It was my friend Manet who told me of the famous ghost of Kuhlau. I was intrigued, I needed to see it for myself. Manet arranged a visit and soon we were driving through the Czech countryside on our way to the chateau.
From afar we spotted the enormous medieval fortress, keeping watch from its great height. We met the owner, the Countess Trautsman, an elderly woman, courteous but almost intimidated, frightened, and annoyed; I couldn’t quite understand her attitude. We followed her through the rooms and galleries, before settling in a small room where the countess offered us tea. Her daughter and son-in-law were waiting for us. Handsome and equally disagreeable, the son-in-law was clearly a hustler who mistreated both his wife and the countess. The discussion soon turned to the ghost, the reason for our visit, and for the notoriety of the chateau. It was a knight in armor who appeared in the great room.
I was brought into the room, which was truly enormous and well lit from the late afternoon sunlight that flooded in through the great bay windows. The walls and partitions were decorated in flowery, ornate stucco. A pantheon of gods milled about on the frescoed ceiling. I asked to be left alone. I sat myself in a high-backed armchair and closed my eyes. I was stupefied, instead of a knight in heavy armor, I saw the apparition of a woman in a wheelchair, paralyzed. Ageless yet elderly, she had a pale face and wore a white robe of old lace. I sensed she was saying something and listened closely; I was taken aback. “That dirty woman will not be brought to paradise, not that thief. No, that whore will be punished.” These words were followed by an even greater onslaught of insults and invectives, each worse than the last.
I asked if I had done something to upset the ghost, to make her so aggressive? No, I was welcome here, I could stay as long as I pleased. The ire of the phantom was focused not on me, but on the countess. She continued in that tone before making the following prediction, “The hour of my revenge is approaching. She will lose this home for which she sold her soul, and it will be the fault of that horrible son-in-law, that gigolo. He will cost them everything, their home and fortune. Yes, they will know poverty. Only then, when they are nearly reduced to begging, will I at last know satisfaction.” With those words she disappeared.
I paused and took a few moments to collect my thoughts before rejoining the others who were waiting for me in the tea room.
“So, the knight in armor, did you see him?”
“Oh. Yes, but not very well, you see the manifestation was rather weak.”
“Did you experience anything else?”
“What? No, of course not. Absolutely nothing.” I desired to leave immediately.
On our drive back I posed a few questions to Manet.
“Was there ever a family member who was paralyzed, maybe in a wheelchair?”
“Of course, Count Trautsman’s first wife.” Manet then told me the following story.
A few decades ago, the Count Trautsman was a very rich man. As he didn’t belong to one of the great aristocratic families of the country, he married the daughter of a grand yet poor aristocrat. The two were madly in love, and spent many happy years in the Kuhlau Chateau. Then the young Countess Trautsman fell ill with polio and soon was in her wheelchair. Hopeless, in despair at her state, the Count prepared to take a trip to collect himself. As he couldn’t leave his wife alone in the chateau, he found a young, penniless aristocratic woman who agreed to be a sort of companion and nurse to the unfortunate countess. The nurse was pretty and daring, and was happens happened. The count, who could no longer be close to his wife, took the nurse as his mistress. She gave him a child, a daughter. The countess watched it all, unable to do anything about it. For years she lived in constant torture, scornfully watching this passion grow in front of her eyes until she died of misery and desperation.
It was her, of course, who found me in the great room, and cried of vengeance against the nurse, against the daughter she had given to the count, the women I had just met, and against her husband, that scoundrel.
“That son-in-law terrorizes the both of them, the countess and his wife,” Manet added. “He has taken all the power, and has made a mess of their affairs. They have already lost most of their money, and before long will have to sell the chateau.”