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The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Rudolph quarrelled fiercely with M. Dufours, the antique dealer, but in low tones so as not to be overheard in the street.
“If you do not sell it to me — and cheaply — I shall report you to the police,” he whispered, firmly clasping the large book bound in wood and brass that he had found on a top shelf in the little room at the back of the shop.
“I do not think, M. Rudolph, that you would care to go to the police,” retorted the old man, sucking in his toothless mouth with fury. “I would not part with the grimoire, no, not for fifty thousand francs.”
“You will, however,” sneered Rudolph, “sell it to me for fifty francs. I have no objection to informing the police that you are a receiver of stolen goods, a moneylender at an exorbitant rate of interest, a dealer in dangerous drugs, charms and black magic —”
“Ah, indeed,” replied the shopkeeper, trying to be sarcastic but really rather uneasy. “And pray what are you, M. Rudolph? Unless I am very much mistaken your reputation is none too pure.”
“Bah! What does it matter about my reputation? The police have nothing against me. I am a poor student, a poet, a philosopher, and I intend to have this treasure that I have discovered on your shelf.”
“You admit that it is a treasure!” raged the old man. “And yet you offer me a miserable fifty francs for it!”
“It is no treasure for you,” replied Rudolph scornfully. “You are a pitiful dabbler in the black arts. You would never have the courage to proceed far along this dangerous, fascinating road! You do not even understand the secrets concealed here!” He tapped with elegant soiled white fingers the cover of the disputed book. “I doubt if you can even read the title.”
Overcome by curiosity, the old man asked:
“What is this volume that you think so highly of, M. Rudolph?”
“Ha! ha! And just now you said you wanted fifty thousand francs for it!”
“Well, I know that it is an ancient grimoire, and therefore valuable.”
“It is,” sneered the student. “The Grimoriam Veram, written by Alibeck the Egyptian and printed at Memphis in 1517 — together with this are bound several other treatises exceedingly rare.”
“What do you want with these things?” demanded the antique dealer suspiciously. “You have no skill to interpret those signs and wonders —”
“Nor have you, or you would not be living here in this shabby shop, existing by petty crimes!”
“I might say the same of you, M. Rudolph! It is obvious that the study of black magic has not done you much good — your shirt is darned, your coat shiny at the elbows, your trousers are ragged round the hems, and one of your shoes is split!”
The student’s eyes gleamed with malice.
“Nevertheless, perhaps I might surprise you, sordid old miser that you are! Please have the goodness to look into this!”
Still retaining the grimoire under his arm, the young man whipped out a small mirror that seemed to be of polished metal from his breast and flashed it in front of the reluctant gaze of M. Dufours.
He found, however, that it was impossible to avoid the metallic disc; his bleary eyes, worn by age and counting over the contents of his money-bags, stared, without his volition, into the magic mirror.
On the surface of this appeared a little cloudy figure, curled up like a bird in the nest, that gazed back at the old man with small black eyes that glittered vindictively.
“There is nothing in my shop,” muttered the curio dealer drowsily, “like that — what can it be a reflection of?”
The student laughed and the little figure flew out of the mirror and hung between it and the frightened face of M. Dufours; then, with a buzz like that of an angry insect, it rushed at the curio dealer’s nose and pinched it violently until the old man howled with fear and pain. Rudolph laughed and returned the metal disc to his pocket, upon which the spirit vanished.
“It was some wasp or bee flew in,” muttered M. Dufours, rubbing his red, smarting nose.
“Was it?” sneered the student. “Kindly look round your filthy shop.”
The old man obeyed, fascinated by the brilliant black eyes, pallid face and mocking lips of M. Rudolph.
His jaw dropped and a trembling ran through all his shrunken limbs at what he saw — every object in his shop was transformed into something devilish. The old coats on their pegs waved their sleeves at him, the pawned trousers kicked as if prancing in a polka, grimacing faces peered from the blotched, cracked mirrors, the cupidons on the tarnished candelabra that hung from the cob-webbed rafters began to fly about like pigeons, and a lady in a very bad portrait by Legros, the art student, winked rudely at M. Dufours and shook at him her bouquet of miserably drawn roses which really resembled pickled onions.
M. Dufours rubbed his eyes and when he looked round again everything was normal.
“You see,” remarked Rudolph, “that I know a few tricks. I shall keep the grimoire and owe you the fifty francs.”
With an air of disdain he picked up his dusty, frayed beaver hat, that he thrust on the side of his head jauntily above his long jet-black locks, and strode into the street; M. Dufours shook a lean fist after him, but dare not raise a hue and cry. There was really something Satanic about M. Rudolph — that nip on the nose, now, surely he had not imagined that!
The student went gloomily along the street, the grimoire clasped tightly under his arm; the sky was a pale violet color above the roofs that were shining wet from a shower of rain, and a delicate breeze from the hills beyond the town stirred the rubbish in the gutter.
