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From The lock and key library: the most interesting
stories of all nations: Classic French,
Edited by Julian Hawthorne: The Review of Reviews Co., New York (1909, 1912 ed.)
"AND you," said Anastasia, "aren't you going to tell us a ghost story, too?"
"I'm the very one to do it," I replied, "for I have witnessed the strangest apparition since the days of Samuel; but it isn't a mere yarn. It's a true story."
"Good!" murmured the assistant public prosecutor, "there's still somebody who believes in apparitions."
"Perhaps you would have believed in this one as firmly as I if you had been in my place," I returned.
Eudoria drew his armchair up close to mine, and I began:
It was in the last days of 1812. I was then a captain of dragoons in garrison at Gironne, Department of Ter. My colonel saw fit to send me to Barcelona for new horses, where was to be held, the day after Christmas, a horse fair that was renowned throughout Catalonia, and to attach to me in this undertaking two lieutenants of the regiment, named Sergy and Boutraix, who were my particular friends. Let me say a few words in regard to them, for their characteristics are not wholly irrelevant to the rest of my story.
Sergy was one of those young officers just out of school who have certain aversions, not to say antipathies, which they have to overcome before they are well thought of by their comrades. He had triumphed over his in a short time. His face was prepossessing, his manner distinguished, his wit quick and brilliant, and his courage equal to anything. There was not an exercise in which he did not excel, not an art in which he did not have taste and discernment, although his delicate and nervous organization made him most susceptible to the charm of music. An instrument responding to his skillful fingers, and especially a fine voice, filled him with an enthusiasm sometimes revealed by exclamations or tears. When it was a woman's voice, and this woman was pretty, his transports approached delirium. They often made me fear for his reason.
You may readily judge that Sergy's heart was very accessible to love, and, in fact, you would have rarely found him free from one of those passions on which a man's life seems to depend; but the fortunate exaltation of his sensibility was in itself a defense against excess. What his ardent soul required was another equally ardent, with which it could associate and mingle itself; and although he thought he saw it everywhere, he had not met with it till then.
So far, it had happened that the idol of an evening, shorn of the prestige which he had divined, was only a woman on the morrow, and the most passionate of lovers was also the most changeable. On those days of disillusionment when he fell from the full height of his ideals to the humiliating conviction of reality, he was wont to say that the unknown object of his vows and hopes did not inhabit the earth; but he still sought it, only to deceive himself again as he had done a thousand times.
Sergy's last error had been produced by a little singer, who was perfectly commonplace, attached to the troupe of Bascara, which had just left Gironne. For two whole days the virtuoso had occupied the highest regions of Olympus. Two days had sufficed to reduce her to the level of ordinary mortals. Sergy no longer thought of her.
With this susceptibility of feeling, it was impossible that Sergy should not have considerable leaning toward the marvelous. There was no direction in which his ideas took flight more readily. A spiritualist by reasoning or education, he was much more so by imagination or instinct. His faith in the imaginary mistress which the spirit world had reserved for him was not merely a chance fancy; it was the favorite subject of his reveries, the secret romance of his thoughts, a gracious and consoling kind of enigma which made amends for the troublesome recurrence of his useless efforts. Far from revolting against this chimera, I employed it more than once when chance brought it into the conversation, and with some success in combating his amorous despair. Generally speaking, it is well enough accepted that happiness may take refuge in an ideal life, when one knows what it amounts to in this.
Boutraix offered a perfect contrast to Sergy. He was a great big fellow, as full of loyalty, honor, courage, devotion to his comrades; but his face was quite ordinary, and his wits resembled his face: he only knew by hearsay this moral love of the head and heart which troubles or embellishes life, and he regarded it as an invention of the novelists and poets, never existing outside of books. As for the love which he could understand, he made some use of it on occasion, but without giving it more care or thought than it was worth. His sweetest leisure was at the table, where he was the first to be seated, and the last to leave, provided the wine didn't give out.
After a fine deed in war, wine was the sole thing in the world which inspired him with any enthusiasm. He spoke of it with a sort of eloquence, and he drank of it largely without carrying his indulgence to drunkenness. By a particular favor of his temperament, he had never fallen into that gross state in which man approaches the beast; but it must be conceded that he fell asleep very opportunely.
The intellectual life was confined for Boutraix to a very small number of ideas upon which he had formed invariable principles, capable of expression in absolute formulas, very convenient for avoiding the discussion of them. The difficulty of proving anything by a course of sound reasoning had determined him to deny everything.
To all deductions based on faith or feeling, he replied by two sacramental words: fanaticism and prejudice. If one were obstinate, he leaned his head on the back of his chair and gave sound to a sharp whistle which lasted as long as the objection and spared him the inconvenience of listening to it. Although he had never read two consecutive pages, he believed that he had read Voltaire, and even Piron, whom he regarded as a philosopher: these two fine spirits were his supreme authorities; and the ultima ratio in every controversy in which he deigned to take part could be summed up in this triumphant phrase: "Besides, see what Voltaire and Piron say!" The altercation usually ended there, and he carried off the palm, which gave him, in his own opinion, the reputation of a great logician.
For all that, Boutraix was a good comrade, and, indisputably, the best judge of horseflesh in the army.
As we proposed to get remounts for ourselves, we decided, in going to Barcelona, to engage the services of one of the arrieros, or carriage drivers, who abound in Gironne; and the facility of finding them had inspired us with a confidence which proved to be mistaken. The feast of the evening of the 24th, and the sale on the second day following, attracted, from all parts of Catalonia, an innumerable quantity of travelers, and we had waited until precisely that day before procuring the necessary vehicle. At eleven o'clock in the morning we were still looking for an arriero, and there remained only a single one from whom we could expect anything, when we found him at his door ready to leave.
"Maledictions on your carry-all and your mules!" cried Boutraix, seized with wrath, and seating himself on a fence. "May all the devils in hell be let loose on your journey, and Lucifer himself serve your supper. So you won't take us?"
The arriero crossed himself and recoiled a step.
"Heaven keep you in its holy care, Master Estevan," I put in, smiling; "have you any travelers?"
"I can't say positively that I have travelers," answered the driver, "because I have only one, Señor Bascara, manager and leading actor of the theatrical company, who is going to rejoin his troupe in Barcelona, and who has remained behind to take care of the baggage, that is to say, this trunk full of duds and trinkets, which can't be packed on a mule."
"So much the better, Master Estevan! Your carriage has four places, and Señor Bascara will be willing to let us pay three-fourths of the expenses, which will allow him to charge up the whole bill to his employer. We will keep the secret. Take the trouble to ask him if he won't give us leave to accompany him."
Bascara hesitated only long enough to give his consent the appearance of an obliging concession. At noon we had started from Gironne.
The morning had been as fine as one could desire at that season; but scarcely had we passed the last houses of the town, than the white vapors, which had floated since sunrise above the mountains in soft light draperies, developed with surprising rapidity, embraced the whole horizon, and hedged us about like a wall. Soon they dissolved in rain mixed with snow, extremely fine, but so thick and driving that one would have thought the atmosphere filled with water, or that our mules had entered a river which was fortunately permeable to respiration.
The equivocal element which surrounded us had lost its transparency to such a degree as to hide from us the hedges and nearest landmarks of the road; our guide himself could only reassure himself that he was following it by sounding from time to time with his feet as well as sight, before trusting his equipage to advance, and his trials, often repeated, retarded our progress more and mare. The smallest gullies had become so large in a few hours as to be perilous, and Bascara never crossed one without recommending himself to Saint Nicholas or Saint Ignatius, the patrons of navigators.
"I am really afraid," said Sergy, smiling, "that the heavens have taken Boutraix at his word for the terrible imprecation he addressed to the arriero this morning. All the devils of the Inferno seem to have beset us on our journey, just as he wished, and there is nothing wanting but to have the devil in person sup with us to have his presage fulfilled. It is a nuisance, you'll agree, to have to suffer. the consequences of his impious wrath."
"Good, good!" replied Boutraix, half waking up. "Prejudice! superstition! fanaticism!"
And he went to sleep again immediately.
The route became a little more reliable when we had reached the rocky and solid shore of the sea; but the rain, or rather the deluge through which we navigated with such difficulty, was not in the least diminished. It did not seem to let up until three hours after sunset, and we were still very far from Barcelona. We had arrived at Mattaro, where we resolved to spend the night, in the impossibility of doing better, for our team was overcome by fatigue; we had scarcely turned to drive into the broad entrance of the inn, however, than the arriero opened the carriage door, and announced sadly that the courtyard was already so filled with conveyances that it was impossible to make an entrance among them.
"Some fatality," he added, "is pursuing us on this journey of misfortune. There isn't any lodging vacant except at the Castle of Ghismondo."
"Let's see," I said, jumping out of the carriage, "if we must make up our minds to camp out in one of the most hospitable cities of Spain, that would be a harsh extremity after so tiresome a journey."
"Mr. Officer," replied a muleteer, who was leaning indolently against the gatepost, smoking a cigarette, "you don't lack companions in disgrace, for everybody in the last two hours has been refused accommodation at all the inns and houses where the first comers have sheltered themselves. There is no lodging vacant except at the Castle of Ghismondo."
I had long been familiar with this manner of talking, customary with the people on like occasions; but its fastidious recurrence had never importuned my ear more disagreeably.
I made my way to the presence of the hostess, through a tumultuous mob of travelers, arrieros, mules, and grooms, and, attracting attention by pounding on a copper utensil with the hilt of my sword, in the imperious tone which usually succeeds, cried:
"A stable, a chamber, a well served table, and that at once! It's for the service of the emperor!"
"Ah, Mr. Captain," replied she with assurance, "the emperor himself couldn't find a place to sit down in my whole establishment. Victuals and wine a-plenty you may have, if you care to sup in the open air, for, thank Heaven, it isn't difficult to provide yourself with them in a town like this; but it isn't in my power to stretch the house to receive you. On my faith as a Christian, there isn't a vacant lodging except at the Castle."
"Pest take the proverbs and the country of Sancho!" I interrupted brusquely. "Yet grant that this cursed castle really exists somewhere, for I would rather pass the night there than in the street."
"Is it only that?" she replied, regarding me fixedly. "It's in reality that you make me recall it! The Castle of Ghismondo is not more than three-quarters of a mile from here, and, one, indeed, always finds lodgings vacant there. It is true that folk profit little by this opportunity, but you Frenchmen aren't the men to give place to a demon. So, if it suits you, your carriage will be filled with everything necessary to your passing the night comfortably, provided you don't receive a troublesome visit."
"We are too well armed to care for anyone," I replied, "and as for the Devil himself, I have heard him spoken of as being an agreeable boon companion. Prepare our provisions, good mother. Rations for five, each of whom eats like four, forage for our mules, and a little too much wine, if you please, for Boutraix is with us."
"Lieutenant Boutraix!" she cried, joining her outstretched hands, which, as everyone knows, is an exclamation in gesture: "Mozo, two baskets of twelve, and real rancio!"
