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By H. P. Lovecraft
Somewhere, to what remote and fearsome region I know not, Denys Barry has gone. I was with him the last night he lived among men, and heard his screams when the thing came to him; but all the peasants and police in County Meath could never find him, or the others, though they searched long and far. And now I shudder when I hear the frogs piping in swamps, or see the moon in lonely places.
I had known Denys Barry well in America, where he had grown rich, and had congratulated him when he bought back the old castle by the bog at sleepy Kilderry. It was from Kilderry that his father had come, and it was there that he wished to enjoy his wealth among ancestral scenes. Men of his blood had once ruled over Kilderry and built and dwelt in the castle, but those days were very remote, so that for generations the castle had been empty and decaying. After he went to Ireland Barry wrote me often, and told me how under his care the grey castle was rising tower by tower to its ancient splendour; how the ivy was climbing slowly over the restored walls as it had climbed so many centuries ago, and how the peasants blessed him for bringing back the old days with his gold from over the sea. But in time there came troubles, and the peasants ceased to bless him, and fled away instead as from a doom. And then he sent a letter and asked me to visit him, for he was lonely in the castle with no one to speak to save the new servants and labourers he had brought from the north.
The bog was the cause of all these troubles, as Barry told me the night I came to the castle. I had reached Kilderry in the summer sunset, as the gold of the sky lighted the green of the hills and groves and the blue of the bog, where on a far islet a strange olden ruin glistened spectrally. That sunset was very beautiful, but the peasants at Ballylough had warned me against it and said that Kilderry had become accursed, so that I almost shuddered to see the high turrets of the castle gilded with fire. Barry’s motor had met me at the Ballylough station, for Kilderry is off the railway. The villagers had shunned the car and the driver from the north, but had whispered to me with pale faces when they saw I was going to Kilderry. And that night, after our reunion, Barry told me why.
The peasants had gone from Kilderry because Denys Barry was to drain the great bog. For all his love of Ireland, America had not left him untouched, and he hated the beautiful wasted space where peat might be cut and land opened up. The legends and superstitions of Kilderry did not move him, and he laughed when the peasants first refused to help, and then cursed him and went away to Ballylough with their few belongings as they saw his determination. In their place he sent for labourers from the north, and when the servants left he replaced them likewise. But it was lonely among strangers, so Barry had asked me to come.
When I heard the fears which had driven the people from Kilderry I laughed as loudly as my friend had laughed, for these fears were of the vaguest, wildest, and most absurd character. They had to do with some preposterous legend of the bog, and of a grim guardian spirit that dwelt in the strange olden ruin on the far islet I had seen in the sunset. There were tales of dancing lights in the dark of the moon, and of chill winds when the night was warm; of wraiths in white hovering over the waters, and of an imagined city of stone deep down below the swampy surface. But foremost among the weird fancies, and alone in its absolute unanimity, was that of the curse awaiting him who should dare to touch or drain the vast reddish morass. There were secrets, said the peasants, which must not be uncovered; secrets that had lain hidden since the plague came to the children of Partholan in the fabulous years beyond history. In the Book of Invaders it is told that these sons of the Greeks were all buried at Tallaght, but old men in Kilderry said that one city was overlooked save by its patron moon-goddess; so that only the wooded hills buried it when the men of Nemed swept down from Scythia in their thirty ships.
Such were the idle tales which had made the villagers leave Kilderry, and when I heard them I did not wonder that Denys Barry had refused to listen. He had, however, a great interest in antiquities; and proposed to explore the bog thoroughly when it was drained. The white ruins on the islet he had often visited, but though their age was plainly great, and their contour very little like that of most ruins in Ireland, they were too dilapidated to tell the days of their glory. Now the work of drainage was ready to begin, and the labourers from the north were soon to strip the forbidden bog of its green moss and red heather, and kill the tiny shell-paved streamlets and quiet blue pools fringed with rushes.
After Barry had told me these things I was very drowsy, for the travels of the day had been wearying and my host had talked late into the night. A manservant shewed me to my room, which was in a remote tower overlooking the village, and the plain at the edge of the bog, and the bog itself; so that I could see from my windows in the moonlight the silent roofs from which the peasants had fled and which now sheltered the labourers from the north, and too, the parish church with its antique spire, and far out across the brooding bog the remote olden ruin on the islet gleaming white and spectral. Just as I dropped to sleep I fancied I heard faint sounds from the distance; sounds that were wild and half musical, and stirred me with a weird excitement which coloured my dreams. But when I awaked next morning I felt it had all been a dream, for the visions I had seen were more wonderful than any sound of wild pipes in the night. Influenced by the legends that Barry had related, my mind had in slumber hovered around a stately city in a green valley, where marble streets and statues, villas and temples, carvings and inscriptions, all spoke in certain tones the glory that was Greece. When I told this dream to Barry we both laughed; but I laughed the louder, because he was perplexed about his labourers from the north. For the sixth time they had all overslept, waking very slowly and dazedly, and acting as if they had not rested, although they were known to have gone early to bed the night before.
That morning and afternoon I wandered alone through the sun-gilded village and talked now and then with idle labourers, for Barry was busy with the final plans for beginning his work of drainage. The labourers were not as happy as they might have been, for most of them seemed uneasy over some dream which they had had, yet which they tried in vain to remember. I told them of my dream, but they were not interested till I spoke of the weird sounds I thought I had heard. Then they looked oddly at me, and said that they seemed to remember weird sounds, too.
In the evening Barry dined with me and announced that he would begin the drainage in two days. I was glad, for although I disliked to see the moss and the heather and the little streams and lakes depart, I had a growing wish to discern the ancient secrets the deep-matted peat might hide. And that night my dreams of piping flutes and marble peristyles came to a sudden and disquieting end; for upon the city in the valley I saw a pestilence descend, and then a frightful avalanche of wooded slopes that covered the dead bodies in the streets and left unburied only the temple of Artemis on the high peak, where the aged moon-priestess Cleis lay cold and silent with a crown of ivory on her silver head.
I have said that I awaked suddenly and in alarm. For some time I could not tell whether I was waking or sleeping, for the sound of flutes still rang shrilly in my ears; but when I saw on the floor the icy moonbeams and the outlines of a latticed Gothic window I decided I must be awake and in the castle at Kilderry. Then I heard a clock from some remote landing below strike the hour of two, and I knew I was awake. Yet still there came that monotonous piping from afar; wild, weird airs that made me think of some dance of fauns on distant Maenalus. It would not let me sleep, and in impatience I sprang up and paced the floor. Only by chance did I go to the north window and look out upon the silent village and the plain at the edge of the bog. I had no wish to gaze abroad, for I wanted to sleep; but the flutes tormented me, and I had to do or see something. How could I have suspected the thing I was to behold?
There in the moonlight that flooded the spacious plain was a spectacle which no mortal, having seen it, could ever forget. To the sound of reedy pipes that echoed over the bog there glided silently and eerily a mixed throng of swaying figures, reeling through such a revel as the Sicilians may have danced to Demeter in the old days under the harvest moon beside the Cyane. The wide plain, the golden moonlight, the shadowy moving forms, and above all the shrill monotonous piping, produced an effect which almost paralysed me; yet I noted amidst my fear that half of these tireless, mechanical dancers were the labourers whom I had thought asleep, whilst the other half were strange airy beings in white, half indeterminate in nature, but suggesting pale wistful naiads from the haunted fountains of the bog. I do not know how long I gazed at this sight from the lonely turret window before I dropped suddenly in a dreamless swoon, out of which the high sun of morning aroused me.
My first impulse on awaking was to communicate all my fears and observations to Denys Barry, but as I saw the sunlight glowing through the latticed east window I became sure that there was no reality in what I thought I had seen. I am given to strange phantasms, yet am never weak enough to believe in them; so on this occasion contented myself with questioning the labourers, who slept very late and recalled nothing of the previous night save misty dreams of shrill sounds. This matter of the spectral piping harassed me greatly, and I wondered if the crickets of autumn had come before their time to vex the night and haunt the visions of men. Later in the day I watched Barry in the library poring over his plans for the great work which was to begin on the morrow, and for the first time felt a touch of the same kind of fear that had driven the peasants away. For some unknown reason I dreaded the thought of disturbing the ancient bog and its sunless secrets, and pictured terrible sights lying black under the unmeasured depth of age-old peat. That these secrets should be brought to light seemed injudicious, and I began to wish for an excuse to leave the castle and the village. I went so far as to talk casually to Barry on the subject, but did not dare continue after he gave his resounding laugh. So I was silent when the sun set fulgently over the far hills, and Kilderry blazed all red and gold in a flame that seemed a portent.
