The Red Room by Lucy Maud Montgomery
You would have me tell you the story, Grandchild?
'Tis a sad one and best forgotten—few remember it
now. There are always sad and dark stories in old
families such as ours.
Yet I have promised and must keep my word. So
sit down here at my feet and rest your bright head
on my lap, that I may not see in your young eyes
the shadows my story will bring across their bonny
I was a mere child when it all happened, yet I
remember it but too well, and I can recall how
pleased I was when my father's stepmother, Mrs.
Montressor—she not liking to be called grandmother,
seeing she was but turned of fifty and a
handsome woman still—wrote to my mother that
she must send little Beatrice up to Montressor Place
for the Christmas holidays. So I went joyfully
though my mother grieved to part with me; she
had little to love save me, my father, Conrad
Montressor, having been lost at sea when but three
My aunts were wont to tell me how much I resembled
him, being, so they said, a Montressor to
the backbone; and this I took to mean commendation,
for the Montressors were a well-descended
and well-thought-of family, and the women were
noted for their beauty. This I could well believe,
since of all my aunts there was not one but was
counted a pretty woman. Therefore I took heart of
grace when I thought of my dark face and spindling
shape, hoping that when I should be grown
up I might be counted not unworthy of my race.
The Place was an old-fashioned, mysterious
house, such as I delighted in, and Mrs. Montressor
was ever kind to me, albeit a little stern, for she was
a proud woman and cared but little for children,
having none of her own.
But there were books there to pore over without
let or hindrance—for nobody questioned of my
whereabouts if I but kept out of the way—and
strange, dim family portraits on the walls to gaze
upon, until I knew each proud old face well, and
had visioned a history for it in my own mind—for I
was given to dreaming and was older and wiser
than my years, having no childish companions to
keep me still a child.
There were always some of my aunts at the Place
to kiss and make much of me for my father's sake—for
he had been their favourite brother. My aunts—there
were eight of them—had all married well, so
said people who knew, and lived not far away, coming
home often to take tea with Mrs. Montressor,
who had always gotten on well with her step-daughters,
or to help prepare for some festivity or
other—for they were notable housekeepers, every
They were all at Montressor Place for Christmas,
and I got more petting than I deserved, albeit they
looked after me somewhat more strictly than did
Mrs. Montressor, and saw to it that I did not read
too many fairy tales or sit up later at nights than
became my years.
But it was not for fairy tales and sugarplums nor
yet for petting that I rejoiced to be at the Place at
that time. Though I spoke not of it to anyone, I had
a great longing to see my Uncle Hugh's wife, concerning
whom I had heard much, both good and
My Uncle Hugh, albeit the oldest of the family,
had never married until now, and all the countryside
rang with talk of his young wife. I did not
hear as much as I wished, for the gossips took heed
to my presence when I drew anear and turned to
other matters. Yet, being somewhat keener of comprehension
than they knew, I heard and understood
not a little of their talk.
And so I came to know that neither proud Mrs.
Montressor nor my good aunts, nor even my gentle
mother, looked with overmuch favour on what
my Uncle Hugh had done. And I did hear that Mrs.
Montressor had chosen a wife for her stepson, of
good family and some beauty, but that my Uncle
Hugh would have none of her—a thing Mrs. Montressor
found hard to pardon, yet might so have done had
not my uncle, on his last voyage to the Indies—for he
went often in his own vessels—married and brought
home a foreign bride, of whom no one knew aught
save that her beauty was a thing to dazzle the day
and that she was of some strange alien blood such as
ran not in the blue veins of the Montressors.
Some had much to say of her pride and insolence,
and wondered if Mrs. Montressor would
tamely yield her mistress-ship to the stranger. But
others, who were taken with her loveliness and
grace, said that the tales told were born of envy and
malice, and that Alicia Montressor was well worthy
of her name and station.
So I halted between two opinions and thought to
judge for myself, but when I went to the Place my
Uncle Hugh and his bride were gone for a time,
and I had even to swallow my disappointment and
bide their return with all my small patience.
