Tag Archive: England


The Devil’s Footprints

The strange beings who people our folklore could perhaps be inspired by real events, like the one that occurred in Devonshire in 1855.

It is 7 February 1855.  The whole of England’s South-West has been swept since morning by an appalling tempest.  Wind of unheard-of violence is uprooting trees, taking off roofs, blowing down belfries and ripping out gravestones in the cemeteries, leaving tombs open and coffins scattered.

Barricaded inside their houses, the inhabitants of Devonshire are terrified.  Some would later say:

“It was an infernal night, the wind was screaming like a thousand witches…”

Suddenly, around five o’clock in the morning, the wind calms, the noise stops and snow begins to fall heavily.

This silence, after the torment, worries all who have not slept a wink that night.  One of them would say,

“We had the impression that there was some sort of threat hovering…  With my wife who was trembling with fear huddled against me, we were afraid of something supernatural.  Everything was really strange that night.”

It is in Blayford that it all unfolds.

Around six o’clock, a high-pitched, terrifying howl suddenly erupts near the village.  A dog’s howl which is heard for about a kilometre all around.  The good people huddle under their eiderdowns.  Then, once again, there is silence.

Around eight o’clock, Dawn breaks and the inhabitants of Blayford fearfully open their shutters.  Snow is no longer falling, but the countryside is all white.  Many times, the villagers of the little English town have seen this spectacle upon rising and they have always found something marvellous about it.  Today, inexplicably, they feel anguish.  A woman, unable to clearly explain her unease, would say:

“Bad luck seemed to be floating over us…”

Despite this, that same morning, a farm hand goes to have a look around to see the damage caused by the tempest.  He then notices some strange footprints.  Footprints of a kind that he has never seen and which correspond to no known animal in the region.  They look like a little horse-hoof and pierce the snow with mathematical regularity.  The farm hand, very intrigued, follows them across the fields and soon arrives beside the tattered remains of the dog who had howled so atrociously in the early hours of the morning.

He bends over it and notices, stunned,

“that the poor animal had died from wounds which could not have been made by either a man or a beast”…

He runs back to alert the village, saying:

“Come and see!  There are some strange footprints.”

The inhabitants of Blayford rush out and see that the farm hand has not lied.

Further, at that same moment, throughout the whole of Devonshire, peasants are discovering the same footprints in the fresh snow.

They extend over more than 160 kilometres.

The journalists of the County of course write about the phenomenon, remarking that the footprints, which are like dots on rigorously straight lines, each measures ten centimetres in length by seven centimetres in width, and that they are very regularly twenty-five centimetres apart…  One journalist writes:

“These footprints don’t stop anywhere.  Whatever it was, the unknown creature walked on hooves in short, leaping steps, in an inexplicable fashion without stopping nor resting, and it covered here more than thirty kilometres during the tragic night of 7 February, crossing rivers, climbing the walls of several houses and walking on the roofs before finally arriving at the little village cemetery without daring to enter it…”

Zoologists soon come from London to examine these strange prints which remain visible in the frozen snow.  None of them manages to identify the animal who had travelled all over South-East England – always in a straight line.

The mysterious “Devil’s Footprints”, drawn by a witness and published in “The Illustrated London News” on 24 February 1855.

One of them writes a few days later in the Illustrated London News:

“This mysterious visitor generally only passed once down or across each garden or courtyard, and did so in nearly all the houses in many parts of the several towns above mentioned, as also in the farms scattered about;  this regular track passing in some instances over the roofs of houses, and hayricks, and very high walls (one fourteen feet [4.50 metres]), without displacing the snow on either side or altering the distance between the feet, and passing on as if the wall had not been any impediment.  The gardens with high fences or walls, and gates locked, were equally visited as those open and unprotected.”

Another notes that

“two inhabitants of one community followed a line of prints for three and a half hours, passing under rows of redcurrant bushes and fruit trees in espaliers;  losing the prints and finding them again on the roof of houses to which their search had led them”.

Farther on, he adds that these prints

“passed through a circular opening of about thirty centimetres in diameter and inside a drain of 15 cm;  finally, they crossed an estuary around 3,500 kilometres wide”…

A third writes:

“These footprints are strange, for the snow is completely removed, as if it has been cut by a diamond or marked by a red-hot iron…”

Naturally, many hypotheses are emitted by both journalists and scholars who study the case.  Some are extravagant.  Someone suggests that these strange marks could have been made

“by a balloon dragging its tethering ring at the end of a rope”.

But this explanation appears absurd.  How could a metal ring tear apart the Blayford dog;  and by what miracle could this ring, attached to a balloon blown by the wind, leave perfect prints, disposed in a straight line and regularly distanced at 25 centimetres?…

A journalist suggests that it could be marks left by a kangaroo who had escaped from a menagerie.  The zoologists reply that it is extremely rare that kangaroos leap on only one leg, and that they haven’t any hooves, anyway…

Other investigators try to explain the presence of these marks by an atmospheric phenomenon.  It is pertinently replied that no-one had ever yet seen an atmospheric phenomenon leave hoof-prints…

Finally, none of the hypotheses emitted having been retained, the newspapers publish the embarrassed words of zoologists, physicists and meteorologists.  One of them, Doctor Williamson, goes as far as writing this:

“These millions of prints constitute an absolute enigma.  Neither a man, nor an animal, nor a machine is capable of leaving such marks.  This phenomenon is inexplicable.  Consequently, the best thing, in my opinion, is to forget it.”

A surprising declaration, coming from a scholar.

But the Devonshire peasants do not forget, and they give a name to these mysterious marks:  they call them The Devil’s Footprints…  A name that is not very scientific of course, but which still remains.  And it is by this name that Historians continue to designate them today…

***

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, consulted the English Press of the epoch and was able to note that, for two months, February and March 1855, all of the English newspapers published articles, investigations, interviews and sketches on what was called at the time the “mysterious Devonshire holes”.  He adds that a number of authors have studied this case.  Charles Fort, who called himself an “amateur of the unusual and scribe of miracles”, consecrated a chapter of his Book of the Damned to them, as did Jacques Bergier and the Info group in Le Livre de l’Inexplicable

***

They give no explanation and only emit hypotheses.  Some speak of sea birds, hailstones, field-mice.  But there is no bird, nor field-mouse whose feet end in hooves.  As for hailstones, has anyone ever seen any fall in a straight line, twenty-five centimetres apart?…  A modern author had another idea:  he suggested that these marks could have been left by an extra-terrestrial who landed from a space-ship…  Guy Breton says that he is not hostile a priori to this kind of explanation, but that this person would have had a strange way of walking.  On top of which, he must have been very small to have been able to pass through openings of a diameter of thirty centimetres…

***

So, we come back to Charles Fort’s explanation.  He said with humour:

“These prints could only have been made by a thousand one-legged kangaroos wearing a very small horseshoe…”

In other words, we don’t know.

***

There have been some absolutely identical marks left in Scotland in 1839, in the Kerguelen Islands in 1840, in the United States in 1908, in Belgium in 1945 and in Brazil in 1954…  So, you see, the Devil walks around his estates.  After all, he is called the Prince of this World…

***

The legend of the Easter bells that go to Rome from Good Thursday to the evening of Good Saturday is an enigma for folklorists and historians of traditions.

