The Most Kissed Face of All Time


Death mask of the unknown woman of the Seine.
Death mask of the unknown woman of the Seine.

“Did you hear what happened?  They pulled a young woman from the Seine late yesterday.”  Jean Pierre Jardin asked his friend Rene Brouchard.  “There is quite a mystery concerning the discovery of the body, yes quite a big mystery.”

“Maybe if we took Dr. Delacroix to his favorite restaurant on the Boule St. Germain, he will give us some details.”  Rene replied.  “The death of a girl is always sad, but I am drawn to dark mysteries.”

“Very well, meet me at the flower stand an hour before noon and we shall begin our campaign to take him to lunch,” Jean Pierre agreed.

“Jean Pierre, our shops supply us an adequate income, we are fortunate, but I think were really meant to be detectives, don’t you?”

“Without a doubt.  That is our true calling.  We are the ones to solve the mysteries.  For example, remember when the tiny valuable coin was missing from Monsieur Grushon’s display case?  He was convinced his beautiful shop girl had stolen it.”

“And she is so beautiful,” Rene interrupted.

Jean Pierre continued.  “He badgered her terribly until she sobbed and went home.”

“Yes, and it was we who discovered its location.  When he took all of the items out of his display case for price inspection and laid them on the countertop, it got knocked to the floor by his sleeve when he turned suddenly.  He walked across it and it got stuck to a blob of tar on the bottom of his shoe.”  Rene explained the incident again.

“Stuck to the bottom of his own shoe!” Jean Pierre exclaimed.  “He felt very badly about badgering the girl.  I do not blame her for not returning to work.”

“And did we not find the missing child?”

“Yes!  It was us.  We found the missing child when no one else could—the tenement child.  The child did not have much supervision by his guardians.  He was not even reported missing for over a day.  By talking to a clan of street urchins—by infiltrating them—ones that knew the missing child, we were able to learn the places the child liked to go.  We found the child, petite Louis, asleep in a hogshead, after hiding there from a group of bullies.”

“Yes, we are meant to be detectives.

Jean Pierre and Rene went to the office of Dr. Delacroix, a Paris medical examiner that they had befriended.  They entered the outer offices located in a hospital on the Rue Leblanc, and walked over richly patterned carpets to a lady sitting behind a massive polished desk.

“Pardon me, mademoiselle.  We are here to take Dr. Delacroix to lunch,” said Rene Brouchard.

She frowned as she wrote their names on a small scrap of paper.  “I know nothing of this.  Please be seated.”  She pointed.  After they had seated themselves, she got up and spoke to the doctor through a tube in the wall.

“Look!  She must speak to him through a tube in the wall,” Jean Pierre exclaimed.

“No doubt he does not want anyone to enter his morgue.  Someone, maybe himself, has designed a new tube for speaking messages.”

“Very ingenious.  Of course it would not be sanitary for him to keep going through the door while in the middle of a post mortem. Nor would it be advisable for others to walk in on his procedures.  It could cause apoplexy, or worse.  Very ingenious indeed!”  Jean Pierre concluded.

The woman returned to her desk and motioned the two young men forward.  “The doctor is not available for lunch.  He is very busy, but he will be available for dinner, if that is acceptable.  If you wish, return at four- thirty.”

Jean Pierre and Rene returned at the appointed time.  Dr. Delacroix was just coming out.  He smiled at them and grabbed a hat by the door.  “Hello, you rascally rogues.  I have been expecting you because of recent developments.  Where do you wish to take me?  The Brasserie Lipp?”

“If you wish,” Rene Brouchard answered.

As they were finishing delightful entres of Salmon with Sorrel Sauce, Dr. Delacroix looked up with a grin, raised a bushy, steel gray eyebrow and said.  “I think I detect an ulterior motive for the delicious meal.”

Rene replied after swallowing his food.  “We always enjoy your company, monsieur.  You are a most interesting and witty fellow.  You are easy to talk to, and yes, we want information, as we usually do.”

“It is about the girl they pulled from the Seine, doctor,” Jean Pierre admitted.

“Ah, yes, that.”  Dr. Delacroix decided to have some fun.  He loaded his mouth with a huge bite full.  He took a very long time chewing it.  He took a few sips of wine.  He held the wine glass out, inspected it with the candlelight behind it.  “A delightful wine.  Rich in tone.”

Jean Pierre and Rene moved closer to the edges of their seats.  They watched and waited.

“You two do love mysteries,” Dr. Delacroix concluded.  He took a few more sips of wine.  “The young woman you are so curious about is in the morgue at this very moment.  She was pulled from the Seine at the Quai de Louvre.  I have examined her thoroughly for most of the day.  I can tell you all of this because it has already been written up and will be in the papers tomorrow morning.  I first suspected a murder, but there is not a mark on her.  No signs of violence or illness.  I now suspect it to be a suicide.  So, we  have two of those mysteries you are so fond of.  First, who is she?  No one knows.  Second, why did she feel the need to drown herself?  She is not what we call in the business, a floater.  Her condition is too good for that.  She is one of the most remarkable female specimans I have seen.”

John Pierre and Rene let out little gasps at the doctor’s candor.

The doctor continued.  “She has the face of an angel, with a fixed expression of peace, serenity, and there is the suggestion of a knowing smile.”

“A smile?”  Jean Pierre was incredulous.

“Yes, a smile.  You have seen reproductions of the Mona Lisa?  It is a smile very much like that.  It is a scientific wonder.  That is why I am having an artist make a mould of her face at this very moment, while we are considering dessert.”

“A death mask?”  Rene asked.

“Yes.  And when he completes it and makes some casts, would you like to see it?  I am going to have some casts made for myself.”  Dr. Delacroix did not wait for an answer.  He knew what it would be.  “Come to my office in about four days, at this same time, when the day is done, and I will show it to you.”

Jean Pierre and Rene were forever impressed by the results of the castings—the skin so smooth, the eyelashes luxuriant, the delicate features, the innocent expression and the smile.  The two young shop owners tried for a lifetime to solve the mysteries as did many others.  Where was she from and what were her circumstances?  Why had her life become so dismal that she felt the need to end it.  Why the smile?

Though they worked on it for years in their spare time, to no avail, they had to be content solving other riddles while continuing to run their shops on the Rue Cler—such mysteries as the disappearance of Mademoiselle Poupon’s cat, the theft of the top of a monument in the churchyard, and the identity of the person whose footprints appeared in the snow at the scene of a murder.

L’Inconnue de la Seine, the unknown woman of the Seine, recovered from its waters in the 1880s was the subject of fine works in art and literature.  Reproductions of her death mask were coveted as parlor decorations.  Jean Pierre and Rene were two that bought them, of course.

L’Inconnue de la Seine is also known as “the most kissed face of all time.”  The man who developed Rescue Anne, the CPR practice doll, was so stricken by her beauty that he used her face as a model.

I must admit, therefore, that I have kissed her myself.


Please click the book cover image to read more about Sara Marie Hogg and her novels.

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