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THE DOOR OF THE SECRET.
THE Count was carried unconscious into the adjoining room. I followed. When I mentioned that I was a physician, every body made way for me. I was afraid of apoplexy, and judged it necessary to let blood immediately. I never go any where without my lancet-case. At my request the count was placed upon a sofa. I bared his arm, applied the bandages, and made the necessary operation. When I had no farther need of assistance every body withdrew. I was left alone with my patient. All was silent.
At last, at last, I was at the door of the secret! Would it open to me?
For the first time, I was enabled to contemplate, unwitnessed, undisturbed, the tissue of noble lines which composed that beautiful proud face on which the semblance of death had now set its solemn seal.
Before me lay-an open book, but hard to read, and writ in mystic characters-the history of a profound
"No!" I murmured; "impossible! Never can crime have established its loathsome workshop behind that pure, fair brow. In the musical harmony of those perfect features I see no trace of that great discord-Vice." ·
The blood which I had let had relieved the head. The face of the count, though still pale, had resumed
a natural hue. The horror had left his countenance. He lay there calm as an infant asleep. His features had relapsed into that expression of noble repose which they seemed to owe to nature rather than to art.
"What Spirit of Reproach," I mused, "can have glided, furtive from the other world, into this corporeal sphere, to execute in the soul of this man the office of the avenger?"
The more I examined the countenance on which I was gazing, the more did it inspire me with compassionate respect. There were lines upon the face which told of deep sorrow; but nothing mean, nothing vulgar.
"Vain," I muttered to myself, "vain and impuissant are the pity and commiseration of a feeble fellow-creature to arrest the retributive hand of Eternal Justice; but if it be only the toil of a too-sensitive self-scrutiny which has advanced thus perilously far that frontier which separates this visible material world from the realm of things unseen, then be thou sure, poor spirit, that there is one beside thee whose duty is to bring thee such aid as man may bring to man."
A deep sigh and a feeble movement of the patient announced the return of consciousness. I drew back softly. There was a profound silence which I did not dare to break.
After a short pause, the count lifted up the arm which I had not bandaged, and motioned me to approach him. I obeyed. He took my hand in his, and looked long and wistfully into my face. What
ever was the object of this scrutiny, he seemed satisfied by the result of it. A faint smile broke over his countenance, and, without either false embarrassment or exaggerated cordiality, he addressed me in these words:
"It is not for the first time, I think, that we now see each other, and I have a certain presentiment it will not be for the last time. I do not thank you. Toward you, indeed, the observance of an empty cour. tesy already appears to me too little; and yet more than this would, at present, seem to me too much. I wish you to do me the favor to accompany me home, in order that you may, if you think it necessary, complete those good offices which you have already so successfully commenced. I think I can now move without difficulty."
Silently our hands clasped, and I left him to order a fiacre.
In the next room I found the banker of the gambling-house, who, at my request, sent one of his servants to order a carriage from the nearest cab-stand. I told the servant to wait for us with the carriage at the side door, where we would join him by the back staircase, and was about to return to the count, when the banker stopped me.
"Pardon! One word, if you please, Monsieur le Docteur. The money?"
The door was half open, and the count, who had heard this inquiry, rose before it was finished, and, joining us, answered it himself.
"I regret," said he, turning to the banker, "the discomfort which I have involuntarily caused you."
Then turning to me, "Monsieur-and your name?"
He bowed and resumed. "Monsieur de V————— will have the goodness to call upon you to-morrow, and dispose of half the money in accordance with my wishes, which he will allow me to communicate to him. The other half I request you to be good enough to distribute among the servants of your establishment, to whom I fear I have occasioned some trouble."
The carriage was announced, and I entered it with the count. We did not exchange a word on our way to his hotel, which was in the Faubourg St. Germain, a spacious apartment, au premier, which, with the exception of a few rare objects of art, had all the appearance of a house hired "ready furnished." The count was evidently exhausted. His valet, who opened the door to us, and in whom I recognized the old servant I had before seen on board the steamer, did not speak a word of French. I explained to him in German that his master had had a slight accident, and gave him the few orders which I considered necessary for the night. The old man shook his head mournfully, and muttered several times, "Again, dear God! again? The Lord help us!".
I enjoined upon the count the most perfect repose. A stupid counsel, which he received with an ironic. smile, and of which I myself felt the utter futility.
"Pray do me the favor," he said, as we shook hands, "to let me see you again to-morrow."
I promised to call upon him the next day, and we parted for that night.
"I wonder," I said to myself, as I left the house, "whether I shall see again that woman's face."
THE next day I waited on Count Edmond Rat the hour which I had been impatiently expecting. As I approached the house I looked eagerly at the windows. No face at those windows; no Loreley there with beckoning hand. The blinds were drawn. Whatever sorrow inhabited those chambers had no voice. My heart was listening, but I heard not the note of the hautboy.
I was shown into a large saloon overlooking the court. Not a flower in the windows; not a broidery frame in the corner; not the ghost of a passing perfume; no bonnet, glove, or shawl upon the chair; no careless piece of needle-work upon the table; no single gracious trace of a woman's presence, beautified the cheerless aspect of that hideous formal furniture, which remains a monument to the bad taste of the "Great Empire."
Was she in this house? was she in Paris? or was the count here quite alone?
I had not much time to look about me before Count
R- — entered the room. Holding out both his hands, he came forward to meet me with gracious cordiality. All trace of the previous night's excitement had completely disappeared from his face and