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Mareschal Saxe And The Haunted Castle






The following very remarkable adventure, which befel the Mareschal de
Saxe, whilst returning to his country-seat, near Dresden, in Saxony, has
often been related by him to his friends and acquaintance; and, as the
Mareschal was not less famed for his love of truth, than for his heroic
courage as a warrior, none of them ever doubted the truth of his
relation.

"Returning," says the Mareschal, "from the fatigues of a very active
campaign to my country-seat, in order to seek, in retirement, some
relaxation during the remainder of the winter, I arrived on the third
day at a small village, on the verge of an extensive forest. At about
half a league from this village, stood an ancient castle, in which some
of the country-people were usually wont to take up their abode, and from
which they had of late been driven, according to their account, by the
nightly appearance of a most terrific spectre, whose visit was announced
by the most hideous groans. On conversing with some of the villagers,"
observes the Mareschal, "I found that an universal terror pervaded the
whole neighbourhood; many of them declaring they had actually seen the
dreadful ghost; whilst others, taking their declaration for granted,
promulgated the story, according as their imaginations were more or less
affected by their fears.

"Willing, if possible, to comfort these poor people, and to convince
them that their senses were deceived, I told them they were wrong to
suffer their fears to get the better of their reason; and that, if any
of them had the courage to examine more closely into the affair, they
would find the whole was nothing more than some imposture, or the
effusion of a superstitious brain, or, at most, a trick played upon them
by some wicked people on purpose to amuse themselves by sporting with
their feelings. But I was much disappointed to find that my arguments
had but little effect. I therefore determined, if possible, to trace the
affair to the bottom before I departed, in order to dispel their fears,
and do away the unfavourable impression they had so generally
entertained of the castle being haunted.

"I now told them, I would pass a night in one of the apartments of the
castle, provided I were furnished with a bed, and other necessaries
requisite for such an undertaking. 'Moreover,' said I, 'if this ghostly
personage should honour me with a visit, I shall not fail to propose
articles of accommodation between you.' To this they readily assented,
and seemed much pleased with my proposition.

"In the evening, my bed, fire, and other requisites, being ready, I was
conducted to my new abode; on entering which, I proposed to some of my
conductors to pass the night with me, which they, one and all, declined,
under various pretences. 'Well then, my good people,' said I, rallying
their want of courage, 'the day is now closing apace, I would have you
return immediately, lest this nightly intruder should intercept you in
your retreat.' Whereupon my companions took leave, and hastened with all
speed from the castle.

"Being now alone, I thought it prudent to examine the castle with the
most minute circumspection. After various researches to discover all the
private avenues of the place, I returned to the apartment I proposed
sleeping in, at the further end of which I perceived a door that till
now I had not discovered. I essayed to open it, but in vain, as it was
fastened on the other side. This naturally excited my suspicion. I again
made the attempt, and again was unsuccessful. I then prepared to guard
myself against a surprise; I therefore charged my pistols, and laid them
together with my sword in a convenient place to seize them on the least
alarm. I then took a slight repast, of such provisions as had been
prepared for me; after which I amused myself, until my usual hour of
going to rest, with examining the Gothic decorations of my apartment,
and then laid me down on the bed, and, being rather overcome with the
fatigue of the day, I soon sunk into a profound sleep. How long I
continued in this state, I cannot exactly say; but I conjectured it to
be about midnight, when I was alarmed with the most unaccountable noise
I had ever heard. I listened a few seconds, to ascertain from whence the
sound came, and soon found it proceeded from without the door I had
fruitlessly attempted to open. I instantly jumped from the bed, seized
my arms, and was in the act of advancing towards it, determined to find
out the cause of this disturbance, let what would be the consequence;
when, suddenly the door flew open, with the most tremendous crash. A
hollow groan issued from the vaults below; and a tall figure of gigantic
appearance, clad in complete armour, rose to my view. The figure's
appearance was so sudden and terrific, that I could not in a moment
collect myself sufficiently to call out and speak to it; but, a moment
after, my courage returned, and, calling to mind, that I could only find
safety in my own courageous efforts, and not doubting but the intruder
was a mortal like myself, I instantly levelled one of my pistols, and
fired. The ball struck the breast-plate of the figure, glided quickly
off, and lodged in the wall. I levelled again, fired, and with the same
effect. I then drew my sword, at the same time exclaiming, 'Know that I
am the Mareschal de Saxe; that I am a stranger to fear, and that this
sword shall quickly prove whether thou art mortal or not!' 'Be thou the
Mareschal de Saxe, or the devil,' replied the figure; 'thy courage here
can avail thee nought. I have the means to destroy thee, or an hundred
such, in an instant. But, follow me; thy obedience only can insure thy
safety.' I now saw that resistance would be vain, as several figures
clad in armour like the first, and well armed, appeared at each door.
'Well then,' said I, 'since it is so, lead the way; but remember, that
the first who dares touch me dies, if my own life is the immediate
forfeiture.'

