I—The Death Mask
THE Master was dead; and Peschi, who had come round to
the studio to see about some repairs—part of the ceiling had
fallen owing to the too lively proceedings of Dubourg and his
eternal visitors overhead—Peschi displayed a natural pride that it
was he who had been selected from among the many mouleurs of
the Quarter, to take a mask of the dead man.
All Paris was talking of the Master, although not, assuredly,
under that title. All Paris was talking of his life, of his genius,
of his misery, and of his death. Peschi, for the moment, was sole
possessor of valuable unedited details, to the narration of which
Hiram P. Corner, who had dropped in to pass the evening with
me, listened with keenly attentive ears.
Corner was a recent addition to the American Art Colony;
ingenuous as befitted his eighteen years, and of a more than
improbable innocence. Paris, to him, represented the Holiest of
Holies; the dead Master, by the adorable impeccability of his
writings, figuring therein as one of the High Priests. Needless
to say, he had never come in contact with that High Priest, had
never even seen him; while the Simian caricatures which so
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. Q
frequently embellished the newspapers, made as little impression
on the lad’s mind as did the unequivocal allusions, jests, and
epigrams, for ever flung up like sea-spray against the rock of his
The absorbing interest Corner felt glowed visibly on his fresh
young western face, and it was this, I imagine, which led Peschi
to propose that we should go back with him to his atelier and see
the mask for ourselves.
Peschi is a Genoese; small, lithe, very handsome; a skilled
workman, a little demon of industry ; full of enthusiasms, with
the real artist-soul. He works for Felon the sculptor, and it was
Felon who had been commissioned to do the bust for which the
death mask would serve as model.
It is always pleasant to hear Peschi talk; and to-night, as we
walked from the Rue Fleurus to the Rue Notre-Dame-des-
Champs he told us something of mask-taking in general, with
illustrations from this particular case.
On the preceding day, barely two hours after death had taken
place, Rivereau, one of the dead man’s intimates, had rushed into
Peschi’s workroom, and carried him off, with the necessary
materials, to the Rue Monsieur, in a cab. Rivereau, though
barely twenty, is perhaps the most notorious of the bande. Peschi
described him to Corner as having dark, evil, narrow eyes set too
close together in a perfectly white face, framed by falling, lustre-
less black hair; and with the stooping shoulders, the troubled
walk, the attenuated hands common to his class.
Arrived at the house, Rivereau led the way up the dark and
dirty staircase to the topmost landing, and as they paused there an
instant, Peschi could hear the long-drawn, hopeless sobs of a
woman within the door.
On being admitted he found himself in an apartment
consisting of two small, inconceivably squalid rooms, opening one
from the other.
In the outer room, five or six figures, the disciples, friends, and
lovers of the dead poet, conversed together; a curious group in a
medley of costumes. One in an opera-hat, shirt-sleeves, and
soiled grey trousers tied up with a bit of stout string; another in
a black coat buttoned high to conceal the fact that he wore no shirt
at all; a third in clothes crisp from the tailor, with an immense
bunch of Parma violets in his buttonhole. But all were alike in
the strangeness of their eyes, their voices, their gestures.
Seen through the open door of the further room, lay the corpse
under a sheet, and by the bedside knelt the stout, middle-aged
mistress, whose sobs had reached the stairs.
Madame Germaine, as she was called in the Quarter, had
loved the Master with that complete, self-abnegating, sublime
love of which certain women are capable—a love uniting that of
the mother, the wife, and the nurse all in one. For years she
had cooked for him, washed for him, mended for him; had
watched through whole nights by his bedside when he was ill;
had suffered passively his blows, his reproaches, and his neglect,
when, thanks to her care, he was well again. She adored him
dumbly, closed her eyes to his vices, and magnified his gifts,
without in the least comprehending them. She belonged to the
ouvrière class, could not read, could not write her own name; but
with a characteristic which is as French as it is un-British, she
paid her homage to intellect, where an Englishwoman only
gives it to inches and muscle. Madame Germaine was prouder
perhaps of the Master’s greatness, worshipped him more devoutly,
than any one of the super-cultivated, ultra-corrupt group, who by
their flatteries and complaisances had assisted him to his ruin.
