mind was due, of course, to
the mere action of nerves and brain. But serious feelings of another and
deeper kind remained. My afterlife was ultimately formed by the shock I
had then received. Those impressions led me--but not till after many
years--to happier though not less serious thoughts; and I have deep
reason to be thankful to the all-merciful Ruler of events for an early
and terrible lesson in the ways of sin.

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