The Grey Chamber


translated from the French by

Marjorie Bowen

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Last updated Wednesday, February 26, 2014 at 12:57.

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eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

The Grey Chamber

Young Blendau was travelling to Italy in the suite of a German princess to whom he acted as secretary. Arrived in the town in the north of Germany where the princess had decided to remain several days, he obtained permission to visit a certain M. Rebmann, who then held the office of chancellor to an adjacent royal estate. This gentleman lived several miles from the town where the princess and her train had halted.

Blendau had been educated with him and had not seen him since he was fourteen years old, that is to say, for about seven years. He thought, therefore, that he would make this visit a surprise to this friend and his family, and as he knew the country perfectly well he hired a horse and set out alone across the forests although it was the middle of winter.

The weather was very fine in the morning, but in the afternoon he perceived that the sky became covered over, and towards evening a heavy snow began to fall. This caused a considerable delay to Blendau: the path became heavy, large snowflakes blew into his eyes and blinded him so that he could not guide his horse properly; he mistook his way several times, and though he calculated on reaching M. Rebmann’s early in the afternoon, it was not till nine o’clock at night that he at last arrived, cold and exhausted, at this friend’s, having made a detour of twenty miles.

M. Rebmann hardly recognised him, so much had he changed since he had last seen him. When, however, he discovered who was this late guest he received him with great pleasure and only regretted that his wife and children had gone to the neighbouring town on the occasion of the marriage of a relative and would not return for several days.

He ordered a good meal for his friend and some of the best wine in his cellar, and after Blendau had drunk three bottles of Meersteiner and gossiped over all that had happened to him during the last seven years he felt the fatigue and vexation of his long cold ride pass. Nevertheless, an extreme lassitude overcame his spirits and he was forced at last to break off the hilarious conversation and demand permission to retire to bed.

M. Rebmann admitted with a laugh that this put him in a difficulty. His lady was away and all the chambers save those occupied by the family were dismantled, while the prudent housewife had taken with her the key to the coffers which held the sheets, the coverlets, and the mattresses. On calling the old servant, Bridget, and putting to her his difficulty, she replied: ‘There is a bed already made in the Grey Chamber — you know, sir, the guest chamber. M. Blendau can sleep there if he pleases.’

‘No,’ replied Rebmann. ‘My friend Blendau would not wish to pass the night in the Grey Chamber, of that I am sure.’

‘And why not, sir?’ asked the old woman.

‘What, in the Grey Chamber! Have you already forgotten the Lady Gertrude?’ Mr Rebmann turned slyly to his guest.

‘Bah! That’s such a long time ago that I thought no more of it,’ cried Blendau. ‘What, do you think I am still troubled by such childish follies? Go along with you! Let me pass the night in this famous chamber. I am no longer afraid of ghosts or evil spirits, and if the beautiful Gertrude should come to keep me company I am so tired that I don’t think she’ll prevent me from sleeping.’

M. Rebmann gave the young man a doubtful glance.

‘Well, my friend, you’ve certainly singularly changed. Seven years ago nothing in the world would have made you consent to sleep in the Grey Chamber, even if you’d had two people to keep you company. Where did you find so much courage?’

‘Seven years ago is seven years ago,’ laughed Blendau. ‘I have grown up since then. For five years I have lived in the capital, remember. Believe me, I now know too much to give any credit to old legends.’

‘Very well, my friend, I’ve no more objection to make. May Heaven watch upon your rest. Bridget, take the light and conduct M. Blendau into the Grey Chamber.’

Blendau said good night to his old friend, then he followed Bridget to the famous Grey Chamber, situated at the second stage of the extremity of one of the wings of the castle.

Bridget put her two candles on a dressing-table on either side of a mirror of oval form surrounded by an interlaced antique border. The old woman seemed ill at ease in this vast chamber; she made a slight curtsey to Blendau and hurried away.

The young traveller stood for a moment considering the apartment which had once been familiar enough to him and had always, in the days of his youth, filled him with terror. It was still in the same state as it had been when he had seen it last. The enormous iron stove bore the date of 1616; a little beyond this, in the corner, was a narrow door the upper part of which was composed of squares of ancient glass, heavily leaded. This led to a long, sombre passage which wound round the tower to the subterranean dungeons.

The furniture consisted of six ormolu chairs, two tables in heavy brasswork supported by finely carved stag’s feet, and a great bed with a baldaquin which was hung with curtains of heavy grey silk embroidered in tarnished gold. Nothing in the room had been changed for perhaps more than a hundred years, for the chancellorship of this royal domain had been confided from time immemorial to the family Rebmann.

The châtelaine Gertrude was of an even greater antiquity. How often had not Blendau heard her horrible story! According to this old legend, which he had heard whispered fearfully by his nurse in his boyhood, Gertrude had from an early age vowed to God her youth and beauty, and had been about to enclose herself for ever in a convent when the splendours of her youthful loveliness had aroused the base desires of a certain Graf Hugues, who one night broke into her room, this very Grey Chamber, and despoiled her by force of her honour.

Gertrude swore on the crucifix that she had called for help, but in this lonely part of the castle, so far from the other apartments, who could hear the cries of agony and innocence? The wickedness of Hugues did not entail any consequences that could reveal it, but the unhappy Gertrude avowed the crime to her confessor, who refused her permission to enter the convent and closed to her the door of the sanctuary of the virgins of the Lord. And as she had intended to tempt God by concealing her fault and taking the veil, he told her that in expiation she must suffer the torments of purgatory during three hundred years.

