Wake Not the Dead
The Trusty Eckart
Wake not the Dead: -- they bring but gloomy night"Wilt thou for ever sleep? Wilt thou never more awake, my beloved, but henceforth repose for ever from thy short pilgrimage on earth? O yet once again return! and bring back with thee the vivifying dawn of hope to one whose existence hath, since thy departure, been obscured by the dunnest shades. What! dumb? for ever dumb? Thy friend lamenteth, and thou heedest him not? He sheds bitter, scalding tears, and thou reposest unregarding his affliction? He is in despair, and thou no longer openest thy arms to him as an asylum from his grief? Say then, doth the paly shroud become thee better than the bridal veil? Is the chamber of the grave a warmer bed than the couch of love? Is the spectre death more welcome to thy arms than thy enamoured consort? Oh! return, my beloved, return once again to this anxious disconsolate bosom."
Such were the lamentations which Walter poured forth for his Brunhilda, the partner of his youthful passionate love; thus did he bewail over her grave at the midnight hour, what time the spirit that presides in the troublous atmosphere, sends his legions of monsters through mid-air; so that their shadows, as they flit beneath the moon and across the earth, dart as wild, agitating thoughts that chase each other o'er the sinner's bosom: -- thus did he lament under the tall linden trees by her grave, while his head reclined on the cold stone.
Walter was a powerful lord in Burgundy, who, in his earliest youth, had been smitten with the charms of the fair Brunhilda, a beauty far surpassing in loveliness all her rivals; for her tresses, dark as the raven face of night, streaming over her shoulders, set off to the utmost advantage the beaming lustre of her slender form, and the rich dye of a cheek whose tint was deep and brilliant as that of the western heaven; her eyes did not resemble those burning orbs whose pale glow gems the vault of night, and whose immeasurable distance fills the soul with deep thoughts of eternity. but rather as the sober beams which cheer this nether world, and which, while they enlighten, kindle the sons of earth to joy and love. Brunhilda became the wife of Walter, and both being equally enamoured and devoted, they abandoned themselves to the enjoyment of a passion that rendered them reckless of aught besides, while it lulled them in a fascinating dream. Their sole apprehension was lest aught should awaken them from a delirium which they prayed might continue for ever. Yet how vain is the wish that would arrest the decrees of destiny! as well might it seek to divert the circling planets from their eternal course. Short was the duration of this phrenzied passion; not that it gradually decayed and subsided into apathy, but death snatched away his blooming victim, and left Walter to a widowed couch. Impetuous, however, as was his first burst of grief, he was not inconsolable, for ere long another bride became the partner of the youthful nobleman.
Swanhilda also was beautiful; although nature had formed her charms on a very different model from those of Brunhilda. Her golden locks waved bright as the beams of morn: only when excited by some emotion of her soul did a rosy hue tinge the lily paleness of her cheek: her limbs were proportioned in the nicest symmetry, yet did they not possess that luxuriant fullness of animal life: her eye beamed eloquently, but it was with the milder radiance of a star, tranquillizing to tenderness rather than exciting to warmth. Thus formed, it was not possible that she should steep him in his former delirium, although she rendered happy his waking hours -- tranquil and serious, yet cheerful, studying in all things her husband's pleasure, she restored order and comfort in his family, where her presence shed a general influence all around. Her mild benevolence tended to restrain the fiery, impetuous disposition of Walter: while at the same time her prudence recalled him in some degree from his vain, turbulent wishes, and his aspirings after unattainable enjoyments, to the duties and pleasures of actual life. Swanhilda bore her husband two children, a son and a daughter; the latter was mild and patient as her mother, well contented with her solitary sports, and even in these recreations displayed the serious turn of her character. The boy possessed his father's fiery, restless disposition, tempered, however, with the solidity of his mother. Attached by his offspring more tenderly towards their mother, Walter now lived for several years very happily: his thoughts would frequently, indeed, recur to Brunhilda, but without their former violence, merely as we dwell upon the memory of a friend of our earlier days, borne from us on the rapid current of time to a region where we know that he is happy.
But clouds dissolve into air, flowers fade, the sands of the hourglass run impeceptibly away, and even so, do human feelings dissolve, fade, and pass away, and with them too, human happiness. Walter's inconstant breast again sighed for the ecstatic dreams of those days which he had spent with his equally romantic, enamoured Brunhilda -- again did she present herself to his ardent fancy in all the glow of her bridal charms, and he began to draw a parallel between the past and the present; nor did imagination, as it is wont, fail to array the former in her brightest hues, while it proportionably obscured the latter; so that he pictured to himself, the one much more rich in enjoyment, and the other, much less so than they really were. This change in her husband did not escape Swanhilda; whereupon, redoubling her attentions towards him, and her cares towards their children, she expected, by this means, to reunite the knot that was slackened; yet the more she endeavoured to regain his affections, the colder did he grow, -- the more intolerable did her caresses seem, and the more continually did the image of Brunhilda haunt his thoughts. The children, whose endearments were now become indispensable to him, alone stood between the parents as genii eager to affect a reconciliation; and, beloved by them both, formed a uniting link between them. Yet, as evil can be plucked from the heart of man, only ere its root has yet struck deep, its fangs being afterwards too firm to be eradicated; so was Walter's diseased fancy too far affected to have its disorder stopped, for, in a short time, it completely tyrannized over him. Frequently of a night, instead of retiring to his consort's chamber, he repaired to Brunhilda's grave, where he murmured forth his discontent, saying: "Wilt thou sleep for ever?"
One night as he was reclining on the turf, indulging in his wonted sorrow, a sorcerer from the neighbouring mountains, entered into this field of death for the purpose of gathering, for his mystic spells, such herbs as grow only from the earth wherein the dead repose, and which, as if the last production of mortality, are gifted with a powerful and supernatural influence. The sorcerer perceived the mourner, and approached the spot where he was lying.
"Wherefore, fond wretch, dost thou grieve thus, for what is now a hideous mass of mortality -- mere bones, and nerves, and veins? Nations have fallen unlamented; even worlds themselves, long ere this globe of ours was created, have mouldered into nothing; nor hath any one wept over them; why then should'st thou indulge this vain affliction for a child of the dust -- a being as frail as thyself, and like thee the creature but of a moment?"
Walter raised himself up: -- "Let yon worlds that shine in the firmament" replied he, "lament for each other as they perish. It is true, that I who am myself clay, lament for my fellow-clay: yet is this clay impregnated with a fire, -- with an essence, that none of the elements of creation possess -- with love: and this divine passion, I felt for her who now sleepeth beneath this sod."
"Will thy complaints awaken her: or could they do so, would she not soon upbraid thee for having disturbed that repose in which she is now hushed?"
"Avaunt, cold-hearted being: thou knowest not what is love. Oh! that my tears could wash away the earthy covering that conceals her from these eyes; -- that my groan of anguish could rouse her from her slumber of death! -- No, she would not again seek her earthy couch."
"Insensate that thou art, and couldst thou endure to gaze without shuddering on one disgorged from the jaws of the grave? Art thou too thyself the same from whom she parted; or hath time passed o'er thy brow and left no traces there? Would not thy love rather be converted into hate and disgust?"
"Say rather that the stars would leave yon firmament, that the sun will henceforth refuse to shed his beams through the heavens. Oh! that she stood once more before me; -- that once again she reposed on this bosom! -- how quickly should we then forget that death or time had ever stepped between us."
"Delusion! mere delusion of the brain, from heated blood, like to that which arises from the fumes of wine. It is not my wish to tempt thee; -- to restore to thee thy dead; else wouldst thou soon feel that I have spoken truth."
"How! restore her to me," exclaimed Walter casting himself at the sorcerer's feet. "Oh! if thou art indeed able to effect that, grant it to my earnest supplication; if one throb of human feeling vibrates in thy bosom, let my tears prevail with thee; restore to me my beloved; so shalt thou hereafter bless the deed, and see that it was a good work."
"A good work! a blessed deed!" -- returned the sorcerer with a smile of scorn; "for me there exists nor good nor evil; since my will is always the same. Ye alone know evil, who will that which ye would not. It is indeed in my power to restore her to thee: yet, bethink thee well, whether it will prove thy weal. Consider too, how deep the abyss between life and death; across this, my power can build a bridge, but it can never fill up the frightful chasm."
Walter would have spoken, and have sought to prevail on this powerful being by fresh entreaties, but the latter prevented him, saying: "Peace! bethink thee well! and return hither to me tomorrow at midnight. Yet once more do I warn thee, 'Wake not the dead.' "
Having uttered these words, the mysterious being disappeared. Intoxicated with fresh hope, Walter found no sleep on his couch; for fancy, prodigal of her richest stores, expanded before him the glittering web of futurity; and his eye, moistened with the dew of rapture, glanced from one vision of happiness to another. During the next day he wandered through the woods, lest wonted objects by recalling the memory of later and less happier times, might disturb the blissful idea. that he should again behold her -- again fold her in his arms, gaze on her beaming brow by day, repose on her bosom at night: and, as this sole idea filled his imagination, how was it possible that the least doubt should arise; or that the warning of the mysterious old man should recur to his thoughts?
No sooner did the midnight hour approach, than he hastened before the grave-field where the sorcerer was already standing by that of Brunhilda. "Hast thou maturely considered?" inquired he.
"Oh! restore to me the object of my ardent passion," exclaimed Walter with impetuous eagerness. "Delay not thy generous action, lest I die even this night, consumed with disappointed desire; and behold her face no more."
"Well then," answered the old man, "return hither again tomorrow at the same hour. But once more do I give thee this friendly warning, 'Wake not the dead.' "
All in the despair of impatience, Walter would have prostrated himself at his feet, and supplicated him to fulfil at once a desire now increased to agony; but the sorcerer had already disappeared. Pouring forth his lamentations more wildly and impetuously than ever, he lay upon the grave of his adored one, until the grey dawn streaked the east. During the day, which seemed to him longer than any he had ever experienced, he wandered to and fro, restless and impatient, seemingly without any object, and deeply buried in his own reflections, inquest as the murderer who meditates his first deed of blood: and the stars of evening found him once more at the appointed spot. At midnight the sorcerer was there also.
"Hast thou yet maturely deliberated?" inquired he, "as on the preceding night?"
"Oh what should I deliberate?" returned Walter impatiently. "I need not to deliberate; what I demand of thee, is that which thou hast promised me -- that which will prove my bliss. Or dost thou but mock me? if so, hence from my sight, lest I be tempted to lay my hand on thee."
"Once more do I warn thee." answered the old man with undisturbed composure, " 'Wake not the dead' -- let her rest."
"Aye, but not in the cold grave: she shall rather rest on this bosom which burns with eagerness to clasp her."
"Reflect, thou mayst not quit her until death, even though aversion and horror should seize thy heart. There would then remain only one horrible means."
"Dotard!" cried Walter, interrupting him, 'how may I hate that which I love with such intensity of passion? how should I abhor that for which my every drop of blood is boiling?"
"Then be it even as thou wishest," answered the sorcerer; "step back."
The old man now drew a circle round the grave, all the while muttering words of enchantment. Immediately the storm began to howl among the tops of the trees; owls flapped their wings, and uttered their low voice of omen; the stars hid their mild, beaming aspect, that they might not behold so unholy and impious a spectacle; the stone then rolled from the grave with a hollow sound, leaving a free passage for the inhabitant of that dreadful tenement. The sorcerer scattered into the yawning earth, roots and herbs of most magic power, and of most penetrating odour. so that the worms crawling forth from the earth congregated together, and raised themselves in a fiery column over the grave: while rushing wind burst from the earth, scattering the mould before it, until at length the coffin lay uncovered. The moonbeams fell on it, and the lid burst open with a tremendous sound. Upon this the sorcerer poured upon it some blood from out of a human skull, exclaiming at the same time, "Drink, sleeper, of this warm stream, that thy heart may again beat within thy bosom." And, after a short pause, shedding on her some other mystic liquid, he cried aloud with the voice of one inspired: "Yes, thy heart beats once more with the flood of life: thine eye is again opened to sight. Arise, therefore, from the tomb."
As an island suddenly springs forth from the dark waves of the ocean, raised upwards from the deep by the force of subterraneous fires, so did Brunhilda start from her earthy couch, borne forward by some invisible power. Taking her by the hand, the sorcerer led her towards Walter, who stood at some little distance, rooted to the ground with amazement.
"Receive again," said he, "the object of thy passionate sighs: mayest thou never more require my aid; should that, however, happen, so wilt thou find me, during the full of the moon, upon the mountains in that spot and where the three roads meet."
Instantly did Walter recognize in the form that stood before him, her whom he so ardently loved; and a sudden glow shot through his frame at finding her thus restored to him: yet the night-frost had chilled his limbs and palsied his tongue. For a while he gazed upon her without either motion or speech, and during this pause, all was again become hushed and serene; and the stars shone brightly in the clear heavens.
"Walter!" exclaimed the figure; and at once the well-known sound, thrilling to his heart, broke the spell by which he was bound.
"Is it reality? Is it truth?" cried he, "or a cheating delusion?"
"No, it is no imposture; I am really living: -- conduct me quickly to thy castle in the mountains."
Walter looked around: the old man had disappeared, but he perceived close by his side, a coal-black steed of fiery eye, ready equipped to conduct him thence; and on his back lay all proper attire for Brunhilda, who lost no time in arraying herself. This being done, she cried; "Haste, let us away ere the dawn breaks, for my eye is yet too weak to endure the light of day." Fully recovered from his stupor, Walter leaped into his saddle, and catching up, with a mingled feeling of delight and awe, the beloved being thus mysteriously restored from the power of the grave, he spurred on across the wild, towards the mountains, as furiously as if pursued by the shadows of the dead, hastening to recover from him their sister.
The castle to which Walter conducted his Brunhilda, was situated on a rock between other rocks rising up above it. Here they arrived, unseen by any save one aged domestic, on whom Walter imposed secrecy by the severest threats.
"Here will we tarry," said Brunhilda, "until I can endure the light, and until thou canst look upon me without trembling as if struck with a cold chill." They accordingly continued to make that place their abode: yet no one knew that Brunhilda existed, save only that aged attendant, who provided their meals. During seven entire days they had no light except that of tapers: during the next seven, the light was admitted through the lofty casements only while the rising or setting-sun faintly illumined the mountain-tops, the valley being still enveloped in shade.
Seldom did Walter quit Brunhilda's side: a nameless spell seemed to attach him to her; even the shudder which he felt in her presence, and which would not permit him to touch her, was not unmixed with pleasure, like that thrilling awful emotion felt when strains of sacred music float under the vault of some temple; he rather sought, therefore, than avoided this feeling. Often too as he had indulged in calling to mind the beauties of Brunhilda, she had never appeared so fair, so fascinating, so admirable when depicted by his imagination, as when now beheld in reality. Never till now had her voice sounded with such tones of sweetness; never before did her language possess such eloquence as it now did, when she conversed with him on the subject of the past. And this was the magic fairy-land towards which her words constantly conducted him. Ever did she dwell upon the days of their first love, those hours of delight which they had participated together when the one derived all enjoyment from the other: and so rapturous, so enchanting, so full of life did she recall to his imagination that blissful season, that he even doubted whether he had ever experienced with her so much felicity, or had been so truly happy. And, while she thus vividly portrayed their hours of past delight, she delineated in still more glowing, more enchanting colours, those hours of approaching bliss which now awaited them, richer in enjoyment than any preceding ones. In this manner did she charm her attentive auditor with enrapturing hopes for the future, and lull him into dreams of more than mortal ecstasy; so that while he listened to her siren strain, he entirely forgot how little blissful was the latter period of their union, when he had often sighed at her imperiousness, and at her harshness both to himself and all his household. Yet even had he recalled this to mind would it have disturbed him in his present delirious trance? Had she not now left behind in the grave all the frailty of mortality? Was not her whole being refined and purified by that long sleep in which neither passion nor sin had approached her even in dreams? How different now was the subject of her discourse! Only when speaking of her affection for him, did she betray anything of earthly feeling: at other times, she uniformly dwelt upon themes relating to the invisible and future world; when in descanting and declaring the mysteries of eternity, a stream of prophetic eloquence would burst from her lips.
In this manner had twice seven days elapsed, and, for the first time, Walter beheld the being now dearer to him than ever, in the full light of day. Every trace of the grave had disappeared from her countenance; a roseate tinge like the ruddy streaks of dawn again beamed on her pallid cheek; the faint, mouldering taint of the grave was changed into a delightful violet scent; the only sign of earth that never disappeared. He no longer felt either apprehension or awe, as he gazed upon her in the sunny light of day: it was not until now, that he seemed to have recovered her completely; and, glowing with all his former passion towards her, he would have pressed her to his bosom, but she gently repulsed him, saying: -- "Not yet -- spare your caresses until the moon has again filled her horn."
Spite of his impatience, Walter was obliged to await the lapse of another period of seven days: but, on the night when the moon was arrived at the full, he hastened to Brunhilda, whom he found more lovely than she had ever appeared before. Fearing no obstacles to his transports, he embraced with all the fervour of a deeply enamoured and successful lover. Brunhilda, however, still refused to yield to his passion. "What!" exclaimed she, "is it fitting that I who have been purified by death from the frailty of mortality, should become thy concubine, while a mere daughter of the earth bears the title of thy wife: never shall it be. No, it must be within the walls of thy palace, within that chamber where I once reigned as queen, that thou obtainest the end of thy wishes, -- and of mine also," added she, imprinting a glowing kiss on the lips, and immediately disappeared.
Heated with passion, and determined to sacrifice everything to the accomplishment of his desires, Walter hastily quitted the apartment, and shortly after the castle itself. He travelled over mountain and across heath, with the rapidity of a storm, so that the turf was flung up by his horse's hoofs; nor once stopped until he arrived home.
Here, however, neither the affectionate caresses of Swanhilda, or those of his children could touch his heart, or induce him to restrain his furious desires. Alas! is the impetuous torrent to be checked in its devastating course by the beauteous flowers over which it rushes, when they exclaim: -- "Destroyer, commiserate our helpless innocence and beauty, nor lay us waste?" -- the stream sweeps over them unregarding, and a single moment annihilates the pride of a whole summer.