It was with the utmost difficulty, Peschi said, that Rivereau
and the rest had succeeded in persuading the poor creature to
leave the bedside and go into the other room while the mask was.
The operation, it seems, is a sufficiently horrible one, and no
relative is permitted to be present. As you cover the dead face
over with the plaster, a little air is necessarily forced back again into
the lungs, and this air as it passes along the windpipe causes strange
rattlings, sinister noises, so that you might swear that the corpse
was returned to life. Then, as the mould is removed, the muscles
of the face drag and twitch, the mouth opens, the tongue lolls out – T
and Peschi declared that this always remains for him a gruesome
moment. He has never accustomed himself to it; on every
recurring occasion it fills him with the same repugnance ; and
this, although he has taken so many masks, is so deservedly
celebrated for them, that la bande had instantly selected him to
perpetuate the Master’s lineaments.
“But it’s an excellent likeness,” said Peschi; “you see they sent
for me so promptly that he had not changed at all. He does
not look as though he were dead, but just asleep.”
Meanwhile we had reached the unshuttered shop-front, where
Peschi displays, on Sundays and week-days alike, his finished works
of plastic art to the gamins and filles of the Quarter.
Looking past the statuary, we could see into the living-room
beyond, it being separated from the shop only by a glass partition.
It was lighted by a lamp set in the centre of the table, and in the
circle of light thrown from beneath its green shade, we saw a
charming picture: the young head of Madame Peschi bent over
her baby, whom she was feeding at the breast. She is eighteen,
pretty as a rose, and her story and Peschi’s is an idyllic one; to
be told, perhaps, another time. She greeted us with the smiling,
cordial, unaffected kindliness which in France warms your blood
with the constant sense of brotherhood; and, giving the boy to his
father—a delicious opalescent trace of milk hanging about the little
mouth—she got up to see about another lamp which Peschi had
Holding this lamp to guide our steps, he preceded us now across
a dark yard to his workshop at the further end, and while we
went we heard the young mother’s exquisite nonsense-talk
addressed to the child, as she settled back in her place again to her
Peschi, unlocking a door, flashed the light down a long room,
the walls of which, the trestle-tables, the very floor, were hung,
laden, and encumbered with a thousand heterogeneous objects.
Casts of every description and dimension, finished, unfinished,
broken; scrolls for ceilings; caryatides for chimney-pieces;
cornucopias for the entablatures of buildings; chubby Cupids
jostling emaciated Christs; broken columns for Père Lachaise, or
consolatory upward-pointing angels; hands, feet, and noses for the
Schools of Art; a pensively posed échorché contemplating a Venus
of Milo fallen upon her back; these, and a crowd of nameless,
formless things, seemed to spring at our eyes, as Peschi raised or
lowered the lamp, moved it this way or the other.
“There it is,” said he, pointing forwards; and I saw lying flat
upon a modelling-board, with upturned features, a grey, immobile
simulacrum of the curiously mobile face I remembered so well.
“Of course you must understand,” said Paschi, “it’s only in
the rough, just exactly as it came from the creux. Fifty copies
are to be cast altogether, and this is the first one. But I must
prop it up for you. You can’t judge of it as it is.”
He looked about him for a free place on which to set the lamp.
Not finding any, he put it down on the floor. For a few moments
lie stood busied over the mask with his back to us.
“Now you can see it properly,” said he, and stepped aside.
The lamp threw its rays upwards, illuminating strongly the
lower portion of the cast, throwing the upper portion into deepest
shadow, with the effect that the inanimate mask was become
suddenly a living face, but a face so unutterably repulsive, so
hideously bestial, that I grew cold to the roots of my hair. . . .
