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Chapter 2

  • WHETHER it was our excursion upon the canal that was responsible for it, _annot say; the fact, however, remains, that next morning every member of ou_arty was late for breakfast. My wife and I were the first to put in a_ppearance, Glenbarth followed shortly after, and Miss Trevor was last of all.
  • It struck me that the girl looked a little pale as she approached the windo_o bid me good morning, and as she prided herself upon her punctuality, _estingly reproved her for her late rising.
  • "I am afraid your gondola excursion proved too much for you," I said, in _antering tone, "or perhaps you dreamt of Doctor Nikola."
  • I expected her to declare in her usual vehement fashion that she would no_aste her time dreaming of any man, but to my combined astonishment and horro_er eyes filled with tears, until she was compelled to turn her head away i_rder to hide them from me. It was all so unexpected that I did not know wha_o think. As may be supposed, I had not the slightest intention of giving he_ain, nor could I quite see how I managed to do so. It was plain, however, that my thoughtless speech had been the means of upsetting her, and I wa_eartily sorry for my indiscretion. Fortunately my wife had not overheard wha_ad passed between us "Is he teasing you again, Gertrude?" she said, as sh_lipped her arm through her friend's. "Take my advice and have nothing to d_ith him. Treat him with contempt. Besides, the coffee is getting cold, an_hat is a very much more important matter. Let us sit down to breakfast."
  • Nothing could have been more opportune. We took our places at the table, an_y the time the servant had handed the first dishes Miss Trevor had recovere_erself sufficiently to be able to look me in the face, and to join in th_onversation without the likelihood of a catastrophe. Still there could be n_oubt that she was far from being in a happy frame of mind. I said as much t_y wife afterwards, when we were alone together.
  • "She told me she had had a very bad night," the little woman replied. "Ou_eeting with Doctor Nikola yesterday on the piazza upset her for some reaso_r another. She said that she had dreamt of nothing else. As you know, she i_ery highly strung, and when you think of the descriptions we have given he_f him, it is scarcely to be wondered at that she should attach an exaggerate_mportance to our unexpected meeting with him. That is the real explanation o_he mystery. One thing, however, is quite certain; in her present state o_ind she must see no more of him than can be helped. It might upset he_ltogether. Oh, why did he come here to spoil our holiday?"
  • "I cannot see that he has spoilt it, my dear," I returned, putting my ar_ound her waist and leading her to the window. "The girl will very soo_ecover from her fit of depression, and afterwards will be as merry as _arriage-bell. By the way, I don't know why I should think of it just now, bu_alking of marriage-bells reminds me that Glenbarth told me last night that h_hought Gertrude one of the nicest girls he had ever met."
  • "I am delighted to hear it," my wife answered. "And still more delighted t_hink that he has such good sense. Do you know, I have set my heart upon tha_oming to something. No! you needn't shake your head. For very many reasons i_ould be a most desirable match."
  • "For my own part I believe it was for no other reason that you bothered m_nto inviting him to join our party here. You are a matchmaker. I challeng_ou to refute the accusation."
  • "I shall not attempt to do so," she retorted with considerable hauteur. "It i_lways a waste of time to argue with you. At any rate you must agree with m_hat Gertrude would make an ideal duchess."
  • "So you have travelled as far as that, have you?" I inquired. "I must say tha_ou jump to conclusions very quickly. Because Glenbarth happens to have sai_n confidence to me (a confidence I am willing to admit I have shamefull_bused) that he considers Gertrude Trevor a very charming girl, it does no_ollow that he has the very slightest intention of asking her to be his wife.
  • Why should he?"
  • "Lords," she answered, as if that ought to clinch the argument. "Fancy a ma_osing as one of our hereditary legislators who doesn't know how to seize suc_ golden opportunity. As a good churchwoman I pray for the nobility ever_unday morning; and if not knowing where to look for the best wife in th_orld may be taken as a weakness and it undoubtedly is, then all I can say is, that they require all the praying for they can get!"
  • "But I should like to know, how is he going to marry the best wife in th_orld?" I asked.
  • "By asking her," she retorted. "He doesn't surely suppose she is going to as_im?"
  • "If he values his life he'd better not do that!" I said savagely. "He wil_ave to answer for it to me if he does!"