Whether the events of that night were of reality or illusion I shall never ascertain. Certainly they transcend anything we dream of in Nature and the universe; yet in no normal fashion can I explain those disappearances which were known to all men after it was over. I retired early and full of dread, and for a long time could not sleep in the uncanny silence of the tower. It was very dark, for although the sky was clear the moon was now well in the wane, and would not rise till the small hours. I thought as I lay there of Denys Barry, and of what would befall that bog when the day came, and found myself almost frantic with an impulse to rush out into the night, take Barry’s car, and drive madly to Ballylough out of the menaced lands. But before my fears could crystallise into action I had fallen asleep, and gazed in dreams upon the city in the valley, cold and dead under a shroud of hideous shadow.
Probably it was the shrill piping that awaked me, yet that piping was not what I noticed first when I opened my eyes. I was lying with my back to the east window overlooking the bog, where the waning moon would rise, and therefore expected to see light cast on the opposite wall before me; but I had not looked for such a sight as now appeared. Light indeed glowed on the panels ahead, but it was not any light that the moon gives. Terrible and piercing was the shaft of ruddy refulgence that streamed through the Gothic window, and the whole chamber was brilliant with a splendour intense and unearthly. My immediate actions were peculiar for such a situation, but it is only in tales that a man does the dramatic and foreseen thing. Instead of looking out across the bog toward the source of the new light, I kept my eyes from the window in panic fear, and clumsily drew on my clothing with some dazed idea of escape. I remember seizing my revolver and hat, but before it was over I had lost them both without firing the one or donning the other. After a time the fascination of the red radiance overcame my fright, and I crept to the east window and looked out whilst the maddening, incessant piping whined and reverberated through the castle and over all the village.
Over the bog was a deluge of flaring light, scarlet and sinister, and pouring from the strange olden ruin on the far islet. The aspect of that ruin I cannot describe—I must have been mad, for it seemed to rise majestic and undecayed, splendid and column-cinctured, the flame-reflecting marble of its entablature piercing the sky like the apex of a temple on a mountain-top. Flutes shrieked and drums began to beat, and as I watched in awe and terror I thought I saw dark saltant forms silhouetted grotesquely against the vision of marble and effulgence. The effect was titanic—altogether unthinkable—and I might have stared indefinitely had not the sound of the piping seemed to grow stronger at my left. Trembling with a terror oddly mixed with ecstasy I crossed the circular room to the north window from which I could see the village and the plain at the edge of the bog. There my eyes dilated again with a wild wonder as great as if I had not just turned from a scene beyond the pale of Nature, for on the ghastly red-litten plain was moving a procession of beings in such a manner as none ever saw before save in nightmares.
Half gliding, half floating in the air, the white-clad bog-wraiths were slowly retreating toward the still waters and the island ruin in fantastic formations suggesting some ancient and solemn ceremonial dance. Their waving translucent arms, guided by the detestable piping of those unseen flutes, beckoned in uncanny rhythm to a throng of lurching labourers who followed dog-like with blind, brainless, floundering steps as if dragged by a clumsy but resistless daemon-will. As the naiads neared the bog, without altering their course, a new line of stumbling stragglers zigzagged drunkenly out of the castle from some door far below my window, groped sightlessly across the courtyard and through the intervening bit of village, and joined the floundering column of labourers on the plain. Despite their distance below me I at once knew they were the servants brought from the north, for I recognised the ugly and unwieldy form of the cook, whose very absurdness had now become unutterably tragic. The flutes piped horribly, and again I heard the beating of the drums from the direction of the island ruin. Then silently and gracefully the naiads reached the water and melted one by one into the ancient bog; while the line of followers, never checking their speed, splashed awkwardly after them and vanished amidst a tiny vortex of unwholesome bubbles which I could barely see in the scarlet light. And as the last pathetic straggler, the fat cook, sank heavily out of sight in that sullen pool, the flutes and the drums grew silent, and the blinding red rays from the ruins snapped instantaneously out, leaving the village of doom lone and desolate in the wan beams of a new-risen moon.
My condition was now one of indescribable chaos. Not knowing whether I was mad or sane, sleeping or waking, I was saved only by a merciful numbness. I believe I did ridiculous things such as offering prayers to Artemis, Latona, Demeter, Persephone, and Plouton. All that I recalled of a classic youth came to my lips as the horrors of the situation roused my deepest superstitions. I felt that I had witnessed the death of a whole village, and knew I was alone in the castle with Denys Barry, whose boldness had brought down a doom. As I thought of him new terrors convulsed me, and I fell to the floor; not fainting, but physically helpless. Then I felt the icy blast from the east window where the moon had risen, and began to hear the shrieks in the castle far below me. Soon those shrieks had attained a magnitude and quality which cannot be written of, and which make me faint as I think of them. All I can say is that they came from something I had known as a friend.
At some time during this shocking period the cold wind and the screaming must have roused me, for my next impression is of racing madly through inky rooms and corridors and out across the courtyard into the hideous night. They found me at dawn wandering mindless near Ballylough, but what unhinged me utterly was not any of the horrors I had seen or heard before. What I muttered about as I came slowly out of the shadows was a pair of fantastic incidents which occurred in my flight; incidents of no significance, yet which haunt me unceasingly when I am alone in certain marshy places or in the moonlight.
As I fled from that accursed castle along the bog’s edge I heard a new sound; common, yet unlike any I had heard before at Kilderry. The stagnant waters, lately quite devoid of animal life, now teemed with a horde of slimy enormous frogs which piped shrilly and incessantly in tones strangely out of keeping with their size. They glistened bloated and green in the moonbeams, and seemed to gaze up at the fount of light. I followed the gaze of one very fat and ugly frog, and saw the second of the things which drove my senses away.
Stretching directly from the strange olden ruin on the far islet to the waning moon, my eyes seemed to trace a beam of faint quivering radiance having no reflection in the waters of the bog. And upward along that pallid path my fevered fancy pictured a thin shadow slowly writhing; a vague contorted shadow struggling as if drawn by unseen daemons. Crazed as I was, I saw in that awful shadow a monstrous resemblance—a nauseous, unbelievable caricature—a blasphemous effigy of him who had been Denys Barry.
I found this Moon-Bog music to go with the story!
Pyrmont had a larger concourse of visitors than ever in the summer of 18–. The number of rich and illustrious strangers increased from day to day, greatly exciting the zeal of speculators of all kinds. Hence it was also that the owners of the faro-bank took care to pile up their glittering gold in bigger heaps, in order that this, the bait of the noblest game, which they, like good skilled hunters, knew how to decoy, might preserve its efficacy.
Who does not know how fascinating an excitement gambling is, particularly at watering-places, during the season, where every visitor, having laid aside his ordinary habits and course of life, deliberately gives himself up to leisure and ease and exhilarating enjoyment? then gambling becomes an irresistible attraction. People who at other times never touch a card are to be seen amongst the most eager players; and besides, it is the fashion, especially in higher circles, for every one to visit the bank in the evening and lose a little money at play.
The only person who appeared not to heed this irresistible attraction, and this injunction of fashion, was a young German Baron, whom we will call Siegfried. When everybody else hurried off to the play-house, and he was deprived of all means and all prospect of the intellectual conversation he loved, he preferred either to give reins to the flights of his fancy in solitary walks or to stay in his own room and take up a book, or even indulge in poetic attempts, in writing, himself.
As Siegfried was young, independent, rich, of noble appearance and pleasing disposition, it could not fail but that he was highly esteemed and loved, and that he had the most decisive good-fortune with the fair sex. And in everything that he took up or turned his attention to, there seemed to be a singularly lucky star presiding over his actions. Rumour spoke of many extraordinary love-intrigues which had been forced upon him, and out of which, however ruinous they would in all likelihood have been for many other young men, he escaped with incredible ease and success. But whenever the conversation turned upon him and his good fortune, the old gentlemen of his acquaintance were especially fond of relating a story about a watch, which had happened in the days of his early youth. For it chanced once that Siegfried, while still under his guardian’s care, had quite unexpectedly found himself so straitened for money on a journey that he was absolutely obliged to sell his gold watch, which was set with brilliants, merely in order to get on his way. He had made up his mind that he would have to throw away his valuable watch for an old song; but as there happened to be in the hotel where he had put up at a young prince who was just in want of such an ornament, the Baron actually received for it more than it was really worth. More than a year passed and Siegfried had become his own master, when he read in the newspapers in another place that a watch was to be made the subject of a lottery. He took a ticket, which cost a mere trifle, and won–the same gold watch set with brilliants which he had sold. Not long afterwards he exchanged this watch for a valuable ring. He held office for a short time under the Prince of G—-, and when he retired from his post the Prince presented to him as a mark of his good-will the very identical gold watch set with brilliants as before, together with a costly chain.
