A Terribly Strange Bed part 15

Thesmothering canopy was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen itlowered. When I mentioned this to the Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as itwas, had a terrible significance, “My men,” said he, “are working down thebed-top for the first time —- the men whose money you won were in betterpractise.”

Weleft the house in the sole possession of two police agents—every one of theinmates being removed to prison on the spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking downmy “proces verbal” in his office, returned with me to my hotel to get mypassport. “Do you think,” I asked, as I gave it to him, “that any men havereally been smothered in that bed, as they tried to smother me?”

“Ihave seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue,” answered theSub-prefect, “in whose pocketbooks were found letters stating that they hadcommitted suicide in the Seine, because they had lost everything at thegaming-table. Do I know how many of tho

A Terribly Strange Bed part 13

Tosome men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed difficultand dangerous enough—to me the prospect of slipping down the pipe into thestreet did not suggest even a thought of peril. I had always been accustomed,by the practise of gymnastics, to keep up my school-boy powers as a daring andexpert climber; and knew that my head, hands, and feet would serve mefaithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent.

Ihad already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered thehandkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I could well have afforded toleave it behind me, but I was revengefully determined that the miscreants ofthe gambling- house should miss their plunder as well as their victim. So Iwent back to the bed and tied the heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.

Justas I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought I heard asound of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of horror ran through

A Terribly Strange Bed part 12

Butere long all thought was again suspended by the sight of the mur-derous canopymoving once more. After it had remained on the bed— as nearly as I could guess—aboutten minutes, it began to move up again. The villains who worked it from aboveevidently believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly andsilently, as it had descended, that horrible bed-top rose toward it formerplace. When it reached the upper extremities of the four posts, it reached theceiling too. Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearancean ordinary bed again—the canopy an ordinary canopy—even to the most suspiciouseyes.

Now,for the first time, I was able to move—to rise from my knees— to dress myselfin my upper clothing—and to consider of how I should escape. If I betrayed bythe smallest noise that the attempt to suffocate me had failed, I was certainto be murdered. Had I made any noise already? I listened intently, lookingtoward the door.

A Terribly Strange Bed part 11

Withoutstopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my face, I roseinstantly on my knees to watch the bed-top. I was literally spellbound by it.If I had heard footsteps behind me, I could not have turned round; if a meansof escape had been miraculously provided for me, I could not have moved to takeadvantage of it. The whole life in me was, at that moment, concentrated in myeyes.

Itdescended—the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down—down—closedown; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my finger between thebed-top and the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that what had appearedto me from beneath to be the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was inreality a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was concealed by thevalance and its fringe.

Ilooked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of thebed-top was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down throug

A Terribly Strange Bed part 10

Lookingfor what?

GoodGod! the man had pulled his hat down on his brows! No! the hat itself was gone!Where was the conical crown? Where the feathers —three white, two green? Notthere! In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hidhis forehead, his eyes, his shading hand?

Wasthe bed moving?

Iturned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy again? orwas the top of the bed really moving down—sinking slowly, regularly, silently,horribly, right down throughout the whole of its length and breadth—right downupon me, as I lay underneath?

Paralyzing coldness

Myblood seemed to stand still. A deadly, paralyzing coldness stole all over me asI turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test whether the bed-topwas really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.

Thenext look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowsy o

A Terribly Strange Bed part 9

Thispicture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too— at the top of thebed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I looked back at thepicture. I counted the feathers in the man`s hat— they stood out inrelief—three white, two green. I observed the crown of his hat, which was of aconical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been favored by GuidoFawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It couldn`t be at the stars; sucha desperado was neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the highgallows, and he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner comeinto possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted thefeathers again—three white, two green.

WhileI still lingered over this very improving and intellectual employment, mythoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight shining into the roomreminded me of a certain moonlight night in Eng-land—the night after a picnicparty

A Terribly Strange Bed part 8

Iraised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room—which was brightened by alovely moonlight pouring straight through the window—to see if it contained anypictures or ornaments that I could at all clearly distinguish. While my eyeswandered from wall to wall, a remembrance of Le Maistre`s delightful littlebook, “Voyage autour de ma Chambre,” occurred to me. I resolved to imitate theFrench author, and find occupation and amusement enough to relieve the tediumof my wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of furniture Icould see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of associationswhich even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be made to call forth.

Thinking at all

Inthe nervous, unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much easierto make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon soon gave upall hope of thinking in Le Maistre`s fanciful track—or, indeed

A Terribly Strange Bed part 7

Thegiddiness left me, and I began to feel a little like a reasonable being again.My first thought was of the risk of sleeping all night in a gambling-house; mysecond, of the still greater risk of trying to get out after the house wasclosed, and of going home alone at night through the streets of Paris with alarge sum of money about me. I had slept in worse places than this on mytravels; so I determined to lock, bolt, and barricade my door, and take mychance till the next morning.

