ONE afternoon I was sitting outside the Cafe de la Paix, watching
the splendour and shabbiness of Parisian life, and wondering over
my vermouth at the strange panorama of pride and poverty that was
passing before me, when I heard some one call my name. I turned
round, and saw Lord Murchison. We had not met since we had been at
college together, nearly ten years before, so I was delighted to
come across him again, and we shook hands warmly. At Oxford we had
been great friends. I had liked him immensely, he was so handsome,
so high-spirited, and so honourable. We used to say of him that he
would be the best of fellows, if he did not always speak the truth,
but I think we really admired him all the more for his frankness.
I found him a good deal changed. He looked anxious and puzzled,
and seemed to be in doubt about something. I felt it could not be
modern scepticism, for Murchison was the stoutest of Tories, and
believed in the Pentateuch as firmly as he believed in the House of
Peers; so I concluded that it was a woman, and asked him if he was
'I don't understand women well enough,' he answered.
'My dear Gerald,' I said, 'women are meant to be loved, not to be
'I cannot love where I cannot trust,' he replied.
'I believe you have a mystery in your life, Gerald,' I exclaimed;
'tell me about it.'
'Let us go for a drive,' he answered, 'it is too crowded here. No,
not a yellow carriage, any other colour - there, that dark green
one will do'; and in a few moments we were trotting down the
boulevard in the direction of the Madeleine.
'Where shall we go to?' I said.
'Oh, anywhere you like!' he answered - 'to the restaurant in the
Bois; we will dine there, and you shall tell me all about
'I want to hear about you first,' I said. 'Tell me your mystery.'
He took from his pocket a little silver-clasped morocco case, and
handed it to me. I opened it. Inside there was the photograph of
a woman. She was tall and slight, and strangely picturesque with
her large vague eyes and loosened hair. She looked like a
CLAIRVOYANTE, and was wrapped in rich furs.
'What do you think of that face?' he said; 'is it truthful?'
I examined it carefully. It seemed to me the face of some one who
had a secret, but whether that secret was good or evil I could not
say. Its beauty was a beauty moulded out of many mysteries - the
beauty, in fact, which is psychological, not plastic - and the
faint smile that just played across the lips was far too subtle to
be really sweet.
'Well,' he cried impatiently, 'what do you say?'
'She is the Gioconda in sables,' I answered. 'Let me know all
'Not now,' he said; 'after dinner,' and began to talk of other
When the waiter brought us our coffee and cigarettes I reminded
Gerald of his promise. He rose from his seat, walked two or three
times up and down the room, and, sinking into an armchair, told me
the following story:-
'One evening,' he said, 'I was walking down Bond Street about five
o'clock. There was a terrific crush of carriages, and the traffic
was almost stopped. Close to the pavement was standing a little
yellow brougham, which, for some reason or other, attracted my
attention. As I passed by there looked out from it the face I
showed you this afternoon. It fascinated me immediately. All that
night I kept thinking of it, and all the next day. I wandered up
and down that wretched Row, peering into every carriage, and
waiting for the yellow brougham; but I could not find MA BELLE
INCONNUE, and at last I began to think she was merely a dream.
About a week afterwards I was dining with Madame de Rastail.
Dinner was for eight o'clock; but at half-past eight we were still
waiting in the drawing-room. Finally the servant threw open the
door, and announced Lady Alroy. It was the woman I had been
looking for. She came in very slowly, looking like a moonbeam in
grey lace, and, to my intense delight, I was asked to take her in
to dinner. After we had sat down, I remarked quite innocently, "I
think I caught sight of you in Bond Street some time ago, Lady
Alroy." She grew very pale, and said to me in a low voice, "Pray
do not talk so loud; you may be overheard." I felt miserable at
having made such a bad beginning, and plunged recklessly into the
subject of the French plays. She spoke very little, always in the
same low musical voice, and seemed as if she was afraid of some one
listening. I fell passionately, stupidly in love, and the
indefinable atmosphere of mystery that surrounded her excited my
most ardent curiosity. When she was going away, which she did very
soon after dinner, I asked her if I might call and see her. She
hesitated for a moment, glanced round to see if any one was near
us, and then said, "Yes; to-morrow at a quarter to five." I begged
Madame de Rastail to tell me about her; but all that I could learn
was that she was a widow with a beautiful house in Park Lane, and
as some scientific bore began a dissertation on widows, as
exemplifying the survival of the matrimonially fittest, I left and
'The next day I arrived at Park Lane punctual to the moment, but
was told by the butler that Lady Alroy had just gone out. I went
down to the club quite unhappy and very much puzzled, and after
long consideration wrote her a letter, asking if I might be allowed
to try my chance some other afternoon. I had no answer for several
days, but at last I got a little note saying she would be at home
on Sunday at four and with this extraordinary postscript: "Please
do not write to me here again; I will explain when I see you." On
Sunday she received me, and was perfectly charming; but when I was
going away she begged of me, if I ever had occasion to write to her
again, to address my letter to "Mrs. Knox, care of Whittaker's
Library, Green Street." "There are reasons," she said, "why I
cannot receive letters in my own house."
