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The Deserted House - Harper's

 

HAVING been detained by the illness of a relative at the small town of Beziers, when traveling a few years since in the south of France, and finding time hang somewhat heavily on my hands during the slow progress of my companion's convalescence, I took to wandering about the neighborhood within a circle of four or five miles, inspecting the proceedings of the agriculturists, and making acquaintance with the country-people. On one of these excursions, seeing a high wall and an iron-gate, I turned out of my road to take a peep at the interior through the rails; but I found them so overgrown with creepers of one sort or another, that it was not easy to distinguish any thing but a house which stood about a hundred yards from the entrance. Finding, however, that the gate was not quite closed, I gave it a push; and although it moved very stiffly on its hinges, and grated along the ground as it went, I contrived to force an aperture wide enough to put in my head. What a scene of desolation was there! The house, which was built of dark-colored bricks, looked as if it had not been inhabited for a century. The roof was much decayed, the paint black with age, the stone-steps green with moss, and the windows all concealed by discolored and dilapidated Venetian blinds. The garden was a wilderness of weeds and overgrown rose-bushes; and except one broad one, in a right line with the main-door of the house, the paths were no longer distinguishable. After surveying this dismal scene for some time, I came away with a strange feeling of curiosity. "Why should this place be so entirely deserted and neglected?" thought I. It was not like a fortress, a castle, or an abbey, allowed to fall into ruins from extreme age, because no longer appropriate to the habits of the period. On the contrary, the building I had seen was comparatively modern, and had fallen to decay merely for want of those timely repairs and defenses from the weather that ordinary prudence prescribes. "Perhaps there is some sad history attached to the spot," I thought; "or perhaps the race to whom it belonged have died out; or maybe the cause of its destruction is nothing more tragical than a lawsuit!"

As I returned, I inquired of a woman in the nearest village if she could tell me to whom that desolate spot belonged.

"To a Spaniard," she answered; "but he is dead!"

"But to whom does it belong now?" I asked. "Why is it suffered to fall into ruin?"

"I don't know," she said, shaking her head, and re-entering the hovel, at the door of which she had been standing.

During dinner that day I asked the host of the inn if he knew the place, and could satisfy my curiosity. He knew it well, he answered. The last inhabitant had been a Count Ruy Gonzalez, a Spaniard, whose wife had died there under some painful circumstances, of which nobody knew the particulars. He had been passionately fond of her, and immediately after her decease had gone to reside in Paris, where he had also died. As the place formed part of the lady's fortune, it had fallen into the hands of some distant relation of hers, who had let it; but the tenant, after a residence of a few months, left it, at some sacrifice of rent; and other parties who subsequently took it having all speedily vacated under one pretext or another, an evil reputation gathered round and clung to it so tenaciously, that all idea of occupation had been relinquished.

It may be conceived that this information did not diminish my interest in the deserted house; and on the following day I was quite eager to see my invalid settled for her mid-day slumber, in order that I might repeat my visit, and carry my investigations further. I found the gate ajar as before, and by exerting all my strength, I managed to force my way in. I had not gone three steps before a snake crossed my path, and the ground seemed actually alive with lizards; but being determined to obtain a nearer view of this mysterious house, I walked straight on toward it. A close inspection of the front, however, showing me nothing but what I had descried from a distance, I turned to the left, and passed round to the back of the building, where I found the remains of what had been a small flower-garden, with a grass-plot; and beyond it, divided by a wall, a court surrounded by mouldy-looking stabling: but, what was much more interesting, I discovered an open door leading into the house. Somebody, therefore, must surely be within; so I knocked with my parasol against the panel, but nobody came; and having repeated my knock with no better success, I ventured in, and found myself in a stone passage, terminating in a door, which, by a feeble light emitted through it, I saw was partly of glass.

