Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu: House to let

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

For a long time I had been sick and my doctor advised me that it would do me well to spendmy convalescence in some calm and sunny small town of the southern French coast, moving awayfrom the humid and foggy climate of my native Irish town. 
Nothing special retained me in Dublin: without being rich, I had some savings that allowedme to live with certain affluence. For a lot of time I had no family, for what I decided, once I feltwith enough strength, to go aboard a ship for Marseilles.
My manservant, named Jones, accompanied me in this trip. A former sergeant in the Duke of Wellington's Spanish Armada, was, by then, a thin old man; energetic and of about sixty years old. Iappreciated him a lot, not only for the devotion that he testified me but, also, for the numerousqualities that made him extremely valuable.
In Marseilles where we arrive at the beginning of the year 1840, they indicated me that therewas a house to let in a small town of fishermen on the Provence coast. They insisted in that it was avery beautiful place, of panoramic pleasant and wonderful climate. Since the rent was very cheap, Iwillingly accepted, modifying somehow the projects that I had of settling down near Naples. Dayslater we arrive at the small town of fishermen. The house, the real state agent told me when hehanded me the keys, had belonged during certain time to a celebrated French sailor, the bailío of Suffren.
Once the door was shut, Jones looked at me and he told me, abruptly, with that militaryfrankness so peculiar in him that I admired: 
—Sir, I don't like this house at all.
I began to laugh and answered: 
-What is wrong with it? For my part, I consider it charming, exquisitely furnished, welllocated and very sunny.
Jones shrugged his shoulders, grunted something that I didn't understand as he prepared tocarry our baggage upstairs. My new residence was composed of a lower plant, in which werelocated the lobby, the living room, the dining room and an office, and of an upper story whereinwere three bedrooms for the gentlefolk and two for the servants.
The real state agent had arranged with me that a woman villager would come to make thecleaning and prepare the food. I sat down in an armchair of the office and began to contemplate thesea through the window, while I dreamed about the happy days that I would enjoy during my stay inthat place so beautiful. Instants later someone called to the door.

-Come in —I said.
A poor woman, bent by the weight of those, years and the misery, appeared in the threshold.
-I am Gabriella, your cook.
Her introduction made me smile because the rustic woman ignored the ceremonious languageused by the professional menservants. But I didn't give him the smallest importance, since I havealways been a simple man and well above all type of social prejudices, and I appreciate people for their moral values and not for their language whether it is more or less refined.
-Very well, Gabriella, it has been a pleasure to meet you, I responded - as for your wage andthe chores that you will have to make in this house, you will settle them with Jones.
Then I told her that she could leave.
When dinner time came, I had to make a tremendous effort, because the old woman had thehabit of seasoning food in excess. But as time went by, I not only got used to it, but I even ended upliking it.
At eight that night, Gabriella returned to her house, and I, tired by the exhausting trip, decidedto go early to bed. I told Jones that he could have the whole night free, I went to my room and Ientered my bed. I had picked up a French novel of M. Hugo, but in truth's honor, I ought to admitthat I could hardly reached to the third page; I don't know if it was the book or weariness, but withina few minutes I was fast asleep.
A strange noise woke up me and I could have sworn that there was somebody else in the roomand it breathed panting. The darkness was pitch black, consequently, I could not see anything. Ihave never been a timorous man, as it demonstrates my military record during the time that I servedin India, but I must admit that in that instant I was gripped by an awful terror. I got out of bed and,not being able to resist anymore that nervous tension, I screamed:
- Who is there? 
Nobody answered, but I had the impression, almost the certainty, that somebody approachedtoward me, because I felt closer and closer its panting. I insisted again, this time I was even morenervous:
- Who is there?
Something cold, humid and sticky touched my wrist. I lost control of my nerves and began toscream in desperation:
-Jones, Jones, come quick, help me, for God's sake help me!
But everything remained as silent as before. Nothing was heard in the whole house, and Ireached the conclusion that Jones would be having a good time in the town pubs or, maybe, hewould have become a victim as well, of that thing, of my mysterious visitor. My screams seemed tohave stopped dead the approach of that specter, ghost or whatever it was, because I felt its breath atthe same distance.
