“The Apparition” by Guy de Maupassant
The old Marquis de la Tour-Samuel, who was eighty-two, rose,and, leaning his elbow on the mantelpiece, said in his somewhat shaky voice:
“I also know of something strange, so strange that it has haunted me all my life. …”
Thus, in classic style, Guy de Maupassant begins this ghostly tale.
When the Marquis was a mere twenty-six years old and a brash soldier, he met an old friend who had obviously fallen on some hard times. While the Marquis hadn’t seen this friend in only five years, the man looked like he’d aged thirty. His friend asked a favor of him: to go to his estate and retrieve three packets of letters from a desk in his bedroom. Seemingly a simple task, the Marquis agrees (even though his friend admits that he never wishes to reenter the house and gives no reason). His friend provides him with a letter to give to the gardener to grant him access to the house. The gardener is rather confused by the letter and the request, but the Marquis is undaunted. The house is very run-down and he finds the bedroom dark and musty. The shutters are rusted shut so the Marquis must go about his search in near darkness. It is after the second pack of letters that the Marquis realizes that he is not alone in the room.
This is one of those ghost stories that doesn’t provide much background or explanation. The Marquis comes away from the experience badly frightened—he has been afraid of the dark for the past fifty-six years—but we’re never given the back story of his friend or the ghostly woman. When the Marquis returns to town, he sends the letters to his friend, but his friend then goes missing. What was in the letters? Or even in the letter that the Marquis gives to the gardener? We never know.
The ghost in this tale also bears some resemblance to the Japanese yūrei and I wonder how familiar Maupassant was with Lafcadio Hearn’s Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (although I realize that the white-clad, dark-haired appearance of the yūrei might be more of a modern trend).
Still, a chilling tale for October or April.