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absent only for a few minutes, and .made a pretence of looking at a sketch-book, but having once ventured to raise my eyes to his face, met so penetrating a gaze fixed on mine, that I bent down again instantly in great confusion. A few satirical remarks on my brother's paintings soon aroused my interest, and made me defend him with as much animation as ignorance (doubtless) against the satire of his friend.
Though I had begun by wishing earnestly for Will's return, he at length entered without my even perceiving him, as I was boldly pronouncing on the good drawing of some impossible figure in one of his designs.
“Ah, Will, good day to you. I cannot persuade your sister that you are not a genius."
“Of course not. If you could, of what value would she be as a
And Will went to deposit his. purchases in the cupboard. Meyer followed him and whispered something in his ear, which made him start and look hastily round at me. His friend frowned, and put up his finger to enjoin caution. I thought that Meyer certainly had a terribly. sinister expression. They whispered again, he looking still more sombre and Will more confused, till I began to feel uncomfortably sure of something going wrong. In a few moments my brother came to where I still sat turning over the sketch-book : “I am expecting a fellow on a little business, and as he is rather a rough cove, and just as likely to be drunk as sober, would you mind waiting in my bedroom for a few minutes ?" Of course I could only assent, and as I sat in the little untidy room, I heard the heavy tread of some man in wooden shoes, and the voices of Will and his friend cautioning him to beware of something. - Bah !" replied a rough voice, “ she can't feel, you know !" and there was a brutal laugh, unechoed by Will and Meyer. Then I heard the peculiar slam of the lid of the old chest, the wooden shoes went clattering down the stairs, and I was recalled into the painting-room. Mechanically I looked towards the chest, and as I did so the friends ex· changed significant glances.
“ Mademoiselle thinks there is some great mystery,” said Meyer ; “ what a pity we cannot invent one for her benefit ; as it is, I really must enlighten her, for I know feminine curiosity is a most painful disease. The fact is, I have driven a bargain for your brother, and purchased for his consumption a great sack of potatoes.”
“And deposited them in here. Seeing is believing," said I, about to lift up the lid of the chest ; but Will, with a scream as of terror, threw himself upon it, seriously begging me not to open it, and I heard his friend mutter, 'Ah, quel enfant !' but as I turned towards him he only smiled in the same grave way as before, exclaiming, ‘Bravo ! faith without sight, he will be believed.'
“Nay," I answered, warmly, “ Will has not spoken. There is no call for faith in his words. It was your assertion, not his.”
"And, indeed,” broke in Will, “as a general rule never believe Meyer without proof, for his talent for story-telling is his only supportable qualification. He must spin us a yarn this evening. And now for some food. I am ravenous. Don't go, Meyer."
“ Thank you, I have just dined.”
“ So much the better for you and for us also, I assure you ; but we shall not be long, and you can sip a cup of coffee with us."
As usual, I was proceeding to set the provisions on the chest, but before I had accomplished my intention Will had brought in the table from his bedroom, as being more civilised than a box, and for some reason I could not fathom, Meyer again indulged in one of his sardonic laughs. I felt half afraid of him : never was face so sombre, never was laugh so joyless beyond the precincts of a melodrama; he looked like my brother's evil spirit; the Tempter in “Faust," or Bertram in “ Robert the Devil.” When he took upon himself to brew the coffee, I declare he came out so weird-like, as the blue flame of the spirit-lamp flickered over his dark features, that I should not have been surprised had he suddenly vanished through the brick floor in the midst of some ghostly explosion. But he did not ; he sat down, ate and drank like any other mortal in the Quartier Latin.
Will had done wonders with the tin coins ; he produced a pat of fresh butter, some hard-boiled eggs-crimson and white,-and a bunch of radishes. The coffee was excellent; so were the preserved cherries; the only mistake was calling the meal dinner; and why should we be bound by such trivial conventionalities? Why might not a dinner consist as well of coffee and eggs as of soup, flesh, pastry, &c., if such suited the taste or purse of the consumers ? We discussed the question merrily, and ate with better appetite than many a smart company at that moment assembled over their legitimate three courses and wines to correspond. Meyer scarcely smiled himself, but he furnished wit enough to keep us continually laughing, till at length, our meal ended, we turned our backs to the table, our feet towards the stove, and Will took down his meerschaum from the mantelpiece.