Shortly afterwards did Walter begin to hint to Swanhilda that they were ill-suited to each other; that he was anxious to taste that wild, tumultuous life, so well according with the spirit of his sex, while she, on the contrary, was satisfied with the monotonous circle of household enjoyments: -- that he was eager for whatever promised novelty, while she felt most attached to what was familiarized to her by habit: and lastly, that her cold disposition, bordering upon indifference, but ill assorted with his ardent temperament: it was therefore more prudent that they should seek apart from each other that happiness which they could not find together.
A sigh, and a brief acquiescence in his wishes was all the reply that Swanhilda made: and, on the following morning, upon his presenting her with a paper of separation, informing her that she was at liberty to return home to her father, she received it most submissively: yet, ere she departed, she gave him the following warning: "Too well do I conjecture to whom I am indebted for this our separation. Often have I seen thee at Brunhilda's grave, and beheld thee there even on that night when the face of the heavens was suddenly enveloped in a veil of clouds. Hast thou rashly dared to tear aside the awful veil that separates the mortality that dreams from that which dreameth not, O, then woe to thee, thou wretched man, for thou has attached to thyself that which will prove thy destruction."
She ceased: nor did Walter attempt any reply, for the similar admonition uttered by the sorcerer flashed upon his mind, all obscured as it was by passion, just as the lightning glares momentarily through the gloom of night without dispersing the obscurity.
Swanhilda then departed, in order to pronounce to her children, a bitter farewell, for they, according to national custom, belonged to the father; and, having bathed them in her tears, and consecrated them with the holy water of maternal love, she quitted her husband's residence, and departed to the home of her father's.
Thus was the kind and benevolent Swanhilda driven an exile from those halls where she had presided with grace; -- from halls which were now newly decorated to receive another mistress. The day at length arrived on which Walter, for the second time, conducted Brunhilda home as a newly made bride. And he caused it to be reported among his domestics that his new consort had gained his affections by her extraordinary likeness to Brunhilda, their former mistress. How ineffably happy did he deem himself as he conducted his beloved once more into the chamber which had often witnessed their former joys, and which was now newly gilded and adorned in a most costly style: among the other decorations were figures of angels scattering roses, which served to support the purple draperies whose ample folds o'ershadowed the nuptial couch. With what impatience did he await the hour that was to put him in possession of those beauties for which he had already paid so high a price, but, whose enjoyment was to cost him most dearly yet! Unfortunate Walter! revelling in bliss, thou beholdest not the abyss that yawns beneath thy feet, intoxicated with the luscious perfume of the flower thou hast plucked, thou little deemest how deadly is the venom with which it is fraught, although, for a short season, its potent fragrance bestows new energy on all thy feelings.
Happy, however, as Walter was now, his household were far from being equally so. The strange resemblance between their new lady and the deceased Brunhilda filled them with a secret dismay, -- an undefinable horror; for there was not a single difference of feature, of tone of voice, or of gesture. To add too to these mysterious circumstances, her female attendants discovered a particular mark on her back, exactly like one which Brunhilda had. A report was now soon circulated, that their lady was no other than Brunhilda herself, who had been recalled to life by the power of necromancy. How truly horrible was the idea of living under the same roof with one who had been an inhabitant of the tomb, and of being obliged to attend upon her, and acknowledge her as mistress! There was also in Brunhilda much to increase this aversion, and favour their superstition: no ornaments of gold ever decked her person; all that others were wont to wear of this metal, she had formed of silver: no richly coloured and sparkling jewels glittered upon her; pearls alone, lent their pale lustre to adorn her bosom. Most carefully did she always avoid the cheerful light of the sun, and was wont to spend the brightest days in the most retired and gloomy apartments: only during the twilight of the commencing or declining day did she ever walk abroad, but her favourite hour was when the phantom light of the moon bestowed on all objects a shadowy appearance and a sombre hue; always too at the crowing of the cock an involuntary shudder was observed to seize her limbs. Imperious as before her death, she quickly imposed her iron yoke on every one around her, while she seemed even far more terrible than ever, since a dread of some supernatural power attached to her, appalled all who approached her. A malignant withering glance seemed to shoot from her eye on the unhappy object of her wrath, as if it would annihilate its victim. In short, those halls which, in the time of Swanhilda were the residence of cheerfulness and mirth, now resembled an extensive desert tomb. With fear imprinted on their pale countenances, the domestics glided through the apartments of the castle; and in this abode of terror, the crowing of the cock caused the living to tremble, as if they were the spirits of the departed; for the sound always reminded them of their mysterious mistress. There was no one but who shuddered at meeting her in a lonely place, in the dusk of evening, or by the light of the moon, a circumstance that was deemed to be ominous of some evil: so great was the apprehension of her female attendants, they pined in continual disquietude, and, by degrees, all quitted her. In the course of time even others of the domestics fled, for an insupportal horror had seized them.
The art of the sorcerer had indeed bestowed upon Brunhilda an artificial life, and due nourishment had continued to support the restored body: yet this body was not able of itself to keep up the genial glow of vitality, and to nourish the flame whence springs all the affections and passions, whether of love or hate; for death had for ever destroyed and withered it: all that Brunhilda now possessed was a chilled existence, colder than that of the snake. It was nevertheless necessary that she should love, and return with equal ardour the warm caresses of her spell-enthralled husband, to whose passion alone she was indebted for her renewed existence. It was necessary that a magic draught should animate the dull current in her veins and awaken her to the glow of life and the flame of love -- a potion of abomination -- one not even to be named without a curse -- human blood, imbibed whilst yet warm, from the veins of youth. This was the hellish drink for which she thirsted: possessing no sympathy with the purer feelings of humanity; deriving no enjoyment from aught that interests in life and occupies its varied hours; her existence was a mere blank, unless when in the arms of her paramour husband, and therefore was it that she craved incessantly after the horrible draught. It was even with the utmost effort that she could forbear sucking even the blood of Walter himself, reclined beside her. Whenever she beheld some innocent child whose lovely face denoted the exuberance of infantine health and vigour, she would entice it by soothing words and fond caresses into her most secret apartment, where, lulling it to sleep in her arms, she would suck form its bosom the war, purple tide of life. Nor were youths of either sex safe from her horrid attack: having first breathed upon her unhappy victim, who never failed immediately to sink into a lengthened sleep, she would then in a similar manner drain his veins of the vital juice. Thus children, youths, and maidens quickly faded away, as flowers gnawn by the cankering worm: the fullness of their limbs disappeared; a sallow line succeeded to the rosy freshness of their cheeks, the liquid lustre of the eye was deadened, even as the sparkling stream when arrested by the touch of frost; and their locks became thin and grey, as if already ravaged by the storm of life. Parents beheld with horror this desolating pestilence devouring their offspring; nor could simple or charm, potion or amulet avail aught against it. The grave swallowed up one after the other; or did the miserable victim survive, he became cadaverous and wrinkled even in the very morn of existence. Parents observed with horror this devastating pestilence snatch away their offspring -- a pestilence which, nor herb however potent, nor charm, nor holy taper, nor exorcism could avert. They either beheld their children sink one after the other into the grave, or their youthful forms, withered by the unholy, vampire embrace of Brunhilda, assume the decrepitude of sudden age.
At length strange surmises and reports began to prevail; it was whispered that Brunhilda herself was the cause of all these horrors; although no one could pretend to tell in what manner she destroyed her victims, since no marks of violence were discernible. Yet when young children confessed that she had frequently lulled them asleep in her arms, and elder ones said that a sudden slumber had come upon them whenever she began to converse with them, suspicion became converted into certainty, and those whose offspring had hitherto escaped unharmed, quitted their hearths and home -- all their little possessions -- the dwellings of their fathers and the inheritance of their children, in order to rescue from so horrible a fate those who were dearer to their simple affections than aught else the world could give.
Thus daily did the castle assume a more desolate appearance; daily did its environs become more deserted; none but a few aged decrepit old women and grey-headed menials were to be seen remaining of the once numerous retinue. Such will in the latter days of the earth be the last generation of mortals, when childbearing shall have ceased, when youth shall no more be seen, nor any arise to replace those who shall await their fate in silence.
Walter alone noticed not, or heeded not, the desolation around him; he apprehended not death, lapped as he was in a glowing elysium of love. Far more happy than formerly did he now seem in the possession of Brunhilda. All those caprices and frowns which had been wont to overcloud their former union had now entirely disappeared. She even seemed to doat on him with a warmth of passion that she had never exhibited even during the happy season of bridal love; for the flame of that youthful blood, of which she drained the veins of others, rioted in her own. At night, as soon as he closed his eyes, she would breathe on him till he sank into delicious dreams, from which he awoke only to experience more rapturous enjoyments. By day she would continually discourse with him on the bliss experienced by happy spirits beyond the grave, assuring him that, as his affection had recalled her from the tomb, they were now irrevocably united. Thus fascinated by a continual spell, it was not possible that he should perceive what was taking place around him. Brunhilda, however, foresaw with savage grief that the source of her youthful ardour was daily decreasing, for, in a short time, there remained nothing gifted with youth, save Walter and his children, and these latter she resolved should be her next victims.
On her first return to the castle, she had felt an aversion towards the offspring of another, and therefore abandoned them entirely to the attendants appointed by Swanhilda. Now, however, she began to pay considerable attention to them, and caused them to be frequently admitted into her presence. The aged nurses were filled with dread at perceiving these marks of regard from her towards their young charges, yet dared they not to oppose the will of their terrible and imperious mistress. Soon did Brunhilda gain the affection of the children, who were too unsuspecting of guile to apprehend any danger from her; on the contrary, her caresses won them completely to her. Instead of ever checking their mirthful gambols, she would rather instruct them in new sports: often too did she recite to them tales of such strange and wild interest as to exceed all the stories of their nurses. Were they wearied either with play or with listening to her narratives, she would take them on her knees and lull them to slumber. Then did visions of the most surpassing magnificence attend their dreams: they would fancy themselves in some garden where flowers of every hue rose in rows one above the other, from the humble violet to the tall sunflower, forming a parti-coloured broidery of every hue, sloping upwards towards the golden clouds where little angels whose wings sparkled with azure and gold descended to bring them delicious cakes or splendid jewels; or sung to them soothing melodious hymns. So delightful did these dream in short time become to the children that they longered for nothing so eagerly as to slumber on Brunhilda's lap, for never did they else enjoy such visions of heavenly forms. They were they most anxious for that which was to prove their destruction: -- yet do we not all aspire after that which conducts us to the grave -- after the enjoyment of life? These innocents stretched out their arms to approaching death because it assumed the mask of pleasure; for, which they were lapped in these ecstatic slumbers, Brunhilda sucked the life-stream from their bosoms. On waking, indeed, they felt themselves faint and exhausted, yet did no pain nor any mark betray the cause. Shortly, however, did their strength entirely fail, even as the summer brook is gradually dried up: their sports became less and less noisy; their loud, frolicsome laughter was converted into a faint smile; the full tones of their voices died away into a mere whisper. Their attendants were filled with horror and despair; too well did they conjecture the horrible truth, yet dared not to impart their suspicions to Walter, who was so devotedly attached to his horrible partner. Death had already smote his prey: the children were but the mere shadows of their former selves, and even this shadow quickly disappeared.
The anguished father deeply bemoaned their loss, for, notwithstanding his apparent neglect, he was strongly attached to them, nor until he had experienced their loss was he aware that his love was so great. His affliction could not fail to excite the displeasure of Brunhilda: "Why dost thou lament so fondly," said she, "for these little ones? What satisfaction could such unformed beings yield to thee unless thou wert still attached to their mother? Thy heart then is still hers? Or dost thou now regret her and them because thou art satiated with my fondness and weary of my endearments? Had these young ones grown up, would they not have attached thee, thy spirit and thy affections more closely to this earth of clay -- to this dust and have alienated thee from that sphere to which I, who have already passed the grave, endeavour to raise thee? Say is thy spirit so heavy, or thy love so weak, or thy faith so hollow, that the hope of being mine for ever is unable to touch thee?" Thus did Brunhilda express her indignation at her consort's grief, and forbade him her presence. The fear of offending her beyond forgiveness and his anxiety to appease her soon dried up his tears; and he again abandoned himself to his fatal passion, until approaching destruction at length awakened him from his delusion.
Neither maiden, nor youth, was any longer to be seen, either within the dreary walls of the castle, or the adjoining territory: -- all had disappeared; for those whom the grave had not swallowed up had fled from the region of death. Who, therefore, now remained to quench the horrible thirst of the female vampire save Walter himself? and his death she dared to contemplate unmoved; for that divine sentiment that unites two beings in one joy and one sorrow was unknown to her bosom. Was he in his tomb, so was she free to search out other victims and glut herself with destruction, until she herself should, at the last day, be consumed with the earth itself, such is the fatal law to which the dead are subject when awoke by the arts of necromancy from the sleep of the grave.
She now began to fix her blood-thirsty lips on Walter's breast,when cast into a profound sleep by the odour of her violet breath he reclined beside her quite unconscious of his impending fate: yet soon did his vital powers begin to decay; and many a grey hair peeped through his raven locks. With his strength, his passion also declined; and he now frequently left her in order to pass the whole day in the sports of the chase, hoping thereby to regain his wonted vigour. As he was reposing one day in a wood beneath the shade of an oak, he perceived, on the summit of a tree, a bird of strange appearance, and quite unknown to him; but, before he could take aim at it with his bow, it flew away into the clouds; at the same time letting fall a rose-coloured root which dropped at Walter's feet, who immediately took it up and, although he was well acquainted with almost every plant, he could not remember to have seen any at all resembling this. Its delightfully odoriferous scent induced him to try its flavour, but ten times more bitter than wormwood it was even as gall in his mouth; upon which, impatient of the disappointment, he flung it away with violence. Had he, however, been aware of its miraculous quality and that it acted as a counter charm against the opiate perfume of Brunhilda's breath, he would have blessed it in spite of its bitterness: thus do mortals often blindly cast away in displeasure the unsavoury remedy that would otherwise work their weal.
When Walter returned home in the evening and laid him down to repose as usual by Brunhilda's side, the magic power of her breath produced no effect upon him; and for the first time during many months did he close his eyes in a natural slumber. Yet hardly had he fallen asleep, ere a pungent smarting pain disturbed him from his dreams; and. opening his eyes, he discerned, by the gloomy rays of a lamp, that glimmered in the apartment what for some moments transfixed him quite aghast, for it was Brunhilda, drawing with her lips, the warm blood from his bosom. The wild cry of horror which at length escaped him, terrified Brunhilda, whose mouth was besmeared with the warm blood. "Monster!" exclaimed he, springing from the couch, "is it thus that you love me?"
"Aye, even as the dead love," replied she, with a malignant coldness.
"Creature of blood!" continued Walter, "the delusion which has so long blinded me is at an end: thou are the fiend who hast destroyed my children -- who hast murdered the offspring of my vassels." Raising herself upwards and, at the same time, casting on him a glance that froze him to the spot with dread, she replied. "It is not I who have murdered them; -- I was obliged to pamper myself with warm youthful blood, in order that I might satisfy thy furious desires -- thou art the murderer!" -- These dreadful words summoned, before Walter's terrified conscience, the threatening shades of all those who had thus perished; while despair choked his voice.
"Why," continued she, in a tone that increased his horror, "why dost thou make mouths at me like a puppet? Thou who hadst the courage to love the dead -- to take into thy bed, one who had been sleeping in the grave, the bed-fellow of the worm -- who hast clasped in thy lustful arms, the the corruption of the tomb -- dost thou, unhallowed as thou art, now raise this hideous cry for the sacrifice of a few lives? -- They are but leaves swept from their branches by a storm. -- Come, chase these idiot fancies, and taste the bliss thou hast so dearly purchased." So saying, she extended her arms towards him; but this motion served only to increase his terror, and exclaiming: "Accursed Being," -- he rushed out of the apartment.
All the horrors of a guilty, upbraiding conscience became his companions, now that he was awakened from the delirium of his unholy pleasures. Frequently did he curse his own obstinate blindness, for having given no heed to the hints and admonitions of his children's nurses, but treating them as vile calumnies. But his sorrow was now too late, for, although repentance may gain pardon for the sinner, it cannot alter the immutable decrees of fate -- it cannot recall the murdered from the tomb. No sooner did the first break of dawn appear, than he set out for his lonely castle in the mountains, determined no longer to abide under the same roof with so terrific a being; yet vain was his flight, for, on waking the following morning, he perceived himself in Brunhilda's arms, and quite entangled in her long raven tresses, which seemed to involve him, and bind him in the fetters of his fate; the powerful fascination of her breath held him still more captivated, so that, forgetting all that had passed, he returned her caresses, until awakening as if from a dream he recoiled in unmixed horror from her embrace. During the day he wandered through the solitary wilds of the mountains, as a culprit seeking an asylum from his pursuers; and, at night, retired to the shelter of a cave; fearing less to couch himself within such a dreary place, than to expose himself to the horror of again meeting Brunhilda; but alas! it was in vain that he endeavoured to flee her. Again, when he awoke, he found her the partner of his miserable bed. Nay, had he sought the centre of the earth as his hiding place; had he even imbedded himself beneath rocks, or formed his chamber in the recesses of the ocean, still had he found her his constant companion; for, by calling her again into existence, he had rendered himself inseparably hers; so fatal were the links that united them.
Struggling with the madness that was beginning to seize him, and brooding incessantly on the ghastly visions that presented themselves to his horror-stricken mind, he lay motionless in the gloomiest recesses of the woods, even from the rise of sun till the shades of eve. But, no sooner was the light of day extinguished in the west, and the woods buried in impenetrable darkness, than the apprehension of resigning himself to sleep drove him forth among the mountains. The storm played wildly with the fantastic clouds, and with the rattling leaves, as they were caught up into the air, as if some dread spirit was sporting with these images of transitoriness and decay: it roared among the summits of the oaks as if uttering a voice of fury, while its hollow sound rebounding among the distant hills, seemed as the moans of a departing sinner, or as the faint cry of some wretch expiring under themselves to his horror-stricken mind, he lay motionless in the gloomiest recesses of the woods, even from the rise of sun till the shades of eve. But, no sooner was the light of day extinguished in the west, and the woods buried in impenetrable darkness, than the apprehension of resigning himself to sleep drove him forth among the mountains. The storm played wildly with the fantastic clouds, and with the rattling leaves, as they were caught up into the air, as if some dread spirit was sporting with these images of transitoriness and decay: it roared among the summits of the oaks as if uttering a voice of fury, while its hollow sound rebounding among the distant hills, seemed as the moans of a departing sinner, or as the faint cry of some wretch expiring under the murderer's hand: the owl too, uttered its ghastly cry as if foreboding the wreck of nature. Walter's hair flew disorderly in the wind, like black snakes wreathing around his temples and shoulders; while each sense was awake to catch fresh horror. In the clouds he seemed to behold the forms of the murdered; in the howling wind to hear their laments and groans; in the chilling blast itself he felt the dire kiss of Brunhilda; in the cry of the screeching bird he heard her voice; in the mouldering leaves he scented the charnel-bed out of which he had awakened her. "Murderer of they own offspring" exclaimed he in a voice making nigh and the conflict of the elements still more hideous,"paramour of a blood-thirsty vampire, reveller with the corruption of the tomb!" While in his despair he rent the wild locks from his head. Just then the full moon darted from beneath the bursting clouds; and this sight recalled to his mind the advice of the sorcerer when he trembled at the first apparition of Brunhilda rising from her sleep of death -- namely, to seek him at the season of the full moon in the mountains where three roads met. Scarcely had this gleam of hope broker in on his bewildered mind than he flew to the appointed spot.