Outside the wineshop several students were sitting over their pints of claret, discussing their work and love affairs, joyously speculating as to their chances of prizes, of kisses, of distinction, and of monies that might be sent from their relatives.
As Rudolph strode past without taking any notice of them, they fell into a silence and stared after him. How poor and proud he was! No one knew much about him and everyone was slightly afraid of him; he was morose, haughty and had no friends — how was it that he could afford to pay for the courses at the University?
He was brilliant at his work, but was not likely, the professors said, to be successful, for he attended so few of the lectures.
How did he spend his time?
The students often asked one another this question and were afraid to answer it; the rumor was that Rudolph wasted his days and imperilled his soul by studying the forbidden arts.
They craned their necks after him in awe and admiration; he was so handsome with his high brow, black hair and cavernous eyes; every Fifi and Mimi in the town was in love with him and he never as much as glanced at any of them.
The other students admired his courage, too; he never concerned himself with any kind of civility and they were envious of his top hat — that chapeau en haute forme that he wore instead of the usual college cap.
True, this fashionable headgear was old and had probably been bought secondhand chez Dufours, but it had the address of a maker in the rue St. Honorè inside the brim and was undoubtedly elegant.
Sourly gratified by these admiring glances that he affected not to notice, Rudolph proceeded to his poor lodgings, which were in an inconvenient part of the town, a long way from the University.
Not only poverty, however, persuaded Rudolph to live in this remote quarter; he liked the solitude of the deserted street where the tumble-down houses huddled beneath the broken walls of the town, where at night it was silent save for the hoot of an owl or so that strayed in from the woods and brooded on the roof-tops, and dark save for the yellow spurts of light from the few dirty street lamps.
Holding the grimoire tightly, he mounted the twisting staircase to his attic; he was the sole lodger in the ancient house. An old woman and her grandchild owned the crazy building and dwelt on the ground floor.
Rudolph locked his door (he had fashioned the lock himself and carefully fixed it in place of the rude latch), and seating himself by the window in the lean-to roof, began to read his book eagerly.
There were many curious objects in the attic, stacked away in dark corners and under the dusty chairs and truckle-bed; on a bare table stood a lamp, a desk, on a shelf was a row of books; there were hanging cupboards, pegs for clothes and a number of boxes.
Rudolph read long in the grimoire, until the sun declined behind the roofs of the town, dusk filled his garret, and Jeanette, the landlady’s grandchild, knocked at the door, crying out, in her thin, piping voice, that she had brought up the supper.
Rudolph, startled from his self-absorption, whispered a malediction, tossed the tangled hair from his eyes, rose and unlocked the door.
The little tin lamp on the stairs had been lit; this feeble light showed the broken banister rails, rotting floor boards and dust everywhere.
Jeanette, who looked like a white rat, hurried timidly into the room and placed Rudolph’s supper on the table — a pint of wine, two slices of black bread, a dish of salted ham and pickled onions, and a withering apple; she then lit his lamp.
“Ha, little misery!” exclaimed the student wildly. “How is it that thou canst continue this wretched existence, unworthy of a human being who owns a mortal soul?”
“Indeed, Monsieur, I don’t know,” stammered the girl, trying to drop a curtsey; her skirts were so scanty that she could not achieve much elegance, and when she bent her knee it stuck through a hole in her rags. “Grandmother says that if you could pay the rent —”
“Begone,” scowled Rudolph, waving his elegant hand. “I have my studies awaiting me.”
Jeanette hurried away, glad to escape, and Rudolph pondered deeply on what he had read in the grimoire.
It certainly was a treasure, that book! It contained secrets that he had long been seeking to discover and directions for conjurations and divinations that he longed to try immediately. Unfortunately all these required expensive materials, new-born infants, kids, black or white cocks, costly drugs, shew stones, tables of sweet-wood and squares of undyed wool taken from a spotless lamb and woven by a maiden.
Rudolph knew a great deal about black magic, but he had never made any money from either that or the poetry which stood in dusty stacks against the walls; indeed, most of his meagre substance had gone in buying ingredients or articles for his forbidden studies.
He frowned gloomily, staring with disgust at the coarse food on the table. How he longed for luxury, a splendid castle, troops of liveried servants, a carriage with six white horses, a superb mistress clad in Venetian velvet!
Again he opened the grimoire and carefully reread something that had greatly taken his fancy; as he perused the badly printed page his pallid face gradually assumed a diabolical expression, for Rudolph wished evil to all mankind, and all his experiments — mostly taken from the Clavicle of King Ptolomeus— had been of the following kinds: “Of hatred and destruction”—“Of mocks and gainful seeking”—“Of experiments extraordinary that be forbidden of good men.”
What fascinated him now was the description of certain rites whereby four strangers could be brought to the celebrant’s room and one of them forced to do his will — even to the revealing of hidden treasure, the gift of luck at cards and success in a chosen career.