"Any body here?" I said aloud, as I opened it and put in my head, but all was silent: so I went forward, not without some apprehension, I confess; but it was that sort of pleasing terror one feels when witnessing a good melodrama. I was now in a tolerably-sized hall, supported by four stone pillars, and on each side of it were two doors. I spoke again, and knocked against them, but nobody answered; then I turned the handles. The first two I tried were locked, but the third was not. When I saw it yield to my hand, I confess I felt so startled that I drew back for a moment; but curiosity conquered—I looked in. The dim light admitted by the Venetian blinds showed me a small apartment, scantily furnished, which might have been a salon or an ante-room. Two small tables standing against the wall, a few chairs covered with yellow damask, and a pier-glass, were all it contained; but at the opposite end there was another open door: so, half-pleased and half-frightened, I walked forward, and found myself in what had formerly been a prettily-furnished boudoir. Marble slabs, settees covered with blue velvet, chairs and curtains of the same, and three or four round or oval mirrors in elaborately-carved gilt frames, designated this as the lady's apartment. A third door, which was also open, showed me a bed in an alcove, with a blue velvet dais and a fringed counterpane of the same material. Here I found a toilet-table, also covered with what had once been white muslin, and on it stood several China-boxes and bottles. In one of the former there were some remains of a red powder, which appeared to have been rouge; and on lifting the lid of another I became sensible of the odor of musk. The looking-glass that stood on the table had a drapery of muslin and blue bows round the frame; and the old-fashioned mahogany chest of drawers was richly gilt and ornamented. None of these rooms was papered; all appeared to be plastered or stuccoed, and were elaborately adorned with designs and gilt mouldings, except in one place, which seemed to have formerly been a door—the door of a closet probably; but it was now built up—the plaster, however, being quite coarse and unadorned, and not at all in keeping with any thing else in the room. It was also broken, indented, and blackened in several places, as if it had been battered with some heavy weapon. Somehow or other, there was nothing that fixed my attention so much as this door! I examined it—- I laid my hand upon it. Why should it have been so hastily built up, to the disfigurement of the wall? for the coarseness of the plaster and the rudeness of the work denoted haste. I was standing opposite to it, and asking myself this question, when I heard a heavy foot approaching; and before I had time to move, I saw the astonished face of an elderly man in clerical attire standing in the doorway. I believe he thought at first I was the ghost of the former inhabitant of this chamber, for he actually changed color and stepped back.

"Pardon, mon père!" said I, smiling at his amazement: "I found the door open; and I hope you will excuse the curiosity that has led me to intrude?"

"Une Anglaise!" said he, bowing; "a traveler, doubtless. You are the first person besides myself that has entered these apartments, madame, for many a long year, I assure you!"

After giving him an explanation of how I came to be there—an explanation which he listened to with much kindness and placidity—I added, that the appearance of the place, together with the little information I had gathered from the host of the inn, had interested me exceedingly. He looked grave as I spoke. I was about to question him regarding the closed door, when he said: "I do not recommend you to remain long here: the house is very damp; and as the windows are never opened, the air is unwholesome." I do not know whether this was an excuse to get rid of me; but the atmosphere was certainly far from refreshing, and at all events I thought it right to accept the intimation; so I accompanied him out, he locking the doors behind him. As we walked along, he told me that he visited the house every day, or nearly so; and that he had never thought of shutting the gate, since nobody in the neighborhood would enter it on any account. This gave me an opportunity of inquiring into the history of the place, which, if it were not impertinent, I should be very glad to learn. He said he could not tell it me then, having a sick parishioner to visit; but that if I would come on the following day, at the same hour, he would satisfy my curiosity. I need not say that I kept the appointment; and as I approached the garden-gate, I saw him coming out.

"A walk along the road would be more agreeable than that melancholy garden," he said; and, if I pleased, he would escort me part of the way back. So we returned, and after a few desultory observations, I claimed his promise.

