Tag: A Terribly Strange Bed
smothering canopy was then lowered, but not so noiselessly as I had seen it
lowered. When I mentioned this to the Sub-prefect, his answer, simple as it
was, had a terrible significance, “My men,” said he, “are working down the
bed-top for the first time —- the men whose money you won were in better
left the house in the sole possession of two police agents—every one of the
inmates being removed to prison on the spot. The Sub-prefect, after taking down
my “proces verbal” in his office, returned with me to my hotel to get my
passport. “Do you think,” I asked, as I gave it to him, “that any men have
really been smothered in that bed, as they tried to smother me?”
have seen dozens of drowned men laid out at the Morgue,” answered the
Sub-prefect, “in whose pocketbooks were found letters stating that they had
committed suicide in the Seine, because they had lost everything at the
gaming-table. Do I know how many of those men entered the same gambling-house
that you entered? won as you won? took that bed as jyow took it? slept in it?
were smothered in it? and were privately thrown into the river, with a letter
of explanation written by the murderers and placed in their pocketbooks?
man can say how many or how few have suffered the fate from which you have
escaped. The people of the gambling-house kept their bedstead machinery a
secret from us—even from the police! The dead kept the rest of the secret for
them. Good-night, or rather good-morning, Monsieur Faulkner! Be at my office
again at nine o’clock—in the meantime, au revoir!”
rest of my story is soon told. I was examined and reexamined; the
gambling-house was strictly searched all through from top to bottom; the
prisoners were separately interrogated; and two of the less guilty among them
made a confession. I discovered that the Old Soldier was the master of the
gambling-house—justice discovered that he had been drummed out of the army as a
vagabond years ago; that he had been guilty of all sorts of villainies since;
that he was in possession of stolen property, which the owners identified; and
that he, the croupier, another accomplice, and the woman who had made my cup of
coffee, were all in the secret of the bedstead.
appeared some reason to doubt whether the inferior persons attached to the
house knew anything of the suffocating machinery; and they received the benefit
of that doubt, by being treated simply as thieves and vagabonds. As for the Old
Soldier and his two head myrmidons, they went to the galleys; the woman who had
drugged my coffee was imprisoned for I forget how many years; the regular
attendants at the gambling house were considered “suspicious,” and placed under
“surveillance”; and I became, for one whole week (which is a long time), the
head “lion” in Parisian society. My adventure was dramatized by three
illustrious play-makers, but never saw theatrical daylight; for the censorship
forbade the introduction on the stage of a correct copy of the gambling-house
good result was produced by my adventure, which any censorship must have
approved: it cured me of ever again trying “Rouge et Noir” as an amusement. The
sight of a green cloth, with packs of cards and heaps of money on it, will
henceforth be forever associated in my mind with the sight of a bed canopy
descending to suffocate me in the silence and darkness of the night.
we went through the streets, the Sub-prefect cross-examining and congratulating
me in the same breath as we marched at the head of our formidable posse
comitatus. Sentinels were placed at the back and front of the house the moment
we got to it, a tremendous battery of knocks was directed against the door; a
light appeared at a window; I was told to conceal myself behind the police—then
came more knocks, and a cry of “Open in the name of the law!” At that terrible
summons bolts and locks gave way before an invisible hand, and the moment after
the Sub-prefect was in the passage, confronting a waiter half dressed and
ghastly pale. This was the short dialogue which immediately took place:
want to see the Englishman who is sleeping in this house?”
went away hours ago.”
did no such thing. His friend went away; he remained. Show us to his bedroom!”
swear to you, Monsieur le Sous-prefect, he is not here! He—”
swear to you, Monsieur le Garqon, he is. He slept here—he didn’t find your bed
comfortable—he came to us to complain of it—here he is among my men—and here am
I ready to look for a flea or two in his bedstead. Renaudin!” (calling to one
of the subordinates, and pointing to the waiter), “collar that man, and tie his
hands behind him. Now, then, gentlemen, let us walk upstairs!”
man and woman in the house was secured—the “Old Soldier” the first. Then I
identified the bed in which I had slept, and then we went into the room above.
object that was at all extraordinary appeared in any part of it. The
Sub-prefect looked round the place, commanded everybody to be silent, stamped
twice on the floor, called for a candle, looked attentively at the spot he had
stamped on, and ordered the flooring there to be carefully taken up.
