Stories by Modern English Authors
Part 3 out of 8
starting a chase. All he wants is an old dog to help him do the
"I hope a wild goose may not prove to be the end of our chase,"
observed Mr. Merryweather gloomily.
"You may place considerable confidence in Mr. Holmes, sir," said
the police agent loftily. "He has his own little methods, which
are, if he won't mind my saying so, just a little too theoretical
and fantastic, but he has the makings of a detective in him. It is
not too much to say that once or twice, as in that business of the
Sholto murder and the Agra treasure, he has been more nearly
correct than the official force."
"Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right!" said the stranger,
with deference. "Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is
the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not
had my rubber."
"I think you will find," said Sherlock Holmes, "that you will play
for a higher stake to-night than you have ever done yet, and that
the play will be more exciting. For you, Mr. Merryweather, the
stake will be some thirty thousand pounds; and for you, Jones, it
will be the man upon whom you wish to lay your hands."
"John Clay, the murderer, thief, smasher, and forger. He's a young
man, Mr. Merryweather, but he is at the head of his profession, and
I would rather have my bracelets on him than on any criminal in
London. He's a remarkable man, is young John Clay. His
grandfather was a Royal Duke, and he himself has been to Eton and
Oxford. His brain is as cunning as his fingers, and though we meet
signs of him at every turn, we never know where to find the man
himself. He'll crack a crib in Scotland one week, and be raising
money to build an orphanage in Cornwall the next. I've been on his
track for years, and have never set eyes on him yet."
"I hope that I may have the pleasure of introducing you to-night.
I've had one or two little turns also with Mr. John Clay, and I
agree with you that he is at the head of his profession. It is
past ten, however, and quite time that we started. If you two will
take the first hansom, Watson and I will follow in the second."
Sherlock Holmes was not very communicative during the long drive,
and lay back in the cab humming the tunes which he had heard in the
afternoon. We rattled through an endless labyrinth of gaslit
streets until we emerged into Farringdon Street.
"We are close there now," my friend remarked. "This fellow
Merryweather is a bank director and personally interested in the
matter. I thought it as well to have Jones with us also. He is
not a bad fellow, though an absolute imbecile in his profession.
He has one positive virtue. He is as brave as a bulldog, and as
tenacious as a lobster if he gets his claws upon anyone. Here we
are, and they are waiting for us."
We had reached the same crowded thoroughfare in which we had found
ourselves in the morning. Our cabs were dismissed, and following
the guidance of Mr. Merryweather, we passed down a narrow passage,
and through a side door which he opened for us. Within there was a
small corridor, which ended in a very massive iron gate. This also
was opened, and led down a flight of winding stone steps, which
terminated at another formidable gate. Mr. Merryweather stopped to
light a lantern, and then conducted us down a dark, earth-smelling
passage, and so, after opening a third door, into a huge vault or
cellar, which was piled all round with crates and massive boxes.
"You are not very vulnerable from above," Holmes remarked, as he
held up the lantern and gazed about him.
"Nor from below," said Mr. Merryweather, striking his stick upon
the flags which lined the floor. "Why, dear me, it sounds quite
hollow!" he remarked, looking up in surprise.
"I must really ask you to be a little more quiet," said Holmes
severely. "You have already imperiled the whole success of our
expedition. Might I beg that you would have the goodness to sit
down upon one of those boxes, and not to interfere?"
The solemn Mr. Merryweather perched himself upon a crate, with a
very injured expression upon his face, while Holmes fell upon his
knees upon the floor, and, with the lantern and a magnifying lens,
began to examine minutely the cracks between the stones. A few
seconds sufficed to satisfy him, for he sprang to his feet again,
and put his glass in his pocket.
"We have at least an hour before us," he remarked, "for they can
hardly take any steps until the good pawnbroker is safely in bed.
Then they will not lose a minute, for the sooner they do their work
the longer time they will have for their escape. We are at
present, doctor--as no doubt you have divined--in the cellar of the
City branch of one of the principal London banks. Mr. Merryweather
is the chairman of directors, and he will explain to you that there
are reasons why the more daring criminals of London should take a
considerable interest in this cellar at present."
"It is our French gold," whispered the director. "We have had
several warnings that an attempt might be made upon it."
"Your French gold?"
"Yes. We had occasion some months ago to strengthen our resources,
and borrowed, for that purpose, thirty thousand napoleons from the
Bank of France. It has become known that we have never had
occasion to unpack the money, and that it is still lying in our
cellar. The crate upon which I sit contains two thousand napoleons
packed between layers of lead foil. Our reserve of bullion is much
larger at present than is usually kept in a single branch office,
and the directors have had misgivings upon the subject."
"Which were very well justified," observed Holmes. "And now it is
time that we arranged our little plans. I expect that within an
hour matters will come to a head. In the meantime, Mr.
Merryweather, we must put the screen over that dark lantern."
"And sit in the dark?"
"I am afraid so. I had brought a pack of cards in my pocket, and I
thought that, as we were a partie carree, you might have your
rubber after all. But I see that the enemy's preparations have
gone so far that we cannot risk the presence of a light. And,
first of all, we must choose our positions. These are daring men,
and, though we shall take them at a disadvantage, they may do us
some harm, unless we are careful. I shall stand behind this crate,
and do you conceal yourself behind those. Then, when I flash a
light upon them, close in swiftly. If they fire, Watson, have no
compunction about shooting them down."
I placed my revolver, cocked, upon the top of the wooden case
behind which I crouched. Holmes shot the slide across the front of
his lantern, and left us in pitch darkness--such an absolute
darkness as I have never before experienced. The smell of hot
metal remained to assure us that the light was still there, ready
to flash out at a moment's notice. To me, with my nerves worked up
to a pitch of expectancy, there was something depressing and
subduing in the sudden gloom, and in the cold, dank air of the
"They have but one retreat," whispered Holmes. "That is back
through the house into Saxe-Coburg Square. I hope that you have
done what I asked you, Jones?"
"I have an inspector and two officers waiting at the front door."
"Then we have stopped all the holes. And now we must be silent and
What a time it seemed! From comparing notes afterwards, it was but
an hour and a quarter, yet it appeared to me that the night must
have almost gone, and the dawn be breaking above us. My limbs were
weary and stiff, for I feared to change my position, yet my nerves
were worked up to the highest pitch of tension, and my hearing was
so acute that I could not only hear the gentle breathing of my
companions, but I could distinguish the deeper, heavier inbreath of
the bulky Jones from the thin, sighing note of the bank director.
From my position I could look over the case in the direction of the
floor. Suddenly my eyes caught the glint of a light.
At first it was but a lurid spark upon the stone pavement. Then it
lengthened out until it became a yellow line, and then, without any
warning or sound, a gash seemed to open and a hand appeared, a
white, almost womanly hand, which felt about in the center of the
little area of light. For a minute or more the hand, with its
writhing fingers, protruded out of the floor. Then it was
withdrawn as suddenly as it appeared, and all was dark again save
the single lurid spark, which marked a chink between the stones.
Its disappearance, however, was but momentary. With a rending,
tearing sound, one of the broad white stones turned over upon its
side, and left a square, gaping hole, through which streamed the
light of a lantern. Over the edge there peeped a clean-cut, boyish
face, which looked keenly about it, and then, with a hand on either
side of the aperture, drew itself shoulder-high and waist-high,
until one knee rested upon the edge. In another instant he stood
at the side of the hole, and was hauling after him a companion,
lithe and small like himself, with a pale face and a shock of very
"It's all clear," he whispered. "Have you the chisel and the bags?
Great Scott! Jump, Archie, jump, and I'll swing for it!"
Sherlock Holmes had sprung out and seized the intruder by the
collar. The other dived down the hole, and I heard the sound of
rending cloth as Jones clutched at his skirts. The light flashed
upon the barrel of a revolver, but Holmes's hunting crop came down
on the man's wrist, and the pistol clinked upon the stone floor.
"It's no use, John Clay," said Holmes blandly, "you have no chance
"So I see," the other answered, with the utmost coolness. "I fancy
that my pal is all right, though I see you have got his coat-
"There are three men waiting for him at the door," said Holmes.
"Oh, indeed. You seem to have done the thing very completely. I
must compliment you."
"And I you," Holmes answered. "Your red-headed idea was very new
"You'll see your pal again presently," said Jones. "He's quicker
at climbing down holes than I am. Just hold out while I fix the
"I beg that you will not touch me with your filthy hands," remarked
our prisoner, as the handcuffs clattered upon his wrists. "You may
not be aware that I have royal blood in my veins. Have the
goodness also, when you address me, always to say 'sir' and
"All right," said Jones, with a stare and a snigger. "Well, would
you please, sir, march upstairs where we can get a cab to carry
your highness to the police station?"
"That is better," said John Clay serenely. He made a sweeping bow
to the three of us, and walked quietly off in the custody of the
"Really, Mr. Holmes," said Mr. Merryweather, as we followed them
from the cellar, "I do not know how the bank can thank you or repay
you. There is no doubt that you have detected and defeated in the
most complete manner one of the most determined attempts at bank
robbery that have ever come within my experience."
"I have had one or two little scores of my own to settle with Mr.
John Clay," said Holmes. "I have been at some small expense over
this matter, which I shall expect the bank to refund, but beyond
that I am amply repaid by having had an experience which is in many
ways unique, and by hearing the very remarkable narrative of the
"You see, Watson," he explained, in the early hours of the morning,
as we sat over a glass of whisky and soda in Baker Street, "it was
perfectly obvious from the first that the only possible object of
this rather fantastic business of the advertisement of the League,
and the copying of the 'Encyclopaedia,' must be to get this not
over-bright pawnbroker out of the way for a number of hours every
day. It was a curious way of managing it, but really it would be
difficult to suggest a better. The method was no doubt suggested
to Clay's ingenious mind by the color of his accomplice's hair.
The four pounds a week was a lure which must draw him, and what was
it to them, who were playing for thousands? They put in the
advertisement, one rogue has the temporary office, the other rogue
incites the man to apply for it, and together they manage to secure
his absence every morning in the week. From the time that I heard
of the assistant having come for half wages, it was obvious to me
that he had some strong motive for securing the situation."
"But how could you guess what the motive was?"
"Had there been women in the house, I should have suspected a mere
vulgar intrigue. That, however, was out of the question. The
man's business was a small one, and there was nothing in his house
which could account for such elaborate preparations, and such an
expenditure as they were at. It must then be something out of the
house. What could it be? I thought of the assistant's fondness
for photography, and his trick of vanishing into the cellar. The
cellar! There was the end of this tangled clew. Then I made
inquiries as to this mysterious assistant, and found that I had to
deal with one of the coolest and most daring criminals in London.
