The Companions of Jehu
16. The Ghost
The next evening, at about the same hour, the young officer, after convincing
himself that every one in the Château des Noires-Fontaines had gone to bed,
opened his door softly, went downstairs holding his breath, reached the
vestibule, slid back the bolts of the outer door noiselessly, and turned round to
make sure that all was quiet. Reassured by the darkened windows, he boldly
opened the iron gate. The hinges had probably been oiled that day, for they
turned without grating, and closed as noiselessly as they had opened behind
Roland, who walked rapidly in the direction of Pont d'Ain at Bourg.
He had hardly gone a hundred yards before the clock at Saint-Just struck once;
that of Montagnac answered like a bronze echo. It was half-past ten o'clock. At
the pace the young man was walking he needed only twenty minutes to reach
the Chartreuse; especially if, instead of skirting the woods, he took the path that
led direct to the monastery. Roland was too familiar from youth with every nook
of the forest of Seillon to needlessly lengthen his walk ten minutes. He therefore
turned unhesitatingly into the forest, coming out on the other side in about five
minutes. Once there, he had only to cross a bit of open ground to reach the
orchard wall of the convent. This took barely another five minutes.
At the foot of the wall he stopped, but only for a few seconds. He unhooked his
cloak, rolled it into a ball, and tossed it over the wall. The cloak off, he stood in a
velvet coat, white leather breeches, and top-boots. The coat was fastened round
the waist by a belt in which were a pair of pistols. A broad-brimmed hat covered
his head and shaded his face.
With the same rapidity with which he had removed his garment that might have
hindered his climbing the wall, he began to scale it. His foot readily found a chink
between the stones; he sprang up, seizing the coping, and was on the other side
without even touching the top of the wall over which he bounded. He picked up
his cloak, threw it over his shoulder, hooked it, and crossed the orchard to a little
door communicating with the cloister. The clock struck eleven as he passed
through it. Roland stopped, counted the strokes, and slowly walked around the
cloister, looking and listening.
He saw nothing and heard no noise. The monastery was the picture of desolation
and solitude; the doors were all open, those of the cells, the chapel, and the
refectory. In the refectory, a vast hall where the tables still stood in their places,
Roland noticed five or six bats circling around; a frightened owl flew through a
broken casement, and perched upon a tree close by, hooting dismally.
"Good!" said Roland, aloud; "I'll make my headquarters here; bats and owls are
the vanguards of ghosts."
The sound of that human voice, lifted in the midst of this solitude, darkness and
desolation, had something so uncanny, so lugubrious about it, that it would have
caused even the speaker to shudder, had not Roland, as he himself said, been
inaccessible to fear. He looked about for a place from which he could command
the entire hall. An isolated table, placed on a sort of stage at one end of the
refectory, which had no doubt been used by the superior of the convent to take