The Lost Room
It was oppressively warm. The sun had long disappeared, but seemed to
have left its vital spirit of heat behind it. The air rested; the leaves
of the acacia-trees that shrouded my windows hung plumb-like on their
delicate stalks. The smoke of my cigar scarce rose above my head, but
hung about me in a pale blue cloud, which I had to dissipate with
languid waves of my hand. My shirt was open at the throat, and my chest
heaved laboriously in the effort to catch some breaths of fresher air.
The noises of the city seemed to be wrapped in slumber, and the
shrilling of the mosquitos was the only sound that broke the stillness.
As I lay with my feet elevated on the back of a chair, wrapped in that
peculiar frame of mind in which thought assumes a species of lifeless
motion, the strange fancy seized me of making a languid inventory of the
principal articles of furniture in my room. It was a task well suited to
the mood in which I found myself. Their forms were duskily defined in
the dim twilight that floated shadowily through the chamber; it was no
labour to note and particularize each, and from the place where I sat I
could command a view of all my possessions without even turning my head.
There was, imprimis, that ghostly lithograph by Calame. It was a mere
black spot on the white wall, but my inner vision scrutinized every
detail of the picture. A wild, desolate, midnight heath, with a spectral
oak-tree in the centre of the foreground. The wind blows fiercely, and
the jagged branches, clothed scantily with ill-grown leaves, are swept
to the left continually by its giant force.
A formless wrack of clouds streams across the awful sky, and the rain
sweeps almost parallel with the horizon. Beyond, the heath stretches off
into endless blackness, in the extreme of which either fancy or art has
conjured up some undefinable shapes that seem riding into space. At the
base of the huge oak stands a shrouded figure. His mantle is wound by
the blast in tight folds around his form, and the long cock's feather in
his hat is blown upright, till it seems as if it stood on end with fear.
His features are not visible, for he has grasped his cloak with both
hands, and drawn it from either side across his face. The picture is
seemingly objectless. It tells no tale, but there is a weird power about
it that haunts one, and it was for that I bought it.
Next to the picture comes the round blot that hangs below it, which I
know to be a smoking-cap. It has my coat of arms embroidered on the
front, and for that reason I never wear it; though, when properly
arranged on my head, with its long blue silken tassel hanging down by my
cheek, I believe it becomes me well. I remember the time when it was in
the course of manufacture. I remember the tiny little hands that pushed
the coloured silks so nimbly through the cloth that was stretched on the
embroidery-frame,--the vast trouble I was put to to get a coloured copy
of my armorial bearings for the heraldic work which was to decorate the
front of the band,--the pursings up of the little mouth, and the
contractions of the young forehead, as their possessor plunged into a
profound sea of cogitation touching the way in which the cloud should be
represented from which the armed hand, that is my crest, issues,--the
heavenly moment when the tiny hands placed it on my head, in a position
that I could not bear for more than a few seconds, and I, kinglike,
immediately assumed my royal prerogative after the coronation, and
instantly levied a tax on my only subjects which was, however, not paid
unwillingly. Ah! the cap is there, but the embroiderer has fled; for
Atropos was severing the web of life above her head while she was
weaving that silken shelter for mine!
How uncouthly the huge piano that occupies the corner at the left of the
door looms out in the uncertain twilight! I neither play nor sing, yet I
own a piano. It is a comfort to me to look at it, and to feel that the
music is there, although I am not able to break the spell that binds it.
It is pleasant to know that Bellini and Mozart, Cimarosa, Porpora, Glueck
and all such,--or at least their souls,--sleep in that unwieldy case.
There lie embalmed, as it were, all operas, sonatas, oratorios,
nocturnos, marches, songs and dances, that ever climbed into existence
through the four bars that wall in melody. Once I was entirely repaid
for the investment of my funds in that instrument which I never use.
Blokeeta, the composer, came to see me. Of course his instincts urged
him as irresistibly to my piano as if some magnetic power lay within it
compelling him to approach. He tuned it, he played on it. All night
long, until the gray and spectral dawn rose out of the depths of the
midnight, he sat and played, and I lay smoking by the window listening.