But my aunts and their stepmother talked much
of Alicia, and they spoke slightingly of her, saying
that she was but a light woman and that no good
would come of my Uncle Hugh's having wed her,
with other things of a like nature. Also they spoke
of the company she gathered around her, thinking
her to have strange and unbecoming companions
for a Montressor. All this I heard and pondered
much over, although my good aunts supposed that
such a chit as I would take no heed to their whisperings.
When I was not with them, helping to whip eggs
and stone raisins, and being watched to see that I
ate not more than one out of five, I was surely to be
found in the wing hall, poring over my book and
grieving that I was no more allowed to go into the
The wing hall was a narrow one and dim, connecting
the main rooms of the Place with an older
wing, built in a curious way. The hall was lighted
by small, square-paned windows, and at its end a
little flight of steps led up to the Red Room.
Whenever I had been at the Place before—and this
was often—I had passed much of my time in this
same Red Room. It was Mrs. Montressor's sitting-room
then, where she wrote her letters and examined
household accounts, and sometimes had an
old gossip in to tea. The room was low-ceilinged
and dim, hung with red damask, and with odd,
square windows high up under the eaves and a
dark wainscoting all around it. And there I loved to
sit quietly on the red sofa and read my fairy tales,
or talk dreamily to the swallows fluttering crazily
against the tiny panes.
When I had gone this Christmas to the Place I
soon bethought myself of the Red Room—for I had
a great love for it. But I had got no further than the
steps when Mrs. Montressor came sweeping down
the hall in haste and, catching me by the arm,
pulled me back as roughly as if it had been Bluebeard's
chamber itself into which I was venturing.
Then, seeing my face, which I doubt not was
startled enough, she seemed to repent of her haste
and patted me gently on the head.
"There, there, little Beatrice! Did I frighten you,
child? Forgive an old woman's thoughtlessness.
But be not too ready to go where you are not bidden,
and never venture foot in the Red Room now,
for it belongs to your Uncle Hugh's wife, and let me
tell you she is not over fond of intruders."
I felt sorry overmuch to hear this, nor could I see
why my new aunt should care if I went in once in a
while, as had been my habit, to talk to the swallows
and misplace nothing. But Mrs. Montressor saw to
it that I obeyed her, and I went no more to the Red
Room, but busied myself with other matters.
For there were great doings at the Place and
much coming and going. My aunts were never idle;
there was to be much festivity Christmas week and
a ball on Christmas Eve. And my aunts had promised
me—though not till I had wearied them of my
coaxing—that I should stay up that night and see
as much of the gaiety as was good for me. So I did
their errands and went early to bed every night
without complaint—though I did this the more
readily for that, when they thought me safely
asleep, they would come in and talk around my
bedroom fire, saying that of Alicia which I should
not have heard.
At last came the day when my Uncle Hugh and
his wife were expected home—though not until
my scanty patience was well nigh wearied out—and
we were all assembled to meet them in the
great hall, where a ruddy firelight was gleaming.
My Aunt Frances had dressed me in my best
white frock and my crimson sash, with much lamenting
over my skinny neck and arms, and bade
me behave prettily, as became my bringing up. So I
slipped in a corner, my hands and feet cold with
excitement, for I think every drop of blood in my
body had gone to my head, and my heart beat so
hardly that it even pained me.
Then the door opened and Alicia—for so I was
used to hearing her called, nor did I ever think of
her as my aunt in my own mind—came in, and a
little in the rear my tall, dark uncle.
She came proudly forward to the fire and stood
there superbly while she loosened her cloak, nor
did she see me at all at first, but nodded, a little
disdainfully, it seemed, to Mrs. Montressor and my
aunts, who were grouped about the drawing-room
door, very ladylike and quiet.
But I neither saw nor heard aught at the time
save her only, for her beauty, when she came forth
from her crimson cloak and hood, was something
so wonderful that I forgot my manners and stared
at her as one fascinated—as indeed I was, for never
had I seen such loveliness and hardly dreamed it.
Pretty women I had seen in plenty, for my aunts
and my mother were counted fair, but my uncle's
wife was as little like to them as a sunset glow to
pale moonshine or a crimson rose to white day-lilies.