He was doing something in the cellar--something which took many
hours a day for months on end. What could it be, once more? I
could think of nothing save that he was running a tunnel to some
"So far I had got when we went to visit the scene of action. I
surprised you by beating upon the pavement with my stick. I was
ascertaining whether the cellar stretched out in front or behind.
It was not in front. Then I rang the bell, and, as I hoped, the
assistant answered it. We have had some skirmishes, but we had
never set eyes upon each other before. I hardly looked at his
face. His knees were what I wished to see. You must yourself have
remarked how worn, wrinkled, and stained they were. They spoke of
those hours of burrowing. The only remaining point was what they
were burrowing for. I walked round the corner, saw that the City
and Suburban Bank abutted on our friend's premises, and felt that I
had solved my problem. When you drove home after the concert I
called upon Scotland Yard, and upon the chairman of the bank
directors, with the result that you have seen."
"And how could you tell that they would make their attempt to-
night?" I asked.
"Well, when they closed their League offices that was a sign that
they cared no longer about Mr. Jabez Wilson's presence; in other
words, that they had completed their tunnel. But it was essential
that they should use it soon, as it might be discovered, or the
bullion might be removed. Saturday would suit them better than any
other day, as it would give them two days for their escape. For
all these reasons I expected them to come to-night."
"You reasoned it out beautifully," I exclaimed, in unfeigned
admiration. "It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings
"It saved me from ennui," he answered, yawning. "Alas! I already
feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to
escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems
help me to do so."
"And you are a benefactor of the race," said I. He shrugged his
shoulders. "Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use,"
he remarked. "'L'homme c'est rien--l'oeuvre c'est tout,' as
Gustave Flaubert wrote to Georges Sands."
The Baron's Quarry
"Oh, no, I assure you, you are not boring Mr. Marshfield," said
this personage himself in his gentle voice--that curious voice that
could flow on for hours, promulgating profound and startling
theories on every department of human knowledge or conducting
paradoxical arguments without a single inflection or pause of
hesitation. "I am, on the contrary, much interested in your
hunting talk. To paraphrase a well-worn quotation somewhat widely,
nihil humanum a me alienum est. Even hunting stories may have
their point of biological interest; the philologist sometimes
pricks his ear to the jargon of the chase; moreover, I am not
incapable of appreciating the subject matter itself. This seems to
excite some derision. I admit I am not much of a sportsman to look
at, nor, indeed, by instinct, yet I have had some out-of-the-way
experiences in that line--generally when intent on other pursuits.
I doubt, for instance, if even you, Major Travers, notwithstanding
your well-known exploits against man and beast, notwithstanding
that doubtful smile of yours, could match the strangeness of a
certain hunting adventure in which I played an important part."
The speaker's small, deep-set, black eyes, that never warmed to
anything more human than a purely speculative scientific interest
in his surroundings, here wandered round the skeptical yet
expectant circle with bland amusement. He stretched out his
bloodless fingers for another of his host's superfine cigars and
proceeded, with only such interruptions as were occasioned by the
lighting and careful smoking of the latter.
"I was returning home after my prolonged stay in Petersburg,
intending to linger on my way and test with mine own ears certain
among the many dialects of Eastern Europe--anent which there is a
symmetrical little cluster of philological knotty points it is my
modest intention one day to unravel. However, that is neither here
nor there. On the road to Hungary I bethought myself opportunely
of proving the once pressingly offered hospitality of the Baron
"You may have met the man, Major Travers; he was a tremendous
sportsman, if you like. I first came across him at McNeil's place
in remote Ireland. Now, being in Bukowina, within measurable
distance of his Carpathian abode, and curious to see a Polish lord
at home, I remembered his invitation. It was already of long
standing, but it had been warm, born in fact of a sudden fit of
enthusiasm for me"--here a half-mocking smile quivered an instant
under the speaker's black mustache--"which, as it was
characteristic, I may as well tell you about.
"It was on the day of, or, rather, to be accurate, on the day after
my arrival, toward the small hours of the morning, in the smoking
room at Rathdrum. Our host was peacefully snoring over his empty
pipe and his seventh glass of whisky, also empty. The rest of the
men had slunk off to bed. The baron, who all unknown to himself
had been a subject of most interesting observation to me the whole
evening, being now practically alone with me, condescended to turn
an eye, as wide awake as a fox's, albeit slightly bloodshot, upon
the contemptible white-faced person who had preferred spending the
raw hours over his papers, within the radius of a glorious fire's
warmth, to creeping slyly over treacherous quagmires in the pursuit
of timid bog creatures (snipe shooting had been the order of the
day)--the baron, I say, became aware of my existence and entered
into conversation with me.
"He would no doubt have been much surprised could he have known
that he was already mapped out, craniologically and
physiognomically, catalogued with care and neatly laid by in his
proper ethnological box, in my private type museum; that, as I sat
and examined him from my different coigns of vantage in library, in
dining and smoking room that evening, not a look of his, not a
gesture went forth but had significance for me.
"You, I had thought, with your broad shoulders and deep chest; your
massive head that should have gone with a tall stature, not with
those short sturdy limbs; with your thick red hair, that should
have been black for that matter, as should your wide-set yellow
eyes--you would be a real puzzle to one who did not recognize in
you equal mixtures of the fair, stalwart and muscular Slav with the
bilious-sanguine, thick-set, wiry Turanian. Your pedigree would no
doubt bear me out: there is as much of the Magyar as of the Pole in
your anatomy. Athlete, and yet a tangle of nerves; a ferocious
brute at bottom, I dare say, for your broad forehead inclines to
flatness; under your bristling beard your jaw must protrude, and
the base of your skull is ominously thick. And, with all that,
capable of ideal transports: when that girl played and sang to-
night I saw the swelling of your eyelid veins, and how that small,
tenacious, claw-like hand of yours twitched! You would be a fine
leader of men--but God help the wretches in your power!
"So had I mused upon him. Yet I confess that when we came in
closer contact with each other, even I was not proof against the
singular courtesy of his manner and his unaccountable personal
"Our conversation soon grew interesting; to me as a matter of
course, and evidently to him also. A few general words led to
interchange of remarks upon the country we were both visitors in
and so to national characteristics--Pole and Irishman have not a
few in common, both in their nature and history. An observation
which he made, not without a certain flash in his light eyes and a
transient uncovering of the teeth, on the Irish type of female
beauty suddenly suggested to me a stanza of an ancient Polish
ballad, very full of milk-and-blood imagery, of alternating
ferocity and voluptuousness. This I quoted to the astounded
foreigner in the vernacular, and this it was that metamorphosed his
mere perfection of civility into sudden warmth, and, in fact,
procured me the invitation in question.
"When I left Rathdrum the baron's last words to me were that if I
ever thought of visiting his country otherwise than in books, he
held me bound to make Yany, his Galician seat, my headquarters of
"From Czernowicz, therefore, where I stopped some time, I wrote,
received in due time a few lines of prettily worded reply, and
ultimately entered my sled in the nearest town to, yet at a most
forbidding distance from, Yany, and started on my journey thither.
"The undertaking meant many long hours of undulation and skidding
over the November snow, to the somniferous bell jangle of my dirty
little horses, the only impression of interest being a weird gypsy
concert I came in for at a miserable drinking-booth half buried in
the snow where we halted for the refreshment of man and beast.
Here, I remember, I discovered a very definite connection between
the characteristic run of the tsimbol, the peculiar bite of the
Zigeuner's bow on his fiddle-string, and some distinctive points of
Turanian tongues. In other countries, in Spain, for instance, your
gypsy speaks differently on his instrument. But, oddly enough,
when I later attempted to put this observation on paper I could
find no word to express it."
A few of our company evinced signs of sleepiness, but most of us
who knew Marshfield, and that he could, unless he had something
novel to say, be as silent and retiring as he now evinced signs of
being copious, awaited further developments with patience. He has
his own deliberate way of speaking, which he evidently enjoys
greatly, though it be occasionally trying to his listeners.
"On the afternoon of my second day's drive, the snow, which till
then had fallen fine and continuous, ceased, and my Jehu, suddenly
interrupting himself in the midst of some exciting wolf story quite
in keeping with the time of year and the wild surroundings, pointed
to a distant spot against the gray sky to the northwest, between
two wood-covered folds of ground--the first eastern spurs of the
great Carpathian chain.
"'There stands Yany,' said he. I looked at my far-off goal with
interest. As we drew nearer, the sinking sun, just dipping behind
the hills, tinged the now distinct frontage with a cold copper-like
gleam, but it was only for a minute; the next the building became
nothing more to the eye than a black irregular silhouette against
the crimson sky.
"Before we entered the long, steep avenue of poplars, the early
winter darkness was upon us, rendered all the more depressing by
gray mists which gave a ghostly aspect to such objects as the sheen
of the snow rendered visible. Once or twice there were feeble
flashes of light looming in iridescent halos as we passed little
clusters of hovels, but for which I should have been induced to
fancy that the great Hof stood alone in the wilderness, such was
the deathly stillness around. But even as the tall, square
building rose before us above the vapor, yellow lighted in various
stories, and mighty in height and breadth, there broke upon my ear
a deep-mouthed, menacing bay, which gave at once almost alarming
reality to the eerie surroundings. 'His lordship's boar and wolf
hounds,' quoth my charioteer calmly, unmindful of the regular
pandemonium of howls and barks which ensued as he skillfully turned
his horses through the gateway and flogged the tired beasts into a
sort of shambling canter that we might land with glory before the
house door: a weakness common, I believe, to drivers of all
"I alighted in the court of honor, and while awaiting an answer to
my tug at the bell, stood, broken with fatigue, depressed, chilled
and aching, questioning the wisdom of my proceedings and the amount
of comfort, physical and moral, that was likely to await me in a
tete-a-tete visit with a well-mannered savage in his own home.
"The unkempt tribe of stable retainers who began to gather round me
and my rough vehicle in the gloom, with their evil-smelling
sheepskins and their resigned, battered visages, were not
calculated to reassure me. Yet when the door opened, there stood a
smart chasseur and a solemn major-domo who might but just have
stepped out of Mayfair; and there was displayed a spreading vista
of warm, deep-colored halls, with here a statue and there a stuffed
bear, and under foot pile carpets strewn with rarest skins.
