Roundabout Papers

Contents:
Author: William Makepeace Thackeray

Part III.

"Are you of our fraternity? I see you are not. The secret which Mademoiselle de Bechamel confided to me in her mad triumph and wild hoyden spirits—she was but a child, poor thing, poor thing, scarce fifteen—but I love them young—a folly not unusual with the old!" (Here Mr. Pinto thrust his knuckles into his hollow eyes; and, I am sorry to say, so little regardful was he of personal cleanliness, that his tears made streaks of white over his gnarled dark hands.) "Ah, at fifteen, poor child, thy fate was terrible! Go to! It is not good to love me, friend. They prosper not who do. I divine you. You need not say what you are thinking—"

In truth, I was thinking, if girls fall in love with this sallow hook-nosed, glass-eyed, wooden-legged, dirty, hideous old man, with the sham teeth, they have a queer taste. THAT is what I was thinking.

"Jack Wilkes said the handsomest man in London had but half an hour’s start of him. And without vanity, I am scarcely uglier than Jack Wilkes. We were members of the same club at Medenham Abbey, Jack and I, and had many a merry night together. Well, sir, I—Mary of Scotland knew me but as a little hunchbacked music-master; and yet, and yet, I think SHE was not indifferent to her David Riz—and SHE came to misfortune. They all do—they all do!"

"Sir, you are wandering from your point!" I said, with some severity. For, really, for this old humbug to hint that he had been the baboon who frightened the club at Medenham, that he had been in the Inquisition at Valladolid—that under the name of D. Riz, as he called it, he had known the lovely Queen of Scots—was a LITTLE too much. "Sir," then I said, "you were speaking about a Miss de Bechamel. I really have not time to hear all your biography."

"Faith, the good wine gets into my head." (I should think so, the old toper! Four bottles all but two glasses.) "To return to poor Blanche. As I sat laughing, joking with her, she let slip a word, a little word, which filled me with dismay. Some one had told her a part of the Secret—the secret which has been divulged scarce thrice in three thousand years—the Secret of the Freemasons. Do you know what happens to those uninitiate who learn that secret? to those wretched men, the initiate who reveal it?"

As Pinto spoke to me, he looked through and through me with his horrible piercing glance, so that I sat quite uneasily on my bench. He continued: "Did I question her awake? I knew she would lie to me. Poor child! I loved her no less because I did not believe a word she said. I loved her blue eye, her golden hair, her delicious voice, that was true in song, though when she spoke, false as Eblis! You are aware that I possess in rather a remarkable degree what we have agreed to call the mesmeric power. I set the unhappy girl to sleep. THEN she was obliged to tell me all. It was as I had surmised. Goby de Mouchy, my wretched, besotted, miserable secretary, in his visits to the chateau of the Marquis de Bechamel, who was one of our society, had seen Blanche. I suppose it was because she had been warned that he was worthless, and poor, artful and a coward, she loved him. She wormed out of the besotted wretch the secrets of our Order. ’Did he tell you the NUMBER ONE?’ I asked.

"She said, ’Yes.’

"’Did he,’ I further inquired, ’tell you the—’

"’Oh, don’t ask me, don’t ask me!’ she said, writhing on the sofa, where she lay in the presence of the Marquis de Bechamel, her most unhappy father. Poor Bechamel, poor Bechamel! How pale he looked as I spoke! ’Did he tell you,’ I repeated with a dreadful calm, ’the NUMBER TWO?’ She said, ’Yes.’

"The poor old marquis rose up, and clasping his hands, fell on his knees before Count Cagl---- Bah! I went by a different name then. Vat’s in a name? Dat vich ve call a Rosicrucian by any other name vil smell as sveet. ’Monsieur,’ he said, ’I am old—I am rich. I have five hundred thousand livres of rentes in Picardy. I have half as much in Artois. I have two hundred and eighty thousand on the Grand Livre. I am promised by my Sovereign a dukedom and his orders with a reversion to my heir. I am a Grandee of Spain of the First Class, and Duke of Volovento. Take my titles, my ready money, my life, my honor, everything I have in the world, but don’t ask the THIRD QUESTION.’

