The Notch On The Ax - A Story A La Mode





I





Every one remembers in the Fourth Book of the immortal poem of your

Blind Bard (to whose sightless orbs no doubt Glorious Shapes were

apparent, and Visions Celestial), how Adam discourses to Eve of the

Bright Visitors who hovered round their Eden--





'Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth,

Unseen, both when we wake and when we sleep.'





"'How often,' says Father Adam, 'from the steep of echoing hill or

thicket, have we heard celestial voices to the midnight air, sole,

or responsive to each other's notes, singing!' After the Act of

Disobedience, when the erring pair from Eden took their solitary

way, and went forth to toil and trouble on common earth--though the

Glorious Ones no longer were visible, you cannot say they were

gone. It was not that the Bright Ones were absent, but that the

dim eyes of rebel man no longer could see them. In your chamber

hangs a picture of one whom you never knew, but whom you have long

held in tenderest regard, and who was painted for you by a friend

of mine, the Knight of Plympton. She communes with you. She

smiles on you. When your spirits are low, her bright eyes shine on

you and cheer you. Her innocent sweet smile is a caress to you.

She never fails to soothe you with her speechless prattle. You

love her. She is alive with you. As you extinguish your candle

and turn to sleep, though your eyes see her not, is she not there

still smiling? As you lie in the night awake, and thinking of your

duties, and the morrow's inevitable toil oppressing the busy,

weary, wakeful brain as with a remorse, the crackling fire flashes

up for a moment in the grate, and she is there, your little

Beauteous Maiden, smiling with her sweet eyes! When moon is down,

when fire is out, when curtains are drawn, when lids are closed, is

she not there, the little Beautiful One, though invisible, present

and smiling still? Friend, the Unseen Ones are round about us.

Does it not seem as if the time were drawing near when it shall be

given to men to behold them?"



The print of which my friend spoke, and which, indeed, hangs in my

room, though he has never been there, is that charming little

winter piece of Sir Joshua, representing the little Lady Caroline

Montague, afterwards Duchess of Buccleuch. She is represented as

standing in the midst of a winter landscape, wrapped in muff and

cloak; and she looks out of her picture with a smile so exquisite

that a Herod could not see her without being charmed.



"I beg your pardon, Mr. PINTO," I said to the person with whom I

was conversing. (I wonder, by the way, that I was not surprised at

his knowing how fond I am of this print.) "You spoke of the Knight

of Plympton. Sir Joshua died 1792: and you say he was your dear

friend?"



As I spoke I chanced to look at Mr. Pinto; and then it suddenly

struck me: Gracious powers! Perhaps you ARE a hundred years old,

now I think of it. You look more than a hundred. Yes, you may be

a thousand years old for what I know. Your teeth are false. One

eye is evidently false. Can I say that the other is not? If a

man's age may be calculated by the rings round his eyes, this man

may be as old as Methuselah. He has no beard. He wears a large

curly glossy brown wig, and his eyebrows are painted a deep olive-

green. It was odd to hear this man, this walking mummy, talking

sentiment, in these queer old chambers in Shepherd's Inn.



Pinto passed a yellow bandanna handkerchief over his awful white

teeth, and kept his glass eye steadily fixed on me. "Sir Joshua's

friend?" said he (you perceive, eluding my direct question). "Is

not everyone that knows his pictures Reynolds's friend? Suppose I

tell you that I have been in his painting room scores of times, and

that his sister The has made me tea, and his sister Toffy has made

coffee for me? You will only say I am an old ombog." (Mr. Pinto,

I remarked, spoke all languages with an accent equally foreign.)

"Suppose I tell you that I knew Mr. Sam Johnson, and did not like

him? that I was at that very ball at Madame Cornelis', which you

have mentioned in one of your little--what do you call them?--bah!

my memory begins to fail me--in one of your little Whirligig

Papers? Suppose I tell you that Sir Joshua has been here, in this

very room?"



"Have you, then, had these apartments for--more--than--seventy

years?" I asked.



"They look as if they had not been swept for that time--don't they?

Hey? I did not say that I had them for seventy years, but that Sir

Joshua has visited me here."



"When?" I asked, eying the man sternly, for I began to think he was

an impostor.



He answered me with a glance still more stern: "Sir Joshua Reynolds

was here this very morning, with Angelica Kaufmann and Mr. Oliver

Goldschmidt. He is still very much attached to Angelica, who still

does not care for him. Because he is dead (and I was in the fourth

mourning coach at his funeral) is that any reason why he should not

come back to earth again? My good sir, you are laughing at me. He

has sat many a time on that very chair which you are now occupying.

There are several spirits in the room now, whom you cannot see.

Excuse me." Here he turned round as if he was addressing somebody,

and began rapidly speaking a language unknown to me. "It is

Arabic," he said; "a bad patois, I own. I learned it in Barbary,

when I was a prisoner among the Moors. In anno 1609, bin ick aldus

ghekledt gheghaen. Ha! you doubt me: look at me well. At least I

am like--"



Perhaps some of my readers remember a paper of which the figure of

a man carrying a barrel formed the initial letter, and which I

copied from an old spoon now in my possession. As I looked at Mr.

Pinto I do declare he looked so like the figure on that old piece

of plate that I started and felt very uneasy. "Ha!" said he,

laughing through his false teeth (I declare they were false--I

could see utterly toothless gums working up and down behind the

pink coral), "you see I wore a beard den; I am shafed now; perhaps

you tink I am A SPOON. Ha, ha!" And as he laughed he gave a cough

which I thought would have coughed his teeth out, his glass eye

out, his wig off, his very head off; but he stopped this convulsion

by stumping across the room and seizing a little bottle of bright

pink medicine, which, being opened, spread a singular acrid

aromatic odor through the apartment; and I thought I saw--but of

this I cannot take an affirmation--a light green and violet flame

flickering round the neck of the vial as he opened it. By the way,

from the peculiar stumping noise which he made in crossing the

bare-boarded apartment, I knew at once that my strange entertainer

had a wooden leg. Over the dust which lay quite thick on the

boards, you could see the mark of one foot very neat and pretty,

and then a round O, which was naturally the impression made by the

wooden stump. I own I had a queer thrill as I saw that mark, and

felt a secret comfort that it was not CLOVEN.