"Marveling, yet comforted withal, I followed the solemn butler, who
received me with the deference due to an expected guest and
expressed the master's regret for his enforced absence till dinner
time. I traversed vast rooms, each more sumptuous than the last,
feeling the strangeness of the contrast between the outer
desolation and this sybaritic excess of luxury growing ever more
strongly upon me; caught a glimpse of a picture gallery, where
peculiar yet admirably executed latter-day French pictures hung
side by side with ferocious boar hunts of Snyder and such kin; and,
at length, was ushered into a most cheerful room, modern to excess
in its comfortable promise, where, in addition to the tall stove
necessary for warmth, there burned on an open hearth a vastly
pleasant fire of resinous logs, and where, on a low table, awaited
me a dainty service of fragrant Russian tea.
"My impression of utter novelty seemed somehow enhanced by this
unexpected refinement in the heart of the solitudes and in such a
rugged shell, and yet, when I came to reflect, it was only
characteristic of my cosmopolitan host. But another surprise was
in store for me.
"When I had recovered bodily warmth and mental equilibrium in my
downy armchair, before the roaring logs, and during the delicious
absorption of my second glass of tea, I turned my attention to the
French valet, evidently the baron's own man, who was deftly
unpacking my portmanteau, and who, unless my practiced eye deceived
me, asked for nothing better than to entertain me with agreeable
conversation the while.
"'Your master is out, then?' quoth I, knowing that the most trivial
remark would suffice to start him.
"True, Monseigneur was out; he was desolated in despair (this with
the national amiable and imaginative instinct); 'but it was
doubtless important business. M. le Baron had the visit of his
factor during the midday meal; had left the table hurriedly, and
had not been seen since. Madame la Baronne had been a little
suffering, but she would receive monsieur!'
"'Madame!' exclaimed I, astounded, 'is your master then married?--
since when?'--visions of a fair Tartar, fit mate for my baron,
immediately springing somewhat alluringly before my mental vision.
But the answer dispelled the picturesque fancy.
"'Oh, yes,' said the man, with a somewhat peculiar expression.
Yes, Monseigneur is married. Did Monsieur not know? And yet it
was from England that Monseigneur brought back his wife.'
"My first thought was one of pity; an Englishwoman alone in this
wilderness--two days' drive from even a railway station--and at the
mercy of Kossowski! But the next minute I reversed my judgment.
Probably she adored her rufous lord, took his veneer of courtesy--a
veneer of the most exquisite polish, I grant you, but perilously
thin--for the very perfection of chivalry. Or perchance it was his
inner savageness itself that charmed her; the most refined women
often amaze one by the fascination which the preponderance of the
brute in the opposite sex seems to have for them.
"I was anxious to hear more.
"'Is it not dull for the lady here at this time of the year?'
"The valet raised his shoulders with a gesture of despair that was
"Dull! Ah, monsieur could not conceive to himself the dullness of
it. That poor Madame la Baronne! not even a little child to keep
her company on the long, long days when there was nothing but snow
in the heaven and on the earth and the howling of the wind and the
dogs to cheer her. At the beginning, indeed, it had been
different; when the master first brought home his bride the house
was gay enough. It was all redecorated and refurnished to receive
her (monsieur should have seen it before, a mere rendezvous-de-
chasse--for the matter of that so were all the country houses in
these parts). Ah, that was the good time! There were visits month
after month; parties, sleighing, dancing, trips to St. Petersburg
and Vienna. But this year it seemed they were to have nothing but
boars and wolves. How madame could stand it--well, it was not for
him to speak--and heaving a deep sigh he delicately inserted my
white tie round my collar, and with a flourish twisted it into an
irreproachable bow beneath my chin. I did not think it right to
cross-examine the willing talker any further, especially as,
despite his last asseveration, there were evidently volumes he
still wished to pour forth; but I confess that, as I made my way
slowly out of my room along the noiseless length of passage, I was
conscious of an unwonted, not to say vulgar, curiosity concerning
the woman who had captivated such a man as the Baron Kossowski.
"In a fit of speculative abstraction I must have taken the wrong
turning, for I presently found myself in a long, narrow passage. I
did not remember. I was retracing my steps when there came the
sound of rapid footfalls upon stone flags; a little door flew open
in the wall close to me, and a small, thick-set man, huddled in the
rough sheepskin of the Galician peasant, with a mangy fur cap on
his head, nearly ran headlong into my arms. I was about
condescendingly to interpellate him in my best Polish, when I
caught the gleam of an angry yellow eye and noted the bristle of a
"Amazed, I fell back a step in silence. With a growl like an
uncouth animal disturbed, he drew his filthy cap over his brow with
a savage gesture and pursued his way down the corridor at a sort of
"This first meeting between host and guest was so odd, so
incongruous, that it afforded me plenty of food for a fresh line of
conjecture as I traced my way back to the picture gallery, and from
thence successfully to the drawing-room, which, as the door was
ajar, I could not this time mistake.
"It was large and lofty and dimly lit by shaded lamps; through the
rosy gloom I could at first only just make out a slender figure by
the hearth; but as I advanced, this was resolved into a singularly
graceful woman in clinging, fur-trimmed velvet gown, who, with one
hand resting on the high mantelpiece, the other banging listlessly
by her side, stood gazing down at the crumbling wood fire as if in
"My friends are kind enough to say that I have a catlike tread; I
know not how that may be; at any rate the carpet I was walking upon
was thick enough to smother a heavier footfall: not until I was
quite close to her did my hostess become aware of my presence.
Then she started violently and looked over her shoulder at me with
dilating eyes. Evidently a nervous creature, I saw the pulse in
her throat, strained by her attitude, flutter like a terrified
"The next instant she had stretched out her hand with sweet English
words of welcome, and the face, which I had been comparing in my
mind to that of Guido's Cenci, became transformed by the arch and
exquisite smile of a Greuse. For more than two years I had had no
intercourse with any of my nationality. I could conceive the sound
of his native tongue under such circumstances moving a man in a
curious unexpected fashion.
"I babbled some commonplace reply, after which there was silence
while we stood opposite each other, she looking at me expectantly.
At length, with a sigh checked by a smile and an overtone of
sadness in a voice that yet tried to be sprightly:
"'Am I then so changed, Mr. Marshfield?' she asked. And all at
once I knew her: the girl whose nightingale throat had redeemed the
desolation of the evenings at Rathdrum, whose sunny beauty had
seemed (even to my celebrated cold-blooded aestheticism) worthy to
haunt a man's dreams. Yes, there was the subtle curve of the
waist, the warm line of throat, the dainty foot, the slender tip-
tilted fingers--witty fingers, as I had classified them--which I
now shook like a true Briton, instead of availing myself of the
privilege the country gave me, and kissing her slender wrist.
"But she was changed; and I told her so with unconventional
frankness, studying her closely as I spoke.
"'I am afraid,' I said gravely, 'that this place does not agree
"She shrank from my scrutiny with a nervous movement and flushed to
the roots of her red-brown hair. Then she answered coldly that I
was wrong, that she was in excellent health, but that she could not
expect any more than other people to preserve perennial youth (I
rapidly calculated she might be two-and-twenty), though, indeed,
with a little forced laugh, it was scarcely flattering to hear one
had altered out of all recognition. Then, without allowing me time
to reply, she plunged into a general topic of conversation which,
as I should have been obtuse indeed not to take the hint, I did my
best to keep up.
"But while she talked of Vienna and Warsaw, of her distant
neighbors, and last year's visitors, it was evident that her mind
was elsewhere; her eye wandered, she lost the thread of her
discourse, answered me at random, and smiled her piteous smile
"However lonely she might be in her solitary splendor, the company
of a countryman was evidently no such welcome diversion.
"After a little while she seemed to feel herself that she was
lacking in cordiality, and, bringing her absent gaze to bear upon
me with a puzzled strained look: 'I fear you will find it very
dull,' she said, 'my husband is so wrapped up this winter in his
country life and his sport. You are the first visitor we have had.
There is nothing but guns and horses here, and you do not care for
"The door creaked behind us; and the baron entered, in faultless
evening dress. Before she turned toward him I was sharp enough to
catch again the upleaping of a quick dread in her eyes, not even so
much dread perhaps, I thought afterwards, as horror--the horror we
notice in some animals at the nearing of a beast of prey. It was
gone in a second, and she was smiling. But it was a revelation.
"Perhaps he beat her in Russian fashion, and she, as an
Englishwoman, was narrow-minded enough to resent this; or perhaps,
merely, I had the misfortune to arrive during a matrimonial
"The baron would not give me leisure to reflect; he was so very
effusive in his greeting--not a hint of our previous meeting--
unlike my hostess, all in all to me; eager to listen, to reply;
almost affectionate, full of references to old times and genial
allusions. No doubt when he chose he could be the most charming of
men; there were moments when, looking at him in his quiet smile and
restrained gesture, the almost exaggerated politeness of his manner
to his wife, whose fingers he had kissed with pretty, old-fashioned
gallantry upon his entrance, I asked myself, Could that encounter
in the passage have been a dream? Could that savage in the
sheepskin be my courteous entertainer?
"'Just as I came in, did I hear my wife say there was nothing for
you to do in this place?' he said presently to me. Then, turning
"'You do not seem to know Mr. Marshfield. Wherever he can open
his eyes there is for him something to see which might not interest
other men. He will find things in my library which I have no
notion of. He will discover objects for scientific observation in
all the members of my household, not only in the good-looking
maids--though he could, I have no doubt, tell their points as I
could those of a horse. We have maidens here of several distinct
races, Marshfield. We have also witches, and Jew leeches, and holy
daft people. In any case, Yany, with all its dependencies,
material, male and female, are at your disposal, for what you can
make out of them.
"'It is good,' he went on gayly, 'that you should happen to have
this happy disposition, for I fear that, no later than to-morrow, I
may have to absent myself from home. I have heard that there are
news of wolves--they threaten to be a greater pest than usual this
winter, but I am going to drive them on quite a new plan, and it
will go hard with me if I don't come even with them. Well for you,
by the way, Marshfield, that you did not pass within their scent
today.' Then, musingly: 'I should not give much for the life of a
traveler who happened to wander in these parts just now.' Here he
interrupted himself hastily and went over to his wife, who had sunk
back on her chair, livid, seemingly on the point of swooning.
"His gaze was devouring; so might a man look at the woman he
adored, in his anxiety.
"'What! faint, Violet, alarmed!' His voice was subdued, yet there
was an unmistakable thrill of emotion in it.
"'Pshaw!' thought I to myself, 'the man is a model husband.'
"She clinched her hands, and by sheer force of will seemed to pull
herself together. These nervous women have often an unexpected
fund of strength.
"'Come, that is well,' said the baron with a flickering smile; 'Mr.
