A Shadowy Affair ( final part)

I found the Marquis and the Marquise, cheerful and welcoming, in an 18th century living room on the ground floor in which were hung beautiful, family portraits. I hastened to accept the port and the cheese sticks that were offered me. It seemed, at least, that the ghost had not managed to leave his mark of ashen sadness on this man and woman because I could not have imagined a more welcoming, more energetic, more active couple; fully immersed in all aspects of the life of the region. And yet, a long time ago, this Marquis, such an established figure in our time, had himself a brush with the ghost:

“During the war, when I was a little boy, I lived in the room that is exactly above the living room. I remember one night feeling a form, the long, white form of a young and beautiful woman, wandering around the tower, sighing as she went. I was in my bed but I was certainly not dreaming, I was awake and I have no doubt as to what I felt. The next day, my goodness, I did not mention it, not wanting to look a fool in front of the grown-ups. And then, in the early fifties – ten or fifteen years later – I had the same vision, in the same room. One day I was talking to an old aunt who lived here, my grandfather’s sister-in-law and I told her what I had seen, I had felt. Suddenly, she replied, “But it’s the ghost of Madame de Monceaux.” She said it so naturally that it seemed that there had already been much talk of the ghost in the family. She went to the library to look for the book that told her story of Madame de Monceaux and began to read it to me.

It is this same, old volume that the marquis opened to read to me in turn the story of Madame de Monceaux. In the year 1559, Magdeleine de Monceaux married Guillaume de Ronsard, cousin of the most famous poet of the Renaissance. A decade later, he died leaving his wife in full possession of his fortune. This did not, however, take into account his younger sons, Nicolas and Gabriel, who had been waiting to receive this manna and who saw it pass away under their very noses. “If that’s how it is to be, we’ll get rid of the widow.”

As we move forward to the France of 1573, in the midst of the wars of religion that transformed the most elegant lords, the most beautiful souls, the most cultured and refined characters into inhumane, ferocious beasts. The Ronsard brothers persuaded their cousin, Jean-Baptiste to join the plot and, most importantly – with the reward of hard cash – also succeeded in luring Monsieur Doré, the farmer of Magdeleine de Monceaux in to their group of conspirators. It was the latter – Monsieur Doré, who was to inform them that Madame de Monceaux would be home shortly before mid-May. The conspirators finally agree on Thursday, May 14th as their date. In order that he might have an alibi Nicolas de Ronsard, the chief of the plot, went to Le Mans on the very same day to attend the baptism and to act as godfather for the son of an advisor of his friends. As the party was in full swing, around the castle were silently assembling Nicolas de Ronsard’s accomplices. On the strike of midnight they burst into the residence. Informed as they were by Monsieur Doré, they knew precisely where to head and what to do. There could be no witnesses, so they moved quickly, killing two or three maids, one or two servants who constituted on that night all the protection Magdalen de Monceaux could call upon. They first wanted to extract information from her which would lead them to the hidden gold and jewels that, according to Mr. Doré, she has recently garnered at the castle. As they pressed her and surely tortured her, she revealed the hiding place. In so doing she had signed her death warrant. She tried to escape but they repeatedly shot her with the blunderbusses of the time with which they were equipped. She remained alive despite this onslaught and they were forced to finish the job with a knife. Without delay, they quickly looted the money and sped back home. At six o’clock in the morning, they were back in the castle and drew up the drawbridge as a sign that they had not been out that evening.

All of the brothers, from the eldest brother, to Nicolas de Ronsard, who had remained at Le Mans, to the brother of Magdeleine de Monceaux, wrote long, mournful, tearful letters in response to the terrible news of which they had been informed. The brothers of the victim rushed to the scene of the crime but could do nothing but watch on. No evidence and no clues remained. The Marshal of Vendome, called to the scene, was equally unable to find the slightest trace. Finding that all her efforts were in vain, she gave up the search.

The assassins thought that they would now be able to peacefully enjoy the loot from their crime when their accomplice, Monsieur Doré, fell ill. Believing himself to be on death’s very door and consumed by remorse, he confessed to his crime. News of this confession soon reached the ears of Nicolas de Ronsard. He did not hesitate, he forced Monsieur Doré, his health now miraculously restored – perhaps by his confession – to change his name, his home and to refrain from making any further statements whilst keeping a constant watch over him. He was even able to find a very well paid job for the farmer of Madame de Monceaux with a friend at Le Mans.

But news of the confession had also made its way to the brothers of Magdeleine de Monceaux. They also made it their goal to track down Monsieur Doré, to remove him from his home, take him to Paris and have him locked up in the prison of Chatelet. Monsieur Doré was called in for questioning by a lieutenant criminel. Doré proceeded to tell all, giving the names of all the culprits. Warrants were issued for their arrest but the Ronsard brothers and their cousin Jean-Baptiste did wait; they melted away into the countryside. There were, however, trials and sentences. The three Ronsards were condemned to face the breaking wheel in the Martroy of Orleans’s square. No great loss there as they remained on the run. This being the case, it was decided by those charged with delivering justice, it is instead their effigy that was to face the punishment. As for René Doré and another accomplice who played a minor role in the affair, it was not their effigy that was to hang but their flesh. Their heads were cut off and placed on a spike to be exposed at the main gate of the city of Vendome.