In this desolate apartment in which Mr. Pinto had invited me to see

him, there were three chairs, one bottomless, a little table on

which you might put a breakfast tray, and not a single other

article of furniture. In the next room, the door of which was

open, I could see a magnificent gilt dressing case, with some

splendid diamond and ruby shirt studs lying by it, and a chest of

drawers, and a cupboard apparently full of clothes.



Remembering him in Baden-Baden in great magnificence I wondered at

his present denuded state. "You have a house elsewhere, Mr.

Pinto?" I said.



"Many," says he. "I have apartments in many cities. I lock dem

up, and do not carry mosh logish."



I then remembered that his apartment at Baden, where I first met

him, was bare, and had no bed in it.



"There is, then, a sleeping room beyond?"



"This is the sleeping room." (He pronounces it DIS. Can this, by

the way, give any clew to the nationality of this singular man?)



"If you sleep on these two old chairs you have a rickety couch; if

on the floor, a dusty one."



"Suppose I sleep up dere?" said this strange man, and he actually

pointed up to the ceiling. I thought him mad or what he himself

called "an ombog." "I know. You do not believe me; for why should

I deceive you? I came but to propose a matter of business to you.

I told you I could give you the clew to the mystery of the Two

Children in Black, whom you met at Baden, and you came to see me.

If I told you you would not believe me. What for try and convinz

you? Ha hey?" And he shook his hand once, twice, thrice, at me,

and glared at me out of his eye in a peculiar way.



Of what happened now I protest I cannot give an accurate account.

It seemed to me that there shot a flame from his eye into my brain,

while behind his GLASS eye there was a green illumination as if a

candle had been lit in it. It seemed to me that from his long

fingers two quivering flames issued, sputtering, as it were, which

penetrated me, and forced me back into one of the chairs--the

broken one--out of which I had much difficulty in scrambling, when

the strange glamour was ended. It seemed to me that, when I was so

fixed, so transfixed in the broken chair, the man floated up to the

ceiling, crossed his legs, folded his arms as if he was lying on a

sofa, and grinned down at me. When I came to myself he was down

from the ceiling, and, taking me out of the broken cane-bottomed

chair, kindly enough--"Bah!" said he, "it is the smell of my

medicine. It often gives the vertigo. I thought you would have

had a little fit. Come into the open air." And we went down the

steps, and into Shepherd's Inn, where the setting sun was just

shining on the statue of Shepherd; the laundresses were traipsing

about; the porters were leaning against the railings; and the

clerks were playing at marbles, to my inexpressible consolation.



"You said you were going to dine at the 'Gray's-Inn Coffee-House,'"

he said. I was. I often dine there. There is excellent wine at

the "Gray's-Inn Coffee-House"; but I declare I NEVER SAID so. I

was not astonished at his remark; no more astonished than if I was

in a dream. Perhaps I WAS in a dream. Is life a dream? Are

dreams facts? Is sleeping being really awake? I don't know. I

tell you I am puzzled. I have read "The Woman in White," "The

Strange Story"--not to mention that story "Stranger than Fiction"

in the Cornhill Magazine--that story for which THREE credible

witnesses are ready to vouch. I have had messages from the dead;

and not only from the dead, but from people who never existed at

all. I own I am in a state of much bewilderment: but, if you

please, will proceed with my simple, my artless story.



Well, then. We passed from Shepherd's Inn into Holborn, and looked

for a while at Woodgate's bric-a-brac shop, which I never can pass

without delaying at the windows--indeed, if I were going to be

hung, I would beg the cart to stop, and let me have one look more

at that delightful omnium gatherum. And passing Woodgate's, we

come to Gale's little shop, "No. 47," which is also a favorite

haunt of mine.



Mr. Gale happened to be at his door, and as we exchanged

salutations, "Mr. Pinto," I said, "will you like to see a real

curiosity in this curiosity shop? Step into Mr. Gale's little back

room."



In that little back parlor there are Chinese gongs; there are old

Saxe and Sevres plates; there is Furstenberg, Carl Theodor,

Worcester, Amstel, Nankin and other jimcrockery. And in the corner

what do you think there is? There is an actual GUILLOTINE. If you

doubt me, go and see--Gale, High Holborn, No. 47. It is a slim

instrument, much slighter than those which they make now;--some

nine feet high, narrow, a pretty piece of upholstery enough. There

is the hook over which the rope used to play which unloosened the

dreadful ax above; and look! dropped into the orifice where the

head used to go--there is THE AX itself, all rusty, with A GREAT

NOTCH IN THE BLADE.



As Pinto looked at it--Mr. Gale was not in the room, I recollect;

happening to have been just called out by a customer who offered

him three pound fourteen and sixpence for a blue Shepherd in pate

tendre,--Mr. Pinto gave a little start, and seemed crispe for a

moment. Then he looked steadily toward one of those great

porcelain stools which you see in gardens--and--it seemed to me--I

tell you I won't take my affidavit--I may have been maddened by the

six glasses I took of that pink elixir--I may have been sleep-

walking: perhaps am as I write now--I may have been under the

influence of that astounding MEDIUM into whose hands I had fallen--

but I vow I heard Pinto say, with rather a ghastly grin at the

porcelain stool,





"Nay, nefer shague your gory locks at me,

Dou canst not say I did it."