Rudolph nibbled an onion and brooded over this prospect; he decided at once on three of the people whom he would summon in this manner, so humiliating to them and so gratifying to himself.
First he would force Saint Luc, the arrogant young aristocrat who had so often sneered at him and whom he so greatly detested, to appear in his wretched garret; second he would bring the vicious old professor, Maître Lachaud, who had so often told him, Rudolph, that he was idle, stubborn and a disgrace to the University; and third he would drag along by his magic spells M. Lecoine, the fat banker who had laughed in his, Rudolph’s face, when he had asked for a loan.
But here again expensive materials were required, and the experiment might fail and all the money and effort be wasted.
Rudolph ate his bread and ham, then went to the window and glared out at the sky from which all daylight had now receded. A full moon was appearing above the house-tops and a few dark clouds that might have been witches impatiently flying off for nocturnal delights showed beneath it. As Rudolph gazed a great longing took possession of him to make the experiment of which he had read in the grimoire; not only did he earnestly desire to vex and terrify three people whom he detested, he was dazzled by the hope of luck in cards, in his career, and the finding of a hidden treasure.
“I shall be the greatest poet in the world and I shall have more money than any man ever had before.”
Such a prospect was worth a large sacrifice.
Rudolph turned back into the room and dragged an ancient carpetbag from under his bed; he opened it, unfastening the cumbrous lock, while he sighed deeply and from swathes of old silk rags he took out a large golden ring set with a pale stone that gave out more light than the dirty lamp fed by cheap oil.
This jewel had been given to Rudolph by his great-grandfather with strict charges never to part with it —“except from the purest motives” the old man had said. He had been a famous roué in his time and had squandered all the family fortune on English jockeys, boxers and Italian dancers.
Rudolph disliked the thought of parting with the ring because the possession of such a gem increased his self-esteem and also because he was afraid of his great-grandfather’s curse; he decided, however, to do so, and thrusting the ring in his bosom left the attic and turned to the fashionable part of the town beyond the University buildings that, rising directly in front of the moon, looked as if they were cut out of black paper.
The shutters were just being put up in front of the shop of M. Colcombet, the jeweller, but Rudolph dashed through the door and laid his ring on the counter, on the length of black velvet that covered the glass that contained flashing parures in heart-shaped boxes lined with satin.
“This is a family piece,” said the student haughtily. “It is worth a good sum.”
M. Colcombet was doubtful, however, both of the ring and the customer; he peered suspiciously, first at the sardonic young man, then at the white jewel which was brighter than any diamond in the shop.
“It is a beryl,” he remarked.
“Not an ordinary beryl,” replied Rudolph, contemptuously flashing the ring about in his hand so that in the light of the well-trimmed silver lamp the stone cast out flames of blue, green and crimson.
“Well,” admitted M. Colcombet, who seemed fascinated by the stone, “I daresay the Comtesse Louise would like it for her wedding toilette.”
“Ha, is the Comtesse Louise to be married?” asked Rudolph, who remembered with anger this haughty beauty who had stared through him when her carriage has passed him in the street, covering him with mud.
“Yes, to the Prince de C—— it is to be a splendid affair,” gossiped the jeweller. “At her father’s château, you know — the chapel is hung with cloth of gold and there is to be a festival for all the neighborhood. Many of the students have had cards of invitation, and some of them have been in here to buy their presents — M. le Marquis de Saint Luc, for instance. You perhaps yourself, Monsieur?” he added with an inquisitive glance at Rudolph’s shabby clothes.
“What do you offer for the ring?” demanded the student fiercely.
“It is white,” said the jeweller, “but not, I am sure, a diamond — reset it would look very handsome, perhaps in the center of a tiara or on a corsage ornament —”
“How much? I am in a hurry.”
M. Colcombet, who felt rather embarrassed and confused, stammered:
“Two thousand francs, Monsieur.”
“It is worth far more, but I was not born to bargain — give me the money.”
As Rudolph flung down the ring he disarranged the black cloth over the show case and revealed a set of pearl and diamond ornaments in cases of pale blue satin.
“It is the wedding parure of the Comtesse Louise,” said M. Colcombet as he counted out the notes from his pocket-book; Rudolph took up the money and passed out into the street that, when the shutters were all up in front of the shops, was lit only by the light of the rising moon; the small dark clouds had now disappeared and the sky was pale and pure.
The student returned in a melancholy, bitter mood to his lodgings; although he had two thousand francs in his pocket he felt poorer than when he had been in possession of the beryl ring.
The mention of the Comtesse Louise had considerably vexed him; how he detested that proud girl with her little sneering mouth and large, slightly prominent blue eyes! He had several times seen her driving in the town, and once he had come face to face with her in a bookshop where she was buying foolish novels and he was trying to sell some Aldine volumes with superb sepia-colored initials; on that occasion he had held open the door for her, and she had passed him with the most icy of unspoken rebukes in her lofty carriage and set sweetness of glance.
