« AnteriorContinuar »
before him, his bride beside him, all eyes upon himstanding there, smiling, erect, placid, with his wonted noble air of easy power and unstudied grace, free from all apparent effort, free from all apparent fear, and yet withal as beseemed that sacred place and solemn hour, in reverent attitude before the minister of God.
Now is come the moment of the benediction. Now the priest invokes the bride and bridegroom to join hands.
Now, surely, It must come?
Calling up all his powers, setting all his battle in exactest order, once more Count Edmond scrutinized with keenest insight every nook and cantle of the chapel. Wherever a shadow could lurk, wherever a single ray of dubious light could steal, behind every column, along every wall, probing each crevice, sounding each chink, following each mote in the sunbeam, searching each shade on the flintstone, he sent forth his spies and informers.
Now he could dare it. Now the Spectre was baffled-banished. The stealthy thing had not been able to find unguarded a single cranny in the material world whereby to enter in, and storm the citadel of the soul.
He put forth his hand to join the hand of Juliet in eternal union, and
It was there.
There. In the hand of Juliet, the hand of his brother Felix.
Courage! Flinch not, man! Flinch not now! It has come. It is here. The Ghost has kept his word.
He tried to pluck those dead man's fingers out of the hand of his betrothed.
He could not.
The amethyst kept him off. The amethyst shot at him its spiteful burning beams. The amethyst hissed at him with its scorching whisper,
"Disturb not the Hand of Destiny."
His will rebelled, and audaciously issued its commands. Every limb of his body was paralyzed, and refused to obey.
The priest pronounced the sacred words, and blessed the union of the pair.
Edmond heard and saw all. Mechanically his lips proclaimed the inviolable vow.
For a dead man!
EDMOND AFTER THE MARRIAGE.
THE ceremony was over. cluded.
The nuptials were con
Edmond had kept the promise he had made to himself. He had not flinched. Not a muscle had quivered, not a nerve had revolted from the dominion of that iron will.
But he felt that he was now at the end of his teth
His strength was exhausted. His blood, so long and so severely restrained, now beat and surged with savage power against the walls of his brain. His brain boiled.
He still saw clearly before him, but what he saw was fearful to be seen. He knew where he was-on the brink of the abyss. He knew whither he was going to the deepest depth of it.
He was perfectly conscious that he could, at the utmost, only purchase a few more moments of self-control at the price of insanity.
These moments he could accurately calculate. He counted them up, and knew the exact sum that he could still dispose of.
With a hideous clearness of intellect, with an atrocious self-suppression, he conducted his young bride to the great banquet-hall, where the assembled guests were now waiting to felicitate the bride and bridegroom.
With unruffled composure he received their congratulations. He had a gracious look and a wellplaced word for each and for all. Urbane and placid, he withdrew himself from the hall.
Making a sign to his valet to follow him, Count Edmond, with a firm footstep, regained his own apartments. They were at the extreme end of the house.
With his accustomed tranquillity, and in a voice no tone of which was shaken, he then said to the valet,
"I give you four minutes. Go, fetch me here four lackeys, or four of the stable-men- the tallest and strongest you can lay your hands on. Let them bring with them rope and cord-the stoutest that can be found, and plenty of it. Make haste."
The valet was accustomed to obey orders promptly, and without answering. Like master, like man. Count Edmond's serving-man was too well trained to permit himself on any occasion the impertinence of surprise. He was the most decorous of valets to the most decorous of counts. He bowed and withdrew. At the end of four minutes he was back with the men and the cords. Had his master told him to fetch four hangmen and four halters, he would have done his best to give satisfaction.
The count bade his servant turn the key in the door.
He did so.
Edmond was standing at the foot of his bedstead. His right hand was closely wound about one of the ponderous pillars of twisted oak which sustained the ceiling of the bed. It was an antique bed, richly carved and heavily curtained.
The face of Edmond was livid.
"Bind me-quick-the hands-the feet-quick!" These words came broken, one by one, in a dry, unnatural voice, from his lips. He was breathing with difficulty.
The servants stared at him, stupefied, speechless. He did not speak again with his lips. His lips were locked, and his nostrils inflated. But his eyes spoke fiercely-entreaty growing into menace.
Still the servants hesitated.
Then the bed began to creak and crack.
Suddenly the great bedpost, wrenched from its socket, flew up, spun round, and dashed against a large plate-glass mirror, which it shivered into splinters. The ceiling of the bed crashed in, and fell with a loud noise.
The dike was broken.
And the hideous overflow, no longer restrained or impeded, surged and seethed into every limb swollen with the strength of a giant.
It was only after long and furious struggle that those four athletes were able to subdue the madman. At last they bound his limbs with cords, and laid him on his bed, panting, exhausted, senseless.
Before leaving the chamber, the count's valet, who had not lost his presence of mind for a moment, imposed upon his four astonished subordinates the most solemn pledges of secrecy as to all that had happened. The count's apartments occupied the farthest portion of the least frequented wing of the quadrangle. Across the locked double doors no sound could have escaped to the other parts of the house. The valet