TALES OF THE DEAD by Johann August Apel
The Death Bride: Part One
The summer had been uncommonly fine, and the baths crowded with company beyond all comparison: but still the public rooms were scarce ever filled, and never gay. The nobility and military associated only with those of their own rank, and the citizens contented themselves by slandering both parties. So many partial divisions necessarily proved an obstacle to a general and united assembly.
Even the public balls did not draw the beau monde together, because the proprietor of the baths appeared there bedizened with insignia of knighthood; and this glitter, added to the stiff manners of this great man’s family, and the tribe of lackeys in splendid liveries who constantly attended him, compelled the greater part of the company assembled, silently to observe the rules prescribed to them according to their different ranks.
For these reasons the balls became gradually less numerously attended. Private parties were formed, in which it was endeavoured to preserve the charms that were daily diminishing in the public assemblies.
One of these societies met generally twice a week in a room which at that time was usually unoccupied. There they supped, and afterwards enjoyed, either in a walk abroad, or remaining in the room, the charms of unrestrained conversation.
The members of this society were already acquainted, at least by name; but an Italian marquis, who had lately joined their party, was unknown to them, and indeed to everyone assembled at the baths.
The title of Italian marquis appeared the more singular, as his name, according to the entry of it in the general list, seemed to denote him of Northern extraction, and was composed of so great a number of consonants, that no one could pronounce it without difficulty.
His physiognomy and manners likewise presented many singularities. His long and wan visage, his black eyes, his imperious look, had so little of attraction in them, that everyone would certainly have avoided him, had he not possessed a fund of entertaining stories, the relation of which proved an excellent antidote to ennui: the only drawback against them was, that in general they required rather too great a share of credulity on the part of his auditors.
The party had one day just risen from table, and found themselves but ill inclined for gaiety. They were still too much fatigued from the ball of the preceding, evening to enjoy the recreation of walking, although invited so to do by the bright light of the moon. They were even unable to keep any conversation; therefore it is not to be wondered at, that they were more than usually anxious for the marquis to arrive.
‘Where can he be?’ exclaimed the countess in an impatient tone.
‘Doubtless still at the faro table, to the no small grief of the bankers,’ replied Florentine. ‘This very morning, he has occasioned the sudden departure of two of these gentlemen.’
‘No great loss,’ answered another.
‘To us—,’ replied Florentine; ‘but it is to the proprietor of the baths, who only prohibited gambling, that it might be pursued with greater avidity.’
‘The marquis ought to abstain from such achievements,’ said the chevalier with an air of mystery. ‘Gamblers are revengeful, and have generally advantageous connections. If what is whispered be correct, that the marquis is unfortunately implicated in political affairs—.’
‘But,’ demanded the countess, ‘what then has the marquis done to the bankers of the gaming table?’
‘Nothing; except that he betted on cards which almost invariably won. And what renders it rather singular, he scarcely derived any advantage from it himself, for he always adhered to the weakest party. But the other punters were not so scrupulous; for they charged their cards in such a manner that the bank broke before the deal had gone round.’
The countess was on the point of asking other questions, when the marquis coming in changed the conversation.
‘Here you are at last!’ exclaimed several persons at the same moment.
‘We have,’ said the countess, ‘been most anxious for your society; and just on this day you have been longer than usual absent.’
‘I have projected an important expedition; and it has succeeded to my wishes. I hope by tomorrow there will not be a single gaming table left here. I have been from one gambling room to another; and there are not sufficient post horses to carry off the ruined bankers.’
‘And cannot you,’ asked the countess, ‘teach us your wonderful art of always winning?’
‘It would be a difficult task, my fair lady; and in order to do it, one must ensure a fortunate hand, for without that nothing could be done.’
‘Nay,’ replied the chevalier, laughing, ‘never did I see so fortunate a one as yours.’
‘As you are still very young, my dear chevalier, you have many novelties to witness.’
Saying these words, the marquis threw on the chevalier so piercing a look that the latter cried:
‘Will you then cast my nativity?’
‘Provided that it is not done today,’ said the countess; ‘for who knows whether your future destiny will afford us so amusing a history as that which the marquis two days since promised we should enjoy?’
‘I did not exactly say amusing.’