Nor can I paint her to you in words as I saw her
then, with the long tongues of firelight licking her
white neck and wavering over the rich masses of
her red-gold hair.
She was tall—so tall that my aunts looked but
insignificant beside her, and they were of no mean
height, as became their race; yet no queen could
have carried herself more royally, and all the passion
and fire of her foreign nature burned in her
splendid eyes, that might have been dark or light
for aught that I could ever tell, but which seemed
always like pools of warm flame, now tender, now
Her skin was like a delicate white rose leaf, and
when she spoke I told my foolish self that never
had I heard music before; nor do I ever again think
to hear a voice so sweet, so liquid, as that which
rippled over her ripe lips.
I had often in my own mind pictured this, my
first meeting with Alicia, now in one way, now in
another, but never had I dreamed of her speaking
to me at all, so that it came to me as a great surprise
when she turned and, holding out her lovely
hands, said very graciously:
"And is this the little Beatrice? I have heard much
of you—come, kiss me, child."
And I went, despite my Aunt Elizabeth's black
frown, for the glamour of her loveliness was upon
me, and I no longer wondered that my Uncle Hugh
should have loved her.
Very proud of her was he too; yet I felt, rather
than saw—for I was sensitive and quick of perception,
as old-young children ever are—that there
was something other than pride and love in his face
when he looked on her, and more in his manner
than the fond lover—as it were, a sort of lurking
Nor could I think, though to me the thought
seemed as treason, that she loved her husband
overmuch, for she seemed half condescending and
half disdainful to him; yet one thought not of this
in her presence, but only remembered it when she
When she went out it seemed to me that nothing
was left, so I crept lonesomely away to the wing
hall and sat down by a window to dream of her;
and she filled my thoughts so fully that it was no
surprise when I raised my eyes and saw her coming
down the hall alone, her bright head shining
against the dark old walls.
When she paused by me and asked me lightly of
what I was dreaming, since I had such a sober face,
I answered her truly that it was of her—whereat
she laughed, as one not ill pleased, and said half
"Waste not your thoughts so, little Beatrice. But
come with me, child, if you will, for I have taken a
strange fancy to your solemn eyes. Perchance the
warmth of your young life may thaw out the ice
that has frozen around my heart ever since I came
among these cold Montressors."
And, though I understood not her meaning, I
went, glad to see the Red Room once more. So she
made me sit down and talk to her, which I did, for
shyness was no failing of mine; and she asked me
many questions, and some that I thought she
should not have asked, but I could not answer
them, so 'twere little harm.
After that I spent a part of every day with her in
the Red Room. And my Uncle Hugh was there
often, and he would kiss her and praise her loveliness,
not heeding my presence—for I was but a
Yet it ever seemed to me that she endured rather
than welcomed his caresses, and at times the ever-burning
flame in her eyes glowed so luridly that a
chill dread would creep over me, and I would remember
what my Aunt Elizabeth had said, she
being a bitter-tongued woman, though kind at
heart—that this strange creature would bring on us
all some evil fortune yet.
Then would I strive to banish such thoughts and
chide myself for doubting one so kind to me.
When Christmas Eve drew nigh my silly head
was full of the ball day and night. But a grievous
disappointment befell me, for I awakened that day
very ill with a most severe cold; and though I bore
me bravely, my aunts discovered it soon, when, despite
my piteous pleadings, I was put to bed,
where I cried bitterly and would not be comforted.
For I thought I should not see the fine folk and,
more than all, Alicia.
But that disappointment, at least, was spared
me, for at night she came into my room, knowing
of my longing—she was ever indulgent to my little
wishes. And when I saw her I forgot my aching
limbs and burning brow, and even the ball I was
not to see, for never was mortal creature so lovely
as she, standing there by my bed.
Her gown was of white, and there was nothing I
could liken the stuff to save moonshine falling
athwart a frosted pane, and out from it swelled her
gleaming breast and arms, so bare that it seemed to
me a shame to look upon them. Yet it could not be
denied they were of wondrous beauty, white as
And all about her snowy throat and rounded
arms, and in the masses of her splendid hair, were
sparkling, gleaming stones, with hearts of pure
light, which I know now to have been diamonds,
but knew not then, for never had I seen aught of
And I gazed at her, drinking in her beauty until
my soul was filled, as she stood like some goddess
before her worshipper. I think she read my thought
in my face and liked it—for she was a vain woman,
and to such even the admiration of a child is sweet.
