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remain for whole hours contemplating Yes, sir." its disorder. I would not, for the sake “I do not wish to accuse you of a of learning the true story to which crime, but in the name and as executor doubtless was owing the strange scene of the late Countess de Merret, I must before me, question the townspeople; for request you to discontinue your visits. there my imagination indulged itself in You are a stranger, and may not be vague romance; and, had I known the supposed to know the reasons which I motive, perhaps a trivial one, of its for- have for abandoning to ruin the best saken state, I might have lost the un- house in Vendome. Its state may exexpressed poetry in which I revelled. cuse your curiosity, but representing
În this retreat, as I have said, I pass- the injunctions of the late proprietor, I ed much of my time : I found in it the have the honor to repeat that you are sanctity of the cloister, the peace of requested never again to place your the grave-yard, without the dead who foot in that garden. I, myself, since speak to you from their tombstones; the opening of the will, have never rural life was there with its serene entered the house. We merely numrepose, its measured tranquillity. bered the doors and windows, so as to There I often wept; there no emotion fix the amount of taxes due to the of gaiety was possible. I have been State, and these are paid by me annushaken by sudden terror by the whir- ally out of funds appropriated for the ring passage of the hurried wood purpose.” pigeon above my head. The soil is ‘May I ask what motives occasioned moist ; you must guard against the this singular arrangement ?" lizard, the viper, and other tribes of “Sir," replied he, "you shall know noxious life whose home you invade. all I know. One evening, now ten You must not dread the cold; in a few years ago and more, I was sent for by moments you will find its icy mantle the Countess de Merret, then residing fall unbidden on your shoulders. Place, at her Chateau de Merret. The mescircumstances, and disposition of mind sage was delivered by her maid, who at the time, increased my natural sus- is now a servant in this inn. You ceptibility. I would have trembled at must know that a short time previously a shadow. One night that I had fash- the Comte de Merret had died in Paris. ioned out a tale, à drama associated He perished miserably, the victim of with the dreary locality, the mere rus- incessant dissipation. On the day of tling of an antique weather-vane start- his departure from Vendome, the led me.
It struck me as the moaning Countess abandoned Grande Bretèche. of the desolate mansion.
It was said that she had caused all the I returned to my inn with gloomy furniture to be burned on the lawn. thoughts. After supper my landlady For about three months the Count and entered the room with an air of myste- his wife had lived in a strange manner. ry, saying:
They denied themselves to all visitors, “M. Regnault is here, sir !" and occupied different parts of the “ Who is M. Regnault ?"
house. After her husband's departure "The gentleman does not know M. the Countess was only to be seen at Regnault ? Indeed!” And she went church ; she declined all communicaout.
tion with her friends, and was already A moment after her departure a an altered woman the day she left la man of very ordinary appearance en- Grande Bretêche for Merret. She tered the apartment.
was very ill, and had doubtless despair“To whom, sir," said I, “ have I ed of her health, for she died without the honor of speaking ?".
seeking medical advice. Many here He sat down, placed his hat on the thought that she was not quite right in table, and replied, rubbing his hands: her head. My curiosity was greatly “I am, sir, M. Regnault.”
excited on learning that Madame de I bowed.
Merret required my professional as“I am the notary of Vendome." sistance; but I was not the only one "Well, sir !” exclaimed I.
who knew it; the same evening, al“A moment, sir! I am told that though it was late, it was reported you are in the habit of occasionally about the town that I was called to walking in the garden of la Grande Merret. The maid answered my quesBretêche.
tions vaguely; she said, however, that
the Countess had received the last it. She must have suffered much. offices of religion, and that apparently There was joy in her parting gaze, and she would not survive the night. I reach- her dead eye retained it. ed the chateau at about eleven o'clock, I carried away the will. and was introduced without delay to When opened, I read that the testathe bed-chamber of the Countess. A tor had appointed me her executor. dim light scarcely enabled me to dis- She willed the whole of her property tinguish objects. The Countess re to the hospital at Vendome, with the posed in a large bed; on a table within exception of some special legacies : but her reach lay a volume of the Imita- now I must inform you of her direction of Christ ; austere devotion seem- tions respecting la Grande Bretêche ed to have removed from the room the She enjoined me to leave that house usual accessaries of wealth and rank. during fifty years, to date from the day Approaching close to the bed I could of her death, in the precise state in see the occupant.
