October 31, 2001
- The Ghost of Chateau Chevre
The Ghost of Chateau Chevre
I don't normally believe ghost stories
but the story of Chateau Chevre leaves me cold. The large structure
next to our little cave has always fascinated me. All the caves
on the Rotte aux Biques are interesting and unique but Chateau
Chevre is next door so I always wonder what tunnels and deep
chambers are abutting the walls of our home. We do hear distant
noises from time to time but we usually know who and where they
are coming from.
We have known our neighbors for two years
but our social intercourse has been brief albeit friendly. Monsieur
Baroth is an artist from Paris. We usually see him on the weekends
or hear him talking to the cats that populate the goat path leading
to our cave. He says that he is like a mockingbird because he
lives in other people's nests but we see him more often that
the real owner.
Monsieur Baroth has invited us to dinner
because the real owner, his wife, Pier Girard, is coming to spend
a couple of weeks in her maison troglodytes. I have often wondered
why she doesn't come more often but I know that Monsieur Baroth
comes for the seclusion that is necessary for all artists to
think and create. We soon learn that Pier is a writer as well
as a psychiatrist. Aprille is delighted that she can talk with
someone about Freudian versus Jungian psychiatry, art, literature
and whatever. But I am interested in the caves.
As it turns out Chateau Chevre is more
cave than chateau. Some homes are built up against the cliff
face with a small cave in the rear but Chateau Chevre is a series
of caves that go deep into the mountain. The facade and the one
building constructed in front make it is look like a normal house.
There is a fireplace and old dark portraits of serious men whose
eyes follow you everywhere you go in the room. Baroth, as Pier
calls him, offers us a tour of the house. The house part is on
the facade. The rest is a series of caves, galleries and chambers
that connect to other caves on the goat path. One of the chambers
is bricked up. Baroth explained that it is a tunnel that goes
for miles into the mountain and exits somewhere down by Chateau
Lavardin. When I asked why it is bricked up, Baroth laughs and
says it is for security.
There is a set of wooden stairs in front
of the bricked up gallery that lead to the only building that
is not a cave. Upstairs is a bedroom and downstairs is the library
with more of the dark foreboding portraits. Baroth explains that
the portraits where done by students of an artist who lived here
in the 1940's.
One cave has a bunch of old plaster sculptures,
moldy paintings and unfinished canvases. Baroth explains that
the former owner was an artist who died here after a long-suffering
illness that left him paralyzed. His wife left immediately after
he died without taking anything with her. The property was left
abandoned for a long time and even the vandals and thieves left
it alone after one break-in.
When we return to the dining room, Baroth
points to a corner of the room and says that was where the artist,
Jean Bailleul, spent the last days of his life. I remember that
I had seen this man's grave in the village cemetery. I remember
it because it was broken open. When I volunteer this information,
Pier and Baroth look at each other but don't say anything.
I ask Pier why the tunnel was bricked
up but it is Baroth who answers. He often sleeps in the library
that can now only be entered from the courtyard. The door to
the library from the caves was sealed because he kept hearing
noises like someone walking up the stairs and trying the door
latch. Pier interrupts and says that she lent the house to a
friend who stayed in the bedroom upstairs and was terrified by
the same type noises. She was so afraid that she moved to a house
down the hill near the château. But the next night she
heard the same noises. It turns out that the tunnel is connected
to the caves near that house. So they bricked up the tunnel.
Baroth tells us that the tunnel goes for
miles back into the mountain and nobody knows where all the different
galleries exit. He suggests that a thief could get in the house
if he could find one of those entrances. I jokingly ask if any
of the tunnels go in the direction of the cemetery. After an
awkward silence, he tells me they go everywhere.
Aprille senses the tension and tries to
change the subject to art. She asks why all those old canvases
are left in that moldy cave. She likes some of the work and is
interested in the restoration of old paintings. Baroth says that
it all has to stay where it is. Our importuning silence demands
an answer. Finally Pier explains that she consulted a colleague
about the possibility of the ghost of Jean Bailleul being in
her caves. Her colleague suggested that she treat it like a patient
and counsel it to cross over to the other world. Piers went into
the caves and told whatever or whoever was there to not be afraid
of crossing over to the other world and that it was time to go.
They bricked up the tunnel and they have
not heard the noises for years. They decided to leave the paintings
and canvases where they are and the tunnel will remain bricked
As Aprille and I are walking home, I ask
what she thinks of this ghost stuff. She says, "I don't
believe a word of it," and I think, "Yeah, me too.
But I am glad there are no tunnels leading to our cave."