  • "Ah," she answered, her lips curling. "I thought as much. You are jealous o_im. You don't want him to ask her because you fancy that if he does you_eign will be over. A nice admission for a married man, I must say!"
  • "I presume you mean because I refuse to allow him to flirt with my wife?"
  • "I mean nothing of the kind, and you know it. How dare you say, Dick, that _lirt with the Duke?"
  • "Because you have confessed it," I answered with a grin of triumph, for I ha_ot her cornered at last. "Did you not say, only a moment ago, that if he di_ot know where to find the best wife in the world he was unfit to sit in th_ouse of Lords? Did you not say that he ought to be ashamed of himself if h_id not ask her to be his wife? Answer that, my lady."
  • "I admit that I did say it; but you know very well that I referred to Gertrud_revor!"
  • "Gertrude Trevor is not yet a wife. The best wife in the world is beside m_ow; and since you are already proved to be in the wrong you must perforce pa_he penalty."
  • She was in the act of doing so when Gertrude entered the room.
  • "Oh, dear," she began, hesitating in pretended consternation, "is there neve_o be an end of it?"
  • "An end of what?" demanded my wife with some little asperity, for she does no_ike her little endearments to be witnessed by other people.
  • "Of this billing and cooing," the other replied. "You two insane creature_ave been married more than four years, and yet a third person can never ente_he room without finding you love-making. I declare it upsets all one'_heories of marriage. One of my most cherished ideas was that this sort o_hing ceased with the honeymoon, and that the couple invariably lead a cat- and-dog life for the remainder of their existence."
  • "So they do," my wife answered unblushingly "And what can you expect when on_s a great silly creature who will not learn to jump away and be lookin_nnocently out of the window when he hears the handle turned? Never marry, Gertrude. Mark my words: you will repent it if you do!"
  • "Well, for ingratitude and cool impudence, that surpasses everything!" I sai_n astonishment. "Why, you audacious creature, not more than five minutes ag_ou were inviting me to co-operate in the noble task of finding a husband fo_iss Trevor!"
  • "Richard, how can you stand there and say such things?" she ejaculated.
  • "Gertrude, my dear, I insist that you come away at once. I don't know what h_ill say next."
  • Miss Trevor laughed.
  • "I like to hear you two squabbling," she said. "Please go on, it amuses me!"
  • "Yes, I will certainly go on," I returned. "Perhaps you heard her declare tha_he fears what I may say next. Of course she does. Allow me to tell you, Lad_atteras, that you are a coward. If the truth were known, it would be foun_hat you are trembling in your shoes at this moment. For two centimes, pai_own, I would turn King's evidence, and reveal the whole plot."
  • "You had better not, sir," she replied, shaking a warning finger at me. "I_hat case the letters from home shall be withheld from you, and you will no_now how your son and heir is progressing."
  • "I capitulate," I answered. "Threatened by such awful punishment I dare say n_ore. Miss Gertrude, will you not intercede for me?"
  • "I think that you scarcely deserve it," she retorted. "Even now you ar_eeping something back from me."
  • "Never mind, my dear, we'll let him off this time with a caution," said m_ife, "provided he promises not to offend again. And now, let us settle wha_e are going to do to-day."
  • When this important matter had been arranged it was reported to us that th_adies were to spend the morning shopping, leaving the Duke and myself free t_ollow our own inclinations. Accordingly, when we had seen them safely o_heir way to the Merceria, we held a smoking council to arrange how we shoul_ass the hours until lunch-time. As we discovered afterwards, we both had _ertain thought in our minds, which for some reason we scarcely liked t_roach to each other. It was settled, however, just as we desired, but in _ashion we least expected.
  • We were seated in the balcony outside our room, watching the animated traffi_n the Grand Canal below, when a servant came in search of us and handed me _ote. One glance at the characteristic writing was sufficient to show me tha_t was from Doctor Nikola. I opened it with an eagerness that I did no_ttempt to conceal, and read as follows:
  • "DEAR HATTERAS,
  • "If you have nothing more important on hand this morning, can you spare th_ime to come and see me? As I understand the Duke of Glenbarth is with you, will you not bring him also? It will be very pleasant to have a chat upo_ygone days, and, what is more, I fancy this old house will interest you."
  • "Yours very truly,
  • "NIKOLA."
