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to have made these researches; or, their results may have been due to his own foregone conclusions ; for, from the moment that his eyes rested on the skeleton, he felt sure that it was that of the unknown lady, and no other, by whose body he had stood, in this very recess, just five and twenty years before.
With what earthly object could it have been placed there ?-or what could have induced the assassins to preserve with so much care, this damning evidence of their guilt? Then his wife, and the Duchesse de Guémenée—what mysterious attraction could link them to such a house as this? The curiosity which had been gathering, snow-ball fashion, during a quarter of a century, swollen by this time into a mountain, lay like a weight not to be shaken off, upon the unfortunate Doctor's wits. He determined not to leave the room, at the risk of remaining there the whole night, and at whatever peril to his own safety. The house could not be so deserted as it appeared; some one must be near the spot, and would be likely to show himself, before long. But soon, yielding to a restless feeling, he made up his mind to avail himself of the short remainder of his taper to make a closer examination of the premises, with the view of profiting by any clue which chance might throw in his way.
He observed that there were marks of other footsteps, besides his own, upon the dust of the floor; and this confirmed him in his view that there must be some one near at hand. Beyond this, and with the exception of its ghastly tenant, he could see no signs which distinguished the room from those of the storeys below. The walls were perfectly bare, and the night wind coming in through the dismantled casements rendered it a matter of difficulty for him to keep his light burning. He wandered gradually into the corridor, and thence to the outer landing, and there for the first time that evening noticed—a fresh confirmation if any were needed—the lamp which had attracted his attention on the former occasion; the lamp modelled to represent an eastern figure, with a turban and flowing robes, holding a torch in its hand.
He attempted to lift it off the slab on which it stood, but found that it was fixed there. On a nearer examination, he saw that the waist of the figure was encircled by a belt, in the centre of which was a square ornament, or clasp, with certain characters engraved upon it. These characters were identical with those of his ring, and mounted in the same way, by the crest of a lion, with a thin strip, or layer of metal, going from one side to the other. He pressed the place where he expected to find a secret spring, and was not disappointed ; the ornament immediately flew open; but, instead of a key, there was exposed to view a small key-hole. On fitting the key of his ring to this hole, he found that the two corresponded perfectly. He had no sooner done this, than, to his surprise, the figure and the slab moved forward with a rotatory motion from the wall, revealing, behind them, the handle of a secret door.
The Doctor, without hesitation, turned this handle, and immediately the bottom of the recess, revolving outwards upon a hinge, showed him a flight of spiral steps, built into the wall. He glanced for an instant
at his taper, then held it at arm's-length before him. Its feeble rays lighted up some ten or twelve steps—but beyond that was darkness; there was nothing to indicate where the flight might terminate. Obeying the impulse of an irresistible curiosity, and not even taking into account the possibility of a peril to be run, Doctor Longjumeau descended, slowly and carefully, the secret staircase. He stopped every now and then, to listen for a sound, but none reached his ear. Judging from the number of steps, he concluded that they must reach from the top to the bottom of the house : he had heard of the existence of such things being discovered, before now, on pulling down some of the oldest houses in Paris.
At length his descent terminated. He found himself in what-to judge from its dampness-must be an underground corridor, or passage. It was of great length, as might be seen from a feeble light shining from its extreme end. Towards this light he moved, with as little noise as possible; his heart, as he could not help thinking, beating with a sound more audible than that of his footsteps. The moment, for a discovery of some kind was approaching ! Suddenly, his attention was riveted by a female figure, sitting on a stone bench, her back to the wall, and fast asleep. Her appearance was that of a common workwoman, but there was nothing in her dress or person to indicate extreme misery. On the contrary, her figure was plump, and her features expressive of an easy contentment: it was clear that her dreams were happy ones. What could the woman be doing, sleeping down here, in a cellar, and in complete darkness ? She was not a prisoner ; that was obvious at a glance. At first, the Doctor thought of waking her, but, on second thoughts, he crept on, carefully veiling his taper, in the direction of the light.