On his arrival, Walter found the old man seated there upon a stone as calmly as though it had been a bright sunny day and completely regardless of the uproar around. "Art thou come then?" exclaimed he to the breathless wretch, who, flinging himself at his feet, cried in a tone of anguish: -- "Oh save me -- succour me -- rescue me from the monster that scattereth death and desolation around her.
"Wherefore a mysterious warning? why didst thou not rather disclose to me at once all the horrors that awaited my sacrilegious profanation of the grave?"
"And wherefore a mysterious warning? why didst thou not perceivest how wholesome was the advice -- 'Wake not the dead.'
"Wert thou able to listen to another voice than that of thy impetuous passions? Did not thy eager impatience shut my mouth at the very moment I would have cautioned thee?"
"True, true: -- thy reproof is just: but what does it avail now; -- I need the promptest aid."
"Well," replied the old man, "there remains even yet a means of rescuing thyself, but it is fraught with horror and demands all thy resolution."
"Utter it then, utter it; for what can be more appalling, more hideous than the misery I now endure?"
"Know then," continued the sorcerer, "that only on the night of the new moon does she sleep the sleep of mortals; and then all the supernaturural power which she inherits from the grave totally fails her. 'Tis then that thou must murder her."
"How! murder her!" echoed Walter.
"Aye," returned the old man calmly, "pierce her bosom with a sharpened dagger, which I will furnish thee with; at the same time renounce her memory for ever, swearing never to think of her intentionally, and that, if thou dost involuntarily, thou wilt repeat the curse."
"Most horrible! yet what can be more horrible than she herself is? -- I'll do it."
"Keep then this resolution until the next new moon."
"What, must I wait until then?" cried Walter, "alas ere then. either her savage thirst for blood will have forced me into the night of the tomb, or horror will have driven me into the night of madness."
"Nay," replied the sorcerer, "that I can prevent;" and, so saying, he conducted him to a cavern further among the mountains. "Abide here twice seven days," said he; "so long can I protect thee against her deadly caresses. Here wilt thou find all due provision for thy wants; but take heed that nothing tempt thee to quit this place. Farewell, when the moon renews itself, then do I repair hither again." So saying, the sorcerer drew a magic circle around the cave, and then immediately disappeared.
Twice seven days did Walter continue in this solitude, where his companions were his own terrifying thoughts, and his bitter repentance. The present was all desolation and dread; the future presented the image of a horrible deed which he must perforce commit; while the past was empoisoned by the memory of his guilt. Did he think on his former happy union with Brunhilda, her horrible image presented itself to his imagination with her lips defiled with dropping blood: or, did he call to mind the peaceful days he had passed with Swanhilda, he beheld her sorrowful spirit with the shadows of her murdered children. Such were the horrors that attended him by day: those of night were still more dreadful, for then he beheld Brunhilda herself, who, wandering round the magic circle which she could not pass, called upon his name till the cavern reechoed the horrible sound. "WaIter, my beloved," cried she, "wherefore dost thou avoid me? art thou not mine? for ever mine -- mine here, and mine hereafter? And dost thou seek to murder me? -- ah! commit not a deed which hurls us both to perdition -- thyself as well as me." In this manner did the horrible visitant torment him each night, and, even when she departed, robbed him of all repose.
The night of the new moon at length arrived, dark as the deed it was doomed to bring forth. The sorcerer entered the cavern; "Come," said he to Walter, "let us depart hence, the hour is now arrived:" and he forthwith conducted him in silence from the cave to a coal-black steed, the sight of which recalled to Walter's remembrance the fatal night. He then related to the old man Brunhilda's nocturnal visits and anxiously inquired whether her apprehensions of eternal perdition would be fulfilled or not. "Mortal eye," exclaimed the sorcerer, "may not pierce the dark secrets of another world, or penetrate the deep abyss that separates earth from heaven." Walter hesitated to mount the steed. "Be resolute," exclaimed his companion, "but this once is it granted to thee to make the trial, and, should thou fail now, nought can rescue thee from her power."
"What can be more horrible than she herself? -- I am determined:" and he leaped on the horse, the sorcerer mounting also behind him.
Carried with a rapidity equal to that of the storm that sweeps across the plain they in brief space arrived at Walter's castle. All the doors flew open at the bidding of his companion, and they speedily reached Brunhilda's chamber, and stood beside her couch. Reclining in a tranquil slumber; she reposed in all her native loveliness, every trace of horror had disappeared from her countenance; she looked so pure, meek and innocent that all the sweet hours of their endearments rushed to Walter's memory, like interceding angels pleading in her behalf. His unnerved hand could not take the dagger which the sorcerer presented to him. "The blow must be struck even now:" said the latter, "shouldst thou delay but an hour, she will lie at daybreak on thy bosom, sucking the warm life drops from thy heart."
"Horrible! most horrible!" faltered the trembling Walter, and turning away his face, he thrust the dagger into her bosom, exclaiming -- "I curse thee for ever! -- and the cold blood gushed upon his hand. Opening her eyes once more, she cast a look of ghastly horror on her husband, and, in a hollow dying accent said -- "Thou too art doomed to perdition."
"Lay now thy hand upon her corpse," said the sorcerer, "and swear the oath." -- Walter did as commanded, saying, "Never will I think of her with love, never recall her to mind intentionally, and, should her image recur to my mind involuntarily, so will I exclaim to it: be thou accursed."
"Thou hast now done everything," returned the sorcerer; -- "restore her therefore to the earth, from which thou didst so foolishly recall her; and be sure to recollect thy oath: for, shouldst thou forget it but once, she would return, and thou wouldst be inevitably lost. Adieu -- we see each other no more." Having uttered these words he quitted the apartment, and Walter also fled from this abode of horror, having first given direction that the corpse should be speedily interred.
Again did the terrific Brunhilda repose within her grave; but her image continually haunted Walter's imagination, so that his existence was one continued martyrdom, in which he continually struggled, to dismiss from his recollection the hideous phantoms of the past; yet, the stronger his effort to banish them, so much the more frequently and the more vividly did they return; as the night-wanderer, who is enticed by a fire-wisp into quagmire or bog, sinks the deeper into his damp grave the more he struggles to escape. His imagination seemed incapable of admitting any other image than that of Brunhilda: now he fancied he beheld her expiring, the blood streaming from her beautiful bosom: at others he saw the lovely bride of his youth, who reproached him with having disturbed the slumbers of the tomb; and to both he was compelled to utter the dreadful words, "I curse thee for ever." The terrible imprecation was constantly passing his lips; yet was he in incessant terror lest he should forget it, or dream of her without being able to repeat it, and then, on awaking, find himself in her arms. Else would he recall her expiring words, and, appalled at their terrific import, imagine that the doom of his perdition was irrecoverably passed. Whence should he fly from himself? or how erase from his brain these images and forms of horror? In the din of combat, in the tumult of war and its incessant pour of victory to defeat; from the cry of anguish to the exultation of victory -- in these he hoped to find at least the relief of distraction: but here too he was disappointed. The giant fang of apprehension now seized him who had never before known fear; each drop of blood that sprayed upon him seemed the cold blood that had gushed from Brunhilda's wound; each dying wretch that fell beside him looked like her, when expiring, she exclaimed, -- "Thou too art doomed to perdition"; so that the aspect of death seemed more full of dread to him than aught beside, and this unconquerable terror compelled him to abandon the battle-field. At length, after many a weary and fruitless wandering, he returned to his castle. Here all was deserted and silent, as if the sword, or a still more deadly pestilence had laid everything waste: for the few inhabitants that still remained, and even those servants who had once shewn themselves the most attached, now fled from him, as though he had been branded with the mark of Cain. With horror he perceived that, by uniting himself as he had done with the dead, he had cut himself off from the living, who refused to hold any intercourse with him. Often, when he stood on the battlements of his castle, and looked down upon desolate fields, he compared their present solitude with the lively activity they were wont to exhibit, under the strict but benevolent discipline of Swanhilda. He now felt that she alone could reconcile him to life, but durst he hope that one, whom he so deeply aggrieved, could pardon him, and receive him again? Impatience at length got the better of fear; he sought Swanhilda, and, with the deepest contrition, acknowledged his complicated guilt; embracing her knees as he beseeched her to pardon him, and to return to his desolate castle, in order that it might again become the abode of contentment and peace. The pale form which she beheld at her feet, the shadow of the lately blooming youth, touched Swanhilda. "The folly," said she gently, "though it has caused me much sorrow, has never excited my resentment or my anger. But say, where are my children?" To this dreadful interrogation the agonized father could for a while frame no reply: at length he was obliged to confess the dreadful truth. "Then we are sundered for ever," returned Swanhilda; nor could all his tears or supplications prevail upon her to revoke the sentence she had given.
Stripped of his last earthly hope, bereft of his last consolation, and thereby rendered as poor as mortal can possibly be on this side of the grave. Walter returned homewards; when, as he was riding through the forest in the neighbourhood of his castle, absorbed in his gloomy meditations, the sudden sound of a horn roused him from his reverie. Shortly after he saw appear a female figure clad in black, and mounted on a steed of the same colour: her attire was like that of a huntress, but, instead of a falcon, she bore a raven in her hand; and she was attended by a gay troop of cavaliers and dames. The first salutations bring passed, he found that she was proceeding the same road as himself; and, when she found that Walter's castle was close at hand, she requested that he would lodge her for that night, the evening being far advanced. Most willingly did he comply with this request, since the appearance of the beautiful stranger had struck him greatly; so wonderfully did she resemble Swanhilda, except that her locks were brown, and her eye dark and full of fire. With a sumptous banquet did he entertain his guests, whose mirth and songs enlivened the lately silent halls.
Three days did this revelry continue, and so exhilarating did it prove to Walter that he seemed to have forgotten his sorrows and his fears; nor could he prevail upon himself to dismiss his visitors, dreading lest, on their departure, the castle would seem a hundred times more desolate than before hand his grief be proportionally increased. At his earnest request, the stranger consented to stay seven, and again another seven days. Without being requested, she took upon herself the superintendence of the household, which she regulated as discreetly and cheerfully as Swanhilda had been wont to do, so that the castle, which had so lately been the abode of melancholy and horror, became the residence of pleasure and festivity, and Walter's grief disappeared altogether in the midst of so much gaiety. Daily did his attachment to the fair unknown increase; he even made her his confidant; and, one evening as they were walking together apart from any of her train, he related to her his melancholy and frightful history. "My dear friend," returned she, as soon as he he had finished his tale, "it ill beseems a man of thy discretion to afflict thyself on account of all this. Thou hast awakened the dead from the sleep of the grave and afterwards found, -- what might have been anticipated, that the dead possess no sympathy with life. What then? thou wilt not commit this error a second time.
Thou hast however murdered the being whom thou hadst thus recalled again to existence -- but it was only in appearance, for thou couldst not deprive that of life which properly had none. Thou hast, too, lost a wife and two children: but at thy years such a loss is most easily repaired. There are beauties who will gladly share thy couch, and make thee again a father. But thou dreadst the reckoning of hereafter: -- go, open the graves and ask the sleepers there whether that hereafter disturbs them." In such manner would she frequently exhort and cheer him, so that, in a short time. his melancholy entirely disappeared. He now ventured to declare to the unknown the passion with which she had inspired him, nor did she refuse him her hand. Within seven days afterwards the nuptials were celebrated, and the very foundations of the castle seemed to rock from the wild tumultuous uproar of unrestrained riot. The wine streamed in abundance; the goblets circled incessantly; intemperance reached its utmost bounds, while shouts of laughter almost resembling madness burst from the numerous train belonging to the unknown.
At length Walter, heated with wine and love, conducted his bride into the nuptial chamber: but, oh! horror! scarcely had he clasped her in his arms ere she transformed herself into a monstrous serpent, which entwining him in its horrid folds, crushed him to death. Flames crackled on every side of the apartment; in a few minutes after, the whole castle was enveloped in a blaze that consumed it entirely: while, as the walls fell in with a tremendous crash, a voice exclaimed aloud --
"WAKE NOT THE DEAD!"
In a region of the Hartz Mountains there lived a knight whom people generally called simply Fair Eckbert. He was about forty years old, scarcely of medium height, and short, very fair hair fell thick and straight over his pale sunken face. He lived very quietly unto himself, and was never implicated in the feuds of his neighbors; people saw him but rarely outside the encircling wall of his little castle. His wife loved solitude quite as much as he, and both seemed to love each other from the heart; only they were wont to complain because Heaven seemed unwilling to bless their marriage with children.
Very seldom was Eckbert visited by guests, and even when he was, almost no change on their account was made in the ordinary routine of his life. Frugality dwelt there, and Economy herself seemed to regulate everything. Eckbert was then cheerful and gay only when he was alone one noticed in him a certain reserve, a quiet distant melancholy.
Nobody came so often to the castle as did Philip Walther, a man to whom Eckbert had become greatly attached, because he found in him very much his own way of thinking. His home was really in Franconia, but he often spent more than half a year at a time in the vicinity of Eckbert's castle, where he busied himself gathering herbs and stones and arranging them in order. He had a small income, and was therefore dependent upon no one. Eckbert often accompanied him on his lonely rambles, and thus a closer friendship developed between the two men with each succeeding year.
There are hours in which it worries a man to keep from a friend a secret, which hitherto he has often taken great pains to conceal. The soul then feels an irresistible impulse to impart itself completely, and reveal its innermost self to the friend, in order to make him so much the more a friend. At these moments delicate souls disclose themselves to each other, and it doubtless sometimes happens that the one shrinks back in fright from its acquaintance with the other.
One foggy evening in early autumn Eckbert was sitting with his friend and his wife, Bertha, around the hearthfire. The flames threw a bright glow out into the room and played on the ceiling above. The night looked in darkly through the windows, and the trees outside were shivering in the damp cold. Walther was lamenting that he had so far to go to get back home, and Eckbert proposed that he remain there and spend half the night in familiar talk, and then sleep until morning in one of the rooms of the castle. Walther accepted the proposal, whereupon wine and supper were brought in, the fire was replenished with wood, and the conversation of the two friends became more cheery and confidential.
After the dishes had been cleared off, and the servants had gone out, Eckbert took Walther's hand and said: "Friend, you ought once to let my wife tell you the story of her youth, which is indeed strange enough."
"Gladly," replied Walther, and they all sat down again around the hearth. It was now exactly midnight, and the moon shone intermittently through the passing clouds.
"You must forgive me," began Bertha, "but my husband says your thoughts are so noble that it is not right to conceal anything from you. Only you must not regard my story as a fairy-tale, no matter how strange it may sound.
"I was born in a village, my father was a poor shepherd. The household economy of my parents was on a humble plane - often they did not know where they were going to get their bread. But what grieved me far more than that was the fact that my father and mother often quarreled over their poverty, and cast bitter reproaches at each other. Furthermore I was constantly hearing about myself, that I was a simple, stupid child, who could not perform even the most trifling task. And I was indeed extremely awkward and clumsy; I let everything drop from my hands, I learned neither to sew nor to spin, I could do nothing to help about the house. The misery of my parents, however, I understood extremely well. I often used to sit in the corner and fill my head with notions - how I would help them if I should suddenly become rich, how I would shower them with gold and silver and take delight in their astonishment. Then I would see spirits come floating up, who would reveal subterranean treasures to me or give me pebbles which afterward turned into gems. In short, the most wonderful fantasies would occupy my mind, and when I had to get up to help or carry something, I would show myself far more awkward than ever, for the reason that my head would be giddy with all these strange notions.
"My father was always very cross with me, because I was such an absolutely useless burden on the household; so he often treated me with great cruelty, and I seldom heard him say a kind word to me. Thus it went along until I was about eight years old, when serious steps were taken to get me to do and to learn something. My father believed that it was sheer obstinacy and indolence on my part, so that I might spend my days in idleness. Enough - he threatened me unspeakably, and when this turned out to be of no avail, he chastised me most barbarously, adding that this punishment was to be repeated every day because I was an absolutely useless creature.
"All night long I cried bitterly - I felt so entirely forsaken, and I pitied myself so that I wanted to die.' I dreaded the break of day, and did not know what to do. I longed for any possible kind of ability, and could not understand at all why I was more stupid than the other children of my acquaintance. I was on the verge of despair.
"When the day dawned, I got up, and, scarcely realizing what I was doing, opened the door of our little cabin. I found myself in the open field, soon afterward in a forest, into which the daylight had hardly yet shone. I ran on without looking back; I did not get tired, for I thought all the time that my father would surely overtake me and treat me even more cruelly on account of my running away.
"When I emerged from the forest again the sun was already fairly high, and I saw, lying ahead of me, something dark, over which a thick mist was resting. One moment I was obliged to scramble over hills, the next to follow a winding path between rocks. I now guessed that I must be in the neighboring mountains, and I began to feel afraid of the solitude. For, living in the plain, I had never seen any mountains, and the mere word mountains, whenever I heard them talked about, had an exceedingly terrible sound to my childish ear. I hadn't the heart to turn back - it was indeed precisely my fear which drove me onwards. I often looked around me in terror when the wind rustled through the leaves above me, or when a distant sound of chopping rang out through the quiet morning. Finally, when I began to meet colliers and miners and heard a strange pronunciation, I nearly fainted with fright.
