THE PURPLE GLASS
The Chevalier Eugène Sabatier was accounted one of the handsomest rogues in all Paris; but he looked neither handsome nor roguish when he stood in the music-room of the Hôtel Beautreillis on the third day of May in the year 1763, and reflected earnestly upon the strange tale which Antonio, the physician, had just told him.
The glorious afternoon was coming to a close then, and the old gardens in the Rue St. Paul began to be filled with the first sweetness of the night. Trees laden with blossoms, bushes with roses, rustled gently as the warm south wind breathed upon them; lengthening shadows upon the grass waged war with the delaying patches of sunlight and drove them inch by inch from the garden. The spires and turrets of the great house shone radiant a little while with fiery beams which struck upon their windows and copper domes and made them like burning beacons above the surrounding streets. In the music-room itself, a soft twilight prevailed; and this was in keeping with the gloom which had come upon those in the chamber.
There were three persons in the great room at that hour; but the young chevalier was the most prominent figure, standing as he did where the deep red light of the setting sun could strike upon the gold and blue of his dragoon's uniform, and even send fire flashing from the heavy brass helmet he held in his hand. As for Mademoiselle Corinne, the mistress of the Hôtel Beautreillis, she sat in a low chair drawn so far behind the curtain of the window that her pretty face was all in a shadow; nor could you distinguish the colour of her robe nor the tint of the lace which hid her exquisitely white neck. But it was plain that she was very serious; and the same might have been said of her old physician Antonio, who sat at a great writing table in the centre of the apartment, and dipped his long quill pen into the ink-horn before him with irritating regularity. Never once did he look at the young officer, nor seem to remember the astonishment which a word of his had just created. And this was the more surprising since that word had told of the officer's death.
“Monsieur,” he had said, “if you go to the Château Saint Mandé to-night, you go to the house of a man who is waiting to kill you.”
The chevalier sprang from his chair, and standing a moment with the crimson light flashing upon his young face, he appeared like one about to resent a savage insult.
“Dieu!” cried he, “do you forget that I am going to the house of my brother?”
“I forget nothing,” answered the old man, without looking up from his paper. “Should you doubt my words, monsieur, it is easy to prove them by continuing your journey immediately to the château. But the proof will be with us—for your body will lie in the Marne before midnight.”
The prophecy was that of one who weighed his words well; but so terrible was it to hear, that long minutes passed and no voice broke the silence in the music-room. As for Eugène Sabatier, he might have been stricken dumb. Doubt, dread, anger, fear—each of these played upon his boyish face in their turn. Saying to himself at one moment that the story was a hideous calumny, in the next he remembered the untold wrongs he had suffered at his brother's hand, and a voice whispered in his ear, “The physician is right.” Corinne, meanwhile, watched her guest with sad eyes and a troubled mind. There was something beyond mere friendship in a glance like that. Had her thoughts been uttered aloud, she would have said, “I love him.” Happily for her, the curtain hid her face, and the pretty flush which added ornament to it. When she spoke, there was scarce a ring of tenderness in her voice.
“Eugène,” she said, for they had been children together, and no formalities stood between them,—“Eugène, do not think that Antonio would jest with you at such a moment. This is no new thing to him. He has known your brother, the Count of Brives, for twenty years. I sent for you to-night to save your life—repay me by forgetting everything but the fortune and the future which to-night may bring you.”
The young soldier, distracted by a hundred thoughts, turned upon her a glance full of affection yet hardly followed her words.
“Corinne,” cried he, “I know that my brother hates me—yet, that he would kill me—mon Dieu, I cannot believe that.”
“Nevertheless,” chimed in the old physician, “he killed your brother Gilbert.”
An exclamation almost of resentment broke from Sabatier.
“Monsieur,” he gasped, “you say—?”
“That your brother Gilbert was poisoned by the Count of Brives in the Château Saint Mandé two years ago to-night.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Sabatier, sinking into a seat and burying his face in his hands, “God grant that you are wrong!”
“Antonio is never wrong,” said Corinne, sadly. “If you ask him, he will tell you that your brother was poisoned three weeks after he became marshal of the palace—an appointment the Count of Brives had applied for but had failed to obtain.”
“In the same way that you, monsieur,” added Antonio, “having been ordered to Westphalia to supplant the count in a command there, will be poisoned by him on the eve of your departure.” The old man spoke with such deliberate emphasis and conviction, his story was so plausible, that Sabatier could suffer it no longer.