"The house," he said, "has never been inhabited since I came to live in this neighborhood, though that is now upward of forty years since. It belonged to a family of the name of Beaugency, and the last members of it who resided here were a father and daughter. Henriette de Beaugency she was called: a beautiful creature, I have been informed, and the idol of her father, whose affection she amply returned. They led a very retired life, and seldom quitted the place, except to pay an annual visit to the other side of the Pyrenees, where she had an elder brother married to a Spanish lady of considerable fortune; but Mademoiselle Henriette had two companions who seemed to make her amends for the absence of other society. One was a young girl called Rosina, who had been her foster-sister, and who now lived with her in the capacity of waiting-maid; the other was her cousin, Eugène de Beaugency, an orphan, and dependent on her father; his own having lost every thing he possessed, in consequence of some political offense previous to the Revolution. It was even reported that the Beaugency family had been nigh suffering the same fate, and that some heavy fines which had been extracted from them had straitened their means, and obliged them to live in retirement. However this might be, Henriette appeared perfectly contented with her lot. Eugène studied with her, and played with her; and they grew up together with all the affection and familiarity of a brother and sister; while old M. de Beaugency never seems to have suspected that any other sentiment could possibly subsist between them: not that they took the slightest pains to disguise their feelings; and it was their very openness that had probably lulled the father's suspicions. Indeed, their lives flowed so smoothly, and their intercourse was so unrestrained, that nothing ever occurred to awaken even themselves to the nature of their sentiments; while the affection that united them had grown so gradually under the parent's eyes, that their innocent terms of endearment, and playful caresses, appeared to him but the natural manifestations of the relation in which they stood to each other. The first sorrow Henriette had was when Eugène was sent to Paris to study for the bar; but it was a consolation that her own regret scarcely exceeded that of her father; and when she used to be counting the weeks and days as the period of his return drew nigh, the old man was almost as pleased as she was to see their number diminish.

"All this harmony and happiness continued uninterrupted for several years; but, at length, an element of discord, at first slight, seemed to arise from the appearance on the scene of a certain Count Ruy Gonzalez, who came here with the father and daughter after one of their annual excursions into Catalonia. He was an extremely handsome, noble-looking Spaniard, of about thirty years of age, and said to be rich; but there was an air of haughty, inflexible sternness about him, that repelled most people, more than his good looks and polished manners attracted them. These unamiable characteristics, however, appeared to be much modified, if not to vanish altogether, in the presence of Mademoiselle de Beaugency, to whom it soon became evident he was passionately attached; while it was equally clear that her father encouraged his addresses. Even the young lady, in spite of her love for her cousin, seems to have been not quite insensible to the glory of subduing this magnificent Catalonian, who walked the earth like an archangel in whom it was a condescension to set his foot on it. She did not, therefore, it is to be feared, repress his attentions in the clear and decided manner that would have relieved her of them—though, indeed, if she had done so, considering the character she had to deal with, the dénouement might not have been much less tragical than it was. In the mean while, pleased and flattered, and joyfully anticipating her cousin's return, she was happy enough; for the pride of the Spaniard rendering him cautious to avoid the possibility of refusal or even hesitation in accepting him, he forebore to make his proposal till the moment arrived when he should see it eagerly desired by her. All this was very well till Eugène came home; but then the affair assumed another color. Love conquered vanity; and the Spaniard, finding himself neglected for the young advocate, began to exhibit the dark side of his character; whereupon the girl grew frightened, and fearing mischief, she tried to avert it by temporizing—leading the count to believe that the affection betwixt herself and her cousin was merely one of early habit and relationship; while she secretly assured Eugène of her unalterable attachment. So great was her alarm, that she tacitly deceived her father as well as the Spaniard; and as the latter seemed resolved not to yield his rival the advantage his own absence would have given him, she was actually rejoiced when the period of her cousin's visit expired.

