Terrible Tales/German/A Strange Bride
A STRANGE BRIDE
Through the whole summer the weather had been delightful, and the baths of W—— had been more frequented than on any former occasion.
One evening a party of friends had supped together. The fatigues of the dancing assembly, which had lasted very late the preceding night, still weighed on their nerves, and though the moon shone invitingly, no one showed any inclination to walk. They seemed even too tired for conversation.
‘Where is the Marquis, I wonder?’ said one.
The Marquis was an individual who had a short time before arrived at W—— a stranger to every one there. He was a remarkable person. His name was a string of consonants which defied the power of any one to pronounce, and which gave no clue to his nationality. His manner and appearance were strange and mysterious. His pale visage, tall meagre frame, and stern black eyes were so little adapted to inspire confidence, that he would certainly have been shunned by all the world had he not possessed a fund of entertaining talk which charmed all who heard him.
‘Where in the world can he have stayed so long?’ said the Countess impatiently.
‘Doubtless at the faro table, where he drives the bankers to despair,’ said one. ‘On his account two of them have fled, and they will not, I expect, return in a hurry.’
‘The Marquis should avoid such conduct,’ said another. ‘These gamesters are revengeful, and it is whispered that the Marquis is involved in dangerous political schemes.’
‘After all,’ interposed the Countess, ‘what injury did he do the bankers?’
‘Nothing but always staking on cards that never fail to win. It is strange he never seems to take advantage to benefit his own fortune, for he always confines himself to the lowest possible stake. Other players, however, follow his lead, stake high, win invariably, and the bank is ruined even at a single game.’
The Countess was about to answer when the Marquis entered the room.
‘So you are come at last!’ said one.
‘We have longed exceedingly for you,’ said the Countess, ‘and this evening, more than ever, you have chosen to absent yourself. It really seemed as if you had forgotten us entirely.’
‘I had, indeed, some particular business to transact, and I have been most successful,’ replied the Marquis. ‘To-morrow, probably, not a single faro bank will exist in W——. I have gone from house to house, and the result is that we have not post-horses enough to carry away the enraged bankers.’
‘Can you not teach us this wonderful art of yours?’ asked the Countess.
‘Not easily, madam,’ replied he. ‘A lucky hand. I can give no other explanation.’
‘In truth,’ said the gentleman who had spoken before, ‘your hand is so lucky that in all my life I never knew anything like it.’
‘At your time of life,’ said the Marquis, ‘that is not saying very much, you have yet much to learn in the world.’
‘And now, my dear Marquis,’ said the Countess, ‘since you will not divulge the secret of your good fortune, let us have some interesting story to rouse us from the lethargy in which we have been lost for some hours.’
‘I shall not refuse,’ replied the Marquis, and seating himself in an arm-chair by the Countess’s side, he at once commenced as follows:—
I had made very many appointments to visit my friend the Count Globoda in his castle in the country. We had met in our travels; we had been cordial friends; and now, when years began to steal over us, we both wished to meet once more to talk over past adventures. I was, too, a great admirer of scenery, and my friend described his estate to me as one of the most romantic in the world. The castle was wonderfully ancient, but had been so well built and preserved that it was still habitable, and was kept up in much magnificence. The Count used to live there with his family almost the whole year, spending only a short winter in the capital. I knew this; and being certain of finding him at home, I visited him unexpectedly one night, just about this season, and was delighted to behold, by moonlight, the fine varied country and flourishing woods by which the castle was environed.
The kindness with which I was received did not prevent me from remarking an expression of grief and anxiety on the countenances of the Count and his lady. In a lesser degree the same expression was also discoverable in the features of Laura, their beautiful daughter. After some time I discovered that they had never been able to forget the twin sister of this young lady, whose remains had been deposited about a year preceding in the castle chapel. Laura and Hildegarde had been so like one another that they were not to be distinguished except by a small red mark on the neck of the latter. Laura and she had had only one heart and one mind, and the parents could not persuade themselves that they would be long separated, and were harassed by apprehensions that their beloved and beautiful Laura would also be taken from them.
I did what I was able to divert their thoughts, nor was I disappointed in my endeavours.
