Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc/Book II/Chapter 19

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
JOAN'S ENTRY INTO ORLEANS (From a painting by scherrer)
Chapter XIX

Being worn out with the long fight, we all slept the rest of the afternoon away and two or three hours into the night. Then we got up refreshed, and had supper. As for me, I could have been willing to let the matter of the ghost drop; and the others were of a like mind, no doubt, for they talked diligently of the battle and said nothing of that other thing. And indeed it was fine and stirring to hear the Paladin rehearse his deeds and see him pile his dead, fifteen here, eighteen there, and thirty-five yonder; but this only postponed the trouble; it could not do more. He could not go on forever; when he had carried the bastille by assault and eaten up the garrison there was nothing for it but to stop, unless Catherine Boucher would give him a new start and have it all done over again—as we hoped she would, this time—but she was otherwise minded. As soon as there was a good opening and a fair chance, she brought up her unwelcome subject, and we faced it the best we could.

We followed her and her parents to the haunted room at eleven o'clock, with candles, and also with torches to place in the sockets on the walls. It was a big house, with very thick walls, and this room was in a remote part of it which had been left unoccupied for nobody knew how many years, because of its evil repute.

This was a large room, like a salon, and had a big table in it of enduring oak and well preserved; but the chair were worm-eaten and the tapestry on the walls was rotten and discolored by age. The dusty cobwebs under the ceiling had the look of not having had any business for a century.

Catherine said—

"Tradition says that these ghosts have never been seen—they have merely been heard. It is plain that this room was once larger than it is now, and that the wall at this end was built in some bygone time to make and fence off a narrow room there. There is no communication anywhere with that narrow room, and if it exists—and of that there is no reasonable doubt—it has no light and no air, but is an absolute dungeon. Wait where you are, and take note of what happens."

That was all. Then she and her parents left us. When their footfalls had died out in the distance down the empty stone corridors an uncanny silence and solemnity ensued which was dismaller to me than the mute march past the bastilles. We sat looking vacantly at each other, and it was easy to see that no one there was comfortable. The longer we sat so, the more deadly still that stillness got to be; and when the wind began to moan around the house presently, it made me sick and miserable, and I wished I had been brave enough to be a coward this time, for indeed it is no proper shame to be afraid of ghosts, seeing how helpless the living are in their hands. And then these ghosts were invisible, which made the matter the worse, as it seemed to me. They might be in the room with us at that moment—we could not know. I felt airy touches on my shoulders and my hair, and I shrank from them and cringed, and was not ashamed to show this fear, for I saw the others doing the like, and knew that they were feeling those faint contacts too. As this went on—oh, eternities it seemed, the time dragged so drearily—all those faces became as wax, and I seemed sitting with a congress of the dead.

At last, faint and far and weird and slow, came a "boom!—boom!—boom!"—a distant bell tolling midnight. When the last stroke died, that depressing stillness followed again, and as before I was staring at those waxen faces and feeling those airy touches on my hair and my shoulders once more.

One minute—two minutes—three minutes of this, then we heard a long deep groan, and everybody sprang up and stood,

with his legs quaking. It came from that little dungeon. There was a pause, then we herd muffled sobbings, mixed with pitiful ejaculations. Then there was a second voice, low and not distinct, and the one seemed trying to comfort the other; and so the two voices went on, with moanings, and soft sobbings, and, ah, the tones were so full of compassion and sorry and despair! Indeed, it made one's heart sore to hear it.

But those sounds were so real and so human and so moving that the idea of ghosts passed straight out of our minds, and Sir Jean de Metz spoke out and said—

"Come! we will smash that wall and set those poor captives free. Here, with your axe!"

The Dwarf jumped forward, swinging his great axe with both hands, and others sprang for torches and brought them. Bang!—whang!—slam!—smash went the ancient bricks, and there was a hole an ox could pass through. We plunged within and held up the torches.

Nothing there but vacancy! On the floor lay a rusty sword and a rotten fan.

Now you know all that I know. Take the pathetic relics, and weave about them the romance of the dungeon's long-vanished inmates as best you can.