"The young man gone, Ruy Gonzalez resumed his former suavity of manner; and as he possessed many qualities to recommend him in a lady's eyes, he might possibly have won her heart had it been free; but as the matter stood, she ardently desired to get rid of him, and waited anxiously for the moment when he would give her an opportunity of declining his hand, trusting that would be the signal for his final departure. But whether from caution, or because he had penetrated her feelings, the expected offer was not made, although he assiduously continued his attentions, and spent more of his time at her house than at his own in Catalonia. At length Mademoiselle de Beaugency began to apprehend that he intended to wait the result of his observations at her cousin's next visit; and feeling quite assured that if the rivals met again, a quarrel would ensue, she persuaded her father to select that season for their own visit to her brother; while she wrote to Eugène, excusing their absence, and begging him not to come to see her at present. It is true, all this was but putting off the evil day; but she had a presentiment of mischief, and did not know what to do to avert it; the rather that she was aware both her father and brother wished to see her married to the count, and that neither of them would consent to her union with Eugène, who had no means of supporting her, nor was likely to have for some years to come. It was not to be expected that this arrangement should be agreeable to the young lover: it was now his turn to be jealous; and instead of staying away as he was desired, he set out post-haste with the fixed determination of following them from their residence to Catalonia, and coming to an immediate explanation with the count. But his jealous pangs were appeased, and all thoughts of revenge postponed, by finding his uncle at the last extremity, his mistress in great distress, and Ruy Gonzalez not with them. Their journey had been prevented by the sudden seizure of M. de Beaugency, who, after a few days' suffering, expired in his daughter's arms, quite ignorant of her attachment to her cousin, and with his dying breath beseeching her to marry the count. When his affairs began to be looked into, the motive for this urgency became apparent. He had been living on the principal of what money he had; and nearly all that remained of his dilapidated fortunes was this house and the small piece of ground attached to it. This was a great disappointment to the young couple, who, previous to their discovery, had agreed to be married in six months—the lady believing her fortune would be sufficient to maintain them both. But now marriage was out of the question till Eugène had some means of maintaining her. At present, he had nothing; he was an advocate without a brief, and had been hitherto living on the small stipend allowed by his uncle; starving himself three-quarters of the year, in order that he might have the means of spending the other quarter at the Beaugency mansion. And what a long time might elapse before he could make any thing by his profession! It was, as they both agreed, désespérant.

"These events occurred in the early years of the French Republic, when France was at war with all the world, and soldiering the best trade going. 'I'll enter the army,' said Eugène; 'it is the profession I always preferred, and that for which I have most talent, and the only one in these times by which a man can hope to rise rapidly. At the bar I may wait for years without getting any thing to do. Besides, I am intimate with a son of General Duhamel's; and I know he will speak a good word for me, and get his father to push me on.' Of course there were objections to this plan on the part of Henriette, but her lover's arguments overcame them; and, after repeated vows of fidelity, they parted, he to fulfill his intentions, and she to remain at home with Rosina and an elderly female relative, who came to live with her—a plan she preferred to accepting her brother's invitation to reside with him in Catalonia, where she would have been exposed to the constant visits of the count: whereas, now that her father was dead, he could not, with propriety, visit her at her own house. It appeared afterward that he had only been deferring his proposals till what he considered a decorous moment for making them; being meanwhile assured of the brother's support, and having little doubt of being accepted since the state of M. de Beaugency's affairs was disclosed. But before that moment came, a circumstance occurred to facilitate his views, in a manner he little expected; for, eager to distinguish himself under the eye of his commanding officer, Eugène de Beaugency, with the ardor and inexperience of youth, had rushed into needless danger, and fallen in the very first battle his regiment was engaged in."

By the time my companion had reached this point in his narration, we found ourselves at the entrance of the village, where the church stood, and beside it the small house occupied by the curé. It had a little garden in front, and under the porch sat a very ancient woman basking in the sun. Her head shook with palsy, her form was bent, and she had a pair of long knitting needles in her hands, from her manner of using which I perceived she was blind. The priest invited me to walk in, informing me that that was Rosina; and adding, that if I liked to rest myself for half an hour, he would ask her to tell me the rest of the story. Feeling assured that some strange catastrophe remained to be disclosed, I eagerly accepted the good man's offer; and having been introduced to Henriette's former companion, whose memory, in spite of her great age, I found perfectly clear, I said I feared it might give her pain to recall circumstances that were doubtless of a distressing nature.

"Ah, madame," said she, "it is but putting into words the thoughts that are always in my head! I have never related the sad tale but twice; for I would not, for my dear mistress's sake, speak of such things to the people about her; but each time I slept better afterward. I seemed to have lightened the heaviness of my burthen by imparting the secret to another."

"You were very much attached to Mademoiselle de Beaugency?" said I.

"My mother was her nurse, madame, but we grew up like sisters," answered Rosina. "She never concealed a thought from me; and the Virgin knows her thoughts will never keep me an hour out of Paradise, for there was no more sin in them than a butterfly's wing might bear."

"I suppose she suffered a great deal when she heard of her cousin's death?" said I. "How long was it before she married the count? For she did marry him, I conclude, from what I have heard?"