"We then quitted the apartment, by the secret door already mentioned;
and, descending by a circuitous flight of stairs, soon arrived at
another door, which flew open on our approach. No sooner were we
entered, than my guide gave a signal to those who followed, and the door
was instantly shut. A number of Vulcan-like creatures now appeared,
bearing lighted torches, and leading the way through a winding
subterraneous passage. We soon came to a spacious arched vault, in which
I beheld upwards of fifty persons very actively engaged in the various
processes of coining. The whole mystery was now developed; and I
discovered that, for the first time in my life, I had fallen into the
hands of a most desperate gang of coiners. Escape was now utterly
impossible; nor could I entertain the most distant hope of succour from
without the castle, as my sudden disappearance would rather operate to
confirm the terror of the villagers, than stimulate them to search after
me.

"The man in armour now turned to me, and addressed me in nearly the
following words--'You now see for what purpose we are here arrived. I am
the chief of this band; and it is principally to me you may attribute
your preservation. We have but recently taken up our abode in this
castle; and the plan we have fallen upon to terrify the villagers and
country round, and thereby keep them from pursuing us, has hitherto
succeeded beyond our most sanguine expectations; nor was it likely we
should have been disturbed for years to come, had you not visited these
parts. Of your resolute intention to sleep in the haunted apartment we
were informed by our friends without; your name also was made known to
us; upon which an universal consternation ensued. Many wished to fly, in
order to avoid, what they conceived, inevitable destruction: others were
of opinion, it would be better to suffer you to enter the castle
quietly; and as, most likely you would be attended with but few persons,
to dispatch you all in the night, and hide your bodies among the ruins
in one of the vaults. This last proposition had the majority; as it was
considered, that our own safety would not only be secured for the
present by this act, but it would in all probability prevent others from
making the like attempt hereafter. But this proceeding was happily
over-ruled by me and a few others--I say, happily; for though we are
considered, in the eye of the law, as co-brothers with assassins and
midnight robbers, yet God forbid that we should add to our crimes by
staining our hands with the blood of the innocent. To be brief, I
promised that, with the aid of a few of my companions, I would drive you
from the castle by the same stratagem I have before made use of to
others, or, if that did not succeed, to secure and conduct you by force.
Thus have I explained the cause of your present detention. The
regaining your liberty must entirely depend on your acquiescence with
our proposals; and there is a way I can point out, by which you may
secure both your own safety and our's.' 'Name it not then,' said I,
interrupting him, 'if it be dishonourable; for I had rather perish here
by your hands, than owe my liberty to any connivance at your iniquities,
or be the instrument of your future security!' 'Use your own pleasure,'
continued he, in a determined tone of voice; 'but you certainly must not
depart this place until you have bound yourself by your honour not to
divulge a secret, on which depend the lives of so many persons. That
word, once pledged by the Mareschal de Saxe, will be a sufficient
guarantee of our future safety. I could have wished our request had been
more congenial to your feelings; but our situation is desperate, and
consequently impels us to enforce, what we would, under all other
circumstances, have solicited as the least of favours--your word of
honour.

"I paused for several minutes: a confused murmur now run throughout the
whole place, and an universal disapprobation at the chief's forbearance
began now to manifest itself. Add to which, I saw the utter
impracticability of escape without complying with their demand; and I
knew that their prepossession in my favour was but partial, and of
course might soon give way to their former plan of assassinating me for
their safety. If I continued inflexible, I perceived my death was
inevitable. Therefore, as the majority were favourably inclined, I made
a virtue of necessity, and gave them my word to keep the secret of the
whole affair locked within my own breast. 'You are now at liberty,' said
the chief, 'to return to your apartment, where you may rely on being
perfectly safe until break of day, when you had better depart.'
Whereupon the doors flew open, and I was conducted back to my old
lodging, where I sat ruminating on the strangeness of the adventure.

"Day now appearing, I quitted the castle, and hied me to the village,
where I found most of the inhabitants already in waiting, eager to hear
how I made out with the ghost. Numberless were their interrogatories,
which I only answered by telling them I was not at liberty to disclose
what I had seen and heard. Their old opinions were now more fully
confirmed than ever; and, I believe, from that moment none have had
courage to venture near the castle after dark; and it is probable that,
to this day, the whole mystery has never been truly explained to their
satisfaction. Shortly after, I set out on my journey, and soon arrived
in safety at my own domain.

"About four years after this, a person rode up to my gate, leading a
couple of beautiful chargers, which he delivered, with a letter
addressed to me, into the hands of my domestics; and, having so done, he
clapped spurs to his horse, and disappeared in an instant. On opening
the letter, I found it contained nearly the following words--

'From the pretended Ghost of the Haunted Castle, to the Mareschal de
Saxe.

'Brave Mareschal--You are now at liberty to divulge the secret of our
affair in the haunted castle. Our fortunes are now made; and, ere you
receive this, we shall be far from hence. But remember, that whatever
the world may say as to the propriety of keeping your word with men like
us, know, that the honour of a prince[A], once pledged, should be kept
inviolate, even though given in a bad cause. My companions desired me to
beg your acceptance of the horses you will receive herewith, as a mark
of their most grateful acknowledgments. Adieu! May you live long, and be
happy.'--"





Next: Remarkable Resuscitation

Previous: The Nocturnal Disturbers



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