"’Godefroid de Bouillon, Comte de Bechamel, Grandee of Spain and Prince of Volovento, in our Assembly what was the oath you swore?’" The old man writhed as he remembered its terrific purport.

"Though my heart was racked with agony, and I would have died, ay, cheerfully" (died, indeed, as if THAT were a penalty!) "to spare yonder lovely child a pang, I said to her calmly, ’Blanche de Bechamel, did Goby de Mouchy tell you secret NUMBER THREE?’

"She whispered a oui that was quite faint, faint and small. But her poor father fell in convulsions at her feet.

"She died suddenly that night. Did I not tell you those I love come to no good? When General Bonaparte crossed the Saint Bernard, he saw in the convent an old monk with a white beard, wandering about the corridors, cheerful and rather stout, but mad—mad as a March hare. ’General,’ I said to him, ’did you ever see that face before?’ He had not. He had not mingled much with the higher classes of our society before the Revolution. I knew the poor old man well enough; he was the last of a noble race, and I loved his child."

"And did she die by—?"

"Man! did I say so? Do I whisper the secrets of the Vehmgericht? I say she died that night: and he—he, the heartless, the villain, the betrayer,—you saw him seated in yonder curiosity-shop, by yonder guillotine, with his scoundrelly head in his lap.

"You saw how slight that instrument was? It was one of the first which Guillotin made, and which he showed to private friends in a HANGAR in the Rue Picpus, where he lived. The invention created some little conversation amongst scientific men at the time, though I remember a machine in Edinburgh of a very similar construction, two hundred—well, many, many years ago—and at a breakfast which Guillotin gave he showed us the instrument, and much talk arose amongst us as to whether people suffered under it.

"And now I must tell you what befell the traitor who had caused all this suffering. Did he know that the poor child’s death was a SENTENCE? He felt a cowardly satisfaction that with her was gone the secret of his treason. Then he began to doubt. I had MEANS to penetrate all his thoughts, as well as to know his acts. Then he became a slave to a horrible fear. He fled in abject terror to a convent. They still existed in Paris; and behind the walls of Jacobins the wretch thought himself secure. Poor fool! I had but to set one of my somnambulists to sleep. Her spirit went forth and spied the shuddering wretch in his cell. She described the street, the gate, the convent, the very dress which he wore, and which you saw to-day.

"And now THIS is what happened. In his chamber in the Rue St. Honore, at Paris, sat a man ALONE—a man who has been maligned, a man who has been called a knave and charlatan, a man who has been persecuted even to the death, it is said, in Roman Inquisitions, forsooth, and elsewhere. Ha! ha! A man who has a mighty will.

"And looking towards the Jacobins Convent (of which, from his chamber, he could see the spires and trees), this man WILLED. And it was not yet dawn. And he willed; and one who was lying in his cell in the convent of Jacobins, awake and shuddering with terror for a crime which he had committed, fell asleep.

"But though he was asleep his eyes were open.

"And after tossing and writhing, and clinging to the pallet, and saying, ’No, I will not go,’ he rose up and donned his clothes— a gray coat, a vest of white pique, black satin small-clothes, ribbed silk stockings, and a white stock with a steel buckle; and he arranged his hair, and he tied his queue, all the while being in that strange somnolence which walks, which moves, which FLIES sometimes, which sees, which is indifferent to pain, which OBEYS. And he put on his hat, and he went forth from his cell; and though the dawn was not yet, he trod the corridors as seeing them. And he passed into the cloister, and then into the garden where lie the ancient dead. And he came to the wicket, which Brother Jerome was opening just at the dawning. And the crowd was already waiting with their cans and bowls to receive the alms of the good brethren.

"And he passed through the crowd and went on his way, and the few people then abroad who marked him, said, ’Tiens! how very odd he looks! He looks like a man walking in his sleep!’ This was said by various persons:—

"By milk-women, with their cans and carts, coming into the town.

"By roysterers who had been drinking at the taverns of the Barrier, for it was Mid-Lent.

"By the sergeants of the watch, who eyed him sternly as he passed near their halberds.

"But he passed on unmoved by their halberds,

"Unmoved by the cries of the roysterers,

"By the market-women coming with their milk and eggs.