Ten minutes later the interior of the coach was transformed into a well-stocked house, and so copiously furnished that one couldn't introduce our most insistent traveler into it; but the weather, which, as I have said, had not ceased to be menacing, seemed for the moment to be somewhat appeased. We did not hesitate to take the road on foot.
"Where are we going, Captain?" asked the arriero, surprised at our preparations
"Where should we be going, my poor Estevan, if it were not to the place which you have indicated yourself? To the Castle of Ghismondo, probably."
"To the Castle of Ghismondo! May the Holy Virgin take pity on us! Even my mules wouldn't dare to go there!"
"They'll do it all the same," I replied, slipping a pinch of small change into his hand, "and amends shall be made to them for the extra fatigue by an abundant repast. For you, my good fellow, there are three bottles of old Palamos wine which you can tell me how you like. Only let's not lose any time, for we are all of us nearly famished, and besides, the sky is beginning to get terribly disturbed."
"To the Castle of Ghismondo," Bascara repeated lamentably. "Do you know, gentlemen, what the Castle of Ghismondo is? No one has ever entered it with impunity without having first made a pact with the spirit of evil and I would not set foot in it for the command of galleons. No, truly I shall not go there!"
"You shall go, upon my honor, my worthy Bascara," replied Boutraix, encircling him with a vigorous arm. "Is it for a noble Castilian, who practices a liberal profession with glory, to recoil before the most inept of popular ,prejudices? Ah, if Voltaire and Piron had been translated into Spanish, as they ought to be in every language in the world, I should not be put to the trouble of proving to you that the Devil is an old woman's humbug, invented for the profit of monks by some naughty drinker of eau de théologien; but I shall make you put your finger on that when we have had supper, for my stomach is too empty, and my mouth too dry, to sustain a philosophical discussion advantageously at the present moment. Come on, brave Bascara, and be assured that you will always find Lieutenant Boutraix between the Devil and yourself, if he were so bold as to offer you the least offense. Odds bods! It would be fine to see him!"
We had set out, while talking thus, upon the miry and rutted road up the hill, to the accompaniment of many a sobbed "alas!" from Bascara, who marked each of his steps with effusions of psalms or an invocation of litanies. I must admit that the mules themselves, worn by overwork and hunger, approached the end of our nocturnal exploit with cross and sullen mien, stopping from time to time, as if they had heard a salutary countermand, and turning their lowered heads piteously at every rod of the road which they covered.
"What is this castle of fatal renown, then," asked Sergy, "which inspires these good people with such a sincere and profound terror? A rendezvous of ghosts, perhaps?"
"And perhaps," I replied in a low tone, "a place where robbers repair; for the people never conceive a superstition of this nature which is not founded on some legitimate motive of fear. But among the three of us we have three swords, three pairs of excellent pistols, ammunition for reloading; and, besides his hunting knife, the arriero is certainly provided, according to custom, with a good Valentian blade."
"Who is there who doesn't know what the Castle of Ghismondo is?" murmured Estevan, in a voice that was already moved. "If these illustrious gentlemen are curious to learn it, I am in a position to satisfy them, for my late father entered it. He was brave enough for you, that man! God pardon him for having been a little too fond of drink!"
"There's no harm in that," interrupted Boutraix. "What the deuce did your father see at the Castle of Ghismondo, then?"
"Tell us the story," said Sergy, who would have renounced the most refined pleasure party for a fantastic tale.
"Inasmuch as after I've done so," replied the muleteer, "their lordships will be free to return, if they think best." And he continued:
"This unfortunate Ghismondo," said he, and immediately interrupted himself as if fearing to be overheard by some invisible witness "unfortunate indeed," he pursued, "for having brought down upon himself the inexorable wrath of God, for I do not wish him harm on any other account! Ghismondo, at the age of twenty-five years, was the head of the illustrious family of Las Sierras, so renowned in our chronicles. That was three hundred years ago, or thereabouts; but the exact year is mentioned in books. He was a handsome and brave cavalier, liberal, gracious, welcomed by all for a long time, but too much inclined to keep bad company, and one who did not know how to preserve himself in the fear and respect of the Lord, so that he started evil rumors by his behavior, and almost completely ruined himself by his prodigality.
"It was then that he was obliged to find an asylum in the castle where you have resolved so imprudently, with all respect, to pass the coming night, and which was the sole remnant of his rich patrimony. Glad to escape in this retreat from the pursuit of his creditors and numerous enemies, since his passions and debauches had brought trouble to many families, he ended by fortifying it, and confined himself there for the rest of his days, with an equerry whose life had been equally bad, and a young page, the corruption of whose soul was far in advance of his years; their household consisted merely of a handful of men-at-arms, who had taken part in their excesses and whose single resource was to share their fortune. The object of one of Ghismondo's first expeditions was to procure himself a companion, and, like the ill bird which fouls its own nest, he selected a victim from his own family. There were those who said, however, that Ines de Las Sierras, such was the name of his niece, secretly favored her own carrying off. Who will ever be able to explain the mysteries of women's hearts?
"I have said that this was his first expedition, because history attributes to him many others. The revenues connected with this stronghold, which seems to have been stricken for all time with the curse of Heaven, would not have been sufficient for his expenditures if he had not supplemented them by levying imposts on travelers, a matter qualified as highway robbery when not done by noble lords. The name of Ghismondo and his castle in a short time became redoubtable."
"Is that all?" said Boutraix. "What you have recounted was common everywhere. It was one of the necessary results of feudalism, following barbarism, in those centuries of ignorance and slavery."
"What remains for me to tell you is a
little less commonplace," replied the arriero.
"The sweet Ines, who had had a Christian education,
was enlightened by a brilliant ray of grace. At the
instant when the hour of midnight had recalled to the
faithful the birth of the
"The monster!" cried Sergy, as affected as if he had heard a true story told.
"This horrible incident," continued Estevan, "did not detract from the usual license and mirth. The three companions kept on drinking and singing impious songs, in the presence of the dead girl; and it was three o'clock in the morning, when the men-at-arms, warned by the silence of their masters, entered the chamber of festivities to raise four bodies stretched out in pools of blood and wine. Unflinchingly they put the three drunkards in their beds, and the corpse in its shroud.
"But the vengeance of Heaven," pursued Estevan after a solemn pause, "but the infallible justice of God had not lost its effect. Hardly had sleep begun to dissipate the vapors which obscured Ghismondo's reason, when he saw Ines enter his chamber with measured tread, not beautiful, trembling with love as formerly; but pale, covered with blood, trailing the long garment of the dead, and reaching towards him a flaming hand which, upon reaching him, she placed upon his bosom, at the same spot where she had ineffectually placed it a few hours before.
"Held by an invisible power, Ghismondo tried vainly to escape from the terrifying apparition. His efforts and distress were manifested only by confused and hollow groans. The implacable hand remained as if nailed in its place, and Ghismondo's heart burned, and it burned thus till sunrise when the phantom disappeared. His companions received the same visit and underwent the same torture.
"On the morrow, and on every following morrow during what seemed to be an almost eternal year, the three wretches met by daylight to interrogate each other with a glance concerning the dream which each had had, for they dared not speak of it; but community of peril and of gain drew them soon to new crimes; the license of night drew them into new orgies, more prolonged; and the hour of sleep was dreadful to them; and the hour of sleep come, the hand of the avenging woman always burned them.
"The anniversary of the 24th of December reached (that is to-day, gentlemen) and the evening repast reuniting them before the light of the blazing hearth, they heard the hour of the redemption struck at Mattaro, summoning Christians to its solemnities. Suddenly a voice was raised in the gallery of the castle: 'Here I am!' cried Ines.
"They saw her enter, cast aside her funeral cloth, and seat herself among them in her richest attire. Seized with astonishment and terror, they saw her eat of the bread and drink of the wine of the living; they say even that she sang and danced, following the custom of the past. But suddenly her hand burst into flame as in the mysteries of their dreams, and touched the heart of the chevalier, the equerry, and the page. Then all was done for with this fleeting life, for their calcined hearts had ended by being reduced to ashes, and no longer made the blood course through their veins.
"It was three o'clock in the morning when the men-at-arms, warned by the silence of their masters, entered, according to custom, the chamber of festivities; and that time they carried out four corpses. On the morrow nobody awoke."
Sergy had appeared to be profoundly preoccupied during this recital, because the ideas which it stimulated in his mind, were connected with the usual subjects of his reveries; Boutraix from time to time uttered an expressive sigh, but one which expressed scarcely anything but impatience and boredom; the comedian, Bascara, between his teeth, mumbled unintelligible words which seemed to accompany the arriero's lugubrious romance like a deep and melancholy monotone, and an oft repeated movement of his hand made me suspect that he was reviewing the beads of a rosary. As for myself, I admired these poetical fragments of tradition happening to be woven so naturally into the story of a simple man, and lending it colors which imagination enlightened by taste does not always disdain.
"That is not all," resumed Estevan, "and I beg for you to hear me a moment longer before persisting in your dangerous project. Since the death of Ghismondo and his kin, his detestable lair, become odious to all men, has fallen to the lot of the Devil. The very road by which one gets there has been abandoned, as you may see for yourselves. One knows only, beyond all doubt, that every year at midnight on the 24th of December (gentlemen, that is to-day, and will soon be the hour), the casements of the old edifice are suddenly illuminated. Those who have dared to penetrate these terrible secrets know that then the chevalier, the equerry, and the page return from the abode of the dead to take their places at the bloody orgy. It is the doom to which they must submit to the end of the centuries. A little later Ines enters in her shroud, which she casts aside to appear in her customary toilet. Ines, who drinks, eats, and dances with them. When they have lulled themselves for some time in the delirium of their mad joy, imagining each time that she is never going to stop, the girl shows them her wound, still open, touches them on the heart with her flaming hand, and returns to the fires of Purgatory after having sent them to those of Hell!"
These last words drew from Boutraix a convulsive burst of laughter which took away his breath for the moment.
"The Devil take you!" he cried, striking the arriero on the shoulder with a heavy but friendly fist, "I have failed to be moved by these fables, which you tell well enough, however; and I felt as silly as a fool when 'Hell' and 'Purgatory' brought me to myself. Prejudices, Catalan! The prejudices of a child whom they terrify with masks! Old legends of superstition which no longer find credence anywhere but in Spain! You shall see presently whether fear of the Devil will prevent me from finding the wine good (and, parenthetically, that reminds me I'm thirsty). Hurry your mules, if you will; for, to see supper more promptly served, I shall propose a toast to Satan himself."
"Those were the very words of my father at a debauch at Mattaro with other soldiers like himself," said the arriero. "When they kept on clamoring for the vintage of Posada, the landlord replied, 'There isn't any more except at the Castle of Ghismondo.'"
"'Then I shall have some,' answered my father, who was as impious as a horse's jawbone; 'and by the Pope's whiskers, I'll have some if the Devil should pour it out himself! I'm going.' 'You sha'n't go! Oh, grant that you don't!' 'I shall go,' he replied with a still more execrable blasphemy; and he was so obstinate as to do so."
"About your father," said Sergy, "have you forgotten Boutraix's question? What did he see that was so terrifying at the Castle of Ghismondo?"