  • "What do you say?" I inquired, when I had finished reading, "shall we go?"
  • "Let us do so by all means," the Duke replied. "It will be very interesting t_eet Nikola once more. There is one thing, however, that puzzles me: how di_e become aware of my arrival in Venice? You say he was with you on th_piazza,_  last night, so that he could not have been at the railway station, as I haven't been outside since I came, except for the row after dinner, _onfess it puzzles me."
  • "You should know by this time that it is useless to wonder how Nikola acquire_is knowledge," I replied. "For my own part I should like to discover hi_eason for being in Venice. I am very curious on that point."
  • Glenbarth shook his head solemnly.
  • "IF Nikola does not want us to know," he argued, "we shall leave his house a_ise as we entered it. If he does let us know, I shall begin to gro_uspicious, for in that case it is a thousand pounds to this half-smoked ciga_hat we shall be called upon to render him assistance. However, if you ar_repared to run the risk I will do so also."
  • "In that case," I said, rising from my chair and tossing what remained of m_igar into the water below, "let us get ready and be off. We may change ou_inds."
  • Ten minutes later we had chartered a gondola and were on our way to the Palac_evecce.
  • As a general rule when one sets out to pay a morning call one is not th_ictim of any particular nervousness; on this occasion; however, bot_lenbarth and I, as we confessed to each other afterwards, were distinctl_onscious of being in a condition which would be described by persons o_ature years as an unpleasant state of expectancy, but which by school boys i_enominated "funk." The Duke, I noticed, fidgeted with his cigar, allowed i_o go out, and then sat with it in his mouth unlighted. There was a far-awa_ook on his handsome face that told me that he was recalling some of th_vents connected with the time when he had been in Nikola's company. Thi_roved to be the case, for as we turned from the Grand Canal into the stree_n which the palace is situated, he said:
  • "By the way, Hatteras, I wonder what became of Baxter, Prendergrast, and thos_ther fellows?"
  • "Nikola may be able to tell us," I answered. Then I added after a short pause,
  • "By Jove, what strange times those were."
  • "Not half so strange to my thinking as our finding Nikola in Venice,"
  • Glenbarth replied. "That is the coincidence that astonishes me. But see, her_e are."
  • As he spoke the gondola drew up at the steps of the Palace Revecce, and w_repared to step ashore. As we did so I noticed that the armorial bearings o_he family still decorated the posts on either side of the door, but by th_ight of day the palace did not look nearly so imposing as it had done b_oonlight the night before. One thing about it was certainly peculiar. When w_rdered the gondolier to wait for us he shook his head. Not for anything woul_e remain there longer than was necessary to set us down. I accordingly pai_im off, and when we had ascended the steps we entered the building. O_ushing open the door we found ourselves standing in a handsome courtyard, i_he centre of which was a well, its coping elegantly carved with a design o_ruit and flowers. A broad stone staircase at the further end led up to th_loor above, but this, as was the case with everything else, showe_nmistakable signs of having been allowed to fall to decay. As no concierg_as to be seen, and there was no one in sight of whom we might make inquiries, we scarcely knew how to proceed. Indeed, we were just wondering whether w_hould take our chance and explore the lower regions in search of Nikola, whe_e appeared at the head of the staircase and greeted us.
  • "Good morning," he said, "pray come up. I must apologise for not having bee_ownstairs to receive you."
  • By the time he had finished speaking he had reached us, and was shaking hand_ith Glenbarth with the heartiness of an old friend.
  • "Let me offer you a hearty welcome to Venice," he said to Glenbarth after h_ad shaken hands with myself. Then looking at him once more, he added, "If yo_ill permit me to say so, you have changed a great deal since we last saw eac_ther."
  • "And you, scarcely at all," Glenbarth replied.
  • "It  _is_  strange that I should not have done so," Nikola answered, I though_ little sadly, "for I think I may say without any fear of boasting that, since we parted at Pipa Lannu, I have passed through sufficient to change _ozen men. But we will not talk of that here. Let us come up to my room, whic_s the only place in this great house that is in the least degre_omfortable."
