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‘There is a Hell, and I Am in It’

Hugh O’Reilly

Msgr. Louis Gaston De Sègur, a well-known French apologist and spiritual writer, records this episode on the subject of hell:

The first happened in my own family at Moscow to be exact, shortly after the terrible Napoleonic campaign of 1812. My mother’s father, Count Rostopchin, military governor of the city, was a close friend of the celebrated General Count Orloff, famed for his valor no less than for his scorn of religion. “Yet,” Orloff would sometimes remark, “suppose there is something on the other side of the grave?”

On one occasion, another general, whom we shall call General V, replied, “Well, if there should be something, the first of us to die will return to warn the other. Are we agreed?” “Agreed,” replied Count Orloff. And they gave each other their word of honor.

A few weeks later, fierce fighting broke out, one of those long-feared wars which Napoleon was so capable of starting. The Russian army moved to the front and General V, receiving orders to take over an important port, left immediately.

Early one morning two or three weeks after he left Moscow, my grandfather was dressing when the door of his room was suddenly thrown open and Count Orloff rushed in, his eyes wild, his hair uncombed and his face white.

Hell by Signorelli

Hell by Signorelli

“Orloff! What are you doing here at this hour? And in such a fog? What is the matter with you? What has happened?”

“Friend,” gasped Orloff, “I think I am losing my mind. I saw General V.” “General V? Oh, is he back”

“No!” cried Orloff, throwing himself upon a couch and burying his head in his hands. “No, he has not returned and that is why I am so shaken up.”

My grandfather could understand nothing, and he tried to calm the man.“Come now,” he said, “tell me what happened and what this means.”

With an obvious effort to gain control of himself, Count Orloff told his story: “Not long has passed, Rostopchin, since General V and I swore to each other that the first of us to die would return to tell the other, should there be something after death. This morning, while I was lying peacefully in bed, without thinking of him at all, I saw General V before me, just a few feet away. He was standing and his face was deathly white. With his right hand over his heart, he said to me ‘There is a hell, and I am in it!’ With that he disappeared. I ran right over to you, almost out of my mind! Ah, what a ghastly experience! I don’t know what to think of it.”

My grandfather tried to convince him that it had been a hallucination, a trick of his imagination. He attempted to make him believe that he had been dreaming; that those extraordinary, inexplicable things were to be put out of his mind. He did his utmost to convince him with arguments which in themselves were worthless, but which generally constitute the consolation of strong souls. At last, he took the Count back to his own house.

Ten or twelve days later, a war report brought to my grandfather among other news, the account of General V’s death.

The very morning of that memorable day in which Count Orloff had seen and heard him, at the exact time in which he had appeared to him in Moscow, the wretched general had been shot and instantly killed.

From P. J. Kelly, So High the Price
Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1968, pp. 15-17.
Posted March 19, 2011

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