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   Chapter 29 MME. BERNSTEIN REVEALS.

The Last Tenant By B. L. Farjeon Characters: 13119

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Rivers went forward to meet her, and taking her hand, led her to where we were standing. Dark as it was I saw that she was greatly agitated, and the increase of our party did not lessen her agitation.

"You perceive," Rivers commenced, "that it is as I said. There are four of us, and we are determined to know the truth about your master and what is going on in that gloomy house, which, as I just remarked to my friends, resembles a prison."

"I will tell you everything," said Mme. Bernstein, her voice shaking with fear. "Why should I not, when you have promised to reward me? I have done nothing wrong."

"Do not speak so sharply to her," said Ronald to Rivers; "you frighten her." Then he turned to the old woman, and spoke to her in French, and his manner was so kind and his voice so gentle that she soon forgot her fears. "You shall be well rewarded," he said to her; "I promise you on the honor of a gentleman. We have left a little money with your brother and his pretty little girl, and to-morrow we will send a doctor to see him. If it were day instead of night you would know that I am blind, and you would trust me."

"I trust you now, sir," said Mme. Bernstein. "But this gentleman"--indicating Rivers--"speaks to me as if I had committed a crime. I will answer you anything. It is because I am poor that I have served M. Nisbet, and if I have taken a little bit of food for my dying brother and the child I hope you will protect me from the anger of M. Nisbet. He is a hard man; he would have no mercy."

"We will protect and befriend you," said Ronald. "Have no fear. My friends here do not understand French very well, so we will converse now in English. Express yourself as well as you can; we all wish to hear what you have to say, and we all are kindly disposed toward you. Mr. Rivers, you are so much more experienced than ourselves that the command must be left in your hands, but I beg you to moderate your tone when you address madame."

"With all the pleasure in life," said Rivers cheerfully. "Bless your heart, madame, you need not be frightened of me; if I speak sharp it's only a way I've got. Don't you take any notice of it, but begin at the beginning, and go straight on. How long have you been in service here?"

"Ever since M. Nisbet first came," replied Mme. Bernstein. "It is years ago--I don't know how many--and he bought the house, and wanted a woman to look after it. When he goes away to England or France I attend to everything." She stopped here, as if at a loss how to proceed.

"We shall get to the bottom of things all the quicker," said Rivers, "if I ask you questions. Has there been any other person besides yourself in Mr. Nisbet's service?"

"No one else--it is I alone who have served him."

"Does he live here alone?"

"Oh, no. When he first came he brought a lady with him."

"And she is still in the house?"

"Oh, yes; she is still in the house, poor lady!"

Instinctively we all turned our eyes to the window which Rivers had declared to be the window of the room occupied by a lady--even Ronald's sightless eyes were turned in that direction.

"That is her bedroom?" Rivers asked.

"Yes, it is there she sleeps."

"Hold hard a bit," he cried. "She is awake."

The occupant of the room had moved the light, and we saw her shadow on the blind. We looked up in silence, expecting that something strange would occur. I cannot explain the cause of this impression, but in subsequent conversation with my companions they confessed that they had experienced the same feeling of expectation as myself. What did occur was this: The blind was pulled up, and the window opened, and by the window stood a female figure in a white nightdress, stretching out her arms toward us. It was not possible that she could see us, but her imploring attitude seemed like an appeal to us to save her from some terrible danger, and it powerfully affected me.

I put my finger to my lips, to warn Bob and Rivers against uttering any exclamation of surprise, and I placed myself in such a position that Mme. Bernstein could not see what we saw. Presently the female's arms dropped to her side, and she sank upon a chair by the window, and sat there while Rivers continued his examination.

"Why do you say 'poor lady'?" asked Rivers. "Is she suffering in any way?"

"She is much to be pitied," replied Mme. Bernstein. "So young and beautiful as she is!"

"But explain, madame. You speak in enigmas. Does your master oppress her? Is he cruel to her?"

"I do not know. She does not complain, but I would not trust him with a child of mine."

"Is she his child, then?"

"Oh, no; but he has authority over her. He has never struck her, he has never spoken a harsh word to her; still I would not trust him."

"We shall get at it presently, I suppose," said Rivers impatiently. "What is the lady's name?"

"Mlle. Mersac."

"Her Christian name?"

"I have not heard it, all the years I have been in the house. There was no reason why I should hear it. Mlle. Mersac--is not that a sufficient name?"

"It must content us for the present. If she is not his daughter she is doubtless some relation?"

"It cannot be--he has himself declared that she is not. I ventured one day--it is now a long time ago--to ask him, and he answered me angrily, and bade me attend to my duties, and nothing more. He repented a little while afterward; and came to me and inquired why I had put the question to him. 'It was a thought, sir,' I said. 'Can you see any likeness between us?' he asked. I answered no, and there is no likeness. She is fair, he is dark; there is not the least resemblance between them."

"May we say that she is afflicted?"

"Sorely afflicted. She has no memory, she seems to have no mind. From one day to another she cannot recollect. Each day is new to her; she has no memory. Even her own name is strange to her. When my master is here I see her only in his presence, and am not allowed to speak to her. When he is absent I see more of her; it is necessary; she has no one else to attend to her. But even then she utters but a very few words. Once only did we have a conversation while the master was away. It was against his commands, but I could not help it. He gives his orders what I shall do during his absence, and I am to do those things, and nothing more. To give her her meals, to give her her medicine, not to allow her to pass the gates. For years she has not been outside those walls."

"You are wandering, madame. Once you had a conversation with her

. Inform us what was said."

"I pitied her, and asked her whether she had no friends she wished to see. 'Friends!' she said, and looked at me wonderingly. 'The world is dead!' I could have shed tears, there was such misery in her voice. I addressed her by her name. 'Mersac!' she exclaimed. 'Who is Mlle. Mersac?' 'But, mademoiselle,' I said, 'it is yourself.' 'Are you sure of that?' she asked. 'Why, yes,' I answered, 'it is certain.' She shuddered and said, 'I had dreams, I think, when I was a child, but I am an old woman now.' 'Mademoiselle,' I cried, 'you are young, you are beautiful!' 'It is you who are dreaming,' she said, 'I am an old woman. The world is dead. This house is my tomb!' That is all that passed; she would not speak another word. If I had dared, if I had not been poor and had known what to do and how it was to be done, I would have tried to find her friends, for what hope of recovery is there for her in such a place as this? For me who have not long to live---I am seventy-five--it does not matter. I have lived here all my life, and I shall die here; there is no other place for me to die in, and I am content that it should be so. But even I had my bright years when I was a young woman. I had a lover, I had a husband, I had children; they are all dead now, and but for my dying brother and his little girl I am alone. I was not so beautiful as mademoiselle; I was not a lady as she is. That is plainly to be seen. At her time of life she should be bright and happy; she should have a lover; she should have friends, companions. They might wake her up, for though she is not dead she might as well be."

The old woman spoke very feelingly, and I patted her on the shoulder.

"Thank you," she said, as though I had bestowed a gift upon her.

"She is a French lady?" questioned Rivers.

"Oh, no; she is English."

"English! But her name is French."

"It may not be hers. She is perhaps sent here to be forgotten. It is sad, very sad!"

"Apart from this loss of memory, from this forgetfulness of herself, is she in health?"

"She is strong, she is well otherwise. It is only her mind that is gone. She gripped my hand once; it was the grip of a strong young girl. She is lithe, she is well formed. If I had been like her when I was her age I should have been proud. I brought some flowers to the house one day. 'Who are these for?' my master asked. 'I thought mademoiselle would like them,' I answered. He frowned, and taking them in his hands crushed them and threw them to the ground. 'That is not part of your duties,' he said. I brought no more flowers. There are some strange things, some things I cannot understand. Do you come to help the poor lady? Are you related to her?"

"We are not related to her, but we will help her if it is in our power."

"Heaven will reward you for it."

"What do you mean by saying there are strange things, things you cannot understand?"

"For one--why does the master say she will not live, when, but for her loss of memory, she is strong and well?"

"Oh, he says that, does he?"

"Yes, and he has brought a friend with him now, a celebrated doctor, because, as I heard him say, she is sinking. What does that mean?"

"Ah," said Rivers, in a significant tone which we understood, "what does that mean, indeed? It means mischief, Mme. Bernstein."

"It is what I think. Now I have opened my heart I do not care what happens to me. This celebrated doctor that he has brought from England with him is no better than my master is. They are a pair. But what can she do against them alone?"

"She is no longer alone, madame," said Ronald, with a strange earnestness in his voice. "The lady is beautiful, you say. Very fair?"

"As fair as a lily, sir."

"You can tell me the color of her eyes."

"They are blue as a summer sky, and there is sometimes a light as sweet in them."

"What would be her age, in your opinion, madame?"

"Not more than twenty-four, and though she suffers so, she sometimes looks like a maid of eighteen."

"When your master is absent he leaves medicine for her to take? He places this medicine in your charge? Is it a liquid?"

"It is a liquid."

"And its color, madame?"

"White."

"Is it clear? Has it a sediment?"

"It is perfectly clear, like water?"

"How often does she take it?"

"Once every day, in the evening."

"Does she take it willingly?"

"Quite willingly."

There was a brief silence here, and I observed Ronald pass his hands across his eyes. It was he who was asking these questions, and Rivers did not interpose.

"Mme. Bernstein, did you ever taste this medicine?"

"Ah, sir, you make me remember what I had forgotten. I am old; forgive me. It was this, also, that was in my mind when I said there were strange things I could not understand. It happened two years ago. Mademoiselle had left nearly half the dose in the glass, and had gone to bed. I took it up and tasted it; it was as water in my mouth, and--I do not know why--I drank what remained. 'It is not likely to harm me,' I thought, 'for it does not harm mademoiselle.' I went to bed and slept soundly. In the morning when I awoke it was with a strange feeling. I had some things to do; I could not remember what they were. I dressed myself and sat in my chair as helpless as a babe. The clock struck more than once, and still I sat there, trying to think what it was I had to do. At last the clock struck twelve, and I started to my feet, as though I had just woke out of a waking sleep, and went about my work as usual."

Ronald did not continue his questions; his attention seemed to be drawn to another matter; his head was bent forward, in the attitude of listening.

I do not recollect what it was that Rivers said at this point, but he had spoken a few words when Ronald cried:

"Be silent!"

His voice was agitated, and the same feeling of expectation stole upon me as I had experienced before the female in her white nightdress opened her bedroom window and stretched out her arms toward us.

"Mme. Bernstein," said Ronald then, "the young lady we have been speaking of is a musician."

"Yes, sir."

"She plays in the night sometimes."

"I have heard her, sir, on two or three occasions."

"The instrument she plays on is the zither."

"Yes, sir."

"She is playing at the present moment."

"If you say so, sir. My hearing is not so good as yours."

"It is Beatrice who is playing," said Ronald, and his tone now was very quiet. "I knew she was not dead, and that we should meet again."

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