Vampire Tales: The Big Collection (80+ stories in one volume: The Viy, The Fate of Madame Cabanel, The Parasite, Good Lady Ducayne, Count Magnus, For the Blood Is the Life, Dracula’s Guest, The Broken Fang, Blood Lust, Four Wooden Stakes...)
910 pages
English

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Vampire Tales: The Big Collection (80+ stories in one volume: The Viy, The Fate of Madame Cabanel, The Parasite, Good Lady Ducayne, Count Magnus, For the Blood Is the Life, Dracula’s Guest, The Broken Fang, Blood Lust, Four Wooden Stakes...)

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910 pages
English

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Obtenez un accès à la bibliothèque pour le consulter en ligne
En savoir plus

Description

The "Vampire Tales" is the biggest, hungriest, undeadliest collection of vampire stories ever assembled. Dark, stormy, and delicious, once it sinks its teeth into you there's no escape.
Vampires! Whether imagined by Bram Stoker or Anne Rice, they are part of the human lexicon and as old as blood itself. They are your neighbors, your friends, and they are always lurking. Now we have compiled the darkest, the scariest, and by far the most evil collection of vampire stories ever, with over 80 stories, including the works of M. R. James and H. G. Wells, alongside E. F. Benson and Algernon Blackwood, not to mention Walter De La Mare and Robert E. Howard. The "Vampire Tales" will drive a stake through the heart of any other collection out there.
Other contributors include Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Marsh, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft, John William Polidori, Clark Ashton Smith, Nikolai Gogol, and D. H. Lawrence.

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Publié par
Date de parution 06 décembre 2019
Nombre de lectures 27
EAN13 9789892084602
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0002€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Vampires! Whether imagined by Bram Stoker or Anne Rice, they are part of the human lexicon and as old as blood itself. They are your neighbors, your friends, and they are always lurking. Now we have compiled the darkest, the scariest, and by far the most evil collection of vampire stories ever, with over 80 stories, including the works of M. R. James and H. G. Wells, alongside E. F. Benson and Algernon Blackwood, not to mention Walter De La Mare and Robert E. Howard. The "Vampire Tales" will drive a stake through the heart of any other collection out there.
Other contributors include Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Marsh, Ambrose Bierce, H. P. Lovecraft, John William Polidori, Clark Ashton Smith, Nikolai Gogol, and D. H. Lawrence.
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VAMPIRE TALES: THE BIG COLLECTION
Table of Contents
 
 
 
The Blood-Drinking Corpse
Pu Songling
Wake Not the Dead
Johann Ludwig Tieck
The Vampire
John William Polidori
The Viy
Nikolai Gogol
Morella
Edgar Allan Poe
Berenice
Edgar Allan Poe
The Curse of the Vourdalak
Alexei Tolstoy
Glámr
Sabine Baring-Gould
The Last Lords of Gardonal
William Gilbert
Vampire
Jan Neruda
The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima
A. B. Mitford
The Fate of Madame Cabanel
Eliza Lynn Linton
The Man-Eating Tree
Phil Robinson
John Barrington Cowles
Arthur Conan Doyle
Manor
Karl Heinrich Ulrichs
Olalla
Robert Louis Stevenson
The Horla
Guy de Maupassant
Ken’s Mystery
Julian Hawthorne
Let Loose
Mary Cholmondeley
A Mystery of the Campagna
Anne Crawford
The Death of Halpin Frayser
Ambrose Bierce
The Mask
Richard Marsh
The Last of the Vampires
Phil Robinson
The Parasite
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Flowering of the Strange Orchid
H. G. Wells
The Sad Story of a Vampire
Eric Stenbock
Good Lady Ducayne
Mary E. Braddon
A Dead Finger
Sabine Baring-Gould
The Purple Terror
Fred M. White
The Story of Baelbrow
Hesketh V. Pritchard
Will
Vincent O’Sullivan
The Stone Chamber
H. B. Marriott-Watson
The Dead Smile
F. Marion Crawford
Marsyas in Flandres
Vernon Lee
The Vampire Maid
Hume Nisbet
The Tomb of Sarah
F. G. Loring
The Vampire of Croglin Grange
Augustus Hare
The Old Portrait
Hume Nisbet
Luella Miller
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Grettir at Thorhall-Stead
Frank Norris
An Unscientific Story
Louise J. Strong
Count Magnus
M. R. James
For the Blood Is the Life
F. Marion Crawford
A Vampire
Luigi Capuana
Lazarus
Leonid Andreyev
Clarimonde
Théophile Gaultier
The Singular Death of Morton
Algernon Blackwood
Across the Moors
W. F. Harvey
The Screaming Skull
F. Marion Crawford
The Transfer
Algernon Blackwood
The Rockery
E. G. Swain
The Room in the Tower
E. F. Benson
The Haunted House
Edith Nesbit
An Episode of Cathedral History
M. R. James
Dracula’s Guest
Bram Stoker
Aylmer Vance and the Vampire
Alice and Claude Askew
The Spider
Hanns Heinz Ewers
The Feather Pillow
Horacio Quiroga
The Sumach
Ulric Daubeny
The Broken Fang
Uel Key
Seaton’s Aunt
Walter De La Mare
Mrs. Amworth
E. F. Benson
Negotium Perambulans
E. F. Benson
The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Hound
H. P. Lovecraft
Four Wooden Stakes
Victor Roman
Blood Lust
Dion Fortune
Bewitched
Edith Wharton
Wailing Well
M. R. James
The Canal
Everil Worrell
The Lovely Lady
D. H. Lawrence
The Hills of the Dead
Robert E. Howard
The End of the Story
Clark Ashton Smith
A Rendezvous in Averoigne
Clark Ashton Smith
God Grante That She Lye Stille
Cynthia Asquith
Revelations in Black
Carl Jacobi
Mrs. Lunt
Hugh Walpole
I, the Vampire
Henry Kuttner
The Death of Ilalotha
Clark Ashton Smith
The Thing on the Doorstep
H. P. Lovecraft
 
The Blood-Drinking Corpse
Pu Songling
(1740)
 
 
 
Night was slowly falling in the narrow valley. On the winding path cut in the side of the hill about twenty mules were following each other, bending under their heavy load; the muleteers, being tired, did not cease to hurry forward their animals, abusing them with coarse voices.
Comfortably seated on mules with large pack-saddles, three men were going along at the same pace as the caravan of which they were the masters. Their thick dresses, their fur boots, and their red woolen hoods protected them from the cold wind of the mountain.
In the darkness, rendered thicker by a slight fog, the lights of a village were shining, and soon the mules, hurrying all together, jostling their loads, crowded before the only inn of the place.
The three travelers, happy to be able to rest, got down from their saddles when the innkeeper came out on the step of his door and excused himself, saying all his rooms were taken.
“I have still, it is true, a large hall the other side of the street, but it is only a barn, badly shut. I will show it to you.”
The merchants, disappointed, consulted each other with a look; but it was too late to continue their way; they followed their landlord.
The hall that was shown to them was big enough and closed at the end by a curtain. Their luggage was brought; the bed-clothes rolled on the pack-saddles were spread out, as usual, on planks and trestles.
The meal was served in the general sitting-room, in the midst of noise, laughing, and movement — smoking rice, vegetables preserved in vinegar, and lukewarm wine served in small cups. Then everyone went to bed; the lights were put out and profound silence prevailed in the sleeping village.
However, towards the hour of the Rat, a sensation of cold and uneasiness awoke one of the three travelers named Wang Fou, Happiness-of-the-kings. He turned in his bed, but the snoring of his two companions annoyed him; he could not get to sleep. Again, seeing that his rest was finished, he got up, relit the lamp which was out, took a book from his baggage, and stretched himself out again. But if he could not sleep, it was just as impossible to read. In spite of himself, his eyes quitted the columns of letters laid out in lines and searched into the darkness that the feeble light did not contrive to break through.
A growing terror froze him. He would have liked to awaken his companions, but the fear of being made fun of prevented him.
By dint of looking, he at last saw a slight movement shake the big curtain which closed the room. There came from behind a crackling of wood being broken. Then a long, painful threatening silence began again.
The merchant felt his flesh thrill; he was filled with horror, in spite of his efforts to be reasonable.
He had put aside his book, and, the coverlet drawn up to his nose, he fixed his enlarged eyes on the shadowy corners at the end of the room.
The side of the curtain was lifted; a pale hand held the folds. The stuff, thus raised, permitted a being to pass, whose form, hardly distinct, seemed penetrated by the shadow.
Happiness-of-kings would have liked to scream; his contracted throat allowed no sound to escape. Motionless and speechless, he followed with his horrified look the slow movement of the apparition which approached.
He, little by little, recognized the silhouette of a female, seen by her short-quilted dress and her long narrow jacket. Behind the body he perceived the curtain again moving.
The specter, in the meantime bending over the bed of one of the sleeping travelers, appeared to give him a long kiss.
Then it went towards the couch of the second merchant. Happiness-of-kings distinctly saw the pale figure, the eyes, from which a red flame was shining, and sharp teeth, half-exposed in a ferocious smile, which opened and shut by turns on the throat of the sleeper.
A start disturbed the body under the cover, then all stopped: the specter was drinking in long draughts.
Happiness-of-kings, seeing that his turn was coming, had just strength enough to pull the coverlet over his head. He heard grumblings; a freezing breath penetrated through the wadded material.
The paroxysm of terror gave the merchant full possession of his strength; with a convulsive movement he threw his coverlet on the apparition, jumped out of his bed, and, yelling like a wild beast, he ran as far as the door and flew away in the night.
Still running, he felt the freezing breath in his back, he heard the furious growlings of the specter.
The prolonged howling of the unhappy man filled the narrow street and awoke all the sleepers in their beds, but none of them moved; they hid themselves farther and farther under their coverlets. These inhuman cries meant nothing good for those who should have been bold enough to go outside.
The bewildered fugitive crossed the village, going faster and faster. Arriving at the last houses, he was only a few feet in advance and felt himself fainting.
The road at the extremity of the village was bordered with narrow fields shaded with big trees. The instinct of a hunted animal drove on the distracted merchant; he made a brisk turn to the right, then to the left, and threw himself behind the knotted trunk of a huge chestnut-tree. The freezing hand already touched his shoulder; he felt senseless.
 
***
 
In the morning, in broad daylight, two men who came to plough in this same field were surprised to perceive against the tree a white form, and, on the ground, a man stretched out. This fact coming after the howling in the night appeared strange to them; they turned back and went to find the Chief of the Elders. When they returned, the greater part of the inhabitants of the village followed them.
They approached and found that the form against the tree was the corpse of a young woman, her nails buried in the bark; from her mouth a stream of blood had flowed and stained her white silk jacket. A shudder of horror shook the lookers-on: the Chief of the Elders recognized his daughter dead for the last six months whose coffin was placed in a barn, waiting for the burial, a favorable day to be fixed by the astrologers.
The innkeeper recognized one of his guests in the man stretched on the ground, whom no care could revive.
They returned in haste to find out in what condition the coffin was: the door of the barn was still open. They went in; a coverlet was thrown on the ground near the entrance; on two beds the great sun lit up the hollow and greenish aspect of the corpses whose blood had been emptied.
Behind the drawn curtain the coffin was found open. The corpse of the young woman evidently had not lost its inferior soul, the vital breath. Like all beings deprived of conscience and reason, her ferocity was eager for blood.
 
Wake Not the Dead
Johann Ludwig Tieck
(1800)
 
 
 
“Wilt thou forever sleep? Wilt thou never more awake, my beloved, but henceforth repose forever from thy short pilgrimage on earth? O yet once again return! and bring back with thee the vivifying dawn of hope to one whose existence hath, since thy departure, been obscured by the dunnest shades. What! dumb? forever dumb? Thy friend lamenteth, and thou heedest him not? He sheds bitter, scalding tears, and thou reposest unregarding his affliction? He is in despair, and thou no longer openest thy arms to him as an asylum from his grief? Say then, doth the paly shroud become thee better than the bridal veil? Is the chamber of the grave a warmer bed than the couch of love? Is the specter death more welcome to thy arms than thy enamored consort? Oh! return, my beloved, return once again to this anxious disconsolate bosom.”
Such were the lamentations which Walter poured forth for his Brunhilda, the partner of his youthful passionate love; thus did he bewail over her grave at the midnight hour, what time the spirit that presides in the troublous atmosphere, sends his legions of monsters through mid-air; so that their shadows, as they flit beneath the moon and across the earth, dart as wild, agitating thoughts that chase each other o’er the sinner’s bosom: — thus did he lament under the tall linden trees by her grave, while his head reclined on the cold stone.
Walter was a powerful lord in Burgundy, who, in his earliest youth, had been smitten with the charms of the fair Brunhilda, a beauty far surpassing in loveliness all her rivals; for her tresses, dark as the raven face of night, streaming over her shoulders, set off to the utmost advantage the beaming luster of her slender form, and the rich dye of a cheek whose tint was deep and brilliant as that of the western heaven; her eyes did not resemble those burning orbs whose pale glow gems the vault of night, and whose immeasurable distance fills the soul with deep thoughts of eternity, but rather as the sober beams which cheer this nether world, and which, while they enlighten, kindle the sons of earth to joy and love. Brunhilda became the wife of Walter, and both being equally enamored and devoted, they abandoned themselves to the enjoyment of a passion that rendered them reckless of aught besides, while it lulled them in a fascinating dream. Their sole apprehension was lest aught should awaken them from a delirium which they prayed might continue forever. Yet how vain is the wish that would arrest the decrees of destiny! as well might it seek to divert the circling planets from their eternal course. Short was the duration of this phrenzied passion; not that it gradually decayed and subsided into apathy, but death snatched away his blooming victim, and left Walter to a widowed couch. Impetuous, however, as was his first burst of grief, he was not inconsolable, for ere long another bride became the partner of the youthful nobleman.
Swanhilda also was beautiful; although nature had formed her charms on a very different model from those of Brunhilda. Her golden locks waved bright as the beams of morn: only when excited by some emotion of her soul did a rosy hue tinge the lily paleness of her cheek: her limbs were proportioned in the nicest symmetry, yet did they not possess that luxuriant fullness of animal life: her eye beamed eloquently, but it was with the milder radiance of a star, tranquillizing to tenderness rather than exciting to warmth. Thus formed, it was not possible that she should steep him in his former delirium, although she rendered happy his waking hours — tranquil and serious, yet cheerful, studying in all things her husband’s pleasure, she restored order and comfort in his family, where her presence shed a general influence all around. Her mild benevolence tended to restrain the fiery, impetuous disposition of Walter: while at the same time her prudence recalled him in some degree from his vain, turbulent wishes, and his aspirings after unattainable enjoyments, to the duties and pleasures of actual life. Swanhilda bore her husband two children, a son and a daughter; the latter was mild and patient as her mother, well contented with her solitary sports, and even in these recreations displayed the serious turn of her character. The boy possessed his father’s fiery, restless disposition, tempered, however, with the solidity of his mother. Attached by his offspring more tenderly towards their mother, Walter now lived for several years very happily: his thoughts would frequently, indeed, recur to Brunhilda, but without their former violence, merely as we dwell upon the memory of a friend of our earlier days, borne from us on the rapid current of time to a region where we know that he is happy.
But clouds dissolve into air, flowers fade, the sands of the hourglass run imperceptibly away, and even so, do human feelings dissolve, fade, and pass away, and with them too, human happiness. Walter’s inconstant breast again sighed for the ecstatic dreams of those days which he had spent with his equally romantic, enamored Brunhilda — again did she present herself to his ardent fancy in all the glow of her bridal charms, and he began to draw a parallel between the past and the present; nor did imagination, as it is wont, fail to array the former in her brightest hues, while it proportionably obscured the latter; so that he pictured to himself, the one much more rich in enjoyment, and the other, much less so than they really were. This change in her husband did not escape Swanhilda; whereupon, redoubling her attentions towards him, and her cares towards their children, she expected, by this means, to reunite the knot that was slackened; yet the more she endeavored to regain his affections, the colder did he grow, — the more intolerable did her caresses seem, and the more continually did the image of Brunhilda haunt his thoughts. The children, whose endearments were now become indispensable to him, alone stood between the parents as genii eager to affect a reconciliation; and, beloved by them both, formed a uniting link between them. Yet, as evil can be plucked from the heart of man, only ere its root has yet struck deep, its fangs being afterwards too firm to be eradicated; so was Walter’s diseased fancy too far affected to have its disorder stopped, for, in a short time, it completely tyrannized over him. Frequently of a night, instead of retiring to his consort’s chamber, he repaired to Brunhilda’s grave, where he murmured forth his discontent, saying: “Wilt thou sleep forever?”
One night as he was reclining on the turf, indulging in his wonted sorrow, a sorcerer from the neighboring mountains, entered into this field of death for the purpose of gathering, for his mystic spells, such herbs as grow only from the earth wherein the dead repose, and which, as if the last production of mortality, are gifted with a powerful and supernatural influence. The sorcerer perceived the mourner, and approached the spot where he was lying.
“Wherefore, fond wretch, dost thou grieve thus, for what is now a hideous mass of mortality — mere bones, and nerves, and veins? Nations have fallen unlamented; even worlds themselves, long ere this globe of ours was created, have moldered into nothing; nor hath any one wept over them; why then should’st thou indulge this vain affliction for a child of the dust — a being as frail as thyself, and like thee the creature but of a moment?”
Walter raised himself up: — “Let yon worlds that shine in the firmament” replied he, “lament for each other as they perish. It is true, that I who am myself clay, lament for my fellow-clay: yet is this clay impregnated with a fire, — with an essence, that none of the elements of creation possess — with love: and this divine passion, I felt for her who now sleepeth beneath this sod.”
“Will thy complaints awaken her: or could they do so, would she not soon upbraid thee for having disturbed that repose in which she is now hushed?”
“Avaunt, cold-hearted being: thou knowest not what is love. Oh! that my tears could wash away the earthy covering that conceals her from these eyes; — that my groan of anguish could rouse her from her slumber of death! — No, she would not again seek her earthy couch.”
“Insensate that thou art, and couldst thou endure to gaze without shuddering on one disgorged from the jaws of the grave? Art thou too thyself the same from whom she parted; or hath time passed o’er thy brow and left no traces there? Would not thy love rather be converted into hate and disgust?”
“Say rather that the stars would leave yon firmament, that the sun will henceforth refuse to shed his beams through the heavens. Oh! that she stood once more before me; — that once again she reposed on this bosom! — how quickly should we then forget that death or time had ever stepped between us.”
“Delusion! mere delusion of the brain, from heated blood, like to that which arises from the fumes of wine. It is not my wish to tempt thee; — to restore to thee thy dead; else wouldst thou soon feel that I have spoken truth.”
“How! restore her to me,” exclaimed Walter casting himself at the sorcerer’s feet. “Oh! if thou art indeed able to effect that, grant it to my earnest supplication; if one throb of human feeling vibrates in thy bosom, let my tears prevail with thee; restore to me my beloved; so shalt thou hereafter bless the deed, and see that it was a good work.”
“A good work! a blessed deed!” — returned the sorcerer with a smile of scorn; “for me there exists nor good nor evil; since my will is always the same. Ye alone know evil, who will that which ye would not. It is indeed in my power to restore her to thee: yet, bethink thee well, whether it will prove thy weal. Consider too, how deep the abyss between life and death; across this, my power can build a bridge, but it can never fill up the frightful chasm.”
Walter would have spoken, and have sought to prevail on this powerful being by fresh entreaties, but the latter prevented him, saying: “Peace! bethink thee well! and return hither to me tomorrow at midnight. Yet once more do I warn thee, ‘Wake not the dead.’”
Having uttered these words, the mysterious being disappeared. Intoxicated with fresh hope, Walter found no sleep on his couch; for fancy, prodigal of her richest stores, expanded before him the glittering web of futurity; and his eye, moistened with the dew of rapture, glanced from one vision of happiness to another. During the next day he wandered through the woods, lest wonted objects by recalling the memory of later and less happier times, might disturb the blissful idea. that he should again behold her — again fold her in his arms, gaze on her beaming brow by day, repose on her bosom at night: and, as this sole idea filled his imagination, how was it possible that the least doubt should arise; or that the warning of the mysterious old man should recur to his thoughts?
No sooner did the midnight hour approach, than he hastened before the grave-field where the sorcerer was already standing by that of Brunhilda. “Hast thou maturely considered?” inquired he.
“Oh! restore to me the object of my ardent passion,” exclaimed Walter with impetuous eagerness. “Delay not thy generous action, lest I die even this night, consumed with disappointed desire; and behold her face no more.”
“Well then,” answered the old man, “return hither again tomorrow at the same hour. But once more do I give thee this friendly warning, ‘Wake not the dead.’”
All in the despair of impatience, Walter would have prostrated himself at his feet, and supplicated him to fulfil at once a desire now increased to agony; but the sorcerer had already disappeared. Pouring forth his lamentations more wildly and impetuously than ever, he lay upon the grave of his adored one, until the grey dawn streaked the east. During the day, which seemed to him longer than any he had ever experienced, he wandered to and fro, restless and impatient, seemingly without any object, and deeply buried in his own reflections, inquest as the murderer who meditates his first deed of blood: and the stars of evening found him once more at the appointed spot. At midnight the sorcerer was there also.
“Hast thou yet maturely deliberated?” inquired he, “as on the preceding night?”
“Oh what should I deliberate?” returned Walter impatiently. “I need not to deliberate; what I demand of thee, is that which thou hast promised me — that which will prove my bliss. Or dost thou but mock me? if so, hence from my sight, lest I be tempted to lay my hand on thee.”
“Once more do I warn thee.” answered the old man with undisturbed composure, “‘Wake not the dead’ — let her rest.”
“Aye, but not in the cold grave: she shall rather rest on this bosom which burns with eagerness to clasp her.”
“Reflect, thou mayst not quit her until death, even though aversion and horror should seize thy heart. There would then remain only one horrible means.”
“Dotard!” cried Walter, interrupting him, “how may I hate that which I love with such intensity of passion? how should I abhor that for which my every drop of blood is boiling?”
“Then be it even as thou wishest,” answered the sorcerer; “step back.”
The old man now drew a circle round the grave, all the while muttering words of enchantment. Immediately the storm began to howl among the tops of the trees; owls flapped their wings, and uttered their low voice of omen; the stars hid their mild, beaming aspect, that they might not behold so unholy and impious a spectacle; the stone then rolled from the grave with a hollow sound, leaving a free passage for the inhabitant of that dreadful tenement. The sorcerer scattered into the yawning earth, roots and herbs of most magic power, and of most penetrating odor, so that the worms crawling forth from the earth congregated together, and raised themselves in a fiery column over the grave: while rushing wind burst from the earth, scattering the mold before it, until at length the coffin lay uncovered. The moonbeams fell on it, and the lid burst open with a tremendous sound. Upon this the sorcerer poured upon it some blood from out of a human skull, exclaiming at the same time, “Drink, sleeper, of this warm stream, that thy heart may again beat within thy bosom.” And, after a short pause, shedding on her some other mystic liquid, he cried aloud with the voice of one inspired: “Yes, thy heart beats once more with the flood of life: thine eye is again opened to sight. Arise, therefore, from the tomb.”
As an island suddenly springs forth from the dark waves of the ocean, raised upwards from the deep by the force of subterraneous fires, so did Brunhilda start from her earthy couch, borne forward by some invisible power. Taking her by the hand, the sorcerer led her towards Walter, who stood at some little distance, rooted to the ground with amazement.
“Receive again,” said he, “the object of thy passionate sighs: mayest thou never more require my aid; should that, however, happen, so wilt thou find me, during the full of the moon, upon the mountains in that spot and where the three roads meet.”
Instantly did Walter recognize in the form that stood before him, her whom he so ardently loved; and a sudden glow shot through his frame at finding her thus restored to him: yet the night-frost had chilled his limbs and palsied his tongue. For a while he gazed upon her without either motion or speech, and during this pause, all was again become hushed and serene; and the stars shone brightly in the clear heavens.
“Walter!” exclaimed the figure; and at once the well-known sound, thrilling to his heart, broke the spell by which he was bound.
“Is it reality? Is it truth?” cried he, “or a cheating delusion?”
“No, it is no imposture; I am really living: — conduct me quickly to thy castle in the mountains.”
Walter looked around: the old man had disappeared, but he perceived close by his side, a coal-black steed of fiery eye, ready equipped to conduct him thence; and on his back lay all proper attire for Brunhilda, who lost no time in arraying herself. This being done, she cried; “Haste, let us away ere the dawn breaks, for my eye is yet too weak to endure the light of day.” Fully recovered from his stupor, Walter leaped into his saddle, and catching up, with a mingled feeling of delight and awe, the beloved being thus mysteriously restored from the power of the grave, he spurred on across the wild, towards the mountains, as furiously as if pursued by the shadows of the dead, hastening to recover from him their sister.
The castle to which Walter conducted his Brunhilda, was situated on a rock between other rocks rising up above it. Here they arrived, unseen by any save one aged domestic, on whom Walter imposed secrecy by the severest threats.
“Here will we tarry,” said Brunhilda, “until I can endure the light, and until thou canst look upon me without trembling as if struck with a cold chill.” They accordingly continued to make that place their abode: yet no one knew that Brunhilda existed, save only that aged attendant, who provided their meals. During seven entire days they had no light except that of tapers: during the next seven, the light was admitted through the lofty casements only while the rising or setting-sun faintly illumined the mountain-tops, the valley being still enveloped in shade.
Seldom did Walter quit Brunhilda’s side: a nameless spell seemed to attach him to her; even the shudder which he felt in her presence, and which would not permit him to touch her, was not unmixed with pleasure, like that thrilling awful emotion felt when strains of sacred music float under the vault of some temple; he rather sought, therefore, than avoided this feeling. Often too as he had indulged in calling to mind the beauties of Brunhilda, she had never appeared so fair, so fascinating, so admirable when depicted by his imagination, as when now beheld in reality. Never till now had her voice sounded with such tones of sweetness; never before did her language possess such eloquence as it now did, when she conversed with him on the subject of the past. And this was the magic fairy-land towards which her words constantly conducted him. Ever did she dwell upon the days of their first love, those hours of delight which they had participated together when the one derived all enjoyment from the other: and so rapturous, so enchanting, so full of life did she recall to his imagination that blissful season, that he even doubted whether he had ever experienced with her so much felicity, or had been so truly happy. And, while she thus vividly portrayed their hours of past delight, she delineated in still more glowing, more enchanting colors, those hours of approaching bliss which now awaited them, richer in enjoyment than any preceding ones. In this manner did she charm her attentive auditor with enrapturing hopes for the future, and lull him into dreams of more than mortal ecstasy; so that while he listened to her siren strain, he entirely forgot how little blissful was the latter period of their union, when he had often sighed at her imperiousness, and at her harshness both to himself and all his household. Yet even had he recalled this to mind would it have disturbed him in his present delirious trance? Had she not now left behind in the grave all the frailty of mortality? Was not her whole being refined and purified by that long sleep in which neither passion nor sin had approached her even in dreams? How different now was the subject of her discourse! Only when speaking of her affection for him, did she betray anything of earthly feeling: at other times, she uniformly dwelt upon themes relating to the invisible and future world; when in descanting and declaring the mysteries of eternity, a stream of prophetic eloquence would burst from her lips.
In this manner had twice seven days elapsed, and, for the first time, Walter beheld the being now dearer to him than ever, in the full light of day. Every trace of the grave had disappeared from her countenance; a roseate tinge like the ruddy streaks of dawn again beamed on her pallid cheek; the faint, moldering taint of the grave was changed into a delightful violet scent; the only sign of earth that never disappeared. He no longer felt either apprehension or awe, as he gazed upon her in the sunny light of day: it was not until now, that he seemed to have recovered her completely; and, glowing with all his former passion towards her, he would have pressed her to his bosom, but she gently repulsed him, saying: — “Not yet — spare your caresses until the moon has again filled her horn.”
Spite of his impatience, Walter was obliged to await the lapse of another period of seven days: but, on the night when the moon was arrived at the full, he hastened to Brunhilda, whom he found more lovely than she had ever appeared before. Fearing no obstacles to his transports, he embraced with all the fervor of a deeply enamored and successful lover. Brunhilda, however, still refused to yield to his passion. “What!” exclaimed she, “is it fitting that I who have been purified by death from the frailty of mortality, should become thy concubine, while a mere daughter of the earth bears the title of thy wife: never shall it be. No, it must be within the walls of thy palace, within that chamber where I once reigned as queen, that thou obtainest the end of thy wishes, — and of mine also,” added she, imprinting a glowing kiss on the lips, and immediately disappeared.
Heated with passion, and determined to sacrifice everything to the accomplishment of his desires, Walter hastily quitted the apartment, and shortly after the castle itself. He travelled over mountain and across heath, with the rapidity of a storm, so that the turf was flung up by his horse’s hoofs; nor once stopped until he arrived home.
Here, however, neither the affectionate caresses of Swanhilda, or those of his children could touch his heart, or induce him to restrain his furious desires. Alas! is the impetuous torrent to be checked in its devastating course by the beauteous flowers over which it rushes, when they exclaim: — “Destroyer, commiserate our helpless innocence and beauty, nor lay us waste?” — the stream sweeps over them unregarding, and a single moment annihilates the pride of a whole summer.
Shortly afterwards did Walter begin to hint to Swanhilda that they were ill-suited to each other; that he was anxious to taste that wild, tumultuous life, so well according with the spirit of his sex, while she, on the contrary, was satisfied with the monotonous circle of household enjoyments: — that he was eager for whatever promised novelty, while she felt most attached to what was familiarized to her by habit: and lastly, that her cold disposition, bordering upon indifference, but ill assorted with his ardent temperament: it was therefore more prudent that they should seek apart from each other that happiness which they could not find together. A sigh, and a brief acquiescence in his wishes was all the reply that Swanhilda made: and, on the following morning, upon his presenting her with a paper of separation, informing her that she was at liberty to return home to her father, she received it most submissively: yet, ere she departed, she gave him the following warning: “Too well do I conjecture to whom I am indebted for this our separation. Often have I seen thee at Brunhilda’s grave, and beheld thee there even on that night when the face of the heavens was suddenly enveloped in a veil of clouds. Hast thou rashly dared to tear aside the awful veil that separates the mortality that dreams, from that which dreameth not? Oh! then woe to thee, thou wretched man, for thou hast attached to thyself that which will prove thy destruction.”
She ceased: nor did Walter attempt any reply, for the similar admonition uttered by the sorcerer flashed upon his mind, all obscured as it was by passion, just as the lightning glares momentarily through the gloom of night without dispersing the obscurity.
Swanhilda then departed, in order to pronounce to her children, a bitter farewell, for they, according to national custom, belonged to the father; and, having bathed them in her tears, and consecrated them with the holy water of maternal love, she quitted her husband’s residence, and departed to the home of her father’s.
Thus was the kind and benevolent Swanhilda driven an exile from those halls where she had presided with grace; — from halls which were now newly decorated to receive another mistress. The day at length arrived on which Walter, for the second time, conducted Brunhilda home as a newly made bride. And he caused it to be reported among his domestics that his new consort had gained his affections by her extraordinary likeness to Brunhilda, their former mistress. How ineffably happy did he deem himself as he conducted his beloved once more into the chamber which had often witnessed their former joys, and which was now newly gilded and adorned in a most costly style: among the other decorations were figures of angels scattering roses, which served to support the purple draperies whose ample folds o’ershadowed the nuptial couch. With what impatience did he await the hour that was to put him in possession of those beauties for which he had already paid so high a price, but, whose enjoyment was to cost him most dearly yet! Unfortunate Walter! reveling in bliss, thou beholdest not the abyss that yawns beneath thy feet, intoxicated with the luscious perfume of the flower thou hast plucked, thou little deemest how deadly is the venom with which it is fraught, although, for a short season, its potent fragrance bestows new energy on all thy feelings.
Happy, however, as Walter was now, his household were far from being equally so. The strange resemblance between their new lady and the deceased Brunhilda filled them with a secret dismay, — an undefinable horror; for there was not a single difference of feature, of tone of voice, or of gesture. To add too to these mysterious circumstances, her female attendants discovered a particular mark on her back, exactly like one which Brunhilda had. A report was now soon circulated, that their lady was no other than Brunhilda herself, who had been recalled to life by the power of necromancy. How truly horrible was the idea of living under the same roof with one who had been an inhabitant of the tomb, and of being obliged to attend upon her, and acknowledge her as mistress! There was also in Brunhilda much to increase this aversion, and favor their superstition: no ornaments of gold ever decked her person; all that others were wont to wear of this metal, she had formed of silver: no richly colored and sparkling jewels glittered upon her; pearls alone, lent their pale luster to adorn her bosom. Most carefully did she always avoid the cheerful light of the sun, and was wont to spend the brightest days in the most retired and gloomy apartments: only during the twilight of the commencing or declining day did she ever walk abroad, but her favorite hour was when the phantom light of the moon bestowed on all objects a shadowy appearance and a somber hue; always too at the crowing of the cock an involuntary shudder was observed to seize her limbs. Imperious as before her death, she quickly imposed her iron yoke on everyone around her, while she seemed even far more terrible than ever, since a dread of some supernatural power attached to her, appalled all who approached her. A malignant withering glance seemed to shoot from her eye on the unhappy object of her wrath, as if it would annihilate its victim. In short, those halls which, in the time of Swanhilda were the residence of cheerfulness and mirth, now resembled an extensive desert tomb. With fear imprinted on their pale countenances, the domestics glided through the apartments of the castle; and in this abode of terror, the crowing of the cock caused the living to tremble, as if they were the spirits of the departed; for the sound always reminded them of their mysterious mistress. There was no one but who shuddered at meeting her in a lonely place, in the dusk of evening, or by the light of the moon, a circumstance that was deemed to be ominous of some evil: so great was the apprehension of her female attendants, they pined in continual disquietude, and, by degrees, all quitted her. In the course of time even others of the domestics fled, for an insupportable horror had seized them.
The art of the sorcerer had indeed bestowed upon Brunhilda an artificial life, and due nourishment had continued to support the restored body: yet this body was not able of itself to keep up the genial glow of vitality, and to nourish the flame whence springs all the affections and passions, whether of love or hate; for death had forever destroyed and withered it: all that Brunhilda now possessed was a chilled existence, colder than that of the snake. It was nevertheless necessary that she should love, and return with equal ardor the warm caresses of her spell-enthralled husband, to whose passion alone she was indebted for her renewed existence. It was necessary that a magic draught should animate the dull current in her veins and awaken her to the glow of life and the flame of love — a potion of abomination — one not even to be named without a curse — human blood, imbibed whilst yet warm, from the veins of youth. This was the hellish drink for which she thirsted: possessing no sympathy with the purer feelings of humanity; deriving no enjoyment from aught that interests in life and occupies its varied hours; her existence was a mere blank, unless when in the arms of her paramour husband, and therefore was it that she craved incessantly after the horrible draught. It was even with the utmost effort that she could forbear sucking even the blood of Walter himself, reclined beside her. Whenever she beheld some innocent child whose lovely face denoted the exuberance of infantine health and vigor, she would entice it by soothing words and fond caresses into her most secret apartment, where, lulling it to sleep in her arms, she would suck form its bosom the war, purple tide of life. Nor were youths of either sex safe from her horrid attack: having first breathed upon her unhappy victim, who never failed immediately to sink into a lengthened sleep, she would then in a similar manner drain his veins of the vital juice. Thus children, youths, and maidens quickly faded away, as flowers gnawn by the cankering worm: the fullness of their limbs disappeared; a sallow line succeeded to the rosy freshness of their cheeks, the liquid luster of the eye was deadened, even as the sparkling stream when arrested by the touch of frost; and their locks became thin and grey, as if already ravaged by the storm of life. Parents beheld with horror this desolating pestilence devouring their offspring; nor could simple or charm, potion or amulet avail aught against it. The grave swallowed up one after the other; or did the miserable victim survive, he became cadaverous and wrinkled even in the very morn of existence. Parents observed with horror this devastating pestilence snatch away their offspring — a pestilence which, nor herb however potent, nor charm, nor holy taper, nor exorcism could avert. They either beheld their children sink one after the other into the grave, or their youthful forms, withered by the unholy, vampire embrace of Brunhilda, assume the decrepitude of sudden age.
At length strange surmises and reports began to prevail; it was whispered that Brunhilda herself was the cause of all these horrors; although no one could pretend to tell in what manner she destroyed her victims, since no marks of violence were discernible. Yet when young children confessed that she had frequently lulled them asleep in her arms, and elder ones said that a sudden slumber had come upon them whenever she began to converse with them, suspicion became converted into certainty, and those whose offspring had hitherto escaped unharmed, quitted their hearths and home — all their little possessions — the dwellings of their fathers and the inheritance of their children, in order to rescue from so horrible a fate those who were dearer to their simple affections than aught else the world could give.
Thus daily did the castle assume a more desolate appearance; daily did its environs become more deserted; none but a few aged decrepit old women and grey-headed menials were to be seen remaining of the once numerous retinue. Such will in the latter days of the earth be the last generation of mortals, when childbearing shall have ceased, when youth shall no more be seen, nor any arise to replace those who shall await their fate in silence.
Walter alone noticed not, or heeded not, the desolation around him; he apprehended not death, lapped as he was in a glowing elysium of love. Far more happy than formerly did he now seem in the possession of Brunhilda. All those caprices and frowns which had been wont to overcloud their former union had now entirely disappeared. She even seemed to doat on him with a warmth of passion that she had never exhibited even during the happy season of bridal love; for the flame of that youthful blood, of which she drained the veins of others, rioted in her own. At night, as soon as he closed his eyes, she would breathe on him till he sank into delicious dreams, from which he awoke only to experience more rapturous enjoyments. By day she would continually discourse with him on the bliss experienced by happy spirits beyond the grave, assuring him that, as his affection had recalled her from the tomb, they were now irrevocably united. Thus fascinated by a continual spell, it was not possible that he should perceive what was taking place around him. Brunhilda, however, foresaw with savage grief that the source of her youthful ardor was daily decreasing, for, in a short time, there remained nothing gifted with youth, save Walter and his children, and these latter she resolved should be her next victims.
On her first return to the castle, she had felt an aversion towards the offspring of another, and therefore abandoned them entirely to the attendants appointed by Swanhilda. Now, however, she began to pay considerable attention to them, and caused them to be frequently admitted into her presence. The aged nurses were filled with dread at perceiving these marks of regard from her towards their young charges, yet dared they not to oppose the will of their terrible and imperious mistress. Soon did Brunhilda gain the affection of the children, who were too unsuspecting of guile to apprehend any danger from her; on the contrary, her caresses won them completely to her. Instead of ever checking their mirthful gambols, she would rather instruct them in new sports: often too did she recite to them tales of such strange and wild interest as to exceed all the stories of their nurses. Were they wearied either with play or with listening to her narratives, she would take them on her knees and lull them to slumber. Then did visions of the most surpassing magnificence attend their dreams: they would fancy themselves in some garden where flowers of every hue rose in rows one above the other, from the humble violet to the tall sunflower, forming a parti-colored broidery of every hue, sloping upwards towards the golden clouds where little angels whose wings sparkled with azure and gold descended to bring them delicious cakes or splendid jewels; or sung to them soothing melodious hymns. So delightful did these dream in short time become to the children that they longered for nothing so eagerly as to slumber on Brunhilda’s lap, for never did they else enjoy such visions of heavenly forms. They were they most anxious for that which was to prove their destruction: — yet do we not all aspire after that which conducts us to the grave — after the enjoyment of life? These innocents stretched out their arms to approaching death because it assumed the mask of pleasure; for, which they were lapped in these ecstatic slumbers, Brunhilda sucked the life-stream from their bosoms. On waking, indeed, they felt themselves faint and exhausted, yet did no pain nor any mark betray the cause. Shortly, however, did their strength entirely fail, even as the summer brook is gradually dried up: their sports became less and less noisy; their loud, frolicsome laughter was converted into a faint smile; the full tones of their voices died away into a mere whisper. Their attendants were filled with horror and despair; too well did they conjecture the horrible truth, yet dared not to impart their suspicions to Walter, who was so devotedly attached to his horrible partner. Death had already smote his prey: the children were but the mere shadows of their former selves, and even this shadow quickly disappeared.
The anguished father deeply bemoaned their loss, for, notwithstanding his apparent neglect, he was strongly attached to them, nor until he had experienced their loss was he aware that his love was so great. His affliction could not fail to excite the displeasure of Brunhilda: “Why dost thou lament so fondly,” said she, “for these little ones? What satisfaction could such unformed beings yield to thee unless thou wert still attached to their mother? Thy heart then is still hers? Or dost thou now regret her and them because thou art satiated with my fondness and weary of my endearments? Had these young ones grown up, would they not have attached thee, thy spirit and thy affections more closely to this earth of clay — to this dust and have alienated thee from that sphere to which I, who have already passed the grave, endeavor to raise thee? Say is thy spirit so heavy, or thy love so weak, or thy faith so hollow, that the hope of being mine forever is unable to touch thee?” Thus did Brunhilda express her indignation at her consort’s grief, and forbade him her presence. The fear of offending her beyond forgiveness and his anxiety to appease her soon dried up his tears; and he again abandoned himself to his fatal passion, until approaching destruction at length awakened him from his delusion.
Neither maiden, nor youth, was any longer to be seen, either within the dreary walls of the castle, or the adjoining territory: — all had disappeared; for those whom the grave had not swallowed up had fled from the region of death. Who, therefore, now remained to quench the horrible thirst of the female vampire save Walter himself? and his death she dared to contemplate unmoved; for that divine sentiment that unites two beings in one joy and one sorrow was unknown to her bosom. Was he in his tomb, so was she free to search out other victims and glut herself with destruction, until she herself should, at the last day, be consumed with the earth itself, such is the fatal law to which the dead are subject when awoke by the arts of necromancy from the sleep of the grave.
She now began to fix her blood-thirsty lips on Walter’s breast, when cast into a profound sleep by the odor of her violet breath he reclined beside her quite unconscious of his impending fate: yet soon did his vital powers begin to decay; and many a grey hair peeped through his raven locks. With his strength, his passion also declined; and he now frequently left her in order to pass the whole day in the sports of the chase, hoping thereby to regain his wonted vigor. As he was reposing one day in a wood beneath the shade of an oak, he perceived, on the summit of a tree, a bird of strange appearance, and quite unknown to him; but, before he could take aim at it with his bow, it flew away into the clouds; at the same time letting fall a rose-colored root which dropped at Walter’s feet, who immediately took it up and, although he was well acquainted with almost every plant, he could not remember to have seen any at all resembling this. Its delightfully odoriferous scent induced him to try its flavor, but ten times more bitter than wormwood it was even as gall in his mouth; upon which, impatient of the disappointment, he flung it away with violence. Had he, however, been aware of its miraculous quality and that it acted as a counter charm against the opiate perfume of Brunhilda’s breath, he would have blessed it in spite of its bitterness: thus do mortals often blindly cast away in displeasure the unsavory remedy that would otherwise work their weal.
When Walter returned home in the evening and laid him down to repose as usual by Brunhilda’s side, the magic power of her breath produced no effect upon him; and for the first time during many months did he close his eyes in a natural slumber. Yet hardly had he fallen asleep, ere a pungent smarting pain disturbed him from his dreams; and. opening his eyes, he discerned, by the gloomy rays of a lamp, that glimmered in the apartment what for some moments transfixed him quite aghast, for it was Brunhilda, drawing with her lips, the warm blood from his bosom. The wild cry of horror which at length escaped him, terrified Brunhilda, whose mouth was besmeared with the warm blood. “Monster!” exclaimed he, springing from the couch, “is it thus that you love me?”
“Aye, even as the dead love,” replied she, with a malignant coldness.
“Creature of blood!” continued Walter, “the delusion which has so long blinded me is at an end: thou are the fiend who hast destroyed my children — who hast murdered the offspring of my vassels.” Raising herself upwards and, at the same time, casting on him a glance that froze him to the spot with dread, she replied. “It is not I who have murdered them; — I was obliged to pamper myself with warm youthful blood, in order that I might satisfy thy furious desires — thou art the murderer!” — These dreadful words summoned, before Walter’s terrified conscience, the threatening shades of all those who had thus perished; while despair choked his voice.
“Why,” continued she, in a tone that increased his horror, “why dost thou make mouths at me like a puppet? Thou who hadst the courage to love the dead — to take into thy bed, one who had been sleeping in the grave, the bed-fellow of the worm — who hast clasped in thy lustful arms, the corruption of the tomb — dost thou, unhallowed as thou art, now raise this hideous cry for the sacrifice of a few lives? — They are but leaves swept from their branches by a storm. — Come, chase these idiot fancies, and taste the bliss thou hast so dearly purchased.” So saying, she extended her arms towards him; but this motion served only to increase his terror, and exclaiming: “Accursed Being,” — he rushed out of the apartment.
All the horrors of a guilty, upbraiding conscience became his companions, now that he was awakened from the delirium of his unholy pleasures. Frequently did he curse his own obstinate blindness, for having given no heed to the hints and admonitions of his children’s nurses, but treating them as vile calumnies. But his sorrow was now too late, for, although repentance may gain pardon for the sinner, it cannot alter the immutable decrees of fate — it cannot recall the murdered from the tomb. No sooner did the first break of dawn appear, than he set out for his lonely castle in the mountains, determined no longer to abide under the same roof with so terrific a being; yet vain was his flight, for, on waking the following morning, he perceived himself in Brunhilda’s arms, and quite entangled in her long raven tresses, which seemed to involve him, and bind him in the fetters of his fate; the powerful fascination of her breath held him still more captivated, so that, forgetting all that had passed, he returned her caresses, until awakening as if from a dream he recoiled in unmixed horror from her embrace. During the day he wandered through the solitary wilds of the mountains, as a culprit seeking an asylum from his pursuers; and, at night, retired to the shelter of a cave; fearing less to couch himself within such a dreary place, than to expose himself to the horror of again meeting Brunhilda; but alas! it was in vain that he endeavored to flee her. Again, when he awoke, he found her the partner of his miserable bed. Nay, had he sought the center of the earth as his hiding place; had he even imbedded himself beneath rocks, or formed his chamber in the recesses of the ocean, still had he found her his constant companion; for, by calling her again into existence, he had rendered himself inseparably hers; so fatal were the links that united them.
Struggling with the madness that was beginning to seize him, and brooding incessantly on the ghastly visions that presented themselves to his horror-stricken mind, he lay motionless in the gloomiest recesses of the woods, even from the rise of sun till the shades of eve. But, no sooner was the light of day extinguished in the west, and the woods buried in impenetrable darkness, than the apprehension of resigning himself to sleep drove him forth among the mountains. The storm played wildly with the fantastic clouds, and with the rattling leaves, as they were caught up into the air, as if some dread spirit was sporting with these images of transitoriness and decay: it roared among the summits of the oaks as if uttering a voice of fury, while its hollow sound rebounding among the distant hills, seemed as the moans of a departing sinner, or as the faint cry of some wretch expiring under the murderer’s hand: the owl too, uttered its ghastly cry as if foreboding the wreck of nature. Walter’s hair flew disorderly in the wind, like black snakes wreathing around his temples and shoulders; while each sense was awake to catch fresh horror. In the clouds he seemed to behold the forms of the murdered; in the howling wind to hear their laments and groans; in the chilling blast itself he felt the dire kiss of Brunhilda; in the cry of the screeching bird he heard her voice; in the moldering leaves he scented the charnel-bed out of which he had awakened her. “Murderer of thy own offspring,” exclaimed he in a voice making night, and the conflict of the element still more hideous, “paramour of a blood-thirsty vampire, reveler with the corruption of the tomb!” while in his despair he rent the wild locks from his head. Just then the full moon darted from beneath the bursting clouds; and the sight recalled to his remembrance the advice of the sorcerer, when he trembled at the first apparition of Brunhilda rising from her sleep of death; — namely, to seek him at the season of the full moon in the mountains, where three roads met. Scarcely had this gleam of hope broke in on his bewildered mind than he flew to the appointed spot.
On his arrival, Walter found the old man seated there upon a stone as calmly as though it had been a bright sunny day and completely regardless of the uproar around. “Art thou come then?” exclaimed he to the breathless wretch, who, flinging himself at his feet, cried in a tone of anguish: — “Oh save me — succor me — rescue me from the monster that scattereth death and desolation around her.
“Wherefore a mysterious warning? why didst thou not rather disclose to me at once all the horrors that awaited my sacrilegious profanation of the grave?”
“And wherefore a mysterious warning? why didst thou not perceivest how wholesome was the advice — ‘Wake not the dead.’
“Wert thou able to listen to another voice than that of thy impetuous passions? Did not thy eager impatience shut my mouth at the very moment I would have cautioned thee?”
“True, true: — thy reproof is just: but what does it avail now; — I need the promptest aid.”
“Well,” replied the old man, “there remains even yet a means of rescuing thyself, but it is fraught with horror and demands all thy resolution.”
“Utter it then, utter it; for what can be more appalling, more hideous than the misery I now endure?”
“Know then,” continued the sorcerer, “that only on the night of the new moon does she sleep the sleep of mortals; and then all the supernatural power which she inherits from the grave totally fails her. ‘Tis then that thou must murder her.”
“How! murder her!” echoed Walter.
“Aye,” returned the old man calmly, “pierce her bosom with a sharpened dagger, which I will furnish thee with; at the same time renounce her memory forever, swearing never to think of her intentionally, and that, if thou dost involuntarily, thou wilt repeat the curse.”
“Most horrible! yet what can be more horrible than she herself is? — I’ll do it.”
“Keep then this resolution until the next new moon.”
“What, must I wait until then?” cried Walter, “alas ere then, either her savage thirst for blood will have forced me into the night of the tomb, or horror will have driven me into the night of madness.”
“Nay,” replied the sorcerer, “that I can prevent;” and, so saying, he conducted him to a cavern further among the mountains. “Abide here twice seven days,” said he; “so long can I protect thee against her deadly caresses. Here wilt thou find all due provision for thy wants; but take heed that nothing tempt thee to quit this place. Farewell, when the moon renews itself, then do I repair hither again.” So saying, the sorcerer drew a magic circle around the cave, and then immediately disappeared.
Twice seven days did Walter continue in this solitude, where his companions were his own terrifying thoughts, and his bitter repentance. The present was all desolation and dread; the future presented the image of a horrible deed which he must perforce commit; while the past was empoisoned by the memory of his guilt. Did he think on his former happy union with Brunhilda, her horrible image presented itself to his imagination with her lips defiled with dropping blood: or, did he call to mind the peaceful days he had passed with Swanhilda, he beheld her sorrowful spirit with the shadows of her murdered children. Such were the horrors that attended him by day: those of night were still more dreadful, for then he beheld Brunhilda herself, who, wandering round the magic circle which she could not pass, called upon his name till the cavern reechoed the horrible sound. “Walter, my beloved,” cried she, “wherefore dost thou avoid me? art thou not mine? forever mine — mine here, and mine hereafter? And dost thou seek to murder me? — ah! commit not a deed which hurls us both to perdition — thyself as well as me.” In this manner did the horrible visitant torment him each night, and, even when she departed, robbed him of all repose.
The night of the new moon at length arrived, dark as the deed it was doomed to bring forth. The sorcerer entered the cavern; “Come,” said he to Walter, “let us depart hence, the hour is now arrived:” and he forthwith conducted him in silence from the cave to a coal-black steed, the sight of which recalled to Walter’s remembrance the fatal night. He then related to the old man Brunhilda’s nocturnal visits and anxiously inquired whether her apprehensions of eternal perdition would be fulfilled or not. “Mortal eye,” exclaimed the sorcerer, “may not pierce the dark secrets of another world, or penetrate the deep abyss that separates earth from heaven.” Walter hesitated to mount the steed. “Be resolute,” exclaimed his companion, “but this once is it granted to thee to make the trial, and, should thou fail now, nought can rescue thee from her power.”
“What can be more horrible than she herself? — I am determined:” and he leaped on the horse, the sorcerer mounting also behind him.
Carried with a rapidity equal to that of the storm that sweeps across the plain they in brief space arrived at Walter’s castle. All the doors flew open at the bidding of his companion, and they speedily reached Brunhilda’s chamber, and stood beside her couch. Reclining in a tranquil slumber; she reposed in all her native loveliness, every trace of horror had disappeared from her countenance; she looked so pure, meek and innocent that all the sweet hours of their endearments rushed to Walter’s memory, like interceding angels pleading in her behalf. His unnerved hand could not take the dagger which the sorcerer presented to him. “The blow must be struck even now:” said the latter, “shouldst thou delay but an hour, she will lie at daybreak on thy bosom, sucking the warm life drops from thy heart.”
“Horrible! most horrible!” faltered the trembling Walter, and turning away his face, he thrust the dagger into her bosom, exclaiming — “I curse thee forever! — and the cold blood gushed upon his hand. Opening her eyes once more, she cast a look of ghastly horror on her husband, and, in a hollow dying accent said — “Thou too art doomed to perdition.”
“Lay now thy hand upon her corpse,” said the sorcerer, “and swear the oath.” — Walter did as commanded, saying, “Never will I think of her with love, never recall her to mind intentionally, and, should her image recur to my mind involuntarily, so will I exclaim to it: be thou accursed.”
“Thou hast now done everything,” returned the sorcerer; — “restore her therefore to the earth, from which thou didst so foolishly recall her; and be sure to recollect thy oath: for, shouldst thou forget it but once, she would return, and thou wouldst be inevitably lost. Adieu — we see each other no more.” Having uttered these words he quitted the apartment, and Walter also fled from this abode of horror, having first given direction that the corpse should be speedily interred.
Again did the terrific Brunhilda repose within her grave; but her image continually haunted Walter’s imagination, so that his existence was one continued martyrdom, in which he continually struggled, to dismiss from his recollection the hideous phantoms of the past; yet, the stronger his effort to banish them, so much the more frequently and the more vividly did they return; as the night-wanderer, who is enticed by a fire-wisp into quagmire or bog, sinks the deeper into his damp grave the more he struggles to escape. His imagination seemed incapable of admitting any other image than that of Brunhilda: now he fancied he beheld her expiring, the blood streaming from her beautiful bosom: at others he saw the lovely bride of his youth, who reproached him with having disturbed the slumbers of the tomb; and to both he was compelled to utter the dreadful words, “I curse thee forever.” The terrible imprecation was constantly passing his lips; yet was he in incessant terror lest he should forget it, or dream of her without being able to repeat it, and then, on awaking, find himself in her arms. Else would he recall her expiring words, and, appalled at their terrific import, imagine that the doom of his perdition was irrecoverably passed. Whence should he fly from himself? or how erase from his brain these images and forms of horror? In the din of combat, in the tumult of war and its incessant pour of victory to defeat; from the cry of anguish to the exultation of victory — in these he hoped to find at least the relief of distraction: but here too he was disappointed. The giant fang of apprehension now seized him who had never before known fear; each drop of blood that sprayed upon him seemed the cold blood that had gushed from Brunhilda’s wound; each dying wretch that fell beside him looked like her, when expiring, she exclaimed, — “Thou too art doomed to perdition”; so that the aspect of death seemed more full of dread to him than aught beside, and this unconquerable terror compelled him to abandon the battle-field. At length, after many a weary and fruitless wandering, he returned to his castle. Here all was deserted and silent, as if the sword, or a still more deadly pestilence had laid everything waste: for the few inhabitants that still remained, and even those servants who had once shewn themselves the most attached, now fled from him, as though he had been branded with the mark of Cain. With horror he perceived that, by uniting himself as he had done with the dead, he had cut himself off from the living, who refused to hold any intercourse with him. Often, when he stood on the battlements of his castle, and looked down upon desolate fields, he compared their present solitude with the lively activity they were wont to exhibit, under the strict but benevolent discipline of Swanhilda. He now felt that she alone could reconcile him to life, but durst he hope that one, whom he so deeply aggrieved, could pardon him, and receive him again? Impatience at length got the better of fear; he sought Swanhilda, and, with the deepest contrition, acknowledged his complicated guilt; embracing her knees as he beseeched her to pardon him, and to return to his desolate castle, in order that it might again become the abode of contentment and peace. The pale form which she beheld at her feet, the shadow of the lately blooming youth, touched Swanhilda. “The folly,” said she gently, “though it has caused me much sorrow, has never excited my resentment or my anger. But say, where are my children?” To this dreadful interrogation the agonized father could for a while frame no reply: at length he was obliged to confess the dreadful truth. “Then we are sundered forever,” returned Swanhilda; nor could all his tears or supplications prevail upon her to revoke the sentence she had given.
Stripped of his last earthly hope, bereft of his last consolation, and thereby rendered as poor as mortal can possibly be on this side of the grave. Walter returned homewards; when, as he was riding through the forest in the neighborhood of his castle, absorbed in his gloomy meditations, the sudden sound of a horn roused him from his reverie. Shortly after he saw appear a female figure clad in black, and mounted on a steed of the same color: her attire was like that of a huntress, but, instead of a falcon, she bore a raven in her hand; and she was attended by a gay troop of cavaliers and dames. The first salutations bring passed, he found that she was proceeding the same road as himself; and, when she found that Walter’s castle was close at hand, she requested that he would lodge her for that night, the evening being far advanced. Most willingly did he comply with this request, since the appearance of the beautiful stranger had struck him greatly; so wonderfully did she resemble Swanhilda, except that her locks were brown, and her eye dark and full of fire. With a sumptous banquet did he entertain his guests, whose mirth and songs enlivened the lately silent halls. Three days did this revelry continue, and so exhilarating did it prove to Walter that he seemed to have forgotten his sorrows and his fears; nor could he prevail upon himself to dismiss his visitors, dreading lest, on their departure, the castle would seem a hundred times more desolate than beforehand his grief be proportionally increased. At his earnest request, the stranger consented to stay seven, and again another seven days. Without being requested, she took upon herself the superintendence of the household, which she regulated as discreetly and cheerfully as Swanhilda had been wont to do, so that the castle, which had so lately been the abode of melancholy and horror, became the residence of pleasure and festivity, and Walter’s grief disappeared altogether in the midst of so much gaiety. Daily did his attachment to the fair unknown increase; he even made her his confidant; and, one evening as they were walking together apart from any of her train, he related to her his melancholy and frightful history. “My dear friend,” returned she, as soon as he had finished his tale, “it ill beseems a man of thy discretion to afflict thyself on account of all this. Thou hast awakened the dead from the sleep of the grave and afterwards found,” — “what might have been anticipated, that the dead possess no sympathy with life. What then? thou wilt not commit this error a second time.”
“Thou hast however murdered the being whom thou hadst thus recalled again to existence — but it was only in appearance, for thou couldst not deprive that of life which properly had none. Thou hast, too, lost a wife and two children: but at thy years such a loss is most easily repaired. There are beauties who will gladly share thy couch, and make thee again a father. But thou dreadst the reckoning of hereafter: — go, open the graves and ask the sleepers there whether that hereafter disturbs them.” In such manner would she frequently exhort and cheer him, so that, in a short time, his melancholy entirely disappeared. He now ventured to declare to the unknown the passion with which she had inspired him, nor did she refuse him her hand. Within seven days afterwards the nuptials were celebrated, and the very foundations of the castle seemed to rock from the wild tumultuous uproar of unrestrained riot. The wine streamed in abundance; the goblets circled incessantly; intemperance reached its utmost bounds, while shouts of laughter almost resembling madness burst from the numerous train belonging to the unknown. At length Walter, heated with wine and love, conducted his bride into the nuptial chamber: but, oh! horror! scarcely had he clasped her in his arms ere she transformed herself into a monstrous serpent, which entwining him in its horrid folds, crushed him to death. Flames crackled on every side of the apartment; in a few minutes after, the whole castle was enveloped in a blaze that consumed it entirely: while, as the walls fell in with a tremendous crash, a voice exclaimed aloud — “Wake not the dead!”
 