(He pronounced it, by the way, I DIT it, by which I KNOW that Pinto

was a German.)



I heard Pinto say those very words, and sitting on the porcelain

stool I saw, dimly at first, then with an awful distinctness--a

ghost--an EIDOLON--a form--A HEADLESS MAN seated with his head in

his lap, which wore an expression of piteous surprise.



At this minute, Mr. Gale entered from the front shop to show a

customer some Delft plates; and he did not see--but WE DID--the

figure rise up from the porcelain stool, shake its head, which it

held in its hand, and which kept its eyes fixed sadly on us, and

disappear behind the guillotine.



"Come to the 'Gray's-Inn Coffee-House,'" Pinto said, "and I will

tell you how the notch came to the ax." And we walked down Holborn

at about thirty-seven minutes past six o'clock.



If there is anything in the above statement which astonishes the

reader, I promise him that in the next chapter of this little story

he will be astonished still more.





II





"You will excuse me," I said to my companion, "for remarking that

when you addressed the individual sitting on the porcelain stool,

with his head in his lap, your ordinarily benevolent features"--

(this I confess was a bouncer, for between ourselves a more

sinister and ill-looking rascal than Mons. P. I have seldom set

eyes on)--"your ordinarily handsome face wore an expression that

was by no means pleasing. You grinned at the individual just as

you did at me when you went up to the cei--, pardon me, as I

THOUGHT you did, when I fell down in a fit in your chambers"; and I

qualified my words in a great flutter and tremble; I did not care

to offend the man--I did not DARE to offend the man. I thought

once or twice of jumping into a cab, and flying; of taking refuge

in Day and Martin's Blacking Warehouse; of speaking to a policeman,

but not one would come. I was this man's slave. I followed him

like his dog. I COULD not get away from him. So, you see, I went

on meanly conversing with him, and affecting a simpering

confidence. I remember, when I was a little boy at school, going

up fawning and smiling in this way to some great hulking bully of a

sixth-form boy. So I said in a word, "Your ordinarily handsome

face wore a disagreeable expression," &c.



"It is ordinarily VERY handsome," said he, with such a leer at a

couple of passers-by, that one of them cried, "Oh, crickey, here's

a precious guy!" and a child, in its nurse's arms, screamed itself

into convulsions. "Oh, oui, che suis tres-choli garcon, bien peau,

cerdainement," continued Mr. Pinto; "but you were right. That--

that person was not very well pleased when he saw me. There was no

love lost between us, as you say: and the world never knew a more

worthless miscreant. I hate him, voyez-vous? I hated him alife; I

hate him dead. I hate him man; I hate him ghost: and he know it,

and tremble before me. If I see him twenty tausend years hence--

and why not?--I shall hate him still. You remarked how he was

dressed?"



"In black satin breeches and striped stockings; a white pique

waistcoat, a gray coat, with large metal buttons, and his hair in

powder. He must have worn a pigtail--only--"



"Only it was CUT OFF! Ha, ha, ha!" Mr. Pinto cried, yelling a

laugh, which I observed made the policeman stare very much. "Yes.

It was cut off by the same blow which took off the scoundrel's

head--ho, ho, ho!" And he made a circle with his hook-nailed

finger round his own yellow neck, and grinned with a horrible

triumph. "I promise you that fellow was surprised when he found

his head in the pannier. Ha! ha! Do you ever cease to hate those

whom you hate?"--fire flashed terrifically from his glass eye as he

spoke--"or to love dose whom you once loved? Oh, never, never!"

And here his natural eye was bedewed with tears. "But here we are

at the 'Gray's-Inn CoffeeHouse.' James, what is the joint?"



That very respectful and efficient waiter brought in the bill of

fare, and I, for my part, chose boiled leg of pork, and pease

pudding, which my acquaintance said would do as well as anything

else; though I remarked he only trifled with the pease pudding, and

left all the pork on the plate. In fact, he scarcely ate anything.

But he drank a prodigious quantity of wine; and I must say that my

friend Mr. Hart's port wine is so good that I myself took--well, I

should think, I took three glasses. Yes, three, certainly. HE--I

mean Mr. P.--the old rogue, was insatiable: for we had to call for

a second bottle in no time. When that was gone, my companion

wanted another. A little red mounted up to his yellow cheeks as he

drank the wine, and he winked at it in a strange manner. "I

remember," said he, musing, "when port wine was scarcely drunk in

this country--though the Queen liked it, and so did Hurley; but

Bolingbroke didn't--he drank Florence and Champagne. Dr. Swift put

water to his wine. 'Jonathan,' I once said to him--but bah! autres

temps, autres moeurs. Another magnum, James."



This was all very well. "My good sir," I said, "it may suit YOU to

order bottles of '20 port, at a guinea a bottle; but that kind of

price does not suit me. I only happen to have thirty-four and

sixpence in my pocket, of which I want a shilling for the waiter,

and eighteen pence for my cab. You rich foreigners and SWELLS may

spend what you like" (I had him there: for my friend's dress was as

shabby as an old-clothes man's); "but a man with a family, Mr.

Whatd'you-call'im, cannot afford to spend seven or eight hundred a

year on his dinner alone."



"Bah!" he said. "Nunkey pays for all, as you say. I will what you

call stant the dinner, if you are SO POOR!" and again he gave that

disagreeable grin, and placed an odious crook-nailed and by no

means clean finger to his nose. But I was not so afraid of him

now, for we were in a public place; and the three glasses of port

wine had, you see, given me courage.