There exists, in the History of folklore, a mystery which has always intrigued the specialists of popular traditions.  It is the one attached to the origin of the “Easter bells”.  When, in the VIIIth Century, the Church, as a sign of mourning, forbids the ringing of the bells during the three days which precede the Festival of the Resurrection, the good people invented a very strange story.  They said:

“From Good Thursday to Good Saturday evening, the bells leave their belfries, fly away and go to Rome…”

With the knowledge that legends nearly always draw their origins from something that really happened, one could ask what strange phenomenon could have led our ancestors to imagine such a fable.  For no-one has ever seen any bells flying in the sky.

Or have they?…

Don’t laugh and let us have a look at a chronicle from the VIth Century which will perhaps furnish us with the explanation that we are seeking.

This chronicle’s author is the monk Gregoire de Tours.  Reporting all the important facts of his epoch in his Histoire des Francs, the worthy man writes that in 584,

“there appeared in the sky brilliant wheels of light which seemed to crash into each other and go past each other;  after which, they separated and disappeared into thin air”.

The following year, he notes:

“In the month of September, certain people saw some signs, that is to say, some of these wheels of light or cupolas that one is accustomed to see and which seem to run with rapidity in the sky.”

Two years later, the monk again writes:

“We saw for two nights in a row, in the middle of the sky, a sort of strongly luminous cloud which had the form of a hood.”

A cupola, a hood, those are objects which resemble bells a lot.  From there, could we not think that these mysterious apparitions, observed by the contemporaries of Gregoire de Tours, are at the origin of the popular fable?

For centuries, city and country children await the “return” of the bells which are supposed to bring them back from Rome eggs in sugar or chocolate.

But what then were these extraordinary engines which were circulating in the atmosphere?

Their description strangely resembles that of our modern UFOs some of which have, very exactly, the form of a cupola, of a hood, in a word, of a bell

Let us listen to a witness who, on 2 October 1954, saw one of these objects above Quinay-Voisin, near Melun:

“The engine passed in the sky at a fast pace.  It was coming from the North and had the form of a cupola…  It made no noise and was shiny like aluminium…  In a few seconds, it stationed over a wood.  I then saw it rocking for a long moment;  then it took off again at astounding speed and disappeared.”

Another testimony:  on 24 June 1962, around 3:00 pm, a man from a garage, who was running an errand in the vicinity of Nice, suddenly sees something luminous in the sky.  Let us listen to him:

“At first, I thought that it was round.  Then when the thing came closer, I saw that it had the form of an upside-down bowl.  This thing circled above the hill, as if it was looking to land.  Then it threw out flashes and rose vertically at great speed.  Then I lost it from sight.”

Third testimony, even more precious:  On 19 June 1971, a former American officer was driving along a road in Georgia when he noticed above a wood an enormous scintillating object slipping under the clouds.  He says:

“This object had the form of a German helmet or of a bell.  It was fairly high, but I think that its diameter could be equal to the width of a Boeing.  Intrigued, I stopped and turned off my engine.  The object continued to advance slowly without making any noise.  Then it began to circle around a point which seemed to me to be a little lake situated not far from the place where I was.  While it was circling, some red lights appeared on its sides, as if some windows were lighting up.  Then everything went out and the object suddenly took off and disappeared into some clouds.”

So, what do we conclude?

This very curious story that parents still tell children could have at its origin the apparition in the sky of a mysterious flying object.

That the men of the VIth Century had perhaps received the visit of an engine comparable to these UFOs which roam around our sky, the strange evolutions of which are periodically reported by the newspapers?

In this case, the “Easter bells” would have entered into our traditions because of an object in the form of a cupola which perhaps came from another world and had caused the men of the year 584 to marvel…

***

Guy Breton, whose work I have translated, underlines that this explanation is only an hypothesis which he submits to the folklorists, nothing more…

***

Flying bells are very often in legends and popular tales.  In all of the world’s folklores, bells have a magical character.  We see them as special objects – almost living beings – since we baptise them.  And we lend them strange faculties:  they ring on their own to announce a catastrophe, they make storms flee, they stop hail.  Finally – and we come back to our subject – they roam around the sky at fantastic speeds.  In certain tales, they are described, brilliant or glowing red, flying over fields or villages.  In others, they stop for a few instants in a point in the air before taking off again like a flash of lightning…  Which is, according to the witnesses cited by the newspapers, one of the characteristics of our modern UFOs.

***

There is an enormous amount of apparitions of unidentified celestial objects in the Middle Ages.  The chronicles are full of them.  They speak of mysterious round objects, flying shields, lances of fire, in other words, objects whose description again corresponds with what we read today in the press…  Listen to what Gregoire de Tours wrote in 590:

“During this year, a light so bright shone in the night that one could believe that it was noon;  one saw as well globes of fire travelling often across the sky at nighttime and illuminating the world.”

Here is what the chronicler Matthieu de Paris writes in his Historia Anglorum, on the subject of a phenomenon which occurred at twilight on 24 July 1239:

“While the stars were not yet lit and while the sky was still very light, serene and brilliant, a great star appeared like a torch.  It rose from the South and climbed in the sky emitting a very big light.  When it was high in the sky, it turned toward the North, slowly, as if it wanted to occupy a position in the sky.  But when it was about in the middle of the firmament, in our boreal hemisphere, it left behind it some smoke and some sparks.  This had the form of a big head, the front part was sparkling and the back part was emitting smoke and flashes…”

For the date 1290, one finds in the chronicles of William of Newburgh this text:

“As Abbot Henry, Prior of Byland Abbey, in England, was about to read the “Benedicite”, Joannes, one of the friars, came to announce that a prodigy was showing outside.  Everyone then went outside and there they saw a big silver thing, round like a disc, fly slowly above them, provoking the most lively terror…”

Thirty years later, Robert of Reading, who was a Benedictin at Saint Peter of Westminster, notes in his chronicle that in 1322,

“in the early hours of the night of 4 November a pillar of fire the size of a little boat, of pale colour, was seen in the sky above Uxbridge (Middlesex);  it rose to the South, crossed the sky in a slow, majestuous movement and left towards the North.  At the front of the pillar, a bright red flame was burning throwing out great rays of light.  Its speed increased and it disappeared into space…  Several witnesses saw a sort of collision and a noise like a fearsome combat was heard.”

Phenomena of this kind are signalled throughout the whole of Europe.  In Sicily, the Minor Brothers of Ragusa watched, on 8 January 1388, the passage of several “very luminous and aligned” objects above their convent.  And the Cronica Albertina indicates that in 1394,

“the second day of the month of September, at the second hour of the night, appeared to some men who were on the public square of Forli and to others, in other places assembled, a great asud [name given at the time to celestial objects] which traversed the sky very slowly and which stayed in space the time of two Pater Nosters, and which was as long as one step, and which, at its disappearance – the men who were on the square reported it – gave out an odour of burning wood, and we heard other people who assured that the said asud on fire travelled through the air in its own fashion, but after it remained motionless for a bit of time in space, and after this time it disappeared little by little leaving in its place a sort of cloud, and the rest of the vapours had taken the form of serpents, a rather admirable thing.”