Marshfield will think you but badly acclimatized to Poland if a
little wolf scare can upset you. My dear wife is so soft-hearted,'
he went on to me, 'that she is capable of making herself quite ill
over the sad fate that might have, but has not, overcome you. Or,
perhaps,' he added, in a still gentler voice, 'her fear is that I
may expose myself to danger for the public weal.'
"She turned her head away, but I saw her set her teeth as if to
choke a sob. The baron chuckled in his throat and seemed to
luxuriate in the pleasant thought.
"At this moment folding doors were thrown open, and supper was
announced. I offered my arm, she rose and took it in silence.
This silence she maintained during the first part of the meal,
despite her husband's brilliant conversation and almost uproarious
spirits. But by and by a bright color mounted to her cheeks and
luster to her eyes. I suppose you will think me horribly
unpoetical if I add that she drank several glasses of champagne one
after the other, a fact which perhaps may account for the change.
"At any rate she spoke and laughed and looked lovely, and I did not
wonder that the baron could hardly keep his eyes off her. But
whether it was her wifely anxiety or not--it was evident her mind
was not at ease through it all, and I fancied that her brightness
was feverish, her merriment slightly hysterical.
"After supper--an exquisite one it was--we adjourned together, in
foreign fashion, to the drawing-room; the baron threw himself into
a chair and, somewhat with the air of a pasha, demanded music. He
was flushed; the veins of his forehead were swollen and stood out
like cords; the wine drunk at table was potent: even through my
phlegmatic frame it ran hotly.
"She hesitated a moment or two, then docilely sat down to the
piano. That she could sing I have already made clear: how she
could sing, with what pathos, passion, as well as perfect art, I
had never realized before.
"When the song was ended she remained for a while, with eyes lost
in distance, very still, save for her quick breathing. It was
clear she was moved by the music; indeed she must have thrown her
whole soul into it.
"At first we, the audience, paid her the rare compliment of
silence. Then the baron broke forth into loud applause. 'Brava,
brava! that was really said con amore. A delicious love song,
delicious--but French! You must sing one of our Slav melodies for
Marshfield before you allow us to go and smoke.'
"She started from her reverie with a flush, and after a pause
struck slowly a few simple chords, then began one of those
strangely sweet, yet intensely pathetic Russian airs, which give
one a curious revelation of the profound, endless melancholy
lurking in the national mind.
"'What do you think of it?' asked the baron of me when it ceased.
"'What I have always thought of such music--it is that of a
hopeless people; poetical, crushed, and resigned.'
"He gave a loud laugh. 'Hear the analyst, the psychologue--why,
man, it is a love song! Is it possible that we, uncivilized, are
truer realists than our hypercultured Western neighbors? Have we
gone to the root of the matter, in our simple way?'
"The baroness got up abruptly. She looked white and spent; there
were bister circles round her eyes.
"'I am tired,' she said, with dry lips. 'You will excuse me, Mr.
Marshfield, I must really go to bed.'
"'Go to bed, go to bed,' cried her husband gayly. Then, quoting in
Russian from the song she had just sung: 'Sleep, my little soft
white dove: my little innocent tender lamb!' She hurried from the
room. The baron laughed again, and, taking me familiarly by the
arm, led me to his own set of apartments for the promised smoke.
He ensconced me in an armchair, placed cigars of every description
and a Turkish pipe ready to my hand, and a little table on which
stood cut-glass flasks and beakers in tempting array.
"After I had selected my cigar with some precautions, I glanced at
him over a careless remark, and was startled to see a sudden
alteration in his whole look and attitude.
"'You will forgive me, Marshfield,' he said, as he caught my eye,
speaking with spasmodic politeness. 'It is more than probable that
I shall have to set out upon this chase I spoke of to-night, and I
must now go and change my clothes, that I may be ready to start at
any moment. This is the hour when it is most likely these hell
beasts are to be got at. You have all you want, I hope,'
interrupting an outbreak of ferocity by an effort after his former
"It was curious to watch the man of the world struggling with the
"'But, baron,' said I, 'I do not at all see the fun of sticking at
home like this. You know my passion for witnessing everything new,
strange, and outlandish. You will surely not refuse me such an
opportunity for observation as a midnight wolf raid. I will do my
best not to be in the way if you will take me with you.'
"At first it seemed as if he had some difficulty in realizing the
drift of my words, he was so engrossed by some inner thought. But
as I repeated them, he gave vent to a loud cachinnation.
"'By heaven! I like your spirit,' he exclaimed, clapping me
strongly on the shoulder. 'Of course you shall come. You shall,'
he repeated, 'and I promise you a sight, a hunt such as you never
heard or dreamed of--you will be able to tell them in England the
sort of thing we can do here in that line--such wolves are rare
quarry,' he added, looking slyly at me, 'and I have a new plan for
getting at them.'
"There was a long pause, and then there rose in the stillness the
unearthly howling of the baron's hounds, a cheerful sound which
only their owner's somewhat loud converse of the evening had kept
from becoming excessively obtrusive.
"'Hark at them--the beauties!' cried he, showing his short, strong
teeth, pointed like a dog's in a wide grin of anticipative delight.
'They have been kept on pretty short commons, poor things! They
are hungry. By the way, Marshfield, you can sit tight to a horse,
I trust? If you were to roll off, you know, these splendid
fellows--they would chop you up in a second. They would chop you
up,' he repeated unctuously, 'snap, crunch, gobble, and there would
be an end of you!'
"'If I could not ride a decent horse without being thrown,' I
retorted, a little stung by his manner, 'after my recent three
months' torture with the Guard Cossacks, I should indeed be a
hopeless subject. Do not think of frightening me from the exploit,
but say frankly if my company would be displeasing.'
"'Tut!' he said, waving his hand impatiently, 'it is your affair.
I have warned you. Go and get ready if you want to come. Time
"I was determined to be of the fray; my blood was up. I have
hinted that the baron's Tokay had stirred it.
"I went to my room and hurriedly donned clothes more suitable for
rough night work. My last care was to slip into my pockets a brace
of double-barreled pistols which formed part of my traveling kit.
When I returned I found the baron already booted and spurred; this
without metaphor. He was stretched full length on the divan, and
did not speak as I came in, or even look at me. Chewing an unlit
cigar, with eyes fixed on the ceiling, he was evidently following
some absorbing train of ideas.
"The silence was profound; time went by; it grew oppressive; at
length, wearied out, I fell, over my chibouque, into a doze filled
with puzzling visions, out of which I was awakened with a start.
My companion had sprung up, very lightly, to his feet. In his
throat was an odd, half-suppressed cry, grewsome to hear. He stood
on tiptoe, with eyes fixed, as though looking through the wall, and
I distinctly saw his ears point in the intensity of his listening.
"After a moment, with hasty, noiseless energy, and without the
slightest ceremony, he blew the lamps out, drew back the heavy
curtains and threw the tall window wide open. A rush of icy air,
and the bright rays of the moon--gibbous, I remember, in her third
quarter--filled the room. Outside the mist had condensed, and the
view was unrestricted over the white plains at the foot of the
"The baron stood motionless in the open window, callous to the cold
in which, after a minute, I could hardly keep my teeth from
chattering, his head bent forward, still listening. I listened
too, with 'all my ears,' but could not catch a sound; indeed the
silence over the great expanse of snow might have been called
awful; even the dogs were mute.
"Presently, far, far away, came a faint tinkle of bells; so faint,
at first, that I thought it was but fancy, then distincter. It was
even more eerie than the silence, I thought, though I knew it could
come but from some passing sleigh. All at once that ceased, and
again my duller senses could perceive nothing, though I saw by my
host's craning neck that he was more on the alert than ever. But
at last I too heard once more, this time not bells, but as it were
the tread of horses muffled by the snow, intermittent and dull, yet
drawing nearer. And then in the inner silence of the great house
it seemed to me I caught the noise of closing doors; but here the
hounds, as if suddenly becoming alive to some disturbance, raised
the same fearsome concert of yells and barks with which they had
greeted my arrival, and listening became useless.
"I had risen to my feet. My host, turning from the window, seized
my shoulder with a fierce grip, and bade me 'hold my noise'; for a
second or two I stood motionless under his iron talons, then he
released me with an exultant whisper: "Now for our chase!" and made
for the door with a spring. Hastily gulping down a mouthful of
arrack from one of the bottles on the table, I followed him, and,
guided by the sound of his footsteps before me, groped my way
through passages as black as Erebus.
"After a time, which seemed a long one, a small door was flung open
in front, and I saw Kossowski glide into the moonlit courtyard and
cross the square. When I too came out he was disappearing into the
gaping darkness of the open stable door, and there I overtook him.
"A man who seemed to have been sleeping in a corner jumped up at
our entrance, and led out a horse ready saddled. In obedience to a
gruff order from his master, as the latter mounted, he then brought
forward another which he had evidently thought to ride himself and
held the stirrup for me.
"We came delicately forth, and the Cossack hurriedly barred the
great door behind us. I caught a glimpse of his worn, scarred face
by the moonlight, as he peeped after us for a second before
shutting himself in; it was stricken with terror.
"The baron trotted briskly toward the kennels, from whence there
was now issuing a truly infernal clangor, and, as my steed followed
suit of his own accord, I could see how he proceeded dexterously to
unbolt the gates without dismounting, while the beasts within
dashed themselves against them and tore the ground in their fury of
"He smiled, as he swung back the barriers at last, and his
'beauties' came forth. Seven or eight monstrous brutes, hounds of
a kind unknown to me: fulvous and sleek of coat, tall on their
legs, square-headed, long-tailed, deep-chested; with terrible jaws
slobbering in eagerness. They leaped around and up at us, much to
our horses' distaste. Kossowski, still smiling, lashed at them
unsparingly with his hunting whip, and they responded, not with
yells of pain, but with snarls of fury.
"Managing his restless steed and his cruel whip with consummate
ease, my host drove the unruly crew before him out of the
precincts, then halted and bent down from his saddle to examine
some slight prints in the snow which led, not the way I had come,
but toward what seemed another avenue. In a second or two the
hounds were gathered round this spot, their great snake-like tails
quivering, nose to earth, yelping with excitement. I had some ado
to manage my horse, and my eyesight was far from being as keen as
the baron's, but I had then no doubt he had come already upon wolf
tracks, and I shuddered mentally, thinking of the sleigh bells.
"Suddenly Kossowski raised himself from his strained position;
under his low fur cap his face, with its fixed smile, looked
scarcely human in the white light: and then we broke into a hand
canter just as the hounds dashed, in a compact body, along the
"But we had not gone more than a few hundred yards before they
began to falter, then straggled, stopped and ran back and about
with dismal cries. It was clear to me they had lost the scent. My
companion reined in his horse, and mine, luckily a well-trained
brute, halted of himself.
