Format: Global Grey free PDF, epub, Kindle ebook
Pages (PDF): 299
Publication Date: 1846-1848
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The first volume in The Marie Antoinette Romances. Features one of the strangest characters in literature, Joseph Balsamo, also known as Cagliostro (later a key figure in the Affair of the Necklace). An alchemist, conspirator, and Freemason, Balsamo figures prominently in the eventual downfall of the French monarchy.
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On the left bank of the Rhine, near the spot where the Selz rivulet springs forth, the foothill ranges rise of many mountains, of which the bristling humps seem to rush northerly like herds of frightened buffaloes, disappearing in the haze. These mountains tower over a deserted region, forming a guard around one more lofty than the rest, whose granite brow, crowned with a ruined monastery, defies the skies. It is Thunder Mount.
On the sixth of May, 1770, as the great river wavelets were dyed in the rainbow hues of the setting sun, a man who had ridden from Maintz, after a journey through Poland, followed the path out of Danenfels Village until it ended, and, then, alighting and leading his steed, tied it up in the pine woods.
"Be quiet, my good Djerid (javelin)," said the horseman to the animal with this Arabian name which bespoke its blood, and its speed; "and good-bye, if we never meet again."
He cast a glance round him as if he suspected he were overheard.
The barb neighed and pawed with one foot.
"Right, Djerid, the danger is around us."
But as if he had made up his mind not to struggle with it, the venturesome stranger drew the charges from a pair of splendid pistols and cast the powder and bullets on the sward before replacing them in the holsters. He wore a steel-hilted sword which he took off with the belt, and fastened it to the stirrup leather so as to hang from the saddle-horn point down.
These odd formalities being done, he ungloved, and searching his pockets produced nail-scissors and pocket-knife, which he flung over his shoulder without looking to see whither they went.
Drawing the longest possible breath, he plunged at random into the thicket, for there was no trace of a path.
He was a man about thirty, taller than the average, but so wonderfully well built that the utmost strength and skill seemed to circulate in his supple and nervy limbs. He wore a black velvet overcoat with gilt buttons; the flaps of an embroidered waistcoat showed below its lowest buttons, and the buckskin riding breeches defined legs worthy to be a sculptor's models; the elegant feet were cased in patent leather boots.
His countenance was a notable mixture of power and intelligence, with all the play of Southern races; his glance, able to display any emotion, seemed to pierce any one on whom it fell with beams that sounded the very soul. His cheeks had been browned by a sun hotter than that of France. His mouth was large but finely shaped, and parted to reveal magnificent teeth, all the whiter from his dark complexion. His hand was small but muscular; his foot long but fine.
Scarcely had he taken a dozen steps within the glade before he heard faint footsteps. He rose on tiptoe and perceived that unseen hands had unhitched Djerid and were leading him away. He frowned slightly, and a faint smile curled his full cheeks and choicely chiseled lips.
He continued into the heart of the forest.
For a space the twilight guided him, but soon that died out, and he stood in gloom so dense that he had to stop lest he blundered blindly.
"I reached Danenfels from Maintz," he said, aloud, "as there was a road. I reached this forest as there was a path: I am here as there was some light: but I must stop now as I have no sight."
Scarcely had he spoken, in a dialect part French, part Sicilian, than a light flashed out only fifty paces off.
"Thanks! I will follow the light as long as it leads."
The light at once moved onward, regularly and steadily, like a stage lamp managed by the lime-light operator.
At a hundred paces, a breath in the adventurer's ear made him wince.
"Turn and you die!" came this whisper.
"All right," answered the stranger.
"Speak, and you die!" whispered a voice on the left-hand.
He bowed without speaking.
"But," said a voice seeming to issue from the bowels of the earth, "if you are afraid, go back to the plain, by which it will be clear that you are daunted, and renounce your errand."
The traveler waved his hand to imply that he was going ahead, and ahead he went.
But it was so late and the shade so deep that he stumbled during the hour the magic light preceded him, but he did not murmur or show any tremor in fear, while he heard not a breath.
All of a sudden, the light went out!
He had passed through the woodland, for on lifting his eyes, he could see a few stars glitter on the darksome sky.