"What I've told you, gentlemen. After having proceeded through a long gallery hung with ancient pictures, he stopped at the threshold of the banquet hall; and, as the door was open, he looked in boldly. The damned were at the table, and Ines was showing them her bleeding wound. Then she danced, and each of her steps brought her nearer to the place where he was standing. His heart was suddenly wrung at the thought that she was coming to take him. He fell full length like a dead body, and did not come to himself till the following day when he found himself at the door of the church of the parish."
"Where he had slept since evening," replied Boutraix, "because he had drunk so much wine he couldn't get any farther. A drunkard's dream, my poor Estevan! May the earth lie as lightly on him as he often found it shifting and dancing under his feet! But this infernal castle, sha'n't we ever get there?"
"We are there;" replied the arriero, stopping his mules.
"It was time," said Sergy. "Now the torment is about to begin, and, strange occurrence for this season, I have heard several rumblings of thunder."
"One always hears it at this period, at the Castle of Ghismondo," replied the arriero.
He had not ceased speaking when a blinding flash rent the sky, and showed us the whitened walls of the old stronghold, with its turrets grouped like a troop of specters, on an immense platform formed by a single steep rock.
The main door seemed to have been closed for a long time, but the upper hinges had ended by giving way under the action of the air and the years, together with the stones that sustained them; and the two wings, fallen against each other, were rotted by the dampness and battered by the wind, overweighted, ready to fall upon the pavement. We did not have any trouble about tumbling them down. In the space which they had left by separating toward then base, and where the body of a man could scarcely have gained entrance, was piled up débris from the vault and the arch which we had to clear away before us. The stout leaves of aloes, growing in the interstices, fell before our swords, and the carriage entered the vast entrance, the flagstones of which had not groaned under a passing wheel since the days of Ferdinand the Catholic.
Then we hastened to light some of the torches with which we had been supplied at Mattaro, the flame of which, fed by gushing streams, luckily resisted, being beaten out by the wings of nocturnal birds, which fled, uttering cries of lamentation, from every crevice of the old structure. This scene, which had indeed something extraordinary and sinister about it, recalled to me involuntarily the descent of Don Quixote into the Cavern of Montesinos; and the laughing observation which I made on it would probably have provoked a smile from the arriero or Bascara himself, if they had still been able to smile; but their consternation increased at every step.
The great court opened at last before us. On the left extended a long shed, destined formerly to protect the châtelain's horses against the intemperance of the seasons, as several iron rings, placed at intervals along the wall, attested. We were rejoiced at the idea of accommodating our team so handily, and this thought seemed to cheer up even Estevan, who was concerned before everything with the well-being and rest of his mules. Two torches, firmly fixed in brackets, which seemed to have been prepared for them, cast a cheerful light in this shelter; and the forage, with which we had piled the back of the carriage, spread out splendidly before the beasts, harassed by hunger and exertion, gave it an air of gayety which it was a pleasure to see.
"That couldn't be better, gentlemen," said Fstevan, somewhat reassured. "I admit that my mules can spend the night here; and there is a proverb which says: 'The muleteer is all right wherever he can put his mules.' If you will be good enough to let me have some victuals so that I can sup at their side, I think I can answer for it until tomorrow; for I fear the devils of the stable less than those of the salon. They are good enough fellows, with whom habit has made us familiar, us arrieros, and their malignity limits itself to ruffling the horses' hair, or carrying them the wrong way. As for us, poor folk as we are, they content themselves with pinching us hard enough to make the mark last for a week, in the shape of a yellow spot which all the waters of the Ter would not wash away; with giving us cramps which turn the calf of the leg on the bone, or sitting heavily on our stomachs, laughing like idiots. I feel myself man enough to brave all that, making use of the grace of God and the three bottles of wine of Palamos the captain has promised me."
"They are there," I said, helping him unhitch the carriage, "and, besides, two loaves of bread and a quarter of roast mutton. Now that the cavalry and baggage train are lodged, we will go up in there and see about the rations for the infantry."
We lit four torches, and essayed the grand staircase, through the débris which obstructed it everywhere, Bascara, between Sergy and Boutraix, who encouraged him with voice and example, making fear cede to the vanity which is so powerful in a Spanish soul. I avow that this incursion, devoid of peril as it was, had, nevertheless, something adventurous and fantastic about it with which my imagination was secretly charmed, and I may add that it presented difficulties sufficient to excite our ardor. Parts of the walls had crumbled here and there, opposing to us, in twenty different places, accidental barricades which it was necessary to get around or surmount. Planks, rafters, whole beams, fallen from the upper parts of the timberwork, were crossed and involved on the broken steps. Their sharp splinters bristled under our feet. The old window sashes which had admitted the light of day to the vestibule and stairs, had long since fallen, wrenched out by storms, and we recognized vestiges of them only by the cracking of broken panes under the soles of our shoes. An impetuous wind, laden with snow, whistled horribly as it entered through the space which they had abandoned in falling in an apartment, one or two centuries before; and the wild vegetation, the seeds of which had been cast here by the tempest, added still more to the entanglement of the passage and the horror of its aspect.
I thought, without saying so, that a soldier's heart would be borne up by a readier and more natural throb in attacking a redoubt or assaulting a fortress. We arrived at last at the stairhead of the second story, and recovered our breath for a moment.
At our left opened a long corridor, narrow and obscure, in which our torches, united at the entrance, could not dispel the darkness. Before us was the door of the apartments, or rather it was no longer there. This new invasion occasioned us only the trouble of walking in, torch in hand, into a square hall which must have served to accommodate the met-at-arms. We judged so, at least, from the two rows of broken benches which garnished it on each side, and from some common arms, gnawed half through by rust, which still hung as trophies on its walls. As we crossed it the truncheons of four or five lances, and the barrels of as many carbines, rolled under our feet. It issued by a turn at right angles into a gallery that was much more extensive in length, but of medium size, the right side was pierced by empty casement, like those of the staircase, where scarcely any fragments of the rotted frames still rattled.
The floor in this part of the building had become so decomposed by the influence of the atmosphere and the descent of rain, that it was abandoning all its mortises, and only extended towards the outer wall in a thin and rent fringe. In this direction one felt it give and rise with suspicious elasticity, and the foot sank in it as in a compact dust, threatening to give way. At intervals the less firm portions had begun to break through in odd openings, where the tread of some inquisitive person, bolder than I, had imprudently tested it. I drew my companions brusquely toward the left-hand wall, where progress seemed less hazardous. The gallery was filled with paintings.
"As sure as there isn't any God, these are the pictures," said Boutraix. "Did the drunkard who spawned that sorry arriero come as far as this?"
"Oh, no!" replied Sergy, with a slightly bitter laugh. "He slept in the portico of the church at Mattaro, because the wine that he had drunk prevented him from getting any farther."
"I don't ask your opinion," returned Boutraix, directing his leer at the dusty and disjointed frames, which covered the wall at a multitude of capricious angles, but without finding a single one which did not depart more or less from the perpendicular. "These are really pictures, and portraits at that, if I am not mistaken. The whole family of Las Sierras has posed in this cutthroat place."
Such remains of the art of past centuries would have occupied our attention under other circumstances, but we were in too much haste to find a suitable lodging for our little caravan, to spend much time in the examination of these frustrated canvases which had all but disappeared under the black and humid stucco of the years. Meanwhile, having come to the last portraits, Sergy raised his flambeau, and seizing me tightly by the arm, said:
"Look, look! This chevalier with a somber air, whose forehead is cast in shadow by a red plume: this must be Ghismondo himself. See how marvellously the painter expressed the lassitude of excess and the cares of crime in a face still young. It's a sad thing to see!"
"The next portrait will make you amends," I replied, smiling at his hypothesis. "It is that of a woman, and if it were better preserved or nearer our eyes you would go into ecstasies over the charms of Ines de Las Sierras, for one might suppose, also, that it is she. What you may still distinguish in it is of a nature to produce a keen impression. What elegance in this slim waist! What piquant attracttion in the attitude! What beauties of the whole which escape us are promised by this wonderfully modeled arm and hand! It is thus that Ines should be!"
"And it is thus that she was," answered Sergy, drawing me toward him, "for, from this point of view I have just caught her eyes. Oh! never has a more passionate expression spoken to the soul! Never has life come down more living from the brush! And if you will follow this indication in the flakes of the canvas to the sweet contour in which the cheek turns about this charming mouth, if you catch as I the movement of this disdainful lip, but where one feels that the intoxication of love breathes "
"I should form an imperfect idea," I resumed coldly, "of what a pretty woman of the court of Charles the Fifth might have been."
"Of the court of Charles the Fifth," said Sergy, bending forward. "That is true."
"Wait, wait," said Boutraix, whose high stature enabled him to reach the Gothic scroll which decorated the lower stick of the frame, and over which he passed his handkerchief several times. "Here is a name, written either in German or Hebrew, if it isn't in Syriac or Low Breton; but the Devil take anyone who can read it. I would as soon explain the Koran."
Sergy uttered an enthusiastic cry.
"Ines de Las Sierras! Ines de Las Sierras!" he repeated, grasping my hands with a sort of frenzy. "Read it as quick as you can!"
"Ines de Las Sierras!" I replied; "that's it; and these three mountains sinople* on a field of gold must be the arms of her family. It appears that this unfortunate really existed and that she inhabited this castle. But it's high time to seek an asylum here for ourselves. Are you not disposed to penetrate farther?"
"Came here, gentlemen, come here!" cried Boutraix, who had preceded us by a few steps. "Here is a salon for company which will not make us regret the wet streets of Mattaro; a lodging worthy of a prince, or of a military intendant! Lord Ghismondo liked his ease, and there is nothing to be said about the arrangement of the apartment. What a superb barrackroom!"
This immense apartment was indeed better preserved than the rest. The back only received the light, where it was admitted by two narrow windows, which, by their favorable arrangement, had been saved from the degradation common to the whole building. Its hangings of stamped leather and its huge antique armchairs had an air of magnificence which their age rendered still more imposing. The fireplace of colossal proportions, opening its vast flanks on the wall at the left, seemed to have been built for giants to sit up before of nights, and the demolished woodwork scattered in the staircase would have furnished a cheerful fire for hundreds of such nights as that which was about to slip away. A round table, at a distance of a few feet, recalled the impious festivities of Ghismondo, and I willingly admit that I did not perceive it without a slight shock.
It required several trips to supply us with the necessary wood, and afterwards our packages, which the day's flood of rain might have seriously impaired. All was found, happily, safe and sound, and even the trumpery of Bascara's company, spread out on the backs of the armchairs before the blazing hearth, shone before our eyes with the factitious luster and superannuated freshness which was lent them by the deceptive radiancy of the footlights. It is true that Ghismondo's dining hall, lit up by ten ardent torches, skillfully fixed in ten old candelabras, was certainly better illuminated than the theater of a small Catalonian town ever was in the memory of man. Only the farthest portion, that approaching the portrait gallery, by which we had entered, had not lost all its shadows. One would have said that they had been amassed there as if with the design of establishing a mysterious barrier between us and the profane vulgar. It was the visible night of the poet.
