It was shortly after my tenth birth-day, and we were anxiously expecting my father's return from a voyage to the East Indies. Before his departure he had promised my mother, that if he succeeded in the objects of this distance expedition, he would retire from business, and settle down quietly to pass the rest of his days in the country. The letters received from him led her to believe that the result of his voyage had been satisfactory, and she was therefore anticipating his return with double pleasure. At last, one evening news was brought that the ship in which he had taken his passage was come into port, and just as my mother and myself were leaving the house to go and welcome the wanderer, my father made his appearance. I will pass over the transports of joy with which he was received. So soon as they had a little subsided, he presented to us, under the name of the Signor Manucci, a dark fine-looking man, who accompanied him, and whom he had invited to sup with him. I say with him, because, to our great surprise and disappointment, neither my mother nor myself were admitted to partake of the meal. Hitherto my father's return from his voyages had been celebrated as a sort of festival. A large table was laid out, and our friends came in to welcome him, to ask him innumerable questions, and tell him all that had occurred during his absence. On this occasion, however, things were arranged very differently. My father, instead of joining his family and friends at supper, caused the meal to be served in a separate room for himself and the Italian; and long after they had done eating, I could hear them, as I lay in bed, walking up and down the apartment, and discoursing earnestly together in a foreign tongue. My bed had been made for that night upon a sofa in one of the sitting-rooms which adjoined my father's apartment. My usual sleeping-room was given up to the stranger, who was to pass the night at our house.
My temperament was naturally a nervous one, and my father's return had so excited me that I found it impossible to sleep, but lay tossing about till long after every body in the house had apparently retired to rest. The strong smell of sea-water proceeding from my father's cloak, which was lying on a chair near my bed, perhaps also contributed to keep me awake; and when I at last began to doze, I fancied myself on board ship, and every thing around me seemed tumbling and rolling about as in a storm. After lying for some time in this dreamy state, I at last fell into an uneasy feverish slumber. For long after that night, I was unable to decide whether what then occurred was a frightful dream or a still more frightful reality. It was only by connecting subsequent circumstances and discoveries with my indistinct recollections, that some years afterwards I became convinced of the reality of what I that night witnessed.
I had scarcely fallen asleep, as it seemed to me, when I was awakened by the creaking of the door leading into my father's room. It was hastily opened, and the stranger appeared, bearing a lamp in his hand, and apparently much agitated. He walked several times up and down both rooms, as if one had been too small for him in his then excited state. At last he began to speak to himself in broken sentences, some of which reached my ear. "I leave to-morrow," he said; "when I return, all will be over—all—the fool!" Then he took another turn through the room, and paused suddenly before a large mirror. "Do I look like a murderer?" he exclaimed wildly, and with a ghastly rolling of his eyes. Then suddenly tearing off a black wig and whiskers which he wore, he stood before me an old and greyheaded man. At this moment he for the first time noticed my temporary bed.
"Ha!" he muttered, with a start, "how imprudent!" He immediately replaced his wig, and with noiseless steps approached my couch. Terrified as I was, I had yet sufficient presence of mind to counterfeit sleep; and the stranger, after standing a minute or two beside me, went softly into my father's room, the door of which he shut behind him.
When I awoke the next morning, and thought of this strange incident, it assumed so vague and indefinite a form, that I set it down as the illusion of a dream. Every thing was as usual in the house; my father, it is true, seemed thoughtful and grave, but that was nothing uncommon with him. He spoke kindly to me, and apologised to my mother for his seclusion of the preceding evening; but said that he had been compelled to discuss matters of the greatest importance with the Signor Manucci, who was then sitting beside him at breakfast. My mother was too delighted at her husband's return to be very implacable; and if the evening had been clouded by disappointment, our morning meal was, to make amends, a picture of harmony and perfect happiness.
About noon, Manucci took an affectionate leave of my father, and departed; not, however, till he had promised that he would shortly renew his visit. The day passed without incident. My father had planned an excursion into the country for the following morning, to visit an old friend who resided a few leagues from Hamburg. I was awakened at an early hour, in order to get ready to accompany him and my mother. I hastily dressed myself, and went down into the parlour. What was my surprise, when on entering the room I saw my father lying pale and suffering upon a sofa, while my mother was sitting beside him in tears, anxiously awaiting the arrival of a physician who had been sent for, and who presently made his appearance. He felt my father's pulse, enquired the symptoms, and finally pronounced him to be in a state of considerable danger. Each successive half hour increased the sick man's sufferings, and before the afternoon he was speechless.
In sadness and anxiety we were surrounding my father's couch, when suddenly a carriage stopped at the house door, and the next instant Manucci entered the apartment. He expressed the utmost grief and sympathy upon learning my father's illness, sat down beside the dying man, for such he now was, and took his hand. My father beckoned his friend to stoop down, that he might whisper something to him; but although his lips moved, an inarticulate muttering was all that he could utter. He then, with an expression of almost despairing grief upon his countenance, took my hand and that of Manucci, joined them together in his, which were already damp and chill with the approach of death, and pressed them to his heart with a deep sigh. The next instant there was a convulsive movement of his limbs—a rattle in his throat. My father was dead.
I shall never forget that moment. It was with some difficulty that Manucci and myself withdrew our hands from those of my father, which clutched them tightly in the agony of death. It was the first corpse I had ever looked upon, and although of a parent whom I dearly loved, I yet recoiled from it with an irrepressible shudder. The stranger, too, inspired me with an invincible repugnance. I could not forget my dream, or vision, or whatever it was, when I had seen him changed into a grey repulsive-looking old man, and the mysterious words—"Do I look like a murderer?" rang ever in my ears.
My mother's grief at her sudden bereavement was boundless. She was incapable of arranging or ordering any thing; and as my tender years prevented me from being of any use, Manucci took upon himself the management of every thing. Through his exertions, the arrangements for the funeral were rapidly completed; and I followed to the grave the body of my unfortunate father, who had died, so said the doctor, of a stroke of apoplexy. Child as I was, I was greatly struck by the coincidence between this sudden death, and the singular dream I had had not forty-eight hours previous to it. I said nothing, however; for I feared Manucci, and should not have thought my life safe had he heard that I related my dream to any one. In after years, when I was better able to form a judgment on these matters, I thought it useless to renew the grief of my poor mother, then becoming old and infirm, by a communication of what I had witnessed on that memorable night, or by inspiring her with doubts as to the real cause of her husband's death.
Meanwhile Manucci busied himself in the arrangement of my father's affairs, concerning which he appeared perfectly well informed. In the course of their liquidation, he became acquainted with many of the chief people in Hamburg, who all spoke very highly of his talents, and seemed captivated by his agreeable conversation and varied acquirements. In an incredibly short time he had made himself numerous friends, who courted his society and invited him to their houses. Nobody knew any thing more of him than what he himself chose to say, which was very little. It was rumoured, however, that he belonged to a religious fraternity—but whether of the Jesuits, or some other order, no one knew, nor was it possible to trace the origin of the report. Manucci himself, the object of all these conjectures, seemed perfectly unconscious of, or indifferent to them. He took a house at a short distance from the town, close to a small country residence to which my mother had retired; and in conformity with my father's last and mutely expressed wish, showed a most friendly disposition towards me, interesting himself in my studies, and to a certain extent superintending my education. He visited us very frequently, and gradually I became accustomed to his presence, and my aversion to him diminished. The remembrance of my dream grew fainter and fainter, and the guilty agitation and strange appearance of Manucci on the night of his arrival at Hamburg, lost the sharp distinctness of outline with which they had at first been engraved upon my memory. I regarded all that I had seen that night as a dream, and nothing more.
The house inhabited by Manucci was of handsome exterior, and situated in the middle of a large garden. The door was rarely opened to visitors, and, besides the Italian, an old servant-maid was its only inmate. I myself was never admitted within its walls till I had attained my seventeenth year; but when I was, the curious arrangements of the dwelling made a strong impression upon my fancy. The whole of the ground floor was one large hall, of which the ceiling was supported by pillars, and whence a staircase led to three apartments, one used as a sitting-room, another as bed-chamber, and the third, which was kept constantly shut, as a study. The sitting-room, instead of doors, had green silk curtains in the doorways. Eight chandeliers were fixed in pairs upon the wall, and between them were four black marble tablets, on which were engraved in golden letters, the words:—Watch! Pray! Labour! Love! In a recess was a sort of altar, above which was suspended a valuable painting from the hand of one of the old masters. Behind a folding screen in the sleeping-room, stood the bed, which was surrounded by sabres, daggers, stilettoes, and pistols of various calibre; and from this room a strong door, clenched and bound with iron, led into the study, the interior of which I never saw. Altogether, the house made such a strange and unpleasant impression upon me, that I felt no wish to repeat my visit.
Manucci had now been residing seven years amongst us, leading a peaceful and quiet life, a frequent visitor at our house, well looked upon and liked by all who knew him. Although there was certainly a degree of mystery attaching to him, yet no one was suspicious of him, nor had the voice of scandal ever been lifted up to his prejudice. He was friendly and attentive to my mother, kind to me, courteous to every one, seemed perfectly contented with his mode of life, and never talked of changing it. Our astonishment was consequently so much the greater, when one morning we learnt his sudden disappearance from the neighbourhood. Enquiries were made in every direction, but none had seen him depart. His shrivelled old housekeeper was also nowhere to be found.
It was within a few weeks after this strange disappearance, that I obtained the first insight into the character of the mysterious Italian. After my father's death, and the winding up of his affairs, his papers and letters had been put in boxes and locked up in a closet. I one day took it into my head to rummage these papers. There were vast numbers of bills of lading and exchange, insurance papers and the like, all matters of no interest to me; but at last, upon untying a bundle of miscellaneous documents, a small packet fell out which seemed likely to reward my search. It consisted of fragments of letters, much damaged by fire, and which, to judge from the size of the half-burned envelope that contained them, and that had apparently been originally used for a much larger parcel, probably formed only a small part of a collection of letters that had been accidentally or intentionally destroyed by the flames.