“Corinne,” cried he, rising from his seat and suppressing the many emotions which rushed upon his brain, “it is all like a terrible dream to me. I must go home to reason with it. And if it be as you say, then I thank God that my brother is saved from this new crime.”
He held out his hand to her; but she did not take it.
“Eugène,” she exclaimed, “before you go home to-night you have work to do.”
“Which is, Corinne?”
“To avenge your brother Gilbert and to become the Count of Brives.”
Perplexed as he was, Sabatier smiled.
“Oh,” said he, “now you speak to me in riddles. What miracle shall make me Count of Brives to-night?”
“Supper at the Château Saint Mandé is the only miracle necessary, Eugène.”
The young man drew back with an impatient gesture.
“Corinne,” he cried, “is it an hour for jests?”
“I do not jest with you, Eugène,” she answered very tenderly. “Did not I tell you that fortune and a future awaited you to-night? It is for you to say whether you will take the gift or refuse it.”
She spoke very simply, though deep feeling gave a quaver to her voice. As for Sabatier, he began to tell himself that he had lost his wits; and he walked up and down the room like a man distracted.
“Come,” cried he, stopping suddenly at last; “what mystery is this? You say that my brother will poison me, yet you tell me to sup with him. I beseech you be plain with me—oh, do I not suffer enough that you should add to my burden?”
He turned from one to the other appealingly, his distress being so great that tears stood in his eyes, and his voice was husky and broken. But it was the old physician who answered him.
“Monsieur,” said he, laying down his pen for the first time, “you beseech me to be plain with you, and I will hasten to obey your wish. Mademoiselle tells you truly that fortune and a future await you at the Château Saint Mandé to-night; but if they are to be won, they will be won by your own courage. The Count of Brives asks you to his home that he may kill you as he killed your brother Gilbert. If you turn back now, thinking to spare him the crime, you will dishonour your father's memory and add new shame to a house which knew shame for the first time when your eldest brother was born to it. Let me conjure you, then, to do no such thing, but to ride hence at once for the château—”
“Where they will poison me?” interrupted Sabatier, a little angrily.
“Exactly,” continued Antonio, “where they will poison you. But you, if you are careful to do exactly as I bid you, you will awake presently from the death you shall seem to die, and being awakened, will find yourself in twenty hours Count of Brives and master of his fortune.”
Sabatier stood wonder-struck. The old man, excited now by the story he was telling, raised his hand as in warning, and continued rapidly,—
“Monsieur, there is no other in the world who is called, as you are now called, to be God's messenger in this work of vengeance and of right. Go, then, before the clock strikes again, to Saint Mandé; and say to yourself as you enter, 'I am come to avenge my brother Gilbert.' Whatever you see there, whatever may happen to you—fear nothing. The eyes of those that send you to this work will watch you even as you sit. I say no more—the minutes pass swiftly; and what further counsel I can give is written here upon this parchment. Let me exhort you to read every letter of that injunction—not once, but twelve times, as you ride toward the château. For that writing is life or death—as you remember or forget it.”
There was a great stillness in the room when the old man ceased to speak. Sabatier, scarce knowing whether the words were real or the echo of a dream, took with trembling hands the paper which the physician thrust upon him. Then he turned questioningly to Corinne; but she had now risen from her seat, and coming forward she laid her pretty fingers caressingly upon his arm.
“Eugène,” she asked earnestly, “you will avenge your brother?”
“As God is my witness,” he answered, “I will know the truth this night.”
The woods of Vincennes were very dark when Eugène Sabatier passed through them on his way to his brother's house. But his head was too full of terrible thoughts to permit him to notice the state of the night or even the dangers of the road. For the matter of that he had ridden at a hand-gallop from Mademoiselle Corinne's courtyard; and skirting the right bank of the Seine, he drew rein but twice before the grim and forbidding home of the Count of Brives stood up in the valley before him. Then, indeed, with a little shiver of fear he permitted his horse to walk, while he took off his heavy brass helmet and wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Ciel!” he said to himself, “what an errand to go upon! That my brother should be a poisoner. Bah, I will not believe it! Corinne has been too clever for once. That old fool of a physician has deceived her with his nonsense. As well might I expect to be Pope as to step into Charles's shoes and become Count of Brives to-morrow. Yet I cannot forget that poor Gilbert's body was found in the river the morning after he supped at Saint Mandé. God help me—what am I to think?”