  • So saying he led the way up the stairs, and then along a corridor, which ha_nce been beautifully frescoed, but which was now sadly given over to damp an_ecay. At last, reaching a room in the front of the building, he threw ope_he door and invited us to enter. And here I might digress for a moment t_emark, that of all the men I have ever met, Nikola possessed the faculty o_eing able to make himself comfortable wherever he might be, in the greates_egree. He would have been at home anywhere. As a matter of fact, thi_articular apartment was furnished in a style that caused me considerabl_urprise. The room itself was large and lofty, while the walls wer_eautifully frescoed the work of one Andrea Bunopelli, of whom I shall hav_ore to say anon. The furniture was simple, but extremely good; a massive oa_riting-table stood beside one wall, another covered with books and papers wa_pposite it, several easy-chairs were placed here and there, another table i_he centre of the room supported various chemical paraphernalia, while book_f all sorts and descriptions, in all languages and bindings, were to b_iscovered in every direction.
  • "After what you have seen of the rest of the house, this strikes you as bein_ore homelike, does it not?" Nikola inquired, as he noticed the look o_stonishment upon our faces. "It is a queer old place, and the more I see o_t the stranger it becomes. Some time ago, and quite by chance, I becam_cquainted with its history; I do not mean the political history of th_espective families that have occupied it; you can find that in any guide- book. I mean the real, inner history of the house itself, embracing not a fe_f the deeds which have taken place inside its walls. I wonder if you would b_nterested if I were to tell you that in this very room, in the year fiftee_undred and eleven, one of the most repellent and cold-blooded murders of th_iddle Ages took place. Perhaps now that you have the scene before you yo_ould like to hear the story. You would? In that case pray sit down. Let m_ffer you this chair, Duke," he continued, and as he spoke he wheeled forwar_ handsomely carved chair from beside his writing-table. "Here, Hatteras, i_ne for you. I myself will take up my position here, so that I may be bette_ble to retain your attention for my narrative."
  • So saying he stood between us on the strip of polished floor which showe_etween two heavy oriental rugs.
  • "For some reasons," he began, "I regret that the story I have to tell shoul_un upon such familiar lines. I fancy, however, that the _denouement_  wil_rove sufficiently original to merit your attention. The year fifteen hundre_nd nine, the same which found the French victorious at Agnadello, and th_enetian Republic at the commencement of that decline from which it has neve_ecovered, saw this house in its glory. The owner, the illustrious Francesc_el Revecce, was a sailor, and had the honour of commanding one of the man_leets of the Republic. He was an ambitious man, a good fighter, and as suc_wice defeated the fleet of the League of Camberi."
  • "It was after the last of these victories that he married the beautifu_aughter of the Duke of Levano, one of the most bitter enemies of the Counci_f Ten. The husband being rich, famous, and still young enough to be admire_or his personal attractions; the bride one of the wealthiest, as well as on_f the most beautiful women in the Republic, it appeared as if all must b_ell with them for the remainder of their lives. A series of dazzling fetes, to which all the noblest and most distinguished of the city were invited, celebrated their nuptials and their possession of this house. Yet with it al_he woman was perhaps the most unhappy individual in the universe. Unknown t_er husband and her father she had long since given her love elsewhere; sh_as passionately attached to young Andrea Bunopelli, the man by whom th_rescoes of this room were painted. Finding that Fate demanded he_enunciation of Bunopelli, and her marriage to Revecce, she resolved to see n_ore of the man to whom she had given her heart. Love, however, prove_tronger than her sense of duty, and while her husband, by order of th_enate, had put to sea once more in order to drive back the French, who wer_hreatening the Adriatic, Bunopelli put into operation the scheme that wa_ltimately to prove their mutual undoing. Unfortunately for Revecce he was no_uccessful in his venture, and by and by news reached Venice that his flee_ad been destroyed, and that he himself had been taken prisoner. 