was done in no time. Lights were produced, and we saw a deep raftered cavity
between the floor of this room and the ceiling of the room beneath. Through
this cavity there ran perpendicularly a sort of case of iron thickly greased;
and inside the case appeared the screw, which communicated with the bed-top
Extra lengths of screw, freshly oiled; levers
covered with felt; all the complete upper works of a heavy press—constructed
with infernal ingenuity so as to join the fixtures below, and when taken to
pieces again to go into the smallest possible compass—were next discovered and
pulled out on the floor. After some little difficulty the Sub-prefect succeeded
in putting the machinery together, and, leaving his men to work it, descended
with me to the bedroom.
some men the means of escape which I had discovered might have seemed difficult
and dangerous enough—to me the prospect of slipping down the pipe into the
street 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 and
expert climber; and knew that my head, hands, and feet would serve me
faithfully in any hazards of ascent or descent.
had already got one leg over the window-sill, when I remembered the
handkerchief filled with money under my pillow. I could well have afforded to
leave it behind me, but I was revengefully determined that the miscreants of
the gambling- house should miss their plunder as well as their victim. So I
went back to the bed and tied the heavy handkerchief at my back by my cravat.
as I had made it tight and fixed it in a comfortable place, I thought I heard a
sound of breathing outside the door. The chill feeling of horror ran through me
again as I listened. No! Dead silence still in the passage—-I had only heard
the night air blowing softly into the room. The next moment I was on the
window-sill—and the next I had a firm grip on the water-pipe with my hands and
Discovering the perpetrator
slid down into the street easily and quietly, as I thought I should, and
immediately set off at the top of my speed to a branch “Prefecture” of Poliqe,
which I knew was situated in the immediate neighborhood. A “Sub-prefect,” and
several picked men among his subordinates, happened to be up, maturing, I
believe, some scheme for discovering the perpetrator of a mysterious murder
which all Paris was talking of just then.
I began my story, in a breathless hurry and in very bad French, I could see
that the Sub-prefect suspected me of being a drunken Englishman who had robbed
somebody; but he soon altered his opinion as I went on, and before I had
anything like concluded, he shoved all the papers before him into a drawer, put
on his hat, supplied me with another (for I was bareheaded), ordered a file of
soldiers, desired his expert followers to get ready all sorts of tools for
breaking open doors and ripping up brick flooring, and took my arm, in the most
friendly and familiar manner possible, to lead me with him out of the house. I
will venture to say that when the Sub-prefect was a little boy, and was taken
for the first time to the play, he was not half as much pleased as he was now
at the job in prospect for him at the gambling-house!
ere long all thought was again suspended by the sight of the mur-derous canopy
moving once more. After it had remained on the bed— as nearly as I could guess—about
ten minutes, it began to move up again. The villains who worked it from above
evidently believed that their purpose was now accomplished. Slowly and
silently, as it had descended, that horrible bed-top rose toward it former
place. When it reached the upper extremities of the four posts, it reached the
ceiling too. Neither hole nor screw could be seen; the bed became in appearance
an ordinary bed again—the canopy an ordinary canopy—even to the most suspicious
for the first time, I was able to move—to rise from my knees— to dress myself
in my upper clothing—and to consider of how I should escape. If I betrayed by
the smallest noise that the attempt to suffocate me had failed, I was certain
to be murdered. Had I made any noise already? I listened intently, looking
toward the door.
Escaping through the house
No footsteps in the passage outside—no sound of a tread, light or heavy, in the
room above—absolute silence everywhere. Besides locking and bolting my door, I
had moved an old wooden chest against it, which I had found under the bed. To
remove this chest (my blood ran cold as I thought of what its contents might
be!) without making some disturbance was impossible; and, moreover, to think of
escaping through the house, now barred up for the night, was sheer insanity.
Only one chance was left me—the window. I stole to it on tiptoe.
bedroom was on the first floor, above an entresol, and looked into the back
street. I raised my hand to open the window, knowing that on that action hung,
by the merest hair-breadth, my chance of safety. They keep vigilant watch in a
House of Murder. If any part of the frame cracked, if the hinge creaked, I was
a lost man! It must have occupied me at least five minutes, reckoning by
time—five hours reckoning by suspense—to open that window.
succeeded in doing it silently —in doing it with all the dexterity of a
house-breaker—and then looked down into the street. To leap the distance
beneath me would be almost certain destruction! Next, I looked round at the
sides of the house. Down the left side ran a thick water-pipe—it passed close
by the outer edge of the window. The moment I saw the pipe, I knew I was saved.