From this story they passed to Siegfried’s obstinacy in never on any account touching a card; why, with his strongly pronounced good-luck he had all the more inducement to play; and they were unanimous in coming to the conclusion that the Baron, notwithstanding all his other conspicuous good qualities, was a miserly fellow, far too careful and far too stingy to expose himself to the smallest possible loss. That the Baron’s conduct was in every particular the direct contrary of that of an avaricious man had no weight with them; and as is so often the case, when the majority have set their hearts upon tagging a questioning ‘but’ on to the good name of a talented man, and are determined to find this ‘but’ at any cost, even though it should be in their own imagination, so in the present case the sneering allusion to Siegfried’s aversion to play afforded them infinite satisfaction.
Siegfried was not long in learning what was being said about him; and since, generous and liberal as he was, there was nothing he hated and detested more than miserliness, he made up his mind to put his traducers to shame by ransoming himself from this foul aspersion at the cost of a couple of hundred Louis d’or, or even more if need be, however much disgusted he might feel at gambling. He presented himself at the faro-bank with the deliberate intention of losing the large sum which he had put in his pocket; but in play also the good luck which stood by him in everything he undertook did not prove unfaithful. Every card he chose won. The cabalistic calculations of seasoned old players were shivered to atoms against the Baron’s play. No matter whether he changed his cards or continued to stake on1 the same one, it was all the same: he was always a winner. In the Baron they had the singular spectacle of a punter at variance with himself because the cards fell favourable for him; and notwithstanding that the explanation of his behaviour was pretty patent, yet people looked at each other significantly and gave utterance in no ambiguous terms to the opinion that the Baron, carried along by his penchant for the marvellous, might eventually become insane, for any player who could be dismayed at his run of luck must surely be insane.
The very fact of having won a considerable sum of money made it obligatory upon the Baron to go on playing until he should have carried out his original purpose; for in all probability his large win would be followed by a still larger loss. But people’s expectations were not in the remotest degree realised, for the Baron’s striking good-luck continued to attend him.
Without his being conscious of it, there began to be awakened in his mind a strong liking for faro, which with all its simplicity is the most ominous of games; and this liking continued to increase more and more. He was no longer dissatisfied with his good-luck; gambling fettered his attention and held him fast to the table for nights and nights, so that he was perforce compelled to give credence to the peculiar attraction of the game, of which his friends had formerly spoken and which he would by no means allow to be correct, for he was attracted to faro not by the thirst for gain, but simply and solely by the game itself.
One night, just as the banker had finished a taille, the Baron happened to raise his eyes and observed that an elderly man had taken post directly opposite to him and had got his eyes fixed upon him in a set, sad, earnest gaze. And as long as play lasted, every time the Baron looked up, his eyes met the stranger’s dark sad stare, until at last he could not help being struck with a very uncomfortable and oppressive feeling. And the stranger only left the apartment when play came to an end for the night. The following night he again stood opposite the Baron, staring at him with unaverted gaze, whilst his eyes had a dark mysterious spectral look. The Baron still kept his temper. But when on the third night the stranger appeared again and fixed his eyes, burning with a consuming fire, upon the Baron, the latter burst out, “Sir, I must beg you to choose some other place. You exercise a constraining influence upon my play.”
With a painful smile the stranger bowed and left the table, and the hall too, without uttering a word.
But on the next night the stranger again stood opposite the Baron, piercing him through and through with his dark fiery glance. Then the Baron burst out still more angrily than on the preceding night, “If you think it a joke, sir, to stare at me, pray choose some other time and some other place to do so; and now have the”—- A wave of the hand towards the door took the place of the harsh words the Baron was about to utter. And as on the previous night, the stranger, after bowing slightly, left the hall with the same painful smile upon his lips.
Siegfried was so excited and heated by play, by the wine which he had taken, and also by the scene with the stranger, that he could not sleep. Morning was already breaking, when the stranger’s figure appeared before his eyes. He observed his striking, sharp-cut features, worn with suffering, and his sad deep-set eyes just as he had stared at him; and he noticed his distinguished bearing, which, in spite of his mean clothing, betrayed a man of high culture. And then the air of painful resignation with which the stranger submitted to the harsh words flung at him, and fought down his bitter feelings with an effort, and left the hall! “No,” cried Siegfried, “I did him wrong–great wrong. Is it indeed at all like me to blaze up in this rude, ill- mannered way, like an uncultivated clown, and to offer insults to people without the least provocation?” The Baron at last arrived at the conviction that it must have been a most oppressive feeling of the sharp contrast between them which had made the man stare at him so; in the moment that he was perhaps contending with the bitterest poverty, he (the Baron) was piling up heaps and heaps of gold with all the superciliousness of the gambler. He resolved to find out the stranger that very morning and atone to him for his rudeness.
And as chance would have it, the very first person whom the Baron saw strolling down the avenue was the stranger himself.
The Baron addressed him, offered the most profuse apologies for his behaviour of the night before, and in conclusion begged the stranger’s pardon in all due form. The stranger replied that he had nothing to pardon, since large allowances must be made for a player deeply intent over his game, and besides, he had only himself to blame for the harsh words he had provoked, since he had obstinately persisted in remaining in the place where he disturbed the Baron’s play.
The Baron went further; he said there were often seasons of momentary embarrassment in life which weighed with a most galling effect upon a man of refinement, and he plainly hinted to the stranger that he was willing to give the money he had won, or even more still, if by that means he could perhaps be of any assistance to him.
“Sir,” replied the stranger, “you think I am in want, but that is not indeed the case; for though poor rather than rich, I yet have enough to satisfy my simple wants. Moreover, you will yourself perceive that as a man of honour I could not possibly accept a large sum of money from you as indemnification for the insult you conceive you have offered me, even though I were not a gentleman of birth.”
“I think I understand you,” replied the Baron starting; “I am ready to grant you the satisfaction you demand.”
“Good God!” continued the stranger–“Good God, how unequal a contest it would be between us two! I am certain that you think as I do about a duel, that it is not to be treated as a piece of childish folly; nor do you believe that a few drops of blood, which have perhaps fallen from a scratched finger, can ever wash tarnished honour bright again. There are many cases in which it is impossible for two particular individuals to continue to exist together on this earth, even though the one live in the Caucasus and the other on the Tiber; no separation is possible so long as the hated foe can be thought of as still alive. In this case a duel to decide which of the two is to give way to the other on this earth is a necessity. Between us now, as I have just said, a duel would be fought upon unequal terms, since nohow can my life be valued so highly as yours. If I run you through, I destroy a whole world of the finest hopes; and if I fall, then you have put an end to a miserable existence, that is harrowed by the bitterest and most agonising memories. But after all–and this is of course the main thing–I don’t conceive myself to have been in the remotest degree insulted. You bade me go, and I went.”
These last words the stranger spoke in a tone which nevertheless betrayed the sting in his heart. This was enough for the Baron to again apologise, which he did by especially dwelling upon the fact that the stranger’s glance had, he did not know why, gone straight to his heart, till at last he could endure it no longer.
“I hope then,” said the stranger, “that if my glance did really penetrate to your heart, it aroused you to a sense of the threatening danger on the brink of which you are hovering. With a light glad heart and youthful ingenuousness you are standing on the edge of the abyss of ruin; one single push and you will plunge headlong down without a hope of rescue. In a single word, you are on the point of becoming a confirmed and passionate gambler and ruining yourself.”
The Baron assured him that he was completely mistaken. He related the circumstances under which he had first gone to the faro-table, and assured him that he entirely lacked the gambler’s characteristic disposition; all he wished was to lose two hundred Louis d’oror so, and when he had succeeded in this he intended to cease punting. Up to that time, however, he had had the most conspicuous run of good-luck.