'Now,' sai_he astute Bunopelli, 'is the time to act.' He accordingly took pens, paper, and his ink-horn, and in this very room concocted a letter which purported t_ear the signature of the commander of the French forces, into whose hands th_enetian admiral had fallen and then was. Its meaning was plain enough. I_roved that for a large sum of money Revecce had agreed to surrender th_enetian fleet, and, in order to secure his own safety, in case the Republi_hould lay hands on him afterwards, it was to be supposed that he himself ha_nly been taken prisoner after a desperate resistance, as had really been th_ase. The letter was written, and that night the painter himself dropped i_nto the lion's mouth. Revecce might return now as soon as he pleased. Hi_ate was prepared for him. Meanwhile the guilty pair spent the time as happil_s was possible under the circumstances, knowing full well, that should th_an against whom they had plotted return to Venice, it would only be to fin_imself arrested, and with the certainty, on the evidence of the incriminatin_etter, of being immediately condemned to death. Weeks and months went by. A_ast Revecce, worn almost to a skeleton by reason of his long imprisonment, did manage to escape. In the guise of a common fisherman he returned t_enice; reached his own house, where a faithful servant recognised him an_dmitted him to the palace. From the latter's lips he learnt all that ha_ranspired during his absence, and was informed of the villainous plot tha_ad been prepared against him. His wrath knew no bounds; but with it all h_as prudent. He was aware that if his presence in the city were discovered, nothing could save him from arrest. He accordingly hid himself in his ow_ouse and watched the course of events. What he saw was sufficient to confir_is worst suspicion. His wife was unfaithful to him, and her paramour was th_an to whom he had been so kind a friend, and so generous a benefactor. The_hen the time was ripe, assisted only by his servant, the same who ha_dmitted him to his house, he descended upon the unhappy couple. Under threat_f instant death he extorted from them a written confession of thei_reachery. After having made them secure, he departed for the council-chambe_nd demanded to be heard. He was the victim of a conspiracy, he declared, an_o prove that what he said was true he produced the confession he had that da_btained. He had many powerful friends, and by their influence an immediat_ardon was granted him, while permission was also given him to deal with hi_nemies as he might consider most desirable. He accordingly returned to thi_ouse with a scheme he was prepared to put into instant execution. It is not _retty story, but it certainly lends an interest to this room. The painter h_mprisoned here."
  • So saying Nikola stooped and drew back one of the rugs to which I have alread_eferred. The square outline of a trap-door showed itself in the floor. H_ressed a spring in the wall behind him, and the lid shot back, swung round, and disappeared, showing the black abyss below. A smell of damp vaults came u_o us. Then, when he had closed the trap-door again, Nikola drew the carpe_ack to its old position.
  • "The wretched man died slowly of starvation in that hole, and the woman, living in this room above, was compelled to listen to his agony without bein_ermitted the means of saving him. Can you imagine the scene? The dying wretc_elow, doing his best to die like a man in order not to distress the woman h_oved, and the outraged husband calmly pursuing his studies, regardless o_oth."
  • He looked from one to the other of us and his eyes burnt like living coals.
  • "It was brutish, it was hellish," cried Glenbarth, upon whom either the story, or Nikola's manner of narrating it, had produced an extraordinary effect. "Wh_id the woman allow it to continue? Was she mad that she did not summo_ssistance? Surely the authorities of a State which prided itself upon it_nlightenment, even in those dark ages, would not have tolerated such _hing?"
  • "You must bear in mind the fact that the Republic had given the husban_ermission to avenge his wrongs," said Nikola very quietly. "Besides, th_oman could not cry out for the reason that her tongue had been torn out a_he roots. When both were dead their bodies were tied together and thrown int_he canal, and the same day Revecce set sail again, to ultimately perish in _torm off the coast of Sicily. Now you know one of the many stories connecte_ith this old room. There are others in which that trap-door has played a_qually important part. I fear, however, none of them can boast so dramatic _etting as that I have just narrated to you."
  • "How, knowing all this, you can live in the house passes my comprehension,"
  • gasped Glenbarth, "I don't think I am a coward, but I tell you candidly that _ould not spend a night here, after what you have told me, for anything th_orld could give me."
  • "But surely you don't suppose that what happened in this room upwards o_everal hundred years ago could have any effect upon a living being to-day?"
  • said Nikola, with what I could not help thinking was a double meaning. "Let m_ell you, that far from being unpleasant it has decided advantages. As _atter of fact, it gives me the opportunity of being free to do what I like.
  • That is my greatest safeguard. I can go away for five years, if I please, an_eave the most valuable of my things lying about, and come back to th_iscovery that nothing is missing. I am not pestered by tourists who ask t_ee the frescoes, for the simple reason that the guides take very good car_ot to tell them the legend of the house, lest they may be called upon to tak_hem over it. Many of the gondoliers will not stop here after nightfall, an_he few who are brave enough to do so, invariably cross themselves befor_eaching, and after leaving it."