"What a pretty snuff-box!" he remarked, as I handed him mine, which

I am still old-fashioned enough to carry. It is a pretty old gold

box enough, but valuable to me especially as a relic of an old, old

relative, whom I can just remember as a child, when she was very

kind to me. "Yes; a pretty box. I can remember when many ladies--

most ladies, carried a box--nay, two boxes--tabatiere and

bonbonniere. What lady carries snuff-box now, hey? Suppose your

astonishment if a lady in an assembly were to offer you a prise? I

can remember a lady with such a box as this, with a tour, as we

used to call it then; with paniers, with a tortoise-shell cane,

with the prettiest little high-heeled velvet shoes in the world!--

ah! that was a time, that was a time! Ah, Eliza, Eliza, I have

thee now in my mind's eye! At Bungay on the Waveney, did I not

walk with thee, Eliza? Aha, did I not love thee? Did I not walk

with thee then? Do I not see thee still?"



This was passing strange. My ancestress--but there is no need to

publish her revered name--did indeed live at Bungay St. Mary's,

where she lies buried. She used to walk with a tortoise-shell

cane. She used to wear little black velvet shoes, with the

prettiest high heels in the world.



"Did you--did you--know, then, my great-gr-nd-m-ther?" I said.



He pulled up his coat sleeve--"Is that her name?" he said.



"Eliza--"



There, I declare, was the very name of the kind old creature

written in red on his arm.



"YOU knew her old," he said, divining my thoughts (with his strange

knack); "I knew her young and lovely. I danced with her at the

Bury ball. Did I not, dear, dear Miss ----?"



As I live, he here mentioned dear gr-nny's MAIDEN name. Her maiden

name was ----. Her honored married name was ----.



"She married your great-gr-ndf-th-r the year Poseidon won the

Newmarket Plate," Mr. Pinto dryly remarked.



Merciful powers! I remember, over the old shagreen knife and spoon

case on the sideboard in my gr-nny's parlor, a print by Stubbs of

that very horse. My grandsire, in a red coat, and his fair hair

flowing over his shoulders, was over the mantelpiece, and Poseidon

won the Newmarket Cup in the year 1783!



"Yes; you are right. I danced a minuet with her at Bury that very

night, before I lost my poor leg. And I quarreled with your

grandf--, ha!"



As he said "Ha!" there came three quiet little taps on the table--

it is the middle table in the "Gray's-Inn CoffeeHouse," under the

bust of the late Duke of W-ll-ngt-n.



"I fired in the air," he continued; "did I not?" (Tap, tap, tap.)

"Your grandfather hit me in the leg. He married three months

afterwards. 'Captain Brown,' I said 'who could see Miss Sm-th

without loving her?' She is there! She is there!" (Tap, tap,

tap.) "Yes, my first love--"



But here there came tap, tap, which everybody knows means "No."



"I forgot," he said, with a faint blush stealing over his wan

features, "she was not my first love. In Germ--in my own country--

there WAS a young woman--"



Tap, tap, tap. There was here quite a lively little treble knock;

and when the old man said, "But I loved thee better than all the

world, Eliza," the affirmative signal was briskly repeated.



And this I declare UPON MY HONOR. There was, I have said, a bottle

of port wine before us--I should say a decanter. That decanter was

LIFTED UP, and out of it into our respective glasses two bumpers of

wine were poured. I appeal to Mr. Hart, the landlord--I appeal to

James, the respectful and intelligent waiter, if this statement is

not true? And when we had finished that magnum, and I said--for I

did not now in the least doubt her presence--"Dear gr-nny, may we

have another magnum?" the table DISTINCTLY rapped "No.".



"Now, my good sir," Mr. Pinto said, who really began to be affected

by the wine, "you understand the interest I have taken in you. I

loved Eliza ----" (of course I don't mention family names). "I

knew you had that box which belonged to her--I will give you what

you like for that box. Name your price at once, and I pay you on

the spot."



"Why, when you came out, you said you had not six-pence in your

pocket."



"Bah! give you anything you like--fifty--a hundred--a tausend

pound."



"Come, come," said I, "the gold of the box may be worth nine

guineas, and the facon we will put at six more."



"One tausend guineas!" he screeched. "One tausend and fifty pound

dere!" and he sank back in his chair--no, by the way, on his bench,

for he was sitting with his back to one of the partitions of the

boxes, as I dare say James remembers.



"DON'T go on in this way," I continued rather weakly, for I did not

know whether I was in a dream. "If you offer me a thousand guineas

for this box I MUST take it. Mustn't I, dear gr-nny?"



The table most distinctly said "Yes"; and putting out his claws to

seize the box, Mr. Pinto plunged his hooked nose into it, and

eagerly inhaled some of my 47 with a dash of Hardman.



"But stay, you old harpy!" I exclaimed, being now in a sort of

rage, and quite familiar with him. "Where is the money? Where is

the check?"



"James, a piece of note paper and a receipt stamp!"



"This is all mighty well, sir," I said, "but I don't know you; I

never saw you before. I will trouble you to hand me that box back

again, or give me a check with some known signature."



"Whose? Ha, Ha, HA!"



The room happened to be very dark. Indeed all the waiters were

gone to supper, and there were only two gentlemen snoring in their

respective boxes. I saw a hand come quivering down from the

ceiling--a very pretty hand, on which was a ring with a coronet,

with a lion rampant gules for a crest. I saw that hand take a dip

of ink and write across the paper. Mr. Pinto, then, taking a gray

receipt stamp out of his blue leather pocketbook, fastened it on to

the paper by the usual process; and the hand then wrote across the

receipt stamp, went across the table and shook hands with Pinto,

and then, as if waving him an adieu, vanished in the direction of

the ceiling.



There was the paper before me, wet with the ink. There was the pen

which THE HAND had used. Does anybody doubt me? I have that pen

now,--a cedar stick of a not uncommon sort, and holding one of

Gillott's pens. It is in my inkstand now, I tell you. Anybody may

see it. The handwriting on the check, for such the document was,

was the writing of a female. It ran thus:--"London, midnight,

March 31, 1862. Pay the bearer one thousand and fifty pounds.