He had, however, seen her leaning on the arm of Saint Luc, that ostentatious dandy who spent more in a year on his trousers and gilets than the whole of Rudolph’s annual income.
Hatred and another dark emotion that was almost despair inspired the student with a diabolic plan; absenting himself from all classes and lectures he devoted all his time to carrying out precisely the instructions in the grimoire published at Memphis in 1517.
He made his plans carefully and arranged for his great experiment to take place on the evening of the wedding day of the Comtesse Louise and Prince de C——.
First he provided himself with a magic wand by going into the woods and cutting two twigs, one of hazel and one of elder from trees that had never borne fruit; at the end of these he placed steel caps magnetized with a lodestone; then he took from the carpet-bag some ink made from sprigs of fern gathered on St. John’s Eve and vine twigs cut in the March full moon which had been ground to powder and mingled with river water in a fair glazed earthen pot; this mixture had been boiled up over a fire of virgin paper.
Rudolph also possessed a phial of pigeon’s blood and a male goose quill and a bloodstone which possessed the virtue of protecting the wearer from evil spirits; he had always found this a very necessary precaution.
On the third day of the new moon Rudolph purchased a black cock and a white cock from the market place and kept them in his garret until nightfall; he then put the birds in a wicker cage, his paraphernalia in the carpet-bag, and set out beyond the town, beyond the woods until he came to an open space that surrounded the ruins of an Abbey reputed to be haunted by the spirits of monks who had been unfaithful to their vows.
Here the grass was short and scarred by stones and rocks; an ancient thorn tree, sacred to heathen deities, stood bleak and twisted by a small pool. The Gothic windows of the Abbey showed a black framework against the luminous sky; the bats flew in and out of the crisp, dark ivy; several noxious fungi grew round the pool, which was covered by a dull red floating weed so that it did not reflect any light.
Rudolph had often visited this place before; it was exactly what the grimoires said was required for infernal rites —“a desolate spot free from interruptions.”
With mutterings to himself, while the sweat gathered on his high, pallid brow, the student made the grand Kabbalistic circle. From his carpet-bag he took out his rods, a goatskin, two garlands of Vervain, two candles of virgin wax made by a virgin — Jeanette whose meagre charms guaranteed her chastity — a sword of blue steel, two candle-sticks of massive silver, two flints, tinder, a flask of eau-devie, some camphor, incense, and four nails from the coffin of a child — which last item Rudolph had paid Pierre, the coffin-maker, very highly for, for it had been necessary to go to the burial vaults of Saint Jean to obtain them.
With this material Rudolph made his grand circle of goatskin, sprinkling the incense and camphor in a wheel shape and kindling his fire of wood (that he fed with the cognac) in the center, then, with his right arm bared to the shoulder, he sacrificed the two cocks, burning them on the fire while he muttered his evocations.
The bats and owls fled from the ruins, the moon veiled in the sky, the earth shook, the red scum of weeds on the lake became agitated; Rudolph pressed the bloodstone to his cheek and muttered an even more powerful spell.
The water was troubled furiously and a lovely boy rose to the surface of the lake and in a pleasant voice demanded of the student what he wished.
Rudolph was not deceived by this civility; he knew that the apparition was Lucifer himself, the most violent of the evil spirits who would tear the celebrant to pieces if he were to step out of the circle or to drop his bloodstone. Astaroth came, Rudolph was well aware, in the shape of a black and white ass, Beelzebub in hideous disguises, Belial seated in a flaming chariot, and Beleth on a white horse preceded by a company of musicians.
“What is your will?” asked Lucifer gently, but puffing out his red cheeks with rage.
“Monsieur,” said the student respectfully, “I am about — at the end of the month, to be exact — to make a great experiment, that described on page twenty-three of the Grimoire of Alibeck the magician, published at Memphis in 1517.”
“A rare edition,” remarked Lucifer. “You were fortunate to find it.”
While he spoke he was carefully watching to see if the student made the least mistake, so that he might seize him and pull him to shreds, but Rudolph was prudent and kept well within the center of the magic circle with the bloodstone pressed to his cheek.
“I want to know, Monsieur, if you will assure me that the experiment will be successful?”
“You seem to know a few tricks,” smiled the fiend. “No doubt, if you will fulfil all the requirements given in the grimoire, the experiment will be successful. You will take the consequences, of course.”
“If I can have four strangers in my room to do my bidding, discover a hidden treasure, become a famous poet and lucky at cards, I shall require nothing more,” sneered Rudolph, who even when talking to a devil could not for long maintain a submissive tone.
“All that you shall have,” promised the lovely child in a sweet voice, but his pretty little eyes were sparkling with fury at this insolence.
“I ask no more!” cried Rudolph, shaking his magic hazel wand at the lake. “Foul fiend begone!”