The Vampire
John William Polidori
(1819)
 
 
 
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon a London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman, more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it, and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe, could not explain whence it arose: some attributed it to the dead grey eye, which, fixing upon the object’s face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a warmer tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection: Lady Mercer, who had been the mockery of every monster shewn in drawing-rooms since her marriage, threw herself in his way, and did all but put on the dress of a mountebank, to attract his notice: — though in vain: — when she stood before him, though his eyes were apparently fixed upon hers, still it seemed as if they were unperceived; — even her unappalled impudence was baffled, and she left, the field. But though the common adulteress could not influence even the guidance of his eyes, it was not that the female sex was indifferent to him: yet such was the apparent caution with which he spoke to the virtuous wife and innocent daughter, that few knew he ever addressed himself to females. He had, however, the reputation of a winning tongue; and whether it was that it even overcame the dread of his singular character, or that they were moved by his apparent hatred of vice, he was as often among those females who form the boast of their sex from their domestic virtues, as among those who sully it by their vices.
About the same time, there came to London a young gentleman of the name of Aubrey: he was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parent» who died while he was yet in childhood. Left also to himself by guardians, who thought it their duty merely to take care of his fortune, while they relinquished the more important charge of his mind to the care of mercenary subalterns, he cultivated more his imagination than his judgment. He had, hence, that high romantic feeling of honor and candor, which daily ruins so many milliners’ apprentices. He believed all to sympathize with virtue, and thought that vice was thrown in by Providence merely for the picturesque effect of the scene, as we see in romances: he thought that the misery of a cottage merely consisted in the vesting of clothes, which were as warm, but which were better adapted to the painter’s eye by their irregular folds and various colored patches. Me thought, in fine, that the dreams of poets were the realities of life. He was handsome, frank, and rich: for these reasons, upon his entering into the gay circles, many mothers surrounded him, striving which should describe with least truth their languishing or romping favorites: the daughters at the same time, by their brightening countenances when he approached, and by their sparkling eyes, when he opened his lips, soon led him into false notions of his talents and his merit. Attached as lie was to the romance of his solitary hours, he was startled at finding, that, except in the tallow and wax candles that flickered, not from the presence of a ghost, but from want of snuffing, there was no foundation in real life for any of that congeries of pleasing pictures and descriptions contained in those volumes, from which he had formed his study. Finding, however, some compensation in his gratified vanity, he was about to relinquish his dreams, when the extraordinary being we have above described, crossed him in his career.
He watched him; and the very impossibility of forming an idea of the character of a man entirely absorbed in himself, who gave few other signs of his observation of external objects, than the tacit assent to their existence, implied by the avoidance of their contact: allowing his imagination to picture everything that flattered its propensity to extravagant ideas, he soon formed this object into the hero of a romance, and determined to observe the offspring of his fancy, rather than the person before him. He became acquainted with him, paid him attentions, and so far advanced upon his notice, that his presence was always recognized. He gradually learnt that Lord Ruthven’s affairs were embarrassed, and soon found, from the notes of preparation in —— Street, that he was about to travel. Desirous of gaining some information respecting this singular character, who, till now, had only whetted his curiosity, he hinted to his guardians, that it was time for him to perform the tour, which for many generations has been thought necessary to enable the young to take some rapid steps in the career of vice towards putting themselves upon an equality with the aged, and not allowing them to appear as if fallen from the skies, whenever scandalous intrigues are mentioned as the subjects of pleasantry or of praise, according to the degree of skill shewn in carrying them on. They consented: and Aubrey immediately mentioning his intentions to Lord Ruthven, was surprised to receive from him a proposal to join him. Flattered by such a mark of esteem from him, who, apparently, had nothing in common with other men, he gladly accepted it, and in a few days they hail passed the circling waters.
Hitherto, Aubrey had had no opportunity of studying Lord Ruthven’s character, and now he found, that, though many more of his actions were exposed to his view, the results offered different conclusions from (lie apparent motives to his conduct. His companion was profuse in his liberality; — the idle, the vagabond, and the beggar, received from his hand more than enough to relieve their immediate wants. But Aubrey could not avoid remarking, that it was not upon the virtuous, reduced to indigence by the misfortunes attendant even upon virtue, that he bestowed his alms; — these were sent from the door with hardly suppressed sneers; but when the profligate came to ask something, not to relieve his wants, but to allow him to wallow in his lust, or to sink him still deeper in his iniquity, he was sent away with rich charity. This was, however, attributed by him to the greater importunity of the vicious, which generally prevails over the retiring bashfulness of the virtuous indigent. There was one circumstance about the charity of his Lordship, which was still more impressed upon his mind: all those upon whom it was bestowed, inevitably found that there was a curse upon it, for they were all either led to the scaffold, or sunk to the lowest and the most abject misery. At Brussels and other towns through which they passed, Aubrey was surprised at the apparent eagerness with which his companion sought for the centers of all fashionable vice; there he entered into all the spirit of the faro table: he betted, and always gambled with success, except where the known sharper was his antagonist, and then he lost even more than he gained; but it was always with the same unchanging face, with which he generally watched the society around: it was not, however, so when he encountered the rash youthful novice, or the luckless father of a numerous family; then his very wish seemed fortune’s law — this apparent abstractedness of mind was laid aside, and his eyes sparkled with more fire than that of the cat whilst dallying with lire half-dead mouse. In every town, he left the formerly affluent youth, torn from the circle he adorned, cursing, in the solitude of a dungeon, the fate that had drawn him within the reach of this fiend; whilst many a father sat frantic, amidst the speaking looks of mute hungry children, without a single farthing of his late immense wealth, wherewith to buy even sufficient to satisfy their present craving. Yet he took no money from the gambling table; but immediately lost, to the ruiner of many, the last gilder he had just snatched from the convulsive grasp of the innocent: this might but be the result of a certain degree of knowledge, which was not, however, capable of combating the cunning of the more experienced. Aubrey often wished to represent this to his friend, and beg him to resign that charity and pleasure which proved the ruin of all, and did not tend to his own profit; — but he delayed it — for each day ho hoped his friend would give him some opportunity of speaking frankly and openly to him; however, this never occurred. Lord Ruthven in his carriage, and amidst the various wild and rich scenes of nature, was always the same: his eye spoke less than his lip; and though Aubrey was near the object of his curiosity, he obtained no greater gratification from it than the constant excitement of vainly wishing to break that mystery, which to his exalted imagination began to assume the appearance of something supernatural.
They soon arrived at Rome, and Aubrey for a time lost sight of his companion; he left him in daily attendance upon the morning circle of an Italian countess, whilst he went in search of the memorials of another almost deserted city. Whilst he was thus engaged, letters arrived from England, which he opened with eager impatience; the first was from his sister, breathing nothing but affection; the others were from his guardians, the latter astonished him; if it had before entered into his imagination that there was an evil power resident in his companion, these seemed to give him sufficient reason for the belief. His guardians insisted upon his immediately leaving his friend, and urged, that his character was dreadfully vicious, for that the possession of irresistible powers of seduction, rendered his licentious habits more dangerous to society. It had been discovered, that his contempt for the adulteress had not originated in hatred of her character; but that he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation: in fine, that all those females whom he had sought, apparently on account of their virtue, had, since his departure, thrown even the mask aside, and had not scrupled to expose the whole deformity of their vices to the public gaze.
Aubrey determined upon leaving one, whose character had not yet shown a single bright point on which to rest the eye. He resolved to invent some plausible pretext for abandoning him altogether, purposing, in the meanwhile, to watch him more closely, and to let no slight circumstances pass by unnoticed. He entered into the same circle, and soon perceived, that his Lordship was endeavoring to work upon the inexperience of the daughter of the lady whose house he chiefly frequented. In Italy, it is seldom that an unmarried female is met with in society; he was therefore obliged to carry on his plans in secret; but Aubrey’s eye followed him in all his windings, and soon discovered that an assignation had been appointed, which would most likely end in the ruin of an innocent, though thoughtless girl. Losing no time, he entered the apartment of Lord Ruthven, and abruptly asked him his intentions with respect to the lady, informing him at the same time that he was aware of his being about to meet her that very night. Lord Ruthven answered, that his intentions were such as he supposed all would have upon such an occasion; and upon being pressed whether he intended to marry her, merely laughed. Aubrey retired; and, immediately writing a note, to say, that from that moment he must decline accompanying his Lordship in the remainder of their proposed tour, ho ordered his servant to seek other apartments, and calling upon the mother of the lady, informed her of all he knew, not only with regard to her daughter, but also concerning the character of his Lordship. The assignation was prevented. Lord Ruthven next day merely sent his servant to notify his complete assent to a separation; but did not hint any suspicion of his plans having been foiled by Aubrey’s interposition.
Having left Rome, Aubrey directed his steps towards Greece, and crossing the Peninsula, soon found himself at Athens. He then fixed his residence in the house of a Greek; and soon occupied himself in tracing the faded records of ancient glory upon monuments that apparently, ashamed of chronicling the deeds of freemen only before slaves, had hidden themselves beneath the sheltering soil or many-colored lichen. Under the same roof as himself, existed a being, so beautiful and delicate, that she might have formed the model for a painter, wishing; to portray oil canvass the promised hope of the faithful in Mahomet’s paradise, save that her eyes spoke too much mind for anyone to think she could belong to those who had no souls. As she danced upon the plain, or tripped along the mountain’s side, one would have thought the gazelle a poor type of her beauties; for who would have exchanged her eye, apparently the eye of animated nature, for that sleepy luxurious look of the animal suited but to the taste of an epicure. The light step of Ianthe often accompanied Aubrey in his search after antiquities, and often would the unconscious girl, engaged in the pursuit of a Cashmere butterfly, show the whole beauty of her form, floating as it were upon the wind, to the eager gaze of him, who forgot the letters he had just deciphered upon an almost effaced tablet, in the contemplation of her sylph-like figure. Often would her tresses falling, as she flitted around, exhibit in the sun’s ray such delicately brilliant and swiftly fading hues, its might well excuse the forgetfulness of the antiquary, who let escape from his mind the very object he had before thought of vital importance to the proper interpretation of a passage in Pausanias. But why attempt to describe charms which all feel, but none can appreciate? — It was innocence, youth, and beauty, unaffected by crowded drawing-rooms and stifling — balls. Whilst he drew those remains of which lie wished to preserve a memorial for his future hours, she would stand by, and watch the magic effects of his pencil, in tracing the scenes of her native place; she would then describe to him the circling dance upon the open plain, would paint, to him in all the glowing colors of youthful memory, the marriage pomp she remembered viewing in her infancy; and then, turning to subjects that had evidently made a greater impression upon her mind, would tell him all the supernatural tales of her nurse. Her earnestness and apparent belief of what she narrated, excited the interest even of Aubrey; and often as she told him the tale of the living vampire, who had passed years amidst his friends, and dearest ties, forced every year, by feeding upon the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence for the ensuing months, his blood would run cold, whilst he attempted to laugh her out of such idle and horrible fantasies; > but lathe cited to him the names of old men, who had at last detected one living among themselves, after several of their near relatives and children had been found marked with the stamp of the fiend’s appetite,; and when she found him so incredulous, she begged of him to believe her, for it had been, remarked, that those who had dared to question their existence, always had some proof given, which obliged them, with grief and heartbreaking, to confess it was true. She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and his horror was increased, by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her, that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven.
Aubrey began to attach himself more and more to Ianthe; her innocence, so contrasted with all the affected virtues of the women among whom he had sought for his vision of romance, won his heart; and while he ridiculed the idea of a young man of English habits, marrying an uneducated Greek girl, still he found himself more and more attached to the almost fairy form before him. He would tear himself at times from her, and, forming a plan for some antiquarian research, he would depart, determined not to return until his object was attained; but he always found it impossible to fix his attention upon the ruins around him, whilst in his mind he retained an image that seemed alone the rightful possessor of his thoughts. Ianthe was unconscious of his love, and was ever the same frank infantile being he had find: known. She always seemed to part from him with reluctance; but it was because she had no longer any one with whom she could visit her favorite haunts, whilst her guardian was occupied in sketching or uncovering some fragment which had yet escaped the destructive hand of time. She had appealed to her parents on the subject of Vampires, and they both, with several present, affirmed their existence, pale with horror at the very name. Soon after, Aubrey determined to proceed upon one of his excursions, which was to detain him for a few hours; when they heard the name of the place, they all at once begged of him not to return at night, as he must necessarily pass through a wood, where no Greek would ever remain, after the day had closed, upon any consideration. They described it as the resort of the vampires in their nocturnal orgies, and denounced the most heavy evils as impending upon him who dared to cross their path. Aubrey made light of their representations, and tried to laugh them out of the idea; but when he saw them shudder at his daring thus to mock a superior, infernal power, the very name of which apparently made their blood freeze, he was silent.
Next morning Aubrey set off upon his excursion unattended; he was surprised to observe the melancholy face of his host, and was concerned to find that his words, mocking the belief of those horrible fiends, had inspired them with such terror. When he was about to depart, Ianthe came to the side of his horse, and earnestly begged of him to return, ore night allowed the power of these beings to be put in action; — he promised. He was, however, so occupied in his research, that lie did not perceive that day-light would soon end, and that in the horizon there was one of those specks which, in the warmer climates, so rapidly gather into a tremendous mass, and pour all their rage upon the devoted country. — He at last, however, mounted his horse, determined to make up by speed for his delay: but it was too late. Twilight, in these southern climates, is almost unknown; immediately the sun sets, night begins: and ere he had advanced far, the power of the storm was above — its echoing thunders had scarcely an interval of rest — its thick heavy rain forced its way through the canopying foliage, whilst the blue forked lightning seemed to fall and radiate at his very feet. Suddenly his horse took fright, and he was carried with dreadful rapidity through the entangled forest. The animal at last, through fatigue, stopped, and he found, by the glare of lightning, that he was in the neighborhood of a hovel that hardly lifted itself up from the masses of dead leaves and brushwood which surrounded it. Dismounting, he approached, hoping to find someone to guide him to the town, or at least trusting to obtain shelter from the pelting of the storm. As he approached, the thunders, for a moment silent, allowed him to hear the dreadful shrieks of a woman mingling with the stifled, exultant mockery of a laugh, continued in one almost unbroken sound; — he was startled: but, roused by the thunder which again rolled over his head, he, with a sudden effort, forced open the door of the hut. He found himself in utter darkness: the sound, however, guided him. He was apparently unperceived; for, though he called, still the sounds continued, and no notice was taken of him. He found himself in contact with someone, whom he immediately seized; when a voice cried, “Again baffled!” to which a loud laugh succeeded; and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled; but it was in vain: he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground: — his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hands upon his throat — when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him; — he instantly rose, and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of the brandies, as he broke through the wood, was no longer heard. The storm was now still; and Aubrey, incapable of moving, was soon heard by those without. They entered; the light of their torches fell upon the mud walls, and the thatch loaded on every individual straw with heavy flakes of soot. At the desire of Aubrey they searched for her who had attracted him by her cries; he was again left in darkness; but what was his horror, when the light of the torches once more burs; upon him, to perceive the airy form of his fair conductress brought in a lifeless corse. He shut his eyes, hoping that it was but a vision arising from his disturbed imagination; but he again saw the same form, when he unclosed them, stretched by his side. There was no color upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: — upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: — to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, “A Vampire! a Vampire!” A litter was quickly formed, and Aubrey was laid by the side of her who had lately been to him the object of so many bright and fairy visions, now fallen with the flower of life that had died within her. He knew not what his thoughts were — his mind was benumbed and seemed to shun reflection, and take refuge in vacancy — he held almost unconsciously in his hand a naked dagger of a particular construction, which had been found in the hut. They were soon met by different parties who had been engaged in the search of her whom a mother had missed. Their lamentable cries, as they approached the city, forewarned the parents of some dreadful catastrophe. — To describe their grief would be impossible; but when they ascertained the cause of their child’s death, they looked at Aubrey, and pointed to the corse. They were inconsolable; both died broken-hearted.
Aubrey being put to bed was seized with a most violent fever, and was often delirious; in these intervals he would call upon Lord Ruthven and upon Ianthe — by some unaccountable combination he seemed to beg of his former companion to spare the being he loved. At other times he would imprecate maledictions upon his head, and curse him as her destroyer. Lord Ruthven, chanced at this time to arrive at Athens, and, from whatever motive, upon hearing of the state of Aubrey, immediately placed himself in the same house, and became his constant attendant. When the latter recovered from his delirium, he was horrified and startled at the sight of him whose image he had now combined with that of a Vampire; but Lord Ruthven, by his kind words, implying almost repentance for the fault that had caused their separation, and still more by the attention, anxiety, and care which he showed, soon reconciled him to his presence. His lordship seemed quite changed; he no longer appeared that apathetic being who had so astonished Aubrey; but as soon as his convalescence began to be rapid, he again gradually retired into the same state of mind, and Aubrey perceived no difference from the former man, except that at times he was surprised to meet his gaze fixed intently upon him, with a smile of malicious exultation playing upon his lips: he knew not why, but this smile haunted him. During the last stage of the invalid’s recovery, Lord Ruthven was apparently engaged in watching the tideless waves raised by the cooling breeze, or in marking the progress of those orbs, circling, like our world, the moveless sun; — indeed, he appeared to wish to avoid the eyes of all.
Aubrey’s mind, by this shock, was much weakened, and that elasticity of spirit which had once so distinguished him now seemed to have fled forever. He was now as much a lover of solitude and silence as Lord Ruthven; but much as he wished for solitude, his mind could not find it in the neighborhood of Athens; if he sought it amidst the ruins he had formerly frequented, Ianthe’s form stood by his side — if he sought it in the woods, her light step would appear wandering amidst the underwood, in quest of the modest violet; then suddenly turning round, would show, to his wild imagination, her pale face and wounded throat, with a meek smile upon her lips. He determined to fly scenes, every feature of which created such bitter associations in his mind. He proposed to Lord Ruthven, to whom he held himself bound by the tender care he-had taken of him during his illness, that they should visit those parts of Greece neither had yet seen. They travelled in every direction, and sought every spot to which a recollection could be attached: but though they thus hastened from place to place, yet they seemed not to heed what they gazed upon. They heard much of robbers, but they gradually began to slight these reports, which they imagined were only the invention of individuals, whose interest it was to excite the generosity of those whom they defended from pretended dangers. In consequence of thus neglecting the advice of the inhabitants, on one occasion they travelled with only a few guards, more to serve as guides than as a defense. Upon entering, however, a narrow defile, at the bottom of which was the bed of a torrent, with large masses of rock brought down from the neighboring precipices, they had reason to repent their negligence; for scarcely were the whole of the party engaged in the narrow pass, when they were startled by the whistling of bullets close to their heads, and by the echoed report of several guns. In an instant their guards had left them, and, placing themselves behind rocks, had begun to fire in the direction whence the report came. Lord Ruthven and Aubrey, imitating their example, retired for a moment behind the sheltering turn of the defile: but ashamed of being thus detained by a foe, who with insulting shouts bade them advance, and being exposed to unresisting slaughter, if any of the robbers should climb above and take them in the rear, they determined at once to rush forward in search of the enemy. Hardly had they lost the shelter of the rock, when Lord Ruthven received a shot in the shoulder, which brought him to the ground. Aubrey hastened to his assistance; and, no longer heeding the contest or his own peril, was soon surprised by seeing the robbers’ faces around him — his guards having, upon Lord Ruthven’s being wounded, immediately thrown up their arms and surrendered.
By promises of great reward, Aubrey soon induced them to convey his wounded friend to a neighboring cabin; and having agreed upon a ransom, he was no more disturbed by their presence — they being content merely to guard the entrance till their comrade should return with the promised sum, for which he had an order. Lord Ruthven’s strength rapidly decreased; in two days mortification ensued, and death seemed advancing with hasty steps. His conduct and appearance had not changed; he seemed as unconscious of pain as he had been of the objects about him: but towards the close of the last evening, his mind became apparently uneasy, and his eye often fixed upon Aubrey, who was induced to offer his assistance with more than usual earnestness — “Assist me! you may save me — you may do more than that — I mean not my life, I heed the death of my existence as little as that of the passing day; but you may save my honor, your friend’s honor.” — “How? tell me how? I would do anything,” replied Aubrey. — “I need but little — my life ebbs apace — I cannot explain the whole — but if you would conceal all you know of me, my honor were free from stain in the world’s mouth — and if my death were unknown for some time in England — I — I — but life.” — “It shall not be known.” — “Swear!” cried the dying man, raising himself with exultant violence, “Swear by all your soul reveres, by all your nature fears, swear that, for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see.” — His eyes seemed bursting from their sockets: “I swear!” said Aubrey; he sunk laughing upon his pillow, and breathed no more.
Aubrey retired to rest, but did not sleep; the many circumstances attending his acquaintance with this man rose upon his mind, and he knew not why; when he remembered his oath a cold shivering came over him, as if from the presentiment of something horrible awaiting him. Rising early in the morning, he was about to enter the hovel in which he had left the corpse, when a robber met him, and informed him that it was no longer there, having been conveyed by himself and comrades, upon his retiring, to the pinnacle of a neighboring mount, according to a promise they had given his lordship, that it should be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon that rose after his death. Aubrey astonished, and taking several of the men, determined to go and bury it upon the spot where it lay. But, when he had mounted to the summit he found no trace of either the corpse or the clothes, though the robbers swore they pointed out the identical rock: on which they had laid the body. For a time his mind was bewildered in conjectures, but he at last returned, convinced that they had buried the corpse for the sake of the clothes.
Weary of a country in which he had met with such terrible misfortunes, and in which all apparently conspired to heighten that superstitious melancholy that had seized upon his mind, he resolved to leave it, and soon arrived at Smyrna. While waiting for a vessel to convey him to Otranto, or to Naples, he occupied himself in arranging those effects be had with him belonging to Lord Ruthven. Amongst other things there was a case containing several weapons of offence, more or less adapted to ensure the death of the victim. There were several daggers and ataghans. Whilst turning them over, and examining their curious forms, what was his surprise at finding a sheath apparently ornamented in the same style as the dagger discovered in the fatal hut — he shuddered — hastening to gain further proof, he found the weapon, and his horror may be imagined when he discovered that it fitted, though peculiarly shaped, the sheath he held in his hand. His eyes seemed to need no further certainty — they seemed gazing to be bound to the dagger; yet still he wished to disbelieve; but the particular form, the same varying tints upon the haft and sheath were alike in splendor on both, and left no room for doubt; there were also drops of blood on each.
He left Smyrna, and on his way home, at Rome, his first inquiries were concerning the lady he had attempted to snatch from Lord Ruthven’s seductive arts. Her parents were in distress, their fortune ruined, and she had not been heard of since the departure of his lordship. Aubrey’s mind became almost broken under so many repeated horrors; he was afraid that this lady had fallen a victim to the destroyer of Ianthe. He became morose and silent; and his only occupation consisted in urging the speed of the postilions, as if he were going to save the life of someone he held dear. He arrived at Calais; a breeze, which seemed obedient to his will, soon wafted him to the English shores; and he hastened to the mansion of his fathers, and there, for a moment, appeared to lose, in the embraces and caresses of his sister, all memory of the past. If she before, by her infantine caresses, had gained his affection, now that the woman began to appear, she was still more attaching as a companion.
Miss Aubrey had not that winning grace which gains the gaze and applause of the drawing-room assemblies. There was none of that light brilliancy which only exists in the heated atmosphere of a crowded apartment. Her blue eye was never lit up by the levity of the mind beneath. There was a melancholy charm about it which did not seem to arise from misfortune, but from some feeling within, that appeared to indicate a soul conscious of a brighter realm. Her step was not that light footing, which strays where’er a butterfly or a color may attract — it was sedate and pensive. When alone, her face was never brightened by the smile of joy; but when her brother breathed to her his affection, and would in her presence forget those griefs she knew destroyed his rest, who would have exchanged her smile for that of the voluptuary? It seemed as if those eyes, — that face were then playing in the light of their own native sphere. She was yet only eighteen, and had not been presented to the world, it having been thought by her guardians more fit that her presentation should be delayed until her brother’s return from the continent, when he might be her protector. It was now, therefore, resolved that the next drawing-room, which was fast approaching, should be the epoch of her entry into the “busy scene.” Aubrey would rather have remained in the mansion of his fathers, and fed upon the melancholy which overpowered him. He could not fed interest about the frivolities of fashionable strangers, when his mind had been so torn by the events he had witnessed; but he determined to sacrifice his own comfort to the protection of his sister. They soon arrived in town, and prepared for the next day, which had been announced as a drawing-room.
The crowd was excessive — a drawing-room had not been held for a long time, and all who were anxious to bask in the smile of royalty, hastened thither. Aubrey was there with his sister. While he was standing in a corner by himself, heedless of all around him, engaged in the remembrance that the first time he had seen Lord Ruthven was in that very place — he felt himself suddenly seized by the arm, and a voice he recognized too well, sounded in his ear — “Remember your oath.” He had hardly courage to turn, fearful of seeing a specter that would blast him, when he perceived, at a little distance, the same figure which had attracted his notice on this spot upon his first entry into society. He gazed till his limbs almost refusing to bear their weight, he was obliged to take the arm of a friend, and forcing a passage through the crowd, he threw himself into his carriage, and was driven home. He paced the room with hurried steps, and fixed his hands upon his head, as if he were afraid his thoughts were bursting from his brain. Lord Ruthven again before him — circumstances started up in dreadful array — the dagger — his oath. — He roused himself, he could not believe it possible — the dead rise again! — He thought his imagination had conjured up the image, his mind was resting upon. It was impossible that it could be real — he determined, therefore, to go again into society; for though he attempted to ask concerning Lord Ruthven, the name hung upon his lips, and he could not succeed in gaining information. He went a few nights after with lib sister to the assembly of a near relation. Leaving her under the protection of a matron, who retired into a recess, and there gave himself up to his own devouring thoughts. Perceiving, at last, that many were leaving, he roused himself, and entering another room, found his sister surrounded by several, apparently in earnest conversation; he attempted to pass and get near her, when one, whom he requested to move, turned round, and revealed to him those features he most abhorred. He sprang forward, seized his sister’s arm, and, with hurried step, forced her towards the street: at the door he found himself impeded by the crowd of servants who were waiting for their lords; and while he was engaged in passing them, he again heard that voice whisper close to him — “Remember your oath!” — He did not dare to turn, but, hurrying his sister, soon reached home.
Aubrey became almost distracted. If before his mind had been absorbed by one subject, how much more completely was it engrossed, now that the certainty of the monster’s living again pressed upon his thoughts. His sister’s attentions were now unheeded, and it was in vain that she intreated him to explain to her what had caused his abrupt conduct. He only uttered a few words, and those terrified her. The more he thought, the more he was bewildered. His oath startled him; — was he then to allow this monster to roam, bearing ruin upon his breath, amidst all he held dear, and not avert its progress? His very sister might have been touched by him. But even if he were to break his oath, and disclose his suspicions, who would believe him? He thought of employing his own hand to free the world from such a wretch; but death, he remembered, had been already mocked. For days he remained in this state; shut up in his room, he saw no one, and eat only when his sister came, who, with eyes streaming with tears, besought him, for her sake, to support nature. At last, no longer capable of bearing stillness and solitude, he left his house, roamed from street to street, anxious to fly that image which haunted him. His dress became neglected, and he wandered, as often exposed to the noon-day sun as to the midnight damps. He was no longer to be recognized; at first he returned with the evening to the house; but at last he laid him down to rest wherever fatigue overtook him. His sister, anxious for his safety, employed people to follow him; but they were soon distanced by him who fled from a pursuer swifter than any — from thought. His conduct, however, suddenly changed. Struck with the idea that he left by his absence the whole of his friends, with a fiend amongst them, of whose presence they were unconscious, he determined to enter again into society, and watch him closely, anxious to forewarn, in spite of his oath, all whom Lord Ruthven approached with intimacy. But when he entered into a room, his haggard and suspicious looks were so striking, his inward shudderings so visible, that his sister was at last obliged to beg of him to abstain from seeking, for her sake, a society which affected him so strongly. When, however, remonstrance proved unavailing, the guardians thought proper to interpose, and, fearing that his mind was becoming alienated, they thought it high time to resume again that trust which had been before imposed upon them by Aubrey’s parents.
Desirous of saving him from the injuries and sufferings he had daily encountered in his wanderings, and of preventing him from exposing to the general eye those marks of what they considered folly, they engaged a physician to reside in the house, and take constant care of him. He hardly appeared to notice it, so completely was his mind absorbed by one terrible subject. His incoherence became at last so great, that he was confined to his chamber. There he would often lie for days, incapable of being roused. He had become emaciated, his eyes had attained a glassy luster; — the only sign of affection and recollection remaining displayed itself upon the entry of his sister; then he would sometimes start, and, seizing her hands, with looks that severely afflicted her, he would desire her not to touch him. “Oh, do not touch him — if your love for me is aught, do not go near him!” When, however, she inquired to whom he referred, his only answer was, “True! true!” and again he sank into a state, whence not even she could rouse him. This lasted many months: gradually, however, as the year was passing, his incoherencies became less frequent, and his mind threw off a portion of its gloom, whilst his guardians observed, that several times in the day he would count upon his fingers a definite number, and then smile.
The time had nearly elapsed, when, upon the last day of the year, one of his guardians entering his room, began to converse with his physician upon the melancholy circumstance of Aubrey’s being in so awful a situation, when his sister was going next day to be married. Instantly Aubrey’s attention was attracted; he asked anxiously to whom. Glad of this mark of returning intellect, of which they feared he had been deprived, they mentioned the name of the Earl of Marsden. Thinking this was a young Earl whom he had met with in society, Aubrey seemed pleased, and astonished them still more by his expressing his intention to be present tit the nuptials, and desiring to see his sister. They answered not, but in a few minutes his sister was with him. He was apparently again capable of being affected by the influence of her lovely smile; for he pressed her to his breast, and kissed her check, wet with tears, flowing at the thought of her brother’s being once more alive to the feelings of affection. He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what was his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the resemblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her — then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he — But he could not advance — it seemed as if that voice again bade him remember his oath — he turned suddenly round, thinking Lord Ruthven was near him but saw no one. In the meantime the guardians and physician, who had heard the whole, and thought this was but a return of his disorder, entered, and forcing him from Miss Aubrey, desired her to leave him. He fell upon his knees to them, he implored, he begged of them to delay but for one day. They, attributing this to the insanity they imagined had taken possession of his mind, endeavored to pacify him, and retired.
Lord Ruthven had called the morning after the drawing-room, and had been refused with everyone else. When he heard of Aubrey’s ill health, he readily understood himself to be the cause of it; but when he learned that he was deemed insane, his exultation and pleasure could hardly be concealed from those among whom he had gained this information. He hastened to the house of his former companion, and, by constant attendance, and the pretense of great affection for the brother and interest in his fate, he gradually won the car of Miss Aubrey. Who could resist his power? His tongue had dangers and toils to recount — could speak of himself as of an individual having no sympathy with any being on the crowded earth, save with her to whom he addressed himself; — could tell how, since he knew her, his existence, had begun to seem worthy of preservation, if it were merely that he might listen to her soothing accents; — in fine, he knew so well how to use the serpent’s art, or such was the will of fate, that he gained her affections. The title of the elder branch falling at length to him, lie obtained an important embassy, which served as an excuse for hastening the marriage, (in spite of her brother’s deranged state,) which was to take place the very day before his departure for the continent.
Aubrey, when he was left by the physician and his guardians, attempted to bribe the servants, but in vain. He asked for pen and paper; it was given him; be wrote a letter to his sister, conjuring her, as she valued her own happiness, her own honor, and the honor of those now in the grave, who once held her in their arms as their hope and the hope of their house, to delay but for a few hours that marriage, on which he denounced the most heavy curses. The servants promised they would deliver it; but giving it to the physician, he thought it better not to harass any more the mind of Miss Aubrey by, what he considered, the ravings of a maniac. Night passed on without rest to the busy inmates of the house; and Aubrey heard, with a horror that may more easily be conceived than described, the notes of busy preparation. Morning came, and the sound of carriages broke upon his ear. Aubrey grew almost frantic. The curiosity of the servants at last overcame their vigilance, they gradually stole away, leaving him in the custody of an helpless old woman. He seized the opportunity, with one bound was out of the room, and in a moment found himself in the apartment where all were nearly assembled. Lord Ruthven was the first to perceive him: lie immediately approached, and, taking his arm by force, hurried him from the room, speechless with rage. When on the staircase, Lord Ruthven whispered in his ear — “Remember your oath, and know, if not my bride today, your sister is dishonored. Women are frail!” So saying, he pushed him towards his attendants, who, roused by the old woman, had come in search of him. Aubrey could no longer support himself; his rage not finding vent, had broken a blood-vessel, and he was conveyed to bed. This was not mentioned to his sister, who was not present when he entered, as the physician was afraid of agitating her. The marriage was solemnized, and the bride and bridegroom left London.
Aubrey’s weakness increased; the effusion of blood produced symptoms of the near approach of death. He desired his sister’s guardians might be called, and when the midnight hour had struck, he related composedly what the reader has perused — he died immediately after.
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey’s sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPIRE!
 