Then she leaned down to me until her splendid
eyes looked straight into my dazzled ones.
"Tell me, little Beatrice—for they say the word of
a child is to be believed—tell me, do you think me
I found my voice and told her truly that I thought
her beautiful beyond my dreams of angels—as
indeed she was. Whereat she smiled as one well
Then my Uncle Hugh came in, and though I
thought that his face darkened as he looked on the
naked splendour of her breast and arms, as if he
liked not that the eyes of other men should gloat on
it, yet he kissed her with all a lover's fond pride,
while she looked at him half mockingly.
Then said he, "Sweet, will you grant me a
And she answered, "It may be that I will."
And he said, "Do not dance with that man tonight,
Alicia. I mistrust him much."
His voice had more of a husband's command
than a lover's entreaty. She looked at him with
some scorn, but when she saw his face grow
black—for the Montressors brooked scant disregard
of their authority, as I had good reason to
know—she seemed to change, and a smile came to
her lips, though her eyes glowed balefully.
Then she laid her arms about his neck and—though
it seemed to me that she had as soon strangled
as embraced him—her voice was wondrous
sweet and caressing as she murmured in his ear.
He laughed and his brow cleared, though he said
still sternly, "Do not try me too far, Alicia."
Then they went out, she a little in advance and
After that my aunts also came in, very beautifully
and modestly dressed, but they seemed to me as
nothing after Alicia. For I was caught in the snare of
her beauty, and the longing to see her again so
grew upon me that after a time I did an undutiful
and disobedient thing.
I had been straitly charged to stay in bed, which I
did not, but got up and put on a gown. For it was in
my mind to go quietly down, if by chance I might
again see Alicia, myself unseen.
But when I reached the great hall I heard steps
approaching and, having a guilty conscience, I
slipped aside into the blue parlour and hid me behind
the curtains lest my aunts should see me.
Then Alicia came in, and with her a man whom I
had never before seen. Yet I instantly bethought
myself of a lean black snake, with a glittering and
evil eye, which I had seen in Mrs. Montressor's
garden two summers agone, and which was like to
have bitten me. John, the gardener, had killed it,
and I verily thought that if it had a soul, it must
have gotten into this man.
Alicia sat down and he beside her, and when he
had put his arms about her, he kissed her face and
lips. Nor did she shrink from his embrace, but even
smiled and leaned nearer to him with a little
smooth motion, as they talked to each other in
some strange, foreign tongue.
I was but a child and innocent, nor knew I aught
of honour and dishonour. Yet it seemed to me that
no man should kiss her save only my Uncle Hugh,
and from that hour I mistrusted Alicia, though I
understood not then what I afterwards did.
And as I watched them—not thinking of playing
the spy—I saw her face grow suddenly cold, and
she straightened herself up and pushed away her
Then I followed her guilty eyes to the door,
where stood my Uncle Hugh, and all the pride and
passion of the Montressors sat on his lowering
brow. Yet he came forward quietly as Alicia and the
snake drew apart and stood up.
At first he looked not at his guilty wife but at her
lover, and smote him heavily in the face. Whereat
he, being a coward at heart, as are all villains,
turned white and slunk from the room with a muttered
oath, nor was he stayed.
My uncle turned to Alicia, and very calmly and
terribly he said, "From this hour you are no longer
wife of mine!"
And there was that in his tone which told that his
forgiveness and love should be hers nevermore.
Then he motioned her out and she went, like a
proud queen, with her glorious head erect and no
shame on her brow.
As for me, when they were gone I crept away,
dazed and bewildered enough, and went back to
my bed, having seen and heard more than I had a
mind for, as disobedient people and eavesdroppers
But my Uncle Hugh kept his word, and Alicia
was no more wife to him, save only in name. Yet of
gossip or scandal there was none, for the pride of
his race kept secret his dishonour, nor did he ever
seem other than a courteous and respectful husband.