"He walked through the Rue St. Honore, I say:—

"By the Rue Rambuteau,

"By the Rue St. Antoine,

"By the King’s Chateau of the Bastille,

"By the Faubourg St. Antoine.

"And he came to No. 29 in the Rue Picpus—a house which then stood between a court and garden—

"That is, there was a building of one story, with a great coach-door.

"Then there was a court, around which were stables, coach-houses, offices.

"Then there was a house—a two-storied house, with a perron in front.

"Behind the house was a garden—a garden of two hundred and fifty French feet in length.

"And as one hundred feet of France equal one hundred and six feet of England, this garden, my friends, equalled exactly two hundred and sixty-five feet of British measure.

"In the centre of the garden was a fountain and a statue—or, to speak more correctly, two statues. One was recumbent,—a man. Over him, sabre in hand, stood a woman.

"The man was Olofernes. The woman was Judith. From the head, from the trunk, the water gushed. It was the taste of the doctor:—was it not a droll of taste?

"At the end of the garden was the doctor’s cabinet of study. My faith, a singular cabinet, and singular pictures!—

"Decapitation of Charles Premier at Vitehall.

"Decapitation of Montrose at Edimbourg.

"Decapitation of Cinq Mars. When I tell you that he was a man of a taste, charming!

"Through this garden, by these statues, up these stairs, went the pale figure of him who, the porter said, knew the way of the house. He did. Turning neither right nor left, he seemed to walk THROUGH the statues, the obstacles, the flower-beds, the stairs, the door, the tables, the chairs.

"In the corner of the room was THAT INSTRUMENT, which Guillotin had just invented and perfected. One day he was to lay his own head under his own axe. Peace be to his name! With him I deal not!

"In a frame of mahogany, neatly worked, was a board with a halfcircle in it, over which another board fitted. Above was a heavy axe, which fell—you know how. It was held up by a rope, and when this rope was untied, or cut, the steel fell.

"To the story which I now have to relate, you may give credence, or not, as you will. The sleeping man went up to that instrument.

"He laid his head in it, asleep."

"Asleep?"

"He then took a little penknife out of the pocket of his white dimity waistcoat.

"He cut the rope asleep.

"The axe descended on the head of the traitor and villain. The notch in it was made by the steel buckle of his stock, which was cut through.

"A strange legend has got abroad that after the deed was done, the figure rose, took the head from the basket, walked forth through the garden, and by the screaming porters at the gate, and went and laid itself down at the Morgue. But for this I will not vouch. Only of this be sure. ’There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.’ More and more the light peeps through the chinks. Soon, amidst music ravishing, the curtain will rise, and the glorious scene be displayed. Adieu! Remember me. Ha! ’tis dawn," Pinto said. And he was gone.

I am ashamed to say that my first movement was to clutch the cheque which he had left with me, and which I was determined to present the very moment the bank opened. I know the importance of these things, and that men CHANGE THEIR MIND sometimes. I sprang through the streets to the great banking house of Manasseh in Duke Street. It seemed to me as if I actually flew as I walked. As the clock struck ten I was at the counter and laid down my cheque.

The gentleman who received it, who was one of the Hebrew persuasion, as were the other two hundred clerks of the establishment, having looked at the draft with terror in his countenance, then looked at me, then called to himself two of his fellow-clerks, and queer it was to see all their aquiline beaks over the paper.

"Come, come!" said I, "don’t keep me here all day. Hand me over the money, short, if you please!" for I was, you see, a little alarmed, and so determined to assume some extra bluster.

"Will you have the kindness to step into the parlor to the partners?" the clerk said, and I followed him.

"What, AGAIN?" shrieked a bald-headed, red-whiskered gentleman, whom I knew to be Mr. Manasseh. "Mr. Salathiel, this is too bad! Leave me with this gentleman, S." And the clerk disappeared.

"Sir," he said, "I know how you came by this; the Count de Pinto gave it you. It is too bad! I honor my parents; I honor THEIR parents; I honor their bills! But this one of grandma’s is too bad— it is, upon my word now! She’ve been dead these five-and-thirty years. And this last four months she has left her burial-place and took to drawing on our ’ouse! It’s too bad, grandma; it is too bad!" and he appealed to me, and tears actually trickled down his nose.

