THE MARRED FACE
MY MOUNTAINS ARE MY OWN
AND I WILL KEEP THEM
BOTH city and suburbs re-
joiced. From roof to roof-
top swayed the bell-like
weight of large lanterns that
mimicked the languorous
airs of lilies on the nod, yet
more duskily, like fruit again become blossom,
against a faint pink sky still pale with the
lingering trail of sunset; for Chang Tei had
laid low that haughty head of his upon Mount
Torment, below the prison gates; and with the
dawn of even, when a wan moon-crescent
beckoned to clustering stars, and mimic lights
from the bridges swam with them in the river,
a glow from his still burning house put a dull
redness in the air, through which, now and
again, shot rapidly a light more acute, when a
charred wall crumbled in.
This was watched, long after curfew and into
mmm the night, for some beggars sat at a town gate.
The sound of the patrol’s retreating footfalls was echoed by overhanging
eaves, with this the tremulous expostulations of some belated tippler hurried
away; the night-wind swept past, and the stillness from circling hills sank
upon the city.
“Curse me!” quoth beggar Foo, “but Ling must have found a sweet-
heart.” At this the pent hatred of the others clamoured against those limbs,
that whole nose of his: “He a sweetheart forsooth!” They glanced hate-
fully at each other’s maimed limbs; as the wind tosses dead tree-branches,
so their arms became shaken, for with Ling was their common fund for food.
AH! curse him; to hide thus from the patrol since sun-down was not
pleasant, for the night became cold when the pre-morning wind, that shudders
in the chimneys, adds its shriller coolness to the air.
Their hoarse clamour soon spluttered, and gradually ceased; dull gleams
only answered the fixed gleam of hungry eyes; one idea only troubled their
shrivelled lips: then with tacit consent the beggars bent towards the place
of Sudden Death, the muffled clank of plodding hand-rests beat a wooden
tune to their shadows cast upon the walls they passed.
Some dogs, upon the place of execution, snapped sullenly from right to
left, with fangs still clenched in shreds of flesh. Foo was bitten on the
hand; at his jarring cry the curs scampered away in a retreat of pattering paws.
About Mount Torment lay what remained, flesh made nameless, then
left there by the torturer. One beggar shook from a bamboo stake a head
so placed not to be stolen; a silent tussle began for this, in which blows fell
upon unelastic shoulders that sounded like bumped wood. In the struggle,
this prize had fallen to Foo; his wounded hand still maddened him, and this
gave energy to body bent in the effort to propel his little cart; the turning
of a few streets soon brought him into security, for the chase had grown
slack, a feeble shower of hurled stones ended it.
When he rested to take breath, his hunger had gone, which but now so
tormented him. Like an unequal runner, the taste of blood was in his
mouth, and he grasped at an oppression near his chest; so he placed the
head upon the ground, for it had grown heavy.
Something, as yet but half understood, flashed suddenly upon him, as
if an oblique light, full of revelation, had been cast between his eyes and the
dead man’s eyes; vanishing, it left a partial recollection, or echo, in his brain,
vibrant as a splash of white upon a ground of black, but, like it, formless.
When, gradually, colour upon colour, the past, unrolled, swam upon the
filmy web, many things came back unbidden, as if, in sleep, he walked some
ominous strand girt with the refluent sweep of persistent recollection,
“Do you remember, do you remember?” the dead man’s eyes added,
“You left by the wrong gate, I lost you in the garden; I, Chang Tei, have
hated her, ever since”—“ever since,” whispered the little memories,
Now, Foo understood why the night-watch had seized him beyond the
gate—as a robber? or conspirator? he had never known; things had been
wrenched from him, groaned in excess of anguish, when blinded by torture;
things whose purport he had not then understood.
Though no kinsman dared succour him, he had escaped; ten years had
passed since the paying of her kisses with his blood.
For hours the silent dialogue continued between the dead man and the
Dawn tinged a summer pavilion near the royal orchards, when the
beggar again reached the terrible Present, with its livid light that streaked
the opposite walls, as with the stain of tears.
A lamp-ray shot from a lattice, for a moment opened; the sound of
trailed viol strings floated past with the projected glimmer.
Then, he remembered the time and place; taking the head, he hurled it
through the unclosed window.
The marred face fell upon the queen’s lap; when she rose with suddenly
clenched eyelids, she felt its weight bite into her robe.
No one stirrred, their terror had not passed; from a word gasped by a
servant, her casual lover knew his mistress was the queen; he dared not
move whilst her eyes remained shut.