He was riding at that moment through a wood of shivering aspens; and what with the strange, haunting music of their leaves, and the darkness of the thicket, and the weird light playing upon the river, whose course he could mark, like a great silver vein of the valley, he began to be more fearful than ever he had been in all his life. And this was surprising, since there was no braver man in Condé's legion than Eugène Sabatier; none readier with the rapier, or more skilled in all those arts which are a soldier's boast. It was the hidden danger—the death in the cup—that now made his heart beat so loudly. He could not hide it from himself that this old man, who had warned him, might be a fool and a boaster. How, he asked himself, if the scheme should fail and his own body be found to-morrow in the Marne? He had little to hope for in life, for he was a penniless soldier, who must make his own future; but so long as he could treasure up in his heart love for little Corinne, he was content to live, and to dream of a day when there should be no gulf of wealth and station between them. That day would come quickly enough if his brother, the Count of Brives, were to die, since the count had neither wife nor child; and title and lands would then descend to him. He remembered that Corinne had promised that all this should happen twenty hours after he had sat down to supper at the château; and he laughed again at the absurdity of her promise. Only when he remembered poor Gilbert did his own courage come back to him; and riding quickly out of the wood he swore that the truth should be hidden no longer.
He was not more than a hundred yards from the gloomy house now; and he could hear the voices of boatmen rising up from the river's bank. Behind him lay Paris, her lights beginning to shine brightly as in joy of the newly come night; before him the road sloped gently toward the Seine, meeting it at last at a point where the Marne flows into the greater stream. He could see his brother's château, which had the shape of an old-time fortress, standing up black and threatening almost at the water's edge. In the distance it appeared to be the stronghold of the hamlet which lay in its shadow; a hamlet of tumbling cottages, with an old Norman church, red-roofed, squat, yet withal picturesque. But when you rode into the one street of this village, you observed that a meadow lay between the great house and its humbler children; and that the former was girded about with a wood of poplars. Indeed, it was a very lonely house, and all the villagers shunned it, as they shunned its melancholy, silent, solitude-loving master, the Count Charles of Brives.
These villagers were all going to their beds when the young captain of Condé's legion rode at a canter through their hamlet. He, on his part, took little notice of them or of their dwellings, so entirely did apprehension of the peril to come play upon his mind. Twice already had he perused the slip of parchment which old Antonio intrusted to him with so solemn a warning; but now, at the mouth of the village, he drew rein for the third time, and holding the paper so that the light from the lantern of the inn fell upon it, he read every word of it again and again; and having read it, he repeated it twenty times aloud, to be sure that his memory had it. There were but three lines of writing in all—done clearly, in great bold characters; and Eugène soon knew them so well that he could say them backwards or forwards as he pleased:—
BEWARE OF THE PURPLE GLASS
THE HALF OF THAT WITHIN IT IS LIFE
THE WHOLE IS DEATH.
“Bah!” said he, tearing the paper into shreds and letting the night wind scatter it, “they tell a tale to frighten children—not men. What an injustice to believe this of my brother until I have something beyond an old man's cackle to go upon. How should he know of a purple glass, and how can there be both life and death within it? I will listen to no such slander, but sup with the count as brother should.”
This was all very well in promise, but the performance was a different matter. Though Sabatier kept telling himself that he had nothing to fear, his heart beat wildly when ultimately he stood at the gate of the château and heard the great bell booming in the tower above him. What, he asked, if that gate, which now shut behind him with such an ominous clang, should never open to his knock again! How if the morn should find his body lapped upon by the waters yonder, sedge grass hiding his face, and the reeds trying vainly to clothe him with warmth! He could not suppress a shudder when a voice whispered in his ear—“All this is possible.” Nor did the croaking welcome of the evil-eyed, stooping, lank old servant, Armand, reassure him.
“The count, my master, awaits you in the salon, monsieur,” said he. “I pray you be careful of the steps—they are, like all else here, a little grown in age. Shall Germain bed your horse, or do you ride away to-night?”
“Ay, surely, Armand; I leave Paris to-morrow, and must be in my own bed before midnight is struck,” answered Eugène, merrily—though his heart sank lower and lower at the gloomy aspect of all he saw about him. “Let the horse have a mouthful of sweet hay and a loosened girth,” he added presently; “who knows that my hand will be steady enough to saddle him when I have done supping with the count!”
The old servant, who had thrown the reins to the lad Germain, looked up quickly at this remark, his toothless mouth opening in a horrid smile.
“Who knows, monsieur?” he said; “there was never one of your race that refused a flask of Armagnac yet. And there is none better in France than the wine in my master's cellars. I pray you follow me lest the supper be already cold.”