"Is it the Countess Sidonia’s cheque or not?" I asked, haughtily.

"But, I tell you, she’s dead! It’s a shame!—it’s a shame!—it is, grandmamma!" and he cried, and wiped his great nose in his yellow pocket-handkerchief. "Look year—will you take pounds instead of guineas? She’s dead, I tell you! It’s no go! Take the pounds—one tausend pound!—ten nice, neat, crisp hundred-pound notes, and go away vid you, do!"

"I will have my bond, sir, or nothing," I said; and I put on an attitude of resolution which I confess surprised even myself.

"Wery vell," he shrieked, with many oaths, "then you shall have noting—ha, ha, ha!—noting but a policeman! Mr. Abednego, call a policeman! Take that, you humbug and impostor!" and here, with an abundance of frightful language which I dare not repeat, the wealthy banker abused and defied me.

Au bout du compte, what was I to do, if a banker did not choose to honor a cheque drawn by his dead grandmother? I began to wish I had my snuff-box back. I began to think I was a fool for changing that little old-fashioned gold for this slip of strange paper.

Meanwhile the banker had passed from his fit of anger to a paroxysm of despair. He seemed to be addressing some person invisible, but in the room: "Look here, ma’am, you’ve really been coming it too strong. A hundred thousand in six months, and now a thousand more! The ’ouse can’t stand it; it WON’T stand it, I say! What? Oh! mercy, mercy!"

As he uttered these words, A Hand fluttered over the table in the air! It was a female hand: that which I had seen the night before. That female hand took a pen from the green baize table, dipped it in a silver inkstand, and wrote on a quarter of a sheet of foolscap on the blotting-book, "How about the diamond robbery? If you do not pay, I will tell him where they are."

What diamonds? what robbery? what was this mystery? That will never be ascertained, for the wretched man’s demeanor instantly changed. "Certainly, sir;—oh, certainly," he said, forcing a grin. "How will you have the money, sir? All right, Mr. Abednego. This way out."

"I hope I shall often see you again," I said; on which I own poor Manasseh gave a dreadful grin, and shot back into his parlor.

I ran home, clutching the ten delicious, crisp hundred pounds, and the dear little fifty which made up the account. I flew through the streets again. I got to my chambers. I bolted the outer doors. I sank back in my great chair, and slept. . . .

My first thing on waking was to feel for my money. Perdition! Where was I? Ha!—on the table before me was my grandmother’s snuff-box, and by its side one of those awful—those admirable— sensation novels, which I had been reading, and which are full of delicious wonder.

But that the guillotine is still to be seen at Mr. Gale’s, No. 47, High Holborn, I give you MY HONOR. I suppose I was dreaming about it. I don’t know. What is dreaming? What is life? Why shouldn’t I sleep on the ceiling?—and am I sitting on it now, or on the floor? I am puzzled. But enough. If the fashion for sensation novels goes on, I tell you I will write one in fifty volumes. For the present, DIXI. But between ourselves, this Pinto, who fought at the Colosseum, who was nearly being roasted by the Inquisition, and sang duets at Holyrood, I am rather sorry to lose him after three little bits of Roundabout Papers. Et vous?

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William Makepeace Thackeray

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Chicago: William Makepeace Thackeray, "Part III.," Roundabout Papers, ed. Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915 and trans. Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906 in Roundabout Papers (Boston: John W. Luce and Company, 1911), Original Sources, accessed August 17, 2019, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7EM2TLR8Z5TCFR.

MLA: Thackeray, William Makepeace. "Part III." Roundabout Papers, edited by Macaulay, G. C. (George Campbell), 1852-1915, and translated by Curtin, Jeremiah, 1835-1906, in Roundabout Papers, Boston, John W. Luce and Company, 1911, Original Sources. 17 Aug. 2019. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7EM2TLR8Z5TCFR.

Harvard: Thackeray, WM, 'Part III.' in Roundabout Papers, ed. and trans. . cited in 1911, Roundabout Papers, John W. Luce and Company, Boston. Original Sources, retrieved 17 August 2019, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=Q7EM2TLR8Z5TCFR.