One thing alone still mechanically occupied her ear: over her head the moisture filtered through the mouldy stones of the vault, and at regular intervals a drop of water fell from it. She listened stupidly to the splash made by this dripping water as it fell into the pool beside her.

This drop of water falling into the pool was the only movement still perceptible around her, the only clock by which to measure time, the only sound that reached her of all the turmoil going on on earth; though, to be quite accurate, she was conscious from time to time in that sink of mire and darkness of something cold passing over her foot or her arm, and that made her shiver.

How long had she been there? She knew not. She remembered a sentence of death being pronounced somewhere against some one, and then that she herself had been carried away, and that she had awakened in silence and darkness, frozen to the bone. She had crawled along on her hands and knees, she had felt iron rings cutting her ankles, and chains had clanked. She had discovered that all around her were walls, that underneath her were wet flag-stones and a handful of straw— but there was neither lamp nor air-hole. Then she had seated herself upon the straw, and sometimes for a change of position on the lowest step of a stone flight she had come upon in the dungeon.

Once she had tried to count the black minutes marked for her by the drip of the water; but soon this mournful labour of a sick brain had discontinued of itself and left her in stupor once more.

At length, one day— or one night (for mid-day and mid-night had the same hue in this sepulchre)— she heard above her a louder noise than the turnkey generally made when bringing her loaf of bread and pitcher of water. She raised her head, and was aware of a red gleam of light through the crevices of the sort of door or trap in the roof of the vault. At the same time the massive lock creaked, the trap-door grated on its hinges, fell back, and she saw a lantern, a hand, and the lower part of the bodies of two men, the door being too low for her to see their heads. The light stabbed her eyes so sharply that she closed them.

When she opened them again the door was closed, the lantern placed on one of the steps, and one of the two men alone was standing before her. A black monk’s robe fell to his feet, a cowl of the same hue concealed his face; nothing of his person was visible, neither his face nor his hands— it was simply a tall black shroud under which you felt rather than saw that something moved. For some moments she regarded this kind of spectre fixedly, but neither she nor it spoke. They might have been two statues confronting one another. Two things only seemed alive in this tomb: the wick of the lantern that sputtered in the night air and the drop of water falling with its monotonous splash from the roof and making the reflection of the light tremble in concentric circles on the oily surface of the pool.

At last the prisoner broke the silence. “Who are you?”

“A priest.”

The word, the tone, the voice made her start.

The priest continued in low tones:

“Are you prepared?”

“For what?”

“For death.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed, “will it be soon?”


Her head, raised with joy, fell again on her bosom.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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