A fat, loose throat, a retreating chinless chin, smeared and bleared
with the impressions of the meagre beard; a vile mouth, lustful,
flaccid, the lower lip disproportionately great; ignoble lines;
hateful puffinesses ; something inhuman and yet worse than in-
human in its travesty of humanity ; something that made you
hate the world and your fellows, that made you hate yourself for
being ever so little in this image. A more abhorrent spectacle I
have never seen. . . .
So soon as I could turn my eyes from the ghastly thing, I
looked at Corner. He was white as the plaster faces about him.
His immensely opened eyes showed his astonishment and his
terror. For what I experienced was intensified in his case by
the unexpected and complete disillusionment. He had opened the
door of the tabernacle, and out had crawled a noisome spider; he
had lifted to his lips the communion cup, and therein squatted a
toad. A sort of murmur of frantic protestation began to rise in
his throat; but Peschi, unconscious of our agitation, now lifted the
lamp, passed round with it behind the mask, held it high, and let
the rays stream downwards from above.
The astounding way the face changed must have been seen to
be believed in. It was exactly as though, by some cunning
sleight of hand, the mask of a god had been substituted for that of
a satyr. . . . You saw a splendid dome-like head, Shakespearean
in contour; a broad, smooth, finely-modelled brow; thick, regular,
horizontal eyebrows, casting a shadow which diminished the too
great distance separating them from the eyes; while the deeper
shadow thrown below the nose altered its character entirely. Its
snout-like appearance was gone, its deep, wide-open, upturned
nostrils were hidden, but you noticed the well-marked transition
from forehead to nose-base, the broad ridge denoting extraordinary
mental power. Over the eyeballs the lids had slidden down
smooth and creaseless; the little tell-tale palpebral wrinkles
which had given such libidinous lassitude to the eye had vanished
away. The lips no longer looked gross, and they closed together
in a beautiful, sinuous line, now first revealed by the shadow on
the upper one. The prominence of the jaws, the muscularity of
the lower part of the face, which gave it so painfully microcephalous
an appearance, were now unnoticeable; on the contrary, the whole
face looked small beneath the noble head and brow. You
remarked the medium-sized and well-formed ears, with the
“swan” distinct in each, the gently-swelling breadth of head
above them, the full development of the forehead over the orbits of
the eyes. You discerned the presence of those higher qualities
which might have rendered him an ascetic or a saint; which
led him to understand the beauty of self-denial, to appreciate
the wisdom of self-restraint: and you did not see how these
qualities remained inoperative in him, being completely over-
balanced by the size of the lower brain, the thick, bull throat,
and the immense length from the ear to the base of the skull at
I had often seen the Master in life: I had seen him sipping
absinthe at the d’Harcourt; reeling, a Silemus-like figure, among
the nocturnal Bacchantes of the Boul’ Miche; lying in the gutter
outside his house, until his mistress should come to pick him up
and take him in. I had seen in the living man more traces than
a few of the bestiality which the death-mask had completely
verified; but never in the living man had I suspected anything of
the beauty, of the splendour, that I now saw.
For that the Master had somewhere a beautiful soul you
divined from his works; from the exquisite melody of all of them,
from the pure, the ecstatic, the religious altitude of some few.
But in actual daily life, his loose and violent will-power, his insane
passions, held that soul bound down so close a captive, that those
who knew him best were the last to admit its existence.
And here, a mere accident of lighting displayed not only that
existence, but its visible, outward expression as well. In these
magnificent lines and arches of head and brow, you saw what the
man might have been, what God had intended him to be; what
his mother had foreseen in him, when, a tiny infant like Peschi’s
yonder, she had cradled the warm, downy, sweet-smelling little
head upon her bosom, and dreamed day-dreams of all the high, the
great, the wonderful things her boy later on was to do. You saw
what the poor, purblind, middle-aged mistress was the only one to
see in the seamed and ravaged face she kissed so tenderly for the
last time before the coffin-lid was closed.
You saw the head of gold; you could forget the feet of clay, or,
remembering them, you found for the first time some explanation
of the anomalies of his career.
