HERMANN STARTED AND FELL BACKWARDS.

Three days after this fatal night, at nine o’clock in the morning,
Hermann entered the convent where the last respects were to be paid
to the mortal remains of the old Countess. He felt no remorse, though
he could not deny to himself that he was the poor woman’s assassin.
Having no religion, he was, as usual in such cases, very superstitious;
believing that the dead Countess might exercise a malignant influence
on his life, he thought to appease her spirit by attending her funeral.

The church was full of people, and it was difficult to get in. The
body had been placed on a rich catafalque, beneath a canopy of velvet.
The Countess was reposing in an open coffin, her hands joined on her
breast, with a dress of white satin, and head-dress of lace. Around
the catafalque the family was assembled, the servants in black caftans
with a knot of ribbons on the shoulder, exhibiting the colours of
the Countesses coat of arms. Each of them held a wax candle in his
hand. The relations, in deep mourning–children grandchildren, and
great-grandchildren–were all present; but none of them wept.

To have shed tears would have looked like affectation. The Countess was
so old that her death could have taken no one by surprise, and she had
long been looked upon as already out of the world. The funeral sermon
was delivered by a celebrated preacher. In a few simple, touching
phrases he painted the final departure of the just, who had passed
long years of contrite preparation, for a Christian end. The service
concluded in the midst of respectful silence. Then the relations went
towards the defunct to take a last farewell After them, in a long
procession, all who had been, invited to the ceremony bowed, for the
last time, to her who for so many years had been a scarecrow at their
entertainments. Finally came the Countess’s household; among them was
remarked an old governess, of the same age as the deceased, supported
by two woman. She had not strength enough to kneel down, but tears
flowed from her eyes, as she kissed the hand of her old mistress.

In his turn Hermann advanced towards the coffin. He knelt down for a
moment on the flagstones, which were strewed with branches of yew. Then
he rose, as pale as death, and walked up the steps of the catafalque.
He bowed his head. But suddenly the dead woman seemed to be staring at
him; and with a mocking look she opened and shut one eye. Hermann by
a sudden movement started and fell backwards. Several persons hurried
towards him. At the same moment, close to the church door, Lisaveta
fainted.

Throughout the day Hermann suffered from a strange indisposition. In a
quiet restaurant, where he took his meals, he, contrary to his habit,
drank a great deal of wine, with the object of stupefying himself. But
the wine had no effect but to excite his imagination, and give fresh
activity to the ideas with which he was preoccupied.

He went home earlier than usual, lay down with his clothes on upon
the bed, and fell into a leaden sleep. When he woke up it was night,
and the room was lighted up by the rays of the moon. He looked at his
watch; it was a quarter to three. He could sleep no more. He sat up on
the bed and thought of the old Countess. At this moment someone in
the street passed the window, looked into the room, and then went on.
Hermann scarcely noticed it; but in another minute he heard the door of
the ante-chamber open. He thought, that his orderly, drunk as usual,
was returning from some nocturnal excursion; but the step was one to
which he was not accustomed. Somebody seemed to be softly walking over
the floor in slippers.

The door opened, and a woman, dressed entirely in white, entered the
bedroom. Hermann thought it must be his old nurse, and he asked himself
what she could want at that time of night.

But the woman in white, crossing the room with a rapid step, was now at
the foot of his bed, and Hermann recognised the Countess.

“I come to you against my wish,” she said in a firm voice. “I am forced
to grant your prayer. Three, seven, ace, will win, if played one after
the other; but you must not play more than one card in twenty-four
hours, and afterwards, as long as you live, you must never touch a
card again. I forgive you my death on condition of your marrying my
companion, Lisaveta Ivanovna.”

With these words she walked towards the door, and gliding with her
slippers over the floor, disappeared. Hermann heard the door of the
ante-chamber open, and soon afterwards saw a white figure pass along
the street. It stopped for a moment before his window, as if to look
at him.

Hermann remained, for some time astounded. Then he got up and went into
the next room. His orderly, drunk as usual, was asleep on the floor. He
had much difficulty in waking him, and then could not obtain from him
the least explanation. The door of the ante-chamber was locked.

Hermann went back to his bedroom, and wrote down all the details of his
vision.

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