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Title: In Kropsberg Keep and Other Stories
Author: Ralph Adams Cram
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eBook No.: 0605431.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
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In Kropfsberg Keep and Other Stories
Ralph Adams Cram



Table of Contents

In Kropfsberg Keep
Notre Dame des Eaux
No. 252 Rue M. le Prince.
The Dead Valley




IN KROPFSBERG KEEP

To the traveller from Innsbrück to Munich, up the lovely valley of the
silver Inn, many castles appear, one after another, each on its
beetling cliff or gentle hill,--appear and disappear, melting into the
dark fir trees that grow so thickly on every side,--Laneck, Lichtwer,
Ratholtz, Tratzberg, Matzen, Kropfsberg, gathering close around the
entrance to the dark and wonderful Zillerthal.

But to us--Tom Rendel and myself--there are two castles only: not the
gorgeous and princely Ambras, nor the noble old Tratzberg, with its
crowded treasures of solemn and splendid mediævalism; but little
Matzen, where eager hospitality forms the new life of a never-dead
chivalry, and Kropfsberg, ruined, tottering, blasted by fire and
smitten with grievous years,--a dead thing, and haunted,--full of
strange legends, and eloquent of mystery and tragedy.

We were visiting the von C--s at Matzen, and gaining our first
wondering knowledge of the courtly, cordial castle life in the
Tyrol,--of the gentle and delicate hospitality of noble Austrians.

Brixleg had ceased to be but a mark on a map, and had become a place
of rest and delight, a home for homeless wanderers on the face of
Europe, while Schloss Matzen was a synonym for all that was gracious
and kindly and beautiful in life. The days moved on in a golden round
of riding and driving and shooting: down to Landl and Thiersee for
chamois, across the river to the magic Achensec, up the Zillerthal,
across the Schmerner Joch, even to the railway station at Steinach.
And in the evenings after the late dinners in the upper hall where the
sleepy hounds leaned against our chairs looking at us with suppliant
eyes, in the evenings when the fire was dying away in the hooded
fireplace in the library, stories. Stories, and legends, and fairy
tales, while the stiff old portraits changed countenance constantly
under the flickering firelight, and the sound of the drifting Inn came
softly across the meadows far below.

If ever I tell the Story of Schloss Matzen, then will be the time to
paint the too inadequate picture of this fair oasis in the desert of
travel and tourists and hotels; but just now it is Kropfsberg the
Silent that is of greater importance, for it was only in Matzen that
the story was told by Fräulein E--, the gold-haired niece of Frau von
C--, one hot evening in July, when we were sitting in the great west
window of the drawing-room after a long ride up the Stallenthal.

All the windows were open to catch the faint wind, and we had sat for
a long time watching the Otzethaler Alps turn rose-color over distant
Innsbrück, then deepen to violet as the sun went down and the white
mists rose slowly until Lichtwer and Laneck and Kropfsberg rose like
craggy islands in a silver sea.

And this is the story as Fräulein E---told it to us,--the Story of
Kropfsberg Keep.

A great many years ago, soon after my grandfather died, and Matzen
came to us, when I was a little girl, and so young that I remember
nothing of the affair except as something dreadful that frightened me
very much, two young men who had studied painting with my grandfather
came down to Brixleg from Munich, partly to paint, and partly to amuse
themselves,--"ghost-hunting" as they said, for they were very sensible
young men and prided themselves on it, laughing at all kinds of
"superstition," and particularly at that form which believed in ghosts
and feared them.

They had never seen a real ghost, you know, and they belonged to a
certain set of people who believed nothing they had not seen
themselves,--which always seemed to me very conceited.

Well, they knew that we had lots of beautiful castles here in the
"lower valley," and they assumed, and rightly, that every castle has
at least one ghost story connected with it, so they chose this as
their hunting ground, only the game they sought was ghosts, not
chamois. Their plan was to visit every place that was supposed to be
haunted, and to meet every reputed ghost, and prove that it really was
no ghost at all.

There was a little inn down in the village then, kept by an old man
named Peter Rosskopf, and the two young men made this their
headquarters. The very first night they began to draw from the old
innkeeper all that he knew of legends and ghost stories connected with
Brixleg and its castles, and as he was a most garrulous old gentleman
he filled them with the wildest delight by his stories of the ghosts
of the castles about the mouth of the Zillerthal. Of course the old
man believed every word he said, and you can imagine his horror and
amazement when, after telling his guests the particularly blood-
curdling story of Kropfsberg and its haunted keep, the elder of the
two boys, whose surname I have forgotten, but whose Christian name was
Rupert, calmly said, "Your story is most satisfactory: we will sleep
in Kropfsberg Keep to-morrow night, and you must provide us with all
that we may need to make ourselves comfortable."

The old man nearly fell into the fire. "What for a blockhead are you?"
he cried, with big eyes.

"The keep is haunted by Count Albert's ghost, I tell you!"

"That is why we are going there to-morrow night; we wish to make the
acquaintance of Count Albert."

"But there was a man stayed there once, and in the morning he was
dead."

"Very silly of him; there are two of us, and we carry revolvers."

"But it's a ghost, I tell you," almost screamed the innkeeper; "are
ghosts afraid of firearms?"

"Whether they are or not, we are not afraid of them."

Here the younger boy broke in,--he was named Otto von Kleist. I
remember the name, for I had a music teacher once by that name. He
abused the poor old man shamefully; told him that they were going to
spend the night in Kropfsberg in spite of Count Albert and Peter
Rosskopf, and that he might as well make the most of it and earn his
money with cheerfulness.

In a word, they finally bullied the old fellow into submission, and
when the morning came he set about preparing for the suicide, as he
considered it, with sighs and mutterings and ominous shakings of the
head.

You know the condition of the castle now,--nothing but scorched walls
and crumbling piles of fallen masonry. Well, at the time I tell you
of, the keep was still partially preserved. It was finally burned out
only a few years ago by some wicked boys who came over from Jenbach to
have a good time. But when time ghost hunters came, though the two
lower floors had fallen into the crypt, the third floor remained. The
peasants said it could not fall, but that it would stay until the Day
of Judgment, because it was in the room above that the wicked Count
Albert sat watching the flames destroy the great castle and his
imprisoned guests, and where he finally hung himself in a suit of
armor that had belonged to his mediæval ancestor, the first Count
Kropfsberg.