You understood how he who could pour out passionate
protestations of love and devotion to God in the morning, offering
up body and soul, flesh and blood in his service; dedicating his
brow as a footstool for the Sacred Feet; his hands as censers for
the glowing coals, the precious incense; condemning his eyes,
misleading lights, to be extinguished by the tears of prayer; you
understood how, nevertheless, before evening was come, he would
set every law of God and decency at defiance, use every member,
every faculty, in the service of sin.
It was given to him, as it is given to few, to see the Best, to
reverence it, to love it; and the blind, groping hesitatingly
forward in the darkness, do not stray as far as he strayed.
He knew the value of work, its imperative necessity; that in
the sweat of his brow the artist, like the day-labourer, must
produce, must produce: and he spent his slothful days shambling
from café to café.
He never denied his vices; he recognised them and found
excuses for them, high moral reasons even, as the intellectual man
can always do. To indulge them was but to follow out the
dictates of Nature, who in herself is holy; cynically to expose
them to the world was but to be absolutely sincere.
And his disciples, going further, taught with a vague poetic
mysticism that he was a fresh Incarnation of the Godhead; that
what was called his immorality was merely his scorn of truckling
to the base conventions of the world. But in his saner moments
he described himself more accurately as a man blown hither and
thither by the winds of evil chance, just as a withered leaf is
blown in autumn; and having received great and exceptional
gifts, with Shakespeare’s length of years in which to turn them to
account, he had chosen instead to wallow in such vileness that his
very name was anathema among honourable men.
Chosen? Did he choose? Can one say after all that he
chose to resemble the leaf rather than the tree? The gates of
gifts close on the child with the womb, and all we possess comes
to us from afar, and is collected from a thousand diverging
If that splendid head and brow were contained in the seed, so
also were the retreating chin, the debased jaw, the animal mouth.
One as much as the other was the direct inheritance of former
generations. Considered in a certain aspect, it seems that a man
by taking thought, may as little hope to thwart the implanted
propensities of his character, as to alter the shape of his skull or
the size of his jawbone.
I lost myself in mazes of predestination and free-will. Life
appeared to me as a huge kaleidoscope turned by the hand of Fate.
The atoms of glass coalesce into patterns, fall apart, unite together
again, are always the same, but always different, and, shake the
glass never so slightly, the precise combination you have just been
looking at is broken up for ever. It can never be repeated.
This particular man, with his faults and his virtues, his unconscious
brutalities, his unexpected gentlenesses, his furies of remorse; this
man with the lofty brain, the perverted tastes, the weak, irresolute,
indulgent heart, will never again be met with to the end of time;
in all the endless combinations to come, this precise combination
will never be found. Just as of all the faces the world will see, a
face like the mask there will never again exchange glances
with it. . . . .
I looked at Corner, and saw his countenance once more aglow
with the joy of a recovered Ideal; while Peschi’s voice broke in
on my reverie, speaking with the happy pride of the artist in a
good and conscientious piece of work.
“Eh bien, how do you find it?” said he; “it is beautiful, is it
II—The Villa Lucienne
MADAME COETLEGON told the story, and told it so well, that
her audience seemed to know the sombre alley, the neglected
garden, the shuttered house, as intimately as though they had
visited it themselves; seemed to feel a faint reverberation of the
incommunicable thrill which she had felt,—which the surly
guardian, the torn rag of lace, the closed pavilion had made her
feel. And yet, as you will see, there is in reality no story at all;
it is merely an account of how, when in the Riviera two winters
ago, she went with some friends to look over a furnished villa,
which one of them thought of taking.
It was afternoon when we started on our expedition, Madame
de M—, Cécile her widowed daughter-in-law, and I. Cécile’s
little girl Renée, the nurse, and Médor, the boarhound of which
poor Guy had been so inordinately fond, dawdled after us up the
steep and sunny road.
The December day was deliciously blue and warm. Cécile
took off her furs and carried them over her arm. We only put
down our sunshades when a screen of olive-trees on the left inter-
posed their grey-green foliage between the sunshine and us.