"I passed through several villages and begged, for I now felt hungry and thirsty. I helped myself along very well with the answers I gave to questions asked me. I had wandered along in this way for about four days, when I came to a small foot-path which led me farther from the highway. The rocks around me now assumed a different, far stranger shape. They were cliffs, and were piled up on one another in such a way that they looked as if the first gust of wind would hurl them all together into a heap. I did not know whether to go on or not. I had always slept over night either in out-of-the-way shepherds' huts, or else in the open woods, for it was just then the most beautiful season of the year. Here I came across no human habitations whatever, nor could I expect to meet with any in this wilderness. The rocks became more and more terrible - I often had to pass close by dizzy precipices, and finally even the path under my feet came to an end. I was absolutely wretched; I wept and screamed, and my voice echoed horribly in the rocky glens. And now night set in; I sought out a mossy spot to lie down on, but I could not sleep. All night long I heard the most peculiar noises; first I thought it was wild beasts, then the wind moaning through the rocks, then again strange birds. I prayed, and not until toward morning did I fall asleep.
"I woke up when the daylight shone in my face. In front of me there was a rock. I climbed up on it, hoping to find a way out of the wilderness, and perhaps to see some houses or people. But when I reached the top, everything, as far as my eye could see, was like night about me - all overcast with a gloomy mist. The day was dark and dismal, and not a tree, not a meadow, not even a thicket could my eye discern, with the exception of a few bushes which, in solitary sadness, had shot up through the crevices in the rocks. It is impossible to describe the longing I felt merely to see a human being, even had it been the most strange looking person before whom I should inevitably have taken fright. At the same time I was ravenously hungry. I sat down and resolved to die. But after a while the desire to live came off victorious; I got up quickly and walked on all day long, occasionally crying out. At last I was scarcely conscious of what I was doing; I was tired and exhausted, had hardly any desire to live, and yet was afraid to die.
"Toward evening the region around me began to assume a somewhat more friendly aspect. My thoughts and wishes took new life, and the desire to live awakened in all my veins. I now thought I heard the swishing of a mill in the distance; I redoubled my steps, and how relieved, how joyous I felt when at last I actually reached the end of the dreary rocks! Woods and meadows and, far ahead, pleasant mountains lay before me again. I felt as if I had stepped out of hell into paradise; the solitude and my helplessness did not seem to me at all terrible now.
"Instead of the hoped-for mill, I came upon a water-fall, which, to be sure, considerably diminished my joy. I dished up some water from the river with my hand and drank. Suddenly I thought I heard a low cough a short distance away. Never have I experienced so pleasant a surprise as at that moment; I went nearer and saw, on the edge of the forest, an old woman, apparently resting. She was dressed almost entirely in black; a black hood covered her head and a large part of her face. In her hand she held a walking stick.
"I approached her and asked for help; she had me sit down beside her and gave me bread and some wine. While I was eating she sang a hymn in a shrill voice, and when she had finished she said that I might follow her.
"I was delighted with this proposal, strange as the voice and the personality of the old woman seemed to me. She walked rather fast with her cane, and at every step she distorted her face, which at first made me laugh. The wild rocks steadily receded behind us - we crossed a pleasant meadow, and then passed through a fairly long forest. When we emerged from this, the sun was just setting, and I shall never forget the view and the feelings of that evening. Everything was fused in the most delicate red and gold; the tree-tops stood forth in the red glow of evening, the charming light was spread out over the fields, the forest and the leaves of the trees were motionless, the clear sky looked like an open paradise, and the evening bells of the villages rang out with a strange mournfulness across the lea. My young soul now got its first presentment of the world and its events. I forgot myself and my guide; my spirit and my eyes were wandering among golden clouds.
"We now climbed a hill, which was planted with birch trees, and from its summit looked down into a little valley, likewise full of birches. In the midst of the trees stood a little hut. A lively barking came to our ears, and presently a spry little dog was dancing around the old woman and wagging his tall. Presently he came to me, examined me from all sides, and then returned with friendly actions to the old woman.
"When we were descending the hill I heard some wonderful singing, which seemed to come from the hut. It sounded like a bird, and ran:
O solitude"These few words were repeated over and over; if I were to attempt to describe the effect, it was somewhat like the blended notes of a bugle and a shawm.
"My curiosity was strained to the utmost. Without waiting for the old woman's invitation, I walked into the hut with her. Dusk had already set in. Everything was in proper order: a few goblets stood in a cupboard, some strange-looking vessels lay on a table, and a bird was hanging in a small, shiny cage by the window. And he, indeed, it was that I had heard singing. The old woman gasped and coughed, seemingly as if she would never get over it. Now she stroked the little dog, now talked to the bird, which answered her only with its usual words. Furthermore, she acted in no way as if I were present. While I was thus watching her, a series of shudders passed through my body; for her face was constantly twitching and her head shaking, as if with age, and in such a way that it was impossible for one to tell how she really looked.
"When she finally ceased coughing she lighted a candid, set a very small table, and laid the supper on it. Then she looked around at me and told me to take one of the woven cane chairs. I sat down directly opposite her, and the candle stood between us. She folded her bony hands and prayed aloud, all the time twitching her face in such a way that it almost made me laugh. I was very careful, however, not to do anything to make her angry.
"After supper she prayed again, and then showed me to a bed in a tiny little side-room - she herself slept in the main room. I did not stay awake long, for I was half dazed. I woke up several times during the night, however, and heard the old woman coughing and talking to the dog, and occasionally I heard the bird, which seemed to be dreaming and sang only a few isolated words of its song. These stray notes, united with the rustling of the birches directly in front of my window, and also with the song of the far-off nightingale, made such a strange combination that I felt all the time, not as if I were awake, but as if I were lapsing into another, still stranger, dream.
"In the morning the old woman woke me up and soon afterward gave me some work to do; I had, namely, to spin, and I soon learned how to do it; in addition I had to take care of the dog and the bird. I was not long in getting acquainted with the housekeeping, and came to know all the objects around. I now began to feel that everything was as it should be; I no longer thought that there was anything strange about the old woman, or romantic about the location of her home, or that the bird was in any way extraordinary. To be sure, I was all the time struck by his beauty; for his feathers displayed every possible color, varying from a most beautiful light blue to a glowing red, and when he sang he puffed himself out proudly, so that his feathers shone even more gorgeously.
"The old woman often went out and did not return until evening. Then I would go with the dog to meet her and she would call me child and daughter. Finally I came to like her heartily; for our minds, especially in childhood, quickly accustom themselves to everything. In the evening hours she taught me to read; I soon learned the art, and afterward it was a source of endless pleasure to me in my solitude? for she had a few old, handwritten books which contained wonderful stories.
"The memory of the life I led at that time still gives me a strange feeling even now. I was never visited by any human being, and felt at home only in that little family circle; for the dog and the bird made the same impression on me which ordinarily only old and intimate friends create. Often as I used it at that time, I have never been able to recall the dog's strange name.
"In this way I had lived with the old woman for four years, and I must have been at any rate about twelve years old when she finally began to grow more confidential and revealed a secret to me. It was this: every day the bird laid one egg, and in this egg there was always a pearl or a gem. I had already noticed that she often did something in the cage secretly, but had never particularly concerned myself about it. She now charged me with the task of taking out these eggs during her absence, and of carefully preserving them in the vessels. She would leave food for me and stay away quite a long time - weeks and months. My little spinning-wheel hummed, the dog barked, the wonderful bird sang, and meanwhile everything was so quiet in the region round about that I cannot recall a single high wind or a thunder-storm during the entire time. Not a human being strayed thither, not a wild animal came near our habitation. I was happy, and sang and worked away! from one day to the next. Man would perhaps be right happy if he could thus spend his entire life, unseen by others.
"From the little reading that I did I formed quite wonderful impressions of the world and of mankind. They were all drawn from myself and the company I lived in; thus, if whimsical people were spoken of I could not imagine them other than the little dog, beautiful women always looked like the bird, and all old women were as my wonderful old friend. I had also read a little about love, and in my imagination I figured in strange tales. I formed a mental picture of the most beautiful knight in the world and adorned him with all sorts of excellences, without really knowing, after all my trouble, what he looked like. But I could feel genuine pity for myself if he did not return my love, and then I would make long, emotional speeches to him, sometimes aloud, in order to win him. You smile - we are all now past this period of youth.
"I now liked it rather better when I was alone, for I was then myself mistress of the house. The dog was very fond of me and did everything I wanted him to do, the bird answered all my questions with his song, my wheel was always spinning merrily, and so in the bottom of my heart I never felt any desire for a change. When the old woman returned from her wanderings she would praise my diligence, and say that her household was conducted in a much more orderly manner since I belonged to it. She was delighted with my development and my healthy look. In short, she treated me in every way as if I were a daughter.
"' You are a good child,' she once said to me in a squeaky voice. ' If you continue thus, it will always go well with you. It never pays to swerve from the right course - the penalty is sure to follow, though it may be a long time coming. ' While she was saying this I did not give a great deal of heed to it, for I was very lively in all my movements. But in the night it occurred to me again, and I could not understand what she had meant by it. I thought her words over carefully - I had read about riches, and it finally dawned on me that her pearls and gems might perhaps be something valuable. This idea presently became still clearer to me - but what could she have meant by the right course? I was still unable to understand fully the meaning of her words.
"I was now fourteen years old. It is indeed a misfortune that human beings acquire reason, only to lose, in so doing, the innocence of their souls. In other words I now began to realize the fact that it depended only upon me to take the bird and the gems in the old woman's absence, and go out into the world of which I had read. At the same time it was perhaps possible that I might meet my wonderfully beautiful knight, who still held a place in my imagination.
"At first this thought went no further than any other, but when I would sit there spinning so constantly, it always came back k against my will and I became so deeply absorbed in it that I already saw myself dressed up and surrounded by knights and princes. And whenever I would thus lose myself, I easily grew very sad when I glanced up and found myself in my little, narrow home. When I was about my business, the old woman paid no further attention to me.
"One day my hostess went away again and told me that she would be gone longer this time than usual - I should pay strict attention to everything, and not let the time- drag on my hands. I took leave of her with a certain uneasiness, for I somehow felt that I should never see her again. I looked after her for a long time, and did not myself know why I was so uneasy; it seemed almost as if my intention were already standing before me, without my being distinctly conscious of it.
"I had never taken such diligent care of the dog and the bird before - they lay closer to my heart than ever now. The old woman had been away several days when I arose with the firm purpose of abandoning the hut with the bird and going out into the so-called world. My mind was narrow and limited; I wanted again to remain there, and yet the thought was repugnant to me. A strange conflict took place in my soul - it was as if two contentious spirits were struggling within me. One moment the quiet solitude would seem so beautiful to me, and then again I would be charmed by the vision of a new world with its manifold wonders.
"I did not know what to do with myself. The dog was continually dancing around me with friendly advances, the sunlight was spread out cheerfully over the fields, and the green birch-trees shone brightly. I had a feeling as if I had something to do requiring haste. Accordingly, I caught the little dog, tied him fast in the room, and took the cage, with the bird in it, under my arm. The dog cringed and whined over this unusual treatment; he looked at me with imploring eyes but I was afraid to take him with me. I also took one of the vessels, which was filled with gems, and concealed it about me. The others I left there. The bird twisted its head around in a singular manner when I walked out of the door with him; the dog strained hard to follow me, but was obliged to remain behind.
"I avoided the road leading toward the wild rocks, and walked in the opposite direction. The dog continued to bark and whine, and I was deeply touched by it. Several times the bird started to sing, but, as he was being carried, it was necessarily rather difficult for him. As I walked along the barking grew fainter and fainter, and, finally, ceased altogether. I cried and was on the point of turning back, but the longing to see something new drove me on.
"I had already traversed mountains and several forests when evening came, and I was obliged to pass the night in a village. I was very timid when I entered the public-house; they showed me to a room and a bed, and I slept fairly well, except that I dreamt of the old woman, who was threatening me.
"My journey was rather monotonous; but the further I went the more the picture of the old woman and the little dog worried me. I thought how he would probably starve to death without my help, and in the forest I often thought I would suddenly meet the old woman. Thus, crying and sighing, I wandered along, and as often as I rested and put the cage on the ground, the bird sang its wonderful song, and reminded me vividly of the beautiful home I had deserted. As human nature is prone to forget, I now thought that the journey I had made as a child was not as dismal as the one I was now making, and I wished that I were back in the same situation.
"I had sold a few gems, and now, after wandering many days, I arrived in a village. Even as I was entering it, a strange feeling came over me - I was frightened and did not know why. But I soon discovered why - it was the very same village in which I was born. How astonished I was! How the tears of joy ran down my cheeks as a thousand strange memories came back to me! There were a great many changes; new houses had been built, others, which had then only recently been erected, were now in a state of dilapidation. I came across places where there had been a fire. Everything was a great deal smaller and more crowded than I had expected. I took infinite delight in the thought of seeing my parents again after so many years. I found the little house and the well-known threshold - the handle on the door was just as it used to be. I felt as if I had only yesterday left it ajar. My heart throbbed vehemently. I quickly opened the door - but faces entirely strange to me stared at me from around the room. I inquired after the shepherd, Martin, and was told that both he and his wife had died three years before. I hurried out and, crying aloud, left the village.
"I had looked forward with such pleasure to surprising them with my riches, and as a result of a remarkable accident the dream of my childhood had really come true. And now it was all in vain - they could no longer rejoice with me - the fondest hope of my life was lost to me forever.
"I rented a small house with a garden in a pleasant city, and engaged a waiting-maid. The world did not appear to be such a wonderful place as I had expected, but the old woman and my former home dropped more and more out of my memory, so that, upon the whole, I lived quite contentedly.
"The bird had not sung for a long time, so that I was not a little frightened one night when he suddenly began again The song he sang, however, was different was:
O solitude"I could not sleep through the night; everything came back to my mind, and I felt more than ever that I had done wrong. When I got up the sight of the bird was positively repugnant to me; he was constantly staring at me, and his presence worried me. He never ceased singing now, and sang more loudly and shrilly than he used to. The more I looked at him the more uneasiness I felt. Finally, I opened the cage, stuck my hand in, seized him by the neck and squeezed my fingers together forcibly. He looked at me imploringly, and I relaxed my grip - but he was already dead. I buried him in the garden.
"And now I was often seized with fear of my waiting maid. My own past came back to me, and I thought that she too might rob me some day, or perhaps even murder me. For a long time I had known a young knight whom I liked very much - I gave him my hand, and with that, Mr. Walther, my story ends."
"You should have seen her then," broke in Eckbert quickly." Her youth, her innocence, her beauty - and what an incomprehensible charm her solitary breeding had given her! To me she seemed like a wonder, and I loved her inexpressibly. I had no property, but with the help of her love I attained my present condition of comfortable prosperity. We moved to this place, and our union thus far has never brought us a single moment of remorse."
"But while I have been chattering," began Bertha again, "the night has grown late. Let us go to bed."
She rose to go to her room. Walther kissed her hand and wished her a good-night, adding: "Noble woman, I thank you. I can readily imagine you with the strange bird, and how you fed the little Strohmi."
Without answering she left the room. Walther also lay down to sleep, but Eckbert continued to walk up and down the room.
"Aren't human beings fools? "he finally asked himself." I myself induced my wife to tell her story, and now I regret this confidence! Will he not perhaps misuse it, Will he not impart it to others? Will he not perhaps - for it is human nature - come to feel a miserable longing for our gems and devise plans to get them and dissemble his nature ? "
It occurred to him that Walther had not taken leave of him as cordially as would perhaps have been natural after so confidential a talk. When the soul is once led to suspect, it finds confirmations of its suspicions in every little thing. Then again Eckbert reproached himself for his ignoble distrust of his loyal friend, but he was unable to get the notion entirely out of his mind. All night long he tossed about with these thoughts and slept but little.
Bertha was sick and could not appear for breakfast. Walther seemed little concerned about it, and furthermore he left the knight in a rather indifferent manner. Eckbert could not understand his conduct. He went in to see his wife - she lay in a severe fever and said That her story the night before must have excited her in this manner.
After that evening Walther visited his friend's castle but rarely, and even when he did come he went away again after a few trivial words. Eckbert was exceedingly troubled by this behavior; to be sure, he tried not to let either Bertha or Walther notice it, but both of them must surely have been aware of his inward uneasiness.
Bertha's sickness grew worse and worse. The doctor shook his head - the color in her cheeks had disappeared, and her eyes became more and more brilliant.
One morning she summoned her husband to her bedside and told the maids to withdraw.
"Dear husband," she began, "I must disclose to you something which has almost deprived me of my reason and has ruined my health, however trivial it may seem to be. Often as I have told my story to you, you will remember that I have never been able, despite all the efforts I have made, to recall the name of the little dog with which I lived so long. That evening when I told the story to Walther he suddenly said to me when we separated: ' I can readily imagine how you fed the little Strohmi.' Was that an accident? Did he guess the name, or did he mention it designedly! And what, then, is this man's connection with my lot? The idea has occurred to me now and then that I merely imagine this accident - but it is certain, only too certain. It sent a feeling of horror through me to have a strange person like that assist my memory. What do you say, Eckbert? "
Eckbert looked at his suffering wife with deep tenderness. He kept silent, but was meditating. Then he said a few comforting words to her and left the room. In an isolated room he walked back and forth with indescribable restlessness - Walther for many years had been his sole male comrade, and yet this man was now the only person in the world whose-existence oppressed and harassed him. It seemed to him that his heart would be light and happy if only this one person might be put out of the way. He took down his cross-bow with a view to distracting his thoughts by going hunting.
It was a raw and stormy day in the winter; deep snow lay on the mountains and bent down the branches of the trees. He wandered about, with the sweat oozing from his forehead. He came across no game, and that increased his ill-humor. Suddenly he saw something move in the distance - it was Walther gathering moss from the trees. Without knowing what he was doing he took aim - Walther looked around and motioned to him with a threatening gesture. But as he did so the arrow sped, and Walther fell headlong.
Eckbert felt relieved and calm, and yet a feeling of horror drove him back to his castle. He had a long distance to go, for he had wandered far into the forest. When he arrived home, Bertha had already died - before her death she had spoken a great deal about Walther and the old woman.