Finally, here is another text that Guy Breton found in the Memoires of a bourgeois from Arras written by Jacques Duclerq, Counseller to Philippe le Bon.  He writes:

“In the night of the All Saints [31 October night] 1461, was noticed in the sky an ardent thing, like a very long bar of iron, very fat like half a moon.  For a quarter of an hour, we could see very clearly.  And then, suddenly, this strange thing twisted and climbed into the skies.  Each remained stunned by it.”

You see, the sky of the Middle Ages is criss-crossed by unidentified flying objects…  It is possible that these mysterious apparitions have given birth to other myths.  Which would perhaps explain why, when the Church forbade the ringing of the bells for three days, the good people found it quite natural to tell their children that the bells – which had the form of some of these objects circulating in the sky – had flown away.  And as they could imagine them better close to the Pope, they added that they had left for Rome…

***

Henry Cavendish was the greatest scholar of his time.

There is another Cavendish, more famous than John William, but just as mysterious as the fifth Duke of Portland.  This Cavendish died in 1810.  His fortune, inherited from his uncle, was fabulous and his mystery remains impenetrable.  He was the greatest scholar of his time, the first to have calculated with precision the density of the terrestrial globe.  In fundamental discoveries, he also formulated the composition of water and precisely gave that of air.  He is doubtless the discoverer of electricity, but he refused to publish the rest of his capital discoveries on energies.  It is safe to say that all modern Science comes from Henry Cavendish, who was born in Nice in 1731…

However, this ancestor of the underground Duke does not seem to have belonged to the human species.  Of maladive timidity, he had no contact with any living being, except for the members and correspondents of scholarly societies.  For ordinary relations with his fellow-men, he communicated only by signs or by written messages.  One day, he is shown through the window a couple making love inside a bedroom in the building opposite.  He asks to be told what it is that these people could possibly be doing.  Another day when he is served lamb shanks, he asks very seriously how many legs this race of animal has.  At the end of his life, he gives the day and time of his death, right to the minute.

When he enters into agony, one of the rare persons assisting him asks him if he wants any help from religion.  He asks what that means and what a priest is…

Henry Cavendish does not wear a mask;  but his face and his whole life is his mask.  A mask which, like his descendant, he never accepts to remove.

Are such strange destinies still those of human beings?  Those who hide themselves like this behind the Cavendish mask, are they something other than human beings?

***

The story of the fifth Duke of Portland holds two other mysteries.  John William Cavendish of Portland had a younger brother and never did two brothers resemble each other less than these two:  John William was, according to the little that we know of him, a very ugly man and his brother George Rentinck was endowed with all the seductions of the Earth. A dandy full of wit, who had Prime Minister Disraeli’s ear, his existence is a perpetual round of sporting and amorous exploits.

Women with the reputation for being the most inaccessible in High Society succumb, his jockeys win all of the big prizes and he himself excels in all physical exercises.  One day in Autumn 1848, when a local lord of the manor had invited him to stay for two days, he asks his groom to precede him in the cabriolet which is waiting in the courtyard of Welbeck Castle.  In his usual fashion, he intends walking the ten kilometres to work up an appetite.  As he hasn’t arrived at ten o’clock at night, they go to look for him…  He is found standing, leaning against a wooden fence, seeming to be looking at the great prairie beneath the moonlight.  He is dead.  The mystery of this death has never been elucidated…

***

He was probably assassinated by his brother John William, although there is no proof of it.

Before separating that evening, the two brothers had a violent argument.  Apparently over a question of money…  The official version is that George died from a cardiac spasm, which would be rather astonishing for a sportsman like him.

***

Remorse for having killed, voluntarily or not, his brother and also his physical disgrace seem to have encouraged John William to seek the obscurity of the tomb well before his death.

***

It seems that the fifth Duke of Portland had a really horrible physical appearance.  There is hesitation on whether it was leprosy or a cancer of the face…  Which explains the mask.  However, the mask is the cause of another complication in this story…

Did the Duke of Portland, who lived masked, accept to be photographed (left)? If so, except for the beard, his resemblance with Thomas-Charles Druce would be astonishing.

At his death, a lady came to claim his fabulous inheritance which would normally have gone to one of his distant cousins.  She was the widow of the owner of a London bazar.  And here is how she justified her pretensions before the tribunal, for the case was heard and was one of the longest and the most talked about of the XIXth Century.  She assured with great vehemence that in reality, John William Cavendish, Fifth Duke of Portland, came every day to London, in his closed berline with the curtains drawn, to transform himself into a certain Charles Druce, who held a bazar in Baker Street.  Charles Druce was now buried but his widow affirmed before the Court that the coffin was empty and that in reality Cavendish and the little London shopkeeper were one and the same person.  Assisted by a clever lawyer and several witnesses, she did not cease to demand from 1898 onwards the opening of coffin number 13160 in Highgate Cemetery, which, according to her, contained only a piece of lead removed, she said, from the roof of one of the Cavendish residences, Colcomb House…

This case lasted fifty years.  For half a century, the English newspapers gave an account of the evolution of the case.  After the widow’s death, then that of her son, one of his descendants, a modest carpenter, living in Australia, sets the case off again.  Lacking money to pay the lawyers, he creates a “Society with shares for the restitution of the inheritance of the Duke of Portland”.  A whole crowd of small subscribers rush to enter it, which creates a strong movement in favour of the carpenter in public opinion.  Soon, no-one in the kingdom has any doubt that the Duke and the shopkeeper would end up being one and the same Portland and that there would be people everywhere blessed by this good fortune.  A second hearing opens, documents of the first importance are stolen from a witness in the street, one day during a fog, and the newpapers relay subscribers’ and public opinion to demand that the coffin be finally opened.  On an icy-cold morning in 1907, the heavy stone which seals Charles Druce’s tomb is finally lifted…

When the undertaker raises the shroud, a horribly decomposed face appears.  Which does not prevent one of the witnesses, representing the public ministry, to recognize the shopkeeper’s cadaver.  From then on, the cause is finished and our carpenter returns to Australia crying over the dream which evaporated in the London fog.

A lot of people said that there had been substitution of the body and it must be admitted that the mystery of the life and death of the troglodyte Duke has never really been elucidated.

***

The other Cavendish, the scholar, is just as mysterious as his nephew.  Only one engraving represents him dressed in a worn, floating overcoat, a wide-brimmed hat which hides part of his face, and deformed trousers.  This Cavendish, the founder of Chemistry and Physics, is truly the creator of modern Science.  Curiously, he kept secret a certain number of his discoveries after having succeeded in isolating hydrogen and finding the synthesis of water.  At the same time, he pursues the first decisive works on electricity.  A laboratory, founded in 1870, shortly before an important part of his researches are found, bears his name.  This laboratory was the birthplace of atomic physics.

Cavendish remains, however, a human enigma and, according to the rare people who approached him, he appeared to be totally different in nature to common mortals.  Even while alive, his celebrity was immense.  However, almost no-one saw him.  He lived as a recluse, detached from all human contingencies, showing fear whenever one of his fellow humans approached him, dissimulating as best he could his physical appearance.  In his descendant, these characteristics are even more exaggerated and it is difficult to conceive a man more foreign to the human condition than his nephew John William.  The term “mutant” takes on all of its sense here, like Gaspar Hauser, for example, who was also a creature who was perfectly unclassable.

***

The Cavendish mask

The great underground salon at Welbeck Castle.

Twenty-four monumental chandeliers have just been lit.  Their pale light shines on extraordinary riches.  One does not immediately notice the dozens of admirable paintings, so immense is the room.  Its floor, which shines with a gentle, even brilliance, could bear hundreds of dancing couples.  Along the high walls, covered in precious tapisteries, fifty enormous armchairs take up no more space than a flotilla of skiffs tied up on the Thames.  A table in solid Brazillian rosewood which measures fifteen square metres looks like a side-table, floating in this immensity.  Right at the end of the room, a tiny, little pinhead stuck into a curtain which has the dimensions of an opera curtain, is an alabaster bust.

Pressed one against the other, there are paintings by masters from all epochs.  There are Gainsboroughs with their sumptuous blues, diaphanous Turners, vast landscapes by Constable, majestuous portraits by Reynolds, Rosetti primitives, all rare.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of chefs-d’oeuvre…

And why are the twenty-four chandeliers alight, when it is daytime outside?  Outside?  Fifteen or twenty metres higher, we should say, for we are in a subterranean room, the biggest room in an enormous castle, invisible and secret, built in the depths of an English manor which emerges up there, in the Welbeck woods.  Beyond this monstruous room, there is a white marble rotunda and a cyclopean staircase which descends into darkness…  Galleries, the extremities of which cannot be distinguished, open all around a circular landing where Queen Victoria’s carriage could turn around with ease.  Linings of noble stone and carved wood provide a sure barrier against humidity, the smell of which is however badly removed by an air current which is kept in circulation by a fan.  At its extremity, the rotunda is locked by a high double-door, covered in bronze ornaments.  If we take the trouble to open this cathedral door, we would finally accede to the master bedroom.  There, the feet sink up to the ankles into a woollen carpet which is no less than one hundred square metres.  The furniture, in dark island wood, is decorated with silver.  To make the windowless walls less oppressing, they have been covered with vast, dark hangings.  Only some crystal bottles and brushes mounted on gold, placed on an ebony table, attract a bit of light.  The whole funereal decor is arranged around two very singular objects:  a narrow bed, or rather a miserable bunk of boards with a horse-hair blanket on it.  In the dim light, the second object glows on a black velvet cushion:  it is a skull, doubtless ancient, covered with a green patina…

Welbeck Castle in the County of Nottingham, property of the Dukes of Portland.

This description, which throws us into a dreamland, corresponds however to strict reality.  It is inside the living mortuary, we could say, of the great-cousin of the last Duke of Portland, William John Cavendish, that we have just entered.  Fifth Duke of Portland by distant affiliation, this enigmatic, extraordinary man, whose life is unknown to everyone, and whose face no-one ever saw, died in 1879.  To this day, nobody has been able to pierce his true personality, know what he did, or even once perceive his face, for he was buried with the mask that never left him in public.

However, what we know for certain is that he was the most singular builder of his time, but was irresistably drawn to living underground.  Like the spiritist societies which proliferated throughout the world, at this same epoch…  The moment that his father expired up there in one of the manor’s bedrooms, he had advertised throughout the whole county, and even as far as London, offers of employment concerning all of the professions represented in the kingdom.  In the days that followed, a whole army of artisans and workmen descended on Welbeck, without counting the many architects and decorators, who passed for the best in the British Isles.  They would stay there for ten years.

Soon, a little town of barracks lays seige to the manor, the inhabitants all attentive to the orders of the enigmatic lord.  The to-ing and fro-ing is incessant, carts transport day after day mountains of materials, however, no visible transformation affects the manor’s exterior aspect.  All the activity is taking place underneath the antique construction’s foundations.  For years, the best terrassiers dig the earth, replaced, as soon as a tunnel is dug, by a multitude of carpenters, plasterers, and masons.  It is now on a clever ant’s nest that the manor is sitting;  directly beneath its foundations, a twin castle is “rising” with more than one hundred richly furnished chambers where never a soul would penetrate;  high gothic galleries arrive at long corridors with cintred vaults which descend into the earth on a gentle slope.  Their extremities open onto the countryside through more than fifty dissimulated or grillaged access points, or again into one of the enormous pavillions which rise in the castle’s immense park.  Sometimes the master surges out of one of these issues with the purpose of surprising his servants.  His face masked, he gives brief orders or roughly scolds those who appear to lack enthusiasm.

At the centre of the subterranean dispositive are vast stables which, by long, sloping, circular corridors, arrive in the castle’s court of honour.  It is in fact along a veritable subterranean road paved with unpolished marble, bordered by footpaths and lighted by imposing bronze candelabra, that John William Cavendish’s heavy berline takes off at the same time each morning.  To go where?  It is difficult to say…  To begin with, the berline always has its curtains drawn and no-one knows whether our lord is inside it, particularly as the coachmen and grooms have received strict orders not to open the door on any pretext whatsoever.  Once at Harcourt House, the Duke’s London residence, the coach again enters a dark underground where the coachman hastily unharnesses the horses and leaves the berline which has remained closed…

How does Cavendish then occupy his days?  This is even more difficult to know, for no-one sees the Duke, either during the day in a circle or a club, or during the evening in a salon or at the theatre, or even in the House of Lords, where he has the right to sit.

One can search the archives and the genealogies, that is all that can be found on the fifth Duke of Portland.  There is however another Cavendish who has left his mark on History and is just as strange as the troglodyte Duke.

To be continued.

Etienne Claviere

It could be thought that in the Parisian Lodge of the United Friends, alchemist zeal was stronger than elsewhere.  Duchanteau barely buried, another worker on the Great Work sets tongues wagging Rue de la Sourdiere and even very far beyond…  His name is Etienne Claviere and he is born in Geneva in 1735.  He is a banker by profession but is a revolutionary banker, which is extremely rare.  In this end of the XVIIIth Century, the Geneva middle-class no longer wants to put up with the haughty authority of their patricians.  Along with a lot of other bankers as well as industrialists, Claviere constitutes Clubs and Committees of Public Safety which substitute themselves for the authorities.  Nearly ten years before the Storming of the Bastille in France…  The insurgents stockpile kegs of powder in Saint Peter’s Cathedral and threaten to blow up the city, if the French and Bernois Coalition does not retreat.  But under the pressure of numbers, the valliant bourgeois of Geneva have to resolve to deliver up the keys to their City, and Claviere condemns himself to voluntary exile in England.  His prestige is so great that he obtains a sum of fifty thousand pounds from the London Cabinet which is supposed to allow him to build the “New Geneva” in Ireland.  In his exile, he maintains an active correspondence with Marat, Mirabeau, who by the way holds him to be his master, and the brothers of the Lodge of the United Friends, of which he is one of the benefactors.

Marat and Mirabeau maintained a correspondence with Claviere.