Her teeth clattered, and from the throat came forth a shuddering sound,
as of something unwound slowly.
The fatal head merely looked at her; between its eyes and hers, one
recollection had grown, at first impalpably, but gradually, with such oppres-
sion that she opened them wide and closed her hands convulsed.
“Water! give me wine!”
A great silence fell. She became aware that her lips moved inaudibly.
A sense of void, that yet seemed conscious with a threat and terribly
near, hung upon her. Had the world slipped away, out of time’s control?
and the idea of calling for assistance seemed so absurd.
Of its own accord the head rolled over. Once more she gurgled from
the throat, with short, hurt moans, and leant over the dead face, as if dragged
there perforce; in rapid succession came the remembered sensation of a
jostling palanquin, some women beckoning from a balcony, and a great
sense of fear that made her remember his name: but the angle of a villa
swam past in moonlight; with it the sensation of a nestling kiss; she
remembered the rest, and became conscious.
She feared the attendants heard these certain things, and motioned
unsteadily to them to go, to leave the room; and all this had taken but a
little while, for the wine still flowed from the gullet of a fallen jar, it ceased
with a loud “Sob”; remembering her lover’s presence, she saw his face
was frightful; with a terrified murmur she said “Go away”!—he turned
and left very suddenly.
Birds inaudible by day made the air acute with bleeding sounds, pulsed
from red throats unassuaged. Above the lawns, the morning mists hung
loose a silvery green which clung about and tinged the lower tree-trunks.
When the queen, with dull, relaxed eyelids, gazed through the window,
the summer pavilions without seemed diminutive in the morning light, as
if shrunken in the new sense of air, of space; the room was no longer doubly
stained by blended dawn and lamp haze, the lamp had gone out.
She felt stunned with all that face had said to her, from the time that a
hesitating blueness had been let in with the opening of a shutter, to the Now
that filled the walls with a diffused radiance that bleached the lattice; those
lips had mumbled all their hatred, explaining, accusing and repeating; then,
haggard images faced her on all sides, peopling many mirrors that circled
or ceiled the love chamber,—might they not mirror the marred face? This
gave her strength to rise, and fold it in her robe; she would take it to the
river.—Several times she pushed the head from the shore, for the river there
seemed without current; heedless of her efforts, his lips smiled, as if they
sketched a kiss in the air and said “why do you try? you cannot do this
When Summer came, and the days brooded and grew still, beneath a sky
that drooped, a glance of his would cling to her, his voice remembered would
seem Time’s central voice, heard only at intervals; sometimes it sobbed, like
the river beyond the gardens, whilst the fountains tall beat time without and
dreamt they touched the eaves.—“You did not know that we should meet
so soon? but see!”—she even heard this after having locked the head in a
box; and sometimes a mirror remembered his face; she had this covered
up, never returning to that part of the palace. People said these mirrors
were covered because the queen was daily losing her beauty; there was some
truth in this; her dead lover haunted her with unforgiving eyes, only the
more implacable when she closed hers to the light; and, through this terrible
obsession, the ghost of another feeling would sometimes steal upon her and
make still, for a second only, the unrelenting fierceness with which his eye-
balls looked at her; then she would cry, in pity of herself.
Once his face had looked at her from the burnished gilding of an
oratory, where she had gone to complain. Her pride was broken. If, at
times, her old haughtiness returned, and, with it, deep gusts of wantonness,
she found terror painted upon love’s face; some occasional lovers had even
to be executed, for they had talked; those were such troubled times. Their
death seemed to her useless, foolish, but the laws of the country forbade
the slandering of the queen.
Slowly, she sank into a torpor, vague, but almost delightful; she dreamt
of shadeful places, deep with boughs, long murmurous grasses,—places where
the large flowers seemed mellow sounds,—and that his glance had there
grown still. A belief in this would flow through her limbs with a soft,
Gradually, in these hallucinations, the dead man’s voice whispered
gently, in tones that till then had been forgotten; and the newer sound
would swell within her, like the long sun-streaks that glow and fade across
a stretch of famished grass. Thus, something of the waning summer’s
pleasantness sank into her life, as it grew more and more unreal and blent
with the moods of the sleeping palace, giving moment to the yawn of a
curtain gently swayed by the breeze, the shimmer from the floors, their
clinging coolness poured beneath the cedar beams that cracked and stretched;
those things that give the sense of the hours as they fall from the hands of
time like the beads from a chaplet; till once, in very sooth his voice did
call from the sealed and spiced box in which she had placed this dead face
Like one in a trance she rose to go to him.