With a dreadful hiss the boy sank into the lake, the red weed closed over the place where he had been, the moon came to a standstill in the sky, the bats and owls flew back to the ruins, and the student stepped out of the magic circle and began to pack away his materials into the carpet-bag.
When he returned through the town he heard the violinists above the music shop of M. Kuhn practicing for the wedding festivities of the Comtesse Louise.
As the time drew near for the great experiment Rudolph made his final preparations; these had cost him nearly all the money he had received for the beryl ring and the suspicious looks of his fellow students.
He had paid his rent and given Jeanette a present to bribe her to sweep and clean out his chamber so that no dirt remained anywhere; he had then perfumed it with mastic and aloes and hung clean white curtains at the window, furnished the bed with fair linen, woollen coverlets and a mattress of goose down.
He bought also a table and four chairs of plain white wood, four platters of white damask. To rid himself of the curiosity of Jeanette he declared that these preparations were for a visit from his mother and two sisters that he was expecting.
For three days before the date fixed for the wedding of the Comtesse Louise, Rudolph fasted and looked to his room, making sure that there were no hangings, nor indeed any objects, set crosswise, that no clothes were on pegs, that there was not a bird-cage in any corner of the room, and that everything was scrupulously clean.
On the evening of the great day itself the student set his four chairs round his table, placed out on the fair damask cloth the four platters with a wheaten loaf on each, and the four glass beakers full of clear water. Beside his bed he set his old armchair, and the windows he opened wide onto the moonlit night.
In the center of the table he placed a shaker of goatskin, three black and one white bean, then, everything being in readiness, he cast himself on his knees and uttered the powerful conjuration given in page twenty-three of the grimoire of Alibeck. Then he lay down on his bed, wearing a handsome chamber-robe that he had bought for the occasion.
He heard the church clock strike midnight, and then the moonlight in the attic began to quiver a little and Professor Lachaud floated in through the open window, not moving his feet nor looking to right nor left, but stiffly passing along; taking no heed of Rudolph, the dry little savant seated himself at the table and gazed in front of him through his silver-rimmed spectacles.
The next arrival was the banker, M. Lecoine; with an expression of surprise on his chubby face he floated in from the outer moonlight, a table napkin tucked under his chin and a pen in his hand; without speaking he seated himself opposite Lachaud. Almost at once the window was darkened again as M. Saint Luc appeared wearing a fashionable evening costume with a superb gilet of sky-blue moiré anglaise, in silence he occupied the third place at the table.
Rudolph felt ill with excitement; the white curtains blew out in the moonlight and a lady all in white entered — the Comtesse Louise, or rather the Princesse de C—— in her bridal gown of silver and satin with her wreath of myrtle and her parure of diamonds and pearls; on the thumb of her right hand was the beryl ring.
She took the fourth place at the table and the four strangers began to eat and drink; their movements were stiff and jerky like those of automata, and they were silent, without seeming to notice anything.
“One remains behind,” whispered Rudolph from the bed. “One remains behind.”
The four strangers ate the wheaten loaves to the last crumb and drank the crystal water to the last drop; then the professor took up the goatskin shaker and put inside it the three black and one white bean, so that they might draw lots as to who should stay behind.
It was the lady who took out the white bean; the three men then rose and, still in silence, floated out of the window one after the other, the professor’s robe, the youth’s frac coat and the banker’s napkin fluttering for a second in the night breeze as they disappeared into the moonlight.
The Comtesse Louise then rose, and crossing the room without moving her feet, seated herself in the armchair beside Rudolph’s bed. There were many things that the student would have liked to have asked the bride, but he remembered the danger of deviating from the formula of Alibeck, so he said:
“Confer on me luck at cards.”
She slipped the beryl ring off her thumb, handed it to him and replied:
“As long as you wear this you shall have luck at cards.”
“Confer on me the gift of fame.”
“You shall be the most famous poet alive.”
The lady answered clearly and promptly, but she ignored Rudolph as utterly as she had ignored him when she had met him in the bookshop or the street; this angered him and he made his third demand very haughtily:
“Reveal to me some hidden treasure.”
“Come with me.”
The student left his bed and followed her out of the window, walking on the air as if it had been curdling foam with firm sand beneath it. They passed over the house-tops, Rudolph in his bedgown that floated out behind him and his pearl-grey trousers, the lady in her bridal dress and the long veil that billowed into the moonlight until it seemed part of the silver vapor of night.
When they reached the market square the lady descended like a ray of light and paused before the great iron-studded door of the Church; when she saw that Rudolph was behind her, she passed through the door, and the student found no difficulty in doing the same.
The Church was cold and dim; as these two entered all the lamps before the shrines burnt very low, but the spell held.
The Comtesse Louise paused on a gravestone in the chancel; it sunk beneath her, and Rudolph, who was close behind, descended with her to the vaults.
