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tell you. Anybody may see it. The handwriting on the check, for such the document was, was the writing of a female. It ran thus :-“London, midnight, March 31, 1862. Pay the bearer one thousand and fifty pounds. Rachel Sidonia. To Messrs. Sidonia, Pozzosanto and Co., London.”
“Noblest and best of women!” said Pinto, kissing the sheet
paper with much reverence. “My good Mr. Roundabout, I suppose you do not question that signature ?"
Indeed, the house of Sidonia, Pozzosanto & Co. is known to be one of the richest in Europe, and as for the Countess Rachel, she was known to be the chief manager of that enesmously wealthy establishment. There was only one little diffculty, the Countess Rachel died last October.
I pointed out this circumstance, and tossed over the paper to Pinto with a sneer.
“ C'est à brendre ou a laisser," he said with some heat. “ You literary men are all imbrudent; but I did not tink you such a fool wie dis. Your box is not worth twenty pound, and I offer you a tausend because I know you want money to pay dat rascal Tom's college bills.” (This strange man actually knew that my.scapegrace Tom has been a source of great expense and annoyance to me.) “You see money costs me nothing, and you refuse to take it! Once, twice ; will you take this check in exchange for your trumpery snuff-box ?"
What could I do? My poor granny's legacy was valuable and dear to me, but after all a thousand guineas are not to be had every day. “Be it a bargain," said Ï. “Shall we have a glass of wine on it ?" says Pinte ; and to this proposal I also unwillingly acceded, reminding him, by the way, that he had not yet told me the story of the headless man.
“Your poor gr-ndm-ther was right just now, when she said she was not my first love. 'Twas one of those banale expressions (here Mr. P. blushed once more) “which we use to women. We tell each she is our first passion. They reply with a similar illusory formula. No man is any woman's first love ; no woman any man's. We are in love in our nurse's arms, and women coquette with their eyes before their tongue can form a word. How could your lovely relative love me? I was far, far too old for her. I am older than I look. I am so old that you would not believe my age were I to tell you. I have loved many and many a woman before your relative. It has not always been fortunate for them to love me. Ah! Sophronia! Round the dreadful circus where you fell, and whence I was dragged corpse-like by the heels, there sat multitudes more savage than the lions which mangled your sweet form! Ah, tenez ! when we marched to the terrible stake together at Valladolid—the Protestant and the J- But away with memory! Boy! it was happy for thy grandam that she loved me not.
“During that strange period,” he went on, when the teeming Time was great with the revolution that was speedily to be born, I was on a mission in Paris with my excellent, my maligned friend, Cagliostro. Mesmer was one of our band. I seemed to occupy but an obscure rank in it: though, as you know, in secret societies the humble man may be a chief and director-the ostensible leader but a puppet moved by unseen hands. Never mind who was chief, or who was second. Never mind my age. It boots not to tell it: why shall I expose myself to your scornful incredulity-or reply to your questions in words that are familiar to you, but which yet you cannot understand ? Words are symbols of things which you know, or of things which you
don't know. If you don't know them, to speak is idle." (Here I confess Mr. P. spoke for exactly thirty-eight minutes, about physics, metaphysics, language, the origin and destiny of man, during which time I was rather bored, and, to relieve my ennui, drank a half-glass or so of wine.) “LOVE, friend, is the fountain of youth!” It may not happen to me once-once in an age : but when I love, then I am young. I loved when I was in Paris. Bathilde, Bathilde, I loved theeah, how fondly! Wine, I say, more wine! Love is ever young. I was a boy at the little feet of Bathilde de Béchamel--the fair, the fond, the fickle, ah, the false !” The strange old man's agony was here really terrific, and he showed himself much more agitated than he had been when speaking about my grundm-th-r.
“I thought Blanche might love me. I could speak to her in the language of all countries, and tell her the lore of all ages. I could trace the nursery legends which she loved up to their Sanscrit source, and whispered to her the darkling mysteries of Egyptian Magi. I could chant for her the wild chorus that rang in the dishevelled Eleusinian revel: I could tell her, and I would, the watchword never known but to one woman, the Saban Queen, which Hiram breathed in the abysmal ear of Solomon-You don't attend. Psha ! you have drunk too much wine!” Perhaps I may as well own that I was not attending, for he had been carrying on for about fifty-seven minutes ; and I don't like a man to have all the talk to himself.
“ Blanche de Béchamel was wild, then, about this secret of
Masonry. In early, carly days I loved, I married a girl fair as Blanche, who, too, was tormented by curiosity, who, too, would peep into my closet-into the only secret I guarded from her. A dreadful fate befell poor Fatima. An accident shortened her life. Poor thing! she had a foolish sister who urged her on. I always told her to beware of Ann. She died. They said her brothers killed me. A gross falsehood. Am I dead? If I were, could I pledge you in this wine ? ” “Was your name,” I asked, quite bewildered,
was your name, pray, then, ever Blueb- -?"
“ Hush! the waiter will overhear you. Methought we were speaking of Blanche de Béchamel.
I loved her, young My pearls, and diamonds, and treasures, my wit, my wisdom, my passion, I fung them all into the child's lap. I was a fool! Was strong Samson not as weak as I? Was Solomon the Wise much better when Balkis wheedled him? I said to the king — But enough of that, I spake of Blanche de Béchamel.
“ Curiosity was the poor child's foible. I could see, as I talked to her, that her thoughts were elsewhere (as yours, my friend, have been absent once or twice to-night). To know the secret of Masonry was the wretched child's mad desire. With a thousand wiles, smiles, caresses, she strove to coax it from me—from me—ha! ha!
"I had an apprentice—the son of a dear friend, who died by my side at Rossbach, when Soubise, with whose army I happened to be, suffered a dreadful defeat for neglecting my advice. The young Chevalier Goby de Mouchy was glad enough to serve as my clerk, and help in some chemical experiments in which I was engaged with my friend Dr. Mesmer. Bathilde saw this young man. Since women were, has it not been their business to smile and deceive, to fondle and lure ? Away! From the very first it has been so!” And as my companion spoke, he looked as wicked as the serpent that coiled round the tree, and hissed a poisoned counsel to the first woman.
“One evening I went, as was my wont, to see Blanche. She was radiant: she was wild with spirits : a saucy triumph blazed in her blue eyes. She talked, she rattled in her childish way. She uttered, in the course of her rhapsody, a hint-an intimation-so terrible that the truth flashed across me in a moment. Did I ask her? She would lie to me. But I know how to make falsehood impossible. And I ordered her to go to skep.”
At this moment the clock (after its previous convulsions) sounded TWELVE. And as the new Editor * of the Cornhil Magazine—and he, I promise you, won't stand any nonsensewill only allow seven pages, I am obliged to leave off at THE VERY MOST INTERESTING POINT OF THE STORY.
I divine you.
“ARE you of our fraternity? I see you are not. The secret which Mademoiselle de Béchamel confided to me in her nad 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. You need not say what you are thinking
In truth, I was thinking, if girls fall in love with this sal. low, 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 hunch-backed 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 Béchamel. 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. * Mr. Thackeray retired from the Editorship of the Cornhill Magazine in March 1862.
Suae 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 château of the old Marquis de Béchamel, 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.'
“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 Béchamel, her most unhappy father. Poor Béchamel, poor Béchamel! 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 Béchamel, Grandee of Spain and Prince of Volovento, in our Assembly what was the