But the head rolled over with a branding peal of laughter; exasperated,
she struck it passionately, again and again, till her hands were wet with tears
—great tears streamed from his eyes; and her bowels yearned, as thick
drops gathered about her lashes, that she could have done this thing! she
kissed him, and they wept together.
Facing the queen was a picture she had often, if but vaguely, noted;
rich with age, as with clinging incense haze, the painted figure was clothed
in a violet robe that curved outwardly; it held a tongueless bell in one hand,
the other rose to close its laboured lips; the eyes were fixed unfathomably
into space, they got their strangeness by the rigid distinctness with which
the artist had pencilled them—those eyes seemed to have grown pallid in the
effort to forget.
Through her clustering tears she suddenly remembered the picture; the
resemblance of its lips to those of her lover broke upon her like a sudden
bell-sound heard in the centre of a wood. The painting had been called
“Silence”; some said it represented Fate: beneath the queen’s kisses
Chang Tei very slowly closed his eyes.
Time passed, the summer days returned; legends about the queen took
clearer, if still fragmentary form; she was of alien blood, remotely of Tartar
origin. During the disturbances the Chang Tei rebellion had left in the
larger towns, those voices had grown louder that sing little, forbidden
songs, or give vent to exclamations in an amused crowd.
Some things were coarse and cruel, their infamy delightful to those who
could best understand it. When a few are gathered together, will not a song-
give, sometimes, to the singer a flattering sense of nationality?—some origi-
nality of feeling steals unawares through a chorus not sung too loud, but to
which people nod pleasantly as they go by the half-closed door.
There were other things, however, not to be understood; the queen’s
poignant passions, this one supreme renunciation seemed only able to
assuage—how unaccountable this! She used to terrify her lovers, about this
there were many ingenious tales. Now, it was said she would wash this
marred face with her tears, wipe, devoutly, with her hair, the precious oint-
ments she poured upon its many wounds, kissing the spiced mouth; she
was as one who has listened to much prolonged music, or who half fears the
approach of a vision.
And men, with shrill voices, said a curse was upon her for her lewdness;
that an iron circle weighed upon her brow from nightrise to sunrise, but
that her lover had no cause to fear, being but a face; and people would
laugh exceedingly at this; also, was that Face not deeply marred?
Though trouble, ever increasing, raged in the provinces, the queen’s life
did not change; none but a few servants who had seen the head’s coming
had access to her.
In long rooms, hung with violet veils, or dark bronze mirrors filled only
with a remote radiance, she nightly feasted with him, raising empty goblets
to her lips, breaking untasted bread sacramentally;—though a banquet was
laid nightly, she tasted but a little rice. When morning came she would
motion towards a window and say, “My Lord! the Dawn breaks.” Rising,
she would bear the head in her hands, devoutly, as a young priest does a
relic, through darkened corridors, where the purple shapes seemed absorbed
in the recreating of forms half remembered, of colours half effaced; and
she would murmur the while quaint foolish songs she had learnt in her
And behold! rebellion stood boldly at the gates of her capital with a
rejoicing populace issuing thence with appropriate presents, whilst in the
queen’s house all was still, as a place the south wind has swept over and left
News reached the palace; the servants issued from lateral gates; they
looked sharply about them as if to see if it rained, dropping ostentatiously
their long lances, or feathered brooms, if any one chanced to be near; but as
yet no crowd circled the many royal buildings. Here and there stood a few
men only, who blinked somewhat at the light, and watched, quietly, as birds
watch a dying traveller. Some amongst them swung long arms, with hooked
hands a little distance from their sides, scarcely knowing what to do with
When the sudden crowd came with the Deliverers beating their drums,
the imperial peacocks and other birds flew, clamouring, into the air to perch
on unaccustomed roof projections and pinnacles. A deaf old servant came
out after this noise; crossing the main drawbridge, he held one hand to his
ear as if to listen. At this the crowd laughed merrily.
Room after room was crossed, in good order as yet, with a little laughter
only when there was no exit, and the same rooms had to be crossed again.
In the halls, the many paintings looked at the crowd; some represented
princes battling with waves or waterfalls; ladies among peonies; there were
pictures of gentle beasts, preciously wrought; portraits of beautiful Em-
presses,—one had been covered with a dish-clout, for her servants, wishing
to conceal the picture, had not dared destroy it, not knowing the town would
open all its gates to the insurgents, so many things might have happened.