With this, he took up his lantern and mounted a steep, tortuous narrow staircase, above which the great black walls of the château loomed forbiddingly. There was a wicket in an old iron-sheathed door at the stair's head, and when they had passed through it, they stood in a vast hall, the walls of which were covered with rusting armour. But the place was forsaken and unlighted, save for the poor rays which fell from the candle in the lantern; and, indeed, the whole house was full of a silence as of the silence of death. It was a tremendous relief to Eugène when at last he entered the great salon and beheld his brother standing near the door to receive him. Every suspicion, every doubt, all the horrid stories he had heard at the Hôtel Beautreillis, were forgotten in a moment. Kinship, even affection, succeeded to them during the instant of warm welcome.
“Brother,” he said, coming forward with a light step, and stooping to kiss the count upon the cheeks,—“brother, it is good to see you again.”
Count Charles suffered rather than returned the greeting. He was a man perhaps of forty years of age: his face pitted with the small-pox; his nose squat and up-turned; his beard short and stubby; his eyes very bright and very small. He wore a suit of black velvet with ruffles of white lace; but his vest was embroidered with silver, and the buttons of it were picked out with diamonds.
“My brother'" said he, his restless eyes blinking the while, “I heard that you were named for a command in Westphalia. It was natural that I should wish to see you before you go.”
It sounded almost like an apology; but Eugène, refusing to notice the hesitation and halting manner, became frankness itself.
“It is true,” he answered, “that I have a command, Charles—though there is little hope left to us of the war. I am sure you wish me God-speed, for I am to have your old company in Condé's legion.”
The count shrugged his shoulders.
“Pah!” said he, curtly, “if you can make those rats fight, you are a clever man. They ran at Minden like deer from the dogs. Let us sit to supper and forget them.”
He led the way to an adjoining dining-room, even a larger chamber than the one they quitted; and they sat together at the end of a long table, feebly lit by eight wax lights. The toothless old man, Armand, waited upon them, like a ghostly image from the gloom in which the greater part of the room was plunged. For a while, neither of the brothers spoke a word, eating silently and scarce looking at one another. The supper itself was of the plainest—a capon, a dish of spinach, some tender slices of venison—and for drink, champagne in long goblets of sparkling cut glass. Eugène said to himself for the second time when he lifted such a goblet and drank deeply of the foaming draught, that old Antonio, the physician to Mademoiselle Corinne, was a fool. There was no such thing as a purple glass upon the table. How, then, could he avoid that within it? They had old him a hag's tale. Surely it was one of pretty Corinne's jests. For a truth, he was half of a mind to hint to his brother the cruel slander put abroad about him; but restraining himself, he began to talk of the Hôtel Beautreillis and of its fascinating mistress.
“You have seen Corinne lately?” he asked indifferently.
The count looked up quickly.
“You speak of Mademoiselle de Montesson?” said he.
“Certainly I do; but I thought you were such good friends.”
Count Charles shrugged his shoulders.
“I know her a little,” said he, with assumed nonchalance, “and you—”
“Oh,” said Eugène, with whole-hearted energy, “I know her very well indeed, brother.”
The count put out his glass that Armand might fill it with champagne. The action helped him to conceal from Eugène the deep flush upon his face, and the angry brightness of his eyes. But he said no word to betray himself, and began cleverly to talk of other subjects with a loquacity quite foreign to him. As for the younger man, though he was quite content now to believe that Corinne had told him a silly story, none the less did the influence of his surroundings weigh heavily upon him. His heart was dark as the great room in which he sat; and just as in that chamber eight candles cast an aureole of light at its centre, so in his own heart was there a glow of light when he remembered his love for pretty Corinne. “Shall I ever see her again?” he asked. A relentless foreboding warned him that he might not. Danger seemed all about him. He knew that his brother hated him—hated him because his mother had loved him; hated him for his looks, his friends, his successes. But he knew then that he hated him most of all because of the word which he had spoken about little Corinne.
Supper was done now; and the count, pushing back his chair from the table, seemed to be in a more generous mood.
“Armand,” he cried to the toothless old serving man, “bring a flask of Armagnac and set glasses. You can go to the lodge then.”
Eugène was surprised at the request.
“Do you live here alone, brother?” he asked.
“Certainly,” replied the count; “am I not a soldier who has been alone all my life?”