When the Swiss Necker returns to power, Claviere asks to settle in France and obtains this.  He attaches himself to the Party of the Girondins, occupies a subaltern post in the Finance Ministry, very happy to now be able to meet as much as he likes with his friends the Philaletes.  This seems to be an epoch where good financiers are rare:  less than a year later he is to be found at the head of his Ministry, very busy galloping behind an inflation which each day is gathering speed.

Is it at this epoch that he comes up with an idea even more bizarre and much crueller than that of Brother Duchanteau?  One evening in 1792, he can be seen slipping through the low door of 37 rue de la Sourdiere.  Once in the little room on the second floor, he greets, with bent index, the five dignitaries from the Lodge who are waiting for him, and pulls a grimoire from his riding-coat.  When he opens it before these very carefully chosen men, they see that it is a manuscript and is probably very old…

Gravely, Claviere begins:

“To obtain the result, should we dare to use the means?  Brothers!  The Revolution is betrayed from within, beseiged from without, gold is flying away in a paper fog!…  I believe that I have the power to surely fill the coffers again!”

Claviere bows his head and adds:

“But at what price!…”

He draws the book to him and begins to read.  Or rather, he comments, page after page, the teaching contained in this ageless book.  And what he says firstly provokes stupor and then horror in those who are listening to him.  To begin with, they learn that Claviere is a most distinguished alchemist who has already performed alchemy in numerous European laboratories.  That during his later voyages he had found a thousand-year-old parchment which delivers a transmutation procedure just as singular as that of Duchanteau, with horror added to it.  Claviere explains:

“First of all we have to get hold of a young girl and a young boy, both virgins, then we have to obtain from them the conception of a child, necessarily a boy, who has to be born under the influence of a particular constellation…  This child has to be prepared…  by baths of ashes and sand and by rubbing him for a long time with elixir.  Then the child must be placed…  alive…  if we want to succeed, in a glass recipient, itself contained in a crucible in the form of a pelican.”

One of the brothers interrupts:

“Why a pelican?”

The Minister-Mage explains with deliberation:

“The calcination of the child must be followed by repeated distillations that this form allows because the finest part will rise through the neck and will be brought back through the beak into the open chest!…  This is how we shall obtain the absolute philosophical matter, at the same time an elixir of long life and the powder of projection for the transmutation of metals into gold.”

When Claviere had finished his explanation, there was a great silence in the room.  He says:

“There you are.  I’m sure of the result!”

One of his scandalised guests then asks:

Robespierre had Claviere arrested and he was condemned to death.

“But what would gold acquired at this price cost?…”

Claviere will not have time to put his answer into figures.  A few days later he resigns so as to involve himself more closely with the popular effervescence.  He organizes the day of 20 June 1792, in the course of which the populace invades the Tuileries and forces Louis XVI to put on a Phrygian bonnet.  And, one year to the day after the lugubrious meeting Rue de la Sourdiere, Claviere, after having ardently fought Danton, Marat and Robespierre, is decreed in Accusation with all of the other Girondins.  Brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal on 5 September, he is firstly imprisoned in the Temple.  When he learns of his death sentence, he declaims these lines from Orphelin de la Chine, that Voltaire had adapted to illustrate the superiority of spiritual forces over brute instinct:

The trembling criminals are dragged to their execution

The generous mortals dispose of their fate.

The criminals?  Did Claviere therefore have time to engage in his deadly experiments?  Doubtless we shall never know.  But that a Swiss Finance Minister, an admirer of Gilles de Rais, had appealed to his alchemist brothers for help in saving France’s finances, is an extraordinary moment in French History all the same!

***

To be continued.

Anne Boleyn.

There are other great people roaming through the stately homes of England post mortem.  The very beautiful Lady Hamilton, the great love of Lord Nelson’s life, haunts Number 2 Cambridge Square where she opens locked doors.  There is also the Duke of Buckingham, who loved Anne of Austria.  He has been wandering around Windsor Castle since 1628 when he was assassinated.  George III sometimes pops in for a visit too.  As well as Queen Elizabeth I, with whom a Captain of the Horse Guards one night tried to have a conversation – unsuccessfully however.  But all the others must also be mentioned, the anonymous ones – soldiers, shopkeepers, abbots, actors, bankers – who haunt more modest houses – inns, shops, sacristies, farms, schools…

***

At Hampton Court, this card, said to portray Anne Boleyn's ghost, was sold to tourists...

The French are often astounded at the number of ghosts said to be seen in the British Isles.  Why are there so many there?  Guy Breton says that it is a question of mentality.  When a phenomenon occurs, a Frenchman’s attitude is generally totally different from that of an Englishman.  Because of his rationalism, the Frenchman believes in the reality of things because he sees them.  The Englishman sees them, because he believes in them.

The Englishman could therefore be seen as being a victim of his imagination and his credulity.  This is one interpretation.  However, there is another.  It could be that the Frenchman’s rationalism has snuffed out his aptitude for seeing that which other men – and other animals – perceive perfectly well.

***

On the subject of French scepticism about the existence of ghosts, Guy Breton asks just one question:  how can a ghost which is only an hallucination expose a film placed inside a camera?…

***

Lady Jane Grey, who was proclaimed Queen of England at the death of Edward VI, was decapitated nine days later, aged seventeen, by order of Mary Tudor. Her ghost now haunts the Tower of London.

Henry VIII himself is said to have had the vision of a gigantic, frightening being one stormy night at Windsor Castle.

Anne Boleyn.

Naturally, it is at the Tower of London that Anne Boleyn’s ghost is the most assiduous.  For nearly five centuries, it has even been its principal and most famous lodger.  To the point that its apparitions are mentioned in reglementary fashion on the register of the Tower’s guards.  When you flick through this official document, you notice that the spectre of the young Queen lurks in all the corners of the ancient building.  It is signalled in the White Tower, in the Green Tower, in the King’s House, at Saint Peter of Vincula Chapel, even on the rooves…

During the XVIIth and XVIIIth Centuries, it seems to have been curiously attracted to decapitations.  Several times, the judges claimed to have seen it prowling around the executioners, at the moment when they were proceeding with a decollation.

Sometimes, it walks surrounded by “people” of its own kind and participates in strange ceremonies, as was reported a few decades ago by an officer at the Tower.  This man was making a round at night when he noticed that the windows of the chapel were lit by a strange light.  Intrigued, he went to get a ladder, climbed up to the window and looked into the nave.  What he saw almost made him fall off the ladder.  Anne Boleyn, resplendant in Tudor embroideries, was leading a procession of ladies and lords who were slowly and silently moving up the centre aisle.  When these people arrived at the choir, the vision gradually evaporated as the light disappeared.

The Tower of London (left) is an officially haunted monument. Guards who abandon their post receive no punishment if they are able to swear on their honour that they had been chased by a ghost.

For other guards, the meeting with Anne Boleyn’s ghost almost had very unfortunate consequences.  One Winter evening in 1933, the guardsman in faction in front of the Tower saw a white form appear before him.  After the usual challenges, the man approached the apparition and saw that it was Anne Boleyn’s headless silhouette.  Terrified, he fled screaming.