"I do not doubt," said I, while occupying myself, with my companions, in the preparations for a repast, "that this will furnish a new pretext for the credulity of the inhabitants of the plain. It is the hour at which Ghismondo returns every year to sit at his infernal banquet, and the light which these casements must shed outside announces nothing less than a feast of demons. Estevan's old legend may be founded on a like circumstance."
"Add to that," said Boutraix, "that the whim of representing this scene in a natural manner might have occurred to good-natured adventurers, and that it is not impossible that the arriero's father really assisted at a comedy of that kind."
"We are charmingly situated to recommence it," he continued, lifting up the property of the traveling troupe, piece by piece. "Here is the costume of a chevalier, which seems to have been cut for the captain; I might recall, trait for trait, the accursed one's intrepid equerry, who was, apparently, a very fine-looking chap; and this coquettish costume, which would relieve the somewhat languorous beauty of Sergy's physiognomy, would readily endow him with the air of the most seductive of pages. Admit that the invention is happy, and that it offers us a night of rattling good fun!"
As Boutraix was speaking he costumed himself from head to foot, and we imitated him laughingly, for there is nothing more contagious than an extravagance among young heads. Nevertheless, we took the precaution to keep our swords and pistols, which, considering the date of their manufacture, did not contrast in too shocking a manner with our disguisement. Even the heroes of Ghismondo's gallery, if they had suddenly descended from their Gothic frames, would not have found themselves greatly bewildered in their hereditary stronghold.
"And the beautiful Ines?" cried Boutraix. "Haven't you thought of her? Would Señor Bascara, whom nature has supplied with external gifts of which the Graces might be jealous, be so good as to undertake this rôle for this single occasion, in response to the general public demand?"
"Gentlemen," replied Bascara, "I lend myself willingly to pleasantries that do not affect the safety of my soul, that is my profession; but this is of a kind which does not permit me to take part in it. You shall see, perhaps to your great harm, that one does not brave the infernal powers with impunity. Rejoice yourselves as it may seem fitting to you, since grace has not touched you; but I call on you to bear witness that I absolutely renounce these joys of Satan, and that I only ask to escape from here so that I may become a monk in some good house of the Lord. Grant me only as a brother, in the holy name of the Saviour, which shall be praised forever, permission to pass the night in this armchair, with some reflection to sustain my body, and liberty to pray."
"Hold," said Boutraix, "this magnificent orison merits a whole goose and two flagons. Keep your chair, friend; eat, drink, pray, and sleep. You shall never be anything but a fool! Furthermore," he added, seating himself again and refilling his glass, "Ines doesn't come till dessert, and I verily trust she'll come."
"God preserve us!" said Bascara.
I took my place in front of the fire,
the equerry at my right, the page at my left. Opposite
"How does it happen," said Sergy, "that these solemn ideas, of which philosophy makes light, never entirely lose their empire over the strongest and clearest minds? Has man's nature a secret need of raising itself to the marvelous in order to enter into the possession of some privilege which has been taken from him, and which formed the noblest part of his essence?"
"On my honor," replied Boutraix, "I do not believe in this supposition, although you have announced it with sufficient clearness for me to understood what you mean. The effect of which you speak is due to the results of former habit in the cells of the brain, which have retained the foolish impressions that our mothers and nurses instilled in our infancy, like a kind of soft wax, hardened by time, as is admirably explained by Voltaire in a superb book which I recommend that you read when you have leisure. To think otherwise is to lower oneself to the level of this simple fellow who muttered a blessing over his food a quarter of an hour ago before daring to put tooth in it."
Sergy insisted; Boutraix defended his ground, foot by foot, retrenching himself, as usual, behind his irresistible arguments, prejudice, superstition, and fanaticism. I had never seen him so persistent and scornful in a metaphysical encounter.
But the conversation was not maintained for long at the height of those sublime regions of the intellect, for the wine was capital, and we drank it copiously like persons who had nothing better to do. It was midnight by our watches, and there was nearly a bottle left, when we cried out all together in a transport of joy, as if this conviction had relieved us of a hidden anxiety
"Midnight; gentlemen, midnight! and Ines de Las Sierras has not come!"
The unanimity with which we had joined in this puerile observation sent us off in a long peal of laughter.
"Body and bones!" said Boutraix, rising on his saturated legs, the oscillation of which he sought to dissimulate under an air of nonchalance and abandon. "Although this beauty has defaulted at our happy reunion, chivalrous gallantry, of which we make a profession, forbids me to forget her. I pledge this goblet to the health of the noble lady, Ines de Las Sierras, and her speedy deliverance!"
"To Ines de Las Sierras!" cried Sergy.
"To Ines de Las Sierras!" I repeated, raising my half-empty glass to their still full ones.
"I am here! " cried a voice from the portrait gallery.
"Hey?" said Boutraix, sitting down. "The pleasantry wasn't bad; only who did it?"
I cast my eyes behind me. Bascara, deathly pale, was clinging to the rungs of my chair as if he had a cramp.
"It's that rascally carriage driver," I replied, "who has got happy on his three bottles of wine de Posada."
"I am here! I am here!" replied the voice. "Health and good cheer to the guests of Ghismondo's castle!"
"It is a woman's voice, and the voice of a young woman," said Sergy, rising with noble and gracious assurance.
At the same instant, in the less brightly lighted part of the hall, we distinguished a white phantom which ran towards us with inconceivable swiftness, and which, within arm's length of us, stopped and let fall its shroud. It passed between us, for we were standing, hands on our sword hilts, and sat down at Ines' place.
"I am here! " said the phantom, uttering a long sigh, and casting back her long black hair on the right and on the left, as it was loosely held by a few knots of flame-colored ribbon. Never had more perfect beauty met my gaze.
"It's really a woman," I remarked, half aloud, "and since it is agreed among us that nothing can happen here that is not entirely natural, we have nothing to concern ourselves about but French politeness. What follows will explain this mystery, if it is to be explained."
We resumed our places, and we served the unknown, who appeared to be distressed by hunger. She ate and drank without speaking. A few minutes later she had completely forgotten us, and each of the personages of this odd scene seemed to be isolated in himself, immobile and dumb, as if he had been tapped with a fairy's petrifying ring.
Bascara had fallen by my side, and I should have thought him dead of terror if I had not been reassured by the palpitating movement of his hands, which were crossed convulsively in prayer.
Boutraix did not let a breath escape him; an expression of profound prostration had replaced his bacchic audacity, and the bright vermilion of drunkenness, which had shone a minute earlier on his confident face, had changed to mortal pallor.
The feeling which dominated Sergy did not enslave his thoughts with less force; but it was at least softer, to judge by his looks. His eyes, fixed on the apparition with all the fire of love, seemed to force themselves to retain it, like those of a sleeper who fears, by waking, to lose the irretrievable charm of a beautiful dream; and it must be admitted that this illusion was worth the cost of careful preservation, for the whole of nature, perhaps, offered not at that time a living beauty who was worthy of being put in her place. I beg you to believe that I do not exaggerate.
The unknown was not over twenty; but passions, misfortunes or death had impressed on her features that strange character of changeless perfection and eternal regularity which the chisel of the ancients consecrated in the type of the gods. Nothing belonging to the earth remained in this countenance, nothing which could suffer offense from a comparison. That was the cool judgment of my reason, thoroughly forearmed long previously against the senseless surprises of love, and it permits me to dispense with a description which each of you may provide for yourself according to the inclination of your fancy.
If you succeed in conceiving anything which approaches reality, you will be getting a thousand times further than all the artifices of speech, of pen and of brush.
Only, and what is quite necessary as a guarantee of my impartiality, let an oblique mark, extremely light, extend across the broad, smooth brow, fading away an inch above the eyebrow; and in the divine glance of those long blue eyes, diffusing an indescribable light between the lashes, black as jade, conceive; if you can, something vague and irresolute, like the uneasiness of restless doubt which would explain itself. These would be the imperfections of my model, and I will answer for it that Sergy did not perceive them.
What most impressed me, however, when I was capable of occupying myself with such details, was the apparel of our mysterious stranger. I did not doubt having seen it somewhere, a short time previously, and I was not long in recalling that it was in the portrait of Ines. It seemed to have been borrowed, like ours, from the stock of some costumer who was very clever at stage objects, but it was not so fresh as ours. Her green damask dress, still rich, but limp and darkened, fastened here and there by faded ribbons, must have belonged to the wardrobe of some woman who had been dead for a century, and I thought with a shudder that touching it would prove it retained the cold damp of the tomb; but I immediately rejected this idea as unworthy of a rational mind, and was perfectly restored to the free use of my faculties, when, with a bewitching voice, the newcomer finally broke the silence.
"And why, noble chevaliers," said she, letting a reproachful smile flit over her lips, "should I have had the misfortune of disturbing the pleasures of this agreeable evening? You will think of my arrival only as detracting from your enjoyment in being together. When I came, your gay laughter was ringing loudly enough to wake all the night birds which have made their nests in the wainscoting of the castle. Since when has the presence of so young a woman, and one in whom the city and the court have found agreeable foibles, been wont to put gayety to flight? Has the world changed in regard to this since I left it?"
"Pardon, madame," replied Sergy, "such attractiveness is sufficient to surprise us, and admiration is mute like fright."
"I agree with my friend in this explanation," I put in at once. "The feeling which the sight of you inspires is incapable of expression in words. As for your visit itself, it was due to excite in us at least passing astonishment, from which we have had some time to recover. You know that in this ruin, which has so long since lost its inhabitants, in this wild place, at this advanced hour of the night, in this extraordinary disturbance of the elements, there was nothing to announce it to us, nothing to permit us to hope for it. You will be very welcome, madame, without doubt, everywhere you may deign to appear, but we are waiting respectfully for you to do us the honor you owe us, if it should please you to inform us to whom we have the honor of speaking."
"My name?" she answered quickly. "You do not know it? God is my witness that I came only at your appeal!"
"At our appeal!" gasped Boutraix, raising his hands before his face.
"Truly," she continued, smiling, "and I know too well what is seemly to have acted otherwise. I am Ines de Las Sierras."
"Ines de Las Sierras!" cried Boutraix, in greater consternation than if a thunderbolt had fallen at his side. "Oh, eternal justice!"
I gazed at her fixedly. I vainly sought in her face for anything to betray deception or falsehood.
"Madame," I said, affecting a little
more calmness than I really possessed, "the disguises
in which you have found us, and which perhaps are
really inappropriate to this holy day, hide men who
are inaccessible to fear. Whatever may be your name,
and whatever the motive which leads you to disguise
it, you may expect discreet and respectful hospitality
from us; we will even lend ourselves very willingly to
"I am far from asking it to assume so much," Ines replied with dignity; "but who could contest the title which I take in the very house of my fathers? Oh!" she continued, becoming animated by degrees. "I have paid dearly enough for my first fault to believe the vengeance of God satisfied with its expiation, but can the delayed indulgence which I await from him, and in which I placed my only hope, abandon me forever to the torments which devour me, if the name of Ines de Las Sierras is not my name! I am Ines de Las Sierras, the culpable and unhappy Ines! What interest could I have in stealing a name which I should have so much interest in hiding, and by what right do you repulse this avowal, painful enough in itself, for an unfortunate who asks only pity?"