Wild, unearthly, and sometimes insufferably painful, were the
improvisations of Blokeeta. The chords of the instrument seemed breaking
with anguish. Lost souls shrieked in his dismal preludes; the half-heard
utterances of spirits in pain, that groped at inconceivable distances
from anything lovely or harmonious, seemed to rise dimly up out of the
waves of sound that gathered under his hands. Melancholy human love
wandered out on distant heaths, or beneath dank and gloomy cypresses,
murmuring its unanswered sorrow, or hateful gnomes sported and sang in
the stagnant swamps triumphing in unearthly tones over the knight whom
they had lured to his death. Such was Blokeeta's night's entertainment;
and when he at length closed the piano, and hurried away through the
cold morning, he left a memory about the instrument from which I could
Those snow-shoes that hang in the space between the mirror and the door
recall Canadian wanderings,--a long race through the dense forests, over
the frozen snow through whose brittle crust the slender hoofs of the
caribou that we were pursuing sank at every step, until the poor
creature despairingly turned at bay in a small juniper coppice, and we
heartlessly shot him down. And I remember how Gabriel, the habitant,
and Francois, the half-breed, cut his throat, and how the hot blood
rushed out in a torrent over the snowy soil; and I recall the snow
cabane that Gabriel built, where we all three slept so warmly; and the
great fire that glowed at our feet, painting all kinds of demoniac
shapes on the black screen of forest that lay without; and the
deer-steaks that we roasted for our breakfast; and the savage
drunkenness of Gabriel in the morning, he having been privately drinking
out of my brandy-flask all the night long.
That long haftless dagger that dangles over the mantelpiece makes my
heart swell. I found it, when a boy, in a hoary old castle in which one
of my maternal ancestors once lived. That same ancestor--who, by the
way, yet lives in history--was a strange old sea-king, who dwelt on the
extremest point of the southwestern coast of Ireland. He owned the whole
of that fertile island called Inniskeiran, which directly faces Cape
Clear, where between them the Atlantic rolls furiously, forming what the
fishermen of the place call "the Sound." An awful place in winter is
that same Sound. On certain days no boat can live there for a moment,
and Cape Clear is frequently cut off for days from any communication
with the mainland.
This old sea-king--Sir Florence O'Driscoll by name--passed a stormy
life. From the summit of his castle he watched the ocean, and when any
richly laden vessels bound from the South to the industrious Galway
merchants, hove in sight, Sir Florence hoisted the sails of his galley,
and it went hard with him if he did not tow into harbor ship and crew.
In this way he lived; not a very honest mode of livelihood, certainly,
according to our modern ideas, but quite reconcilable with the morals of
the time. As may be supposed, Sir Florence got into trouble. Complaints
were laid against him at the English court by the plundered merchants,
and the Irish viking set out for London, to plead his own cause before
good Queen Bess, as she was called. He had one powerful recommendation:
he was a marvellously handsome man. Not Celtic by descent, but half
Spanish, half Danish in blood, he had the great northern stature with
the regular features, flashing eyes, and dark hair of the Iberian race.
This may account for the fact that his stay at the English court was
much longer than was necessary, as also for the tradition, which a local
historian mentions, that the English Queen evinced a preference for the
Irish chieftain, of other nature than that usually shown by monarch to
Previous to his departure, Sir Florence had intrusted the care of his
property to an Englishman named Hull. During the long absence of the
knight, this person managed to ingratiate himself with the local
authorities, and gain their favour so far that they were willing to
support him in almost any scheme. After a protracted stay, Sir Florence,
pardoned of all his misdeeds, returned to his home. Home no longer. Hull
was in possession, and refused to yield an acre of the lands he had so
nefariously acquired. It was no use appealing to the law, for its
officers were in the opposite interest. It was no use appealing to the
Queen, for she had another lover, and had forgotten the poor Irish
knight by this time; and so the viking passed the best portion of his
life in unsuccessful attempts to reclaim his vast estates, and was
eventually, in his old age, obliged to content himself with his castle
by the sea and the island of Inniskeiran, the only spot of which the
usurper was unable to deprive him. So this old story of my kinsman's
fate looms up out of the darkness that enshrouds that haftless dagger
hanging on the wall.