It was a bitter question, and Eugène shuddered—he knew not why. Far from fearing his brother now, he pitied him, and would have been very glad to say so; but just when the word was upon his lips, Armand returned with the flask of the wine of Armagnac and two long glasses, which he wiped and set carefully upon the table. Eugène observed their colour immediately. They were of a deep purple tint. “Ciel!” he murmured to himself, while his heart beat fast and the blood rushed to his brain, “the purple glass." In the same instant, Armand left the room; and a little while after a gate in the courtyard was shut with a loud clang. The brothers were alone in the house of gloom.
The count was the first to speak. He had the flask of wine in his hand; and Eugène, who watched him like one fascinated, observed that his arm trembled when he raised it.
“Come,” said he, in a thick, unnatural voice, “there is no finer Armagnac in Paris than this. Let me give you some.”
Eugène bowed his head. His face was almost livid now. For that which he must suffer, he cared nothing. He would sooner have died there and then than make sure of so horrible a truth. “My brother a poisoner,” he said to himself a a hundred times, “oh, what shame, what dishonour!”
The count filled his glass and pushed it over to him. Eugène was surprised to see that his brother helped himself also to the wine, drinking the half of a glass at a draught. The action reassured him. “They have told me a lie,” he said to himself for the twentieth time—and with this upon his lips and the warning of old Antonio ringing in his ears like a knell, he lifted the purple glass and drank from it. “The half is life,” said the voice. Eugène drank exactly one half and put the glass upon the table. The count did not appear to notice the action.
“So you leave Paris to-morrow?” said he, pleasantly.
The dragoon answered incoherently. A strange joy began to quicken the blood in his veins. He had looked to fall senseless after drinking the wine, but to his amazement nothing happened. Rather he felt elated, eager to talk nonsense, light-headed as a child. “Pish,” said he to himself, “what a calumny to spread!” The reaction was terrible, overwhelming. He had the desire to rise and embrace his brother. He spoke of little Corinne freely—even of his love for her. The count replied in monosyllables. He, too, was watching, but the light of long years of hate was in his eyes. The moment of his vengeance had come, he said.
Five minutes had passed now since Eugène drank the wine; five minutes which he declared were the happiest in his life. But, of a sudden, his joy was turned to great fear; his words were broken on his lips; cold sweat started to his forehead; his heart quickened with a pulse of weakness. In that instant he knew that the old physician had not cheated him. Death himself seemed to have touched him upon the forehead. A dreamy, irresistible sleep stole upon him, surely. Everything in the room was still clear to his eyes; but the power of action and of speech was becoming less every moment. He felt that he was sinking down into unconsciousness. “Oh,” he moaned, “I shall never see little Corinne again.” All his love for her was magnified a thousand times at the thought. He clenched his hands and swore that he would not die. With a last effort, and a last loud cry, he raised himself from his chair—only to fall headlong at his brother's feet; and to lie there, seeing all, hearing all, but unable to move a limb or utter a word.
The Count of Brives, who had waited for the moment, rose for the first time since his brother had drunk the wine. Eugène, lying there in the trance which the poison put upon him, could observe all the other's actions—and he watched him as a prisoner may watch a captor from whom he has no hope of mercy. Deliberately and with all the nerve of a man grown callous to crime, the count began to finish his work. He put out the lights upon the table one by one, until a single candle alone lighted the vast chamber. Then, taking this candle in his hand, he bent over the body before him and looked at it with a malignity woeful to see.
“Pah!” he said, placing the light upon the table again, “Condé's legion will want a captain to-morrow, and Corinne a lover. He brought it upon himself—why should I pity him?”
The dragoon heard the words very plainly, and the hate in them added to that which he suffered. It was true, then, as Antonio had told him, that his brother meant to kill him when he asked him to the Château Saint Mandé. He recollected at the same time that the old man had prophesied things which he did not understand at the moment of their utterance. “You will awake presently from the death you shall seem to die, and being awakened, will find yourself in twenty hours Count of Brives and master of his fortunes.” Or again: “The eyes of those that send you to this work will watch you even as you lie.” Would he, indeed, he asked himself, wake again from this paralysis which had fallen upon heart and tongue and limb? Did some friendly eyes indeed watch him as he lay there in all the agony of a trance? He could not answer; could do nothing but think of little Corinne and pray that he might see her once again.