"Ay, madame, she did, about a year after the—the news came, worse luck! Not that she was unhappy with him exactly. He did not treat her ill; far from it; for he was passionately fond of her. But he was jealous—heavens knows of whom, for he had nobody to be jealous of. But he loved like a hot-blooded Spaniard, as he was; and I suppose he felt that she did not return his love in the same way. How should she, when she had given her whole heart to her cousin? Still she liked the count, and I could not say they were unhappy together; but she did not like Spain, and the people she lived among there. The count's place was dreadfully gloomy, certainly. For my part, I used to be afraid to go at night along the vaulted passages, and up those wide, dark staircases, to my bed. But the count doted on it because it had belonged to the family time out of mind; and it was only to please her that he ever came to her family home at all."

"But surely this place is very dismal, too?" said I.

"Dismal!" said she. "Ay, now, I daresay, because there's a curse on it; but not then. Oh, it was a pleasant place in old M. de Beaugency's time! besides, my poor mistress loved it for the sake of the happy days she had seen there; and when the period approached that she was to be confined of her first child, she entreated her husband to bring her here. She wanted to have my mother with her, who had been like a mother to her; and as she told him she was sure she should die if he kept her in Catalonia, he yielded to her wishes, and we came. The doctor was spoken to, and everything arranged; and she was so pleased, poor thing, at the thoughts of having a baby, that as we used to sit together making the clothes for the little creature that was expected, she chatted away so gayly about what she would do with it, and how we should bring it up, that I saw she was now really beginning to forget that she was not married to the husband her young heart had chosen.

"Well, madame," continued Rosina, after wiping her sightless eyes with the corner of her white apron—"we were all, as you will understand, happy enough, and looking forward shortly to the birth of the child, when, one afternoon, while my master and mistress were out driving, and I was looking through the rails of the garden gate for the carriage—for they had already been gone longer than usual—I saw a figure coming hastily along the road toward where I stood, a figure which, as it drew near, brought my heart into my mouth, for I thought it was an apparition! I just took a second look, and then, overcome with terror, I turned and ran toward the house; but before I reached it, he had opened the gate, and was in the garden."

"Who was?" said I.

"M. Eugène, madame—Eugène de Beaugency, my lady's cousin," answered Rosina.

"'Rosina!' cried he, 'Rosina! don't be frightened. I'm no ghost, I assure you. I suppose you heard I was killed? But I was not, you see; I was only taken prisoner, and here I am, alive and well, thank God! How's my cousin? Where is she?'

"I leave you to judge, madame, how I felt on hearing this," continued the old woman. "A black curtain seemed to fall before my eyes, on which I could read woe! woe! woe! I could not tell what form it would take; I never could have guessed the form it did take; but I saw that behind the dark screen which vailed the future from my eyes there was nothing but woe on the face of the earth for those three creatures. The Lord have mercy upon them! thought I; and for the world to come, I hope my prayer may have been heard—but it was of no avail for this!

"Well, madame, my first fear was, that the count would return and find him there, for well I knew there would be bloodshed if they met; so without answering his questions, I entreated him to go away instantly to my mother's, promising that I would follow him presently, and tell him every thing; but this very request, together with the agitation and terror he saw me in, made him suspect the truth at once; and, seizing my arm with such violence that I bore the marks of his poor fingers for many a day afterward, he asked me if she was married. 'She is,' said I: 'she thought you were dead; she had no money left; and you know it was her father's dying injunction that—' 'Married to the Spaniard—to Ruy Gonzalez?' said he, with such a face, the Lord deliver me!" (and the old woman paused for a moment, as if to recover from the pain of the recollection.) "'Yes,' said I, 'to Ruy Gonzalez; and if he sees you here, he'll kill you!' 'Let him.' said he. 'But it will be her death,' said I; 'and she's—she's'—I hadn't the heart to go on. 'What?' said he. 'In the family way—near her confinement,' I answered. He clenched his two fists, and clapped them on his forehead. 'I must see her,' said he. 'Impossible,' I answered; 'he never leaves her for a moment.' 'Where are they now?' he asked. 'Out driving,' said I. 'In a dark-blue carriage?' 'Yes; and I expect them every minute. Go, go, for the Lord's sake, go to my mother's!' 'I saw the carriage,' said he, with a bitter smile. 'It passed me just this side of Noirmoutier. Little I thought'—and his lip quivered for a moment, and his features were convulsed with agony. 'I will, I must see her,' continued he; 'and you had better help me to do it, or it will be the worse for us all. Hide me in her room; he does not sleep there, I suppose?' 'No,' I replied; 'but he goes there often to talk to her when she is dressing.' 'Put me in the closet,' said he, 'there's room enough for me to crouch down under the book-shelves. You can then tell her; and when he has left her for the night, you can let me out.' 'My God!' I cried, my knees beginning to shake under me, 'I hear the carriage; they'll be here in an instant!' 'Do as you like!' said he, seeing the advantage this gave him; 'if you won't help me to see her, I'll see her without you. I shall stay where I am!' and he struck his cane into the ground with a violence that showed his resolution to do what he threatened. 'Come away, for the Lord's sake!' cried I, for the carriage was close at hand, and there was not a moment to spare; and seizing him by the arm, I dragged him into the house; for even now he was half inclined to wait for them, and I saw he was burning to quarrel with the count. Well, I had but just time to lock him into the closet, and put the key in my pocket, before they had alighted, and were walking up the garden.