Rachel Sidonia. To Messrs. Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., London."



"Noblest and best of women!" said Pinto, kissing the sheet of paper

with much reverence. "My good Mr. Roundabout, I suppose you do not

question THAT signature?"



Indeed the house of Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., is known to be one

of the richest in Europe, and as for the Countess Rachel, she was

known to be the chief manager of that enormously wealthy

establishment. There was only one little difficulty, the Countess

Rachel died last October.



I pointed out this circumstance, and tossed over the paper to Pinto

with a sneer.



"C'est a brandre ou a laisser," he said with some heat. "You

literary men are all imbrudent; but I did not tink you such a fool

wie dis. Your box is not worth twenty pound, and I offer you a

tausend because I know you want money to pay dat rascal Tom's

college bills." (This strange man actually knew that my scapegrace

Tom had been a source of great expense and annoyance to me.) "You

see money costs me nothing, and you refuse to take it! Once,

twice; will you take this check in exchange for your trumpery

snuff-box?"



What could I do? My poor granny's legacy was valuable and dear to

me, but after all a thousand guineas are not to be had every day.

"Be it a bargain," said I. "Shall we have a glass of wine on it?"

says Pinto; and to this proposal I also unwillingly acceded,

reminding him, by the way, that he had not yet told me the story of

the headless man.



"Your poor gr-ndm-ther was right just now, when she said she was

not my first love. 'Twas one of those banale expressions" (here

Mr. P. blushed once more) "which we use to women. We tell each she

is our first passion. They reply with a similar illusory formula.

No man is any woman's first love; no woman any man's. We are in

love in our nurse's arms, and women coquette with their eyes before

their tongue can form a word. How could your lovely relative love

me? I was far, far too old for her. I am older than I look. I am

so old that you would not believe my age were I to tell you. I

have loved many and many a woman before your relative. It has not

always been fortunate for them to love me. Ah, Sophronia! Round

the dreadful circus where you fell, and whence I was dragged

corpselike by the heels, there sat multitudes more savage than the

lions which mangled your sweet form! Ah, tenez! when we marched to

the terrible stake together at Valladolid--the Protestant and the

J-- But away with memory! Boy! it was happy for thy grandam that

she loved me not.



"During that strange period," he went on, "when the teeming Time

was great with the revolution that was speedily to be born, I was

on a mission in Paris with my excellent, my maligned friend,

Cagliostro. Mesmer was one of our band. I seemed to occupy but an

obscure rank in it: though, as you know, in secret societies the

humble man may be a chief and director--the ostensible leader but a

puppet moved by unseen hands. Never mind who was chief, or who was

second. Never mind my age. It boots not to tell it: why shall I

expose myself to your scornful incredulity--or reply to your

questions in words that are familiar to you, but which you cannot

understand? Words are symbols of things which you know, or of

things which you don't know. If you don't know them, to speak is

idle." (Here I confess Mr. P. spoke for exactly thirty-eight

minutes, about physics, metaphysics, language, the origin and

destiny of man, during which time I was rather bored, and to

relieve my ennui, drank a half glass or so of wine.) "LOVE,

friend, is the fountain of youth! It may not happen to me once--

once in an age: but when I love then I am young. I loved when I

was in Paris. Bathilde, Bathilde, I loved thee--ah, how fondly!

Wine, I say, more wine! Love is ever young. I was a boy at the

little feet of Bathilde de Bechamel--the fair, the fond, the

fickle, ah, the false!" The strange old man's agony was here

really terrific, and he showed himself much more agitated than when

he had been speaking about my gr-ndm-th-r.



"I thought Blanche might love me. I could speak to her in the

language of all countries, and tell her the lore of all ages. I

could trace the nursery legends which she loved up to their

Sanscrit source, and whisper to her the darkling mysteries of the

Egyptian Magi. I could chant for her the wild chorus that rang in

the disheveled Eleusinian revel: I could tell her and I would, the

watchword never known but to one woman, the Saban Queen, which

Hiram breathed in the abysmal ear of Solomon--You don't attend.

Psha! you have drunk too much wine!" Perhaps I may as well own

that I was NOT attending, for he had been carrying on for about

fifty-seven minutes; and I don't like a man to have ALL the talk to

himself.



"Blanche de Bechamel was wild, then, about this secret of Masonry.

In early, early days I loved, I married a girl fair as Blanche,

who, too, was tormented by curiosity, who, too, would peep into my

closet, into the only secret guarded from her. A dreadful fate

befell poor Fatima. An ACCIDENT shortened her life. Poor thing!

she had a foolish sister who urged her on. I always told her to

beware of Ann. She died. They said her brothers killed me. A

gross falsehood. AM I dead? If I were, could I pledge you in this

wine?"



"Was your name," I asked, quite bewildered, "was your name, pray,

then, ever Blueb----?"



"Hush! the waiter will overhear you. Methought we were speaking of

Blanche de Bechamel. I loved her, young man. My pearls, and

diamonds, and treasure, my wit, my wisdom, my passion, I flung them

all into the child's lap. I was a fool. Was strong Samson not as

weak as I? Was Solomon the Wise much better when Balkis wheedled

him? I said to the king--But enough of that, I spake of Blanche de

Bechamel.



"Curiosity was the poor child's foible. I could see, as I talked

to her, that her thoughts were elsewhere (as yours, my friend, have

been absent once or twice to-night). To know the secret of Masonry

was the wretched child's mad desire. With a thousand wiles,

smiles, caresses, she strove to coax it from me--from ME--ha! ha!