‘But at least full of extraordinary events: and we require some such, to draw us from the lethargy which has overwhelmed us all day.’
‘Most willingly: but first I am anxious to learn whether any of you know aught of the surprising things related of the Death Bride.’
No one remembered to have heard speak of her.
The marquis appeared anxious to add something more by way of preface; but the countess and the rest of the party so openly manifested their impatience, that the marquis began his narration as follows: —
‘I had for a long time projected a visit to the count Lieppa, at his estates in Bohemia. We had met each other in almost every country in Europe: attracted hither by the frivolity of youth to partake of every pleasure which presented itself, but led thither when years of discretion had rendered us more sedate and steady. —At length, in our more advanced age, we ardently desired, ere the close of life, once again to enjoy, by the charms of recollection, the moments of delight which we had passed together. For my part, I was anxious to see the castle of my friend, which was, according to his description, in an extremely romantic district. It was built some hundred years back by his ancestors; and their successors had preserved it with so much care, that it still maintained its imposing appearance, at the same time it afforded a comfortable abode. The count generally passed the greater part of the year at it with his family, and only returned to the capital at the approach of winter. Being well acquainted with his movements, I did not think it needful to announce my visit; and I arrived at the castle one evening precisely at the time when I knew he would be there; and as I approached it, could not but admire the variety and beauty of the scenery which surrounded it.
‘The hearty welcome which I received could not, however, entirely conceal from my observation the secret grief depicted on the countenances of the count, his wife, and their daughter, the lovely Ida. In a short time I discovered that they still mourned the loss of Ida’s twin sister, who had died about a year before. Ida and Hildegarde resembled each other so much, that they were only to be distinguished from each other by a slight mark of a strawberry visible on Hildegarde’s neck. Her room, and everything in it, was left precisely in the same state as when she was alive, and the family were in the habit of visiting it whenever they wished to indulge the sad satisfaction of meditating on the loss of this beloved child. The two sisters had but one heart, one mind: and the parents could not but apprehend that their separation would be but of short duration; they dreaded lest Ida should also be taken from them.
‘I did everything in my power to amuse this excellent family, by entertaining them with laughable anecdotes of my younger days, and by directing their thoughts to less melancholy subjects than that which now wholly occupied them. I had the satisfaction of discovering that my efforts were not ineffectual. Sometimes we walked in the canton round the castle, which was decked with all the beauties of summer; at other times we took a survey of the different apartments of the castle, and were astonished at their wonderful state of preservation, whilst we amused ourselves by talking over the actions of the past generation, whose portraits hung in a long gallery.
‘One evening the count had been speaking to me in confidence, on the subject of his future plans: among other subjects he expressed his anxiety, that Ida (who had already, though only in her sixteenth year, refused several offers) should he happily married; when suddenly the gardener, quite out of breath, came to tell us he had seen the ghost (as he believed, the old chaplain belonging to the castle), who had appeared a century back. Several of the servants followed the gardener, and their pallid countenances confirmed the alarming tidings he had brought.
‘I believe you will shortly be afraid of your own shadow,’ said the count to them. He then sent them off, desiring them not again to trouble him with the like fooleries.
‘It is really terrible,’ said he to me, ‘to see to what lengths superstition will carry persons of that rank of life; and it is impossible wholly to undeceive them. From one generation to another an absurd report has from time to time been spread abroad, of an old chaplain’s ghost wandering in the environs of the castle; and that he says mass in the chapel, with other idle stories of a similar nature. This report has greatly died away since I came into possession of the castle; but it now appears to me, it will never be altogether forgotten.’
‘At this moment the duke de Marino was announced. The count did not recollect ever having heard of him.
‘I told him that I was tolerably well acquainted with his family; and that I had lately been present, in Venice, at the betrothing of a young man of that name.
‘The very same young man came in while I was speaking. I should have felt very glad at seeing him, had I not perceived that my presence caused him evident uneasiness.
‘Ah,’ said he in a tolerably gay tone, after the customary forms of politeness had passed between us; ‘the finding you here, my dear marquis, explains to me an occurrence, which with shame I own caused me a sensation of fear. To my no small surprise, they knew my name in the adjacent district; and as I came up the hill which leads to the castle, I heard it pronounced three times in a voice wholly unknown to me: and in a still more audible tone this strange voice bade me welcome. I now, however, conclude it was yours.’