"You may conceive, madame, the state I was in when I met the count and my lady; and my confusion was not diminished by finding that he observed it. 'What is the matter, Rosina?' said he, 'has any thing unusual happened?' and as he spoke, he fixed his dark, piercing eyes upon me in such a way that I felt as if he was reading my very thoughts. I affected to be busy about my mistress, keeping my face away from him; but I knew he was watching me, for all that. Generally, when they came home, he used to retire to his own apartment, and leave his wife with me; but now he came into the salon, took off his hat, and sat himself down; nor did he leave her for two minutes during the whole evening. This conduct was so unusual, that it was plain to me he suspected something; besides, I saw it in his countenance, though I did not know whether his suspicions had been roused by my paleness and agitation, or whether any thing else had awakened them; but I felt certain afterward, that he had seen the poor young man when the carriage passed him, or at least, been sufficiently struck with the resemblance to put the true interpretation on my confusion. Well, madame, you may imagine what an evening I spent. I saw clearly that he was determined not to leave me alone with his wife; but this was not of so much consequence, since I had resolved not to give her a hint of what had happened till the count had taken leave of her for the night, because I knew that her agitation would have betrayed the secret. In the mean while she suspected no mischief; for although she observed something was wrong with me, she supposed I was suffering in my mind about a young man I was engaged to marry, called Philippe, who had been lately ill of a fever, and was now said to be threatened with consumption.

"While I pretended to be busying myself in my lady's room, they went out to take a stroll in the garden; and when I saw them safe at the other end, I put my lips to the key-hole, and conjured Eugène, for the sake of all that was good, to be still; for that I was certain it would not only be his death, but my mistress's too, if he were discovered; and he promised me he would. I had scarcely got upon my feet again, and turned to open a drawer, when I heard the count's foot in the salon. 'The countess is oppressed with the heat,' said he, 'and wants the large green fan: she says you'll find it in one of the shelves in the closet.'

"Only think, madame! only think!" said Rosina, turning her wrinkled face toward me, and actually shaking all over with the recollection of her terror. "I thought I should have sank into the earth! I stood for a moment aghast, and then I began to fumble in my pocket. 'Where can the key be?' said I, pretending to search for it; but my countenance betrayed me, and my voice shook so, that he read me like a book. I am sure he knew the truth from that moment. He looked hard at me, while his face became quite livid; and then he said, in a calm, deep voice: 'For the fan, no matter; I'll take another; but I see you are ill: you have caught Philippe's fever; you must go to bed directly. Come with me, and I'll lead you to your room.' 'I am not ill, Monsieur le Conte,' I stammered out; but taking no notice of what I said, he grasped my arm with his powerful hand, and dragged me away up-stairs; I say dragged, for I had scarcely strength to move my feet, and it was rather dragging than leading. As soon as he had thrust me into the room, he said in a significant tone: 'Remember, you are in danger! Unless you are very prudent, this fever will be fatal. Go to bed, and keep quite still till I come to see you again, or you may not survive till morning!' With that he closed the door and locked it; and I heard him take out the key, and descend the stairs. Then I suppose I swooned; for when I came to myself it was nearly dark, I was lying on the floor, and could not at first remember what had happened. When my recollection returned, I crawled to the bed, and burying my face in the pillows, I gave vent to my anguish in sobs and tears; for I loved my mistress, madame, and I loved M. Eugène, and I knew there would be deadly mischief among them. I expected that the count would break open the closet, and that one or both would be killed; and considering the state she was in, I did not doubt that the grief and fright would kill the countess also. You may judge, madame, what a night I passed! sometimes weeping, sometimes listening: but I could hear nothing unusual, and at length I began to fancy that the conflict had occurred while I was lying in the swoon. But how had it terminated? I would have given worlds to know; but there I was, a prisoner, and I feared that if I tried to give any alarm, I might only make bad worse.

