Napoleon and the Spectre
by Charlotte Brontë
Well, as I was saying, the Emperor got into bed.
"Chevalier," says he to his valet,
"let down those window-curtains, and shut the casement
before you leave the room."
Chevalier did as he was told, and then,
taking up his candlestick, departed.
In a few minutes the Emperor felt his pillow
becoming rather hard, and he got up to shake it. As he did
so a slight rustling noise was heard near the bed-head. His
Majesty listened, but all was silent as he lay down again.
Scarcely had he settled into a peaceful
attitude of repose, when he was disturbed by a sensation of
thirst. Lifting himself on his elbow, he took a glass of
lemonade from the small stand which was placed beside him.
He refreshed himself by a deep draught. As he returned the
goblet to its station a deep groan burst from a kind of
closet in one corner of the apartment.
"Who's there?" cried the Emperor,
seizing his pistols. "Speak, or I'll blow your brains
This threat produced no other effect than a
short, sharp laugh, and a dead silence followed.
The Emperor started from his couch, and,
hastily throwing on a robe-de-chambre which hung over
the back of a chair, stepped courageously to the haunted
closet. As he opened the door something rustled. He sprang
forward sword in hand. No soul or even substance appeared,
and the rustling, it was evident, proceeded from the falling
of a cloak, which had been suspended by a peg from the door.
Half ashamed of himself he returned to bed.
Just as he was about once more to close his
eyes, the light of the three wax tapers, which burned in a
silver branch over the mantlepiece, was suddenly darkened.
He looked up. A black, opaque shadow obscured it. Sweating
with terror, the Emperor put out his hand to seize the bell-
rope, but some invisible being snatched it rudely from his
grasp, and at the same instant the ominous shade vanished.
"Pooh!" exclaimed Napoleon,
"it was but an ocular delusion."
"Was it?" whispered a hollow voice,
in deep mysterious tones, close to his ear. "Was it a
delusion, Emperor of France? No! all thou hast heard and
seen is sad forewarning reality. Rise, lifter of the Eagle
Standard! Awake, swayer of the Lily Sceptre! Follow me,
Napoleon, and thou shalt see more."
As the voice ceased, a form dawned on his
astonished sight. It was that of a tall, thin man, dressed
in a blue surtout edged with gold lace. It wore a black
cravat very tightly round its neck, and confined by two
little sticks placed behind each ear. The countenance was
livid; the tongue protruded from between the teeth, and the
eyes all glazed and bloodshot started with frightful
prominence from their sockets.
"Mon Dieu!" exclaimed the Emperor,
"what do I see? Spectre, whence cometh thou?"
The apparition spoke not, but gliding forward
beckoned Napoleon with uplifted finger to follow.
Controlled by a mysterious influence, which
deprived him of the capability of either thinking or acting
for himself, he obeyed in silence.
The solid wall of the apartment fell open as
they approached, and, when both had passed through, it
closed behind them with a noise like thunder.
They would now have been in total darkness
had it not been for a dim light which shone round the ghost
and revealed the damp walls of a long, vaulted passage.
Down this they proceeded with mute rapidity. Ere long a
cool, refreshing breeze, which rushed wailing up the vault
and caused the Emperor to wrap his loose nightdress closer
round, announced their approach to the open air.
This they soon reached, and Nap found himself
in one of the principal streets of Paris.
"Worthy Spirit," said he, shivering
in the chill night air, "permit me to return and put on
some additional clothing. I will be with you again
"Forward," replied his companion
He felt compelled, in spite of the rising
indignation which almost choked him, to obey.
On they went through the deserted streets
till they arrived at a lofty house built on the banks of the
Seine. Here the Spectre stopped, the gates rolled back to
receive them, and they entered a large marble hall which was
partly concealed by a curtain drawn across, through the half
transparent folds of which a bright light might be seen
burning with dazzling lustre. A row of fine female figures,
richly attired, stood before this screen. They wore on
their heads garlands of the most beautiful flowers, but
their faces were concealed by ghastly masks representing
"What is all this mummery?" cried
the Emperor, making an effort to shake off the mental
shackles by which he was so unwillingly restrained,
"Where am I, and why have I been brought here?"
"Silence," said the guide, lolling
out still further his black and bloody tongue.
"Silence, if thou wouldst escape instant death."
The Emperor would have replied, his natural
courage overcoming the temporary awe to which he had at
first been subjected, but just then a strain of wild,
supernatural music swelled behind the huge curtain, which
waved to and fro, and bellied slowly out as if agitated by
some internal commotion or battle of waving winds. At the
same moment an overpowering mixture of the scents of mortal
corruption, blent with the richest Eastern odours, stole
through the haunted hall.
A murmur of many voices was now heard at a
distance, and something grasped his arm eagerly from behind.
He turned hastily round. His eyes met the
well-known countenance of Marie Louise.
"What! are you in this infernal place,
too?" said he. "What has brought you here?"
"Will your Majesty permit me to ask the
same question of yourself?" said the Empress, smiling.
He made no reply; astonishment prevented him.
No curtain now intervened between him and the
light. It had been removed as if by magic, and a splendid
chandelier appeared suspended over his head. Throngs of
ladies, richly dressed, but without death's-head masks,
stood round, and a due proportion of gay cavaliers was
mingled with them. Music was still sounding, but it was
seen to proceed from a band of mortal musicians stationed in
an orchestra near at hand. The air was yet redolent of
incense, but it was incense unblended with stench.
"Mon dieu!" cried the Emperor,
"how is all this come about? Where in the world is
"Piche?" replied the Empress.
"What does your Majesty mean? Had you not better leave
the apartment and retire to rest?"
"Leave the apartment? Why, where am
"In my private drawing-room, surrounded
by a few particular persons of the Court whom I had invited
this evening to a ball. You entered a few minutes since in
your nightdress with your eyes fixed and wide open. I
suppose from the astonishment you now testify that you were
walking in your sleep."
The Emperor immediately fell into a fit of
catalepsy, in which he continued during the whole of that
night and the greater part of the next day.