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Famous Modern Ghost Stories (Various authors) online
"'Come to breakfast with me to-morrow, and we'll talk the matter over.'
"I promised to render him that slight service. It would mean but a pleasant excursion for me, his home not being more than twenty-five miles from Rouen. I could go there in an hour on horseback.
"At ten o'clock the next day I was with him. We breakfasted alone together, yet he did not utter more than twenty words. He asked me to excuse him. The thought that I was going to visit the room where his happiness lay shattered, upset him, he said. Indeed, he seemed perturbed, worried, as if some mysterious struggle were taking place in his soul.
"At last he explained exactly what I was to do. It was very simple. I was to take two packages of letters and some papers, locked in the first drawer at the right of the desk of which I had the key. He added:
"'I need not ask you not to glance at them.'
"I was almost hurt by his words, and told him so, rather sharply. He stammered:
"'Forgive me. I suffer so much!'
"And tears came to his eyes.
"I left about one o'clock to accomplish my errand.
"The day was radiant, and I rushed through the meadows, listening to the song of the larks, and the rhythmical beat of my sword on my riding-boots.
"Then I entered the forest, and I set my horse to walking. Branches of the trees softly caressed my face, and now and then I would catch a leaf between my teeth and bite it with avidity, full of the joy of life, such as fills you without reason, with a tumultuous happiness almost indefinable, a kind of magical strength.
"As I neared the house I took out the letter for the gardener, and noted with surprise that it was sealed. I was so amazed and so annoyed that I almost turned back without fulfilling my mission. Then I thought that I should thus display over-sensitiveness and bad taste. My friend might have sealed it unconsciously, worried as he was.
"The manor looked as though it had been deserted the last twenty years. The gate, wide-open and rotten, held, one wondered how. Grass filled the paths; you could not tell the flower-beds from the lawn.
"At the noise I made kicking a shutter, an old man came out from a side-door and was apparently amazed to see me there. I dismounted from my horse and gave him the letter. He read it once or twice, turned it over, looked at me with suspicion, and asked:
"'Well, what do you want?'
"I answered sharply:
"'You must know it as you have read your master's orders. I want to get in the house.'
"He appeared overwhelmed. He said:
"'So--you are going in--in his room?'
"I was getting impatient.
"'_Parbleu!_ Do you intend to question me, by chance?'
"'No--monsieur--only--it has not been opened since--since the death. If you will wait five minutes, I will go in to see whether----'
"I interrupted angrily:
"'See here, are you joking? You can't go in that room, as I have the key!'
"He no longer knew what to say.
"'Then, monsieur, I will show you the way.'
"'Show me the stairs and leave me alone. I can find it without your help.'
"Then I lost my temper.
"'Now be quiet! Else you'll be sorry!'
"I roughly pushed him aside and went into the house.
"I first went through the kitchen, then crossed two small rooms occupied by the man and his wife. From there I stepped into a large hall. I went up the stairs, and I recognized the door my friend had described to me.
"I opened it with ease and went in.
"The room was so dark that at first I could not distinguish anything. I paused, arrested by that moldy and stale odor peculiar to deserted and condemned rooms, of dead rooms. Then gradually my eyes grew accustomed to the gloom, and I saw rather clearly a great room in disorder, a bed without sheets having still its mattresses and pillows, one of which bore the deep print of an elbow or a head, as if someone had just been resting on it.