Her face was like which it then was—to forbid entrance wax, and was shaded over by long to it to all persons—to abstain from ringlets of black and white hair. Her the slightest repair, and, if necessary, large black eyes exhausted by fever to procure the services of a keeper to scarcely moved in their deep orbits. secure the execution of her intentions. Her forehead was damp; her hands, At the expiration of the term named, bones covered with skin ; each muscle the house will belong to me—to me or and vein was visible. It was a pitiful my heirs—that is to say, if the wishes sight. Although in the discharge of of the testator have been complied with; professional duty, I was well accus- if not, la Grande Bretêche will pass to tomed to death-bed scenes, I must con- her natural heirs, but still with the confess that nothing I had ever witnessed, dition of executing certain acts set forth families in tears, and the last agonies in a codicil annexed to the will and of the dying, struck me so painfully as which is not to be opened until after that lone and silent woman, in that vast the expiration of the fifty years. Such chateau. Not a sound was heard; was the notary's tale. even the breathing of the poor lady “I must confess, sir, that you have was imperceptible. I stood still, gazing produced on me a very deep impression. at her with a species of stupor. At last You must surely be able to form some her large eyes moved ; she tried to raise conjecture touching the strange stipuher hand, which fell back on the bed; lations of the will." the following words issued from her “Sir," said he, “I can truly and sinlips like a whisper; her voice had cerely assure you that it is not in my ceased to be a voice :
power to throw any light on the sub“ I have expected you with great im- ject. The will itself is silent, and patience."
nothing is known of the manner of the The simple effort brought the color to life of the late Countess which points her cheeks.
to a probable solution of my story.” “ Madam,” said I.
He was scarcely gone when he was She motioned me to be silent. succeeded by my good-humored land
At this moment the old nurse rose lady. and whispered to me.
"Well, sir, I suppose M. Regnault “Speak not a word. She cannot has been telling you his old story about suffer the least noise."
la Grande Bretêche ?" I sat down.
“ Yes.” After a few instants the dying wo What has he told you ?" man collected what remained to her of I repeated, in a few words, the dark strength, and with painful exertion, and mysterious narrative. My landbrought forth from under her pillow, a lady was all attention.
“Now, my dear madam Lepas," “I commit to you," said she, “my said I, in concluding, "you appear to last will; Ah! oh God !-Ah !" That know more. You knew M. de Merret.
What sort of a man was he?" She grasped the crucifix on her bed, “M. De Merret was a tall, handbore it rapidly to her lips, and died. some man ; the ladies here say that he
The expression of her fixed eyes still was pleasing; he must have had somecauses me to shudder when I recur to thing to recommend him, else he would
not have won the hand of Madame de sides, the eyes of the poor young man Merret, the richest and most beautiful were never seen to wander from his heiress of these parts. The whole book. town was at the wedding; the bride “In the evening he would walk to was sweet and engaging. They seem- the mountain, among the ruins of the ed to be a happy couple."
castle ; it was his sole amusement. “Did they live happily ?"
The first days of his captivity, he fre“Oh!—Yes; at least so far as could be quently returned very late ; but as we presumed. Madame de Merret was a were all anxious to please him, there kind, and indeed, in every respect, an was no interference with his habits. excellent person. She may have been He had a key for the door, and let himoccasionally annoyed by the hasty self in and out at pleasure. temper of her husband ; but he was, at “I remember one of our men telling bottom, a good man—a little proud—” that he had seen the Spanish grandee.
“ Nevertheless there must have been swimming far out in the river, like a some catastrophe to bring about a vio- real fish. I ventured to caution him lent separation ?”
against danger. He seemed to regret “I have not spoken of any catastro- having been seen in the water. phe-I know of none.
