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THE Scottish-born author Robert Duncan Milne, who lived and worked in San Fransisco, may be considered as one of the founding-fathers of modern science-fiction. He wrote 60-odd stories in this genre before his untimely death in a street accident in 1899, publishing them, for the most part, in The Argonaut and San Francisco Examiner.
In its report on Milne's demise (he was struck by a cable-car while in a state of inebriation) The San Fransico Call of 17 December 1899 summarised his life as follows:
"Mr. Milne was the son of the late Rev. George Gordon Milne, M.A., F.R.S.A., for forty years incumbent of St. James Episcopal Church, Cupar-Fife. and nephew of Duncan James Kay, Esq., of Drumpark, J.P. and D.L. of the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, through which side of the house, and by maternal ancestry (through the Breadalbane family), he was lineally descended from King Robert the Bruce.
"He received his primary education at Trinity College, Glenalmond, where he distinguished himself by gaining first the Skinner scholarship, which he held for a period of three years; second, the Knox prize for Latin verse, the competition for which is open to a number of public echools in England and Ireland, and thirdly, the Buccleuch gold medal as senior and captain of the school, of the eleven of which he was also captain.
"From Glenalmond Mr. Milne proceeded to Oxford, where he further distinguished himself by taking honors, also rowing in his college eight and playing in its eleven.
"After leaving the university he decided to visit California, a country then beginning to be more talked about than ever, and he afterward made the Pacific Coast his residence. In 1874 Mr. Milne invented and exhibited in the Mechanics' Fair at San Francisco a working model of a new type of rotary steam engine, which was pronounced to be the wonder of the fair.
"While in California Mr. Milne for a long time gained distinction as a writer of short stories and verse which appeared in current periodicals. The character of his work was well defined by Mrs. Gertrude Atherton, who said:
"'He has an extravagant imagination, but under it is a reassuring and scientific mind. He takes such a premise as a comet falling into the sun, and works out a terribly realistic series of results: or he will invent a drama for Saturn which might well have grown out of that planet's conditions. His style is so good and so convincing that one is apt to lay down such a story as the former, with an anticipation of nightmare, if comets are hanging about. His sense of humor and literary taste will always stop him the right side of the grotesque.'"
SOME of my readers may remember a little wayside inn upon the outskirts of Alameda, where teams are wont to stop when their occupants are taking a pleasure-drive into the country. Though not as well known to the many as certain more pretentious hostelries upon the same road, it has nevertheless acquired, and retains, a reputation for good cookery and good wine with the few—a circumstance which rather tells in its favor than otherwise with such as shun the publicity and bustle of more popular resorts. Occasionally this inn is the scene of quiet little dinners, planned and eaten by sundry members of the literary and artistic professions of the city, glad for an hour or two to get rid of the Fumus et opes strepitumque Romae—otherwise, the summer winds and dust of San Francisco. The place is kept by a somewhat sedate and taciturn middle-aged Frenchman, whom we shall call Pierre Dubois, who, with his wife and daughter, attends promptly and politely to the wants of his guests.
Not very long ago it happened that a little party of six, myself among the number, met one summer evening at this suburban inn, and dined in the pleasant chamber that looks out on the garden and shrubbery to the west of the house. The conversation, which during the early part of dinner had been on a variety of subjects, had latterly drifted upon those prodigies, freaks, and monsters in the animal world which Dame Nature sometimes produces in an absent mood, and, if I remember rightly, the subject had been pretty thoroughly discussed from the Minotaur of ancient classic fable to the manufactured monsters of Barnum's and the dime museums, each of the company adding his quotum to the general fund of borrowed information or personal experience, until the topic was in danger of dying from sheer inanition. We were lighting our cigars, preparatory to coffee, when we were somewhat surprised to see our landlord—who had left the room a moment or two before, and who, I had remarked, had been hovering about uneasily during dinner and apparently taking great interest in the conversation, though without joining in it—reenter with several portly, green-sealed bottles in his hands and under his arms, which he laid solemnly upon the table, and said:
"Gentlemen, permit me to have the pleasure to offer you some wine. It is some I have had in my cellar ever since I took this house, ten years ago, and I assure you it is good. I have taken the liberty to listen to your conversation during dinner, and was profoundly interested by it. I have myself had a most remarkable experience with what you call a prodigy of nature, and if it will not fatigue you, I will sit down and tell you about it while you drink your wine. I think you will like to hear it."