Here are some of these fragments of letters.
"... The society of a man whose acquaintance I have made since my arrival here, becomes each day more agreeable to me. He has seen a vast deal of the world, and his mind is stored with the most varied knowledge, to such a degree that it sometimes appears to me as if the longest life would be insufficient to acquire all that he has learned. Our acquaintance was made in an odd place enough—a gambling-house, to which I had gone as a matter of curiosity. He was sitting away from the tables, and addressed some trifling remark to me, to which I replied. He then, as if he had known who and what I was, began talking of the commerce in which I am engaged, and displayed an intimate acquaintance with mercantile affairs. Our conversation had already become animated and interesting, when it was interrupted by a noise and bustle in the play-room; and several persons came up to my new acquaintance, and congratulated him. It appeared that he had staked sum equivalent to the whole amount there was in the bank, and it was while the game was being played that we had entered into conversation. He now went to the table, and received his winnings from the disconcerted bankers with an appearance of perfect indifference, returning them at the same time, a handsome sum—that they might have, as he said, a chance of recovering what he had won from them! Then, after giving me his address, and inviting me to call on him, he left the house" ...
"... The diamonds ... enormous value ... excellent bargain ... twenty thousand pounds sterling" ...
(This letter had been nearly destroyed by the fire.)
"... It is some days since I have seen my new friend, although his agreeable conversation and manners render his society more pleasing to me at every interview. I am embarrassed about this purchase of diamonds, which I an very desirous of making, but find myself without sufficient funds for the purpose. If M—— would join me in the speculation, his recent winnings would be more than is wanted to make up the deficiency. I must propose it to him ...
"... I have just returned from a visit to M——. It appears that he is an Italian by birth, although speaking several languages as well as a native, and that he is travelling for the affairs of an important association of which he is a member. He has travelled a great deal in Germany, and will probably return thither shortly. To-day he told me that he was glad to have won the large sum to which I alluded in a former letter; that he had much need of it for a great object he had in view, but for which he was still afraid it would scarcely suffice. Upon hearing this, I resolved to say nothing to him about the partnership in the diamond speculation ...
"... It is impossible for me to describe to you the fascination which this man exercises over me. You know that I do not usually exaggerate, although inclined to the mystical and romantic. I have lived too little on land, however, for any ideas of that nature to have taken much hold upon my mind. At sea, the movement of the winds and waves, the unintermitting intercourse with one's fellow-men—the whole life of a mariner, in short, leaves little leisure for such fancies. But here, in this tropical clime, where the heavens are of so deep a blue, and the leaves of so bright a green, where the imagination is worked upon by Oriental scenery and magnificence, and the very air one breathes is laden with perfumes from the flower-fields and spice-groves of Araby the Blest, here is the land of fiction and reverie, and here I at times think that my new and most agreeable friend has laid me under a spell equally pleasant and potent in its effects—a spell from which I have neither wish nor ability to emancipate myself. Yet why should I wish to escape an influence exercised only for my good, and by which I must benefit? My greatest happiness is in the friendship of this man, my greatest trust and reliance are in his counsels. Stern is he, bold, almost rash in his actions, but ever successful; and when he has an end to gain, nothing can withstand him, no obstacle bar him from its attainment....
"... in the kindest manner lent me the sum I wanted to complete the purchase-money of the diamonds, but obstinately refuses to share the profits which, on my return to Europe, are sure to accrue from this speculation. What generosity! M——is assuredly the most disinterested and the truest of friends. We are becoming each day more attached to each other. He has formed a project to come and settle near Hamburg, and there we shall pass the rest of our days together. He is a most singular and interesting person. I shall weary you, perhaps, by all these details; but every thing that relates to him interests me. Only think, the other day I found in a cabinet in his apartment, a mask, which he told me he had himself made. I never saw such a masterpiece. It was of wax, imitating perfectly a human countenance, of an expression eminently attractive, although sad. He was not in the room when I found it, in seeking for a book he had promised to lend me. He came in when I had just taken it out of the drawer in which it was, and an angry exclamation" ...
These disjointed but significant fragments were all of any interest that the flames had spared. From them, however, I acquired a moral certainty that Manucci was my father's murderer. In order to obtain possession of the diamonds, of which no trace had been found after my father's death, the perfidious Italian had doubtless administered to him some deadly poison. This must have been so skilfully prepared as not to take effect till the murderer had left the house a sufficiently long time to prevent any risk of suspicion attaching to him.
Burning to avenge my unfortunate parent, I now set to work with the utmost energy to discover what had become of Manucci. I caused enquiries to be made in every direction, and resorted to every means I could devise to find out the assassin; but for a long time all was in vain. It was not till several years after my mother's death that we again met—a meeting which, like our first, was to me fraught with bitter sorrow.
I had been for some time in the Russian service, and the regiment to which I belonged was quartered at a village a few leagues from Warsaw. At the period I speak of, a country house in the neighbourhood of the village belonged to, and was occupied by, General Count Gutzkoff, a nobleman of ancient descent and great wealth, and who had an only daughter called Natalie, the perfection of feminine grace and beauty. The villa had been christened Natalina, after his daughter, and no expense had been spared to render it and the grounds attached to it worthy of their lovely sponsor. Amongst other embellishments, a large portion of the park had been laid out in miniature imitation of Swiss scenery, with chalets, and waterfalls, and artificial mountains, that must have taken a vast time and labour to construct. There was an excellent house in this part of the grounds, inhabited by a sort of intendant or steward, and in this house rooms were assigned to me, I having been quartered upon General Gutzkoff. I had thus many opportunities of seeing Natalie, whose charms soon inspired me with a passion which, to my inexpressible joy, I after a time found to be reciprocated by her. I am not writing a romance, but a plain narrative of some of the strangest incidents in my life; I will, therefore, pass over the rise and progress of our attachment, of the existence of which the general at length became aware. He was a proud and ambitious man, and my small fortune and lieutenant's epaulette by no means qualified me in his eyes to become his son-in-law. Natalie was threatened with a convent, and I was requested to discontinue my visits to the house. About the same time, I heard it rumoured that a rich cousin, then stopping with the general, was the intended husband of the young countess.
For some days I found it impossible to obtain a meeting with Natalie, although I put every stratagem in practice, and sought every opportunity of meeting her in her walks. After the general's positive, although courteous prohibition, I of course could not think of returning to his house. It was therefore with much anxiety that I looked forward to a ball which was to be given by a rich old Smyrniot, who lived at Warsaw. He was acquainted with the officers of my regiment, and to console us, as he said, for the dulness of our country quarters, he proposed to give a fete sufficiently splendid to attract the ladies of the capital to the village where we were stationed. He was intimate with General Gutzkoff, who lent him for the occasion the part of his domain called the Swiss park, and there the fete was to be held. I made sure of meeting Natalie there, and perhaps even of finding an opportunity of speaking to her unobserved by her father.
The much wished-for evening came, and a numerous and brilliant company was assembled in the gardens. The long alleys of trees were rendered light as day by a profusion of lamps, of which the globes of painted crystal were suspended by wires from tree to tree, and appeared to float unsupported upon the air. Under two large pavilions of various colours, flooring had been laid down, and chalked in fanciful devices. These were for the dancers. Several bands of music were placed in different parts of the grounds; and in the various cottages and Swiss dairies tables were laid out, covered with the most exquisite refreshments and delicate wines. On either side of the principal fountains were transparencies, with emblems and mottoes complimentary to the guests and to the noble owner of the park; and, finally, that nothing might be wanting to the gratification of every taste, a crimson tent, richly decorated, contained a faro-table, upon which a large bank in gold was placed. Crowds of officers, and of beautiful women splendidly attired, thronged the dancing rooms or rambled through the illuminated walks. Natalie was there, but accompanied by her father and cousin, so that I could not venture to accost her. She looked sad, I thought, but more lovely than ever; and when at last she sat down in one of the summer-houses, I approached as near as I could without being myself seen, in order at least to have the pleasure of gazing on her sweet countenance. I was leaning against a tree, cursing the cruel fate that separated me from the object of my love, when one of my comrades came up and asked me if I would not go to the faro-room. There was a man there, he said playing with the most wonderful luck that had ever been seen. He had already broken two banks, and seemed likely to do the same with a third that had been put down. I was in no humour to take interest in such matters, and should have declined my brother officer's invitation, had I not just then seen Natalie and her companions get up and take the direction of the gambling tent. I followed with my friend. The play that was going on had, however, no attraction for me; I had no eyes for any one but Natalie, and was almost unaware of what was passing around me. After standing for a short time near the table, the general turned aside to talk with the colonel of my regiment, and his cousin went to speak with some ladies who had just entered. The moment was favourable for exchanging a few words with Natalie. I was about to approach her, when there was a sudden bustle and loud exclamations round the table.
"See there!" exclaimed my comrade, "he has won again."
I glanced hastily at the fortunate player, and then started back petrified by surprise. It was Manucci.
My first impulse upon beholding the man whom I had been so long seeking, and whom I held for my father's murderer, was instantly to seize him and tax him with his crime. An instant's reflection, however, suggested to me the impropriety of such a course. What evidence had I to offer before a court of law in support of my accusation? The tale I had to tell was far too extraordinary a one to be believed on the unsupported testimony of an accuser. This man seemed well known to several of the guests who stood near him; he wore the decorations of two or three foreign orders, and appeared to be a person of some mark. Might I not even be deceived by a strong resemblance? At any rate, it was sufficient if I kept him in sight till I had an opportunity of making enquiries concerning him. If it were Manucci, I was determined he should not escape me.