“Oh! but,” cried the stranger, “oh! but it is exactly this run of good- luck wherein lies the subtlest and most formidable temptation of the malignant enemy. It is this run of good-luck which attends your play, Baron,–the circumstances under which you have begun to play,–nay, your entire behaviour whilst actually engaged in play, which only too plainly betray how your interest in it deepens and increases on each occasion; all–all this reminds me only too forcibly of the awful fate of a certain unhappy man, who, in many respects like you, began to play under circumstances similar to those which you have described in your own case. And therefore it was that I could not keep my eyes off you, and that I was hardly able to restrain myself from saying in words what my glances were meant to tell you. ‘Oh! see–see–see the demons stretching out their talons to drag you down into the pit of ruin.’ Thus I should like to have called to you. I was desirous of making your acquaintance; and I have succeeded. Let me tell you the history of the unfortunate man whom I mentioned; you will then perhaps be convinced that it is no idle phantom of the brain when I see you in the most imminent danger, and warn you.”
The stranger and the Baron both sat down upon a seat which stood quite isolated, and then the stranger began as follows:–
“The same brilliant qualities which distinguish you, Herr Baron, gained Chevalier Menars the esteem and admiration of men and made him a favourite amongst women. In riches alone Fortune had not been so gracious to him as she has been to you; he was almost in want; and it was only through exercising the strictest economy that he was enabled to appear in a state becoming his position as the scion of a distinguished family. Since even the smallest loss would be serious for him and upset the entire tenor of his course of life, he dare not indulge in play; besides, he had no inclination to do so, and it was therefore no act of self-sacrifice on his part to avoid the tables. It is to be added that he had the most remarkable success in everything which he took in hand, so that Chevalier Menars’ good-luck became a by-word.
“One night he suffered himself to be persuaded, contrary to his practice, to visit a play-house. The friends whom he had accompanied were soon deeply engaged in play.
“Without taking any interest in what was going forward, the Chevalier, busied with thoughts of quite a different character, first strode up and down the apartment and then stood with his eyes fixed upon the gaming-table, where the gold continued to pour in upon the banker from all sides. All at once an old colonel observed the Chevalier, and cried out, ‘The devil! Here we’ve got Chevalier Menars and his good-luck amongst us, and yet we can win nothing, since he has declared neither for the banker nor for the punters. But we can’t have it so any longer; he shall at once punt for me.’
“All the Baron’s attempts to excuse himself on the ground of his lack of skill and total want of experience were of no avail; the Colonel was not to be denied; the Chevalier must take his place at the table.
“The Chevalier had exactly the same run of fortune that you have, Herr Baron. The cards fell favourable for him, and he had soon won a considerable sum for the Colonel, whose joy at his grand thought of claiming the loan of Chevalier Menars’ steadfast good-luck knew no bounds.
“This good-luck, which quite astonished all the rest of those present, made not the slightest impression upon the Chevalier; nay, somehow, in a way inexplicable to himself, his aversion to play took deeper root, so that on the following morning when he awoke and felt the consequences of his exertion during the night, through which he had been awake, in a general relaxation both mental and physical, he took a most earnest resolve never again under any circumstances to visit a play-house.
“And in this resolution he was still further strengthened by the old Colonel’s conduct; he had the most decided ill-luck with every card he took up; and the blame for this run of bad-luck he, with the most extraordinary infatuation, put upon the Chevalier’s shoulders. In an importunate manner he demanded that the Chevalier should either punt for him or at any rate stand at his side, so as by his presence to banish the perverse demon who always put into his hands cards which never turned up right. Of course it is well known that there is more absurd superstition to be found amongst gamblers than almost anywhere else. The only way in which the Chevalier could get rid of the Colonel was by declaring in a tone of great seriousness that he would rather fight him than play for him, for the Colonel was no great friend of duels. The Chevalier cursed his good-nature in having complied with the old fool’s request at first.
“Now nothing less was to be expected than that the story of the Baron’s marvellously lucky play should pass from mouth to mouth, and also that all sorts of enigmatical mysterious circumstances should be invented and added on to it, representing the Chevalier as a man in league with supernatural powers. But the fact that the Chevalier in spite of his good-luck did not touch another card, could not fail to inspire the highest respect for his firmness of character, and so very much increase the esteem which he already enjoyed.
“Somewhere about a year later the Chevalier was suddenly placed in a most painful and embarrassing position owing to the non-arrival of the small sum of money upon which he relied to defray his current expenses. He was obliged to disclose his circumstances to his most intimate friend, who without hesitation supplied him with what he needed, at the same time twitting him with being the most hopelessly eccentric fellow that ever was. ‘Destiny,’ said he ‘gives us hints in what way and where we ought to seek our own benefit; and we have only our own indolence to blame if we do not heed, do not understand these hints. The Higher Power that rules over us has whispered quite plainly in your ears, If you want money and property go and play, else you will be poor and needy, and never independent, as long as you live.’
“And now for the first time the thought of how wonderfully fortune had favoured him at the faro-bank took clear and distinct shape in his mind; and both in his dreams and when awake he heard the banker’s monotonous gagne, perd,2 and the rattle of the gold pieces. ‘Yes, it is undoubtedly so,’ he said to himself, ‘a single night like that one before would free me from my difficulties, and help me over the painful embarrassment of being a burden to my friends; it is my duty to follow the beckoning finger of fate.’ The friends who had advised him to try play, accompanied him to the play-house, and gave him twenty Louis d’or3 more that he might begin unconcerned.
“If the Chevalier’s play had been splendid when he punted for the old Colonel, it was indeed doubly so now. Blindly and without choice he drew the cards he staked upon, but the invisible hand of that Higher Power which is intimately related to Chance, or rather actually is what we call Chance, seemed to be regulating his play. At the end of the evening he had won a thousand Louis d’or.
“Next morning he awoke with a kind of dazed feeling. The gold pieces he had won lay scattered about beside him on the table. At the first moment he fancied he was dreaming; he rubbed his eyes; he grasped the table and pulled it nearer towards him. But when he began to reflect upon what had happened, when he buried his fingers amongst the gold pieces, when he counted them with gratified satisfaction, and even counted them through again, then delight in the base mammon shot for the first time like a pernicious poisonous breath through his every nerve and fibre, then it was all over with the purity of sentiment which he had so long preserved intact. He could hardly wait for night to come that he might go to the faro-table again. His good-luck continued constant, so that after a few weeks, during which he played nearly every night, he had won a considerable sum.
“Now there are two sorts of players. Play simply as such affords to many an indescribable and mysterious pleasure, totally irrespective of gain. The strange complications of chance occur with the most surprising waywardness; the government of the Higher Power becomes conspicuously evident; and this it is which stirs up our spirit to move its wings and see if it cannot soar upwards into the mysterious kingdom, the fateful workshop of this Power, in order to surprise it at its labours.
“I once knew a man who spent many days and nights alone in his room, keeping a bank and punting against himself; this man was, according to my way of thinking, a genuine player. Others have nothing but gain before their eyes, and look upon play as a means to getting rich speedily. This class the Chevalier joined, thus once more establishing the truth of the saying that the real deeper inclination for play must lie in the individual nature–must be born in it. And for this reason he soon found the sphere of activity to which the punter is confined too narrow. With the very large sum of money that he had won by gambling he established a bank of his own; and in this enterprise fortune favoured him to such an extent that within a short time his bank was the richest in all Paris. And agreeably to the nature of the case, the largest proportion of players flocked to him, the richest and luckiest banker.
“The heartless, demoralising life of a gambler soon blotted out all those advantages, as well mental as physical, which had formerly secured to the Chevalier people’s affection and esteem. He ceased to be a faithful friend, a cheerful, easy guest in society, a chivalrous and gallant admirer of the fair sex. Extinguished was all his taste for science and art, and gone all striving to advance along the road to sound knowledge. Upon his deathly pale countenance, and in his gloomy eyes, where a dim, restless fire gleamed, was to be read the full expression of the extremely baneful passion in whose toils he was entangled. It was not fondness for play, no, it was the most abominable avarice which had been enkindled in his soul by Satan himself. In a single word, he was the most finished specimen of a faro-banker that may be seen anywhere.
“One night Fortune was less favourable to the Chevalier than usual, although he suffered no loss of any consequence. Then a little thin old man, meanly clad, and almost repulsive to look at, approached the table, drew a card with a trembling hand, and placed a gold piece upon it. Several of the players looked up at the old man at first greatly astonished, but after that they treated him with provoking contempt. Nevertheless his face never moved a muscle, far less did he utter a single word of complaint.
