The woman replied that if La Clairon had complied with the dying man's request to go
and see him for the last time, he would have passed away in peace and he would have left her in
peace, too. When she refused his request, he declared with his dying breath that he would come
back to haunt her and do so in a way which would alarm and frighten her. He would haunt her, he
said, for the same length of time as he had been enslaved under her spell.
As La Clairon recollected, his passion for her had lasted for two and a half years, when it
was terminated by his death, after which his spirit had terrorized her for another two and a half
years before finally releasing her from its ghostly attentions.
Her experience had no effect upon her great success on the Paris stage during its golden
years in the reign of Louis XV, when she herself reigned at the Comdie Francaise for twenty-two
years. She retired in 1766 and opened a dramatic school in Paris which flourished for many
years. La Clairon outlived the Revolution and died in the year 1803.
Eighteenth-century France was the setting for another interesting ghost story in which an
English family was involved.
During the reign of Louis XV a young man inherited some property in and around Lille.
He was placed under the guardianship of his uncle, who turned out to be a villain of the blackest
hue, prepared to go to any lengths to rob his nephew of his inheritance, which included two
imposing houses in Lille and an estate in the country.
The young heir was a weakling and was somewhat under the influence of his guardian,
who tried to make him sign documents to transfer the property, but the nephew was not such a
fool as all that. The uncle then proceeded to sterner more ruthless measures. In the garret room
of their house in the Place du Lion d'Or at Lille he installed one of those fearsome iron cages
used in those days to confine human beings. This hideous contraption was eight feet high and
four feet square and contained an iron collar attached to a chain. The whole apparatus was riveted
to the wall. The wicked uncle then put his nephew in this cage and kept him in it, it is supposed,
until he died.
Afterwards the murderer sold up all the property and disappeared. Such was the state of
affairs in the ancien rgime that he took little trouble to conceal his crime, which became the talk
of Lille. The wretch did not even dismantle the iron cage in which he had killed his nephew. Nor
in fact did the man who brought the house in the Place du Lion d'Or from him.
For many years the house was empty. No tenant would stay in it for more than a few days
on account of the revenant. The house passed from father to son and vain attempts were made to
let it. Its evil reputation lingered on through the century.
Then in the autumn of the year 1786 a wealthy and aristocratic English family came to
Lille. They were Sir William and Lady Court and four of their children. They arrived in style in
their coach with a retinue of six servants-coachman, groom, footman and three maids. Their
object in coming to France was for the children to learn French, an accomplishment as desirable
in Georgian times as it is today. In pursuit of this laudable object they were to remain there for
the winter in the charge of lady Court, while Sir William went elsewhere on business of his own.
The arrival of this cavalcade of English wealth and quality in the ancient town of Lille was
a matter of some interest. They were looking for a house suitable for their needs and appropriate
to their station, and the large and well-built residence in the Place du Lion d'Or seemed to meet
both requirements. It was offered to Sir William at what seemed a ridiculously low rental. He
took it and moved his family and servants into it without delay.
Having settled his family at Lille, Sir William furnished his wife with letters-of-credit
which she would cash at the local bankers in order to meet her expenses, and then betook himself
elsewhere. He may have returned to England on business, or he may have gone to enjoy the
pleasures of paris; but what he did is of no further importance to this story.
No sooner had the Courts settled themselves in the house than they began to hear
mysterious noises at night-particularly the sound of a slow, measured tread in the room above the
large chamber which Lady Court shared with one of her daughters, Elizabeth. They may have
been reduced to sleeping together in this way on account of the fact that they had so many
servants to accommodate. Six domestics were not enough for their requirements, for they
engaged in addition a cook, a butler, a footman and a house-boy, all of whom were French. The
footsteps above therefore had not unduly disturbed Lady Court and her daughter, as they thought
it was one of the man-servants walking about.
After they had been installed there for a short while, Lady Court and Elizabeth went to the
bank to cash a letter-of-credit. The money was paid in six-franc pieces, the bulky coinage of the
day, and the banker offered to send the money round to the house. When Lady Court told him
that she lived in the Place du Lion d'Or he looked surprised, and said that the only house in that
thoroughfare suitable for her ladyship's occupation was haunted and as a consequence had been
impossible to let for many years.
Neither Lady Court nor her daughter believed in ghosts, and they greeted this piece of
information with well-bred laughter, bordering on derision. They implored the banker to order
his clerk to say nothing about the revenant to their servants, who being ignorant people were
probably superstitious. On the way back Lady Court jokingly said to Elizabeth: 'I suppose it
must have been the ghost walking about over our heads that kept us awake.'
They dismissed the matter as not really being worthy of their attention, though of course
the footsteps which they heard again in the night above them brought it back to the mind of Lady
Court, who was of a somewhat nervous disposition.
'Who sleeps in the room above us?' she demanded of Cresswell, her personal maid.
Cresswell looked at her in surprise. 'No one, my lady. Above your room is a large garret
which is quite empty.'
Within a week the story of the ghost was the talk of the household and all the French
servants were for leaving. It was then that Cresswell enlightened her ladyship about the story of
the man in the iron cage, adding the trilling information that the very cage itself was in he garret
above her ladyship's head.
The children, of course, rushed upstairs to see this fascinating object of horror and Lady
Court was not far behind them. The English sceptics gazed enraptured upon the rusty old iron
cage which reminded them of a place in which beasts were kept. The very thought that a human
being had been imprisoned in it filled them with creepy horror.
But they did not believe that the house was haunted. Educated and intelligent people in
the eighteenth century did not believe in ghosts. The Courts had a theory that the footsteps heard
in the empty garret were made by someone who, for some reason, wished to keep the house
untenanted-though why there should be such a human conspiracy against them they could not
imagine. Nevertheless the Court family were convinced of it, and it was the thought that someone
other then themselves and their gaggle of servants having access to the house, that made Lady
Court decide to move elsewhere. But another house was difficult to find and she decided to stay
where she was until she was successful.