Since nothing happened, I finally calmed down and convinced myself that everything had not been more than an auditory hallucination. It was unpleasant, by the way; but I didn't have anythingthat could disturb me. Anyway, and to put an end to all doubts I caught the lighter and I lit a candle.At the same time that the flame began to shine, I heard some hurrying steps and a great noise, as if athick fabric were rubbed with force.
By the light of the candle I checked that in my room, there was not nobody else but me, andwhen I prepared to turn off the light and sleep again, my eyes were nailed mechanically to the floor;it was covered with some blackish stains that I could not identify in that instant. I got off bed andexamined with more thoroughness those strange stains. What I saw filled me with horror: some prints of naked feet appeared from my bed headboard and they stopped, not before the door of theroom like it would have been logical to suppose, if my strange visitor was a thief as I suspected, butthat before the wall that led to the rear of the house. Had the thing crossed through the wall?
It was impossible; no human being might cross through a stone wall. As, that mystery already began to made more nervous, I began to scream with all my strength, calling Jones; but it was invain. Then I made a decision that would regret for the rest of my life.
I got dressed quickly, without removing the eyes of the wall I grabbed my gun and got closer to the place where the prints disappeared. By examining these footprints closely, I checked that,indeed, they entered the partition: the proof was that one of them was cut in two at level with the plinth. Then I thought that it could be a revolvable wall that gave access to a secret stairway. I pushed with all my strength in each square centimeter of the wall, but it didn't yield. Suddenly, Iheard that in some place of the partition some invisible hinges rotated ; a black rectangle appearedin him, at the same time that a puff of stench penetrated my nasal holes. I caught the smallcandlestick and seized my gun as I went through the mysterious threshold. The feeble light thatcandle projected illuminated a stone spiral stairway that collapsed in the bowels of the ground. I summoned my courage and began to descend. I finally counted three hundred ninety six steps; Icould barely breathe by now, but since I had decide to be in that adventure, the logical thing was tocontinue until the end, to discover who my strange night visitor was. I began to walk along a narrow passageway on whose floor the prints advanced. When I had already trudged some hundred yards, Iwas detained by a heavy iron door; I pushed it, it resisted a little and, finally it opened up, producing a sinister hiss.
For an instant, an intense light dazzled me; but once my eyes were used little by little to it, Irealized that I was inside an immense cavern in which a kind of milky fog floated. I even found thatthis light came from the same fog. Some moving forms, that you could hardly make out, crossed myvisual field. I could only see clearly the footprints that had continued up to there. Then I began totremble in horror; with the weak light of my candle, I had been able to discern the contour of some prints of human feet..., but there I checked that they were bleeding. What macabre scene will Idiscover if I ventured further to continue through that road? Surely something catastrophic anddisturbing. Therefore I decided to return on my steps, ascend to my room and abandon that houseon the next day. I gave half a turn to look for the door where I had entered through. To my stupor and desperation when I checked it had disappeared. In that moment, a sarcastic laugh resounded inmy ears. I believed that I'd lost my head and I started to run while screamed requesting help; I didn'tknow where I was heading for. some sinister noises resonated in the room, while I felt that somedirty things touched me, some monstrous shapes that seemed to obstruct my way. All this lasted for a long time. How long? I don't know: some minutes, some centuries, maybe an eternity. The fogwas thicker and denser and luminous, while some voices uttered cries in French, in English, inGerman and in Italian; some callings that I didn't understand. And it was then when the rain of blood began..., In the beginning, thick drops - isolated, then a true storm of blood that, however,gave the impression of respecting the road that I took and facilitated my escape.
-Michael O'Grady —said suddenly a strong voice that roared as a low thunder the vaults of the cavern.
I startled myself by hearing my name, and after mustering all my courage I asked trembling:
-Yes, that's me. Who are you? What do you want of me?
-Who am I? I won't tell you at all. As for what I want, the only thing that I want is that youhelp me in something very important for me.
During some seconds I remained silent of astonishment, and when I tried to speak again, thatcavernous and sinister voice resounded in the stinking hole:
-In the cemetery of Saint-Tropez there is a tomb without a cross and without a name. I wantthat you go tomorrow to place on the gravestone a bouquet of flowers, and that you pay threeMasses in the church for the rest of a tormented soul. Do you promise me you that you will fulfillmy desire?