  • "I do not wonder at it," I said. "Taken altogether it is the most disma_welling I have ever set foot in. Do you mean to tell me that you live alon_n it?"
  • "Not entirely," he replied. "I have companions: an old man who comes in once _ay to attend to my simple wants, and my ever-faithful friend—"
  • "Apollyon," I cried, forestalling what he was about to say.
  • "Exactly, Apollyon. I am glad to see that you remember him."
  • He uttered a low whistle, and a moment later the great beast that I remembere_o well stalked solemnly into the room, and began to rub himself against th_eg of his master's chair.
  • "Poor old fellow," continued Nikola, picking him up and gently stroking him,
  • "he is growing very feeble. Perhaps it is not to be wondered at, for he i_lready far past the average age of the feline race. He has been in man_trange places, and has seen many queer things since last we met, but neve_nything much stranger than he has witnessed in this room."
  • "What do you mean?" I inquired. "What has the cat seen in this room that is s_trange?"
  • "Objects that we are not yet permitted to see," Nikola answered gravely. "Whe_ll is quiet at night, and I am working at that table, he lies curled up i_onder chair. For a time he will sleep contentedly, then I see him lift hi_ead and watch something, or somebody, I cannot say which, moving about in th_oom. At first I came to the conclusion that it must be a bat, or some nigh_ird, but that theory exploded. Bats do not remain at the same exact distanc_rom the floor, nor do they stand stationary behind a man's chair for an_ength of time. The hour will come, however, when it will be possible for u_o see these things; I am on the track even now."
  • Had I not known Nikola, and if I had not remembered some very curiou_xperiments he had performed for my special benefit two years before, I shoul_ave inclined to the belief that he was boasting. I knew him too well, however, to deem it possible that he would waste his time in such an idl_ashion.
  • "Do you mean to say," I asked, "that you really think that in time it will b_ossible for us to see things which at present we have no notion of? That w_hall be able to look into the world we have always been taught to conside_nknowable?"
  • "I do mean it," he replied. "And though you may scarcely believe it, it wa_or the sake of the information necessary to that end that I pestered Mr.
  • Wetherall, in Sydney, imprisoned you in Port Said, and carried the lady, wh_s now your wife, away to the island in the South Seas."
  • "This is most interesting," I said, while Glenbarth drew his chair a littl_loser.
  • "Pray tell us some of your adventures since we last saw you," he put in. "Yo_ay imagine how eager we are to hear."
  • Thereupon Nikola furnished us with a detailed description of all that he ha_een through since that momentous day when he had obtained possession of th_tick that had been bequeathed to Mr. Wetherall, by China Pete. He told u_ow, armed with this talisman, he had set out for China, where he engaged _an named Bruce, who must have been as plucky as Nikola himself, and togethe_hey started off in search of an almost unknown monastery in Thibet. H_escribed with a wealth of exciting detail the perilous adventures they ha_assed through, and how near they had been to losing their lives in attemptin_o obtain possession of a certain curious book in which were set forth th_ost wonderful secrets relating to the laws of Life and Death. He told us o_heir hairbreadth escapes on the journey back to civilisation, and showed ho_hey were followed to England by a mysterious Chinaman, whose undoubte_ission was to avenge the robbery, and to obtain possession of the book. A_his moment he paused, and I found the opportunity of asking him whether h_ad the book in his possession now.
  • "Would you care to see it?" he inquired. "If so, I will show it to you."
  • On our answering in the affirmative he crossed to his writing-table, unlocke_ drawer, and took from it a small, curiously-bound book, the pages of whic_ere yellow with age, and the writing so faded that it was almost impossibl_o decipher it.
  • "And now that you have plotted and planned, and suffered so much to obtai_ossession of this book, what use has it been to you?" I inquired, with almos_ feeling of awe, for it seemed impossible that a man could have endured s_uch for so trifling a return.
  • "In dabbling with such matters," Nikola returned, "one of the first lesson_ne learns is not to expect immediate results. There is the collected wisdo_f untold ages in that little volume, and when I have mastered the secret i_ontains, I shall, like the eaters of forbidden fruit, possess a knowledge o_ll things, Good and Evil."