No one dared touch him, and so he hung there for twelve years, and all
the time venturesome boys and daring men used to creep up the turret
steps and stare awfully through the chinks in the door at that ghostly
mass of steel that held within itself the body of a murderer and
suicide, slowly returning to the dust from which it was made. Finally
it disappeared, none knew whither, and for another dozen years the
room stood empty but for the old furniture and the rotting hangings.

So, when the two men climbed the stairway to the haunted room, they
found a very different state of things from what exists now. The room
was absolutely as it was left the night Count Albert burned the
castle, except that all trace of the suspended suit of armor and its
ghastly contents had vanished.

No one had dared to cross the threshold, and I suppose that for forty
years no living thing had entered that dreadful room.

On one side stood a vast canopied bed of black wood, the damask
hangings of which were covered with mould and mildew. All the clothing
of the bed was in perfect order, and on it lay a book, open, and face
downward. The only other furniture in the room consisted of several
old chairs, a carved oak chest, and a big inlaid table covered with
books and papers, and on one corner two or three bottles with dark
solid sediment at the bottom, and a glass, also dark with the dregs of
wine that had been poured out almost half a century before. The
tapestry on the walls was green with mould, but hardly torn or
otherwise defaced, for although the heavy dust of forty years lay on
everything the room had been preserved from further harm. No spider
web was to be seen, no trace of nibbling mice, not even a dead moth or
fly on the sills of the diamond-paned windows; life seemed to have
shunned the room utterly and finally.

The men looked at the room curiously, and, I am sure, not without some
feelings of awe and unacknowledged fear; but, whatever they may have
felt of instinctive shrinking, they said nothing, and quickly set to
work to make the room passably inhabitable. They decided to touch
nothing that had not absolutely to be changed, and therefore they made
for themselves a bed in one corner with the mattress and linen from
the inn. In the great fireplace they piled a lot of wood on the caked
ashes of a fire dead for forty years, turned the old chest into a
table, and laid out on it all their arrangements for the evening's
amusement: food, two or three bottles of wine, pipes and tobacco, and
the chess-board that was their inseparable travelling companion.

All this they did themselves: the innkeeper would not even come within
the walls of the outer court; he insisted that he had washed his hands
of the whole affair, the silly dunderheads might go to their death
their own way. He would not aid and abet them. One of the stable boys
brought the basket of food and the wood and the bed up the winding
stone stairs, to be sure, but neither money nor prayers nor threats
would bring him within the walls of the accursed place, and he stared
fearfully at the hare-brained boys as they worked around the dead old
room preparing for the night that was coming so fast.

At length everything was in readiness, and after a final visit to the
inn for dinner Rupert and Otto started at sunset for the Keep. Half
the village went with them, for Peter Rosskopf had babbled the whole
story to an open-mouthed crowd of wondering men and women, and as to
an execution the awe-struck crowd followed the two boys dumbly,
curious to see if they surely would put their plan into execution. But
none went farther than the outer doorway of the stairs, for it was
already growing twilight. In absolute silence they watched the two
foolhardy youths with their lives in their hands enter the terrible
Keep, standing like a tower in the midst of the piles of stones that
had once formed walls joining it with the mass of the castle beyond.
When a moment later a light showed itself in the high windows above,
they sighed resignedly and went their ways, to wait stolidly until
morning should come and prove the truth of their fears and warnings.

In the mean time the ghost hunters built a huge fire, lighted their
many candles, and sat down to await developments. Rupert afterwards
told my uncle that they really felt no fear whatever, only a
contemptuous curiosity, and they ate their supper with good appetite
and an unusual relish. It was a long evening. They played many games
of chess, waiting for midnight. Hour passed after hour, and nothing
occurred to interrupt the monotony of the evening. Ten, eleven, came
and went,--it was almost midnight. They piled more wood in the
fireplace, lighted new candles, looked to their pistols--and waited.
The clocks in the village struck twelve; the sound coming muffled
through the high, deep-embrasured windows. Nothing happened, nothing
to break the heavy silence; and with a feeling of disappointed relief
they looked at each other and acknowledged that they had met another
rebuff.

Finally they decided that there was no use in sitting up and boring
themselves any longer, they had much better rest; so Otto threw
himself down on the mattress, falling almost immediately asleep.
Rupert sat a little longer, smoking, and watching the stars creep
along behind the shattered glass and the bent leads of the lofty
windows; watching the fire fall together, and the strange shadows move
mysteriously on the mouldering walls. The iron hook in the oak beam,
that crossed the ceiling midway, fascinated him, not with fear, but
morbidly. So, it was from that hook that for twelve years, twelve long
years of changing summer and winter, the body of Count Albert,
murderer and suicide, hung in its strange casing of mediæval steel;
moving a little at first, and turning gently while the fire died out
on the hearth, while the ruins of the castle grew cold, and horrified
peasants sought for the bodies of the score of gay, reckless, wicked
guests whom Count Albert had gathered in Kropfsberg for a last
debauch, gathered to their terrible and untimely death. What a strange
and fiendish idea it was, the young, handsome noble who had ruined
himself and his family in the society of the splendid debauchees,
gathering them all together, men and women who had known only love and
pleasure, for a glorious and awful riot of luxury, and then, when they
were all dancing in the great ballroom, locking the doors and burning
the whole castle about them, the while he sat in the great keep
listening to their screams of agonized fear, watching the fire sweep
from wing to wing until the whole mighty mass was one enormous and
awful pyre, and then, clothing himself in his great-great-
grandfather's armor, hanging himself in the midst of the ruins of what
had been a proud and noble castle. So ended a great family, a great
house.

But that was forty years ago.

He was growing drowsy; the light flickered and flared in the
fireplace; one by one the candles went out; the shadows grew thick in
the room. Why did that great iron hook stand out so plainly?

Why did that dark shadow dance and quiver so mockingly behind it?--
why--But he ceased to wonder at anything. He was asleep.

It seemed to him that he woke almost immediately; the fire still
burned, though low and fitfully on the hearth. Otto was sleeping,
breathing quietly and regularly; the shadows had gathered close around
him, thick and murky; with every passing moment the light died in the
fireplace; he felt stiff with cold. In the utter silence he heard the
clock in the village strike two. He shivered with a sudden and
irresistible feeling of fear, and abruptly turned and looked towards
the hook in the ceiling.

Yes, It was there, lie knew that It would be. It seemed quite natural,
he would have been disappointed had he seen nothing; but now he knew
that the story was true, knew that he was wrong, and that the dead do
sometimes return to earth, for there, in the fast-deepening shadow,
hung the black mass of wrought steel, turning a little now and then,
with the light flickering on the tarnished and rusty metal. He watched
it quietly; he hardly felt afraid it was rather a sentiment of sadness
and fatality that filled him, of gloomy forebodings of something
unknown, unimaginable. He sat and watched the thing disappear in the
gathering dark, his hand on his pistol as it lay by him on the great
chest. There was no sound but the regular breathing of the sleeping
boy on the mattress.

It had grown absolutely dark; a bat fluttered against the broken glass
of the window. He wondered if he was growing mad, for--he hesitated to
acknowledge it to himself--he heard.music; far, curious music, a
strange and luxurious dance, very faint, very vague, but unmistakable.

Like a flash of lightning came a jagged line of fire down the blank
wall opposite him, a line that remained, that grew wider, that let a
pale cold light into the room, showing him now all its details,--the
empty fireplace, where a thin smoke rose in a spiral from a bit of
charred wood, the mass of the great bed, and, in the very middle,
black against the curious brightness, the armored man, or ghost, or
devil, standing, not suspended, beneath the rusty hook. And with the
rending of the wall the music grew more distinct, though sounding
still very, very far away.

Count Albert raised his mailed hand and beckoned to him; then turned,
and stood in the riven wall.

Without a word, Rupert rose and followed him, his pistol in hand.
Count Albert passed through the mighty wall and disappeared in the
unearthly light. Rupert followed mechanically. He felt the crushing of
the mortar beneath his feet, the roughness of the jagged wall where he
rested his hand to steady himself.

The keep rose absolutely isolated among the ruins, yet on passing
through the wall Rupert found himself in a long, uneven corridor, the
floor of which was warped and sagging, while the walls were covered on
one side with big faded portraits of an inferior quality, like those
in the corridor that connects the Pitti and Uffizzi in Florence.
Before him moved the figure of Count Albeit,--a black silhouette in
the ever-increasing light. And always the music grew stronger and
stranger, a mad, evil, seductive dance that bewitched even while it
disgusted.

In a final blaze of vivid, intolerable light, in a burst of hellish
music that might have come from Bedlam, Rupert stepped from the
corridor into a vast and curious room where at first he saw nothing,
distinguished nothing but a mad, seething whirl of sweeping figures,
white, in a white room, under white light, Count Albert standing
before him, the only dark object to be seen. As his eyes grew
accustomed to the fearful brightness, he knew that he was looking on a
dance such as the damned might see in hell, but such as no living man
had ever seen before.

Around the long, narrow hall, under the fearful light that came from
nowhere, but was omni-present, swept a rushing stream of unspeakable
horrors, dancing insanely, laughing, gibbering hideously; the dead of
forty years. White, polished skeletons, bare of flesh and vesture,
skeletons clothed in the dreadful rags of dried and rattling sinews,
the tags of tattering grave-clothes flaunting behind them. These were
the dead of many years ago. Then the dead of more recent times, with
yellow bones showing only here and there, the long and insecure hair
of their hideous heads writhing in the beating air. Then green and
gray horrors, bloated and shapeless, stained with earth or dripping
with spattering water; and here and there white, beautiful things,
like chiselled ivory, the dead of yesterday, locked it may be, in the
mummy arms of rattling skeletons.

Round and round the cursed room, a swaying, swirling maelstrom of
death, while the air grew thick with miasma, the floor foul with
shreds of shrouds, and yellow parchment, clattering bones, and wisps
of tangled hair.

And in the very midst of this ring of death, a sight not for words nor
for thought, a sight to blast forever the mind of the man who looked
upon it: a leaping, writhing dance of Count Albert's victims, the
score of beautiful women and reckless men who danced to their awful
death while the castle burned around them, charred and shapeless now,
a living charnel-house of nameless horror.

Count Albert, who had stood silent and gloomy, watching the dance of
the damned, turned to Rupert, and for the first time spoke.

"We are ready for you now; dance!"

A prancing horror, dead some dozen years, perhaps, flaunted from the
rushing river of the dead, and leered at Rupert with eyeless skull.

"Dance!"

Rupert stood frozen, motionless.

"Dance!"

His hard lips moved. "Not if the devil came from hell to make me."

Count Albert swept his vast two-handed sword into the foetid air while
the tide of corruption paused in its swirling, and swept down on
Rupert with gibbering grins.

The room, and the howling dead, and the black portent before him
circled dizzily around, as with a last effort of departing
consciousness he drew his pistol and fired full in the face of Count
Albert.

* * *

Perfect silence, perfect darkness; not a breath, not a sound: the dead
stillness of a long-sealed tomb. Rupert lay on his back, stunned,
helpless, his pistol clenchedi in his frozen hand, a smell of powder
in the black air. Where was he? Dead? In hell? He reached his hand out
cautiously; it fell on dusty boards. Outside, far away, a clock struck
three. Had he dreamed? Of course; but how ghastly a dream! With
chattering teeth he called softly,---"Otto!"

There was no reply, and none when he called again and again. He
staggered weakly to his feet, groping for matches and candles. A panic
of abject terror came on him; the matches were gone!

He turned towards the fireplace: a single coal glowed in the white
ashes. He swept a mass of papers and dusty books from the table, and
with trembling hands cowered over the embers, until he succeeded in
lighting the dry tinder. Then he piled the old books on the blaze, and
looked fearfully around.

No: It was gone,--thank God for that; the hook was empty.

But why did Otto sleep so soundly; why did he not awake?

He stepped unsteadily across the room in the flaring light of the
burning books, and knelt by the mattress.

* * *

So they found him in the morning, when no one came to the inn from
Kropfsberg Keep, and the quaking Peter Rosskopf arranged a relief
party;--found him kneeling beside the mattress where Otto lay, shot in
the throat and quite dead.