Up in these trees barefooted men armed with bamboos were
beating the branches to knock down the fruit; and three genera-
tions of women, grandmothers, wives, and children, knelt in the
grass, gathering up the little purplish olives into baskets. All
paused to follow us with black persistent eyes, as we passed by;
only the men went on working unmoved. The tap-tapping,
swish-swishing, of their light sticks against the boughs played
a characteristically southern accompaniment to our desultory
We were reasonably happy, pleasantly exhilarated by the beauty
of the weather and the scene. Renée and Médor, with shrill
laughter and deep-mouthed joy-notes, played together the whole
way. And when the garden wall, which now replaced the olive-
trees upon our right, gave place to a couple of iron gates standing
open upon a broad straight drive, and we, looking up between
the overarching palm-trees and cocoanuts, saw a white, elegant,
sun-bathed house at the end, Cecile jumped to the con-
clusion that here was the Villa Lucienne, and that nowhere else
could she find a house which on the face of it would suit her
But the woman who came to greet us, the jocund, brown-faced
young woman, with the superb abundance of bosom beneath her
crossed neckkerchief of orange-coloured wool, told us no; this
was the Villa Soleil (appropriate name!) and belonged to
Monsieur Morgera, the deputy who was now in Paris. The
Villa Lucienne was higher up; she pointed vaguely behind her
through the house: a long walk round by the road. But if these
ladies did not mind a path which was a trifle damp perhaps,
owing to Monday’s rain, they would find themselves in five
minutes at the Villa, for the two houses in reality were not more
than a stone’s-throw apart.
She conducted us across a spacious garden golden with sunshine,
lyric with bird-song, brilliant with flowers, where eucalyptus,
mimosa, and tea-roses interwove their strong and subtle perfumes
through the air, to an angle in a remote laurel hedge. Here she
stooped to pull aside some ancient pine-boughs which ineffectually
closed the entrance to a dark and trellised walk. Peering up it, it
seemed to stretch away interminably into green gloom, the ground
rising a little all the while, and the steepness of the ascent being
modified every here and there by a couple of rotting wooden steps.
We were to go up this alley, our guide told us, and we would
be sure to find Laurent at the top. Laurent, she explained to us,
was the gardener who lived at the Villa Lucienne and showed it
to visitors. But there were not many who came, although it had
been to let an immense time, ever since the death of old Madame
Gray, and that had occurred before she, the speaker, had come
south with the Morgeras. We were to explain to Laurent that
we had been sent up from the Villa Soleil, and then it would be all
right. For he sometimes used the alley himself, as it gave him a
short cut into Antibes; but the passage had been blocked up many
years ago, to prevent the Morgera children running into it.
Oh, Madame was very kind, it was no trouble at all, and of
course if these ladies liked they could return by the alley also;
but once they found themselves at the Villa they would be close
to the upper road, which they would probably prefer. Then
came her cordial voice calling after Cécile, “Madame had best
put on her furs again, it is cold in there.”
It was cold, and damp, too, with the damp coldness of places
where sun and wind never penetrate. It was so narrow that we
had to walk in single file. The walls close on either hand, the low
roof above our heads, were formed of trellised woodwork now
dropping into complete decay. But these might have been
removed altogether, and the alley would still have retained its
form; for the creepers which overgrew it had with time
developed gnarled trunks and branches, which formed a second
natural tunnelling outside. Through the broken places in the
woodwork we could see the thick, inextricably twisted stems;
and outside again was a tangled matting of greenery that suffered
no drop of sunlight to trickle through. The ground was covered
with lichens, deathstool, and a spongy moss exuding water
beneath the foot, and one had the consciousness that the whole
place, floor, walls, and roof, must creep with the repulsive, slimy,
running life which pullulates in dark and solitary places.