"I had an apprentice--the son of a dear friend, who died by my side

at Rossbach, when Soubise, with whose army I happened to be,

suffered a dreadful defeat for neglecting my advice. The Young

Chevalier Goby de Mouchy was glad enough to serve as my clerk, and

help in some chemical experiments in which I was engaged with my

friend Dr. Mesmer. Bathilde saw this young man. Since women were,

has it not been their business to smile and deceive, to fondle and

lure? Away! From the very first it has been so!" And as my

companion spoke, he looked as wicked as the serpent that coiled

round the tree, and hissed a poisoned counsel to the first woman.



"One evening I went, as was my wont, to see Blanche. She was

radiant: she was wild with spirits: a saucy triumph blazed in her

blue eyes. She talked, she rattled in her childish way. She

uttered, in the course of her rhapsody, a hint--an intimation--so

terrible that the truth flashed across me in a moment. Did I ask

her? She would lie to me. But I knew how to make falsehood

impossible. And I ordered her to go to sleep."



At this moment the clock (after its previous convulsions) sounded

TWELVE. And as the new Editor* of the Cornhill Magazine--and HE, I

promise you, won't stand any nonsense--will only allow seven pages,

I am obliged to leave off at THE VERY MOST INTERESTING POINT OF THE

STORY.





* Mr. Thackeray retired from the Editorship of the Cornhill

Magazine in March, 1862





III





"Are you of our fraternity? I see you are not. The secret which

Mademoiselle de Bechamel confided to me in her mad triumph and wild

hoyden spirits--she was but a child, poor thing, poor thing, scarce

fifteen;--but I love them young--a folly not unusual with the old!"

(Here Mr. Pinto thrust his knuckles into his hollow eyes; and, I am

sorry to say, so little regardful was he of personal cleanliness,

that his tears made streaks of white over his guarled dark hands.)

"Ah, at fifteen, poor child, thy fate was terrible! Go to! It is

not good to love me, friend. They prosper not who do. I divine

you. You need not say what you are thinking--"



In truth, I was thinking, if girls fall in love with this sallow,

hook-nosed, glass-eyed, wooden-legged, dirty, hideous old man, with

the sham teeth, they have a queer taste. THAT is what I was

thinking.



"Jack Wilkes said the handsomest man in London had but half an

hour's start of him. And, without vanity, I am scarcely uglier

than Jack Wilkes. We were members of the same club at Medenham

Abbey, Jack and I, and had many a merry night together. Well, sir,

I--Mary of Scotland knew me but as a little hunchbacked music

master; and yet, and yet, I think she was not indifferent to her

David Riz--and SHE came to misfortune. They all do--they all do!"



"Sir, you are wandering from your point!" I said, with some

severity. For, really, for this old humbug to hint that he had

been the baboon who frightened the club at Medenham, that he had

been in the Inquisition at Valladolid--that under the name of D.

Riz, as he called it, he had known the lovely Queen of Scots--was a

LITTLE too much. "Sir," then I said, "you were speaking about a

Miss Bechamel. I really have not time to hear all of your

biography."



"Faith, the good wine gets into my head." (I should think so, the

old toper! Four bottles all but two glasses.) "To return to poor

Blanche. As I sat laughing, joking with her, she let slip a word,

a little word, which filled me with dismay. Some one had told her

a part of the Secret--the secret which has been divulged scarce

thrice in three thousand years--the Secret of the Freemasons. Do

you know what happens to those uninitiate who learn that secret? to

those wretched men, the initiate who reveal it?"



As Pinto spoke to me, he looked through and through me with his

horrible piercing glance, so that I sat quite uneasily on my bench.

He continued: "Did I question her awake? I knew she would lie to

me. Poor child! I loved her no less because I did not believe a

word she said. I loved her blue eye, her golden hair, her

delicious voice, that was true in song, though when she spoke,

false as Eblis! You are aware that I possess in rather a

remarkable degree what we have agreed to call the mesmeric power.

I set the unhappy girl to sleep. THEN she was obliged to tell me

all. It was as I had surmised. Goby de Mouchy, my wretched,

besotted miserable secretary, in his visits to the chateau of the

Marquis de Bechamel, who was one of our society, had seen Blanche.

I suppose it was because she had been warned that he was worthless,

and poor, artful and a coward, she loved him. She wormed out of

the besotted wretch the secrets of our Order. 'Did he tell you the

NUMBER ONE?' I asked.



"She said, 'Yes.'



"'Did he,' I further inquired, 'tell you the--'



"'Oh, don't ask me, don't ask me!' she said, writhing on the sofa,

where she lay in the presence of the Marquis de Bechamel, her most

unhappy father. Poor Bechamel, poor Bechamel! How pale he looked

as I spoke! 'Did he tell you,' I repeated with a dreadful calm,

'the NUMBER TWO?' She said, 'Yes.'



"The poor old marquis rose up, and clasping his hands, fell on his

knees before Count Cagl---- Bah! I went by a different name then.

Vat's in a name? Dat vich ye call a Rosicrucian by any other name

vil smell as sveet. 'Monsieur,' he said, 'I am old--I am rich. I

have five hundred thousand livres of rentes in Picardy. I have

half as much in Artois. I have two hundred and eighty thousand on

the Grand Livre. I am promised by my Sovereign a dukedom and his

orders with a reversion to my heir. I am a Grandee of Spain of the

First Class, and Duke of Volovento. Take my titles, my ready

money, my life, my honor, everything I have in the world, but don't

ask the THIRD QUESTION.'



"'Godfroid de Bouillon, Comte de Bechamel, Grandee of Spain and

Prince of Volovento, in our Assembly what was the oath you swore?'

The old man writhed as he remembered its terrific purport.