NOTRE DAME DES EAUX

West of St. Pol de Leon, on the sea-cliffs of Finisterre, stands the
ancient church of Notre Dame des Eaux. Five centuries of beating winds
and sweeping rains have moulded its angles, and worn its carvings and
sculpture down to the very semblance of the ragged cliffs themselves,
until even the Breton fisherman, looking lovingly from his boat as he
makes for the harbor of Morlaix, hardly can say where the crags end,
and where the church begins. The teeth of the winds of the sea have
devoured, bit by bit, the fine sculpture of the doorway and the thin
cusps of the windows tracery; gray moss creeps caressingly over the
worn walls in ineffectual protection; gentle vines, turned crabbed by
the harsh beating of the fierce winds, clutch the crumbling
buttresses, climb up over the sinking roof, reach in even at the
louvres of the belfry, holding the little sanctuary safe in desperate
arms against the savage warfare of the sea and sky.

Many a time you may follow the rocky highway from St. Pol even around
the last land of France, and so to Brest, yet never see sign of Notre
Dame des Eaux; for it clings to a cliff somewhat lower than the road,
and between grows a stunted thicket of harsh and ragged trees, their
skeleton white branches, tortured and contorted, thrusting sorrowfully
out of the hard, dark foliage that still grows below, where the rise
of land below the highway gives some protection.

You must leave the wood by the two cottages of yellow stone, about
twenty miles beyond St. Pol, and go down to the right, around the old
stone quarry; then, bearing to the left by the little cliff path, you
will, in a moment, see the pointed roof of the tower of Notre Dame,
and, later, come down to the side porch among the crosses of the arid
little graveyard.

It is worth the walk, for though the church has outwardly little but
its sad picturesqueness to repay the artist, within it is a dream and
a delight. A Norman nave of round, red stone piers and arches, a
delicate choir of the richest flamboyant, a High Altar of the time of
Francis I., form only the mellow background and frame for carven tombs
and dark old pictures, hanging lamps of iron and brass, and black,
heavily carved choir-stalls of the Renaissance.

So has the little church lain unnoticed for many centuries; for the
horrors and follies of the Revolution have never come near, and the
hardy and faithful people of Finisterre have feared God and loved Our
Lady too well to harm her church. For many years it was the church of
the Comtes de Jarleuc; and these are their tombs that mellow year by
year under the warm light of the painted windows, given long ago by
Comte Robert de Jarleuc, when the heir of Poullaouen came safely to
shore in the harbor of Morlaix, having escaped from the Isle of Wight,
where he had lain captive after the awful defeat of the fleet of
Charles of Valois at Sluys. And now the heir of Poullaouen lies in a
carven tomb, forgetful of the world where he fought so nobly: the
dynasty he fought to establish, only a memory; the family he made
glorious, a name; the Château Poullaouen a single crag of riven
masonry in the field's of M. du Bois, mayor of Morlaix.

It was Julien, Comte de Bergerac, who rediscovered Notre Dame des
Laux, and by his picture of its dreamy interior in the Salon of '86
brought once more into notice this forgotten corner of the world. The
next year a party of painters settled themselves near by, roughing it
as best they could, and in the year following, Mme. de Bergerac and
her daughter Héloïs e came with Julien, and, buying the old farm of
Pontivy, on the highway over Notre Dame, turned it into a summer house
that almost made amends for their lost château on the Dordogne, stolen
from them as virulent Royalists by the triumphant Republic in 1794.

Little by little a summer colony of painters gathered around Pontivy,
and it was not until the spring of 1890 that the peace of the colony
was broken. It was a sorrowful tragedy. Jean d'Yriex, the youngest and
merriest devil of all the jolly crew, became suddenly moody and
morose. At first this was attributed to his undisguised admiration for
Mlle. Héloïse, and was looked on as one of the vagaries of boyish
passion; but one day, while riding with M. de Bergerac, he suddenly
seized the bridle of Julien's horse, wrenched it from his hand, and,
turning his own horse's head towards the cliffs, lashed the terrified
animals into a galop straight towards the brink. He was only thwarted
in his mad object by Julien, who with a quick blow sent him headlong
in the dry grass, and reined in the terrified animals hardly a yard
from the cliffs. When this happened, and no word of explanation was
granted, only a sullen silence that lasted for days, it became clear
that poor Jean's brain was wrong in some way. Héloïse dev oted herself
to him with infinite patience,--though she felt no special affection
for him, only pity,--and while he was with her he seemed sane and
quiet. But at night some strange mania took possession of him.

If he had worked on his Prix de Rôme picture in the daytime, while
Héloïse sat by him, reading aloud or singing a little, no matter how
good the work, it would have vanished in the morning, and he would
again begin, only to erase his labor during tile night.

At last his growing insanity reached its climax; and one day in Notre
Dame, when he had painted better than usual, he suddenly stopped,
seized a palette knife, and slashed the great canvas in strips.
Héloïse sprang forward to stop him, and in crazy fury he turned on
her, striking at her throat with the palette knife. The thin steel
snapped, and the white throat showed only a scarlet scratch. Héloïse,
with out that ordinary terror that would crush most women, grasped the
thin wrists of the madman, and, though he could easily have wrenched
his hands away, d'Yriex sank on his knees in a passion of tears. He
shut himself in his room at Pontivy, refusing to see any one, walking
for hours up and down, fighting against growing madness. Soon Dr.

Charpentier came from Paris, summoned by Mme. de Bergerac; and after
one short, forced interview, left at once for Paris, taking M. d'Yriex
with him.

A few days later came a letter for Mme. de Bergerac, in which Dr.
Charpentier confessed that Jean had disappeared, that he had allowed
him too much liberty, owing to his apparent calmness, and that when
the train stopped at Le Mans he had slipped from him and utterly
vanished.

During the summer, word came occasionally that no trace had been found
of the unhappy man, and at last the Pontivy colony realized that the
merry boy was dead. Had he lived he must have been found, for the
exertions of the police were perfect; yet not the slightest trace was
discovered, and his lamentable death was acknowledged, not only by
Mme. de Bergerac and Jean's family,--sorrowing for the death of their
first-born, away in the warm hills of Lozère,---but by Dr. Charpentier
as well.

So the summer passed, and the autumn came, and at last the cold rains
of November--the skirmish line of the advancing army of winter--drove
the colony back to Paris.

