In 1882 the “haunted house” had become a Conservatory of Music. Chamber concerts were frequent in Madame Lalaurie’s old dining-hall. On a certain sweet evening in the spring of that year there sat among those who had gathered to hear the haunted place filled with a deluge of sweet sounds one who had been a teacher there when the house had been, as some one—Conservative or Radical, who can tell which?—said on the spot, “for the second time purged of its iniquities.” The scene was “much changed,” says the auditor; but the ghosts were all there, walking on the waves of harmony. And thickest and fastest they trooped in and out when a passionate song thrilled the air with the promise that
“Some day—some day
Eyes clearer grown the truth may see.”
The strange true stories we have thus far told have all been matter of public or of private record. Pages of history and travel, law reports, documents of court, the testimony of eye-witnesses, old manuscripts and letters, have insured to them the full force and charm of their reality. But now we must have it clearly and mutually understood that here is one the verity of which is vouched for stoutly, but only by tradition. It is very much as if we had nearly finished a strong, solid stone house and would now ask permission of our underwriters to add to it at the rear a small frame lean-to.
It is a mere bit of lawyers’ table-talk, a piece of after-dinner property. It originally belonged, they say, to Judge Collins of New Orleans, as I believe we have already mentioned; his by right of personal knowledge. I might have got it straight from him had I heard of it but a few years sooner. His small, iron-gray head, dark, keen eyes, and nervous face and form are in my mind’s eye now, as I saw him one day on the bench interrupting a lawyer at the bar and telling him in ten words what the lawyer was trying to tell in two hundred and fifty.
That the judge’s right to this story was that of discovery, not of invention, is well attested; and if he or any one else allowed fictitious embellishments to gather upon it by oft telling of it in merry hours, the story had certainly lost all such superfluities the day it came to me, as completely as if some one had stolen its clothes while it was in swimming. The best I can say is that it came unmutilated, and that I have done only what any humane person would have done—given it drapery enough to cover its nakedness.
To speak yet plainer, I do not, even now, put aside, abridge, or alter a single fact; only, at most, restore one or two to spaces that indicate just what has dropped out. If a dentist may lawfully supply the place of a lost tooth, or an old beau comb his hair skillfully over a bald spot, then am I guiltless. I make the tale not less, and only just a trifle more, true; not more, but only a trifle less, strange. And this is it: