Can The Double Murder?
Sir, One morning in 1867 Eastern Europe was startled by news of the most horrifying description. Michael Obrenovitch, reigning Prince of Serbia, his aunt, the Princess Catherine or Katinka, and her daughter had been murdered in broad daylight, near Belgrade, in their own garden, assassin or assassins remaining unknown. The Prince had received several bullet-shots, and stabs, and his body was actually butchered; the Princess was killed on the spot, her head smashed, and her young daughter, though still alive, was not expected to survive. The circumstances are too recent to have been forgotten, but in that part of the world, at the time, the case created a delirium of excitement.
In the Austrian dominions and in those under the doubtful protectorate of Turkey, from Bucharest down to Trieste, no high family felt secure. In those half Oriental countries every Montecchi has its Capuletti, and it was rumoured that the bloody deed was perpetrated by the Prince Kara-Gueorguevitch, or "Tzerno-Gueorgey," as he is usually called in those parts. Several persons innocent of the act were, as is usual in such cases imprisoned, and the real murderers escaped justice. A young relative of the victim, greatly beloved by his people, a mere child, taken for the purpose from a school in Paris, was brought over in ceremony to Belgrade and proclaimed Hospodar of Serbia. In the turmoil of political excitement the tragedy of Belgrade was forgotten by all but an old Serbian matron who had been attached to the Obrenovitch family, and who, like Rachel, would not be comforted for the death of her children. After the proclamation of the young Obrenovitch, nephew of the murdered man, she had sold out her property and disappeared; but not before taking a solemn vow on the tombs of the victims to avenge their deaths.
The writer of this truthful narrative had passed a few days at Belgrade, about three months before the horrid deed was perpetrated, and knew the Princess Katinka. She was a kind, gentle, and lazy creature at home; abroad she seemed a Parisienne in manners and education. As nearly all the personages who will figure in this true story are still living, it is but decent that I should withhold their names, and give only initials.
The old Serbian lady seldom left her house, going but to see the Princess occasionally. Crouched on a pile of pillows and carpeting, clad in the picturesque national dress, she looked like the Cumaean sibyl in her days of calm repose. Strange stories were whispered about her Occult knowledge, and thrilling accounts circulated sometimes among the guests assembled round the fireside of the modest inn. Our fat landlord's maiden aunt's cousin had been troubled for some time past by a wandering vampire, and had been bled nearly to death by the nocturnal visitor, and while the efforts and exorcisms of the parish pope had been of no avail, the victim was luckily delivered by Gospoja P---, who had put to flight the disturbing ghost by merely shaking her fist at him, and shaming him in his own language. It was in Belgrade that I learned for the first time this highly interesting fact in philology, namely, that spooks have a language of their own. The old lady, whom I will call Gospoja P--, was generally attended by another personage destined to be the principal actress in our tale of horror. It was a young gipsy girl from some part of Roumania, about fourteen years of age. Where she was born, and who she was, she seemed to know as little as anyone else. I was told she had been brought one day by a party of strolling gipsies, and left in the yard of the old lady, from which moment she became an inmate of the house. She was nicknamed "the sleeping girl," as she was said to be gifted with the faculty of apparently dropping asleep wherever she stood, and speaking her dreams aloud. The girl's heathen name was Frosya.
About eighteen months after the news of the murder had reached Italy, where I was at the time, I travelled over the Banat in a small waggon of my own, hiring a horse whenever I needed one. I met on my way an old Frenchman, a scientist, travelling alone after my own fashion, but with the difference that while he was a pedestrian, I dominated the road from the eminence of a throne of dry hay in a jolting waggon. I discovered him one fine morning slumbering in a wilderness of shrubs and flowers, and had nearly passed over him, absorbed as I was in the contemplation of the surrounding glorious scenery. The acquaintance was soon made, no great ceremony of mutual introduction being needed. I had heard his name mentioned in circles interested in mesmerism, and knew him to be a powerful adept of the school of Dupotet.
"I have found," he remarked, in the course of the conversation after I had made him share my seat of hay, "one of the most wonderful subjects in this lovely Thebaide. I have an appointment to-night with the family. They are seeking to unravel the mystery of a murder by means of the clairvoyance of the girl...she is wonderful!"
"Who is she?" I asked.
"A Roumanian gipsy. She was brought up, it appears, in the family of the Serbian reigning Prince, who reigns no more, for he was very mysteriously mur--Halloo, take care! Diable, you will upset us over the precipice!" he hurriedly exclaimed, unceremoniously snatching from me the reins, and giving the horse a violent pull.
"You do not mean Prince Obrenovitch?" I asked aghast.
"Yes, I do; and him precisely. To-night I have to be there, hoping to close a series of seances by finally developing a most marvellous manifestation of the hidden power of the human spirit; and you may come with me. I will introduce you; and besides, you can help me as an interpreter, for they do not speak French."
As I was pretty sure that if the somnambule was Frosya, the rest of the family must be Gospoja P---, I readily accepted. At sunset we were at the foot of the mountain, leading to the old castle, as the Frenchman called the place. It fully deserved the poetical name given it. There was a rought bench in the depths of one of the shadowy retreats, and as we stopped at the entrance of this poetical place, and the Frenchman was gallantly busying himself with my horse on the suspicious-looking bridge which led across the water to the entrance gate, I saw a tall figure slowly rise from the bench and come towards us.
It was my old friend Gospoja P---, looking more pale and more mysterious than ever. She exhibited no surprise at seeing me, but simply greeting me after the Serbian fashion, with a triple kiss on both cheeks, she took hold of my hand and led me straight to the nest of ivy. Half reclining on a small carpet spread on the tall grass, with her back leaning against the wall, I recognized our Frosya.
She was dressed in the national costume of the Wallachian women, a sort of gauze turban intermingled with various gilt medals and bands on her head, white shirt with opened sleeves, and petticoats of variegated colours. Her face looked deadly pale, her eyes were closed, and her countenance presented that stony, sphinx-like look which characterizes in such a peculiar way the entranced clairvoyant somnambule. If it were not for the heaving motion of her chest and bosom, ornamented by rows of medals and bead necklaces which feebly tinkled at every breath, one might have thought her dead, so, lifeless and corpse-like was her face. The Frenchman informed me that he had sent her to sleep just as we were approaching the house, and that she now was as he had left her the previous night; he then began busying himself with the sujet, as he called Frosya. Paying no further attention to us, he shook her by the hand, and then making a few rapid passes stretched out her arm and stiffened it. The arm as rigid as iron, remained in that position. He then closed all her fingers but one--the middle finger--which he caused to point at the evening star, which twinkled in the deep blue sky. Then he turned round and went over from right to left, throwing on some of his fluids here, again discharging them at another place; busying himself with his invisible but potent fluids, like a painter with his brush when giving the last touches to a picture.
The old lady, who had silently watched him, with her chin in her hand the while, put her thin, skeleton-looking hands on his arm and arrested it, as he was preparing himself to begin the regular mesmeric passes.
"Wait," she whispered, "till the star is set and the ninth hour completed. The Vourdalaki are hovering round; they may spoil the influence."
"What does she say?" enquired the mesmerizer, annoyed at her interference.
I explained to him that the old lady feared the pernicious influences of the Vourdalaki.
"Vourdalaki! What's that--the Vourdalaki?" exclaimed the Frenchman. "Let us be satisfied with Christian spirits, if they honour us to-night with a visit, and lose no time for the Vourdalaki!"
I glanced at the Gospoja. She had become deathly pale and her brow was sternly knitted over her flashing black eyes.
"Tell him not to jest at this hour of the night!" she cried. "He does not know the country. Even this holy church may fail to protect us once the Vourdalaki are roused. What's this?" pushing with her foot a bundle of herbs the botanizing mesmerizer had laid near on the grass. She bent over the collection and anxiously examined the contents of the bundle, after which she flung the whole into the water.
"It must not be left here," she firmly added; "these are the St. John's plants, and they might attract the wandering ones."
Meanwhile the night had come, and the moon illuminated the landscape with a pale, ghostly light. The nights in the Banat are nearly as beautiful as in the East, and the Frenchman had to go on with his experiments in the open air, as the priest of the church had prohibited such in the tower, which was used as the parsonage, for fear of filling the holy precincts with the heretical devils of the mesmerizer, which, the priest remarked, he would be unable to exorcise on account of their being foreigners.
The old gentleman had thrown off his travelling blouse, rolled up his shirt sleeves, and now, striking a theatrical attitude, began a regular process of mesmerization.
Under his quivering fingers the odile fluid actually seemed to flash in the twilight. Frosya was placed with her figure facing the moon, and every motion of the entranced girl was discernible as in daylight. In a few minutes large drops of perspiration appeared on her brow, and slowly rolled down her pale face, glittering in the moonbeams. Then she moved uneasily about and began chanting a low melody, to the words of which the Gospoja, anxiously bent over the unconscious girl, was listening with avidity and trying to catch every syllable. With her thin finger on her lips, her eyes nearly starting from their sockets, her frame motionless, the old lady seemed herself transfixed into a statue of attention. The group was a remarkable one, and I regretted that I was not a painter. What followed was a scene worthy to figure in Macbeth. At one side she, the slender girl, pale and corpse-like, writhing under the invisible fluid of him who for the hour was her omnipotent master; at the other the old matron, who, burning with her unquenched fire of revenge, stood waiting for the long-expected name of the Prince's murderer to be at last pronounced. The Frenchman himself seemed transfigured, his grey hair standing on end; his bulky clumsy form seemed to have grown in a few minutes. All theatrical pretence was now gone; there remained but the mesmerizer, aware of his responsibility, unconscious himself of the possible results, studying and anxiously expecting. Suddenly Frosya, as if lifted by some supernatural force, rose from her reclining posture and stood erect before us, again motionless and still, waiting for the magnetic fluid to direct her. The Frenchman, silently taking the old lady's hand, placed it in that of the somnambulist, and ordered her to put herself en rapport with the Gospoja.
"What seest thou, my daughter?" softly murmured the Serbian Lady. "Can your spirit seek out the murderers?"
"Search and behold!" sternly commanded the mesmerizer, fixing his gaze upon the face of the subject.
"I am on my way--I go," faintly whispered Frosya, her voice seeming not to come from herself, but from the surrounding atmosphere.
At this moment something so strange took place that I doubt my ability to describe it. A luminous vapour appeared, closely surrounding the girl's body. At first about an inch in thickness, it gradually expanded, and, gathering itself, suddenly seemed to break off from the body altogether and condense itself into a kind of semisolid vapour, which very soon assumed the likeness of the somnambule herself. Flickering about the surface of the earth the form vacillated for two or three seconds, then glided noiselessly toward the river. It disappeared like a mist, dissolved in the moonbeams, which seemed to absorb it altogether.
I had followed the scene with an intense attention. The mysterious operation, know in the East as the evocation of the scin-lecca, was taking place before my own eyes. To doubt was impossible, and Dupotet was right in saying that mesmerism is the conscious Magic of the ancients, and Spiritualism the unconscious effect of the same Magic upon certain organisms.
As soon as the vaporous double had smoked itself through the pores of the girl, Gospoja had, by a rapid motion of the hand which was left free, drawn from under her pelisse something which looked to us suspiciously like a small stiletto, and placed it as rapidly in the girl's bosom. The action was so quick that the mesmerizer, absorbed in his work, had not remarked it, as he afterwards told me. A few minutes elapsed in a dead silence. We seemed a group of petrified persons. Suddenly a thrilling and transpiercing cry burst from the entranced girl's lips, she bent forward, and snatching the stiletto from her bosom, plunged it furiously round her, in the air, as if pursuing imaginary foes. Her mouth foamed, and incoherent, wild exclamations broke from her lips, among which discordant sounds I discerned, several times two familiar Christian names of men. The mesmerizer was so terrified that he lost all control over himself, and instead of withdrawing the fluid he loaded the girl with it still more.
"Take care," exclaimed I. "Stop! You will kill her, or she will kill you!"
But the Frenchman had unwittingly raised subtle potencies of Nature over which he had no control. Furiously turning round, the girl struck at him a blow which would have killed him had he not avoided it by jumping aside, receiving but a severe scratch on the right arm. The poor man was panic-stricken; climbing with an extraordinary agility, for a man of his bulky form, on the wall over her, he fixed himself on it astride, and gathering the remnants of his will power, sent in her direction a series of passes. At the second, the girl dropped the weapon and remained motionless.
"What are you about?" hoarsely shouted the mesmerizer in French, seated like some monstrous night-globin on the wall. "Answer me, I command you!"
"I did...but what she...whom you ordered me to obey...commanded me to do," answered the girl in French, to my amazement.