Of course we expressed ourselves delighted at having any new light shed upon the subject we had been talking about from the standpoint of personal experience, and our host, after solemnly going through the preliminary of drawing the corks from the bottles he had just brought in, sat down and delivered himself of the following strange narrative, the main points of which are here reproduced, with the omission of the idioms and mannerisms which bore no relation to the story:
AS I am a good deal connected with the story, gentlemen (began Monsieur Dubois), it is necessary that I should first tell you something about myself. I am fifty-five years old, and have been over fifteen years in California, coming here straight from France when I was forty, on account of the very circumstances I am going to tell you about. I was born in 1830, in the Department of Loiret, upon the estates of the Vicomte de Préville, whose castle stands, as you may perhaps know, upon the right bank of the Loire, not many miles from Orleans. Ever since I was a boy I lived at the castle, entering the service of the vicomte as a page, to which circumstance I no doubt owe whatever acquaintance I possess with the usages and etiquette of fashionable life, in which, I trust, you have not found me deficient. From the age of twelve until I was twenty I served as a page, when I was promoted to be the personal attendant, or valet, to the vicomte. Two years before this the vicomte had married the daughter of a neighboring noble, and very happy the marriage was, with the exception that it had not as yet been blessed with offspring. I recollect, therefore, the rejoicing with which it was whispered through the castle, not long after, that the vicomtesse was about to become a mother. At length the appearance at the castle of several black- coated gentlemen from Paris, and the bustle among the women folk showed that the critical time was approaching. During the next two days, as my duties carried me into the neighborhood of the vicomtesse's apartments, a great deal of what took place fell under my notice. I noticed that the gentlemen from Paris were looking graver than ever, and during one of their consultations, when I entered the room they were in to get something I had forgotten, I remember to have heard one of them say: "The symptoms are daily growing graver and more alarming. I'm afraid we shall not be able to pull her through."
NEXT morning, before I entered the chamber of the vicomte, I learned that the vicomtesse was no more; that she had died during the night, and that the doctor had performed what is known as the Caesarian operation to save the child. I was, therefore, fully prepared for the excessive dejection in which I found my master, who sat with his face buried in his hands, and who, when he looked up, glared at me like a madman and fiercely bade me begone from his presence. All through that morning and afternoon I waited in his antechamber, ready to answer when he called me, but no call came Once I ventured to open the door and saw the vicomte sitting in the same posture, apparently locked in a dull stupor. I overheard two of the physicians talking as they walked down the long corridor past the open door of the antechamber of the vicomte's apartments. One said to the other:
"I should recommend taking no step of that sort. Let nature take its course. It certainly can not live." To which the other replied: "Were the father not a vicomte, I would give fifty thousand francs for its possession."
"Hush!" said the first; "the valet may hear us."
You may imagine that my curiosity was whetted by what I had just heard, as I could not help feeling that the remarks of the doctors referred to the newly born infant. I noticed, too, that the nurses, when they went up and down the passage, wore a gloomy and frightened look, quite different from the fussy importance which women always assume on an occasion of this sort. The day wore on, and toward evening, receiving no call from my master, I ventured to enter the apartment and ask whether I should not bring him some refreshment. Again he looked up with a fierce glance in his eyes, and screamed, "Begone!" in such a terrible voice that I fled from the room in terror, not daring to approach him any more that day.
NEXT morning I again summoned up enough courage to enter his chamber. I found him half reclining upon a couch. To my inquiry whether I could do anything for him, he asked me, meekly as a child, to bring him some coffee. This seemed to revive him, and he permitted himself to be dressed, as was his custom, though his demeanor was as one who has received a crushing, terrible blow. Then he told me to go to the nursery. "Ask," said he, "how"—and here he seemed to pause as if doubtful what word to use—"how it is." I did as he desired, and was bidden by one of the nurses to tell the vicomte that "it was doing well." The tidings seemed to have no inspiriting effect upon my master, who still maintained the same dejected attitude as before. They served, however, to increase my curiosity as to the infant to whom they referred. Things went on in much the same way during the next few days. One by one the doctors took their departure for Paris, their portentous looks losing nothing of their gloom, to outward appearance at least, in spite of the well-filled, though seemingly empty, envelope I handed to each as he took his leave. The poor vicomtesse was interred in the family vault in the castle chapel, none being present save the grief- stricken husband and a few old family retainers.
AS weeks went on my master certainly recovered some of his lost spirits, and became once more natural in his manner, though not cheerful. I remarked one thing, however, which struck me as peculiar. He never went near the nursery apartments where the infant was kept. Once a day he sent me to inquire, always using the same expression, "how it was." To which inquiry, I, as usual, brought the same answer, that "it was doing well."
This constantly repeated formula only served to still further stimulate my curiosity, but in spite of the many attempts which I made, upon one pretext or another, to gain access to the nurses' apartment, I found myself always and designedly foiled. One conclusion, however, I came to, and that was that the baby, judging from the vigorous cries that issued from the nursery, must be decidedly healthy. Yet this did not explain the mystery observed by the nurses.
MATTERS passed on, till at length nearly a year had elapsed since the birth of the mysterious infant and the death of the poor vicomtesse. Still the usual daily visit was paid by me to the nursery, and the same unvarying answer returned. Still the shrill baby squalls gave evidence of the vitality of their producer. One day the vicomte closeted himself, and sat down to write. When he had finished, he handed me three letters to deliver to the postman. I saw that they were addressed to three doctors at Paris, and came to the conclusion that the vicomte had decided to summon, for some reason, the three physicians who had attended the year before; and when, three days afterward, these gentlemen appeared at the castle, I congratulated myself on the accuracy of my surmises. I inwardly determined that I would now clear up, once for all, the mystery surrounding the infant in the nursery. That same day, after receiving the physicians in his private apartments, the vicomte issued thence, followed by his guests, and led the way toward the nursery, which I now concluded he was about to enter for the first time. I was right. The door opened and closed behind them without giving me more than an unsatisfactory glimpse into the interior, though I had followed the party as closely as I dared, in the hope that I might see something to allay my curiosity. Why should I, I reasoned, the vicomte's nearest and most confidential attendant, be excluded from participating in a secret which had been all along the property of two women? I was forced to the conclusion, which I now see to be very natural, that, first, my age—I was only twenty-one—was not such as to inspire confidence in my circumspection, supposing any reason existed for the exercise of that valuable quality; and that, secondly, there was no urgent necessity to make me the repository of a secret connected with the nursery, as there certainly was in the case of the women. The nurses, I should add, gave the lie to the commonly accepted notion about woman's inability to keep a secret by baffling all my artful attempts to penetrate this one by audacity, cajolery, or flattery.