Here the only light was that which emanated from the brilliant figure of the bride, who hovered over the rows of coffins like a will-o’-the-wisp.
Over one of these that was covered with a rotting pall cloth she hung motionless, and her voice, hollow as an echo in a shell, broke the silence of the vault.
“Here is your treasure.”
Rudolph wrenched at the wooden wooden coffin lid, then at the leaden shell beneath, and found that both came away like paper in his hands; the supernatural light cast by the Comtesse Louise enabled him to see a skeleton, livid with the hues of decay, lying in a tattered shroud; under the skull was a cluster of diamonds and sapphires arranged like a pillow; these had been enclosed in a silken case which had frayed to a few faded threads.
The student despoiled the coffin, filling the pockets of his robe de chambre, of his waistcoat and trousers with the gems. When he had grubbed up the last of the jewels he harshly told the lady to lead him back to his garret.
She instantly rose through the stone floor of the Church and passed down the aisle, through the wooden door and into the public square; without moving her feet, without speaking, without glancing to right or left, she led him over the roofs to his garret.
Rudolph did not think of her at all until he had packed all the jewels into his carpet-bag and hair-cord trunk; then he looked at her standing immobile in her wedding splendor, gazing in front of her with her blue, slightly prominent eyes, and he felt a twinge of compassion for her.
“You may return to your bridegroom,” he said disdainfully.
She did not, however, move, and Rudolph could not recall what the formula of dismissal was in this conjuration.
He searched in the grimoire and could find nothing on this point: “One remains behind” was all that was written in the instructions.
The student did not greatly concern himself about this, however; he felt very drowsy and cast himself on his bed. “No doubt she will be gone in the morning.”
When Rudolph awoke the sun was bright in his room and Jeanette was at his bedside with coffee and rolls; on the tray was a letter with the Parisian postmark.
The student tore the envelope open and found inside an enthusiastic letter from a publisher to whom he had submitted his poems a year ago. This gentleman had, it seemed, printed the poems without telling the author, and the thin volume had been a succès fou. “You are acclaimed as the greatest poet of the century, far beyond Lamartine or Byron.”
Rudolph sprang out of bed in an excess of joy, which was checked however when he saw the bride still standing where he had left her last night, erect by the table staring in front of her with her blue, slightly prominent eyes.
He now perceived that she was as transparent as the lace that she wore and that she looked as if sketched with white chalk on the dark background of the room; he saw also that she was perceptible to himself only, since Jeanette had not only taken no notice of her, but, in leaving the room, had walked right through her. Rudolph then realized that the four strangers had been spectres or phantoms, not, as he had thought, the human beings themselves.
He felt that he had humiliated the lady sufficiently — besides, he was becoming bored with her company; so he again commanded her to depart, and, when she took no heed of him, he once more consulted the grimoire. This authorative work, however, had one serious defect — it offered no advice on how to be rid of spirits, ghosts, wraiths or supernatural appearances that had outstayed their welcome.
Rudolph was however too excited and too anxious to put his good fortune to the test to concern himself very much about the phantasm that had already done him such good service.
“Pray please yourself, Madame la Princesse,” he said with a sarcastic bow, and hastened into the street, the lady floating behind him with feet that were motionless and with a fixed gaze.
As he passed the University the student saw a knot of his fellows gathered round the steps. One of them hailed him:
“Rudolph, have you heard the news?”
“About the success of my poems?” asked the student haughtily.
“Your poems? No, indeed — poor Professor Lachaud died suddenly last night. He was shut up in his library to study as usual, and this morning he was found stiff in his chair!”
Rudolph passed on in silence; he felt rather disturbed.
M. Colcombet and some friends were gossiping outside his shop.
“Oh, M. Rudolph, have you heard, what a dreadful tragedy? Last night, just as the bride — the Comtesse Louise — was being conducted to the bridal chamber, she fell down dead! Yes, dead as a stone! And what do you think, at the same moment one of the guests, M. Saint Luc, had a stroke of apoplexy, and he too fell dead, with a glass of champagne in his hand!”
Rudolph looked over his shoulder at the phantom, that gazed ahead serenely; he though —“the grimoire did not state that the spell would cause the death of the four strangers. But perhaps if it had I should not have hesitated.”
As he passed the Bank he saw the black shutters being put up; in the doorway were clerks fastening black bands to their arms. “Someone dead?” asked Rudolph drily.
“M. Lecoine himself! He retired to his counting-house, as he always does on Friday evenings, at ten minutes to twelve — old Auguste took him in his cup of soup, and he was alive then — this morning he was dead in his chair, with his napkin under his chin and his empty cup on his desk!”
“What a number of deaths in this town!” remarked Rudolph sarcastically. “I hope that it isn’t the plague!”
Although at first he had been shocked to learn of the dreadful results of his spell, he soon consoled himself; the four dead people were all detestable — perhaps one might be a little sorry for the bride, until one remembered how cold and haughty she had been, how insulting with her icy looks.