  • Replacing the book in the drawer he continued his narrative, told us of hi_reat attempt to probe the secret of existence, and explained to us hi_ndeavour to put new life into a body already worn out by age.
  • "I was unsuccessful in what I set out to accomplish," he said; "but I advance_o far that I was able to restore the man his youth again. What I failed to d_as to give him the power of thought or will. It was the brain that was to_uch for me—that vital part of man without which he is nothing. When I hav_astered that secret I shall try again, and then, perhaps, I shall succeed.
  • But there is much to be accomplished first. Only I know how much!"
  • I looked at him in amazement. Was he jesting, or did he really suppose that i_as possible for him, or any other son of man, to restore youth, and by s_oing to prolong life perpetually? Yet he spoke with all his usua_arnestness, and seemed as convinced of the truth of what he said as if h_ere narrating some well-known fact. I did not know what to think. At last, seeing the bewilderment on our faces, I suppose, he smiled, and rising fro_is chair reminded us that if we had been bored we had only ourselves to than_or it. He accordingly changed the conversation by inquiring whether we ha_ade any arrangements for that evening. I replied that so far as I knew we ha_ot, whereupon he came forward with a proposition.
  • "In that case," said he, "if you will allow me to act as your guide to Venice, I think I could show you a side of the city you have never seen before. I kno_er as thoroughly as any man living, and I think I may safely promise tha_our party will spend an interesting couple of hours. What have you to say t_y proposal?"
  • "I am quite sure we shall be delighted," I replied, though not without certai_isgivings. "But I think I had better not decide until I have seen my wife. I_he has made no other arrangements, at what hour shall we start?"
  • "At what time do you dine?" he inquired.
  • "At seven o'clock," I replied. "Perhaps we might be able to persuade you t_ive us the pleasure of your company?"
  • "I thank you," he answered. "I fear I must decline, however. I am hermit-lik_n my habits so far as meals are concerned. If you will allow me I will cal_or you, shall we say at half-past eight? The moon will have risen by tha_ime, and we should spend a most enjoyable evening."
  • "At half-past eight," I said, "unless you hear to the contrary," and then ros_rom my chair. Glenbarth followed my example, and we accordingly bade Nikol_ood-bye. Despite our protest, he insisted on accompanying us down the grea_taircase to the courtyard below, his terrible cat following close upon hi_eels. Hailing a gondola, we bade the man take us back to our hotel. For som_inutes after we had said goodbye to Nikola we sat in silence as the boa_kimmed over the placid water.
  • "Well, what is your opinion of Nikola now?" I said, as we turned from the Ri_el Consiglio into the Grand Canal once more. "Has he grown any mor_ommonplace, think you, since you last saw him?"
  • "On the contrary, he is stranger than ever," Glenbarth replied. "I have neve_et any other man who resembled him in the slightest degree. What a ghastl_tory that was! His dramatic telling of it made it appear so real that toward_he end of it I was almost convinced that I could hear the groans of the poo_retch in the pit below, and see the woman wringing her hands and moaning i_he room in which we were sitting. Why he should have told it to us is what _annot understand, neither can I make out what his reasons can be for livin_n that house."
  • "Nikola's actions are like himself, entirely inexplicable," he answered. "Bu_hat he has some motive beyond the desire he expressed for peace and quiet, _ave not the shadow of a doubt."
  • "And now with regard to to-night," said the Duke, I am afraid a littl_ettishly. "I was surprised when you accepted his offer. Do you think Lad_atteras and Miss Trevor will care about such an excursion?"
  • "That is a question I cannot answer at present," I replied. "We must leave i_o them to decide. For my own part, I can scarcely imagine anything mor_nteresting."
  • When I reached Galaghetti's we informed my wife and Miss Trevor of Nikola'_ffer, half expecting that the latter, from the manner in which she ha_ehaved at the mere mention of his name that morning, would decline t_ccompany us, and, therefore, that the excursion would fall through. To m_urprise, however, she did nothing of the kind. She fell in with the idea a_nce, and, so far as we could see, without reluctance of any kind.
  • There was nothing for it, therefore, under these circumstances, but for me t_all back upon the old commonplace, and declare that women are difficul_reatures to understand.