My breath came and went freely for the first time since I had seen the canopy
of the bed moving down upon me!
stopping to draw my breath, without wiping the cold sweat from my face, I rose
instantly 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 means
of escape had been miraculously provided for me, I could not have moved to take
advantage of it. The whole life in me was, at that moment, concentrated in my
descended—the whole canopy, with the fringe round it, came down—down—close
down; so close that there was not room now to squeeze my finger between the
bed-top and the bed. I felt at the sides, and discovered that what had appeared
to me from beneath to be the ordinary light canopy of a four-post bed was in
reality a thick, broad mattress, the substance of which was concealed by the
valance and its fringe.
looked up and saw the four posts rising hideously bare. In the middle of the
bed-top was a huge wooden screw that had evidently worked it down through a
hole in the ceiling, just as ordinary presses are worked down on the substance
selected for compression. The frightful apparatus moved without making the
faintest noise. There had been no creaking as it came down; there was now not
the faintest sound from the room above.
a dead and awful silence I beheld before me—in the Nineteenth Century, and in
the civilized capital of France—such a machine for secret murder by suffocation
as might have existed in the worst days of the Inquisition, in the lonely inns
among the Hartz Mountains, in the mysterious tribunals of Westphalia! Still, as
I looked on it, I could not move, I could hardly breathe, but I began to
recover the power of thinking, and in a moment I discovered the murderous
conspiracy framed against me in all its horror.
cup of coffee had been drugged, and drugged too strongly. I had been saved from
being smothered by having taken an overdose of some narcotic. How I had chafed
and fretted at the fever fit which had preserved my life by keeping me awake!
How recklessly I had confided myself to the two wretches who had led me into
this room, determined, for the sake of my winnings, to kill me in my sleep by
the surest and most horrible contrivance for secretly accomplishing my
destruction! How many men, winners like me, had slept, as I had proposed to
sleep, in that bed, and had never been seen or heard of more! I shuddered at
the bare idea of it.
God! 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? Not
there! In place of the hat and feathers, what dusky object was it that now hid
his forehead, his eyes, his shading hand?
the bed moving?
turned on my back and looked up. Was I mad? drunk? dreaming? giddy again? or
was the top of the bed really moving down—sinking slowly, regularly, silently,
horribly, right down throughout the whole of its length and breadth—right down
upon me, as I lay underneath?
blood seemed to stand still. A deadly, paralyzing coldness stole all over me as
I turned my head round on the pillow and determined to test whether the bed-top
was really moving or not, by keeping my eye on the man in the picture.
next look in that direction was enough. The dull, black, frowsy outline of the
valance above me was within an inch of being parallel with his waist. I still
looked breathlessly. And steadily and slowly—very slowly—I saw the figure, and
the line of frame below the figure, vanish, as the valance moved down before
am, constitutionally, anything but timid. I have been on more than one occasion
in peril of my life, and have not lost my self-possession for an instant; but
when the conviction first settled on my mind that the bed-top was really
moving, was steadily and continuously sinking down upon me, I looked up
shuddering, helpless, panic-stricken, beneath the hideous machinery for murder,
which was advancing closer and closer to suffocate me where I lay.
looked up, motionless, speechless, breathless. The candle, fully spent, went
out; but the moonlight still brightened the room. Down and down, without
pausing and without sounding, came the bed-top, and still my panic terror
seemed to bind me faster and faster to the mattress on which I lay—down and
down it sank, till the dusty odor from the lining of the canopy came stealing
into my nostrils.
that final moment the instinct of self-preservation startled me out of my
trance, and I moved at last. There was just room for me to roll myself sidewise
off the bed. As I dropped noiselessly to the floor, the edge of the murderous
canopy touched me on the shoulder.
picture put a kind of constraint upon me to look upward too— at the top of the
bed. It was a gloomy and not an interesting object, and I looked back at the
picture. I counted the feathers in the man’s hat— they stood out in
relief—three white, two green. I observed the crown of his hat, which was of a
conical shape, according to the fashion supposed to have been favored by Guido
Fawkes. I wondered what he was looking up at. It couldn’t be at the stars; such
a desperado was neither astrologer nor astronomer. It must be at the high
gallows, and he was going to be hanged presently. Would the executioner come
into possession of his conical crowned hat and plume of feathers? I counted the
feathers again—three white, two green.
