Famous Modern Ghost Stories HTML version

The Mass of Shadows
From Mother of Pearl, by Anatole France. Copyright by John Lane Company. By permission of
the publishers.
This tale the sacristan of the church of St. Eulalie at Neuville d'Aumont told me, as we sat
under the arbor of the White Horse, one fine summer evening, drinking a bottle of old
wine to the health of the dead man, now very much at his ease, whom that very morning
he had borne to the grave with full honors, beneath a pall powdered with smart silver
"My poor father who is dead" (it is the sacristan who is speaking,) "was in his lifetime a
grave-digger. He was of an agreeable disposition, the result, no doubt, of the calling he
followed, for it has often been pointed out that people who work in cemeteries are of a
jovial turn. Death has no terrors for them; they never give it a thought. I, for instance,
monsieur, enter a cemetery at night as little perturbed as though it were the arbor of the
White Horse. And if by chance I meet with a ghost, I don't disturb myself in the least
about it, for I reflect that he may just as likely have business of his own to attend to as I. I
know the habits of the dead, and I know their character. Indeed, so far as that goes, I
know things of which the priests themselves are ignorant. If I were to tell you all I have
seen, you would be astounded. But a still tongue makes a wise head, and my father, who,
all the same, delighted in spinning a yarn, did not disclose a twentieth part of what he
knew. To make up for this he often repeated the same stories, and to my knowledge he
told the story of Catherine Fontaine at least a hundred times.
"Catherine Fontaine was an old maid whom he well remembered having seen when he
was a mere child. I should not be surprised if there were still, perhaps, three old fellows
in the district who could remember having heard folks speak of her, for she was very well
known and of excellent reputation, though poor enough. She lived at the corner of the
Rue aux Nonnes, in the turret which is still to be seen there, and which formed part of an
old half-ruined mansion looking on to the garden of the Ursuline nuns. On that turret can
still be traced certain figures and half-obliterated inscriptions. The late curé of St. Eulalie,
Monsieur Levasseur, asserted that there are the words in Latin, Love is stronger than
death, 'which is to be understood,' so he would add, 'of divine love.'
"Catherine Fontaine lived by herself in this tiny apartment. She was a lace-maker. You
know, of course, that the lace made in our part of the world was formerly held in high
esteem. No one knew anything of her relatives or friends. It was reported that when she
was eighteen years of age she had loved the young Chevalier d'Aumont-Cléry, and had
been secretly affianced to him. But decent folk didn't believe a word of it, and said it was
nothing but a tale concocted because Catherine Fontaine's demeanor was that of a lady