"What did the old witch command you?" irreverently asked he.
"To find them...who murdered...kill them...I did so...and they are no more...Avenged!...Avenged! They are..."
An exclamation of triumph, a loud shout of infernal joy, rang loud in the air, and awakening the dogs of the neighbouring villages a responsive howl of barking began from that moment, like a ceaseless echo of the Gospoja's cry:
"I am avenged! I feel it; I know it. My warning heart tells me that the fiends are no more." She fell panting on the ground, dragging down, in her fall, the girl, who allowed herself to be pulled down as if she were a bag of wool.
"I hope my subject did no further mischief to-night. She is a dangerous as well as a very wonderful subject," said the Frenchman.
We parted. Three days after that I was at T---, and as I was sitting in the dining-room of a restaurant, waiting for my lunch, I happened to pick up a newspaper, and the first lines I read ran thus:
VIENNA, 186--. Two Mysterious Deaths.
Last evening, at 9:45, as P--was about to retire, two of the gentlemen-in-waiting suddenly exhibited great terror, as though they had seen a dreadful apparition. They screamed, staggered, and ran about the room, holding up their hands as if to ward off the blows of an unseen weapon. They paid no attention to the eager questions of the prince and suite, but presently fell writhing upon the floor, and expired in great agony. Their bodies exhibited no appearance of apoplexy, nor any external marks of wounds, but, wonderful to relate, there were numerous dark spots and long marks upon the skin, as though they were stabs and slashes made without puncturing the cuticle. The autopsy revealed the fact that beneath each of these mysterious discolourations there was a deposit of coagulated blood. The greatest excitement prevails, and the faculty are unable to solve the mystery.
An Unsolved Mystery
The circumstances attending the sudden death of M. Delessert, inspector of the Police de Surete, seem to have made such an impression upon the Parisian authorities that they were recorded in unusual detail. Omitting all particulars except what are necessary to explain matters, we produce here the undoubtedly strange history.
In the fall of 1861 there came to Paris a man who called himself Vic de Lassa, and was so inscribed upon his passports. He came from Vienna, and said he was a Hungarian, who owned estates on the borders of the Banat, not far from Zenta. He was a small man, aged thirty-five, with pale and mysterious face, long blonde hair, a vague, wandering blue eye, and a mouth of singular firmness. He dressed carelessly and unaffectedly, and spoke and talked without much empressement. His companion, presumably his wife, on the other hand, ten years younger than himself, was a strikingly beautiful woman, of that dark, rich, velvety, luscious, pure Hungarian type which is so nigh akin to the gipsy blood. At the theatres, on the Bois, at the cafes, on the boulevards, and everywhere that idle Paris disports itself, Madame Aimee de Lassa attracted great attention and made a sensation.
They lodged in luxurious apartments on the Rue Richelieu, frequented the best places, received good company, entertained handsomely, and acted in every way as if possessed of considerable wealth. Lassa had always a good balance chez Schneider, Ruter et Cie, the Austrian bankers in Rue Rivoli, and wore diamonds of conspicuous lustre.
How did it happen then, that the Prefect of Police saw fit to suspect Monsieur and Madame de Lassa, and detailed Paul Delessert, one of the most ruse inspectors of the force, to "pipe" him? The fact is, the insignificant man with the splendid wife was a very mysterious personage, and it is the habit of the police to imagine that mystery always hides either the conspirator, the adventurer, or the charlatan. The conclusion to which the Prefect had come in regard to M. de Lassa was that he was an adventurer and charlatan too. Certainly a successful one, then, for he was singularly unobtrusive and had in no way trumpeted the wonders which it was his mission to perform, yet in a few weeks after he had established himself in Paris the salon of M. de Lassa was the rage, and the number of persons who paid the fee of 100 francs for a single peep into his magic crystal, and a single message by his spiritual telegraph, was really astonishing. The secret of this was that M. de Lassa was a conjurer and deceiver, whose pretensions were omniscient and whose predictions always came true.
Delessert did not find it very difficult to get an introduction and admission to De Lassa's salon. The receptions occurred every other day--two hours in the forenoon, three hours in the evening. It was evening when Inspector Delessert called in his assumed character of M. Flabry, virtuoso in jewels and a convert to Spiritualism. He found the handsome parlours brilliantly lighted, and a charming assemblage gathered of well-pleased guests, who did not at all seem to have come to learn their fortunes or fates, while contributing to the income of their host, but rather to be there out of complaisance to his virtues and gifts.
Mme. de Lassa performed upon the piano or conversed from group to group in a way that seemed to be delightful, while M. de Lassa walked about or sat in his insignificant, unconcerned way, saying a word now and then, but seeming to shun everything that was conspicuous. Servants handed about refreshments, ices, cordials, wines, etc., and Delessert could have fancied himself to have dropped in upon a quite modest evening entertainment, altogether en regle, but for one or two noticeable circumstances which his observant eyes quickly took in.
Except when their host or hostess was within hearing the guests conversed together in low tones, rather mysteriously, and with not quite so much laughter as is usual on such occasions. At intervals a very tall and dignified footman would come to a guest, and, with a profound bow, present him a card on a silver salver. The guest would then go out, preceded by the solemn servant, but when he or she returned to the salon--some did not return at all--they invariably wore a dazed or puzzled look, were confused, astonished, frightened, or amused. All this was so unmistakably genuine, and De Lassa and his wife seemed so unconcerned amidst it all, not to say distinct from it all, that Delessert could not avoid being forcibly struck and considerably puzzled.
Two or three little incidents, which came under Delessert's own immediate observation, will suffice to make plain the character of the impressions made upon those present. A couple of gentlemen, both young, both of good social condition, and evidently very intimate friends, were conversing together and tutoying one another at a great rate, when the dignified footman summoned Alphonse. He laughed gaily, "Tarry a moment, cher Auguste," said he, "and thou shalt know all the particulars of this wonderful fortune!" "Eh bien!" A minute had scarcely elapsed when Alphonse returned to the salon. His face was white and bore an appearance of concentrated rage that was frightful to witness. He came straight to Auguste, his eyes flashing, and bending his face toward his friend, who changed colour and recoiled, he hissed out "Monsieur Lefebure, vous etes un lache!" "Very well, Monsieur Meunier," responded Auguste, in the same low tone, "tomorrow morning at six o'clock!" "It is settled, false friend, execrable traitor!" "A la mort!" rejoined Alphonse, walking off. "Cela va sans dire!" muttered Auguste, going towards the hat-room.
A diplomatist of distinction, representative at Paris of a neighbouring state, an elderly gentleman of superb aplomb and most commanding appearance, was summoned to the oracle by the bowing footman. After being absent about five minutes he returned, and immediately made his way through the press to M. de Lassa, who was standing not far from the fireplace, with his hands in his pockets and a look of utmost indifference upon his face.
Delessert standing near, watched the interview with eager interest.
"I am exceedingly sorry," said General Von---, "to have to absent myself so soon from your interesting salon, M. de Lassa, but the result of my seance convinces me that my dispatches have been tampered with." "I am sorry," responded M. de Lassa, with an air of languid but courteous interest; "I hope you may be able to discover which of your servants has been unfaithful." "I am going to do that now," said the General, adding, in significant tones, "I shall see that both he and his accomplices do not escape severe punishment." "That is the only course to pursue, Monsieur le Comte." The ambassador stared, bowed, and took his leave with a bewilderment in his face that was beyond the power of his tact to control.
In the course of the evening M. de Lassa went carelessly to the piano, and, after some indifferent vague preluding, played a remarkably effective piece of music, in which the turbulent life and buoyancy of bacchanalian strains melted gently, almost imperceptibly away, into a sobbing wail of regret, and languor, and weariness, and despair. It was beautifully rendered, and made a great impression upon the guests, one of whom, a lady, cried, "How lovely, how sad! Did you compose that yourself, M. de Lassa?" He looked towards her absently for an instant, then replied: "I? Oh, no! That is merely a reminiscence, madame." "Do you know who did compose it, M. de Lassa?" enquired a virtuoso present. "I believe it was originally written by Ptolemy Auletes, the father of Cleopatra," said M. de Lassa, in his indifferent musing way; "but not in its present form. It has been twice re-written to my knowledge; still, the air is substantially the same." "From whom did you get it, M. de Lassa, if I may ask?" persisted the gentleman. "Certainly, certainly! The last time I heard it played was by Sebastian Bach; but that was Palestrina's--the present--version. I think I prefer that of Guido of Arezzo--it is ruder, but has more force. I got the air from Guido himself." "You--from--Guido!" cried the astonished gentleman. "Yes, monsieur," answered De Lassa, rising from the piano with his usual indifferent air. "Mon Dieu!" cried the virtuoso, putting his hand to his head after the manner of Mr. Twemlow, "Mon Dieu! that was in Anno Domini 1022." "A little later than that--July, 1031, if I remember rightly," courteously corrected M. de Lassa.
At this moment the tall footman bowed before M. Delessert, and presented the salver containing the card. Delessert took it and read: "On vous accorde trente-cing secondes, M. Flabry, tout au plus!" Delessert followed; the footman opened the door of another room and bowed again, signifying that Delessert was to enter. "Ask no questions," he said briefly; "Sidi is mute." Delessert entered the room and the door closed behind him. It was a small room, with a strong smell of frankincense pervading it; the walls were covered completely with red hangings that concealed the windows, and the floor was felted with a thick carpet. Opposite the door, at the upper end of the room near the ceiling was the face of a large clock, under it, each lighted by tall wax candles, were two small tables, containing, the one an apparatus very like the common registering telegraph instrument, the other a crystal globe about twenty inches in diameter, set upon an exquisitely wrought tripod of gold and bronze intermingled. By the side of the door stood a man jet black in colour, wearing a white turban and burnous, and having a sort of wand of silver in one hand. With the other he took Delessert by the right arm above the elbow, and led him quickly up the room. He pointed to the clock, and it struck an alarum; he pointed to the crystal. Delessert bent over, looked into it, and saw--a facsimile of his own sleeping-room, everything photographed exactly. Sidi did not give him time to exclaim, but still holding him by the arm, took him to the other table. The telegraph-like instrument began to click-click. Sidi opened the drawer, drew out a slip of paper, crammed it into Delessert's hand, and pointed to the clock, which struck again, The thirty-five seconds were expired. Sidi, still retaining hold of Delessert's arm, pointed to the door and led him towards it. The door opened, Sidi pushed him out, the door closed, the tall footman stood there bowing--the interview with the oracle is over. Delessert glanced at the piece of paper in his hand. It was a printed scrap, capital letters, and read simply: "To M. Paul Delessert: The policeman is always welcome, the spy is always in danger!"
Delessert was dumbfounded a moment to find his disguise detected, but the words of the tall footman, "This way if you please, M. Flabry," brought him to his senses. Setting his lips, he returned to the salon, and without delay sought M. de Lassa. "Do you know the contents of this?" asked he, showing the message. "I know everything, M. Delessert," answered De Lassa, in his careless way. "Then perhaps you are aware that I mean to expose a charlatan, and unmask a hypocrite, or perish in the attempt?" said Delessert. "Cela m'est egal, monsieur," replied De Lassa. "You accept my challenge then?" "Oh! it is a defiance, then?" replied De Lassa, letting his eye rest a moment upon Delessert, "mais oui, je l'accepte!" And thereupon Delessert departed.
Delessert now set to work aided by all the forces the Prefect of Police could bring to bear, to detect and expose this consummate sorcerer, who the ruder processes of our ancestors would easily have disposed of--by combustion. Persistent enquiry satisfied Delessert that the man was neither a Hungarian nor was named De Lassa; that no matter how far back his power of "reminiscence" might extend, in his present and immediate form he had been born in this unregenerate world in the toy-making city of Nuremburg; that he was noted in boyhood for his great turn for ingenious manufactures, but was very wild, and a mauvais sujet. In his sixteenth year he escaped to Geneva and apprenticed himself to a maker of watches and instruments. Here he had been seen by the celebrated Robert Houdin, the prestidigitateur. Houdin recognizing the lad's talents, and being himself a maker of ingenious automata, had taken him off to Paris and employed him in his own workshops, as well as for an assistant in the public performances of his amusing and curious diablerie. After staying with Houdin some years, Pflock Haslich (which was De Lassa's right name) had gone East in the suite of a Turkish Pasha, and after many years' roving, in lands where he could not be traced under a cloud of pseudonyms, had finally turned up in Venice, and come thence to Paris.
Delessert next turned his attention to Mme. de Lassa. It was more difficult to get a clue by means of which to know her past life; but it was necessary ...