“Now or never,” he whispered to himself, and snatched at the mask.
His arm was again thrust aside; but this time the woman raised her disengaged hand at the same moment, and removed the yellow mask.
The lamps shed their soft light full on her face.
It was the face of his dead wife.
Signor Andrea D’Arbino, searching vainly through the various rooms in the palace for Count Fabio d’Ascoli, and trying as a last resource, the corridor leading to the ballroom and grand staircase, discovered his friend lying on the floor in a swoon, without any living creature near him. Determining to avoid alarming the guests, if possible, D’Arbino first sought help in the antechamber. He found there the marquis’s valet, assisting the Cavaliere Finello (who was just taking his departure) to put on his cloak.
While Finello and his friend carried Fabio to an open window in the antechamber, the valet procured some iced water. This simple remedy, and the change of atmosphere, proved enough to restore the fainting man to his senses, but hardly—as it seemed to his friends—to his former self. They noticed a change to blankness and stillness in his face, and when he spoke, an indescribable alteration in the tone of his voice.
“I found you in a room in the corridor,” said D’Arbino. “What made you faint? Don’t you remember? Was it the heat?”
Fabio waited for a moment, painfully collecting his ideas. He looked at the valet, and Finello signed to the man to withdraw.
“Was it the heat?” repeated D’Arbino.
“No,” answered Fabio, in strangely hushed, steady tones. “I have seen the face that was behind the yellow mask.”
“It was the face of my dead wife.”
“Your dead wife!”
“When the mask was removed I saw her face. Not as I remember it in the pride of her youth and beauty—not even as I remember her on her sick-bed—but as I remember her in her coffin.”
“Count! for God’s sake, rouse yourself! Collect your thoughts—remember where you are—and free your mind of its horrible delusion.”
“Spare me all remonstrances; I am not fit to bear them. My life has only one object now—the pursuing of this mystery to the end. Will you help me? I am scarcely fit to act for myself.”
He still spoke in the same unnaturally hushed, deliberate tones. D’Arbino and Finello exchanged glances behind him as he rose from the sofa on which he had hitherto been lying.
“We will help you in everything,” said D’Arbino, soothingly. “Trust in us to the end. What do you wish to do first?”
“The figure must have gone through this room. Let us descend the staircase and ask the servants if they have seen it pass.”
(Both D’Arbino and Finello remarked that he did not say her.)
They inquired down to the very courtyard. Not one of the servants had seen the Yellow Mask.