I begin with a reproduction of the diary excerpts we discovered.
8 February 1908
News arrived yesterday evening that Perry is soon to try for the pole, so Father has moved forward his own expedition. Of a consequence, he has arranged for me to go to Louisiana next week, though we have had no word from Château Desmarais.
17 February 1908
I arrived today at Château Desmarais.
Remy, my great uncle, is positively the most ghastly creature I have ever seen. I know it is small of me to think so, yet I cannot think otherwise. He is so pale and spare that he is almost a ghost; indeed nowhere is there more color in his aspect than in the blood red rim about his eye. I say “eye” and not “eyes” because he has only a single eye and wears a black patch over the place of the lost, which invites the imagination in unpleasant directions.
There is no trace of pigment in what remains of his hair and thin mustache, so they might have been any color in former times. Even his remaining eye seems somehow drained of hue, though it is discernibly yet a faint blue.
Remy’s lips are thin or nonexistent, and the corners of his mouth are turned immovably downward, which gives him a grave and doleful aspect as though he had just imbibed the bitterest poison in the world.
When we met face-to-face, though, I could swear I thought he looked as horrified of me as I was of him. Observing him in the hours since our initial encounter has caused me to wonder further if he is afraid of everything?
27 February 1908
Sometimes I see lights upon the swamp through my window. I imagined they were robbers on boats, hiding from the law. Mathilde says they are no such thing. She said the explanation was in the tale of one miscreant named William — just William, no last name — which she related and I shall attempt to synopsize here.
William was a varlet so wicked God would have nothing to do with him. He burgled and blasphemed, ravished and seduced, murdered and gambled. When he met his death, even the devil would not admit him any place in hell, so he was condemned to wander the earth, never to rest until doomsday. Before quitting hell’s doorstep, he begged the devil some blessing, and the devil allowed him one flame from the fires of hell, which William kept atop an undying candle to light his way at night as he wandered. That candle flame is the namesake for the lost spirit commonly called Will o’ the wisp.
I doubted whether the lights in the swamp could be Will o’ the wisp in his interminable ramblings because I think that I have seen more than one light at time. Besides which, why should I have never seen such a light before coming to the Desmarais estate? Surely a man condemned to wander until the end of time should not restrict himself to this swamp of all places.
Bethany had another tale to tell. She said that the lights are the souls of murdered children unbaptized.
28 February 1908
I think it must be the doleful surroundings that produce the lugubrious aspect that I see in all who dwell at Maîson Desmarais, most particularly Remy. Since I have been here, I have not seen the sun at all, and an insipid drizzle pervades almost every day. Even should the cloud cover break, I wonder if any golden light could penetrate the barrier of tree branches which hangs above every part of the grounds.
Through the windows it appears that nothing but mire and tangled trees can be found in any direction. Nevertheless, I will not continue in this house with nothing to do.
The house is dark and always cold but by the fire. There is nothing to do but servants’ work. If there is any library or drawing room, it must be behind one of the many locked doors in the house. Bernard tells me I’m not to poke about, but there is no need for the instruction, for there is no poking about that can be done.
And no one leaves the house or comes except for the as-yet-unnamed person who brought me here. There is some mystery in just how he leaves, for I have discovered no path from the stables that will allow a cart’s passage.
I think that there is nothing here that brings me any pleasure but to sit by the stove while Mathilde tells ghost stories.
Tomorrow, I will go out on the swamp whether it rains or not.
There are four servants at the house, only one of whom seems at all well disposed toward me. That’s Mathilde. She says she has not been at the house so long as the others, only eight years.
6 March 1908
A most fantastic development has occurred. I was exploring the swamp as on other days when my skiff ran aground of an unseen landing, for the water is so murky that it may stand at six inches or six fathoms anywhere you look, and you should never know it. I stepped out onto the submerged ground so as to lighten the skiff, and immediately I had done so, a swamp light appeared in front of me astir like a candle flame excited by an updraft. It moved to and fro like a victim of St. Vitus’ danse, then flitted off some yards and waited.