This abandon of his post, which should have caused him to be arrested, had an unthinkable conclusion for any country outside Britain.  His superiors noted in their report:

“The post being known to be haunted, the guard has only been reprimanded.”

A young soldier of the Sixtle Rifles, who was in service at the foot of the Bloody Tower, underwent an even more gruelling adventure:  noticing a White Lady approaching him, he charged with fixed bayonet and fell unconscious to the ground after having seen that his weapon had traversed the wandering lady through and through without meeting any resistance.

When he was found lying on the ground, at the changing of the guard, it was thought that he was drunk and he was called to appear before a Court Martial.  There, he described his combat with Anne Boleyn’s ghost.  The military judges listened without a blink, just as they later heard two officers who had come to recount that they too had seen the Queen’s spectre, that same evening.  And the young soldier was acquitted…

Hever Castle in Kent.

Is it the fact of having had its existence implicitly recognized by the British Court Martial that gives assurance to Anne Boleyn’s ghost?  It could be believed so, for it behaved itself, some time ago, so unexpectedly, that the very dignified Society for Psychical Research was astounded.  The members of this honourable company, who had been studying for a long time the deeds and gestures of this headless ghost and knew all its habits, had always had only courteous and even agreeable relations with it.  However, on the evening of 24 December 1979, a photographer working for the S. P. R. went to place himself and his camera loaded with ultra-sensitive film, near the little bridge at Hever Castle where the young Queen was in the habit of appearing every Christmas Eve.

He had been waiting for quite a while when, on the twelfth stroke of midnight, a white, scintillating spot surged from the shadows and gradually took the form of a headless woman.  The young man, delighted, took a photo.  He didn’t have time to take another:  the ghost, at astounding speed, rushed in his direction and passed straight through him.  Very upset, the reporter turned around and saw the form slide over the bridge and disappear.

The next day, he wanted to develop his one and only photograph, but he found, stunned, that the ghost, by traversing his camera, had, in an inexplicable way, completely exposed the film inside it.

***

England is filled with roaming spectres.  It even has a “Ghost Guide” where the one thousand, one hundred and sixty visitors from the After-Life, recognized as authentic by the “Ghost Club”, founded in 1862, are listed.  And it not rare that people announce, in the property section of the Times, that their house, which is for sale, is agreeably haunted.  Which is seen as a characteristic which could interest a possible buyer…

In 1953, a certain Mrs Muriel Ward had the following text inserted:

“For sale XVth Century presbytery in good condition, with a great choice of friendly ghosts.  Price:  7,500 pounds.”

A buyer having presented himself, Mrs Ward added that, among the “friendly ghosts” there was a monk, an elderly lady who came to have breakfast every Christmas and a group of joyful young men from the XVIIth Century surging from a coach every 15 September to organize some festivities in the presbytery…

***

Jane Seymour succeeded Anne Boleyn in Henry VIII's affections. She died after giving birth to the future Edward VI.

Anne Boleyn is not the only famous person whose ghost is seen.  Her brother, Lord Rochford, who was executed two days before the Queen, can also be seen apparently at dusk, near Blickling Hall, passing by on a galloping horse.  Both the cavalier and his horse are decapitated.  Another family ghost:  that of Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father.  He haunts the Norfolk countryside on the anniversary of his daughter’s death, and the good people explain that he is expiating the sin of having attempted nothing to save her…  Then there is Jane Seymour who, curiously haunts Marwell Hall, as we have already seen, with Anne, whom she replaced in the affections and in the bed of Henry VIII.  Then, there is the unfortunate Jane Grey who had been proclaimed Queen of England at the death of Edward VI and who, nine days later, was condemned to be decapitated by order of Mary Tudor.  She was just seventeen.

Since then, her ghost frequents the Tower of London where she died, and its apparitions are generally announced by the English Press.  Certain French newspapers also mention them, as is proven by this article taken from France-Soir on 14 February 1957:

A GHOST DRESSED IN WHITE VISITS TWO SOLDIERS AT THE TOWER OF LONDON

London, 13 February

Two solders of the guard at the Tower of London saw, yesterday morning, a ghost moving at the top of the “Salt Tower”, which is 12 metres high, and one of the darkest and most sinister of this dark and sinister fortress.

The first of them heard, at three o’clock in the morning, an object fall onto the roof of his shelter, at the foot of the Tower.  Courageously, he bounded outside, raised his eyes and “saw a white form between the crenelles”

The second guard, called to look, was incredulous at first, but when he too raised his eyes, he was stunned:  “By devil, you’re right!”

Yesterday was the 403rd anniversary of the execution of Lady Jane Grey.

***

To be continued.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost

Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII of England's second wife.

On 19 May 1536, at nine o’clock in the morning, the Queen of England Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s wife, who had been locked up in the Tower of London on 23 April, charged with adultery and conspiracy, is taken to the scaffold wearing a white silk gown, the neckline of which is cut very low around her neck.  An executioner stands waiting, motionless.  Once she has climbed the last steps, surrounded by her four ladies-in-waiting, the young woman discovers the block, the sabre and an open coffin.  She does not even blink.  With the serenity of the pure, she prays.

The previous day, upon learning that, by the grace of her monstrous spouse, she would be neither hanged, nor burned, but decapitated, she had gently enquired:

“Is the executioner skilled at least?”

Then she had added, touching her neck with her hand:

“It is true that it will not be too difficult for him;  it is so slim!…”

The four ladies-in-waiting approach to assist her.  She pushes them away, smiling, undoes her headdress all studded with pearls, on her own, leaving only the snood which holds her long, black hair.  After which, she kneels and places her head on the block.

Anne Boleyn's execution. When her head had fallen, the Queen's lips were seen to be moving in silent prayer.

As the executioner raises his arm, Anne can be heard to murmur:

“My sweet Jesus, take pity on me!”

Then the sabre falls on the frail neck that had so often been caressed by Henry VIII.

The head bounces and falls into the straw.

The ladies-in-waiting are then stunned to see that the Queen’s lips are still moving in silent prayer.

At this moment, the firing of a cannon makes London shake.  Its purpose is to inform the King, inside his White Hall palace, that his second wife is dead and that he can prepare his marriage to Jane Seymour.

The ladies-in-waiting, in tears, immediately take “with much precious care” the head and gentle body of Anne Boleyn, then they put them in the coffin which is whisked off to Saint Peter of Vincula Chapel where the remains are buried with no religious ceremony.

Henry VIII, who is going to marry Jane Seymour the next day, is then thinking that nothing more would be heard of Anne Boleyn, inhumed “like an anonymous shipwreck” and that even her memory would be effaced from people’s minds.

This shows his ignorance of the maliciousness of ghosts.

A few days before her death, Anne had written a poem in which she compares herself, in strangely premonitory fashion, to a “guiltless ghost”.  And, since 1536, this “guiltless ghost” has not ceased to haunt England.  It is true that, in this country, everyone knows that the innocent are unable to have any rest as long as justice has not been rendered to them.

The first manifestation of Anne’s ghost took place on the night following her execution.  A few people from Norfolk, who later assured that they had been horrified – which can easily be admitted – see a carriage drawn by four decapitated horses drive by.  Inside was the Queen in a white gown, holding her head in her lap.  This appalling carriage arrives at the gates of Blickling Hall, where Anne was born, and disappears suddenly.

