The Tragedy at
the "Loup Noir"
The Boy at the corner of the table flicked the
ash of his cigar into the fire.
"Spiritualism is all rot!" he declared.
"I don't know," the Host reflected thoughtfully.
"One hears queer stories sometimes."
"Which reminds me——" started the Bore.
But before he could proceed any further the
little French Judge ruthlessly cut him short.
"Bah!" Contempt and geniality were mingled
in his tone. "Who are we, poor ignorant worms,
that we should dare to say 'is' or 'is not'?
Your Shakespeare, he was right! 'There are
more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than
are dreamt of in your philosophy!'"
The faces of the four Englishmen instantly
assumed that peculiarly stolid expression always
called forth by the mention of Shakespeare.
"But Spiritualism——" started the Host.
Again the little French Judge broke in:
"I who you speak, I myself know of an experience,
of the most remarkable, to this day unexplained
save by Spiritualism, Occultism, what
you will! You shall hear! The case is one I conducted
professionally some two years ago, though,
of course, the events which I now tell in their
proper sequence, came out only in the trial. I
string them together for you, yes?"
The Bore, who fiercely resented any stories
except his own, gave vent to a discontented
grunt; the other three prepared to listen carefully.
From the drawing-room, whither the
ladies had retired after dinner, sounded the far-away
strains of a piano. The little French
Judge held out his glass for a crème de menthe;
his eyes were sparkling with suppressed excitement;
he gazed deep into the shining green
liquid as if seeing therein a moving panorama
of pictures, then he began:
On a dusky autumn evening, a young man,
tall, olive-skinned, tramps along the road leading
from Paris to Longchamps. He is walking
with a quick, even swing. Now and again a
hidden anxiety darkens his face.
Suddenly he branches off to the left; the path
here is steep and muddy. He stops in front of
a blurred circle of yellow light; by this can one
faintly perceive the outlines of a building. Above
the narrow doorway hangs a creaking sign which
announces to all it may concern that this is the
"Loup Noir," much sought after for its nearness
to the racecourse and for its excellent ménage.
"Voilà!" mutters our friend.
On entering, he is met by the burly innkeeper,
a shrewd enough fellow, who has seen something
of life before settling down in Longchamps.
The young man glances past him as if seeking
some other face, then recollecting himself demands
shelter for the night.
"I greatly fear——" began the innkeeper,
then pauses, struck by an idea. "Holà, Gaston!
Have monsieur and madame from number fourteen
"Yes, monsieur; already early this morning;
you were at the market, so Mademoiselle settled
"Mademoiselle Jehane?" the stranger looks
"My niece, monsieur; you have perhaps heard
of her, for I see by your easel you are an artist.
She is supposed to be of a rare beauty; I think it
myself." Jean Potin keeps up a running flow
of talk as he conducts his visitor down the long
bare passages, past blistered yellow doors.
"It is a double room I must give you, vacated,
as you heard, but this very morning. They
were going to stay longer, Monsieur and Madame
Guillaumet, but of a sudden she changed her
mind. Oh, she was of a temper!" Potin
raises expressive eyes heavenwards. "It is ever
so when May weds with December."
"He was much older than his wife, then?"
queries the artist, politely feigning an interest
he is far from feeling.
"Mais non, parbleu! It was she who was the
older—by some fifteen years; and not a beauty.
But rich—he knew what he was about, giving
his smooth cheek for her smooth louis!"
Left alone, Lou Arnaud proceeds to unpack
his knapsack; he lingers over it as long as possible;
the task awaiting him below is no pleasant one.
Finally he descends. The small smoky salle
à manger is full of people. There is much talk
and laughter going on; the clatter of knives
and forks. At the desk near the door, a young
girl is busy with the accounts. Her very pale
gold hair, parted and drawn loosely back over
the ears, casts a faint shadow on her pure, white
skin. Arnaud, as he chooses a seat, looks at
"Bah, she is insignificant!" he thinks.