It was somewhat after the foregoing fashion that I dreamily made the
inventory of my personal property. As I turned my eyes on each object,
one after the other,--or the places where they lay, for the room was now
so dark that it was almost impossible to see with any distinctness,--a
crowd of memories connected with each rose up before me, and, perforce,
I had to indulge them. So I proceeded but slowly, and at last my cigar
shortened to a hot and bitter morsel that I could barely hold between my
lips, while it seemed to me that the night grew each moment more
insufferably oppressive. While I was revolving some impossible means of
cooling my wretched body, the cigar stump began to burn my lips. I flung
it angrily through the open window, and stooped out to watch it falling.
It first lighted on the leaves of the acacia, sending out a spray of red
sparkles, then, rolling off, it fell plump on the dark walk in the
garden, faintly illuminating for a moment the dusky trees and breathless
flowers. Whether it was the contrast between the red flash of the
cigar-stump and the silent darkness of the garden, or whether it was
that I detected by the sudden light a faint waving of the leaves, I know
not; but something suggested to me that the garden was cool. I will take
a turn there, thought I, just as I am; it cannot be warmer than this
room, and however still the atmosphere, there is always a feeling of
liberty and spaciousness in the open air, that partially supplies one's
wants. With this idea running through my head, I arose, lit another
cigar, and passed out into the long, intricate corridors that led to the
main staircase. As I crossed the threshold of my room, with what a
different feeling I should have passed it had I known that I was never
to set foot in it again!
I lived in a very large house, in which I occupied two rooms on the
second floor. The house was old-fashioned, and all the floors
communicated by a huge circular staircase that wound up through the
centre of the building, while at every landing long, rambling corridors
stretched off into mysterious nooks and corners. This palace of mine was
very high, and its resources, in the way of crannies and windings,
seemed to be interminable. Nothing seemed to stop anywhere. Cul-de-sacs
were unknown on the premises. The corridors and passages, like
mathematical lines, seemed capable of indefinite extension, and the
object of the architect must have been to erect an edifice in which
people might go ahead forever. The whole place was gloomy, not so much
because it was large, but because an unearthly nakedness seemed to
pervade the structure. The staircases, corridors, halls, and vestibules
all partook of a desert-like desolation. There was nothing on the walls
to break the sombre monotony of those long vistas of shade. No carvings
on the wainscoting, no moulded masks peering down from the simply severe
cornices, no marble vases on the landings. There was an eminent
dreariness and want of life--so rare in an American establishment--all
over the abode. It was Hood's haunted house put in order and newly
painted. The servants, too, were shadowy, and chary of their visits.
Bells rang three times before the gloomy chambermaid could be induced to
present herself; and the negro waiter, a ghoul-like looking creature
from Congo, obeyed the summons only when one's patience was exhausted or
one's want satisfied in some other way. When he did come, one felt sorry
that he had not stayed away altogether, so sullen and savage did he
appear. He moved along the echoless floors with a slow, noiseless
shamble, until his dusky figure, advancing from the gloom, seemed like
some reluctant afreet, compelled by the superior power of his master to
disclose himself. When the doors of all the chambers were closed, and no
light illuminated the long corridor save the red, unwholesome glare of a
small oil lamp on a table at the end, where late lodgers lit their
candles, one could not by any possibility conjure up a sadder or more
Yet the house suited me. Of meditative and sedentary habits, I enjoyed
the extreme quiet. There were but few lodgers, from which I infer that
the landlord did not drive a very thriving trade; and these, probably
oppressed by the sombre spirit of the place, were quiet and ghost-like
in their movements. The proprietor I scarcely ever saw. My bills were
deposited by unseen hands every month on my table, while I was out
walking or riding, and my pecuniary response was intrusted to the
attendant afreet. On the whole, when the bustling, wide-awake spirit of
New York is taken into consideration, the sombre, half-vivified
character of the house in which I lived was an anomaly that no one
appreciated better than I who lived there.
I felt my way down the wide, dark staircase in my pursuit of zephyrs.