The change from the gay and scented garden to this dark alley,
heavy with the smells of moisture and decay, was curiously
depressing. We followed each other in silence; first Cécile;
then Renée clinging to her nurse’s hand, with Médor pressing
close against them; Madame de M—next; and I brought up
One would have pronounced it impossible to find in any
southern garden so sombre a place, but that, after all, it is only in
the south that such extraordinary contrasts of gaiety and gloom
ever present themselves.
The sudden tearing away of a portion of one of the wooden
steps beneath my tread startled us all, and the circular scatter of
an immense colony of wood-lice that had formed its habitat in
the crevices of the wood filled me with shivering disgust. I was
exceedingly glad when we emerged from the tunnel upon daylight
again and the Villa.
Upon daylight, but not upon sunlight, for the small garden in
which we found ourselves was ringed round by the compact tops
of the umbrella-pines which climbed the hill on every side. The
site had been chosen of course on account of the magnificent view
which we knew must be obtainable from the Villa windows,
though from where we stood we could see nothing but the dark
trees, the wild garden, the overshadowed house. And we saw
none of these things very distinctly, for our attention was focussed
on the man standing stolidly there in the middle of the garden,
and evidently knee-deep in the grass, awaiting us.
He was a short, thick-set peasant, dressed in the immensely
wide blue velveteen trousers, the broad crimson sash, and the
flannel shirt, open at the throat, which are customary in these
parts. He was strong-necked as a bull, dark as a mulatto, and his
curling, grizzled hair was thickly matted over head and face and
breast. He wore a flat knitted cap, and held the inevitable
cigarette between his lips, but he made no attempt to remove one
or the other at our approach. He stood motionless, silent, his
hands thrust deep into his pockets, staring at us, and shifting from
one to another his suspicious and truculent little eyes.
So far as I was concerned, and though the Villa had proved a
palace, I should have preferred abandoning the quest at once to
going over it in his company ; but Cécile addressed him with
“We had been permitted to come up from the Villa Soleil.
We understood that the Villa Lucienne was to let furnished; if
so, might we look over it?”
From his heavy, expressionless expression, one might have
supposed that the very last thing he expected or desired was to
find a tenant for the Villa, and I thought with relief that he was
going to refuse Cécile’s request. But, after a longish pause:
“Yes, you can see it,” he said, grudgingly, and turned from us,
to disappear into the lower part of the house.
We looked into each other’s disconcerted faces, then round the
grey and shadowy garden in which we stood: a garden long
since gone to ruin, with paths and flower-beds inextricably
mingled, with docks and nettles choking up the rose-trees run
wild, with wind-planted weeds growing from the stone vases on
the terrace, with grasses pushing between the marble steps leading
up to the hall door.
In the middle of the garden a terra-cotta faun, tumbled from
his pedestal, grinned sardonically up from amidst the tangled
greenery, and Madame de M— began to quote:
“Un vieux faune en terre-cuite
Rit au centre des boulingrins,
Présageant sans doute une fuite
De ces instants sereins
Qui m’ont conduit et t’ont conduite . . .”
The Villa itself was as dilapidated, as mournful-looking as the
garden. The ground-floor alone gave signs of occupation, in a
checked shirt spread out upon a window-ledge to dry, in a worn
besom, an earthenware pipkin, and a pewter jug, ranged against
the wall. But the upper part, with the yellow plaster crumbling
from the walls, the grey-painted persiennes all monotonously
closed, said with a thousand voices it was never opened, never
entered, had not been lived in for years.
Our surly gardener reappeared, carrying some keys. He led
the way up the steps. We exchanged mute questions; all desire
to inspect the Villa was gone. But Cécile is a woman of character:
she devoted herself.
“I’ll just run up and see what it is like,” she said; “it’s not
worth while you should tire yourself too, Mamma. You, all, wait
We stood at the foot of the steps; Laurent was already at the
top. Cécile began to mount lightly towards him, but before she
was half-way she turned, and to our surprise, “I wish you would
come up all of you,” she said, and stopped there until we joined
Laurent fitted a key to the door, and it opened with a shriek of
rusty hinges. As he followed us, pulling it to behind him,
we found ourselves in total darkness. I assure you I went
through a bad quarter of a minute. Then we heard the turning
of a handle, an inner door was opened, and in the semi-daylight of
closed shutters we saw the man’s squat figure going from us down
a long, old-fashioned, vacant drawing-room towards two windows
at the further end.