In order to atone for the abominable crime, it was ordered that the castle of Roches, where the accomplices had laid their plans, be razed and on its ruins – at the expense of the assassins – a chapel constructed. All three of the condemned men were close associates of the king, prominent figures at court, and at least one of the three Ronsard’s was seen in plain view twenty years later without anyone thinking of bothering him in the slightest…

There were several points from this story that threw me somewhat: Magdeleine de Monceaux had lived at the end of the Renaissance and yet I saw her wearing a 17th century dress and claimed that she looked like Mademoiselle de Blois, granddaughter of Louis XIV. Her killers had indeed not been punished, as she had said, but who were these innocents executed in their place? Certainly not Monsieur Doré. She had described at length the daggers that had been thrust into her, but not a word of the bullets that had pierced her, described in the trial. More and more, I wondered if I had not fallen prey to an illusion or, worse, to my own imagination. As I turned over the various possibilities in my mind, my doubt grew along with my discomfort. I wanted evermore to flee this house in which I had found such hospitality and which seemed far from haunted. I began refusing the warm invitations extended by its owners.

Justin, led by the Marquise, disappeared into the park to photograph the exterior of the castle. I stomped behind listening to the Marquis as I went: “Since you are interested in haunted castles, you really should go to “La Denisière” – “La Denisière? ”
“La Denisière” was the personal property of Madame de Monceaux; it was she who bore legal title to it. It had been handed down to her by her mother; proof that she was suspicious of her son-in-law’s family and that she had wanted to ensure her daughter’s the financial future. This little castle was to constantly change owners, not one would prove able to hold onto it for a long time … “.

I had no desire to carry on any discussion about Magdeleine de Monceaux. This must have been clear to Marquis for he went on: “But it was at La Denisière that she was murdered”. This immediately struck me as odd: the ghost clearly stated that it was right here, at Beaumont la Ronce, that the assassination took place. I was completely disorientated by this revelation. I needed to stop worrying about ghosts, to stop investigating the case. I very soon took my leave of them and was on my way as quickly as possible, happy to escape the uneasiness that had come upon me.

I was somewhat calmed by the provincial gastronomy, the jewel in the French crown –so well represented in the l’Hôtel de France de Chartres sur Loir – that I was able to sample. Out of curiosity, I inspected the map and discovered that La Denisière was just twenty kilometres away. “Let’s go for a walk, it’s so close.”

A municipal road broke off from the main departmental route running along the Loir. It led to a market town. Only a few houses could be seen. On a hill stood high-walled castel, surrounded by a well-kept garden. The sign “danger – aggressive dog” served to dissuade us from scaling the wall. I was walking down the road that ran alongside the wall; the ghost was there, I felt its presence very strongly. It wanted to communicate with me. I switched on the tape recorder and I began to shudder. The weather had changed so quickly that I had not had time to notice it. The mildness of the morning had given way to a sharp and biting wind.

“Why have you come? What more do you want to learn? I lied to you, I lied to everyone. When I was alive, I lied and now, after what you call death, I lie. It is not here that I was murdered. If I lied, so did everyone else: the witnesses, the culprits. Just know that from the very beginning to the end, everything to do with my whole story was just a huge lie. I was not as I claimed nor was it as others have claimed. You have sought me out in your hunt for the truth yet the weather is turning, a sharp wind has begun to blow. You would need hours and hours to discover the truth. Do not search for it, it will not help you. […] Everything is entangled in lies and wickedness. I do not want to tell you the truth. You have the power to discover the truth but you also have the wisdom not to do so in this case. You have been feeling ill at ease since this morning. Lies, sadness and wickedness surround this story of which I am at the centre. The only thing I can tell you is that if this terrible fate was in some way destined to find me, it was because I had somehow brought it upon myself, it was not on account of my gold.
You were troubled by the question of where my murder took place. I had given you to believe that it was in the other place. The Marquis told you it was here which inspired you to come. You ask me why so many lies, why such a concealment of the truth. Because dark forces were involved. Yes, you guessed it, there was magic. My whole story is bathed in the darkest magic. So, I say to you: do not get yourself hung up on it. Stop searching and leave.

I felt no reluctance to do as requested. As we hastened away once more the snow began to fall. Once we were safely away in the distance, I felt no inclination to continue my search for the truth. I was in no doubt that Magdeleine de Monceaux had practiced the “Dark Arts”. It seemed most likely that she had brought upon herself dark forces that survived beyond the grave, making their presence felt in the world beyond where she now was. The darkness that enveloped her, the seal of sadness it impressed on those who approached her. This lay at the heart of my discomfort and my doubts which she provoked because – even in death, she could not stop spreading the evil.
Ghost hunter, if you should find any magic here, go on your way, Magdalen de Monceaux, lady of the Denisière orders you.

by  Prince Michael of Greece