I still lingered over this very improving and intellectual employment, my
thoughts insensibly began to wander. The moonlight shining into the room
reminded me of a certain moonlight night in Eng-land—the night after a picnic
party in a Welsh valley. Every incident of the drive homeward, through lovely
scenery, which the moonlight made lovelier than ever, came back to my
remembrance, though I had never given the picnic a thought for years; though,
if I had tried to recollect it, I could certainly have recalled little or
nothing of that scene long past.
all the wonderful faculties that help to tell us we are immortal, which speaks
the sublime truth more eloquently than memory? Here was I, in a strange house
of the most suspicious character, in a situation of uncertainty, and even of
peril, which might seem to make the cool exercise of my recollection almost out
of the question; nevertheless, remembering, quite involuntarily, places,
people, conversations, minute circumstances of every kind, which I had thought
forgotten forever; which I could not possibly have recalled at will, even under
the most favorable auspices. And what cause had produced in a moment the whole
of this strange, complicated, mysterious effect? Nothing but some rays of
moonlight shining in at my bedroom window.
was still thinking of the picnic—of our merriment on the drive home—of the
sentimental young lady who would quote Childe Harold because it was moonlight.
I was absorbed by these past scenes and past amusements, when, in an instant,
the thread on which my memories hung snapped asunder; my attention immediately
came back to present things more vividly than ever, and I found myself, I
neither knew why nor wherefore, looking hard at the picture again.
raised myself on my elbow, and looked about the room—which was brightened by a
lovely moonlight pouring straight through the window—to see if it contained any
pictures or ornaments that I could at all clearly distinguish. While my eyes
wandered from wall to wall, a remembrance of Le Maistre’s delightful little
book, “Voyage autour de ma Chambre,” occurred to me. I resolved to imitate the
French author, and find occupation and amusement enough to relieve the tedium
of my wakefulness, by making a mental inventory of every article of furniture I
could see, and by following up to their sources the multitude of associations
which even a chair, a table, or a wash-hand stand may be made to call forth.
Thinking at all
the nervous, unsettled state of my mind at that moment, I found it much easier
to make my inventory than to make my reflections, and thereupon soon gave up
all hope of thinking in Le Maistre’s fanciful track—or, indeed, of thinking at
all. I looked about the room at the different articles of furniture, and did
was, first, the bed I was lying in; a four-post bed, of all things in the world
to meet with in Paris—yes, a thorough clumsy British four-poster, with a
regular top lined with chintz—the regular fringed valance all round—the regular
stifling, unwholesome curtains, which I remembered having mechanically
drawnlback against the posts without particularly noticing the bed when I first
got into the room.
there was the marble-topped wash-hand stand, from which the water I had
spilled, in my hurry to pour it out, was still dripping, slowly and more
slowly, on to the brick floor. Then two small chairs, with my coat, waistcoat,
and trousers flung on them. Then a large elbow- chair covered with dirty white
dimity, with my cravat and shirt collar thrown over the back. Then a chest of
drawers with two of the brass handles off, and a tawdry, broken china inkstand
placed on it by way of ornament for the top.
the dressing-table, adorned by a very small looking-glass, and a very large
pincushion. Then the window—an unusually large window. Then a dark old picture,
which the feeble candle dimly showed me. It was the picture of a fellow in a
high Spanish hat, crowned with a plume of towering feathers. A swarthy,
sinister ruffian, looking upward, shading his eyes with his hand, and looking
intently upward—it might be at some tall gallows on which he was going to be
hanged. At any rate, he had the appearance of thoroughly deserving it.
giddiness 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; my
second, of the still greater risk of trying to get out after the house was
closed, and of going home alone at night through the streets of Paris with a
large sum of money about me. I had slept in worse places than this on my
travels; so I determined to lock, bolt, and barricade my door, and take my
chance till the next morning.
