The 16th of March the year before, he came out of the Bibliotheque with a man who had been sitting at the same table with him, and as they walked along together Redoutez declared that he was finally in possession of the famous secret. Arriving in his laboratory, he threw pieces of iron into a retort, made a projection, and obtained crystals the colour of blood. The other examined the salts and made a flippant remark. The alchemist, furious, threw himself upon him, struck him with a hammer, and had to be overpowered and carried in a strait-jacket to Saint Anne, pending investigation.
“In the sixteenth century, in Luxemburg, initiates were roasted in iron cages. The following century, in Germany, they were clothed in rags and hanged on gilded gibbets. Now that they are tolerated and left in peace they go mad. Decidedly, fate is against them,” Durtal concluded.
He rose and went to answer a ring at the door. He came back with a letter which the concierge had brought. He opened it.
“Why, what is this?” he exclaimed. His astonishment grew as he read:
“I am neither an adventuress nor a seeker of adventures, nor am I a society woman grown weary of drawing-room conversation. Even less am I moved by the vulgar curiosity to find out whether an author is the same in the flesh as he is in his books. Indeed I am none of the things which you may think I am, from my writing to you this way. The fact is that I have just finished reading your last book,”
“She has taken her time,” murmured Durtal, “it appeared a year ago.”
“melancholy as an imprisoned
soul vainly beating its wings
against the bars of its cage.”
“Oh, hell! What a compliment. Anyway, it rings false, like all of them.”
“And now, Monsieur, though I am convinced that it is always folly and madness to try to realize a desire, will you permit that a sister in lassitude meet you some evening in a place which you shall designate, after which we shall return, each of us, into our own interior, the interior of persons destined to fall because they are out of line with their ‘fellows’? Adieu, Monsieur, be assured that I consider you a somebody in a century of nobodies.
“Not knowing whether this note will elicit a reply, I abstain from making myself known. This evening a maid will call upon your concierge and ask him if there is a letter for Mme. Maubel.”
“Hmm!” said Durtal, folding up the letter. “I know her. She must be one of these withered dames who are always trying to cash outlawed kiss-tickets and soul-warrants in the lottery of love. Forty-five years old at least. Her clientele is composed of boys, who are always satisfied if they don’t have to pay, and men of letters, who are yet more easily satisfied—for the ugliness of authors’ mistresses is proverbial. Unless this is simply a practical joke. But who would be playing one on me—I don’t know anybody—and why?”