The Viy
Nikolai Gogol
(1835)
 
 
Chapter 1
 
 
 
As soon as the clear seminary bell began sounding in Kieff in the morning, the pupils would come flocking from all parts of the town. The students of grammar, rhetoric, philosophy, and theology hastened with their books under their arms over the streets.
The “grammarians” were still mere boys. On the way they pushed against each other and quarreled with shrill voices. Nearly all of them wore torn or dirty clothes, and their pockets were always crammed with all kinds of things — push-bones, pipes made out of pens, remains of confectionery, and sometimes even young sparrows. The latter would sometimes begin to chirp in the midst of deep silence in the school, and bring down on their possessors severe canings and thrashings.
The “rhetoricians” walked in a more orderly way. Their clothes were generally untorn, but on the other hand their faces were often strangely decorated; one had a black eye, and the lips of another resembled a single blister, etc. These spoke to each other in tenor voices.
The “philosophers” talked in a tone an octave lower; in their pockets they only had fragments of tobacco, never whole cakes of it; for what they could get hold of, they used at once. They smelt so strongly of tobacco and brandy, that a workman passing by them would often remain standing and sniffing with his nose in the air, like a hound.
About this time of day the market-place was generally full of bustle, and the market women, selling rolls, cakes, and honey-tarts, plucked the sleeves of those who wore coats of fine cloth or cotton.
“Young sir! Young sir! Here! Here!” they cried from all sides. “Bolls and cakes and tasty tarts, very delicious! I have baked them myself!”
Another drew something long and crooked out of her basket and cried, “Here is a sausage, young sir! Buy a sausage!”
“Don’t buy anything from her!” cried a rival. “See how greasy she is, and what a dirty nose and hands she has!”
But the market women carefully avoided appealing to the philosophers and theologians, for these only took handfuls of eatables merely to taste them.
Arrived at the seminary, the whole crowd of students dispersed into the low, large class-rooms with small windows, broad doors, and blackened benches. Suddenly they were filled with a many-toned murmur. The teachers heard the pupils’ lessons repeated, some in shrill and others in deep voices which sounded like a distant booming. While the lessons were being said, the teachers kept a sharp eye open to see whether pieces of cake or other dainties were protruding from their pupils’ pockets; if so, they were promptly confiscated.
When this learned crowd arrived somewhat earlier than usual, or when it was known that the teachers would come somewhat late, a battle would ensue, as though planned by general agreement. In this battle all had to take part, even the monitors who were appointed to look after the order and morality of the whole school. Two theologians generally arranged the conditions of the battle: whether each class should split into two sides, or whether all the pupils should divide themselves into two halves.
In each case the grammarians began the battle. and after the rhetoricians had joined in, the former retired and stood on the benches, in order to watch the fortunes of the fray. Then came the philosophers with long black moustaches, and finally the thick-necked theologians. The battle generally ended in a victory for the latter, and the philosophers retired to the different class-rooms rubbing their aching limbs, and throwing themselves on the benches to take breath.
When the teacher, who in his own time had taken part in such contests, entered the class-room he saw by the heated faces of his pupils that the battle had been very severe, and while he caned the hands of the rhetoricians, in another room another teacher did the same for the philosophers.
On Sundays and Festival Days the seminarists took puppet — theatres to the citizens’ houses. Sometimes they acted a comedy, and in that case it was always a theologian who took the part of the hero or heroine — Potiphar or Herodias, etc. As a reward for their exertions, they received a piece of linen, a sack of maize, half a roast goose, or something similar. All the students, lay and clerical, were very poorly provided with means for procuring themselves necessary subsistence, but at the same time very fond of eating; so that, however much food was given to them, they were never satisfied, and the gifts bestowed by rich landowners were never adequate for their needs.
Therefore the Commissariat Committee, consisting of philosophers and theologians, sometimes dispatched the grammarians and rhetoricians under the leadership of a philosopher — themselves sometimes joining in the expedition — with sacks on their shoulders, into the town, in order to levy a contribution on the fleshpots of the citizens, and then there was a feast in the seminary.
The most important event in the seminary year was the arrival of the holidays; these began in July, and then generally all the students went home. At that time all the roads were thronged with grammarians, rhetoricians, philosophers, and theologians. He who had no home of his own t would take up his quarters with some fellow-student’s family; the philosophers and theologians looked out for tutors’ posts, taught the children of rich farmers, and received for doing so a pair of new boots and sometimes also a new coat,
A whole troop of them would go off in close ranks like a regiment; they cooked their porridge in common, and encamped under the open sky. Each had a bag with him containing a shirt and a pair of socks. The theologians were especially economical; in order not to wear out their boots too quickly, they took them off and carried them on a stick over their shoulders, especially when the road was very muddy. Then they tucked up their breeches over their knees and waded bravely through the pools and puddles. Whenever they spied a village near the highway, they at once left it, approached the house which seemed the most considerable, and began with loud voices to sing a psalm. The master of the house, an old Cossack engaged in agriculture, would listen for a long time with his head propped in his hands, then with tears on his cheeks say to his wife, “What the students are singing sounds very devout; bring out some lard and anything else of the kind we have in the house.”
After thus replenishing their stores, the students would continue their way. The farther they went, the smaller grew their numbers, as they dispersed to their various houses, and left those whose homes were still farther on.
On one occasion, during such a march, three students left the main road in order to get provisions in some village, since their stock had long been exhausted. This party consisted of the theologian Khalava, the philosopher Thomas Brutus, and the rhetorician Tiberius Gorobetz.
The first was a tall youth with broad shoulders and of a peculiar character; everything which came within reach of his fingers he felt obliged to appropriate. Moreover, he was of a very melancholy disposition, and when he had got intoxicated he hid himself in the most tangled thickets so that the seminary officials had the greatest trouble in finding him.
The philosopher Thomas Brutus was a more cheerful character. He liked to lie for a long time on the same spot and smoke his pipe; and when he was merry with wine, he hired a fiddler and danced the “tropak.” Often he got a whole quantity of “beans”, i.e. thrashings; but these he endured with complete philosophic calm, saying that a man cannot escape his destiny.
The rhetorician Tiberius Gorobetz had not yet the right to wear a moustache, to drink brandy, or to smoke tobacco. He only wore a small crop of hair, as though his character was at present too little developed. To judge by the great bumps on his forehead, with which he often appeared in the class-room, it might be expected that someday he would be a valiant fighter. Khalava and Thomas often pulled his hair as a mark of their special favor, and sent him on their errands.
Evening had already come when they left the high-road; the sun had just gone down, and the air was still heavy with the heat of the day. The theologian and the philosopher strolled along, smoking in silence, while the rhetorician struck off the heads of the thistles by the wayside with his stick. The way wound on through thick woods of oak and walnut; green hills alternated here and there with meadows. Twice already they had seen cornfields, from which they concluded that they were near some village; but an hour had already passed, and no human habitation appeared. The sky was already quite dark, and only a red gleam lingered on the western horizon.
“The deuce!” said the philosopher Thomas Brutus. “I was almost certain we would soon reach a village.”
The theologian still remained silent, looked round him, then put his pipe again between his teeth, and all three continued their way.
“Good heavens!” exclaimed the philosopher, and stood still. “Now the road itself is disappearing.”
“Perhaps we shall find a farm farther on,” answered the theologian, without taking his pipe out of his mouth.
Meanwhile the night had descended; clouds increased the darkness, and according to all appearance there was no chance of moon or stars appearing. The seminarists found that they had lost the way altogether.
After the philosopher had vainly sought for a footpath, he exclaimed, “Where have we got to?”
The theologian thought for a while, and said, “Yes, it is really dark.”
The rhetorician went on one side, lay on the ground, and groped for a path; but his hands encountered only fox-holes. All around lay a huge steppe over which no one seemed to have passed. The wanderers made several efforts to get forward, but the landscape grew wilder and more inhospitable.
The philosopher tried to shout, but his voice was lost in vacancy, no one answered; only, some moments later, they heard a faint groaning sound, like the whimpering of a wolf.
“Curse it all! What shall we do?” said the philosopher.
“Why, just stop here, and spend the night in the open air,” answered the theologian. So saying, he felt in his pocket, brought out his timber and steel, and lit his pipe.
But the philosopher could not agree with this proposal; he was not accustomed to sleep till he had first eaten five pounds of bread and five of dripping, and so he now felt an intolerable emptiness in his stomach. Besides, in spite of his cheerful temperament, he was a little afraid of the wolves.
“No, Khalava,” he said, “that won’t do. To lie down like a dog and without any supper! Let us try once more; perhaps we shall find a house, and the consolation of having a glass of brandy to drink before going to sleep.”
At the word “brandy,” the theologian spat on one side and said, “Yes, of course, we cannot remain all night in the open air.”
The students went on and on, and to their great joy they heard the barking of dogs in the distance. After listening a while to see from which direction the barking came, they went on their way with new courage, and soon espied a light.
“A village, by heavens, a village!” exclaimed the philosopher.
His supposition proved correct; they soon saw two or three houses built round a courtyard. Lights glimmered in the windows, and before the fence stood a number of trees. The students looked through the crevices of the gates and saw a courtyard in which stood a large number of roving tradesmen’s carts. In the sky there were now fewer clouds, and here and there a star was visible.
“See, brother!” one of them said, “we must now cry ‘halt!’ Cost what it may, we must find entrance and a night’s lodging.”
The three students knocked together at the gate, and cried “Open!”
The door of one of the houses creaked on its hinges, and an old woman wrapped in a sheepskin appeared. “Who is there?” she exclaimed, coughing loudly.
“Let us spend the night here, mother; we have lost our way, our stomachs are empty, and we do not want to spend the night out of doors.”
“But what sort of people are you?”
“Quite harmless people; the theologian Khalava, the philosopher Brutus, and the rhetorician Gorobetz.”
“It is impossible,” answered the old woman. “The whole house is full of people, and every corner occupied. Where can I put you up? You are big and heavy enough to break the house down. I know these philosophers and theologians; when once one takes them in, they eat one out of house and home. Go farther on! There is no room here for you!”
“Have pity on us, mother! How can you be so heartless? Don’t let Christians perish. Put us up where you like, and if we eat up your provisions, or do any other damage, may our hands wither up, and all the punishment of heaven light on us!”
The old woman seemed a little touched. “Well,” she said after a few moments’ consideration, “I will let you in; but I must put you in different rooms, for I should have no quiet if you were all together at night.”
“Do just as you like; we won’t say any more about it,” answered the students.
The gates moved heavily on their hinges, and they entered the courtyard.
“Well now, mother,” said the philosopher, following the old woman, “if you had a little scrap of something! By heavens! my stomach is as empty as a drum. I have not had a bit of bread in my mouth since early this morning!”
“Didn’t I say so?” replied the old woman. “There you go begging at once. But I have no food in the house, nor any fire.”
“But we will pay for everything,” continued the philosopher.
“We will pay early tomorrow in cash.”
“Go on and be content with what you get. You are fine fellows whom the devil has brought here!”
Her reply greatly depressed the philosopher Thomas; but suddenly his nose caught the odor of dried fish; he looked at the breeches of the theologian, who walked by his side, and saw a huge fish’s tail sticking out of his pocket. The latter had already seized the opportunity to steal a whole fish from one of the carts standing in the courtyard. He had not done this from hunger so much as from the force of habit. He had quite forgotten the fish, and was looking about to see whether he could not find something else to appropriate. Then the philosopher put his hand in the theologian’s pocket as though it were his own, and laid hold of his prize.
The old woman found a special resting-place for each student; the rhetorician she put in a shed, the theologian in an empty store-room, and the philosopher in a sheep’s stall.
As soon as the philosopher was alone, he devoured the fish in a twinkling, examined the fence which enclosed the stall, kicked away a pig from a neighboring stall, which had inquiringly inserted its nose through a crevice, and lay down on his right side to sleep like a corpse.
Then the low door opened, and the old woman came crouching into the stall.
“Well, mother, what do you want here?” asked the philosopher.
She made no answer, but came with out-stretched arms towards him.
The philosopher shrank back; but she still approached, as though she wished to lay hold of him. A terrible fright seized him, for he saw the old hag’s eyes sparkle in an extraordinary way. “Away with you, old witch, away with you!” he shouted. But she still stretched her hands after him.
He jumped up in order to rush out, but she placed herself before the door, fixed her glowing eyes upon him, and again approached him. The philosopher tried to push her away with his hands, but to his astonishment he found that he could neither lift his hands nor move his legs, nor utter an audible word. He only heard his heart beating, and saw the old woman approach him, place his hands crosswise on his breast, and bend his head down. Then with the agility of a cat she sprang on his shoulders, struck him on the side with a broom, and he began to run like a race-horse, carrying her on his shoulders.
All this happened with such swiftness, that the philosopher could scarcely collect his thoughts. He laid hold of his knees with both hands in order to stop his legs from running; but to his great astonishment they kept moving forward against his will, making rapid springs like a Caucasian horse.
Not till the house had been left behind them and a wide plain stretched before them, bordered on one side by a black gloomy wood, did he say to himself, “Ah! it is a witch!”
The half — moon shone pale and high in the sky. Its mild light, still more subdued by intervening clouds, fell like a transparent veil on the earth. Woods, meadows, hills, and valleys — all seemed to be sleeping with open eyes; nowhere was a breath of air stirring. The atmosphere was moist and warm; the shadows of the trees and bushes fell sharply defined on the sloping plain. Such was the night through which the philosopher Thomas Brutus sped with his strange rider.
A strange, oppressive, and yet sweet sensation took possession of his heart. He looked down and saw how the grass beneath his feet seemed to be quite deep and far away; over it there flowed a flood of crystal-clear water, and the grassy plain looked like the bottom of a transparent sea. He saw his own image, and that of the old woman whom he carried on his back, clearly reflected in it. Then he beheld how, instead of the moon, a strange sun shone there; he heard the deep tones of bells, and saw them swinging. He saw a water-nixie rise from a bed of tall reeds; she turned to him, and her face was clearly visible, and she sang a song which penetrated his soul; then she approached him and nearly reached the surface of the water, on which she burst into laughter and again disappeared.
Did he see it or did he not see it? Was he dreaming or was he awake? But what was that below — wind or music? It sounded and drew nearer, and penetrated his soul like a song that rose and fell. “What is it?” he thought as he gazed into the depths, and still sped rapidly along.
The perspiration flowed from him in streams; he experienced simultaneously a strange feeling of oppression and delight in all his being. Often he felt as though he had no longer a heart, and pressed his hand on his breast with alarm.
Weary to death, he began to repeat all the prayers which he knew, and all the formulas of exorcism against evil spirits. Suddenly he experienced a certain relief. He felt that his pace was slackening; the witch weighed less heavily on his shoulders, and the thick herbage of the plain was again beneath his feet, with nothing especial to remark about it.
“Splendid!” thought the philosopher Thomas, and began to repeat his exorcisms in a still louder voice.
Then suddenly he wrenched himself away from under the witch, and sprang on her back in his turn. She began to run, with short, trembling steps indeed, but so rapidly that he could hardly breathe. So swiftly did she run that she hardly seemed to touch the ground. They were still on the plain, but owing to the rapidity of their flight everything seemed indistinct and confused before his eyes. He seized a stick that was lying on the ground, and began to belabor the hag with all his might. She uttered a wild cry, which at first sounded raging and threatening; then it became gradually weaker and more gentle, till at last it sounded quite low like the pleasant tones of a silver bell, so that it penetrated his innermost soul. Involuntarily the thought passed through his mind:
“Is she really an old woman?”
“Ah! I can go no farther,” she said in a faint voice, and sank to the earth.
He knelt beside her, and looked in her eyes. The dawn was red in the sky, and in the distance glimmered the gilt domes of the churches of Kieff. Before him lay a beautiful maiden with thick, disheveled hair and long eyelashes. Unconsciously she had stretched out her white, bare arms, and her tear-filled eyes gazed at the sky.
Thomas trembled like an aspen-leaf. Sympathy, and a strange feeling of excitement, and a hitherto unknown fear overpowered him. He began to run with all his might. His heart beat violently, and he could not explain to himself what a strange, new feeling had seized him. He did not wish to return to the village, but hastened towards Kieff, thinking all the way as he went of his weird, unaccountable adventure.
There were hardly any students left in the town; they were all scattered about the country, and had either taken tutors’ posts or simply lived without occupation; for at the farms in Little Russia one can live comfortably and at ease without paying a farthing. The great half — decayed building in which the seminary was established was completely empty; and however much the philosopher searched in all its corners for a piece of lard and bread, he could not find even one of the hard biscuits which the seminarists were in the habit of hiding.
But the philosopher found a means of extricating himself from his difficulties by making friends with a certain young widow in the market-place who sold ribbons, etc. The same evening he found himself being stuffed with cakes and fowl; in fact it is impossible to say how many things were placed before him on a little table in an arbor shaded by cherry-trees.
Later, on the same evening the philosopher was to be seen in an ale-house. He lay on a bench, smoked his pipe in his usual way, and threw the Jewish publican a gold piece. He had a jug of ale standing before him, looked on all who went in and out in a cold-blooded, self-satisfied way, and thought no more of his strange adventure.
About this time a report spread about that the daughter of a rich colonel, whose estate lay about fifty versts distant from Kieff, had returned home one day from a walk in a quite broken-down condition. She had scarcely enough strength to reach her father’s house; now she lay dying, and had expressed a wish that for three days after her death the prayers for the dead should be recited by a Kieff seminarist named Thomas Brutus.
This fact was communicated to the philosopher by the rector of the seminary himself, who sent for him to his room and told him that he must start at once, as a rich colonel had sent his servants and a kibitka for him. The philosopher trembled, and was seized by an uncomfortable feeling which he could not define. He had a gloomy foreboding that some evil was about to befall him. Without knowing why, he declared that he did not wish to go.
“Listen, Thomas,” said the rector, who under certain circumstances spoke very politely to his pupils; “I have no idea of asking you whether you wish to go or not. I only tell you that if you think of disobeying, I will have you so soundly flogged on the back with young birch-rods, that you need not think of having a bath for a long time.”
The philosopher scratched the back of his head, and went out silently, intending to make himself scarce at the first opportunity. Lost in thought, he descended the steep flight of steps which led to the court-yard, thickly planted with poplars; there he remained standing for a moment, and heard quite distinctly the rector giving orders in a loud voice to his steward, and to another person, probably one of the messengers sent by the colonel.
“Thank your master for the peeled barley and the eggs,” said the rector; “and tell him that as soon as the books which he mentions in his note are ready, I will send them. I have already given them to a clerk to be copied. And don’t forget to remind your master that he has some excellent fish, especially prime sturgeon, in his ponds; he might send me some when he has the opportunity, as here in the market the fish are bad and dear. And you, Jantukh, give the colonel’s man a glass of brandy. And mind you tie up the philosopher, or he will show you a clean pair of heels.”
“Listen to the scoundrel!” thought the philosopher. “He has smelt a rat, the long-legged stork!”
He descended into the court-yard and beheld there a kibitka, which he at first took for a barn on wheels. It was, in fact, as roomy as a kiln, so that bricks might have been made inside it. It was one of those remarkable Cracow vehicles in which Jews travelled from town to town in scores, wherever they thought they would find a market. Six stout, strong, though somewhat elderly Cossacks were standing by it. Their gold-braided coats of fine cloth showed that their master was rich and of some importance; and certain little scars testified to their valor on the battle-field.
“What can I do?” thought the philosopher. “There is no escaping one’s destiny!” So he stepped up to the Cossacks and said “Good day, comrades.”
“Welcome, Mr. Philosopher!” some of them answered.
“Well, I am to travel with you! It is a magnificent vehicle,” he continued as he got into it. “If there were only musicians present, one might dance in it.”
“Yes, it is a roomy carriage,” said one of the Cossacks, taking his seat by the coachman. The latter had tied a cloth round his head, as he had already found an opportunity of pawning his cap in the ale-house. The other five, with the philosopher, got into the capacious kibitka, and sat upon sacks which were filled with all sorts of articles purchased in the city.
“I should like to know,” said the philosopher, “if this equipage were laden with salt or iron, how many horses would be required to draw it?”
“Yes,” said the Cossack who sat by the coachman, after thinking a short time, “it would require a good many horses.”
After giving this satisfactory answer, the Cossack considered himself entitled to remain silent for the whole of the rest of the journey.
The philosopher would gladly have found out who the colonel was, and what sort of a character he had. He was also curious to know about his daughter, who had returned home in such a strange way and now lay dying, and whose destiny seemed to be mingled with his own; and wanted to know the sort of life that was lived in the colonel’s house. But the Cossacks were probably philosophers like himself, for in answer to his inquiries they only blew clouds of tobacco and settled themselves more comfortably on their sacks.
Meanwhile, one of them addressed to the coachman on the box a brief command: “Keep your eyes open, Overko, you old sleepy-head, and when you come to the ale-house on the road to Tchukrailoff, don’t forget to pull up and wake me and the other fellows if we are asleep.” Then he began to snore pretty loud. But in any case his admonition was quite superfluous; for scarcely had the enormous equipage begun to approach the aforesaid ale-house, than they all cried with one mouth “Halt! Halt!” Besides this, Overko’s horse was accustomed to stop outside every inn of its own accord.
In spite of the intense July heat, they all got out and entered a low, dirty room where a Jewish innkeeper received them in a friendly way as old acquaintances. He brought in the skirt of his long coat some sausages, and laid them on the table, where, though forbidden by the Talmud, they looked very seductive. All sat down at table, and it was not long before each of the guests had an earthenware jug standing in front of him. The philosopher Thomas had to take part in the feast, and as the Little Russians when they are intoxicated always begin to kiss each other or to weep, the whole room soon began to echo with demonstrations of affection.
“Come here, come here, Spirid, let me embrace thee!”
“Come here, Dorosch, let me press you to my heart!”
One Cossack, with a grey moustache, the eldest of them all, leant his head on his hand and began to weep bitterly because he was an orphan and alone in God’s wide world. Another tall, loquacious man did his best to comfort him, saying, “Don’t weep, for God’s sake, don’t weep! For over there — God knows best.”
The Cossack who had been addressed as Dorosch was full of curiosity, and addressed many questions to the philosopher Thomas. “I should like to know,” he said, “what you learn in your seminary; do you learn the same things as the deacon reads to us in church, or something else?”
“Don’t ask,” said the consoler; “let them learn what they like. God knows what is to happen; God knows everything.”
“No, I will know,” answered Dorosch, “I will know what is written in their books; perhaps it is something quite different from that in the deacon’s book.”
“Good heavens!” said the other, “why all this talk? It is God’s will, and one cannot change God’s arrangements.”
“But I will know everything that is written; I will enter the seminary too, by heaven I will! Do you think perhaps I could not learn? I will learn everything, everything.”
“Oh, heavens!” exclaimed the consoler, and let his head sink on the table, for he could no longer hold it upright.
The other Cossacks talked about the nobility, and why there was a moon in the sky.
When the philosopher Thomas saw the state they were in, he determined to profit by it, and to make his escape. In the first place he turned to the grey-headed Cossack, who was lamenting the loss of his parents. “But, little uncle,” he said to him, “why do you weep so? I too am an orphan! Let me go, children; why do you want me?”
“Let him go!” said some of them, “he is an orphan, let him go where he likes.”
They were about to take him outside themselves, when the one who had displayed a special thirst for knowledge, stopped them, saying, “No, I want to talk with him about the seminary; I am going to the seminary myself.”
Moreover, it was not yet certain whether the philosopher could have executed his project of flight, for when he tried to rise from his chair, he felt as though his feet were made of wood, and he began to see such a number of doors leading out of the room that it would have been difficult for him to have found the right one.
It was not till evening that the company remembered that they must continue their journey. They crowded into the kibitka, whipped up the horses, and struck up a song, the words and sense of which were hard to understand. During a great part of the night, they wandered about, having lost the road which they ought to have been able to find blindfolded. At last they drove down a steep descent into a valley, and the philosopher noticed, by the sides of the road, hedges, behind which he caught glimpses of small trees and house-roofs. All these belonged to the colonel’s estate.
It was already long past midnight. The sky was dark, though little stars glimmered here and there; no light was to be seen in any of the houses. They drove into a large court-yard, while the dogs barked. On all sides were barns and cottages with thatched roofs. Just opposite the gateway was a house, which was larger than the others, and seemed to be the colonel’s dwelling. The kibitka stopped before a small barn, and the travelers hastened into it and laid themselves down to sleep. The philosopher however attempted to look at the exterior of the house, but, rub his eyes as he might, he could distinguish nothing; the house seemed to turn into a bear, and the chimney into the rector of the seminary. Then he gave it up and lay down to sleep.
When he woke up the next morning, the whole house was in commotion; the young lady had died during the night. The servants ran hither and thither in a distracted state; the old women wept and lamented; and a number of curious people gazed through the enclosure into the court-yard, as though there were something special to be seen. The philosopher began now to inspect the locality and the buildings, which he had not been able to do during the night.
The colonel’s house was one of those low, small buildings, such as used formerly to be constructed in Russia. It was thatched with straw; a small, high-peaked gable, with a window shaped like an eye, was painted all over with blue and yellow flowers and red crescent-moons; it rested on little oaken pillars, which were round above the middle, hexagonal below, and whose capitals were adorned with quaint carvings. Under this gable was a small staircase with seats at the foot of it on either side.
The walls of the house were supported by similar pillars. Before the house stood a large pear-tree of pyramidal shape, whose leaves incessantly trembled. A double row of buildings formed a broad street leading up to the colonel’s house. Behind the barns near the entrance-gate stood two three-cornered wine-houses, also thatched with straw; each of the stone walls had a door in it, and was covered with all kinds of paintings. On one was represented a Cossack sitting on a barrel and swinging a large pitcher over his head; it bore the inscription “I will drink all that!” Elsewhere were painted large and small bottles, a beautiful girl, a running horse, a pipe, and a drum bearing the words “Wine is the Cossack’s joy.”
In the loft of one of the barns one saw through a huge round window a drum and some trumpets. At the gate there stood two cannons. All this showed that the colonel loved a cheerful life, and the whole place often rang with sounds of merriment. Before the gate were two windmills, and behind the house gardens sloped away; through the tree-tops the dark chimneys of the peasants’ houses were visible. The whole village lay on a broad, even plateau, in the middle of a mountain-slope which culminated in a steep summit on the north side. When seen from below, it looked still steeper. Here and there on the top the irregular stems of the thick steppe-brooms showed in dark relief against the blue sky. The bare clay soil made a melancholy impression, worn as it was into deep furrows by rain-water. On the same slope there stood two cottages, and over one of them a huge apple-tree spread its branches; the roots were supported by small props, whose interstices were filled with mold. The apples, which were blown off by the wind, rolled down to the court-yard below. A road wound round the mountain to the village.
When the philosopher looked at this steep slope, and remembered his journey of the night before, he came to the conclusion that either the colonel’s horses were very sagacious, or that the Cossacks must have very strong heads, as they ventured, even when the worse for drink, on such a road with the huge kibitka.
When the philosopher turned and looked in the opposite direction, he saw quite another picture. The village reached down to the plain; meadows stretched away to an immense distance, their bright green growing gradually dark; far away, about twenty versts off, many other villages were visible. To the right of these meadows were chains of hills, and in the remote distance one saw the Dnieper shimmer and sparkle like a mirror of steel.
“What a splendid country!” said the philosopher to himself. “It must be fine to live here! One could catch fish in the Dnieper, and in the ponds, and shoot and snare partridges and bustards; there must be quantities here. Much fruit might be dried here and sold in the town, or, better still, brandy might be distilled from it, for fruit-brandy is the best of all. But what prevents me thinking of my escape after all?”
Behind the hedge he saw a little path which was almost entirely concealed by the high grass of the steppe. The philosopher approached it mechanically, meaning at first to walk a little along it unobserved, and then quite quietly to gain the open country behind the peasants’ houses. Suddenly he felt the pressure of a fairly heavy hand on his shoulder.
Behind him stood the same old Cossack who yesterday had so bitterly lamented the death of his father and mother, and his own loneliness. “You are giving yourself useless trouble, Mr. Philosopher, if you think you can escape from us,” he said. “One cannot run away here; and besides, the roads are too bad for walkers. Come to the colonel; he has been waiting for you for some time in his room.”
“Yes, of course! What are you talking about? I will come with the greatest pleasure,” said the philosopher, and followed the Cossack.
The colonel was an elderly man; his moustache was grey, and his face wore the signs of deep sadness. He sat in his room by a table, with his head propped on both hands. He seemed about five-and-fifty, but his attitude of utter despair, and the pallor on his face, showed that his heart had been suddenly broken, and that all his former cheerfulness had for ever disappeared.
When Thomas entered with the Cossack, he answered their deep bows with a slight inclination of the head.
“Who are you, whence do you come, and what is your profession, my good man?” asked the colonel in an even voice, neither friendly nor austere.
“lama student of philosophy; my name is Thomas Brutus.”
“And who was your father?”
“I don’t know, sir.”
“And your mother?”
“I don’t know either; I know that I must have had a mother, but who she was, and where she lived, by heavens, I do not know.”
The colonel was silent, and seemed for a moment lost in thought. “Where did you come to know my daughter?”
“I do not know her, gracious sir; I declare I do not know her.”
“Why then has she chosen you, and no one else, to offer up prayers for her?”
The philosopher shrugged his shoulders. “God only knows. It is a well-known fact that grand people often demand things which the most learned man cannot comprehend; and does not the proverb say, ‘Dance, devil, as the Lord commands!’”
“Aren’t you talking nonsense, Mr. Philosopher?”
“May the lightning strike me on the spot if I lie.”
“If she had only lived a moment longer,” said the colonel sadly, “then I had certainly found out everything. She said, ‘Let no one offer up prayers for me, but send, father, at once to the seminary in Kieff for the student Thomas Brutus; he shall pray three nights running for my sinful soul — he knows.’ But what he really knows she never said. The poor dove could speak no more, and died. Good man, you are probably well known for your sanctity and devout life, and she has perhaps heard of you.”
“What? Of me?” said the philosopher, and took a step backward in amazement. “I and sanctity!” he exclaimed, and stared at the colonel. “God help us, gracious sir! What are you saying? It was only last Holy Thursday that I paid a visit to the tart-shop.”
“Well, she must at any rate have had some reason for making the arrangement, and you must begin your duties today.”
“I should like to remark to your honor — naturally everyone who knows the Holy Scripture at all can in his measure — but I believe it would be better on this occasion to send for a deacon or subdeacon. They are learned people, and they know exactly what is to be done. I have not got a good voice, nor any official standing. You may say what you like, but I shall carry out all my dove’s wishes. If you read the prayers for her three nights through in the proper way, I will reward you; and if not — I advise the devil himself not to oppose me!”
The colonel spoke the last words in such an emphatic way that the philosopher quite understood them.
“Follow me!” said the colonel.
They went into the hall. The colonel opened a door which was opposite his own. The philosopher remained for a few minutes in the hall in order to look about him; then he stepped over the threshold with a certain nervousness.
The whole floor of the room was covered with red cloth. In a corner under the icons of the saints, on a table covered with a gold-bordered, velvet cloth, lay the body of the girl. Tall candles, round which were wound branches of the “calina,” stood at her head and feet, and burned dimly in the broad daylight. The face of the dead was not to be seen, as the inconsolable father sat before his daughter, with his back turned to the philosopher. The words which the latter overheard filled him with a certain fear:
“I do not mourn, my daughter, that in the flower of your age you have prematurely left the earth, to my grief; but I mourn, my dove, that I do not know my deadly enemy who caused your death. Had I only known that anyone could even conceive the idea of insulting you, or of speaking a disrespectful word to you, I swear by heaven he would never have seen his children again, if he had been as old as myself; nor his father and mother, if he had been young. And I would have thrown his corpse to the birds of the air, and the wild beasts of the steppe. But woe is me, my flower, my dove, my light! I will spend the remainder of my life without joy, and wipe the bitter tears which flow out of my old eyes, while my enemy will rejoice and laugh in secret over the helpless old man!”
He paused, overpowered by grief, and streams of tears flowed down his cheeks.
The philosopher was deeply affected by the sight of such inconsolable sorrow. He coughed gently in order to clear his throat. The colonel turned and signed to him to take his place at the head of the dead girl, before a little prayer-desk on which some books lay.
“I can manage to hold out for three nights,” thought the philosopher; “and then the colonel will fill both my pockets with ducats.”
He approached the dead girl, and after coughing once more, began to read, without paying attention to anything else, and firmly resolved not to look at her face.
Soon there was deep silence, and he saw that the colonel had left the room. Slowly he turned his head in order to look at the corpse. A violent shudder thrilled through him; before him lay a form of such beauty as is seldom seen upon earth. It seemed to him that never in a single face had so much intensity of expression and harmony of feature been united. Her brow, soft as snow and pure as silver, seemed to be thinking; the fine, regular eyebrows shadowed proudly the closed eyes, whose lashes gently rested on her cheeks, which seemed to glow with secret longing; her lips still appeared to smile. But at the same time he saw something in these features which appalled him; a terrible depression seized his heart, as when in the midst of dance and song someone begins to chant a dirge. He felt as though those ruby lips were colored with his own heart’s blood. Moreover, her face seemed dreadfully familiar.
The witch!” he cried out in a voice which sounded strange to himself; then he turned away and began to read the prayers with white cheeks. It was the witch whom he had killed.
 
