He came very quietly out of the porch, and walked with hushed footfall up the nave; he mounted the five steps to the chancel; he approached us; he stood at the foot of the bier; he was within a yard of me. The priest had his back to him. The man seemed to ignore me; he looked fixedly at the bier. But I knew him. I knew that fine, hard, haughty face, that stiff bearing, that implacable eye. It was the man whom I had seen standing under the trees opposite the Devonshire Mansion in London.
For a few moments his countenance showed no emotion. Then the features broke into an expression of indescribable malice. With gestures of demoniac triumph he mocked the solemnity of the bier, and showered upon it every scornful indignity that the human face can convey.
I admit that I was spellbound with astonishment and horror. I ought to have seized the author of the infamous sacrilege—I ought, at any rate, to have called to the priest—but I could do neither. I trembled before this mysterious man. My frame literally shook. I knew what fear was. I was a coward.
At length he turned away, casting at me as he did so one indefinable look, and with slow dignity passed again down the length of the nave and disappeared. Then, and not till then, I found my voice and my courage. I pulled the priest by the sleeve of his cassock.
“Some one has just been in the cathedral,” I said huskily. And I told him what I had seen.
“Impossible! Retro me, Sathanas! It was imagination.”
His tone was dry, harsh.
“No, no,” I said eagerly. “I assure you....”
He smiled incredulously, and repeated the word “Imagination!”
But I well knew that it was not imagination, that I had actually seen this man enter and go forth.
When I returned to Alresca’s house—or rather, I should say, to my own house—after the moving and picturesque ceremony of the funeral, I found a note from Rosetta Rosa, asking me to call on her at the Hotel du Commerce. This was the first news of her that I had had since she so abruptly quitted the scene of Alresca’s death. I set off instantly for the hotel, and just as I was going I met my Anglo-Belgian lawyer, who presented to me a large envelope addressed to myself in the handwriting of Alresca, and marked “private.” The lawyer, who had been engaged in the sorting and examination of an enormous quantity of miscellaneous papers left by Alresca, informed me that he only discovered the package that very afternoon. I took the packet, put it in my pocket, and continued on my way to Rosa. It did not occur to me at the time, but it occurred to me afterwards, that I was extremely anxious to see her again.
Everyone who has been to Bruges knows the Hotel du Commerce. It is the Ritz of Bruges, and very well aware of its own importance in the scheme of things. As I entered the courtyard a waiter came up to me.