“Our Lady of Red Lips”

“Our Lady of Red Lips”

The place was Paris.

A man stood in front of an art-dealer’s window, and looked at the painted picture of a woman.

The man was about twenty-five years of age, and extremely handsome.

He was big and brawny.

His hair was brown and curly, and his eyes were blue and frank.

The woman was about thirty years of age, and exceedingly beautiful.

She was small and slender.

Her complexion was creamy white, her hair was inky black, her eyes were dark green, and her lips were bright red. {7}

If you were French, you could tell that the man was American.

And if you were an American, you could tell that the woman was French.

The man stood and stared at the picture.

He stared at the white complexion—but he had seen complexion like that before.

He stared at the black hair—but he had also seen hair like that before.

He stared at the green eyes—but he had even seen eyes like that before.

He stared at the red lips—and he had never seen lips like that before.

He had never thought of such lips.

He had never even dreamed of such lips.

Of course their vivid crimson color was unnatural, fantastic, grotesque.

The picture must have been designed for a poster.

But nevertheless it fascinated the man strangely.

The white face seemed to turn to him.

The green eyes seemed to look at him.

The red lips seemed to smile at him.

The man hesitated.

And then he went into the shop.

“What is that picture?” said the man. {8}

“That is the portrait of a lady,” said the proprietor.

“Who painted it?” said the man.

“Paul Gaspard,” said the proprietor. “Is he well known?” said the man.

“He would have been— had he lived,” said the proprietor.

“Is he dead?” said the man.

“Yes,” said the proprietor, “he died six months ago, under peculiar circumstances.” “Tell me about it,” said the man.

“He was young, and he was clever, and he was handsome,” said the proprietor, “men admired him, and women loved him. The lady who posed for this portrait was one of those who loved him. She had loved other men. She had loved an Italian prince. But he died. She had loved an English lord. But he died also. And then—she loved Paul Gaspard.”

“And then he too died!” said the man.

“Yes—and he too died!” said the proprietor.

“How did he die?” said the man.

“Nobody knows how—or why,” said the proprietor. “He was found dead in his bed one morning. That was all. There was {9} some sort of a wound, or a scar, on his breast, over his heart. For a time the coroner was puzzled. At first there was some thought of suicide—or even of murder. But, in the end, the authorities decided that Paul Gaspard had died from natural causes, and there the matter ended.”

“And the picture,” said the man.

“The picture had just been finished on the very day he died,” said the proprietor, “by a strange coincidence.”

“Very strange indeed!” said the man.

“Paul Gaspard had from time to time borrowed sums of money from me, until he owed me in all some fifteen hundred francs,” said the proprietor, “so when he died, and left no money, I claimed the picture—and I got it.”

“And the lady who posed for it?” said the man.

“She left Paris as soon as Paul Gaspard was in his grave,” said the proprietor. “Where did she go?” said the man.

“To St. Petersburg—with a Russian duke,” said the proprietor.

“Is she there now?” said the man.

“No, she is at Monte Carlo,” said the proprietor. {10}

“With the Russian duke?” said the man.

“No, she is there alone,” said the proprietor.

“Where is the Russian duke?” said the man.

“He is dead,” said the proprietor. “Dead?” said the man.

“Yes, dead,” said the proprietor, “as dead as all the rest of her lovers!”

“The devil!” said the man.

“Quite so!” said the proprietor.

“And the name of this woman,” said the man, “what is it?”

“She calls herself Elise Du Barry,” said the proprietor, “but other people call her something else.”

“What do they call her?” said the man.

“’Our Lady of Red Lips’!” said the proprietor.

The man thanked the proprietor, and left the shop.

In the street he stopped before the window once more, and stood and stared at the picture.

“’Our Lady of Red Lips’,” muttered the man.

And, as he left the window, and walked away, he murmured, “Monte Carlo!” {11}

That night the man dreamed a strange and startling dream.

First he dreamed of black hair.

Hair as black as night.

It covered the heavens and the earth.

There was nothing else in the world but black hair.

Then he dreamed of white skin.

Skin as white as snow.

It covered the heavens and the earth.

There was nothing else in the world but white skin.

Then he dreamed of green eyes. Eyes as green as the sea.

They covered the heavens and the earth.

There was nothing else in the green eyes.

Then he dreamed of red lips. Lips as red as blood.

They covered the heavens and the earth.

There was nothing else in the world but red lips.

The lips kissed him on the brow.

He felt as though he were swooning.

The lips kissed him on the mouth.

He felt as though he were dying.

The lips kissed him on the heart. {12}

He felt as though the world were coming to an end.

His soul was full of terror.

He uttered a shriek.

And then—he awoke.

The next day the man left Paris.

He went to Monte Carlo.

* * * * *

The man’s name was Howard Leslie.

He was a New Yorker.

He was an only son, and his father was a millionaire.

This was his first visit to Monte Carlo.

He walked into the Casino.

He looked at the people.

They were strange to see.

And the people looked at him.

He was good to behold.

The celebrated habitués of the place passed before him.

He saw Madame de Lara, the Italian singer.

And La Belle Bolero, the Spanish dancer.

Yvonne Yvette, the French model.

And Olga Maronoff, the Russian poetess. {18}

And then—with a bound of the heart, and a gasp of the breath—he saw her!

Elise Du Barry—Our Lady of Red Lips! ……

She wore a white satin evening gown.

There were big pearls in her hair, around her throat, and on her fingers.

Her complexion was as white as her gown.

Not a touch of color, in her dress, or in her face—except her mouth.

But, just as the setting sun will dominate an evening sky, so did this crimson mouth dominate this ashen face, and this pallid figure. One was conscious of the woman’s mouth, first, last, and all the time.

One could not help but be conscious of it.

Howard Leslie stood and stared at her.

And she paused and glanced at him.

How like she was to her portrait!

Or rather, how like her portrait was to her!

At last the white face did in reality turn to him!

At last the green eyes did in reality look at him! {14}

At last the red lips did in reality smile at him!

And then Elise Du Barry passed by.

Howard Leslie followed her.

She sat at one of the tables.

He stood beside her.

She put down some gold—on the red.

She lost.

He put down some gold—on the black.

He won.

She looked up at him.

He looked down at her.

Their eyes met—his so frank and blue, and hers so strange and green.

He spoke to her.

She answered him.

He didn’t know what he was saying to her.

He didn’t know what she was saying to him.

He only knew that he and she were talking together.

He only knew that he and she were walking together—out of the Casino. . . . . .

* * * * *

One month passed. {15}

And then, one day, all Monte Carlo, all Europe, and in fact all the world, was surprised and shocked to learn that Elise Du Barry, a celebrated French beauty, had been strangled at Monte Carlo, and that the man in whose company she had been much seen of late, Howard Leslie, a young American millionaire, had become a raving maniac. The madman, in his paroxysms, constantly clutched his breast, where there was some sort of a wound, or a scar, and he continually cried,

“Heart’s blood! Heart’s blood! Heart’s blood!”

The throat of Elise Du Barry had been dreadfully disfigured by the strong hands that had crushed the life out of her, but her mouth was still a bright crimson color, thus entitling the woman, even in death, to the name by which she had been popularly known in life—that of “Our Lady of Red Lips.” . . . . .