“Does mademoiselle allow that ?" asked Meyer, producing at the same time a similar article from his pocket. I consented, and the two chatted in that quiet way in which conversations are carried on where the words drop gently from one corner of the mouth, whilst the other emits still more gentle clouds of smoke. I did not notice much of what they said, for, in spite of myself, my thoughts would run upon the mysterious errand of the wooden-shod peasant, and I could not get rid of the idea that there was mischief in the large keen eye of the older man, the more so when I heard my brother call him “ doctor.” Doctor of necromaney, or some sort of black art, most surely, thought I, and my brother, with his fair Saxon face and open countenance, seemed the fit pupil or victim of the crafty black-bearded master. Suddenly I heard Meyer observe, s. That reminds me of something which happened to me years ago," and I listened, perceiving that a story was coming.
“I was studying medicine at Montpellier. We had for lecturer an old doctor, who determined to work reformation in the students in every way, and began by holding his cours’ at seven o'clock in the morning, to prevent, if possible, our holding our orgies overnight. It had the effect of prolonging them, and most of us only went to bed when the lecture was over, by which also I am afraid we profited less than the poor industrious old doctor deserved.
“On one occasion it was my turn to prepare the subject for the next day's demonstration-a foot for exposition of the muscles. I was up very late, which is, in point of fact, identical with being up very early, and the clock struck three as I turned the key in the door of the theatre of the school of medicine. I lit the lamp, sorted the instruments, and sat myself down at one end of the long table, where the foot had been already placed by my desire, in readiness for my operations. My lamp shed a brilliant light over the few yards which surrounded me, but in the remote corners of the vast hall there was only a feeble glimmer, just sufficing to reveal the ghostly forms of skeletons and anatomical preparations. I had spent a merry evening in a warm, brilliant room, and the contrast made this place appear even more than usually cold and dismal. I tried to go on with a song or two we had been carolling in chorus, but my voice failed, and my teeth chattered. Yet the silence was oppressive after our uproarious jollity at the Café des Etudiants. All the horrible stories and grisly apparitions we were in the habit of laughing at returned to my mind as grave realities. I hurried on with my task, wishing it were over. Suddenly I heard a slight noise at the farther end of the table. I peered through the darkness, there was nothing there but a skull recently prepared. Nothing else, it must have been fancy; no, there it was again distinctly. I fixed my eyes upon the skull as I held my breath to listen. O horror! it advanced a step towards me! the fleshless jaws moved; it was the gnashing teeth, doubtless, which I heard. I held on to the table in agony, unable to move my eyes from the fearful spectacle. Again it advanced a step, with the same grating sound, slight, mysterious, but perfectly distinct. I tried to rise tried to look away. I could not. I was chained to the spot. I felt condemned to await its coming. It drew nearer, nearer still along the bare table; on it came stealthily, staring at me with its eyeless orbits, and moving its teeth so fearfully exposed-on, on, within a few inches of me, and I must sit immovable, whilst the cold sweat stood on my brow, and my nails clutched into the table in my anguish of fright-on, on, till it gave a bound, as if to spring upon me. I started up with a wild shriek. It was a rat, which had in vain been endeavouring to disengage itself from the skull into which it had crept, and had in its progress scraped the table with its claws. Naturally there were many rats in that place."
I had listened " with all my ears," as the French say, till he recounted the final bound of the rat, when I likewise bounded from my chair with a smothered cry, which amused the story-teller amazingly. I wish I could impart to the reader the hollow voice, the impressive manner, the terrible expression of the doctor's face, as he told his tale in the twilight. I felt cold, I know I looked pale, though I had hardly gratified him with my little scream than I recovered my presence of mind and tried to laugh it off, but not very successfully. I know Will had been moved also, but had been more lucky in his efforts at concealment.
“So then," I said, " after all you are not an artist, and had scarcely a right to criticise Will's sketches so scientifically."
"Granted; but I had a right to excite your sisterly indignation. But for the necessity of vindicating your brother, you would not have spoken to me.”
Just then came a knock at the door. “Entrez,” shouted Will, and in walked a strange-looking man, who shut the door carefully, set his back against it, and drew a paper from his breast-pocket.
“I come by order of ” But, before he could finish his sentence, Meyer seized him by the arm, and muttering something about “ cette demoiselle," drew him outside the room, where he was joined by Will. A whispered conversation ensued. In a few minutes Will returned to me. He tried to speak quietly, but his face was very red.
"I am obliged to leave you for a few minutes, Nelly; take the key inside, and only open the door to me or Meyer.”