She let fall a few tears, and Sergy drew nearer her with ever-increasing emotion, while Boutraix, who, far some time, had supported his head on his folded arms, let it fall fairly on the table.
"Look, sir!" said she, tearing from her arm a gold bracelet, half gnawed through by the years, and casting it disdainfully before us; "there is the last present from my mother, and the sole jewel of my inheritance which was left me in the misery and disgrace of my life. See if I am really Ines de Las Sierras, or a base adventurers, devoted by the lowness of her birth to the amusement of the populace.
The three mountains sinople on it were encrusted with fine emeralds, and the name Las Sierras engraved in antique letters, might still be read distinctly under the blight of time.
I picked up the bracelet respectfully and presented it with a low bow. In the exalted state attained by her spirit she did not notice me.
"If you need other proofs," she went
on in a sort of delirium, "have not accounts of my
misfortunes reached your ears? See!" she added,
detaching the clasp of her dress and showing us the
wound in her bosom. "It was there that the
"Woe! woe!" cried Boutraix, raising his head, and throwing himself against the back of his chair in unutterable dismay.
"Oh, the men! the men!" said Ines, in a tone of bitter scorn; "they can kill women, and the sight of their wounds makes them afraid!"
The gesture, combining modesty and pity, with which she drew together the open front of her dress, concealing her breast from Boutraix's terrified eyes, exposed the other to Sergy's, and I understood his intoxication too well to condemn it.
A new silence began, longer, deeper, sadder than the first. Abandoned, for our part, each to his own preoccupation Boutraix to unreflecting terror, having become incapable of reasoning; Sergy to the internal enjoyment of dawning love, the object of which realized the favorite dreams of his mad imagination; I myself to the meditation of those high mysteries on which I feared I had, in the past, formed rash opinions, we closely resembled those petrified faces of Oriental tales which death has seized in the midst of life, and the features of which forever reflect the expression of the last passing feeling.
Ines' face appeared to be much more animated; but through the multitude of changing aspects which a chain of inexplicable ideas made her assume in turn, as if under the influence of a dream, it would have been impossible to determine which dominated her, when she began again to speak laughingly:
"I do not recall," said she, "what I asked you to explain to me just now; but you well know that my thought cannot suffice for the conversation of men, since a hand which I loved, and which assassinated me, cast me among the dead. Take pity, I beg of you, on the feebleness of an intelligence which is resuscitated, and pardon me for having too long forgotten that I have not yet honored the health which you drank to me as I entered. Gentlemen," she added, rising with infinite grace and raising her glass, "Ines de Las Sierras salutes you and drinks your health in return. To you, noble chevalier! May heaven favor your enterprises! To you, melancholy equerry, whose natural gayety is dispelled by some secret trouble! May more propitious days restore unmixed serenity! To you, handsome page, whose tender languor tells of a soul engrossed by the sweetest cares! May the happy woman who has attracted your love reply to it with a love worthy of you; and if you do not yet love, may you soon love a beauty who loves you! Your healths, gentlemen!"
"Oh! I do love, and I love forever!" cried Sergy. "Who could see you and not love you? To Ines of Las Sierras! to the beautiful Ines!"
"To Ines de Las Sierras!" I replied, rising from my armchair.
"To Ines de Las Sierras!" murmured Boutraix, without changing his position, and for the first time in his life he uttered a solemn toast without drinking.
"To all of you!" returned Ines, raising her glass to her lips for the second time, but without emptying it.
Sergy grasped it ardently to drink. I know not why I should have wished to stop him, as if I thought he would quaff of death.
As for Boutraix, he had fallen in a kind of reflective stupor which absorbed his whole soul.
"That is well," said Ines, throwing an arm around Sergy's neck, and placing on his heart as incendiary a hand as that mentioned in Estevan's legend. "This evening is sweeter, and more charming than any of which I have retained memory. We are all so gay and happy! Do you not think, Sir Equerry, that no charm is wanting but that of music?"
"Oh!" said Boutraix, who could hardly articulate anything else. "Is she going to sing?"
"Sing, sing!" urged Sergy, passing his hands tremblingly through Ines' hair; "your Sergy begs you!"
"I should be very glad to," answered Ines, "but the dampness of those vaults must have altered my voice, which was once considered beautiful and pure, and besides, I don't know anything but sad songs, far from worthy of a bacchic tertulia, in which none but joyous airs should resound. Wait," she continued, raising her celestial eyes toward the ceiling, and making a prelude of charming sounds. "It's the romance of Nina Matada; which will be new to you and to me, for I shall compose it while singing."
There is nobody who would not have felt how much the animated movement of improvisation lends to the seductiveness of an inspired voice. Woe to the man who writes his thoughts coldly, elaborated, discussed, tested by reflection and time! He will never move a soul in its most secret sympathies. To assist at the production of a great conception, to see it launched forth by the genius of the artist, like Minerva from Jupiter's head, to feel one's self carried away in its lofty strain to unknown realms of the imagination, on the wings of eloquence, of poetry, of music, is the keenest of enjoyments which have been given our imperfect nature; it is the only one which approaches, on earth, the divinity from which it takes its origin.
What I have told you is what I felt at hearing Ines' first accents. For what I felt later there are no terms in language capable of expressing. The two elements of my nature separate distinctly in my thoughts: the one, inert and gross, remained fixed by its own material weight in one of Ghismondo's armchairs; the other, already transformed, rose toward Heaven with Ines' words, and received all the impressions of a new life of inexhaustible pleasures. You may be perfectly sure that if any unhappy genius has doubted the existence of this eternal principle, the imperishable soul, enchained for a space in the ways of our fleeting life, it is because he never heard Ines sing, or any woman who sang like her.
My senses, as you know, do not oppose emotion of this kind; but I do not believe, by any means, that they are sensitive enough to entertain its full effect. It was otherwise with Sergy, whose whole organization was that of a scarcely captive soul, and who was attached to humanity only by some fragile bond, always ready to liberate it when it wished to become free. Sergy cried, Sergy sobbed, Sergy was carried out of himself.
And when Ines, transported, went on to lose herself in still more sublime inspirations than all we had heard, she seemed to call him toward her with her smile. Boutraix was slightly recovered from his mournful dismay, and fixed two great, attentive eyes on Ines, in which an expression of astonished pleasure had, for a moment, replaced, that of fear. Bascara had not changed his position, but the soft feelings of a virtuoso began to triumph over the fears of a man of the people. From time to time he raised a face on which admiration struggled with terror, and sighed with ecstasy or envy.
A cry of enthusiasm succeeded Ines' song. She herself poured out for all to drink, and deliberately clinked her glass against Boutraix's. He drew it back with an ill-assured hand, watched her drink, and drank. I refilled the glass once more, and I saluted Ines.
"Alas!" said she, "I can no longer sing, or rather, this hall has betrayed my voice. Formerly there wasn't an atom of air in it which did not respond to me, and which did not lend me its accordance. Nature no longer grants me the all-powerful harmonies which I drew forth, which I listened to, which joined with my words, when I was happy and beloved. Oh, Sergy!" she continued, regarding him tenderly, "one must be loved to sing!"
"Loved!" cried Sergy, covering her hand with kisses, "adored, Ines, idolized like a goddess! If it only requires the unreserved sacrifice of a heart, of a soul, of eternity, to inspire thy genius, sing, Ines, sing again, sing forever!"
"I danced also;" replied she, resting her head languishingly on Sergy's shoulder, "but how dance without music? For a marvel!" she added suddenly, "some demon has slipped some castanets under my belt," and she disengaged them laughingly.
"Irrevocable day of damnation!" said Boutraix, "then you have come! The mystery of mysteries is fulfilled! The last judgment approaches! She is going to dance!"
As Boutraix ceased speaking, Ines had risen, and was beginning with grave and slowly measured steps, displaying with imposing grace the majesty of her farm and the nobility of her poses.
Changing from place to place and appearing in new guises, she astonished the imagination as if another beautiful woman had come before our eyes, she understood so well how to improve on herself in the variety of her poses and movements.
Thus, by rapid transitions, we saw her pass from serious dignity to the moderate transports of growing enjoyment, then to the soft languors of voluptuousness, to a delirium of delight, to ecstasy still more delirious, which is indescribable. Then she drew away into the shadows of the immense hall, disappearing, and in measure as she moved farther off, the sound of the castanets became weaker, diminishing, diminishing continually, until one had ceased to hear it in ceasing to perceive her; then it came back from the distance, augmented by degrees, burst out with full force when she reappeared suddenly under the torrents of light at the spot where one least expects her; and then she advanced so near as to brush us with her dress, making the reawakened castanets clap with deafening volubility, like the humming of locusts, and uttering here and there, in their monotonous clatter, sharp but tender cries which touched the soul.
Again, she withdrew once more, half concealed in the shadow, appearing and disappearing, escaping from our eyes, and seeking to let herself be seen; and then one no longer saw her, one no longer heard aught but a distant and plaintive note like a dying sigh; and we were overcome, trembling with admiration and fear, awaiting the moment when her veil should be dispelled by the motion of the dance and she should come, floating and sparkling, into the light of the torches, or her voice should apprise us of her return by a joyous cry, to which we should reply without willing it, because it made a hundred hidden harmonies vibrate in us.
Then she returned, whirled like a flower detached from its stem by the wind; sprang from the earth as if it rested with her to leave it forever, came down to it again as if it rested with her not to touch it; she did not leap from the ground; you would have thought that she merely spurted upward, and that a mysterious decree of her destiny forbade her to touch it except to flee it. And her head, inclined with an air of caressing impatience, and her arms, curved gracefully as if with appeal and prayer, seemed to implore us to retain her. Sergy yielded, when I was about to yield, to this imperious attraction, and folded her to his bosom.
Stay," said he, "or I die!"
"I go," she replied, "and I die if you do not come! Soul of Ines, do you not come?"
She fell, half sitting, on Sergy's armchair, her hands twined around his neck, and, for this once, she had assuredly ceased to see us.
"Will I come!" cried Sergy. "Eternal death rather than not follow you everywhere!"
"Who loves me follows me," replied Ines, uttering a peal of uncanny laughter.
At the same instant, she picked up her shroud, and we no, longer saw her; the obscurity of the distant parts of the hall had hidden her for the last time.
I threw myself in front of Sergy, and grasped him firmly. Boutraix, brought to himself by his friend's peril, came to second me. Even Bascara got up.
"As your elder," I said to Sergy, "as your old comrade in arms, as your captain, I forbid you to take a step. Do you not see that this woman, who is so seductive, is only the magic means of a hand of robbers, hidden in this terrible castle, to separate us to our destruction? If you were alone and free to dispose of yourself, I could understand your fatal bewilderment, and I could only mourn you; Ines is all that is necessary to justify such a sacrifice. But think that they hope to reduce us by isolating us, and that if we are to die here we ought to die otherwise than in a vile ambush, and should sell our lives dearly to the assassins. Sergy, you belong to us before all; you shall not leave us!"