From then on, Anne Boleyn’s ghost will never cease to haunt this castle where she had lived as a child, sliding along the corridors, silently climbing the stairs, warming itself by a fireside, traversing walls, travelling through the castle grounds on moonlit nights, making the cords of the psalteries and violas vibrate in the Music Room, or frightening the cats by its unusual light.  To the point that the inhabitants of Blickling Hall will very quickly get used to this “presence” and today no-one feels the least bit frightened by hearing, at night, the famous swishing of the silk gown, not even the most fearful of chambermaids…

The principal characteristic of ghosts is ubiquity.  Anne Boleyn’s ghost appears therefore in many other places.

It is regularly seen at Rockford Hall, in South-East Essex, a castle which, like Blickling Hall, used to belong to Anne’s family.  There, it roams over the lawns during the “twelve days of Christmas”, which is the period that separates the 25 December from Epiphany.  These twelve days were considered, before christianism, in Europe’s primitive societies, as a magical period.  They began at the solstice, which the Ancient peoples situated on 25 December, and ended when the lengthening of the days became clearly noticeable, that is to say, on 6 January.  The Church “christianized” this period by framing it with Christmas and the Festival of the Kings.

Anne’s ghost seems also to like a room in the North-East part of the building known by the name of “Anne’s Nursery”.  Not content with screaming, slamming doors and making diverse other noises, it indulges in lugubrious facetiae.  It is said that bloodstains appear on the floor, on the anniversary of the day of the execution.

This haunted chamber has naturally attracted numerous spiritists.  Some have felt strong emotions there.  The writer Charlotte Mason recounts, for example, that during a meeting held one night in 1928, a black cat suddenly fell down the chimney in a cloud of soot, plunging the participants into indescriptible terror.  Another time, hands surging from the invisible tore ribbons off a little girl whom wisdom should have commanded to leave at home.  Finally, in 1965, the members of an association specialized in contacts with the After-Life were deliciously ill with fear in seeing a headless woman pass among them…

***

Hever Castle in Kent, where Anne Boleyn's ghost appears each Christmas Eve, crossing the bridge over the Eden River on the twelfth stroke of midnight.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost also appears on Christmas Eve at Hever Castle, near Edenbridge, in Kent.  On the twelfth stroke of midnight, it can be seen slowly crossing the bridge over Eden River.  It is there that the young woman’s romance with Henry VIII began.

Anne Boleyn’s ghost is sometimes mischievous.  It seems to take malicious pleasure in frequenting Merwell Hall, in Hampshire, a castle haunted by the ghost of its rival, Jane Seymour.  And some nights, the inhabitants see floating on the lawn the scintillating silhouettes of the two White Ladies.  One with a head and one without…  Jane Seymour, whom Henry VIII married on 20 May 1536, died the following year, on 24 October 1537, after having given birth to the future Edward VI.

To be continued.

The battle of the Shades – part 3

On 17 December 1680, the inhabitants of Ottery, in England, witnessed a celestial combat in which a comet was involved.

Most of these abundant witness reports escape the clinical definition of visual hallucination and everything that we know about mirages.  Here are two other cases of exceptional interest, among the hundreds that have been registered, starting with the combat related in Book II of Maccabees, which took place in the Jerusalem sky when Antiochus was getting ready to make war on Egypt…

The first case, which is one of the best authenticated, concerns a vision which occurred at Keinton in England, at the beginning of 1642…

Regrettably, it is often thought that the older the event, the less credible it is.  This same year, England sees the eruption of a Civil War which is just as well-known to us as the last year of King Louis XIII of France’s reign at the same epoch, or the events of February 1936…

When the Justice of the Peace of the County of Keinton, William Wood, backed up by several honourable people, certifies under oath to have seen a battle of spectres opposing the Puritans and the army of King Charles I of England, there is no apparent reason to doubt his sincerity…

On 23 January 1643, between midnight and one o’clock in the morning, some shepherds, some peasants, and some travellers begin to hear distant drum rolls over Edgehill, then cries of soldiers in agony, and the firing of muskets and cannons.  Gradually, the noises move closer and become so loud that the witnesses, terrified, want to flee.  This is when the furia of the “incorporal soldiers”, as the principal witness puts it, begins to be unleashed on the nearby hills, petrifying the spectators on the spot.  At the head of this first army, the flags of Charles I can easily be distinguished, preceded by several cannons and drummers in amaranth uniforms, beating the charge.  From the other side of the hill, the Puritan battalions surge, preceded by troops of cavalry which swoop onto their adversaries.  Soon, the melee is terrifying, and nobody among the witnesses thinks to flee any more out of fear that these infernal soldiers would turn against them…  After three hours of hand-to-hand combats, the partisans of Charles I, flee…

This event of course creates a sensation throughout the whole county, and the next day, the notables, Church ministers at their head, go to the place of combat, armed with rolls of paper, pens, and of course sprinklers of holy water and manuals of exorcism.

The battle of the ghosts takes place three more times with an even more considerable fracas of weapons, and the talk about this business finally arrives at the King’s ears.  Charles I immediately names a Commission, led by Colonel Lewis Kirke.  One week later, the battle takes place again, and some members of the Commission are even able to recognize several of the spectres, notably Sir Edmond Varney, who had been killed during the historical Battle of Edgehill…  two months earlier.

***

It is not always soldiers that are seen in the sky. Alpinists climbing the Cervin in August 1900 suddenly saw these strange crosses...

If we admit that the witnesses did not just have visual and auditive hallucinations, it is difficult for us to understand the sense of these historical doublings, these hiccoughs of Reason, but also of imagination.  Since they are only the replica of something that has already happened…  It is irritating for our human conception of space-time.  But in the case of the ghostly combats displaced in time, there is something even more troubling…

In the very first days of February 1574, five soldiers of the Bourgeois Guard of Utrecht, who are on guard around midnight, see on the near horizon, the representation of a terrible battle.  A first army, coming from the North-West, has manoeuvred very rapidly to surprise, it seems, another army coming from the South-East and moving slowly in some disorder, as if it were leaving a camp situated well away from the Front.  From this moment, the guards, who are used to seeing Spanish invaders attacking the “patriot” positions of the Count of Nassau, follow the different phases of the battle, notably its epilogue, when they see the army from the North-West regroup one last time and throw itself on the enemy which has formed a square surrounded by a double row of muskets.  The lances of the army from the South-East break like “frail reeds”, the sentinels note when they later make their statements under oath, and the columns are pushed back in disorder.

