图书图片
PDF
ePub

have you ever noticed which of the street signs over the shop doors, are the most attractive of attention ?.

“ I have never given the matter a thought,” I said.

“ There is a game of puzzles,” he resumed, “ which is played upon a map. One party playing requires another to find a given word—the name of town, river, state or empire-any word, in short, upon the motley and perplexed surface of the chart. A novice in the game generally seeks to embarrass his opponents hy giving them the most minutely lettered names; but the adept selects such words as stretch, in large characters, from one end of the chart to the other. These, like the over-largely lettered signs and placards of the street, escape observation by dint of be. ing excessively obvious; and here the physical oversight is precisely analogous with the moral inapprehension by which the intellect suffers to pass unnoticed those considerations which are too obtrusively and too palpably self-evident. But this is a point, it appears, somewhat above or beneath the understanding of the Prefect. He never once thought it probable, or possible, that the Minister had deposited the letter immediately beneath the nose of the whole world, by way of best preventing any portion of that world from perceiving it.

“But the more I reflected upon the daring, dashing, and dis. criminating ingenuity of D— ; upon the fact that the document must always have been at hand, if he intended to use it to good purpose ; and upon the decisive evidence, obtained by the Prefect, that it was not hidden within the limits of that dignitary's ordinary search—the more satisfied I became that, to conceal this letter, the Minister had resorted to the comprehensive and saga. cious expedient of not attempting to conceal it at all.

“ Full of these ideas, I prepared myself with a pair of green spectacles, and called one fine morning, quite by accident, at the Ministerial hotel. I found D— at home, yawning, lounging, und dawdling, as usual, and pretending to be in the last extremity of ennui. He is, perhaps, the most really energetic human being now alive—but that is only when nobody sees him.

“ To be even with him, I complained of my weak eyes, and lamented the necessity of the spectacles, under cover of which I cautiously and thoroughly surveyed the whole apartment, while seemingly intent only upon the conversation of my host.

“I paid especial attention to a large writing.table near which he sat, and upon which lay confusedly, some miscellaneous letters and other papers, with one or two musical instruments and a faw books. Here, however, after a long and very deliberate scrutiny, I saw nothing to excite particular suspicion.

“At length my eyes, in going the circuit of the room, fell upon a trumpery fillagree card-rack of pasteboard, that hung dangling by a dirty blue ribbon, from a little brass knob just beneath the middle of the mantel-piece. In this rack, which had three or four compartments, were five or six visiting cards and a solitary letter. This last was much soiled and crumpled. It was torn nearly in two, across the middle—as if a design, in the first in. stance, to tear it entirely up as worthless, had been altered, or stayed, in the second. It had a large black seal, bearing the 1- cipher very conspicuously, and was addressed, in a dimin nitive female hand, to D , the minister, himself. It was thrust carelessly, and even, as it seemed, contemptuously, into one of the uppermost divisions of the rack.

“ No sooner had I glanced at this letter, than I concluded it to be that of which I was in search. To be sure, it was, to all appearance, radically different from the one of which the Prefect had read us so minute a description. Here the seal was large and black, with the D— cipher; there it was small and red, with the ducal arms of the family. Here, the address, to the Minister, was diminutive and feminine; there the super. scription, to a certain royal personage, was markedly bold and decided ; the size alone formed a point of correspondence. But, iben, the radicalness of these differences, which was excessive; the dirt; the soiled and torn condition of the paper, so inconsist. ent with the true methodical habits of D- , and so suggestive of a design to delude the beholder into an idea of the worthless. ness of the document ; these things, together with the hyper. obtrusive situation of this document, full in the view of every visiter, and thus exactly in accordance with the conclusions 10 which I had previously arrived ; these things, I say, were strongly

corroborative of suspicion, in one who came with the intention to suspect.

“I protracted my visit as long as possible, and, while I main. tained a most animated discussion with the Minister, upon a topic which I knew well had never failed to interest and excite him, I kept my attention really riveted upon the letter. In this examination, I committed to memory its external appearance and ar. rangement in the rack; and also fell, at length, upon a discovery which set at rest whatever trivial doubt I might have entertained. In scrutinizing the edges of the paper, I observed them to be more chafed than seemed necessary. They presented the broken appearance which is manifested when a stiff paper, having been once folded and pressed with a folder, is refolded in a reversed direction, in the same creases or edges which had formed the original fold. This discovery was sufficient. It was clear to me that the letter had been turned, as a glove, inside out, re-directed, and re-sealed. I bade the Minister good morning, and took my departure at once, leaving a gold snuff-box upon the table.