"What can have possessed Claude?"
Suddenly she raises her eyes. They meet his
in a long, steady gaze. Then once again the lids
The artist sets down his glass with a hand
that shakes. He is not imaginative, as a rule,
but when one sees the soul of a mocking devil
look out, dark and compelling, from the face
of a Madonna, one is disconcerted.
He wonders no more what had possessed Claude.
On his way to the door a few moments later, he
pauses at her desk.
"Monsieur wishes to order breakfast for to-morrow
"Monsieur wishes to speak with you."
She smiles demurely. Many have wished to
speak with her. Arnaud divines her thoughts.
"My name is Lou Arnaud!" he adds
"Ah!" she ponders on this for an instant;
then: "It is a warm night; if you will seat
yourself at one of the little tables in the courtyard
at the back of the house, I will try to join
you, when these pigs have finished feeding."
She indicates with contempt the noisily eating
They sit long at that table, for the man has
much to tell of his young brother Claude; of the
ruin she has made of his life; of the little green
devils that lurk in a glass of absinthe, and clutch
their victim, and drag him down deeper, ever
deeper, into the great, green abyss.
But she only laughs, this Jehane of the wanton
"But what do you want from me? I have
no need of this Claude. He wearies me—now!"
Arnaud springs to his feet, catching her roughly
by the wrist. He loves his young brother much.
His voice is raised, attracting the notice of two
or three groups who take coffee at the iron tables.
"You had need of him once. You never left
him in peace till you had sucked him of all that
makes life good. If I could——"
Jean Potin appears in the doorway.
"Jehane, what are you doing out here? You
know I do not permit it that you speak with the
visitors. Pardon her, monsieur, she is but a
"A child?" The artist's brow is black as
thunder. "She has wrecked a life, this child
you speak of!"
He strides past the amazed innkeeper, up
the narrow flight of stairs, and down the passage
to his room.
Sitting on the edge of the huge curtained
four-poster bed, he ponders on the events of
But his thoughts are not all of Claude. That
girl—that girl with her pale face and her pale
hair, and eyes the grey of a storm cloud before
it breaks, she haunts him! Her soft murmuring
voice has stolen into his brain; he hears
it in the drip, drip of the rain on the sill outside.
Soon heavy feet are heard trooping up the
stairs; doors are heard to bang; cheery voices
wish each other good-night. Then gradually
the sounds die away. They keep early hours
at the "Loup Noir"; it is not yet ten o'clock.
Still Arnaud remains sitting on the edge of
the bed; the dark plush canopy overhead repels
him, he does not feel inclined for sleep. Jehane!
what a picture she would make! He must
Obsessed by this idea, he unpacks a roll of
canvas, spreads it on the tripod easel, and prepares
crayons and charcoal; he will start the picture
as soon as it is day. He will paint her as Circe,
mocking at her grovelling herd of swine!
He creeps into bed and falls asleep.
Softly the rain patters against the window-pane.
A distant clock booms out eleven strokes.
Lou Arnaud raises his head. Then noiselessly
he slides out of bed on the chill wooden boarding.
As in a trance he crosses the room, seizes charcoal,
and feverishly works at the blank canvas on
For twenty minutes his hand never falters,
then the charcoal drops from his nerveless fingers!
Groping his way with half-closed eyes back to
the bed, he falls again into a heavy, dreamless
The early morning sun chases away the raindrops
of the night before. Signs of activity
are abroad in the inn; the swish of brooms;
the noisy clatter of pails. A warm aroma of
coffee floats up the stairs and under the door of
number fourteen, awaking Arnaud to pleasant
thoughts of breakfast. He is partly dressed
before his eye lights on the canvas he had prepared.
"Nom de Dieu!"
