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ghost stories
Scary and exciting Ghost Stories from around the World . . .
 

Ghost Story Title : Canon Alberic's Scrap-Book Part-2 by Montague Rhodes James

 

Ghost Story:

'No, monsieur; perhaps there used to be one belonging to the Chapter, but it is now such a small place----'
Here came a strange pause of irresolution, as it seemed; then, with a sort of plunge, he went on: 'But if
monsieur is amateur des vieux livres, I have at home something that might interest him. It is not a hundred
yards.'
At once all Dennistoun's cherished dreams of finding priceless manuscripts in untrodden corners of France
flashed up, to die down again the next moment. It was probably a stupid missal of Plantin's printing, about
1580. Where was the likelihood that a place so near Toulouse would not have been ransacked long ago by
collectors? However, it would be foolish not to go; he would reproach himself for ever after if he refused. So
they set off. On the way the curious irresolution and sudden determination of the sacristan recurred to
Dennistoun, and he wondered in a shamefaced way whether he was being decoyed into some purlieu to be
made away with as a supposed rich Englishman. He contrived, therefore, to begin talking with his guide, and to drag in, in a rather clumsy fashion, the fact that he expected two friends to join him early the next morning.
To his surprise, the announcement seemed to relieve the sacristan at once of some of the anxiety that
oppressed him.
'That is well,' he said quite brightly--'that is very well. Monsieur will travel in company with his friends;
they will be always near him. It is a good thing to travel thus in company--sometimes.'
The last word appeared to be added as an afterthought, and to bring with it a relapse into gloom for the poor
little man.
They were soon at the house, which was one rather larger than its neighbors, stone-built, with a shield carved
over the door, the shield of Alberic de Maulon, a collateral descendant, Dennistoun tells me, of Bishop John
de Maulon. This Alberic was a Canon of Comminges from 1680 to 1701. The upper windows of the mansion
were boarded up, and the whole place bore, as does the rest of Comminges, the aspect of decaying age.
Arrived on his doorstep, the sacristan paused a moment.
'Perhaps,' he said, 'perhaps, after all, monsieur has not the time?'
'Not at all--lots of time--nothing to do till to-morrow. Let us see what it is you have got.'
The door was opened at this point, and a face looked out, a face far younger than the sacristan's, but bearing
something of the same distressing look: only here it seemed to be the mark, not so much of fear for personal
safety as of acute anxiety on behalf of another. Plainly, the owner of the face was the sacristan's daughter;
and, but for the expression I have described, she was a handsome girl enough. She brightened up considerably
on seeing her father accompanied by an able-bodied stranger. A few remarks passed between father and
daughter, of which Dennistoun only caught these words, said by the sacristan, 'He was laughing in the
church,' words which were answered only by a look of terror from the girl.
But in another minute they were in the sitting-room of the house, a small, high chamber with a stone floor, full
of moving shadows cast by a wood-fire that flickered on a great hearth. Something of the character of an
oratory was imparted to it by a tall crucifix, which reached almost to the ceiling on one side; the figure was
painted of the natural colors, the cross was black. Under this stood a chest of some age and solidity, and when
a lamp had been brought, and chairs set, the sacristan went to this chest, and produced therefrom, with
growing excitement and nervousness, as Dennistoun thought, a large book wrapped in a white cloth, on which
cloth a cross was rudely embroidered in red thread. Even before the wrapping had been removed, Dennistoun
began to be interested by the size and shape of the volume. 'Too large for a missal,' he thought, 'and not the
shape of an antiphoner; perhaps it may be something good, after all.' The next moment the book was open,
and Dennistoun felt that he had at last lit upon something better than good. Before him lay a large folio,
bound, perhaps, late in the seventeenth century, with the arms of Canon Alberic de Maulon stamped in gold
on the sides. There may have been a hundred and fifty leaves of paper in the book, and on almost every one of
them was fastened a leaf from an illuminated manuscript. Such a collection Dennistoun had hardly dreamed of
in his wildest moments. Here were ten leaves from a copy of Genesis, illustrated with pictures, which could
not be later than 700 A.D. Further on was a complete set of pictures from a psalter, of English execution, of
the very finest kind that the thirteenth century could produce; and, perhaps best of all, there were twenty
leaves of uncial writing in Latin, which, as a few words seen here and there told him at once, must belong to
some very early unknown patristic treatise. Could it possibly be a fragment of the copy of Papias 'On the
Words of Our Lord,' which was known to have existed as late as the twelfth century at Nmes?[A] In any
case, his mind was made up; that book must return to Cambridge with him, even if he had to draw the whole
of his balance from the bank and stay at St. Bertrand till the money came. He glanced up at the sacristan to see
if his face yielded any hint that the book was for sale. The sacristan was pale, and his lips were working.

'If monsieur will turn on to the end,' he said.
So monsieur turned on, meeting new treasures at every rise of a leaf; and at the end of the book he came upon
two sheets of paper, of much more recent date than anything he had yet seen, which puzzled him
considerably. They must be contemporary, he decided, with the unprincipled Canon Alberic, who had
doubtless plundered the Chapter library of St. Bertrand to form this priceless scrapbook. On the first of the
paper sheets was a plan, carefully drawn and instantly recognizable by a person who knew the ground, of the
south aisle and cloisters of St. Bertrand's. There were curious signs looking like planetary symbols, and a few
Hebrew words in the corners; and in the northwest angle of the cloister was a cross drawn in gold paint.
Below the plan were some lines of writing in Latin, which ran thus:
'Responsa 12^{mi} Dec. 1694. Interrogatum est: Inveniamne? Responsum est: Invenies. Fiamne dives? Fies.
Vivamne invidendus? Vives. Moriarne in lecto meo? Ita.' (Answers of the 12th of December, 1694. It was
asked: Shall I find it? Answer: Thou shalt. Shall I become rich? Thou wilt. Shall I live an object of envy?
Thou wilt. Shall I die in my bed? Thou wilt.)
'A good specimen of the treasure-hunter's record--quite reminds one of Mr. Minor-Canon Quatremain in 'Old
St. Paul's,'' was Dennistoun's comment, and he turned the leaf.
What he then saw impressed him, as he has often told me, more than he could have conceived any drawing or
picture capable of impressing him. And, though the drawing he saw is no longer in existence, there is a
photograph of it (which I possess) which fully bears out that statement. The picture in question was a sepia
drawing at the end of the seventeenth century, representing, one would say at first sight, a Biblical scene; for
the architecture (the picture represented an interior) and the figures had that semi-classical flavor about them
which the artists of two hundred years ago thought appropriate to illustrations of the Bible. On the right was a
king on his throne, the throne elevated on twelve steps, a canopy overhead, soldiers on either side--evidently
King Solomon. He was bending forward with outstretched scepter, in attitude of command; his face expressed
horror and disgust, yet there was in it also the mark of imperious command and confident power. The left half
of the picture was the strangest, however. The interest plainly centered there. On the pavement before the
throne were grouped four soldiers, surrounding a crouching figure which must be described in a moment.




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