It proceeded, as he found, on reaching the end of the passage, from the top of a short ladder, which was set in the ground at that place. On climbing up the ladder, he found himself passing through a sort of trap-door, into a large barn, or out-house, which must be situated, as he judged, in the garden of the house. At the same moment, his eyes were dazzled by a flood of light, and a sound of voices reached his ears. He crept to a wooden pillar, which supported the roof close to the opening in the floor by which he had ascended, and looked cautiously from behind it. Strange as had been the events of the last few hours, what he now saw reduced them, by comparison, to mere every-day occurrences. If he did not rub his eyes, to make sure whether he was awake, after the fashion of heroes of romances, it was because, in fact, his hands, tied to his sides by surprise, would have refused to perform that office. Stolid, paralysed, with an expression which would, perhaps, have struck him as comical, if he could have seen himself in a glass, Doctor Longjumeau looked into the body of the barn, and witnessed the strangest of all the strange scenes that had met his eyes in the course of his checquered life.
At the further end of the building, in a chair, placed upon a raised platform, or dais, sat a woman, robed in white. Her waist was encircled by a crimson belt, joined in the middle by a clasp, and across her left shoulder hung a scarf of the same colour. In the position in which she sat it was impossible for the Doctor to distinguish her features, but her form was stately, and her long white hair hung down in profusion on both sides of her face. A few feet in front of this woman, and likewise on the platform, knelt another female figure, which he recognised immediately as his wife. Her arms were tied behind her back by cords, and her legs bound together in the same manner. On either side of her stood a woman, robed as the person in the chair, and bearing a naked sword in her hand. In the body of the building were, disposed in a semi-circle, some twenty persons, all women, dressed in white, and with a crimson sash traversing their left shoulder. The light which revealed this extraordinary scene came from a huge chandelier, suspended from the oaken roof, composed of numerous bars of iron, in which were rudely stuck rows of tallow-candles. Behind the president's chair there hung a vast black curtain, covered with symbols, amongst others, a lion, and various cabalistic letters, and serving, by its contrast, to throw into still greater relief the white dresses of the assistants at the mysterious rite.
The lady in the chair spoke, addressing the kneeling figure before her. “ The condition in which you are now placed, daughter, and from which you are about to be delivered, is symbolical of your position in the world. Your sex has reduced you, like all of us, to a state of passive subjection to a husband, and to the laws and enactments framed by men. The line of conduct which they have dictated to you—useful, and highly necessary, as far as it goes—has yet been laid down with such jealousy, as entirely to preclude you from that one great privilege of united action, without which no great social improvement has ever been, or ever can be accomplished in the world.”
At a sign from the speaker, the two guardians severed with their swords the cords which bound the kneeling woman; then, leading her off the platform, they united her, by a silken thread, to one end of the semi-circle of votaries, whom the Doctor now perceived, for the first time, to be all tied together in the same manner.
"Your present situation,” pursued the president, “is indicative of what
may be done, among women as among men, by combination, and mutual support. The thin silken thread which binds you to your sisters, symbolizes the gentle and unirksome character of the tie which you have contracted. The ropes still hanging about you, but no longer cramping your movements, show that you are not to renounce obedience to your husband, or the performance of your domestic duties ; but not to suffer them to cramp you in such a way as to render you a mere machine, useless for the higher purposes of the general good. Approach now, and receive the accolade of a past apprentice.”
The novice—the thread which united her to her companions being untied by the two guardians—was then led up to the president, who, rising from her chair, saluted her with a kiss. She was next conducted along the line of sisters, each of whom kissed her on the forehead, in token of her reception. Having been tied again at the extreme end of the semi-circle, she was next called upon by the president for the three signs of a past apprentice. Doctor Longjumeau could not exactly distinguish the movements made by his wife, in obedience to this summons, but he conjectured that they formed a rude imitation of those peculiar to Freemasonry
“ The meaning of the first sign?" asked the president.
“The grip-pressing with the thumb upon the third finger of the left hand—to recognise a true sister.”
“ Of the second ?”
“The sign of the lion, and the hieroglyphic motto. To indicate to a sister the presence of one bearing our sacred symbols, and under the secret protection of the society."
“Of the third?”
“ That I would suffer my tongue to be torn from its roots, rather than reveal the secrets of the lodge.”
While this interrogatory had been going on, something in the voice of the questioner particularly attracted the Doctor's attention. In that voice, subdued, but not changed, by the course of years, he thought that he recognised the tones which had been ringing in his ears ever since the night of that strange adventure, the clue to which seemed now faintly dawning upon his mind. But her face being still turned in an opposite direction, he could not make sure that this idea was anything more than a mere suspicion, engendered of his fancy.