I secured myself against all intrusion; looked under the bed, and into the
cupboard; tried the fastening of the window; and then, satisfied that I had
taken 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, and
got into bed, with the handkerchief full of money under my pillow.
soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep, but that I could not even
close my eyes. I was wide awake, and in a high fever.. Every nerve in my body
trembled—every one of my senses seemed to be preter naturally sharpened. I
tossed and rolled, and tried every kind of position and perseveringly sought
out the cold corners of the bed, and all to no purpose.
I thrust my arms over the clothes; now I poked them under the clothes; now I
violently shot my legs straight out down to the bottom of the bed; now I
convulsively coiled them up as near my chin as they would go; now I shook out
my crumpled pillow, changed it to the cool side, patted it flat, and lay down
quietly on my back; now I fiercely doubled it in two, set it up on end, thrust
it against the board of the bed, and tried a sitting posture. Every effort was
in vain; I groaned with vexation as I felt that I was in for a sleepless night.
could I do? I had no book to read. And yet, unless I found out some method of
diverting my mind, I felt certain that I was in the condition to imagine all
sorts of horrors; to rack my brain with forebodings of every possible and
impossible danger; in short, to pass the night in suffering all conceivable
varieties of nervous terror.
as 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 cups
with a bow. I was parched with thirst, and drank it off at a draft. Almost
instantly afterward I was seized with a fit of giddiness, and felt more
completely intoxicated than ever.
room whirled round and round furiously; the old soldier seemed to be regularly
bobbing up and down before me like the piston of a steam- engine. I was half
deafened by a violent singing in my ears; a feeling of utter bewilderment,
helplessness, idiocy, overcame me. I rose from my chair, holding on by the
table to keep my balance; and stammered out that I felt dreadfully unwell—so unwell
that I did not know how I was to get home.
dear friend,” answered the old soldier—and even his voice seemed to be bobbing
up and down as he spoke—“my dear friend, it would be madness to go home in your
state; you .would be sure to lose your money; you might be robbed and murdered
with the greatest ease. 1 am going to sleep here: do you sleep here, too—they
make up capital beds in this house—take one; sleep off the effects of the wine,
and go home safely with your winnings to-morrow—to-morrow, in broad daylight.”
Handkerchief full of money
had but two ideas left: one, that I must never let go hold of my handkerchief
full of money; the other, that I must lie down somewhere immediately, and fall
off into a comfortable sleep. So I agreed to the proposal about the bed, and
took the offered arm of the old soldier, carrying my money with my disengaged
hand. Preceded by the crou-ier, we passed along some passages and up a flight
of stairs into the edroom which I was to occupy. The ex-brave shook me warmly
by the hand, proposed that we should breakfast together, and then, followed by
the croupier, left me for the night.
ran to the wash-hand stand; drank some of the water in my jug; poured the rest
out, and plunged my face into it; then sat down in a chair and tried to compose
myself. I soon felt better. The change for my lungs, from the fetid atmosphere
of the gambling-house to the cool air of the apartment I now occupied, the
almost equally refreshing change for my eyes, from the glaring gaslights of the
“salon” to the dim, quiet flicker of one bedroom-candle, aided wonderfully the
restorative effects of cold water.
of 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? Let
us have a third bottle of champagne to put the flame out!”
old soldier wagged his head, rolled his goggle-eyes, until I expected to see
them slip out of their sockets; placed his dirty forefinger by the side of his
broken nose; solemnly ejaculated “Coffee!” and immediately ran off into an
word pronounced by the eccentric veteran seemed to have a magical effect on the
rest of the company present. With one accord they all rose to depart. Probably
they had expected to profit by my intoxication; but finding that my new friend
was benevolently bent on preventing me from getting dead drunk, had now abandoned
all 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 sat
down again opposite to me at the table, we had the room to ourselves. I could
see the croupier, in a sort of vestibule which opened out of it, eating his
supper in solitude. The silence was now deeper than ever.
sudden change, too, had come over the “ex-brave.” Heassumed a portentously
solemn look; and when he spoke to me again, his speech was ornamented by no
oaths, enforced by no finger-snapping, enlivened by no apostrophes or
Mysteriously confidential tones
my dear sir,” said he, in mysteriously confidential tones— “listen to an old
soldier’s advice. I have been to the mistress of the house (a very charming
woman, with a genius for cookery!) to impress on the the necessity of making us
some particularly strong and good coffee. You must drink this coffee in order
to get rid of your little amiable exaltation of spirits before you think of
going home—you must, my good and gracious friend! With all that money to take
home tonight, it is a sacred duty to yourself to have your wits about you.