It was the last day at Pontivy, and Mlle. Héloïse had come down to
Notre Dame for a last look at the beautiful shrine, a last prayer for
the repose of the tortured soul of poor Jean d' Yriex. The rains had
ceased for a time, and a warm stillness lay over the cliffs and on the
creeping sea, swaying and lapping around the ragged shore. Héloïse
knelt very long before the Altar of Our Lady of the Waters; and when
she finally rose, could not bring herself to leave as yet that place
of sorrowful beauty, all warm and golden with the last light of the
declining sun. She watched the old verger, Pierre Polou, stumping
softly around the darkening building, and spoke to him once, asking
the hour; but he was very deaf, as well as nearly blind, and he did
not answer.

So she sat in the corner of the aisle by the Altar of Our Lady of the
Waters, watching the checkered light fade in the advancing shadows,
dreaming sad day-dreams of the dead summer, until the day-dreams
merged in night-dreams, and she fell asleep.

Then the last light of the early sunset died in the gleaming quarries
of the west window; Pierre Polou stumbled uncertainly through the
dusky shadow, locked the sagging doors of the mouldering south porch,
and took his way among the leaning crosses up to the highway and his
little cottage, a good mile away,--the nearest house to the lonely
Church of Notre Dame des Eaux.

With the setting of the sun great clouds rose swiftly from time sea;
the wind freshened, and the gaunt branches of the weather-worn trees
in the churchyard lashed themselves beseechingly before the coming
storm. The tide turned, and the waters at the foot of the rocks swept
uneasily up the narrow beach and caught at the weary cliffs, their
sobbing growing and deepening to a threatening, solemn roar. Whirls of
dead leaves rose in the churchyard, and threw themselves against the
blank windows. The winter and the night came down together.

Héloïse awoke, bewildered and wondering; in a moment she realized the
situation, and with out fear or uneasiness. There was nothing to dread
in Notre Dame by night; the ghosts, if there were ghosts, would not
trouble her, and the doors were securely locked. It was foolish of her
to fall asleep, and her mother would be most uneasy at Pontivy if she
realized before dawn that Héloïse had not returned. On the other hand,
she was in the habit of wandering off to walk after dinner, often not
coming home until late, so it was quite possible that she might return
before Madame knew of her absence, for Polou came always to unlock the
church for the low mass at six o'clock; so she arose from her cramped
position in the aisle, and walked slowly up to the choir-rail, entered
the chancel, and felt her way to one of the stalls, on the south side,
where there were cushions and an easy back.

It was really very beautiful in Notre Dame by night; she had never
suspected how strange and solemn the little church could be when the
moon shone fitfully through the south windows, now bright and clear,
now blotted out by sweeping clouds. The nave was barred with the long
shadows of the heavy pillars, and when the moon came out she could see
far down almost to the west end. How still it was! Only a soft low
murmur without of the restless limbs of the trees, and of the creeping
sea.

It was very soothing, almost like a song; and Héloïse felt sleep
coming back to her as the clouds shut out the moon, and all the church
grew black.

She was drifting off into the last delicious moment of vanishing
consciousness, when she suddenly came fully awake, with a shock that
made every nerve tingle. In the midst of the far faint sounds of the
tempestuous night she had heard a footstep! Yet the church was utterly
empty, she was sure. And again! A footstep dragging and uncertain,
stealthy and cautious, but an unmistakable step, away in the blackest
shadow at the end of the church.

She sat up, frozen with the fear that comes at night and that is
overwhelming, her hands clutching the coarse carving of the arms of
the stall, staring down into the dark.

Again the footstep, and again,--slow, measured, one after another at
intervals of perhaps half a minute, growing a little louder each time,
a little nearer.

Would the darkness never be broken? Would the cloud never pass? Minute
after minute went like weary hours, and still the moon was hid, still
the dead branches rattled clatteringly on the high windows.
Unconsciously she moved, as under a magician's spell, down to the
choir-rail, straining her eyes to pierce the thick night. And the
step, it was very near! Ah, the moon at last!

A white ray fell through the westernmost window, painting a bar of
light on the floor of sagging.stone. Then a second bar, then a third,
and a fourth, and for a moment Héloïse could have cried out with
relief, for nothing broke the lines of light,--no figure, no shadow.
In another moment came a step, and from the shadow of the last column
appeared in the pallid moonlight the figure of a man. The girl stared
breathless, the moonlight falling on her as she stood rigid against
the low parapet. Another step and another, and she saw before her--was
it ghost or living man?--a white mad face staring from matted hair and
beard, a tall thin figure half clothed in rags, limping as it stepped
towards her with wounded feet. From the dead face stared mad eyes that
gleamed like the eyes of a cat, fixed on hers with insane persistence,
holding her, fascinating her as a cat fascinates a bird.

One more step,--it was close before her now! Those awful, luminous
eyes dilating and contracting in awful palpitations. And the moon was
going out; the shadows swept one by one over the windows; she stared
at the moonlit face for a last fascinated glance--Mother of God! it
was--The shadow swept over them, and now only remained the blazing
eyes and the dim outline of a form that crouched waveringly before her
as a cat crouches, drawing its vibrating body together for the spring
that blots out the life of the victim.

In another instant the mad thing would leap; but just as the quiver
swept over the crouching body, Héloïse gathered all her strength into
one action of desperate terror.

"Jean, stop!"

The thing crouched before her paused, chattering softly to itself;
then it articulated dryly, and with all the trouble of a learning
child, the one word, "Chantes!"

Without a thought, Héloïse sang; it was the first thing that she
remembered, an old Proven çal song that d'Yriex had always loved.
While she sang, the poor mad creature lay huddled at her feet,
separated from her only by the choir parapet, its dilating,
contracting eyes never moving for an instant. As the song died away,
came again that awful tremor, indicative of the coming death-spring,
and again she sang,--this time the old Pange lingua, its sonorous
Latin sounding in the deserted church like the voice of dead
centuries.

And so she sang, on and on, hour after hour,--hymns and chansons,
folk-songs and bits from comic operas, songs of the boulevards
alternating with the Tantum ergo and the O Fillii et Filiæ.