For a long time Eckbert lived in greatest seclusion. He had always been somewhat melancholy because the strange story of his wife rather worried him; he had always lived in fear of an unfortunate event that might take place, but now he was completely at variance with himself. The murder of his friend stood constantly before his eyes - he spent his life reproaching himself.
In order to divert his thoughts, he occasionally betook himself to the nearest large city, where he attended parties and banquets. He wished to have a friend to fill the vacancy in his soul, and then again, when he thought of Walther, the very word friend made him shudder. He was convinced that he would necessarily be unhappy with all his friends. He had lived so long in beautiful harmony with Bertha, and Walther's friendship had made him happy for so many years, and now both of them had been so suddenly taken from him that his life seemed at times more like a strange fairy-tale than an actual mortal existence.
A knight, Hugo von Wolfsberg, became attached to the quiet, melancholy Eckbert, and seemed to cherish a genuine fondness for him. Eckbert was strangely surprised; he met the knight's friendly advances more quickly than the other expected. They were now frequently together, the stranger did Eckbert all sorts of favors, scarcely ever did either of them ride out without the other, they met each other at all the parties - in short, they seemed to be inseparable.
Eckbert was, nevertheless, happy only for short moments at a time, for he felt quite sure that Hugo love} him only by mistake - he did not know him, nor his history, and he felt the same impulse again to unfold his soul to him in order to ascertain for sure how staunch a friend Hugo was. Then again doubts and the fear of being detested restrained him. There were many hours in which he felt so convinced of his own unworthiness as to believe that no person, who knew him at all intimately, could hold him worthy of esteem. But he could not resist the impulse; in the course of a long walk he revealed his entire history to his friend, and asked him if he could possibly love a murderer. Hugo was touched and tried to comfort him. Eckbert followed him back to the city with a lighter heart.
However, it seemed to be his damnation that his suspicions should awaken just at the time when he grew confidential; for they had no more than entered the hall when the glow of the many lights revealed an expression in his friend's features which he did not like. He thought he detected a malicious smile, and it seemed to him that he, Hugo, said very little to him, that he talked a great deal with the other people present, and seemed to pay absolutely no attention to him. There was an old knight in the company who had always shown himself as Eckbert's rival, and had often inquired in a peculiar way about his riches and his wife. Hugo now approached this man, and they talked together a long time secretly, while every now and then they glanced toward Eckbert. He, Eckbert, saw in this a confirmation of his suspicions; he believed that he had been betrayed, and a terrible rage overcame him. As he continued to stare in that direction, he suddenly saw Walther's head, all his features, and his entire figure, so familiar to him. Still looking, he became convinced that it was nobody but Walther himself who was talking with the old man. His terror was indescribable; completely beside himself, he rushed out, left the city that night, and, after losing his way many times, returned to his castle.
Like a restless spirit he hurried from room to room. No thought could he hold fast; the pictures in his mind grew more and more terrible, and he did not sleep a wink. The idea often occurred to him that he was crazy and that all these notions were merely the product of his own imagination. Then again he remembered Walther's features, and it was all more puzzling to him than ever. He resolved to go on a journey in order to compose his thoughts; he had long since given up the idea of a friend and the wish for a companion.
Without any definite destination in view, he set out, nor did he pay much attention to the country that lay before him. After he had trotted along several days on his horse, he suddenly lost his way in a maze of rocks, from which he was unable to discover any egress. Finally he met an old peasant who showed him a way out, leading past a waterfall. He started to give him a few coins by way of thanks, but the peasant refused them.
"What can it mean? "he said to himself." I could easily imagine that that man was no other than Walther."
He looked back once more - it was indeed no one else but Walther!
Eckbert spurred on his horse as fast as it could run - through meadows and forests, until, completely exhausted, it collapsed beneath him. Unconcerned, he continued his journey on foot.
Dreamily he ascended a hill. There he seemed to hear a dog barking cheerily close by - birch trees rustled about him - he heard the notes of a wonderful song:
O solitudeNow it was all up with Eckbert's consciousness and his senses; he could not solve the mystery whether he was now dreaming or had formerly dreamt of a woman Bertha. The most marvelous was confused with the most ordinary - the world around him was bewitched - no thought, no memory was under his control.
An old crook-backed woman with a cane came creeping up the hill, coughing.
"Are you bringing my bird, my pearls, my dog! "she cried out to him. "Look - wrong punishes itself. I and no other was your friend Walther, your Hugo."
"God in Heaven! "said Eckbert softly to himself. "In what terrible solitude I have spent my life."
"And Bertha was your sister."
Eckbert fell to the ground.
"Why did she desert me so deceitfully! Otherwise everything would have ended beautifully - her probation time was already over. She was the daughter of a knight, who had a shepherd bring her up - the daughter of your father."
"Why have I always had a presentiment of these facts? "cried Eckbert.
"Because in your early youth you heard your father tell of them. On his wife's account he could not bring up this daughter himself, for she was the child of another woman."
Eckbert was delirious as he breathed his last; dazed and confused he heard the old woman talking, the dog barking, and the bird repeating its song.
Brave Burgundy no longerThe voice of an old peasant sounded over the rocks, as he sang this ballad; and the Trusty Eckart sat in his grief, on the declivity of the hill, and wept aloud. His youngest boy was standing by him: "Why weepest thou aloud, my father Eckart?" said he: " Art thou not great and strong, taller and braver than any other man? Whom, then, art thou afraid of?"
Meanwhile the Duke of Burgundy was moving homewards to his Tower. Burgundy was mounted on a stately horse, with splendid trappings; and the gold and jewels of the princely Duke were glittering in the evening sun; so that little Conrad could not sate himself with viewing and admiring the magnificent procession. The Trusty Eckart rose, and looked gloomily over it; and young Conrad, when the hunting train had disappeared, struck up this stave:
On good steed,
The old man clasped his son to his bosom, looking with wistful tenderness on his clear blue eyes. " Didst thou hear that good man's song ?" said he.
"Ay, why not?" answered Conrad: "he sang it loud enough, and thou art the Trusty Eckart thyself, so I liked to listen."
"That same Duke is now my enemy," said Eckart; " he keeps my other son in prison, nay has already put him to death, if I may credit what the people say."
" Take down thy broad-sword, and do not suffer it," cried Conrad;" they will tremble to see thee, and all the people in the whole land will stand by thee, for thou art their greatest hero in the land."
" Not so, my son," said the other; "I were then the man my enemies have called me; I dare not be unfaithful to my liege; no, I dare not break the peace which I have pledged to him, and promised on his hand."
"But what wants he with us, then?" said Conrad, impatiently.
Eckart sat down again, and said: "My son, the entire story of it would be long, and thou wouldst scarcely understand it. The great have always their worst enemy in their own hearts, and they fear it day and night; so Burgundy has now come to think that he has trusted me too far; that he has nursed in me a serpent in his bosom. People call me the stoutest warrior in our country; they say openly that he owes me land and life; I am named the Trusty Eckart; and thus oppressed and suffering persons turn to me, that I may get them help. All this he cannot suffer. So he has taken up a grudge against me; and every one that wants to rise in favour with him increases his distrust; so that at last he has quite turned away his heart from me."
Hereupon the hero Eckart told, in smooth words, how Burgundy had banished him from his sight, how they had become entire strangers to each other, as the Duke suspected that he even meant to rob him of his dukedom. In trouble and sorrow, he proceeded to relate how the Duke had cast his son into confinement, and was threatening the life of Eckart himself, as of a traitor to the land.
But Conrad said to his father: " Wilt thou let me go, my old father, and speak with the Duke, to make him reasonable and kind to thee? If he has killed my brother, then he is a wicked man, and thou must punish him; but that cannot be, for he could not so falsely forget the great service thou hast done him."
" Dost thou know the old proverb ?" said Eckart:
" Doth the king require thy aid,
Yes; my whole life has been wasted in vain. Why did he make me great, to cast me down the deeper? The friendship of princes is like a deadly poison, which can only be employed against our enemies, and with which at last we unwarily kill ourselves."
"I will to the Duke," cried Conrad: "I will call back into his soul all that thou hast done, that thou hast suffered for him; and he will again be as of old."
"Thou hast forgot," said Eckart, " that they look on us as traitors. Therefore let us fly together to some foreign country, where a better fortune may betide us."
"At thy age," said Conrad, "wilt thou turn away thy face from thy kind home? I will to Burgundy; I will quiet him, and reconcile him to thee. What can he do to me, even though he still hate and fear thee?"
"I let thee go unwillingly," said Eckart; " for my soul forebodes no good; and yet I would fain be reconciled to him, for he is my old friend; and fain save thy brother, who is pining in the dungeon beside him."
The sun threw his last mild rays on the green Earth: Eckart gat pensively leaning back against a tree; he looked long at Conrad, then said: " If thou wilt go, my little boy, go now, before the night grow altogether dark. The windows in the Duke's Castle are already glittering with lights, and I hear afar off the sound of trumpets from the feast; perhaps his son's bride may have arrived, and his mind may be friendlier to us."
Unwillingly he let him go, for he no longer trusted to his fortune: but Conrad's heart was light; for he thought it would be an easy task to turn the mind of Burgundy, who had played with him so kindly but a short while before. "Wilt thou come back to me, my little boy?" sobbed Eckart: "if I lose thee, no other of my race remains." The boy consoled him; flattered him with caresses: at last they parted.
Conrad knocked at the gate of the Castle, and was let in; old Eckart stayed without in the night alone. " Him too have I lost," moaned he in his solitude; " I shall never see his face again."
Whilst he so lamented, there came tottering towards him a gray-haired man; endeavouring to get down the rocks; and seeming, at every step, to fear that he should stumble into the abyss. Seeing the old man's feebleness, Eckart held out his hand to him, and helped him to descend in safety.
" Which way come ye?" inquired Eckart. The old man sat down, and began to weep, so that the tears came running over his cheeks. Eckart tried to soothe him and console him with reasonable words; but the sorrowful old man seemed not at all to heed these well-meant speeches, but to yield himself the more immoderately to his sorrows.
"What grief can it be that lies so heavy on you as to overpower you utterly?" said Eckart.
"Ah, my children!" moaned the old man. Then Eckart thought of Conrad, Heinz and Dietrich, and was himself altogether comfortless. " Yes," said he, " if your children are dead, your misery in truth is very great."
" Worse than dead," replied the old man, with his mournful voice; "for they are not dead, but lost forever to me. O, would to Heaven that they were but dead!"
These strange words astonished Eckart, and he asked the old man to explain the riddle; whereupon the latter answered: " The age we live in is indeed a marvellous age, and surely the last days are at hand; for the most dreadful signs are sent into the world, to threaten it. Every sort of wickedness is casting off its old fetters, and stalking bold and free about the Earth; the fear of God is drying up and dispersing, and can find no channel to unite in; and the Powers of Evil are rising audaciously from their dark nooks, and celebrating their triumph. O my dear sir! we are old but not old enough for such prodigious things. You have doubtless seen the Comet, that wondrous light in the sky, that shines so prophetically down upon us? All men predict evil; and no one thinks of beginning the reform with himself, and so essaying to turn off the rod. Nor is this enough; but portents are also issuing from the Earth, and breaking mysteriously from the depths below, even as the light shines frightfully on us from above. Have you never heard of the Hill, which people call the Hill of Venus ?"
"Never," said Eckart, " far as I have travelled."
"I am surprised at that," replied the old man; " for the matter is now grown as notorious as it is true. To this Mountain have the Devils fled, and sought shelter in the desert centre of the Earth, according as the growth of our Holy Faith has cast down the idolatrous worship of the Heathen. Here, they say, before all others, Lady Venus keeps her court, and all her hellish hosts of worldly Lusts and forbidden Wishes gather round her, so that the Hill has been accursed since time immemorial."
"But in what country lies the Hill ?" inquired Eckart.
"There is the secret," said the old man, " that no one can tell this, except he have first given himself up to be Satan's servant; and, indeed, no guiltless person ever thinks of seeking it out. A wonderful Musician on a sudden issues from below, whom the Powers of Hell have sent as their ambassador; he roams through the world, and plays, and makes music on a pipe, so that his tones sound far and wide. And whoever hears these sounds is seized by him with visible yet inexplicable force, and drawn on, on, into the wilderness; he sees not the road he travels; he wanders, and wanders, and is not weary; his strength and his speed go on increasing; no power can restrain him; but he runs frantic into the Mountain, from which he can nevermore return. This power has, in our day, been restored to Hell; and in this inverse direction, the ill-starred, perverted pilgrims are travelling to a Shrine where no deliverance awaits them, or can reach them any more. For a long while, my two sons had given me no contentment; they were dissolute and immoral; they despised their parents, as they did religion; but now the Sound has caught and carried them off, they are gone into unseen kingdoms; the world was too narrow for them, they are seeking room in Hell."
"And what do you intend to do in such a mystery?" said Eckart.
"With this crutch I set out," replied the old man, " to wander through the world, to find them again, or die of weariness and woe."
So saying, he tore himself from his rest with a strong effort; and hastened forth with his utmost speed, as if he had found himself neglecting his most precious earthly hope; and Eckart looked with compassion on his vain toil, and rated him in his thoughts as mad.
It had been night, and was now day, and Conrad came not back. Eckart wandered to and fro among the rocks, and turned his longing eyes on the Castle; still he did not see him. A crowd came issuing through the gate; and Eckart no longer heeded to conceal himself; but mounted his horse, which was grazing in freedom; and rode into the middle of the troop, who were now proceeding merrily and carelessly across the plain. On his reaching them, they recognised him; but no one laid a hand on him, or said a hard word to him; they stood mute for reverence, surrounded him in admiration, and then went their way. One of the squires he called back, and asked him: " Where is my Conrad ?"
" O! ask me not," replied the squire; " it would but cause you sorrow and lamenting."
"And Dietrich!" cried the father.
"Name not their names any more," said the aged squire, " for they are gone; the wrath of our master was kindled against them, and he meant to punish you in them."
A hot rage mounted up in Eckart's soul; and, for sorrow and fury, he was no longer master of himself. He dashed the spurs into his horse, and rode through the Castle-gate. All drew back, with timid reverence, from his way; and thus he rode on to the front of the Palace. He sprang from horseback, and mounted the great steps with wavering pace. " Am I here in the dwelling of the man," said he, within himself, "who was once my friend?" He endeavoured to collect his thoughts; but wilder and wilder images kept moving in his eye, and thus he stept into the Prince's chamber.
Burgundy's presence of mind forsook him, and he trembled as Eckart stood in his presence. "Art thou the Duke of Burgundy?" said Eckart to him. To which the Duke answered, "Yes."
"And thou hast killed my son Dietrich?" The Duke said, "Yes."
"And my little Conrad too," cried Eckart, in his grief, " was not too good for thee, and thou hast killed him also?" To which the Duke again answered, " Yes."
Here Eckart was unmanned, and said, in tears: "O! answer me not so, Burgundy; for I cannot bear these speeches. Tell me but that thou art sorry, that thou wishest it were yet undone, and I will try to comfort myself; but thus thou art utterly offensive to my heart."
The Duke said: "Depart from my sight, false traitor; for thou art the worst enemy I have on Earth."
Eekart said: "Thou hast of old called me thy friend; but these thoughts are now far from thee. Never did I act against thee; still have I honoured and loved thee as my prince; and God forbid that I should now, as I well might, lay my hand upon my sword, and seek revenge of thee. No, I will depart from thy sight, and die in solitude."
So saying, he went out; and Burgundy was moved in his mind; but at his call, the guards appeared with their lances, who encircled him on all sides, and motioned to drive Eekart from the chamber with their weapons.
To horse the hero springs,
No one about the Castle knew whither Eckart had gone; for he had lost himself in the waste forests, and let no man see him. The Duke dreaded his intentions; and he now repented that he had let him go, and not laid hold of him. So, one morning, he set forth with a great train of hunters and attendants, to search the woods, and find out Eckart; for he thought, that till Eckart were destroyed, there could be no security. All were unwearied, and regardless of toil; but the sun set without their having found a trace of Eckart.
A storm came on, and great clouds flew blustering over the forest; the thunder rolled, and lightning struck the tall oaks: all, present were seized with an unquiet terror, and they gradually dispersed among the bushes, or the open spaces of the wood. The Duke's horse plunged into the thicket; his squires could not follow him: the gallant horse rushed to the ground, and Burgundy in vain called through the tempest to his servants; for there was no one that could hear him.
Like a wild man had Eckart roamed about the woods, unconscious of himself or his misfortunes; he had lost all thought, and in blank stupefaction satisfied his hunger with roots and herbs: the hero could not now be recognised by any one, so sore had the days of his despair defaced him. As the storm came on, he awoke from his stupefaction, and again felt his existence and his woes, and saw the misery that had befallen him. He raised a loud cry of lamentation for his children; he tore his white hair; and called out, in the bellowing of the storm: "Whither, whither are ye gone, ye parts of my heart? And how is all strength departed from me, that I could not even avenge your death? Why did I hold back my arm, and did not send to death him who had given my heart these deadly stabs? Ha, fool, thou deservest that the tyrant should mock thee, since thy powerless arm and thy silly heart withstood not the murderer. Now, O now were he with me! But it is in vain to wish for vengeance, when the moment is gone by."
Thus came on the night, and Eckart wandered to and fro in his sorrow. From a distance he heard as it were a voice calling for help. Directing his steps by the sound, he came up to a man in the darkness, who was leaning on the stem of a tree, and mournfully entreating to be guided to his road. Eckart started at the voice, for it seemed familiar to him; but he soon recovered, and perceived that the lost wayfarer was the Duke of Burgundy. Then he raised his hand to his sword, to cut down the man who had been the murderer of his children; his fury came on him with new force, and he was upon the point of finishing his bloody task, when all at once he stopped, for his oath and the word he had pledged came into his mind. He took his enemy's hand, and led him to the quarter where he thought the road must be.
The Duke foredone and weary
Thus were they going forward talking, when another person in the forest met them; it was Wolfram, the Duke's Squire, who had long been looking for his master. The dark night was still lying over them, and no star twinkled from between the wet black clouds. The Duke felt weaker, and longed to reach some lodging, where he might sleep till day; besides, he was afraid that he might meet with Eckart, who stood like a spectre before his soul. He imagined he should never see the morning; and shuddered anew when the wind again rustled through the high trees, and the storm came down from the hollows of the mountains, and went rushing over his head. "Wolfram," cried the Duke, in his anguish, "climb one of these tall pines, and look about if thou canst spy no light, no house or cottage, whither we may turn."