I was still gazing hard at the stranger, and becoming each moment more and more convinced of his identity with Manucci, when, to my great surprise, I saw him leave the table and approach Natalie. She seemed to know him; they exchanged a few sentences, and then, passing through a door, they left the tent together. I hurried after them as fast as the crowd of persons through which I had to make my way would allow me. On getting out of the tent I saw no signs either of Natalie or the stranger. They could not be far—they must have turned down one of the numerous sidepaths; and I darted in quest of them down the first I came to. I had run and walked over nearly half the grounds without finding them, when I met the general and his cousin, who, with looks of some suspicion, asked me if I had seen Natalie. I told them with whom I had last seen her; but my description of the stranger, although minute and accurate, did not enable the general to recognise in him any one of his acquaintance; and separating, we resumed our search in different directions with increased anxiety and redoubled care.
While thus engaged, loud cries were suddenly heard proceeding from the upper floor of one of the chalets or ornamental cottages near which I was then passing, and of which the lower part only was used for the purposes of the fete. I hastened thither, rushed up the staircase, and, in so doing, ran against an officer who was carrying down Natalie in his arms. She was senseless. At that moment her father arrived and took charge of her. Above stairs, all was confusion and alarm, and a number of the guests were seeking the villain who had dared to insult or ill-treat the young countess. But he was nowhere to be found, and it was supposed that he had jumped out of the window, and, favoured by the darkness, had made his escape. Natalie, when she recovered from her swoon, was still too weak and too terrified to give any explanation concerning the matter. She was conveyed to her father's house, the fete was broken up, and the guests took their departure. My brother officers and myself mounted our horses, and rode in every direction to endeavour to find the offender. All our researches, however, were fruitless.
Strange to say, this singular incident excited much less attention, and was much more rapidly forgotten, than could possibly have been expected, especially when the rank and importance of the offended party were considered. After the first day, few efforts seemed to be made for the discovery of the stranger except by myself; and all that I did towards that end was unsuccessful. The murderer of my father, the spoiler of my inheritance, the vile insulter of the woman I loved, had for this time eluded my vengeance.
About a fortnight after the fete, it became publicly rumoured that any project of marriage which might have been contemplated by General Gutzkoff between his daughter and her cousin, was at an end, and that Natalie was to take the veil. It was known that, before the death of the late countess, who was an exceedingly religious woman, it had been in agitation to devote Natalie to a religious life; but when the general became a widower, nothing more had been heard of the plan. It now almost seemed as if its revival and contemplated execution were in some way consequent on the strange incident at the ball. The matter, however, was far too delicate for any one to question concerning it those who alone could have given information. At the appointed time Natalie entered as novice a convent of Ursulines, situated at about a league from her father's villa.
The first news of this event was a terrible shock to me. In spite of the small favour with which the general regarded my attachment to his daughter, I had still hoped that time or circumstances might bring about some change in his sentiments. But the cloister opposed a yet stronger bar to my wishes than the will of a parent, and the vows once pronounced, which at the end of one short year Natalie would have to utter, I might bid farewell to hope. Our separation would then be irrevocable and eternal in this world. It was necessary, therefore, to make the best use of the short space of her noviciate, in order to put in execution one of the numerous plans which I devised for freeing her from the state of holy bondage which I was certain she had only through compulsion been induced to enter. Day and night I hovered about the convent, in hopes of catching a glimpse of Natalie, or of finding an opportunity of giving her a letter, in which I strenuously urged her to accept a plan of escape that I proposed to her. At last an opportunity occurred. She was walking in the convent garden with another novice, who left her for an instant to gather some flowers. I was watching all their movements, and at this moment I threw my letter at Natalie's feet. She took it up, retired into a shrubbery walk to read it, and presently returned.
"To-morrow," said she, "the answer—here."
With what anxious impatience did I look forward to her reply, and with what despairing feelings did it fill me when I received it! In it Natalie spoke of her approaching death as of an event of the occurrence of which she was thoroughly persuaded, and besought me to give up all hopes of again seeing her.
At this period of the year the nuns of the Ursuline convent inhabited their summer cells, which were a row of buildings situated in the convent garden. Natalie had the last cell, which was separated by several empty ones from those of the other sisters. It was on the second day after I received her letter that the nuns were surprised by her not opening her door at the usual hour. They waited some time for her appearance, but in vain. They knocked; there was no answer. At last the door was forced open and Natalie was found lying dead upon the floor of the cell. She had evidently been dragged out of bed with great violence; her features were distorted with pain and struggling, and in her left breast was a wound which had been the cause of her death. The murderer had broken in through the roof of the cell.
The news of this horrible occurrence flew with lightning swiftness through the neighbourhood and to Warsaw. Nobody doubted that there was some connexion between the crime and the singular occurrence at the ball, although it was impossible to say what that connexion was. Every attempt to discover and apprehend the murderer proved unavailing.
In order to see Natalie for the last time, I repaired to the convent church, in which, according to custom, her corpse was laid out. With faltering and uncertain steps I passed through the aisle, and reached the chapel where the remains of her I had so fondly loved were lying. I stepped up to the bier, but the next instant turned away my face. I lacked courage to look upon the cold corpse of my adored mistress. A violent dizziness seized me, the pillars around me seemed to turn and twist about, and the roof of the church to shake. I sank senseless upon a chair.
How long I may have remained in that state I am unable to say. It was night when consciousness returned, and the moon was shedding its cold, clear light through the high Gothic windows. I felt heated and excited; all manner of strange fancies passed through my head, the predominant one being to go at once and wander about the world, till I should discover the fiend to whom the misery I now suffered was attributable. Before doing so, however, I must see my Natalie once more. I stepped up to the coffin. Natalie lay there in her nun's garments, a crucifix upon her breast, and a veil surrounding her face, which, to my inexpressible astonishment and horror, I now saw was covered with a mask.
I was at first unable to explain this singular circumstance, but then it occurred to me that her lovely features had been said to be much distorted in death, and doubtless her friends had taken this means of concealing them from the gaze of vulgar curiosity. I would see her though, I thought; I would kiss those lips, once so warm and love-breathing, now so pale and chilled. The better if, in her death-like embrace, I found an end to my life and suffering. I stretched out my hand to detach the mask, which was by no means unpleasing in its appearance. It reminded me of the one spoken of by my father in one of his letters; and as I stood looking at it, I little by little persuaded myself it must be the same. The lips curved into a mournful smile, an attractive expression on the features; only the sockets for the eyes were empty, and through them shone the glazed orbs of the departed.
Whilst given up to these reflections, I suddenly heard a slight rustling noise near me. I looked round, and saw a muffled figure sitting at a short distance off, in which I thought I recognized some old nun keeping her drowsy vigil by the dead. I took no heed of her, but stretched out my hand to tear the mask from Natalie's face, when suddenly the figure rose, and with three long, noiseless strides, stood close beside me. The robe in which it was muffled opened, and I beheld—Manucci! not the Manucci I had seen at the faro-table, nor yet he who had lived for years near my mother's house, but the grey old man who had appeared to me on the night of my father's arrival, and had said, "Do I look like a murderer?"
"Thou here, villain!" I exclaimed, on beholding this unexpected apparition. "The hand of heaven is in this!"
I stretched forth my arm to seize the murderer, who thus braved me beside the corpse of his last victim; but as I did so I experienced a strange stunning sensation, and fell, as though struck by a thunderbolt, lifeless to the ground. The first persons who entered the church upon the following morning found me in this state, and carried me to the nearest house, where I lay for weeks in a raging fever, during which time Natalie was buried, and the flowers that sprang up on her grave were withered by the frosts and snows of winter. When I at last became convalescent, and re-appeared amongst men, Natalie was forgotten; and the strange circumstances that had occurred to me in the church would have obtained no credence, or at most would have been considered as the precursors of fever, the visions resulting from a heated imagination and exhausted frame. Indeed my memory was in so confused a state, and the weeks I had passed in the unconsciousness of delirium, caused every thing that had previously happened to appear so remote and indistinct, that I was myself almost unable to give any clear and definite form to the occurrences that preceded my illness. My health was greatly shaken, and I was no longer equal to any occupation that required sustained exertion and application. I resigned my commission, therefore, and formed a plan to divide my life amongst the various large cities of Europe, changing from time to time, and constantly endeavouring to seize again the thread that had escaped me, and if possible to discover and unmask the vile impostor who had destroyed my life's happiness. I may, perhaps, some day write down the various and strange adventures that I have met with during these researches, and in my wandering course of life. In this portfolio, however, I will put nothing but what relates to any further discoveries I may make concerning the base Italian and his machinations.
* * * * *
Here Adrian's manuscript ended; but between the two following blank leaves I found a letter dated from St Petersburg, written in a different hand, and that seemed to form a sort of appendix or continuation to the preceding narrative. This letter, from the different dates scattered through it, appeared to have been continued from time to time, several weeks elapsing between its commencement and the period at which it was sent off. The envelope was wanting, and there was no address; but, from its contents, it appeared that it had not been written to Adrian, but to a friend of his who had handed it to him. At the end came a dozen lines in Adrian's handwriting, leaving off somewhat abruptly. Here follows the letter:—
St Petersburg, 12th June.
My dear Augustus,—Of all the wealthy and distinguished foreigners whom this gay season has brought together in St Petersburg, not any attract so much attention as the Marchese d'Emiliano and his daughter. The father is as remarkable for his learning and talents as the daughter is for her innumerable graces and accomplishments, which draw all eyes upon her. She has only one extraordinary peculiarity, which is—but stay, I will first describe her to you, so that this singularity, when I tell you of it, may appear the more striking. Picture to yourself a brunette, slender and perfectly formed, possessing the exact and beautiful proportions of a Grecian statue—a foot smaller and better shaped than I ever yet beheld—an exquisite hand, slender and tapering, not one of those short fleshy hands with dimpled fingers, which it is now the fashion to admire, but for which no precedent is to be found in the Medicean goddess or in any other standard of beauty. A magnificent bust, an arm like alabaster, a profusion of dark flowing hair, grace in every movement. But—now comes the wonder, my friend—instead of a face corresponding in beauty with this perfect form, there is—a mask. Can you imagine a greater absurdity? and yet they are people who, in every other respect, show extreme good taste.