It mattered little what she sang. At last it seemed to her that it
mattered little whether she sang or no; for her brain whirled round
and round like a dizzy maelstrom, her icy hands, griping the hard
rail, alone supported her dying body. She could hear no sound of her
song; her body was numb, her mouth parched, her lips cracked and
bleeding; she felt the drops of blood fall from her chin.

And still she sang, within the yellow palpitating eyes holding her as
in a vice. If only she could continue until dawn! It must be dawn so
soon! The windows were growing gray, the rain lashed outside, she
could distinguish the features of the horror before her; but the night
of death was growing with the coming day, blackness swept down upon
her; she could sing no more, her tortured lips made one last effort to
form the words, "Mother of God, save me!" and night and death came
down like a crushing wave.

But her prayer was heard; the dawn had come, and Polou unlocked the
porch-door for Father Augustin just in time to hear the last agonized
cry. The maniac turned in the very act of leaping on his victim, and
sprang for the two men, who stopped in dumb amazement. Poor old Pierre
Polou went down at a blow; but Father Augustin was young and fearless,
and he grappled the mad animal with all his strength and will. It
would have gone ill even with him,--for no one can stand against the
bestial fury of a man in whom reason is dead,--had not some sudden
impulse seized the maniac, who pitched the priest aside with a single
movement, and, leaping through the door, vanished forever.

Did he hurl himself from the cliffs in the cold wet morning, or was he
doomed to wander, a wild beast, until, captured, he beat himself in
vain against the walls of some asylum, an unknown pauper lunatic? None
ever knew.

The colony at Pontivy was blotted out by the dreary tragedy, and Notre
Dame des Eaux sank once more into silence and solitude. Once a year
Father Augustin said mass for the repose of the soul of Jean d'Yriex;
but no other memory remained of the horror that blighted the lives of
an innocent girl and of a gray-haired mother mourning for her dead boy
in far Lozère.



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 hôtels 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 Bicêtre 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 Véfour'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'Américain 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 Maître 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 hôtels 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 Pæstum, 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 Père 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 crème 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 would n't slam in houses at 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 hellcat 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 façade 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
scène."

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 for mer
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 Jacquer 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
hôtel, 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 siècle 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 Père 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, faraway,--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 Hôtel 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 Académie. 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
cochère, and within only the façade 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.



THE DEAD VALLEY

I have a friend, Olof Ehrensvärd, a Swede by birth, who yet, by reason
of a strange and melancholy mischance of his early boyhood, has thrown
his lot with that of the New World. It is a curious story of a
headstrong boy and a proud and relentless family: the details do not
matter here, but they are sufficient to weave a web of romance around
the tall yellow-bearded man with the sad eyes and the voice that gives
itself perfectly to plaintive little Swedish songs remembered out of
childhood. In the winter evenings we play chess together, he and I,
and after some close, fierce battle has been fought to a finish--
usually with my own defeat--we fill our pipes again, and Ehrensvärd
tells me stories of the far, half-remembered days in the fatherland,
before he went to sea: stories that grow very strange and incredible
as the night deepens and the fire falls together, but stories that,
nevertheless, I fully believe.

One of them made a strong impression on me, so I set it down here,
only regretting that I cannot reproduce the curiously perfect English
and the delicate accent which to me increased the fascination of the
tale. Yet, as best I can remember it, here it is.

"I never told you how Nils and I went over the hills to Hallsberg, and
how we found the Dead Valley, did I? Well, this is the way it
happened. I must have been about twelve years old, and Nils Sjöberg,
whose father's estate joined ours, was a few months younger. We were
inseparable just at that time, and whatever we did, we did together.

"Once a week it was market day in Engelholm, and Nils and I went
always there to see the strange sights that the market gathered from
all the surrounding country. One day we quite lost our hearts, for an
old man from across the Elfborg had brought a little dog to sell, that
seemed to us the most beautiful dog in all the world. He was a round,
woolly puppy, so funny that Nils and I sat down on the ground and
laughed at him, until he came and played with us in so jolly a way
that we felt that there was only one really desirable thing in life,
and that was the little dog of the old man from across the hills. But
alas! we had not half money enough wherewith to buy him, so we were
forced to beg the old man not to sell him before the next market day,
promising that we would bring the money for him then. He gave us his
word, and we ran home very fast and implored our mothers to give us
money for the little dog.

"We got the money, but we could not wait for the next market day.
Suppose the puppy should be sold! The thought frightened us so that we
begged and implored that we might be allowed to go over the hills to
Hallsberg where the old man lived, and get the little dog ourselves,
and at last they told us we might go. By starting early in the morning
we should reach Hallsberg by three o'clock, and it was arranged that
we should stay there that night with Nils's aunt, and, leaving by noon
the next day, be home again by sunset.

"Soon after sunrise we were on our way, after having received minute
instructions as to just what we should do in all possible and
impossible circumstances, and finally a repeated injunction that we
should start for home at the same hour the next day, so that we might
get safely back before nightfall.

"For us, it was magnificent sport, and we started off with our rifles,
full of the sense of our very great importance yet the journey was
simple enough, along a good road, across the big hills we knew so
well, for Nils and I had shot over half the territory this side of the
dividing ridge of the Elfborg. Back of Engelholm lay a long valley,
from which rose the low mountains, and we had to cross this, and then
follow the road along the side of the hills for three or four miles,
before a narrow path branched off to the left, leading up through the
pass.

"Nothing occurred of interest on the way over, and we reached
Hallsberg in due season, found to our inexpressible joy that the
little dog was not sold, secured him, and so went to the house of
Nils's aunt to spend the night.

"Why we did not leave early on the following day, I can't quite
remember; at all events, I know we stopped at a shooting range just
outside of the town, where most attractive paste-board pigs were
sliding slowly through painted foliage, serving so as beautiful marks.
The result was that we did not get fairly started for home until
afternoon, and as we found ourselves at last pushing up the side of
the mountain with the sun dangerously near their summits, I think we
were a little scared at the prospect of the examination and possible
punishment that awaited us when we got home at midnight."

"Therefore we hurried as fast as possible up the mountain side, while
the blue dusk closed in about us, and the light died in the purple
sky. At first we had talked hilariously, and the little dog had leaped
ahead of us with the utmost joy. Latterly, however, a curious
oppression came on us; we did not speak or even whistle, while the dog
fell behind, following us with hesitation in every muscle."

