The Lost Room





FITZ-JAMES O'BRIEN





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

never escape.



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

subject.



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

desolate prospect.



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?"



"Yes."



"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

him.



"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

them once!"



"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

alone.



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

forever.



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

here!"



"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

subsided.



"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

piano!"



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

bewildered.



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

mad."



"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

unearthly company!"



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

us!"



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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