He falls back against the wall, staring stupefied
at the picture before him. It is the picture
of a girl, crouching in a kneeling position, all
the agony of death showing clearly in her upturned
eyes. At her throat, cruelly, relentlessly
doing their murderous work, are a pair of hands—ugly,
podgy hands, but with what power
The face is the face of Jehane—a distorted,
terrified Jehane! Arnaud recoils, covering his
eyes with his hands. Who could have drawn
this unspeakable thing? He looks again closely;
the style is his own! There is no mistaking
those bold, black lines, that peculiar way of
indicating muscle beneath the tightly stretched
skin—it is his own work! Anywhere would
he have known it!
A knock at the door! Jean Potin enters,
"Breakfast in your room, monsieur? We
are busy this morning; I share in the work.
Permit me to move the table and the easel—Sacré-bleu!"
Suddenly his rosy lips grow stern. "This
is Jehane. Did she sit for you—and when?
You only came last night. What devil's work
"That is what I would like to find out; I
know no more about it than you yourself. When
I awoke this morning the picture was there!"
"Did you draw it?" suspiciously.
"Yes. At least, no! Yes, I suppose I did.
Potin clenches his fist: "I will have the truth
from the girl herself! There is something
here I do not like!" Roughly he pushes past
the artist and mounts to Jehane's room.
She is not there, neither is she at her desk.
Nor yet down in the village. They search
everywhere; there is a hue and cry; people rush
to and fro.
Then suddenly a shout; and a silence, a
Something is carried slowly into the "Loup
Noir." Something that was found huddled up
in the shadow of the wall that borders the courtyard.
Something with ugly purple patches on
the white throat.
It is Jehane, and she is dead; strangled by
a pair of hands that came from behind.
The story of the picture is rapidly passed
from mouth to mouth. People look strangely
at Lou Arnaud; they remember his loud, strained
voice and threatening gestures on the preceding
Finally he is arrested on the charge of murder.
I was the judge, gentlemen, on the occasion
of the Arnaud trial.
The prisoner is questioned about the picture.
He knows nothing; can tell nothing of how it
came there. His fellow-artists testify to its
being his work. From them also leaks out the
tale of his brother Claude, of the latter's infatuation
and ruin. No need now to explain
the quarrel in the courtyard. The accused has
good reason to hate the dead girl.
The Avocat for the defence does his best.
The picture is produced in court; it creates a
If only Lou Arnaud could complete it—could
sketch in the owner of those merciless
hands. He is handed the charcoal; again and
again he tries—in vain.
The hands are not his own; but that is a small
point in his favour. Why should he have incriminated
himself by drawing his own hands?
But again, why should he have drawn the picture
There is nobody else on whom falls a shadow
of suspicion. I sum up impartially. The jury
convict on circumstantial evidence, and I sentence
the prisoner to death.
A short time must elapse between the sentence
and carrying it into force. The Avocat for
the defence obtains for the prisoner a slight
concession; he may have picture and charcoal
in his cell. Perhaps he can yet free himself
from the web which has inmeshed him!
Arnaud tries to blot out thought by sketching
in and erasing again fanciful figures twisted
into a peculiar position; he cannot adjust the
pose of the unknown murderer. So in despair
he gives it up.
One morning, three days before the execution,
the innkeeper comes to visit him and finds
him lying face downwards on the narrow pallet.
Despite his own grief, he is sorry for the young
man; nor is he convinced in his shrewd bourgeois
mind of the latter's guilt.
"You must draw in the second figure," he
repeats again and again. "It is your last,
your only chance! Think of the faces you
saw at the 'Loup Noir.' Do none of them
recall anything to you? You quarrelled with
Jehane in the garden about your brother. Then
you went to your room. Oh, what did you
think in your room?"
"I thought of your niece," responds Arnaud
wildly. "How very beautiful she was, and what
a model she would make. Then I prepared
a blank canvas for the morning, and went
to bed. When I woke up the picture was there."
"And you remember nothing more—nothing
at all?" insists Jean Potin. "You fell asleep
at once? You heard no sound?"