There was a silence of a few moments throughout the building; after which, the president proceeded to deliver a kind of address. 6 Sister Léonie,” she said, “ you have been instructed in the laws and constitution of our society ; it remains for me briefly to recapitulate, by way of impressing them the more strongly upon you, the points most necessary to be borne in mind.
( We are an association of Freemasons ; the name, as well as the idea, which presides over our formation, being taken from those societies in which so many of our husbands, brothers, and fathers, are enrolled. But between their aims and objects and our own, there are, as you are aware, certain essential points of difference.
“With regard to our origin, we do not, like them, mendaciously refer it back to the inysteries of Eleusis, or the building of the temple of Solomon. We can scarcely date it as far as 1786, the epoch at which Lorenza, the wife of Cagliostro, founded, in the Faubourg St. Honoré, a lodge composed of thirty-six female adepts.*
“ These ladies, drawn from the highest ranks of society, were attracted rather by idle curiosity and superstition, than by any laudable object. On the fall of Cagliostro, their meetings ceased, and the sisterhood was dispersed. It was then that some among them imagined-bearing especially in view the general overturning which, even at that time, threatened France—that a secret society, composed of our sex, and united for the furtherance of definite aims, might play an important, although an underground part, in the march of events which were preparing. That, in fine, the separate influences exercised by each individual on her immediate surroundings would, when concentrated in a common focus, be productive of immense results, provided they were limited to our proper sphere of action. This included, not selfaggrandizement, or conquest, or glory, but the relief of the unfortunate, the protection of the innocent from the popular fury, the promotion of true merit wherever we could find it, and last, not least, the support of the cause of our ancient kings. With these ideas, the first lodge was organised, and soon our ramifications extended over the whole of France.
* Truth, as we learn from a high authority, and have pretty often heard repeated, “ being stranger than fiction,” it will happen that précisely those incidents in a story which are not invented by the writer, will be those to which a charge of extravagance will be liable to attach. Foreseeing this result in the case of this fourth chapter of his tale, the author begs leave to state, that not only is the existence of such a society of female Freemasor.s as that mentioned in the text, historical, but that the ceremonies and the language used have been related with strict fidelity. It is not necessary for the reader to send to the British Museum, to convince him. self of the fact. 'La vie de Cagliostro par Jules de Saint Felix. Paris, 1857," will at once prove the truth of what is here asserted. For the continuance of these societies, under a different form, to a much later period, and for an account of some of the “proofs" to which novices were submitted, consult “Memoires Secrètes pour servir à l'histoire de la Franc Maconnerie. Paris, N.D.” The author must repeat that the scene related in the text above, forms the only part of this humble tale which is not chargeable to his own invention.
“Our members were drawn, as now, from all classes of society who met here-Duchess and workwoman-de Rohan and Lefevre—on terms of perfect equality. Each member is bound to work individually for the object agreed on by the majority, so that the abuse of personal favoritism cannot creep in. The strictest precautions have always been taken before the admission of a sister, and only once, to our knowledge, has our secret been betrayed. To give the faintest notion of what we have been able to accomplish by this method of association, would be impossible. Thus, only to refer to a few events of a more marked character: At the instigation of one of our sisterhood, Charlotte Corday armed herself with the knife which delivered this France of ours from the ravages of a wild beast. Catherine Théot, the supposed lunatic, who first brought ridicule upon the name of Robespierre, by celebrating mystic rites in his honour, and thus paved the way to his downfall, was in reality a member of our society. Madame de Fontenay, the mistress of Tallien, saved, as is well known, the lives of many at Bordeaux, by the influence which she exercised over her lover. But we alone can conjecture how many other innocents she was enabled to rescue by the powers placed at her disposal through the mere fact of her forming one of ourselves—one of a society which had its enrolled members everywhere, by the side of the president who signed the condemnation, of the jailor who turned the key, of the serjeant who directed the fire ! Accordingly the same good fortune attended efforts of a similar kind in other parts of France. The lodge of Strasburgh has since informed us that one of their members, a young and lovely girl, with whose name we are unfortunately unacquainted, by allying herself to one of the underlings of St. Just and Lebas, succeeded in accomplishing much in
Veiling her plans under the pretence of a bitter hatred of royalists (as we were all compelled to do, at that sad period) she was perpetually spying out the means of assisting here and there, a victim of the popular fury. Only a few days before her own death, she was able, with the assistance of some of the sisters, to aid the escape of a relative of her own—a father, or a brother from the fate that