Upon finding himself in Paris in May 1886, the narrator of this story wishes to impose himself on an old friend, Eugene Marie d’Ardeche. D’Ardeche deserted Boston after learning that an aunt had died and willed him property in Paris. This puzzled his old friend since he and he aunt were not on good terms. In fact, it was believed practiced black magic.
The aunt lived there alone but had a frequent visitor, who was seen to arrive but never leave, a wicked older sorcerer. Once a year, carriages gathered outside No. 252 for a night of odd music and (so people who’d placed their ears up against the wall said) odd chanting. Eugene decides this was Walpurgisnacht (a “witch’s night” heralding the coming of spring). To make things weirder, the noises of this party go on even after the aunt has gone on to her reward.
One of the problems owning this property, of course, is that d’Ardeche can’t keep tenets. He’s still paying taxes on it. His alternatives are to move in himself—he’s presently staying at another of his aunt’s properties outside Paris—or let the wicked old sorcerer friend of his aunt have it.
He and couple of his friends, all medicals students, decide to stay the night. Now that M. l’Américain has arrived, there will be four of them.
The house is a monstrosity, complete with a ritual room covered in black lacquer with a pentagram on the floor. Interestingly, the story refers to another horror story of the day, “The Haunters and the Haunted,” by Sir Edward Bulwer-Lytton to which it bears more than a passing resemblance. The story also contains a description of what might be sleep paralysis. There is some humor. The evening before the four are to stay the night in the haunted house, they have dinner across the street. The medical students discuss their adventures in the dissecting room while the narrator squirms and asks for a change in topics.
This is gothic horror, not to everyone’s taste. This particular mixture of black magic, horror, ghosts, and humor is a little over the top for me, but it had its moments. That it doesn’t take itself too seriously is a nice redeeming characteristic.
Author Ralph Adams Cram was a noted architect, particularly of ecclesiastical buildings. His expertise in architecture shows in this story.
Title: “No. 252 Rue M. le Prince”
Author: Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942)
First published: Black Spirits and White: a Book of Ghost Stories 1895
The story can be read at Project Gutenberg.