The garden, as I entered it, did feel somewhat cooler than my own room,
and I puffed my cigar along the dim, cypress-shrouded walks with a
sensation of comparative relief. It was very dark. The tall-growing
flowers that bordered the path were so wrapped in gloom as to present
the aspect of solid pyramidal masses, all the details of leaves and
blossoms being buried in an embracing darkness, while the trees had lost
all form, and seemed like masses of overhanging cloud. It was a place
and time to excite the imagination; for in the impenetrable cavities of
endless gloom there was room for the most riotous fancies to play at
will. I walked and walked, and the echoes of my footsteps on the
ungravelled and mossy path suggested a double feeling. I felt alone and
yet in company at the same time. The solitariness of the place made
itself distinct enough in the stillness, broken alone by the hollow
reverberations of my step, while those very reverberations seemed to
imbue me with an undefined feeling that I was not alone. I was not,
therefore, much startled when I was suddenly accosted from beneath the
solid darkness of an immense cypress by a voice saying, "Will you give
me a light, sir?"
"Certainly," I replied, trying in vain to distinguish the speaker amidst
the impenetrable dark.
Somebody advanced, and I held out my cigar. All I could gather
definitively about the individual who thus accosted me was that he must
have been of extremely small stature; for I, who am by no means an
overgrown man, had to stoop considerably in handing him my cigar. The
vigorous puff that he gave his own lighted up my Havana for a moment,
and I fancied that I caught a glimpse of long, wild hair. The flash was,
however, so momentary that I could not even say certainly whether this
was an actual impression or the mere effort of imagination to embody
that which the senses had failed to distinguish.
"Sir, you are out late," said this unknown to me, as he, with
half-uttered thanks, handed me back my cigar, for which I had to grope
in the gloom.
"Not later than usual," I replied, dryly.
"Hum! you are fond of late wanderings, then?"
"That is just as the fancy seizes me."
"Do you live here?"
"Queer house, isn't it?"
"I have only found it quiet."
"Hum! But you will find it queer, take my word for it." This was
earnestly uttered; and I felt at the same time a bony finger laid on my
arm, that cut it sharply like a blunted knife.
"I cannot take your word for any such assertion," I replied rudely,
shaking off the bony finger with an irrepressible motion of disgust.
"No offence, no offence," muttered my unseen companion rapidly, in a
strange, subdued voice, that would have been shrill had it been louder;
"your being angry does not alter the matter. You will find it a queer
house. Everybody finds it a queer house. Do you know who live there?"
"I never busy myself, sir, about other people's affairs," I answered
sharply, for the individual's manner, combined with my utter uncertainty
as to his appearance, oppressed me with an irksome longing to be rid of
"O, you don't? Well, I do. I know what they are--well, well, well!" and
as he pronounced the three last words his voice rose with each, until,
with the last, it reached a shrill shriek that echoed horribly among the
lonely walks. "Do you know what they eat?" he continued.
"No, sir,--nor care."
"O, but you will care. You must care. You shall care. I'll tell you what
they are. They are enchanters. They are ghouls. They are cannibals. Did
you never remark their eyes, and how they gloated on you when you
passed? Did you never remark the food that they served up at your table?
Did you never in the dead of night hear muffled and unearthly footsteps
gliding along the corridors, and stealthy hands turning the handle of
your door? Does not some magnetic influence fold itself continually
around you when they pass, and send a thrill through spirit and body,
and a cold shiver that no sunshine will chase away? O, you have! You
have felt all these things! I know it!"
The earnest rapidity, the subdued tones, the eagerness of accent, with
which all this was uttered, impressed me most uncomfortably. It really
seemed as if I could recall all those weird occurrences and influences
of which he spoke; and I shuddered in spite of myself in the midst of
the impenetrable darkness that surrounded me.
"Hum!" said I, assuming, without knowing it, a confidential tone, "may I
ask you how you know these things?"
"How I know them? Because I am their enemy; because they tremble at my
whisper; because I hang upon their track with the perseverance of a
bloodhound and the stealthiness of a tiger; because--because--I was of
"Wretch!" I cried excitedly, for involuntarily his eager tones had
wrought me up to a high pitch of spasmodic nervousness, "then you mean
to say that you----"
As I uttered this word, obeying an uncontrollable impulse, I stretched
forth my hand in the direction of the speaker and made a blind clutch.