At the same instant Renee burst into tears:
“Oh, I don’t like it. Oh, I’m frightened!” she sobbed.
“Little goosie!” said her grandmother, “see, it’s quite light
now!” for Laurent had pushed back the persiennes, and a magical
panorama had sprung into view; the whole range of the mountains
behind Nice, their snow-caps suffused with a heavenly rose colour
by the setting sun.
But Renée only clutched tighter at Madame de M—’s
gown, and wept:
“Oh, I don’t like it, Bonnemaman! She is looking at me
still. I want to go home!”
No one is looking at you,” her grandmother told her, “talk
to your friend Médor. He’ll take care of you.”
But Renée whispered:
“He wouldn’t come in; he’s frightened too.”
And, listening, we heard the dog’s impatient and complaining
bark calling to us from the garden.
Cécile sent Renée and the nurse to join him, and while Laurent
let them out, we stepped on to the terrace, and for a moment our
hearts were eased by the incomparable beauty of the view, for
raised now above the tree-tops, we looked over the admirable bay,
the illimitable sky; we feasted our eyes upon unimaginable colour,
upon matchless form. We were almost prepared to declare that
the possession of the Villa was a piece of good fortune not to be
let slip, when we heard a step behind us, and turned to see
Laurent surveying us morosely from the window threshold, and
again to experience the oppression of his ungenial personality.
Under his guidance we now inspected the century-old
furniture, the faded silks, the tarnished gilt, the ragged brocades,
which had once embellished the room. The oval mirrors were
dim with mildew, the parquet floor might have been a mere piece
of grey drugget, so thick was the overlying dust. Curtains,
yellowish, ropey, of undeterminable material, hung forlornly
where once they had draped windows and doors. Originally they
The Yellow Book—Vol. X. R
may have been of rose satin, for there were traces of rose colour
still on the walls and the ceiling, painted in gay southern fashion
with loves and doves, festoons of flowers, and knots of ribbons.
But these paintings were all fragmentary, indistinct, seeming to
lose sequence and outline the more diligently you tried to decipher
Yet you could not fail to see that when first furnished the
room must have been charming and coquettish. I wondered for
whom it had been thus arranged, why it had been thus abandoned.
For there grew upon me, I cannot tell you why, the curious
conviction that the last inhabitant of the room having casually
left it, had, from some unexpected obstacle, never again re-
turned. They were but the merest trifles that created this idea;
the tiny heaps of brown ash which lay on a marble gueridon, the
few withered twigs in the vase beside it, spoke of the last rose
plucked from the garden; the big berceuse chair drawn out
beside the sculptured mantelpiece seemed to retain the impression
of the last occupant; and in the dark recesses of the unclosed
hearth my fancy detected smouldering heat in the half-charred
logs of wood.
The other rooms in the villa resembled the salon ,
our surly guide opened the shutters we saw a repetition of the
ancient furniture, of the faded decoration; everything dust-
covered and time-decayed. Nor in these other rooms was any
sign of former occupation to be seen, until, caught upon the
girandole of a pier-glass, a long ragged fragment of lace seized my
eye; an exquisitely fine and cobwebby piece of lace, as though
caught and torn from some gala shawl or flounce, as the wearer
had hurried by.
It was odd perhaps to see this piece of lace caught thus, but
not odd enough surely to account for the strange emotion which
seized hold of me: an overwhelming pity, succeeded by an over-
whelming fear. I had had a momentary intention to point the
lace out to the others, but a glance at Laurent froze the words on
my lips. Never in my life have I experienced such a paralysing
fear. I was filled with an intense desire to get away from the
man and from the Villa.
