History Of A Ghost, Towards The Latter End Of The Reign Of Lewis XIV
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
The reader may think as he pleases of this story ; thus much, how-ever, is certain, that, at the time, it attracted universal attention, was everywhere believed, and even got into print; and though some imposture was undoubtedly at bottom, yet at least it had this merit, that it was so nicely contrived as to render abortive all attempts to discover-it, and even to elude all probable conjecture about it.
The little town of Salon, in Provence, which claims the honour of being the birth-place of the celebrated Nostradamus, was also, in April, 1697, the first scene of action to the present history. A spectre, which many people held to be no other than the spirit of Nostradamus, appeared to a private man of this town, and caused him no small trouble. It began its address to him by commanding him, on pain of death, to observe the most inviolable secrecy in regard of what he was about to deliver. This done, it ordered him to go to the Intendant of the province, and require, in its name, letters of recommendation, that should enable him, on his arrival at Versailles, to obtain a private audience of the King. " What thou art to say to the King," continued the apparition, " thou wilt not be informed of till the day of thy being at court, when I shall appear to thee again, and give thee full instructions. But forget not that thy life depends upon the secrecy which I enjoin thee on what has passed between us, towards everyone, only not towards the Intendant." At these words the spirit vanished, leaving the poor man half dead with terror. Scarcely was he come a little to himself, than his wife entered the apartment where he was, perceived his uneasiness, and inquired after the cause. But the threat of the spectre was yet too much present to his mind, to let her draw a satisfactory answer from him. The repeated refusals of the husband did but serve to sharpen the curiosity of the wife ; the poor man, for the sake of quietness, had at length the indiscretion to tell her all, even to the minutest particulars ; and the moment he had finished his confession, paid for his weakness by the loss of his life. The wife, violently terrified at this unexpected catastrophe, persuaded herself, however, that what had happened to her husband might be merely the effect of an over-heated imagination, or some other accident; and thought it best, as well on her own account, as in regard to the memory of her deceased husband, to confide the secret of this event only to a few relations and intimate friends.
But another inhabitant of the town, having, shortly after, the same apparition, imparted the strange occurrence to his brother; and his imprudence was in like manner punished by a sudden death. And now, not only at Salon, but for more than twenty miles around, these two surprising deaths became the subject of general conversation.
The same ghost again appeared, after some days, to a farrier, who lived only at the distance of a couple of houses* from the two that had so quickly died ; and who, having learnt wisdom from the misfortune of his neighbours, did not delay one moment to repair to the Intendant. It cost him great trouble to get the private audience as ordered by the spectre, being treated by the magistrate as a person not right in the head. "I easily conceive, so please your Excellency," replied the farrier, who was a sensible man, and much respected as such at Salon, " that I must seem in your eyes to be playing an extremely ridiculous part ; but if you would be pleased to order your sub-delegates to enter upon an examination into the hasty death of the two inhabitants of Salon, who received the same commission from the ghost as I, I flatter myself that your Excellency, before the week be out, will have me called."
In fact, François Michel, for that was the farrier's name, after in-formation had been taken concerning the death of the two persons mentioned by him, was sent for again to the Intendant, who now listened to him with far greater attention than he had done before ; then, giving him despatches to Mons. de Baobesieux, minister and secretary of state for Provence, and at the same time presenting him with money to defray his 'travelling expenses, wished him a happy journey.
The Intendant, fearing lest so young a minister as M. de Baobesieux might accuse him of too great credulity, and give occasion to the Court to make themselves merry at his expense, had inclosed with the despatches, not only the records of the examinations taken by his sub-delegates at Salon, but also added the certificate of the Lieutenant-General de Justice, which was attested and subscribed by all the officers of the department.
Michel arrived at Versailles, and was not a little perplexed about what he should say to the minister, as the spirit had not yet appeared to him again according to its promise. But in that very night the spectre threw open the curtains of his bed, bid him take courage, and dictated to him, word for word, what he was to deliver to the minister, and what to the King, and to them alone. " Many difficulties will be laid in thy way," added the ghost, "in obtaining this private audience; but beware of desisting from thy purpose, and of letting the secret be drawn from thee by the minister or by anyone else, as thou wouldst not fall dead upon the spot."
The minister, as may easily be imagined, did his utmost to worm out the mystery; but the farrier was firm, and kept silence, swore that his life was at stake, and at last concluded with these words : that he might not think that what he had to tell the King was all a mere farce, he need only mention to his Majesty, in his name, "that his Majesty, at the last hunting-party at Fontainebleau, had himself seen the spectre ; that his horse took fright at it, and started aside ; that his Majesty, as the apparition lasted only a moment, took it for a deception of sight, and therefore spoke of it to no one."
This last circumstance struck the minister; and he now thought it his duty to acquaint the King of the farrier's arrival at Versailles, and to give him an account of the wonderful tale he related. But how great was his surprise, when the Monarch, after a momentary silence, required to speak with the farrier in private, and that immediately !
What passed during this extraordinary interview never transpired. All that is known is, that the spirit-seer, after having staid three or four days at Court, publicly took leave of the King, by his own per-mission, as he was setting out for the chase.
It was even asserted, that the Duc de Duras, captain of the guard in waiting, was heard to say aloud on the occasion: "Sire, if your Majesty had not expressly ordered me to bring this man to your presence, I should never have done it, for most assuredly he is a fool I" The King answered, smiling : " Dear Duras, thus it is that men frequently judge falsely of their neighbour ; he is a more sensible man than you and many others imagine."
This speech of the King's made a great impression. People exerted all their ingenuity, but in vain, to decipher the purport of the conference between the farrier and the King and the minister Baobesieux. The vulgar, always credulous, and consequently fond of the marvellous, took it into their heads, that the imposts which had been laid on by reason of the long and burdensome war were the real motives of it, and drew from it happy omens of a speedy relief ; but they, nevertheless, were continued till the peace.
The spirit-seer having thus taken leave of the King, returned to his province. He received money of the minister, and a strict command never to mention anything of the matter to any person, be he who he would. Roullet, one of the best artists of the time, drew and engraved the portrait of this farrier. Copies are still existing in several collections of prints in Paris. That which the writer of this piece has seen, represented the visage of a man from about thirty-five to forty years of age ; an open countenance, rather pensive, and had what the French term physionomie de caractère.