The tips of my fingers seemed to touch a surface as smooth as glass,
that glided suddenly from under them. A sharp, angry hiss sounded
through the gloom, followed by a whirring noise, as if some projectile
passed rapidly by, and the next moment I felt instinctively that I was
A most disagreeable feeling instantly assailed me;--a prophetic instinct
that some terrible misfortune menaced me; an eager and overpowering
anxiety to get back to my own room without loss of time. I turned and
ran blindly along the dark cypress alley, every dusky clump of flowers
that rose blackly in the borders making my heart each moment cease to
beat. The echoes of my own footsteps seemed to redouble and assume the
sounds of unknown pursuers following fast upon my track. The boughs of
lilac-bushes and syringas, that here and there stretched partly across
the walk, seemed to have been furnished suddenly with hooked hands that
sought to grasp me as I flew by, and each moment I expected to behold
some awful and impassable barrier fall across my track and wall me up
At length I reached the wide entrance. With a single leap I sprang up
the four or five steps that formed the stoop, and dashed along the hall,
up the wide, echoing stairs, and again along the dim, funereal corridors
until I paused, breathless and panting, at the door of my room. Once so
far, I stopped for an instant and leaned heavily against one of the
panels, panting lustily after my late run. I had, however, scarcely
rested my whole weight against the door, when it suddenly gave way, and
I staggered in head-foremost. To my utter astonishment the room I had
left in profound darkness was now a blaze of light. So intense was the
illumination that, for a few seconds while the pupils of my eyes were
contracting under the sudden change, I saw absolutely nothing save the
dazzling glare. This fact in itself, coming on me with such utter
suddenness, was sufficient to prolong my confusion, and it was not until
after several minutes had elapsed that I perceived the room was not only
illuminated, but occupied. And such occupants! Amazement at the scene
took such possession of me that I was incapable of either moving or
uttering a word. All that I could do was to lean against the wall, and
stare blankly at the strange picture.
It might have been a scene out of Faublas, or Gramont's Memoirs, or
happened in some palace of Minister Foucque.
Round a large table in the centre of the room, where I had left a
student-like litter of books and papers, were seated half a dozen
persons. Three were men and three were women. The table was heaped with
a prodigality of luxuries. Luscious eastern fruits were piled up in
silver filigree vases, through whose meshes their glowing rinds shone in
the contrasts of a thousand hues. Small silver dishes that Benvenuto
might have designed, filled with succulent and aromatic meats, were
distributed upon a cloth of snowy damask. Bottles of every shape,
slender ones from the Rhine, stout fellows from Holland, sturdy ones
from Spain, and quaint basket-woven flasks from Italy, absolutely
littered the board. Drinking-glasses of every size and hue filled up the
interstices, and the thirsty German flagon stood side by side with the
aerial bubbles of Venetian glass that rest so lightly on their
threadlike stems. An odour of luxury and sensuality floated through the
apartment. The lamps that burned in every direction seemed to diffuse a
subtle incense on the air, and in a large vase that stood on the floor I
saw a mass of magnolias, tuberoses, and jasmines grouped together,
stifling each other with their honeyed and heavy fragrance.
The inhabitants of my room seemed beings well suited to so sensual an
atmosphere. The women were strangely beautiful, and all were attired in
dresses of the most fantastic devices and brilliant hues. Their figures
were round, supple, and elastic; their eyes dark and languishing; their
lips full, ripe, and of the richest bloom. The three men wore
half-masks, so that all I could distinguish were heavy jaws, pointed
beards, and brawny throats that rose like massive pillars out of their
doublets. All six lay reclining on Roman couches about the table,
drinking down the purple wines in large draughts, and tossing back their
heads and laughing wildly.
I stood, I suppose, for some three minutes, with my back against the
wall staring vacantly at the bacchanal vision, before any of the
revellers appeared to notice my presence. At length, without any
expression to indicate whether I had been observed from the beginning or
not, two of the women arose from their couches, and, approaching, took
each a hand and led me to the table. I obeyed their motions
mechanically. I sat on a couch, between them as they indicated. I
unresistingly permitted them to wind their arms about my neck.