The Count of Brives had opened the window of the salon now, and the cool air of the May night flooded the chamber refreshingly. Eugène heard his brother pass out into the garden beyond, and when he returned to the table he had a lantern in his hand. Nerved by all the resolution of daring and cruelty, he was quick to act, that his crime might be hidden from men and from his own eyes. Ever and anon Eugène could observe his pale face as he moved swiftly about the room, or listened with strained ear to catch any sound in the house. But the silence of ultimate night reigned in the château. No human thing moved there. Not a clock ticked, not a door creaked. The wind moaned its song of solitude in the poplars of the garden—but the count was alone with his victim.
Twice he walked up to the body of the man he believed to be dead; twice he drew back with a tremor of nerve and a gesture of repugnance. When at last his iron will conquered, he stooped quickly, and bringing all his great strength to the work, he began to drag the body toward the window. It was a horrid effort even for him; and he had but begun it when a loud sound, like the sound of a door shutting in a chamber above, caused him to spring up with a great cry, and to stagger from the room as though unnumbered phantoms had come about him to proclaim the deed. Eugène heard the sound well enough, and began to hope for the second time. “They watch me, they watch me!” he cried,—“oh, how I need my courage!—if they should be too late!” The thought was unbearable, almost maddening; the agony of the bondage of helplessness greater than any man could conceive. He prayed for unconsciousness, even for death—but these were denied to him. The drug had quickened his life—and yet had robbed him of all that which life is.
In this the mood of fear unspeakable, he lay and listened while his brother passed quickly from room to room, opening and shutting the doors loudly, and often crying “Who goes there?” as though he was sure that some one else had entered the château. Nor was the count content until he had searched even the garrets, and had told himself a hundred times that the wind cheated him in his alarm. When at last he returned to the dining-room, his step was stronger and his will more sure. He picked up the body now as though it had been a common burden, and staggering from step to step down the stairs upon which the window opened, he dragged it into the garden, and so out into the moonlight, which fell plenteously upon the damp grass. There for a moment he stood panting for his breath and shading his eyes, that he might see more clearly into the garden. As for Eugène, he had felt the strength of the arms which clasped him so surely; and now when he lay stiff and voiceless upon the grass, he said that death had become his neighbour. “He means to throw my body in the Seine,” he thought; “they will come too late—they have left me to die—what cruelty!—what a night of suffering!” Had a voice then been given to him, he would have screamed in his terror. But the drug had tied his tongue; the trance held him too surely—he was dead, yet suffered as the living rarely have suffered.
He picked up the Body and staggered down.
Once more the count stooped to his dreadful work. The spot whereon he stood was scarce a hundred yards from the black waters of the Seine. There was to be no delay this time. Turning his eyes away that he might not look upon his brother's face again, he gripped him by the left arm and began to drag him toward the river. Two paces he took; his foot was raised for a third—when the second omen of the night sent him staggering back from his burden like one stricken with a mortal sickness. The omen was nothing less than the sound of his name uttered from a window high up in the looming wall of the château. Clear above the river's moaning and the song of the poplars, the call came:—
“Monsieur le Comte, Monsieur le Comte, where is your brother Eugène?”
The count turned round on his heel—a cry frothed upon his lips—he reeled backward, backward, saying that the judgment of God was upon him. The château, which had been dark when he left it five minutes before, was now blazing with light. Every room on the upper story shed bright golden rays from its windows. Seen in the strong moonlight, the great house had become like a palace of the fairies. The panes of glass were so many stars shining in a setting of black stone; the very attics were beacons to guide those far away in the valley. More than all, a man clothed from head to foot in black stood plain to be seen at a casement above the salon; and he it was who called to Count Charles,—
“Monsieur le Comte, Monsieur le Comte, where is your brother Eugène?”
The count heard the call, and for a moment terror convulsed him. But fury was quick to prevail above fear; and with a great oath upon his lips, he drew a dagger and ran back to the château. In the same instant, the man in black disappeared from the window; and Eugène, watching it all with a hope not to be described, observed that the bushes near to him on the lawn opened suddenly, and that men came out of them. The face of the first of these new-comers was hidden by a mask; but when the man stooped presently to pour the contents of a phial upon the dragoon's lips, the mask slipped and Eugène knew that old Antonio was at his side.
“My son,” said the old man, watching the red drops fall upon the feverish lips, “awake—and sleep.”
“Ciel! is it thou, Antonio?” murmured Eugène, knowing that the trance had passed from him the moment the drops fell, “Oh, blessed be God—I live—I live!”
That minute was the most exquisite of his life; but scarce had he realised the meaning of it when a sweet unconsciousness stole upon him, and he slept. And so sleeping, the men raised him in their arms and carried him quickly out of the garden.