"We had reached a bend in a broad avenue of firs and larches, and
just where we stood, and where the hounds ever returned and met
nose to nose in frantic conclave, the snow was trampled and soiled,
and a little farther on planed in a great sweep, as if by a turning
sleigh. Beyond was a double-furrowed track of skaits and regular
hoof prints leading far away.
"Before I had time to reflect upon the bearing of this unexpected
interruption, Kossowski, as if suddenly possessed by a devil, fell
upon the hounds with his whip, flogging them upon the new track,
uttering the while the most savage cries I have ever heard issue
from human throat. The disappointed beasts were nothing loath to
seize upon another trail; after a second of hesitation they had
understood, and were off upon it at a tearing pace, we after them
at the best speed of our horses.
"Some unformed idea that we were going to escort, or rescue,
benighted travelers flickered dimly in my mind as I galloped
through the night air; but when I managed to approach my companion
and called out to him for explanation, he only turned half round
and grinned at me.
"Before us lay now the white plain, scintillating under the high
moon's rays. That light is deceptive; I could be sure of nothing
upon the wide expanse but of the dark, leaping figures of the
hounds already spread out in a straggling line, some right ahead,
others just in front of us. In a short time also the icy wind,
cutting my face mercilessly as we increased our pace, well nigh
blinded me with tears of cold.
"I can hardly realize how long this pursuit after an unseen prey
lasted; I can only remember that I was getting rather faint with
fatigue, and ignominiously held on to my pommel, when all of a
sudden the black outline of a sleigh merged into sight in front of
"I rubbed my smarting eyes with my benumbed hand; we were gaining
upon it second by second; two of those hell hounds of the baron's
were already within a few leaps of it.
"Soon I was able to make out two figures, one standing up and
urging the horses on with whip and voice, the other clinging to the
back seat and looking toward us in an attitude of terror. A great
fear crept into my half-frozen brain--were we not bringing deadly
danger instead of help to these travelers? Great God! did the
baron mean to use them as a bait for his new method of wolf
"I would have turned upon Kossowski with a cry of expostulation or
warning, but he, urging on his hounds as he galloped on their
flank, howling and gesticulating like a veritable Hun, passed me by
like a flash--and all at once I knew."
Marshfield paused for a moment and sent his pale smile round upon
his listeners, who now showed no signs of sleepiness; he knocked
the ash from his cigar, twisted the latter round in his mouth, and
"And I confess it seemed to me a little strong even for a baron in
the Carpathians. The travelers were our quarry. But the reason
why the Lord of Yany had turned man-hunter I was yet to learn.
Just then I had to direct my energies to frustrating his plans. I
used my spurs mercilessly. While I drew up even with him I saw the
two figures in the sleigh change places; he who had hitherto driven
now faced back, while his companion took the reins; there was the
pale blue sheen of a revolver barrel under the moonlight, followed
by a yellow flash, and the nearest hound rolled over in the snow.
"With an oath the baron twisted round in his saddle to call up and
urge on the remainder. My horse had taken fright at the report and
dashed irresistibly forward, bringing me at once almost level with
the fugitives, and the next instant the revolver was turned
menacingly toward me. There was no time to explain; my pistol was
already drawn, and as another of the brutes bounded up, almost
under my horse's feet, I loosed it upon him. I must have let off
both barrels at once, for the weapon flew out of my hand, but the
hound's back was broken. I presume the traveler understood; at any
rate, he did not fire at me.
"In moments of intense excitement like these, strangely enough, the
mind is extraordinarily open to impressions. I shall never forget
that man's countenance in the sledge, as he stood upright and
defied us in his mortal danger; it was young, very handsome, the
features not distorted, but set into a sort of desperate, stony
calm, and I knew it, beyond all doubt, for that of an Englishman.
And then I saw his companion--it was the baron's wife. And I
understood why the bells had been removed.
"It takes a long time to say this; it only required an instant to
see it. The loud explosion of my pistol had hardly ceased to ring
before the baron, with a fearful imprecation, was upon me. First
he lashed at me with his whip as we tore along side by side, and
then I saw him wind the reins round his off arm and bend over, and
I felt his angry fingers close tightly on my right foot. The next
instant I should have been lifted out of my saddle, but there came
another shot from the sledge. The baron's horse plunged and
stumbled, and the baron, hanging on to my foot with a fierce grip,
was wrenched from his seat. His horse, however, was up again
immediately, and I was released, and then I caught a confused
glimpse of the frightened and wounded animal galloping wildly away
to the right, leaving a black track of blood behind him in the
snow, his master, entangled in the reins, running with incredible
swiftness by his side and endeavoring to vault back into the
"And now came to pass a terrible thing which, in his savage plans,
my host had doubtless never anticipated.
"One of the hounds that had during this short check recovered lost
ground, coming across this hot trail of blood, turned away from his
course, and with a joyous yell darted after the running man. In
another instant the remainder of the pack was upon the new scent.
"As soon as I could stop my horse, I tried to turn him in the
direction the new chase had taken, but just then, through the night
air, over the receding sound of the horse's scamper and the sobbing
of the pack in full cry, there came a long scream, and after that a
sickening silence. And I knew that somewhere yonder, under the
beautiful moonlight, the Baron Kossowski was being devoured by his
"I looked round, with the sweat on my face, vaguely, for some human
being to share the horror of the moment, and I saw, gliding away,
far away in the white distance, the black silhouette of the
"Well?" said we, in divers tones of impatience, curiosity, or
horror, according to our divers temperaments, as the speaker
uncrossed his legs and gazed at us in mild triumph, with all the
air of having said his say, and satisfactorily proved his point.
"Well," repeated he, "what more do you want to know? It will
interest you but slightly, I am sure, to hear how I found my way
back to the Hof; or how I told as much as I deemed prudent of the
evening's grewsome work to the baron's servants, who, by the way,
to my amazement, displayed the profoundest and most unmistakable
sorrow at the tidings, and sallied forth (at their head the Cossack
who had seen us depart) to seek for his remains. Excuse the
unpleasantness of the remark: I fear the dogs must have left very
little of him, he had dieted them so carefully. However, since it
was to have been a case of 'chop, crunch, and gobble,' as the baron
had it, I preferred that that particular fate should have overtaken
him rather than me--or, for that matter, either of those two
country people of ours in the sledge.
"Nor am I going to inflict upon you," continued Marshfield, after
draining his glass, "a full account of my impressions when I found
myself once more in that immense, deserted, and stricken house, so
luxuriously prepared for the mistress who had fled from it; how I
philosophized over all this, according to my wont; the conjectures
I made as to the first acts of the drama; the untold sufferings my
countrywoman must have endured from the moment her husband first
grew jealous till she determined on this desperate step; as to how
and when she had met her lover, how they communicated, and how the
baron had discovered the intended flitting in time to concoct his
"One thing you may be sure of, I had no mind to remain at Yany an
hour longer than necessary. I even contrived to get well clear of
the neighborhood before the lady's absence was discovered. Luckily
for me--or I might have been taxed with connivance, though indeed
the simple household did not seem to know what suspicion was, and
accepted my account with childlike credence--very typical, and very
convenient to me at the same time."
"But how do you know," said one of us, "that the man was her lover?
He might have been her brother or some other relative."
"That," said Marshfield, with his little flat laugh, "I happen to
have ascertained--and, curiously enough, only a few weeks ago. It
was at the play, between the acts, from my comfortable seat (the
first row in the pit). I was looking leisurely round the house
when I caught sight of a woman, in a box close by, whose head was
turned from me, and who presented the somewhat unusual spectacle of
a young neck and shoulders of the most exquisite contour--and
perfectly gray hair; and not dull gray, but rather of a pleasing
tint like frosted silver. This aroused my curiosity. I brought my
glasses to a focus on her and waited patiently till she turned
round. Then I recognized the Baroness Kassowski, and I no longer
wondered at the young hair being white.
"Yet she looked placid and happy; strangely so, it seemed to me,
under the sudden reviving in my memory of such scenes as I have now
described. But presently I understood further: beside her, in
close attendance, was the man of the sledge, a handsome fellow with
much of a military air about him.
"During the course of the evening, as I watched, I saw a friend of
mine come into the box, and at the end I slipped out into the
passage to catch him as he came out.
"'Who is the woman with the white hair?' I asked. Then, in the
fragmentary style approved of by ultra-fashionable young men--this
earnest-languid mode of speech presents curious similarities in all
languages--he told me: 'Most charming couple in London--awfully
pretty, wasn't she?--he had been in the Guards--attache at Vienna
once--they adored each other. White hair, devilish queer, wasn't
it? Suited her, somehow. And then she had been married to a
Russian, or something, somewhere in the wilds, and their names
were--' But do you know," said Marshfield, interrupting himself,
"I think I had better let you find that out for yourselves, if you
Stanley J. Weyman
The Fowl in the Pot
An Episode Adapted from the Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune, Duke
What I am going to relate may seem to some merely to be curious and
on a party with the diverting story of M. Boisrose, which I have
set down in an earlier part of my memoirs. But among the calumnies
of those who have never ceased to attack me since the death of the
late king, the statement that I kept from his majesty things which
should have reached his ears has always had a prominent place,
though a thousand times refuted by my friends, and those who from
an intimate acquaintance with events could judge how faithfully I
labored to deserve the confidence with which my master honored me.
Therefore, I take it in hand to show by an example, trifling in
itself, the full knowledge of affairs which the king had, and to
prove that in many matters, which were never permitted to become
known to the idlers of the court, he took a personal share, worthy
as much of Haroun as of Alexander.
It was my custom, before I entered upon those negotiations with the
Prince of Conde which terminated in the recovery of the estate of
Villebon, where I now principally reside, to spend a part of the
autumn and winter at Rosny. On these occasions I was in the habit
of leaving Paris with a considerable train of Swiss, pages, valets,
and grooms, together with the maids of honor and waiting women of
the duchess. We halted to take dinner at Poissy, and generally
contrived to reach Rosny toward nightfall, so as to sup by the
light of flambeaux in a manner enjoyable enough, though devoid of
that state which I have ever maintained, and enjoined upon my
children, as at once the privilege and burden of rank.