"You must drink," said one, pouring out a large glass of red wine, "here
is Clos Vougeout of a rare vintage; and here," pushing a flask of
amber-hued wine before me, "is Lachryma Christi."
"You must eat," said the other, drawing the silver dishes toward her.
"Here are cutlets stewed with olives, and here are slices of a filet
stuffed with bruised sweet chestnuts"--and as she spoke, she, without
waiting for a reply, proceeded to help me.
The sight of the food recalled to me the warnings I had received in the
garden. This sudden effort of memory restored to me my other faculties
at the same instant. I sprang to my feet, thrusting the women from me
with each hand.
"Demons!" I almost shouted. "I will have none of your accursed food. I
know you. You are cannibals, you are ghouls, you are enchanters. Begone,
I tell you! Leave my room in peace!"
A shout of laughter from all six was the only effect that my passionate
speech produced. The men rolled on their couches, and their half-masks
quivered with the convulsions of their mirth. The women shrieked, and
tossed the slender wine-glasses wildly aloft, and turned to me and flung
themselves on my bosom fairly sobbing with laughter.
"Yes," I continued, as soon as the noisy mirth had subsided, "yes, I
say, leave my room instantly! I will have none of your unnatural orgies
"His room!" shrieked the woman on my right.
"His room!" echoed she on my left.
"His room! He calls it his room!" shouted the whole party, as they
rolled once more into jocular convulsions.
"How know you that it is your room?" said one of the men who sat
opposite to me, at length, after the laughter had once more somewhat
"How do I know?" I replied indignantly. "How do I know my own room? How
could I mistake it, pray? There's my furniture--my piano----"
"He calls that a piano," shouted my neighbours, again in convulsions as
I pointed to the corner where my huge piano, sacred to the memory of
Blokeeta, used to stand. "O, yes! It is his room. There--there is his
The peculiar emphasis they laid on the word "piano" caused me to
scrutinize the article I was indicating more thoroughly. Up to this
time, though utterly amazed at the entrance of these people into my
chamber, and connecting them somewhat with the wild stories I had heard
in the garden, I still had a sort of indefinite idea that the whole
thing was a masquerading freak got up in my absence, and that the
bacchanalian orgie I was witnessing was nothing more than a portion of
some elaborate hoax of which I was to be the victim. But when my eyes
turned to the corner where I had left a huge and cumbrous piano, and
beheld a vast and sombre organ lifting its fluted front to the very
ceiling, and convinced myself, by a hurried process of memory, that it
occupied the very spot in which I had left my own instrument, the little
self-possession that I had left forsook me. I gazed around me
In like manner everything was changed. In the place of that old haftless
dagger, connected with so many historic associations personal to myself,
I beheld a Turkish yataghan dangling by its belt of crimson silk, while
the jewels in the hilt blazed as the lamplight played upon them. In the
spot where hung my cherished smoking cap, memorial of a buried love, a
knightly casque was suspended on the crest of which a golden dragon
stood in the act of springing. That strange lithograph of Calame was no
longer a lithograph, but it seemed to me that the portion of the wall
which it covered, of the exact shape and size, had been cut out, and, in
place of the picture, a real scene on the same scale, and with real
actors, was distinctly visible. The old oak was there, and the stormy
sky was there; but I saw the branches of the oak sway with the tempest,
and the clouds drive before the wind. The wanderer in his cloak was
gone; but in his place I beheld a circle of wild figures, men and women,
dancing with linked hands around the hole of the great tree, chanting
some wild fragment of a song, to which the winds roared an unearthly
chorus. The snow-shoes, too, on whose sinewy woof I had sped for many
days amidst Canadian wastes, had vanished, and in their place lay a pair
of strange up-curled Turkish slippers, that had, perhaps, been many a
time shuffled off at the doors of mosques, beneath the steady blaze of
an orient sun.
