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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBarbarians - Chapter 10. The Ghouls
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Barbarians - Chapter 10. The Ghouls Post by :rezell Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :896

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Barbarians - Chapter 10. The Ghouls

CHAPTER X. THE GHOULS

They dined by the latticed window; two candles lighted them; old Anne served them--old Anne of Faeouette in her wide white coiffe and collarette, her velvet bodice and her _chaussons broidered with the rose.

Always she talked as she moved about with dish and salver--garrulous, deaf, and aged, and perhaps flushed with the gentle afterglow of that second infancy which comes before the night.

"_Ouidame! It is I, Anne Le Bihan, who tell you this, my pretty gentleman. I have lived through eighty years and I have seen life begin and end in the Woods of Aulnes--alas!--in the Woods and the House of Aulnes----"

"The red wine, Anne," said her mistress, gently.

"Madame the Countess is served.... These grapes grew when I was young, Monsieur--and the world was young, too, _mon Capitaine--helas!_--but the Woods of Aulnes were old, old as the headland yonder. Only the sea is older, _beau jeune homme_--only the sea is older--the sea which always was and will be."

"Madame," he said, turning toward the young girl beside him, "--to France!--I have the honour--" She touched her glass to his and they saluted France with the ancient wine of France--a sip, a faint smile, and silence through which their eyes still lingered for a moment.

"This year is yielding a bitter vintage," he said. "Light is lacking. But--but there will be sun enough another year."

"Yes."

"_B'en oui! The sun must shine again," muttered old Anne, "but not in the Woods of Aulnes. _Non pas. There is no sunlight in the Woods of Aulnes where all is dim and still; where the Blessed walk at dawn with Our Lady of Aulnes in shining vestments all----"

"She has seen thin mists rising there," whispered the Countess in his ear.

"In shining robes of grace--_oui-da_!--the martyrs and the acolytes of God. It is I who tell you, _beau jeune homme_--I, Anne of Faeouette. I saw them pass where, on my two knees, I gathered orange mushrooms by the brook! I heard them singing prettily and loud, hymns of our blessed Lady----"

"She heard a throstle singing by the brook," whispered the chatelaine of Aulnes. Her breath was delicately fragrant on his cheek.

Against the grey dusk at the window she looked to him like a slim spirit returned to haunt the halls of Aulnes--some graceful shade come back out of the hazy and forgotten years of gallantry and courts and battles--the exquisite apparation of that golden time before the Vendee drowned and washed it out in blood.

"I am so glad you came," she said. "I have not felt so calm, so confident, in months."

Old Anne of Faeouette laid them fresh napkins and set two crystal bowls beside them and filled the bowls with fresh water from the moat.

"_Ho fois!_" she said, "love and the heart may change, but not the Woods of Aulnes; they never change--they never change.... The golden people of Ker-Ys come out of the sea to walk among the trees."

The Countess whispered: "She has seen the sunbeams slanting through the trees."

"_Vrai, c'est moi, Anne Le Bihan, qui vous dites cela, mon Capitaine! And, in the Woods of Aulnes the werewolf prowls. I have seen him, gallant gentleman. He walks upright, and, in his head, he has only eyes; no mouth, no teeth, no nostrils, and no hair--the Loup-Garou!--O Lady of Aulnes, adored and blessed, protect us from the Loup-Barou!"

The Countess said again to him: "I have not felt so confident, so content, so full of faith in months----"

A far faint clamour came to their ears; high in the fading sky above the forest vast clouds of wild fowl rose like smoke, whirling, circling, swinging wide, drifting against the dying light of day, southward toward the sea.

"There is something wrong there," he said, under his breath.

Minute after minute they watched in silence. The last misty shred of wild fowl floated seaward and was lost against the clouds.

"Is there a path to the Etang?" he asked quietly.

"Yes. I will go with you----"

"No."

"Why?"

"No. Show me the path."

His shotgun stood by the door; he took it with him as he left the house beside her. In the moat, close by the bridge, and pointing toward the house, L'Ombre lay motionless. They saw it as they passed, but did not speak of it to each other. At the forest's edge he halted: "Is this the path?"

"Yes.... May I not go?"

"No--please."

"Is there danger?"

"No.... I don't know if there is any danger."

"Will you be cautious, then?"

He turned and looked at her in the dim light. Standing so for a little while they remained silent. Then he drew a deep, quiet breath. She held out one hand, slowly; half way he bent and touched her fingers with his lips; released them. Her arm fell listlessly at her side.

After he had been gone a long while, she turned away, moving with head lowered. At the bridge she waited for him.

A red moon rose low in the east. It became golden above the trees, paler higher, and deathly white in mid-heaven.

It was long after midnight when she went into the house to light fresh candles. In the intense darkness before dawn she lighted two more and set them in an upper window on the chance that they might guide him back.

At five in the morning every clock struck five.

She was not asleep; she was lying on a lounge beside the burning candles, listening, when the door below burst open and there came the trampling rush of feet, the sound of blows, a fall----

A loud voice cried:--"Because you are armed and not in uniform!--you British swine!"--

And the pistol shots crashed through the house.

On the stairs she swayed for an instant, grasped blindly at the rail. Through the floating smoke below the dead man lay there by the latticed window--where they had sat together--he and she----

Spectres were flitting to and fro--grey shapes without faces--things with eyes. A loud voice dinned in her ears, beat savagely upon her shrinking brain:

"You there on the stairs!--do you hear? What are those candles? Signals?"

She looked down at the dead man.

"Yes," she said.

Through the crackling racket of the fusillade, down, down into roaring darkness she fell.

After a few moments her slim hand moved, closed over the dead man's. And moved no more.

In the moat L'Ombre still remained, unstirring; old Anne lay in the kitchen dying; and the Wood of Aulnes was swarming with ghastly shapes which had no faces, only eyes.

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