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PAGE 4

No. 252 Rue M. Le Prince
by [?]

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.”