One evening, while the Count was talking to me of his plans for the future, among other things of his wish to see Laura well married—for although she was only now in her eighteenth year she had attracted many suitors and had rejected all,—the gardener rushed into the room with the intelligence that a spirit had been seen below, which must certainly be that of the old castle chaplain, who, according to tradition, had appeared for the first time as a revenant about a hundred years before. Several other servants followed this man, and with pale ghastly visages confirmed what he had said.
‘You will be terrified ere long at your own shadows,’ said the Count, and sent them from the room with the order that they should spare him the trouble of having to listen to such absurdity for the future. ‘It is awful,’ said he to me, ‘to what absurd lengths the superstition of these poor people leads them, and how impossible it is to eradicate this folly. For about a century the story has been current here of an old priest who is said to walk and even to read prayers in the castle.’ At this moment a servant entered to announce a new visitor, the Italian Duke de Marino.
‘The Duke de Marino,’ said the Count; ‘I have never heard the name before.’
‘I have been a good deal acquainted with the family,’ said I, ‘and a short time ago was present at the betrothal of the younger duke in Venice.’
The entrance of our visitor would have been very agreeable to me if I had not perceived that our recognition was, on his part, attended with embarrassment and agitation.
‘Well,’ said he, recovering his composure, ‘now that I find you here, my lord Marquis, I need not be surprised at what occurred to me a little while ago. I supposed that my name was perfectly unknown in this country, and yet when I drew near the castle a voice called out three times: “Welcome, welcome, Duke de Marino.” It was a strange voice, certainly, and yet, Marquis, to you I am indebted for that reception.’
I assured him that till his name was announced I was perfectly unaware of his coming, nor could any of my servants have addressed him. ‘Besides,’ added I, ‘it would have been exceedingly difficult to have recognised any equipage, however well known, in the gloom of such a night as this.’
‘Very true,’ said the Duke; ‘and in that case I am perfectly at a loss to imagine who it could be.’
In a private interview Marino had with me afterwards he informed me that he had come thither on account of Laura, and that, if he were so fortunate as to obtain her affections, he would at once request her hand in marriage from the Count.
‘Good Heaven!’ said I, ‘have you then had the misfortune to lose your bride whom I saw at Venice—the Countess Apollonia?’
Of that I will speak at another time,’ said the Duke, and from the deep sigh which accompanied the words I concluded that the Countess had by infidelity or some other offence been separated from him.
The Duke seemed to succeed in his purposes with wonderful rapidity. He made himself so agreeable to the Count that he was invited to make a prolonged stay, and his conversation was very welcome to the old Countess. Marino did not fail to make use of his opportunities, and one afternoon I was surprised to hear that Laura and he were to be immediately betrothed. After dinner the conversation naturally revived what I had mentioned before of my having been present at the betrothing of a certain Duke de Marino in Italy, and the old Countess inquired whether the hero of that day were not a near relation of their friend.
‘Yes, a pretty near relation,’ said I, not forgetting my promise to the Duke not to discover that it was he himself. ‘But now, dear Marino,’ I continued, anxious to change the subject, ‘tell us how were you first induced to come to this remote castle? Did some friend inform you of the Countess Laura’s extraordinary beauty, or had you seen her portrait? Did you not tell me you came from Paris directly here?’
‘From Paris, yes,’ answered the Duke. ‘I had gone one day to look at the picture gallery in the Louvre, but no sooner had I entered the room than all my attention was attracted by a young lady of the greatest beauty. With trembling timidity I ventured to approach her, and remained always near at hand, yet without venturing to address to her even a single word. When she left the gallery I followed, and took her servant aside to inquire her name. This he gave me, and when I expressed an earnest wish to pay my respects to her father, he told me that a meeting could hardly take place in Paris as the family were just preparing to take their departure from France. “At another time I may be more fortunate,” thought I, and looked round, but the lady was out of sight. In trying to find her I lost the servant, and thus ended my first adventure.’
‘And who was the lady?’ inquired Laura.
‘Who? Can you ask?’ said the Duke. ‘I told you the story in jest, indeed, as if it were quite new, but is it possible you did not observe me that day in the Louvre?’
‘I!’ exclaimed the girl.