Chapter 2
 
 
 
When the sun had sunk below the horizon, the corpse was carried into the church. The philosopher supported one corner of the black-draped coffin upon his shoulder, and felt an ice-cold shiver run through his body. The colonel walked in front of him, with his right hand resting on the edge of the coffin.
The wooden church, black with age and overgrown with green lichen, stood quite at the end of the village in gloomy solitude; it was adorned with three round cupolas. One saw at the first glance that it had not been used for divine worship for a long time.
Lighted candles were standing before almost every icon. The coffin was set down before the altar. The old colonel kissed his dead daughter once more, and then left the church, together with the bearers of the bier, after he had ordered his servants to look after the philosopher and to take him back to the church after supper.
The coffin-bearers, when they returned to the house, all laid their hands on the stove. This custom is always observed in Little Russia by those who have seen a corpse.
The hunger which the philosopher now began to feel caused him for a while to forget the dead girl altogether. Gradually all the domestics of the house assembled in the kitchen; it was really a kind of club, where they were accustomed to gather. Even the dogs came to the door, wagging their tails in order to have bones and offal thrown to them.
If a servant was sent on an errand, he always found his way into the kitchen to rest there for a while, and to smoke a pipe. All the Cossacks of the establishment lay here during the whole day on and under the benches — in fact, wherever a place could be found to lie down in. Moreover, everyone was always leaving something behind in the kitchen — his cap, or his whip, or something of the sort. But the numbers of the club were not complete till the evening, when the groom came in after tying up his horses in the stable, the cowherd had shut up his cows in their stalls, and others collected there who were not usually seen in the day-time. During supper-time even the tongues of the laziest were set in motion. They talked of all and everything — of the new pair of breeches which someone had ordered for himself, of what might be in the center of the earth, and of the wolf which someone had seen. There were a number of wits in the company — a class which is always represented in Little Russia.
The philosopher took his place with the rest in the great circle which sat round the kitchen door in the open-air. Soon an old woman with a red cap issued from it, bearing with both hands a large vessel full of hot “galuchkis,” which she distributed among them. Each drew out of his pocket a wooden spoon, or a one-pronged wooden fork. As soon as their jaws began to move a little more slowly, and their wolfish hunger was somewhat appeased, they began to talk. The conversation, as might be expected, turned on the dead girl.
“Is it true,” said a young shepherd, “is it true — though I cannot understand it — that our young mistress had traffic with evil spirits?”
“Who, the young lady?” answered Dorosch, whose acquaintance the philosopher had already made in the kibitka. “Yes, she was a regular witch! I can swear that she was a witch!”
“Hold your tongue, Dorosch!” exclaimed another — the one who, during the journey, had played the part of a consoler. “We have nothing to do with that. May God be merciful to her! One ought not to talk of such things.”
But Dorosch was not at all inclined to be silent; he had just visited the wine-cellar with the steward on important business, and having stooped two or three times over one or two casks, he had returned in a very cheerful and loquacious mood.
“Why do you ask me to be silent?” he answered. “She has ridden on my own shoulders, I swear she has.”
“Say, uncle,” asked the young shepherd, “are there signs by which to recognize a sorceress?”
“No, there are not,” answered Dorosch; “even if you knew the Psalter by heart, you could not recognize one.”
“Yes, Dorosch, it is possible; don’t talk such nonsense,” retorted the former consoler. “It is not for nothing that God has given each some special peculiarity; the learned maintain that every witch has a little tail.”
“Every old woman is a witch,” said a grey-headed Cossack quite seriously.
“Yes, you are a fine lot,” retorted the old woman who entered at that moment with a vessel full of fresh “galuchkis.” “You are great fat pigs!”
A self-satisfied smile played round the lips of the old Cossack whose name was Javtuch, when he found that his remark had touched the old woman on a tender point. The shepherd burst into such a deep and loud explosion of laughter as if two oxen were lowing together.
This conversation excited in the philosopher a great curiosity, and a wish to obtain more exact information regarding the colonel’s daughter. In order to lead the talk back to the subject, he turned to his next neighbor and said, “I should like to know why all the people here think that the young lady was a witch. Has she done harm to anyone, or killed them by witchcraft?”
“Yes, there are reports of that kind,” answered a man, whose face was as flat as a shovel. “Who does not remember the huntsman Mikita, or the —”
“What has the huntsman Mikita got to do with it?” asked the philosopher.
“Stop; I will tell you the story of Mikita,” interrupted Dorosch.
“No, I will tell it,” said the groom, “for he was my godfather.”
“I will tell the story of Mikita,” said Spirid.
“Yes, yes, Spirid shall tell it,” exclaimed the whole company; and Spirid began.
“You, Mr. Philosopher Thomas, did not know Mikita. Ah! he was an extraordinary man. He knew every dog as though he were his own father. The present huntsman, Mikola, who sits three places away from me, is not fit to hold a candle to him, though good enough in his way; but compared to Mikita, he is a mere milksop.”
“You tell the tale splendidly,” exclaimed Dorosch, and nodded as a sign of approval.
Spirid continued.
“He saw a hare in the field quicker than you can take a pinch of snuff. He only needed to whistle ‘Come here, Easboy! Come here, Bosdraja!’ and flew away on his horse like the wind, so that you could not say whether he went quicker than the dog or the dog than he. He could empty a quart pot of brandy in the twinkling of an eye. Ah! he was a splendid huntsman, only for some time he always had his eyes fixed on the young lady. Either he had fallen in love with her or she had bewitched him — in short, he went to the dogs. He became a regular old woman; yes, he became the devil knows what — it is not fitting to relate it.”
“Very good,” remarked Dorosch.
“If the young lady only looked at him, he let the reins slip out of his hands, called Bravko instead of Easboy, stumbled, and made all kinds of mistakes. One day when he was currycombing a horse, the young lady came to him in the stable. ‘Listen, Mikita,’ she said. ‘I should like for once to set my foot on you.’ And he, the booby, was quite delighted, and answered, ‘Don’t only set your foot there, but sit on me altogether.’ The young lady lifted her white little foot, and as soon as he saw it, his delight robbed him of his senses. He bowed his neck, the idiot, took her feet in both hands, and began to trot about like a horse all over the place. Whither they went he could not say; he returned more dead than alive, and from that time he wasted away and became as dry as a chip of wood. At last someone coming into the stable one day found instead of him only a handful of ashes and an empty jug; he had burned completely out. But it must be said he was a huntsman such as the world cannot match.”
When Spirid had ended his tale, they all began to vie with one another in praising the deceased huntsman.
“And have you heard the story of Cheptchicha?” asked Dorosch, turning to Thomas.
“No.”
“Ha! Ha! One sees they don’t teach you much in your seminary. Well, listen. We have here in our village a Cossack called Cheptoun, a fine fellow. Sometimes indeed he amuses himself by stealing and lying without any reason; but he is a fine fellow for all that. His house is not far away from here. One evening, just about this time, Cheptoun and his wife went to bed after they had finished their day’s work. Since it was fine weather, Cheptchicha went to sleep in the court-yard, and Cheptoun in the house — no! I mean Cheptchicha went to sleep in the house on a bench and Cheptoun outside.”
“No, Cheptchicha didn’t go to sleep on a bench, but on the ground,” interrupted the old woman who stood at the door.
Dorosch looked at her, then at the ground, then again at her, and said after a pause, “If I tore your dress off your back before all these people, it wouldn’t look pretty.”
The rebuke was effectual. The old woman was silent, and did not interrupt again.
Dorosch continued.
“In the cradle which hung in the middle of the room lay a one-year-old child. I do not know whether it was a boy or a girl. Cheptchicha had lain down, and heard on the other side of the door a dog scratching and howling loud enough to frighten anyone. She was afraid, for women are such simple folk that if one puts out one’s tongue at them behind the door in the dark, their hearts sink into their boots. ‘But,’ she thought to herself, ‘I must give this cursed dog one on the snout to stop his howling!’ So she seized the poker and opened the door. But hardly had she done so than the dog rushed between her legs straight to the cradle. Then Cheptchicha saw that it was not a dog but the young lady; and if it had only been the young lady as she knew her it wouldn’t have mattered, but she looked quite blue, and her eyes sparkled like fiery coals. She seized the child, bit its throat, and began to suck its blood. Cheptchicha shrieked, ‘Ah! my darling child!’ and rushed out of the room. Then she saw that the house-door was shut and rushed up to the attic and sat there, the stupid woman, trembling all over. Then the young lady came after her and bit her too, poor fool! The next morning Cheptoun carried his wife, all bitten and wounded, down from the attic, and the next day she died. Such strange things happen in the world. One may wear fine clothes, but that does not matter; a witch is and remains a witch.”
After telling his story, Dorosch looked around him with a complacent air, and cleaned out his pipe with his little finger in order to fill it again. The story of the witch had made a deep impression on all, and each of them had something to say about her. One had seen her come to the door of his house in the form of a hayrick; from others she had stolen their caps or their pipes; she had cut off the hair-plaits of many girls in the village, and drunk whole pints of the blood of others.
At last the whole company observed that they had gossiped over their time, for it was already night. All looked for a sleeping place — some in the kitchen and others in the barn or the court-yard.
“Now, Mr. Thomas, it is time that we go to the dead,” said the grey-headed Cossack, turning to the philosopher. All four — Spirid, Dorosch, the old Cossack, and the philosopher — betook themselves to the church, keeping off with their whips the wild dogs who roamed about the roads in great numbers and bit the sticks of passers-by in sheer malice.
Although the philosopher had seized the opportunity of fortifying himself beforehand with a stiff glass of brandy, yet he felt a certain secret fear which increased as he approached the church, which was lit up within. The strange tales he had heard had made a deep impression on his imagination. They had passed the thick hedges and trees, and the country became more open. At last they reached the small enclosure round the church; behind it there were no more trees, but a huge, empty plain dimly visible in the darkness. The three Cossacks ascended the steep steps with Thomas, and entered the church. Here they left the philosopher, expressing their hope that he would successfully accomplish his duties, and locked him in as their master had ordered.
He was left alone. At first he yawned, then he stretched himself, blew on both hands, and finally looked round him. In the middle of the church stood the black bier; before the dark pictures of saints burned the candles, whose light only illuminated the icons, and cast a faint glimmer into the body of the church; all the corners were in complete darkness. The lofty icons seemed to be of considerable age; only a little of the original gilt remained on their broken traceries; the faces of the saints had become quite black and looked uncanny.
Once more the philosopher cast a glance around him. “Bother it!” said he to himself. “What is there to be afraid about? No living creature can get in, and as for the dead and those who come from the ‘other side,’ I can protect myself with such effectual prayers that they cannot touch me with the tips of their fingers. There is nothing to fear,” he repeated, swinging his arms. “Let us begin the prayers!”
As he approached one of the side-aisles, he noticed two packets of candles which had been placed there.
“That is fine,” he thought. “I must illuminate the whole church, till it is as bright as day. What a pity that one cannot smoke in it.”
He began to light the candles on all the wall-brackets and all the candelabra, as well as those already burning before the holy pictures; soon the whole church was brilliantly lit up. Only the darkness in the roof above seemed still denser by contrast, and the faces of the saints peering out of the frames looked as unearthly as before. He approached the bier, looked nervously at the face of the dead girl, could not help shuddering slightly, and involuntarily closed his eyes. What terrible and extraordinary beauty!
He turned away and tried to go to one side, but the strange curiosity and peculiar fascination which men feel in moments of fear, compelled him to look again and again, though with a similar shudder. And in truth there was something terrible about the beauty of the dead girl. Perhaps she would not have inspired so much fear had she been less beautiful; but there was nothing ghastly or deathlike in the face, which wore rather an expression of life, and it seemed to the philosopher as though she were watching him from under her closed eyelids. He even thought he saw a tear roll from under the eyelash of her right eye, but when it was half-way down her cheek, he saw that it was a drop of blood.
He quickly went into one of the stalls, opened his book, and began to read the prayers in a very loud voice in order to keep up his courage. His deep voice sounded strange to himself in the grave-like silence; it aroused no echo in the silent and desolate wooden walls of the church.
“What is there to be afraid of?” he thought to himself. “She will not rise from her bier, since she fears God’s word. She will remain quietly resting. Yes, and what sort of a Cossack should I be, if I were afraid? The fact is, I have drunk a little too much — that is why I feel so queer. Let me take a pinch of snuff. It is really excellent — first-rate!”
At the same time he cast a furtive glance over the pages of the prayer-book towards the bier, and involuntarily he said to himself, “There! See! She is getting up! Her head is already above the edge of the coffin!”
But a death-like silence prevailed; the coffin was motionless, and all the candles shone steadily. It was an awe-inspiring sight, this church lit up at midnight, with the corpse in the midst, and no living soul near but one. The philosopher began to sing in various keys in order to stifle his fears, but every moment he glanced across at the coffin, and involuntarily the question came to his lips, “Suppose she rose up after all?”
But the coffin did not move. Nowhere was there the slightest sound nor stir. Not even did a cricket chirp in any corner. There was nothing audible but the slight sputtering of some distant candle, or the faint fall of a drop of wax.
“Suppose she rose up after all?”
He raised his head. Then he looked round him wildly and rubbed his eyes. Yes, she was no longer lying in the coffin, but sitting upright. He turned away his eyes, but at once looked again, terrified, at the coffin. She stood up; then she walked with closed eyes through the church, stretching out her arms as though she wanted to seize someone.
She now came straight towards him. Full of alarm, he traced with his finger a circle round himself; then in a loud voice he began to recite the prayers and formulas of exorcism which he had learnt from a monk who had often seen witches and evil spirits.
She had almost reached the edge of the circle which he had traced; but it was evident that she had not the power to enter it. Her face wore a bluish tint like that of one who has been several days dead.
Thomas had not the courage to look at her, so terrible was her appearance; her teeth chattered and she opened her dead eyes, but as in her rage she saw nothing, she turned in another direction and felt with outstretched arms among the pillars and corners of the church in the hope of seizing him.
At last she stood still, made a threatening gesture, and then lay down again in the coffin.
The philosopher could not recover his self-possession, and kept on gazing anxiously at it. Suddenly it rose from its place and began hurtling about the church with a whizzing sound. At one time it was almost directly over his head; but the philosopher observed that it could not pass over the area of his charmed circle, so he kept on repeating his formulas of exorcism. The coffin now fell with a crash in the middle of the church, and remained lying there motionless. The corpse rose again; it had now a greenish-blue color, but at the same moment the distant crowing of a cock was audible, and it lay down again.
The philosopher’s heart beat violently, and the perspiration poured in streams from his face; but heartened by the crowing of the cock, he rapidly repeated the prayers.
As the first light of dawn looked through the windows, there came a deacon and the grey-haired Javtuk, who acted as sacristan, in order to release him. When he had reached the house, he could not sleep for a long time; but at last weariness overpowered him, and he slept till noon. When he awoke, his experiences of the night appeared to him like a dream. He was given a quart of brandy to strengthen him.;
At table he was again talkative and ate a fairly large sucking pig almost without assistance. But none the less he resolved to say nothing of what he had seen, and to all curious questions only returned the answer, “Yes, some wonderful things happened.”
The philosopher was one of those men who, when they have had a good meal, are uncommonly amiable. He lay down on a bench, with his pipe in his mouth, looked blandly at all, and expectorated every minute.
But as the evening approached, he became more and more pensive. About suppertime nearly the whole company had assembled in order to play “krapli.” This is a kind of game of skittles, in which, instead of bowls, long staves are used, and the winner has the right to ride on the back of his opponent. It provided the spectators with much amusement; sometimes the groom, a huge man, would clamber on the back of the swineherd, who was slim and short and shrunken; another time the groom would present his own back, while Dorosch sprang on it shouting, “What a regular ox!” Those of the company who were more staid sat by the threshold of the kitchen. They looked uncommonly serious, smoked their pipes, and did not even smile when the younger ones went into fits of laughter over some joke of the groom or Spirid.
Thomas vainly attempted to take part in the game; a gloomy thought was firmly fixed like a nail in his head. In spite of his desperate efforts to appear cheerful after supper, fear had over-mastered his whole being, and it increased with the growing darkness.
“Now it is time for us to go, Mr. Student!” said the grey-haired Cossack, and stood up with Dorosch. “Let us betake ourselves to our work.”
Thomas was conducted to the church in the same way as on the previous evening; again he was left alone, and the door was bolted behind him.
As soon as he found himself alone, he began to feel in the grip of his fears. He again saw the dark pictures of the saints in their gilt frames, and the black coffin, which stood menacing and silent in the middle of the church.
“Never mind!” he said to himself. “I am over the first shock. The first time I was frightened, but I am not so at all now — no, not at all!”
He quickly went into a stall, drew a circle round him with his finger, uttered some prayers and formulas for exorcism, and then began to read the prayers for the dead in a loud voice and with the fixed resolution not to look up from the book nor take notice of anything.
He did so for an hour, and began to grow a little tired; he cleared his throat and drew his snuff-box out of his pocket, but before he had taken a pinch he looked nervously towards the coffin.
A sudden chill shot through him. The witch was already standing before him on the edge of the circle, and had fastened her green eyes upon him. He shuddered, looked down at the book, and began to read his prayers and exorcisms aloud. Yet all the while he was aware how her teeth chattered, and how she stretched out her arms to seize him. But when he cast a hasty glance towards her, he saw that she was not looking in his direction, and it was clear that she could not see him.
Then she began to murmur in an undertone, and terrible words escaped her lips — words that sounded like the bubbling of boiling pitch. The philosopher did not know their meaning, but he knew that they signified something terrible, and were intended to counteract his exorcisms.
After she had spoken, a stormy wind arose in the church, and there was a noise like the rushing of many birds. He heard the noise of their wings and claws as they flapped against and scratched at the iron bars of the church windows. There were also violent blows on the church door, as if someone were trying to break it in pieces.
The philosopher’s heart beat violently; he did not dare to look up, but continued to read the prayers without a pause. At last there was heard in the distance the shrill sound of a cock’s crow. The exhausted philosopher stopped and gave a great sigh of relief.
Those who came to release him found him more dead than alive; he had leant his back against the wall, and stood motionless, regarding them without any expression in his eyes. They were obliged almost to carry him to the house; he then shook himself, asked for and drank a quart of brandy. He passed his hand through his hair and said, “There are all sorts of horrors in the world, and such dreadful things happen that —” Here he made a gesture as though to ward off something. All who heard him bent their heads forward in curiosity. Even a small boy, who ran on everyone’s errands, stood by with his mouth wide open.
Just then a young woman in a close-fitting dress passed by. She was the old cook’s assistant, and very coquettish; she always stuck something in her bodice by way of ornament, a ribbon or a flower, or even a piece of paper if she could find nothing else.
“Good day, Thomas,” she said, as she saw the philosopher. “Dear me! what has happened to you?” she exclaimed, striking her hands together.
“Well, what is it, you silly creature?”
“Good heavens! You have grown quite grey!”
“Yes, so he has!” said Spirid, regarding him more closely. “You have grown as grey as our old Javtuk.”
When the philosopher heard that, he hastened into the kitchen, where he had noticed on the wall a dirty, three-cornered piece of looking-glass. In front of it hung some forget-me-nots, ever-greens, and a small garland — a proof that it was the toilette-glass of the young coquette. With alarm he saw that it actually was as they had said — his hair was quite grizzled.
He sank into a reverie; at last he said to himself, “I will go to the colonel, tell him all, and declare that I will read no more prayers. He must send me back at once to Kieff.” With this intention he turned towards the door-steps of the colonel’s house.
The colonel was sitting motionless in his room; his face displayed the same hopeless grief which Thomas had observed on it on his first arrival, only the hollows in his cheeks had deepened. It was obvious that he took very little or no food. A strange paleness made him look almost as though made of marble.
“Good day,” he said as he observed Thomas standing, cap in hand, at the door. “Well, how are you getting on? All right?”
“Yes, sir, all right! Such hellish things are going on, that one would like to rush away as far as one’s feet can carry one.”
“How so?”
“Your daughter, sir... When one considers the matter, she is, of course, of noble descent — no one can dispute that; but don’t be angry, and may God grant her eternal rest!”
“Very well! What about her?”
“She is in league with the devil. She inspires one with such dread that all prayers are useless.”
“Pray! Pray! It was not for nothing that she sent for you. My dove was troubled about her salvation, and wished to expel all evil influences by means of prayer.”
“I swear, gracious sir, it is beyond my power.”
“Pray! Pray!” continued the colonel in the same persuasive tone. “There is only one night more; you are doing a Christian work, and I will reward you richly.”
“However great your rewards may be, I will not read the prayers any more, sir,” said Thomas in a tone of decision.
“Listen, philosopher!” said the colonel with a menacing air. “I will not allow any objections. In your seminary you may act as you like, but here it won’t do. If I have you knouted, it will be somewhat different to the rector’s canings. Do you know what a strong ‘kantchuk’ is?”
“Of course I do,” said the philosopher in a low voice; “a number of them together are insupportable.”
“Yes, I think so too. But you don’t know yet how hot my fellows can make it,” replied the colonel threateningly. He sprang up, and his face assumed a fierce, despotic expression, betraying the savagery of his nature, which had been only temporarily modified by grief.
“After the first flogging they pour on brandy and then repeat it. Go away and finish your work. If you don’t obey, you won’t be able to stand again, and if you do, you will get a thousand ducats.”
“That is a devil of a fellow,” thought the philosopher to himself, and went out. “One can’t trifle with him. But wait a little, my friend; I will escape you so cleverly, that even your hounds can’t find me!”
He determined, under any circumstances, to run away, and only waited till the hour after dinner arrived, when all the servants were accustomed to take a nap on the hay in the barn, and to snore and puff so loudly that it sounded as if machinery had been set up there. At last the time came. Even Javtuch stretched himself out in the sun and closed his eyes. Tremblingly, and on tiptoe, the philosopher stole softly into the garden, whence he thought he could escape more easily into the open country. This garden was generally so choked up with weeds that it seemed admirably adapted for such an attempt. With the exception of a single path used by the people of the house, the whole of it was covered with cherry-trees, elder-bushes, and tall heath-thistles with fibrous red buds. All these trees and bushes had been thickly overgrown with ivy, which formed a kind of roof. Its tendrils reached to the hedge and fell down on the other side in snake-like curves among the small, wild field-flowers. Behind the hedge which bordered the garden was a dense mass of wild heather, in which it did not seem probable that anyone would care to venture himself, and the strong, stubborn stems of which seemed likely to baffle any attempt to cut them.
As the philosopher was about to climb over the Hedge, his teeth chattered, and his Heart beat 60 violently that he felt frightened at it. The skirts of his long cloak seemed to cling to the ground as though they had been fastened to it by pegs. When he had actually got over the Hedge He seemed to hear a shrill voice crying behind him “Whither? Whither?”
He jumped into the heather and began to run, stumbling over old roots and treading on unfortunate moles. When He had emerged from the heather he saw that He still had a wide field to cross, behind which was a thick, thorny underwood. This, according to his calculation, must stretch as far as the road leading to Kieff, and if he reached it He would He safe. Accordingly He ran over the field and plunged into the thorny copse. Every sharp thorn he encountered tore 8 fragment from His coat. Then He reached a small open space; in the center of it stood a willow, whose branches hung down to the earth, and close by flowed a clear spring bright as silver. The first thing the philosopher did was to lie down and drink eagerly, for he was intolerably thirsty.
“Splendid water!” he said, wiping his mouth. “This is a good place to rest in.”
“No, better run farther; perhaps we are being followed,” said a voice immediately behind him.
Thomas started and turned; before him stood Javtuch.
“This devil of a Javtuch!” he thought. “I should like to seize him by the feet and smash his hang-dog face against the trunk of a tree.”
“Why did you go round such a long way?” continued Javtuch. “You had much better have chosen the path by which I came; it leads directly by the stable. Besides, it is a pity about your coat. Such splendid cloth! How much did it cost an ell? Well, we have had a long enough walk; it is time to go home.”
The philosopher followed Javtuch in a very depressed state.
“Now the accursed witch will attack me in earnest,” he thought. “But what have I really to fear? Am I not a Cossack? I have read the prayers for two nights already; with God’s help I will get through the third night also. It is plain that the witch must have a terrible load of guilt upon her, else the evil one would not help her so much.”
Feeling somewhat encouraged by these reflections, he returned to the court-yard and asked Dorosch, who sometimes, by the steward’s permission, had access to the wine-cellar, to fetch! him a small bottle of brandy. The two friends sat down before a barn and drank a pretty large one. Suddenly the philosopher jumped up and said, “I want musicians! Bring some musicians!”
But without waiting for them he began to dance the “tropak” in the court-yard. He danced till tea-time, and the servants, who, as is usual in such cases, had formed a small circle round him, grew at last tired of watching him, and went away saying, “By heavens, the man can dance!”
Finally the philosopher lay down in the place where he had been dancing, and fell asleep. It was necessary to pour a bucket of cold water on his head to wake him up for supper. At the meal he enlarged on the topic of what a Cossack ought to be, and how he should not be afraid of anything in the world.
“It is time,” said Javtuch; “let us go.”
“I wish I could put a lighted match to your tongue,” thought the philosopher; then he stood up and said, “Let us go.”
On their way to the church, the philosopher kept looking round him on all sides, and tried to start a conversation with his companions; but both Javtuch and Dorosch remained silent. It was a weird night. In the distance wolves howled continually, and even the barking of the dogs had something unearthly about it.
“That doesn’t sound like wolves howling, but something else,” remarked Dorosch.
Javtuch still kept silence, and the philosopher did not know what answer to make.
They reached the church and walked over the old wooden planks, whose rotten condition showed how little the lord of the manor cared about God and his soul. Javtuch and Dorosch left the philosopher alone, as on the previous evenings.
There was still the same atmosphere of menacing silence in the church, in the center of which stood the coffin with the terrible witch inside it.
“I am not afraid, by heavens, I am not afraid!” he said; and after drawing a circle round himself as before, he began to read the prayers and exorcisms.
An oppressive silence prevailed; the flickering candles filled the church with their clear light. The philosopher turned one page after another, and noticed that he was not reading what was in the book. Full of alarm, he crossed himself and began to sing a hymn. This calmed him somewhat, and he resumed his reading, turning the pages rapidly as he did so.
Suddenly in the midst of the sepulchral silence the iron lid of the coffin sprang open with a jarring noise, and the dead witch stood up. She was this time still more terrible in aspect than at first. Her teeth chattered loudly and her lips, through which poured a stream of dreadful curses, moved convulsively. A whirlwind arose in the church; the icons of the saints fell on the ground, together with the broken window-panes. The door was wrenched from its hinges, and a huge mass of monstrous creatures rushed into the church, which became filled with the noise of beating wings and scratching claws. All these creatures flew and crept about, seeking for the philosopher, from whose brain the last fumes of intoxication had vanished. He crossed himself ceaselessly and uttered prayer after prayer, hearing all the time the whole unclean swarm rustling about him, and brushing him with the tips of their wings. He had not the courage to look at them; he only saw one uncouth monster standing by the wall, with long, shaggy hair and two flaming eyes. Over him something hung in the air which looked like a gigantic bladder covered with countless crabs’ claws and scorpions’ stings, and with black clods of earth hanging from it. All these monsters stared about seeking him, but they could not find him, since he was protected by his sacred circle.
“Bring the Viy! Bring the Viy!” cried the witch.
A sudden silence followed; the howling of wolves was heard in the distance, and soon heavy footsteps resounded through the church. Thomas looked up furtively and saw that an ungainly human figure with crooked legs was being led into the church. He was quite covered with black soil, and his hands and feet resembled knotted roots. He trod heavily and stumbled at every step. His eyelids were of enormous length. With terror, Thomas saw that his face was of iron. They led him in by the arms and placed him near Thomas’s circle.
“Raise my eyelids! I can’t see anything!” said the Viy in a dull, hollow voice, and they all hastened to help in doing so.
“Don’t look!” an inner voice warned the philosopher; but he could not restrain from looking.
“There he is!” exclaimed the Viy, pointing an iron finger at him, and all the monsters rushed on him at once.
Struck dumb with terror, he sank to the ground and died.
At that moment there sounded a cock’s crow for the second time; the earth-spirits had not heard the first one. In alarm they hurried to the windows and the door to get out as quickly as possible. But it was too late; they all remained hanging as though fastened to the door and the windows.
When the priest came he stood amazed at such a desecration of God’s house, and did not venture to read prayers there. The church remained standing as it was, with the monsters hanging on the windows and the door. Gradually it became overgrown with creepers, bushes, and wild heather, and no one can discover it now.
When the report of this event reached Kieff, and the theologian Khalava heard what a fate had overtaken the philosopher Thomas, he sank for a whole hour into deep reflection. He had greatly altered of late; after finishing his studies he had become bell-ringer of one of the chief churches in the city, and he always appeared with a bruised nose, because the belfry staircase was in a ruinous condition.
“Have you heard what has happened to Thomas?” said Tiberius Gorobetz, who had become a philosopher and now wore a moustache.
“Yes; God had appointed it so,” answered the bell-ringer. “Let us go to the ale-house; we will drink a glass to his memory.”
The young philosopher, who, with the enthusiasm of a novice, had made such full use of his privileges as a student that his breeches and coat and even his cap reeked of brandy and tobacco, agreed readily to the proposal.
“He was a fine fellow, Thomas,” said the bell-ringer as the limping innkeeper set the third jug of beer before him. “A splendid fellow! And lost his life for nothing!”
“I know why he perished,” said Gorobetz; “because he was afraid. If he had not feared her, the witch could have done nothing to him. One ought to cross oneself incessantly and spit exactly on her tail, and then not the least harm can happen. I know all about it, for here, in Kieff, all the old women in the market-place are witches.”
The bell-ringer nodded assent. But being aware that he could not say any more, he got up cautiously and went out, swaying to the right and left in order to find a hiding-place in the thick steppe grass outside the town. At the same time, in accordance with his old habits, he did not forget to steal an old boot-sole which lay on the ale-house bench.
 
Morella
Edgar Allan Poe
(1835)
 
 
 
With a feeling of deep yet most singular affection I regarded my friend Morella. Thrown by accident into her society many years ago, my soul from our first meeting, burned with fires it had never before known; but the fires were not of Eros, and bitter and tormenting to my spirit was the gradual conviction that I could in no manner define their unusual meaning or regulate their vague intensity. Yet we met; and fate bound us together at the altar, and I never spoke of passion nor thought of love. She, however, shunned society, and, attaching herself to me alone rendered me happy. It is a happiness to wonder; it is a happiness to dream.
Morella’s erudition was profound. As I hope to live, her talents were of no common order — her powers of mind were gigantic. I felt this, and, in many matters, became her pupil. I soon, however, found that, perhaps on account of her Presburg education, she placed before me a number of those mystical writings which are usually considered the mere dross of the early German literature. These, for what reason I could not imagine, were her favorite and constant study — and that in process of time they became my own, should be attributed to the simple but effectual influence of habit and example.
In all this, if I err not, my reason had little to do. My convictions, or I forget myself, were in no manner acted upon by the ideal, nor was any tincture of the mysticism which I read to be discovered, unless I am greatly mistaken, either in my deeds or in my thoughts. Persuaded of this, I abandoned myself implicitly to the guidance of my wife, and entered with an unflinching heart into the intricacies of her studies. And then — then, when poring over forbidden pages, I felt a forbidden spirit enkindling within me — would Morella place her cold hand upon my own, and rake up from the ashes of a dead philosophy some low, singular words, whose strange meaning burned themselves in upon my memory. And then, hour after hour, would I linger by her side, and dwell upon the music of her voice, until at length its melody was tainted with terror, and there fell a shadow upon my soul, and I grew pale, and shuddered inwardly at those too unearthly tones. And thus, joy suddenly faded into horror, and the most beautiful became the most hideous, as Hinnon became Ge-Henna.
It is unnecessary to state the exact character of those disquisitions which, growing out of the volumes I have mentioned, formed, for so long a time, almost the sole conversation of Morella and myself. By the learned in what might be termed theological morality they will be readily conceived, and by the unlearned they would, at all events, be little understood. The wild Pantheism of Fichte; the modified Paliggenedia of the Pythagoreans; and, above all, the doctrines of Identity as urged by Schelling, were generally the points of discussion presenting the most of beauty to the imaginative Morella. That identity which is termed personal, Mr. Locke, I think, truly defines to consist in the saneness of rational being. And since by person we understand an intelligent essence having reason, and since there is a consciousness which always accompanies thinking, it is this which makes us all to be that which we call ourselves, thereby distinguishing us from other beings that think, and giving us our personal identity. But the principium individuationis , the notion of that identity which at death is or is not lost forever, was to me, at all times, a consideration of intense interest; not more from the perplexing and exciting nature of its consequences, than from the marked and agitated manner in which Morella mentioned them.
But, indeed, the time had now arrived when the mystery of my wife’s manner oppressed me as a spell. I could no longer bear the touch of her wan fingers, nor the low tone of her musical language, nor the luster of her melancholy eyes. And she knew all this, but did not upbraid; she seemed conscious of my weakness or my folly, and, smiling, called it fate. She seemed also conscious of a cause, to me unknown, for the gradual alienation of my regard; but she gave me no hint or token of its nature. Yet was she woman, and pined away daily. In time the crimson spot settled steadily upon the cheek, and the blue veins upon the pale forehead became prominent; and one instant my nature melted into pity, but in, next I met the glance of her meaning eyes, and then my soul sickened and became giddy with the giddiness of one who gazes downward into some dreary and unfathomable abyss.
Shall I then say that I longed with an earnest and consuming desire for the moment of Morella’s decease? I did; but the fragile spirit clung to its tenement of clay for many days, for many weeks and irksome months, until my tortured nerves obtained the mastery over my mind, and I grew furious through delay, and, with the heart of a fiend, cursed the days and the hours and the bitter moments, which seemed to lengthen and lengthen as her gentle life declined, like shadows in the dying of the day.
But one autumnal evening, when the winds lay still in heaven, Morella called me to her bedside. There was a dim mist over all the earth, and a warm glow upon the waters, and amid the rich October leaves of the forest, a rainbow from the firmament had surely fallen.
“It is a day of days,” she said, as I approached; “a day of all days either to live or die. It is a fair day for the sons of earth and life — ah, more fair for the daughters of heaven and death!”
I kissed her forehead, and she continued:
“I am dying, yet shall I live.”
“Morella!”
“The days have never been when thou couldst love me — but her whom in life thou didst abhor, in death thou shalt adore.”
“Morella!”
“I repeat I am dying. But within me is a pledge of that affection — ah, how little! — which thou didst feel for me, Morella. And when my spirit departs shall the child live — thy child and mine, Morella’s. But thy days shall be days of sorrow — that sorrow which is the most lasting of impressions, as the cypress is the most enduring of trees. For the hours of thy happiness are over and joy is not gathered twice in a life, as the roses of Paestum twice in a year. Thou shalt no longer, then, play the Teian with time, but, being ignorant of the myrtle and the vine, thou shalt bear about with thee thy shroud on the earth, as do the Moslemin at Mecca.”
“Morella!” I cried, “Morella! how knowest thou this?” but she turned away her face upon the pillow and a slight tremor coming over her limbs, she thus died, and I heard her voice no more.
Yet, as she had foretold, her child, to which in dying she had given birth, which breathed not until the mother breathed no more, her child, a daughter, lived. And she grew strangely in stature and intellect, and was the perfect resemblance of her who had departed, and I loved her with a love more fervent than I had believed it possible to feel for any denizen of earth.
But, ere long the heaven of this pure affection became darkened, and gloom, and horror, and grief swept over it in clouds. I said the child grew strangely in stature and intelligence. Strange, indeed, was her rapid increase in bodily size, but terrible, oh! terrible were the tumultuous thoughts which crowded upon me while watching the development of her mental being. Could it be otherwise, when I daily discovered in the conceptions of the child the adult powers and faculties of the woman? when the lessons of experience fell from the lips of infancy? and when the wisdom or the passions of maturity I found hourly gleaming from its full and speculative eye? When, I say, all this became evident to my appalled senses, when I could no longer hide it from my soul, nor throw it off from those perceptions which trembled to receive it, is it to be wondered at that suspicions, of a nature fearful and exciting, crept in upon my spirit, or that my thoughts fell back aghast upon the wild tales and thrilling theories of the entombed Morella? I snatched from the scrutiny of the world a being whom destiny compelled me to adore, and in the rigorous seclusion of my home, watched with an agonizing anxiety over all which concerned the beloved.
And as years rolled away, and I gazed day after day upon her holy, and mild, and eloquent face, and poured over her maturing form, day after day did I discover new points of resemblance in the child to her mother, the melancholy and the dead. And hourly grew darker these shadows of similitude, and more full, and more definite, and more perplexing, and more hideously terrible in their aspect. For that her smile was like her mother’s I could bear; but then I shuddered at its too perfect identity, that her eyes were like Morella’s I could endure; but then they, too, often looked down into the depths of my soul with Morella’s own intense and bewildering meaning. And in the contour of the high forehead, and in the ringlets of the silken hair, and in the wan fingers which buried themselves therein, and in the sad musical tones of her speech, and above all — oh, above all, in the phrases and expressions of the dead on the lips of the loved and the living, I found food for consuming thought and horror, for a worm that would not die.
Thus passed away two lustra of her life, and as yet my daughter remained nameless upon the earth. “My child,” and “my love,” were the designations usually prompted by a father’s affection, and the rigid seclusion of her days precluded all other intercourse. Morella’s name died with her at her death. Of the mother I had never spoken to the daughter, it was impossible to speak. Indeed, during the brief period of her existence, the latter had received no impressions from the outward world, save such as might have been afforded by the narrow limits of her privacy. But at length the ceremony of baptism presented to my mind, in its unnerved and agitated condition, a present deliverance from the terrors of my destiny. And at the baptismal font I hesitated for a name. And many titles of the wise and beautiful, of old and modern times, of my own and foreign lands, came thronging to my lips, with many, many fair titles of the gentle, and the happy, and the good. What prompted me then to disturb the memory of the buried dead? What demon urged me to breathe that sound, which in its very recollection was wont to make ebb the purple blood in torrents from the temples to the heart? What fiend spoke from the recesses of my soul, when amid those dim aisles, and in the silence of the night, I whispered within the ears of the holy man the syllables — Morella? What more than fiend convulsed the features of my child, and overspread them with hues of death, as starting at that scarcely audible sound, she turned her glassy eyes from the earth to heaven, and falling prostrate on the black slabs of our ancestral vault, responded — “I am here!”
Distinct, coldly, calmly distinct, fell those few simple sounds within my ear, and thence like molten lead rolled hissingly into my brain. Years — years may pass away, but the memory of that epoch never. Nor was I indeed ignorant of the flowers and the vine — but the hemlock and the cypress overshadowed me night and day. And I kept no reckoning of time or place, and the stars of my fate faded from heaven, and therefore the earth grew dark, and its figures passed by me like flitting shadows, and among them all I beheld only — Morella. The winds of the firmament breathed but one sound within my ears, and the ripples upon the sea murmured evermore — Morella. But she died; and with my own hands I bore her to the tomb; and I laughed with a long and bitter laugh as I found no traces of the first in the channel where I laid the second. — Morella.
 
Berenice
Edgar Allan Poe
(1835)
 
 
 
Misery is manifold. The wretchedness of earth is multiform. Overreaching the wide horizon as the rainbow, its hues are as various as the hues of that arch, — as distinct too, yet as intimately blended. Overreaching the wide horizon as the rainbow! How is it that from beauty I have derived a type of unloveliness? — from the covenant of peace a simile of sorrow? But as, in ethics, evil is a consequence of good, so, in fact, out of joy is sorrow born. Either the memory of past bliss is the anguish of to-day, or the agonies which are have their origin in the ecstasies which might have been.
My baptismal name is Egeus; that of my family I will not mention. Yet there are no towers in the land more time-honored than my gloomy, gray, hereditary halls. Our line has been called a race of visionaries; and in many striking particulars — in the character of the family mansion — in the frescos of the chief saloon — in the tapestries of the dormitories — in the chiseling of some buttresses in the armory — but more especially in the gallery of antique paintings — in the fashion of the library chamber — and, lastly, in the very peculiar nature of the library’s contents, there is more than sufficient evidence to warrant the belief.
The recollections of my earliest years are connected with that chamber, and with its volumes — of which latter I will say no more. Here died my mother. Herein was I born. But it is mere idleness to say that I had not lived before — that the soul has no previous existence. You deny it? — let us not argue the matter. Convinced myself, I seek not to convince. There is, however, a remembrance of aerial forms — of spiritual and meaning eyes — of sounds, musical yet sad — a remembrance which will not be excluded; a memory like a shadow, vague, variable, indefinite, unsteady; and like a shadow, too, in the impossibility of my getting rid of it while the sunlight of my reason shall exist.
In that chamber was I born. Thus awaking from the long night of what seemed, but was not, nonentity, at once into the very regions of fairy-land — into a palace of imagination — into the wild dominions of monastic thought and erudition — it is not singular that I gazed around me with a startled and ardent eye — that I loitered away my boyhood in books, and dissipated my youth in reverie; but it is singular that as years rolled away, and the noon of manhood found me still in the mansion of my fathers — it is wonderful what stagnation there fell upon the springs of my life — wonderful how total an inversion took place in the character of my commonest thought. The realities of the world affected me as visions, and as visions only, while the wild ideas of the land of dreams became, in turn, — not the material of my every-day existence-but in very deed that existence utterly and solely in itself.
Berenice and I were cousins, and we grew up together in my paternal halls. Yet differently we grew — I ill of health, and buried in gloom — she agile, graceful, and overflowing with energy; hers the ramble on the hill-side — mine the studies of the cloister — I living within my own heart, and addicted body and soul to the most intense and painful meditation — she roaming carelessly through life with no thought of the shadows in her path, or the silent flight of the raven-winged hours. Berenice! — I call upon her name — Berenice! — and from the gray ruins of memory a thousand tumultuous recollections are startled at the sound! Ah! vividly is her image before me now, as in the early days of her light-heartedness and joy! Oh! gorgeous yet fantastic beauty! Oh! sylph amid the shrubberies of Arnheim! — Oh! Naiad among its fountains! — and then — then all is mystery and terror, and a tale which should not be told. Disease — a fatal disease — fell like the simoom upon her frame, and, even while I gazed upon her, the spirit of change swept, over her, pervading her mind, her habits, and her character, and, in a manner the most subtle and terrible, disturbing even the identity of her person! Alas! the destroyer came and went, and the victim — where was she, I knew her not — or knew her no longer as Berenice.
Among the numerous train of maladies superinduced by that fatal and primary one which effected a revolution of so horrible a kind in the moral and physical being of my cousin, may be mentioned as the most distressing and obstinate in its nature, a species of epilepsy not unfrequently terminating in trance itself — trance very nearly resembling positive dissolution, and from which her manner of recovery was in most instances, startlingly abrupt. In the meantime my own disease — for I have been told that I should call it by no other appellation — my own disease, then, grew rapidly upon me, and assumed finally a monomaniac character of a novel and extraordinary form — hourly and momently gaining vigor — and at length obtaining over me the most incomprehensible ascendancy. This monomania, if I must so term it, consisted in a morbid irritability of those properties of the mind in metaphysical science termed the attentive. It is more than probable that I am not understood; but I fear, indeed, that it is in no manner possible to convey to the mind of the merely general reader, an adequate idea of that nervous intensity of interest with which, in my case, the powers of meditation (not to speak technically) busied and buried themselves, in the contemplation of even the most ordinary objects of the universe.
To muse for long unwearied hours with my attention riveted to some frivolous device on the margin, or in the topography of a book; to become absorbed for the better part of a summer’s day, in a quaint shadow falling aslant upon the tapestry, or upon the door; to lose myself for an entire night in watching the steady flame of a lamp, or the embers of a fire; to dream away whole days over the perfume of a flower; to repeat monotonously some common word, until the sound, by dint of frequent repetition, ceased to convey any idea whatever to the mind; to lose all sense of motion or physical existence, by means of absolute bodily quiescence long and obstinately persevered in; — such were a few of the most common and least pernicious vagaries induced by a condition of the mental faculties, not, indeed, altogether unparalleled, but certainly bidding defiance to anything like analysis or explanation.
Yet let me not be misapprehended. — The undue, earnest, and morbid attention thus excited by objects in their own nature frivolous, must not be confounded in character with that ruminating propensity common to all mankind, and more especially indulged in by persons of ardent imagination. It was not even, as might be at first supposed, an extreme condition or exaggeration of such propensity, but primarily and essentially distinct and different. In the one instance, the dreamer, or enthusiast, being interested by an object usually not frivolous, imperceptibly loses sight of this object in a wilderness of deductions and suggestions issuing therefrom, until, at the conclusion of a day dream often replete with luxury, he finds the incitamentum or first cause of his musings entirely vanished and forgotten. In my case the primary object was invariably frivolous, although assuming, through the medium of my distempered vision, a refracted and unreal importance. Few deductions, if any, were made; and those few pertinaciously returning in upon the original object as a center. The meditations were never pleasurable; and, at the termination of the reverie, the first cause, so far from being out of sight, had attained that supernaturally exaggerated interest which was the prevailing feature of the disease. In a word, the powers of mind more particularly exercised were, with me, as I have said before, the attentive, and are, with the day-dreamer, the speculative.
My books, at this epoch, if they did not actually serve to irritate the disorder, partook, it will be perceived, largely, in their imaginative and inconsequential nature, of the characteristic qualities of the disorder itself. I well remember, among others, the treatise of the noble Italian Coelius Secundus Curio “de Amplitudine Beati Regni dei”; St. Austin’s great work, the “City of God”; and Tertullian “de Carne Christi,” in which the paradoxical sentence “Mortuus est Dei filius; credible est quia ineptum est: et sepultus resurrexit; certum est quia impossibile est” occupied my undivided time, for many weeks of laborious and fruitless investigation.
Thus it will appear that, shaken from its balance only by trivial things, my reason bore resemblance to that ocean-crag spoken of by Ptolemy Hephestion, which steadily resisting the attacks of human violence, and the fiercer fury of the waters and the winds, trembled only to the touch of the flower called Asphodel. And although, to a careless thinker, it might appear a matter beyond doubt, that the alteration produced by her unhappy malady, in the moral condition of Berenice, would afford me many objects for the exercise of that intense and abnormal meditation whose nature I have been at some trouble in explaining, yet such was not in any degree the case. In the lucid intervals of my infirmity, her calamity, indeed, gave me pain, and, taking deeply to heart that total wreck of her fair and gentle life, I did not fall to ponder frequently and bitterly upon the wonder-working means by which so strange a revolution had been so suddenly brought to pass. But these reflections partook not of the idiosyncrasy of my disease, and were such as would have occurred, under similar circumstances, to the ordinary mass of mankind. True to its own character, my disorder reveled in the less important but more startling changes wrought in the physical frame of Berenice — in the singular and most appalling distortion of her personal identity.
During the brightest days of her unparalleled beauty, most surely I had never loved her. In the strange anomaly of my existence, feelings with me, had never been of the heart, and my passions always were of the mind. Through the gray of the early morning — among the trellised shadows of the forest at noonday — and in the silence of my library at night, she had flitted by my eyes, and I had seen her — not as the living and breathing Berenice, but as the Berenice of a dream — not as a being of the earth, earthy, but as the abstraction of such a being-not as a thing to admire, but to analyze — not as an object of love, but as the theme of the most abstruse although desultory speculation. And now — now I shuddered in her presence, and grew pale at her approach; yet bitterly lamenting her fallen and desolate condition, I called to mind that she had loved me long, and, in an evil moment, I spoke to her of marriage.
And at length the period of our nuptials was approaching, when, upon an afternoon in the winter of the year, — one of those unseasonably warm, calm, and misty days which are the nurse of the beautiful Halcyon, — I sat, (and sat, as I thought, alone,) in the inner apartment of the library. But uplifting my eyes I saw that Berenice stood before me.
Was it my own excited imagination — or the misty influence of the atmosphere — or the uncertain twilight of the chamber — or the gray draperies which fell around her figure — that caused in it so vacillating and indistinct an outline? I could not tell. She spoke no word, I— not for worlds could I have uttered a syllable. An icy chill ran through my frame; a sense of insufferable anxiety oppressed me; a consuming curiosity pervaded my soul; and sinking back upon the chair, I remained for some time breathless and motionless, with my eyes riveted upon her person. Alas! its emaciation was excessive, and not one vestige of the former being, lurked in any single line of the contour. My burning glances at length fell upon the face.
The forehead was high, and very pale, and singularly placid; and the once jetty hair fell partially over it, and overshadowed the hollow temples with innumerable ringlets now of a vivid yellow, and Jarring discordantly, in their fantastic character, with the reigning melancholy of the countenance. The eyes were lifeless, and lusterless, and seemingly pupil-less, and I shrank involuntarily from their glassy stare to the contemplation of the thin and shrunken lips. They parted; and in a smile of peculiar meaning, the teeth of the changed Berenice disclosed themselves slowly to my view. Would to God that I had never beheld them, or that, having done so, I had died!
The shutting of a door disturbed me, and, looking up, I found that my cousin had departed from the chamber. But from the disordered chamber of my brain, had not, alas! departed, and would not be driven away, the white and ghastly spectrum of the teeth. Not a speck on their surface — not a shade on their enamel — not an indenture in their edges — but what that period of her smile had sufficed to brand in upon my memory. I saw them now even more unequivocally than I beheld them then. The teeth! — the teeth! — they were here, and there, and everywhere, and visibly and palpably before me; long, narrow, and excessively white, with the pale lips writhing about them, as in the very moment of their first terrible development. Then came the full fury of my monomania, and I struggled in vain against its strange and irresistible influence. In the multiplied objects of the external world I had no thoughts but for the teeth. For these I longed with a phrenzied desire. All other matters and all different interests became absorbed in their single contemplation. They — they alone were present to the mental eye, and they, in their sole individuality, became the essence of my mental life. I held them in every light. I turned them in every attitude. I surveyed their characteristics. I dwelt upon their peculiarities. I pondered upon their conformation. I mused upon the alteration in their nature. I shuddered as I assigned to them in imagination a sensitive and sentient power, and even when unassisted by the lips, a capability of moral expression. Of Mad’selle Salle it has been well said, “que tous ses pas étaient des sentiments,” and of Berenice I more seriously believed que toutes ses dents étaient des idées. Des idées! — ah here was the idiotic thought that destroyed me! Des idées! — ah therefore it was that I coveted them so madly! I felt that their possession could alone ever restore me to peace, in giving me back to reason.
And the evening closed in upon me thus-and then the darkness came, and tarried, and went — and the day again dawned — and the mists of a second night were now gathering around — and still I sat motionless in that solitary room; and still I sat buried in meditation, and still the phantasma of the teeth maintained its terrible ascendancy as, with the most vivid hideous distinctness, it floated about amid the changing lights and shadows of the chamber. At length there broke in upon my dreams a cry as of horror and dismay; and thereunto, after a pause, succeeded the sound of troubled voices, intermingled with many low moanings of sorrow, or of pain. I arose from my seat and, throwing open one of the doors of the library, saw standing out in the antechamber a servant maiden, all in tears, who told me that Berenice was — no more. She had been seized with epilepsy in the early morning, and now, at the closing of the night, the grave was ready for its tenant, and all the preparations for the burial were completed.
I found myself sitting in the library, and again sitting there alone. It seemed that I had newly awakened from a confused and exciting dream. I knew that it was now midnight, and I was well aware that since the setting of the sun Berenice had been interred. But of that dreary period which intervened I had no positive — at least no definite comprehension. Yet its memory was replete with horror — horror more horrible from being vague, and terror more terrible from ambiguity. It was a fearful page in the record my existence, written all over with dim, and hideous, and unintelligible recollections. I strived to decipher them, but in vain; while ever and anon, like the spirit of a departed sound, the shrill and piercing shriek of a female voice seemed to be ringing in my ears. I had done a deed — what was it? I asked myself the question aloud, and the whispering echoes of the chamber answered me, “what was it?”
On the table beside me burned a lamp, and near it lay a little box. It was of no remarkable character, and I had seen it frequently before, for it was the property of the family physician; but how came it there, upon my table, and why did I shudder in regarding it? These things were in no manner to be accounted for, and my eyes at length dropped to the open pages of a book, and to a sentence underscored therein. The words were the singular but simple ones of the poet Ebn Zaiat, “Dicebant mihi sodales si sepulchrum amicae visitarem, curas meas aliquantulum fore levatas.” Why then, as I perused them, did the hairs of my head erect themselves on end, and the blood of my body become congealed within my veins?
There came a light tap at the library door, and pale as the tenant of a tomb, a menial entered upon tiptoe. His looks were wild with terror, and he spoke to me in a voice tremulous, husky, and very low. What said he? — some broken sentences I heard. He told of a wild cry disturbing the silence of the night — of the gathering together of the household-of a search in the direction of the sound; — and then his tones grew thrillingly distinct as he whispered me of a violated grave — of a disfigured body enshrouded, yet still breathing, still palpitating, still alive!
He pointed to garments; they were muddy and clotted with gore. I spoke not, and he took me gently by the hand; — it was indented with the impress of human nails. He directed my attention to some object against the wall; — I looked at it for some minutes; — it was a spade. With a shriek I bounded to the table, and grasped the box that lay upon it. But I could not force it open; and in my tremor it slipped from my hands, and fell heavily, and burst into pieces; and from it, with a rattling sound, there rolled out some instruments of dental surgery, intermingled with thirty-two small, white and ivory-looking substances that were scattered to and fro about the floor.
 