"Well, madame, I thought the morning would never break; but at length the sun rose, and I heard people stirring. It seemed, indeed, that there was an unusual bustle and running about; and by-and-by I heard the sound of wheels and horses' feet in the court, and I knew they were bringing out the carriage. Where could they be going? I could not imagine; but, on the whole, I was relieved, for I fancied that the meeting and explanation were over, and that now the count wished to leave the house, which, under the circumstances, I could not wonder at. He has spared Eugène for her sake, thought I. And this belief was strengthened by my master's entering my room presently afterward, and saying, 'Your mistress is gone away; I am afraid of her taking this fever. When I think it proper, you shall be removed: till then, remember that your life depends on your remaining quiet!' He placed a loaf of bread and a carafe of water on the table, and went away, locking the door as before. I confess now that much as I felt for M. Eugène, I could not help pitying the count also. What ravages the sufferings of that night had made on him! His cheeks looked hollow, his eyes sunken, his features all drawn and distorted, and his complexion like that of a corpse. It was a dreadful blow to him, certainly, for I knew that he loved my mistress to madness.

"Well, madame, I passed the day more peacefully than I could have hoped; but my mind being somewhat relieved about my lady, I began to think a little of myself, and to wonder what the count meant to do with me. I felt certain he would never let me see her again if he could help it, and that alone was a heartbreaking grief to me; and then it came into my head that perhaps he would confine me somewhere for life—shut me up in a convent, perhaps, or a madhouse! As soon as this idea possessed me, it grew and grew till I felt as if I really was going mad with the horror of it; and I resolved, though it was at the risk of breaking my neck, to try and make my escape by the window during the night. It looked to the side of the house, and was not very high up; besides, there were soft flower-beds underneath to break my fall; so I thought by tying the sheets together, and fastening them to an iron bar that divided the lattice, I might reach the ground in safety. I was a little creature, and though the space was not large, it sufficed for me to get through; and when all was quiet, and I thought every body was in bed, I made the attempt, and succeeded. I had to jump the last few feet, and I was over my ankles in the soft mould; but that did not signify—I was free; and taking to my heels, I ran off to my mother's, who lived then in a cottage hard by, where we are now sitting; and after telling her what had happened, it was agreed that I should go to bed, and that if anybody came to inquire for me she should say I was ill of the fever, and could not be seen. I knew when morning came I should be missed, for doubtless the count would go to my room; and besides that, I had left the sheets hanging out of the window.