The afternoon of the following day was drawing to its close when Eugène Sabatier awoke from his deep sleep. A ray of burning sunlight striking down through the open window of his room in the Rue Charles V., fell at length upon his eyes, and caused him to turn uneasily upon his bed. A moment later, he sat upright and began to stare about him with the air of one who is not quite sure either of the hour or of his environment. In which operation, he encountered the gaze of his servant Barnardin, who stood at the bed's head as though he had long been awaiting the moment.
“Sir,” said the valet, advancing with his master's clothes, “it is five o'clock, and you know that we leave Paris at eight. Will you be pleased to rise?”
“Diavolo!” cried Eugène, springing from the bed with a light step—and he was very much surprised to find how strong he was—“have I slept long, Barnardin?”
Barnardin shook his head.
“You were away from home when I left here at ten o'clock last night, my master,” said he; “but when I brought your coffee at eight o'clock this morning you slept so soundly that I could not wake you.”
The dragoon began to dress himself quickly, remembering only that he had orders to leave Paris at eight o'clock that night.
“Sang-bleu!” muttered he to himself, “I must have supped in some cabaret—and drunk too much Armagnac. What a thing to dream—that my brother poisoned me! Pah! it was a fool's sleep, and I am paid for my folly. And yet I could swear that I talked with Corinne at her house yesterday, and that she promised to make me Count of Brives in twenty hours. Dame! I am like to wait long for that!”
The reflection made him a little gloomy, reminding him as it did how small had been fortune's gifts to him, and how childish was his hope that he might ever speak to Corinne of his love for her. Were he Count of Brives, then would it be a very different thing; for he could hurry back from the war and make haste to deal with those estates which Count Charles treated so ill. But he told himself again and again that all his visions of the night had been phantoms of sleep come to torment him with illusions and vain words. He was still Eugène, the dragoon—with scarce ten gold pieces in his pocket and no prospect for the future save that which the war offered to him. Little Corinne remained the mistress of the Hôtel Beautreillis and of the great station which her possessions gave to her. What folly to dream that he might ever tell her that he loved her!
Saying this to himself, he made a hurried meal; and all being ready, set out for the Barrière du Trône when the clocks of Paris were striking half-past six. His baggage had gone already in the waggons of the regiment, which he was to join at Chalons; and he rode now accompanied only by his servant Barnardin, who led his second charger. Many turned in the streets to look at the handsome dragoon in the sky-blue uniform; many muttered, “There goes that rogue Sabatier to the wars;” but Eugène noticed none of them. A deep depression weighed him down; his accustomed gaiety and readiness of speech had forsaken him; he struck again into the heart of the woods of Vincennes, and the silence of the thickets was like balm to his weary mind. He was absolutely convinced that the events of the dreadful night were the events of a dream. He remembered that he must pass his brother's château on his way to Chalons. “I will call and ask a God-speed of him,” said he to himself; “I owe him that for allowing myself ever to repeat so cruel a calumny.”
He had come by this time to that little place upon the hill whence he could look down to the Seine, and observe the gloomy towers of his brother's house. Here, despite his resolution, a shudder of fear trembled upon all his limbs. Strange as he thought it, the dream seemed more real with every mile he rode. He could have sworn that he stood last night upon that very spot; he remembered the blood-red light upon the river; the shiver of the aspens; the foreboding which possessed him. Angry with himself that these thoughts prevailed, he set spurs to his horse, and rode at a gallop toward the village.
“A plague upon it,” said he, “it was a dream, a silly dream. I did not sup with my brother, and never shall I be Count of Brives—fool that I am to think of it!”
“Monsieur,” said a voice at his side, “permit me to tell you that you are mistaken.”
Eugène checked his horse and looked round quickly. He saw to his astonishment that a man who wore a rich dress of black cloth, and a black plumed hat, rode at his side upon a magnificent beast who kept pace with the other as easily as though he had been walking for the show of it in the Place Louis Quinze.
“Monsieur,” said the dragoon, civilly, “you said—?”
“That you are very much mistaken, sir,—you did sup with your brother last night, and you will be Count of Brives before the clock strikes again.”
The words were spoken with such a fine air that Sabatier began to ask himself if this were some new apparition come to cheat him as the others had done.
“Oh,” cried he, impatiently, “what mystery is all this! Am I in my senses, or do I still sleep?”
He reined in his horse, and the stranger came close up to his side.