Sergy; his reason seemingly confounded by many contrary, sentiments, regarded me fixedly, and fell inert in his chair.
"Gentlemen," I then said, with considerable firmness, "there is a secret here which no human intelligence can penetrate. It is hidden, without doubt, in some natural fact, the explanation of which would force us to smile, but which foils the strivings of our minds. Whatever it may be, it behooves us not to lend the authority of our evidence to superstitions unworthy of Christianity and philosophy. It behooves us above all not to compromise the honor of three French officers by describing a very extraordinary scene, for such I admit it to be, but the solution of which, developed sooner or later, would greatly risk exposing us some day to public derision. I swear now on my honor, and I expect the same oath of you, never in all my life to speak of what has taken place to-night, unless the causes of this strange event are made clearly known to me."
"We swear it also," said Sergy and Boutraix.
"I take the Holy Savior as witness," said Bascara, "by the faith which I have in His Holy Nativity, the glorious commemoration of which is now being celebrated, never to speak of it even to my director, under the seal of the sacrament of penitence; and that the name of the Lord may be honored through all the centuries!"
"Amen," returned Boutraix, embracing him with sincere effusiveness. "I beg you, dear brother, not to forget me in your prayers, for, unfortunately I no longer know mine."
The night advanced. An uneasy sleep overcame us one by one. I need not tell you by what dreams it was agitated. The sun rose in the morn in a purer sky than we could have hoped for in the evening, and without exchanging a word, we gained Barcelona, where we arrived at an early hour.
"And then?" said Anastasia.
"And then? Why do you ask? Isn't the story finished?"
"I do not know why it seems to me to lack something more," said Eudoxia.
"What would you like me to tell you? Two days later we returned to Gironne, where we awaited marching orders for the regiment. The reverses of the grand army forced the Emperor to reunite the pick of his troops in the north. There I found myself again with Boutraix, who had become devout since he had talked in person with a soul from Purgatory, and with Sergy, who had not changed in love since becoming infatuated with a phantom. At the first discharge in the battle of Lutzen, Sergy was at my side. He bent over suddenly, and rested his head on my horse's neck, pierced by a mortal wound.
"'Ines,' he murmured, 'I am going to rejoin you,' and breathed his last."
"I suppose," said the prosecutor, "that it may be proper to adjourn if that is agreeable to the ladies."
"Until the next time," I continued, "you can exercise your imagination in seeking the explanation which I promise. I notify you again, however, that this is a true story from beginning to end, and that in all I have told you there is neither the supernatural, nor mystification, nor thieves."
"Nor a ghost?" said Eudoxia.
"Nor a ghost," I returned, rising and taking my hat.
"So much the worse then!" said Anastasia.
"BUT if it wasn't a real apparition," said Anastasia, as soon as I had sat down, "let us know what it was. I have been thinking it over for a month without finding any reasonable explanation for your story."
"Nor I either," said Eudoxia.
"I haven't had time to think about it," said the law student, "but so far as I recall it appertained decidedly to the fantastic."
"There is nothing more natural, however," I said, "and everybody has heard of, or seen, much more extraordinary things than those which remain for me to tell you, if you are disposed to listen to me again."
The circle drew a little closer, for in the long evenings in a little town, one has nothing better to do than to lend ear to odd tales while awaiting sleep. I entered upon the subject:
I told you that peace had been made, that Sergy was dead, Boutraix a monk, and I no longer anything but a petty proprietor at his ease. The arrears of my revenues had almost made me opulent, and a heritage which came on top of the rest enriched me with a ridiculous superfluity. I resolved to spend it in instructive travels and pleasures, and I hesitated a little over the question of what country I should visit; but this was only a feint of my reason struggling against my heart. My heart called me back to Barcelona, and this narrative would form, if it were in its place here, an accessory much longer than the principal.
What is sure is that a letter from Pablo de Clauza, the dearest of the friends I had left in Catalonia, finally decided me. Pablo married Léonore, Léonore was the sister of Estelle, and this Estelle, of whom I shall talk to you very little, was the heroine of a romance of which I shall not talk to you at all.
I arrived too late for the wedding; it had taken place three days before, but it continued, according to custom, in fêtes which were prolonged sometimes beyond the sweetness of the honeymoon. It was not to be so in Pablo's family, for he was worthy of being loved by a very amiable woman, and is as happy to-day as he then hoped to be. This happens occasionally, but one shouldn't brag of it.
Estelle received me as a regretted friend whom one desires to see again, and my relations with her had not occasioned me to expect more, especially after two years' absence, for this happened in 1814, in the interval of that short European peace, which separates the first restoration from the 20th of March.
"We have dined at an earlier hour than usual," said Pablo, "but supper will make amends; that will leave an hour, however, for the cares of the toilet, and there is no one here who wants to make use of the seats which I took for the somewhat unique representation of La Pedrina. This virtuoso is so fantastic! Heaven knows whether she will not elude us to-morrow."
"La Pedrina?" said I, reflectively. "This name has already struck me more than once, and under such memorable circumstances that I shall never lose the recollection of it. Isn't she that extraordinary singer, that still more extraordinary dancer, who disappeared from Madrid after a day of triumph, and of whom no trace was ever afterwards found? She no doubt justifies the curiosity of which she is the object, by talents which suffer no comparison in other theaters; but I avow that a singular occurrence in my life has made me quite blasé to this kind of distraction, and that I am in nowise curious to hear or see La Pedrina herself."
"Just as you prefer," replied Pablo. "I believe, nevertheless, that Estelle is counting on you as an escort."
I forgot that I had sworn to myself that I would never see a dancer again, that I would never hear another singer, after Ines de Las Sierras, but I thought myself sure of seeing and hearing no one but Estelle that day.
I talked for a long time, and I should be much embarrassed to say what they were playing. Even the commotion which announced the entrance of La Pedrina, did not stir me; I remained calm, half covering my eyes with my hand, when the profound silence which had given place to this fleeting emotion was broken by a voice which it was not possible for me to ignore. Ines' voice had never ceased to resound in my ears; it pursued me in my meditations, it lulled me in my dreams; and the voice which I heard was Ines' voice!
I shivered, I uttered a cry, I threw myself against the front of the box, with my gaze fixed on the stage. It was Ines, Ines herself!
My first impulse was to seek to gather to me every circumstance, every fact which could confirm me in the idea that I was in Barcelona, that I was at the play, that I was not, as for every day I had been, for two years, the dupe of my imagination; that one of my habitual dreams had not surprised me.
I forced myself to lay hold on something which might convince me of the reality of my sensations. I found Estelle's hand and pressed it firmly.
"Well," she said, smiling, "you were so sure that you were proof against the seductions of a woman's voice! La Pedrina scarcely begins her prelude, and you are carried away!"
"Are you certain, Estelle," replied I, "that this is La Pedrina here? Do you know beyond doubt that this is a woman, an actress, and not an apparition?"
"In truth," she replied, "it is a woman, an extraordinary actress, a singer such as never before has been seen, possibly, but I do not imagine that there may be nothing more. Your enthusiasm, take care," she added coldly, "has something disturbing for those who concern themselves about you. You are not the first, they say, who has lost his senses at the sight of her, and this weakness of heart probably would not flatter your wife, nor your mistress."
Upon finishing these words she quite withdrew her hand, and I let it escape; La Pedrina sang on.
Then she danced, and my thoughts, carried with her, yielded themselves without resistance to all the impressions she was pleased to give them. The universal intoxication hid my own, but increased it still more; and the whole time which had passed away between our two meetings was lost to our perception, because no sensation of the same sort and of the same strength had renewed the other before; it seemed to me that I was still at the Castle of Ghismondo, but at the Castle of Ghismondo enlarged, decorated, thronged with an immense crowd.
The acclamations which arose on every hand, rang in my ears like the joy of demons. And La Pedrina, possessed by a sublime frenzy, which the Inferno alone could inspire and entertain, continued devouring the floor with her steps, fleeing, returning, flying, driven or brought back by invisible impulses, until, panting, exhausted, prostrated, she fell into the arms of the attendants, murmuring a name which I believed I heard and which echoed sadly in my heart.
"Sergy is dead!" I cried, tears escaping my eyes, as I extended my arms toward the stage.
"You are actually mad," said Estelle, retaining me in my place. "Calm yourself. She is no longer there."
"Mad!" replied I, "can that be so? Have I believed that I saw what I did not see? Believed that I heard what I did not hear? Mad, great Heaven! Separated from mankind and from Estelle by an infirmity which will make me a public topic. Fatal Castle of Ghismondo, is this the punishment which you hold for those so rash as to dare to violate your secrets? A thousand times more fortunate is Sergy, dead on the field of Lutzen!"
I was overcome by these ideas when I felt Estelle's arm slip into mine to leave the spectacle.
"Alas!" I said, trembling, for I was beginning to come to myself, "I must arouse your pity, but I should arouse it much more if you knew a story which it is not permitted me to relate. What has just happened is to me only the continuation of a terrible illusion from which my mind has never been entirely freed. Allow me to keep my thoughts to myself, and, so far as I may, restore them to some order and connection. The pleasures of an agreeable conversation are forbidden me to-day; I shall be calmer to-morrow."
"You shall be just as you like to-morrow," said Pablo, who, in passing close to us had caught my last words, "but you certainly shall not leave us this evening. Nevertheless," he added "I count more on Estelle's persuasion to decide you than on my own."
"Let it be so," she replied. "Will you not consent to give us the time which you had doubtless reserved for occupying yourself with La Pedrina?"
"In Heaven's name!" I cried, "do not mention her name again, my dear Estelle, for the feeling I entertain does not in the least resemble the sentiment which you might suspect, if that indeed is not terror. Why must it be that I cannot explain myself better?"
It was necessary to yield. I was seated at supper without taking part at it, and, as I expected, they spoke only of La Pedrina.
"The interest which this extraordinary woman arouses in you," Pablo said suddenly, "has something so exalted about it that one could scarcely conceive of a possibility of augmenting it. What would it be, though, if you knew of her adventures, part of which, indeed, took place at Barcelona, but at a time when most of us were not established here? You would be obliged to admit that La Pedrina's misfortunes are not less surprising than her talents."
Nobody replied, for all were listening, and Pablo, perceiving it, continued thus:
"La Pedrina did not belong to the class from which her like are usually derived, and in which are recruited those nomadic troupes which destiny devotes to the pleasure of the multitude. Her rightful name has been borne, in past ages, by one of the most illustrious families in old Spain. She is called Ines de Las Sierras."
"Ines de Las Sierras!" I cried, rising from my chair in a state of exaltation difficult to describe. "Ines de Las Sierras! Is it true then! But do you know, Pablo, who Ines de Las Sierras is? Do you know whence she comes, and by what awful privilege she is heard in a theater?"
"I know," said Pablo, smiling, "that she is a rare and unfortunate creature, whose life deserves at least as much pity as admiration. As for the emotion which her name causes you, it in no wise astonishes me, for it is probable that it has struck you more than once in the lamentable complaints of our Romanceros."