What would have you done, reader, being in my place? I promised him that I would garntwhatever desire he wanted. My invisible speaker continued:
-Agreed. But don't forget to fulfill your promise. Mainly, Michael O'Grady, don't forget it.
There was an abrupt and heavy silence, loaded with tacit threats, and then the voicecontinued:
-And now, return to your room.
It was quiet, the rain of blood ceased falling and the iron door, located some meters beforeme, began to rise until it was totally open. In spite of my emotion, I had not released neither my gunnor the candle, and I rushed quickly toward the door, running now as a buck to the free passageway.
I don't know how I could find the way to return; the certain thing is that minutes later I was inmy bed, and later I was sunk in the deepest sleep, without having the slightest nightmare.
The following day in the morning, Jones came to wake me up. While he drew the curtains of the window, through which shone the sun of a beautiful day, and he prepared the breakfast, I, little by little, cleared my mind completely off the dream I had the night before .
-Tell me one thing, Jones -I asked -; what time did you return to house last night at?
Between eleven and twelve, Sir.
Didn't you hear anything suspicious?
-No, Sir..
Jones prepared the breakfast, without paying the smallest attention to the question, which for me was so important, that I had asked him. But, suddenly, he turned around abruptly, nailed me withhis steely eyes and told me at point-blank:
-I request sir, that you forgive me but last night I heard some very strange things, while Idrank some glasses in a tavern on the town. It is that my impressions on this house, those that Iexposed yesterday to you Sir, were confirmed by some fishermen in that place. They told me thatthis house has a very bad reputation, and that no tenant has never stayed a long time in it since thedeath of the bailío of Suffren. People arrived, but after a few days they abandoned it as if it wereinhabited by a thousand ghosts or the specter of the deceased bailío. Well, that is what the fishermenrelated to me.
As Jones was for me, more than a servant, a friend, a detail that I already explained to thereader at the beginning of the current story, I recounted him all that had happened to me during theeve of my night adventure. As I related him all the details of the adventure, I observed that his facegrew hard. When I finished, Jones moved his head with the looks of a connoisseur and said:
-I believe, sir, that I already know what has happened. If you allow me, I will do a smallinvestigation on my account to make sure what I suspect.
I accepted curiously my servant's proposition. He began examining the wall. There was noneof those bloody prints any longer, neither any fragment of black matter. Jones tried to find theentrance to the secret stairway. It was in vain. He began to hit the wall, trying to locate some pointthat sounded hollow, but he was unsuccessful in this task. Perplexed, my poor servant intended todemolish the wall with a pick and a good hammer. I opposed to it, alleging that the house was notours as to begin to destroy it., The day was very beautiful, the atmosphere was saturated with the perfume of flowers and I was in very good humor so I finished telling Jones, in order to discouragehim completely:
-Listen, Jones, it is not worthwhile that you get hotheaded trying to discover the secret door. Ihave probably had a nightmare, and if we were going to pay attention to all the dreams, we wouldhave to do it for long. We'd rather go, leave it all and endeavor ourselves to do other things.
At noon, I found that Gabriella looked at me in a very strange way, with eyes in which a kindof a unhealthy curiosity shone, I would not have given a bit of importance to this detail if, towardthe end of lunch, she had not murmured to my ear, when passing next to me, the followingmysterious words:
-Saint-Tropez has a very beautiful cemetery; I believe that the gentleman would be interestedto sacrifice some hours and visit it as soon as possible.
Ah! Old miserable hag! Out of the blue, all the terrors and anguishes of last night came back to my mind, and I felt some crazy longings of strangling the cook with my own hands. But I gotcalmed down almost at once, thinking that it could only be a simple coincidence. Apart from this,how could Gabriella have learned about that awful nightmare?
After eating, I decided to go for a long walk in the vicinity. Jones accompanied me. We beganto walk in silence along the streets of that small town of fishermen. I liked much to see its high andnarrow houses, so close to each other that it would have been possible to jump from a house to thatof the sidewalk in front. Some women, decked out in multicolored tinsels, spoke in the singinglively language typical of that region. Finally we arrived to The Poche, the port of fishermen. Thesea was as calm as a raft of oil, a thing that made me wonder, since from my childhood I wasaccustomed to the stormy Atlantic ocean . Some white sailboats loomed in the horizon, under a pure blue sky. I felt blissful of living in that peaceful and beautiful small town of fishermen, and I forgotthe nightmare that I had had the previous night.
