Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Ghost in the Chateau

 
Chateau de Roumegouse
A Ghost in the Chateau
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson


           Do you believe in ghosts? Whenever I’m asked that question, I tell the story of a dark night on a hilltop in south-central France in the summer of 2007, when Gretta and I were guests at the Chateau de Roumegouse near the town of Rignac. It was at the beginning of our bike tour along the Dordogne River Valley.

 
          “Larsons,” The chateau manager and the tour guide spoke in unison as they looked up from their lists to my wife and me.  
           The manager held the last room key and dangled the leather strap with a wood medallion. All the other keys had been handed out to the tour participants who were leaving the chateau lobby to search for their assigned rooms. He turned to us and spoke in a hushed voice with a French accent, “You have the Roumegouse Suite!” The two men looked at us as though we should understand it was something special. The manager continued, “Charles de Gaulle was a guest at our chateau after World War II, when he wanted a quiet summer vacation.” He raised one eyebrow and said, “The Roumogouse Suite was his favorite. Enjoy!” He laid the key in the palm of my hand.
          Our footsteps echoed off the stone steps and walls of the stairway as we grabbed the massive rope railing. The look and smell of the place shouted “ancient!”
          I was baffled as to why we were given the key to the main suite. Maybe it was the Gretta factor again – good things always happened when I was with her.
          I jiggled the key and asked “Why did we get this?”
          She leaned toward me as we approached the hallway door and said quietly, “I think it’s a perk for being a repeat tour customer and for getting along so well with the guides and the riders.”
          I inserted the large skeleton key into the keyhole and slowly opened the doors, one on each side of the eighteen-inch-thick limestone wall in the hallway. We stepped in and peered around the room.
          I made sure the doors were shut and said, “Oh my God, don’t tell anyone about the size of our suite or they’ll be ticked. It’s just our little secret.” Gretta jumped up on the giant bed with the antique wood headboard, and I flopped down on the sofa in a separate seating area with oriental rugs, tables and lamps. Massive French windows filled the exterior wall, and the view was of a verdant lawn with woods beyond. “Wow!” I couldn’t believe it. The huge bathroom had a “his” and hers” area with closets and heated towel racks.

Greg and Gretta at the end of the first day

          We had finished the bike ride for the day, so I let Gretta take her shower first. I lounged on the sofa and looked at the magazines and literature on the table. A brochure, which had the history of the chateau, caught my eye.
          The Roumegouse chateau was built in the 10th century and served as a hilltop outpost for Castelnau, one of the large castles along the Dordogne River. Early in the history of the chateau, its resident knight decided it was his moral obligation to join the crusades to the Middle East. The fateful trip cost him his life and caused extreme grief to his wife, Resplendine de Rignac. According to legend, she died of a broken heart and her ghost still haunts the chateau. Rumors abound of lavender scents, ghostly images and nighttime shuffling noises in the hallways.
          Late in the afternoon while we were exploring the grounds, I shared with Gretta the story about the chateau being haunted. We didn’t give it much thought while we looked at the stone-shingled outbuildings covered with moss. Another discovery was a bizarre path to nowhere, a spiral ramp which had no purpose. Gretta dubbed it the “folly.”

The "folly" - spiral ramp to nowhere
           We spent the remainder of the day relaxing on the patio, and whet our appetites on a fine French dinner with the bike tour group. Late into the evening we tipped our wine glasses and shared stories. Finally, Gretta and I said our “goodnight” to the remaining folks and walked along the dimly-lit stone hallway. I quickly grabbed her waist from behind.
          “Watch out for ghosts!” I said.
          “That’s not funny.” She gave me a look that said “don’t scare me like that.”
          Once in the room, I knew I’d be in bed and asleep in five minutes. Hmm . . . so Charles de Gaulle slept here. I wondered if he snored with that big nose of his. Did French snoring sound the same as American snoring? As I drifted off to sleep, I heard Gretta say she would probably read for a while.

Charles de Gaulle slept here
          All of a sudden, I awoke in a state of semi-consciousness and disorientation. Where was I? What time was it? I stirred . . . then my body froze. Oh, my God . . .  the image before me was a glowing wall which created a silhouette of a woman! I shifted from drowsiness to sheer panic. It’s the ghost! In milliseconds the adrenaline shot through my body. Am I in danger? What will happen next? What is the ghost going to do to me? She could stab or strangle me to death! I tried to scream but the only sound that came out was a tiny, gurgling groan.
          “Greg, are you awake?”
          I rubbed my eyes and looked at the glowing wall. It was Gretta standing in the bathroom doorway.
          “This bathroom is so big I can’t find the switch to turn off the lights.”
          I fell back on the pillow with my heart racing a mile-a-minute. “Oh my gosh, I thought you were the ghost! I was afraid you were going to strangle me.” I took a deep breath and we both laughed and laughed, and we couldn’t stop laughing.
          I raised my hands, made a cross with my two index fingers, and turned toward the large room. I spoke with a stern voice, “In the name of Jesus, do not haunt us tonight. Stay away!”
          We laughed some more, and I went to sleep for a second time. It’s quite possible I snored, but I never heard a thing the entire night.


French countryside near Chateau de Roumegouse