The crowd by this time a little awed again laughed, then moved on.
At last a cry of rage broke from them all; the queen could nowhere be
found. Some among the rebels said the carved figures on a roof represented
all the sins, that the topmost figure, tulip-shaped, was an image of sterility;
at any rate the splendours of this temple roof maddened them,—had it not
been built with what might have been in each man’s larder? And the prince,
of royal Chinese descent, who had headed the crowd, borne in a long litter,
made a sign with his hands; his followers knew he wished nothing to remain
of this palace, builded by an alien dynasty, and torches became spontaneous
in the crowd.
The noise, which had hitherto filled the fantastic palace pavilions, ceased,
even without, and an oppressive lull swept heavily through the open doors,
and thence into the gardens.
On the lawns the birds had settled again, but once more they twisted
their necks and bent their legs as if for flight; the Royal Tigers walked up
and down their cages, or, lifting their front paws, they snuffed the air, as cats
do at a scented flower they do not think they like; white hares shot from
cover to cover and listened. No smoke was as yet visible—but a thin crack-
ling sound disturbed them.
When lithe flames bent from some windows, the alarm scarcely increased;
the birds strutted about or took little foolish flights; out of the bamboo
stubble came the quaint squeak of the quail, the flutter of partridges.
Upon the walls, large painted spaces retained their surface colour unto
the last, between the bursting and licking of the flames. Creeping plants
writhed from heated bricks. The clatter of tiles sliding away to where their
fall was no longer heard came, repeatedly, from a portion of the palace now
a widening flame.
A flight of peacocks wheeled round and round, as they fell, suffocated,
into the fire. The great sullen Behemoth then broke from his tank, in which
he loves to wallow in ooze and mire; first among the beasts he had snuffed,
but had not moved, he had rolled little red eyes long before the outbursting
of the flames. When, indeed, the heat grew terrible, he ran with his snout
low down, hurling out of existence beasts that stood in his path, to beat
against a part of the palace not yet on fire.
After the garden fountains had ceased, and their water had grown choked
and turbid with fallen sparks, all the animals howled with a terrible voice
that had a blare as of brass, echoing to the very innermost room, where the
queen sat beneath the picture of Silence.
The palace burns, and Behemoth! but in her ears the roar was faint as
the booming of a neighbouring sea, as the fall of land down some hill-slope.
Slowly, but very slowly, some smoke drifted between those walls that
were covered with burnished bronze.
“Love!” she said, “I think the dawn has come! for there is a redness
in the air, love! see, the morning mist is on the floor, filtered to this room.”
She laughed quietly, remembering it was still day, not even twilight, for no
servant had come, and without them she knew not, nor troubled to know,
how the spent hours waned.
Then it seemed to her the palace burned, as a little sound like a mouse
crept among the hangings that smouldered duskily, near the chink of a
bronze door; and the mist was filmy with smoke.
She knew that, owing to the gold upon them and the silver woven in
their web, the curtains could scarcely burn; the burnished walls and finished
floors were covered with bronze plating; heat only, and suffocation, could
“My love,” she said, “the palace burns, let us go away.” Donning a fastidious robe, entirely radiant with wings outstretched upon its tissue, she nodded to him and sang vaguely, she also unwound her hair and painted her eyes, that he might be proud of her beauty; they would go away, the palace burned, the gods were so envious.
Door after door was crossed and left behind; the muffled rooms burnt
noiselessly, each sinking into A past as she walked to meet the future. Her
dilated eyes caught glimpses of the whiteness of her skin, the morsels of
beauty that remained to her; the black mirrors had veiled the ageing of her
Some of the insurgents saw her glide above a tall, smooth wall that led
to a disused pavilion near the palace orchards, the culminant fire behind her
as a frame. The fixity of her gaze was centred on the dead man’s eyes.
Some one in the crowd hurled a javelin that stuck into a door before her.
But still she kissed her lover’s face, as if she inhaled the deep fragrance of a
flower. Then, as the pavilion had no outer door, as she could go no further,
she reverentially kissed his marred face before them all.
Some say that owing to her great sinfulness she sang a wanton song.
Ricketts, Charles. “The Marred Face.” The Dial, vol. 2, 1892, pp. 1-7. Dial Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2018-2020. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2019. https://1890s.ca/dialv2-ricketts-marred/