‘My daughter!’ said the Countess. ‘It could not be.’
‘Nay, indeed,’ resumed the Duke. ‘The same servant whom, to my great satisfaction, you left behind you in Paris, and whom I hailed one night as if he had been a guardian spirit, told me all that I wished to know, so that, after a short visit to my native country, I came hither.’
‘What strange story is this?’ said the Count. ‘Laura has never yet been to Paris, nor have I for the last sixteen years.’
The Duke looked as perplexed as they did. The conversation flagged, and when we rose from table the Count drew Marino into a window-recess; and, though I was at a considerable distance from them, and seemed inattentive, I heard all they said.
‘My lord Duke,’ said Globoda, ‘what in all the world could lead you to that invention of the scene in the picture gallery? If you wished only to conceal the cause of your visit here, you might say so at once, and there is an end; or, if you disliked that method, you might have evaded the question in a hundred ways, and it was quite needless to outrage probability with so much violence.’
‘My lord Count,’ answered the Duke, much offended, ‘I was silent at table because I believed you had private reasons for concealing the circumstance of your daughter’s residence in Paris, and must still assert before every one that in Paris I had the happiness of seeing your daughter for the first time.’
‘But,’ said the Count, ‘what if I bring before you all my people to say she was never there?’
‘In despite of all,’ replied the Duke, ‘I should still believe rather the evidence of my own senses.’
‘What you say is very mysterious,’ said the Count, in a calmer voice. ‘Your manner convinces me that you must be under some extraordinary delusion. You must have taken some one else for my daughter. Forgive me for the temper into which I was betrayed.’
‘Some other person!’ cried the Duke. ‘It would then follow that I have not only mistaken another for your daughter, but that her servant was also different from what I supposed him to be, yet he described to me all that I find in this castle and its environs, precisely as they are.’
‘My dear Marino,’ said the Count, ‘it only follows that the servant was an impostor, who was well acquainted with our neighbourhood. The lady whom you saw could not have been my daughter.’
‘I am afraid to contradict you in express terms,’ said Marino, ‘but, absolutely, the features I beheld were those of Laura, nor since that meeting have they ever been absent from my remembrance.’
Globoda shook his head.
‘Still another proof,’ resumed the Duke. ‘When I stood behind the lady at the Louvre, it happened that her handkerchief was drawn a little aside, and on her neck, otherwise white as alabaster, I observed a strange red mark.’
‘In God’s name, what is this?’ cried the Count. ‘You seem determined that I should be forced to believe things utterly incomprehensible.’
‘Can this mark be found on Laura’s neck?’
‘No,’ replied the Count.
‘Is it possible?’ cried Marino.
‘I have told you the truth. It is no less certain that Laura’s twin sister, Hildegarde, who resembled her in every feature, had the mark you describe, and carried it with her to the grave more than a year ago.’
‘Yet it is only a few months,’ answered Marino, ‘since I saw that lady in Paris.’
At this moment the old Countess and Laura drew near, anxious to know what could be the purport of this long conversation. The Count’s manner was so stern that they dared not ask any questions. He retreated with Marino farther into the recess, and I could not hear another word of their conversation.
No one knew what to conclude from the extraordinary orders given by Globoda at a late hour of that evening. He directed the sacristan to attend him in order that the coffin of the Countess Hildegarde should be opened in his presence, and he invited me to go with him on the occasion. He told me all that had passed between the Duke and himself. On our way to the chapel the Count said to me—
‘It is scarcely possible that any deception should have been practised on me respecting my daughter’s death, yet my own eyes shall convince me whether this coffin holds her remains. I will have proof,’ he added, in a tone so loud and agitated that the sacristan looked round in affright.
I know not if any one of this party has ever stood at midnight before the grated door of a burial vault, beholding the piles of leaden shrines, in which are deposited the mouldering remains of a distinguished train of ancestors. It is certain at such a moment even the rattling of the keys in their locks makes a deep and mysterious impression; that when the door is forced open, one feels at the grating of the rusty hinges as if he were committing a fearful crime, and is glad to linger on the threshold before he enters into the dark abode of the dead. The Count experienced all these emotions as much as any one could. This I perceived by the deep sigh, almost a groan, which he heaved as we stood there. He controlled his agitation, however, by a great effort; did not allow himself to look at the other coffins, but went directly to that of his daughter, of which he lifted up the cover with his own hands. The body had so precisely the features of Laura that I was obliged to withhold my friend from imprinting the kiss of an affectionate parent on her forehead.
