I could make out no details of the figure, except that it was a man who stood there, and to satisfy my curiosity I went across to inspect him. To my astonishment he was very well, though very quietly, dressed, and had the appearance of being a gentleman of the highest distinction. His face was clean-shaven, and I noticed the fine, firm chin, and the clear, unblinking eyes. He stood quite still, and as I approached looked me full in the face. It was a terrible gaze, and I do not mind confessing that, secretly, I quailed under it; there was malice and a dangerous hate in that gaze. Nevertheless I was young, careless, and enterprising.
“Can you tell me if I am likely to get a cab at this time of night?” I asked as lightly as I could. I wanted to hear his voice.
But he returned no answer, merely gazing at me as before, without a movement.
“Strange!” I said, half to myself. “The fellow must be deaf, or mad, or a foreigner.”
The man smiled slightly, his lips drooping to a sneer. I retreated, and as I stepped back on the curb my foot touched some small object. I looked down, and in the dim light, for the dawn was already heralded, I saw the glitter of jewels. I stooped and picked the thing up. It was the same little dagger which but a few hours before I had seen Rosa present with so much formality to Sir Cyril Smart. But there was this difference—the tiny blade was covered with blood!
The house was large, and its beautiful facade fronted a narrow canal. To say that the spot was picturesque is to say little, for the whole of Bruges is picturesque. This corner of the Quai des Augustins was distinguished even in Bruges. The aspect of the mansion, with its wide entrance and broad courtyard, on which the inner windows looked down in regular array, was simple and dignified in the highest degree. The architecture was an entirely admirable specimen of Flemish domestic work of the best period, and the internal decoration and the furniture matched to a nicety the exterior. It was in that grave and silent abode, with Alresca, that I first acquired a taste for bric-a-brac. Ah! the Dutch marquetry, the French cabinetry, the Belgian brassware, the curious panellings, the oak-frames, the faience, the silver candlesticks, the Amsterdam toys in silver, the Antwerp incunables, and the famous tenth-century illuminated manuscript in half-uncials! Such trifles abounded, and in that antique atmosphere they had the quality of exquisite fitness.
And on the greenish waters of the canal floated several gigantic swans, with insatiable and endless appetites. We used to feed them from the dining-room windows, which overhung the canal.