In about an hour the party emerged from the nursery and returned to the vicomte's apartments. They entered, the door closed behind them, and I was left in the antechamber. Prepare yourselves, gentlemen, for an act on my part for which I apologize, and which, at this distance of time, both makes me laugh and feel shame for myself—I put my eye to the key- hole, and when I found that the occupants of the room were out of the line of vision, I put my ear there and listened. But, then, remember I was only twenty-one. I could distinguish the voices, and the vicomte was the first to speak.
"Messieurs," said he, "you see that your predictions are at fault. A year has elapsed since the birth of this—of this—Still, we must remember, it is my flesh and blood—my infant. Can nothing be done—nothing by practitioners of your eminence in science—to relieve me of the terrible notoriety which will attach itself to my family name, should the existence of this being ever become public? Could no operation be performed, for instance, by which one of the faces could be removed without injury to the infant?"
"Impossible, my dear vicomte, impossible," replied the doctors. "Any operation such as you mention would entail the destruction of organs of sense acting directly on the brain, and no one would hold himself for the result."
"It is impossible at this stage of infancy," said another, "to determine what degree of relation exists between the faces of this dual head. You must, therefore, excuse me, vicomte, for venturing any opinion at present as to what ought to be done."
"In any case," remarked the third, "Nature will almost certainly relieve us of all responsibility in the matter. There is no instance on record, so far as I am aware, of the survival of any abnormally developed infant beyond the years of infancy."
The discussion terminated in the decision that it was best to let nature take its course, and an understanding on the part of the doctors that they should pay another visit to the castle in a year's time if the infant still lived.
FROM this time on the visits of the vicomte to the nursery became more frequent. It seemed as if, the ice once broken, the natural affection of a father for his offspring overcame the repugnance he had previously felt. I received no "official intimation" on the subject of the infant, and was, of course, far too discreet to let the vicomte know that I had any inkling of the fact that there was anything to hide, and confined my observations, when I made any, to such expressions as "I fancy the dear little infant must be doing remarkably well, its lungs are so healthy," or "The vicomte will pardon me for congratulating him on the vitality of the heir to the ancestral estates of Préville." At this latter remark, made with all the innocence imaginable, the vicomte would scowl darkly, and cut me short with some imperious command. So I determined to bide my time.
Well, the year passed, the nursery being the scene of as much squalling as ever, and, true to agreement, the three doctors again visited the castle. I gathered enough from their conversation to learn that they were surprised at the health of the infant; and it was agreed before they left—partly, no doubt, in deference to the vicomte's now marked affection for his child; partly, also, to the natural professional pride which doctors take in bringing a difficult case to a satisfactory termination, and partly to a scientific desire to witness the outcome of an extraordinary physiological phenomenon—that no effort should be spared to save and rear the child, if it were possible to do so.
Another year passed, during which the nursery resounded with the scamper of little feet, as well as with childish babble, which had now succeeded the squalling of infancy. This was natural and as it should be, but what struck me as unreasonable and incomprehensible was that there seemed to be two children crying and talking, instead of one. I felt sure I could distinguish a difference of inflection and tone, as if one child was calling to the other, and the other answering. Could it be possible, I thought—but no matter, the mystery was soon to be cleared up—for me, at least.
Again the doctors paid the annual visit, and were closeted with the vicomte, as usual, though this time I gained little inkling of what was going on, as they happened to sit in another chamber of the suite, too far from the antechamber for me to hear. Some plan of action regarding the child, however, seemed to have been arrived at, as when the doctors got up to leave, and were walking toward my antechamber, I heard one of them say:
"That will be your surest and safest course, vicomte; to keep one of the faces constantly masked as you have hitherto done. By thus accustoming this face to be kept veiled from the earliest dawn of intelligence, it will consider its condition natural, and will not seek to change it. The child, you are assured by the nurses, has never received nutriment through that mouth and throat—consequently the sense of taste on that side is undeveloped. Speech and hearing seem, however, to be as perfect on the one side as the other; both sides having apparently become simultaneously developed in this respect."
"It would not yet be too late," remarked another voice, in loud and unfeeling tones, "to destroy the organs of sight and speech in one face, which would at once remove a number of difficulties from the path we have decided to pursue."
"No, no!" I could hear the vicomte exclaim quickly; "I could not bear it. Let things be as we have agreed." The party then came out.