From the lips of this mask proceeds a voice which, for melody and sweetness, I have never heard equaled. In speaking, its tones are of silver, but when she sings one forgets mask and every thing else to give one's-self up to an ecstacy of perfect enjoyment. She knows a vast deal of Italian, French, and Spanish music, languages that she speaks with the utmost purity, and she accompanies herself alternately on piano, guitar, or mandoline, of which instruments she is a perfect mistress. Her dancing is no less admirable than her singing; and, at every ball to which she goes, crowds collect around her to watch the sylph-like grace with which she glides through the dance. In short, she unites every womanly accomplishment, and yet this heavenly creature persists in concealing her face under that vile mask, which fits so closely that not the smallest portion of her countenance can be perceived. However hideous the latter may be, it would be preferable to this horrid covering. Not that the mask is ugly; on the contrary, it is the handsomest I ever saw, and in itself has nothing disagreeable. It is formed of wax, and has a mournful expression which is quite attractive, at least when its owner sits still; but when she moves or speaks, the dead look of the mask has an indescribably unpleasant effect. Several persons have indirectly questioned the Marchese on this subject, but he evades or turns off their enquiries with all the tact of a consummate man of the world. Of course it would be indelicate, if not unfeeling, to ask her about it. Meantime the public amuses itself with all sorts of absurd suppositions. First it is a vow; then she has got a pig's face; then her waiting-maid had said that she had once caught her unmasked, and that her face was covered with feathers and had a beak in the middle of it. Then, again, it is a stratagem, to try the man whom she shall marry, and to see if he will love her for something besides her appearance, and on her wedding-day she will take off the mask and disclose features of perfect beauty. All this is of course mere gossip; for nobody knows any thing about these Italians, except that the Marchese is enormously rich, and that his daughter, in spite of her mask, is the most amiable and fascinating of women. Amongst other absurdities, a report was spread that the marquis was no other than the celebrated St Germains, who, as is well known, was himself no other than the Wandering Jew. It is ridiculous to hear the extraordinary things they tell of him. Only the other day it was asserted that he had been met in a distant country, where he passed under another name, and was remarkable for his constant and almost suspicious success in gambling. I should be very curious to trace all these reports to their source. Their inventors can at least have no lack of imagination. The fact is, that there is unquestionably something strange and mysterious about the old man—but what does it amount to after all? He is an old Italian marquis, his foreign manners and appearance, and imposing title, work upon the imagination of us northerns, and at once make us suspect an adventurer in this worthy old nobleman. The mere presence of Natalie (that is his daughter's name) is sufficient to refute such a suspicion. She is the incarnation of all that is pure and beautiful; and I confess to you, my friend, that I am each day becoming more and more the slave of her attractions. If in society she exhibits her varied accomplishments, on the other hand, when we are alone, she is the simple and unsophisticated girl. During our tete-a-tetes, however, it has not escaped me that she is frequently melancholy; a something seems at times to weigh upon her spirits; and, although she evidently struggles to hide this, she has been unable to conceal it from my close and interested observation. Yes, my friend, interested, for deeply interested I am in all that concerns Natalie; and, I own to you, that in spite of her mask, in spite of the mystery that surrounds her, nothing would make me so happy as to call her mine.
27th June.—A week ago it was Natalie's birth-day. She had felt herself somewhat indisposed, and had begged the Marchese not to invite any guests. Nevertheless, when I called to offer my good wishes on the occasion, they kept me there till evening. We then walked out in the garden—Natalie and myself, that is to say—and sat down upon a rustic seat, amidst a cluster of flowering shrubs that perfumed the air around us. I know not of what we spoke, but, after a short time, I found myself with my arm round Natalie's waist, her hand clasped in mine, her mask—alas! that I cannot say her face—resting upon my shoulder. It was one of those sweet moments with which past and future have nought to do, but during which one lives upon the present. Gradually my lips drew nearer and nearer to her waxen ones, but, half-jesting, she turned her head away. I became more persevering, and without saying any thing to her I raised my arm gently till my hand touched her hair, amongst which the fastenings of the mask were apparently concealed. In another moment the mystery would be solved, and I should gaze doubtless on the most lovely countenance that ever blessed a lover's sight. At that very instant she uttered a sort of shriek, and sprang from my embrace. In vain did I entreat and supplicate her to suffer me to remove that envious mask. She was inexorable, and just then, attracted perhaps by Natalie's cry, the Marchese appeared.
"What!" said he in a distant and somewhat angry tone and manner, "nearly midnight, and you are still here?"
The time had indeed passed rapidly. The hint was too direct for me to do otherwise than apologize and depart.
Since that evening they have treated me with some coolness, nor can I wonder at it. My constant visits to their house have become the talk of all St Petersburg; and it is evident that I must either declare myself the suitor of Natalie or avoid her altogether. Avoid her! How can I do it? Do not blame me, Augustus, when I tell you that I have decided to go this day to the Marquis and ask his daughter's hand. Rank, fortune, every thing in short, is suitable. Only that mystery—but I will not think of it. I lay down my pen, and go instantly to execute my intention.
30th June.—You will set me down as a fool when you read what I last wrote. I should perhaps say the same of you, were our positions reversed; and yet, were you not my old friend and comrade, I should feel disposed to be angry with you for saying it of me on this occasion. She is mine, Augustus—mine by her own and her father's promise. My friend, I am unutterably happy. I am not able to look forward with any thing like coolness to the moment when she shall remove that odious mask, and disclose the lovely countenance which I am persuaded it conceals.
8th July.—I cannot understand Natalie. She seems happy at the prospect of becoming my wife; and yet that same melancholy which I have before noticed, hangs about her, and seems impossible to be dissipated. Can she have had some previous attachment, some disappointed affection, which has left its lingering regrets, and which her present engagement recalls more vividly to her recollection? And yet, why torment myself thus? She loves me—that I cannot doubt; and surely her approaching change of condition, and the separation from her father which it must sooner or later entail, are sufficient to account for an occasional pensiveness on the part of a young and susceptible girl. In vain do I seek for any other probable cause of her melancholy. At times I fancy that she has some disclosure or confession to make to me, which she has difficulty in repressing.
23d July.—The secret is out. Natalie is ugly. You laugh already at the poor dupe. But beware of laughing too soon: for he can be no dupe who becomes the husband of Natalie; should her face prove as hideous as that of Medusa. You will perceive from this that I have not yet seen it, nor, truth to tell, am I now so anxious to do so. She has been tormenting herself with the fear that I should cease to love her when I once saw her unmasked, and has reproached herself innumerable times for having encouraged my passion. She has decided what to do. On her marriage-day, before I lead her to the altar, I am to see her without her mask. To-morrow is that day; and although I am prepared for the very worst, yet my uneasiness increases with every hour that brings me nearer to the decisive moment. My regrets are infinite that she has persisted so long in her disguise. If at the commencement of our attachment she had had the courage to remove that fatal mask, I must still have loved her; no deformity of feature would have been sufficient to neutralize the effect of her other charms and accomplishments. But now, at the moment that I have been looking forward to as the happiest of my life, to have my bliss disturbed by such a revelation—it is cruel! Yet how can I blame her for conduct so natural in a woman who loves? She feared to see my growing affection turned into aversion, and delayed to the utmost the much dreaded disclosure. Enough for to-day. I send off this letter. After my marriage you shall hear from me again. Ever yours,
What a ray of light thrown upon my dark uncertainties! "To St Petersburg, instantly! The trace is found!"
Such was my exclamation after reading the above letter, which was communicated to me at Vienna by an old and tried friend. In an incredibly short time I had reached the Russian capital. What I there learned was as follows:—
On the day appointed for the marriage of Natalie d'Emiliano and the young Swedish count, Paul S——, when all were in readiness to proceed to the church, and the guests were only waiting the appearance of the bride and bridegroom, a piercing cry was suddenly heard in a room adjoining that in which the bridal party was assembled. The company hurried, in the direction of the sound, and there found the Count lying apparently lifeless on the floor, while the bride was hastily securing the fastenings of her mask. The guests thronged round the former, and tried every means of recovering him from the death-like swoon into which he had fallen. After much trouble they were successful. The Marchese and Natalie were then sought for, but both had disappeared; and neither of them were ever afterwards seen or heard of in St Petersburg. The bridegroom could never be induced to tell what it was that the mask concealed.
TRADITIONS AND TALES OF UPPER LUSATIA.
THE MOOR MAIDEN.
"Wildernesses and heaths are not the only spots that boast of their Fata Morgana," said Woldemar, in a society of torch-bearers which regularly assembled in the old castle on Christmas night.
"The vision appears in a hundred places, in shapes answering to the peculiarity of soil and country in which she rises. Here she is an apparition of the air, beaming with splendour; there she unfolds herself in glittering mist. On the unbounded plain, you behold her in the form of an enchanted city—a paradise of leafy loveliness, or it may be simply as a fantastic Erl-King, a giddy dazzling vapour. Let her appear, however, where and how she will, she is ever seductive, mysterious, and beautiful, and attended with the awe of a strange nameless delight.
"You know the high table-land, strewed with countless blocks of granite, between C—— and K——. Inclosed upon two sides by mountains and thick groves of beech, it would be a perfect desert but for the clear crystal brook which purls its way along the glistening stones. This labyrinthine brook, indeed, fills the barren spot with animation, whilst it creates too that singular power of attraction which we cannot explain to ourselves, but which, nevertheless, becomes our unfailing companion in regions with which the heart of the people has intimately associated itself by tales of wonder and tradition.