The Curse of the Vourdalak
Alexei Tolstoy
(1839)
 
 
 
In the year 1815 all the great heads of Europe were gathered in Vienna: the continent’s brightest minds and most brilliant diplomats. Our tale begins towards the conclusion of this historic Congress.
The royalist emigres were preparing to return to their chateaus, and the Russian warriors to return to their forsaken homes. A few disgruntled Poles hoped to shelter their desire for freedom under the dubious independence granted to Krakow by Prince Metternich, Prince Hardenberg and Count Nesselrode.
It was like the waning hours of a lively ball. The once vibrant crowds that filled the streets and establishments of the city had dwindled to a small number of people still seeking diversion, still fascinated by the charms of the Austrian ladies, reluctant to pack up and go their separate ways.
This pleasant company, of which I was part, would meet twice a week in the castle of the Dowager Princess of Schwarzenberg, a few miles from the city, beyond a small village named Hitzing. Our hostess’ aristocratic manner, her gracious kindness, and the nobility of her spirit and of her intellect, made our sojourns to her castle quite agreeable indeed.
Our mornings were spent on pleasant rambles; in the afternoon we dined together in the castle or within its environs. In the evenings, sitting by a good fire, we amused ourselves in conversation and story-telling. Discussion of politics was strictly forbidden — everyone had had enough. The stories we told were borrowed from the legends of our respective countries, or from our own memories.
One evening everyone had been telling ghost stories, and our minds were in a restless, uneasy state that was increased by the evening’s darkness and silence. The Marquis d’Urfé, an old emigre whom we all loved for his youthful gaiety, and for the colorful stories he told of his adventures and various changes of fortune, took advantage of a moment of silence and spoke:
“Your stories, gentlemen,” he said, “are no doubt amazing, but in my opinion they lack an essential quality — I mean that of authenticity. I don’t think that any of you have seen with his own eyes the wonderful things that you narrate, nor can you attest to their truth with your word as gentlemen.”
This we were obliged to admit, and the old man continued, straightening his cravat:
“As for me, gentlemen, I have had but a single adventure of this kind; but it is so strange, so horrible, and — yes — true, that it will strike terror in even the most incredulous among you. I was unfortunately both witness and actor, and I though I normally don’t like to remember it, I would be happy to tell you the story, if it pleases the ladies to allow me.”
The approval was unanimous. A few of us glanced nervously around at the moonlit tiles of the parquet floor, and our circle drew closer to listen to the Marquis’ tale. M. d’Urfé took a pinch of snuff, sniffed and slowly began with these words:
“First of all, mesdames, I beg your pardon if I mention the affairs of my heart more often in my story than a man my age should, but the romance is an essential part of the narrative. Besides, old age has its moments of forgetfulness — and it’s your fault, mesdames, that you are all so beautiful that I forget that I’m no longer a young man. So let me begin.
“In 1759, I was madly in love with the beautiful Duchess de Gramont. This passion, which seemed so deep and enduring at the time, gave me no rest day or night, and the way that the Duchess played the coquette — as many beautiful women do — only added to my torment. Finally, in a moment of despair, I sought out and obtained a diplomatic mission to the Gospodar Lord of Moldavia, who was in negotiations with Versailles over business that it would bore you to hear about. On the eve of my departure, I presented myself to the Duchess. She received me less teasingly than usual, and said to me, with some emotion:
“‘D’Urfé, you are committing a great folly. But I know you and I know you’ll never change your mind. So I ask you only one thing: please accept this small cross as a token of my friendship, and carry it with you until you return. It’s a family relic that we value highly.’
“With a gallantry that was perhaps misplaced at such a moment, I kissed not the relic, but the charming hand that she gave me, and I passed the cross around my neck, and have worn it ever since.
“I won’t bore you, mesdames, with the details of my trip, or with my observations of the Hungarians and Serbs, those poor but brave and honest people. Even enslaved by the Turks, they never forgot their dignity or their former independence. Suffice it to say that having learned a little Polish during a visit I made to Warsaw, I was also able to acquire a bit of Serbian, as these two languages (and Russian and Bohemian as well) are, as you probably know, so many branches of a single language called Slavonic.
“And so I knew enough of the language to make myself understood, when one day I arrived in a village whose name will not interest you much. I arrived on a Sunday, a day which the Serbian people generally devote to amusements like dancing, sharpshooting, wrestling, and so on. So you can imagine my surprise when I reached the house where I planned to stay, and found the inhabitants in an extremely anxious state. Guessing that the situation was due to some recent misfortune, I started to withdraw from the house when a man of about thirty, a tall and imposing figure, approached me and took me by the hand.
“Enter, stranger, please, come in,” he said. “Don’t be alarmed at our sorrow; you’ll understand when you know the cause.”
“He then told me that, on rising one morning several days before, his elderly father, Gorcha, a restless and stubborn man, had taken from the wall a long Turkish musket.
“‘Children,’ he said to his two sons, one named Dorde, the other Petar, ‘I’m going up to the mountains to join the brave men who are chasing this dog Alibek (this was a Turkish robber who had been ravaging the countryside for some time). Wait for me for ten days, and if I don’t return by the tenth, have a Mass said for my soul, because I’ll be dead.’
“Then old Gorcha added, in a deadly serious tone, ‘But if — God forbid — I come back after ten days, for your own sakes do not let me in. If this happens, I command you to forget that I was your father, no matter what I say or do, and to impale my heart with an aspen stake, because I will be a cursed Vourdalak returning to suck your blood.’
“I should explain to you, mesdames, that vourdalaks, as the Slavic peoples call vampires, are believed in those countries to be dead bodies that come out of their graves to suck the blood of the living. Their habits are similar to those of all vampires, from any country, but they have one characteristic that makes them even more dreadful. The vourdalaks, mesdames, prefer to suck the blood of their closest relatives and dearest friends who, once dead, become vampires in turn. They claim that in Bosnia and Hungary entire villages have become vourdalaks. Father Augustin Calmet, in his curious book on ghosts and apparitions, cites many frightening examples. Several times, the Emperors of Germany have appointed commissions to investigate outbreaks of vampirism. The commissioners tell of exhuming bodies engorged with blood, which they stake in the heart and then burn in the village squares. The magistrates who were present at these executions attest — with oaths and signed statements — that they heard the dead howl at the moment that the stake was plunged into their hearts.
“Knowing this, it will be easy to understand, mesdames, the effect that old Gorcha’s words had on his sons. They both threw themselves at his feet and begged him to let them go in his place. In reply, he turned his back and left, humming the refrain of an old war song. The day I arrived in the village was precisely the end of the ten days, which of course explained his family’s concern.
“They were a good and honest family. Dorde, the eldest son of the two, seemed a serious and resolute man. He was married with two children. His brother Petar, a handsome young man of eighteen years, had a face full of gentleness and courage, and was evidently the favorite of their younger sister, Sdenka, a classic Slavic beauty. I was struck not only by Sdenka’s undeniable loveliness, but also by a certain resemblance she had to the Duchess de Gramont. They both had a delicate line on their foreheads, a characteristic that I’ve only ever noticed on these two women. This feature may not seem very appealing at first, but the more you noticed it, the more irresistible it became.
“Perhaps it was because I was so young then, but this resemblance, combined with Sdenka’s charming and naive air, was truly irresistible. I had only known Sdenka for two minutes, but already I felt a sympathy for her that threatened to become a more tender emotion if I lingered too long in the village.
“We were all gathered in front of the house, around a table topped with cheese and bowls of milk. Sdenka spun, her sister-in-law was preparing supper, the children were playing in the sand. Petar whistled nonchalantly as he cleaned his yatagan, or Turkish longknife. Dorde sat silently with his elbows on the table and his head in his hands. His eyes devoured the highway.
“I felt overcome by the general melancholy, and could only watch sadly as the evening clouds framed the golden background of the sky and the silhouette of a monastery half hidden by the black pine forest.
“This monastery, as I learned later, had once been famous for a miraculous image of the Virgin, which according to legend, was brought by angels and placed on an oak. But when the Turks invaded the country at the beginning of the last century, they slaughtered the monks and ransacked the monastery. All that was left were the walls, and a chapel served by a mysterious hermit. He gave tours of the ruins to the curious, and sheltered pilgrims who, as they traveled on foot from one holy site to another, liked to stop at the Shrine of Our Lady of the Oak. As I said, I learned this all much later; that night I had other things on my mind besides Serbian archeology. As often happens when you let your mind wander, I thought back to times past, to my childhood, to the beautiful France that I had left behind for this remote, wild country.
“I thought of the Duchess de Gramont, and — why not admit it? — I also thought of other ladies, contemporaries of your grandmothers, whose images, without my knowledge, had crept into my heart, following the image of the lovely Duchess.
“Soon I had forgotten my hosts and their worries.
“Suddenly Dorde broke the silence.
“‘Woman,’ he asked his wife, ‘what time did the old man leave?’
“‘At eight o’clock,’ his wife answered. ‘I heard the monastery bell.’
“‘Good,’ said Dorde, ‘it can’t be later than half past seven.’ And he fell silent, fixing his eyes again on the highway which disappeared into the forest.
“I forgot to tell you, mesdames, that when the Serbs suspect someone of vampirism, they avoid calling him by name or referring to him directly, for fear it will summon him from the grave. So for some time, when speaking of his father, Dorde had only called him the old man.
“A few moments of silence passed. Suddenly one of the children tugged on Sdenka’s apron.
“‘Auntie, when is Grandpa coming home?’
“A blow from Dorde was the answer to this untimely question.
“The child began to cry, but his brother said, with an expression of surprise and fear:
“‘Father, why can’t we ask about Grandpa?’
“Another blow silenced the child. The two children began to bawl, and the rest of the family crossed themselves.
“At this point, I heard the monastery clock begin slowly to strike eight. Hardly had the first chime sounded in our ears than we saw a human form emerge from the woods and advance towards us.
“‘That’s him! God be praised!’ cried Sdenka, Petar, and their sister-in-law at once.
“‘God keep us!’ Dorde said solemnly. ‘How do we know if the ten days have passed or not?’
“Everyone looked at him fearfully. Still the figure advanced towards us. He was a tall old man with a silver mustache, and a pale, stern face, limping painfully along with a stick. As he approached, Dorde’s face became darker. When the newcomer was near us, he stopped and surveyed his family with eyes that seemed to look right through them, they were so dull and sunken in their sockets.
“‘Well,’ he said in a hollow voice, ‘no one stands up to greet me? What is this silence? Don’t you see that I’m hurt?’
“I then noticed that the old man’s left side was bloodied.
“‘Help your father,’ I said to Dorde, ‘and you Sdenka, bring him some spirits, he’s about to faint!’
“Father,’ Dorde said, as he approached Gorcha, ‘show me your injury, I will try to help you…’
“He tried to open Gorcha’s coat, but the old man pushed Dorde away roughly, holding both hands over his side.
“‘Clumsy oaf,’ he said, ‘you’re hurting me!’
“‘You’ve been wounded near the heart!’ cried Dorde, his face pale. ‘Take off your coat, now, you must, I tell you!’
“The old man stood up straight and stiff.
“‘Watch yourself,’ he said in a low voice. ‘If you touch me, you’ll regret it!’
“Petar got between Dorde and his father.
“‘Let him be,’ he said. ‘Can’t you see he’s in pain?’
“‘Don’t defy him,’ said Dorde’s wife. ‘You know he won’t tolerate that!’
“At that moment we saw a cloud of dust: it was the herd returning home from their grazing. Perhaps the dog that accompanied them didn’t recognize her old master, or maybe she was agitated for other reasons, but as soon as she saw Gorcha she stopped, hair bristling, and began to growl as if she saw something uncanny.
“‘What is wrong with that dog?’ said the old man, looking more and more annoyed. ‘What does all this mean? Have I become a stranger in my own home? Have ten days in the mountains changed me so much that my own dogs don’t recognize me?’
“‘Do you hear?’ Dorde said to his wife.
“‘What?’
“‘He admits that the ten days have passed!’
“‘But didn’t he return at the appointed time?’
“‘Yes, well, I know what has to be done.’
“The damned dog is still barking! Kill it!’ cried Gorcha. ‘Well, did you hear me?’
“Dorde did not move, but Petar stood up with tears in his eyes, and seizing the musket from his father, he shot the dog, who fell, rolling in the dust.
“‘She was my favorite dog,’ Petar whispered. ‘I don’t know why Father wanted her killed!
“‘Because that’s what she deserved.’ said Gorcha. ‘It’s getting cold, I want to go inside!’
“While this was going on outside, Sdenka had prepared for the old man a drink made from pears, honey and raisins, but her father refused it in disgust. He showed the same aversion to a mutton rice dish that Dorde offered him, and went to sit by the hearth, muttering between his teeth unintelligibly.
“A pine fire crackled in the fireplace, casting its flickering light on the figure of the old man, who was so pale that without the fire’s glow, he could have been taken for dead. Sdenka sat down beside him.
“‘Father,’ she said, ‘you don’t want anything to eat, and you don’t want to rest. Perhaps you can tell us your adventures in the mountains?’
“The girl knew that she could get on his good side by asking that, because the old man liked to talk about his battles and exploits. A kind of smile appeared on his colorless lips, though without reaching his eyes. He ran his hand through her beautiful blond hair.
“‘Yes, my daughter, yes, Sdenka. I will tell you what happened to me in the mountains, but some other time, because I’m tired today. But I will tell you that Alibek is no more and that it was by my hand he perished. If anyone doubts this,’ continued the old man, looking around at his family, ‘here is the proof!’
“He opened a bag that hung behind the two of them, and pulled out a head, pale and bloody — though not quite as pale as his own. We turned away in horror, but Gorcha handed it to Petar.
“‘Here,’ he said, ‘hang it over the door, so that everyone who passes will know that Alibek is dead and the roads are purged of robbers — except of course, the Sultan’s Janissaries!’
“Petar obeyed, picking up the head with revulsion.
“‘Now I understand,’ he said. ‘The poor dog that I killed was upset because she smelled dead flesh!’
“‘Yes, she smelled dead flesh.’ replied Dorde gloomily. He had slipped away without anyone noticing, and now he entered the house, holding in his hand an object that he placed in a corner and which looked to me like a stake.
“Dorde,’ his wife said in a low voice, ‘you don’t intend, I hope…’
“‘My brother,’ said his sister, ‘what are you planning to do? But no, you won’t do anything, will you?’
“‘Let me be,’ said Dorde, ‘I know what I have to do, and I won’t do anything that isn’t necessary.’
“When night fell, the family went to bed. The part of the house where they slept was separated from my room by a very thin wall. I confess that what I’d observed that evening had affected my imagination. With the lights out, the full moon shone into the room through a small low window close to my bed, casting a pale glow on the floor and walls — much as it does now, mesdames, in this room where we sit. I tried to sleep, but couldn’t. I attributed my insomnia to the moonlight, and I looked for something to serve as a curtain over the window, but I found nothing. Then, hearing muffled voices behind the wall, I began to listen.
“‘Go to bed, woman,’ said Dorde. ‘And Petar and Sdenka, you too. Don’t worry about anything, I’ll keep watch.”
“‘No, Dorde,’ said his wife. ‘I should watch; you worked until late last night, and you must be tired. Besides, I have to watch our oldest. You know he’s been ill since yesterday!’
“‘Be quiet and go to bed,’ said Dorde. ‘I’ll keep watch for both of us!’
“‘But brother,’ said, Sdenka in her softest voice. ‘There’s no need to watch. Father is already asleep — see how calm and peaceful he looks!’
“‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, either of you,’ Dorde said in a tone that brooked no argument. ‘I told you to go to bed and let me watch!’
“There fell a profound silence. Soon I felt my eyelids droop and sleep overcame me.
“I thought I saw my door open slowly, and old Gorcha appear on the threshold. It was very dark in that corner of the room; I couldn’t really see him, but only suspected that the figure was his. His eyes followed the movement of my breath, and seemed to be trying to guess my thoughts. Cautiously, he crept towards me, on tiptoe. Suddenly he loomed above me, at the side of my bed. I felt an inexpressible fear, but some invisible force held me there, immobile. The old man leaned over me, his livid face so close to mine that I thought I could feel his cadaverous breath. With a supreme effort, I forced myself awake, bathed in sweat. There was no one in my room; but glancing out the window, I clearly beheld old Gorcha with his face against the pane, staring at me with dreadful eyes.
I had the strength to suppress a scream, and the presence of mind to lie calmly, as if I had not seen anything. However, it seemed the old man only wanted to make sure that I was asleep, because he made no attempt to get in, but walked away from the window after scrutinizing me. I heard footsteps in the next room. Dorde was asleep, snoring to shake the walls. The child coughed at that moment and I could make out Gorcha’s voice.
“‘You’re not sleeping, little one?’ he said.
“‘No, Grandpa,’ said the child, ‘and I want to talk to you!’
“‘And what shall we talk about?’
“‘‘I want you to tell me how you fought the Turks. I want to go fight the Turks, too!’
“‘Yes, I thought so, child, and I brought you a little yatagan that I’ll give you tomorrow.’
“‘Oh, Grandpa, give it to me now!’
“‘But why, my little one, did you not talk to me when it was daylight?’
“‘Because Father wouldn’t let me!’
“‘He’s cautious, your father. So you want to have your little yatagan?’
“‘Oh yes, I would! But not here, in case father wakes up.’
“‘But where then?’
“‘If we go outside, I promise to be careful and not make any noise!’
“I seemed to hear Gorcha chuckle, as the child got out of bed. I did not believe in vampires, but my nightmare had frayed my nerves; wanting nothing to reproach myself for later, I got up and slammed my fist against the wall between myself and the room where the others were.
The noise should have been enough to wake the Seven Sleepers, but I heard no response. I rushed for the door, determined to save the child, but I discovered that it was closed and locked, and would not yield to my efforts to open it. As I tried in vain to escape, I could see the old man through my window, leaving with the boy in his arms.
“‘Get up, get up!’ I shouted with all my strength, pounding the wall, which shook with the force of my blows. Only then did Dorde wake up.
“‘Where’s the old man?’ he called.
“‘Quickly!’ I shouted at him, ‘he just took your son!’
“With a kick Dorde burst open the front door, which, like mine, had been barred from the outside, and ran in the direction of the woods. I finally managed to wake up Petar and Sdenka. We gathered in front of the house, and after a few minutes’ wait, we saw Dorde return, carrying his son. He’d found the boy unconscious by the side of the road. The child soon recovered, and seemed no worse for the experience. To our questions, he said that his grandfather had done him no harm; they had gone outside together to be more at ease. Once outside, he had lost consciousness, without remembering how. As for Gorcha, he was gone.
“The rest of the night, as you might imagine, passed without sleep.
“The next day I learned that the Danube, which cut the main road a mile from the village, had begun to freeze over, which always happens in that region in the late fall and early spring. This prevented travel for a few days, and I had to delay my planned departure. Yet, even if I could have left, curiosity, combined with a more powerful attraction, would have kept me there. The more I saw Sdenka, the more I loved her. I am not one of those romantics, mesdames, who believe in the sudden and irresistible passion that we read about in novels, but I think there are cases where love blossoms more quickly than usual. Sdenka so remarkably reminded me of the Duchess de Gramont, with that faint line traced on her forehead— the same line that, in France, had made me suicidal with longing. I’d fled Paris to escape her, and yet here she was again, in picturesque costume and speaking a harmonious foreign tongue. It was this resemblance, together with the strangeness of my situation and the mysteries that surrounded me, that kindled in me a desire that, in other circumstances, would have been vague and fleeting.
“In the course of the day I overheard Sdenka talking to her younger brother.
“‘What do you think of all this?’ she asked him. ‘Do you also suspect our father?’
“‘I dare not suspect him,’ replied Petar, ‘especially since the boy said that he wasn’t hurt. As for Father’s disappearance, you know that he never tells us of his comings and goings.’
“‘I know,’ Sdenka said, ‘but something must be done, because you know Dorde…’
“‘Yes, I know. It would be useless to try and talk him out of it, but if we hide the stake, he can’t get another one, because there’s not a single aspen on this side of the mountains!’
“‘Yes, let’s hide the stake, but don’t tell the children because they might tell Dorde!’
“‘We’ll keep it to ourselves,’ said Petar. And they parted.
“Night came; still no news of old Gorcha. I lay awake, sprawled out on my bed, watching the moon shining brightly into my room. As sleep began to blur my thoughts, I suddenly felt, as if by instinct, the old man’s approach. I opened my eyes and saw his ghastly face pressed against my window.
“This time I tried to get up, but it was impossible. It seemed as if all my limbs were paralyzed. After watching me carefully, the old man slipped away. I heard him go around the house and gently tap at the window of the room where Dorde and his wife slept. The child rolled over in his bed and moaned in his sleep. A few minutes of silence passed, then again I heard a knock at the window. The child moaned again and woke up...
“‘Is that you, Grandpa?’ he asked.
“‘It’s me’, a low voice replied. ‘I’ve brought your little yatagan.’
“‘But I daren’t go out; Father’s forbidden me to!’
“‘You needn’t go out, just open the window so you can come kiss me!’
“‘The child got up and I heard him open the window. Calling upon all my energy to break my paralysis, I jumped out of bed and pounded on the wall. In a minute Dorde was awake. I heard him swear; his wife shrieked. Soon the whole house was gathered around the unconscious child. Gorcha had disappeared again. Our ministrations managed to revive the child, but he was weak and could hardly breathe. The poor boy did not know why he had fainted. His mother and Sdenka blamed it on the fear of being caught talking to his grandfather. I said nothing. After the child grew quiet, everyone except Dorde went back to bed.
“Toward dawn I heard him wake his wife; the two talked quietly. Sdenka joined them and I heard the two women sobbing.
“The child was dead.
“I needn’t speak of the family’s despair. No one yet attributed the death to old Gorcha. At least, no one spoke of it openly.
“Dorde was silent, but his still, dark expression had taken on a terrible quality. For two days, the old man did not reappear. On the night after the third day (the day of the child’s funeral) I thought I heard footsteps around the house, and a voice of an old man who called out to the deceased boy’s younger brother. For a moment, I seemed to see Gorcha’s figure outlined against my window, but I could not tell if it was reality or my imagination, because that night, the moon was covered by clouds. In any case, I thought it my duty to tell Dorde. He asked the boy, who replied that, yes, he had heard his grandfather calling him, and had seen him looking through the window. Dorde sternly ordered his son to wake him if the old man appeared again.
“‘Even all these circumstances did not stop my love for Sdenka from growing even more.
“In the day, I couldn’t speak with her without the others overhearing. When night came, the thought of my imminent departure pierced my heart. Sdenka’s room was separated from mine by a passage that overlooked the street on one side and the courtyard on the other.
“One evening, as the household retired for the evening, I decided to take a walk in the countryside to distract myself before sleeping. As I passed through the passage from my room, I saw that Sdenka’s door was ajar.
“I stopped involuntarily. The familiar rustling of her dress made my heart pound. I heard words sung in a whisper. It was the song of a Serbian king about to leave for battle, bidding his beloved farewell.
 
‘Oh, my young poplar,’ said the old king,
‘I’m off to war and you will forget me!’
‘Your waist is more lissom than the slender young trees
‘That grow at the foot of the mountain.
‘Your lips are redder than rowan-berries.
‘And I, I’m like an old oak stripped of leaves;
‘My beard is whiter than the foam of the Danube!
‘You will forget me, O my soul, and I shall die of grief,
For the enemy will not dare to kill the old king!’
And the beautiful maid replied:
‘I swear to be faithful to you and to never forget you.
‘And if I break my oath, may you wake from the dead
‘To suck all the blood from my heart!’
And the old King said: ‘So be it!’
And he went to war. And how soon his lover forgot him!...
 
Here Sdenka stopped, as if she were afraid to finish the song. I couldn’t contain myself any longer. Her voice, so sweet, so expressive, was the voice of the Duchess de Gramont... Impulsively, I pushed open the door and entered. Sdenka had removed her overblouse; she wore nothing but a chemise embroidered in gold and red silk that clung to her waist, and a simple checkered skirt. Her beautiful blonde tresses were unbraided, and her undress made her appear even more ravishing. Instead of being irritated at my sudden entrance, she seemed confused and blushed slightly.
“‘What are you doing here? What will they think if they catch us?’
“‘Sdenka, my soul,’ I said, ‘don’t worry, everyone is asleep, only the crickets in the grass and the beetles in the air can hear us.’
“‘Oh, my friend, fly, fly! If my brother catches us, I’m lost!’
“‘Sdenka, I’ll go when you promise to love me forever, like the beautiful maiden promised her king in the ballad. I’m leaving soon, Sdenka, who knows when we shall meet again! I love you more than my soul, more than my salvation... my life and my blood are yours... can’t you give me one hour in exchange?’
“‘Many things can happen in an hour,’ Sdenka said, thoughtfully, but she left her hand in mine. ‘You don’t know my brother,’ she continued with a shudder, ‘I have a feeling he’ll find us.’
“‘Calm yourself, my Sdenka,’ I told her. ‘Your brother is tired from his day’s work, he sits drowsing to the sound of the wind playing in the trees; his sleep is deep, the night is long, and I only ask you for a single hour! And then, farewell... perhaps forever!’
“‘Oh, no, not forever!’ Sdenka cried, then recoiled as if afraid of her own voice.
“‘Oh, Sdenka,’ I cried, ‘when I see you, when I hear you, I can’t control myself — I obey a superior force. Forgive me, Sdenka!’ And like a fool I pressed her to my heart.
“‘Oh, you’re not my friend!’ she said, breaking free of my arms and escaping deeper into her room. I don’t know how I replied to her, because I was confused by my audacity — not that sometimes, on similar occasions, it hasn’t worked for me — but despite my passion, I still had a sincere respect for Sdenka’s innocence.
“‘In fact, I started to regale her with those dashing phrases that had always worked so well for me with beautiful ladies, but then, ashamed of myself, I stopped. The girl’s simplicity kept her from understanding what I hinted at, though all of you ladies, as I see by your smiles, have easily guessed.
“So I stood there before her, unsure what to say, when suddenly I saw her flinch and stare at the window with a look of terror. I followed the direction of her eyes and distinctly saw the motionless figure of Gorcha, watching us from outside.
“At that moment, I felt a heavy hand on my shoulder. I turned. It was Dorde.
“‘What are you doing here?’ he asked.
“Rattled by his brusque question, I pointed to his father peering in at us through the window. Gorcha disappeared as soon as Dorde saw him.
“‘I heard the old man and I came to warn your sister,’ I said.
“Dorde’s stare bored through me as if he were reading the depths of my soul. He took me by the arm and led me to my room, then left without a word.
“The next day, the family was gathered in front of the house around a table laden with milk and cheese.
“‘Where is the boy?’ asked Dorde.
“‘In the courtyard, said his mother. ‘Playing his favorite game of fighting the Turks.’
“Hardly had she uttered these words when to our great surprise we saw Gorcha’s imposing form, coming from the bottom of the woods and walking slowly towards us. He sat down at the table as he had done on the day that I arrived.
“‘Father, welcome,’ murmured his daughter-in-law in a barely audible voice.
“‘Welcome, father,’ repeated Sdenka and Petar quietly.
“‘Father,” Dorde said in a firm voice, though his face had lost its color, ‘we’d like you to say grace.’
“The old man turned away, frowning.
“‘Say grace this instant!’ repeated Dorde, ‘and make the Sign of the Cross, or by St. George…’
“Sdenka and her sister-in-law leaned toward the old man and begged him to say the prayers.
“‘No, no, no!’ said the old man. ‘He has no right to order me around, and if he insists, then I curse him!’
“Dorde got up and ran into the house. Soon he returned with fury in his eyes.
“‘Where is the stake?’ he cried, ‘where did you hide the stake?’
“Sdenka and Petar exchanged glances.
“‘‘You dead thing!’ Dorde said to the old man, ‘What have you done with my eldest boy? Why did you kill my child? Give me back my son, you corpse!’
“And as he spoke, he became increasingly pale, and his eyes blazed. The old man glared at him, motionless.
“‘The stake, where is the stake!’ cried Dorde. ‘May all our misfortune fall on the head of whoever hid it!’
“At that moment we heard the merry laughter of the youngest child and we saw him come towards us, riding the big stake like a horse and raising his little voice in the battle cry of the Serbs.
“Dorde’s eyes lit up. He snatched the stake from the child and rushed towards his father. The creature screamed and ran in the direction of the wood with a speed practically supernatural for his age.
“Dorde chased him through the fields and we soon lost sight of them.
“The sun had set by the time Dorde came home, deathly pale, with his hair disheveled. As he sat by the fire, I seemed to hear his teeth chattering. Nobody dared question him. By the hour when the family was accustomed to retire for the evening, he seemed to recover his energy. Taking me aside, he said in the most natural way:
“‘My dear sir, I have just seen the river. The ice has cleared, there is nothing to prevent your departure. There’s no need,’ he added, glancing at Sdenka, ‘to say goodbye to my family. On their behalf I wish you all the happiness in the world, and I hope that you also remember us fondly. Tomorrow, at daybreak, you will find your horse saddled and ready to follow your lead. Farewell, remember your host sometimes, and forgive him if your stay here has not been as trouble-free as he would have liked.’
“‘At that moment, the hard lines of Dorde’s face took on an almost cordial expression. He escorted me to my room and shook my hand one last time. Then he shivered, and his teeth chattered as if from the cold.
“Left alone, I was too preoccupied to sleep, as you can imagine. I had loved many women in my life. I had experienced tenderness, and spite, and jealousy; but never, not even when leaving the Duchess de Gramont, had I felt the intense sadness that tore my heart at that moment. Before the sun had appeared, I put on my traveling clothes, hoping for one last conversation with Sdenka. But Dorde was waiting for me in the hallway. Any chance to say farewell to her was gone.
“I jumped on my horse and rode away, promising myself that I would return to the village on my way back from Jassy. My anticipation for the future — as distant as it was — gradually drove away my worries. I imagined my return with satisfaction, picturing all the details of a future meeting with Sdenka. Suddenly my horse started, almost throwing me out of the saddle. The beast stopped short, its forelegs braced, and snorted in alarm, as if danger were nearby. Looking around, I saw a wolf about a hundred paces in front of me, digging in the earth. Hearing me, it fled. Spurring my horse forward to the spot that the wolf had abandoned, I saw a fresh grave. I thought I could distinguish the tip of a stake, protruding a few inches above the earth that the wolf had disturbed. I didn’t stay to make sure, but quickly rode away.”
Here, the Marquis paused, and took a pinch of snuff.
“Is that all?” asked the ladies.
“Unfortunately, no!” replied M. d’Urfe. “The rest of the story is a painful memory for me; one I would give much to be free of.”
“The business that brought me to Jassy kept me there longer than I had expected: a full six months. What can I say? It is a sad truth to admit— but a truth nonetheless — that there are few lasting emotions on this Earth. The success of my negotiations, the encouragement I received from the cabinet of Versailles — in a word, all the unpleasant politics that have annoyed us so much of late — in all of this my memory of Sdenka soon began to fade. And then there was the wife of the Gospodar, a very beautiful woman who speaks our language perfectly, and who had honored me on my arrival by singling me out from all the other young foreigners who were staying in Jassy. As steeped as I am in the principles of French gallantry, my Gallic blood would have revolted at the idea of repaying the kindness she showed me with ingratitude. So I responded obligingly to her advances, and — to put myself in a position to advance the interests and rights of France — I devoted myself to her as attentively as if I were the Gospodar himself.
“When I was recalled to France, I took the same route back that had led me to Jassy.
“I was not thinking of Sdenka or her family when one night, riding through the countryside, I heard a church bell strike eight. The sound seemed familiar, and my guide told me there was a monastery nearby. I asked him the name, and he told me that it was The Virgin of the Oak. I urged my horse on, and soon we were knocking at the door of the monastery. The hermit opened the door and led us to the guest house. It was so full of pilgrims that I had no urge to spend the night there, so I asked if I could find a house in the village.
“‘You can find more than one,’ the hermit replied with a deep sigh. ‘Thanks to that infidel Gorcha there is no shortage of empty houses!’
“‘What does that mean?’ I demanded of him. ‘Is Gorcha still alive?’
“‘Oh, no; he’s well and truly buried, with a stake through his heart! But he sucked the blood of Dorde’s son. The child came back one night, crying at the door, saying he was cold and wanted to come in. His foolish mother, although she had seen him buried with her own eyes, didn’t have the courage to send him back to the cemetery, and opened the door. The boy threw himself on her and drained her blood until she died. They buried her as well, but she returned to suck the blood of her younger son, and then her husband, and then that of his brother. All are dead.’
“‘And Sdenka?’ I said.
“‘She went mad with grief, poor child. Let’s not speak of her!”
“The hermit’s answer was not encouraging and I didn’t have the courage to repeat my question.
“‘Vampirism is contagious,’ continued the hermit, crossing himself. ‘Many families in the village have been affected, many families have been completely killed off, and if you want my advice, you’ll stay the night in the monastery. For though in the village you may not be devoured by vourdalaks, the dread will be enough to turn your hair white before I finish ringing the call to the Morning Mass.
“‘I’m just a poor hermit,’ he continued, ‘but the generosity of travelers has enabled me to provide for their needs. I have exquisite cheeses, raisins that will make your mouth water just to look at them, and a few bottles of Tokay as fine as the wine of His Holiness the Patriarch!’
“It seemed to me at this point that the hermit had turned into an innkeeper. I suspected that he was purposely telling me fairy tales to convince me to stay, and to make myself agreeable to heaven by imitating the generosity of those travelers who enabled the holy man to meet their needs.
“But the word ‘fear’ has always affected me like a bugle affects a warhorse. I would have been ashamed of myself if I had not left for the village immediately. My guide, trembling, asked permission to stay at the monastery, which I willingly granted.
“It took me about half an hour to reach the village. I found it deserted. Not a light shone in any of the windows, not a sound or a song could be heard. I passed in silence before all these houses, most of which I recognized, and finally arrived at Dorde’s home. Whether from sentimental memory or from the recklessness of youth, I decided to spend the night there.
“I dismounted and knocked at the gate. Nobody answered. I pushed on the gate; it opened, creaking on its hinges. I entered the yard.
“I tied my horse, still saddled, in a shed, where I found a sufficient supply of oats for one night, then I walked resolutely towards the house.
“All the doors were open, yet all the rooms seemed uninhabited. Sdenka’s room looked as if it had been abandoned only the day before. Some of her clothes were still lying on the bed. On a table, I saw some jewelry that I had given her, shining in the moonlight. I recognized a small enamel cross that I had bought in Budapest. I could not deny to myself, though my heart sank at the thought, that my love for her was a thing of the past. Still, I wrapped myself in my coat and lay on her bed. Soon sleep overcame me.
“I don’t remember the details of my dream, but I know that I saw Sdenka, as beautiful, innocent, and loving as before. I blamed myself for my selfishness and fickleness. I wondered how I could have abandoned this poor child who loved me, how I could have forgotten her. In my dream, her image merged with the Duchess de Gramont until I saw the two of them as one and the same person. I threw myself at her feet and begged her forgiveness. All of my being, all of my soul, was filled with an ineffable feeling, a mixture of melancholy and happiness.
“I was deep in my dream, when I was half-awakened by a melodious sound, like the rustling of a wheat field in the breeze. The rustling wheat seemed to mingle with birdsong, with a rolling waterfall, with whispering trees. Then all these confused sounds resolved themselves into the rustle of a woman’s skirt and, as that thought came to me, I awoke. I opened my eyes and saw Sdenka near my bed. The moon shone so brightly that I could see every detail: adorable traits that were once so dear to me, and which in my dream I had prized even more. Sdenka seemed more beautiful and alluring than I remembered. She wore the same attire as before: the simple chemise embroidered with gold and silk thread, and a skirt that wrapped tightly around her hips.
“‘Sdenka!’ I said, as I sat up in the bed, ‘is it really you, Sdenka?’
“‘Yes, it’s me,’ she replied in a soft, sad voice. ‘It’s your Sdenka whom you had forgotten. Oh, why didn’t you come sooner? It’s too late now, you must go, a moment longer and you’re lost! Farewell, my friend, goodbye forever!’
“‘Sdenka,’ I said, ‘so much has happened, I’ve been told of your tragedies. Come, let’s talk together; let me comfort you.’
“‘Oh, my friend,’ she said, ‘don’t believe everything they say about us, but go, go as quickly as possible, because if you stay here, your doom is certain.’
“‘But Sdenka, what danger threatens me? Can’t you give me an hour, just one hour, to spend with me?’
“‘Sdenka started, and a strange change came over her features.
“‘Yes,’ she said, ‘an hour, an hour, just like when I sang the ballad of the old king and you walked into this room! Is that what you mean? Oh yes, I will give you an hour! But no —’ she said, recovering himself, ‘go, go away! Go, why don’t you? — I tell you, run away!... flee while you can!’
“A wild energy animated her features.
“I didn’t understand the reason for her words to me, but she was so beautiful that I decided to stay in spite of what she said. Finally, yielding to my entreaties, she sat down next to me, recalling old times, and blushingly telling me that she had loved me from the day that I arrived. Gradually, though, I noticed a change in her. Her former reserve had given way to a strange recklessness. Her eyes, once so shy, were now rather bold. At last, I realized with surprise that her manner towards me was far from the ladylike modesty of the past.
“Is it possible, I thought, that Sdenka was not the pure and innocent young girl she seemed to be six months ago? Had she only worn that guise because she was afraid of her brother? Could I have been so grossly deceived? But then why did she beg me to go? Was this just a more subtle form of coquetry? I wondered, but it didn’t matter. If Sdenka wasn’t the Diana that I thought she was, well, I would compare her to another goddess, one no less charming, thank God! And I preferred the role of Adonis to Acteon.
“If these classical references seem old-fashioned, mesdames, please remember that what I have the honor to tell you happened in the year of Our Lord 1758. Mythology was then all the rage, and I prided myself on being with the times. Things have changed since then, and it was not so long ago that the Revolution overthrew the relics of paganism, along with the Christian religion, putting the Goddess of Reason in their place. This goddess, mesdames, was never my mistress when I found myself in your presence, and at the time of which I speak, I was even less inclined to offer her sacrifices. I surrendered without hesitation to my desire for Sdenka and went joyously into her arms.
“Some time had passed in sweet intimacy when, amusing myself by adorning Sdenka with all her jewelry, I tried to put the small enamel cross that I had given her around her neck. When I moved to do so, Sdenka recoiled with a shudder.
“‘Enough of that childishness, my friend,’ she said. ‘Let those trinkets alone and tell me about what has been happening with you.’
“Her reaction started me thinking. Looking at her more carefully, I realized that she no longer wore around her neck, as she had in the past, the numerous little icons, relics, and sachets of incense that the Serbs wear from childhood to the grave.
“‘Sdenka,’ I said, ‘where are the icons around your neck?’
“‘I’ve lost them,’ she replied impatiently, and immediately changed the subject.
“A vague foreboding, of I knew not what, dawned on me. I wanted to leave, but Sdenka stopped me.
“‘What is this?’ she demanded. ‘You asked me for an hour, and now you’re leaving after only a few minutes!
“‘Sdenka,’ I said, ‘you were right to ask me to leave. I thought I heard a noise, and I’m afraid that someone will catch us!’
“‘Don’t worry, my friend, everyone is sleeping; only the crickets in the grass and the beetles in the air can hear us!’
“‘No, Sdenka, I must leave...!’
“‘Stop, stop,’ Sdenka said. ‘I love you more than my soul, more than my salvation, you told me that your life and your blood were mine!’
“‘But your brother, your brother, Sdenka! What if he catches us?’
“‘Calm yourself, my soul; my brother is drowsing to the sound of the wind playing in the trees. His sleep is deep, the night is long and I only ask you for an hour!’
“As she said that, Sdenka looked so beautiful that the vague terror that had been agitating me began to give way to my desire to stay with her. A mixture of fear and indescribable pleasure filled my whole being. As I faltered, Sdenka’s manner became even more tender; I gave in, promising myself all the while to be on my guard. But as I said earlier, I’ve never been good at doing things by halves, and when Sdenka, noticing my reserve, suggested that we chase away the chill of the evening with a few generous glasses of wine that she told me she had gotten from the good hermit, I accepted her offer with an eagerness that made her smile. The wine had its effect. By the second glass, the bad feeling I had over the cross and the missing icons had vanished completely. Sdenka, half-dressed, with her hair unbraided and her jewelry glittering in the moonlight, seemed irresistible. Unable to contain myself, I took her into my arms.
“And then, mesdames, there occurred one of those mysterious miracles that I cannot explain, but whose existence my experiences have forced me to believe in, as much as I hate to admit it.
“The force with which I’d embraced Sdenka drove the point of the cross I was wearing — the one that the Duchess de Gramont had given me — into my chest. The sharp pain went through me like a bolt of lightning. I looked at Sdenka and saw that her features, though still beautiful, were as stiff as death, that her eyes seemed not to see me, and that her smile was convulsed like the grin of a corpse. At the same time, I noticed in the room a nauseating stench, like that of a poorly sealed crypt. The awful truth stood before me in all its ugliness, and I remembered too late the hermit’s warnings.
“I realized, too, how precarious my position was; everything depended on my courage and composure. I turned away from Sdenka to conceal the horror on my face. My eyes fell on the window, and I saw the infamous Gorcha, leaning on a bloodied stake and staring at me with the eyes of a hyena. At the other window I saw Dorde’s pale face, bearing at that moment a frightening resemblance to his father. Both of them were watching my movements and I had no doubt that they would attack me if I made the slightest attempt to escape. I pretended not to see them, and making a violent effort, I continued — yes, mesdames — I continued to caress Sdenka just as I had been before my terrible discovery. Meanwhile, I anxiously planned my escape. I noticed that Gorcha and Dorde exchanged impatient glances with Sdenka. From outside, I heard the voice of a woman and the cries of children, frightful howls like those of wildcats.
“‘It’s time to go,’ I thought, ‘and the sooner the better!’
“I said to Sdenka, in a voice loud enough for her hideous kin to hear:
“‘I’m quite tired, my child. I’d like to lie down and sleep for a few hours, but first I should make sure that my horse has been fed. Stay here and wait for me.’
“I kissed her cold pale lips and went out. In the shed, I found my horse agitated and covered with foam. He had not touched his oats, but his neighing as he saw me coming made me afraid that he might give my away. Luckily the vampires had heard my conversation with Sdenka, and weren’t alarmed. I checked that the gate was open, sprang into the saddle, and dug my spurs into the flanks of my horse.
“As I passed out the gate, I had time to see the large band gathered around the house with their faces pressed against the windows. The suddenness of my exit must have kept them from noticing right away, because for some time all I could hear in the silence of the night was the steady gallop of my horse. I was congratulating myself on my escape when I heard a sound behind me, like a storm beating against the mountains. A thousand confused voices shouted, screamed and seemed to argue with each other. Then everything fell silent all at once, and I heard a trampling behind me like a troop of infantry approaching at a run.
“I urged my mount on, my spurs tearing into his flanks. My heart beat, and I burned as if with fever, desperately trying to keep my presence of mind. Behind me, I heard a voice calling out:
“‘Stop, stop, my friend! I love you more than my soul, I love you more than my salvation! Stop, stop, your blood is mine!’
“At the same time, a cold breath brushed my ear and I felt Sdenka throw herself onto my horse, behind me.
“‘My heart, my soul!’ she said to me, ‘When I see you, when I hear you, I can’t control myself. I obey a superior force. Forgive me, my friend, forgive me!’
“And wrapping her arms around me, she tried to pull me to her and bite me in the throat. A terrible struggle ensued between us. Finally I managed to grab Sdenka by her braids in one hand, with my other arm around her waist. Bracing myself on my stirrups, I threw her down!
“Immediately my strength left me and delirium seized me. A thousand insane, terrible, grimacing images pursued me. First Dorde and his brother Petar skimmed the road and tried to bar my way. They failed, and rejoicing, I turned and saw old Gorcha, hurtling down the road, using his stake like the Tyrolean mountaineers use poles to propel themselves across chasms. Him, too, I left in the dust.
“Then his daughter-in-law, who dragged her children after her, threw one of her boys onto the point of his stake. Using the stake as a throwing-stick, Gorcha flung the child at me with all his strength. I avoided getting hit, but with truly bulldog-like instinct, the little toad clamped his jaws onto the neck of my horse; I pulled him off with difficulty. The other boy was hurled at me the same way, but he fell beyond the horse and was crushed under its hooves. I don’t remember anything else, or how I survived; but when I came to, it was broad daylight and I found myself lying on the road next to my dying steed.
“And so ended, mesdames, a love affair that should have cured me forever of the desire for romance. Some of the contemporaries of your grandmothers could tell you whether I was any wiser in the future.
“I still shudder to think that if I had succumbed to my enemies, I would have become a vampire as well. But heaven did not allow that to happen, and far from thirsting for your blood, mesdames, I ask nothing better than that, old as I am, I should still shed mine in your defense!”
 
Glámr
Sabine Baring-Gould
(1863)
 
 
 
The following story is found in the Gretla, an Icelandic Saga, composed in the thirteenth century, or that comes to us in the form then given to it; but it is a redaction of a Saga of much earlier date. Most of it is thoroughly historical, and its statements are corroborated by other Sagas. The following incident was introduced to account for the fact that the outlaw Grettir would run any risk rather than spend the long winter nights alone in the dark.
 
At the beginning of the eleventh century there stood, a little way up the Valley of Shadows in the north of Iceland, a small farm, occupied by a worthy bonder, named Thorhall, and his wife. The farmer was not exactly a chieftain, but he was well enough connected to be considered respectable; to back up his gentility he possessed numerous flocks of sheep and a goodly drove of oxen. Thorhall would have been a happy man but for one circumstance — his sheepwalks were haunted.
Not a herdsman would remain with him; he bribed, he threatened, entreated, all to no purpose; one shepherd after another left his service, and things came to such a pass that he determined on asking advice at the next annual council. Thorhall saddled his horses, adjusted his packs, provided himself with hobbles, cracked his long Icelandic whip, and cantered along the road, and in due time reached Thingvellir.
Skapti Thorodd’s son was lawgiver at that time, and as everyone considered him a man of the utmost prudence and able to give the best advice, our friend from the Vale of Shadows made straight for his booth.
“An awkward predicament, certainly — to have large droves of sheep and no one to look after them,” said Skapti, nibbling the nail of his thumb, and shaking his wise head — a head as stuffed with law as a ptarmigan’s crop is stuffed with blueberries. “Now I’ll tell you what — as you have asked my advice, I will help you to a shepherd; a character in his way, a man of dull intellect, to be sure but strong as a bull.”
“I do not care about his wits so long as he can look after sheep,” answered Thorhall.
“You may rely on his being able to do that,” said Skapti. “He is a stout, plucky fellow; a Swede from Sylgsdale, if you know where that is.”
Towards the break-up of the council — “Thing” they call it in Iceland — two greyish-white horses belonging to Thorhall slipped their hobbles and strayed; so the good man had to hunt after them himself, which shows how short of servants he was. He crossed Sletha-asi, thence he bent his way to Armann’s-fell, and just by the Priest’s Wood he met a strange-looking man driving before him a horse laden with faggots. The fellow was tall and stalwart; his face involuntarily attracted Thorhall’s attention, for the eyes, of an ashen grey, were large and staring, the powerful jaw was furnished with very white protruding teeth, and around the low forehead hung bunches of coarse wolf-grey hair.
“Pray, what is your name, my man?” asked the farmer pulling up.
“Glámr, an please you,” replied the wood-cutter.
Thorhall stared; then, with a preliminary cough, he asked how Glámr liked faggot-picking.
“Not much,” was the answer; “I prefer shepherd life.”
“Will you come with me?” asked Thorhall; “Skapti has handed you over to me, and I want a shepherd this winter uncommonly.”
“If I serve you, it is on the understanding that I come or go as it pleases me. I tell you I am a bit truculent if things do not go just to my thinking.”
“I shall not object to this,” answered the bonder. “So I may count on your services?”
“Wait a moment! You have not told me whether there be any drawback.”
“I must acknowledge that there is one,” said Thorhall; “in fact, the sheepwalks have got a bad name for bogies.”
“Pshaw! I’m not the man to be scared at shadows,” laughed Glámr; “so here’s my hand to it; I’ll be with you at the beginning of the winter night.”
Well, after this they parted, and presently the farmer found his ponies. Having thanked Skapti for his advice and assistance, he got his horses together and trotted home.
Summer, and then autumn passed, but not a word about the new shepherd reached the Valley of Shadows. The winter storms began to bluster up the glen, driving the flying snow-flakes and massing the white drifts at every winding of the vale. Ice formed in the shallows of the river; and the streams, which in summer trickled down the ribbed scarps, were now transmuted into icicles.
One gusty night a violent blow at the door startled all in the farm. In another moment Glámr, tall as a troll, stood in the hall glowering out of his wild eyes, his grey hair matted with frost, his teeth rattling and snapping with cold, his face blood-red in the glare of the fire which smoldered in the center of the hall. Thorhall jumped up and greeted him warmly, but the housewife was too frightened to be very cordial.
Weeks passed, and the new shepherd was daily on the moors with his flock; his loud and deep-toned voice was often borne down on the blast as he shouted to the sheep driving them into fold. His presence in the house always produced gloom, and if he spoke it sent a thrill through the women, who openly proclaimed their aversion for him.
There was a church near the byre, but Glámr never crossed the threshold; he hated psalmody; apparently he was an indifferent Christian. On the vigil of the Nativity Glámr rose early and shouted for meat.
“Meat!” exclaimed the housewife; “no man calling himself a Christian touches flesh to-day. To-morrow is the holy Christmas Day, and this is a fast.”
“All superstition!” roared Glámr. “As far as I can see, men are no better now than they were in the bonny heathen time. Bring me meat, and make no more ado about it.”
“You may be quite certain,” protested the good wife, “if Church rule be not kept, ill-luck will follow.”
Glámr ground his teeth and clenched his hands. “Meat! I will have meat, or ——” In fear and trembling the poor woman obeyed.
The day was raw and windy; masses of grey vapor rolled up from the Arctic Ocean, and hung in piles about the mountain-tops. Now and then a scud of frozen fog, composed of minute particles of ice, swept along the glen, covering bar and beam with feathery hoar-frost. As the day declined, snow began to fall in large flakes like the down of the eider-duck. One moment there was a lull in the wind, and then the deep-toned shout of Glámr, high up the moor slopes, was heard distinctly by the congregation assembling for the first vespers of Christmas Day. Darkness came on, deep as that in the rayless abysses of the caverns under the lava, and still the snow fell thicker. The lights from the church windows sent a yellow haze far out into the night, and every flake burned golden as it swept within the ray. The bell in the lych-gate clanged for evensong, and the wind puffed the sound far up the glen; perhaps it reached the herdsman’s ear. Hark! Someone caught a distant sound or shriek, which it was he could not tell, for the wind muttered and mumbled about the church eaves, and then with a fierce whistle scudded over the graveyard fence. Glámr had not returned when the service was over. Thorhall suggested a search, but no man would accompany him; and no wonder! it was not a night for a dog to be out in; besides, the tracks were a foot deep in snow. The family sat up all night, waiting, listening, trembling; but no Glámr came home. Dawn broke at last, wan and blear in the south. The clouds hung down like great sheets, full of snow, almost to bursting.
A party was soon formed to search for the missing man. A sharp scramble brought them to high land, and the ridge between the two rivers which join in Vatnsdalr was thoroughly examined. Here and there were found the scattered sheep, shuddering under an icicled rock, or half buried in a snow-drift. No trace yet of the keeper. A dead ewe lay at the bottom of a crag; it had staggered over in the gloom, and had been dashed to pieces.
Presently the whole party were called together about a trampled spot in the heath, where evidently a death-struggle had taken place, for earth and stone were tossed about, and the snow was blotched with large splashes of blood. A gory track led up the mountain, and the farm-servants were following it, when a cry, almost of agony, from one of the lads, made them turn. In looking behind a rock, the boy had come upon the corpse of the shepherd; it was livid and swollen to the size of a bullock. It lay on its back with the arms extended. The snow had been scrabbled up by the puffed hands in the death-agony, and the staring glassy eyes gazed out of the ashen-grey, upturned face into the vaporous canopy overhead. From the purple lips lolled the tongue, which in the last throes had been bitten through by the white fangs, and a discolored stream which had flowed from it was now an icicle.
With trouble the dead man was raised on a litter, and carried to a gill-edge, but beyond this he could not be borne; his weight waxed more and more, the bearers toiled beneath their burden, their foreheads became beaded with sweat; though strong men they were crushed to the ground. Consequently, the corpse was left at the ravine-head, and the men returned to the farm. Next day their efforts to lift Glámr’s bloated carcass, and remove it to consecrated ground, were unavailing. On the third day a priest accompanied them, but the body was nowhere to be found. Another expedition without the priest was made, and on this occasion the corpse was discovered; so a cairn was raised over the spot.
Two nights after this one of the thralls who had gone after the cows burst into the hall with a face blank and scared; he staggered to a seat and fainted. On recovering his senses, in a broken voice he assured all who crowded about him that he had seen Glámr walking past him as he left the door of the stable. On the following evening a houseboy was found in a fit under the farmyard wall, and he remained an idiot to his dying day. Some of the women next saw a face which, though blown out and discolored, they recognized as that of Glámr, looking in upon them through a window of the dairy. In the twilight, Thorhall himself met the dead man, who stood and glowered at him, but made no attempt to injure his master. The haunting did not end there. Nightly a heavy tread was heard around the house, and a hand feeling along the walls, sometimes thrust in at the windows, at others clutching the woodwork, and breaking it to splinters. However, when the spring came round the disturbances lessened, and as the sun obtained full power, ceased altogether.
That summer a vessel from Norway dropped anchor in the nearest bay. Thorhall visited it, and found on board a man named Thorgaut, who was in search of work.
“What do you say to being my shepherd?” asked the bonder.
“I should very much like the office,” answered Thorgaut. “I am as strong as two ordinary men, and a handy fellow to boot.”
“I will not engage you without forewarning you of the terrible things you may have to encounter during the winter night.”
“Pray, what may they be?”
“Ghosts and hobgoblins,” answered the farmer; “a fine dance they lead me, I can promise you.”
“I fear them not,” answered Thorgaut; “I shall be with you at cattle-slaughtering time.”
At the appointed season the man came, and soon established himself as a favorite in the house; he romped with the children, chucked the maidens under the chin, helped his fellow-servants, gratified the housewife by admiring her curd, and was just as much liked as his predecessor had been detested. He was a devil-may-care fellow, too, and made no bones of his contempt for the ghost, expressing hopes of meeting him face to face, which made his master look grave, and his mistress shudderingly cross herself. As the winter came on, strange sights and sounds began to alarm the folk, but these never frightened Thorgaut; he slept too soundly at night to hear the tread of feet about the door, and was too short-sighted to catch glimpses of a grizzly monster striding up and down, in the twilight, before its cairn.
At last Christmas Eve came round, and Thorgaut went out as usual with his sheep.
“Have a care, man,” urged the bonder; “go not near to the gill-head, where Glámr lies.”
“Tut, tut! fear not for me. I shall be back by vespers.”
“God grant it,” sighed the housewife; “but ‘tis not a day for risks, to be sure.”
Twilight came on: a feeble light hung over the south, one white streak above the heath land to the south. Far off in southern lands it was still day, but here the darkness gathered in apace, and men came from Vatnsdalr for evensong, to herald in the night when Christ was born. Christmas Eve! How different in Saxon England! There the great ashen faggot is rolled along the hall with torch and taper; the mummers dance with their merry jingling bells; the boar’s head, with gilded tusks, “bedecked with holly and rosemary,” is brought in by the steward to a flourish of trumpets.
How different, too, where the Varanger cluster round the imperial throne in the mighty church of the Eternal Wisdom at this very hour. Outside, the air is soft from breathing over the Bosphorus, which flashes tremulously beneath the stars. The orange and laurel leaves in the palace gardens are still exhaling fragrance in the hush of the Christmas night.
But it is different here. The wind is piercing as a two-edged sword; blocks of ice crash and grind along the coast, and the lake waters are congealed to stone. Aloft, the Aurora flames crimson, flinging long streamers to the zenith, and then suddenly dissolving into a sea of pale green light. The natives are waiting round the church-door, but no Thorgaut has returned.
They find him next morning, lying across Glámr’s cairn, with his spine, his leg, and arm-bones shattered. He is conveyed to the churchyard, and a cross is set up at his head. He sleeps peacefully. Not so Glámr; he becomes more furious than ever. No one will remain with Thorhall now, except an old cowherd who has always served the family, and who had long ago dandled his present master on his knee.
“All the cattle will be lost if I leave,” said the carle; “it shall never be told of me that I deserted Thorhall from fear of a specter.”
Matters grew rapidly worse. Outbuildings were broken into of a night, and their woodwork was rent and shattered; the house door was violently shaken, and great pieces of it were torn away; the gables of the house were also pulled furiously to and fro.
One morning before dawn, the old man went to the stable. An hour later, his mistress arose, and taking her milking pails, followed him. As she reached the door of the stable, a terrible sound from within — the bellowing of the cattle, mingled with the deep notes of an unearthly voice — sent her back shrieking to the house. Thorhall leaped out of bed, caught up a weapon, and hastened to the cow-house. On opening the door, he found the cattle goring each other. Slung across the stone that separated the stalls was something. Thorhall stepped up to it, felt it, looked close; it was the cowherd, perfectly dead, his feet on one side of the slab, his head on the other, and his spine snapped in twain. The bonder now moved with his family to Tunga, another farm owned by him lower down the valley; it was too venturesome living during the mid-winter night at the haunted farm; and it was not till the sun had returned as a bridegroom out of his chamber, and had dispelled night with its phantoms, that he went back to the Vale of Shadows. In the meantime, his little girl’s health had given way under the repeated alarms of the winter; she became paler every day; with the autumn flowers she faded, and was laid beneath the mold of the churchyard in time for the first snows to spread a virgin pall over her small grave.
At this time Grettir — a hero of great fame, and a native of the north of the island — was in Iceland, and as the hauntings of this vale were matters of gossip throughout the district, he inquired about them, and resolved on visiting the scene. So Grettir busked himself for a cold ride, mounted his horse, and in due course of time drew rein at the door of Thorhall’s farm with the request that he might be accommodated there for the night.
“Ahem!” coughed the bonder; “perhaps you are not aware ——”
“I am perfectly aware of all. I want to catch sight of the troll.”
“But your horse is sure to be killed.”
“I will risk it. Glámr I must meet, so there’s an end of it.”
“I am delighted to see you,” spoke the bonder; “at the same time, should mischief befall you, don’t lay the blame at my door.”
“Never fear, man.”
So they shook hands; the horse was put into the strongest stable, Thorhall made Grettir as good cheer as he was able, and then, as the visitor was sleepy, all retired to rest.
The night passed quietly, and no sounds indicated the presence of a restless spirit. The horse, moreover, was found next morning in good condition, enjoying his hay.
“This is unexpected!” exclaimed the bonder, gleefully. “Now, where’s the saddle? We’ll clap it on, and then good-bye, and a merry journey to you.”
“Good-bye!” echoed Grettir; “I am going to stay here another night.”
“You had best be advised,” urged Thorhall; “if misfortune should overtake you, I know that all your kinsmen would visit it on my head.”
“I have made up my mind to stay,” said Grettir, and he looked so dogged that Thorhall opposed him no more.
All was quiet next night; not a sound roused Grettir from his slumber. Next morning he went with the farmer to the stable. The strong wooden door was shivered and driven in. They stepped across it; Grettir called to his horse, but there was no responsive whinny.
“I am afraid ——” began Thorhall. Grettir leaped in, and found the poor brute dead, and with its neck broken.
“Now,” said Thorhall quickly, “I’ve got a capital horse — a skewbald — down by Tunga, I shall not be many hours in fetching it; your saddle is here, I think, and then you will just have time to reach ——”
“I stay here another night,” interrupted Grettir.
“I implore you to depart,” said Thorhall.
“My horse is slain!”
“But I will provide you with another.”
“Friend,” answered Grettir, turning so sharply round that the farmer jumped back, half frightened, “no man ever did me an injury without rueing it. Now, your demon herdsman has been the death of my horse. He must be taught a lesson.”
“Would that he were!” groaned Thorhall; “but mortal must not face him. Go in peace and receive compensation from me for what has happened.”
“I must revenge my horse.”
“An obstinate man will have his own way! But if you run your head against a stone wall, don’t be angry because you get a broken pate.”
Night came on; Grettir ate a hearty supper and was right jovial; not so Thorhall, who had his misgivings. At bedtime the latter crept into his crib, which, in the manner of old Icelandic beds, opened out of the hall, as berths do out of a cabin. Grettir, however, determined on remaining up; so he flung himself on a bench with his feet against the posts of the high seat, and his back against Thorhall’s crib; then he wrapped one lappet of his fur coat round his feet, the other about his head, keeping the neck-opening in front of his face, so that he could look through into the hall.
There was a fire burning on the hearth, a smoldering heap of red embers; every now and then a twig flared up and crackled, giving Grettir glimpses of the rafters, as he lay with his eyes wandering among the mysteries of the smoke-blackened roof. The wind whistled softly overhead. The clerestory windows, covered with the amnion of sheep, admitted now and then a sickly yellow glare from the full moon, which, however, shot a beam of pure silver through the smoke-hole in the roof. A dog without began to howl; the cat, which had long been sitting demurely watching the fire, stood up with raised back and bristling tail, then darted behind some chests in a corner. The hall door was in a sad plight. It had been so riven by the specter that it was made firm by wattles only, and the moon glinted athwart the crevices. Soothingly the river, not yet frozen over, prattled over its shingly bed as it swept round the knoll on which stood the farm. Grettir heard the breathing of the sleeping women in the adjoining chamber, and the sigh of the housewife as she turned in her bed.
Click! click! — It is only the frozen turf on the roof cracking with the cold. The wind lulls completely. The night is very still without. Hark! a heavy tread, beneath which the snow yields. Every footfall goes straight to Grettir’s heart. A crash on the turf overhead! By all the saints in paradise! The monster is treading on the roof. For one moment the chimney-gap is completely darkened: Glámr is looking down it; the flash of the red ash is reflected in the two lusterless eyes. Then the moon glances sweetly in once more, and the heavy tramp of Glámr is audibly moving towards the farther end of the hall. A thud — he has leaped down. Grettir feels the board at his back quivering, for Thorhall is awake and is trembling in his bed. The steps pass round to the back of the house, and then the snapping of the wood shows that the creature is destroying some of the outhouse doors. He tires of this apparently, for his footfall comes clear towards the main entrance to the hall. The moon is veiled behind a watery cloud, and by the uncertain glimmer Grettir fancies that he sees two dark hands thrust in above the door. His apprehensions are verified, for, with a loud snap, a long strip of panel breaks, and light is admitted. Snap — snap! another portion gives way, and the gap becomes larger. Then the wattles slip from their places, and a dark arm rips them out in bunches, and flings them away. There is a cross-beam to the door, holding a bolt which slides into a stone groove. Against the grey light, Grettir sees a huge black figure heaving itself over the bar. Crack! that has given way, and the rest of the door falls in shivers to the earth.
“Oh, heavens above!” exclaims the bonder.
Stealthily the dead man creeps on, feeling at the beams as he comes; then he stands in the hall, with the firelight on him. A fearful sight; the tall figure distended with the corruption of the grave, the nose fallen off, the wandering, vacant eyes, with the glaze of death on them, the sallow flesh patched with green masses of decay; the wolf-grey hair and beard have grown in the tomb, and hang matted about the shoulders and breast; the nails, too, they have grown. It is a sickening sight — a thing to shudder at, not to see.
Motionless, with no nerve quivering now, Thorhall and Grettir held their breath.
Glámr’s lifeless glance strayed round the chamber; it rested on the shaggy bundle by the high seat. Cautiously he stepped towards it. Grettir felt him groping about the lower lappet and pulling at it. The cloak did not give way. Another jerk; Grettir kept his feet firmly pressed against the posts, so that the rug was not pulled off. The vampire seemed puzzled, he plucked at the upper flap and tugged. Grettir held to the bench and bed-board, so that he was not moved, but the cloak was rent in twain, and the corpse staggered back, holding half in its hands, and gazing wonderingly at it. Before it had done examining the shred, Grettir started to his feet, bowed his body, flung his arms about the carcass, and, driving his head into the chest, strove to bend it backward and snap the spine. A vain attempt! The cold hands came down on Grettir’s arms with diabolical force, riving them from their hold. Grettir clasped them about the body again; then the arms closed round him, and began dragging him along. The brave man clung by his feet to benches and posts, but the strength of the vampire was the greater; posts gave way, benches were heaved from their places, and the wrestlers at each moment neared the door. Sharply writhing loose, Grettir flung his hands round a roof-beam. He was dragged from his feet; the numbing arms clenched him round the waist, and tore at him; every tendon in his breast was strained; the strain under his shoulders became excruciating, the muscles stood out in knots. Still he held on; his fingers were bloodless; the pulses of his temples throbbed in jerks; the breath came in a whistle through his rigid nostrils. All the while, too, the long nails of the dead man cut into his side, and Grettir could feel them piercing like knives between his ribs. Then at once his hands gave way, and the monster bore him reeling towards the porch, crashing over the broken fragments of the door. Hard as the battle had gone with him indoors, Grettir knew that it would go worse outside, so he gathered up all his remaining strength for one final desperate struggle. The door had been shut with a swivel into a groove; this groove was in a stone, which formed the jamb on one side, and there was a similar block on the other, into which the hinges had been driven. As the wrestlers neared the opening, Grettir planted both his feet against the stone posts, holding Glámr by the middle. He had the advantage now. The dead man writhed in his arms, drove his talons into Grettir’s back, and tore up great ribbons of flesh, but the stone jambs held firm.
“Now,” thought Grettir, “I can break his back,” and thrusting his head under the chin, so that the grizzly beard covered his eyes, he forced the face from him, and the back was bent as a hazel-rod.
“If I can but hold on,” thought Grettir, and he tried to shout for Thorhall, but his voice was muffled in the hair of the corpse.
Suddenly one or both of the door-posts gave way. Down crashed the gable trees, ripping beams and rafters from their beds; frozen clods of earth rattled from the roof and thumped into the snow. Glámr fell on his back, and Grettir staggered down on top of him. The moon was at her full; large white clouds chased each other across the sky, and as they swept before her disk she looked through them with a brown halo round her. The snow-cap of Jorundarfell, however, glowed like a planet, then the white mountain ridge was kindled, the light ran down the hillside, the bright disk stared out of the veil and flashed at this moment full on the vampire’s face. Grettir’s strength was failing him, his hands quivered in the snow, and he knew that he could not support himself from dropping flat on the dead man’s face, eye to eye, lip to lip. The eyes of the corpse were fixed on him, lit with the cold glare of the moon. His head swam as his heart sent a hot stream to his brain. Then a voice from the grey lips said —
“Thou hast acted madly in seeking to match thyself with me. Now learn that henceforth ill-luck shall constantly attend thee; that thy strength shall never exceed what it now is, and that by night these eyes of mine shall stare at thee through the darkness till thy dying day, so that for very horror thou shalt not endure to be alone.”
Grettir at this moment noticed that his dirk had slipped from its sheath during the fall, and that it now lay conveniently near his hand. The giddiness which had oppressed him passed away, he clutched at the sword-haft, and with a blow severed the vampire’s throat. Then, kneeling on the breast, he hacked till the head came off.
Thorhall appeared now, his face blanched with terror, but when he saw how the fray had terminated he assisted Grettir gleefully to roll the corpse on the top of a pile of faggots, which had been collected for winter fuel. Fire was applied, and soon far down the valley the flames of the pyre startled people, and made them wonder what new horror was being enacted in the upper portion of the Vale of Shadows.
Next day the charred bones were conveyed to a spot remote from the habitations of men, and were there buried.
What Glámr had predicted came to pass. Never after did Grettir dare to be alone in the dark.
 
The Last Lords of Gardonal
William Gilbert
(1867)
 
 
 
 
Part 1
 
 
 
One of the most picturesque objects of the valley of the Engadin is the ruined castle of Gardonal, near the village of Madaline. In the feudal times it was the seat of a family of barons, who possessed as their patrimony the whole of the valley, which with the castle had descended from father to son for many generations. The two last of the race were brothers; handsome, well-made, fine-looking young men, but in nature they more resembled fiends than human beings — so cruel, rapacious, and tyrannical were they. During the earlier part of his life their father had been careful of his patrimony. He had also been unusually just to the serfs on his estates, and in consequence they had attained to such a condition of comfort and prosperity as was rarely met with among those in the power of the feudal lords of the country; most of whom were arbitrary and exacting in the extreme. For several years in the latter part of his life he had been subject to a severe illness, which had confined him to the castle, and the management of his possessions and the government of his serfs had thus fallen into the hands of his sons. Although the old baron had placed so much power in their hands; still he was far from resigning his own authority. He exacted a strict account from them of the manner in which they performed the different duties he had entrusted to them; and having a strong suspicion of their character, and the probability of their endeavoring to conceal their misdoings, he caused agents to watch them secretly, and to report to him as to the correctness of the statements they gave. These agents possibly knowing that the old man had but a short time to live invariably gave a most favorable description of the conduct of the two young nobles, which, it must be admitted, was not, during their father’s lifetime, particularly reprehensible on the whole. Still, they frequently showed as much of the cloven foot as to prove to the tenants what they had to expect at no distant day.
At the old baron’s death, Conrad, the elder, inherited as his portion the castle of Gardonal, and the whole valley of Engadin; while to Hermann, the younger, was assigned some immense estates belong to his father in the Bresciano district; for even in those early days, there was considerable intercourse between the inhabitants of that northern portion of Italy and those of the valley of the Engadin. The old baron had also willed, that should either of his sons die without children his estates should go to the survivor.
Conrad accordingly now took possession of the castle and its territory, and Hermann of the estates on the southern side of the Alps which, although much smaller than those left to his elder brother, were still of great value. Notwithstanding the disparity in the worth of the legacies bequeathed to the two brothers, a perfectly good feeling existed between them, which promised to continue, their tastes being the same, while the mountains which divided them tended to the continuance of peace.
Conrad had hardly been one single week feudal lord of the Engadin before the inhabitants found, to their sorrow, how great was the difference between him and the old baron. Instead of the score of armed retainers his father had kept, Conrad increased the number to three hundred men, none of whom w ere natives of the valley. They had been chosen with great care from a body of Bohemian, German, and Italian outlaws, who at that time infested the borders of the Grisons, or had found refuge in the fastnesses of the mountains — men capable of any atrocity and to whom pity was unknown. From these miscreants the baron especially chose for his body-guard those who were ignorant of the language spoken by the peasantry of the Engadin, as they would be less likely to be influenced by any supplications or excuses which might be made to them when in the performance of their duty. Although the keeping of so numerous a body of armed retainers might naturally be considered to have entailed great expense, such a conclusion would be most erroneous, at least as far as regarded the present baron, who was as avaricious as he was despotic. He contrived to support his soldiers by imposing a most onerous tax on his tenants, irrespective of his ordinary feudal imposts; and woe to the unfortunate villagers who from inability, or from a sense of the injustice inflicted on them, did not contribute to the uttermost farthing the amount levied on them. In such a case a party of soldiers was immediately sent off to the defaulting village to collect the tax, with permission to live at free quarters till the money was paid; and they knew their duty too well to return home till they had succeeded in their errand. In doing this they were frequently merciless in the extreme, exacting the money by torture or any other means they pleased; and when they had been successful in obtaining the baron’s dues, by way of further punishment they generally robbed the poor peasantry of everything they had which was worth the trouble of carrying away, and not unfrequently, from a spirit of sheer mischief, they spoiled all that remained. Many were the complaints which reached the ears of the baron of the cruel behavior of his retainers; but in no case did they receive any redress; the baron making it a portion of his policy that no crimes committed by those under his command should be invested, so long as those crimes took place when employed in collecting taxes which he had imposed, and which had remained unpaid.
But the depredations and cruelties of the Baron Conrad were not confined solely to the valley of the Engadin. Frequently in the summer-time when the snows had melted on the mountains, so as to make the road practicable for his soldiers and their plunder, he would make a raid on the Italian side of the Alps. There they would rob and commit every sort of atrocity with impunity; and when they had collected sufficient booty they returned with it to the castle. Loud indeed were the complaints which reached the authorities of Milan. With routine tardiness, the government never took any energetic steps to punish the offenders until the winter had set in; and to cross the mountains in that season would have been almost an impossibility, at all events for an army. When the spring returned, more prudential reasons prevailed, and the matter, gradually diminishing in interest, was at last allowed to die out without any active measures being taken. Again, the districts in which the atrocities had been committed were hardly looked upon by the Milanese government as being Italian. The people themselves were beginning to be infected by a heresy which approached closely to the Protestantism of the present day; nor was their language that of Italy, but a patois of their own. Thus the government began to consider it unadvisable to attempt to punish the baron, richly as he deserved it, on behalf of those who after all were little worthy of the protection they demanded. The only real step they took to chastise him was to get him excommunicated by the Pope; which, as the baron and his followers professed no religion at all, was treated by them with ridicule.
It happened that in one of his marauding expeditions in the Valteline the baron, when near Bormio, saw a young girl of extraordinary beauty. He was only attended at the time by two followers, else it is more than probable he would have made her a prisoner and carried her off to Gardonal. As it was he would probably have made the attempt had she not been surrounded by a number of peasants, who were working in some fields belonging to her father. The baron was also aware that the militia of the town, who had been expecting his visit were under arms, and on an alarm being given could be on the spot in a few minutes. Now as the baron combined with his despotism a considerable amount of cunning, he merely attempted to enter into conversation with the girl. Finding his advances coldly received, he contented himself with inquiring of one of the peasants the girl’s name and place of abode. He received for reply that her name was Teresa Biffi, and that she was the daughter of a substantial farmer, who with his wife and four children (of whom Teresa was the eldest) lived in a house at the extremity of the land he occupied.
As soon as the baron had received this information, he left the spot and proceeded to the farmer’s house, which he inspected externally with great care. He found it was of considerable size, strongly built of stone, with iron bars to the lower windows, and a strong well-made oaken door which could be securely fastened from the inside. After having made the round of the house (which he did alone), he returned to his two men, whom, in order to avoid suspicion, he had placed at a short distance from the building, in a spot where they could not easily be seen.
“Ludovico,” he said to one of them who was his lieutenant and invariably accompanied him in all his expeditions, “mark well that house; for some day, or more probably night, you may have to pay it a visit.”
Ludovico merely said in reply that he would be always ready and willing to perform any order his master might honor him with, and the baron, with his men, then left the spot.
The hold the beauty of Teresa Biffi had taken upon the imagination of the baron actually looked like enchantment. His love for her, instead of diminishing by time, seemed to increase daily. At last he resolved on making her his wife; and about a month after he had seen her, he commissioned his lieutenant Ludovico to carry to Biffi an offer of marriage with his daughter; not dreaming, at the moment, of the possibility of a refusal. Ludovico immediately started on his mission and in due time arrived at the farmer’s house and delivered the baron’s message. To Ludovico’s intense surprise, however, he received from Biffi a positive refusal. Not daring to take back so uncourteous a reply to his master, Ludovico went on to describe the great advantage which would accrue to the farmer and his family if the baron’s proposal were accepted. Not only, he said, would Teresa be a lady of the highest rank, and in possession of enormous wealth both in gold and jewels, but that the other members of her family would also be ennobled, and each of them, as they grew up, would receive appointments under the baron, besides having large estates allotted to them in the Engadin Valley.
The farmer listened with patience to Ludovico, and when he had concluded, he replied —
“Tell your master I have received his message, and that I am ready to admit that great personal advantages might accrue to me and my family by accepting his offer. Say, that although I am neither noble nor rich, that yet at the same time I am not poor; but were I as poor as the blind mendicant whom you passed on the road in coming hither, I would spurn such an offer from so infamous a wretch as the baron. You say truly that he is well known for his power and his wealth; but the latter has been obtained by robbing both rich and poor, who had not the means to resist him, and his power has been greatly strengthened by engaging in his service a numerous band of robbers and cut-throats, who are ready and willing to murder any one at his bidding. You have my answer, and the sooner you quit this neighborhood the better, for I can assure you that any one known to be in the service of the Baron Conrad is likely to meet with a most unfavorable reception from those who live around us.”
“Then you positively refuse his offer?” said Ludovico.
“Positively, and without the slightest reservation,” was the farmer’s reply.
“And you wish me to give him the message m the terms you have made use of?”
“Without omitting a word,” was the farmer’s reply. “At the same time, you may add to it as many of the same description as you please.”
“Take care,” said Ludovico. “There is yet time for you to reconsider your decision. If you insist on my taking your message to the baron, I must of course do so; but in that case make your peace with heaven as soon as you can, for the baron is not a man to let such an insult pass. Follow my advice, and accept his offer ere it is too late.”
“I have no other answer to give you,” said Biffi.
“I am sorry for it,” said Ludovico, heaving a deep sigh; “I have now no alternative,” and mounting his horse he rode away.
Now it must not be imagined that the advice Ludovico gave the farmer, and the urgent requests and arguments he offered, were altogether the genuine effusions of his heart. On the contrary, Ludovico had easily perceived, on hearing the farmer’s first refusal, that there was no chance of the proposal being accepted. He had therefore occupied his time during the remaining portion of the interview in carefully examining the premises, and mentally taking note of the manner in which they could be most easily entered, as he judged rightly enough, that before long he might be sent to the house on a far less peaceable mission.
Nothing could exceed the rage of the baron when he heard the farmer’s message.
“You cowardly villain!” he said to Ludovico, “did you allow the wretch to live who could send such a message to your master?”
“So please you,” said Ludovico. “What could I do?”
“You could have struck him to the heart with your dagger, could you not?” said the baron. “I have known you do such a thing to an old woman for half the provocation. Had it been Biffi’s wife instead you might have shown more courage.”
“Had I followed my own inclination,” said Ludovico, “I would have killed the fellow on the spot; but then I could not have brought away the young lady with me, for there were too many persons about the house and in the fields at the time. So I thought, before acting further, I had better let you hear his answer. One favor I hope your excellency will grant me, that if the fellow is to be punished you will allow me to inflict it as a reward for the skill I showed in keeping my temper when I heard the message.”
“Perhaps you have acted wisely, Ludovico,” said the baron, after a few moments’ silence. “At present my mind is too much ruffled by the villain’s impertinence to think calmly on the subject. Tomorrow we will speak of it again.”
Next day the baron sent for his lieutenant, and said to him —
“Ludovico, I have now a commission for you to execute which I think will be exactly to your taste. Take with you six men whom you can trust, and start this afternoon for Bormio. Sleep at some village on the road, but let not one word escape you as to your errand. Tomorrow morning leave the village — but separately — so that you may not be seen together, as It is better to avoid suspicion. Meet again near the farmer’s house, and arrive there, if possible, before evening has set in, for in all probability you will have to make an attack upon the house, and you may thus become well acquainted with the locality before doing so; but keep yourselves concealed, otherwise you will spoil all. After you have done this, retire some distance, and remain concealed till midnight, as then all the family will be in their first sleep, and you will experience less difficulty than if you began later. I particularly wish you to enter the house without using force, but if you cannot do so, break into it in any way you consider best. Bring out the girl and do her no harm. If any resistance is made by her father, kill him; but not unless you are compelled, as I do not wish to enrage his daughter against me. However, let nothing prevent you from securing her. Burn the house down or anything you please, but bring her here. If you execute your mission promptly and to my satisfaction, I promise you and those with you a most liberal reward. Now go and get ready to depart as speedily as you can.”
Ludovico promised to execute the baron’s mission to the letter, and shortly afterwards left the castle accompanied by six of the greatest ruffians he could find among the men-at-arms.
Although on the spur of the moment Biffi had sent so defiant a message to the baron, he afterwards felt considerable uneasiness as to the manner in which it would be received. He did not repent having refused the proposal, but he knew that the baron was a man of the most cruel and vindictive disposition, and would in all probability seek some means to be avenged. The only defense he could adopt was to make the fastenings of his house as secure as possible, and to keep at least one of his laborers about him whom he could send as a messenger to Bormio for assistance, and to arouse the inhabitants in the immediate vicinity, in case of his being attacked. Without any hesitation all promised to aid Biffi in every way in their power, for he had acquired great renown among the inhabitants of the place for the courage he had shown in refusing so indignantly the baron’s offer of marriage for his daughter.
About midnight, on the day after Ludovico’s departure from the castle, Biffi was aroused by some one knocking at the door of his house, and demanding admission. It was Ludovico, for after attempting in vain to enter the house secretly, he had concealed his men, determining to try the effect of treachery before using force. On the inquiry being made as to who the stranger was, he replied that he was a poor traveler who had lost his way, and begged that he might be allowed a night’s lodging, as he was so weary he could not go a step further.
“I am sorry for you,” said Biffi, “but I cannot allow you to enter this house before daylight. As the night is fine and warm you can easily sleep on the straw under the windows, and in the morning I will let you in and give you a good breakfast.”
Again and again did Ludovico plead to be admitted, but in vain; Biffi would not be moved from his resolution. At last, however, the bravo’s patience got exhausted, and suddenly changing his manner he roared out in a threatening tone, “If you don’t let me in, you villain, I will burn your house over your head. I have here, as you may see, plenty of men to help me to put my threat into execution,” he continued, pointing to the men, who had now come up, “so you had better let me in at once.”
In a moment Biffi comprehended the character of the person he had to deal with; so, instead of returning any answer, he retired from the window and alarmed the inmates of the house. He also told the laborer whom he had engaged to sleep there to drop from a window at the back and run as fast as he could to arouse the inhabitants in the vicinity, and tell them that his house was attacked by the baron and his men. He was to beg them to arm themselves and come to his aid as quickly as possible, and having done this, he was to go on to Bormio on the same errand. The poor fellow attempted to carry out his master’s orders; but in dropping from the window he fell with such force on the ground that he could only move with difficulty, and in trying to crawl away he was observed by some of the baron’s men, who immediately set on him and killed him.
Ludovico, finding that he could not enter the house either secretly or by threatenings, attempted to force open the door, but it was so firmly barricaded from within that he did not succeed; while in the meantime Biffi and his family employed themselves in placing wooden faggots and heavy articles of furniture against it, thus making it stronger than ever. Ludovico, finding he could not gain an entrance by the door, told his men to look around in search of a ladder, so that they might get to the windows on the first floor, as those on the ground floor were all small, high up, and well barricaded, as was common in Italian houses of the time; but in spite of all their efforts no ladder could be found. He now deliberated what step he should next take. As it was getting late, he saw that if they did not succeed in effecting an entrance quickly the dawn would break upon them, and the laborers going to their work would raise an alarm. At last one man suggested that as abundance of fuel could be obtained from the stacks at the back of the house they might place a quantity of it against the door and set fire to it; adding that the sight of the flames would soon make the occupants glad to effect their escape by the first-floor windows.
The suggestion was no sooner made than acted upon. A quantity of dry fuel was piled up against the house door to the height of many feet, and a light having been procured by striking a flint stone against the hilt of a sword over some dried leaves, fire was set to the pile. From the dry nature of the fuel, the whole mass was in a blaze in a few moments. But the scheme did not have the effect Ludovico had anticipated. True, the family rushed towards the windows in the front of the house, but when they saw the flames rising so fiercely they retreated in the utmost alarm. Meanwhile the screams from the women and children — who had now lost all self-control — mingled with the roar of the blazing element which, besides having set fire to the faggots and furniture placed within the door, had now reached a quantity of fodder and Indian corn stored on the ground floor.
Ludovico soon perceived that the whole house was in flames, and that the case was becoming desperate. Not only was there the danger of the fire alarming the inhabitants in the vicinity by the light it shed around, but he also reflected what would be the rage of his master if the girl should perish in the flames, and the consequent punishment which would be inflicted on him and those under his command if he returned empty-handed. He now called out to Biffi and his family to throw themselves out of the window, and that he and his men would save them. It was some time before he was understood, but at last Biffi brought the two younger children to the window, and, lowering them as far as he could, he let them fall into the arms of Ludovico and his men, and they reached the ground in safety.
Biffi now returned for the others, and saw Teresa standing at a short distance behind him. He took her by the hand to bring her forward, and they had nearly reached the window, when she heard a scream from her mother, who being an incurable invalid was confined to her bed. Without a moment’s hesitation, the girl turned back to assist her, and the men below, who thought that the prey they wanted was all but in their hands, and cared little about the fate of the rest of the family, were thus disappointed. Ludovico now anxiously awaited the reappearance of Teresa — but he waited in vain. The flames had gained entire mastery, and even the roof had taken fire. The screams of the inmates were now no longer heard, for if not stifled in the smoke they were lost in the roar of the fire; whilst the glare which arose from it illumined the landscape far and near.
It so happened that a peasant, who resided about a quarter of a mile from Biffi’s house, had to go a long distance to his work, and having risen at an unusually early hour, he saw the flames, and aroused the inmates of the other cottages in the village, who immediately armed themselves and started off to the scene of the disaster, imagining, but too certainly, that it was the work of an incendiary. The alarm was also communicated to another village, and from thence to Bormio, and in a short time a strong band of armed men had collected, and proceeded together to assist in extinguishing the flames. On their arrival at the house, they found the place one immense heap of ashes — not a soul was to be seen, for Ludovico and his men had already decamped.
The dawn now broke, and the assembled peasantry made some attempt to account for the fire. At first they were induced to attribute it to accident, but on searching around they found the dead body of the murdered peasant, and afterwards the two children who had escaped, and who in their terror had rushed into a thick copse to conceal themselves. With great difficulty they gathered from them sufficient to show that the fire had been caused by a band of robbers who had come for the purpose of plundering the house; and their suspicion fell immediately on Baron Conrad, without any better proof than his infamous reputation.
As soon as Ludovico found that an alarm had been given, he and his men started off to find their horses, which they had hidden among some trees about a mile distant from Biffi’s house. The daylight was just breaking, and objects around them began to be visible, but not so clearly as to allow them to see for any distance. Suddenly one of the men pointed to an indistinct figure in white some little way in advance of them. Ludovico halted for a moment to see what it might be, and, with his men, watched it attentively as it appeared to fly from them.
“It is the young girl herself,” said one of the men. “She has escaped from the fire; and that was exactly as she appeared in her white dress with her father at the window. I saw her well, and am sure I am not mistaken.”
“It is indeed the girl,” said another. “I also saw her.”
“I hope you are right,” said Ludovico; “and if so, it will be fortunate indeed, for should we return without her we may receive but a rude reception from the baron.”
They now quickened their pace, but, fast as they walked, the figure in white walked quite as rapidly. Ludovico, who of course began to suspect that it was Teresa attempting to escape from them, commanded his men to run as fast as they could in order to reach her. Although they tried their utmost, the figure, however, still kept the same distance before them. Another singularity about it was, that as daylight advanced the figure appeared to become less distinct, and ere they had reached their horses it seemed to have melted away.
 
Part 2
 
 
 
Before mounting their horses, Ludovico held a consultation with his men as to what course they had better adopt; whether they should depart at once or search the neighborhood for the girl. Both suggestions seemed to be attended with danger. If they delayed their departure, they might be attacked by the peasantry, who by this time were doubtless in hot pursuit of them; and if they returned to the baron without Teresa, they were almost certain to receive a severe punishment for failing in their enterprise. At last the idea struck Ludovico that a good round lie might possibly succeed with the baron and do something to avert his anger, while there was little hope of its in the slightest manner availing with the enraged peasantry. He therefore gave the order for his men to mount their horses, resolving to tell the baron that Teresa had escaped from the flames, and had begged their assistance, but a number of armed inhabitants of Bormio chancing to approach, she had sought their protection. A great portion of this statement could be substantiated by his men, as they still fully believed that the figure in white which they had so indistinctly seen was the girl herself. Ludovico and his men during their homeward journey had great difficulty in crossing the mountains, in consequence of a heavy fall of snow (for it was now late in the autumn). Next day they arrived at the castle of Gardonal.
It would be difficult to describe the rage of the baron when he heard that his retainers had been unsuccessful in their mission. He ordered Ludovico to be thrown into a dungeon, where he remained for more than a month, and was only then liberated in consequence of the baron needing his services for some expedition requiring special skill and courage. The other men were also punished, though less severely than their leader, on whom, of course, they laid all the blame.
For some time after Ludovico’s return, the baron occupied himself in concocting schemes, not only to secure the girl Teresa (for he fully believed the account Ludovico had given of her escape), but to revenge himself on the inhabitants of Bormio for the part they had taken in the affair; and it was to carry out these schemes that he liberated Ludovico from prison.
The winter had passed, and the spring sun was rapidly melting the snows on the mountains, when one morning three travel-stained men, having the appearance of respectable burghers, arrived at the Hospice, and requested to be allowed an interview with the Innominato. A messenger was dispatched to the castle, who shortly afterwards returned, saying that his master desired the visitors should immediately be admitted into his presence. When they arrived at the castle they found him fully prepared to receive them, a handsome repast being spread out for their refreshment. At first the travelers seemed under some restraint; but this was soon dispelled by the friendly courtesy of the astrologer. After partaking of the viands which had been set before them, the Innominato inquired the object of their visit. One of them who had been evidently chosen as spokesman, then rose from his chair and addressed their host as follows:
“We have been sent to your excellency by the inhabitants of Bormio as a deputation, to ask your advice and assistance in a strait we are in at present. Late in the autumn of last year, the Baron Conrad, feudal lord of the Engadin, was on some not very honest expedition in our neighborhood, when by chance he saw a very beautiful girl, of the name of Teresa Biffi, whose father occupied a large farm about half a league from the town. The baron, it appears, became so deeply enamored of the girl that he afterwards sent a messenger to her father with an offer of marriage for his daughter. Biffi, knowing full well the infamous reputation of the baron, unhesitatingly declined his proposal and in such indignant terms as to arouse the tyrant’s anger to the highest pitch. Determining not only to possess himself of the girl, but to avenge the insult he had received, he sent a body of armed retainers, who in the night attacked the farmer’s house, and endeavored to effect an entrance by breaking open the door. Finding they could not succeed, and after murdering one of the servants who had been sent to a neighboring village to give the alarm, they set fire to the house, and with the exception of two children who contrived to escape, the whole family, including the young girl herself, perished in the flames. It appears, however, that the baron (doubtless through his agents) received a false report that the young girl had escaped, and was taken under the protection of some of the inhabitants of Bormio. In consequence, he sent another body of armed men, who arrived in the night at the house of the podesta, and contrived to make his only son, a boy of about fifteen years old, a prisoner, bearing him off to the baron’s castle. They left word, that unless Teresa Biffi was placed in their power before the first day of May, not only would the youth be put to death, but the baron would also wreak vengeance on the whole town. On the perpetration of this last atrocity, we again applied to the government of Milan for protection; but although our reception was most courteous, and we were promised assistance, we have too good reason to doubt our receiving it. Certainly up to the present time no steps have been taken in the matter, nor has a single soldier been sent, although the time named for the death of the child has nearly expired. The townsmen therefore, having heard of your great wisdom and power, your willingness to help those who are in distress, as well as to protect the weak and oppressed, have sent us to ask you to take them under your protection; is the baron is not a man to scruple at putting such a threat into execution.”
The Innominato, who had listened to the delegate with great patience and attention, told him that he had no soldiers or retainers at his orders; while the baron, whose wicked life was known to him, had many.
“But your excellency has great wisdom, and from all we have heard, we feel certain that you could protect us.”
“Your case,” said the Innominato, “is a very sad one, I admit, and you certainly ought to be protected from the baron’s machinations. I will not disguise from you that I have the power to help you. Tell the unhappy podesta that he need be under no alarm as to his son’s safety, and that I will oblige the baron to release him. My art tells me that the boy is still alive, though confined in prison. As for your friends who sent you to me, tell them that the baron shall do them no harm. All you have to do is, to contrive some means by which the baron may hear that the girl Teresa Biffi has been placed by me where he will never find her without my permission.”
“But Teresa Biffi,” said the delegate, “perished with her father; and the baron will wreak his vengeance both on you and us, when he finds you cannot place the girl in his power.”
“Fear nothing, but obey my orders,” said the Innominato. “Do what I have told you, and I promise you shall have nothing to dread from him. The sooner you carry out my directions the better.”
The deputation now returned to Bormio, and related all that had taken place at their interview with the Innominato. Although the result of their mission was scarcely considered satisfactory, they determined, after much consideration, to act on the astrologer’s advice. But how to carry it out was a very difficult matter. This was, however, overcome by one of the chief inhabitants of the town — a man of most determined courage — offering himself as a delegate to the baron, to convey to him the Innominato’s message. Without hesitation the offer was gratefully accepted, and the next day he started on his journey. No sooner had he arrived at the castle of Gardonal, and explained the object of his mission, than he was ushered into the presence of the baron, whom he found in the great hall, surrounded by a numerous body of armed men.
“Well,” said the baron, as soon as the delegate had entered, “have your townspeople come to their senses at last, and sent me the girl Teresa?”
“No, they have not, baron,” was the reply, “for she is not in their custody. All they can do is to inform you where you may possibly receive some information about her.”
“And where may that be?”
“The only person who knows where she may be found is the celebrated astrologer who lives in a castle near Lecco.”
“Ah now, you are trifling with me,” said the baron sternly. “You must be a great fool or a very bold man to try such an experiment as that.”
“I am neither the one nor the other, your excellency; nor am I trifling with you. What I have told you is the simple truth.”
“And how did you learn it?”
“From the Innominato’s own lips.”
“Then you applied to him for assistance against me,” said the baron, furiously.
“That is hardly correct, your excellency,” said the delegate. “It is true we applied to him for advice as to the manner in which we should act in case you should attack us, and put your threat into execution respecting the son of the podesta.”
“And what answer did he give you?”
“Just what I have told you — that he alone knows where Teresa Biffi is to be found, and that you could not remove her from the protection she is under without his permission.”
“Did he send that message to me in defiance?” said the baron.
“I have no reason to believe so, your excellency.”
The baron was silent for some time; he then inquired of the delegate how many armed retainers the Innominato kept.
“None, I believe,” was the reply. “At any rate, there were none to be seen when the deputation from the town visited him.”
The baron was again silent for some moments, and seemed deeply absorbed in thought. He would rather have met with any other opponent than the Innominato, whose reputation was well known to him, and whose learning he dreaded more than the power of any nobleman — no matter how many armed retainers he could bring against him.
“I very much suspect,” he said at last, “that some deception is being practiced on me. But should my suspicion be correct I shall exact terrible vengeance. I shall detain you,” he continued, turning abruptly and fiercely on the delegate, “as a hostage while I visit the Innominato; and if I do not succeed with him, you shall die on the same scaffold as the son of your podesta.”
It was in vain that the delegate protested against being detained as a prisoner, saying that it was against all rules of knightly usage; but the baron would not listen to reason, and the unfortunate man was immediately hurried out of the hall and imprisoned.
Although the baron by no means liked the idea of an interview with the Innominato, he immediately made preparations to visit him, and the day after the delegate’s arrival he set out on his journey, attended by only four of his retainers. It should here be mentioned, that it is more than probable the baron would have avoided meeting the Innominato on any other occasion whatever, so great was the dislike he had to him. He seemed to be acting under some fatality; some power seemed to impel him in his endeavors to obtain Teresa which it was impossible to account for.
The road chosen by the baron to reach the castle of the Innominato was rather a circuitous one. In the first place, he did not consider it prudent to pass through the Valteline; and in the second, he thought that by visiting his brother on his way he might be able to obtain some particulars as to the character of the mysterious individual whom he was about to see, as his reputation would probably be better known among the inhabitants of the Bergamo district than by those in the valley of the Engadin.
The baron arrived safely at his brother’s castle, where the reports which had hitherto indistinctly reached him of the wonderful power and skill of the astrologer were fully confirmed. After remaining a day with his brother, the baron started for Lecco. Under an assumed name he stayed here for two days, in order that he might receive the report of one of his men, whom he had sent forward to ascertain whether the Innominato had any armed men in his castle; for, being capable of any act of treachery himself, he naturally suspected treason in others. The man in due time returned, and reported that, although he had taken great pains to find out the truth, he was fully convinced, that not only were there no soldiers in the castle, but that it did not, to the best of his belief, contain an arm of any kind — the Innominato relying solely on his occult power for his defense.
Perfectly assured that he had no danger to apprehend, the baron left Lecco, attended by his retainers, and in a few hours afterwards he arrived at the Hospice, where his wish for an interview was conveyed to the astrologer. After some delay a reply was sent that the Innominato was willing to receive the baron on condition that he came alone, as his retainers would not be allowed to enter the castle. The baron hesitated for some moments, not liking to place himself in the power of a man who, after all, might prove a very dangerous adversary, and who might even use treacherous means. His love for Teresa Biffi, however, urged him to accept the invitation, and he accompanied the messenger to the castle.
The Innominato received his guest with stern courtesy; and, without even asking him to be seated, requested to know the object of his visit.
“Perhaps I am not altogether unknown to you,” said the baron. “I am lord of the Engadin.”
“Frankly,” said the Innominato, “your name and reputation are both well known to me. It would give me great satisfaction were they less so.”
“I regret to hear you speak in that tone,” said the baron, evidently making great efforts to repress his rising passion. “A person in my position is not likely to be without enemies, but it rather surprises me to find a man of your reputation so prejudiced against me without having investigated the accusations laid to my charge.”
“You judge wrongly if you imagine that I am so,” said the Innominato. “But once more, will you tell me the object of your visit?”
“I understood,” said the baron, “by a message sent to me by the insolent inhabitants of Bormio, that you know the person with whom a young girl, named Teresa Biffi, is at present residing. Might I ask if that statement is correct?”
“I hardly sent it in those words,” said the Innominato. “But admitting it to be so, I must first ask your reason for inquiring.”
“I have not the slightest objection to inform you,” said the baron. “I have nothing to conceal. I wish to make her my wife.”
“On those terms I am willing to assist you,” said the astrologer. “But only on the condition that you immediately release the messenger you have most unjustly confined in one of your dungeons, as well as the young son of the podesta, and that you grant them a safe escort back to Bormio; and further, that you promise to cease annoying the people of that district. Do all this, and I am willing to promise you that Teresa Biffi shall not only become your wife, but shall bring with her a dowry and wedding outfit sufficiently magnificent even for the exalted position to which you propose to raise her.”
“I solemnly promise you,” said the baron, “that the moment the wedding is over, the delegate from Bormio and the son of the podesta shall both leave my castle perfectly free and unhampered with any conditions; and moreover that I will send a strong escort with them to protect them on their road.”
“I see you are already meditating treachery,” said the Innominato. “But I will not, in any manner, alter my offer. The day week after their safe return to Bormio Teresa Biffi shall arrive at the castle of Gardonal for the wedding ceremony. Now you distinctly know my conditions, and I demand from you an unequivocal acceptance or refusal.”
“What security shall I have that the bargain will be kept on your side?” said the baron.
“My word, and no other.”
The baron remained silent for a moment, and then said —
“I accept your offer. But clearly understand me in my turn, sir astrologer. Fail to keep your promise, and had you ten times the power you have I will take my revenge on you; and I am not a man to threaten such a thing without doing it.”
“All that I am ready to allow,” said the Innominato, with great coolness; “that is to say, in case you have the power to carry out your threat, which in the present instance you have not. Do not imagine that because I am not surrounded by a band of armed cut-throats and miscreants I am not the stronger of the two. You little dream how powerless you are in my hands. You see this bird,” he continued, taking down a common sparrow in a wooden cage from a nail in the wall on which it hung, — “it is not more helpless in my hands than you are; nay more, I will now give the bird far greater power over you than I possess over it.”
As he spoke he unfastened the door of the cage, and the sparrow darted from it through the window into the air, and in a moment afterwards was lost to sight.
“That bird,” the astrologer went on to say, “will follow you till I deprive it of the power. I bear you no malice for doubting my veracity. Falsehood is too much a portion of your nature for you to disbelieve its existence in others. I will not seek to punish you for the treachery which I am perfectly sure you will soon be imagining against me without giving you fair warning; for, a traitor yourself, you naturally suspect treason in others. As soon as you entertain a thought of evading your promise to release your prisoners, or conceive any treason or ill feeling against me, that sparrow will appear to you. If you instantly abandon the thought no harm will follow; but if you do not a terrible punishment will soon fall upon you. In whatever position you may find yourself at the moment, the bird will be near you, and no skill of yours will be able to harm it.”
The baron now left the Innominato, and returned with his men to Lecco, where he employed himself for the remainder of the day in making preparations for his homeward journey. To return by the circuitous route he had taken in going to Lecco would have occupied too much time, as he was anxious to arrive at his castle, that he might without delay release the prisoners and make preparations for his wedding with Teresa Biffi. To pass the Valteline openly with his retainers — which was by far the shortest road — would have exposed him to too much danger; he therefore resolved to divide his party and send three men back by his brother’s castle, so that they could return the horses they had borrowed. Then he would disguise himself and the fourth man (a German who could not speak a word of Italian, and from whom he had nothing therefore to fear on the score of treachery) as two Tyrolese merchants returning to their own country. He also purchased two mules and some provisions for the journey, so that they need not be obliged to rest in any of the villages they passed through, where possibly they might be detected, and probably maltreated.
Next morning the baron and his servant, together with the two mules, went on board a large bark which was manned by six men, and which he had hired for the occasion, and in it they started for Colico. At the commencement of their voyage they kept along the eastern side of the lake, but after advancing a few miles the wind, which had hitherto been moderate, now became so strong as to cause much fatigue to the rowers, and the captain of the bark determined on crossing the lake, so as to be under the lee of the mountains on the other side. When half way across they came in view of the turrets of the castle of the Innominato. The sight of the castle brought to the baron’s mind his interview with its owner, and the defiant manner in which he had been treated by him. The longer he gazed the stronger became his anger against the Innominato, and at last it rose to such a point that he exclaimed aloud, to the great surprise of the men in the boat, “Someday I will meet thee again, thou insolent villain, and I will then take signal vengeance on thee for the insult offered me yesterday.”
The words had hardly been uttered when a sparrow, apparently driven from the shore by the wind, settled on the bark for a moment, and then flew away. The baron instantly remembered what the Innominato had said to him, and also the warning the bird was to give. With a sensation closely resembling fear, he tried to change the current of his thoughts, and was on the point of turning his head from the castle, when the rowers in the boat simultaneously set up a loud shout of warning, and the baron then perceived that a heavily-laden vessel, four times the size of his own, and with a huge sail set, was running before the wind with great velocity, threatening the next moment to strike his boat on the beam; in which case both he and the men would undoubtedly be drowned. Fortunately, the captain of the strange bark had heard the cry of the rowers, and by rapidly putting down his helm saved their lives; though the baron’s boat was struck with so much violence on the quarter that she nearly sank.
The Baron Conrad had now received an earnest that the threat of the Innominato was not a vain one, and feeling that he was entirely in his power, resolved if possible not to offend him again. The boat continued on her voyage, and late in the evening arrived safely at Colico, where the baron, with his servant and the mules, disembarked, and without delay proceeded on their journey. They continued on their road till nightfall, when they began to consider how they should pass the night. They looked around them, but they could perceive no habitation or shelter of any kind, and it was now raining heavily. They continued their journey onwards, and had almost come to the conclusion that they should be obliged to pass the night in the open air, when a short distance before them they saw a low cottage, the door of which was open, showing the dim light of a fire burning within. The baron now determined to ask the owner of the cottage for permission to remain there for the night; but to be certain that no danger could arise, he sent forward his man to discover whether it was a house standing by itself, or one of a village; as in the latter case he would have to use great caution to avoid being detected. His servant accordingly left him to obey orders, and shortly afterwards returned with the news that the house was a solitary one, and that he could not distinguish a trace of any other in the neighborhood. Satisfied with this information, the baron proceeded to the cottage door, and begged the inmates to afford him shelter for the night, assuring them that the next morning he would remunerate them handsomely. The peasant and his wife — a sickly-looking, emaciated old couple — gladly offered them all the accommodation the wretched cabin could afford. After fastening up the mules at the back of the house, and bringing in the baggage and some dry fodder to form a bed for the baron and his servant, they prepared some of the food their guests had brought with them for supper, and shortly afterwards the baron and his servant were fast asleep.
Next morning they rose early and continued on their journey. After they had been some hours on the road, the baron, who had before been conversing with his retainer, suddenly became silent and absorbed in thought. He rode on a few paces in advance of the man, thinking over the conditions made by the Innominato, when the idea struck him whether it would not be possible in some way to evade them. He had hardly entertained the thought, when the sparrow flew rapidly before his mule’s head, and then instantly afterwards his servant, who had ridden up to him, touched him on the shoulder and pointed to a body of eight or ten armed men about a quarter of a mile distant, who were advancing towards them. The baron, fearing lest they might be some of the armed inhabitants of the neighborhood who were banded together against him, and seeing that no time was to be lost, immediately plunged, with his servant, into a thick copse where, without being seen, he could command a view of the advancing soldiers as they passed. He perceived that when they came near the place where he was concealed they halted, and evidently set about examining the traces of the footsteps of the mules. They communed together for some time as if in doubt what course they should adopt, and finally, the leader giving the order, they continued their march onwards, and the baron shortly afterwards left his place of concealment.
Nothing further worthy of notice occurred that day; and late at night they passed through Bormio, fortunately without being observed. They afterwards arrived safely at the foot of the mountain pass, and at dawn began the ascent. The day was fine and calm, and the sun shone magnificently. The baron, who now calculated that the dangers of his journey were over, was in high spirits, and familiarly conversed with his retainer. When they had reached a considerable elevation, the path narrowed, so that the two could not ride abreast, and the baron went in advance. He now became very silent and thoughtful, all his thoughts being fixed on the approaching wedding, and in speculations as to how short a time it would take for the delegate and the youth to reach Bormio. Suddenly the thought occurred to him, whether the men whom he should send to escort the hostages back, could not, when they had completed their business, remain concealed in the immediate neighborhood till after the celebration of the wedding, and then bring back with them some other hostage, and thus enable him to make further demands for compensation for the insult he considered had been offered him. Although the idea had only been vaguely formed, and possibly with but little intention of carrying it out, he had an immediate proof that the power of the astrologer was following him. A sparrow settled on the ground before him, and did not move until his mule was close to it, when it rose in the air right before his face. He continued to follow its course with his eyes, and as it rose higher he thought he perceived a tremulous movement in an immense mass of snow, which had accumulated at the base of one of the mountain peaks. All thought of treachery immediately vanished. He gave a cry of alarm to his servant, and they both hurried onwards, thus barely escaping being buried in an avalanche, which the moment afterwards overwhelmed the path they had crossed.
The baron was now more convinced than ever of the tremendous power of the Innominato, and so great was his fear of him, that he resolved for the future not to contemplate any treachery against him, or entertain any thoughts of revenge.
The day after the baron’s arrival at the castle of Gardonal, he ordered the delegate and the podesta’s son to be brought into his presence. Assuming a tone of much mildness and courtesy, he told them he much regretted the inconvenience they had been put to, but that the behavior of the inhabitants of Bormio had left him no alternative. He was ready to admit that the delegate had told him the truth, although from the interview he had with the Innominato, he was by no means certain that the inhabitants of their town had acted in a friendly manner towards him, or were without blame in the matter. Still he did not wish to be harsh, and was willing for the future to be on friendly terms with them if they promised to cease insulting him — what possible affront they could have offered him it would be difficult to say. “At the same time, in justice to myself,” he continued (his natural cupidity gaining the ascendant at the moment), “I hardly think I ought to allow you to return without the payment of some fair ransom.”
He had scarcely uttered these words when a sparrow flew in at the window, and darting wildly two or three times across the hall, left by the same window through which it had entered. Those present who noticed the bird looked at it with an eye of indifference — but not so the baron. He knew perfectly well that it was a warning from the astrologer, and he looked around him to see what accident might have befallen him had he continued the train of thought. Nothing of an extraordinary nature followed the disappearance of the bird. The baron now changed the conversation, and told his prisoners that they were at liberty to depart as soon as they pleased; and that to prevent any misfortune befalling them on the road, he would send four of his retainers to protect them. In this he kept his promise to the letter, and a few days afterwards the men returned, reporting that the delegate and the son of the podesta had both arrived safely at their destination.
 
Part 3
 
 
 
Immediately after the departure of his prisoners, the baron began to make preparations for his wedding, for although he detested the Innominato in his heart, he had still the fullest reliance on his fulfilling the promise he had made. His assurance was further confirmed by a messenger from the astrologer to inform him that on the next Wednesday the affianced bride would arrive with her suite, and that he (the Innominato) had given this notice, that all things might be in readiness for the ceremony.
Neither expense nor exertion was spared by the baron to make his nuptials imposing and magnificent. The chapel belonging to the castle, which had been allowed to fall into a most neglected condition, was put into order, the altar redecorated, and the walls hung with tapestry. Preparations were made in the inner hall for a banquet on the grandest scale, which was to be given after the ceremony; and on a dais in the main hall into which the bride was to be conducted on her arrival were placed two chairs of state, where the baron and his bride were to be seated.
When the day arrived for the wedding, everything was prepared for the reception of the bride. As no hour had been named for her arrival, all persons who were to be engaged in the ceremony were ready in the castle by break of day; and the baron, in a state of great excitement, mounted to the top of the watch-tower, that he might be able to give orders to the rest the moment her cavalcade appeared in sight. Hour after hour passed, but still Teresa did not make her appearance, and at last the baron began to feel considerable anxiety on the subject.
At last a mist, which had been over a part of the valley, cleared up, and all the anxiety of the baron was dispelled; for in the distance he perceived a group of travelers approaching the castle, some mounted on horseback and some on foot. In front rode the bride on a superb white palfrey, her face covered with a thick veil. On each side of her rode an esquire magnificently dressed. Behind her were a waiting woman on horseback and two men-servants; and in the rear were several led mules laden with packages. The baron now quitted his position in the tower and descended to the castle gates to receive his bride. When he arrived there, he found one of the esquires, who had ridden forward at the desire of his mistress, waiting to speak to him.
“I have been ordered,” he said to the baron, “by the Lady Teresa, to request that you will be good enough to allow her to change her dress before she meets you.”
The baron of course willingly assented, and then retired into the hall destined for the reception ceremony. Shortly afterwards Teresa arrived at the castle, and being helped from her palfrey, she proceeded with her lady in waiting and a female attendant (who had been engaged by the baron) into her private apartment, while two of the muleteers brought up a large trunk containing her wedding dress.
In less than an hour Teresa left her room to be introduced to the baron, and was conducted into his presence by one of the esquires. As soon as she entered the hall, a cry of admiration arose from all present — so extraordinary was her beauty. The baron, in a state of breathless emotion, advanced to meet her, but before he had reached her she bent on her knee, and remained in that position till he had raised her up. “Kneel not to me, thou lovely one,” he said. “It is for all present to kneel to thee in adoration of thy wonderful beauty, rather than for thee to bend to any one.” So saying, and holding her hand, he led her to one of the seats on the dais, and then, seating himself by her side, gave orders for the ceremony of introduction to begin. One by one the different persons to be presented were led up to her, all of whom she received with a grace and amiability which raised her very high in their estimation.
When the ceremony of introduction was over the baron ordered that the procession should be formed, and then, taking Teresa by the hand, he led her into the chapel, followed by the others. When all were arranged in their proper places the marriage ceremony was performed by the priest, and the newly-married couple, with the retainers and guests, entered into the banqueting hall. Splendid as was the repast which had been prepared for the company, their attention seemed for some time more drawn to the baron and his bride than to the duties of the feast. A handsomer couple it would have been impossible to find. The baron himself, as has been stated already, had no lack of manly beauty either in face or form; while the loveliness of his bride appeared almost more than mortal. Even their splendid attire seemed to attract little notice when compared with their personal beauty.
After the surprise and admiration had somewhat abated, the feast progressed most satisfactorily. All were in high spirits, and good humor and conviviality reigned throughout the hall. Even on the baron it seemed to produce a kindly effect, so that few who could have seen him at that moment would have imagined him to be the stern, cold-blooded tyrant he really was. His countenance was lighted up with good humor and friendliness. Much as his attention was occupied with his bride, he had still a little to bestow on his guests, and he rose many times from his seat to request the attention of the servants to their wants. At last he cast his eye over the tables as if searching for some person whom he could not see, and he then beckoned to the major domo, who, staff of office in hand, advanced to receive his orders.
“I do not see the esquires of the Lady Teresa in the room,” said the baron.
“Your excellency,” said the man, “they are not here.”
“How is that?” said the baron, with some impatience. “You ought to have found room for them in the hall. Where are they?”
“Your excellency,” said the major domo, who from the expression of the baron’s countenance evidently expected a storm, “they are not here. The whole of the suite left the castle immediately after the mules were unladen and her ladyship had left her room. I was inspecting the places which I had prepared for them, when a servant came forward and told me that the esquires and attendants had left the castle. I at once hurried after them and begged they would return, as I was sure your excellency would feel hurt if they did not stay to the banquet. But they told me they had received express orders to leave the castle directly after they had seen the Lady Teresa lodged safely in it. I again entreated them to stay, but it was useless. They hurried on their way, and I returned by myself.”
“The ill-bred hounds!” said the baron, in anger. “A sound scourging would have taught them better manners.”
“Do not be angry with them,” said Teresa, laying her hand gently on that of her husband’s; “they did but obey their master’s orders.”
“Some day, I swear,” said the baron, “I will be revenged on their master for this insult, miserable churl that he is!”
He had no sooner uttered these words than he looked round him for the sparrow, but the bird did not make its appearance. Possibly its absence alarmed him even more than its presence would have done, for he began to dread lest the vengeance of the astrologer was about to fall on him, without giving him the usual notice. Teresa, perceiving the expression of his countenance, did all in her power to calm him, but for some time she but partially succeeded. He continued to glance anxiously about him, to ascertain, if possible, from which side the blow might come. He was just on the point of raising a goblet to his lips, when the idea seized him that the wine might be poisoned. He declined to touch food for the same reason. The idea of being struck with death when at the height of his happiness seemed to overwhelm him. Thanks, however, to the kind soothing of Teresa, as well as the absence of any visible effects of the Innominato’s anger, he at last became completely reassured, and the feast proceeded.
Long before the banquet had concluded the baron and his wife quitted the hall and retired through their private apartments to the terrace of the castle. The evening, which was now rapidly advancing, was warm and genial, and not a cloud was to be seen in the atmosphere. For some time they walked together up and down on the terrace; and afterwards they seated themselves on a bench. There, with his arm round her waist and her head leaning on his shoulder, they watched the sun in all his magnificence sinking behind the mountains. The sun had almost disappeared, when the baron took his wife’s hand in his.
“How cold thou art, my dear!” he said to her. “Let us go in.”
Teresa made no answer, but rising from her seat was conducted by her husband into the room which opened on to the terrace, and which was lighted by a large brass lamp which hung by a chain from the ceiling. When they were nearly under the lamp, whose light increased as the daylight declined, Conrad again cast his arm round his wife, and fondly pressed her head to his breast. They remained thus for some moments, entranced in their happiness.
“Dost thou really love me, Teresa!” asked the baron.
“Love you?” said Teresa, now burying her face in his bosom. “Love you? Yes, dearer than all the world. My very existence hangs on your life. When that ceases my existence ends.”
When she had uttered these words, Conrad, in a state of intense happiness, said to her —
“Kiss me, my beloved.”
Teresa still kept her face pressed on his bosom; and Conrad, to overcome her coyness, placed his hand on her head and gently pressed it backwards, so that he might kiss her.
He stood motionless, aghast with horror, for the light of the lamp above their heads showed him no longer the angelic features of Teresa but the hideous face of a corpse that had remained some time in the tomb, and whose only sign of vitality was a horrible phosphoric light which shone in its eyes. Conrad now tried to rush from the room, and to scream for assistance — but in vain. With one arm she clasped him tightly round the waist, and raising the other, she placed her clammy hand upon his mouth, and threw him with great force upon the floor. Then seizing the side of his neck with her lips, she deliberately and slowly sucked from him his life’s blood; while he, utterly incapable either of moving or crying, was yet perfectly conscious of the awful fate that was awaiting him.
In this manner Conrad remained for some hours in the arms of his vampire wife. At last faintness came over him, and he grew insensible. The sun had risen some hours before consciousness returned. He rose from the ground horror-stricken and pallid, and glanced fearfully around him to see if Teresa were still there; but he found himself alone in the room. For some minutes he remained undecided what step to take. At last he rose from his chair to leave the apartment, but he was so weak he could scarcely drag himself along. When he left the room he bent his steps towards the courtyard. Each person he met saluted him with the most profound respect, while on the countenance of each was visible an expression of intense surprise, so altered was he from the athletic young man they had seen him the day before. Presently he heard the merry laughter of a number of children, and immediately hastened to the spot from whence the noise came. To his surprise he found his wife Teresa, in full possession of her beauty, playing with several children, whose mothers had brought them to see her, and who stood delighted with the condescending kindness of the baroness towards their little ones.
Conrad remained motionless for some moments, gazing with intense surprise at his wife, and the idea occurred to him that the events of the last night must have been a terrible dream and nothing more. But he was at a loss how to account for his bodily weakness? Teresa, in the midst of her gambols with the children, accidentally raised her head and perceived her husband. She uttered a slight cry of pleasure when she saw him, and snatching up in her arms a beautiful child she had been playing with, she rushed towards him, exclaiming —
“Look, dear Conrad, what a little beauty this is! Is he not a little cherub?”
The baron gazed wildly at his wife for a few moments, but said nothing.
“My dearest husband, what ails you?” said Teresa. “Are you not well?”
Conrad made no answer, but turning suddenly round staggered hurriedly away, while Teresa, with an expression of alarm and anxiety on her face, followed him with her eyes as he went. He still hurried on till he reached the small sitting-room from which he was accustomed each morning to issue his orders to his dependents, and seated himself in a chair to recover if possible from the bewilderment he was in. Presently Ludovico, whose duty it was to attend on his master every morning for instructions, entered the room, and bowing respectfully to the baron, stood silently aside, waiting till he should be spoken to, but during the time marking the baron’s altered appearance with the most intense curiosity. After some moments the baron asked him what he saw to make him stare in that manner.
“Pardon my boldness, your excellency,” said Ludovico, “but I was afraid you might be ill. I trust I am in error.”
“What should make you think I am unwell?” inquired the baron.
“Your highness’s countenance is far paler than usual, and there is a small wound on the side of your throat. I hope you have not injured yourself.”
The last remark of Ludovico decided the baron that the events of the evening had been no hallucination. What stronger proof could be required than the marks of his vampire wife’s teeth still upon him? He perceived that some course of action must be at once decided upon, and the urgency of his position aided him to concentrate his thoughts. He determined on visiting a celebrated anchorite who lived in the mountains about four leagues distant, and who was famous not only for the piety of his life, but for his power in exorcising evil spirits. Having come to this resolution, he desired Ludovico immediately to saddle for him a sure-footed mule, as the path to the anchorite’s dwelling was not only difficult but dangerous.
Ludovico bowed, and after having been informed that there were no other orders, he left the room, wondering in his mind what could be the reason for his master’s wishing a mule saddled, when he generally rode only the highest-spirited horses. The conclusion he came to was, that the baron must have been attacked with some serious illness, and was about to proceed to some skillful leech.
As soon as Ludovico had left the room, the baron called to one of the servants whom he saw passing, and ordered breakfast to be brought to him immediately, hoping that by a hearty meal he should recover sufficient strength for the journey he was about to undertake. To a certain extent he succeeded, though possibly it was from the quantity of wine he drank, rather than from any other cause, for he had no appetite and had eaten but little.
He now descended into the courtyard of the castle, cautiously avoiding his wife. Finding the mule in readiness, he mounted it and started on his journey. For some time he went along quietly and slowly, for he still felt weak and languid, but as he attained a higher elevation of the mountains, the cold breeze seemed to invigorate him. He now began to consider how he could rid himself of the horrible vampire he had married, and of whose real nature he had no longer any doubt. Speculations on this subject occupied him till he had entered on a narrow path on the slope of an exceedingly high mountain. It was difficult to keep footing, and it required all his caution to prevent himself from falling. Of fear, however, the baron had none, and his thoughts continued to run on the possibility of separating himself from Teresa, and on what vengeance he would take on the Innominato for the treachery he had practiced on him, as soon as he should be fairly freed. The more he dwelt on his revenge, the more excited he became, till a last he exclaimed aloud, “Infamous wretch! Let me be but once fairly released from the execrable fiend you have imposed upon me, and I swear I will burn thee alive in thy castle, as a fitting punishment for the sorcery thou hast practiced.”
Conrad had hardly uttered these words, when the pathway upon which he was riding gave way beneath him, and glided down the incline into a tremendous precipice below. He succeeded in throwing himself from his mule, which, with the debris of the rocks, was hurried over the precipice, while he clutched with the energy of despair at each object he saw likely to give him a moment’s support. But everything he touched gave way, and he gradually sank and sank towards the verge of the precipice, his efforts to save himself becoming more violent the nearer he approached to what appeared certain death. Down he sank, till his legs actually hung over the precipice, when he succeeded in grasping a stone somewhat firmer than the others, thus retarding his fall for a moment. In horror he now glanced at the terrible chasm beneath him, when suddenly different objects came before his mind with fearful reality. There was an unhappy peasant, who had without permission killed a head of game, hanging from the branch of a tree still struggling in the agonies of death, while his wife and children were in vain imploring the baron’s clemency.
This vanished and he saw a boy with a knife in his hand, stabbing at his own mother for some slight offence she had given him.
This passed, and he found himself in a small village, the inhabitants of which were all dead within their houses; for at the approach of winter he had, in a fit of ill-temper, ordered his retainers to take from them all their provisions; and a snowstorm coming on immediately afterwards, they were blocked up in their dwellings, and all perished.
Again his thoughts reverted to the position he was in, and his eye glanced over the terrible precipice that yawned beneath him, when he saw, as if in a dream, the house of Biffi the farmer, with his wife and children around him, apparently contented and happy.
As soon as he had realized the idea, the stone which he had clutched began to give way, and all seemed lost to him, when a sparrow suddenly flew on the earth a short distance from him, and immediately afterwards darted away “Save but my life!” screamed the baron, “and I swear I will keep all secret.”
The words had hardly been uttered, when a goatherd with a long staff in his hand appeared on the incline above him. The man perceiving the imminent peril of the baron, with great caution, and yet with great activity, descended to assist him. He succeeded in reaching a ledge of rock a few feet above, and rather to the side of the baron, to whom he stretched forth the long mountain staff in his hand. The baron clutched it with such energy as would certainly have drawn the goatherd over with him, had it not been that the latter was a remarkably powerful man. With some difficulty the baron reached the ledge of the rock, and the goatherd then ascended to a higher position, and in like manner drew the baron on, till at last he had contrived to get him to a place of safety. As soon as Conrad found himself out of danger, he gazed wildly around him for a moment, then dizziness came over him, and he sank fainting on the ground.
When the baron had recovered his senses, he found himself so weak that it would have been impossible for him to have reached the castle that evening. He therefore willingly accompanied the goatherd to his hut in the mountains, where he proposed to pass the night. The man made what provision he could for his illustrious guest, and prepared him a supper of the best his hut afforded; but had the latter been composed of the most exquisite delicacies, it would have been equally tasteless; for Conrad had not the slightest appetite. Evening was now rapidly approaching, and the goatherd prepared a bed of leaves, over which he threw a cloak, and the baron, utterly exhausted, reposed on it for the night, without anything occurring to disturb his rest.
Next morning he found himself somewhat refreshed by his night’s rest, and he prepared to return to the castle, assisted by the goatherd, to whom he had promised a handsome reward. He had now given up all idea of visiting the anchorite, dreading that by so doing he might excite the animosity of the Innominato, of whose tremendous power he had lately received more than ample proof. In due time he reached home in safety, and the goatherd was dismissed after having received the promised reward. On entering the castle-yard the baron found his wife in a state of great alarm and sorrow, and surrounded by the retainers. No sooner did she perceive her husband, than, uttering a cry of delight and surprise, she rushed forward to clasp him in her arms; but the baron pushed her rudely away, and hurrying forwards, directed his steps to the room in which he was accustomed to issue his orders. Ludovico, having heard of the arrival of his master, immediately waited on him.
“Ludovico,” said the baron, as soon as he saw him, “I want you to execute an order for me with great promptitude and secrecy. Go below, and prepare two good horses for a journey; one for you, the other for myself. See that we take with us provisions and equipments for two or three days. As soon as they are in readiness, leave the castle with them without speaking to any one, and wait for me about a league up the mountain, where in less than two hours I will join you. Now see that you faithfully carry out my orders, and if you do so, I assure you you will lose nothing by your obedience.”
Ludovico left the baron’s presence to execute his order, when immediately afterwards a servant came into the room, and inquired if the Lady Teresa might enter.
“Tell your mistress,” said the baron, in a tone of great courtesy and kindness, “that I hope she will excuse me for the moment, as I am deeply engaged in affairs of importance; but I shall await her visit with great Impatience in the afternoon.”
The baron now left to himself, began to draw out more fully the plan for his future operations. He resolved to visit his brother Hermann, and consult him as to what steps he ought to take in this horrible emergency; and in case no better means presented themselves, he determined on offering to give up to Hermann the castle of Gardonal and the whole valley of the Engadin, on condition of receiving from him an annuity sufficient to support him in the position he had always been accustomed to maintain. He then intended to retire to some distant country, where there would be no probability of his being followed by the horrible monster whom he had accepted as his wife. Of course he had no intention of receiving Teresa in the afternoon, and he had merely put off her visit the purpose of allowing himself to escape with greater convenience from the castle.
About an hour after Ludovico had left him, the baron quitted the castle by a postern, with as much haste as his enfeebled strength would allow, and hurried after his retainer, whom he found awaiting him with the horses. The baron immediately mounted one, and followed by Ludovico, took the road to his brother’s, where in three days he arrived in safety. Hermann received his brother with great pleasure, though much surprised at the alteration in his appearance.
“My dear Conrad,” he said to him, “what can possibly have occurred to you? You look very pale, weak, and haggard. Have you been ill?”
“Worse, a thousand times worse,” said Conrad. “Let us go where we may be by ourselves, and I will tell you all.”
Hermann led his brother into a private room, where Conrad explained to him the terrible misfortune which had befallen him. Hermann listened attentively, and for some time could not help doubting whether his brother’s mind was not affected; but Conrad explained everything in so circumstantial and lucid a manner as to dispel that idea. To the proposition which Conrad made, to make over the territory of the Engadin Valley for an annuity, Hermann promised to give full consideration. At the same time, before any further steps were taken in the matter, he advised Conrad to visit a villa he had, on the sea-shore, about ten miles distant from Genoa; where, in quiet and seclusion, he would be able to recover his energies.
Conrad thanked his brother for his advice, and willingly accepted the offer. Two days afterwards he started on the journey, and by the end of the week arrived safely, and without difficulty, at the villa.
On the evening of his arrival, Conrad, who had employed himself during the afternoon in visiting the different apartments as well as the grounds surrounding the villa, was seated at a window overlooking the sea. The evening was deliciously calm, and he felt such ease and security as he had not enjoyed for some time past. The sun was sinking in the ocean, and the moon began to appear, and the stars one by one to shine in the cloudless heavens. The thought crossed Conrad’s mind that the sight of the sun sinking in the waters strongly resembled his own position when he fell over the precipice. The thought had hardly been conceived when someone touched him on the shoulder. He turned round, and saw standing before him, in the full majesty of her beauty — his wife Teresa!
“My dearest Conrad,” she said, with much affection in her tone, “why have you treated me in this cruel manner? It was most unkind of you to leave me suddenly without giving the slightest hint of your intentions.”
“Execrable fiend,” said Conrad, springing from his chair, “leave me! Why do you haunt me in this manner?”
“Do not speak so harshly to me, my dear husband,” said Teresa. “To oblige you I was taken from my grave; and on you now my very existence depends.”
“Rather my death,” said Conrad. “One night more such as we passed, and I should be a corpse.”
“Nay, dear Conrad,” said Teresa; “I have the power of indefinitely prolonging your life. Drink but of this,” she continued, taking from the table behind her a silver goblet, “and tomorrow all ill effects will have passed away.”
Conrad mechanically took the goblet from her hand, and was on the point of raising it to his lips when he suddenly stopped, and with a shudder replaced it again on the table.
“It is blood,” he said.
“True, my dear husband,” said Teresa; “what else could it be? My life is dependent on your life’s blood, and when that ceases so does my life. Drink then, I implore you,” she continued, again offering him the goblet. “Look, the sun has already sunk beneath the wave; a minute more and daylight will have gone. Drink, Conrad, I implore you, or this night will be your last.”
Conrad again took the goblet from her hand to raise it to his lips; but it was impossible, and he placed it on the table. A ray of pure moonlight now penetrated the room, as if to prove that the light of day had fled. Teresa, again transformed into a horrible vampire, flew at her husband, and throwing him on the floor, fastened her teeth on the half-healed wound in his throat. The next morning, when the servants entered the room, they found the baron a corpse on the floor; but Teresa was nowhere to be seen, nor was she ever heard of afterwards.
Little more remains to be told. Hermann took possession of the castle of Gardonal and the Valley of the Engadin, and treated his vassals with even more despotism than his brother had done before him. At last, driven to desperation, they rose against him and slew him; and the valley afterwards became absorbed into the Canton of the Grisons.
 