are known to be a winner to an enormous extent by several gentlemen present
to-night, who, in a certain point of view, are very worthy and excellent
fellows; but they are mortal men, my dear sir, and they have their amiable
weaknesses! Need I say more? Ah, no, no! you understand me! Now, this is what
you must do—send for a cabriolet when you feel quite well again—draw up all the
windows when you get into it—and tell the driver to take you home only through
the large and well-lighted thoroughfares. Do this; and you and your money will
be safe. Do this; and to-morrow you will thank an old soldier for giving you a
word of honest advice.”
I did go on—went on at such a rate, that in another quarter of an hour the
croupier called out, “Gentlemen, the bank has discontinued for to-night.” All
the 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 my
up 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 to
tie up a bit of dinner in the Grand Army; your winnings are too heavy for any
breeches-pockets that ever were sewed. There! that’s it—shovel them in, notes
and all! Credie! what luck! Stop! another napoleon on the floor. Ah! sacre
petit polisson de Napoleon! have I found thee at last? Now then, sir—two tight
double knots each way with your honorable permission, and the money’s safe.
it! feel it, fortunate sir! hard and round as a cannon-ball—A bas if they had
only fired such cannon-balls at us at Austerlitz—nom d’une pipe! if they only
had! And now, as an ancient grenadier, as an exbrave of the French army, what
remains for me to do? I ask what? Simply this, to entreat my valued English
friend to drink a bottle of champagne with me, and toast the goddess Fortune in
foaming goblets before we part!”
ex-brave! Convivial ancient grenadier! Champagne by all means! An English cheer
for an old soldier! Hurrah! hurrah! Another English cheer for the goddess
Fortune! Hurrah, hurrah! hurrah!”
the Englishman; the amiable, gracious Englishman, in whose veins circulates the
vivacious blood of France! Another glass? A bas!— the bottle is empty! Never
mind! Vive le vin! I, the old soldier, order another bottle, and half a pound
of bonbons with it!”
no, ex-brave; never—ancient grenadier! Your bottle last time; my bottle this!
Behold it! Toast away! The French Army! the great Napoleon! the present
company! the croupier! the honest croupier’s wife and daughters—if he has any!
the ladies generally! everybody in the world!”
the time the second bottle of champagne was emptied, I felt as if I had been
drinking liquid fire—-my brain seemed all aflame. No excess in wine had ever
had this effect on me before in my life. Was it the result of a stimulant acting
upon my system when I was in a highly excited state? Was my stomach in a
particularly disordered condition? Or was the champagne amazingly strong?
I left everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration, I was
sure to win—to win in the face of every recognized probability in favor of the
bank. At first some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on my
color; 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.
time after time, I staked higher and higher, and still won. The excitement in
the room rose to fever pitch. The silence was interrupted by a deep-muttered
chorus of oaths and exclamations in different languages, every time the gold
was shoveled across to my side of the table—even the imperturbable croupier
dashed 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 gained. I must do him the justice to say that
he repeated his warnings and entreaties several times, and only left me and
went away, after I had rejected his advice (I was to all intents and purposes
gambling drunk) in terms which rendered it impossible for him to address me
again that night.
after he had gone, a hoarse voice behind me cried, “Permit me, my dear
sir—permit me to restore to their proper place, two napoleons which you have
dropped. Wonderful luck, sir! I pledge you my word of honor, as an old soldier,
in the course of my long experience in this sort of thing, I never saw such
luck as yours—never! Go on, sir —Sacre mille bombes! Go on boldly, and break
turned round and saw, nodding and smiling at me with inveterate civility, a
tall man, dressed in a frogged and braided surtout.
I had been in my senses, I should have considered him, personally, as being
rather a’suspicious specimen of an old soldier. He had goggling, bloodshot
eyes, mangy mustaches, and a broken nose. His voice betrayed a barrack-room
intonation of the worst order, and he had the dirtiest pair of hands I ever
saw—even in France.
little personal peculiarities exercised, however, no repelling influence on me.