All was changed. Wherever my eyes turned they missed familiar objects,
yet encountered strange representatives. Still, in all the substitutes
there seemed to me a reminiscence of what they replaced. They seemed
only for a time transmuted into other shapes, and there lingered around
them the atmosphere of what they once had been. Thus I could have sworn
the room to have been mine, yet there was nothing in it that I could
rightly claim. Everything reminded me of some former possession that it
was not. I looked for the acacia at the window, and lo! long silken
palm-leaves swayed in through the open lattice; yet they had the same
motion and the same air of my favourite tree, and seemed to murmur to
me, "Though we seem to be palm-leaves, yet are we acacia-leaves; yea,
those very ones on which you used to watch the butterflies alight and
the rain patter while you smoked and dreamed!" So in all things; the
room was, yet was not, mine; and a sickening consciousness of my utter
inability to reconcile its identity with its appearance overwhelmed me,
and choked my reason.
"Well, have you determined whether or not this is your room?" asked the
girl on my left, proffering me a huge tumbler creaming over with
champagne, and laughing wickedly as she spoke.
"It is mine," I answered, doggedly, striking the glass rudely with my
hand, and dashing the aromatic wine over the white cloth. "I know that
it is mine; and ye are jugglers and enchanters who want to drive me
"Hush! hush!" she said, gently, not in the least angered by my rough
treatment. "You are excited. Alf shall play something to soothe you."
At her signal, one of the men sat down at the organ. After a short,
wild, spasmodic prelude, he began what seemed to me to be a symphony of
recollections. Dark and sombre, and all through full of quivering and
intense agony, it appeared to recall a dark and dismal night, on a cold
reef, around which an unseen but terribly audible ocean broke with
eternal fury. It seemed as if a lonely pair were on the reef, one
living, the other dead; one clasping his arms around the tender neck and
naked bosom of the other, striving to warm her into life, when his own
vitality was being each moment sucked from him by the icy breath of the
storm. Here and there a terrible wailing minor key would tremble through
the chords like the shriek of sea-birds, or the warning of advancing
death. While the man played I could scarce restrain myself. It seemed to
be Blokeeta whom I listened to, and on whom I gazed. That wondrous night
of pleasure and pain that I had once passed listening to him seemed to
have been taken up again at the spot where it had broken off, and the
same hand was continuing it. I stared at the man called Alf. There he
sat with his cloak and doublet, and long rapier and mask of black
velvet. But there was something in the air of the peaked beard, a
familiar mystery in the wild mass of raven hair that fell as if
wind-blown over his shoulders, which riveted my memory.
"Blokeeta! Blokeeta!" I shouted, starting up furiously from the couch on
which I was lying, and bursting the fair arms that were linked around my
neck as if they had been hateful chains,--"Blokeeta! my friend! speak to
me, I entreat you! Tell these horrid enchanters to leave me. Say that I
hate them. Say that I command them to leave my room."
The man at the organ stirred not in answer to my appeal. He ceased
playing, and the dying sound of the last note he had touched faded off
into a melancholy moan. The other men and the women burst once more into
peals of mocking laughter.
"Why will you persist in calling this your room?" said the woman next
me, with a smile meant to be kind, but to me inexpressibly loathsome.
"Have we not shown you by the furniture, by the general appearance of
the place, that you are mistaken, and that this cannot be your
apartment? Rest content, then, with us. You are welcome here, and need
no longer trouble yourself about your room."
"Rest content!" I answered madly; "live with ghosts, eat of awful meats,
and see awful sights! Never! never! You have cast some enchantment over
the place that has disguised it; but for all that I know it to be my
room. You shall leave it!"
"Softly, softly!" said another of the sirens. "Let us settle this
amicably. This poor gentleman seems obstinate and inclined to make an
uproar. Now we do not want an uproar. We love the night and its quiet;
and there is no night that we love so well as that on which the moon is
coffined in clouds. Is it not so, my brothers?"
An awful and sinister smile gleamed on the countenances of her unearthly
audience, and seemed to glide visibly from underneath their masks.
"Now," she continued, "I have a proposition to make. It would be
ridiculous for us to surrender this room simply because this gentleman
states that it is his; and yet I feel anxious to gratify, as far as may
be fair, his wild assertion of ownership. A room, after all, is not much
to us; we can get one easily enough, but still we should be loath to
give this apartment up to so imperious a demand. We are willing,
however, to risk its loss. That is to say,"--turning to me,--"I
propose that we play for the room. If you win, we will immediately
surrender it to you just as it stands; if, on the contrary, you lose,
you shall bind yourself to depart and never molest us again."