Nor did Mrs. Montressor and my aunts, though
they wondered much among themselves, learn
aught, for they dared question neither their brother
nor Alicia, who carried herself as loftily as ever,
and seemed to pine for neither lover nor husband.
As for me, no one dreamed I knew aught of it, and
I kept my own counsel as to what I had seen in the
blue parlour on the night of the Christmas ball.
After the New Year I went home, but ere long
Mrs. Montressor sent for me again, saying that the
house was lonely without little Beatrice. So I went
again and found all unchanged, though the Place
was very quiet, and Alicia went out but little from
the Red Room.
Of my Uncle Hugh I saw little, save when he
went and came on the business of his estate, somewhat
more gravely and silently than of yore, or
brought to me books and sweetmeats from town.
But every day I was with Alicia in the Red Room,
where she would talk to me, oftentimes wildly and
strangely, but always kindly. And though I think
Mrs. Montressor liked our intimacy none too well,
she said no word, and I came and went as I listed
with Alicia, though never quite liking her strange
ways and the restless fire in her eyes.
Nor would I ever kiss her, after I had seen her
lips pressed by the snake's, though she sometimes
coaxed me, and grew pettish and vexed when I
would not; but she guessed not my reason.
March came in that year like a lion, exceedingly
hungry and fierce, and my Uncle Hugh had ridden
away through the storm nor thought to be back for
In the afternoon I was sitting in the wing hall,
dreaming wondrous day-dreams, when Alicia
called me to the Red Room. And as I went, I marvelled
anew at her loveliness, for the blood was
leaping in her face and her jewels were dim before
the lustre of her eyes. Her hand, when she took
mine, was burning hot, and her voice had a strange
"Come, little Beatrice," she said, "come talk to
me, for I know not what to do with my lone self
today. Time hangs heavily in this gloomy house. I
do verily think this Red Room has an evil influence
over me. See if your childish prattle can drive away
the ghosts that riot in these dark old corners—ghosts
of a ruined and shamed life! Nay, shrink
not—do I talk wildly? I mean not all I say—my
brain seems on fire, little Beatrice. Come; it may be
you know some grim old legend of this room—it
must surely have one. Never was place fitter for a
dark deed! Tush! never be so frightened, child—forget
my vagaries. Tell me now and I will listen."
Whereat she cast herself lithely on the satin
couch and turned her lovely face on me. So I
gathered up my small wits and told her what I was
not supposed to know—how that, generations
agone, a Montressor had disgraced himself and his
name, and that, when he came home to his mother,
she had met him in that same Red Room and flung
at him taunts and reproaches, forgetting whose
breast had nourished him; and that he, frantic with
shame and despair, turned his sword against his
own heart and so died. But his mother went mad
with her remorse, and was kept a prisoner in the
Red Room until her death.
So lamely told I the tale, as I had heard my Aunt
Elizabeth tell it, when she knew not I listened or
understood. Alicia heard me through and said
nothing, save that it was a tale worthy of the
Montressors. Whereat I bridled, for I too was a
Montressor, and proud of it.
But she took my hand soothingly in hers and
said, "Little Beatrice, if tomorrow or the next day
they should tell you, those cold, proud women,
that Alicia was unworthy of your love, tell me,
would you believe them?"
And I, remembering what I had seen in the blue
parlour, was silent—for I could not lie. So she flung
my hand away with a bitter laugh, and picked
lightly from the table anear a small dagger with a
It seemed to me a cruel-looking toy and I said
so—whereat she smiled and drew her white fingers
down the thin, shining blade in a fashion that
made me cold.
"Such a little blow with this," she said, "such a
little blow—and the heart beats no longer, the
weary brain rests, the lips and eyes smile never
again! 'Twere a short path out of all difficulties, my
And I, understanding her not, yet shivering,
begged her to cast it aside, which she did carelessly
and, putting a hand under my chin, she turned up
my face to hers.
"Little, grave-eyed Beatrice, tell me truly, would
it grieve you much if you were never again to sit
here with Alicia in this same Red Room?"
And I made answer earnestly that it would, glad
that I could say so much truly. Then her face grew
tender and she sighed deeply.