"Though my heart was racked with agony, and I would have died, aye,

cheerfully" (died, indeed, as if THAT were a penalty!) "to spare

yonder lovely child a pang, I said to her calmly, 'Blanche de

Bechamel, did Goby de Mouchy tell you secret NUMBER THREE?'



"She whispered a oui that was quite faint, faint and small. But

her poor father fell in convulsions at her feet.



"She died suddenly that night. Did I not tell you those I love

come to no good? When General Bonaparte crossed the Saint Bernard,

he saw in the convent an old monk with a white beard, wandering

about the corridors, cheerful and rather stout, but mad--mad as a

March hare. 'General,' I said to him, 'did you ever see that face

before?' He had not. He had not mingled much with the higher

classes of our society before the Revolution. I knew the poor old

man well enough; he was the last of a noble race, and I loved his

child."



"And did she die by--?"



"Man! did I say so? Do I whisper the secrets of the Vehmgericht?

I say she died that night: and he--he, the heartless, the villain,

the betrayer,--you saw him seated in yonder curiosity shop, by

yonder guillotine, with his scoundrelly head in his lap.



"You saw how slight that instrument was? It was one of the first

which Guillotin made, and which he showed to private friends in a

hangar in the Rue Picpus, where he lived. The invention created

some little conversation among scientific men at the time, though I

remember a machine in Edinburgh of a very similar construction, two

hundred--well, many, many years ago--and at a breakfast which

Guillotin gave he showed us the instrument, and much talk arose

among us as to whether people suffered under it.



"And now I must tell you what befell the traitor who had caused all

this suffering. Did he know that the poor child's death was a

SENTENCE? He felt a cowardly satisfaction that with her was gone

the secret of his treason. Then he began to doubt. I had MEANS to

penetrate all his thoughts, as well as to know his acts. Then he

became a slave to a horrible fear. He fled in abject terror to a

convent. They still existed in Paris; and behind the walls of

Jacobins the wretch thought himself secure. Poor fool! I had but

to set one of my somnambulists to sleep. Her spirit went forth and

spied the shuddering wretch in his cell. She described the street,

the gate, the convent, the very dress which he wore, and which you

saw to-day.



"And now THIS is what happened. In his chamber in the Rue St.

Honore, at Paris, sat a man ALONE--a man who has been maligned, a

man who has been called a knave and charlatan, a man who has been

persecuted even to the death, it is said, in Roman Inquisitions,

forsooth, and elsewhere. Ha! ha! A man who has a mighty will.



"And looking toward the Jacobins Convent (of which, from his

chamber, he could see the spires and trees), this man WILLED. And

it was not yet dawn. And he willed; and one who was lying in his

cell in the convent of Jacobins, awake and shuddering with terror

for a crime which he had committed, fell asleep.



"But though he was asleep his eyes were open.



"And after tossing and writhing, and clinging to the pallet, and

saying 'No, I will not go,' he rose up and donned his clothes--a

gray coat, a vest of white pique, black satin small-clothes, ribbed

silk stockings, and a white stock with a steel buckle; and he

arranged his hair, and he tied his queue, all the while being in

that strange somnolence which walks, which moves, which FLIES

sometimes, which sees, which is indifferent to pain, which OBEYS.

And he put on his hat, and he went forth from his cell: and though

the dawn was not yet, he trod the corridors as seeing them. And he

passed into the cloister, and then into the garden where lie the

ancient dead. And he came to the wicket, which Brother Jerome was

opening just at the dawning. And the crowd was already waiting

with their cans and bowls to receive the alms of the good brethren.



"And he passed through the crowd and went on his way, and the few

people then abroad who marked him, said, 'Tiens! How very odd he

looks! He looks like a man walking in his sleep!' This was said

by various persons:--



"By milk women, with their cans and carts, coming into the town.



"By roysterers who had been drinking at the taverns of the Barrier,

for it was Mid-Lent.



"By the sergeants of the watch, who eyed him sternly as he passed

near their halberds.



"But he passed on unmoved by their halberds,



"Unmoved by the cries of the roysterers,



"By the market women coming with their milk and eggs.



"He walked through the Rue St. Honore, I say:--



"By the Rue Rambuteau,



"By the Rue St. Antoine,



"By the King's Chateau of the Bastille,



"By the Faubourg St. Antoine.



"And he came to No. 29 in the Rue Picpus--a house which then stood

between a court and garden--



"That is, there was a building of one story, with a great coach

door.



"Then there was a court, around which were stables, coach-houses,

offices.



"Then there was a house--a two-storied house, with a perron in

front.



"Behind the house was a garden--a garden of two hundred and fifty

French feet in length.



"And as one hundred feet of France equal one hundred and six feet

of England, this garden, my friend, equaled exactly two hundred and

sixty-five feet of British measure.



"In the center of the garden was a fountain and a statue--or, to

speak more correctly, two statues. One was recumbent,--a man.

Over him, saber in hand, stood a Woman.



"The man was Olofernes. The woman was Judith. From the head, from

the trunk, the water gushed. It was the taste of the doctor:--was

it not a droll of taste?



"At the end of the garden was the doctor's cabinet of study. My

faith, a singular cabinet, and singular pictures!--



"Decapitation of Charles Premier at Vitehall.



"Decapitation of Montrose at Edimbourg.



"Decapitation of Cinq Mars. When I tell you that he was a man of

taste, charming!



"Through this garden, by these statues, up these stairs, went the

pale figure of him who, the porter said, knew the way of the house.

He did. Turning neither right nor left, he seemed to walk THROUGH

the statues, the obstacles, the flower beds, the stairs, the door,

the tables, the chairs.



"In the corner of the room was THAT INSTRUMENT, which Guillotin had

just invented and perfected. One day he was to lay his own head

under his own ax. Peace be to his name! With him I deal not!