Agonized at the ever-darkening mysteries that seemed to thicken around
me, and despairing of being able to dissipate them by the mere exercise
of my own will, I caught almost gladly at the chance thus presented to
me. The idea of my loss or my gain scarce entered into my calculations.
All I felt was an indefinite knowledge that I might, in the way
proposed, regain in an instant, that quiet chamber and that peace of
mind of which I had so strangely been deprived.
"I agree!" I cried eagerly; "I agree. Anything to rid myself of such
The woman touched a small golden bell that stood near her on the table,
and it had scarce ceased to tinkle when a negro dwarf entered with a
silver tray on which were dice-boxes and dice. A shudder passed over me
as I thought in this stunted African I could trace a resemblance to the
ghoul-like black servant to whose attendance I had been accustomed.
"Now," said my neighbour, seizing one of the dice-boxes and giving me
the other, "the highest wins. Shall I throw first?"
I nodded assent. She rattled the dice, and I felt an inexpressible load
lifted from my heart as she threw fifteen.
"It is your turn," she said, with a mocking smile; "but before you
throw, I repeat the offer I made you before. Live with us. Be one of us.
We will initiate you into our mysteries and enjoyments,--enjoyments of
which you can form no idea unless you experience them. Come; it is not
too late yet to change your mind. Be with us!"
My reply was a fierce oath, as I rattled the dice with spasmodic
nervousness and flung them on the board. They rolled over and over
again, and during that brief instant I felt a suspense, the intensity of
which I have never known before or since. At last they lay before me. A
shout of the same horrible, maddening laughter rang in my ears. I peered
in vain at the dice, but my sight was so confused that I could not
distinguish the amount of the cast. This lasted for a few moments. Then
my sight grew clear, and I sank back almost lifeless with despair as I
saw that I had thrown but twelve!
"Lost! lost!" screamed my neighbour, with a wild laugh. "Lost! lost!"
shouted the deep voices of the masked men. "Leave us, coward!" they all
cried; "you are not fit to be one of us. Remember your promise; leave
Then it seemed as if some unseen power caught me by the shoulders and
thrust me toward the door. In vain I resisted. In vain I screamed and
shouted for help. In vain I implored them for pity. All the reply I had
was those mocking peals of merriment, while, under the invisible
influence, I staggered like a drunken man toward the door. As I reached
the threshold the organ pealed out a wild triumphal strain. The power
that impelled me concentrated itself into one vigorous impulse that sent
me blindly staggering out into the echoing corridor, and as the door
closed swiftly behind me, I caught one glimpse of the apartment I had
left forever. A change passed like a shadow over it. The lamps died out,
the siren women and masked men vanished, the flowers, the fruits, the
bright silver and bizarre furniture faded swiftly, and I saw again, for
the tenth of a second, my own old chamber restored. There was the acacia
waving darkly; there was the table littered with books; there was the
ghostly lithograph, the dearly beloved smoking-cap, the Canadian
snow-shoes, the ancestral dagger. And there, at the piano, organ no
longer, sat Blokeeta playing.
The next instant the door closed violently, and I was left standing in
the corridor stunned and despairing.
As soon as I had partially recovered my comprehension I rushed madly to
the door, with the dim idea of beating it in. My fingers touched a cold
and solid wall. There was no door! I felt all along the corridor for
many yards on both sides. There was not even a crevice to give me hope.
I rushed downstairs shouting madly. No one answered. In the vestibule I
met the negro; I seized him by the collar and demanded my room. The
demon showed his white and awful teeth, which were filed into a saw-like
shape, and extricating himself from my grasp with a sudden jerk, fled
down the passage with a gibbering laugh. Nothing but echo answered to my
despairing shrieks. The lonely garden resounded with my cries as I
strode madly through the dark walls, and the tall funereal cypresses
seemed to bury me beneath their heavy shadows. I met no one,--could find
no one. I had to bear my sorrow and despair alone.
Since that awful hour I have never found my room. Everywhere I look for
it, yet never see it. Shall I ever find it?
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