The seaside resort of Zaraus hardly seems the place to conjure up visions of the supernatural. Of course ghosts can settle anywhere but I hardly feared that they would be inspired by these modest, mundane seaside constructions dolefully aligned along rectilinear avenues or by the recent villas which have sprung up and that clashed with tacky palm trees. Yet there was to be found, hidden somewhere here, the Palace of Narros. […]
I imagined that I would find a large villa, art deco style, so it was with a mix of surprise and enchantment that I discovered a walled garden in which great, tall trees had been planted which surrounded a vast mansion; fortress, almost manor-like in its dimensions. The ochre-stone, heavily-emblazoned front of the building undoubtedly dated back to the 17th century.
We knocked on the thick-studded wooden door. It was Dona Feli Odriofolla herself who opened. This woman of great opulence breathed authority and the delicate courtesy, which she used to welcome us, further revealed the strength of her personality.
Dona Feli, who had been the guardian of this old house for 28 years, proudly showed us the portraits of her ancestors, dating back centuries, which hung on the walls. The Marquis de Narros wore the same apricot silk garment which Dona Feli now pulled out of a crafted chest. The Comtesse de Bureta, dressed as a peasant woman, holding a heavy blunderbuss, was one of the heroines of the resistance against the French of Napoleon. Alas, on some of the walls of several salons, there hung only the empty frames whose canvases had been burgled. […]
We visited the ground floor. In a drawing-room where the portraits of the saints of the Ducal family were aligned, several effigies of Ignatius of Loyola reminded us that he was one of the most famous of the family’s ancestors. Then we entered a bedroom, decorated in blue, and more discerningly furnished than the others.
“It is here that he appears, Dracula” exclaimed Dona Feli, whose heart did not quite seem to have taken to the discussion of Dracula. I wondered how this Dracula, if there was a Dracula, had been able to resist the authority of Dona Feli. She seemed somewhat reluctant to speak of him. Her lovely daughter, Mirem who had joined us, seemed to bring up, much more freely than her mother, the inhabitants of the afterlife.
A long time ago, she said, on a stormy night just off Zaraus, there was a shipwreck. A man managed to swim to the beach, the only survivor of the disaster. The family brought him in and housed him in the Palace of Narros where he was lodged in a room known as “The Blue Room”.
Soon, however, discontented murmurings began to circulate in the village as the presence of this unknown visitor became widely known. He could well be a heretic, a Protestant escaping from the civil wars ravaging France. Although the stranger insisted that he was a Catholic, the suspicion of the villagers never ceased to increase until he fell ill. He lay down in the vast bed of dark wood which stood before me now and fell into agonising pain. It soon became necessary to call for the priest to administer the last rites. As he was at death’s door, he could no longer maintain the lie he had been living and exclaimed his hatred for the religion of Christ. Suddenly a streak of flame came shooting out of the wall that ran from one end of the house to the other.
The man died, taking with him his mystery. Unable to bury him in the cemetery, the family worked secretly to find a suitable burial site and no one knew what had become of the stranger. No one had loved him during his lifetime and no one loved him after his death, especially when he turned up at the Palace of Narros.
The legend of these strange events, augmented by horrifying narratives, survived through the centuries until the beginning of our own when Father Colonna came to study the blue room in situ.
The Father was adamant that he must spend the night in this blue room. The clock had just struck midnight and he had settled down to his meditation, when in the neighbouring room, the door of which had been left open, an incandescent ball fell from the ceiling, rolled into the haunted room, stopping at the feet of the priest, seared a hole in the floor boards and disappeared through to the ground floor. It left behind a strong burning smell, which remains, to this very day, present in the room. Father Colonna went on to make a name for himself in literature with La Chambre Bleue, the romanticized account of this experience.
Later Father Pilon, an exorcist at the time who came armed with the highly sophisticated material of a true ghost hunter, was invited into the haunted chamber to make recordings. When they were deciphered, nothing could be made of the tapes; the sentences uttered were entirely incomprehensible and nothing could be made of the voice save that it was feminine. The Ducale family was certain the voice they heard was that of “Aunt Germaine”, a former governess who had succeeded in marrying the Marquis de Narros. She was French, strikingly beautiful and an artist of renown. She fought in the French resistance which had earned her all the honours, nevertheless her noble in-laws kept their distance, not wanting to get too close to this ambitious, dynamic woman. The years passed and the exorcisms of Father Pillon and the beautiful French woman were forgotten.
Around ten years ago, three of the little children of the Duchess of Villahermosa, the triplets; two boys and a seven-year-old daughter, spent their holidays at the Palace of Narros. Several times they claimed to have seen a lady in a long dress walking in the gallery, which, located as it was on the first floor, encircled the courtyard. We shrugged. The children had been reading too many terrifying tales. And yet, one of their little cousins, of the same age, declared that she too had seen a tall, thin lady wearing a long dress. However, the description she provided did not correspond at all to that of “Aunt Germaine”. Besides, according to the tradition of the place the ghost was that of a man; the famous, shipwrecked Huguenot. The little girl spoke of it no more.
In Dracula’s room; I would prefer that, for that night, to call it Queen Isabella’s room. The sovereign’s visit had been paid for and the extravagant furniture, of the purest baroque style of the 19th century had been ordered for the occasion. So I experienced an extraordinary well-being in the room of Queen Isabella. A warmth of the purest human kind reigned there, a warmth that caressed me and enveloped me. I thought of Queen Isabella, whose volcanic temperament had caused quite a stir. Yet, it was another woman who crept into my mind: a tall, thin woman. She was dressed from head to foot in velvet embroidered with gold. Heavy gems and a large ruff bordered her fine face. Judging by the style of her clothes, she must certainly have belonged to the court of either King Philip II or would it have been Philip III, or IV? But what was she doing in state dress in this remote countryside.
To be continued….