Against the barred window of the cell the rain
patters softly. A distant clock booms out
Something in the artist's brain seems to snap.
He raises his head. He slides from the bed.
As in a trance he crosses the cell, seizes a piece
of charcoal, and feverishly works at the picture
on the easel!
Not daring to speak, Jean Potin watches
him. The figure behind the hands grows and
grows beneath Arnaud's fingers.
A woman's figure!
Then the face: a coarse, malignant face,
distorted by evil passions.
It is a cry of recognition from the breathless
innkeeper. It breaks the spell. The charcoal
drops, and the prisoner, passing his hand across
his eyes, gazes bewildered at his own work.
"But I know her! It is the woman in whose
room you slept! She was staying at the 'Loup
Noir' the very night before you arrived, and
she left that morning. She and her husband,
Monsieur Guillaumet. But it is incredible if
she should have——"
I will be short with you, gentlemen. Madame
Guillaumet was traced to her flat in Paris.
Arnaud's Avocat confronted her with the
now completed picture. She was confounded—babbled
like a mad woman—confessed!
A reprieve for further inquiry was granted
by the State. Finally Arnaud was cleared, and
allowed to go free.
The motive for the murder? A woman's
jealousy. Monsieur and Madame Guillaumet
had been married only ten months. Her age
was forty-nine; his twenty-seven. Every second
of their married life was to her weighted with
intolerable suspicions; how soon would this
young husband, so dear to her, forsake her for
another, now that his debts were paid? It
preyed upon her mind, distorting it, unbalancing
it; each glance, each movement of his she
exaggerated into an intrigue.
On their way to Paris they stayed a few days
at the "Loup Noir"; Charles Guillaumet was
interested in racing. Also, he became interested
in a certain Mdlle. Jehane. Madame, quick
to see, insisted on an instant departure.
The evening of the day of their departure
she missed her husband, and found he had taken
the car. Where should he have gone? Back
to the inn, of course, only half-an-hour's run
from Paris. She hired another car and followed
him, driving it herself. It was not a pleasant
journey. The first car she discovered forsaken,
about half-a-mile distant from the inn. Her
own car she left beside it, and trudged the
remaining distance on foot.
The rest was easy.
Finding no sign of Guillaumet in front of the
house, she stole round to the back. There she
found a door in the wall of the courtyard—a
door that led into the lane. That door was
slightly ajar. She slipped in and crouched down
in the shadow.
Yes, there they were, her husband and Jehane;
the latter was laughing, luring him on—and she
was young; oh, so young!
The woman watched, fascinated.
Charles bade Jehane good-bye, promising to
come again. He kissed her tenderly, passed
through the gate; his steps were heard muffled
along the lane.
Jehane blew him a kiss, and then fastened the
A distant clock boomed out eleven strokes,
and a pair of hands stole round the girl's throat,
burying themselves deep, deep in the white flesh.
"And the husband, was he an accessory after
the fact?" inquired the Boy.
"Possibly he guessed at the deed, yes; but,
being a weakling, said nothing for fear of implicating
himself. It wasn't proved."
The Host moved uneasily in his chair.
"Do you mean to tell me that the mystery
of the picture has never been cleared up?"
he asked. "Could Arnaud have actually seen
the murder from his window, and fixed it on
The little French Judge shook his head.
"Did I not tell you that his window faced
front?" he replied. "No, that point has not
yet been explained. It is beyond us!"
He made a sweeping gesture, knocking over
his liqueur glass; it fell with a crash on the parquet
The Bore woke with a start.
"And did they marry?" he queried.
"Who should marry?"
"That artist-chap and the girl—what was her
"Monsieur," quoth the little French Judge
very gently and ironically, "I grieve to state
that was impossible, Jehane being dead."
The Boy at the corner of the table stood up
and threw the stump of his cigar into the fire.
"I think Spiritualism is all rot!" he declared.