The Squire, at the hazard of his life, clomb up a lofty pine, which the storm was waving from the one side to the other, and ever and anon bending down the top of it to the very ground; so that the Squire wavered to and fro upon it like a little squirrel. At last he reached the top, and cried: "Down there, in the valley, I see the glimmer of a candle; thither must we turn." So he descended and showed the way; and in a while, they all perceived the cheerful light; at which the Duke once more took heart. Eckart still continued mute, and occupied within himself; he spoke no word, and looked at his inward thoughts. On arriving at the hut, they knocked; and a little old housewife let them in: as they entered, the stout Eckart set the Duke down from his shoulders, who threw himself immediately upon his knees, and in a fervent prayer thanked God for his deliverance. Eckart took his seat in a dark corner; and there he found fast asleep the poor old man, who had lately told him of his great misery about his sons, and the search he was making for them.
When the Duke had done praying, he said: "Very strange have my thoughts been this night, and the goodness of God and his almighty power never showed themselves so openly before to my obdurate heart: my mind also tells me that I have not long to live; and I desire nothing save that God would pardon me my manifold and heavy sins. You two, also, who have led me hither, I could wish to recompense, so far as in my power, before my end arrive. To thee, Wolfram, I give both the castles that are on these hills beside us; and in future, in remembrance of this awful night, thou shalt call them the Tannenhäuser, or Pine-houses. But who art thou, strange man," continued he, " that hast placed thyself there in the nook, apart? Come forth, that I may also pay thee for thy toil."
Then rose the hero from his place,
Thus passed the hours till morning, when some other servants of the Duke arrived, and found their dying master. They laid him on a mule, and took him back to his Castle. Eckart he could not suffer from his side; he would often take his hand and press it to his breast, and look at him with an imploring look. Then Eckart would embrace him, and speak a few kind words to him, and so the Prince would feel composed. At last he Summoned all his Council, and declared to them that he appointed Eckart, the trusty man, to be guardian of his sons, seeing he had proved himself the noblest of all. And thus he died.
Thenceforward Eckart took on him the government with all zeal; and every person in the land admired his high manly spirit. Not long afterwards a rumour spread abroad in all quarters, of a strange Musician, who had come from Venus-Hill, who was travelling through the whole land, and seducing men with his playing, so that they disappeared, and no one could find any traces of them. Many credited the story, others not; Eckart recollected the unhappy old man.
" I have taken you for my sons," said he to the young Princes, as he once stood with them on the hill before the Castle; " your happiness must now be my posterity; when dead, I shall still live in your joy." They lay down on the slope, from which the fair country was visible for many a league; and here Eckart had to guard himself from speaking of his children; for they seemed as if coming towards him from the distant mountains, while he heard afar off a lovely sound.
" Comes it not like dreamsPART II.
More than four centuries had elapsed since the Trusty Eckart's death, when a noble Tanneuhäuser, in the station of Imperial Counsellor, was living at Court in the highest estimation. The son of this knight surpassed in beauty all the other nobles of the land, and on this account was loved and prized by every one. Suddenly, however, after some mysterious incidents had been observed to happen to him, the young man disappeared; and no one knew or guessed what was become of him. Since the times of the Trusty Eckart, there had always been a story current in the land about the Venus-Hill; and many said that he had wandered thither, and was lost forever.
One of those that most lamented him was his young friend Friedrich von Wolfsburg. They had grown up together, and their mutual attachment seemed to each of them to have become a necessary of life. Tannenhäuser's old father died: Friedrich married some years afterwards; already was a ring of merry children round him, and still he heard no tidings of his youthful friend; so that, in the end, he was forced to conclude him dead.
He was standing one evening under the gate of his Castle, when he perceived afar off a pilgrim travelling towards the mansion. The wayfaring man was clad in a strange garb; and his gait and gestures the Knight thought extremely singular. On his approaching nearer, Wolfsburg thought that he knew him; and at last he became convinced that the stranger was no other than his long-lost friend, the Tannenhäuser. He felt amazed, and a secret horror took possession of him, as he recognised distinctly these much-altered features.
The two friends embraced; then started back next moment; and gazed astonished at each other as at unknown beings. Of questions, of perplexed replies, were many. Friedrich often shuddered at the wild look of his friend, which seemed to burn as with unearthly light. The Tannenhäuser had reposed himself a day or two, when Friedrich learned that he was on a pilgrimage to Rome.
The two friends by and by renewed their former intimacy; took up their old topics, and told stories to each other of their youth; but the Tannenhäuser always carefully concealed where he had been since then. Friedrich, however, pressed him to disclose it, now that they were once more on their ancient confidential footing: the other long endeavoured to ward off the friendly prayer; but at last he exclaimed: " Well, be it so; thy will be done! Thou shalt know all; but cast no reproaches on me after, should the story fill thee with inquietude and horror."
They went into the open air, and walked a little in a green wood of the pleasure-grounds, where at last they sat down; and now the Tannenhäuser hid his face among the grass, and, with loud sobs, held back his right hand to his friend, who pressed it tenderly in his. The woe-worn pilgrim raised himself, and began his story in the following words:
"Believe me, Wolfsburg, many a man has, at his birth, an Evil Spirit linked to him, that vexes him through life, and never lets him rest, till he has reached his black destination. So has it been with me; my whole existence has been but a continuing birth- pain, and my awakening will be in Hell. For this have I already wandered so many weary steps, and have so many yet before me on the pilgrimage which I am making to the Holy Father, that I may endeavour to obtain forgiveness at Rome. In his presence will I lay down the heavy burden of my sins; or fall beneath it, and die despairing."
Friedrich attempted to console him, but the Tannenhäuser seemed to pay little heed to what he said; and, after a short while, he proceeded in the following words: " There is an old legend of a Knight who is said to have lived many centuries ago, under the name of the Trusty Eckart. They tell how, in those days, a Musician issued from some marvellous Hill; and, by his magic tones, awoke in the hearts of all that heard him so deep a longing, such wild wishes, that he led them irresistibly along with his music, and forced them to rush in with him to the Hill. Hell had then opened wide her gates to poor mortals, and enticed them in with seductive music. In boyhood I often heard this story, and at first without particularly minding it; yet ere long it so took hold of me, that all Nature, every sound, every flower, recalled to me the story of these heart-subduing tones. I cannot tell thee what a sadness, what an unutterable longing used to seize me, when I looked on the driving of the clouds, and saw the light lordly blue peering out between them; or what remembrances the meadows and the woods would awaken in my deepest heart. Oftentimes the loveliness and fulness of royal Nature so affected me, that I stretched out my arms, as if to fly away with wings ; that I might pour myself out like the Spirit of Nature over mountain and valley; that I might brood over grass and forest, and inhale the riches of her blessedness. And if by day the free landscape charmed me, by night dark dreaming fantasies tormented me; and set themselves in louring grimness before me, as if to shut up my path of life forever. Above all, there was one dream that left an ineffaceable impression on my feelings, though I never could distinctly call the forms of it to memory. Methought there was a vast tumult in the streets; I heard confused unintelligible speaking; it was dark night; I went to my parents' house; none but my father was there, and he sick. Next morning I clasped my parents in my arms, and pressed them with melting tenderness to my breast, as if some hostile power had been about to tear them from me. ' Am I to lose thee?' said I to my father. 'Oh! how wretched and lonely were I without thee in this world!' They tried to comfort me, but could not wipe away the dim image from my remembrance.
"I grew older, still keeping myself apart from other boys of my age. I often roamed solitary through the fields: and it happened one morning, in my rambles, that I had lost my way; and so was wandering to and fro in a thick wood, not knowing whither to turn. After long seeking vainly for a road, I at last on a sudden came upon an iron-grated fence, within which lay a garden. Through the bars, I saw fair shady walks before me; fruit-trees and flowers; and close by me were rose-bushes glittering in the sun. A nameless longing for these roses seized me; I could not help rushing on; I pressed myself by force through between the bars, and was now standing in the garden. Immediately I sank on my knees; clasped the bushes in my arms; kissed the roses on their red lips, and melted into tears. I had knelt a while, absorbed in a sort of rapture, when there came two maidens through the alleys; the one of my own years, the other elder. I awoke from my trance, to fall into a higher ecstasy. My eye lighted on the younger, and I felt at this moment as if all my unknown woe was healed. They took me to the house; their parents, having learned my name, sent notice to my father, who, in the evening, came himself, and brought me back.
"From this day, the uncertain current of my life had got a fixed direction; my thoughts forever hastened back to the castle and the maiden; for here, it seemed to me, was the home of all my wishes. I forgot my customary pleasures, I forsook my playmates, and often visited the garden, the castle and Emma. Here I had, in a little time, grown, as it were, an inmate of the house, so that they no longer thought it strange to see me; and Emma was becoming dearer to me every day. Thus passed my hours; and a tenderness had taken my heart captive, though I myself was not aware of it. My whole destination seemed to me fulfilled; I had no wish but still to come again; and when I went away, to have the same prospect for the morrow.
" Matters were in this state, when a young knight became acquainted in the family; he was a friend of my parents; and he soon, like me, attached himself to Emma. I hated him, from that moment, as my deadly enemy; but nothing can describe my feelings, when I fancied I perceived that Emma liked him more than me. From this hour, it was as if the music, which had hitherto accompanied me, went silent in my bosom. I meditated but on death and hatred; wild thoughts now awoke in my breast, when Emma sang her well-known songs to her lute. Nor did I hide the aversion which I felt; and when my parents tried to reason and remonstrate with me, I grew fierce and contradictory.
"I now roved about the woods and rocky wastes, infuriated against myself. The death of my rival was a thing I had determined on. The young knight, after some few months, made a formal offer of himself to the parents of my mistress, and she was betrothed to him. All that was rare and beautiful in Nature, all that had charmed me in her magnificence, had been united in my soul with Emma's image; I fancied, knew or wished for no other happiness but Emma; nay I had wilfully determined that the day, which brought the loss of her, should also bring my own destruction.
"My parents sorrowed in heart at such perversion; my mother had fallen sick, but I paid no heed to this; her situation gave me little trouble, and I saw her seldom. The wedding-day of my enemy was coming on; and with its approach increased the agony of mind which drove me over woods and mountains. I execrated Emma and myself with the most horrid curses. At this time I had no friend; no man would take any charge of me, for all had given me up for lost.
"The fearful marriage-eve came on. I had wandered deep among the cliffs, I heard the rushing of the forest-streams below; I often shuddered at myself. When the morning came, I saw my enemy proceeding down the mountains: I assailed him with injurious speeches; he replied; we drew our swords, and he soon fell beneath my furious strokes.
"I hastened on, not looking after him, but his attendants took the corpse away. At night, I hovered round the dwelling which enclosed my Emma; and a few days afterwards, I heard in the neighbouring cloister the sound of the funeral-bell, and the grave- song of the nuns. I inquired; and was told that Fräulein Emma, out of sorrow for her bridegroom's death, was dead.
"I could stay no longer; I doubted whether I was living, whether it was all truth or not. I hastened back to my parents; and came next night, at a late hour, to the town where they lived. Here all was in confusion; horses and military wagons filled the streets, soldiers were jostling one another this way and that, and speaking in disordered haste: the Emperor was on the point of undertaking a campaign against his enemies. A solitary light was burning in my father's house when I entered; a strangling oppression lay upon my breast. As I knocked, my father himself, with slow, thoughtful steps, advanced to meet me; and immediately I recollected the old dream of my childhood; and felt, with cutting emotion, that now it was receiving its fulfilment. In perplexity, I asked: ' Why are you up so late, Father?' He led me in, and said: ' I may well be up, for thy mother is even now dead.'
"His words struck through my soul like thunderbolts. He took a seat with a meditative air; I sat down beside him. The corpse was lying in a bed, and strangely wound in linen. My heart was like to burst. ' I wake here,' said the old man, ' for my wife is still sitting by me.' My senses failed; I fixed my eyes upon a corner; and, after a little while, there rose, as it were, a vapour; it mounted and wavered; and the well-known figure of my mother gathered itself visibly together from the midst of it, and looked at me with an earnest mien. I wished to go, but I could not; for the form of my mother beckoned to me, and my father held me in his arms, and whispered to me, in a low voice: ' She died of grief for thee.' I embraced him with a childlike transport of affection; I poured burning tears on his breast. He kissed me; and I shuddered; for his lips, as they touched me, were cold, like the lips of one dead. 'How art thou, Father?' cried I, in horror. He writhed painfully together, and made no reply. In a few moments, I felt him growing colder; I laid my hand on his heart, but it was still; and, in wailing delirium, I held the body fast clasped in my embrace.
"As it were a gleam, like the first streak of dawn, went through the dark room; and behold, the spirit of my father sat beside my mother's form; and both looked at me compassionately, as I held the dear corpse in my arms. After this my consciousness was over: exhausted and delirious, the servants found me next morning in the chamber of the dead."
So far the Tannenhäuser had proceeded with his narrative: Friedrich was listening to him with the deepest astonishment, when all on a sudden he broke off, and paused with an expression of the keenest pain. Friedrich felt embarrassed and immersed in thought; they both returned in company to the Castle, but staid in the same room apart from others.
The Tannenhäuser had kept silence for a while, then he again began: " The remembrance of those hours still agitates me deeply; I understand not how I have survived them. The world, and its life, now appeared to me as if dead and utterly desolate; without thoughts or wishes I lived on from day to day. I then became acquainted with a set of wild young people; and endeavoured, in the whirl of pleasure and intoxication, to lay the tumultuous Evil Spirit that was in me. My ancient burning impatience again awoke; and I could no longer understand myself or my wishes. A debauchee, named Rudolf, had become my confidant; he, however, always laughed to scorn my longings and complaints. About a year had passed in this way, when my misery of spirit rose to desperation; there was something drove me onwards, onwards, into unknown space; I could have dashed myself down from the high mountains into the glowing green of the meadows, into the cool rushing of the waters, to slake the burning thirst, to stay the insatiability of my soul: I longed for annihilation; and again, like golden morning clouds, did hope and love of life arise before me, and entice me on. The thought then struck me, that Hell was hungering for me, and was sending me my sorrows as well as my pleasures to destroy me; that some malignant Spirit was directing all the powers of my soul to the Infernal Abode; and leading me, as with a bridle, to my doom. And I surrendered to him; that so these torments, these alternating raptures and agonies, might leave me. In the darkest night, I mounted a lofty hill; and called on the Enemy of God and man, with all the energies of my heart, so that I felt he would be forced to hear me. My words brought him: he stood suddenly before me, and I felt no horror. Then in talking with him, the belief in that strange Hill again arose within me; and he taught me a Song, which of itself would lead me by the straight road thither. He disappeared, and for the first time since I had begun to live, I was alone with myself; for I now understood my wandering thoughts, which rushed as from a centre to find out another world. I set forth on my journey; and the Song, which I sang with a loud voice, led me over strange deserts; but all other things besides myself I had forgotten. There was something carrying me, as on the strong wings of desire, to my home: I wished to escape the shadow which, amid the sunshine, threatens us; the wild tones which, amid the softest music, chide us. So travelling on, I reached the Mountain, one night when the moon was shining faintly from behind dim clouds. I proceeded with my Song; and a giant form stood by me, and beckoned me back with his staff. I went nearer: ' I am the Trusty Eckart,' said the superhuman figure; ' by God's goodness, I am placed here as watchman, to warn men hack from their sinful rashness.'—I pressed through.
"My path was now as in a subterraneous mine. The passage was so narrow, that I had to press myself along; I caught the gurgling of hidden waters; I heard spirits forming ore, and gold and silver, to entice the soul of man; I found here concealed and separate the deep sounds and tones from which earthly music springs: the farther I went, the more did there fall, as it were, a veil from my sight.
"I rested, and saw other forms of men come gliding towards me; my friend Rudolf was among the number. I could not understand how they were to pass me, so narrow was the way; but they went along, through the middle of the rock, without perceiving me. " Anon I heard the sound of music; but music altogether different from any that had ever struck my ear before. My thoughts within me strove towards the notes: I came into an open space; and strange radiant colours glittered on me from every side. This it was that I had always been in search of. Close to my heart I felt the presence of the long-sought, now-discovered glory; and its ravishments thrilled into me with all their power. And then the whole crowd of jocund Pagan gods came forth to meet me, Lady Venus at their head, and all saluted me. They have been banished thither by the power of the Almighty; their worship is abolished from the Earth; and now they work upon us from their concealment.
"All pleasures that Earth affords I here possessed and partook of in their fullest bloom; insatiable was my heart, and endless my enjoyment. The famed Beauties of the ancient world were present; what my thought coveted was mine; one delirium of rapture was followed by another; and day after day, the world appeared to burn round me in more glorious hues. Streams of the richest wine allayed my fierce thirst; and beauteous forms sported in the air, and soft eyes invited me; vapours rose enchanting around my head: as if from the inmost heart of blissful Nature, came a music and cooled with its fresh waves the wild tumult of desire; and a horror, that glided faint and secret over the rose-fields, heightened the delicious revel. How many years passed over me in this abode I know not: for here there was no time and no distinctions; the flowers here glowed with the charms of women; and in the forms of the women bloomed the magic of flowers; colours here had another language; the whole world of sense was bound together into one blossom, and the spirits within it forever held their rejoicing.
"Now, how it happened, I can neither say nor comprehend; but so it was, that in all this pomp of sin, a love of rest, a longing for the old innocent Earth, with her scanty joys, took hold of me here, as keenly as of old the impulse which had driven me hither. I was again drawn on to live that life which men, in their unconsciousness, go on leading: I was sated with this splendour, and gladly sought my former home once more. An unspeakable grace of the Almighty permitted my return; I found myself suddenly again in the world; and now it is my intention to pour out my guilty breast before the chair of our Holy Father in Rome; that so he may forgive me, and I may again be reckoned among men."
The Tannenhäuser ceased; and Friedrich long viewed him with an investigating look, then took his hand, and said: " I cannot yet recover from my wonder, nor can I understand thy narrative; for it is impossible that all thou hast told me can be aught but an imagination. Emma still lives, she is my wife; thou and I never quarrelled, or hated one another, as thou thinkest: yet before our marriage, thou wert gone on a sudden from the neighbourhood; nor didst thou ever tell me, by a single hint, that Emma was dear to thee."