"We had passed through the foothills and the low spurs of the
mountains, and were almost at the top of the main range, when life
seemed to go out of everything, leaving the world dead, so suddenly
silent the forest became, so stagnant the air. Instinctively we halted
to listen."

"Perfect silence,--the crushing silence of deep forests at night; and
more, for always, even in the most impenetrable fastnesses of the
wooded mountains, is the multitudinous murmur of little lives,
awakened by the darkness, exaggerated and intensified by the stillness
of the air and the great dark but here and now the silence seemed
unbroken even by the turn of a leaf, the movement of a twig, the note
of night bird or insect. I could hear the blood beat through my veins;
and the crushing of the grass under our feet as we advanced with
hesitating steps sounded like the falling of trees."

"And the air was stagnant,--dead. The atmosphere seemed to lie upon
the body like the weight of sea on a diver who has ventured too far
into its awful depths. What we usually call silence seems so only in
relation to the din of ordinary experience. This was silence in the
absolute, and it crushed the mind while it intensified the senses,
bringing down the awful weight of inextinguishable fear."

"I know that Nils and I stared towards each other in abject terror,
listening to our quick, heavy breathing, that sounded to our acute
senses like the fitful rush of waters. And the poor little dog we were
leading justified our terror. The black oppression seemed to crush him
even as it did us."

"He lay close on the ground, moaning feebly, and dragging himself
painfully and slowly closer to Nils's feet. I think this exhibition of
utter animal fear was the last touch, and must inevitably have blasted
our reason--mine anyway; but just then, as we stood quaking on the
bounds of madness, came a sound, so awful, so ghastly, so horrible,
that it seemed to rouse us from the dead spell that was on us."

"In the depth of the silence came a cry, beginning as a low, sorrowful
moan, rising to a tremulous shriek, culminating in a yell that seemed
to tear the night in sunder and rend the world as by a cataclysm. So
fearful was it that I could not believe it had actual existence: it
passed previous experience, the powers of belief, and for a moment I
thought it the result of my own animal terror, an hallucination born
of tottering reason..."A glance at Nils dispelled this thought in a
flash. In the pale light of the high stars he was the embodiment of
all possible human fear, quaking with an ague, his jaw fallen, his
tongue out, his eyes protruding like those of a hanged man. Without a
word we fled, the panic of fear giving us strength, and together, the
little dog caught close in Nils's arms, we sped down the side of the
cursed mountains,--anywhere, goal was of no account: we had but one
impulse--to get away from that place."

"So under the black trees and the far white stars that flashed through
the still leaves overhead, we leaped down the mountain side,
regardless of path or landmark, straight through the tangled
underbrush, across mountain streams, through fens and copses,
anywhere, so only that our course was downward."

"How long we ran thus, I have no idea, but by and by the forest fell
behind, and we found ourselves among the foothills, and fell exhausted
on the dry short grass, panting like tired dogs."

"It was lighter here in the open, and presently we looked around to
see where we were, and how we were to strike out in order to find the
path that would lead us home. We looked in vain for a familiar sign.
Behind us rose the great wall of black forest on the flank of the
mountain: before us lay the undulating mounds of low foothills,
unbroken by trees or rocks, and beyond, only the fall of black sky
bright with multitudinous stars that turned its velvet depth to a
luminous gray."

"As I remember, we did not speak to each other once: the terror was
too heavy on us for that, but by and by we rose simultaneously and
started out across the hills."

"Still the same silence, the same dead, motionless air--air that was
at once sultry and chilling: a heavy heat struck through with an icy
chill that felt almost like the burning of frozen steel. Still
carrying the helpless dog, Nils pressed on through the hills, and I
followed close behind. At last, in front of us, rose slope of moor
touching the white stars. We climbed it wearily, reached the top, and
found ourselves gazing down into a great, smooth valley, filled half
way to the brim with--what?"

"As far as the eye could see stretched a level plain of ashy white,
faintly phosphorescent, a sea of velvet fog that lay like motionless
water, or rather like a floor of alabaster, so dense did it appear, so
seemingly capable of sustaining weight. If it were possible, I think
that sea of dead white mist struck even greater terror into my soul
than the heavy silence or the deadly cry--so ominous was it, so
utterly unreal, so phantasmal, so impossible, as it lay there like a
dead ocean under the steady stars. Yet through that mist we must go!
there seemed no other way home, and, shattered with abject fear, mad
with the one desire to get back, we started down the slope to where
the sea of milky mist ceased, sharp and distinct around the stems of
the rough grass."

"I put one foot into the ghostly fog. A chill as of death struck
through me, stopping my heart, and I threw myself backward on the
slope. At that instant came again the shriek, close, close, right in
our ears, in ourselves, and far out across that damnable sea I saw the
cold fog lift like a water-spout and toss itself high in writhing
convolutions towards the sky. The stars began to grow dim as thick
vapor swept across them, and in the growing dark I saw a great, watery
moon lift itself slowly above the palpitating sea, vast and vague in
the gathering mist."

"This was enough: we turned and fled along the margin of the white sea
that throbbed now with fitful motion below us, rising, rising, slowly
and steadily, driving us higher and higher up the side of the
foothills."

"It was a race for life; that we knew. How we kept it up I cannot
understand, but we did, and at last we saw the white sea fall behind
us as we staggered up the end of the valley, and then down into a
region that we knew, and so into the old path. The last thing I
remember was hearing a strange voice, that of Nils, but horribly
changed, stammer brokenly, 'The dog is dead!' and then the whole world
turned around twice, slowly and resistlessly, and consciousness went
out with a crash."

"It was some three weeks later, as I remember, that I awoke in my own
room, and found my mother sitting beside the bed. I could not think
very well at first, but as I slowly grew strong again, vague flashes
of recollection began to come to me, and little by little the whole
sequence of events of that awful night in the Dead Valley came back.
All that I could gain from what was told me was that three weeks
before I had been found in my own bed, raging sick, and that my
illness grew fast into brain fever. I tried to speak of the dread
things that had happened to me, but I saw at once that no one looked
on them save as the hauntings of a dying frenzy, and so I closed my
mouth and kept my own counsel."

