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- The Companions of Jehu - 25/133 -
"Are you quite sure?" he asked the porter.
"I tell you that I saw him with my own eyes!" replied the latter.
"Then I can give the news to our friends as a positive fact?"
"You can. Only hurry."
"Have they been notified at Servas?"
"Yes; you will find a horse ready between Servas and Sue."
The postilion came up; the young man exchanged a last glance with the porter, who walked away as if charged with a letter of the utmost importance.
"What road, citizen?" asked the postilion.
"To Bourg. I must reach Servas by nine this evening; I pay thirty sous fees."
"Forty-two miles in five hours! That's tough. Well, after all, it can be done."
"Will you do it."
"We can try."
And the postilion started at full gallop. Nine o'clock was striking as they entered Servas.
"A crown of six livres if you'll drive me half-way to Sue without stopping here to change horses!" cried the young man through the window to the postilion.
"Done!" replied the latter.
And the carriage dashed past the post house without stopping.
Morgan stopped the carriage at a half mile beyond Servas, put his head out of the window, made a trumpet of his hands, and gave the hoot of a screech-owl. The imitation was so perfect that another owl answered from a neighboring woods.
"Here we are," cried Morgan.
The postilion pulled up, saying: "If we're there, we needn't go further."
The young man took his valise, opened the door, jumped out and stepped up to the postilion.
"Here's the promised ecu."
The postilion took the coin and stuck it in his eye, as a fop of our day holds his eye-glasses. Morgan divined that this pantomime had a significance.
"Well," he asked, "what does that mean?"
"That means," said the postilion, "that, do what I will, I can't help seeing with the other eye."
"I understand," said the young man, laughing; "and if I close the other eye--"
"Damn it! I shan't see anything."
"Hey! you're a rogue who'd rather be blind than see with one eye! Well, there's no disputing tastes. Here!"
And he gave him a second crown. The postilion stuck it up to his other eye, wheeled the carriage round and took the road back to Servas.
The Companion of Jehu waited till he vanished in the darkness. Then putting the hollow of a key to his lips, he drew a long trembling sound from it like a boatswain's whistle.
A similar call answered him, and immediately a horseman came out of the woods at full gallop. As he caught sight of him Morgan put on his mask.
"In whose name have you come?" asked the rider, whose face, hidden as it was beneath the brim of an immense hat, could not be seen.
"In the name of the prophet Elisha," replied the young man with the mask.
"Then you are he whom I am waiting for." And he dismounted.
"Are you prophet or disciple?" asked Morgan.
"Disciple," replied the new-comer.
"Where is your master?"
"You will find him at the Chartreuse of Seillon."
"Do you know how many Companions are there this evening?"
"Very good; if you meet any others send them there."
He who had called himself a disciple bowed in sign of obedience, assisted Morgan to fasten the valise to the croup of the saddle, and respectfully held the bit while the young man mounted. Without even waiting to thrust his other foot into the stirrup, Morgan spurred his horse, which tore the bit from the groom's hand and started off at a gallop.
On the right of the road stretched the forest of Seillon, like a shadowy sea, its sombre billows undulating and moaning in the night wind. Half a mile beyond Sue the rider turned his horse across country toward the forest, which, as he rode on, seemed to advance toward him. The horse, guided by an experienced hand, plunged fearlessly into the woods. Ten minutes later he emerged on the other side.
A gloomy mass, isolated in the middle of a plain, rose about a hundred feet from the forest. It was a building of massive architecture, shaded by five or six venerable trees. The horseman paused before the portal, over which were placed three statues in a triangle of the Virgin, our Lord, and St. John the Baptist. The statue of the Virgin was at the apex of the triangle.
The mysterious traveller had reached his goal, for this was the Chartreuse of Seillon. This monastery, the twenty-second of its order, was founded in 1178. In 1672 a modern edifice had been substituted for the old building; vestiges of its ruins can be seen to this day. These ruins consist externally of the above-mentioned portal with the three statues, before which our mysterious traveller halted; internally, a small chapel, entered from the right through the portal. A peasant, his wife and two children are now living there, and the ancient monastery has become a farm.
The monks were expelled from their convent in 1791; in 1792 the Chartreuse and its dependencies were offered for sale as ecclesiastical property. The dependencies consisted first of the park, adjoining the buildings, and the noble forest which still bears the name of Seillon. But at Bourg, a royalist and, above all, religious town, no one dared risk his soul by purchasing property belonging to the worthy monks whom all revered. The result was that the convent, the park and the forest had become, under the title of state property, the property of the republic; that is to say, they belonged to nobody, or were at the best neglected. The republic having, for the last seven years, other things to think of than pointing walls, cultivating an orchard and cutting timber.
For seven years, therefore, the Chartreuse had been completely abandoned, and if by chance curious eyes peered through the keyhole, they caught glimpses of grass-grown courtyards, brambles in the orchard, and brush in the forest, which, except for one road and two or three paths that crossed it, had become almost impenetrable. The Correrie, a species of pavilion belonging to the monastery and distant from it about three-quarters of a mile, was mossgrown too in the tangle of the forest, which, profiting by its liberty, grew at its own sweet will, and had long since encircled it in a mantle of foliage which hid it from sight.
For the rest, the strangest rumors were current about these two buildings. They were said to be haunted by guests invisible by day, terrifying at night. The woodsmen and the belated peasants, who went to the forest to exercise against the Republic the rights which the town of Bourg had enjoyed in the days of the monks, pretended that, through the cracks of the closed blinds, they had seen flames of fire dancing along the corridors and stairways, and had distinctly heard the noise of chains clanking over the cloister tilings and the pavement of the courtyards. The strong-minded denied these things; but two very opposite classes opposed the unbelievers, confirming the rumors, attributing these terrifying noises and nocturnal lights to two different causes according to their beliefs. The patriots declared that they were the ghosts of the poor monks buried alive by cloister tyranny in the In-pace, who were now returned to earth, dragging after them their fetters to call down the vengeance of Heaven upon their persecutors. The royalists said that they were the imps of the devil, who, finding an empty convent, and fearing no further danger from holy water, were boldly holding their revels where once they had not dared show a claw. One fact, however, left everything uncertain. Not one of the believers or unbelievers--whether he elected for the souls of the martyred monks or for the Witches' Sabbath of Beelzebub--had ever had the courage to venture among the shadows, and to seek during the solemn hours of night confirmation of the truth, in order to tell on the morrow whether the Chartreuse were haunted, and if haunted by whom.
But doubtless these tales, whether well founded or not, had no influence over our mysterious horseman; for although, as we have said, nine o'clock had chimed from the steeples of Bourg, and night had fallen, he reined in his horse in front of the great portal of the deserted monastery, and, without dismounting, drew a pistol from his holster, striking three measured blows with the butt on the gate, after the manner of the Freemasons. Then he listened. For an instant he doubted if the meeting were really there; for though he looked closely and listened attentively,
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