In the mad excitement, the reckless triumph of that moment, I was ready to “fraternize”
with anybody who encouraged me in my game. I accepted the old soldier’s offered
pinch of snuff; clapped him on the back, and swore he was the honesties fellow
in the world—the most glorious relic of the Grand Army that I had ever met
with. “Go on! ” cried my military friend, snapping his fingers in ecstasy—“Go
on, and win! Break the bank—Mille tonnerres! my gallant English comrade, break
had come to see blackguards; but these men were something worse. There is a
comic side, more or less appreciable, in all blackguardism : here there was
nothing but tragedy—mute, weird tragedy. The quiet in the room was horrible.
The thin, haggard, long-haired young man, whose sunken eyes fiercely watched
the turning up of the cards, never spoke; the flabby, fat-faced, pimply player,
who pricked his piece of pasteboard perseveringly, to register how often black
won, and how often red, never spoke; the dirty, wrinkled old man, with the
vulture eyes and the darned great-coat, who had lost his last sou, and still
looked on desperately after he could play no longer, never spoke. Even the
voice of the croupier sounded as if it were strangely dulled and thickened in
the atmosphere of the room.
had entered the place to laugh, but the spectacle before me was something to
weep over. I soon found it necessary to take refuge in excitement from the
depression of spirits which was stealing on me. Unfortunately I sought the
nearest excitement, by going to the table and beginning to play. Still more
unfortunately, as the event will show, I won—won prodigiously; won incredibly;
won at such a rate that the regular players at the table crowded round me; and
staring at my stakes with hungry, superstitious eyes, whispered to one another
that the English stranger was going to break the bank.
game was Rouge et Noir. I had played at it in every city in Europe, without,
however, the care or the wish to study the Theory of Chances—that philosopher’s
stone of all gamblers! And a gambler, in the strict sense of the word, I had
never been. I was heart-whole from the corroding passion for play. My gaming
was a mere idle amusement. I never resorted to it by necessity, because I never
knew what it was to want money.
never practised it so incessantly as to lose more than I could afford, or to
gain more than I could coolly pocket without being thrown off my balance by my
good luck. In short, I had hitherto frequented gambling-tables—just as I
frequented ball-rooms and opera- houses—because they amused me, and because I
had nothing better to do with my leisure hours.
on this occasion it was very different—now, for the first time in my life, I
felt what the passion for play really was. My successes first bewildered, and
then, in the most literal meaning of the word, intoxicated me. Incredible as it
may appear, it is nevertheless true, that I only lost when I attempted to
estimate chances, and played according to previous calculation.
Wilkie Collins (1824—1889)
Wilkie Collins was born at London in 1824. Like his friend Dickens, he was a
voluminous writer of novels and tales, an editor and a dramatist. He was rather
more interested in the short story form than Dickens, and a more accomplished
master of it. A Terribly Strange Bed is one of the best known examples of the
tale that is related for the sake of the thrill.
story is reprinted from the volume After Dark, first published in London, 1856.
A Terribly Strange Bed
after my education at college was finished, I happened to be staying at Paris
with 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 were
idling about the neighborhood of the Palais Royal, doubtful to what amusement
we should next betake ourselves. My friend proposed a visit to Frascati’s; but
his suggestion was not to my taste.
knew Frascati’s, as the French saying is, by heart; had lost and won plenty of
five-franc pieces there, merely for amusement’s sake, until it was amusement no
longer, and was thoroughly tired, in fact, of all the ghastly respectabilities
of such a social anomaly as a respectable gambling-house.
Heaven’s sake,” said I to my friend, “let us go somewhere where we can see a
little genuine, blackguard, poverty-stricken gaming, with no false gingerbread
glitter thrown over it at all. Let us get away from fashionable Frascati’s, to
a house where they don’t mind letting in a man with a ragged coat, or a man
with no coat, ragged or otherwise.”
well,” said my friend, “we needn’t go out of the Palais Royal to find the sort
of company you want. Here’s the place just before us; as blackguard a place, by
all report, as you could possibly wish to see.”
another minute we arrived at the door, and entered the house.
we got upstairs, and had left our hats and sticks with the door-keeper, we were
admitted into the chief gambling-room. We did not find many people assembled
there. But, few as the men were who looked up at us on our entrance, they were
all types—lamentably true types—of their respective classes.