"The Tradition touching this very table-land is dim and shapeless, like the thick mist of a sultry summer's day, hanging over hill and valley. It is most convenient to the common working mind to retain and hold fast in a history only so much as is needful for the great catastrophe. The people are content to abide by the beginning and end of things, not concerning themselves with the important connecting links. All that lies between is left to the imagination of the more inquisitive to fill up. A tradition of this order occurs to me this moment, and, by your leave, I will do my best to complete it:—
"A mysterious curse lay upon the noble house of Gottmar. No male scion was suffered to perpetuate the race. The bride of his selection died on her wedding-day, and he himself was doomed to follow quickly after. The rich possessions passed to the nearest relative, who, by virtue of an ancient law, assumed the name of Gottmar. The family was very ancient. It traced its origin back to the Sclavonian priests, the sacrificers to the God Mahr, and bore in its armorial ensigns a sacrificial axe and a blood channel, in shape like that which at this day is found cut into the granite-blocks of the high mountain that bears the name of Gottmar. The later descendants of this powerful and widely-ramified house could no longer explain the cause of their cruel condition. It had been deemed advisable by their ancestors to exterminate every record of it, hoping thereby perhaps to weaken, in the course of time, the curse itself. The precaution was fruitless. No alteration whatever took place in the fate of the doomed family, which at length was regarded, no less by itself than by the world, as the outlawed of heaven.
"The last living representative of the house of Gottmar entered upon the family inheritance upon the death of his cousin. Bolko was a mild yet enthusiastic youth, glowing with deep, ripe feeling, and needy of human love. He had little joy in the acquisition of what, in other circumstances, might have been considered his enviable fortune. He thought only of the miserable destiny that sentenced him to celibacy or death. His immediate predecessor, riding across a heath to take a last farewell of his bride, had been struck dead by lightning, and the maiden herself had been hurled from life at the edge of a precipice. Bolko, attired in mourning, sat at the window of his lofty castle, and surveyed the lovely prospect before him, bathed as it was in the golden light of evening. Here were rich forests, there teeming fields; in the depths of the valleys prosperous labouring villages; and in the far distance, towering above all, the blue crests and jagged peaks of a mountain region.
"'And all has become mine!' he exclaimed, resting his forehead dejectedly upon his hand; 'to pass quickly away again, and unenjoyed! And I, in ignorance, why! To be a sinner, a criminal, and not conscious of one criminal aspiration. Yet, to be punished for crime—to be killed for crime. Oh, it is hard! And heaven, sweet and fair as she appears, is crueler than I could have believed.'
"His preceptor, confessor and friend stepped into the apartment. Hubert was an aged man, learned and pious, and well skilled, it was believed, in cabalistic science. He had buried three Gottmars, and received their last confessions. From these he had drawn conjectures and conclusions which induced him to investigate the traditions current amongst the people respecting his unhappy patrons; and out of all, he was able at last to form a picture of probability, to the completeness of which some demonstrative evidence of its truth was wanting. At the period of which I speak—it was still before the Reformation—books were held in slender esteem. Nevertheless, there was a library in Gottmar castle, consisting of numerous manuscripts, the production of monks, and chiefly on religious subjects. The lords of the castle, engaged in the chase, in fishing, and other knightly pastimes, had not, from time out of mind, disturbed the repose of their written treasures. They lay piled one upon another, covered with dust, mildewed, and worm-eaten. Hubert, in the prosecution of his purpose, did not fail to examine the neglected documents; and he had reason to rejoice at his labours, when he found amongst the rolls a learned treatise on astrology, a science which he himself had studied with unwearied industry and ardour. His joy and astonishment, however, were not complete, until he found himself master of a decaying parchment, which, in almost obsolete characters, expounded to his eager senses the mysterious destiny of the house of Gottmar. He hugged the knowledge to his soul, deciphered the ancient syllables in his own quiet cell, and waited for the proper hour to communicate the marvellous secret to his lord and pupil. He heard the complainings of the youthful Bolko, and he recognised in them a hint from heaven. He now approached him with tenderness, and pressed his pupil's hand.
"'Courage, my son!' said he. 'The veil is withdrawn.'
"Bolko drew a heavy sigh.
"'I have spoken the truth, my child!' continued Hubert. 'Believe and trust!'
"'Thanks for thy kind words, good Hubert,' replied the youth. 'I revere thy wisdom, I esteem thy love. How shall I believe that it has been permitted thee to break open the gloomy vaults of the past?'
"'And yet if this were so! If an auspicious—a heaven-sent chance'—
"'Hast thou courage, Bolko, to penetrate into the past?—Then read this roll attentively. It offers us the means, as I most solemnly believe, to weaken, if not annihilate, the curse which has so long persecuted thy unhappy race.'
"Hubert drew a parchment from the folds of his garment, and placed it in the hands of the astounded Bolko. The priest immediately withdrew. The youthful noble as quickly drew a chair to the window; and by the vanishing light of the evening sky, he read the following history:—
"'This is the last Confession of Walter, baron of Gottmar, which I, his Confessor, write down by his command, that it may be preserved in everlasting remembrance, by all who are Descendants of the House of Gottmar.
"'My great-uncle Herbert, the tenth inheritor of this territory, was a passionate lover of the chase. In all seasons of the year, in good weather and in bad, by day and night, he scoured the boundless forests which he called his own. In his time, the hunting of the boar was a noble and especial sport, and hence the breeding of these beasts was diligently fostered and encouraged. The immense forests of beech and fir upon the slopes of the mountain which bears our name, attracted to their neighbourhood an extraordinary number of these boars; so that at all times my ancestor could indulge his passion to the full. During one of his grand expeditions, two remarkable events had place. A gigantic boar dug open with his tusks a marvellously clear spring, which bubbled forth so vigorously, and purled so bright and cool along the mossy fields, that a brook was formed from it immediately. This discharged itself into the low grounds with rare turns and windings; so that Herbert was fain to fix a village there, and to name it after the boar, and the brook which his ferocity had brought to light. Whilst this was happening on the western declivity of the mountain, a similar accident took place upon the slope projecting to the eastward. Here, in like manner, a considerable bed of turf was discovered, and close upon it, beneath granitic sand, another powerful spring. This Herbert caused empty itself into large ponds; and the turf-pit he had worked by skilful men, over whom he placed as chief Wittehold his page. The profit from this turf was so large that the wealth of Herbert grew more and more, and the population of the newly-founded village rose as rapidly; since every new settler was suffered to take on the turf-bed as much fuel as he needed for firing during the space of five years.
"'Wittehold, too, the overseer, was well contented with his post. He enjoyed the confidence of his lord, and became independent. He married; and, after the lapse of a year, had the happiness to press a lovely child to his fond bosom. But the birth of the child cost him the life of her mother. Herbert promised to provide for the orphan, and maintained his word. My great-uncle was a bachelor, who had never been able to meet with a maiden possessing all the qualities which he demanded in a wife. He postponed the all-important step of marriage from year to year, without suffering any inconvenience from the delay.
"'In the mean time the beautiful daughter of Wittehold—who had, I know not why, been christened AURIOLA—grew to womanhood, and unfolded a sweetness and grace that fascinated all beholders. Herbert, whose heart had so long resisted the attacks of love, was not proof against the beauty, ingenuousness, and innocence of Auriola. He confessed his affection to the maiden, and petitioned Wittehold for his child. With the last, contrary to expectation, he found but little favour. Wittehold submitted that his daughter was not born to be the consort of so great and rich a lord, and respectfully declined the honour of her advancement. Moreover, he had already promised her to a faithful comrade, a worthy overseer at the turf-works. Herbert expostulated, appealed to his protection of Auriola, to her affection for him, but in vain. He plied the obstinate Wittehold with threats. In spite of them the latter held out: he did more; he bore his child with his own hand from the castle, and carried her to his cottage near the pit, hoping, by such a step, and by sound remonstrance, to lead his fascinated master on to other and to better thoughts.
"'The conduct of Wittehold threw Auriola into a deep melancholy. She hurried to the cottage door a hundred times a-day, and looked with straining eye towards the lofty castle of her lover. Her father being absent, she would bound, swift as a fawn, through the silvery grass that trembled and sparkled in the sunny light, and seat herself upon the high margin of the spring, feeding her vision with the pearly drops that bubbled from the bottom. The spot, visited by few, was rendered almost sacred by a cluster of broad-armed beech-trees that overshadowed it. Herbert encountered his Auriola in this retreat. Who shall tell their joy? Herbert urged his suit—Auriola followed him through bush and thicket, and was powerless before his ardent supplications. Wittehold surprised the pair. His fury and indignation were ungovernable. Herbert, in self-defence, had recourse to his good sword, but this was as a lath against the ire of his assailant. Wittehold slew his lord. Not yet satisfied, the madman pursued his fugitive child, whose screams for aid only brought her to a speedier end. He met her at the spring—there seized the trembling creature, and mercilessly cast her in. The maiden struggled for an instant; but, the short conflict over, she uttered a piteous wail, and sank for ever beneath the softly-rippling water. Even whilst she struggled, the inhuman father raised his clenched fist, and pointed with it towards Gottmar's castle. 'God of heaven!' he exclaimed, 'hear my curse; and may it fall like the unerring bolt upon this execrated race. May no male offspring take to his arms a bride, or brighten his hearth with her presence, until a Gottmar restore my daughter's virgin honour. Until this happen, let the poor victim be accursed, and evil work with the posterity of her betrayer!' The miserable murderer invoked the infernal powers to assist in the fulfilment of his curse, and then, as if beside himself, ran to the turf-pits. Here he procured a shovel and an axe. With their help he choked up the crystal grave of his daughter, and diverted the strong current into the pit, which it soon flooded. This done, he fled into the woods, and has not since been heard of. But his curse has been fulfilled with frightful regularity in the family of Gottmar. Not one has married with impunity. Bridegroom and bride have fallen. Auriola, crying for vengeance, hovers above the turf-pit, which since that hour has become a wide unfathomable moor.
Heinrich Wendelin, Chaplain.'
"The hand of Bolko dropped as he finished the narrative. The evening twilight thickened before his eyes. He sank into a solemn musing. When he awoke from it, Hubert was again at his side.
"'Hast thou read?' enquired the teacher.
"Bolko slowly raised his head, and looked full in the face of his confessor.
"'Canst thou vouch for this, Hubert?' he asked in his turn. 'Is it genuine, is it true?'