‘I assured him, (and with truth,) that till his name was announced the minute before, I was ignorant of his arrival, and that none of my servants knew him; for that the valet who accompanied me into Italy was not now with me.
‘And above all,’ added I, ‘it would be impossible to discover any equipage, however well known to one, in so dark an evening.’
‘That is what astonishes me,’ exclaimed the duke, a little amazed.
‘The incredulous count very politely added, ‘that the voice which had told the duke he was welcome, had at least expressed the sentiments of all the family.’
‘Marino, ere he said a word relative to the motive of his visit, asked a private audience of me; and confided in me, by telling me that he was come with the intention of obtaining the lovely Ida’s hand; and that if he was able to procure her consent, he should demand her of her father.
‘The countess Apollonia, your bride elect, is then no longer living?’ asked I.
‘We will talk on that subject hereafter,’ answered he.
‘The deep sigh which accompanied these words led me to conclude that Apollonia had been guilty of infidelity or some other crime towards the duke; and consequently I thought that I ought to abstain from any further questions, which appeared to rend his heart, already so sensibly wounded.
‘Yet, as he begged me to become his mediator with the count, in order to obtain from him his consent to the match, I painted in glowing colours the danger of an alliance, which he had no other motive for contracting, than the wish to obliterate the remembrance of a dearly, and without doubt, still more tenderly, beloved object. But he assured me that he was far from thinking of the lovely Ida from so blameable a motive, and that he should be the happiest of men if she but proved propitious to his wishes.
‘His expressive and penetrating tone of voice, while he said this, lulled the uneasiness that I was beginning to feel; and I promised him I would prepare the count Lieppa to listen to his entreaties, and would give him the necessary information relative to the fortune and family of Marino. But I declared to him at the same time, that I should by no means hurry the conclusion of the affair by my advice, as I was not in the habit of taking upon myself so great a charge as the uncertain issue of a marriage.
‘The duke signified his satisfaction at what I said, and made me give (what then appeared to me of no consequence) a promise that I would not make mention of the former marriage he was on the point of contracting, as it would necessarily bring on a train of unpleasant explanations.
‘The duke’s views succeeded with a promptitude beyond his most sanguine hopes. His well-proportioned form and sparkling eyes smoothed the paths of love, and introduced him to the heart of Ida. His agreeable conversation promised to the mother an amiable son in law; and the knowledge in rural economy, which he evinced as occasions offered, made the count hope for a useful helpmate in his usual occupations; for since the first day of the duke’s arrival he had been prevented from pursuing them.
‘Marino followed up these advantages with great ardour; and I was one evening much surprised by the intelligence of his being betrothed, as I did not dream of matters drawing so near a conclusion. They spoke at table of some bridal preparations of which I had made mention just before the duke’s arrival at the castle; and the countess asked me whether that young Marino was a near relation of the one who was that very day betrothed to her daughter.’
‘Near enough,’ I answered, recollecting my promise—Marino looked at me with an air of embarrassment.
‘But, my dear duke,’ continued I, ‘ tell me who mentioned the amiable Ida to you; or was it a portrait, or what else, which caused you to think of looking for a beauty, the selection of whom does so much honour to your taste, in this remote corner; for, if I am not mistaken, you said but yesterday that you had purposed travelling about for another six months; when all at once (I believe while in Paris) you changed your plan, and projected a journey wholly and solely to see the charming Ida?’
‘Yes, it was at Paris,’ replied the duke; ‘you are very rightly informed. I went there to see and admire the superb gallery of pictures at the Museum; but I had scarcely entered it, when my eyes turned from the inanimate beauties, and were riveted on a lady whose incomparable features were heightened by an air of melancholy. With fear and trembling I approached her, and only ventured to follow without speaking to her. I still followed her after she quitted the gallery; and I drew her servant aside to learn the name of his mistress. He told it me: but when I expressed a wish to become acquainted with the father of this beauty, he said that was next to impossible while at Paris, as the family were on the point of quitting that city; nay, of quitting France altogether.
‘Possibly, however;’ said I, ‘some opportunity may present itself.’ And I looked everywhere for the lady: but she, probably imagining that her servant was following her closely, had continued to walk on, and was entirely out of sight. While I was looking around for her, the servant had likewise vanished from my view.’