“Monsieur,” said he, “you neither sleep nor dream. Ask yourself no such silly question. It is quite true that your brother attempted to poison you last night with a flask of Armagnac in which, as the physician Antonio would tell you, there were four grains of one of the most deadly drugs known to the East. You, however, remembering the warning, drank but a half of the glass set before you—and so you become Count of Brives.”
“I?” cried Eugène, impatiently, “I become Count of Brives?”
“Exactly,” said the other; “you have only to ride to yonder château to make it your own.”
The dragoon laughed scornfully.
“Pah!” said he, “how could the wine have been poisoned when my brother drank of it; and how could your physician know what the flask contained?”
The man in the plumed hat betrayed no sign of impatience.
“Monsieur,” said he, slowly, “you ask me two questions, and I will answer them. We knew what the wine contained because Armand, your brother's servant, has long been good enough to sell us for money an account of your brother's life. Three weeks ago the Count of Brives was offered by an agent of my mistress, Mademoiselle Corinne, a preparation of the poppy leaf brought from Yezd. So fatal is this to those whose bodies are not fortified against it by the continued and gradual habit of eating the drug, that two-thirds of a grain will kill the strongest man. You, however, drinking but a half of that which was offered to you, suffered but a passing loss of your senses. It is obvious to you that the count, having been long in the East and accustomed to the use of opium, could drink that which would mean the death of another not so prepared. The draught last night steeled his will to the dreadful crime he sought to commit. You, however, succumbed to it; and never, I swear, did the living wear the cloak of the dead as you wore it in the Château Saint Mandé.”
Sabatier groaned at the remembrance. It seemed to him that he began to suffer the terror of the garden for the second time.
“Ciel!” cried he, “it is all a miracle—I cannot believe it—I cannot.”
“It is no miracle,” said the stranger, solemnly; “it is the hand of Almighty God avenging your brother who was slain. Go then to the château—but go alone, that the eyes of no other may witness the deed which must be. I wait here until yonder church bell shall tell me that you are Count of Brives.”
He pointed with outstretched arm to the gate of the darkening house upon whose blackened walls the last crimson rays of the setting sun were dying down quickly. As Eugène rode away, he remembered that he had seen the stranger before, and he said—it was he who called from the window last night—“Monsieur le Comte, Monsieur le Comte, where is your brother Eugène?” Drawn on at the recollection as by a fatality, eager to prove, to make sure, now buoyed up with hope, now trembling with excitement, he galloped through the street of the village, and never drew rein until his hand was upon the bell at the outer gate of the château and the birds were winging upward at his clamorous peal. As it had been last night—that night of nights—so was it to-day. The toothless old Armand gave him welcome; the lad Germain held his horse. Nothing seemed altered in the great house; nothing of its silence nor of its mystery. But Sabatier's heart beat until his whole body shook with the pulsations; and so great was his dread that he could scarce frame the question—
“Where is my brother, the count?”
“Monsieur,” said the old man, with a horrible leer, “your brother awaits you in the garden.”
Bidding him stay where he was, Sabatier ascended the rotting staircase and passed rapidly through the hall. “I will know the truth, I will learn all,” he said to himself—determined now that the mystery should blind him no more. Many as were his sensations while he strode across the great dining-room to the garden beyond, he quitted them all in the greater doubt—“Can this thing have been?” And doubting of it to the last, he opened the window and so beheld his brother.
The count was dressed as he had been on the previous evening; but his eyes were now bloodshot and inflamed; his step halting and restless; his hair dishevelled. When Sabatier saw him thus, he was walking, with bent head, to and fro upon the grass plot by the bushes; but his glance was ever upon the ground, and he muttered unceasingly, “Where is my brother Eugène?” This haunting cry had been upon his lips through every hour of that dreadful night. He had never left the scene of his crime—had touched no food, had spoken no word. From the moment when he discovered that some unseen eye watched him in his horrid task—the Count of Brives lost his reason.
“Oh, my God!” cried Eugène, aloud, moved to exceeding pity by a sight so woeful, “my brother is mad.”
The count heard the cry and looked up. For one long-drawn instant he stood quite still; then, with a moan upon his lips, he began to walk backwards down the garden. But at the third step, he fell heavily upon the grass.
“Brother,” said Eugène, running to his side,—“brother, I forgive.”
It was a word of surpassing love—but the heart of the Count of Brives had ceased to beat when it was spoken.
When Eugène Sabatier rode from the Château Saint Mandé that night to join the army at Chalons, the villagers cried after him,—
“Bon soir, Monsieur le Comte.”
And the bells of the little church soon told all Paris that Charles, Count of Brives, was no more.