Symons’ line about arc lamps: “Hung with the globes，
"Come in, if you like," replied Marcasse, "but gone out--no, on my honour! For, as the servant came down I was on the staircase brushing my boots. As soon as I heard something fall here, I rushed up quickly three stairs at a time, and found that it was you--like a corpse, stretched out on the floor, very ill; no one inside nor outside, on my honour!
"In that case, then, I must have dreamt of my fiend of an uncle, and the servant must have dreamt of the black cloak; for it is pretty certain that there is no secret door here; and even if there were one, and all the Mauprats, living and dead, knew the secret of it, what were that to us? Do we belong to the police that we should hunt out these wretched creatures? And if by chance we found them hidden somewhere, should we not help them to escape, rather than hand them over to justice? We are armed; we need not be afraid that they will assassinate us to-night; and if they amuse themselves by frightening us, my word, woe betide them! I have no eye for either relatives or friends when I am startled in my sleep. So come, let us attack the omelette that these good people my tenants are preparing for us; for if we continue knocking and scratching the walls they will think we are mad."
Marcasse yielded from a sense of duty rather than from conviction. He seemed to attach great importance to the discovery of this mystery, and to be far from easy in his mind. He was unwilling to let me remain alone in the haunted room, and pretended that I might fall ill again and have a fit.
"Oh, this time," I said, "I shall not play the coward. The cloak has cured me of my fear of ghosts; and I should not advise any one to meddle with me."
The hildago was obliged to leave me alone. I loaded my pistols and put them on the table within reach of my hand; but these precautions were a pure waste of time; nothing disturbed the silence of the room, and the heavy red silk curtains, with their coat of arms at the corners in tarnished silver, were not stirred by the slightest breath. Marcasse returned and, delighted at finding me as cheerful as he had left me, began preparing our supper with as much care as if we had come to Roche-Mauprat for the sole purpose of making a good meal. He made jokes about the capon which was still singing on the spit, and about the wine which was so like a brush in the throat. His good humour increased when the tenant appeared, bringing a few bottles of excellent Madeira, which had been left with him by the chevalier, who liked to drink a glass or two before setting foot in the stirrup. In return we invited the worthy man to sup with us, as the least tedious way of discussing business matters.
"Good," he said; "it will be like old times when the peasants used to eat at the table of the seigneurs of Roche-Mauprat. You are doing the same, Monsieur Bernard, you are quite right."
"Yes, sir," I replied very coldly; "only I behave thus with those who owe me money, not those to whom I owe it."
This reply, and the word "sir," frightened him so much that he was at great pains to excuse himself from sitting down to table. However, I insisted, as I wished to give him the measure of my character at once. I treated him as a man I was raising to my own level, not as one to whom I wished to descend. I forced him to be cleanly in his jokes, but allowed him to be free and facetious within the limits of decent mirth. He was a frank, jovial man. I questioned him minutely to discover if he was not in league with the phantom who was in the habit of leaving his cloak upon the bed. This, however, seemed far from probable; the man evidently had such an aversion for the Hamstringers, that, had not a regard for my relationship held him back, he would have been only too glad to have given them such a dressing in my presence as they deserved. But I could not allow him any license on this point; so I requested him to give me an account of my property, which he did with intelligence, accuracy, and honesty.
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