“At last, sir, one day, or rather one “I am now quite certain that you morning, he was missing. He never do."
returned. . . . After much searching, • Well, sir, I'll tell you all. Seeing I found a writing in a drawer in which you received a visit from M. Regnault, were fifty large gold Portuguese pieces, I doubted not but that he would speak worth about 5000 francs ; then there to you about Madame de Merret, and were diamonds of the value of about so it made me think that I would my- 10,000 more. The writing said that in self consult you on a matter which the event of his not returning, the sorely troubles my conscience. I be- money and diamonds were to become lieve you to be a good, honest gentle- our property; and that it would be unman, and are indeed the first person I necessary to make any search for him, have met with to whom it would seem as doubtless he would have succeeded I might confide my secret."
in making his escape, “My dear Madame Lepas, if your “In those days I still had my husband, secret is likely to involve me, I would who in the morning had gone to look rather forego the gratification of my about for the Spaniard; and here, sir, curiosity.”
is the most singular part of the story. “ Don't be alarmed-listen :
He brought back, sir, the gentleman's * At the time the Emperor sent here clothes; he found them under a large several Spaniards, prisoners of war, stone, on the banks of the river, nearly one of them, a young man on parole, by opposite la Grande Bretêche. It was order of the government, took up his early in the morning, and my husband quarters in this house. He was a met no one by the way; so, after readgrandee of Spain; he had a name in os, ing the letter, he burned the clothes, and in dia—Bajos de Feredia, I be- and reported that the Comte de Felieve. I have his name on my books, redia was not to be found.” where you may read it if you please. “ The Sub-Prefect sent the gens d'0! he was a handsome youth, not tall, armes in pursuit, but in vain. My husbut perfectly made ; small hands, of band was of opinion that the poor youth which he took exceeding care ; long was drowned. For my part, sir, I black hair, brilliant eye and dark com think not, and rather incline to the beplexion. His manners were polished lief that he is concerned in some way and affable. We all loved him,—and with the history of Madame de Merret. yet he was no talker; silent and pen- Rosalie, now in my service, says that sive, he read his breviary daily, like the crucifix by which her mistress set any priest, and regularly attended all so much store, that she was buried with the offices of the church. And where it, was of ebony incrusted with silver. would he place himself?. At two steps Now, it is quite certain that M. de from Madame de Merret's chapel. As Feredia had such a crucifix with him he had taken that position the first time in the first days of his stay here, and he appeared in church, no one attribut- which I have not since seen! ed to him any particular intention ; be “Tell me, sir, having heard my story,
if I was not right in using the 15,000 At the very moment M. de Merret francs ? Did they not become my pro- turned the handle of his wife's door, he
thought he heard the door of the small “Certainly—but have you never at- closet close; and, when he entered, tempted to question Rosalie ?"
Madame de Merret was standing in “Often—but the girl is unyielding. front of the fire-place. She knows something, but keeps it His first impression was that Rosalie close."
was in the closet, but a suspicion which Madame Lepas' scanty additions to tolled in his ear like the sounding of the notary's story added fresh fuel to bells, caused him to look round : he my curiosity. La Grande Bretêche brought his fixed gaze on his wife's with its desolate park and garden, its countenance, which he found both timid closed doors and windows, its deserted and confused. chambers, was present to my imagina “ You return late," said she. tion : its mysterious history, associated In the utterance of these words, a. with the death of three persons, per- slight alteration in her voice became plexed and fascinated my attention. perceptible to a familiar ear. M. de
Rosalie became in my estimation the Merret made no answer, for on the momost interesting person in Vendome. ment Rosalie entered the room. Her For the first time, I discovered in presence shook his very soul. Withher appearance traces of deep-seated out saying a word, he commenced thought: I gave a meaning to each pacing the room, his arms folded on his look, gesture and attitude. I won her breast. confidence by acts of kindness, and “ Have you bad news ?-Are you after a brief period I succeeded in ob- unwell ?" asked his wife in faltering taining from her a full and ample dis- tones. closure of all it was my object to learn.
No reply. Were I to reproduce Rosalie's narra “Leave me," said Madame de Merret tive with all its details, a volume would to the girl. Foreboding, doubtless, scarcely suffice to contain it. It takes misfortune, she wished to be alone with its place between the stories of the no- her husband. tary and of Madame Lepas, with the As soon as Rosalie was gone, or was exactness of a mean term in an arith- presumed to be gone, for she remained metical proposition. In abridging it, I a few moments in the passage, M. de shall endeavor to give it a proper pre- Merret placed himself opposite his wife, cision.
