A moment's hope, hope violent and fluctuating, hope that was nearly torture, and then came a dialogue, and with it the terrors of despair.
"Thank Heaven, Planard, you have come at last," said the Count, taking him with both hands by the arm, and clinging to it and drawing him toward me. "See, look at him. It has all gone sweetly, sweetly, sweetly up to this. Shall I hold the candle for you?"
My friend d'Harmonville, Planard, whatever he was, came to me, pulling off his gloves, which he popped into his pocket.
"The candle, a little this way," he said, and stooping over me he looked earnestly in my face. He touched my forehead, drew his hand across it, and then looked in my eyes for a time.
"Well, doctor, what do you think?" whispered the Count.
"How much did you give him?" said the Marquis, thus suddenly stunted down to a doctor.
"Seventy drops," said the lady.
"In the hot coffee?"
"Yes; sixty in a hot cup of coffee and ten in the liqueur."
Her voice, low and hard, seemed to me to tremble a little. It takes a long course of guilt to subjugate nature completely, and prevent those exterior signs of agitation that outlive all good.
The doctor, however, was treating me as coolly as he might a subject which he was about to place on the dissecting-table for a lecture.
He looked into my eyes again for awhile, took my wrist, and applied his fingers to the pulse.
"That action suspended," he said to himself.
Then again he placed something, that for the moment I saw it looked like a piece of gold-beater's leaf, to my lips, holding his head so far that his own breathing could not affect it.
"Yes," he said in soliloquy, very low.
Then he plucked my shirt-breast open and applied the stethoscope, shifted it from point to point, listened with his ear to its end, as if for a very far-off sound, raised his head, and said, in like manner, softly to himself, "All appreciable action of the lungs has subsided."
Then turning from the sound, as I conjectured, he said:
"Seventy drops, allowing ten for waste, ought to hold him fast for six hours and a half-that is ample. The experiment I tried in the carriage was only thirty drops, and showed a highly sensitive brain. It would not do to kill him, you know. You are certain you did not exceed seventy?"
"Perfectly," said the lady.
"If he were to die the evaporation would be arrested, and foreign matter, some of it poisonous, would be found in the stomach, don't you see? If you are doubtful, it would be well to use the stomach-pump."
"Dearest Eugenie, be frank, be frank, do be frank," urged the Count.
"I am not doubtful, I am certain," she answered.
"How long ago, exactly? I told you to observe the time."
"I did; the minute-hand was exactly there, under the point of that Cupid's foot."
"It will last, then, probably for seven hours. He will recover then; the evaporation will be complete, and not one particle of the fluid will remain in the stomach."
It was reassuring, at all events, to hear that there was no intention to murder me. No one who has not tried it knows the terror of the approach of death, when the mind is clear, the instincts of life unimpaired, and no excitement to disturb the appreciation of that entirely new horror.
The nature and purpose of this tenderness was very, very peculiar, and as yet I had not a suspicion of it.
"You leave France, I suppose?" said the ex-Marquis.
"Yes, certainly, tomorrow," answered the Count.
"And where do you mean to go?"
"That I have not yet settled," he answered quickly.
"You won't tell a friend, eh?"
"I can't till I know. This has turned out an unprofitable affair."
"We shall settle that by-and-by."
"It is time we should get him lying down, eh," said the Count, indicating me with one finger.
"Yes, we must proceed rapidly now. Are his night-shirt and night-cap—you understand—here?"
"All ready," said the Count.
"Now, Madame," said the doctor, turning to the lady, and making her, in spite of the emergency, a bow, "it is time you should retire."
The lady passed into the room in which I had taken my cup of treacherous coffee, and I saw her no more. The Count took a candle and passed through the door at the further end of the room, returning with a roll of linen in his hand. He bolted first one door then the other.
They now, in silence, proceeded to undress me rapidly. They were not many minutes in accomplishing this.
What the doctor had termed my night-shirt, a long garment which reached below my feet, was now on, and a cap, that resembled a female nightcap more than anything I had ever seen upon a male head, was fitted upon mine, and tied under my chin.
And now, I thought, I shall be laid in a bed to recover how I can, and, in the meantime, the conspirators will have escaped with their booty, and pursuit be in vain.
This was my best hope at the time; but it was soon clear that their plans were very different. The Count and Planard now went, together, into the room that lay straight before me. I heard them talking low, and a sound of shuffling feet; then a long rumble; it suddenly stopped; it recommenced; it continued; side by side they came in at the door, their backs toward me. They were dragging something along the floor that made a continued boom and rumble, but they interposed between me and it, so that I could not see it until they had dragged it almost beside me; and then, merciful heaven! I saw it plainly enough. It was the coffin I had seen in the next room. It lay now flat on the floor, its edge against the chair in which I sat. Planard removed the lid. The coffin was empty.