No, everything was as it should be; the only difficulty was how to be rid of this phantom that followed him so closely —“One remains behind.”
“Eh, well,” thought Rudolph, “no one can see her but myself, and no doubt she will soon tire of following me about or I shall be able to find a spell to dismiss her.”
So, being strong-minded as well as hard-hearted, he contrived to forget the filmy-white shape that was the dead bride, and that never left him, day or night. Everywhere that he went she accompanied him, and when he returned home in the evenings she seated herself by his bed in the worn armchair.
The phantom was the last thing he saw at night, the first thing he saw in the morning, and though he searched his whole library through he could not discover any spell to be rid of her; he was also debarred from any magical ceremonies, divinations or conjurations, for it is well-known that the company of a ghost is fatal on these occasions.
His good fortune, however, prevented him from troubling much about this inconvenience; not only had he the treasure taken from the vaults of Saint Jean, but his fame as a poet spread over the entire country, and he found that whenever he played at cards, when wearing the beryl ring he was lucky, so that his winnings at play afforded him a considerable income.
He soon moved to Paris, where he became the center of a crowd of admirers; all the ladies were singing his verses to harps or guitars, all the gentlemen copied his waistcoats and the manner in which he tossed his long black hair off his pallid brow.
The student now enjoyed almost everything that he had ever wished for; he had a handsome apartment, liveried servants, a smart phaeton— but he had no mistress.
All the women adored him, but if he tried to make love to any one of them, she seemed repelled, frightened, and always ended by running away.
Rudolph cursed and wished that he had asked for luck in love instead of luck in cards, for the sale of the treasure trove would supply him with all the money he needed. He knew why the women avoided even the slightest intimacy with him — they could not perceive the ghost of the bride, but they felt it, a miasma of death that killed their rising passion, a bitter chill that cooled their warm hearts and withered the kisses on their lips.
The student used all the arts at his command in the hope of destroying the phantom, but nothing was of any avail; sometimes she was so pale as to be scarcely visible, sometimes she was as solid as a living woman; but she was always there and Rudolph’s nerves began to quiver every time he looked over his shoulder —“One remains behind” he would mutter, gazing up into her glassy eyes. He tried to argue out the matter with her, to appeal to her compassion, even to make love to her, but she never took any more notice of him than she had taken when she had passed him in the bookshop or in the streets of the University town.
There were other flaws in the student’s good fortune; his publisher continually implored him to write some more poems.
“You know there are only ten poems in that little volume, and everyone in France knows them by heart! Soon people will begin to say that you are incapable of writing anything else!”
This was precisely what had happened; whenever Rudolph sat down to write, the spectre of the bride glided round to the other side of the table, and seated there, stared at him with her blue, slightly prominent eyes, and while she gazed at him he found it impossible to compose a single line.
With relief he remembered the sheaves of paper, all covered by verses, that he had, in his excitement, left behind in his garret, so he wrote to Jeanette telling her to send them at once. The girl had, however, used the papers to light the kitchen fire, and the student uttered a bitter malediction when he received the ill-spelt letter in which she gave him this news.
Gradually his popularity waned; the Parisians became tired of his ten poems, of his gloomy, preoccupied airs, and began to laugh at his failures in love. He was too successful at cards, and so found himself avoided, not only at the gambling parties in private houses, but even at the halls in the Palais Royal.
One morning he was seated over his coffee pondering how he should be rid of the phantom when his eye caught a line in the Gazette that his English valet had left on the table beside his service of coffee, rolls and fruit.
In the University town of S——a horrible outrage had been discovered; a sacrilegious robbery had been committed in the Church of Saint Jean — a tomb had been broken open and a vast treasure was stolen.
The student read this account with a good deal of interest.
“I never heard any of this,” he commented bitterly, “when I was in that detestable town.”
The ancient Church, it seemed, possessed a vast treasure, largely consisting of offerings at the miraculous shrine of Ste. Pelagie, which had been hidden in the coffin of that saint during the dangers of the late revolutions; all record of this had been lost, and for a generation people had searched in vain for the hidden treasure; then a paper found in the sacristy had given them the clue and the coffin with the gems had been discovered.
They had been left there while the Bishop was consulted as to the propriety of moving them; His Grace had not only given his consent to this, but had come in person to see this remarkable discovery — only to learn that the jewels had been stolen by thieves who had broken into the vault. At first the police had kept the matter hushed up in order that they might pursue their investigations more at ease, now they decided to make the matter public.
“Ah, Madame!” cried Rudolph, addressing the phantom that hovered over his breakfast table. “You have deceived me grossly!”
He morosely decided to leave Paris. The jewels might be traced and he did not dare to try to sell those that he had left; on consulting with his major-domo he found that he was short of money — he had been living most extravagantly, spending thousands of francs on horses, dogs, furniture, pictures and other things that he did not care for in the least.
