A VOICELESS ACCUSATION
She was tall and slender and American from the nodding plumes of her big black hat to the tips of her small, shining shoes. The man with her was an American too, though his carriage no less than his clothes betrayed a longer residence in Paris. He was big and blonde, and he looked about him into the dark recesses of the aisles and chapels of Notre Dame as if he were always on the alert for subjects for his brush, or as if he expected to see the unexpected.
They had known each other in New York, but that was two years ago, and it was not until Mrs. Morton and Edith came to Paris six months before that they had become attached to one another. They were engaged, but that did not prevent them from quarrelling earnestly, though in subdued tones, as they looked up at the huge rose window in the transept.
“I admit that I lost the locket yesterday, Edith, and I say that I’ll try to get it again; or, if I don’t succeed, I’ll do you another. Your likeness never pleased me, anyway.”
“But yours suited me perfectly, Arthur. I wish I hadn’t let you take it. It really didn’t need retouching at all.”
“Well, why go into it any more? The thing is done, and that‘s all there is about it,” exclaimed Abernathy, with a petulance so unsuited to a man of his physical proportions that one could but wonder, and then be led by wonder to notice the tiny lines traced by weakness on his still youthful face, and the full lips of vacillation.
“You needn’t be so cross. I suppose it’s useless to talk about it any more, and we might as well go on to the Morgue,” said Edith, shrugging her shoulders ever so little.
“The Morgue? You’re not going there! Why, it’s horrible, dear!” and Arthur looked the picture of horror and dismay.
“Certainly I’m going. Where’s mamma? Oh, over there, buying a candle. She won’t want to go,” she continued, with the calm finality of the daughter who understands her mother, “but I’ve heard of the Paris Morgue all my life, and I’m going to see it.”
She swept down the center aisle of the vast old building like a young princess, the broad shaft of sunlight from the open door making a golden path for her feet, and illuming every curve of her lithe figure.
“Mrs. Morton, you won’t allow Edith to go to the Morgue?” gasped Abernathy. And “Mamma, I’m going to the Morgue. Wait here for me, please,” announced Edith, simultaneously, with decision.
Mrs. Morton desisted from her candle buying, and looked helplessly from one to the other.
“Very well,” she murmured, vaguely, gazing after their retreating forms as Edith briskly walked away, followed by Arthur, still expostulating.
Sometimes it gives one an appearance of dignity to sanction what one can not help.
Abernathy exhausted his eloquence as they walked down the street beside the cathedral, unmindful of the long, gray mass of stone, with its weather-worn carving and grisly gargoyles. It was a shock to his artistic temperament that Edith, whom he loved and mentally held apart from all unhappiness and squalor, should be faced with the horrid presentments of death from misadventure or from the misery which makes man a God unto himself, even to the taking of his own life. It was hideous to him that Edith should even want to go. Yet, as she insisted, of course he must go too. Then what was the use of seeing more unpleasant things than one has to, in this world?
The usual stream of morbid humanity was passing behind the screen which conceals the bodies exposed in the Morgue from the street, and Arthur and Edith fell into line and passed under the roof. Behind the glass windows which faced them lay four bodies, three men and one woman. The latter was but a girl, small of feature, with her brown hair wet with the river’s slime clinging to her cheeks, whence the color had fled. Over her head was a placard bearing a number and telling where she had been found. Near by were her clothes and the contents of her pocket, placed conspicuously, in the hope that some one might identify her.
Abernathy glanced indifferently at the men—he cared more for the effect of the scene upon Edith. His gaze traveled on to the last figure in the row.
“My God, it is Felicité!”
“And that,” said Edith, “is my locket. ”
Abernathy saw his own face smiling up at him, the work of his hands, as the lifelessness of the still form before him was the work of his selfishness.
But the portrait of Edith on the left side of the locket was broken into many pieces, and the gold case was dented as if it had been bitten in agony or in rage.
Mabell Shippie Clarke.
The New Bohemian: A Modern Monthly Vol. III No. 1 July 1896: pp. 49-50
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has long wondered why the French authorities did not put an embargo on American artists. They had an appalling record, at least in fiction, of wantonly discarding models after they had tired of them and driving the young women to drugs, drink, and desperation.
The Paris Morgue, was, shocking as it may seem to our modern sensibilities, a popular tourist attraction. You may read about Death as Entertainment at the Paris Morgue here.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdote
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.
What a delicious “reveal!” I love it when scoundrels are exposed, although I pity poor Felicité and her ghastly fate as both a discarded plaything and a macabre tourist attraction. One wonders at the mysteries in how truth is revealed: Edith’s self-assurance and strong will seemingly insisted that she visit the morgue and no earthly pleas would deter her. Coming face-to-face with the cruel reality of her fiancee’s secret life (and possibly murderous character) suggest angelic allies were on her side. And how appropriate, with Notre Dame’s looming shadows and spires as the starting point to Abernathy’s grievous unraveling.
If Mrs. Daffodil is so inclined, there’s a 20th century short story I adore that disturbingly expands upon the echoes of betrayal in your post above. I first read Ray Bradbury’s “The Next in Line” in the 1970’s and it continues to haunt me to the present day. The link below features a spot-on synopsis that I hope intrigues you enough to read the complete story: http://aerin.booklikes.com/post/648791/short-story-review-the-next-in-line-ray-bradbury
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Ah, Mrs Daffodil is familiar with that excellent story, “The Next in Line.” Well-spotted! Mrs Daffodil has a little less sympathy for Miss Edith–one wonders if she “forgave” him and then led him a merry dance after their marriage. Her strong will would have probably ensured that his art career was over and that he took up a subordinate position in Papa’s bank. One rather fancies that, after years of drudgery over the ledgers, and a hidden life making “art” with various models in a secret snuggery, he embezzled millions and escaped back to Paris just in time for the Great War.
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She had clearly had morgue than enough … I’ll get my frock coat!
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You’ll be here all week…. 😉
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