Only chance guided our steps in that instant, while Jones and I walked through a skirted pathof hedges in bloom. I enjoyed to breathe the marine air and feeling on the skin the hot caress of thesun. An iron grate in very bad state cut our step when, upon arriving at the end of the path, we wereforced to turn to the left; We came closer to it, I opened it later without any difficulty and momentslater, we were inside the cemetery. I didn't find that surprisely strange, but a merely fortuitous thingthat offered us the opportunity to visit the cemetery and to satisfy the curiosity that had wakened upin me my cook's words. In similar places, it is usual to find as much beautiful tombs as touchinginscriptions recorded onto them. That cemetery didn't have the sinister and morbid aspect of our Nordic cemeteries. Jones, who had been always a superstitious man, told me that he preferred towait outside while I satisfied my curiosity. I gave him my permission and I began to go around thecemetery, noticing those tombs that captured my attention from time to time. None of them gave animpression of sadness: the pink-colored or white tombstones were almost covered by an exuberantvegetation, and gave the impression that flowers sprouted everywhere .
Suddenly, I was dominated by an awful terrifying sensation: I stood before a gray, naked,sinister gravestone, without any inscription nor flowers. An abominable impression of disgustseemed to emanate off it. Some stealthy images rushed before my eyes. I believed that the stranger voice of the cavern could be heard again. I could not stand it no more and I ran away.
That very afternoon I departed from Saint-Tropez. I had tried to inquire about the contents of that tomb, but none of those people that I interrogated knew how to satisfy my curiosity. When theyheard my question, they crossed themselves and then tried to change the conversation. Nobodyknew anything or, surely, nobody wanted to know anything... Then I remembered Gabriella; shecertainly could tell me what the sinister tomb contained. I looked for her everywhere, but I couldnot find her; she had vanished, nobody had seen her. Anyone would have thought that she had fadedaway in the air without leaving any trace at all.
In spite of everything, I fulfilled the promise that made to that that inhabited the depths of thecavern of the house that I had rented; I had the mysterious tomb covered with flowers and then Iwent to see the priest of the place, to pay him three masses for the eternal rest of a soul in pain.When the priest heard my words, he was surprised as much as if I had asked him where CountDracula's tomb was. Once past his stupor he said:
-I regret it dearly but I cannot please you. Anyway I would be grateful if you would explain tome me why you want to pay three masses for a soul in pain. What interest is guiding you in tryingto pay me those three Masses? Excuse my curiosity, but it has left me very intrigued.
Then I recounted him all my awful story, without saving the least details; from that first nightwhen the mysterious and stealthy visitor entered my room, until the instant when I heard her sinister voice making me promise him that I would place some flowers on that tomb and I would ày threemasses for a soul in pain.
I observed how the priest, while I spoke, listened to me very intently, without adopting that posture, with which the story of a neurotic person of burning and imaginative mind is usuallylistened to generally, but just the opposite; as though I was counting him something important andinteresting for him. When I finished my story, the priest remained silent during some seconds, as if he was meditating about all what I had said. Then, he got up and began to go for a walk, at the sametime that he told me:
-The Church, as you know, distrusts in supreme degree of the visions and manifestations of that sort. In my your dream has a very natural cause, and that story of the mysterious tomb in thecemetery of our town is no more than a simple coincidence.
-But you also know - I responded respectfully, - that bailío of Suffren's house holds a badreputation among the villagers, that is to say, everybody believes that very strange things happenthere, as if the house were bewitched. What can you tell me about it? Which is your authorizedopinion on so mysterious facts?
But the priest was not able or he didn't mean to tell anything, alleging that he have only resided in Saint-Tropez for a short time that, but that, all in all, he didn't pay attention to those talesof resuscitated people and goblins that sailors love to relate, whatever the country that they arefrom.
I went out of the sacristy with the conscience in peace. But why, will the reader wonder then,did I leave so soon the town, not wanting to spend one more night in that house?
I had a very powerful reason; when I opened the house door, I heard very clearly, and Jonesthat followed me, also heard the voice that told me:
-Many thanks , Michael O'Grady...

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