So in order to raise the money for his travelling expenses, he put on the beryl ring and went to one of the worst gambling dives in Paris where accomplished gamblers nightly stripped newcomers to the capital.
Rudolph entered this den of vice. As he threw off his long black cloak there was a murmur of admiration for his superb blue gilet in moiré anglaise.
He was not, however, very welcome even in that dreadful place, for even these hardened gamblers, coarsened by debauchery, felt uneasy in his presence; the phantom spread a chill about her that surrounded Rudolph like a cold sea mist and caused those who came near him to shiver. These scoundrels, however, could not for long resist the lure of the piles of gold that the student flung down on the long green baize table — these represented the last remnants of his ready money, the rest of his fortune was contained in the stolen treasure that he dare not dispose of in France.
When he had been playing and winning for an hour, a huge pile of gold pieces was massed in front of him, and hellish looks of black hatred were cast on him by the habitués of the gambling dive.
Rudolph felt depressed and took little pleasure in his fortune, that was more than sufficient to take him to Vienna or Rome or some other city where he could sell the stolen gems; his head ached and the flames of the ring of candles above the table seemed to penetrate his brain like hot nails, all the vicious, greedy faces sneering about him seemed to float detached from their bodies in the thick, foul air.
The phantom of the bride had become quite solid; it seemed impossible to Rudolph that she was invisible to the company as she hovered over the piles of dirty cards, her wedding splendor floating about her like a cloud of moonshine.
“Madame,” he said between his teeth, “have the goodness to leave me — this is not a fit place for a gentlewoman. But, if you do not cease plaguing me, I shall take you to worse —”
“What are you muttering?” asked his companion, a stout man whose face was covered by carbuncles and whose breath was hot as flame.
“Oh, nothing, I was merely counting my winnings,” sneered Rudolph with his hands over the pile of gold.
“Pray,” said he of the carbuncles, “have another cast of the dice with this young gentleman,” and he nudged the student in the ribs to let him know that here was another pigeon to be plucked.
Rudolph saw a spruce youth with a baby face bowing before him, and he thought: “This is a fool fresh from college, he reminds me of Saint Luc. I may as well have his money.”
So he agreed to play with the young stranger, who had a pleasant lisping voice, a cheek as smooth as a girl’s and slightly reddened eyes.
“Surely,” thought the student, “I have seen him before.” He was tormented by this likeness to someone whom he had once known and so did not observe that the bride had made a movement for the first time since she had followed him; always she had moved through the air in one piece, like a floating statue, now she leaned forward and drew from his finger the beryl ring.
The student played carelessly, certain of his luck, and lost all his winnings to the youth with the baby face.
“Ah!” he shrieked, “I have been deceived!”
He stared closer at the young man who was gathering up the gold; now he recognized him — it was Lucifer who had appeared to him on the weed covered pond outside the ruined abbey.
With a yell echoed in the mocking laughter of the gamblers, Rudolph rushed into the street, the bride floating after him, the great beryl glittering on her pale finger.
When the student reached his luxurious apartment he found that the police were in possession; the stolen jewels had been traced to him. His publisher was also waiting for him in the antechamber.
“You are a cheat as well as thief, M. Rudolph,” he declared severely. “I do not believe that you wrote those poems, or you would be able to write others. Ah, he could rob a church, the dead, is capable of anything! Tomorrow I shall publish a statement in the Gazette to the effect that you are not the author of the poems, and you will be the laughing stock of Paris!”
Rudolph did not stay to hear these indignant words; he fled out into the night with the agents de police lumbering after him, and reeling along under the moon that shone above the house-tops, reached the river that dark as ink flowed between houses white as paper.
The phantom pressed close to the student, like a cold fog in his lungs. For the first time she spoke:
“You cannot complain. All the promises in the grimoire have been fulfilled.”
“Do not let us, Madame, waste words,” replied Rudolph. “Will you return me my beryl ring?”
“Will you leave me?”
“Never! One remains behind!”
The student then perceived that he had come to the end of his story; he jumped into the river. As he sank he raised his top hat and said politely:
“Goodbye, Madame la Princesse de C——.”
The phantom remained hovering over the spot where he had disappeared, then slowly dissolved into air, her pearls and diamonds turning into drops of rain, her veils and laces into wisps of vapor, the beryl ring being caught up into a shaft of moonshine.
This romantic suicide made Rudolph very popular again in Paris; it was believed that he had written the poems after all, and the fashionable color for that season became a faded green named vert Rudolph. The police became disliked for their hasty action in raiding the apartments of the sensitive poet, for it was discovered that the so-called gems in his possession were mere paste and had nothing to do with the treasure trove in the vaults of Saint Jean.
M. Dufours travelled to Paris and bought back the grimoire from the sale of Rudolph’s effects and returned it to the shelf at the back of his shop where it soon became again covered with dust.
This web edition published by:
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University of Adelaide
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