AFTER this I became more determined to fathom the mystery than ever. Not long after chance threw the opportunity to do so directly in my way. I have not mentioned that in fine weather one of the nurses would take the child out for an airing, in secluded portions of the gardens or grounds. On such occasions I, as well as others, had noticed—for it was matter of report that there was something the matter with the child of the Vicomte de Préville, though no one knew precisely what it was—that the head of the infant was heavily swathed in drapery while it was carried in the nurse's arms. Now that it was three years old, and had begun to be led by hand, and sometimes permitted to run about, it was noticed that the child wore a large and very peculiar head-dress, and had a peculiar habit of carrying its head sideways, though I could hear and see the nurse admonishing it to carry its head forward. Otherwise the young vicomte was a well-built, active child, with rosy cheeks, bright eyes, and a clear, ringing laugh. A clear, ringing laugh? Yes; and a cheery voice. But, as I said before, there seemed to be two voices—one clear and the other muffled—prattling while the child was at play.
It was the summer time, I recollect—either May or June—that the child was out walking in the grounds with its nurse. I had seen them as I was going down to the lodge with some letters of the vicomte, and as I returned I noticed the child playing in a paddock, off the garden, where some cows were kept. I was surprised, too, to see that it was alone—the nurse not being in sight. While I was walking along I saw it approach one of the cows, which, as cows frequently do with children, lowered its horns and tossed the little one into the air. I immediately ran up, and found it none the worse for the tossing, and laughing, but I found more. I found that its head-dress had got disarranged in the commotion, revealing a strange, and yet not altogether unexpected, spectacle. Before me, upon its back on the grass lay a child with one head, but with two faces.
Perhaps I can describe it to you better, gentlemen, by asking you to suppose a child lying on its back with its head turned, profile up, showing a half-face. Then, where the back of the head should be, there was another half-face, also profile up, looking in the opposite direction to the first one. The child, almost as soon as I reached it, sat up and turned first one face and then the other wonderingly toward me. I could then see that both faces were perfect, with the exception of the ears. It was as if a line had been drawn perpendicularly from the crown of the head through the ears; on either side of this line a face, one set of ears doing duty for both. Or, to draw even a plainer simile, as if two heads had been split perpendicularly down a line passing through the ears, and then the front portions of the heads united at the line of the cleavage. To one looking straight at either of the faces there was nothing to indicate in the least what was behind it, except this peculiar malformation of ear. There was a wealth of hair crowning this dual head and curling over the forehead of either face, though I could not help remarking that the color of this hair was much darker upon one side than the other.
While I stood thunderstruck before this extraordinary freak of nature, I was suddenly aroused by the voices of the vicomte and the nurse, who both came running up at the same moment. Their first impulse was to assure themselves that the child was not hurt. This satisfied, the terror-stricken nurse began to busy herself in hastily rearranging the head-dress that had fallen off, which meant, of course, the swathing of one of the faces in heavy drapery. This was the signal for an extraordinary amount of screaming and crying from the face thus treated, accompanied by a childish ebullition of rage in the shape of kicking of the legs and struggling of the arms, the exposed face meanwhile crying and moaning, as if in sympathy for something which it yet did not quite understand. The vicomte watched the proceedings as if totally absorbed in them, then a moment after, turning on me, told me in a voice of thunder to begone.
Stupefied at what I had witnessed, and from sheer force of habit, I obeyed, though by the time I reached the castle my blood boiled at what I could not help thinking the nurse's inhuman treatment of the child. By constant brooding over this during the day I came by degrees to a determination, which most people would think was, for one in my position, an extraordinary one. I determined to expostulate with the marquis. It was, no doubt, a rash thing, a bold thing, an unprecedented thing for a servant to expostulate with his master on the subject of the treatment of that master's own child. Yet I determined to do it. I could not have stayed in my place an hour longer had I not given the vicomte my mind upon the matter. The sufferings of the little one had excited all my sympathies.
That afternoon I entered the vicomte's apartments at five, as usual, to dress him for dinner. When I got inside I felt somewhat frightened at what I had undertaken, but before I could say anything the vicomte motioned to a chair and said:
"Pierre, sit down."
I did so.
"Pierre," he went on, "I have always been a kind master to you, have I not?" I bowed.
"Chance," he continued after a pause, "has put you in possession of a secret to-day which involves the honor of my house. Can I rely on you to guard it?"
"M. le Vicomte," I answered, rising up, "you have been a kind master to me, and you can rely on my sacredly guarding the honor of your house, but I could not bear to see the suffering of that little child to-day. All my feelings tell me that an outrage is being committed on the infant. You yourself can not have failed to remark its struggles and its cries when its other face was smothered in the head-dress. I tell you plain, monsieur le vicomte, that I can not remain in your service unless this outrage is redressed."
"You are free to go," he replied coldly.
"But even then," I said, "I should consider it my duty to report the matter to the authorities."
I could see him tremble and turn pale. This, I knew, would be forcing that very publicity which he was trying so hard to avoid. The vicomte glanced at me steadily, as if deliberating. At length he said:
"Pierre, I think as you do. Believe me, my heart bleeds for the child. But what can we do? You would not have me publish the matter to the world by permitting the child to be seen openly as it is?"
"There is no occasion for that, master," I replied. "Let the two faces be as free as the day within the walls of their own nursery, and when they go abroad let each be veiled, day about, with a light and airy head-dress. Thus you will be treating each alike and doing no injury to either, as is now the case. If the child is brought up to a knowledge of its position in this respect, it will fall naturally into the arrangement, and when it grows up will voluntarily observe the rule which regulated its childhood."
I was surprised at myself as I said this. The expedient seemed to suggest itself at the moment. Wits are often quickened, gentlemen, by the necessity of saying something, on the spur of the moment, to the point.