‘Nay, touch her not, disturb not the repose of the dead, cried I, and withdrew him as quickly as I could from the frightful vault into the free air of the living world.
For the rest of the night I reflected upon that inexplicable apparition which Marino had doubtless encountered in Paris. In a few days I had other reasons for being anxious and perplexed. The Duke constantly avoided speaking to me of the lady to whom he had been betrothed. From this, and from the embarrassment he betrayed when I spoke of her, I concluded that, in consequence of his new love, he had basely deserted the Countess Apollonia, without any fault on her part to warrant such conduct. With such impressions on my mind I could not expect happiness for Laura in her marriage with him; and I resolved to take the first opportunity of tearing off his mask, so that he might repent of his cruelty, and return ere it was too late to the forsaken bride.
Sooner than I could have anticipated I was enabled to fulfil this plan.
One evening, after supper, the conversation happened to turn on the question whether injustice and wickedness are always punished in this world. I remarked that I had known within my own experience very striking proofs of it, and the old Countess and Laura begged that I would make them acquainted with one at least of the instances to which I alluded.
‘If I am to do so,’ said I, ‘you must at least allow me to choose a story in which the characters and incidents, as I think, concern you very nearly.’
‘Concern us? How is that possible?’ said the Countess, while I cast a significant glance at the Duke, who now looked on me with the pale ghastly visage of one whose conscience reproaches him.
‘Such at least is my opinion,’ said I; ‘but I must request the Count’s indulgence if the supernatural should play a part in my narrative.’
‘Have no hesitation on that score,’ said he; ‘and as to my wonder as to how you have chanced to encounter spectral and supernatural adventures, while not one ever fell in my way, I shall for the present say nothing.’
‘It is perhaps not every one who has eyes to see what passes about him,’ said I. ‘The scene of the adventure I propose to describe was Venice.’
‘Then,’ interposed the Duke, ‘I probably shall know something of the matter?’
‘Perhaps; but the circumstances were for obvious reasons kept as private as possible. Now for my story:—
‘The son of a rich nobleman, whom I shall call Felippo, during his residence at Leghorn, which town he visited on account of some inheritance that devolved on him, paid his addresses to a beautiful girl, obtained her parents’ consent to their marriage, and then being under the necessity of revisiting Venice, he promised he would in a very short time come again to Leghorn in order to marry his beloved Clara. Their attachment was mutual, and their parting was even frightfully solemn. After they had exhausted the power of words in reciprocal protestations and vows, Felippo invoked the avenging powers to bring destruction on his own head if he should be unfaithful, and wished that his intended bride should not even find rest in her grave if he deserted her, but follow him still to claim his love. When these words were uttered, the lovers and Clara’s parents sat at table, and to such an extent did the young couple carry their enthusiasm that they both wounded themselves in the left arm and mingled their blood in a glass of white champagne.
‘“Inseparable as these red drops have now become shall our souls and our fates be for ever,” cried Felippo. He drank half the wine, and gave the rest to Clara, who pledged him without hesitation.’
When I had arrived at this part of my story the Duke became restless, and darted at me some most threatening looks, so that I could not help concluding he had been in his own life the hero of a scene resembling that I had described. However, it is most certain, I had merely repeated the circumstance from a letter that I had read from the girl’s mother at Leghorn, of which I shall say more afterwards.
‘Who would then have thought it possible that Felippo would conduct himself in the manner that he did soon afterwards? On his return to Venice, a young beauty, who had just made her appearance there, of wealth and high birth, was introduced to him by his parents. In a short time the recollection of his engagement at Leghorn was almost banished from his mind. His letters to Clara became more cold and laboured, till at length he ceased to write at all. The trembling handwriting and traces of many tears which appeared in Clara’s letters had no effect upon his volatile heart. He now forgot everything but Camilla.