‘Who was this beautiful lady?’ asked Ida, in a tone of astonishment.
‘What! you really did not then perceive me in the gallery?’
‘Me!’—‘My daughter—!’ exclaimed at the same moment Ida and her parents.
‘Yes, you yourself, mademoiselle. The servant, whom fortunately for me you left at Paris, and whom I met the same evening unexpectedly, as my guardian angel, informed me of all; so that after a short rest at home, I was able to come straight hither.’
‘What a fable!’ said the count to his daughter, who was mute with astonishment.
‘Ida,’ he added, turning to me, ‘has never yet been out of her native country; and for myself, I have not been in Paris these seventeen years.’
‘The duke looked at the count and his daughter with similar marks of astonishment visible in their countenances; and conversation would have been entirely at an end, if I had not taken care to introduce other topics: but I had it nearly all to myself.
‘The repast was no sooner over, than the count took the duke into the recess of a window; and although I was at a considerable distance, and appeared wholly to fix my attention on a new chandelier, I overheard all their conversation.
‘What motive,’ demanded the count with a serious and dissatisfied air, ‘could have induced you to invent that singular scene in the gallery of the Museum at Paris? for according to my judgment, it could in no way benefit you. Since you are anxious to conceal the cause which brought you to ask my daughter in marriage, at least you might have plainly said as much; and though possibly you might have felt repugnance at making such a declaration, there were a thousand ways of framing your answer, without its being needful thus to offend probability.’
‘Monsieur le comte,’ replied the duke much piqued; ‘I held my peace at table, thinking that possibly you had reasons for wishing to keep secret your and your daughter’s journey to Paris. I was silent merely from motives of discretion; but the singularity of your reproaches compels me to maintain what I have said; and, notwithstanding your reluctance to believe the truth, to declare before all the world, that the capital of France was the spot where I first saw your daughter Ida.’
‘But what if I prove to you, not only by the witness of my servants, but also by that of all my tenants, that my daughter has never quitted her native place?’—
‘I shall still believe the evidence of my own eyes and ears, which have as great authority over me.’
‘What you say is really enigmatical,’ answered the count in graver tone: ‘your serious manner convinces me you have been the dupe of some illusion; and that you have seen some other person, whom you have taken for my daughter. Excuse me, therefore, for having taken up the thing so warmly.’
‘Another person! What then, I not only mistook another person for your daughter; but the very servant of whom I made mention, and who gave me so exact a description of this castle, was, according to what you say, some other person!’
‘My dear Marino, that servant was some cheat who knew this castle, and who, God only knows for what motive, spoke to you of my daughter as resembling the lady.’
‘Tis certainly no wish of mine to contradict you; but Ida’s features are precisely the same as those which made so deep an impression on me at Paris, and which my imagination has preserved with such scrupulous fidelity.’
‘The count shook his head; and Marino continued: —
‘What is still more—(but pray pardon me for mentioning a little particularity, which nothing short of necessity would have drawn from me)—while in the gallery, I was standing behind the lady, and the handkerchief that covered her neck was a little disarranged, which occasioned me distinctly to perceive the mark of a small strawberry.’
‘Another strange mystery!’ exclaimed the count, turning pale: ‘it appears you are determined to make me believe wonderful stories.’
‘I have only one question to ask: —Has Ida such a mark on her neck?’
‘No, monsieur,’ replied the count, looking steadfastly at Marino.
‘No!’ exclaimed the latter, in the utmost astonishment.
‘No, I tell you: but Ida’s twin sister, who resembled her in the most surprising manner, had the mark you mention on her neck, and a year since carried it with her into the grave.’
‘And yet ‘tis only within the last few months that I saw this person in Paris!’
‘At this moment the countess and Ida, who had kept aside, a prey to uneasiness, not knowing what to think of the conversation, which appeared of so very important a nature, approached; but the count in a commanding tone ordered them to retire immediately. He then led the duke entirely away into a retired corner of the window, and continued the conversation in so low a voice that I could hear nothing further.
‘My astonishment was extreme when, that very same evening, the count gave orders to have Hildegarde’s tomb opened in his presence: but he beforehand related briefly what I have just told you, and proposed my assisting the duke and him in opening the grave. The duke excused himself, by saying that the very idea made him tremble with horror; for he could not overcome, especially at night, his fear of a corpse.