and said to her calmly, but with tremMadame de Merret occupied a room bling lips and livid countenance : on the ground floor. A small closet of “ Madam, there is some one in your about four feet in depth had been con- closet." structed in the wall, and was used as a She looked at her husband for an inwardrobe. Three months previous to stant with painful collectedness, and the evening on which occurred the replied simply: events I am about to describe, Madame de “No, sir." Merret had been seriously indisposed; The No went to his heart, for he did her husband occupied a room in an not believe it, and yet never had his upper story. By one of those chances wife appeared more pure and saintly impossible to foresee, he returned, on the evening in question, two hours later He rose and went towards the closet than usual from the club-room which door ; but Madame de Merret took him he was in the habit of frequenting. He by the hand, stopped him, and looking had been that evening unlucky at play, at him in the most touching manner, and on reaching his house, instead of she said in a voice of singular emotion : merely inquiring, according to his cus “ If you find no one--recollect that tom, if his wife were well, he directed his all is over between us." steps towards her bed-chamber, leaving An inconceivable dignity expressed his lantern on the steps of the stair- in the attitude of the wife, brought the
Rosalie, who generally received noble husband to a sense of the deep him, happened to be absent in the kitch- esteem in which he held her, and in
His step was easy to distinguish, spired him with one of those resoluand distinctly resounded under the tions, which to be sublime, need only a vault of the corridor.
in his eyes.
“ You are right, Josephine,” said And John, who was his coachman he, “I shall not proceed. - In one case and confidential servant, came. or the other we should separate for “ Let all the servants retire to bed," ever. Listen, I know the purity of said his master. your mind, and know that you lead a Then, M. de Merret motioning to devout life. You would not, to save him, John went to his side, and he addyour life, commit a mortal sin."
ed : At these words, she looked at him “ When they are all fast asleep-fast wildly.
asleep-understand well !-come down “Here is your crucifix-swear be- and tell me.” fore God that there is no one in that M. de Merret, who had kept his eye closet.—I will believe you, and will fixed on his wife, while giving his ornever open the closet.
ders, now seated himself quietly by her Madame de Merret took the crucifix side in front of the fire. He told her -and said:
the news he had picked up at his club“I swear it."
described his loss at play--and when “Louder," said the husband," and re- Rosalie returned, M. and Madame de peat : Is
swear before God that there is Merret were conversing amicably tono one in that closet."
gether. She repeated the oath without falter M. de Merret had recently caused ing.
some repairs to be made to the house, " It is well,” said M. de Merret; and so happened to have a quantity of then, after a moment's silence : bricks, plaster and mortar on the pre
“You have there a very handsome mises. It was this circumstance which piece of workmanship. How did you prompted the design which he now procome by it?"
ceeded to execute. And he closely examined the cruci “Gorenfiot, sir, is here!” said Rofix which was of ebony inlaid with sil- salie. ver, and graved with great art.
“ Let him come in." “At Duvivier's. He had purchased Madame de Merret slightly changed it from a Spanish priest who passed color, on seeing the mason. through Vendome last year with a “Gorenflot,” said M. de Merret, “go company of prisoners.”
down to the yard and bring up a quan“ Indeed !"-said M. de Merret. tity of bricks sufficient to wall up the He replaced the crucifix on the man- door of that closet. When you have telpiece. At the same time he rang. finished the brick work, you will plasRosalie came instantly. M. de Mer- ter the whole carefully over.” Then, ret met her with eagerness, and taking bringing the workman and Rosalie close her aside to the recess of a window to his side, he continued in a low voice: which opened on the garden, he said in Listen, Gorentlot,-you will sleep a low voice:
here to-night-but to-morrow morning “I know that Gorenflot wishes to you shall have passport for a foreign marry you, and that you are prevented land, where you will take up your resiby mutual poverty from doing that dence in a city to be named to you. I which will make you happy. You have shall give you six thousand francs for declined becoming his wife until he has your journey. You will live ten years established himself as a master mason. in the same city. Should you not like Well, go for him, and bring him here it, you may seek out another, provided with his trowel and tools. Move so as it be in the same country. You will to awake no one in his house. His pass through Paris, where you will wait fortune shall exceed your wants and my coming. There will be secured to expectations. Above all, leave this you, by deed, a further sum of six thouhouse without any tattling.
sand francs, to be paid to you only on And M. de Merret intimated his your return, and in case it shall appear possible displeasure by a significant that you have strictly fulfilled the congesture. Rosalie hastened away ; he ditions of our bargain. For this recalled her back.
ward, you will be required to observe “Hold, take my pass key.”
profound secresy on what you may do “John!"-called M. de Merret, with here this night.” a voice of thunder in the passage.
“ As for you, Rosalie, I purpose giv