‘This young lady’s father, with whom I was so well acquainted that I lived as familiarly in his house as in my own, invited me to the wedding. The bride’s parents had always lived together very happily, and were anxious that the same priest by whom they had been united should also pronounce the benediction over their daughter. The priest, who, though far advanced in years, had never shown hitherto any decline of his faculties or strength, was now seized with a lingering fever, which did not allow him to leave his bed. At length, however, he got better, and a day was appointed for the betrothing. As if some supernatural influence were exerted to prevent this, the priest, on the morning agreed on, was again attacked with such weakness that it was impossible for him to leave the house, and he sent a message to say that they must choose another to perform the ceremony. The parents, however, obstinately insisted in their decision to have no other clergyman. The banquet and other festivities had meanwhile been so far arranged that they could not be postponed, and so it was agreed that they should be regarded as a confirmation of the lovers being solemnly betrothed. The banquet was protracted till late in the evening, and rings were, as usual, interchanged between the lovers. No sooner had that ceremony taken place than a most piercing shriek was heard by the whole party. Every one started up and ran to the windows, for the voice seemed to come from without; but though the twilight still rendered objects visible, it was impossible to discover any cause for this extraordinary alarm.’
‘Halt there!’ cried the Duke, with a wild laugh. ‘The wild cry at the window is known to me as well as to you. It is borrowed from the Memoirs of Clairon, the French actress, who was in this manner persecuted by one of her deceased lovers. After the cry recollect there was always a clapping of hands. You must not forget that in your ingenious romance.’
‘And for what reason,’ said I, ‘should you conclude that this incident could not happen in the life of any one else but Clairon? Your disbelief of my story seems the more strange as you allude to a well-authenticated fact in her life, which should rather support than invalidate the tenor of my narrative.’
He said no more; and I proceeded.
‘Soon after this remarkable occurrence I happened to request of the bride, who sat opposite to me, that I might be allowed to look at her ring, which was of very beautiful workmanship. She nodded assent, but to her great consternation it was no longer on her finger. Search was made everywhere for it. It was never found.
‘The ball which followed was one of the most brilliant I have ever witnessed. The dresses were magnificent, but the bride excelled all in her dress and her display of diamonds, all but one, for the father of the bride and every one else was struck with the utmost astonishment on discovering that jewels of the very same fashion and lustre were worn by another lady, a masked stranger. He confessed to me that he was weak enough to feel his pride hurt at this, but he consoled himself by reflecting that, however rich the stranger’s jewels might be, they would be surpassed out of all measure by a wreath of diamonds and rubies which was to be worn by Camilla at the supper table.
‘When the party was assembled and the old gentleman looked around him, to his utter consternation the strange lady made her appearance with a wreath precisely like that of his daughter’s.
‘“Fair lady,” said he, “might I venture so great a liberty as to ask your name.”
‘The incognita shook her head with a mournful air, and did not answer him a word.
‘Universal admiration was excited by the extraordinary luxury displayed at this final banquet. In the variety and excellence of his wines our host surpassed all that had hitherto been known in Venice, and yet he was not satisfied. He lamented especially that a misfortune had happened to his red champagne, so that he could not produce a single glass of that liquor. At this time the party seemed well disposed to make up for that want of joviality and high spirits which they had betrayed throughout the evening. Only near me at the table it was very different. I was placed near the lady who wore the jewels, and I observed that she never tasted food or wine, nor did she ever take her eyes off Felippo and his bride.
‘At length, when white champagne was handed round, the bridegroom drew near to us, and took the seat next but one to the silent lady. Now, indeed, she seemed more animated, and she turned round towards her new neighbour when he addressed her, which she had never done to any one else, and even offered her glass as if she wished him to drink out of it. It was evident, however, that her attention much agitated Felippo. He held up the glass in his left hand, trembling like an aspen leaf, pointed to it, and said—
‘“How comes it that the wine is red? I thought we had no red champagne?”
‘“Red?” said the bride’s father. “What can you mean?”
‘“Look only at the lady’s glass,” answered Felippo.
‘“Well, it is filled with white wine like the rest,” said the old gentleman, and all the bystanders with one voice pronounced the wine white. Felippo, however, would not drink of it.