But Madame de M— looking from the window, had noticed
a pavilion standing isolated in the garden. She inquired if it were
to be let with the house. Then she supposed we could visit it.
No, said the man, that was impossible. But she insisted it was
only right that tenants should see the whole of the premises
for which they would have to pay, but he refused this time with
such rudeness, his little brutish eyes narrowed with such malig-
nancy, that the panic which I had just experienced now seized the
others, and it was a sauve-qui-peut.
We gathered up Renée, nurse, and Médor in our hasty passage
through the garden, and found our way unguided to the gate upon
the upper road.
And once at large beneath the serene evening sky, winding
slowly westward down the olive bordered ways: “What an odious
old ruffian!” said one; “What an eerie, uncanny place!” said
another. We compared notes. We found that each of us had
been conscious of the same immense, the same inexplicable sense
Cécile, the least nervous of women, had felt it the first. It had
laid hold of her when going up the steps to the door, and it had
been so real a terror, she explained to us, that if we had not joined
her she would have turned back. Nothing could have induced
her to enter the Villa alone.
Madame de M—’s account was that her mind had been
more or less troubled from the first moment of entering the
garden, but that when the man refused us access to the pavilion,
it had been suddenly invaded by a most intolerable sense of some-
thing wrong. Being very imaginative (poor Guy undoubtedly
derived his extraordinary gifts from her), Madame de M— was
convinced that the gardener had murdered some one and buried
the body inside the pavilion.
But for me it was not so much the personality of the man—
although I admitted he was unprepossessing enough—as the Villa
itself which inspired fear. Fear seemed to exude from the walls,
to dim the mirrors with its clammy breath, to stir shudderingly
among the tattered draperies, to impregnate the whole atmosphere
as with an essence, a gas, a contagious disease. You fought it off
for a shorter or longer time, according to your powers of resistance,
but you were bound to succumb to it at last. The oppressive
and invisible fumes had laid hold of us one after the other, and the
incident of the closed pavilion had raised our terrors to a ludicrous
Nurse’s experiences, which she gave us a day or two later,
supported this view. For she told us that when Renée began to
cry, and she took her hand to lead her out, all at once she felt
quite nervous and uncomfortable too, as though the little one’s
trouble had passed by touch into her.
“And what is strange too,” said she, “when we reached the
garden, there was Médor, his forepaws planted firmly on the
ground, his whole body rigid, and his hair bristling all along his
backbone from end to end.”
Nurse was convinced that both the child and the dog had seen
something we others could not see.
This reminded us of a word of Renée’s, a very curious word:
“I don’t like it, she is looking at me
still,”—and Cecile under-
took to question her.
You remember, Renée, when mother took you the other day
to look over the pretty Villa—”
Renée opened wide, mute eyes.
“Why did you cry?”
“I was frightened of the lady,” she whispered.
“Where was the lady?” asked Cécile.
“She was in the drawing-room, sitting in the big chair.”
“Was she an old lady like grandmamma, or a young lady like
“She was like Bonnemaman,” said Renée, and her little mouth
began to quiver.
“And what did she do?”
“She got up and began to—to come—
But here Renée burst into tears again. And as she is a very
nervous, excitable child, we had to drop the subject.
But what it all meant, whether there was anything in the
history of the house or of its guardian which could account for
our sensations, we never knew. We made inquiries of course
concerning Laurent and the Villa Lucienne, but we learned very
little, and that little was so vague, so remote, so irrelevant, that it
does not seem worth while repeating.
The indisputable fact is the overwhelming fear which the
adventure awoke in each and all of us; and this effect is impossible
to describe, being just the crystallisation of one of those subtle,
unformulated emotions in which only poor Guy himself could
have hoped to succeed.
D’Arcy, Ella. “Two Stories.” The Yellow Book, vol. 10, July 1896, pp. 265-285. Yellow Book Digital Edition, edited by Dennis Denisoff and Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2010-2014. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Ryerson University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2020. https://1890s.ca/YBV10_darcy_two_stories/