The Utrecht magistrates take this vision very seriously:  it appears to describe the end of the troop movements, before the great clash which would oppose the Spaniards of Don Luis of Requesens to the Dutch.  The guards’ precisions are so convincing, that the inhabitants of Utrecht have no doubts about the outcome of the decisive battle…  to come.  This unfolds on 13 February at Mook, that is to say, twelve days after the vision.  Count Louis of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, finds there, with numerous knights, a glorious death.  The American historian Motley, a specialist of this period, is formal:  there are so many similarities between the vision and its realisation twelve days later, that luck cannot be invoked.  But, there again, we could formulate the hypothesis of a different time, which is no longer divided into “before”, “during” and “after”, like the time that we know now, a time relative to the spectators that we are, locked up in a theatre of shadows who, if they could get out, would have the revelation of absolute time, deployed motionlessly, in an eternal present…

***

A few decades ago, a former Commander of the Gendarmerie, Emile Tizane, who consecrated forty years of his life to investigating hauntings, assures in the book that he wrote that the apparitions are today just as numerous as before.  As for ghostly battles, not so long ago, the Defence Minister of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took the head of an expedition destined to verify the validity of a battle of spectres which unfolds every 23 October at Kineton inside a terrain which is used as an army ammunition depot.

***

Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, has never seen a ghost, but does not necessarily deny that they exist.  He believes, along with Alexis Carrel, that in certain circumstances, Knowledge will one day establish that Man is capable of bending or stretching himself well beyond his apparent limits…

***

A celestial combat seen by the inhabitants of a Touraine town, in 1480. Wood XVIth Century.

It is early May, and already the African wind is changing Spring in Crete into a furnace.  On a little beach in the island’s North, a mule caravan is moving along, on its way to the White Mountains from whence can be seen, on a clear day, Cythera and even the Peloponnese…  But instead of taking the Eskifu road towards the interior, the head muletier continues along the coast.  Guthrie, an English tourist, calls him to the rear.  The man, who is wearing ample Ottoman clothing, apologizes, saying that he had thought that they wanted to see “the Shades”.  Amused, the Englishman asks him where he thinks that he is going to find any shade in this desert.  The muletier is offended.

“I’m serious.  You can see them in the evening quite near here…  Near the ruins of the castle, Franco Kastelli.  It’s an old Venitian fortress.  Over one hundred years ago, the Greeks and the Turks fought there.  They did it a lot…  And since then, the Shades return every May.”

“And what do these shades do?”

“They fight each other and a lot of them are killed or wounded!”

Guthrie mops his perspiring brow and advises the muletier, whose name is Yami, to take an obviously much-needed rest…  in the shade, of course.

That evening, while camping in a little shepherd’s hut half-way up the Aspra-Vuna, a two thousand metre high mountain, the Englishman, who is accompanied by two friends, pensively watches the sun sinking into the sea.  It’s that indecisive hour when everything which seems banal by day is tinted with strangeness…  On this immemorial land where, since sombre King Minos, a torrent of blood from wars of conquest and insurrections has flowed…  Suddenly, Guthrie says:

“And what if this countryside could reflect through time something of these dramas?…  Tomorrow, if you like, we’ll go to see if there is a shadow performance at the Franco Kastelli theatre!…”

***

The next morning, the English tourists start off before Dawn.  By questioning their guides, they have learnt that the shades also sometimes manifest themselves in the morning, and that some in Crete call them, for this reason, “the Drosulites” or “Men of the Dew”.  Guthrie, who is an engineer and, in these 1930 years, has retained something of the spirit of adventure of the XIXth Century British people, very much hopes to liven up his vacation.  He thinks that, whatever happens, back in his London club, this excursion must furnish some material for an anecdote…  Or, who knows, a declaration to the Science Academy about a phenomenon which, because dew has been mentioned, must be of a meterological or optical nature, and is only an illusion, a mirage, but which he will be the first to observe with the phlegm and rigour of a strong mind…

The little troup is back on the beach which leads to the castle.  The day has not yet dawned, but a light is coming from the East, from the faraway coasts of Syria.  Yami puts his mules to a trot and cries out:

“The castle is down there, in that little gulf!”

This part of the beach is perfectly flat, and less than a kilometre away, parts of the crumbling walls of the old fortress with its damaged tower can be seen.  Our travellers agree that the simple topography of the place will render any trickery impossible and that even if any phenomenon did occur inside the ruins, they would have no difficulty in seeing what it was close up…

They sit down in the warm sand and drink the coffee that Yami pours for them from a thermos.  Then Guthrie and one of his two companions advance about one hundred metres towards the citadelle.  The third Englishman, who has remained behind, is finding that the night has been very short.  He is also asking himself what he is doing here waiting for the improbable to happen.  He wraps himself in a blanket and lights his pipe…

This battle between a regiment of Napoleon and an English regiment was very distinctly seen in the sky by British citizens at the end of the XIXth Century. The combat lasted nearly an hour.

Yami, who is finishing unpacking the mules, suddenly hears him call out:

“Hey!…  Hey, there!…  Yes, there!  I can see them!  The shades are coming towards us!”

He has leapt to his feet and is making wild signs to his companions who do not seem to have seen anything.  As he  continues to gesticulate, they hurry back.  Yami has prudently taken his mules towards the sea…

“It’s unbelievable!  I can’t see them any more now!…  But I’m sure I didn’t dream it!”

Back together again, the three men intently scrutinize the ruins.

“There they are!  They’re back again!…  You have to crouch down to see them…”

Guthrie murmurs:

“My God!  It’s a veritable army on the march!”

Three hundred metres in front of them, coming from the East, they distinctly see armed men advancing in a long line.  Guthrie says:

“They’re certainly not the Greeks and the Turks Yami talked about.  They look more like Roman legionaries!”

“Or Persians!”

suggests one of his companions.  The younger of the two anxiously asks:

“Do you think that we risk anything?”

Guthrie replies:

“Of course not!  It’s surely only a mirage…  See, when we stand up, the legs of the “Shades” seem to evaporate!”

The elder of his two companions replies:

“I’ve seen lots of mirages in Africa, but never anything like this!  You can clearly see their helmets and their chainmail…  and some of them are a lot bigger than others!”

Guthrie says:

“It’s strange!  There are only foot soldiers…  Now they are going straight for the ruins!  Dawn isn’t far off…  look!  You can see the spears glittering…  It’s really crazy!  I must absolutely see this close up.  Yami!…”

The Crete guide has gathered his mules who are moving nervously.  He cries out:

“In the name of Saint Panasia, let us leave!  The Shades are a bad omen!”

“Right…  I’ll go on foot!  Try not to let me out of your sight!”

His companions want to stop him, but the engineer has already taken off running.  Five minutes have gone by since the beginning of the apparition and the little group that has remained near the sea, watches, petrified, as the Englishman goes towards the head of the column which is now less than one hundred metres from the castle.  A few seconds later, the witnesses see him traverse the column and go towards the heights which surround the fortress on the mountains side.

Guthrie is 400 metres from them now, but his companions still clearly see him transparently through the fantastic troop, whose progression had in no way been disturbed when the Englishman opened a passage through it.

Still through the column, they again see him waving his arms, moving forward, moving back, and making signs to them to make them understand that he is seeing the phenomenon too, from the side on which he is.

Only a quarter of an hour has passed.  Those who are contemplating, fascinated, this incredible spectacle, have to crouch down again to continue to see it.  Already, the legs and trunks of the spectres have become invisible again…  Soon the only thing left of the warriors of the shadows, is a flash of light on a sword or a shield.  Shadows returned to the shadows, evaporated like the dew in the rising sun…

***

To be continued.

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