‘The mysterious whispering which had for some time supplied the place of all lively conversation now became more remarkable when the lady suddenly rose from her place, waved her hand, bowed to the bridegroom, and retreated to the door. The bridegroom’s father, anxious if he could discover anything which would tell him who the mysterious stranger was, followed her. When he got outside she had vanished.
‘A few days after this event Felippo received a letter from Clara’s mother informing him that her unhappy daughter had, in her grief and disappointment, died for the sake of her faithless lover, moreover that she had declared in her last moments that she would not rest in her grave till she had punished him for his infidelity. This letter made a great impression on him. Henceforward he always carried the letter about with him, and sometimes drew it unconsciously from his pocket and stared at its agonising pages. Even Camilla’s presence could not always prevent this, and as she, of course, ascribed his agitation to the paper, she availed herself of an opportunity when he had let it drop on the floor and seemed quite lost in thought, to examine, without ceremony, what had caused him so much distress. Felippo did not awake from his reverie till she had perused the letter, and was folding it up with her countenance deadly pale. He threw himself at her feet in a mood of the sincerest anguish and repentance, conjuring her to tell him what he ought now to do.
‘“Only let your affection for me be more constant than it was for this poor unfortunate,” said Camilla, and he vowed this from his inmost heart.
‘At last the day for the marriage arrived. When, according to the old fashion of the Venetians, Felippo went in the twilight to the residence of his bride, he could not help believing, all the way, that Clara’s ghost was walking by his side. Indeed, no loving couple were ever accompanied to the altar by such fearful omens as those which now took place. At the request of Camilla’s parents I was there in attendance as a witness, and I have never since forgotten the horrors of that morning.
‘We were advancing in profound silence towards the Church Della Salute, but already, in the streets, Felippo whispered to me several times that I should keep away that strange woman, as he feared she had some design against his bride.
‘What strange woman?” said I.
‘“Not so loud; for God’s sake, be cautious. You see, do you not, how she endeavours to force herself between me and Camilla?”
‘“Fancy, my good friend. There is no one here but our own party.”
‘“God grant that my eyes have deceived me. Only don’t let her go in with us into the church.”
‘“Certainly not,” said I, and to the astonishment of the bride’s parents I made gestures as if ordering some one away. In the church we found Felippo’s father, on whom his son looked as if he were taking leave of him for ever. Camilla sobbed aloud, and when the bridegroom called out, “So, then, this strange woman has come in with us after all,” it was thought doubtful whether, under such circumstances, the marriage could be performed. Camilla, however, said in her changeless affection—
‘“Nay, since he is in this unhappy state, he has the more need of my care and constant presence.”
‘Now they drew near the altar, when a gust of wind suddenly blew out the candles. The priest was angry, and blamed the sacristan for not having closed the windows.
‘“Windows!” said Felippo. “Do you not see who stands there and extinguishes the candles; and do you not see,” continued he, breaking away from his bride, “do you not see who it is that is forcing me away from Camilla?”
‘At these words the bride sank fainting in her mother’s arms, and all were convinced that Felippo had gone suddenly mad. But it was not many moments before they changed their opinion. The blood forsook his countenance, he was ashen pale—his lips moved as if with words upon them that he could not utter—his eyes dilated—his form swayed as if he had not strength to stand—then he fell forward—dead.
‘It was thought he had been poisoned, but upon an examination of the body the physicians could find no confirmation of such suspicions. The relations resolved to keep the whole matter as secret as possible. What was very strange is that the ring which had been so often sought for in vain was now found among Camilla’s ornaments.
‘So my long narrative ends.’
‘That is a marvellous legend in good earnest,’ said the Count.
‘To say the truth, I should rather not have listened to it,’ said Laura; ‘I felt many times a cold shudder in every limb.’
When we retired to rest the Duke whispered to me—
‘I have a few words to say to you in private.’
I brought him into my chamber.
‘I perceive your kind intentions,’ said he. ‘This lying story you have made up——’
‘Stop!’ cried I. ‘You have heard that I myself was a witness. How dare you accuse a man of honour of falsehood?’
‘Of that afterwards, but for the present let me observe that wheresoever you got the anecdote of the wine mixed with blood, I know from whose real life that story was first derived.’