"Pierre, I think the idea is a good one," he said at length. "It shall be carried out."
And carried out it was. The vicomte was a man of tender sympathies really, though I believe he would have sacrificed anything to the honor of his family. The plan which I proposed seemed, however, to effect a happy compromise between his natural and his artificial principle and, as for myself, I found I had risen in the estimation of my master, and was, therefore, on even closer terms of confidence with him than before, though I never, as many in my position would have done, presumed on it.
In order the better to carry out my plans, we caused it to be now noised about the castle and the neighborhood—the nurses being made to find it to their advantage to circulate the idea—that all this time there had been two young vicomtes instead of one, though the people could never distinctly understand why it was that only one of the children was ever seen at once.
THREE years more passed, during which the young vicomte, who had been christened by the name of Victor-Julien, had grown in stature and in strength. The arrangement had been scrupulously carried out, the child being so completely under the control of his nurses, that neither face ever offered any objection to being veiled, and made to preserve silence upon what was known to the vicomte, the nurses, and myself on its "quiet" day. The doctors, too, had regularly paid their annual visits, and though the one who had suggested the destruction of Julien's tongue and eyes—we now called the face that had been originally doomed to stay constantly veiled "Julien"—predicted trouble when the child reached mature growth, if it should ever do so, it was not their cue to go contrary to the wishes or ideas of such a liberal client as the Vicomte de Préville, and they accordingly congratulated him warmly upon achieved results, pocketed their customary fees, and departed.
After that, the seventh birthday of the young vicomte, I received an unexpected promotion. I was told by the vicomte that I would be relieved from personal attendance on himself, and that as Victor-Julien was now outgrowing his nurses' control, the services of these good ladies would be dispensed with, and I should consider myself the young vicomte's sole tutor and guardian.
"For," said the vicomte, "I have known you from a boy, and can place implicit confidence in your discretion. It is true that your education and general information are limited"—I am not ashamed to confess it, gentlemen—"but you possess sufficient knowledge of the bienséances of life, derived from myself, to see that my son deports himself as a gentleman; and as to knowledge, I can better afford to have him grow up an ignoramus and a gentleman, than confide him to the care of some one better qualified but less faithful than yourself, who might divulge the secret and endanger the honor of my family."
My previous knowledge of my pupil had been limited to seeing him once or twice a day, and passing a remark to him perhaps once or twice a week, as he passed me in the corridor. It was, then, with a great deal of curiosity and interest that I entered upon my duties. My first duty was to introduce the child to his new apartments. The nursery was to be closed, and a new suite of apartments had been prepared jointly for myself and him. How well do I recollect entering the nursery that summer evening. The nurses, apprised of the new dispensation, were in tears. The boy was also in tears, his arms around the neck of one of the women, and kissing her with one of his faces, while the other face was doing similar duty for the other. I separated the weeping trio (or quartet) as gently as I could, and led the sorrowing child to his new apartments. His curiosity soon got the better of his sorrow.
Child-like, he roamed from one portion of the chambers to another, inspecting eagerly each new article of virtu, table, book, picture, or toy, that he came to. It was marvelous to watch the rapidity with which his head would change positions upon his neck, so as to bring first one face and then the other into position for looking directly at the article his body was standing before. Yet I speedily lost my surprise when I reflected that the motion of his neck was perfectly normal, as, since the natural poise of the neck demanded that each face should look sideways from the body, it only needed a circular sweep of ninety degrees, either way, to bring either face to the front—a motion which I found my own neck to be perfectly capable of, even without the incessant practice to which the young vicomte had been, almost from an infant, inured.
The boy had already learned his alphabet, and even how to read simple words, from his nurses, and so my trouble at the start was slight. I found his (or rather their) receptivity was amazing. I say their because I speedily found that each face, or semi-head, acted and thought independently of the other—in other words, that impressions received through the eyes, nostrils, or palate of one face conveyed no corresponding impression to the other. Sounds, however, were received and answered indiscriminately by both, as the one set of ears was common to both.
There was also a remarkable feature about the neck. There were, in fact, two necks—one to each face—so far as windpipe, gullet, and all other anterior organs of the neck were concerned, the spine running, as was inevitable from such an arrangement, up the centre of the cervical column, and therefore giving no external evidence of its existence at all. All bodily sensations, from the neck down, were also common to both. If I pinched the young vicomte on the leg, both Victor and Julien would cry out. From all of which circumstances I came to the conclusion that Victor and Julien were separate beings, so far as regarded intelligence derived from any other sources except sound or touch; for if I touched Victor on the face, Julien would say that he had been touched; but if Victor read a passage from a book, to himself, Julien knew nothing about it. It was only oral instruction on my part that could be received simultaneously by both.
Victor's hair was dark, Julien's light where it met the forehead, the two blending by imperceptible gradations on the crown of the head, where the color was brown. Neither were their features similar, Victor's being more massive and pronounced than Julien's, even at that early age. Victor's will was also apparently stronger, for when I held up some strange object to try them, saying, "What is this?" it was Victor's face which would wheel round first to catch sight of it. So, also, when playing at ball in our private court, it was Victor's face which would often come forward, even on one of his "quiet" days, when he knew he ought to have kept veiled, though I did not press this rule rigidly when we were out, in private.
Another peculiar trait was that the two faces would argue and converse with each other—sometimes even quarrel when they happened to want to do different things at the same time, each wishing to have his own way in controlling the actions of the body. Though, as I said before, the young vicomte, when an infant, had been nourished only through the mouth of Victor, as soon as Julien's freedom was established, he quickly learned the use of his organs of sense, and his tastes were different from those of Victor. For their better accommodation at meals, a semicircular table had been constructed, within the concave arc of which the young vicomte's chair was placed; Victor's face looking over the right shoulder, Julien's over the left. This arrangement had been devised to satisfy both, each claiming the exclusive use of the arm on that side of the body toward which the face looked, as a compromise for the original arrangement under which Victor had monopolized both hands for eating, and, having satisfied the appetite of the body, thereby appeased Julien's appetite as well as his own, thus depriving the latter of the pleasures of the table, which he naturally resented, with the above result. From this it came about that, as years went on, the right arm did Victor's will, in other things besides eating, and the left Julien's. I watched to see if the legs followed the same rule, but found that they did not, locomotion being the result of an understanding between the two brains, sometimes argued over, but more frequently tacitly understood. Many times have I marveled over the curious spectacle of the two faces intently engaged in reading different books held up before them, each by its own hand. I could come to but one conclusion with regard to this anomalous being, mainly that it consisted of two distinct individual intelligences, each possessing independent emotional and other faculties, not even harmonious, existing in a state of enforced union, unwillingly conceded by both. Pardon me, gentlemen, if I do not make myself intelligible; although I studied the matter a good deal—what else had I to do?—with the help of some metaphysical works in the vicomte's library, and that is the conclusion I came to.
YEARS passed on in a humdrum, routine manner, our round of country existence offering little change. The young vicomte passed from boyhood to youth with little change in the mutual relations between Victor and Julien other than I have just described, except that their dissimilarities of temperament and features became more pronounced. He went very little outside of the precincts of the castle grounds, and never unattended by either the vicomte or myself. When their intelligences became capable of comprehending their anomalous position in the world, neither Victor nor Julien demurred to voluntarily maintaining the rule of submitting to be veiled on alternate days. A species of wire mask had been constructed to fit over the face, so as to allow of perfect ventilation, and this being artfully concealed by a wig of the color of Victor's or Julien's hair, as the case might be, rendered the illusion complete; and but that the head and hair looked somewhat massy, there was nothing to betray the secret hid behind. As time wore on, and the young vicomte attained years of manhood and discretion, the veiling was no longer made the subject of rule, but was left to the mutual desire of the brothers—shall I call them?—themselves. Thus, it was no uncommon thing for the young vicomte to enter the drawing-room where company was seated, with Julien's face concealed by a wig of raven hair, and be introduced by the vicomte as "my son Victor," to retire presently and reentering a moment after with Julien's face looking out from a wealth of blonde curls, appear as the vicomte's other son. So, at dinner, Victor would retire after the first courses, while Julien would finish the repast, apologizing for his brother's absence, or vice versa. So well was the deception practiced, and so carefully and with such mutual forbearance, carried out by the actors themselves, that the only thing remarkable was that the two brothers never appeared at one time. This, however, was only noticeable by intimate friends of the family or members of the household. The former were too well bred, and the latter too discreet, to comment upon the matter. It had, in fact, become recognized that, for family reasons, the two brothers should never appear at once; and this rule having been observed within the remotest memory of all, the circumstance came to be looked upon as a matter of course. It would, in fact, have been considered a miracle, and quite contrary to the common order of things, if both the young vicomtes had appeared at once.
Everything was now so harmonious in the life of his dual son that the vicomte was overjoyed at the issue. Victor and Julien seemed to accommodate themselves to each other's differences of disposition. Great was my pride and satisfaction in observing this, for had not their education and training been wholly in my hands? I began to think that these harmonious relations would never be broken. But, alas! for the futility of human hopes. The end came at last, and in a strange and terrible manner.
It was in '67, I remember, the year of the Paris Exposition, that the events I am about to relate occurred. A party of friends had been staying at the castle during the summer, and among them a certain noble marquis from the south of France, with a very lovely daughter. I do not think I have seen many more lovely women than Mademoiselle de Saint-Thomond—Geneviève, as her parents called her—and I have had good opportunities, too. She was a magnificent brunette of queenly presence, with a voluptuous form, such as only women born beneath southern suns acquire at the age of seventeen. Her lustrous eyes, glossy, raven hair, and the dreamy languor of her every motion, soon wrought sad havoc upon the heart of the dual youth. He had, alas! but one heart, though he had two heads.
It was on the second day after the arrival of the Saint- Thomonds that I began to be apprehensive for results. Both Victor and Julien had been introduced, as usual, on the previous day. Victor had taken the young lady into dinner, and had not given place to Julien until near the end of the repast, notwithstanding the repeated hints which the latter had given him by sundry nudgings with the left hand, and several distinct refusals of that hand—for it still retained its ancient allegiance to Julien—to convey food to Victor's mouth. Once, too, I fancied I heard a whisper of remonstrance from beneath Victor's hair. When the latter, at length, got up from the table, such was Julien's hurry to succeed him beside the fair Geneviève that the door scarcely closed upon the dark-haired Victor before the fair- haired Julien entered. All these little details passed under my observation, as I was now majordomo of the household, and purposely exercised a super-intendance in the dining salon on this occasion. I thought I observed, too, that the young lady paid more attention to Julien's remarks than she had done to Victor's, and smiled more sweetly upon him when he helped her to some dainty. She even laughed merrily when the spiteful Victor managed to control the right arm so as to spill some wine over her dress. I also again fancied I could detect a sotto voce remark this time from under Julien's flaxen wig, that sounded like "I'll pay you out for this."
Julien, however, this time had the advantage, and knew it. There was an understanding between the brothers—I can not help using the term—that their common body should retire at the end of dinner to conclude further arrangements for dividing the evening between them in the drawing-room. This time, however, Julien gave the lady his arm—the right one—in spite of a violent twitch from Victor, which taxed all his capacity of invention to apologize for.
"I had so little of your company at dinner," he said, "that you really must allow me to wait on you a little more this evening before I go. Unfortunately, I have in a short time an engagement which I can not break, though I hope to be back to bid you good-night."
This little speech—intended, I could see, as much for Victor as for mademoiselle—reassured me. I had been trembling lest Julien should carry matters too far, and excite the passionate temperament of his brother beyond endurance—a condition of things which might result in an expose I dared not even picture. I saw, however, that I was not mistaken in my estimate of Victor's self-control. Save for a very perceptible tremor of the blonde wig that covered his face, he gave no indication of understanding the soft nothings that his brother was pouring into the fair Provençale's ear. Much as I desired to do so, I could frame no pretext for following them to the drawing-room at the time, though about half an hour afterward my anxiety got the better of me, and I entered, ostensibly with a message for my young master Julien. I found him enjoying a tete-a-tete with Mademoiselle de Saint-Thomond, in a corner, and as I came up I could hear her laughingly remark:
"Why, what is the matter with you, Monsieur de Préville? You have been doing nothing but fidgeting and starting all night. I hope my company is not so disagreeable as to make you absent-minded."
"Pardon me, monsieur and mademoiselle," I said, as I approached them with a very profound bow, "but I am sorry to have to remind Monsieur Julien that the gentleman from Orleans with whom he had an appointment this evening has already been expecting him for half an hour. But, mademoiselle, my other young master, Monsieur Victor, has sent me to ask whether you were at liberty."
I thought I detected a pout on Mademoiselle Geneviève's rosy lips as I said this.
"Oh, has he?" she said. "Very courteous of him to leave me at dinner, I must say."
With that we both bowed and left the room.
Scarcely had we reached the little antechamber, where the wigs and masks were kept, before the storm I had been so long expecting burst forth.
"I'll teach you to treat me like this," cried Victor.
"Who began it?" returned Julien.
"Well, I'll show you that I'm not going to be imposed upon," said Victor, decisively. "I'm going to stay in the drawing-room all the evening now, and you shan't say 'good-night,' as you said you would."
"We'll see about that," replied Julien, tauntingly. "If she asks where I am, perhaps I won't come, won't I?"
"My dear boys," I interrupted, soothingly—they were only eighteen, and I loved them as if they were my own children—"will you trust to me?—will you leave the regulation of this matter to me?—and I will deal impartially by both. It is eight o'clock now. We retire at ten. It is only fair that Monsieur Victor should enjoy mademoiselle's company till five minutes to ten, as he has been debarred from it all night, and that then Monsieur Julien should come in and say good-night. Is it agreed, gentlemen?"
There was a sullen acquiescence to this arrangement, though neither spoke. So I adjusted the mask over Julien's face, spruced up Victor's black wig over it, and ushered him into the drawing- room. I could see as he approached Mile, de Saint-Thomond that his reception was not going to be very cordial, but as I had no pretext for remaining in the room, I can not tell what transpired. At a quarter to ten Victor came out, looking as black as thunder. When I took the mask off Julien his face was radiant. The usual bickering passed between the two, but they were now fiercer and more acrimonious than ever. Julien then went in and bade mademoiselle "good-night." By the tender light in his eyes when he came out, and by the lowering scowl on Victor's features when I removed his mask, I could not help guessing which way mademoiselle's preference had gone. Now, however not a word was spoken. In a silence more ominous than uttered words, my two charges retired to their apartment.
It had only been within the last three months that the young vicomte had been assigned separate apartments. Previous to this I had occupied, as a bed-room, one chamber of the suite of four which we had in common. Now, however, it had been decided to give Victor and Julien more extended privileges, in view of their increasing age and discreet behavior, the vicomte holding that it would tend to make them more self-reliant to do so. Their new apartments were in one of the massive towers that flanked the castle, and were approached from the corridor through an oaken door of extraordinary thickness. My own apartment, though adjoining, did not connect with theirs—I find myself constantly using the plural number, so distinctly had it become recognized by the vicomte and myself that Victor and Julien were complete individualities, though inhabiting one frame. It had been, however purposely arranged that the adjoining chamber which I occupied was one which communicated with theirs by a secret panel in the wall, which could be opened at will by a spring, and through which all conversation could be distinctly heard, even when closed. It was one of the state chambers of the De Prévilles. It was my place, then, when the brothers went to bed to see that their wishes, whatever they might be, were attended to. On this night I followed the young vicomtes at a respectful distance, not wishing to intrude myself until necessary upon what had every appearance of turning out a quarrel. It was with a good many misgivings that I heard the massive oaken door sullenly slam behind the slow-pacing and taciturn figure as it entered, and I betook myself to my own chamber with a firm determination to exercise strict vigilance that night, lest anything should befall my beloved wards; for, knowing their dispositions so well, I felt an indefinable dread of the consequences, if a serious quarrel should arise. My fears were not unfounded, as the result will show.
It might have been a quarter of an hour after I had retired to bed that I heard confused sounds coming through the secret panel, that caused me first to sit up in bed and then to jump from it, so as to listen more intently. As I approached the panel the confused sounds resolved themselves into angry voices, and I made use of all the advantages the position afforded to hear what was being said.
"I know very well you took a mean advantage of me," I heard Victor's voice say. "You stayed so long with her after dinner that you could not help making an impression on her. Any one could. You needn't plume yourself upon that. I say, any one could."
"Am I responsible for the lady's sentiments?" retorted Julien. "She simply preferred me to you, that is all."
"Oh, I heard every word that was said," returned Victor, bitterly. "You needn't tell me anything about it. You played it very fine with your pretty speeches. Oh, yes."
"Well, you had the same chance, hadn't you?" replied Julien. "I heard everything you said; and though you tried your best, and talked mighty fine, she didn't seem to pay much attention, did she?"
"Well, all right," said Victor, savagely; "you've got the best of it to-day, I grant; but wait till to-morrow. If I don't change all that and turn the tables on you, I don't know myself, that's all."
"Suppose I told you that you might save yourself the trouble?" responded Julien, quietly.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Victor, curiously.
"Do you think you heard everything that we said?" returned the other.
"Why, how could I help it?" cried Victor. "How can I help hearing all that you say, any more than you can what I say?"
"Even when we whisper?" queried Julien, suavely.
"Well, no," conceded Victor; "very low whispering, I grant, we cannot distinguish. And now, I remember, when you were with her the last time, just before bidding her good-night, there was a moment or two of somewhat suspicious silence. I thought I heard the sound of whispering. Well, what was it?"
"Simply that I asked Geneviève to be mine," responded Julien, quietly.
"And what did she say?" asked Victor, in a voice trembling with emotion.
"She consented," returned Julien, simply.
"You lie!" shouted Victor, in an ecstasy of rage.
"I swear it is true as"—The voice of Julien stopped short with a suppressed gulp, as if he were choking.
There was a sound within the apartment as of persons struggling—as of a heavy body falling—as of some one rolling on the floor. This was succeeded by a series of convulsive gasps. I became alarmed.
"Take your hand from my throat!" I heard Julien's voice scream.
"Nev—," returned the voice of Victor, the word ending in a gasp.
By this time I was thoroughly alarmed. Excitedly I reached for the spring of the panel, and pushed it forcibly. Whether it was that the force I employed deranged the mechanism of the spring, or whether it was already worn out or rusty, it would not work. Wildly I pushed and pressed it, the sounds of struggling and choking meanwhile continuing unabated within. It would not move. Again and again I dashed myself in frenzy against the panel—the stout oak resisted my efforts. I rushed to the door of my chamber, threw it open, and in a moment was at the door of my ward's apartments. Alas! as I expected, it was bolted inside. The only course now was to rouse the household, even at the risk of exposing the secret of the young vicomte's dual being. "Help! help!" I shouted, running down to corridor; "one of my young masters is in a fit."
In less than a minute strong arms were working at the oaken door. I felt an indefinable dread at the ominous silence within. Bars, levers, and axes were plied upon the solid oak, but it was fully another minute before the door was forced. With a crash it burst inward, carrying with it almost the entire inmates of the castle, who had flocked excitedly to the spot.
"Stand back!" I shouted, stopping the way to the inner chamber, where I knew my charge was. "Stand back! Would you kill your young master? Air is what he wants. None enters the other, chamber save the vicomte and myself."
The vicomte, pale, trembling, and excited, pressed through the throng to the front, and together we entered the bed-chamber of his son and closed the door behind us. An astounding spectacle met our gaze. There, on his back on the floor lay the young vicomte, the profiles of his two faces exposed, as I had seen them first on the grass in the castle paddock, fifteen years before, but both were now livid and black from suffocation. A hand was pressed firmly against each throat, the fingers mercilessly imbedded in the tissues. A glance showed us that the young vicomte was dead. Victor and Julien had strangled each other to death.
It was given out in the castle, and to the world at large, that it was Julien who had died in the fit. It was Julien's face that was exposed when the body of the young vicomte was laid out in his burial casket. It was for Julien that Mademoiselle de Saint-Thomond wept, and beside whose pale face she laid tributes of bright flowers, little thinking that the face of Victor lay on the pillow beneath, and that it was for love of her that the poor youths had fought and died. People were not surprised when they were told that Victor was so prostrated by his brother's death as to be unable to attend the funeral. They also thought it only natural when they heard, shortly after, that Victor had gone on a tour on account of his health, with me for a companion and guardian. It was I who wanted change and to leave the sad scene where all I had loved lay dead. It is fifteen years, gentlemen, since I came to California. I hope, gentlemen, I have contributed something of interest in the way of information about freaks of nature. In view of the experience of the young vicomte—who, though he had two heads had only one heart—is it the head or the heart that loves?
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