The story thus recalled to the memory of our friend [he pursued, addressing himself to the others] is one of those popular traditions of the Middle Ages, which were probably founded on some real facts, or on some specious appearances, and which are maintained from generation to generation in the memory of men, to the extent of acquiring a kind of historical authority. This one, whatever it may be, enjoyed great credit as early as the sixteenth century, since it forced the noble family of Las Sierras to expatriate itself with all its possessions, and to profit by the new discoveries of navigation to transport its domicile to Mexico. What is certain is that the tragic fatality which pursued it was not relaxed in other climes. I have often heard it asserted that for three centuries all of its chiefs died by the sword.
At the beginning of the century in which we are passing the fourteenth year, the last of the noble lords of Las Sierras still lived in Mexico. Death had taken away his wife, and only a daughter six or seven years old, whom he had named Ines, remained to him. More brilliant talents were never announced at a more tender age, and the Marquis of Las Sierras spared nothing to cultivate these precious gifts which promised so much glory and happiness to his old age. Too happy, indeed, if the education of his only daughter could have absorbed all his care and affection; but he felt soon the sad need of filling the profound void of his heart with yet another sentiment.
He loved, believed himself beloved, and was engrossed with his choice; he did more: he congratulated himself that he was giving Ines another mother, and he gave her an implacable enemy. Ines' keen intelligence was not slow in perceiving the difficulties of her new position. She soon learned that the arts, which until then had been only an object of distraction and pleasure, might one day become her sole resource. After that she gave herself up to them with an ardor which was crowned with unexampled success, and at the end of a few years she found no more masters. The most skillful and presumptuous would have felt honored to have received lessons from her; but she paid dearly for this advantage, if it is true that at that time her pure and brilliant mind, worn out by excessive work, began gradually to change, and that fleeting illusions began to betray the disorder of her mind at the moment when she seemed to have nothing more to acquire. One day the inanimate body of the Marquis of Las Sierras was brought home. He had been found, pierced with wounds, in a lonely place, where there was no other circumstance to cast any light on the motive or author of this cruel assassination. Public opinion was not slow, however, in designating a culprit. Ines' father had no known enemy, but before his second marriage he had had a rival, a man who was marked in Mexico by the ardor of his passions and the violence of his character. Everyone named him in his private thoughts; but this universal suspicion could not take the form of an accusation, because it was not justified by any proof. The conjectures of the multitude continued to grow stronger, until the victim's widow was seen, after a few months, to pass to the arms of the assassin, and if nothing since has happened to confirm them, nothing, at least, has diminished the impression.
Ines remained solitary in the house of her fathers, with two persons who were equally strangers, whom a secret instinct rendered equally odious, and to whom the law blindly confided the authority by which it replaced that of her family. The attacks which had occasionally menaced her reason multiplied alarmingly, and nobody was surprised at it, although the greater part of her misfortunes were generally unguessed.
There was a young Sicilian in Mexico who went under the name of Gaetano Filippi, whose former life seemed to hide some suspected mystery. A slight acquaintance with the arts, an ingratiating address marred by frivolity, elegance which betrayed study and affectation, that veneer of politeness which worthy people owe to education, and designing people connect with society, had given him access to circles which his lack of breeding should have closed to him. Ines, scarcely sixteen years old, was too ingenuous and high-minded to penetrate his deceptive exterior. She mistook the confusion of her senses for the revelation of first love.
Gaetano was not at a loss how to make himself known under advantageous titles; he understood the art of procuring what he needed, giving them every appearance of authenticity necessary for fascinating the most skillful and practiced eyes. It was in vain, nevertheless, that he demanded Ines' hand. This unfortunate girl's mother-in-law had formed the project of assuring her fortune; and it is probable that she would not have been scrupulous in choosing the means.
It was with Ines' organization as with all those favored by genius in a superior degree. She combined with the height of her sublime talent the feebleness of character which relies on others for guidance. In the life of the intellect and of art she was an angel. In everyday, practical life, she was a child. The mere semblance of friendly sentiment captivated her heart, and when her heart had submitted, her judgment raised no objections. This disposition of mind is not baleful under happy conditions and wise direction; but the only being to whom Ines could intrust this sway in the sad isolation following her father's death, acted only for her destruction; and therein was the horrible secret that innocence suspects nothing. Gaetano prevailed upon her, almost without effort, to favor an elopement on which he made her welfare seem to depend. There remained no difficulty for him in convincing her that he possessed a great heritage by legitimate right; they disappeared; and after a few months, abundantly supplied with gold, jewels, and diamonds, they arrived at Cadiz.
Here the veil was raised; but Ines' eyes, still dazzled by the false light of love, long refused to see the whole truth. Meanwhile, the circle into which Gaetano had brought her often alarmed her by the license of its principles; she was astonished that the passage from one hemisphere to another could produce such strange differences in manners and language; she timorously sought any thought answering hers in the crowd of libertines and courtesans which composed her habitual society but did not find it.
The ephemeral resources of money, gained by an action in regard to which her conscience was not quite reassured, were beginning, moreover, to slip away, and Gaetano's hypocritical tenderness seemed to diminish with them.
One day she vainly awaited his return, and she waited vainly that night; the following day she passed from uncertainty to fear, from fear to despair; the frightful reality at last completed her misery. He had departed after despoiling her of everything, gone with another woman; he had abandoned her, impoverished, dishonored, and, for a final misfortune, given her up to her own scorn. The resource of lofty pride, which reacts when the soul is without reproach, was broken in Ines. She had taken the name of Pedrina to foil the search of her unworthy parents. "Pedrina let it be!" she said with bitter resolution, "ignominy and shame are mine, for fate has willed it so." She was thereafter only La Pedrina.
You will readily perceive why I cease to follow all the details of her life; she has not revealed them. We shall not rediscover her until that memorable debut at Madrid, which placed her so promptly in the first rank of the most celebrated virtuosos. Enthusiasm was so violent and passionate that the whole city echoed the applause of the theater. The crowd, which had accompanied her to her lodgings with acclamations, would not consent to disperse until having seen her once more at the windows of her apartment.
But that was not all the sentiment that she had excited. Her beauty, which, indeed, was not less remarkable than her talents, had produced a profound impression upon an illustrious personage, who at that time held in his hands a good part of the destinies of Spain, and whom you will permit me not to designate more precisely. Never mind whether this anecdote of an unfortunate life is not sufficiently illumined by my historical conscience, or whether it is distasteful to me to add a weakness, otherwise excusable enough, to the mistakes with which shifting opinion rightly or wrongly taxes fallen kings.
Certainly she did not reappear on the stage, and the favors of fortune were heaped in a few days upon this obscure adventuress, whose shame and misery had been known for a year in the neighboring provinces. One no longer heard of anything but the variety of her toilets, the richness of her jewels, the luxury of her equipage. Contrary to custom, this sudden opulence was pardoned, because there were very few men among her judges who would not have been glad to have given her a hundred times as much.
It is necessary to add, to La Pedrina's honor, that the treasures which she owed to love were not expended in idle fancies. Naturally compassionate and generous, she sought out misfortune to make reparation; she carried succor and consolation to the sad retreat of the poor and the bedside of the sick; she relieved the unfortunate with a grace which added still more to her beneficence; and, although a favorite, she made herself beloved by the people. That is so easy when one is rich!
La Pedrina's name gained too much renown not to reach Gaetano's ears, in the obscure quarter where he had concealed his shameful life. The products of theft and treason, which had so far supported him, had just failed his needs. He regretted having despised the resources which he might have drawn from the subjection of his mistress. He conceived the project of retrieving his mistake at any price, even at the price of a new crime. That was what would cost him the least. He counted on a skill that had been too often exercised to allow him any distrust. He knew Ines' heart, and the wretch did not hesitate to present himself before her.
Gaetano's justification was at first seemingly impossible, but there is nothing impossible to a deigning mind, especially when seconded by the blind credulity of love; and Gaetano was not merely the first man who had made Ines' heart throb; he was the only one she had ever loved. All her bewilderment, too, had left her heart empty and indifferent; and, by a privilege, no doubt very rare, but not unprecedented, she had suffered without being debased.
The romance of Gaetano, absurd as it was, preserved the credit of vanity. Ines had need of believing in it in order to regain some semblance of her vanished happiness, and her mental disposition was that which contents itself with the slightest verisimilitude. It is likely that she did not dare even to consider the objections which crowded into her thoughts for fear of finding one which would prove unanswerable. It is so sweet to be mistaken about a person whom one loves, when one cannot cease to love!
The perfidious villain, moreover, did not neglect any of his advantages. This was his story: He had returned from Sicily, where he had gone to persuade his family to permit his marriage. He had succeeded. His mother her he returned to his apartment. It is certain at least that a violent discussion between them arose in the evening and was renewed several times in the night.
At daybreak Gaetano, pale, agitated, unstrung, had the domestics carry several boxes to a vessel which was due to sail in the morning. He repaired thither himself with a much smaller box which he had enveloped in the folds of his mantle. Upon reaching the vessel he dismissed the men who had followed him, under the pretext of being detained longer by certain arrangements, paid them handsomely for their trouble, and directed them in the most express terms not to trouble madame's sleep before his return. Meanwhile, a great part of the day passed without the stranger reappearing. It was reported that the ship had set sail, and one of the men who had accompanied Gaetano, disturbed by a sinister presentiment, was tempted to assure himself of it. He saw her sails sinking below the horizon.
The silence which continued to reign in Ines' apartment, in the midst of the noises in the house, became disquieting. It was supposed that the door had not been locked from the inside, but from the outside, because the key had not been left in the lock. The host did not hesitate to open the door with a duplicate key, and a horrible spectacle was presented to his eyes. The unknown lady was lying on the bed in the attitude of one who sleeps, and they might have been misled if she had not been bathed in blood. Her bosom had been pierced by a poniard while she slept, and the assassin's weapon was still in the wound.
You will readily pardon me for not having verified these shocking details. They were known at the time to the whole city. What is still unknown to the very persons whom the fate of this unfortunate creature touched the most, for it was only a few days before she was in a state of recovery and capable of bringing the confused memory of her adventures into some order, was that the unfortunate victim of this attempt was the divine Pedrina whom Madrid never forgot, and that La Pedrina was Ines de Las Sierras.
To return to my narrative [continued Pablo], the witnesses gathered at this scene of horror, and the doctors whom they had called on the spot were not long in discovering that the unknown lady was not dead. Care already, late, but hastily given, was so successful that they saw signs of life reawaken in her. Several days were passed, nevertheless, in alternate fear and hope which keenly excited public sympathy.
A month later Ines' recovery seemed entirely established, but delirium, which manifested itself from the moment that she recovered speech, and which was attributed to the effect of high fever, yielded neither to remedies nor to time. The poor creature had been resuscitated in her physical life, but she remained dead in the life of the intellect. She was mad.
A community of holy women received her and continued the solicitous attentions which her state demanded. The object of every regard of an almost providential charity, it was said that she justified it by touching docility, for her alienation had none of that wildness and violence which ordinarily characterize this frightful malady. It was, moreover, frequently interrupted by lucid intervals, more or less prolonged, which from day to day offered better foundation for hopes of her recovery; they became so frequent that much of the attention which had been given to her slightest acts or feelings was relaxed; they grew accustomed, little by little, to leaving her to herself, and she took advantage of this negligence to escape. Anxiety was great, and a search was vigorously carried on; its success at first seemed to be assured.