"For two days, however, to my great surprise, we heard nothing; but on the third, Philippe (the young man I was engaged to) hearing I was not at the Beaugency house, came to our cottage to inquire about me. We had not met for some time, the countess having forbidden all communication between us, as she had a horrible dread of the fever, so that he could only hear of me through my mother. 'Rosina is here, and unwell,' said my mother: 'we think she's got the fever;' for though we might have trusted Philippe with our lives, we thought it would be safer for him to be ignorant of what had happened. Upon this he begged leave to see me; and she brought him into my chamber. After asking about himself, and telling him I was very poorly, and so forth, he said, 'This is a sad thing for the countess!' 'What is?' I asked. 'Your being ill at this time,' said he, 'when she must want you so much.' 'What do you mean?' said I; 'the countess is not at the house?' 'Don't you know she's come back,' said he, 'and that she's ill? The doctor has been sent for, and they say she's very bad.' 'Gracious heavens!' I exclaimed; 'is it possible? My poor dear mistress ill, and I not with her!' 'Robert, the footman, says,' continued Philippe—'but he bade me not mention it to any body—that when they stopped at the inn at Montlouis, Rateau, the landlord, came to the carriage-door, and asked if she had seen M. Eugène de Beaugency; and that when the countess turned quite pale and said, 'Are you not aware my cousin was killed in battle, M. Rateau?' he assured her it was no such thing; for that M. Eugène had called there shortly before on his way to her house. Rateau must have taken somebody else for him, of course; but I suppose she believed it, for she returned directly.' 'Rateau told her that he had seen M. Eugène?' said I. 'So Robert says; but Didier, the mason, says she was ill before she went, and that it was the rats in the closet that frightened her.' 'Rats!' said I, sitting up in my bed and staring at him wildly. 'What rats?—what closet?' 'Some closet in her bed-room,' said he. 'The count sent for Didier to wall it up directly.' 'To wall it up?—wall up the closet?' I gasped out. 'Yes, build and plaster it up. But what's the matter, Rosina? Oh, I shouldn't have told you the countess was ill!' he cried out, terrified at the agitation I was in. 'Leave me, in the name of God!' I screamed, 'and send my mother to me!'

"I remember nothing after this, madame, for a long, long time. When my mother came, she found me in my night-clothes, tying the sheets together in order to get out of the window, though the door was wide open; but I was quite delirious. Weeks passed before I was in a state to remember or comprehend any thing. Before I recovered my senses, my poor mistress and her baby were in the grave, my master gone away, nobody knew whither, the servants all discharged, and the accursed house shut up. Not long afterward the news came that the count had died in Paris."

"But, Rosina,' said I, 'are you sure that M. de Beaugency was in that closet? How do you know the count had not first released him?"

"Ah, madame," she replied, ominously shaking her palsied head, "you would not ask that question if you had known Ruy Gonzalez as I did. The moment the words were out of Philippe's mouth I saw it all. It was just like him—just the revenge for that stern and inflexible spirit to take. Besides, madame, when all was over, and he durst speak, Didier the mason told me that nothing should ever convince him that there was not some living thing in that closet at the time he walled it up, though who or what it could be he never could imagine."

"And do you think, Rosina," said I, "do you think the countess ever suspected the secret of that dreadful closet?"

"Ay did she, madame," answered she; "and it was that which killed her; for when my mistress came back so unexpectedly, the count was closeted up-stairs with his agent, making arrangements for quitting the place forever, and had given orders not to be disturbed. He had locked up her apartments, and had the key in his pocket; but he had forgotten that there was a spare key for every room in the house, which the housekeeper had the charge of; so my lady sent for her to open the doors. Now, though from putting this and that together—the count's agitation, my sudden disappearance, her own removal, and the innkeeper's story—she felt sure there was some mischief in the wind, she had no suspicion of what had really occurred; as indeed how should she, till her eyes fell upon the door of the closet. Then she comprehended it all. You may imagine the rest, madame! Words couldn't paint it! When they came into the room, she was battering madly at the wall with the poker. But a few hours terminated her sufferings. She was already dead when Philippe was telling me of her return."

"It's a fearful tragedy to have lived through!" said I. "And Philippe: what became him?"

"He died like the rest, madame, about six months after these sad events had occurred. When I recovered my health, I went into service, and for the last forty years I have been housekeeper to M. le Curé here."

"And he is the only person that ever enters that melancholy house?"

"Yes, madame. I went there once—just once—to look at that fatal chamber, and the bed where my poor mistress died. When the place was let, those apartments were locked up; but"—and she shook her head mournfully—"the tenants were glad to leave it."

"And for what purpose does M. le Curé go there so often?" I asked.

"To pray for the souls of the unfortunates!" said the old woman, devoutly crossing herself.

Deeply affected with her story, I took leave of this sole surviving witness of these long-buried sorrows; and I, too, accompanied by the curé, once more visited the awful chamber. "Ah, madame!" said he, "poor human nature! with its passions, and its follies, and its mad revenges! Is it not sad to think that so much love should prove the foundation of so much woe?"