AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY
THE circumstances attending
the sudden death of M. Delessert, inspector of the Police de Sûreté, 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
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 gypsy blood. At the theatres, on the Bois,
at the cafés, on the boulevards, and everywhere that idle Paris disports
itself, Madame Aimée de Lassa attracted great attention and made
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 rusé 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 Lassas salon. The receptions occurred every other
daytwo 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
règle, 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 salonsome did not return
at allthey 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 Delesserts 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 êtes un lâche!" "Very well, Monsieur Meunier," responded Auguste, in the same
low tone, "tomorrow morning at six oclock!" "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 séance 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 precluding, 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 Palestrinasthe
presentversion. I think I prefer that of Guido of Arezzoit is
ruder, but has more force. I got the air from Guido himself." "YoufromGuido!"
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 thatJuly, 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-cinq 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 sawa
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 Delesserts
hand, and pointed to the clock, which struck again. The thirty-five seconds
were expired. Sidi, still retaining hold of Delesserts 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 bowingthe 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
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 mest
égal, 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 laccepte!" 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, whom
the ruder processes of our ancestors would easily have disposed ofby
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 lads 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 Lassas 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
in order to understand enough about Haslich. At last, through an accident,
it became probable that Mme. Aimée was identical with a certain Mme.
Schlaff, who had been rather conspicuous among the demi-monde of
Buda. Delessert posted off to that ancient city, and thence went into the
wilds of Transylvania to Mengyco. On his return, as soon as he reached the
telegraph and civilization, he telegraphed the Prefect from Kardszag: "Dont
lose sight of my man, nor let him leave Paris. I will run him in for you
two days after I get back."
It happened that on the day of Delesserts return to Paris the Prefect
was absent, being with the Emperor at Cherbourg. He came back on the fourth
day, just twenty-four hours after the announcement of Delesserts death.
That happened, as near as could be gathered, in this wise: The night after
Delesserts return he was present at De Lassas salon with
a ticket of admittance to a séance. He was very completely
disguised as a decrepit old man, and fancied that it was impossible for
any one to detect him. Nevertheless, when he was taken into the room, and
looked into the crystal, he was utterly horror-stricken to see there a picture
of himself, lying face down and senseless upon the side-walk of a street;
and the message he received read thus: "What you have seen will be,
Delessert, in three days. Prepare!" The detective, unspeakably shocked,
retired from the house at once and sought his own lodgings.
In the morning he came to the office in a state of extreme dejection.
He was completely unnerved. In relating to a brother inspector what had
occurred, he said: "That man can do what he promises, I am doomed!"
He said that he thought he could make a complete case out against Haslich alias De Lassa, but could not do so without seeing the Prefect and
getting instructions. He would tell nothing in regard to his discoveries
in Buda and in Transylvaniasaid he was not at liberty to do soand
repeatedly exclaimed: "Oh! if M. le Préfet were only here!"
He was told to go to the Prefect at Cherbourg, but refused upon the ground
that his presence was needed in Paris. He time and again averred his conviction
that he was a doomed man, and showed himself both vacillating and irresolute
in his conduct, and extremely nervous. He was told that he was perfectly
safe, since De Lassa and all his household were under constant surveillance;
to which he replied, "You do not know the man." An inspector was
detailed to accompany Delessert, never to lose sight of him night and day,
and guard him carefully; and proper precautions were taken in regard to
his food and drink, while the guards watching De Lassa were doubled.
On the morning of the third day, Delessert, who had been staying chiefly
indoors, avowed his determination to go at once and telegraph to M. le Préfet
to return immediately. With this intention he and his brother officer started
out. Just as they got to the corner of the Rue de Lanery and the Boulevard,
Delessert stopped suddenly and put his hand to his forehead.
"My God!" he cried, "the crystal! the picture!" and
fell prone upon his face, insensible. He was taken at once to a hospital,
but only lingered a few hours, never regaining his consciousness. Under
express instruction from the authorities, a most careful, minute, and thorough
autopsy was made of Delesserts body by several distinguished surgeons,
whose unanimous opinion was, that the cause of his death was apoplexy, due
to fatigue and nervous excitement.
As soon as Delessert was sent to the hospital, his brother inspector
hurried to the Central Office, and De Lassa, together with his wife and
everyone connected with the establishment, were at once arrested. De Lassa
smiled contemptuously as they took him away. "I knew you were coming;
I prepared for it; you will be glad to release me again."
It was quite true that De Lassa had prepared for them. When the house
was searched it was found that every paper had been burned, the crystal
globe was destroyed, and in the room of the séances was a
great heap of delicate machinery broken into indistinguishable bits. "That
cost me 200,000 francs," said De Lassa, pointing to the pile, "but
it has been a good investment." The walls and floors were ripped out
in several places, and the damage to the property was considerable. In prison
neither De Lassa nor his associates made any revelations. The notion that
they had something to do with Delesserts death was quickly dispelled,
in a legal point of view, and all the party but De Lassa were released.
He was still detained in prison, upon one pretext or another, when one morning
he was found hanging by a silk sash to the cornice of the room where he
was confineddead. The night before, it was afterwards discovered,
Madame de Lassa had eloped with a tall footman, taking the Nubian Sidi with
them. De Lassas secrets died with him.
"It is an interesting story, that article of yours in to-days Scientist. But is it a record of facts, or a tissue of the
imagination? If true, why not state the source of it, in other words, specify
your authority for it."
The above is not signed, but we would take the opportunity to say that
the story, "An Unsolved Mystery," was published because we considered
the main points of the narrativethe prophecies, and the singular death
of the officerto be psychic phenomena, that have been, and can be,
again produced. Why quote "authorities"? The Scriptures tell us
of the death of Ananias, under the stern rebuke from Peter; here we have
a phenomenon of a similar nature. Ananias is supposed to have suffered instant
death from fear. Few can realize this power governed by spiritual laws,
but those who have trod the boundary line and know some few of the things
that can be done, will see no great mystery in this, nor in the story published
last week. We are not speaking in mystical tones. Ask the powerful mesmerist
if there is danger that the subject may pass out of his control?if
he could will the spirit out, never to return? It is capable of demonstration
that the mesmerist can act on a subject at a distance of many miles; and
it is no less certain that the majority of mesmerists know little or nothing
of the laws that govern their powers.
It may be a pleasant dream to attempt to conceive of the beauties of
the spirit-world; but the time can be spent more profitably in a study of
the spirit itself, and it is not necessary that the subject for study should
be in the spirit-world.
"No Religion Higher Than Truth"
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