Sunday, 9 February 2014

Goodbye to all that

Among the castle's treasures were a baby's lace cap that had taken two years to make; and a wine glass which my uncle's old father had noticed in the Franco-Prussian war standing upright in the middle of the square in an entirely ruined French village. For dinner, when we went there, we ate some enormous trout. My father a practised fisherman, asked my uncle in astonishment where they came from. He explained that an underground river welled up close to the castle, and the fish which emerged with it were quite white from the darkness, of extraordinary size, and stone-blind.

They also gave us jam made of wild rose-berries, which they called 'Hetchi-Petch', and showed us an iron chest in a small, thick-walled, white-washed room at the top of the keep - a tremendous chest, twice the size of the door, and obviously made inside the room, which had no windows except arrow slits. It had two keys, and must have been twelfth- or thirteenth-century work. Tradition ruled that it should never be opened, unless the castle stood in extreme danger. The baron held one key; his steward the other. The chest could be opened only by using both keys and nobody knew what lay inside; it was even considered unlucky to speculate. Of course, we speculated. It might be gold; more likely a store of corn in sealed jars; or even some sort of weapon - Greek fire perhaps. From what I know of the Aufesses and their stewards, it is inconceivable that the chest ever got the better of their curiosity. A ghost walked in the castle, the ghost of a former baron known as the 'Red Knight'; his terrifying portrait hung halfway up the turret staircase which led to our bedrooms. We slept on feather beds for the first time in our lives.

From Goodbye To All That, Robert Graves, 1929