At the time of which I am speaking I had for my favorite charger
the sorrel horse which the Duke of Mercoeur presented to me with a
view to my good offices at the time of the king's entry into Paris;
and which I honestly transferred to his majesty in accordance with
a principle laid down in another place. The king insisted on
returning it to me, and for several years I rode it on these annual
visits to Rosny. What was more remarkable was that on each of
these occasions it cast a shoe about the middle of the afternoon,
and always when we were within a short league of the village of
Aubergenville. Though I never had with me less than half a score
of led horses, I had such an affection for the sorrel that I
preferred to wait until it was shod, rather than accommodate myself
to a nag of less easy paces; and would allow my household to
precede me, staying behind myself with at most a guard or two, my
valet, and a page.
The forge at Aubergenville was kept by a smith of some skill, a
cheerful fellow, whom I always remembered to reward, considering my
own position rather than his services, with a gold livre. His joy
at receiving what was to him the income of a year was great, and
never failed to reimburse me; in addition to which I took some
pleasure in unbending, and learning from this simple peasant and
loyal man, what the taxpayers were saying of me and my reforms--a
duty I always felt I owed to the king my master.
As a man of breeding it would ill become me to set down the homely
truths I thus learned. The conversations of the vulgar are little
suited to a nobleman's memoirs; but in this I distinguish between
the Duke of Sully and the king's minister, and it is in the latter
capacity that I relate what passed on these diverting occasions.
"Ho, Simon," I would say, encouraging the poor man as he came
bowing and trembling before me, "how goes it, my friend?"
"Badly," he would answer, "very badly until your lordship came this
"And how is that, little man?"
"Oh, it is the roads," he always replied, shaking his bald head as
he began to set about his business. "The roads since your lordship
became surveyor-general are so good that not one horse in a hundred
casts a shoe; and then there are so few highwaymen now that not one
robber's plates do I replace in a twelvemonth. There is where it
At this I was highly delighted.
"Still, since I began to pass this way times have not been so bad
with you, Simon," I would answer.
Thereto he had one invariable reply.
"No; thanks to Ste. Genevieve and your lordship, whom we call in
this village the poor man's friend, I have a fowl in the pot."
This phrase so pleased me that I repeated it to the king. It
tickled his fancy also, and for some years it was a very common
remark of that good and great ruler, that he hoped to live to see
every peasant with a fowl in his pot.
"But why," I remember I once asked this honest fellow--it was on
the last occasion of the sorrel falling lame there--"do you thank
"She is my patron saint," he answered.
"Then you are a Parisian?"
"Your lordship is always right."
"But does her saintship do you any good?" I asked curiously.
"Certainly, by your lordship's leave. My wife prays to her and she
loosens the nails in the sorrel's shoes."
"In fact she pays off an old grudge," I answered, "for there was a
time when Paris liked me little; but hark ye, master smith, I am
not sure that this is not an act of treason to conspire with Madame
Genevieve against the comfort of the king's minister. What think
you, you rascal; can you pass the justice elm without a shiver?"
This threw the simple fellow into a great fear, which the sight of
the livre of gold speedily converted into joy as stupendous.
Leaving him still staring at his fortune I rode away; but when we
had gone some little distance, the aspect of his face, when I
charged him with treason, or my own unassisted discrimination
suggested a clew to the phenomenon.
"La Trape," I said to my valet--the same who was with me at Cahors--
"what is the name of the innkeeper at Poissy, at whose house we
are accustomed to dine?"
"Andrew, may it please your lordship."
"Andrew! I thought so!" I exclaimed, smiting my thigh. "Simon and
Andrew his brother! Answer, knave, and, if you have permitted me
to be robbed these many times, tremble for your ears. Is he not
brother to the smith at Aubergenville who has just shod my horse?"
La Trape professed to be ignorant on this point, but a groom who
had stayed behind with me, having sought my permission to speak,
said it was so, adding that Master Andrew had risen in the world
through large dealings in hay, which he was wont to take daily into
Paris and sell, and that he did not now acknowledge or see anything
of his brother the smith, though it was believed that he retained a
sneaking liking for him.
On receiving this confirmation of my suspicions, my vanity as well
as my sense of justice led me to act with the promptitude which I
have exhibited in greater emergencies. I rated La Trape for his
carelessness of my interests in permitting this deception to be
practiced on me; and the main body of my attendants being now in
sight, I ordered him to take two Swiss and arrest both brothers
without delay. It wanted yet three hours of sunset, and I judged
that, by hard riding, they might reach Rosny with their prisoners
I spent some time while still on the road in considering what
punishment I should inflict on the culprits; and finally laid aside
the purpose I had at first conceived of putting them to death--an
infliction they had richly deserved--in favor of a plan which I
thought might offer me some amusement. For the execution of this I
depended upon Maignan, my equerry, who was a man of lively
imagination, being the same who had of his own motion arranged and
carried out the triumphal procession, in which I was borne to Rosny
after the battle of Ivry. Before I sat down to supper I gave him
his directions; and as I had expected, news was brought to me while
I was at table that the prisoners had arrived.
Thereupon I informed the duchess and the company generally, for, as
was usual, a number of my country neighbors had come to compliment
me on my return, that there was some sport of a rare kind on foot;
and we adjourned, Maignan, followed by four pages bearing lights,
leading the way to that end of the terrace which abuts on the
linden avenue. Here, a score of grooms holding torches aloft had
been arranged in a circle so that the impromptu theater thus
formed, which Maignan had ordered with much taste, was as light as
in the day. On a sloping bank at one end seats had been placed for
those who had supped at my table, while the rest of the company
found such places of vantage as they could; their number, indeed,
amounting, with my household, to two hundred persons. In the
center of the open space a small forge fire had been kindled, the
red glow of which added much to the strangeness of the scene; and
on the anvil beside it were ranged a number of horses' and donkeys'
shoes, with a full complement of the tools used by smiths. All
being ready I gave the word to bring in the prisoners, and escorted
by La Trape and six of my guards, they were marched into the arena.
In their pale and terrified faces, and the shaking limbs which
could scarce support them to their appointed stations, I read both
the consciousness of guilt and the apprehension of immediate death;
it was plain that they expected nothing less. I was very willing
to play with their fears, and for some time looked at them in
silence, while all wondered with lively curiosity what would ensue.
I then addressed them gravely, telling the innkeeper that I knew
well he had loosened each year a shoe of my horse, in order that
his brother might profit by the job of replacing it; and went on to
reprove the smith for the ingratitude which had led him to return
my bounty by the conception of so knavish a trick.
Upon this they confessed their guilt, and flinging themselves upon
their knees with many tears and prayers begged for mercy. This,
after a decent interval, I permitted myself to grant. "Your lives,
which are forfeited, shall be spared," I pronounced. "But punished
you must be. I therefore ordain that Simon, the smith, at once
fit, nail, and properly secure a pair of iron shoes to Andrew's
heels, and that then Andrew, who by that time will have picked up
something of the smith's art, do the same to Simon. So will you
both learn to avoid such shoeing tricks for the future."
It may well be imagined that a judgment so whimsical, and so justly
adapted to the offense, charmed all save the culprits; and in a
hundred ways the pleasure of those present was evinced, to such a
degree, indeed, that Maignan had some difficulty in restoring
silence and gravity to the assemblage. This done, however, Master
Andrew was taken in hand and his wooden shoes removed. The tools
of his trade were placed before the smith, who cast glances so
piteous, first at his brother's feet and then at the shoes on the
anvil, as again gave rise to a prodigious amount of merriment, my
pages in particular well-nigh forgetting my presence, and rolling
about in a manner unpardonable at another time. However, I rebuked
them sharply, and was about to order the sentence to be carried
into effect, when the remembrance of the many pleasant simplicities
which the smith had uttered to me, acting upon a natural
disposition to mercy, which the most calumnious of my enemies have
never questioned, induced me to give the prisoners a chance of
escape. "Listen," I said, "Simon and Andrew. Your sentence has
been pronounced, and will certainly be executed unless you can
avail yourself of the condition I now offer. You shall have three
minutes; if in that time either of you can make a good joke, he
shall go free. If not, let a man attend to the bellows, La Trape!"
This added a fresh satisfaction to my neighbors, who were well
assured now that I had not promised them a novel entertainment
without good grounds; for the grimaces of the two knaves thus
bidden to jest if they would save their skins, were so diverting
they would have made a nun laugh. They looked at me with their
eyes as wide as plates, and for the whole of the time of grace
never a word could they utter save howls for mercy. "Simon," I
said gravely, when the time was up, "have you a joke? No. Andrew,
my friend, have you a joke? No. Then--"
I was going on to order the sentence to be carried out, when the
innkeeper flung himself again upon his knees, and cried out loudly--
as much to my astonishment as to the regret of the bystanders, who
were bent on seeing so strange a shoeing feat--"One word, my lord;
I can give you no joke, but I can do a service, an eminent service
to the king. I can disclose a conspiracy!"
I was somewhat taken aback by this sudden and public announcement.
But I had been too long in the king's employment not to have
remarked how strangely things are brought to light. On hearing the
man's words therefore--which were followed by a stricken silence--I
looked sharply at the faces of such of those present as it was
possible to suspect, but failed to observe any sign of confusion or
dismay, or anything more particular than so abrupt a statement was
calculated to produce. Doubting much whether the man was not
playing with me, I addressed him sternly, warning him to beware,
lest in his anxiety to save his heels by falsely accusing others,
he should lose his head. For that if his conspiracy should prove
to be an invention of his own, I should certainly consider it my
duty to hang him forthwith.
He heard me out, but nevertheless persisted in his story, adding
desperately, "It is a plot, my lord, to assassinate you and the
king on the same day."
This statement struck me a blow; for I had good reason to know that
at that time the king had alienated many by his infatuation for
Madame de Verneuil; while I had always to reckon firstly with all
who hated him, and secondly with all whom my pursuit of his
interests injured, either in reality or appearance. I therefore
immediately directed that the prisoners should be led in close
custody to the chamber adjoining my private closet, and taking the
precaution to call my guards about me, since I knew not what
attempt despair might not breed, I withdrew myself, making such
apologies to the company as the nature of the case permitted.