“Oh, Will," I replied, “ where are you going? What is the matter? I know something is wrong connected with that man. I can't bear his looks ; I am sure he is not a true friend."
But Meyer himself interrupted me.
“Don't be anxious, my dear young lady. I promise you your bro. ther will return to you unscathed in half an hour. There is nothing to alarm you; only a little mistake which a few words will rectify."
They both walked off with the strange man, but Will ran back to say to me:
“One thing more, Nelly : pray don't open the chest."
I suppose his friend heard him, for again the disagreeable doctor laughed his sneering laugh.
I was alone. I locked the door as directed; it was now dark, and I was full of nervous fears. I sat down quietly by the stove where I had sat before, and my present forebodings mingled unpleasantly with the remembrance of Meyer's story of the School of Medicine. I could not resign myself to remain half an hour sitting with no other light than the red glare of the stove, so I made an attempt to light the lamp. I suppose it was not properly trimmed, for when at length I succeeded, its feeble rays served only to “make darkness visible," and detach the white forms of the plaster-casts from the grey wall behind them. Just under the lamp stood the oak chest, and fancy kept playing busily about it. Why was I forbidden to look into it? Why did Will remove the eatables to an unusual place? Whatever it contained had been placed in it by the peasant who had laughingly declared “She cannot feel.” She! After all, there was nothing definite in the expression when one considered the absence of neuter gender in French; everything was she which was not he. It might be a piece of furniture, a painting of a woman, a dress; but then what was the cause of Will's evident anxiety that I should not see it? That dark, mocking, sombre Meyer! To what might not he have been tempting my dear dear innocent Will ! My doubts, my fears grew more and more painful, till at last I resolved to know the worst at once, and terminate the mystery at any price. Three times I approached the chest, and three times resumed my seat. At , length, as I gazed on it, some effect of the light gave the carving a peculiar appearance—it seemed to move--the lid to rise up ever so little. I could not endure it longer. Desperate with fear, I reached the chest at a bound, and flung open the lid with all the strength of excitement. I looked in; the light was full upon it. I saw nothing but a large dirty-looking sack. “Potatoes after all," I thought; " and this is a trick of that horrid Dr. Meyer's to frighten me; perhaps even now they are spying me through the keyhole." And, emboldened by the
sense of ridicule, I stooped down and turned back as much as I could of the sack. Ah me! I think I see it now, and still turn cold at the recollection. I did not scream, it was too fearful. The lid slammed heavily down, and I fell senseless upon it. What had I seen ? The beautiful bare arm and hand of a woman—a dead woman! ghastly white! The man was right. She could not feel —
I know not how long I remained in my swoon. At last I heard a knock. I rose to my feet, but not without difficulty, I was still so sick and giddy.
“ It is me, Nelly," I heard Will say.
I exerted myself and managed to take the key and turn it; but the room swam round, and I should have fallen again had not Will caught me in his arms with a thoroughly English “ Halloa!"
“I see how it is,” said Meyer ; "you had better carry her into your room and lay her on the bed. I will be back in a minute. Stay, if you have any brandy that will do."
They made me swallow some, bathed my face and hands with cold water, and I soon revived, quite as much invigorated by Will's safe return as by the doctor's remedies.
“Well, Nelly, what have you been doing with yourself?”!
“ You need not tire her with questions," interrupted Meyer, “ for I can tell you exactly what has happened. Did you never read the story of Blue Beard? Well, your sister exactly resembles that type of womankind, Fatima. There was one thing she was not to look into, so of course that one was the only thing which she cared to see. Fatima has opened the forbidden oak chest, and has paid the penalty."
He spoke sarcastically, as usual, yet he spared me a confession I could not have made without embarrassment. And then I, in my turn, demanded an explanation.
It appears that a subject for competition had been given at the School of Art, “ Virginius with the dead body of Virginia,” and, as a medical man, Meyer had procured a portion of a female corpse for Will to paint from. The porter charged with the care of it (he of the sabots) had exercised his vocation so indiscreetly that a police-agent was soon down upon Will making inquiries. The two culprits accompanied him before certain authorities personally known to the doctor, and they were freed on condition of restoring the body in two days to the School of Anatomy, from whence it had been borrowed.
I was considerably ashamed of the part I had played in this transaction, and, moreover, felt such a dread of the study, and more particularly the chest, that I pretended to have a cold on my next holiday, and it was some weeks before I again visited the Quartier Latin.
July-VOL. CXXVIII, NO. DXI.