I made fast the skiff and then set out in pursuit on foot, finding the footing not so bad. The flame flickered and then darted for cover behind a tree. I circled the tree but discovered it glowing in a new hiding place some distance away. Again I pursued and again it evaded, and this went on for some time.
Eventually I caught up with it again at the bow of my skiff. I splashed toward the boat, but before I attained it, a frigid wind ran through the air and rattled the tree branches. The swamp light blinked from existence like a flame extinguished.
13 March 1908
Last night, to my wonder, I was awakened by light in the bedroom: it was the swamp light with whom I have played hide and go seek this week. I named him William and asked what business brought him here at that immoderate hour. I’m not sure that William understands English or any sort of speech. I spoke to him in French, but that produced no better effect.
William flitted about the room in his wonted, excited manner, then darted through the keyhole of the bedchamber door. I dressed in my gown and slippers, then followed him into the hallway. With none of his characteristic dalliance, William pursued a direct course for a certain one of the locked doors which I have several times attempted to pass.
He flitted through the keyhole and back, through and back, as if to beckon me. I whispered that it was no use for the door was locked, but William persisted, so I turned the knob and pushed the door to show him. On William’s next pass through the keyhole, I heard the lock thrown, and I tried the passage again, this time with success.
The curtains were drawn over the windows in the room beyond, but William hovered over the furnishings individually so that it was soon apparent that this was a music room. Last, William hovered above an ebony pianoforte and remained there.
I considered that, if discovered, any punishment could scarcely be more or less than the condition of a guest at Maison Desmarais, so I raised the lid over the keys and played quietly. William shivered with delight and glowed vermilion.
20 March 1908
I was in the music room with William tonight, playing quietly as ever, when Remy burst into the room with a bang. He raised a lantern before him, and immediately William’s color fell, and he flew to the lantern’s center, where he remained.
Remy fixed me with the glare of his limpid eye, then spun away without a word.
I was terrified, but I stole after him to learn what must become of William. In his study, Remy’s back was turned to the doorway, and I watched him pass his free hand several times over a closed box, which in a moment responded by opening as by magic. Remy put William and the lantern that encased him into the box and closed the lid with a snap.
I cried out loud — I couldn’t help it — and Remy spun on his heel with a furious expression on his face. His eyepatch was raised and his bad eye exposed. I think I must have fallen silent at the spectacle of it. It was horrible! What should have been white or blue was all black, and what should be black was white, and its gaze, malevolent and penetrating, fixed me where I stood.
When Remy lowered his eyepatch to its usual place, I exploded in tears and begged him to release William. He gave me no answer but summoned Bernard, and I was forcibly returned to my bedchamber, where I am now confined under lock and key.
17 April 1908
Today I heard Remy calling from his bedroom. There was some business of Bernard moving back and forth between Remy’s room and the kitchen, and after some while, Mathilde interrupted me from my doldrums and bade me carry a pot of soup to his room.
Having seen and heard nothing of him since he had me locked in my room, I theretofore had no intimation that he was ill. He always looks rather cadaverous, of course, but seeing him lying abed today, there could be no doubt that his health had fallen. To see him, he might have been a revenant three weeks dead.
He called to me, “Bernard!” I told him that I was not Bernard, but he could not understand me. He beckoned me to him. On his legs rested a small box and in his fingers, a black handkerchief drawn half clear of the box. I peered downward to discover the rest of the box’s contents: dark dust and tiny bones.
Remy gripped my wrist in his frail, cold hand. He said, “I have it! It’s not too late! Fetch thickness fat use!” I was nonplussed. I asked him what that meant, but he didn’t answer. Instead, his breath caught, and his last exhalation carried the words “Irene’s notes… in Atlanta’s fifteenth area.”
And those were the last words Remy said. He was dead after that. I looked for Bernard and asked him who Irene was and what Remy could have meant. Bernard said he didn’t know any Irene. It’s clear that there’s no way to get to Atlanta anyway. One may enter Maison Desmarais, but there is no escape.
And then the script changed abruptly, as though another hand had taken the pen and appended only the following riddle:
The answer to the riddle shall appear in a following post.