“The old man lost; he lost one stake after another; but the higher his losses rose the more pleased the other players got. And at last, when the new-comer, who continued to double his stake every time, placed five hundred Louis d’or at once upon a card and this the very next moment turned up on the losing side, one of the other players cried with a laugh, ‘Good-luck, Signor Vertua, good-luck! Don’t lose heart. Go on staking; you look to me as if you would finish with breaking the bank through your immense winnings.’ The old man shot a basilisk-like look upon the mocker and hurried away, but only to return at the end of half an hour with his pockets full of gold. In the last taille he was, however, obliged to cease playing, since he had again lost all the money he had brought back with him.
“This scornful and contemptuous treatment of the old man had excessively annoyed the Chevalier, for in spite of all his abominable practices, he yet insisted on certain rules of good behaviour being observed at his table. And so on the conclusion of the game, when Signor Vertua had taken his departure, the Chevalier felt he had sufficient grounds to speak a serious word or two to the mocker, as well as to one or two other players whose contemptuous treatment of the old man had been most conspicuous, and whom the Chevalier had bidden stay behind for this purpose.
“‘Ah! but, Chevalier,’ cried one of them, ‘you don’t know old Francesco Vertua, or else you would have no fault to find with us and our behaviour towards him; you would rather approve of it. For let me tell you that this Vertua, a Neapolitan by birth, who has been fifteen years in Paris, is the meanest, dirtiest, most pestilent miser and usurer who can be found anywhere. He is a stranger to every human feeling; if he saw his own brother writhing at his feet in the agonies of death, it would be an utter waste of pains to try to entice a single Louis d’or from him, even if it were to save his brother’s life. He has a heavy burden of curses and imprecations to bear, which have been showered down upon him by a multitude of men, nay, by entire families, who have been plunged into the deepest distress through his diabolical speculations. He is hated like poison by all who know him; everybody wishes that vengeance may overtake him for all the evil that he has done, and that it may put an end to his career of iniquity. He has never played before, at least since he has been in Paris; and so from all this you need not wonder at our being so greatly astounded when the old skin-flint appeared at your table. And for the same reasons we were, of course, pleased at the old fellow’s serious losses, for it would have been hard, very hard, if the old rascal had been favoured by Fortune. It is only too certain. Chevalier, that the old fool has been deluded by the riches of your bank. He came intending to pluck you and has lost his own feathers. But yet it completely puzzles me how Vertua could act thus in a way so opposite to the true character of a miser, and could bring himself to play so high. Ah! well–you’ll see he will not come again; we are now quit of him.’
“But this opinion proved to be far from correct, for on the very next night Vertua presented himself at the Chevalier’s bank again, and staked and lost much more heavily than on the night preceding. But he preserved a calm demeanour through it all; he even smiled at times with a sort of bitter irony, as though foreseeing how soon things would be totally changed. But during each of the succeeding nights the old man’s losses increased like a glacier at a greater and greater rate, till at last it was calculated that he had paid over thirty thousand Louis d’or to the bank. Finally he entered the hall one evening, long after play had begun, with a deathly pale face and troubled looks, and took up his post at some distance from the table, his eyes riveted in a set stare upon the cards which the Chevalier successively drew. At last, just as the Chevalier had shuffled the cards, had had them cut and was about to begin the taille, the old man cried in such a harsh grating voice, ‘Stop!’ that everybody looked round well-nigh dismayed. Then, forcing his way to the table close up to the Chevalier, he said in his ear, speaking in a hoarse voice, ‘Chevalier, my house in the Rue St. Honoré, together with all the furniture and all the gold and silver and all the jewels I possess, are valued at eighty thousand francs, will you accept the stake?’ ‘Very good,’ replied the Chevalier coldly, without looking round at the old man; and he began the taille.
“‘The queen,’ said Vertua; and at the next draw the queen had lost. The old man reeled back from the table and leaned against the wall motionless and paralysed, like a rigid stone statue. Nobody troubled himself any further about him.
“Play was over for the night; the players were dispersing; the Chevalier and his croupiers4 were packing away in the strong box the gold he had won. Then old Vertua staggered like a ghost out of the corner towards the Chevalier and addressed him in a hoarse, hollow voice, ‘Yet a word with you, Chevalier,–only a single word.’
“‘Well, what is it?’ replied the Chevalier, withdrawing the key from the lock of the strong box and measuring the old man from head to foot with a look of contempt.
“‘I have lost all my property at your bank, Chevalier,’ went on the old man; ‘I have nothing, nothing left I don’t know where I shall lay my head tomorrow, nor how I shall appease my hunger. You are my last resource, Chevalier; lend me the tenth part of the sum I have lost to you that I may begin my business over again, and so work my way up out of the distressed state I now am in.’
“‘Whatever are you thinking about,’ rejoined the Chevalier, ‘whatever are you thinking about, Signor Vertua? Don’t you know that a faro- banker never dare lend of his winnings? That’s against the old rule, and I am not going to violate it.’
“‘You are right,’ went on Vertua again. ‘You are right, Chevalier. My request was senseless–extravagant–the tenth part! No, lend me the twentieth part.’ ‘I tell you,’ replied the Chevalier impatiently, ‘that I won’t lend a farthing of my winnings.’
“‘True, true,’ said Vertua, his face growing paler and paler and his gaze becoming more and more set and staring, ‘true, you ought not to lend anything–I never used to do. But give some alms to a beggar–give him a hundred Louis d’or of the riches which blind Fortune has thrown in your hands to-day.’
“‘Of a verity you know how to torment people, Signor Vertua,’ burst out the Chevalier angrily. ‘I tell you you won’t get so much as a hundred, nor fifty, nor twenty, no, not so much as a single Louis d’or from me. I should be mad to make you even the smallest advance, so as to help you begin your shameful trade over again. Fate has stamped you in the dust like a poisonous reptile, and it would simply be villainy for me to aid you in recovering yourself. Go and perish as you deserve.’
“Pressing both hands over his face, Vertua sank on the floor with a muffled groan. The Chevalier ordered his servant to take the strong-box down to his carriage, and then cried in a loud voice, ‘When will you hand over to me your house and effects, Signor Vertua?’
“Vertua hastily picked himself up from the ground and said in a firm voice, ‘Now, at once–this moment, Chevalier; come with me.’
“‘Good,’ replied the Chevalier, ‘you may ride with me as far as your house, which you shall leave tomorrow for good.’
“All the way neither of them spoke a single word, neither Vertua nor the Chevalier. Arrived in front of the house in the Rue St. Honoré, Vertua pulled the bell; an old woman opened the door, and on perceiving it was Vertua cried, ‘Oh! good heavens, Signor Vertua, is that you at last? Angela is half dead with anxiety on your account.’
“‘Silence,’ replied Vertua. ‘God grant she has not heard this unlucky bell! She is not to know that I have come.’ And therewith he took the lighted candle out of the old woman’s hand, for she appeared to be quite stunned, and lighted the Chevalier up to his own room.