‘It was taken from the life of Felippo. Of that you may be assured, but that a similar circumstance may have occurred elsewhere I shall not dispute. It is very possible. Love adventures resemble one another more or less.’
‘Be that as it may,’ said Marino; ‘I now demand of you that, from this day forward, you shall make no further allusions to my past life. Upon this condition alone shall I forgive you for your former injurious devices.’
‘Forgiveness!’ cried I. ‘Conditions! And from you! On the contrary, I take the liberty of informing you that the Count shall to-morrow morning be made fully acquainted with your former betrothal, and of your expressions to me this night.’
‘My lord Marquis, if you ventured this——’
‘Ha, ha! I shall venture it. It is a duty I owe to an old friend. The liar who has accused me of a falsehood shall no longer be permitted to wear the mask in his house.’
Contrary to my own wishes, anger had carried me so far that it was impossible for me to avoid a challenge. The Duke determined instantly on this course of concluding the matter, and we agreed to meet in the morning with pistols in a neighbouring wood.
At daybreak, accordingly, we met, each attended by a servant. As Marino observed that I had not prepared my attendant with directions as to what should be done in case of my death, he undertook this duty himself, and gave orders to his servant for the disposal of my body, as if the worst had already happened. At the same time he had the insolence to remind me that in former encounters he had never failed to hit his mark, On such occasions he had not wished to inflict a mortal wound, now the case was very different. It was necessary that I should not interfere with his proceedings. If, however, I would give my word of honour not to mention his former life at Venice, he would look upon the dispute as ended, and we might return to the castle as friends. I, of course, rejected his proposal.
‘Then,’ said he, ‘make your peace with heaven.’
We prepared to fire.
‘You shall have the first chance,’ said he. ‘It is your right, as I am challenger.’
I waived my right, but he insisted. I fired and shot the pistol out of his hand. This seemed to enrage him. He examined the lock, took steady aim, but his rage became ungovernable when, having fired, he found I was uninjured. He insisted that he should have shot me through the heart, yet was obliged to admit that there had not been the slightest movement on my part to which he could ascribe his failure. At his desire the contest was renewed, with precisely the same results, only that, as I took aim again at his pistol, which he held in his left hand, the ball grazed his fingers. After he had missed for the second time I declared I would proceed no further—that is to say, I would not fire at him, but as he had perhaps failed from agitation, he might, for the third time, aim at me if he were so disposed. Before he could answer this question, however, the Count and his attendants appeared upon the scene. He had had some suspicion respecting our absence, and had traced us by the sound of the shots we had fired. He complained very much of our conduct, and as he insisted on an explanation in Marino’s presence, I disclosed all. The Count was much perplexed, but as he was undecided as to what course to pursue, we returned to the castle in silence. After some hours he sought me, and said—
‘You are in the right. If I were to play the part of a strict judge I should order the Duke to leave my house, but in that case how should we console Laura, who passionately loves him? He is the first for whom she has evinced any prepossession. Let us therefore leave them to their own choice. For my part, I must confess I cannot help liking this Duke, and if he has been inconstant to his first love, how many instances of inconstancy happen which might be forgiven if we heard the particular circumstances by which they were caused?’
It was therefore decided that the marriage should go on, and Marino and I were, by the Count’s intercession, made friends again.
At the betrothing festival there was no want of luxury and magnificence. At the ball Marino danced incessantly, and seemed extravagant in his mirth.
‘No ghost,’ said he, as he passed me in a quadrille, ‘has come to interrupt our festival as in your Venetian story.’
‘Don’t rejoice too soon, my lord Duke,’ said I. ‘Misfortune comes on with cautious noiseless steps. We often know nothing of danger when it is already close upon us.’
Contrary to my expectations he did not answer me a word; and it seemed to me a proof that my suggestions had made a deep impression when he began to dance more furiously than before. The old Countess begged him not to exhaust himself, and Laura at length prevailed on him to sit down, when he was quite breathless and exhausted.