Hereupon he took the bewildered Tannenhäuser by the hand, and led him into another room to his wife, who had just then returned from a visit to her sister, which had kept her for the last few days from home. The Tannenhäuser spoke not, and seemed immersed in thought; he viewed in silence the form and face of the lady, then shook his head, and said: " By Heaven, that is the strangest incident of all!"
Friedrich, with precision and connectedness, related all that had befallen him since that time; and tried to make his friend perceive that it had been some singular madness which had, in the mean while, harassed him. " I know very well how it stands," exclaimed the Tannenhäuser. "It is now that I am crazy; and Hell has cast this juggling show before me, that I may not go to Rome, and seek the pardon of my sins." Emma tried to bring his childhood to his recollection; but the Tannenhäuser would not be persuaded. He speedily set out on his journey; that he might the sooner get his absolution from the Pope.
Friedrich and Emma often spoke of the mysterious pilgrim. Some months had gone by, when the Tannenhäuser, pale and wasted, in a tattered pilgrim's dress, and barefoot, one morning entered Friedrich's chamber, while the latter was in bed asleep. He kissed his lips, and then said, in breathless haste: " The Holy Father cannot, and will not, forgive me; I must back to my old dwelling." And with this he went hurriedly away.
Friedrich roused himself; but the ill-fated pilgrim was already gone. He went to his lady's room; and her maids rushed out to meet him, crying that the Tannenhäuser had pressed into the apartment early in the morning, with the words: " She shall not obstruct me in my course!"—Emma was lying murdered.
Friedrich had not yet recalled his thoughts, when a horror came over him: he could not rest; he ran into the open air. They wished to keep him back; but he told them that the pilgrim had kissed his lips, and that the kiss was burning him till he found the man again. And so, with inconceivable rapidity, he ran away to seek the Tannenhäuser, and the mysterious Hill; and, since that day, he was never seen any more. People say, that whoever gets a kiss from any emissary of the Hill, is thenceforth unable to withstand the lure that draws him with magic force into the subterraneous chasm.
A Young hunter was sitting in the heart of the Mountains, in a thoughtful mood, beside his fowling-floor, while the noise of the waters and the woods was sounding through the solitude. He was musing on his destiny; how he was so young, and had forsaken his father and mother, and accustomed home, and all his comrades in his native village, to seek out new acquaintances, to escape from the circle of returning habitude; and he looked up with a sort of surprise that he was here, that he found himself in this valley, in this employment. Great clouds were passing over him, and sinking behind the mountains; birds were singing from the bushes, and an echo was replying to them. He slowly descended the hill; and seated himself on the margin of a brook, that was gushing down among the rocks with foamy murmur. He listened to the fitful melody of the water; and it seemed to him as if the waves were saying to him, in unintelligible words, a thousand things that concerned him nearly; and he felt an inward trouble that he could not understand their speeches. Then again he looked aloft, and thought that he was glad and happy; so he took new heart, and sang aloud this hunting-song:
Blithe and cheery through the mountains
Whilst he sung, the sun had sunk deeper, and broad shadows fell across the narrow glen. A cooling twilight glided over the ground; and now only the tops of the trees, and the round summits of the mountains, were gilded by the glow of evening. Christian's heart grew sadder and sadder: he could not think of going back to his birdfold, and yet he could not stay; he felt himself alone, and longed to meet with men. He now remembered with regret those old books, which he used to see at home, and would never read, often as his father had advised him to it: the habitation of his childhood came before him, his sports with the youth of the village, his acquaintances among the children, the school that had afflicted him so much; and he wished he were again amid these scenes, which he had wilfully forsaken, to seek his fortune in unknown regions, in the mountains, among strange people, in a new employment. Meanwhile it grew darker; and the brook rushed louder; and the birds of night began to shoot, with fitful wing, along their mazy courses. Christian still sat disconsolate, and immersed in sad reflection; he was like to weep, and altogether undecided what to do or purpose. Unthinkingly, he pulled a straggling root from the earth; and on the instant, heard, with affright, a stifled moan underground, which winded downwards in doleful tones, and died plaintively away in the deep distance. The sound went through his inmost heart; it seized him as if he had unwittingly touched the wound, of which the dying frame of Nature was expiring in its agony. He started up to fly; for he had already heard of the mysterious mandrake-root, which, when torn, yields such heart-rending moans, that the person who has hurt it runs distracted by its wailing. As he turned to go, a stranger man was standing at his back, who looked at him with a friendly countenance, and asked him whither he was going. Christian had been longing for society, and yet he started in alarm at this friendly presence.
"Whither so fast ?" said the stranger again.
The young hunter made an effort to collect himself, and told how all at once the solitude had seemed so frightful to him, he had meant to get away; the evening was so dark, the green shades of the wood so dreary, the brook seemed uttering lamentations, and his longing drew him over to the other side of the hills.
"You are but young," said the stranger," and cannot yet endure the rigour of solitude: I will accompany you, for you will find no house or hamlet within a league of this; and in the way we may talk, and tell each other tales, and so your sad thoughts will leave you: in an hour the moon will rise behind the hills; its light also will help to chase away the darkness of your mind."
They went along, and the stranger soon appeared to Christian as if he had been an old acquaintance. " Who are you ?" said the man; " by your speech I hear that you belong not to this part."
"Ah!" replied the other, " upon this I could say much, and yet it is not worth the telling you, or talking of. There was something dragged me, with a foreign force, from the circle of my parents and relations; my spirit was not master of itself: like a bird which is taken in a net, and struggles to no purpose, so my soul was meshed in strange imaginations and desires. We dwelt far hence, in a plain, where all round you could see no hill, scarce even a height: few trees adorned the green level; but meadows, fertile corn-fields, gardens stretched away as far as the eye could reach; and a broad river glittered like a potent spirit through the midst of them. My father was gardener to a nobleman, and meant to breed me to the same employment. He delighted in plants and flowers beyond aught else, and could unweariedly pass day by day in watching them and tending them. Nay he went so far as to maintain, that he could almost speak with them; that he got knowledge from their growth and spreading, as well as from the varied form and colour of their leaves. To me, however, gardening was a tiresome occupation; and the more so that my father kept persuading me to take it up, or even attempted to compel me to it with threats. I wished to be a fisherman, and tried that business for a time; but a life on the waters would not suit me: I was then apprenticed to a tradesman in the town; but soon came home from this employment also. My father happened to be talking of the Mountains, which he had travelled over in his youth; of the subterranean mines and their workmen; of hunters and their occupation; and that instant there arose in me the most decided wish, the feeling that at last I had found out the way of life which would entirely fit me. Day and night I meditated on the matter; representing to myself high mountains, chasms and pine-forests; my imagination shaped wild rocks; I heard the tumult of the chase, the horns, the cry of the hounds and the game; all my dreams were filled with these things, and they left me neither peace nor rest any more. The plain, our patron's castle, and my father's little hampered garden, with its trimmed flower-beds; our narrow dwelling; the wide sky which stretched above us in its dreary vastness, embracing no hill, no lofty mountain, all became more dull and odious to me. It seemed as if the people about me were living in most lamentable ignorance; that every one of them would think and long as I did, should the feeling of their wretchedness but once arise within their souls. Thus did I bait my heart with restless fancies; till one morning I resolved on leaving my father's house directly and forever. In a book I had found some notice of the nearest mountains, some charts of the neighbouring districts, and by them I shaped my course. It was early in spring, and I felt myself cheerful, and altogether light of heart. I hastened on, to get away the faster from the level country; and one evening, in the distance, I descried the dim outline of the Mountains, lying on the sky before me. I could scarcely sleep in my inn, so impatient did I feel to have my foot upon the region which I regarded as my home: with the earliest dawn I was awake, and again in motion. By the afternoon, I had got among my beloved hills; and here, as if intoxicated, I went on, then stopped a while, looked back; and drank, as in inspiring draughts, the aspect of these foreign yet well-known objects. Ere long, the plain was out of sight; the forest-streams were rushing down to meet me; the oaks and beeches sounded to me from their steep precipices with wavering boughs; my path led me by the edge of dizzy abysses; blue hills were standing vast and solemn in the distance. A new world was opened to me; I was never weary. Thus, after some days, having roamed over great part of the Mountains, I reached the dwelling of an old forester, who consented, at my urgent request, to take me in, and instruct me in the business of the chase. It is now three months since I entered his service. I took possession of the district where I was to live, as of my kingdom. I got acquainted with every cliff and dell among the mountains; in my occupation, when at dawn of day we moved to the forest, when felling trees in the wood, when practising my fowling-piece, or training my trusty attendants, our dogs, to do their feats, I felt completely happy. But for the last eight days I have staid up here at the fowling-floor, in the loneliest quarter of the hills; and tonight I grew so sad as I was never in my life before; I seemed so lost, so utterly unhappy; and even yet I cannot shake aside that melancholy humour."
The stranger had listened with attention, while they both wandered on through a dark alley of the wood. They now came out into the open country, and the light of the moon, which was standing with its horns over the summit of the hill, saluted them like a friend. In undistinguishable forms, and many separated masses, which the pale "leam again perplexingly combined, lay the cleft mountain-range before them; in the background a steep hill, on the top of which an antique weathered ruin rose ghastly in the white light. "Our roads part here," said the stranger; "I am going down into this hollow; there, by that old mine-shaft, is my dwelling: the metal ores are my neighbours; the mine-streams tell me wonders in the night; thither thou canst not follow me. But look, there stands the Runenberg, with its wild ragged walls; how beautiful and alluring the grim old rock looks down on us! "Wert thou never there?"
"Never," said the hunter. " Once I heard my old forester relating strange stories of that hill, which I, like a fool, have forgotten; only I remember that my mind that night was full of dread and unearthly notions. I could like to mount the hill some time; for the colours there are of the fairest, the grass must be very green, the world around one very strange; who knows, too, but one might chance to find some curious relic of the ancient time up there?"
"You could scarcely fail," replied the stranger; " whoever knows how to seek, whoever feels his heart drawn towards it with a right inward longing, will find friends of former ages there, and glorious things, and all that he wishes most." With these words the stranger rapidly descended to a side, without bidding his companion farewell; he soon vanished in the tangles of the thicket, and after some few instants, the sound of his footsteps also died away. The young hunter did not feel surprised, he but went on with quicker speed towards the Runenberg: thither all things seemed to beckon him; the stars were shining towards it; the moon pointed out as it were a bright road to the ruins; light clouds rose up to them; and from the depths, the waters and sounding woods spoke new courage into him. His steps were as if winged; his heart throbbed; he felt so great a joy within him, that it rose to pain. He came into places he had never seen before; the rocks grew steeper; the green disappeared; the bald cliffs called to him, as with angry voices, and a lone moaning wind drove him on before it. Thus he hurried forward without pause; and late after midnight he came upon a narrow footpath, which ran along by the brink of an abyss. He heeded not the depth which yawned beneath, and threatened to swallow him forever; so keenly was he driven along by wild imaginations and vague wishes. At last his perilous track led him close by a high wall, which seemed to lose itself in the clouds; the path grew narrower every step; and Christian had to cling by projecting stones to keep himself from rushing down into the gulf. Ere long, he could get no farther; his path ended underneath a window: he was obliged to pause, and knew not whether he should turn or stay. Suddenly he saw a light, which seemed to move within the ruined edifice. He looked towards the gleam; and found that he could see into an ancient spacious hall, strangely decorated, and glittering in manifold splendour, with multitudes of precious stones and crystals, the hues of which played through each other in mysterious changes, as the light moved to and fro; and this was in the hand of a stately female, who kept walking with a thoughtful aspect up and down the apartment. She seemed of a different race from mortals; so large, so strong was her form, so earnest her look; yet the enraptured huntsman thought he had never seen or fancied such surpassing beauty. He trembled, yet secretly wished she might come near the window and observe him. At last she stopped, set down the light on a crystal table, looked aloft, and sang with a piercing voice:
What can the Ancient keep
On finishing the song, she began undressing; laying her apparel in a costly press. First, she took a golden veil from her head; and her long black hair streamed down in curling fulness over her loins: then she loosed her bosom-dress; and the youth forgot himself and all the world in gazing at that more than earthly beauty. He scarcely dared to breathe, as by degrees she laid aside her other garments: at last she walked about the chamber naked; and her heavy waving locks formed round her, as it were, a dark billowy sea, out of which, like marble, the glancing limbs of her form beamed forth, in alternating splendour. After a while, she went forward to another golden press; and took from it a tablet, glittering with many inlaid stones, rubies, diamonds and all kinds of jewels; and viewed it long with an investigating look. The tablet seemed to form a strange inexplicable figure, from its individual lines and colours; sometimes, when the glance of it came towards the hunter, he was painfully dazzled by it; then, again, soft green and blue playing over it, refreshed his eye: he stood, however, devouring the objects with his looks, and at the same time sunk in deep thought. Within his soul, an abyss of forms and harmony, of longing and voluptuousness, was opened: hosts of winged tones, and sad and joyful melodies flew through his spirit, which was moved to its foundations: he saw a world of Pain and Hope arise within him; strong towering crags of Trust and defiant Confidence, and deep rivers of Sadness flowing by. He no longer knew himself: and he started as the fair woman opened the window; handed him the magic tablet of stones, and spoke these words: " Take this in memory of me !" He caught the tablet; and felt the figure, which, unseen, at once went through his inmost heart; and the light, and the fair woman, and the wondrous hall, had disappeared. As it were, a dark night, with curtains of cloud, fell down over his soul: he searched for his former feelings, for that inspiration and unutterable love; he looked at the precious tablet, and the sinking moon was imaged in it faint and bluish.
He had still the tablet firmly grasped in his hands when the morning dawned; and he, exhausted, giddy and half-asleep, fell headlong down the precipice.—
The sun shone bright on the face of the stupefied sleeper; and. awakening, he found himself upon a pleasant hill. He looked round, and saw far behind him, and scarce discernible at the extreme horizon, the ruins of the Runenberg; he searched for his tablet, and could find it nowhere. Astonished and perplexed, he tried to gather his thoughts, and connect together his remembrances; but his memory was as if filled with a waste haze, in which vague irrecognisable shapes were wildly jostling to and fro. His whole previous life lay behind him, as in a far distance; the strangest and the commonest were so mingled, that all his efforts could not separate them. After long struggling with himself, he at last concluded that a dream, or sudden madness, had come over him that night; only he could never understand how he had strayed so far into a strange and remote quarter.
Still scarcely waking, he went down the hill; and came upon a beaten way, which led him out from the mountains into the plain country. All was strange to him: he at first thought that he would find his old home; but the country which he saw was quite unknown to him; and at length he concluded that he must be upon the south side of the Mountains, which, in spring, he had entered from the north. Towards noon, he perceived a little town below him: from its cottages a peaceful smoke was mounting up; children, dressed as for a holiday, were sporting on the green; and from a small church came the sound of the organ, and the singing of the congregation. All this laid hold of him with a sweet, inexpressible sadness; it so moved him, that he was forced to weep. The narrow gardens, the little huts with their smoking chimneys, the accurately-parted corn-fields, reminded him of the necessities of poor human nature; of man's dependence on the friendly Earth, to whose benignity he must commit himself; while the singing, and the music of the organ, filled the stranger's heart with a devoutness it had never felt before. The desires and emotions of the bygone night seemed reckless and wicked; he wished once more, in childlike meekness, helplessly and humbly to unite himself to men as to his brethren, and fly from his ungodly purposes and feelings. The plain, with its little river, which, in manifold windings, clasped itself about the gardens and meadows, seemed to him inviting and delightful: he thought with fear of his abode among the lonely mountains amid waste rocks; he wished that he could be allowed to live in this peaceful village; and so feeling, he went into its crowded church.
The psalm was just over, and the preacher had begun his sermon. It was on the kindness of God in regard to Harvest; how His goodness feeds and satisfies all things that live; how marvellously He has, in the fruits of the Earth, provided support for men; how the love of God incessantly displays itself in the bread He sends us; and how the humble Christian may therefore, with a thankful spirit, perpetually celebrate a Holy Supper. The congregation were affected; the eyes of the hunter rested on the pious priest, and observed, close by the pulpit, a young maiden, who appeared beyond all others reverent and attentive. She was slim and fair; her blue eye gleamed with the most piercing softness; her face was as if transparent, and blooming in the tenderest colours. The stranger youth had never been as he now was; so full of charity, so calm, so abandoned to the stillest, most refreshing feelings. He bowed himself in tears, when the clergyman pronounced his blessing; he felt these holy words thrill through him like an unseen power; and the vision of the night drew back before them to the deepest distance, as a spectre at the dawn. He issued from the church; stopped beneath a large lime-tree; and thanked God, in a heartfelt prayer, that He had saved him, sinful and undeserving, from the nets of the Wicked Spirit.
The people were engaged in holding harvest-home that day, and every one was in a cheerful mood; the children, with their gay dresses, were rejoicing in the prospect of the sweetmeats and the dance; in the village square, a space encircled with young trees, the youths were arranging the preparations for their harvest sport; the players were seated, and essaying their instruments. Christian went into the fields again, to collect his thoughts and pursue his meditations; and on his returning to the village, all had joined in mirth, and actual celebration of their festival. The fair-haired Elizabeth was there, too, with her parents; and the stranger mingled in the jocund throng. Elizabeth was dancing; and Christian, in the mean time, had entered into conversation with her father, a farmer, and one of the richest people in the village. The man seemed pleased with his youth and way of speech; so, in a short time, both of them agreed that Christian should remain with him as gardener. This office Christian could engage with; for he hoped that now the knowledge and employments, which he had so much despised at home, would stand him in good stead.
From this period a new life began for him. He went to live with the farmer, and was numbered among his family. With his trade, he likewise changed his garb. He was so good, so helpful and kindly; he stood to his task so honestly, that ere long every member of the house, especially the daughter, had a friendly feeling to him. Every Sunday, when he saw her going to church, he was standing with a fair nosegay ready for Elizabeth; and then she used to thank him with blushing kindliness: he felt her absence, on days when he did not chance to see her; and at night, she would tell him tales and pleasant histories. Day by day they grew more necessary to each other; and the parents, who observed it, did not seem to think it wrong; for Christian was the most industrious and handsomest youth in the village. They themselves had, at first sight, felt a touch of love and friendship for him. After half a year, Elizabeth became his wife. Spring was come back; the swallows and the singing-birds had revisited the land; the garden was standing in its fairest trim; the marriage was celebrated with abundant mirth; bride and bridegroom seemed intoxicated with their happiness. Late at night, when they retired to their chamber, the husband whispered to his wife: " No, thou art not that form which once charmed me in a dream, and which I never can entirely forget; but I am happy beside thee, and blessed that thou art mine."