"'Since when hast thou learned to suspect me of deception?' replied the old man calmly.
"'Forgive me, Hubert. This narrative confounds me. I am unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. But do thou advise me. What dost thou think of it? Can a curse such as this is represented to have been—can it have retained its force so long?'
"'Universal nature is one tremendous mystery,' replied the priest; 'who shall decide wherein her power consists? At the best we can but conjecture at her connexion with the world of man—her weaving and working. No one can deny that a solemn curse, spoken with a determined and haughty purpose, has often, on the very instant, accomplished its fulfilment. If this be so, why may it not work again and again? The disregarded belief of the people—that a curse floats in the air until it finds its victim, and then drops down upon him—is not so worthless as men would have us think. There is at least expressed in it, dimly and perhaps unconsciously, the inseparable union that subsists between the spirit of man and the all-governing spirit of nature.'
"The youth had risen from his chair, and was pacing the apartment to appease his agitated soul.
"'Well, well!' said he, drawing a heavy breath; 'it is a decree which we must receive without a murmur, and suffer patiently.'
"'And who says that?' replied the priest with quickness. 'The wisdom of nature has created an antidote for every poison.'
"'Art thou serious?' asked Bolko earnestly.
"'Heaven is merciful!' continued Hubert. 'Pardon is unlimited where repentance is sincere.'
"'Who shall repent in this case?' answered Bolko. 'The criminal is long since dead. Can another atone for his offence?'
"'Dost thou yet doubt, and art thou my pupil?' said Hubert. 'The WILL can kill and also vivify.'
"The eyes of Bolko sparkled in the gloomy chamber. He grasped the hand of his aged teacher, and drew him to the casement.
"'Speak!' he exclaimed. 'I will hear thee, and do thy bidding—do all that thou holdest lawful and right.'
"Hubert directed his countenance, over which a few hoary locks still lingered, towards the landscape before them.
"'You have often heard, my son,' said he, 'that yon desolate spot, called to this day the Gold Spring, is the deadliest spot on earth to those who bear your name. Far as the wood extends on either side, extended formerly the turf-pit. The deep moor is covered now by an unsteady earth-crust, overgrown with pale red sedge, and from its centre, as from a grotto, the beautiful rivulet ripples forth that irrigates and renders fruitful all your land. I doubt not that this grotto, with its golden vault of granite, is the very spring into which the furious Wittehold cast his daughter. The place is to this hour deemed unholy. No one willingly sets foot there; no man ventures to draw water from the fount. Temerity has already been punished for the attempt. Strange sights have met the eyes of the daring one, and he has fled like a coward from the spot. Have not many seen—have not I myself beheld that fairy-like, almost transparent form, with her unearthly pitcher, drawing water from the spring, then pouring it over the moor in curious arches by sun and moonlight; and ever so, that the rays of light kindled therein the most huey gleamings? Is it not well attested, that when at such times mortals have addressed her, the delicate creature has grown o' the sudden pale—paler and more transparent, until, melting into silvery cloud, she has glided pillar-like along the moor, and vanished at length into the cool and wondrous grotto?'
"'You describe the Maiden of the Moor,' said Bolko, interrupting him.
"'So she is called!' returned Hubert. 'It was her apparition which drew my attention to the neighbourhood, and to the tales that are current respecting it. When I had discovered the manuscript, I saw at once in the Maiden of the Moor the complaining spirit of the unhappy Auriola.'
"'And the spirit, as you deem, may be appeased?'
"'Assuredly, my son; and thou art he who must perform the expiation.'
"'Thou art guileless, sound of heart, leading a life of innocence and nature. To a pure spirit, a determined will, a feeling heart—much is possible.'
"'But how, father?—how?'
"Hubert remained silent for a few minutes. He then proceeded—
"'Thy heart is still free, but it yearns for love—for the mysterious, magical response of another—a womanly, heart. It may be that Auriola will afford thee thy delight, if thou couldst once behold her.'
"'What! The Moor Maiden! Father, thou mockest me. What can this female be to me, appearing as a vision to man, a creature of air?'
"'And if she appear to thee, hast thou courage to address her?'
"'Father, a lovely form shall hardly frighten me,' said Bolko, with a smile.
"'I exact thy promise,' said Hubert quickly. 'From this day forward, shun the Gold Spring no more. Thou art a lover of nature and her creations. I have seen thee for hours lost in admiration of the form and colour of choice butterflies. That spot abounds in the rarest. Thou mayst find them at any hour of the day. It would seem, indeed, that the delicate insects of peace had retreated thither to find security from the tumult of busy money-lusting men. The realm of the Moor Maiden is the paradise of these tenderest of winged beauties. Bolko, thou wilt visit them!'
"The baron gave his right hand to his preceptor without uttering one word of assurance or affirmation. Hubert had done. He left his young lord to his own meditations.
* * * * *
"Bolko passed some days in restless suspense. Now he was a wanderer in the woods, now a prisoner in the apartment that looked upon the moor, watching intently during the day every slight phenomenon that arose there. The morning and evening mist and the yellow vapour of noon were his best discoveries. Not a human being approached a place shunned, as it appeared, by every living thing. The conversation, however, with Hubert had proved a secret spur to him, and he found no rest until he visited the dreary moor in person. It was late in the afternoon, when, furnished with a hunting-knife and insect-net, he set out on his adventure. Bolko had never before visited the spring, and his surprise was naturally great when he beheld the peculiar condition of the soil around him. Along the entire surface of the notorious moor—and its extent was considerable—there appeared a singularly-coloured sedge. It was not red, or yellow, or brown, but a mixture of all three, and it marked, by the sharpest line, the confines of the moor from the green turf of the remaining country. At every step, the ground, although very strong, yielded, as it threatening to give way. Towards the centre of the moor there was an elevation surrounded with bushes. This was the source of the silvery water that took its serpentine course along the moor, and through the luxuriant woods beyond.
"Bolko made his way towards this point, and, reaching it, his eye rested with delight upon the basin and its border of golden granite. The water ascended noiselessly from its immeasurable depths in countless glistening pearls. Over the refreshing fountain, and far away upon the nodding blades of grass, and bearded turf-flowers, hovered, in giddy graceful sport, a variegated troop of gorgeous butterflies. The majestic and solemn Silver-mantle, the cherub of these winged dwellers of the air, the soft and exquisite Peacock's-eye, the burning Purple-bird, were here assembled. Bolko was ravished with the sight, and thought of nothing but a glorious capture. Delicate and lovely as the creatures were, his cruel hand robbed them of their gladsome life; and he pursued them further and further across the moor, and with such ardour and desire, that he forgot all other things, and suffered the very object of his visit to escape from his remembrance. Suddenly, and in the act of imprisoning a multitude of these illuminated beings, he perceived a Maiden sitting at the extremity of the moor, her back towards him. Her form was slender, and her hair, golden as the sun, travelled in burnished tresses from her shoulders to the earth, where it curled along the moor-grass like rays of the divine orb itself. After the manner of Sclavonian girls, the stranger wore a closely-fitting snow-white cap, or rather frontlet, from which, as from a chaplet, the beautiful hair streamed down. Bolko had approached the maiden unperceived, near enough to discern a butterfly of rare magnitude and unequaled beauty oscillating about her marble forehead. The youth stole cautiously behind the fair one, and tried to catch the flutterer. He touched the maiden in his eager movement, and she turned round immediately.
"'Forgive me, lovely child!' said he. 'I'——The words died upon his tongue. He could say no more. The butterfly escaped from his hands, and flew slowly towards the Gold Spring, changing its brilliant colours with every motion of its wing.
"The singular beauty of the maiden had struck the baron dumb. From a soft transparent countenance of the purest form, there beamed upon him a pair of eyes which had derived their holy light from the very fountain-head of Love. She wore an uncommon but most becoming dress.
"To a party-coloured gown, scarcely reaching to her ankle, was attached a sky-blue boddice in front, united by perfect silver clasps, and not so closely as to prevent the sweetest glimmering of a snow-white virgin bosom. Her arms, round, delicate, and pure as marble, were uncovered to the shoulders. Her small feet were bare, yet protected partly by fairy-looking slippers profusely ornamented. The beauteous object smiled upon the youth, and answered him in a voice that dropped like melody upon his ear.
"'Thou art the robber then,' said she; 'the merciless purloiner of my fairest thoughts! Can I wonder now that I have been so destitute of late!'
"'How?' stammered Bolko, more astonished than ever.
"'Strange man!' continued the maiden, in the same ravishing voice, 'thou revelest with thy fancies, and dost thou wonder that I, too, love to dally with my thoughts and dreams? The tiny creatures whom thou hast taken from me were, and still are, threads of my heart, which I permit at times to issue into the sunny light of day. Restore them, living, and beautiful as thou hast found them, or I accuse thee of breaking this poor heart!'
"'Who art thou, sweetest child?'
"'They call me AURIOLA. I know thee well. Thou art Bolko of Gottmar—Bolko, the accursed!'
"'Yes—the accursed!' repeated the youth, pressing his hands to his eyes as if he would forget his doom. When he removed them, Auriola had risen, and was standing before him. Her lovely countenance, her matchless eyes were turned full upon him. At her feet he perceived an earthen pitcher of a peculiar and not ungraceful form. It bore a strong resemblance to the sacrificial pitchers which are still discovered in places once inhabited by Sclavonians.
"'What wilt thou, poor child?' said Bolko in a tone of kindness. 'Can I help thee?'
"'Thou hast come to me at thine own bidding. I invited thee not, for I invite none. Yet he who visits me must do my will. Thou hast wrought me pain in stealing away the thoughts which were soaring in mid air decked in their brightest robes. Thou must be punished for thy misdeed. Come!'
"The marvellous creature took Bolko's hand, and drew him after her towards the Gold Spring. Before her, and above her head, the butterflies formed with their magnificent wing-shells a glowing arched pavilion. The youth was allured by an irresistible attraction, and would not, if he could, have dragged himself away from the celestial being; albeit, he still regarded her as a mere apparition. Every feeling, every thought, every desire of his heart, streamed towards Auriola. Fleeting shadow that she was, he loved her already to idolatry.