“‘I am prepared for the worst,’ said Vertua. ‘You hate, you despise me, Chevalier. You have ruined me, to your own and other people’s joy; but you do not know me. Let me tell you then that I was once a gambler like you, that capricious Fortune was as favourable to me as she is to you, that I travelled through half Europe, stopping everywhere where high play and the hope of large gains enticed me, that the piles of gold continually increased in my bank as they do in yours. I had a true and beautiful wife, whom I neglected, and she was miserable in the midst of all her magnificence and wealth. It happened once, when I had set up my bank in Genoa, that a young Roman lost all his rich patrimony at my bank. He besought me to lend him money, as I did you to-day, sufficient at least to enable him to travel back to Rome. I refused with a laugh of mocking scorn, and in the insane fury of despair he thrust the stiletto which he wore right into my breast. At great pains the surgeons succeeded in saving me; but it was a wearying painful time whilst I lay on the bed of sickness. Then my wife tended me, comforted me, and kept up my courage when I was ready to sink under my sufferings; and as I grew towards recovery a feeling began to glimmer within me which I had never experienced before, and it waxed ever stronger and stronger. A gambler becomes an alien to all human emotion, and hence I had not known what was the meaning of a wife’s love and faithful attachment. The debt of what I owed my wife burned itself into my ungrateful heart, and also the sense of the villainous conduct to which I had sacrificed her. All those whose life’s happiness, whose entire existence, I had ruined with heartless indifference were like tormenting spirits of vengeance, and I heard their hoarse hollow voices echoing from the grave, upbraiding me with all the guilt and criminality, the seed of which I had planted in their bosoms. It was only my wife who was able to drive away the unutterable distress and horror that then came upon me. I made a vow never to touch a card more. I lived in retirement; I rent asunder all the ties which held me fast to my former mode of life; I withstood the enticements of my croupiers, when they came and said they could not do without me and my good-luck. I bought a small country villa not far from Rome, and thither, as soon as I was recovered of my illness, I fled for refuge along with my wife. Oh! only one single year did I enjoy a calmness, a happiness, a peaceful content, such as I had never dreamt of! My wife bore me a daughter, and died a few weeks later. I was in despair; I railed at Heaven and again cursed myself and my reprobate life, for which Heaven was now exacting vengeance upon me by depriving me of my wife–she who had saved me from ruin, who was the only creature who afforded me hope and consolation. I was driven away from my country villa hither to Paris, like the criminal who fears the horrors of solitude. Angela grew up the lovely image of her mother; my heart was wholly wrapt up in her; for her sake I felt called upon not so much to obtain a large fortune for her as to increase what I had already got. It is the truth that I lent money at a high rate of interest; but it is a foul calumny to accuse me of deceitful usury. And who are these my accusers? Thoughtless, frivolous people who worry me to death until I lend them money, which they immediately go and squander like a thing of no worth, and then get in a rage if I demand inexorable punctuality in repayment of the money which does not indeed belong to me,–no, but to my daughter, for I merely look upon myself as her steward. It’s not long since I saved a young man from disgrace and ruin by advancing him a considerable sum. As I knew he was terribly poor, I never mentioned a syllable about repayment until I knew he had got together a rich property. Then I applied to him for settlement of his debt Would you believe it, Chevalier? the dishonourable knave, who owed all he had to me, tried to deny the debt, and on being compelled by the court to pay me, reproached me with being a villainous miser? I could tell you more such like cases; and these things have made me hard and insensible to emotion when I have to deal with folly and baseness. Nay, more–I could tell you of the many bitter tears I have wiped away, and of the many prayers which have gone up to Heaven for me and my Angela, but you would only regard it as empty boasting, and pay not the slightest heed to it, for you are a gambler. I thought I had satisfied the resentment of Heaven; it was but a delusion, for Satan has been permitted to lead me astray in a more disastrous way than before. I heard of your good- luck. Chevalier. Every day I heard that this man and that had staked and staked at your bank until he became a beggar. Then the thought came into my mind that I was destined to try my gambler’s luck, which had never hitherto deserted me, against yours, that the power was given me to put a stop to your practices; and this thought, which could only have been engendered by some extraordinary madness, left me no rest, no peace. Hence I came to your bank; and my terrible infatuation did not leave me until all my property–all my Angela’s property–was yours. And now the end has come. I presume you will allow my daughter to take her clothing with her?’
“‘Your daughter’s wardrobe does not concern me,’ replied the Chevalier. ‘You may also take your beds and other necessary household utensils, and such like; for what could I do with all the old lumber? But see to it that nothing of value of the things which now belong to me get mixed up with it.’
“Old Vertua stared at the Chevalier a second or two utterly speechless; then a flood of tears burst from his eyes, and he sank upon his knees in front of the Chevalier, perfectly upset with trouble and despair, and raised his hands crying, ‘Chevalier, have you still a spark of human feeling left in your breast? Be merciful, merciful. It is not I, but my daughter, my Angela, my innocent angelic child, whom you are plunging into ruin. Oh! be merciful to her; lend her, her, my Angela, the twentieth part of the property you have deprived her of. Oh! I know you will listen to my entreaty! O Angela! my daughter!’ And therewith the old man sobbed and lamented and moaned, calling upon his child by name in the most heart-rending tones.
“‘I am getting tired of this absurd theatrical scene,’ said the Chevalier indifferently but impatiently; but at this moment the door flew open and in burst a girl in a white night-dress, her hair dishevelled, her face pale as death,–burst in and ran to old Vertua, raised him up, took him in her arms, and cried, ‘O father! O father! I have heard all, I know all! Have you really lost everything– everything, really? Have you not your Angela? What need have we of money and property? Will not Angela sustain you and tend you? O father, don’t humiliate yourself a moment longer before this despicable monster. It is not we, but he, who is poor and miserable in the midst of his contemptible riches; for see, he stands there deserted in his awful hopeless loneliness; there is not a heart in all the wide world to cling lovingly to his breast, to open out to him when he despairs of his own life, of himself. Come, father. Leave this house with me. Come, let us make haste and be gone, that this fearful man may not exult over your trouble.’
“Vertua sank half fainting into an easy-chair. Angela knelt down before him, took his hands, kissed them, fondled them, enumerated with childish loquacity all the talents, all the accomplishments, which she was mistress of, and by the aid of which she would earn a comfortable living for her father; she besought him from the midst of burning tears to put aside all his trouble and distress, since her life would now first acquire true significance, when she had to sew, embroider, sing, and play her guitar, not for mere pleasure, but for her father’s sake.
“Who, however hardened a sinner, could have remained insensible at the sight of Angela, thus radiant in her divine beauty, comforting her old father with sweet soft words, whilst the purest affection, the most childlike goodness, beamed from her eyes, evidently coming from the very depths of her heart?
“Quite otherwise was it with the Chevalier. A perfect Gehenna of torment and of the stinging of conscience was awakened within him. Angela appeared to him to be the avenging angel of God, before whose splendour the misty veil of his wicked infatuation melted away, so that he saw with horror the repulsive nakedness of his own miserable soul. Yet right through the midst of the flames of this infernal pit that was blazing in the Chevalier’s heart passed a divine and pure ray, whose emanations of light were the sweetest rapture, the very bliss of heaven; but the shining of this ray only made his unutterable torments the more terrible to bear.
“The Chevalier had never been in love. The moment in which he saw Angela was the moment in which he was to experience the most ardent passion, and also at the same time the crushing pain of utter hopelessness. For no man who had appeared before the pure angel-child, lovely Angela, in the way the Chevalier had done, could dream of hope. He attempted to speak, but his tongue seemed to be numbed by cramp. At last, controlling himself with an effort, he stammered with trembling voice, ‘Signor Vertua, listen to me. I have not won anything from you– nothing at all. There is my strong box; it is yours,–nay, I must pay you yet more than there is there. I am your debtor. There, take it, take it!’
“‘O my daughter!’ cried Vertua. But Angela rose to her feet, approached the Chevalier, and flashed a proud look upon him, saying earnestly and composedly, *’Chevalier, allow me to tell you that there is something higher than money and goods; there are sentiments to which you are a stranger, which, whilst sustaining our souls with the comfort of Heaven, bid us reject your gift, your favour, with contempt. Keep your mammon, which is burdened with the curse that pursues you, you heartless, depraved gambler.’
“‘Yes,’ cried the Chevalier in a fearful voice, his eyes flashing wildly, for he was perfectly beside himself, ‘yes, accursed,–accursed will I be–down into the depths of damnation may I be hurled if ever again this hand touches a card. And if you then send me from you, Angela, then it will be you who will bring irreparable ruin upon me. Oh! you don’t know–you don’t understand me. You can’t help but call me insane; but you will feel it–you will know all, when you see me stretched at your feet with my brains scattered. Angela! It’s now a question of life or death! Farewell!’
“Therewith the Chevalier rushed off in a state of perfect despair. Vertua saw through him completely; he knew what change had come over him; he endeavoured to make his lovely Angela understand that certain circumstances might arise which would make it necessary to accept the Chevalier’s present Angela trembled with dread lest she should understand her father. She did not conceive how it would ever be possible to meet the Chevalier on any other terms save those of contempt. Destiny, which often ripens into shape deep down in the human heart, without the mind being aware of it, permitted that to take place which had never been thought of, never been dreamed of.
“The Chevalier was like a man suddenly wakened up out of a fearful dream; he saw himself standing on the brink of the abyss of ruin, and stretched out his arms in vain towards the bright shining figure which had appeared to him, not, however, to save him–no–but to remind him of his damnation.