I ordered Simon the smith to be first brought to me, and in the
presence of Maignan only, I severely examined him as to his
knowledge of any conspiracy. He denied, however, that he had ever
heard of the matters referred to by his brother, and persisted so
firmly in the denial that I was inclined to believe him. In the
end he was taken out and Andrew was brought in. The innkeeper's
demeanor was such as I have often observed in intriguers brought
suddenly to book. He averred the existence of the conspiracy, and
that its objects were those which he had stated. He also offered
to give up his associates, but conditioned that he should do this
in his own way; undertaking to conduct me and one other person--but
no more, lest the alarm should be given--to a place in Paris on the
following night, where we could hear the plotters state their plans
and designs. In this way only, he urged, could proof positive be
I was much startled by this proposal, and inclined to think it a
trap; but further consideration dispelled my fears. The innkeeper
had held no parley with anyone save his guards and myself since his
arrest, and could neither have warned his accomplices, nor
acquainted them with any design the execution of which should
depend on his confession to me. I therefore accepted his terms--
with a private reservation that I should have help at hand--and
before daybreak next morning left Rosny, which I had only seen by
torchlight, with my prisoner and a select body of Swiss. We
entered Paris in the afternoon in three parties, with as little
parade as possible, and went straight to the Arsenal, whence, as
soon as evening fell, I hurried with only two armed attendants to
A return so sudden and unexpected was as great a surprise to the
court as to the king, and I was not slow to mark with an inward
smile the discomposure which appeared very clearly, on the faces of
several, as the crowd in the chamber fell back for me to approach
my master. I was careful, however, to remember that this might
arise from other causes than guilt. The king received me with his
wonted affection; and divining at once that I must have something
important to communicate, withdrew with me to the farther end of
the chamber, where we were out of earshot of the court. I there
related the story to his majesty, keeping back nothing.
He shook his head, saying merely: "The fish to escape the frying
pan, grand master, will jump into the fire. And human nature, save
in the case of you and me, who can trust one another, is very
I was touched by this gracious compliment, but not convinced. "You
have not seen the man, sire," I said, "and I have had that
"And believe him?"
"In part," I answered with caution. "So far at least as to be
assured that he thinks to save his skin, which he will only do if
he be telling the truth. May I beg you, sire," I added hastily,
seeing the direction of his glance, "not to look so fixedly at the
Duke of Epernon? He grows uneasy."
"Conscience makes--you know the rest."
"Nay, sire, with submission," I replied, "I will answer for him; if
he be not driven by fear to do something reckless."
"Good! I take your warranty, Duke of Sully," the king said, with
the easy grace which came so natural to him. "But now in this
matter what would you have me do?"
"Double your guards, sire, for to-night--that is all. I will
answer for the Bastile and the Arsenal; and holding these we hold
But thereupon I found that the king had come to a decision, which I
felt it to be my duty to combat with all my influence. He had
conceived the idea of being the one to accompany me to the
rendezvous. "I am tired of the dice," he complained, "and sick of
tennis, at which I know everybody's strength. Madame de Verneuil
is at Fontainebleau, the queen is unwell. Ah, Sully, I would the
old days were back when we had Nerac for our Paris, and knew the
saddle better than the armchair!"
"A king must think of his people," I reminded him.
"The fowl in the pot? To be sure. So I will--to-morrow," he
replied. And in the end he would be obeyed. I took my leave of
him as if for the night, and retired, leaving him at play with the
Duke of Epernon. But an hour later, toward eight o'clock, his
majesty, who had made an excuse to withdraw to his closet, met me
outside the eastern gate of the Louvre.
He was masked, and attended only by Coquet, his master of the
household. I too wore a mask and was esquired by Maignan, under
whose orders were four Swiss--whom I had chosen because they were
unable to speak French--guarding the prisoner Andrew. I bade
Maignan follow the innkeeper's directions, and we proceeded in two
parties through the streets on the left bank of the river, past the
Chatelet and Bastile, until we reached an obscure street near the
water, so narrow that the decrepit wooden houses shut out well-nigh
all view of the sky. Here the prisoner halted and called upon me
to fulfill the terms of my agreement. I bade Maignan therefore to
keep with the Swiss at a distance of fifty paces, but to come up
should I whistle or otherwise give the alarm; and myself with the
king and Andrew proceeded onward in the deep shadow of the houses.
I kept my hand on my pistol, which I had previously shown to the
prisoner, intimating that on the first sign of treachery I should
blow out his brains. However, despite precaution, I felt
uncomfortable to the last degree. I blamed myself severely for
allowing the king to expose himself and the country to this
unnecessary danger; while the meanness of the locality, the fetid
air, the darkness of the night, which was wet and tempestuous, and
the uncertainty of the event lowered my spirits, and made every
splash in the kennel and stumble on the reeking, slippery
pavements--matters over which the king grew merry--seem no light
troubles to me.
Arriving at a house, which, if we might judge in the darkness,
seemed to be of rather greater pretensions than its fellows, our
guide stopped, and whispered to us to mount some steps to a raised
wooden gallery, which intervened between the lane and the doorway.
On this, besides the door, a couple of unglazed windows looked out.
The shutter of one was ajar, and showed us a large, bare room,
lighted by a couple of rushlights. Directing us to place ourselves
close to this shutter, the innkeeper knocked at the door in a
peculiar fashion, and almost immediately entered, going at once
into the lighted room. Peering cautiously through the window we
were surprised to find that the only person within, save the
newcomer, was a young woman, who, crouching over a smoldering fire,
was crooning a lullaby while she attended to a large black pot.
"Good evening, mistress!" said the innkeeper, advancing to the fire
with a fair show of nonchalance.
"Good evening, Master Andrew," the girl replied, looking up and
nodding, but showing no sign of surprise at his appearance.
"Martin is away, but he may return at any moment."
"Is he still of the same mind?"
"And what of Sully? Is he to die then?" he asked.
"They have decided he must," the girl answered gloomily. It may be
believed that I listened with all my ears, while the king by a
nudge in my side seemed to rally me on the destiny so coolly
arranged for me. "Martin says it is no good killing the other
unless he goes too--they have been so long together. But it vexes
me sadly, Master Andrew," she added with a sudden break in her
voice. "Sadly it vexes me. I could not sleep last night for
thinking of it, and the risk Martin runs. And I shall sleep less
when it is done."
"Pooh-pooh!" said that rascally innkeeper. "Think less about it.
Things will grow worse and worse if they are let live. The King
has done harm enough already. And he grows old besides."
"That is true!" said the girl. "And no doubt the sooner he is put
out of the way the better. He is changed sadly. I do not say a
word for him. Let him die. It is killing Sully that troubles me--
that and the risk Martin runs."
At this I took the liberty of gently touching the king. He
answered by an amused grimace; then by a motion of his hand he
enjoined silence. We stooped still farther forward so as better to
command the room. The girl was rocking herself to and fro in
evident distress of mind. "If we killed the King," she continued,
"Martin declares we should be no better off, as long as Sully
lives. Both or neither, he says. But I do not know. I cannot
bear to think of it. It was a sad day when we brought Epernon
here, Master Andrew; and one I fear we shall rue as long as we
It was now the king's turn to be moved. He grasped my wrist so
forcibly that I restrained a cry with difficulty. "Epernon!" he
whispered harshly in my ear. "They are Epernon's tools! Where is
your guaranty now, Rosny?"
I confess that I trembled. I knew well that the king, particular
in small courtesies, never forgot to call his servants by their
correct titles, save in two cases; when he indicated by the seeming
error, as once in Marshal Biron's affair, his intention to promote
or degrade them; or when he was moved to the depths of his nature
and fell into an old habit. I did not dare to reply, but listened
greedily for more information.
"When is it to be done?" asked the innkeeper, sinking his voice and
glancing round, as if he would call especial attention to this.
"That depends upon Master la Riviere," the girl answered. "To-
morrow night, I understand, if Master la Riviere can have the stuff
I met the king's eyes. They shone fiercely in the faint light,
which issuing from the window fell on him. Of all things he hated
treachery most, and La Riviere was his first body physician, and at
this very time, as I well knew, was treating him for a slight
derangement which the king had brought upon himself by his
imprudence. This doctor had formerly been in the employment of the
Bouillon family, who had surrendered his services to the king.
Neither I nor his majesty had trusted the Duke of Bouillon for the
last year past, so that we were not surprised by this hint that he
was privy to the design.
Despite our anxiety not to miss a word, an approaching step warned
us at this moment to draw back. More than once before we had done
so to escape the notice of a wayfarer passing up and down. But
this time I had a difficulty in inducing the king to adopt the
precaution. Yet it was well that I succeeded, for the person who
came stumbling along toward us did not pass, but, mounting the
steps, walked by within touch of us and entered the house.
"The plot thickens," muttered the king. "Who is this?"
At the moment he asked I was racking my brain to remember. I have
a good eye and a fair recollection for faces, and this was one I
had seen several times. The features were so familiar that I
suspected the man of being a courtier in disguise, and I ran over
the names of several persons whom I knew to be Bouillon's secret
agents. But he was none of these, and obeying the king's gesture,
I bent myself again to the task of listening.
The girl looked up on the man's entrance, but did not rise. "You
are late, Martin," she said.
"A little," the newcomer answered. "How do you do, Master Andrew?
What cheer? What, still vexing, mistress?" he added contemptuously
to the girl. "You have too soft a heart for this business!"
She sighed, but made no answer.
"You have made up your mind to it, I hear?" said the innkeeper.
"That is it. Needs must when the devil drives!" replied the man
jauntily. He had a downcast, reckless, luckless air, yet in his
face I thought I still saw traces of a better spirit.
"The devil in this case was Epernon," quoth Andrew.
"Aye, curse him! I would I had cut his dainty throat before he
crossed my threshold," cried the desperado. "But there, it is too
late to say that now. What has to be done, has to be done."
"How are you going about it? Poison, the mistress says."
"Yes; but if I had my way," the man growled fiercely, "I would out
one of these nights and cut the dogs' throats in the kennel!"
"You could never escape, Martin!" the girl cried, rising in
excitement. "It would be hopeless. It would merely be throwing
away your own life."
"Well, it is not to be done that way, so there is an end of it,"
quoth the man wearily. "Give me my supper. The devil take the
king and Sully too! He will soon have them."
On this Master Andrew rose, and I took his movement toward the door
for a signal for us to retire. He came out at once, shutting the
door behind him as he bade the pair within a loud good night. He
found us standing in the street waiting for him and forthwith fell
on his knees in the mud and looked up at me, the perspiration
standing thick on his white face. "My lord," he cried hoarsely, "I
have earned my pardon!"
"If you go on," I said encouragingly, "as you have begun, have no
fear." Without more ado I whistled up the Swiss and bade Maignan
go with them and arrest the man and woman with as little
disturbance as possible. While this was being done we waited
without, keeping a sharp eye upon the informer, whose terror, I
noted with suspicion, seemed to be in no degree diminished. He did
not, however, try to escape, and Maignan presently came to tell us
that he had executed the arrest without difficulty or resistance.