"At the margin of the spring, Auriola released her companion, descended the grotto with her pitcher, and filled it with the purest water. In a few minutes she was again at his side. She placed the pitcher on the ground, and her two hands upon the shoulders of the youth. In this trustful, graceful, loving posture, fixing her wondrous eyes upon the boy, the maiden spoke.
"'And canst thou love, too?'
"He answered not; but he pressed the beauteous Auriola to his heart, and passionately kissed her forehead. But Bolko started back affrighted, for he had kissed a forehead colder than ice.
"'Note me well!' said she, and her voice sounded more melancholy than before. She seated herself upon the high ledge of the spring, drew Bolko beside her, and placed the pitcher of water between herself and him. The butterflies stood now in the full light of the sun over the rippling spring. A scattered few only still hovered about the moor.
"'We must tarry yet awhile,' said Auriola, 'until my heart is quite my own again!' As she spoke, her ecstatic eyes glanced to the single flutterers on the moor. As if caught by a magnet, they directed their flight instantly towards the Gold Spring.
"'Now I am myself—for what is yet wanting rests in thee. Take heed!'
"Auriola now poured from the pitcher into her small left hand as much water as this would hold, and extended the right to her companion. He, surprised by love, encircled the maiden's waist, brought his ear close to her delicate cheek, and watched with eagerness her strange performance. Auriola blew at first softly, then more vehemently, into the hollow of her hand, so that the water, bubbling up, ran to the slender rosy fingers, and, in glittering drops, sprinkled from the finger-tips.
"'Look!' she exclaimed, 'look! Tell me what thou see'st?'
"The pearly drops had scarcely touched the air before they joined, when, on the instant, a vision rose before the sight. There was a bright green meadow, edged by waving beech-trees, through whose foliage the evening sun shed burnished gold. A youth was on his knees before a maiden, in the act of offering her a golden ring. The picture was, in the beginning, dim and indistinct, but it grew clearer and clearer, until by degrees it dissolved again, and was lost in the atmosphere.
"'What means this, Auriola?' enquired the ravished Bolko. 'Chain not my unguarded heart to thine with such witchery. Misery and death will be the penalty.'
"'Dream and listen,' replied Auriola. 'Hearts and souls have nothing better to do. We do but speak into the future, to catch back the tones which strike in unison with our desires.'
"'Our future?' whispered Bolko.
"'Say thine, if it likes thee better,' answered Auriola, filling her hand anew with water, and once more urging the sparkling fluid towards her finger-ends. Bolko perceived a horseman galloping across a gloomy heath, and looking back with horror. This apparition, like the former, shone distinctly for a time, and then, in the same manner, vanished by degrees, and expired.
"'And what is this?' asked Bolko.
"Auriola shook her head in silence, poured water again into her hand, and blew it again along her fingers into the air. A lofty, many-towered castle was visible. A rope-ladder was fastened to a gallery. A man was climbing up. As soon as he reached the gallery, the vision was lost.
"'It is the castle of my ancestors!' cried Bolko.
"'Thou art mistaken,' answered Auriola. 'But tell me—canst thou love?'
"Her voice was again mournful.
"The youth drew the fair questioner to his heart. His lips fastened on hers, and hallowing fire streamed through his frame.
"Auriola heaved a melancholy sigh, and once more filled her hand with water. At the usual signal there arose a brilliantly illuminated hall. Dancers, gaily dressed, were in happy motion. Music was heard, and then the strains and the colours died away in the twilight.
"'I smart!' exclaimed Bolko. 'I am tortured! My soul is gnawed with agony!'
"'Hush, and listen,' said Auriola, in a tone of command—filling her hand, and impelling the crystal water into the air, as before. A roaring was heard, like the course of a hurricane sweeping through a forest. The air grew black. Then the moon broke through night and mist, and lit up a hilly region, surrounded by wood and cliff. Out of the wood issued a carriage and four, making at full speed for a solitary open space, that looked dismal and deserted. The form of a maiden floated before the carriage, her painfully smiling countenance ever turned towards it until she evaporated, like a cloud, in the wood. A flash of lightning from the murky sky struck a beech-tree, near whose flames the carriage slowly disappeared into the ground.
"This vision at an end, Auriola bent her head, and tears fell upon her bosom.
"'Lovely enchantress,' said Bolko, 'why perform these miracles if they afflict thee?'
"'Because there is no longer love upon the earth.'
"'Say not so!' exclaimed the youth. 'Love still exists—deep, eternal, holy love. I feel it now. Auriola, I, whose arms never encircled maiden yet—I love thee, Auriola, with every fibre of my body—with every faculty of my soul. I will be thine—thine for ever; be thou mine, my Auriola!'
"'BE CONSTANT!' The words were uttered in the clear voice of Auriola; as if from the air. Bolko saw the lovely form grow pale, felt her vanishing, at his heart. The brilliant cloud of butterflies arose from the spring, and flew towards heaven by a hundred roads. A thin misty streak sank into the grotto. Bolko was alone upon the barren moor. Sultry vapours were exhaling in the twilight. Indescribable sensations preyed on the soul of Bolko, as he remembered that he had given his heart to one who was no longer a dweller upon earth—that he had plighted his faith to the Maiden of the Moor. He hurried from the scene of his unhallowed engagement, to seek from the wisdom of his Hubert consolation for the peace of mind which had been so sadly disturbed, if not for ever taken from him.
* * * * *
"The priest listened to the account of Auriola's appearance with secret delight, and did not fail to comfort the unhappy youth. Bolko, restored to peace, passed the night in blissful dreams. Once more the sweet form of the Moor Maiden floated before him—once more the magical pictures gleamed, ravishing his senses. With sunrise he quitted the castle, and obeyed the sorcery that allured him to the moor. All fear and alarm had disappeared. Solitude, erewhile so hateful to him, was now enchanting! The stony, brown, and barren plain, the gloomy confines of the wood, the vapours of the boggy soil, united to create an earthly paradise. He took his seat upon the margin of the limpid spring, and, gazing on the charmed waters, invoked the presence of the fair magician. Auriola, however, appeared not. At noon he quitted the moor unsatisfied, but the approach of evening found him there again. Still she came not, and nothing remained to assure him of the reality of his former interview but the illuminated winged cloud of butterflies which, like a living rainbow, overarched the spring. Impatient and distressed, the ardent lover scoured the extensive moor, and at last approached the borders of the forest. Suddenly he saw—scarce twenty paces from him—the wished-for figure gliding through the rustling grass, the earthen pitcher drooping from her hand. Auriola regarded him not, but waved the vessel gracefully around her head, scattering its contents in glittering jets, that leaped about her like garlands of the precious diamond.
"'Auriola!' exclaimed the boy, rushing forward as he spoke. 'My own Auriola—mine, now and for ever!' He threw himself before her, seized her hand, and in an instant fixed a golden ring upon her taper finger.
"The maiden offered no resistance. But when the passionate Bolko rose from the ground, and was about to embrace his beloved, she lifted the ring-decked hand, and, in a voice of touching melancholy, exclaimed—
"Bolko followed the direction of her finger. Over the live and swarming cloud there appeared, now here, now there, the apparition of the previous evening; only that to-day it was larger and more distinct, and continued longer to the view.
"Bolko recognised, to his astonishment, the forms of Auriola and himself.
"'What does this mean?' said Bolko. 'Is it reality or illusion?'
"'Thou beholdest!' answered Auriola. 'The air abhors falsehood, and reflects nothing but truth.'
"Bolko advanced. Auriola waved the pitcher, and the vision was lost.
"'Wilt thou be constant?' asked the maid. 'Misery is mine if thou canst forget this day and its betrothal.'
"The eyes of Bolko were fixed in amazement on the air where the picture had shone so palpable a moment before. He saw not, he heard not, Auriola, and the agony of the preceding evening tortured his whole frame. When he recovered his suspended faculties, Auriola was gone. The usual tranquil, solemn repose, the old desolate gloom, universally prevailed. The low-lying meadows breathed out their thin vapours, the more distant ponds were enveloped in mist, and the grey shadows vanished by degrees from hill and thicket.
"Bolko arrived, agitated and breathless, at his castle gate. He went at once to the library, where he found, as he expected, his friend and counsellor.
"'Save me, save me, father!' cried the young lord. 'Thou hast beguiled me into a compact with a being of another world. Womanly love has cozened and betrayed me. Passion has overmastered me. I have bound myself to the Moor Maiden, and am eternally made over to her sorcery.'
"'And wherefore should this frighten you?' replied the hoary chaplain. 'Thou hast done my bidding; and since thou art permitted to destroy a curse which threatens to annihilate thy race, gratitude, not fear, should move thee. Yonder Moor Maiden contents herself with the sweet semblance, and will not ask for dull reality. Auriola never looks to wed thee—never to possess thee—body and soul.'
"'But I love her—love her to madness!' cried Bolko, furiously.
"'Love her still; always love her with a spiritual and pure affection. This will not hinder thee from bestowing the other half of thy affection upon some fair daughter of Eve, worthy of thy heart.'
"'And is this to be spiritually faithful?' said Bolko, in a reproachful tone.
"'No earthly passion, my son,' continued Hubert, 'can either break or abolish the spiritual faith which thou hast vowed to Auriola. When thou hast loved a daughter of Eve, thou wilt see, feel, and be satisfied, that between the love of thy earthly bride and of the enchanting Auriola, there is a difference as wide as heaven from earth.'