“To the astonishment of all Paris, Chevalier Menars’ bank disappeared from the gambling-house; nobody ever saw him again; and hence the most diverse and extraordinary rumours were current, each of them more false than the rest. The Chevalier shunned all society; his love found expression in the deepest and most unconquerable despondency. It happened, however, that old Vertua and his daughter one day suddenly crossed his path in one of the dark and lonely alleys of the garden of Malmaison.5
“Angela, who thought she could never look upon the Chevalier without contempt and abhorrence, felt strangely moved on seeing him so deathly pale, terribly shaken with trouble, hardly daring in his shy respect to raise his eyes. She knew quite well that ever since that ill-omened night he had altogether relinquished gambling and effected a complete revolution in his habits of life. She, she alone had brought all this about, she had saved the Chevalier from ruin–could anything be more flattering to her woman’s vanity? Hence it was that, after Vertua had exchanged the usual complimentary remarks with the Chevalier, Angela asked in a tone of gentle and sympathetic pity, ‘What is the matter with you, Chevalier Menars? You are looking very ill and full of trouble. I am sure you ought to consult a physician.’
“It is easy to imagine how Angela’s words fell like a comforting ray of hope upon the Chevalier’s heart. From that moment he was not like the same man. He lifted up his head; he was able to speak in those tones, full of the real inward nature of the man, with which he had formerly won all hearts. Vertua exhorted him to come and take possession of the house he had won.
“‘Yes, Signor Vertua,’ cried the Chevalier with animation, ‘yes, that I will do. I will call upon you tomorrow; but let us carefully weigh and discuss all the conditions of the transfer, even though it should last some months.’
“‘Be it so then, Chevalier,’ replied Vertua, smiling. ‘I fancy that there will arise a good many things to be discussed, of which we at the present moment have no idea.’ The Chevalier, being thus comforted at heart, could not fail to develop again all the charms of manner which had once been so peculiarly his own before he was led astray by his insane, pernicious passion for gambling. His visits at old Vertua’s grew more and more frequent; Angela conceived a warmer and warmer liking for the man whose safeguarding angel she had been, until finally she thought she loved him with all her heart; and she promised him her hand, to the great joy of old Vertua, who at last felt that the settlement respecting the property he had lost to the Chevalier could now be concluded.
“One day Angela, Chevalier Menars’ happy betrothed, sat at her window wrapped up in varied thoughts of the delights and happiness of love, such as young girls when betrothed are wont to dwell upon. A regiment of chasseurs passed by to the merry sound of the trumpet, bound for a campaign in Spain. As Angela was regarding with sympathetic interest the poor men who were doomed to death in the wicked war, a young man wheeled his horse quickly to one side and looked up at her, and she sank back in her chair fainting.
“Oh! the chasseur who was riding to meet a bloody death was none other than young Duvernet, their neighbour’s son, with whom she had grown up, who had run in and out of the house nearly every day, and had only kept away since the Chevalier had begun to visit them.
“In the young man’s glance, which was charged with reproaches having all the bitterness of death in them, Angela became conscious for the first time, not only that he loved her unspeakably, but also how boundless was the love which she herself felt for him. Hitherto she had not been conscious of it; she had been infatuated, fascinated by the glitter which gathered ever more thickly about the Chevalier. She now understood, and for the first time, the youth’s labouring sighs and quiet unpretending homage; and now too she also understood her own embarrassed heart for the first time, knew what had caused the fluttering sensation in her breast when Duvernet had come, and when she had heard his voice.
“‘It is too late! I have lost him!’ was the voice that spoke in Angela’s soul. She had courage enough to beat down the feelings of wretchedness which threatened to distract her heart; and for that reason–namely, that she possessed the courage–she succeeded.
“Nevertheless it did not escape the Chevalier’s acute perception that something had happened to powerfully affect Angela; but he possessed sufficient delicacy of feeling not to seek for a solution of the mystery, which it was evident she desired to conceal from him. He contented himself with depriving any dangerous rival of his power by expediting the marriage; and he made all arrangements for its celebration with such fine tact, and such a sympathetic appreciation of his fair bride’s situation and sentiments, that she saw in them a new proof of the good and amiable qualities of her husband.
“The Chevalier’s behaviour towards Angela showed him attentive to her slightest wish, and exhibited that sincere esteem which springs from the purest affection; hence her memory of Duvernet soon vanished entirely from her mind. The first cloud that dimmed the bright heaven of her happiness was the illness and death of old Vertua.
“Since the night when he had lost all his fortune at the Chevalier’s bank he had never touched a card, but during the last moments of his life play seemed to have taken complete possession of his soul. Whilst the priest who had come to administer to him the consolation of the Church ere he died, was speaking to him of heavenly things, he lay with his eyes closed, murmuring between his teeth, ‘perd, gagne,’ whilst his trembling half-dead hands went through the motions of dealing through a taille, of drawing the cards. Both Angela and the Chevalier bent over him and spoke to him in the tenderest manner, but it was of no use; he no longer seemed to know them, nor even to be aware of their presence. With a deep-drawn sigh ‘gagne,’ he breathed his last.
“In the midst of her distressing grief Angela could not get rid of an uncomfortable feeling of awe at the way in which the old man had died. She again saw in vivid shape the picture of that terrible night when she had first seen the Chevalier as a most hardened and reprobate gambler; and the fearful thought entered her mind that he might again, in scornful mockery of her, cast aside his mask of goodness and appear in his original fiendish character, and begin to pursue his old course of life once more.
“And only too soon was Angela’s dreaded foreboding to become reality. However great the awe which fell upon the Chevalier at old Francesco Vertua’s death-scene, when the old man, despising the consolation of the Church, though in the last agonies of death, had not been able to turn his thoughts from his former sinful life–however great was the awe that then fell upon the Chevalier, yet his mind was thereby led, though how he could not explain, to dwell more keenly upon play than ever before, so that every night in his dreams he sat at the faro-bank and heaped up riches anew.
“In proportion as Angela’s behaviour became more constrained, in consequence of her recollection of the character in which she had first seen the Chevalier, and as it became more and more impossible for her to continue to meet him upon the old affectionate, confidential footing upon which they had hitherto lived, so exactly in the same degree distrust of Angela crept into the Chevalier’s mind, since he ascribed her constraint to the secret which had once disturbed her peace of mind and which had not been revealed to him. From this distrust were born displeasure and unpleasantness, and these he expressed in various ways which hurt Angela’s feelings. By a singular cross-action of spiritual influence Angela’s recollections of the unhappy Duvemet began to recur to her mind with fresher force, and along with these the intolerable consciousness of her ruined love,–the loveliest blossom that had budded in her youthful heart. The strained relations between the pair continued to increase until things got to such a pitch that the Chevalier grew disgusted with his simple mode of life, thought it dull, and was smitten with a powerful longing to enjoy the life of the world again. His star of ill omen began to acquire the ascendancy. The change which had been inaugurated by displeasure and great unpleasantness was completed by an abandoned wretch who had formerly been croupier in the Chevalier’s faro-bank. He succeeded by means of the most artful insinuations and conversations in making the Chevalier look upon his present walk of life as childish and ridiculous. The Chevalier could not understand at last how, for a woman’s sake, he ever came to leave a world which appeared to him to contain all that made life of any worth.
“It was not long ere Chevalier Menars’ rich bank was flourishing more magnificently than ever. His good-luck had not left him; victim after victim came and fell; he amassed heaps of riches. But Angela’s happiness–it was ruined–ruined in fearful fashion; it was to be compared to a short fair dream. The Chevalier treated her with indifference, nay even with contempt. Often, for weeks and months together, she never saw him once; the household arrangements were placed in the hands of a steward; the servants were being constantly changed to suit the Chevalier’s whims; so that Angela, a stranger in her own house, knew not where to turn for comfort. Often during her sleepless nights the Chevalier’s carriage stopped before the door, the heavy strong-box was carried upstairs, the Chevalier flung out a few harsh monosyllabic words of command, and then the doors of his distant room were sent to with a bang–all this she heard, and a flood of bitter tears started from her eyes. In a state of the most heart- rending anguish she called upon Duvernet time after time, and implored Providence to put an end to her miserable life of trouble and suffering.
“One day a young man of good family, after losing all his fortune at the Chevalier s bank, sent a bullet through his brain in the gambling- house, and in the very same room even in which the bank was established, so that the players were sprinkled by the blood and scattered brains, and started up aghast. The Chevalier alone preserved his indifference; and, as all were preparing to leave the apartment, he asked whether it was in accordance with their rules and custom to leave the bank before the appointed hour on account of a fool who had had no conduct in his play.
