No 252 Rue M Le Prince





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

from Eugene'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

over.



"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

No. 252.



"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

an hallucination."



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

insistence.



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

demonology."



"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

months."



"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

scene."



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

plainly audible.



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 corridor.



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

waited.



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

lay here.



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

charnel-house deadliness.



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

and darkness.



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.





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