‘Not long afterwards I saw the bride glide gently out of the room, and, as I thought, tears glistened in her eyes. It was certainly Laura. I could not be mistaken, for I stood as near her when she passed as I now am to you, my lady Countess. It struck me, therefore, as remarkable that she should return in a few moments with an expression of the utmost cheerfulness on her features. I followed her, and with great surprise noticed that on coming up to the bridegroom she immediately led him out among the dancers, and, instead of dissuading him as before, seemed to enter into their amusements with as much animation as he did. I observed, too, that after one waltz the Duke went to bid his father-in-law and the Countess good-night. They shook hands, and he retired with Laura by a private door to their room.
By degrees the party began to break up, till at last no one remained in the room but myself, with our host and hostess. What was our astonishment, therefore, when we suddenly saw Laura, in her ball costume, enter, not from the door leading to the room to which she and the Duke had retired, but through the principal door, and look around her astonished to find the place so deserted.
‘What can be the meaning of this?’ said her mother, while the Count was so astonished that he could not utter a word.
‘Where is Marino?’ asked the bride.
‘Do you ask us, dear child?’ said the Countess. ‘Did we not see you retire with him nearly an hour ago?’
‘Impossible,’ cried she. ‘You are altogether mistaken.’
‘Nay, dearest Laura,’ answered her mother; ‘just after that waltz, when you danced with so much spirit, you certainly went with him to your apartment.’
‘I have not danced this evening more than once,’ said Laura.
‘Child, child!’ said her father, ‘to what purpose is this pretended forgetfulness?’
‘I have not forgotten,’ said Laura. ‘I can tell you all that has passed this night.’
‘Where then have you stayed away for this last hour?’
‘In the rooms of my dear sister Hildegarde,’ she answered.
‘Dearest child,’ said the Countess, ‘on a day like this, how could such melancholy thoughts come into your mind?’
‘I cannot say,’ answered she; ‘I only know that my heart became very much oppressed, and it seemed to me, all of a sudden, that I had never till then felt so heavily the loss of Hildegarde. A strange idea came into my mind, and I could not help believing that if I went to her room I should find her sitting, as in old times, with her guitar. I said nothing to any one, but slipped away, and went upstairs. Once in her apartments I could somehow not force myself to leave them. I was wearied, sat down on a chair by the window, and knew not how the time passed, till at last, as if I had awoke from sleep, I started up and came here.’
‘How long then is it since you left the ball-room?’ inquired her mother.
‘At a quarter to twelve. The clock struck as I entered my sister’s room.’
‘Good Heaven!’ cried her mother, ‘what can this mean? It was the last quarter to twelve that I spoke to her and advised her not to dance so much.’
‘And where, think you, is Marino?’ said her father.
‘How can I tell? I expected to find him here.’
The Count snatched up a light and beckoned me to follow him. He led the way to the apartment that had been assigned to the married couple. We found the Duke alone—dead. He was lying on the floor, and on his face was a look of horror such as I had only once before seen on the countenance of man.
You may imagine into what distress this occurrence threw the whole family. My presence could be of no service. It was impossible to console them, and I was not sorry when letters came informing me that my presence was immediately required at my own residence.
The only explanation I could ever arrive at of those remarkable occurrences, was of a strange character; and, depending on mere oral tradition, is not very full nor satisfactory.
It is said that there was once, in the fifteenth century, a young lady of rank, a native of the district in which stands the castle of my friend Count Globoda. It is alleged that she was guilty of such cruel infidelity to a young man with whom she was once in love that he died of grief. Afterwards, on her marriage night, his spirit appeared, claimed the lady, and her immediate death ensued. The story runs, not very consistently, that she has since never rested in her grave, but has wandered through the world, assuming many different forms and aspects in order to seduce lovers into a breach of their vows. As it is impossible for her to wear the features of any living being, she invests herself in the form of the dead. She can never be released from her task, which forms the punishment of her crimes, till she has found some youth whose fidelity resists all her endeavours.
As to the servant who attended her in Paris, that, I admit, seems inexplicable, nor can I understand the incident of the Duke’s name being called out as he approached the castle.
This legend is the only explanation I can give of the circumstances attending the deaths of Felippo and Marino. If such an explanation will not suffice, I am unable to offer a better.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I have finished.
The Marquis rose, begged that the company would excuse his retiring, on the ground that the recalling of such painful memories of past days had fatigued him, and left the room.
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