"I must see Nils, however, and so I asked for him. My mother told me
that he also had been ill with a strange fever, but that he was now
quite well again. Presently they brought him in, and when we were
alone I began to speak to him of the night on the mountain. I shall
never forget the shock that struck me down on my pillow when the boy
denied everything: denied having gone with me, ever having heard the
cry, having seen the valley, or feeling the deadly chill of the
ghostly fog. Nothing would shake his determined ignorance, and in
spite of myself I was forced to admit that his denials came from no
policy of concealment, but from blank oblivion."

"My weakened brain was in a turmoil. Was it all but the floating
phantasm of delirium? Or had the horror of the real thing blotted
Nils's mind into blankness so far as the events of the night in the
Dead Valley were concerned? The latter explanation seemed the only
one, else how explain the sudden illness which in a night had struck
us both down? I said nothing more, either to Nils or to my own people,
but waited, with a growing determination that, once well again, I
would find that valley if it really existed."

"It was some weeks before I was really well enough to go, but finally,
late in September, I chose a bright, warm, still day, the last smile
of the dying summer, and started early in the morn-ing along the path
that led to Hallsberg. I was sure I knew where the trail struck off to
the right, down which we had come from the valley of dead water, for a
great tree grew by the Hallsberg path at the point where, with a sense
of salvation, we had found the home road. Presently I saw it to the
right, a little distance ahead."

"I think the bright sunlight and the clear air had worked as a tonic
to me, for by the time I came to the foot of the great pine, I had
quite lost faith in the verity of the vision that haunted me,
believing at last that it was indeed but the nightmare of madness.
Nevertheless, I turned sharply to the right, at the base of the tree,
into a narrow path that led through a dense thicket. As I did so I
tripped over something. A swarm of flies sung into the air around me,
and looking down I saw the matted fleece, with the poor little bones
thrusting through, of the dog we had bought in Hallsberg."

"Then my courage went out with a puff, and I knew that it all was
true, and that now I was frightened. Pride and the desire for
adventure urged me on, however, and I pressed into the close thicket
that barred my way. The path was hardly visible: merely the worn road
of some small beasts, for, though it showed in the crisp grass, the
bushes above grew thick and hardly penetrable. The land rose slowly,
and rising grew clearer, until at last I came out on a great slope of
hill, unbroken by trees or shrubs, very like my memory of that rise of
land we had topped in order that we might find the dead valley and the
icy fog. I looked at the sun; it was bright and clear, and all around
insects were humming in the autumn air, and birds were darting to and
fro...Surely there was no danger, not until nightfall at least; so I
began to whistle, and with a rush mounted the last crest of brown
hill."

"There lay the Dead Valley! A great oval basin, almost as smooth and
regular as though made by man. On all sides the grass crept over the
brink of the encircling hills, dusty green on the crests, then fading
into ashy brown, and so to a deadly white, this last color forming a
thin ring, running in a long line around the slope. And then? Nothing.
Bare, brown, hard earth, glittering with grains of alkali, but
otherwise dead and barren. Not a tuft of grass, not a stick of
brushwood, not even a stone, but only the vast expanse of beaten
clay."

"In the midst of the basin, perhaps a mile and a half away, the level
expanse was broken by a great dead tree, rising leafless and gaunt
into the air. Without a moment's hesitation I started down into the
valley and made for this goal. Every particle of fear seemed to have
left me, and even the valley itself did not look so very terrifying.
At all events, I was driven by an overwhelming curiosity, and there
seemed to be but one thing in the world to do,--to get to that Tree!
As I trudged along over the hard earth, I noticed that the
multitudinous voices of birds and insects had died away. No bee or
butterfly hovered through the air, no insects leaped or crept over the
dull earth. The very air itself was stagnant.

"As I drew near the skeleton tree, I noticed the glint of sunlight on
a kind of white mound around its roots, and I wondered curiously. It
was not until I had come close that I saw its nature."

"All around the roots and barkless trunk was heaped a wilderness of
little bones. Tiny skulls of rodents and of birds, thousands of them,
rising about the dead tree and streaming off for several yards in all
directions, until the dreadful pile ended in isolated skulls and
scattered skeletons."

Here and there a larger bone appeared,--the thigh of a sheep, the
hoofs of a horse, and to one side, grinning slowly, a human skull.

"I stood quite still, staring with all my eyes, when suddenly the
dense silence was broken by a faint, forlorn cry high over my head. I
looked up and saw a great falcon turning and sailing downward just
over the tree. In a moment more she fell motionless on the bleaching
bones."

"Horror struck me, and I rushed for home, my brain whirling, a strange
numbness growing in me. I ran steadily, on and on. At last I glanced
up. Where was the rise of hill? I looked around wildly. Close before
me was the dead tree with its pile of bones. I had circled it round
and round, and the valley wall was still a mile and a half away."

"I stood dazed and frozen. The sun was sinking, red and dull, towards
the line of hills. In the east the dark was growing fast. Was there
still time? Time! It was not that I wanted, it was will!"

"My feet seemed clogged as in a nightmare. I could hardly drag them
over the barren earth. And then I felt the slow chill creeping through
me. I looked down. Out of the earth a thin mist was rising, collecting
in little pools that grew ever larger until they joined here and
there, their currents swirling slowly like thin blue smoke. The
western hills halved the copper sun. When it was dark I should hear
that shriek again, and then I should die. I knew that, and with every
remaining atom of will I staggered towards the red west through the
writhing mist that crept clammily around my ankles, retarding my
steps."

"And as I fought my way off from the Tree, the horror grew, until at
last I thought I was going to die. The silence pursued me like dumb
ghosts, the still air held my breath, the hellish fog caught at my
feet like cold hands."

"But I won! though not a moment too soon. As I crawled on my hands and
knees up the brown slope, I heard, far away and high in the air, the
cry that already had almost bereft me of reason. It was faint and
vague, but unmistakable in its horrible intensity. I glanced behind.
The fog was the dense and pallid, heaving undulously up the brown
slope. The sky was gold under the setting sun, but below was the ashy
gray of death. I stood for a moment on the brink of this sea of hell,
and then leaped down the slope. The sunset opened before me, the night
closed behind, and as I crawled home weak and tired, darkness shut
down on the Dead Valley."



THE END



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