“ The next morning I called for the snuif-box, when we resumed, quite eagerly, the conversation of the preceding dav. While thus engaged, however, a loud report, as if of a pistol, was heard immediately beneath the windows of the hotel, and was succeeded by a series of fearful screams, and the shoutings of a terrified mob. D— rushed to a casement, threw it open, and looked out. In the meantime, I stepped to the card-rack, took the letter, put it in my pocket, and replaced it by a fac. simile, (so far as regards externals,) which I had carefully prepared at my lodgingsmimitating the D— cipher, very readily, by means of a seal formed of bread.'

“ The disturbance in the street had been occasioned by the frantic behavior of a man with a musket. He had fired it among a crowd of women and children. It proved, however, to have been without ball, and the fellow was suffered to go his way as a lunatic or a drunkard. When he had gone, Dcame from the window, whither I had followed him immediately upon securing the object in view. Soon afterwards I bade bini farewell. The pretended lunatic was a man in my own pay." “ But what purpose had you,” I asked, “ in replacing the letter Vol. 1.-22

by a fac-simile ? Would it not have been better, at the first visit to have seized it openly, and departed ?”

“D— " replied Dupin, “ is a desperate man, and a man of nerve. His hotel, too, is not without attendants devoted to his interests. Had I made the wild attempt you suggest, I might never have left the Ministerial presence alive. The good people of Paris might have heard of me no more. But I had an object apart from these considerations. You know my political prepossessions. In this matter, I act as a partisan of the lady coni. cerned. For eighteen months the Minister has had her in his power. She has now him in hers—since, being unaware that the letter is not in his possession, he will proceed with his ex actions as if it was. Thus will he inevitably commit himself, at once, to his political destruction. His downfall, too, will not be more precipitate than awkward. It is all very well to talk about the facilis descensus Averni; but in all kinds of climbing, as Catalani said of singing, it is far more easy to get up than to come down. In the present instance I have no sympathy-at least no pity-for him who descends. He is that monstrum horrendum, an unprincipled man of genius. I confess, however, that I should like very well to know the precise character of his thoughts, when, being defied by her whom the Prefect terms a certain personage,' he is reduced to opening the letter which 1 left for him in the card-rack.”

“ How ? did you put any thing particular in it ?"

“ Why—it did not seem altogether right to leave the interior blank-that would have been insulting. D— , at Vienna once, did me an evil turn, which I told him, quite good-humoredly, that I should remember. So, as I knew he would feel some curiosity in regard to the identity of the person who had outwitted him, I thought it a pity not to give him a clue. He is well acquainted with my MS., and I just copied into the middle of the blank sheet the words

- Un dessein si funeste, S'il n'est digno d'Atrém, est digne de Thyesto. They are to be found in Crébillon's · Atrée.'”

THE BLACK CAT.

For the most wild, yet most homely narrative which I am about to pen, I neither expect nor solicit belief. Mad indeed would I be to expect it, in a case where my very senses reject their own evidence. Yet, mad am I not-and very surely do I not dream. But to-morrow I die, and to-day I would unburthen my soul. My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified-have tor tured-have destroyed me. Yet I will not attempt to expound them. To me, they have presented little but Horror-to many they will seem less terrible than barroques. Hereafter, perhaps, some intellect may be found which will reduce my phantasm to the common-place—some intellect more calm, more logical, and iar less excitable than my own, which will perceive, in the cir. cumstances I detail with awe, nothing more than an ordinary succession of very natural causes and effects.

From my infancy I was noted for the docility and humanity of my disposition. My tenderness of heart was even so conspicuous as to make me the jest of my companions. I was especially fond of animals, and was indulged by my parents with a great variety of pets. With these I spent most of my time, and never was so happy as when feeding and caressing them. This peculiarity of character grew with my growth, and, in my manhood, 1 derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I need hardly be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes di. rectly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.

« 上一页继续 »