Vampire
Jan Neruda
(1871)
 
 
 
The excursion steamer brought us from Constantinople to the shore of the island of Prinkipo and we disembarked. The number of passengers was not large. There was one Polish family, a father, a mother, a daughter and her bridegroom, and then we two. Oh, yes, I must not forget that when we were already on the wooden bridge which crosses the Golden Horn to Constantinople, a Greek, a rather youthful man, joined us. He was probably an artist, judging by the portfolio he carried under his arm. Long black locks floated to his shoulders, his face was pale, and his black eyes were deeply set in their sockets. From the first moment he interested me, especially for his obligingness and for his knowledge of local conditions. But he talked too much, and I then turned away from him.
All the more agreeable was the Polish family. The father and mother were good-natured, fine people, the lover a handsome young fellow, of direct and refined manners. They had come to Prinkipo to spend the summer months for the sake of the daughter, who was slightly ailing. The beautiful pale girl was either just recovering from a severe illness or else a serious disease was just fastening its hold upon her. She leaned upon her lover when she walked and very often sat down to rest, while a frequent dry little cough interrupted her whispers. Whenever she coughed, her escort would considerately pause in their walk. He always cast upon her a glance of sympathetic suffering and she would look back at him as if she would say: “It is nothing. I am happy!” They believed in health and happiness.
On the recommendation of the Greek, who departed from us immediately at the pier, the family secured quarters in the hotel on the hill. The hotel-keeper was a Frenchman and his entire building was equipped comfortably and artistically, according to the French style.
We breakfasted together and when the noon heat had abated somewhat we all betook ourselves to the heights, where in the grove of Siberian stone-pines we could refresh ourselves with the view. Hardly had we found a suitable spot and settled ourselves when the Greek appeared again. He greeted us lightly, looked about and seated himself only a few steps from us. He opened his portfolio and began to sketch.
“I think he purposely sits with his back to the rocks so that we can’t look at his sketch,” I said.
“We don’t have to,” said the young Pole. “We have enough before us to look at.” After a while he added, “It seems to me he’s sketching us in as a sort of background. Well — let him!”
We truly did have enough to gaze at. There is not a more beautiful or more happy corner in the world than that very Prinkipo! The political martyr, Irene, contemporary of Charles the Great, lived there for a month as an exile. If I could live a month of my life there I would be happy for the memory of it for the rest of my days! I shall never forget even that one day spent at Prinkipo.
The air was as clear as a diamond, so soft, so caressing, that one’s whole soul swung out upon it into the distance. At the right beyond the sea projected the brown Asiatic summits; to the left in the distance purpled the steep coasts of Europe. The neighboring Chalki, one of the nine islands of the “Prince’s Archipelago,” rose with its cypress forests into the peaceful heights like a sorrowful dream, crowned by a great structure — an asylum for those whose minds are sick.
The Sea of Marmora was but slightly ruffled and played in all colors like a sparkling opal. In the distance the sea was as white as milk, then rosy, between the two islands a glowing orange and below us it was beautifully greenish blue, like a transparent sapphire. It was resplendent in its own beauty. Nowhere were there any large ships — only two small craft flying the English flag sped along the shore. One was a steamboat as big as a watchman’s booth, the second had about twelve oarsmen, and when their oars rose simultaneously molten silver dripped from them. Trustful dolphins darted in and out among them and dove with long, arching flights above the surface of the water. Through the blue heavens now and then calm eagles winged their way, measuring the space between two continents.
The entire slope below us was covered with blossoming roses whose fragrance filled the air. From the coffee-house near the sea music was carried up to us through the clear air, hushed somewhat by the distance.
The effect was enchanting. We all sat silent and steeped our souls completely in the picture of paradise. The young Polish girl lay on the grass with her head supported on the bosom of her lover. The pale oval of her delicate face was slightly tinged with soft color, and from her blue eyes tears suddenly gushed forth. The lover understood, bent down and kissed tear after tear. Her mother also was moved to tears, and I— even I— felt a strange twinge.
“Here mind and body both must get well,” whispered the girl. “How happy a land this is!”
“God knows I haven’t any enemies, but if I had I would forgive them here!” said the father in a trembling voice.
And again we became silent. We were all in such a wonderful mood — so unspeakably sweet it all was! Each felt for himself a whole world of happiness and each one would have shared his happiness with the whole world. All felt the same — and so no one disturbed another. We had scarcely even noticed the Greek, after an hour or so, had arisen, folded his portfolio and with a slight nod had taken his departure. We remained.
Finally after several hours, when the distance was becoming overspread with a darker violet, so magically beautiful in the south, the mother reminded us it was time to depart. We arose and walked down towards the hotel with the easy, elastic steps that characterize carefree children. We sat down in the hotel under the handsome veranda.
Hardly had we been seated when we heard below the sounds of quarreling and oaths. Our Greek was wrangling the hotel-keeper, and for the entertainment of it we listened.
The amusement did not last long. “If I didn’t have other guests,” growled the hotel-keeper, and ascended the steps towards us.
“I beg you to tell me, sir,” asked the young Pole of the approaching hotel-keeper, “who is that gentleman? What’s his name?”
“Eh — who knows what the fellow’s name is?” grumbled the hotel-keeper, and he gazed venomously downwards. “We call him the Vampire.”
“An artist?”
“Fine trade! He sketches only corpses. Just as soon as someone in Constantinople or here in the neighborhood dies, that very day he has a picture of the dead one completed. That fellow paints them beforehand — and he never makes a mistake — just like a vulture!”
The old Polish woman shrieked affrightedly. In her arms lay her daughter pale as chalk. She had fainted.
In one bound the lover had leaped down the steps. With one hand he seized the Greek and with the other reached for the portfolio.
We ran down after him. Both men were rolling in the sand. The contents of the portfolio were scattered all about. On one sheet, sketched with a crayon, was the head of the young Polish girl, her eyes closed and a wreath of myrtle on her brow.
 
The Vampire Cat of Nabéshima
A. B. Mitford
(1871)
 
 
 
There is a tradition in the Nabéshima family that, many years ago, the Prince of Hizen was bewitched and cursed by a cat that had been kept by one of his retainers. This prince had in his house a lady of rare beauty, called O Toyo: amongst all his ladies she was the favorite, and there was none who could rival her charms and accomplishments. One day the Prince went out into the garden with O Toyo, and remained enjoying the fragrance of the flowers until sunset, when they returned to the palace, never noticing that they were being followed by a large cat. Having parted with her lord, O Toyo retired to her own room and went to bed. At midnight she awoke with a start, and became aware of a huge cat that crouched watching her; and when she cried out, the beast sprang on her, and, fixing its cruel teeth in her delicate throat, throttled her to death. What a piteous end for so fair a dame, the darling of her prince’s heart, to die suddenly, bitten to death by a cat! Then the cat, having scratched out a grave under the verandah, buried the corpse of O Toyo, and assuming her form, began to bewitch the Prince.
But my lord the Prince knew nothing of all this, and little thought that the beautiful creature who caressed and fondled him was an impish and foul beast that had slain his mistress and assumed her shape in order to drain out his life’s blood. Day by day, as time went on, the Prince’s strength dwindled away; the color of his face was changed, and became pale and livid; and he was as a man suffering from a deadly sickness. Seeing this, his councilors and his wife became greatly alarmed; so they summoned the physicians, who prescribed various remedies for him; but the more medicine he took, the more serious did his illness appear, and no treatment was of any avail. But most of all did he suffer in the night-time, when his sleep would be troubled and disturbed by hideous dreams. In consequence of this, his councilors nightly appointed a hundred of his retainers to sit up and watch over him; but, strange to say, towards ten o’clock on the very first night that the watch was set, the guard were seized with a sudden and unaccountable drowsiness, which they could not resist, until one by one every man had fallen asleep. Then the false O Toyo came in and harassed the Prince until morning. The following night the same thing occurred, and the Prince was subjected to the imp’s tyranny, while his guards slept helplessly around him. Night after night this was repeated, until at last three of the Prince’s councilors determined themselves to sit up on guard, and see whether they could overcome this mysterious drowsiness; but they fared no better than the others, and by ten o’clock were fast asleep. The next day the three councilors held a solemn conclave, and their chief, one Isahaya Buzen, said —
“This is a marvelous thing, that a guard of a hundred men should thus be overcome by sleep. Of a surety, the spell that is upon my lord and upon his guard must be the work of witchcraft. Now, as all our efforts are of no avail, let us seek out Ruiten, the chief priest of the temple called Miyô In, and beseech him to put up prayers for the recovery of my lord.”
And the other councilors approving what Isahaya Buzen had said, they went to the priest Ruiten and engaged him to recite litanies that the Prince might be restored to health.
So it came to pass that Ruiten, the chief priest of Miyô In, offered up prayers nightly for the Prince. One night, at the ninth hour (midnight), when he had finished his religious exercises and was preparing to lie down to sleep, he fancied that he heard a noise outside in the garden, as if someone were washing himself at the well. Deeming this passing strange, he looked down from the window; and there in the moonlight he saw a handsome young soldier, some twenty-four years of age, washing himself, who, when he had finished cleaning himself and had put on his clothes, stood before the figure of Buddha and prayed fervently for the recovery of my lord the Prince. Ruiten looked on with admiration; and the young man, when he had made an end of his prayer, was going away; but the priest stopped him, calling out to him —
“Sir, I pray you to tarry a little: I have something to say to you.”
“At your reverence’s service. What may you please to want?”
“Pray be so good as to step up here, and have a little talk.”
“By your reverence’s leave;” and with this he went upstairs.
Then Ruiten said —
“Sir, I cannot conceal my admiration that you, being so young a man, should have so loyal a spirit. I am Ruiten, the chief priest of this temple, who am engaged in praying for the recovery of my lord. Pray what is your name?”
“My name, sir, is Itô Sôda, and I am serving in the infantry of Nabéshima. Since my lord has been sick, my one desire has been to assist in nursing him; but, being only a simple soldier, I am not of sufficient rank to come into his presence, so I have no resource but to pray to the gods of the country and to Buddha that my lord may regain his health.”
When Ruiten heard this, he shed tears in admiration of the fidelity of Itô Sôda, and said —
“Your purpose is, indeed, a good one; but what a strange sickness this is that my lord is afflicted with! Every night he suffers from horrible dreams; and the retainers who sit up with him are all seized with a mysterious sleep, so that not one can keep awake. It is very wonderful.”
“Yes,” replied Sôda, after a moment’s reflection, “this certainly must be witchcraft. If I could but obtain leave to sit up one night with the Prince, I would fain see whether I could not resist this drowsiness and detect the goblin.”
At last the priest said, “I am in relations of friendship with Isahaya Buzen, the chief councilor of the Prince. I will speak to him of you and of your loyalty, and will intercede with him that you may attain your wish.”
“Indeed, sir, I am most thankful. I am not prompted by any vain thought of self-advancement, should I succeed: all I wish for is the recovery of my lord. I commend myself to your kind favor.”
“Well, then, to-morrow night I will take you with me to the councilor’s house.”
“Thank you, sir, and farewell.” And so they parted.
On the following evening Itô Sôda returned to the temple Miyô In, and having found Ruiten, accompanied him to the house of Isahaya Buzen: then the priest, leaving Sôda outside, went in to converse with the councilor, and inquire after the Prince’s health.
“And pray, sir, how is my lord? Is he in any better condition since I have been offering up prayers for him?”
“Indeed, no; his illness is very severe. We are certain that he must be the victim of some foul sorcery; but as there are no means of keeping a guard awake after ten o’clock, we cannot catch a sight of the goblin, so we are in the greatest trouble.”
“I feel deeply for you: it must be most distressing. However, I have something to tell you. I think that I have found a man who will detect the goblin; and I have brought him with me.”
“Indeed! who is the man?”
“Well, he is one of my lord’s foot-soldiers, named Itô Sôda, a faithful fellow, and I trust that you will grant his request to be permitted to sit up with my lord.”
“Certainly, it is wonderful to find so much loyalty and zeal in a common soldier,” replied Isahaya Buzen, after a moment’s reflection; “still it is impossible to allow a man of such low rank to perform the office of watching over my lord.”
“It is true that he is but a common soldier,” urged the priest; “but why not raise his rank in consideration of his fidelity, and then let him mount guard?”
“It would be time enough to promote him after my lord’s recovery. But come, let me see this Itô Sôda, that I may know what manner of man he is: if he pleases me, I will consult with the other councilors, and perhaps we may grant his request.”
“I will bring him in forthwith,” replied Ruiten, who thereupon went out to fetch the young man.
When he returned, the priest presented Itô Sôda to the councilor, who looked at him attentively, and, being pleased with his comely and gentle appearance, said —
“So I hear that you are anxious to be permitted to mount guard in my lord’s room at night. Well, I must consult with the other councilors, and we will see what can be done for you.”
When the young soldier heard this he was greatly elated, and took his leave, after warmly thanking Buiten, who had helped him to gain his object. The next day the councilors held a meeting, and sent for Itô Sôda, and told him that he might keep watch with the other retainers that very night. So he went his way in high spirits, and at nightfall, having made all his preparations, took his place among the hundred gentlemen who were on duty in the prince’s bed-room.
Now the Prince slept in the center of the room, and the hundred guards around him sat keeping themselves awake with entertaining conversation and pleasant conceits. But, as ten o’clock approached, they began to doze off as they sat; and in spite of all their endeavors to keep one another awake, by degrees they all fell asleep. Itô Sôda all this while felt an irresistible desire to sleep creeping over him, and, though he tried by all sorts of ways to rouse himself, he saw that there was no help for it, but by resorting to an extreme measure, for which he had already made his preparations. Drawing out a piece of oil paper which he had brought with him, and spreading it over the mats, he sat down upon it; then he took the small knife which he carried in the sheath of his dirk, and stuck it into his own thigh. For awhile the pain of the wound kept him awake; but as the slumber by which he was assailed was the work of sorcery, little by little he became drowsy again. Then he twisted the knife round and round in his thigh, so that the pain becoming very violent, he was proof against the feeling of sleepiness, and kept a faithful watch. Now the oil paper which he had spread under his legs was in order to prevent the blood, which might spurt from his wound, from defiling the mats.
So Itô Sôda remained awake, but the rest of the guard slept; and as he watched, suddenly the sliding-doors of the Prince’s room were drawn open, and he saw a figure coming in stealthily, and, as it drew nearer, the form was that of a marvelously beautiful woman some twenty-three years of age. Cautiously she looked around her; and when she saw that all the guard were asleep, she smiled an ominous smile, and was going up to the Prince’s bedside, when she perceived that in one corner of the room there was a man yet awake. This seemed to startle her, but she went up to Sôda and said —
“I am not used to seeing you here. Who are you?”
“My name is Itô Sôda, and this is the first night that I have been on guard.”
“A troublesome office, truly! Why, here are all the rest of the guard asleep. How is it that you alone are awake? You are a trusty watchman.”
“There is nothing to boast about. I’m asleep myself, fast and sound.”
“What is that wound on your knee? It is all red with blood.”
“Oh! I felt very sleepy; so I stuck my knife into my thigh, and the pain of it has kept me awake.”
“What wondrous loyalty!” said the lady.
“Is it not the duty of a retainer to lay down his life for his master? Is such a scratch as this worth thinking about?”
Then the lady went up to the sleeping prince and said, “How fares it with my lord to-night?” But the Prince, worn out with sickness, made no reply. But Sôda was watching her eagerly, and guessed that it was O Toyo, and made up his mind that if she attempted to harass the Prince he would kill her on the spot. The goblin, however, which in the form of O Toyo had been tormenting the Prince every night, and had come again that night for no other purpose, was defeated by the watchfulness of Itô Sôda; for whenever she drew near to the sick man, thinking to put her spells upon him, she would turn and look behind her, and there she saw Itô Sôda glaring at her; so she had no help for it but to go away again, and leave the Prince undisturbed.
At last the day broke, and the other officers, when they awoke and opened their eyes, saw that Itô Sôda had kept awake by stabbing himself in the thigh; and they were greatly ashamed, and went home crestfallen.
That morning Itô Sôda went to the house of Isahaya Buzen, and told him all that had occurred the previous night. The councilors were all loud in their praises of Itô Sôda’s behavior, and ordered him to keep watch again that night. At the same hour, the false O Toyo came and looked all round the room, and all the guard were asleep, excepting Itô Sôda, who was wide awake; and so, being again frustrated, she returned to her own apartments.
Now as since Sôda had been on guard the Prince had passed quiet nights, his sickness began to get better, and there was great joy in the palace, and Sôda was promoted and rewarded with an estate. In the meanwhile O Toyo, seeing that her nightly visits bore no fruits, kept away; and from that time forth the night-guard were no longer subject to fits of drowsiness. This coincidence struck Sôda as very strange, so he went to Isahaya Buzen and told him that of a certainty this O Toyo was no other than a goblin. Isahaya Buzen reflected for a while, and said —
“Well, then, how shall we kill the foul thing?”
“I will go to the creature’s room, as if nothing were the matter, and try to kill her; but in case she should try to escape, I will beg you to order eight men to stop outside and lie in wait for her.”
Having agreed upon this plan, Sôda went at nightfall to O Toyo’s apartment, pretending to have been sent with a message from the Prince. When she saw him arrive, she said —
“What message have you brought me from my lord?”
“Oh! nothing in particular. Be so look as to look at this letter;” and as he spoke, he drew near to her, and suddenly drawing his dirk cut at her; but the goblin, springing back, seized a halberd, and glaring fiercely at Sôda, said —
“How dare you behave like this to one of your lord’s ladies? I will have you dismissed;” and she tried to strike Sôda with the halberd. But Sôda fought desperately with his dirk; and the goblin, seeing that she was no match for him, threw away the halberd, and from a beautiful woman became suddenly transformed into a cat, which, springing up the sides of the room, jumped on to the roof. Isahaya Buzen and his eight men who were watching outside shot at the cat, but missed it, and the beast made good its escape.
So the cat fled to the mountains, and did much mischief among the surrounding people, until at last the Prince of Hizen ordered a great hunt, and the beast was killed.
But the Prince recovered from his sickness; and Itô Sôda was richly rewarded.
 
The Fate of Madame Cabanel
Eliza Lynn Linton
(1880)
 
 
 
Progress had not invaded, science had not enlightened, the little hamlet of Pieuvrot, in Brittany. They were a simple, ignorant, superstitious set who lived there, and the luxuries of civilization were known to them as little as its learning. They toiled hard all the week on the ungrateful soil that yielded them but a bare subsistence in return; they went regularly to mass in the little rockset chapel on Sundays and saints’ days; believed implicitly all that monsieur le cure said to them, and many things which he did not say; and they took all the unknown, not as magnificent, but as diabolical.
The sole link between them and the outside world of mind and progress was Monsieur Jules Cabanel, the proprietor, par excellence, of the place; maire, juge de paix, and all the public functionaries rolled into one. And he sometimes went to Paris whence he returned with a cargo of novelties that excited envy, admiration, or fear, according to the degree of intelligence in those who beheld them.
Monsieur Jules Cabanel was not the most charming man of his class in appearance, but he was generally held to be a good fellow at bottom. A short, thickset, low-browed man, with blue-black hair cropped close like a mat, as was his blue-black beard, inclined to obesity and fond of good living, he had need have some virtues behind the bush to compensate for his want of personal charms. He was not bad, however; he was only common and unlovely.
Up to fifty years of age he had remained the unmarried prize of the surrounding country; but hitherto he had resisted all the overtures made by maternal fowlers, and had kept his liberty and his bachelorhood intact. Perhaps his handsome housekeeper, Adèle, had something to do with his persistent celibacy. They said she had, under their breath as it were, down at la Veuve Prieur’s; but no one dared to so much as hint the like to herself. She was a proud, reserved kind of woman; and had strange notions of her own dignity which no one cared to disturb. So, whatever the underhand gossip of the place might be, neither she nor her master got wind of it.
Presently and quite suddenly, Jules Cabanel, who had been for a longer time than usual in Paris, came home with a wife. Adèle had only twenty-four hours’ notice to prepare for this strange home-coming; and the task seemed heavy. But she got through it in her old way of silent determination; arranged the rooms as she knew her master would wish them to be arranged; and even supplemented the usual nice adornments by a voluntary bunch of flowers on the salon table.
‘Strange flowers for a bride,’ said to herself little Jeannette, the goose-girl who was sometimes brought into the house to work, as she noticed heliotrope — called in France la fleur des veuves — scarlet poppies, a bunch of belladonna, another of aconite — scarcely, as even ignorant little Jeannette said, flowers of bridal welcome or bridal significance. Nevertheless, they stood where Adèle had placed them; and if Monsieur Cabanel meant anything by the passionate expression of disgust with which he ordered them out of his sight, madame seemed to understand nothing , as she smiled with that vague, half-deprecating look of a person who is assisting at a scene of which the true bearing is not understood.
Madame Cabanel was a foreigner, and an Englishwoman; young, pretty and fair as an angel.
‘La beauté du diable ,’ said the Pieuvrotines, with something between a sneer and a shudder; for the words meant with them more than they mean in ordinary use. Swarthy, ill-nourished, low of stature and meagre in frame as they were themselves, they could not understand the plump form, tall figure and fresh complexion of the Englishwoman. Unlike their own experience, it was therefore more likely to be evil than good. The feeling which had sprung up against her at first sight deepened when it was observed that, although she went to mass with praiseworthy punctuality, she did not know her missal and signed herself à travers. La beauté du diable, in faith!
‘Pouf !’ said Martin Briolic, the old gravedigger of the little cemetery; ‘with those red lips of hers, her rose cheeks and her plump shoulders, she looks like a vampire and as if she lived on blood.’
He said this one evening down at la Veuve Prieur’s; and he said it with an air of conviction that had its weight. For Martin Briolic was reputed the wisest man of the district; not even excepting Monsieur le curé who was wise in his own way, which was not Martin’s — nor Monsieur Cabanel who was wise in his, which was neither Martin’s nor the curé’s. He knew all about the weather and the stars, the wild herbs that grew on the plains and the wild shy beasts that eat them; and he had the power of divination and could find where the hidden springs of water lay far down in the earth when he held the baguette in his hand. He knew too, where treasures could be had on Christmas Eve if only you were quick and brave enough to enter the cleft in the rock at the right moment and come out again before too late; and he had seen with his own eyes the White Ladies dancing in the moonlight; and the little imps, the Infins, playing their prankish gambols by the pit at the edge of the wood. And he had a shrewd suspicion as to who, among those black-hearted men of La Crèche-en-bois — the rival hamlet — was a loup-garou, if ever there was one on the face of the earth and no one had doubted that! He had other powers of a yet more mystic kind; so that Martin Briolic’s bad word went for something, if, with the illogical injustice of ill-nature his good went for nothing.
Fanny Campbell, or, as she was now Madame Cabanel, would have excited no special attention in England, or indeed anywhere but at such dead-alive, ignorant, and consequently gossiping place as Pieuvrot. She had no romantic secret as her background; and what history she had was commonplace enough, if sorrowful too in its own way. She was simply an orphan and a governess; very young and very poor; whose employers had quarreled with her and left her stranded in Paris, alone and almost moneyless; and who had married Monsieur Jules Cabanel as the best thing she could do for herself. Loving no one else, she was not difficult to be won by the first man who showed her kindness in her hour of trouble and destitution; and she accepted her middle-aged suitor, who was fitter to be her father than her husband, with a clear conscience and a determination to do her duty cheerfully and faithfully — all without considering herself as a martyr or an interesting victim sacrificed to the cruelty of circumstances. She did not know however, of the handsome housekeeper Adèle, nor of the housekeeper’s little nephew — to whom her master was so kind that he allowed him to live at the Maison Cabanel and had him well taught by the curé. Perhaps if she had she would have thought twice before she put herself under the same roof with a woman who for a bridal bouquet offered her poppies, heliotrope and poison-flowers.
If one had to name the predominant characteristic of Madame Cabanel it would be easiness of temper. You saw it in the round, soft, indolent lines of her face and figure; in her mild blue eyes and placid, unvarying smile; which irritated the more petulant French temperament and especially disgusted Adèle. It seemed impossible to make madame angry or even to make her understand when she was insulted, the housekeeper used to say with profound disdain; and, to do the woman justice, she did not spare her endeavors to enlighten her. But madame accepted all Adèle’s haughty reticence and defiant continuance of mistress-hood with unwearied sweetness;
indeed, she expressed herself gratified that so much trouble was taken off her hands, and that Adèle so kindly took her duties on herself.
The consequences of this placid lazy life, where all her faculties were in a manner asleep, and where she was enjoying the reaction from her late years of privation and anxiety, was, as might be expected, an increase in physical beauty that made her freshness and good condition still more remarkable. Her lips were redder, her cheeks rosier, her shoulders plumper than ever; but as she waxed, the health of the little hamlet waned, and not the oldest inhabitant remembered so sickly a season, or so many deaths. The master too, suffered slightly; the little Adolphe desperately.
This failure of general health in undrained hamlets is not uncommon in France or in England; neither is the steady and pitiable decline of French children; but Adèle treated it as something out of all the lines of normal experience; and, breaking through her habits of reticence spoke to every one quite fiercely of the strange sickliness that had fallen on Pieuvrot and the Maison Cabanel; and how she believed it was something more than common; while as to her little nephew, she could give neither a name nor find a remedy for the mysterious disease that had attacked him. There were strange things among them, she used to say, and Pieuvrot had never done well since the old times were changed. Jeannette used to notice how she would sit gazing at the English lady, with such a deadly look on her handsome face when she turned from the foreigner’s fresh complexion and grand physique to the pale face of the stunted, meagre, fading child. It was a look, she said afterwards, that used to make her flesh get like ice and creep like worms.
One night Adèle, as if she could bear it no longer, dashed down to where old Martin Briolic lived, to ask him to tell her how it had all come about — and the remedy.
‘Hold, Ma’am Adèle,’ said Martin, as he shuffled his greasy tarot cards and laid them out in triplets on the table; ‘there is more in this than one sees. One sees only a poor little child become suddenly sick; that may be, is it not so? and no harm done by man? God sends sickness to us all and makes my trade profitable to me. But the little Adolphe has not been touched by the Good God. I see the will of a wicked woman in this. Hem!’ Here he shuffled the cards and laid them out with a kind of eager distraction of manner, his withered hands trembling and his mouth uttering words that Adèle could not catch. ‘Saint Joseph and all the saints protect us!’ he cried; ‘the foreigner — the Englishwoman — she whom they call Madame Cabanel — no rightful madame she! — Ah, misery!’
‘Speak, Father Martin! What do you mean!’ cried Adèle, grasping his arm. Her black eyes were wild; her arched nostrils dilated; her lips, thin, sinuous, flexible, were pressed tight over her small square teeth.
‘Tell me in plain words what you would say!’
‘Broucolaque!’ said Martin in a low voice.
‘It is what I believed!’ cried Adèle. ‘It is what I knew. Ah, my Adolphe! woe on the day when the master brought that fair-skinned devil home!’
‘Those red lips don’t come by nothing, Ma’am Adèle,’ cried Martin nodding his head. ‘Look at them — they glisten with blood! I said so from the beginning; and the cards, they said so too. I drew “blood” and a “bad fair woman” on the evening when the master brought her home, and I said to myself, “Ha, ha, Martin! you are on the track, my boy — on the track. Martin!” — and, Ma’am Adèle, I have never left it! Broucolaque! that’s what the cards say, Ma’am Adèle. Vampire. Watch and see; watch and see; and you’ll find that the cards have spoken true.
‘And when we have found, Martin?’ said Adèle in a hoarse whisper.
The old man shuffled his cards again. ‘When we have found, Ma’am Adèle?’ he said slowly. ‘You know the old pit out there by the forest? — the old pit where the lutins run in and out, and where the White Ladies wring the necks of those who come upon them in the moonlight? Perhaps the White Ladies will do as much for the English wife of Monsieur Cabanel; who knows?’
‘They may,’ said Adèle, gloomily.
‘Courage, brave woman!’ said Martin. ‘They will.’
The only really pretty place about Pieuvrot was the cemetery. To be sure there was the dark gloomy forest which was grand in its own mysterious way; and there was the broad wide plain where you might wander for a long summer’s day and not come to the end of it; but these were scarcely places where a young woman would care to go by herself; and for the rest, the miserable little patches of cultivated ground, which the peasants had snatched from the surrounding waste and where they had raised poor crops, were not very lovely. So Madame Cabanel, who, for all the soft indolence that had invaded her, had the Englishwoman’s inborn love for walking and fresh air, haunted the pretty little graveyard a good deal. She had no sentiment connected with it. Of all the dead who laid there in their narrow coffins, she knew none and cared for none; but she liked to see the pretty little flower-beds and the wreaths of immortelles, and the like; the distance too, from her own home was just enough for her; and the view over the plain to the dark belt of forest and the mountains beyond, was fine.
The Pieuvrotines did not understand this. It was inexplicable to them that any one, not out of her mind, should go continually to the cemetery — not on the day of the dead and not to adorn the grave of one she loved — only to sit there and wander among the tombs, looking out on to the plain and the mountains beyond when she was tired.
‘It was just like —’ The speaker, one Lesouëf, had got so far as this, when he stopped for a word.
He said this down at la Veuve Prieur’s where the hamlet collected nightly to discuss the day’s small doings, and where the main theme, ever since she had come among them, three months ago now, had been Madame Cabanel and her foreign ways and her wicked ignorance of her mass-book and her wrong-doings of a mysterious kind generally, interspersed with jesting queries, banded from one to the other, of how Ma’am Adèle liked it? — and what would become of le petit Adolphe when the rightful heir appeared? — some adding that monsieur was a brave man to shut up two wild cats under the same roof together; and what would become of it in the end? Mischief of a surety.
‘Wander about the tombs just like what, Jean Lesouëf?’ said Martin Briolic. Rising, he added in a low but distinct voice, every word falling clear and clean: ‘I will tell you like what, Lesouëf — like a vampire! La femme Cabanel has red lips and red cheeks; and Ma’am Adèle’s little nephew is perishing before your eyes. La femme Cabanel has red lips and red cheeks; and she sits for hours among the tombs. Can you read the riddle, my friends? For me it is as clear as the blessed sun.’
‘Ha, Father Martin, you have found the word — like a vampire!’ said Lesouëf with a shudder.
‘Like a vampire!’ they all echoed with a groan.
‘And I said vampire the first,’ said Martin Briolic. ‘Call to mind I said it from the first.’
‘Faith! and you did,’ they answered; ‘and you said true.’
So now the unfriendly feeling that had met and accompanied the young Englishwoman ever since she came to Pieuvrot had drawn to a focus. The seed which Martin and Adèle had dropped so sedulously had at last taken root; and the Pieuvrotines would have been ready to accuse of atheism and immorality anyone who had doubted their decision, and had declared that pretty Madame Cabanel was only a young woman with nothing special to do, a naturally fair complexion, superb health — and no vampire at all, sucking the blood of a living child or living among the tombs to make the newly buried her prey.
The little Adolphe grew paler and paler, thinner and thinner; the fierce summer sun told on the half-starved dwellers within those foul mud-huts surrounded by undrained marshes; and Monsieur Jules Cabanel’s former solid health followed the law of the rest. The doctor, who lived at Crèche-en-bois, shook his head at the look of things; and said it was grave. When Adèle pressed him to tell her what was the matter with the child and with monsieur, he evaded the question; or gave her a word which she neither understood not could pronounce. The truth was, he was a credulous and intensely suspicious man; a viewy man who made theories and then gave himself to the task of finding them true. He had made the theory that Fanny was secretly poisoning both her husband and the child; and though he would not give Adèle a hint of this, he would not set her mind at rest by a definite answer that went on any other line.
As for Monsieur Cabanel, he was a man without imagination and without suspicion; a man to take life easily and not distress himself too much for the fear of wounding others; a selfish man but not a cruel one; a man whose own pleasure was his supreme law and who could not imagine, still less brook, opposition or the want of love and respect for himself. Still, he loved his wife as he had never loved a woman before. Coarsely molded, common-natured as he was, he loved her with what strength and passion of poetry nature had given him; and if the quantity was small, the quality was sincere. But that quality was sorely tried when — now Adèle, now the doctor — hinted mysteriously, the one at diabolical influences, the other at underhand proceedings of which it behooved him to be careful, especially careful what he eat and drank and how it was prepared and by whom; Adèle adding hints about the perfidiousness of English women and the share which the devil had in fair hair and brilliant complexions. Love his young wife as he might, this constant dropping of poison was not without some effect. It told much for his steadfastness and loyalty that it should have had only so small effect.
One evening however, when Adèle, in an agony, was kneeling at his feet — madame had gone out for her usual walk — crying: ‘Why did you leave me for such as she is? — I, who loved you. who was faithful to you, and she, who walks among the graves, who sucks your blood and our child’s — she who has only the devil’s beauty for her portion and who loves you not?’ — something seemed suddenly to touch him with electric force.
‘Miserable fool that I was!’ he said, resting his head on Adèle’s shoulders and weeping. Her heart leapt with joy. Was her reign to be renewed? Was her rival to be dispossessed?
From that evening Monsieur Cabanel’s manner changed to his young wife but she was too easy-tempered and unsuspicious to notice anything, or if she did, there was too little depth in her own love for him — it was so much a matter of untroubled friendliness only — that she did not fret but accepted the coldness and brusqueness that had crept into his manner as good-naturedly as she accepted all things. It would have been wiser if she had cried and made a scene and come to an open fracas with Monsieur Cabanel. They would have understood each other better; and Frenchmen like the excitement of a quarrel and a reconciliation.
Naturally kind-hearted, Madame Cabanel went much about the village, offering help of various kinds to the sick. But no one among them all, not the very poorest — indeed, the very poorest the least — received her civilly or accepted her aid. If she attempted to touch one of the dying children, the mother, shuddering, withdrew it hastily to her own arms; if she spoke to the adult sick, the wan eyes would look at her with a strange horror and the feeble voice would mutter words in a patois she could not understand. But always came the same word, ‘broucolaque!’
‘How these people hate the English!’ she used to think as she turned away, perhaps just a little depressed, but too phlegmatic to let herself be uncomfortable or troubled deeply.
It was the same at home. If she wanted to do any little act of kindness to the child, Adèle passionately refused her. Once she snatched him rudely from her arms, saying as she did so: ‘infamous broucolaque! before my very eyes?’ And once, when Fanny was troubled about her husband and proposed to make him a cup of beef-tea à l’Anglaise, the doctor looked at her as if he would have looked through her; and Adèle upset the saucepan; saying insolently — but yet hot tears were in her eyes — ‘Is it not fast enough for you, madame? Not faster, unless you kill me first!’
To all of which Fanny replied nothing; thinking only that the doctor was very rude to stare so fixedly at her and that Adèle was horribly cross; and what an ill-tempered creature she was; and how unlike an English housekeeper!
But Monsieur Cabanel, when he was told of the little scene, called Fanny to him and said in a more caressing voice than he had used to her of late: ‘Thou wouldst not hurt me, little wife? it was love and kindness, not wrong, that thou wouldst do?’
‘Wrong? What wrong could I do?’ answered Fanny, opening her blue eyes wide. ‘What wrong should I do to my best and only friend?’
‘And I am thy friend? thy lover? thy husband? Thou lovest me dear?’ said Monsieur Cabanel.
‘Dear Jules, who is so dear; who so near?’ she said kissing him, while he said fervently:
‘God bless thee!’
The next day Monsieur Cabanel was called away on urgent business. He might be absent for two days, he said, but he would try to lessen the time; and the young wife was left alone in the midst of her enemies, without even such slight guard as his presence might prove.
Adèle was out. It was a dark, hot summer’s night, and the little Adolphe had been more feverish and restless than usual all the day. Towards evening he grew worse; and though Jeannette, the goose-girl, had strict commands not to allow madame to touch him, she grew frightened at the condition of the boy; and when madame came into the small parlor to offer her assistance, Jeannette gladly abandoned a charge that was too heavy for her and let the lady take him from her arms.
Sitting there with the child in her lap, cooing to him, soothing him by a low, soft nursery song, the paroxysm of his pain seemed to her to pass and it was as if he slept. But in that paroxysm he had bitten both his lip and tongue; and the blood was now oozing from his mouth. He was a pretty boy; and his mortal sickness made him at this moment pathetically lovely. Fanny bent her head and kissed the pale still face; — and the blood that was on his lips was transferred to hers.
While she still bent over him — her woman’s heart touched with a mysterious force and prevision of her own future motherhood — Adèle, followed by old Martin and some others of the village, rushed into the room.
‘Behold her!’ she cried, seizing Fanny by the arm and forcing her face upwards by the chin —’behold her in the act! Friends, look at my child — dead, dead in her arms; and she with his blood on her lips! Do you want more proofs? Vampire that she is, can you deny the evidence of your own senses?’
‘No! no!’ roared the crowd hoarsely. ‘She is a vampire — a creature cursed by God and the enemy of man; away with her to the pit. She must die as she has made others to die!’
‘Die, as she has made my boy to die!’ said Adèle; and more than one who had lost a relative or child during the epidemic echoed her words, ‘Die, as she has made mine to die!’
‘What is the meaning of all this?’ said Madame Cabanel, rising and lacing the crowd with the true courage of an Englishwoman. ‘What harm have I done to any of you that you should come about me, in the absence of my husband, with these angry looks and insolent words?’
‘What harm hast thou done?’ cried old Martin, coming close to her. ‘Sorceress as thou art, thou hast bewitched our good master; and vampire as thou art, thou nourishest thyself on our blood! Have we not proof of that at this very moment? Look at thy mouth — cursed broucolaque; and here lies thy victim, who accuses thee in his death!’
Fanny laughed scornfully, ‘I cannot condescend to answer such folly,’ she said lifting her head. ‘Are you men or children?’
‘We are men, madame,’ said Legros the miller; ‘and being men we must protect our weak ones. We have all had our doubts — and who more cause than I, with three little ones taken to heaven before their time? — and now we are convinced.’
‘Because I have nursed a dying child and done my best to soothe him!’ said Madame Cabanel with unconscious pathos.
‘No more words!’ cried Adèle, dragging her by the arm from which she had never loosed her hold. ‘To the pit with her, my friends, if you would not see all your children die as mine has died — as our good Legros’ have died!’
A kind of shudder shook the crowd; and a groan that sounded in itself a curse burst from them.
‘To the pit!’ they cried. ‘Let the demons take their own!’
Quick as thought Adèle pinioned the strong white arms whose shape and beauty had so often maddened her with jealous pain; and before the poor girl could utter more than one cry Legros had placed his brawny hand over her mouth. Though this destruction of a monster was not the murder of a human being in his mind, or in the mind of any there

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