‘The count begged he would not mention the gallery scene to any one; and above all, to spare the extreme sensibility of the affianced bride from a recital of the conversation they had just had, even if she should request to be informed of it.
‘In the meantime the sexton arrived with his lantern. The count and I followed him.
‘It is morally impossible,’ said the count to me, as we walked together, ‘that any trick can have been played respecting my daughter’s death: the circumstances attendant thereon are but too well known to me. You may readily believe also, that the affection we bore our poor girl would prevent our running any risk of burying her too soon: but suppose even the possibility of that, and that the tomb had been opened by some avaricious persons, who found, on opening the coffin, that the body became reanimated; no one can believe for a moment that my daughter would not have instantly returned to her parents, who doted on her, rather than have fled to a distant country. This last circumstance puts the matter beyond doubt: for even should it be admitted as a truth, that she was carried by force to some distant part of the world, she would have found a thousand ways of returning. My eyes are, however, about to be convinced, that the sacred remains of my Hildegarde really repose in the grave.
‘To convince myself!’ cried he again, in a tone of voice so melancholy yet loud that the sexton turned his head.
‘This movement rendered the count more circumspect; and he continued in a lower tone of voice:
‘How should I for a moment believe it possible that the slightest trace of my daughter’s features should be still in existence, or that the destructive hand of time should have spared her beauty? Let us return, marquis; for who could tell, even were I to see the skeleton, that I should know it from that of an entire stranger, whom they may have placed in the tomb to fill her place?’
‘He was even about to give orders not to open the door of the chapel, (at which we were just arrived,) when I represented to him, that were I in his place I should have found it extremely difficult to determine on such a measure; but that having gone thus far, it was requisite to complete the task, by examining whether some of the jewels buried with Hildegarde’s corpse were not wanting. I added, that judging by a number of well-known facts, all bodies were not destroyed equally soon.
‘My representations had the desired effect: the count squeezed my hand; and we followed the sexton, who, by his pallid countenance and trembling limbs, evidently shewed that he was unaccustomed to nocturnal employments of this nature.
‘I know not whether any of this present company were ever in a chapel at midnight, before the iron doors of a vault, about to examine the succession of leaden coffins enclosing the remains of an illustrious family. Certain it is, that at such a moment the noise of bolts and bars produces such a remarkable sensation, that one is led to dread the sound of the door grating on its hinges; and when the vault is opened, one cannot help hesitating for an instant to enter it.
‘The count was evidently seized with these sensations of terror, which I discovered by a stifled sigh; but he concealed his feelings: notwithstanding, I remarked that he dared not trust himself to look on any other coffin than the one containing his daughter’s remains. He opened it himself.
‘Did I not say, so?’ cried he, seeing that the features of the corpse bore a perfect resemblance to those of Ida. I was obliged to prevent the count, who was seized with astonishment, from kissing the forehead of the inanimate body.
‘Do not,’ I added, ‘disturb the peace of those who repose in death.’ And I used my utmost efforts to withdraw the count immediately from this dismal abode.
‘On our return to the castle, we found those persons whom we had left there, in an anxious state of suspense. The two ladies had closely questioned the duke on what had passed; and would not admit as a valid excuse, the promise he had made of secrecy. They entreated us also, but in vain, to satisfy their curiosity.
‘They succeeded better the following day with the sexton, whom they sent for privately, and who told them all he knew: but it only tended to excite their anxious wish to learn the subject of the conversation which had occasioned this nocturnal visit to the sepulchral vault.
‘As for myself, I dreamt the whole of the following night of the apparition Marino had seen at Paris; I conjectured many things which I did not think fit to communicate to the count, because he absolutely questioned the connection of a superior world with ours. At this juncture of affairs, I with pleasure saw that this singular circumstance, if not entirely forgotten, was at least but rarely and slightly mentioned.
‘But I now began to find another cause for anxious solicitude. The duke constantly persisted in refusing to explain himself on the subject of his previous engagement, even when we were alone: and the embarrassment he could not conceal, whenever I made mention of the good qualities that I believed his intended to have possessed, as well as several other little singularities, led me to conclude that Marino’s attachment for Apollonia had been first shaken at the picture gallery, at sight of the lovely incognita; and that Apollonia had been forsaken, owing to his yielding to temptations; and that doubtless she could never have been guilty of breaking off an alliance so solemnly contracted.
Foreseeing from this that the charming Ida could never hope to find much happiness in a union with Marino, and knowing that the wedding day was nigh at hand, I resolved to unmask the perfidious deceiver as quickly as possible, and to make him repent his infidelity. An excellent occasion presented itself one day for me to accomplish my designs. Having finished supper, we were still sitting at table; and someone said that iniquity is frequently punished in this world: upon which I observed, that I myself had witnessed striking proofs of this remark; —when Ida and her mother entreated me to name one of these examples.
‘Under these circumstances, ladies,’ answered I, ‘permit me to relate a history to you, which, according to my opinion, will particularly interest you.’
‘Us!’ they both exclaimed. At the same time I fixed my eyes on the duke, who for several days past had evidently distrusted me; and I saw that his conscience had rendered him pale.
‘That at least is my opinion,’ replied I: ‘But, my dear count, will you pardon me, if the super natural is sometimes interwoven with my narration?’
‘Very willingly,’ answered he smiling: ‘and I will content myself with expressing my surprise at so many things of this sort having happened to you, as I have never experienced any of them myself.’
‘I plainly perceived that the duke made signs of approval at what he said: but I took no notice of it, and answered the count by saying,
‘That all the world have not probably the use of their eyes.
‘That may be,’ replied he, still smiling.
‘But,’ said I to him in a low and expressive voice, ‘think you an uncorrupted body in the vault is a common phenomenon?’
‘He appeared staggered: and I thus continued in an under tone of voice: —
‘For that matter, ‘tis very possible to account for it naturally, and therefore it would be useless to contest the subject with you.’
‘We are wandering from the point,’ said the countess a little angrily; and she made me a sign to begin, which I accordingly did, in the following words: —
‘The scene of my anecdote lies in Venice.’
‘I possibly then may know something of it,’ cried the duke, who entertained some suspicions.
‘Possibly so,’ replied I; ‘but there were reasons for keeping the event secret: it happened somewhere about eighteen months since, at the period you first set out on your travels.
‘The son of an extremely wealthy nobleman, whom I shall designate by the name of Filippo, being attracted to Leghorn by the affairs consequent on his succession to an inheritance, had won the heart of an amiable and lovely girl, called Clara. He promised her, as well as her parents, that ere his return to Venice he would come back and marry her. The moment for his departure was preceded by certain ceremonies, which in their termination were terrible: for after the two lovers had exhausted every protestation of reciprocal affection, Filippo invoked the aid of the spirit of vengeance in case of infidelity: they prayed even that whichever of the lovers should prove faithful might not be permitted to repose quietly in the grave, but should haunt the perjured one, and force the inconstant party to come amongst the dead, and to share in the grave those sentiments which on earth had been forgotten.
‘The parents, who were seated by them at table, remembered their youthful days, and permitted the overheated and romantic imagination of the young people to take its free course. The lovers finished by making punctures in their arms, and letting their blood run into a glass filled with white champagne.
‘Our souls shall be inseparable as our blood!’ exclaimed Filippo; and drinking half the contents of the glass, he gave the rest to Clara.’
At this moment the duke experienced a violent degree of agitation, and from time to time darted such menacing looks at me, that I was led to conclude, that in his adventure some scene of a similar nature had taken place. I can however affirm, that I related the details respecting Filippo’s departure as they were represented in a letter written by the mother of Clara.
‘Who,’ continued I, ‘after so many demonstrations of such a violent passion, could have expected the denouement? Filippo’s return to Venice happened precisely at the period at which a young beauty, hitherto educated in a distant convent, made her first appearance in the great world: she on a sudden exhibited herself as an angel whom a cloud had till then concealed, and excited universal admiration. Filippo’s parents had heard frequent mention of Clara, and of the projected alliance between her and their son; but they thought that this alliance was like many others, contracted one day without the parties knowing why, and broken off the next with equal want of thought; and influenced by this idea, they presented their son to the parents of Camilla, (which was the name of the young beauty,) whose family were of the highest rank.
CONCLUDES NEXT WEEK