"In a frame of mahogany, neatly worked, was a board with a half

circle in it, over which another board fitted. Above was a heavy

ax, which fell--you know how. It was held up by a rope, and when

this rope was untied, or cut, the steel fell.



"To the story which I now have to relate, you may give credence, or

not, as you will. The sleeping man went up to that instrument.



"He laid his head in it, asleep."



"Asleep?"



"He then took a little penknife out of the pocket of his white

dimity waistcoat.



"He cut the rope asleep.



"The ax descended on the head of the traitor and villain. The

notch in it was made by the steel buckle of his stock, which was

cut through.



"A strange legend has got abroad that after the deed was done, the

figure rose, took the head from the basket, walked forth through

the garden, and by the screaming porters at the gate, and went and

laid itself down at the Morgue. But for this I will not vouch.

Only of this be sure. 'There are more things in heaven and earth,

Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.' More and more

the light peeps through the chinks. Soon, amidst music ravishing,

the curtain will rise, and the glorious scene be displayed. Adieu!

Remember me. Ha! 'tis dawn," Pinto said. And he was gone.



I am ashamed to say that my first movement was to clutch the check

which he had left with me, and which I was determined to present

the very moment the bank opened. I know the importance of these

things, and that men change their mind sometimes. I sprang through

the streets to the great banking house of Manasseh in Duke Street.

It seemed to me as if I actually flew as I walked. As the clock

struck ten I was at the counter and laid down my check.



The gentleman who received it, who was one of the Hebrew

persuasion, as were the other two hundred clerks of the

establishment, having looked at the draft with terror in his

countenance, then looked at me, then called to himself two of his

fellow clerks, and queer it was to see all their aquiline beaks

over the paper.



"Come, come!" said I, "don't keep me here all day. Hand me over

the money, short, if you please!" for I was, you see, a little

alarmed, and so determined to assume some extra bluster.



"Will you have the kindness to step into the parlor to the

partners?" the clerk said, and I followed him.



"What, AGAIN?" shrieked a bald-headed, red-whiskered gentleman,

whom I knew to be Mr. Manasseh. "Mr. Salathiel, this is too bad!

Leave me with this gentleman, S." And the clerk disappeared.



"Sir," he said, "I know how you came by this: the Count de Pinto

gave it you. It is too bad! I honor my parents; I honor THEIR

parents; I honor their bills! But this one of grandma's is too

bad--it is, upon my word, now! She've been dead these five-and-

thirty years. And this last four months she has left her burial

place and took to drawing on our 'ouse! It's too bad, grandma; it

is too bad!" and he appealed to me, and tears actually trickled

down his nose.



"Is it the Countess Sidonia's check or not?" I asked, haughtily.



"But, I tell you, she's dead! It's a shame!--it's a shame!--it is,

grandmamma!" and he cried, and wiped his great nose in his yellow

pocket handkerchief. "Look year--will you take pounds instead of

guineas? She's dead, I tell you! It's no go! Take the pounds--

one tausend pound!--ten nice, neat, crisp hundred-pound notes, and

go away vid you, do!"



"I will have my bond, sir, or nothing," I said; and I put on an

attitude of resolution which I confess surprised even myself.



"Wery veil," he shrieked, with many oaths, "then you shall have

noting--ha, ha, ha!--noting but a policeman! Mr. Abednego, call a

policeman! Take that, you humbug and impostor!" and here with an

abundance of frightful language which I dare not repeat, the

wealthy banker abused and defied me.



Au bout du compte, what was I to do, if a banker did not choose to

honor a check drawn by his dead grandmother? I began to wish I had

my snuff-box back. I began to think I was a fool for changing that

little old-fashioned gold for

this slip of strange paper.



Meanwhile the banker had passed from his fit of anger to a paroxysm

of despair. He seemed to be addressing some person invisible, but

in the room: "Look here, ma'am, you've really been coming it too

strong. A hundred thousand in six months, and now a thousand more!

The 'ouse can't stand it; it WON'T stand it, I say! What? Oh!

mercy, mercy!



As he uttered these words, A HAND fluttered over the table in the

air! It was a female hand: that which I had seen the night before.

That female hand took a pen from the green baize table, dipped it

in a silver inkstand, and wrote on a quarter of a sheet of foolscap

on the blotting book, "How about the diamond robbery? If you do

not pay, I will tell him where they are."



What diamonds? what robbery? what was this mystery? That will

never be ascertained, for the wretched man's demeanor instantly

changed. "Certainly, sir;--oh, certainly," he said, forcing a

grin. "How will you have the money, sir? All right, Mr. Abednego.

This way out."



"I hope I shall often see you again," I said; on which I own poor

Manasseh gave a dreadful grin, and shot back into his parlor.



I ran home, clutching the ten delicious, crisp hundred pounds, and

the dear little fifty which made up the account. I flew through

the streets again. I got to my chambers. I bolted the outer

doors. I sank back in my great chair, and slept. . . .



My first thing on waking was to feel for my money. Perdition!

Where was I? Ha!--on the table before me was my grandmother's

snuff-box, and by its side one of those awful--those admirable--

sensation novels, which I had been reading, and which are full of

delicious wonder.



But that the guillotine is still to be seen at Mr. Gale's, No. 47,

High Holborn, I give you MY HONOR. I suppose I was dreaming about

it. I don't know. What is dreaming? What is life? Why shouldn't

I sleep on the ceiling?--and am I sitting on it now, or on the

floor? I am puzzled. But enough. If the fashion for sensation

novels goes on, I tell you I will write one in fifty volumes. For

the present, DIXI. But between ourselves, this Pinto, who fought

at the Colosseum, who was nearly being roasted by the Inquisition,

and sang duets at Holyrood, I am rather sorry to lose him after

three little bits of Roundabout Papers. Et vous?





The Nose The Oblong Box facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback