No 252 Rue M Le Prince
Scary Books: Black Spirits And White
When in May, 1886, I found myself at last in Paris, I naturally
determined to throw myself on the charity of an old chum of mine, Eugene
Marie d'Ardeche, who had forsaken Boston a year or more ago on receiving
word of the death of an aunt who had left him such property as she
possessed. I fancy this windfall surprised him not a little, for the
relations between the aunt and nephew had never been cordial, judging
gene's remarks touching the lady, who was, it seems, a more or
less wicked and witch-like old person, with a penchant for black magic,
at least such was the common report.
Why she should leave all her property to d'Ardeche, no one could tell,
unless it was that she felt his rather hobbledehoy tendencies towards
Buddhism and occultism might some day lead him to her own unhallowed
height of questionable illumination. To be sure d'Ardeche reviled her as
a bad old woman, being himself in that state of enthusiastic exaltation
which sometimes accompanies a boyish fancy for occultism; but in spite
of his distant and repellent attitude, Mlle. Blaye de Tartas made him
her sole heir, to the violent wrath of a questionable old party known to
infamy as the Sar Torrevieja, the "King of the Sorcerers." This
malevolent old portent, whose gray and crafty face was often seen in the
Rue M. le Prince during the life of Mlle. de Tartas had, it seems, fully
expected to enjoy her small wealth after her death; and when it appeared
that she had left him only the contents of the gloomy old house in the
Quartier Latin, giving the house itself and all else of which she died
possessed to her nephew in America, the Sar proceeded to remove
everything from the place, and then to curse it elaborately and
comprehensively, together with all those who should ever dwell therein.
Whereupon he disappeared.
This final episode was the last word I received from Eugene, but I knew
the number of the house, 252 Rue M. le Prince. So, after a day or two
given to a first cursory survey of Paris, I started across the Seine to
find Eugene and compel him to do the honors of the city.
Every one who knows the Latin Quarter knows the Rue M. le Prince,
running up the hill towards the Garden of the Luxembourg. It is full of
queer houses and odd corners,--or was in '86,--and certainly No. 252
was, when I found it, quite as queer as any. It was nothing but a
doorway, a black arch of old stone between and under two new houses
painted yellow. The effect of this bit of seventeenth-century masonry,
with its dirty old doors, and rusty broken lantern sticking gaunt and
grim out over the narrow sidewalk, was, in its frame of fresh plaster,
sinister in the extreme.
I wondered if I had made a mistake in the number; it was quite evident
that no one lived behind those cobwebs. I went into the doorway of one
of the new hotels and interviewed the concierge.
No, M. d'Ardeche did not live there, though to be sure he owned the
mansion; he himself resided in Meudon, in the country house of the late
Mlle. de Tartas. Would Monsieur like the number and the street?
Monsieur would like them extremely, so I took the card that the
concierge wrote for me, and forthwith started for the river, in order
that I might take a steamboat for Meudon. By one of those coincidences
which happen so often, being quite inexplicable, I had not gone twenty
paces down the street before I ran directly into the arms of Eugene
d'Ardeche. In three minutes we were sitting in the queer little garden
of the Chien Bleu, drinking vermouth and absinthe, and talking it all
"You do not live in your aunt's house?" I said at last, interrogatively.
"No, but if this sort of thing keeps on I shall have to. I like Meudon
much better, and the house is perfect, all furnished, and nothing in it
newer than the last century. You must come out with me to-night and see
it. I have got a jolly room fixed up for my Buddha. But there is
something wrong with this house opposite. I can't keep a tenant in
it,--not four days. I have had three, all within six months, but the
stories have gone around and a man would as soon think of hiring the
Cour des Comptes to live in as No. 252. It is notorious. The fact is,
it is haunted the worst way."
I laughed and ordered more vermouth.
"That is all right. It is haunted all the same, or enough to keep it
empty, and the funny part is that no one knows how it is haunted.
Nothing is ever seen, nothing heard. As far as I can find out, people
just have the horrors there, and have them so bad they have to go to the
hospital afterwards. I have one ex-tenant in the Bicetre now. So the
house stands empty, and as it covers considerable ground and is taxed
for a lot, I don't know what to do about it. I think I'll either give it
to that child of sin, Torrevieja, or else go and live in it myself. I
shouldn't mind the ghosts, I am sure."
"Did you ever stay there?"
"No, but I have always intended to, and in fact I came up here to-day to
see a couple of rake-hell fellows I know, Fargeau and Duchesne, doctors
in the Clinical Hospital beyond here, up by the Parc Mont Souris. They
promised that they would spend the night with me some time in my aunt's
house,--which is called around here, you must know, 'la Bouche
d'Enfer,'--and I thought perhaps they would make it this week, if they
can get off duty. Come up with me while I see them, and then we can go
across the river to Vefour's and have some luncheon, you can get your
things at the Chatham, and we will go out to Meudon, where of course you
will spend the night with me."
The plan suited me perfectly, so we went up to the hospital, found
Fargeau, who declared that he and Duchesne were ready for anything, the
nearer the real "bouche d'enfer" the better; that the following Thursday
they would both be off duty for the night, and that on that day they
would join in an attempt to outwit the devil and clear up the mystery of
"Does M. l'Americain go with us?" asked Fargeau.
"Why of course," I replied, "I intend to go, and you must not refuse me,
d'Ardeche; I decline to be put off. Here is a chance for you to do the
honors of your city in a manner which is faultless. Show me a real live
ghost, and I will forgive Paris for having lost the Jardin Mabille."
So it was settled.
Later we went down to Meudon and ate dinner in the terrace room of the
villa, which was all that d'Ardeche had said, and more, so utterly was
its atmosphere that of the seventeenth century. At dinner Eugene told me
more about his late aunt, and the queer goings on in the old house.
Mlle. Blaye lived, it seems, all alone, except for one female servant of
her own age; a severe, taciturn creature, with massive Breton features
and a Breton tongue, whenever she vouchsafed to use it. No one ever was
seen to enter the door of No. 252 except Jeanne the servant and the Sar
Torrevieja, the latter coming constantly from none knew whither, and
always entering, never leaving. Indeed, the neighbors, who for eleven
years had watched the old sorcerer sidle crab-wise up to the bell almost
every day, declared vociferously that never had he been seen to leave
the house. Once, when they decided to keep absolute guard, the watcher,
none other than Maitre Garceau of the Chien Bleu, after keeping his eyes
fixed on the door from ten o'clock one morning when the Sar arrived
until four in the afternoon, during which time the door was unopened (he
knew this, for had he not gummed a ten-centime stamp over the joint and
was not the stamp unbroken) nearly fell down when the sinister figure
of Torrevieja slid wickedly by him with a dry "Pardon, Monsieur!" and
disappeared again through the black doorway.
This was curious, for No. 252 was entirely surrounded by houses, its
only windows opening on a courtyard into which no eye could look from
the hotels of the Rue M. le Prince and the Rue de l'Ecole, and the
mystery was one of the choice possessions of the Latin Quarter.
Once a year the austerity of the place was broken, and the denizens of
the whole quarter stood open-mouthed watching many carriages drive up to
No. 252, many of them private, not a few with crests on the door panels,
from all of them descending veiled female figures and men with coat
collars turned up. Then followed curious sounds of music from within,
and those whose houses joined the blank walls of No. 252 became for the
moment popular, for by placing the ear against the wall strange music
could distinctly be heard, and the sound of monotonous chanting voices
now and then. By dawn the last guest would have departed, and for
another year the hotel of Mlle. de Tartas was ominously silent.
Eugene declared that he believed it was a celebration of
"Walpurgisnacht," and certainly appearances favored such a fancy.
"A queer thing about the whole affair is," he said, "the fact that every
one in the street swears that about a month ago, while I was out in
Concarneau for a visit, the music and voices were heard again, just as
when my revered aunt was in the flesh. The house was perfectly empty, as
I tell you, so it is quite possible that the good people were enjoying
I must acknowledge that these stories did not reassure me; in fact, as
Thursday came near, I began to regret a little my determination to spend
the night in the house. I was too vain to back down, however, and the
perfect coolness of the two doctors, who ran down Tuesday to Meudon to
make a few arrangements, caused me to swear that I would die of fright
before I would flinch. I suppose I believed more or less in ghosts, I am
sure now that I am older I believe in them, there are in fact few things
I can not believe. Two or three inexplicable things had happened to
me, and, although this was before my adventure with Rendel in Paestum, I
had a strong predisposition to believe some things that I could not
explain, wherein I was out of sympathy with the age.
Well, to come to the memorable night of the twelfth of June, we had made
our preparations, and after depositing a big bag inside the doors of No.
252, went across to the Chien Bleu, where Fargeau and Duchesne turned up
promptly, and we sat down to the best dinner Pere Garceau could create.
I remember I hardly felt that the conversation was in good taste. It
began with various stories of Indian fakirs and Oriental jugglery,
matters in which Eugene was curiously well read, swerved to the horrors
of the great Sepoy mutiny, and thus to reminiscences of the
dissecting-room. By this time we had drunk more or less, and Duchesne
launched into a photographic and Zolaesque account of the only time (as
he said) when he was possessed of the panic of fear; namely, one night
many years ago, when he was locked by accident into the dissecting-room
of the Loucine, together with several cadavers of a rather unpleasant
nature. I ventured to protest mildly against the choice of subjects,
the result being a perfect carnival of horrors, so that when we finally
drank our last creme de cacao and started for "la Bouche d'Enfer," my
nerves were in a somewhat rocky condition.
It was just ten o'clock when we came into the street. A hot dead wind
drifted in great puffs through the city, and ragged masses of vapor
swept the purple sky; an unsavory night altogether, one of those nights
of hopeless lassitude when one feels, if one is at home, like doing
nothing but drink mint juleps and smoke cigarettes.
Eugene opened the creaking door, and tried to light one of the lanterns;
but the gusty wind blew out every match, and we finally had to close the
outer doors before we could get a light. At last we had all the lanterns
going, and I began to look around curiously. We were in a long, vaulted
passage, partly carriageway, partly footpath, perfectly bare but for the
street refuse which had drifted in with eddying winds. Beyond lay the
courtyard, a curious place rendered more curious still by the fitful
moonlight and the flashing of four dark lanterns. The place had
evidently been once a most noble palace. Opposite rose the oldest
portion, a three-story wall of the time of Francis I., with a great
wisteria vine covering half. The wings on either side were more modern,
seventeenth century, and ugly, while towards the street was nothing but
a flat unbroken wall.
The great bare court, littered with bits of paper blown in by the wind,
fragments of packing cases, and straw, mysterious with flashing lights
and flaunting shadows, while low masses of torn vapor drifted overhead,
hiding, then revealing the stars, and all in absolute silence, not even
the sounds of the streets entering this prison-like place, was weird and
uncanny in the extreme. I must confess that already I began to feel a
slight disposition towards the horrors, but with that curious
inconsequence which so often happens in the case of those who are
deliberately growing scared, I could think of nothing more reassuring
than those delicious verses of Lewis Carroll's:--
"Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice,
That alone should encourage the crew.
Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice,
What I tell you three times is true,"--
which kept repeating themselves over and over in my brain with feverish
Even the medical students had stopped their chaffing, and were studying
the surroundings gravely.
"There is one thing certain," said Fargeau, "anything might have
happened here without the slightest chance of discovery. Did ever you
see such a perfect place for lawlessness?"
"And anything might happen here now, with the same certainty of
impunity," continued Duchesne, lighting his pipe, the snap of the match
making us all start. "D'Ardeche, your lamented relative was certainly
well fixed; she had full scope here for her traditional experiments in
"Curse me if I don't believe that those same traditions were more or
less founded on fact," said Eugene. "I never saw this court under these
conditions before, but I could believe anything now. What's that!"
"Nothing but a door slamming," said Duchesne, loudly.
"Well, I wish doors wouldn't slam in houses that have been empty eleven
"It is irritating," and Duchesne slipped his arm through mine; "but we
must take things as they come. Remember we have to deal not only with
the spectral lumber left here by your scarlet aunt, but as well with the
supererogatory curse of that hell-cat Torrevieja. Come on! let's get
inside before the hour arrives for the sheeted dead to squeak and gibber
in these lonely halls. Light your pipes, your tobacco is a sure
protection against 'your whoreson dead bodies'; light up and move on."
We opened the hall door and entered a vaulted stone vestibule, full of
dust, and cobwebby.
"There is nothing on this floor," said Eugene, "except servants' rooms
and offices, and I don't believe there is anything wrong with them. I
never heard that there was, any way. Let's go up stairs."
So far as we could see, the house was apparently perfectly uninteresting
inside, all eighteenth-century work, the facade of the main building
being, with the vestibule, the only portion of the Francis I. work.
"The place was burned during the Terror," said Eugene, "for my
great-uncle, from whom Mlle. de Tartas inherited it, was a good and true
Royalist; he went to Spain after the Revolution, and did not come back
until the accession of Charles X., when he restored the house, and then
died, enormously old. This explains why it is all so new."
The old Spanish sorcerer to whom Mlle. de Tartas had left her personal
property had done his work thoroughly. The house was absolutely empty,
even the wardrobes and bookcases built in had been carried away; we went
through room after room, finding all absolutely dismantled, only the
windows and doors with their casings, the parquet floors, and the florid
Renaissance mantels remaining.
"I feel better," remarked Fargeau. "The house may be haunted, but it
don't look it, certainly; it is the most respectable place imaginable."
"Just you wait," replied Eugene. "These are only the state apartments,
which my aunt seldom used, except, perhaps, on her annual
'Walpurgisnacht.' Come up stairs and I will show you a better mise en
On this floor, the rooms fronting the court, the sleeping-rooms, were
quite small,--("They are the bad rooms all the same," said
Eugene,)--four of them, all just as ordinary in appearance as those
below. A corridor ran behind them connecting with the wing corridor,
and from this opened a door, unlike any of the other doors in that it
was covered with green baize, somewhat moth-eaten. Eugene selected a key
from the bunch he carried, unlocked the door, and with some difficulty
forced it to swing inward; it was as heavy as the door of a safe.
"We are now," he said, "on the very threshold of hell itself; these
rooms in here were my scarlet aunt's unholy of unholies. I never let
them with the rest of the house, but keep them as a curiosity. I only
wish Torrevieja had kept out; as it was, he looted them, as he did the
rest of the house, and nothing is left but the walls and ceiling and
floor. They are something, however, and may suggest what the former
condition must have been. Tremble and enter."
The first apartment was a kind of anteroom, a cube of perhaps twenty
feet each way, without windows, and with no doors except that by which
we entered and another to the right. Walls, floor, and ceiling were
covered with a black lacquer, brilliantly polished, that flashed the
light of our lanterns in a thousand intricate reflections. It was like
the inside of an enormous Japanese box, and about as empty. From this
we passed to another room, and here we nearly dropped our lanterns. The
room was circular, thirty feet or so in diameter, covered by a
hemispherical dome; walls and ceiling were dark blue, spotted with gold
stars; and reaching from floor to floor across the dome stretched a
colossal figure in red lacquer of a nude woman kneeling, her legs
reaching out along the floor on either side, her head touching the
lintel of the door through which we had entered, her arms forming its
sides, with the fore arms extended and stretching along the walls until
they met the long feet. The most astounding, misshapen, absolutely
terrifying thing, I think, I ever saw. From the navel hung a great white
object, like the traditional roe's egg of the Arabian Nights. The floor
was of red lacquer, and in it was inlaid a pentagram the size of the
room, made of wide strips of brass. In the centre of this pentagram was
a circular disk of black stone, slightly saucer-shaped, with a small
outlet in the middle.
The effect of the room was simply crushing, with this gigantic red
figure crouched over it all, the staring eyes fixed on one, no matter
what his position. None of us spoke, so oppressive was the whole thing.
The third room was like the first in dimensions, but instead of being
black it was entirely sheathed with plates of brass, walls, ceiling, and
floor,--tarnished now, and turning green, but still brilliant under the
lantern light. In the middle stood an oblong altar of porphyry, its
longer dimensions on the axis of the suite of rooms, and at one end,
opposite the range of doors, a pedestal of black basalt.
This was all. Three rooms, stranger than these, even in their emptiness,
it would be hard to imagine. In Egypt, in India, they would not be
entirely out of place, but here in Paris, in a commonplace hotel, in
the Rue M. le Prince, they were incredible.
We retraced our steps, Eugene closed the iron door with its baize
covering, and we went into one of the front chambers and sat down,
looking at each other.
"Nice party, your aunt," said Fargeau. "Nice old party, with amiable
tastes; I am glad we are not to spend the night in those rooms."
"What do you suppose she did there?" inquired Duchesne. "I know more or
less about black art, but that series of rooms is too much for me."
"My impression is," said d'Ardeche, "that the brazen room was a kind of
sanctuary containing some image or other on the basalt base, while the
stone in front was really an altar,--what the nature of the sacrifice
might be I don't even guess. The round room may have been used for
invocations and incantations. The pentagram looks like it. Any way it is
all just about as queer and fin de siecle as I can well imagine. Look
here, it is nearly twelve, let's dispose of ourselves, if we are going
to hunt this thing down."
The four chambers on this floor of the old house were those said to be
haunted, the wings being quite innocent, and, so far as we knew, the
floors below. It was arranged that we should each occupy a room, leaving
the doors open with the lights burning, and at the slightest cry or
knock we were all to rush at once to the room from which the warning
sound might come. There was no communication between the rooms to be
sure, but, as the doors all opened into the corridor, every sound was
The last room fell to me, and I looked it over carefully.
It seemed innocent enough, a commonplace, square, rather lofty Parisian
sleeping-room, finished in wood painted white, with a small marble
mantel, a dusty floor of inlaid maple and cherry, walls hung with an
ordinary French paper, apparently quite new, and two deeply embrasured
windows looking out on the court.
I opened the swinging sash with some trouble, and sat down in the window
seat with my lantern beside me trained on the only door, which gave on
The wind had gone down, and it was very still without,--still and hot.
The masses of luminous vapor were gathering thickly overhead, no longer
urged by the gusty wind. The great masses of rank wisteria leaves, with
here and there a second blossoming of purple flowers, hung dead over the
window in the sluggish air. Across the roofs I could hear the sound of a
belated fiacre in the streets below. I filled my pipe again and
For a time the voices of the men in the other rooms were a
companionship, and at first I shouted to them now and then, but my
voice echoed rather unpleasantly through the long corridors, and had a
suggestive way of reverberating around the left wing beside me, and
coming out at a broken window at its extremity like the voice of another
man. I soon gave up my attempts at conversation, and devoted myself to
the task of keeping awake.
It was not easy; why did I eat that lettuce salad at Pere Garceau's? I
should have known better. It was making me irresistibly sleepy, and
wakefulness was absolutely necessary. It was certainly gratifying to
know that I could sleep, that my courage was by me to that extent, but
in the interests of science I must keep awake. But almost never, it
seemed, had sleep looked so desirable. Half a hundred times, nearly, I
would doze for an instant, only to awake with a start, and find my pipe
gone out. Nor did the exertion of relighting it pull me together. I
struck my match mechanically, and with the first puff dropped off again.
It was most vexing. I got up and walked around the room. It was most
annoying. My cramped position had almost put both my legs to sleep. I
could hardly stand. I felt numb, as though with cold. There was no
longer any sound from the other rooms, nor from without. I sank down in
my window seat. How dark it was growing! I turned up the lantern. That
pipe again, how obstinately it kept going out! and my last match was
gone. The lantern, too, was that going out? I lifted my hand to turn
it up again. It felt like lead, and fell beside me.
Then I awoke,--absolutely. I remembered the story of "The Haunters and
the Haunted." This was the Horror. I tried to rise, to cry out. My
body was like lead, my tongue was paralyzed. I could hardly move my
eyes. And the light was going out. There was no question about that.
Darker and darker yet; little by little the pattern of the paper was
swallowed up in the advancing night. A prickling numbness gathered in
every nerve, my right arm slipped without feeling from my lap to my
side, and I could not raise it,--it swung helpless. A thin, keen humming
began in my head, like the cicadas on a hillside in September. The
darkness was coming fast.
Yes, this was it. Something was subjecting me, body and mind, to slow
paralysis. Physically I was already dead. If I could only hold my mind,
my consciousness, I might still be safe, but could I? Could I resist
the mad horror of this silence, the deepening dark, the creeping
numbness? I knew that, like the man in the ghost story, my only safety
It had come at last. My body was dead, I could no longer move my eyes.
They were fixed in that last look on the place where the door had been,
now only a deepening of the dark.
Utter night: the last flicker of the lantern was gone. I sat and waited;
my mind was still keen, but how long would it last? There was a limit
even to the endurance of the utter panic of fear.
Then the end began. In the velvet blackness came two white eyes, milky,
opalescent, small, far away,--awful eyes, like a dead dream. More
beautiful than I can describe, the flakes of white flame moving from the
perimeter inward, disappearing in the centre, like a never ending flow
of opal water into a circular tunnel. I could not have moved my eyes had
I possessed the power: they devoured the fearful, beautiful things that
grew slowly, slowly larger, fixed on me, advancing, growing more
beautiful, the white flakes of light sweeping more swiftly into the
blazing vortices, the awful fascination deepening in its insane
intensity as the white, vibrating eyes grew nearer, larger.
Like a hideous and implacable engine of death the eyes of the unknown
Horror swelled and expanded until they were close before me, enormous,
terrible, and I felt a slow, cold, wet breath propelled with mechanical
regularity against my face, enveloping me in its fetid mist, in its
With ordinary fear goes always a physical terror, but with me in the
presence of this unspeakable Thing was only the utter and awful terror
of the mind, the mad fear of a prolonged and ghostly nightmare. Again
and again I tried to shriek, to make some noise, but physically I was
utterly dead. I could only feel myself go mad with the terror of hideous
death. The eyes were close on me,--their movement so swift that they
seemed to be but palpitating flames, the dead breath was around me like
the depths of the deepest sea.
Suddenly a wet, icy mouth, like that of a dead cuttle-fish, shapeless,
jelly-like, fell over mine. The horror began slowly to draw my life from
me, but, as enormous and shuddering folds of palpitating jelly swept
sinuously around me, my will came back, my body awoke with the reaction
of final fear, and I closed with the nameless death that enfolded me.
What was it that I was fighting? My arms sunk through the unresisting
mass that was turning me to ice. Moment by moment new folds of cold
jelly swept round me, crushing me with the force of Titans. I fought to
wrest my mouth from this awful Thing that sealed it, but, if ever I
succeeded and caught a single breath, the wet, sucking mass closed over
my face again before I could cry out. I think I fought for hours,
desperately, insanely, in a silence that was more hideous than any
sound,--fought until I felt final death at hand, until the memory of all
my life rushed over me like a flood, until I no longer had strength to
wrench my face from that hellish succubus, until with a last mechanical
struggle I fell and yielded to death.
* * * * *
Then I heard a voice say, "If he is dead, I can never forgive myself; I
was to blame."
Another replied, "He is not dead, I know we can save him if only we
reach the hospital in time. Drive like hell, cocher! twenty francs for
you, if you get there in three minutes."
Then there was night again, and nothingness, until I suddenly awoke and
stared around. I lay in a hospital ward, very white and sunny, some
yellow fleurs-de-lis stood beside the head of the pallet, and a tall
sister of mercy sat by my side.
To tell the story in a few words, I was in the Hotel Dieu, where the men
had taken me that fearful night of the twelfth of June. I asked for
Fargeau or Duchesne, and by and by the latter came, and sitting beside
the bed told me all that I did not know.
It seems that they had sat, each in his room, hour after hour, hearing
nothing, very much bored, and disappointed. Soon after two o'clock
Fargeau, who was in the next room, called to me to ask if I was awake. I
gave no reply, and, after shouting once or twice, he took his lantern
and came to investigate. The door was locked on the inside! He instantly
called d'Ardeche and Duchesne, and together they hurled themselves
against the door. It resisted. Within they could hear irregular
footsteps dashing here and there, with heavy breathing. Although frozen
with terror, they fought to destroy the door and finally succeeded by
using a great slab of marble that formed the shelf of the mantel in
Fargeau's room. As the door crashed in, they were suddenly hurled back
against the walls of the corridor, as though by an explosion, the
lanterns were extinguished, and they found themselves in utter silence
As soon as they recovered from the shock, they leaped into the room and
fell over my body in the middle of the floor. They lighted one of the
lanterns, and saw the strangest sight that can be imagined. The floor
and walls to the height of about six feet were running with something
that seemed like stagnant water, thick, glutinous, sickening. As for me,
I was drenched with the same cursed liquid. The odor of musk was
nauseating. They dragged me away, stripped off my clothing, wrapped me
in their coats, and hurried to the hospital, thinking me perhaps dead.
Soon after sunrise d'Ardeche left the hospital, being assured that I was
in a fair way to recovery, with time, and with Fargeau went up to
examine by daylight the traces of the adventure that was so nearly
fatal. They were too late. Fire engines were coming down the street as
they passed the Academie. A neighbor rushed up to d'Ardeche: "O
Monsieur! what misfortune, yet what fortune! It is true la Bouche
d'Enfer--I beg pardon, the residence of the lamented Mlle. de
Tartas,--was burned, but not wholly, only the ancient building. The
wings were saved, and for that great credit is due the brave firemen.
Monsieur will remember them, no doubt."
It was quite true. Whether a forgotten lantern, overturned in the
excitement, had done the work, or whether the origin of the fire was
more supernatural, it was certain that "the Mouth of Hell" was no more.
A last engine was pumping slowly as d'Ardeche came up; half a dozen
limp, and one distended, hose stretched through the porte cochere, and
within only the facade of Francis I. remained, draped still with the
black stems of the wisteria. Beyond lay a great vacancy, where thin
smoke was rising slowly. Every floor was gone, and the strange halls of
Mlle. Blaye de Tartas were only a memory.
With d'Ardeche I visited the place last year, but in the stead of the
ancient walls was then only a new and ordinary building, fresh and
respectable; yet the wonderful stories of the old Bouche d'Enfer still
lingered in the quarter, and will hold there, I do not doubt, until the
Day of Judgment.