Presently she opened a quaint, inlaid box and
took from it a shining gold chain of rare workmanship
and exquisite design, and this she hung
around my neck, nor would suffer me to thank her
but laid her hand gently on my lips.
"Now go," she said. "But ere you leave me, little
Beatrice, grant me but the one favour—it may be
that I shall never ask another of you. Your people, I
know—those cold Montressors—care little for me,
but with all my faults, I have ever been kind to you.
So, when the morrow's come, and they tell you
that Alicia is as one worse than dead, think not of
me with scorn only but grant me a little pity—for I
was not always what I am now, and might never
have become so had a little child like you been always
anear me, to keep me pure and innocent.
And I would have you but the once lay your arms
about my neck and kiss me."
And I did so, wondering much at her manner—for
it had in it a strange tenderness and some sort
of hopeless longing. Then she gently put me from
the room, and I sat musing by the hall window until
night fell darkly—and a fearsome night it was, of
storm and blackness. And I thought how well it
was that my Uncle Hugh had not to return in such
a tempest. Yet, ere the thought had grown cold,
the door opened and he strode down the hall, his
cloak drenched and wind-twisted, in one hand a
whip, as though he had but then sprung from his
horse, in the other what seemed like a crumpled
Nor was the night blacker than his face, and he
took no heed of me as I ran after him, thinking selfishly
of the sweetmeats he had promised to bring
me—but I thought no more of them when I got to
the door of the Red Room.
Alicia stood by the table, hooded and cloaked as
for a journey, but her hood had slipped back, and
her face rose from it marble-white, save where her
wrathful eyes burned out, with dread and guilt and
hatred in their depths, while she had one arm
raised as if to thrust him back.
As for my uncle, he stood before her and I saw
not his face, but his voice was low and terrible,
speaking words I understood not then, though
long afterwards I came to know their meaning.
And he cast foul scorn at her that she should
have thought to fly with her lover, and swore that
naught should again thwart his vengeance, with
other threats, wild and dreadful enough.
Yet she said no word until he had done, and then
she spoke, but what she said I know not, save that
it was full of hatred and defiance and wild accusation,
such as a mad woman might have uttered.
And she defied him even then to stop her flight,
though he told her to cross that threshold would
mean her death; for he was a wronged and desperate
man and thought of nothing save his own dishonour.
Then she made as if to pass him, but he caught
her by her white wrist; she turned on him with
fury, and I saw her right hand reach stealthily out
over the table behind her, where lay the dagger.
"Let me go!" she hissed.
And he said, "I will not."
Then she turned herself about and struck at him
with the dagger—and never saw I such a face as
was hers at the moment.
He fell heavily, yet held her even in death, so that
she had to wrench herself free, with a shriek that
rings yet in my ears on a night when the wind
wails over the rainy moors. She rushed past me unheeding,
and fled down the hall like a hunted creature,
and I heard the heavy door clang hollowly
As for me, I stood there looking at the dead man,
for I could neither move nor speak and was like to
have died of horror. And presently I knew nothing,
nor did I come to my recollection for many a day,
when I lay abed, sick of a fever and more like to die
So that when at last I came out from the shadow
of death, my Uncle Hugh had been long cold in his
grave, and the hue and cry for his guilty wife was
well nigh over, since naught had been seen or
heard of her since she fled the country with her
When I came rightly to my remembrance, they
questioned me as to what I had seen and heard in
the Red Room. And I told them as best I could,
though much aggrieved that to my questions they
would answer nothing save to bid me to stay still
and think not of the matter.
Then my mother, sorely vexed over my adventures—which
in truth were but sorry ones for a
child—took me home. Nor would she let me keep
Alicia's chain, but made away with it, how I knew
not and little cared, for the sight of it was loathsome
It was many years ere I went again to Montressor
Place, and I never saw the Red Room more, for
Mrs. Montressor had the old wing torn down,
deeming its sorrowful memories dark heritage
enough for the next Montressor.
So, Grandchild, the sad tale is ended, and you
will not see the Red Room when you go next
month to Montressor Place. The swallows still
build under the eaves, though—I know not if you
will understand their speech as I did.