"Bolko heaved a bitter sigh, and shook his head in doubt. Nevertheless, he meditated long and seriously upon all that Hubert said. By degrees, even, he acknowledged to himself, that the kernel, the pure light of a deep truth, glimmered in his words, although in a manner veiled. He began to question his own heart; the more probable, nay, the more desirable seemed the consummation of Hubert's promises. For reasons, which he could scarcely explain to himself, he studiously avoided another visit to the moor. But in the meanwhile, that which originally had been a half-formed wish, and scarcely that, ripened into absorbing passion, vehement desire. Incessant thought nourished the ever-glowing flame, which burned the brighter, the more the spiritual love of Auriola receded and grew faint. Remembrance, it is true, still clung with a devout aspiration upon that beauteous image, but it resembled rather the placid feeling of a holy friendship, than the impetuous throbbing of a young and passionate love. 'Hubert is right!' said the youth; 'I will follow his direction. Auriola, lovely and rapturous being, angelic, spiritual, and human, will rejoice with the Accursed, when he carries to his desolate home the mistress of his castle—the wife of his bosom.'
"Opportunity is seldom wanting when inclination needs its service. About three miles from Gottmar, amongst the mountains, majestically rose the battlements of a proud castle. Baron T——, its wealthy master, had already visited Bolko upon his accession to the family estates, and Bolko now determined to acknowledge his neighbour's act of kindness. Had the baron been childless, it is very likely that Bolko would still have remembered what was due to society, and to his own station in the world; and it is equally true, that the fact of his possessing a young and lovely daughter, did not diminish the youthful noble's desire to act conformably to usage and propriety. Unfortunately for the intention of his visit, Bolko learned, on his arrival at the castle, that the baron was from home. In his stead, however, a maiden greeted him, slender of figure, noble in bearing. It was very strange, but it is certain, that the tumultuous feelings which of late had stirred within him unrestrained—were suddenly chained and riveted upon an object that afforded them a sweet tranquillity. Emma was gentle, frank, and beauteous as the blushing rose. In Bolko's frame of mind, could she fail to make a deep impression upon his young and too susceptible soul? He lingered at her side hour after hour, and was himself astonished to find the darkness of night creeping over the earth, and he not more prepared for departure than he had been on entering the castle-gates some hours before. However, the knight did not make his appearance, and good breeding suggested to unwilling ears that it was time to retire. Bolko said farewell—more tenderly, perhaps, than he supposed or meant; and as the delicate hand of Emma lay involuntarily in his own, he flattered himself that he felt his pressure softly returned, and that he could perceive a smile of contentment escaping from her lips as he promised to pay a second visit 'shortly.'
"The night was very dark: a few stars only twinkled through the thin veil which covered the heavens. Bolko madly spurred his steed, and the high-spirited animal, who needed no such incitement, bounded like a deer towards home. The thoughts of the baron were no longer with him, but imprisoned in the happy room in which he had passed so many blissful hours. Trusting to the instinct of the horse, the master took no heed of the road: and the trustworthy servant, scenting the vicinity of his stable, found easily for himself the best and shortest paths towards that wished-for spot. The trees became thinner and thinner, falling back on either side, whilst a flat and barren region lay before horse and rider. The former snorted and pranced, and the latter could not distinguish the locality through the blackness. Bolko coaxed the steed, and gently urged him forwards. But the animal trembled, and, in spite of bridle and spur, struck to the side, and swept along the skirts of the forest, without touching so much as with a hoof the gloomy-looking heath. Accustomed to the surrounding darkness, the eye of Bolko was at length able to discern—not without a creeping of horror—the ruddy and unsteady reed-grass. The moor and the Gold Spring were on one side of him. Pale stripes of fog, like ribbed vaults, were spread above him, giving a sacredness to the air, with which all other things strangely contrasted. The mind of Bolko, against his will, reverted to Auriola; his heart beat, as though he were conscious of a heavy fault—of some inhuman crime. He turned his gaze from the moor, and, with an effort, directed it towards the dark forest, to which the horse galloped at full speed.
"The words, 'BE CONSTANT!' fell loudly and articulately upon the ears of Bolko—uttered in a tone rather of supplication than of demand or threatening. He turned his horse's head in terror, and—oh amazement! sitting at the edge of the fountain, covered with a bright veil, hemmed with diamonds, was—Auriola! Her fair and loosened hair, encompassed, as at their first meeting, her entire body, and glittering, curled along the ground. Her right hand was stretched high above her lovely head, holding between forefinger and thumb the ring with which the already inconstant Bolko had espoused her.
"'BE CONSTANT!' The words re-echoed from the moor: the streaks of fog descended. Over the maiden's head beamed forth a shining spot—gaining in size, and forming itself into a picture. Bolko, shuddering, beheld the second vision of Auriola's enchantment, and looked upon himself as he had burst a few minutes before upon the moor.
"Auriola beckoned to the youth, and pointed to the picture. Then once again, more melancholy, more mournfully, more entreatingly upon the distracted ears of Bolko came—the repeated cry of admonition—'BE CONSTANT!'
"The youth galloped for his life. He reached his home paler than death, and refused to be comforted even by the wisdom of his preceptor.
"From this time, Bolko ceased to visit the moor in search of Auriola. The daughter of earth had inspired him with a love that admitted of no commingling of affection. Memory however, refused to lose sight of her. It obtruded her form upon him, the more determinedly he endeavoured to thrust it from his mind by dwelling upon the charms of his Emma. He repeated his visit at the castle, and was soon a constant guest there. He confessed his love to Emma, and she did not rebuke him. Her father was less tender. He roundly refused his daughter's hand. 'He had no desire,' he said, 'to make his child unhappy. He knew well enough how every Lord of Gottmar was obliged to harbour an evil Kobold in his house, who couldn't endure the sight of women, and no sooner met one than he mercilessly strangled her. No, sir baron,' he continued, 'it cannot be. Take not unkindly the answer which I give thee. It touches not thy noble person, which pleases me right well, but simply thy house and castle Kobold. Remove the creature, or at least its power of doing harm, and thou art welcome here. But before that time, I pray thee come not again, lest I should forget myself, and do that which both of us would be sorry for.'
"The lovers protested against the decision, and Bolko tried hard to convince the old baron that the mysterious power which had so long and so fatally reigned over the house of Gottmar, was propitiated, and no longer hurtful. Hubert attested the repeated asseverations of his pupil, but nothing could bring conviction to the stubborn veteran. He swore they were all in a league, or building castles in the air, and he persisted in his resolution.
"It was autumn. The days were declining. Showers and tempests swept through the forest. Upon a night, brightened by no moonbeam or glittering star, Emma sat melancholy and alone in her apartment. The heavy embroidered curtains were drawn across the high windows of the balcony, which jutted out as a point of observation from the castle-wall. At intervals, the maiden applied her delicate ear to the window, catching eagerly at every strange sound muttered forth by the growing storm. She had resumed her seat many times, when the castle-bell tolled eleven, and almost at the same moment the cry of a screech-owl was distinctly heard. The expectant damsel glided on tiptoe to the window, and listened eagerly. The cry was repeated. Emma's eye sparkled at length with joy, a deep blush overspread her cheeks, and she produced from an aperture a ladder of twine, which she fastened to the casement. The cry of the owl was heard for the third time. The ladder was dropped, and in another instant a vigorous youth had mounted it.
"Bolko and Emma, happy and blessed, were in each other's arms, and they forgot all but the delicious present. Vows of love and constancy were exchanged, and rings were given, in remembrance of the blissful hour. But strange to say, as Bolko was about to adorn the hand of Emma with the pledge of his affection, a fearful gust of wind burst the window open, and blew into the room a little glistening object that rolled to Bolko's feet and settled there. Emma raised it from the ground, and discovered in her hand a broken ring.
"Bolko saw and trembled. It was his gift to Auriola. He fixed his eyes upon the broken symbol, and there glared before them the third charmed picture created from the waters. The rope-ladder, the balcony Emma and himself, all grouped, and taking the shape and form of that bright vision. Bolko glanced at the window, dreading to meet the reproachful look of Auriola; but instead of this, he heard with no less horror the approaching footsteps of his Emma's father.
"'Fly, Bolko, fly!' exclaimed the maiden. 'My father! We are lost!'
"Bolko hurried to the recess, and would have escaped, had not the malicious wind already carried away the rope-ladder. A prisoner and unarmed, he expected nothing short of death at the hands of the baron. The latter entered the apartment, stood for a few seconds in silence at the door, and measured the criminals with looks of stern severity.
"'My aged eye did not deceive me, then!' he said, at length, advancing to the trembling lovers.
"'Baron!' said Bolko, hesitatingly.
"'Silence, sir!' continued the old knight. 'If I should act now as my fathers would have done, I should fling you through that very window which helped you, like a robber, into this room; but I charge myself with blame already in this business, and I am more disposed to mercy. Come hither, young man. I know the fire and boldness of our youth. Give my child your hand; you are her future husband. May God prosper you both, and send his blessing on your union!'
"Bolko quaffed with the sturdy Baron of T—— until an early hour of the morning. The happy Emma acted the part of Hebe, and presented the flagons to the merry carousers.
* * * * *
"'Why have you withheld this from me?' asked Hubert, when Bolko related to him the unaccountable restoration of the ring. 'Oh, youth, youth! inconsiderate even to madness, and only content to listen to the voice of wisdom when they can of themselves find no outlet from difficulty and danger.'
"Bolko stood with folded arms at the window, gazing into the forest, and upon the lofty turrets of Castle T—— peeping in the grey distance above it.
"'Thou hast not visited the moor of late?' asked Hubert, after a pause.
"'What should I do there?' answered Bolko peevishly. 'Why should I spend my days in chasing an apparition, the mere creation of an over-heated fancy?'
"'Beware whom thou calumniatest!' said Hubert solemnly. 'Beware of the mysterious being that can deal out weal or woe to thee and all thy race! One whom thou mightest have appeased hadst thou been obedient and followed my instructions.'
"'Thy instructions!' repeated Bolko hastily. 'It is because I have listened too patiently to thy advice, because I have connected myself with thy aerial and capricious schemes, that I am the most miserable of men. But for thy persuasion and thy childish parchment, I should never have dreamed of making love to a ghost.'