'All through the season I saw a great deal of her, and the
atmosphere of mystery never left her. Sometimes I thought that she
was in the power of some man, but she looked so unapproachable,
that I could not believe it. It was really very difficult for me
to come to any conclusion, for she was like one of those strange
crystals that one sees in museums, which are at one moment clear,
and at another clouded. At last I determined to ask her to be my
wife: I was sick and tired of the incessant secrecy that she
imposed on all my visits, and on the few letters I sent her. I
wrote to her at the library to ask her if she could see me the
following Monday at six. She answered yes, and I was in the
seventh heaven of delight. I was infatuated with her: in spite of
the mystery, I thought then - in consequence of it, I see now. No;
it was the woman herself I loved. The mystery troubled me,
maddened me. Why did chance put me in its track?'
'You discovered it, then?' I cried.
'I fear so,' he answered. 'You can judge for yourself.'
'When Monday came round I went to lunch with my uncle, and about
four o'clock found myself in the Marylebone Road. My uncle, you
know, lives in Regent's Park. I wanted to get to Piccadilly, and
took a short cut through a lot of shabby little streets. Suddenly
I saw in front of me Lady Alroy, deeply veiled and walking very
fast. On coming to the last house in the street, she went up the
steps, took out a latch-key, and let herself in. "Here is the
mystery," I said to myself; and I hurried on and examined the
house. It seemed a sort of place for letting lodgings. On the
doorstep lay her handkerchief, which she had dropped. I picked it
up and put it in my pocket. Then I began to consider what I should
do. I came to the conclusion that I had no right to spy on her,
and I drove down to the club. At six I called to see her. She was
lying on a sofa, in a tea-gown of silver tissue looped up by some
strange moonstones that she always wore. She was looking quite
lovely. "I am so glad to see you," she said; "I have not been out
all day." I stared at her in amazement, and pulling the
handkerchief out of my pocket, handed it to her. "You dropped this
in Cumnor Street this afternoon, Lady Alroy," I said very calmly.
She looked at me in terror but made no attempt to take the
handkerchief. "What were you doing there?" I asked. "What right
have you to question me?" she answered. "The right of a man who
loves you," I replied; "I came here to ask you to be my wife." She
hid her face in her hands, and burst into floods of tears. "You
must tell me," I continued. She stood up, and, looking me straight
in the face, said, "Lord Murchison, there is nothing to tell you."
- "You went to meet some one," I cried; "this is your mystery."
She grew dreadfully white, and said, "I went to meet no one." -
"Can't you tell the truth?" I exclaimed. "I have told it," she
replied. I was mad, frantic; I don't know what I said, but I said
terrible things to her. Finally I rushed out of the house. She
wrote me a letter the next day; I sent it back unopened, and
started for Norway with Alan Colville. After a month I came back,
and the first thing I saw in the MORNING POST was the death of Lady
Alroy. She had caught a chill at the Opera, and had died in five
days of congestion of the lungs. I shut myself up and saw no one.
I had loved her so much, I had loved her so madly. Good God! how I
had loved that woman!'
'You went to the street, to the house in it?' I said.
'Yes,' he answered.
'One day I went to Cumnor Street. I could not help it; I was
tortured with doubt. I knocked at the door, and a respectablelooking
woman opened it to me. I asked her if she had any rooms to
let. "Well, sir," she replied, "the drawing-rooms are supposed to
be let; but I have not seen the lady for three months, and as rent
is owing on them, you can have them." - "Is this the lady?" I said,
showing the photograph. "That's her, sure enough," she exclaimed;
"and when is she coming back, sir?" - "The lady is dead," I
replied. "Oh sir, I hope not!" said the woman; "she was my best
lodger. She paid me three guineas a week merely to sit in my
drawing-rooms now and then." "She met some one here?" I said; but
the woman assured me that it was not so, that she always came
alone, and saw no one. "What on earth did she do here?" I cried.
"She simply sat in the drawing-room, sir, reading books, and
sometimes had tea," the woman answered. I did not know what to
say, so I gave her a sovereign and went away. Now, what do you
think it all meant? You don't believe the woman was telling the
'Then why did Lady Alroy go there?'
'My dear Gerald,' I answered, 'Lady Alroy was simply a woman with a
mania for mystery. She took these rooms for the pleasure of going
there with her veil down, and imagining she was a heroine. She had
a passion for secrecy, but she herself was merely a Sphinx without
'Do you really think so?'
'I am sure of it,' I replied.
He took out the morocco case, opened it, and looked at the
photograph. 'I wonder?' he said at last.