Ines had attracted attention during the first days of her wanderings by her incomparable beauty, by the natural nobility of her manners, and also by the intermittent disorder of her ideas and of her speech. She had been noticed particularly on account of the singular appearance of her attire, which was composed at haphazard of elegant, but flimsy remnants of her theatrical costume, showy fabrics, but of little value, which the Sicilian had disdained to appropriate, and the odd assortment of which, borrowed from the apparel of luxury, contrasted singularly with the sack of coarse material, which she carried on her shoulder to receive the charity of the people.
They followed her by this means to a little distance from Mattaro, but at that point all trace of her was lost and could not be recovered. Ines had disappeared from all eyes two days before Christmas, and when the profound melancholy of her mind, whenever it was free from the habitual clouds, was recalled, no one hesitated to think that she had ended her days by throwing herself into the sea. This explanation presented itself so naturally that scarcely anyone took the trouble to seek another. The unknown was dead, and the impression which this news made lasted for two days. On the third it grew weaker, like all impressions, and on the day after that it was spoken of no more.
An exceedingly unusual occurrence at that time contributed greatly toward distracting attention from Ines' disappearance and the tragic conclusion of her adventures. There existed in the neighborhood of the town, where the last traces of her had been lost, an old ruined manor known as the Castle of Ghismondo, which the Devil, it was said, had held in his possession for several centuries, and in which, tradition had it, he held a séance every year on Christmas eve.
The existing generation had never seen anything capable of giving any authority to this ridiculous superstition, and folk were no longer disturbed about it; but circumstances which have never been explained restored its claims in 1812. There was no ground for doubting on this occasion that the accursed castle was inhabited by strange guests who indulged without secrecy in the joys of a banquet. A splendid illumination burst at midnight from the apartments, which had been so long deserted, and spread dismay and terror in the neighboring hamlets. Some belated travelers, whom chance had brought under its walls, heard a confused sound of unearthly voices and, at moments, songs of infinite sweetness. The phenomena of a stormy night, the like of which Catalonia did not recall so far advanced in the season, added still more to the solemnity of the strange scene, the details of which credulity and fear did not fail to exaggerate.
Nothing was talked of on the following day and those succeeding, for several leagues around, but the return of the spirits to the house of Ghismondo, and the concurrence of so many witnesses, who were agreed on all the chief circumstances of the event, ended by inspiring the police with well-founded alarm. In truth, the French troops had been recalled from their garrisons to re-enforce the remnants of the army in Germany, and the time might have seemed favorable for a renewal of the attempts of the old Spanish party, which were beginning, moreover, to be fomented in a decidedly appreciable manner in our ill-subjected departments.
The administration, little disposed to share the beliefs of the populace, saw then, in this pretended convention of demons, faithful, to their annual rendezvous, nothing but a gathering of conspirators who were all ready to unfurl once more the flag of civil war. It ordered an immediate visit to the mysterious manor, and this investigation, by evident proofs, confirmed the reports which had occasioned it. They found indications of the illumination and festivities, and they were enabled to conjecture from the number of empty bottles which still garnished the table that the convivial party had been very numerous.
* * * * * * * *
(At this passage in Pablo's narrative, which recalled to my mind the inextinguishable thirst and immoderate libations of Boutraix, I could not contain an impulsive burst of laughter which interrupted him, and which contrasted too oddly with the frame of mind in which he had found me at the beginning of the story, not to occasion him extreme surprise. He regarded me gravely, waiting until I should succeed in repressing my outburst of unseemly gayety, and upon finding me calmer, he continued.)
* * * * * * * *
The meeting, held by such a number of men probably armed, and certainly mounted, for there were also the remains of forage, had become a thing demonstrated to everybody, but none of the conspirators was found at the castle, and all attempts to trace them were unavailing. The authorities have never gained the least light on this singular affair since the epoch when it ceased to be reprehensible, and when it would have been more advantageous to have owned it than it was then necessary to maintain silence. The party which had been charged with this little expedition was getting ready to depart, when a soldier discovered, in one of the subterranean parts of the castle, a girl, strangely clad, who seemed deprived of her reason, and who, far from shunning him, hastened to run to him, uttering some name which he did not remember:
"It is you?" she cried. "How long you have made me wait!" Brought out into the daylight, she recognized her error, and burst into tears.
This young girl you already know was La Pedrina. Her description, sent several days previously to all authorities along the coast, was perfectly familiar to them. They sent her immediately to Barcelona, after having made her submit, in one of her lucid moments, to a strict questioning concerning the inexplicable event of Christmas eve; but it had left in her mind only confused traces, and her evidence, the sincerity of which they could not suspect, served merely to increase the complications of the investigation. It appeared to be proved only that a strange aberration of her disordered imagination had made her seek in the manor of the lords of Las Sierras an asylum guaranteed by the rights of birth; that she had gained entrance to it with difficulty, in profiting by the narrow opening which its battered doors left between them, and that for a few days she had lived on her own provisions; and after that on those which the strangers had abandoned.
As for them, she did not seem to know them; and the description which she gave of their attire, which was not that of any living race, was so improbable that they attributed it without hesitation to a dream which she confounded with reality. What seemed more evident, was that one of the adventurers or conspirators had made a keen impression on her heart, and that only the hope of finding him again gave her courage to continue to live. But she had understood that he was hunted, that his liberty and perhaps his life was menaced, and the most assiduous and obstinate efforts could not tear from her the secret of his name.
* * * * * * * *
This last turn of Pablo's narration recalled, in a new aspect, the memory of a friend whose last word I had received. My bosom swelled, my eyes filled with tears, and I raised my hand to them quickly to conceal my emotion from those around me. Pablo stopped as before and fixed his eyes on me with still more marked attention. I easily divined the idea which he entertained, and I tried to reassure him by a smile. "Be easy," I said to him, "in regard to the alternation of sadness and gayety which your singular story makes me evince. It is only natural in my position, and you will admit it yourself as soon as I have had time to explain it. Go on meanwhile, and pardon me for having interrupted you, for La Pedrina's adventures are not finished."
* * * * * * * *
There remains little more [continued Pablo]. She was taken back to her convent, and placed under more strict surveillance. An old doctor, deeply versed in the study of affections of the mind, whom happy chance had brought to Barcelona, undertook her cure. He perceived at once that it offered great difficulties, for the disorders of a stricken intellect are never graver, and, so to speak, more incurable, than when they result from a profound trouble of the soul.
He persevered unceasingly, because he counted on an auxiliary which shows itself always skillful in relieving grief, time, which effaces all, and which alone is eternal in the midst of our passing pleasures and sorrows. He desired to combine distraction and study with it; he summoned the arts to the relief of the invalid, the arts which she had forgotten, but the impression of which did not fail to reawaken more powerfully than ever in her admirable organization.
To learn, said a philosopher, is perhaps to remember. For her was this saying invented. Her first lesson overcame the hearers with astonishment and admiration, with enthusiasm with fanaticism. Her success extended with rapidity; the intoxication which she evoked gained over her. There are privileged natures for whom glory makes amends for happiness, and this compensation has been marvelously reserved for them by Providence, for happiness, and glory are found rarely combined.
At last she grew well, and was in a condition to tell her benefactor what I have here recited. But the return of her reason would have been for her only a new misfortune, if she had not recovered at the same time the resources of her talent. You may readily imagine that she did not lack for offers, as soon as it was learned that she had decided to devote herself to the theater. Ten different cities threatened to deprive us of her, when Bascara happened to see her and engaged her in his troupe.
"In Bascara's troupe!" I cried, laughing. "Rest assured that she now knows what to think of the redoubtable conspirators of the Castle of Ghismondo."
"That's what you are going to let us understand," replied Pablo, "for you seem to be extremely conversant with these mysteries. Speak, I beg you."
"We can't know about it," said Estelle in a piqued tone. "It's a secret which can't be told to anyone."
"That was true only a moment ago," I replied, "but this moment has worked a great change in my ideas and in my resolutions. I have just been absolved from my oath."
* * * * * * * *
I need not tell you that I then recounted what I told you a month ago, and what you will readily dispense with hearing from me again, even if you haven't any recollection of my first story. I am not capable of making it attractive enough to bear repetition.
"You are at least a good enough logician," said the assistant prosecutor, "to draw some moral conclusion, and I declare that I would not give a straw for the most piquant story if it did not result in any profit to the mind. The good Perrault, your master, knew how to make his most ridiculous tales yield sound and grave morals."
"Alas!" I replied, raising my hands to heaven, "of whom are you talking now? Of one of the most transcendental geniuses who has enlightened mankind since the days of Homer! The romancers of my time, and even the concocters of tales, haven't the presumption to imitate him. I will tell you even, between ourselves, that they would consider themselves greatly humiliated by the comparison. What is necessary for them, my dear prosecutor, is the daily renown which one obtains with money, and money which one always manages to come by, well or ill, when one has renown.
"The moral, so requisite according to you, is the least of their concern. Nevertheless, since you wish it, I am going to end with an adage which I believe to be of my making, although it might be found elsewhere by diligent search, for there is nothing of which it might not be said:
"And, if that doesn't suit you, it will cost me little to borrow one from the Spaniards, so long as I am on their ground:
"That is to say, dear Eudoxia, that, of all things most sure, the most sure is to doubt."
"To doubt, to doubt!" said Anastasia sadly. "A fine pleasure, doubting! Then there aren't any apparitions?"
"You go too far," I replied; "for my adage warns you there might be. I have never had the good luck to see them; but why may not that be reserved for a more complete and highly favored organization than mine?"
"A more complete and favored organization!" cried the assistant public prosecutor. "For an idiot! a fool!"
"Why not, my good prosecutor? Who has given me the measure of human intelligence? Who is the clever Popilius who has said to it: You shall not get out of this circle! If apparitions are falsehood, it is necessary to admit that there is no truth better accredited than this error. All centuries, all nations, all histories bear witness to them; and on what do you repose the notion of what is called truth, if it is not the evidence of histories, of nations, and of centuries?
"I have, besides, on this subject a manner of thinking which is all my own, and which you probably would find very strange, but from which I cannot depart: it is that man is incapable of inventing anything, or, to express it differently, invention with him is only an innate perception of real facts. What is science doing to-day? At each new discovery, it justifies, it authenticates, if one may express it thus, one of the pretended lies of Herodotus and Pliny.
"The fabulous giraffe struts in the King's Garden. I am one of those who incessantly expect the unicorn, dragons, griffins, manicores, and sagittaries no longer constitute a part of the living world, but Cuvier has recovered them all in the world of fossils. Everybody knows that the harpy was an enormous bat, and the poets have described it with a precision which would arouse the envy of Linnæus. As for this phenomenon of apparitions, of which we were speaking just now, and to which I gladly return "
I was about to resume it in fact, and with long developments, for it is a matter on which there is much to be said, when I perceived that the assistant prosecutor had gone to sleep.