The importance of arriving at the truth before Epernon and the
greater conspirators should take the alarm was so vividly present
to the minds of the king and myself, that we did not hesitate to
examine the prisoners in their house, rather than hazard the delay
and observation which their removal to a more fit place must
occasion. Accordingly, taking the precaution to post Coquet in the
street outside, and to plant a burly Swiss in the doorway, the king
and I entered. I removed my mask as I did so, being aware of the
necessity of gaining the prisoners' confidence, but I begged the
king to retain his. As I had expected, the man immediately
recognized me and fell on his knees, a nearer view confirming the
notion I had previously entertained that his features were familiar
to me, though I could not remember his name. I thought this a good
starting-point for my examination, and bidding Maignan withdraw, I
assumed an air of mildness and asked the fellow his name.
"Martin, only, please your lordship," he answered; adding, "once I
sold you two dogs, sir, for the chase, and to your lady a lapdog
called Ninette no larger than her hand."
I remembered the knave, then, as a fashionable dog dealer, who had
been much about the court in the reign of Henry the Third and
later; and I saw at once how convenient a tool he might be made,
since he could be seen in converse with people of all ranks without
arousing suspicion. The man's face as he spoke expressed so much
fear and surprise that I determined to try what I had often found
successful in the case of greater criminals, to squeeze him for a
confession while still excited by his arrest, and before he should
have had time to consider what his chances of support at the hands
of his confederates might be. I charged him therefore solemnly to
tell the whole truth as he hoped for the king's mercy. He heard
me, gazing at me piteously; but his only answer, to my surprise,
was that he had nothing to confess.
"Come, come," I replied sternly, "this will avail you nothing; if
you do not speak quickly, rogue, and to the point, we shall find
means to compel you. Who counseled you to attempt his majesty's
On this he stared so stupidly at me, and exclaimed with so real an
appearance of horror: "How? I attempt the king's life? God
forbid!" that I doubted that we had before us a more dangerous
rascal than I had thought, and I hastened to bring him to the
"What, then," I cried, frowning, "of the stuff Master la Riviere is
to give you to take the king's life to-morrow night? Oh, we know
something, I assure you; bethink you quickly, and find your tongue
if you would have an easy death."
I expected to see his self-control break down at this proof of our
knowledge of his design, but he only stared at me with the same
look of bewilderment. I was about to bid them bring in the
informer that I might see the two front to front, when the female
prisoner, who had hitherto stood beside her companion in such
distress and terror as might be expected in a woman of that class,
suddenly stopped her tears and lamentations. It occurred to me
that she might make a better witness. I turned to her, but when I
would have questioned her she broke into a wild scream of
From that I remember that I learned nothing, though it greatly
annoyed me. But there was one present who did--the king. He laid
his hand on my shoulder, gripping it with a force that I read as a
command to be silent.
"Where," he said to the man, "do you keep the King and Sully and
Epernon, my friend?"
"The King and Sully--with the lordship's leave," said the man
quickly, with a frightened glance at me--"are in the kennels at the
back of the house, but it is not safe to go near them. The King is
raving mad, and--and the other dog is sickening. Epernon we had to
kill a month back. He brought the disease here, and I have had
such losses through him as have nearly ruined me, please your
"Get up--get up, man!" cried the king, and tearing off his mask he
stamped up and down the room, so torn by paroxysms of laughter that
he choked himself when again and again he attempted to speak.
I too now saw the mistake, but I could not at first see it in the
same light. Commanding myself as well as I could, I ordered one of
the Swiss to fetch in the innkeeper, but to admit no one else.
The knave fell on his knees as soon as he saw me, his cheeks
shaking like a jelly.
"Mercy, mercy!" was all he could say.
"You have dared to play with me?" I whispered.
"You bade me joke," he sobbed, "you bade me."
I was about to say that it would be his last joke in this world--
for my anger was fully aroused--when the king intervened.
"Nay," he said, laying his hand softly on my shoulder. "It has
been the most glorious jest. I would not have missed it for a
kingdom. I command you, Sully, to forgive him."
Thereupon his majesty strictly charged the three that they should
not on peril of their lives mention the circumstances to anyone.
Nor to the best of my belief did they do so, being so shrewdly
scared when they recognized the king that I verily think they never
afterwards so much as spoke of the affair to one another. My
master further gave me on his own part his most gracious promise
that he would not disclose the matter even to Madame de Verneuil or
the queen, and upon these representations he induced me freely to
forgive the innkeeper. So ended this conspiracy, on the diverting
details of which I may seem to have dwelt longer than I should; but
alas! in twenty-one years of power I investigated many, and this
one only can I regard with satisfaction. The rest were so many
warnings and predictions of the fate which, despite all my care and
fidelity, was in store for the great and good master I served.
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Pavilion on the Links
I was a great solitary when I was young. I made it my pride to
keep aloof and suffice for my own entertainment; and I may say that
I had neither friends nor acquaintances until I met that friend who
became my wife and the mother of my children. With one man only
was I on private terms; this was R. Northmour, Esquire, of Graden
Easter, in Scotland. We had met at college; and though there was
not much liking between us, nor even much intimacy, we were so
nearly of a humor that we could associate with ease to both.
Misanthropes, we believed ourselves to be; but I have thought since
that we were only sulky fellows. It was scarcely a companionship,
but a coexistence in unsociability. Northmour's exceptional
violence of temper made it no easy affair for him to keep the peace
with anyone but me; and as he respected my silent ways, and let me
come and go as I pleased, I could tolerate his presence without
concern. I think we called each other friends.
When Northmour took his degree and I decided to leave the
university without one, he invited me on a long visit to Graden
Easter; and it was thus that I first became acquainted with the
scene of my adventures. The mansion house of Graden stood in a
bleak stretch of country some three miles from the shore of the
German Ocean. It was as large as a barrack; and as it had been
built of a soft stone, liable to consume in the eager air of the
seaside, it was damp and draughty within and half ruinous without.
It was impossible for two young men to lodge with comfort in such a
dwelling. But there stood in the northern part of the estate, in a
wilderness of links and blowing sand hills, and between a
plantation and the sea, a small pavilion or belvedere, of modern
design, which was exactly suited to our wants; and in this
hermitage, speaking little, reading much, and rarely associating
except at meals, Northmour and I spent four tempestuous winter
months. I might have stayed longer; but one March night there
sprung up between us a dispute, which rendered my departure
necessary. Northmour spoke hotly, I remember, and I suppose I must
have made some tart rejoinder. He leaped from his chair and
grappled me; I had to fight, without exaggeration, for my life; and
it was only with a great effort that I mastered him, for he was
near as strong in body as myself, and seemed filled with the devil.
The next morning, we met on our usual terms; but I judged it more
delicate to withdraw; nor did he attempt to dissuade me.
It was nine years before I revisited the neighborhood. I traveled
at that time with a tilt-cart, a tent, and a cooking stove,
tramping all day beside the wagon, and at night, whenever it was
possible, gypsying in a cove of the hills, or by the side of a
wood. I believe I visited in this manner most of the wild and
desolate regions both in England and Scotland; and, as I had
neither friends nor relations, I was troubled with no
correspondence, and had nothing in the nature of headquarters,
unless it was the office of my solicitors, from whom I drew my
income twice a year. It was a life in which I delighted; and I
fully thought to have grown old upon the march, and at last died in
It was my whole business to find desolate corners, where I could
camp without the fear of interruption; and hence, being in another
part of the same shire, I bethought me suddenly of the Pavilion on
the Links. No thoroughfare passed within three miles of it. The
nearest town, and that was but a fisher village, was at a distance
of six or seven. For ten miles of length, and from a depth varying
from three miles to half a mile, this belt of barren country lay
along the sea. The beach, which was the natural approach, was full
of quicksands. Indeed I may say there is hardly a better place of
concealment in the United Kingdom. I determined to pass a week in
the Sea-Wood of Graden Easter, and making a long stage, reached it
about sundown on a wild September day.
The country, I have said, was mixed sand hill and links, LINKS
being a Scottish name for sand which has ceased drifting and become
more or less solidly covered with turf. The pavilion stood on an
even space: a little behind it, the wood began in a hedge of elders
huddled together by the wind; in front, a few tumbled sand hills
stood between it and the sea. An outcropping of rock had formed a
bastion for the sand, so that there was here a promontory in the
coast line between two shallow bays; and just beyond the tides, the
rock again cropped out and formed an islet of small dimensions but
strikingly designed. The quicksands were of great extent at low
water, and had an infamous reputation in the country. Close in
shore, between the islet and the promontory, it was said they would
swallow a man in four minutes and a half; but there may have been
little ground for this precision. The district was alive with
rabbits, and haunted by gulls which made a continual piping about
the pavilion. On summer days the outlook was bright and even
gladsome; but at sundown in September, with a high wind, and a
heavy surf rolling in close along the links, the place told of
nothing but dead mariners and sea disaster. A ship beating to
windward on the horizon, and a huge truncheon of wreck half buried
in the sands at my feet, completed the innuendo of the scene.
The pavilion--it had been built by the last proprietor, Northmour's
uncle, a silly and prodigal virtuoso--presented little signs of
age. It was two stories in height, Italian in design, surrounded
by a patch of garden in which nothing had prospered but a few
coarse flowers; and looked, with its shuttered windows, not like a
house that had been deserted, but like one that had never been
tenanted by man. Northmour was plainly from home; whether, as
usual, sulking in the cabin of his yacht, or in one of his fitful
and extravagant appearances in the world of society, I had, of
course, no means of guessing. The place had an air of solitude
that daunted even a solitary like myself; the wind cried in the
chimneys with a strange and wailing note; and it was with a sense
of escape, as if I were going indoors, that I turned away and,
driving my cart before me, entered the skirts of the wood.
The Sea-Wood of Graden had been planted to shelter the cultivated
fields behind, and check the encroachments of the blowing sand. As
you advanced into it from coastward, elders were succeeded by other
hardy shrubs; but the timber was all stunted and bushy; it led a
life of conflict; the trees were accustomed to swing there all
night long in fierce winter tempests; and even in early spring, the
leaves were already flying, and autumn was beginning, in this
exposed plantation. Inland the ground rose into a little hill,
which, along with the islet, served as a sailing mark for seamen.
When the hill was open of the islet to the north, vessels must bear
well to the eastward to clear Graden Ness and the Graden Bullers.
In the lower ground, a streamlet ran among the trees, and, being
dammed with dead leaves and clay of its own carrying, spread out
every here and there, and lay in stagnant pools. One or two ruined
cottages were dotted about the wood; and, according to Northmour,
these were ecclesiastical foundations, and in their time had
sheltered pious hermits.
I found a den, or small hollow, where there was a spring of pure
water; and there, clearing away the brambles, I pitched the tent,
and made a fire to cook my supper. My horse I picketed farther in
the wood where there was a patch of sward. The banks of the den
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