The wretched girl, a prey to despair, poisoned herself and expired in the Grey Chamber at the age of nineteen years. Her rigorous penitence was still lasting and would not be terminated for another forty years, that is to say in 1850, and until the expiration of the fatal term, Gertrude would continue to appear every night in the Grey Chamber.

Blendau had frequently heard this tale and he had even met several people who were ready to swear that they had seen Gertrude in the Grey Chamber. All these tales agreed that the phantom had a dagger in one hand, probably to pierce the heart of the perfidious lover, and a crucifix in the other, destined without doubt to reconcile the criminal with Heaven in offering him the image of the Saviour who died to expiate the sins of mankind.

The ghostly apparition only showed itself in the Grey Chamber, and for this reason this apartment had long remained uninhabited. But when M. Rebmann inherited the castle and the post of chancellor, he had turned the haunted room into a guest-chamber as a proof of his complete disbelief in phantom or legend.

Blendau looked steadily round the room. Although he had boasted of not believing any longer in ghosts, he was not too much at ease. He locked the door by which he had entered and the glass door which gave on to the long, obscure passage. He put out one of the candles, placed the other near the bed, undressed, and slipped beneath the sheets and under the warm coverlet, recommending his soul to God, then extinguished the other candle, sunk his head upon the pillow, and at once fell into a profound sleep.

But about two hours afterwards he woke and heard a clock in the neighbouring tower strike midnight. He opened his eyes and saw that there was a faint light in the chamber. He raised himself on his elbow — extreme terror caused him to become immediately wide awake. The curtains at the end of the bed were half-pulled and his glance fell on the mirror on the dressing-table directly in front of him. In this he could see the reflection of the spectre of Gertrude wrapped in a shroud, a crucifix in the left hand and a dagger in the right.

Blendau’s blood froze in his veins: this that he saw before him was not a dream, a vision, but a frightful reality, it was not a skeleton or a shade, it was Gertrude herself, the face discoloured with the livid tint of death. A garland of ivy and rosemary was interlaced among her dry, colourless locks, and as she moved Blendau heard the rustle of the leaves of this dead chaplet and the sound of the hem of the shroud dragging on the floor. He saw in the mirror by the light of the two candles, both of which were now brightly burning, the fixed brilliancy of the eyes of Gertrude, the pallor of her lips.

He tried to leap from his bed and to run to the door by which he had entered, but the fright had paralysed him — he found that he could not move.

Gertrude kissed the crucifix. She seemed to be praying under her breath; Blendau distinguished the movement of her lips which still carried the marks of the burning poison. He saw the eyes of the unfortunate wretch turned towards heaven; she raised her dagger and advanced towards the bed with a terrible glance.

Blendau was about to lose consciousness as she opened the curtains of the bed. Horror was painted in her fixed and inanimate eyes as she perceived a man crouching on the pillows, and she pressed her little dagger on the bosom of him whom she took for her false lover. As she did so a cold drop of poison fell from her garland on to Blendau’s pallid face. At this he gave a piercing cry, flung himself from the bed, and rushed to the window to cry for help.

But Gertrude prevented him. When he reached the window she was there with one hand on the catch so that he could not open it. With the other she caught him round the waist and he gave a piercing cry, for he felt through his nightshirt the glacial impression of the cold sweat of death coming from her clasp.

He observed that she had now neither crucifix nor dagger, and that she seemed no longer to wish for the life of the unhappy Blendau, but, what was more horrible, that she appeared to offer and to expect the embraces of love.

As the icy spectre folded him in her arms Blendau dragged himself away with long shudders of terror and hurled himself towards the little glass door.

As he opened this (it was not locked, though he had turned the key himself the night before) he found himself face to face with a skeleton that blocked the long passage — that of Graf Hugues, without doubt. His ghastly face, on which still clung a remnant of skin and muscle, was distorted in a frightful grimace. He entered the chamber, letting the door fall behind him with a sound that echoed like thunder throughout the tower.

Blendau, between the two phantoms, that of Gertrude and that of the skeleton, sank to the ground unconscious into darkness.

When he recovered, the cold wintry dawn was showing through the unshuttered windows. Blendau, stiff and chilled, his shirt still bathed with sweat, rose from the floor and with trembling hands searched for his clothes. Though unutterably weary and shaken by nausea, nothing would have persuaded him to endeavour to obtain any repose in that apartment.

At first he endeavoured to persuade himself he had been the victim of some frightful dream, but such an idea was no longer plausible when he perceived, on the dressing-table in front of the mirror, the second candle that he had placed near his bed and put out after he had got between the sheets. He remarked that these candles were half burnt down, although they had only just been lit for a second the night before. He also discovered that the two doors which he had locked the night before were again fastened as he had left them.

Blendau had not the courage to relate his adventure to anyone. He did not wish to be laughed at for a susceptible fool and made the subject of the pleasantries of the family of Rebmann. On the other hand, if he was able to persuade his host of the reality of his vision, who would dare to continue to inhabit the castle where Gertrude and the hideous skeleton of her lover had a rendezvous every evening?

Then, again, if he was silent, he would be asked to spend another night in the Grey Chamber and that he felt he had not the strength to do.

He therefore dressed himself in haste, crept through the castle while everyone was still asleep, went to the stable, mounted his horse, and without taking leave of anyone rode away through the snowy forest towards the city.

This web edition published by:

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005