“The occurrence created a great sensation. The most experienced and hardened gamblers were indignant at the Chevalier’s unexampled behaviour. The voice of the public was raised against him. The bank was closed by the police. He was, moreover, accused of false play; and his unprecedented good-luck tended to establish the truth of the charge. He was unable to clear himself. The fine he was compelled to pay deprived him of a considerable part of his riches. He found himself disgraced and looked upon with contempt; then he went back to the arms of the wife he had ill-used, and she willingly received him, the penitent, since the remembrance of how her own father had turned aside from the demoralising life of a gambler allowed a glimmer of hope to rise, that the Chevalier’s conversion might this time, now that he was older, really have some stamina in it.
“The Chevalier left Paris along with his wife, and went to Genoa, Angela’s birthplace. Here he led a very retired life at first. But all endeavours to restore the footing of quiet domesticity with Angela, which his evil genius had destroyed, were in vain. It was not long before his deep-rooted discontent awoke anew and drove him out of the house in a state of uneasy, unsettled restlessness. His evil reputation had followed him from Paris to Genoa; he dare not venture to establish a bank, although he was being goaded to do so by a power he could hardly resist.
“At that time the richest bank in Genoa was kept by a French colonel, who had been invalided owing to serious wounds. His heart burning with envy and fierce hatred, the Chevalier appeared at the Colonel’s table, expecting that his usual good fortune would stand by him, and that he should soon ruin his rival. The Colonel greeted him in a merry humour, such as was in general not customary with him, and said that now the play would really be worth indulging in since they had got Chevalier Menars and his good-luck to join them, for now would come the struggle which alone made the game interesting.
“And in fact during the first taille the cards fell favourable to the Chevalier as they always had done. But when, relying upon his invincible luck, he at last cried ‘Va banquet,’6 he lost a very considerable sum at one stroke.
“The Colonel, at other times preserving the same even temperament whether winning or losing, now swept the money towards him with the most demonstrative signs of extreme delight. From this moment fortune turned away from the Chevalier utterly and completely. He played every night, and every night he lost, until his property had melted away to a few thousand ducats,7 which he still had in securities.
“The Chevalier had spent the whole day in running about to get his securities converted into ready money, and did not reach home until late in the evening. So soon as it was fully night, he was about to leave the house with his last gold pieces in his pocket, when Angela, who suspected pretty much how matters stood, stepped in his path and threw herself at his feet, whilst a flood of tears gushed from her eyes, beseeching him by the Virgin and all the saints to abandon his wicked purpose, and not to plunge her in want and misery.
“He raised her up and strained her to his heart with painful passionate intensity, saying in a hoarse voice, ‘Angela, my dear sweet Angela! It can’t be helped now, indeed it must be so; I must go on with it, for I can’t let it alone. But to-morrow–to-morrow all your troubles shall be over, for by the Eternal Destiny that rules over us I swear that to-day shall be the last time I will play. Quiet yourself, my dear good child–go and sleep–dream of happy days to come, of a better life that is in store for you; that will bring good-luck. Herewith he kissed his wife and hurried off before she could stop him.
“Two tailles, and the Chevalier had lost all–all. He stood beside the Colonel, staring upon the faro-table in moody senselessness.
“‘Are you not punting any more, Chevalier?’ said the Colonel, shuffling the cards for a new taille, ‘I have lost all,’ replied the Chevalier, forcing himself with an effort to be calm.
“‘Have you really nothing left?’ asked the Colonel at the next taille.
“‘I am a beggar,’ cried the Chevalier, his voice trembling with rage and mortification; and he continued to stare fiercely upon the table without observing that the players were gaining more and more advantages over the banker.
“The Colonel went on playing quietly. But whilst shuffling the cards for the following taille, he said in a low voice, without looking at the Chevalier, ‘But you have a beautiful wife.’
“‘What do you mean by that?’ burst out the Chevalier angrily. The Colonel drew his cards without making any answer.
“‘Ten thousand ducats or–Angela!’ said the Colonel, half turning round whilst the cards were being cut.
“‘You are mad!’ exclaimed the Chevalier, who now began to observe on coming more to himself that the Colonel continually lost and lost again.
“‘Twenty thousand ducats against Angela!’ said the Colonel in a low voice, pausing for a moment in his shuffling of the cards.
“The Chevalier did not reply. The Colonel went on playing, and almost all the cards fell to the players’ side.
“‘Taken!’ whispered the Chevalier in the Colonel’s ear, as the new taille began, and he pushed the queen on the table.
“In the next draw the queen had lost. The Chevalier drew back from the table, grinding his teeth, and in despair stood leaning in a window, his face deathly pale.
“Play was over. ‘Well, and what’s to be done now?’ were the Colonel’s mocking words as he stepped up to the Chevalier.
“‘Ah!’ cried the Chevalier, quite beside himself, ‘you have made me a beggar, but you must be insane to imagine that you could win my wife. Are we on the islands? is my wife a slave, exposed as a mere thing to the brutal arbitrariness of a reprobate man, that he may trade with her, gamble with her? But it is true! You would have had to pay twenty thousand ducats if the queen had won, and so I have lost all right to raise a protest if my wife is willing to leave me to follow you. Come along with me, and despair when you see how my wife will repel you with detestation when you propose to her that she shall follow you as your shameless mistress.’
“‘You will be the one to despair,’ replied the Colonel, with a mocking, scornful laugh; ‘you will be the one to despair, Chevalier, when Angela turns with abhorrence from you–you, the abandoned sinner, who have made her life miserable–and flies into my arms in rapture and delight; you will be the one to despair when you learn that we have been united by the blessing of the Church, and that our dearest wishes are crowned with happiness. You call me insane. Ho! ho! All I wanted to win was the right to claim her, for of Angela herself I am sure. Ho! ho! Chevalier, let me inform you that your wife loves me—me, with unspeakable love: let me inform you that I am that Duvernet, the neighbour’s son, who was brought up along with Angela, bound to her by ties of the most ardent affection–he whom you drove away by means of your diabolical devices. Ah! it was not until I had to go away to the wars that Angela became conscious to herself of what I was to her; I know all. It was too late. The Spirit of Evil suggested to me the idea that I might ruin you in play, and so I took to gambling–followed you to Genoa,–and now I have succeeded. Away now to your wife.’
“The Chevalier was almost annihilated, like one upon whose head had fallen the most disastrous blows of fortune. Now he saw to the bottom of that mysterious secret, now he saw for the first time the full extent of the misfortune which he had brought upon poor Angela. ‘Angela, my wife, shall decide,’ he said hoarsely, and followed the Colonel, who was hurrying off at full speed.
“On reaching the house the Colonel laid his hand upon the latch of Angela’s chamber; but the Chevalier pushed him back, saying, ‘My wife is asleep. Do you want to rouse her up out of her sweet sleep?’
“‘Hm!’ replied the Colonel. ‘Has Angela ever enjoyed sweet sleep since you brought all this nameless misery upon her?’ Again the Colonel attempted to enter the chamber; but the Chevalier threw himself at his feet and screamed, frantic with despair, ‘Be merciful. Let me keep my wife; you have made me a beggar, but let me keep my wife.’
“‘That’s how old Vertua lay at your feet, you miscreant dead to all feeling, and could not move your stony heart; may Heaven’s vengeance overtake you for it.’ Thus spoke the Colonel; and he again strode towards Angela’s chamber.
“The Chevalier sprang towards the door, tore it open, rushed to the bed in which his wife lay, and drew back the curtains, crying, ‘Angela! Angela!’ Bending over her, he grasped her hand; but all at once he shook and trembled in mortal anguish and cried in a thundering voice, ‘Look! look! you have won my wife’s corpse.’
“Perfectly horrified, the Colonel approached the bed; no sign of life!–Angela was dead–dead.
“Then the Colonel doubled his fist and shook it heavenwards, and rushed out of the room uttering a fearful cry. Nothing more was ever heard of him.”
This was the end of the stranger’s tale; and the Baron was so shaken that before he could say anything the stranger had hastily risen from the seat and gone away.
A few days later the stranger was found in his room suffering from apoplexy of the nerves. He never opened his mouth up to the moment of his death, which ensued after the lapse of a few hours. His papers proved that, though he called himself Baudasson simply, he was no less a person than the unhappy Chevalier Menars himself.
The Baron recognised it as a warning from Heaven, that Chevalier Menars had been led across his path to save him just as he was approaching the brink of the precipice; he vowed that he would withstand all the seductions of the gambler’s deceptive luck.
Up till now he has faithfully kept his word.