Accordingly,I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the bed, and into thecupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and then, satisfied that I hadtaken every proper precaution, pulled off my upper clothing, put my light,which was a dim one, on the hearth among a feathery litter of wood-ashes, andgot into bed, with the handkerchief full of money under my pillow.

Isoon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not evenclose my eyes. I was wid

A Terribly Strange Bed part 6

Justas the ex-brave ended his oration in very lachrymose tones, the coffee came in,ready poured out in two cups. My attentive friend handed me one of the cupswith a bow. I was parched with thirst, and drank it off at a draft. Almostinstantly afterward I was seized with a fit of giddiness, and felt morecompletely intoxicated than ever.

Theroom whirled round and round furiously; the old soldier seemed to be regularlybobbing up and down before me like the piston of a steam- engine. I was halfdeafened by a violent singing in my ears; a feeling of utter bewilderment,helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose from my chair, holding on by thetable to keep my balance; and stammered out that I felt dreadfully unwell—so unwellthat I did not know how I was to get home.

“Mydear friend,” answered the old soldier—and even his voice seemed to be bobbingup and down as he spoke—“my dear friend, it would be madness to go home in yourstate; you .would be s

A Terribly Strange Bed part 5

“Ex-braveof the French Army!” cried I, in a mad state of exhilaration, “I am on fire!how are you? You have set me on fire! Do you hear, my hero of Austerlitz? Letus have a third bottle of champagne to put the flame out!”

Theold soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I expected to seethem slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by the side of hisbroken nose; solemnly ejaculated “Coffee!” and immediately ran off into aninner room.

Theword pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical effect on therest of the company present. With one accord they all rose to depart. Probablythey had expected to profit by my intoxication; but finding that my new friendwas benevolently bent on preventing me from getting dead drunk, had now abandonedall hope of thriving pleasantly on my winnings. Whatever their motive might be,at any rate they went away in a body. When the old soldier returned and satdown again opp

A Terribly Strange Bed part 4

AndI did go on—went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of an hour thecroupier called out, “Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued for to-night.” Allthe notes, and all the gold in that “bank,” now lay in a heap under my hands;the whole floating capital of the gambling house was waiting to pour into mypockets!

“Tieup the money in your pocket-handkerchief, my worthy sir,” said the old soldier,as I wildly plunged my hands into my heap of gold. “Tie it up, as we used totie up a bit of dinner in the Grand Army; your winnings are too heavy for anybreeches-pockets that ever were sewed. There! that`s it—shovel them in, notesand all! Credie! what luck! Stop! another napoleon on the floor. Ah! sacrepetit polisson de Napoleon! have I found thee at last? Now then, sir—two tightdouble knots each way with your honorable permission, and the money`s safe.

Feelit! feel it, fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball—A bas if they ha

A Terribly Strange Bed part 3

IfI left everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration, I wassure to win—to win in the face of every recognized probability in favor of thebank. At first some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on mycolor; but I speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not risk.One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked on at my game.

Still,time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The excitement inthe room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted by a deep-mutteredchorus of oaths and exclamations in different languages, every time the goldwas shoveled across to my side of the table—even the imperturbable croupierdashed his rake on the floor in a (French) fury of astonishment at my success.But one man present preserved his self-possession, and that man was my friend.He came to my side, and whispering in English, begged me to leave the place,satisfied with what I had already g

A Terribly Strange Bed part 2

Wehad come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse. There is acomic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism : here there wasnothing but tragedy—mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in the room was horrible.The thin, haggard, long-haired young man, whose sunken eyes fiercely watchedthe turning up of the cards, never spoke; the flabby, fat-faced, pimply player,who pricked his piece of pasteboard perseveringly, to register how often blackwon, and how often red, never spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old man, with thevulture eyes and the darned great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and stilllooked on desperately after he could play no longer, never spoke. Even thevoice of the croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and thickened inthe atmosphere of the room.

Superstitious eyes

Ihad entered the place to laugh, but the spectacle before me was something toweep over. I soon found it necessary to take refuge in

A Terribly Strange Bed part 1

Wilkie Collins (1824—1889)

WilliamWilkie Collins was born at London in 1824. Like his friend Dickens, he was avoluminous writer of novels and tales, an editor and a dramatist. He was rathermore interested in the short story form than Dickens, and a more accomplishedmaster of it. A Terribly Strange Bed is one of the best known examples of thetale that is related for the sake of the thrill.

Thestory is reprinted from the volume After Dark, first published in London, 1856.

A Terribly Strange Bed

Shortyafter my education at college was finished, I happened to be staying at Pariswith an English friend. We were both young men then, and lived, I am afraid,rather a wild life, in the delightful city of our sojourn. One night we wereidling about the neighborhood of the Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusementwe should next betake ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to Frascati`s; buthis suggestion