How delighted was the family, when, within a year, it became augmented by a little daughter, who was baptised Leonora. Christian's looks, indeed, would sometimes take a rather grave expression as he gazed on the child; but his youthful cheeriness continually returned. He scarcely over thought of his former way of life, for he felt himself entirely domesticated and contented. Yet, some months afterwards, his parents came into his mind; and he thought how much his father, in particular, would be rejoiced to see his peaceful happiness, his station as husbandman and gardener; it grieved him that he should have utterly forgotten his father and mother for so long a time; his own only child made known to him the joy which children afford to parents; so at last he took the resolution to set out, and again revisit home.
Unwillingly he left his wife; all wished him speed; and the season being fine, he went off on foot. Already at the distance of a few miles, he felt how much the parting grieved him; for the first time in his life, he experienced the pains of separation; the foreign objects seemed to him almost savage; he felt as if he had been lost in some unfriendly solitude. Then the thought came on him, that his youth was over; that he had found a home to which he now belonged, in which his heart had taken root; he was almost ready to lament the lost levity of younger years; and his mind was in the saddest mood, when he turned aside into a village inn to pass the night. He could not understand how he had come to leave his kind wife, and the parents she had given him; and he felt dispirited and discontented, when he rose next morning to pursue his journey.
His pain increased as he approached the hills: the distant ruins were already visible, and by degrees grew more distinguishable; many summits rose defined and clear amid the blue vapour. His step grew timid; frequently he paused, astonished at his fear; at the horror which, with every step, fell closer on him. "Madness!" cried he, " I know thee well, and thy perilous seductions; but I will withstand thee manfully. Elizabeth is no vain dream; I know that even now she thinks of me, that she waits for me, and fondly counts the hours of my absence. Do I not already see forests like black hair before me? Do not the glancing eyes look to me from the brook? Does not the stately form step towards me from the mountains?" So saying, he was about to lay himself beneath a tree, and take some rest; when he perceived an old man seated in the shade of it, examining a flower with extreme attention; now holding it to the sun, now shading it with his hands, now counting its leaves; as if striving in every way to stamp it accurately in his memory. On approaching nearer, he thought he knew the form; and soon no doubt remained that the old man with the flower was his father. With an exclamation of the liveliest joy, he rushed into his arms; the old man seemed delighted, but not much surprised, at meeting him so suddenly.
" Art thou with me already, my son?" said he: "I knew that I should find thee soon, but I did not think such joy had been in store for me this very day."
" How did you know, father, that you would meet me ?"
"By this flower," replied the old gardener; "all my days I have had a wish to see it; but never had I the fortune; for it is very scarce, and grows only among the mountains. I set out to seek thee, for thy mother is dead, and the loneliness at home made me sad and heavy. I knew not whither I should turn my steps; at last I came among the mountains, dreary as the journey through them had appeared to me. By the road, I sought for this flower, but could find it nowhere; and now, quite unexpectedly, I see it here, where the fair plain is lying stretched before me. From this I knew that I should meet thee soon; and, lo ! how true the fair flower's prophecy has proved!"
They embraced again, and Christian wept for his mother; but the old man grasped his hand, and said: " Let us go, that the shadows of the mountains may be soon out of view; it always makes me sorrowful in the heart to see these wild steep shapes, these horrid chasms, these torrents gurgling down into their caverns. Let us get upon the good, kind, guileless level ground again."
They went back, and Christian recovered his cheerfulness. He told his father of his new fortune, of his child and home: his speech made himself as if intoxicated; and he now, in talking of it, for the first time truly felt that nothing more was wanting to his happiness. Thus, amid narrations sad and cheerful, they returned into the village. All were delighted at the speedy ending of the journey; most of all, Elizabeth. The old father stayed with them, and joined his little fortune to their stock; they formed the most contented and united circle in the world. Their crops were good, their cattle throve; and in a few years Christian's house was among the wealthiest in the quarter. Elizabeth had also given him several other children.
Five years had passed away in this manner, when a stranger halted from his journey in their village; and took up his lodging in Christian's house, as being the most respectable the place contained. He was a friendly, talking man; he told them many stories of his travels; sported with the children, and made presents to them: in a short time, all were growing fond of him. He liked the neighbourhood so well, that he proposed remaining in it for a day or two; but the days grew weeks, and the weeks months. No one seemed to wonder at his loitering; for all of them had grown accustomed to regard him as a member of the family. Christian alone would often sit in a thoughtful mood; for it seemed to him as if he knew this traveller of old, and yet he could not think of any time when he had met with him. Three months had passed away, when the stranger at last took his leave, and said: " My dear friends, a wondrous destiny, and singular anticipations, drive me to the neighbouring mountains; a magic image, not to be withstood, allures me: I leave you now, and I know not whether I shall ever see you any more. I have a sum of money by me, which in your hands will be safer than in mine; so I ask you to take charge of it; and if within a year I come not back, then keep it, and accept my thanks along with it for the kindness you have shown me."
So the traveller went his way, and Christian took the money in charge. He locked it carefully up; and now and then, in the excess of his anxiety, looked over it; he counted it to see that none was missing, and in all respects took no little pains with it. " This sum might make us very happy," said he once to his father; " should the stranger not return, both we and our children were well provided for."
" Heed not the gold," said the old man; " not in it can happiness be found: hitherto, thank God, we have never wanted aught; and do thou put away such thoughts far from thee."
Christian often rose in the night to set his servants to their labour, and look after everything himself: his father was afraid lest this excessive diligence might harm his youth and health: so one night he rose to speak with him about contracting such unreasonable efforts; when, to his astonishment, he found him sitting with a little lamp at his table, and counting, with the greatest eagerness, the stranger's. gold. " My son," said the old man, full of sadness, " must it come to this with thee? Was this accursed metal brought beneath our roof to make us wretched? Bethink thee, my son, or the Evil One will consume thy blood and life out of thee."
"Yes," replied he; "it is true, I know myself no more; neither day nor night does it give me any rest: see how it looks on me even now, till the red glanee of it goes into my very heart! Hark how it clinks, this golden stuff! It calls me when I sleep; I hear it when music sounds, when the wind blows, when people speak together on the street; if the sun shines, I see nothing but these yellow eyes, with which it beckons to me, as it were, to whisper words of love into my ear: and therefore I am forced to rise in the night-time, though it were but to satisfy its eagerness; and then I feel it triumphing and inwardly rejoicing when I touch it with my fingers; in its joy it grows still redder and lordlier. Do but look yourself at the glow of its rapture !" The old man, shuddering and weeping, took his son in his arms; he said a prayer, and then spoke: " Christel, thou must turn again to the Word of God; thou must go more zealously and reverently to church, or else, alas! my poor child, thou wilt droop and die away in the most mournful wretchedness."
The money was again locked up; Christian promised to take thought and change his conduct, and the old man was composed. A year and more had passed, and no tidings had been heard of the stranger: the old man at last gave in to the entreaties of his son; and the money was laid out in land, and other property. The young farmer's riches soon became the talk of the village; and Christian seemed contented and comfortable, and his father felt delighted at beholding him so well and cheerful; all fear had now vanished from his mind. What then must have been his consternation, when Elizabeth one evening took him aside; and told him, with tears, that she could no longer understand her husband; how he spoke so wildly, especially at night; how he dreamed strange dreams, and would often in his sleep walk long about the room, not knowing it; how he spoke strange things to her, at which she often shuddered. But what terrified her most, she said, was his pleasantry by day; for his laugh was wild and hollow, his look wandering and strange. The father stood amazed, and the sorrowing wife proceeded: " He is always talking of the traveller, and maintaining that he knew him formerly, and that the stranger man was in truth a woman of unearthly beauty; nor will he go any more into the fields or the garden to work, for he says he hears underneath the ground a fearful moaning when he but pulls out a root; he starts and seems to feel a horror at all plants and herbs."
"Good God!" exclaimed the father, "is the frightful hunger in him grown so rooted and strong, that it is come to this? Then is his spell-bound heart no longer human, but of cold metal; he who does not love a flower, has lost all love and fear of God."
Next day the old man went to walk with his son, and told him much of what Elizabeth had said; calling on him to be pious, and devote his soul to holy contemplations. " Willingly, my father," answered Christian; " and I often do so with success, and all is well with me: for long periods of time, for years, I can forget the true form of my inward man, and lead a life that is foreign to me, as it were, with cheerfulness: but then on a sudden, like a new moon, the ruling star, which I myself am, arises again in my heart, and conquers this other influence. I might be altogether happy; but once, in a mysterious night, a secret sign was imprinted through my hand deep on my soul; frequently the magic figure sleeps and is at rest; I imagine it has passed away; but in a moment, like a poison, it darts up and lives over all its lineaments. And then I can think or feel nothing else but it; and all around me is transformed, or rather swallowed up, by this subduing shape. As the rabid man recoils at the sight of water, and the poison in him grows more fell; so too it is with me at the sight of any cornered figure, any line, any gleam of brightness; anything will then rouse the form that dwells in me, and make it start into being; and my soul and body feel the throes of birth; for as my mind received it by a feeling from without, she strives in agony and bitter labour to work it forth again into an outward feeling, that she may be rid of it, and at rest."
"It was an evil star that took thee from us to the Mountains," said the old man; " thou wert born for calm life, thy mind inclined to peace and the love of plants; then thy impatience hurried thee away to the company of savage stones: the crags, the torn cliffs, with their jagged shapes, have overturned thy soul, and planted in thee the wasting hunger for metals. Thou shouldst still have been on thy guard, and kept thyself away from the view of mountains; so I meant to bring thee up. but it has not so been to be. Thy humility, thy peace, thy childlike feeling, have been thrust away by scorn, boisterousness and caprice."
"No," said the son; " I remember well that it was a plant which first made known to me the misery of the Earth; never, till then, did I understand the sighs and lamentations one may hear on every side, throughout the whole of Nature, if one but give ear to them. In plants and herbs, in trees and flowers, it is the painful writhing of one universal wound that moves and works; they are the corpse of foregone glorious worlds of rock, they offer to our eye a horrid universe of putrefaction. I now see clearly it was this, which the root with its deep-drawn sigh was saying to me; in its sorrow it forgot itself, and told me all. It is because of this that all green shrubs are so enraged at me. and lie in wait for my life; they wish to obliterate that lovely figure in my heart; and every spring, with their distorted deathlike looks, they try to win my soul. Truly it is piteous to consider how they have betrayed and cozened thee, old man; for they have gained complete possession of thy spirit. Do but question the rocks, and thou wilt be amazed when thou shalt hear them speak."
The father looked at him a long while, and could answer nothing. They went home again in silence, and the old man was as frightened as Elizabeth at Christian's mirth; for it seemed a thing quite foreign; and as if another being from within were working out of him, awkwardly and ineffectually, as out of some machine.
The harvest-home was once more to be held , the people went to church, and Elizabeth, with her little ones, set out to join the service; her husband also seemed intending to accompany them, but at the threshold of the church he turned aside; and with an air of deep thought, walked out of the village. He set himself on the height, and again looked over upon the smoking cottages; he heard the music of the psalm and organ coming from the little church; children, in holiday dresses, were dancing and sporting on the green. " How have I lost my life as in a dream!" said he to himself: "years have passed away since I went down this hill to the merry children; they who were then sportful on the green, are now serious in the church; I also once went into it, but Elizabeth is now no more a blooming childlike maiden; her youth is gone; I cannot seek for the glance of her eyes with the longing of those days; I have wilfully neglected a high eternal happiness, to win one which is finite and transitory."
With a heart full of wild desire, he walked to the neighbouring wood, and immersed himself in its thickest shades. A ghastly silence encompassed him; no breath of air was stirring in the leaves. Meanwhile he saw a man approaching him from a distance, whom he recognised for the stranger; he started in affright, and his first thought was, that the man would ask him for his money. But as the form came nearer, he perceived how greatly he had been mistaken; for the features, which he had imagined known to him, melted into one another; an old woman of the utmost hideousness approached; she was clad in dirty rags; a tattered clout bound up her few gray hairs; she was limping on a crutch. With a dreadful voice she spoke to him, and asked his name and situation; he replied to both inquiries, and then said, "But who art thou?"
"I am called the Woodwoman," answered she; " and every child can tell of me. Didst thou never see me before?" With the last words she whirled about, and Christian thought he recognised among the trees the golden veil, the lofty gait, the large stately form which he had once beheld of old. He turned to hasten after her, but nowhere was she to be seen.
Meanwhile something glittered in the grass, and drew his eye to it. He picked it up; it was the magic tablet with the coloured jewels, and the wondrous figure, which he had lost so many years before. The shape and the changeful gleams struck over all his senses with an instantaneous power. He grasped it firmly, to convince himself that it was really once more in his hands, and. then hastened back with it to the village. His father met him. "See," cried Christian, "the thing which I was telling you about so often, which I thought must have been shown to me only in a dream, is now sure and true."
The old man looked a long while at the tablet, and then said: " My son, I am struck with horror in my heart when I view these stones, and dimly guess the meaning of the words on them. Look here, how cold they glitter, what cruel looks they cast from them, bloodthirsty, like the red eye of the tiger ! Cast this writing from thee, which makes thee cold and cruel, which will turn thy heart to stone:
See the flowers, when morn is beaming,
"What wonderful incalculable treasures," said the other, " must there still be in the depths of the Earth! Could one but sound into their secret beds and raise them up, and snatch them to one's- self! Could one but clasp this Earth like a beloved bride to one's bosom, so that in pain and love she would willingly grant one her costliest riches! The Woodwoman has called me; I go to seek for her. Near by is an old ruined shaft, which some miner has hollowed out many centuries ago; perhaps I shall find her there!"
He hastened off. In vain did the old man strive to detain him; in a few moments Christian had vanished from his sight. Some hours afterwards, the father, with a strong effort, reached the ruined shaft: he saw footprints in the sand at the entrance, and returned in tears; persuaded that his son, in a state of madness, had gone in and been drowned in the old collected waters and horrid caves of the mine.
From that day his heart seemed broken, and he was incessantly in tears. The whole neighbourhood deplored the fortune of the young farmer. Elizabeth was inconsolable, the children lamented aloud. In half a year the aged gardener died; the parents of Elizabeth soon followed him; and she was forced herself to take charge of everything. Her multiplied engagements helped a little to withdraw her from her sorrow; the education of her children, and the management of so much property, left little time for mourning. After two years, she determined on a new marriage; she bestowed her hand on a young light-hearted man, who had loved her from his youth. But, ere long, everything in their establishment assumed another form. The cattle died; men and maid servants proved dishonest; barns full of grain were burnt; people in the town who owed them sums of money, fled and made no payment. In a little while, the landlord found himself obliged to sell some fields and meadows; but a mildew, and a year of scarcity, brought new embarrassments. It seemed as if the gold, so strangely acquired, were taking speedy flight in all directions. Meanwhile the family was on the increase; and Elizabeth, as well as her husband, grew reckless and sluggish in this scene of despair: he fled for consolation to the bottle, he was often drunk, and therefore quarrelsome and sullen; so that frequently Elizabeth bewailed her state with bitter tears. As their fortune declined, their friends in the village stood aloof from them more and more; so that after some few years they saw themselves entirely forsaken, and were forced to struggle on, in penury and straits, from week to week.
They had nothing but a cow and a few sheep left them; these Elizabeth herself, with her children, often tended at their grass. She was sitting one day with her work in the field, Leonora at her side, and a sucking child on her breast, when they saw from afar a strange-looking shape approaching towards them. It was a man with a garment all in tatters, barefoot, sunburnt to a black-brown colour in the face, deformed still farther by a long matted beard: he wore no covering on his head; but had twisted a garland of green, branches through his hair, which made his wild appearance still more strange and haggard. On his back he bore some heavy burden in a sack, very carefully tied, and as he walked he leaned upon a young fir.
On coming nearer, he put down his load, and drew deep draughts of breath. He bade Elizabeth good-day; she shuddered at the sight of him, the girl crouched close to her mother. Having rested for a little while, he said: " I am getting back from a very hard journey among the wildest mountains of the Earth; but to pay me for it, I have brought along with me the richest treasures which imagination can conceive, or heart desire. Look here, and wonder!" Thereupon he loosed his sack, and shook it empty: it was full of gravel, among which were to be seen large bits of chuck-stone, and other pebbles. " These jewels," he continued, " are not ground and polished yet, so they want the glance and the eye; the outward fire, with its glitter, is too deeply buried in their inmost heart; yet you have but to strike it out and frighten them, and show that no deceit will serve, and then you see what sort of stuff they are." So saying, he took a piece of flinty stone, and struck it hard against another, till they gave red sparks between them. "Did you see the glance?" cried he. "Ay, they are all fire and light; they illuminate the darkness with their laugh, though as yet it is against their will." With this he carefully repacked his pebbles in the bag, and tied it hard and fast. "I know thee very well," said he then, with a saddened tone; " thou art Elizabeth." The woman started.
"How comest thou to know my name?" cried she, with a forecasting shudder.
"Ah, good God!" said the unhappy creature, "I am Christian, he that was a hunter: dost thou not know me, then?"
She knew not, in her horror and deepest compassion, what to say. He fell upon her neck and kissed her. Elizabeth exclaimed: " O Heaven! my husband is coming!"
"Be at thy ease," said he; " I am as good as dead to thee: in the forest, there, my fair one waits for me; she that is tall and stately, with the black hair and the golden veil. This is my dearest child, Leonora. Come hither, darling: come, my pretty child; and give me a kiss, too; one kiss, that I may feel thy mouth upon my lips once again, and then I leave you."
Leonora wept; she clasped close to her mother, who, in sobs and tears, half held her towards the wanderer, while he half drew her towards him, took her in his arms, and pressed her to his breast. Then he went away in silence, and in the wood they saw him speaking with the hideous Woodwoman.
"What ails you ?" said the husband, as he found mother and daughter pale and melting in tears. Neither of them answered.
The ill-fated creature was never seen again from that day.
"Where is our little Mary?" said the father.
"She is playing out upon the green there with our neighbour's boy," replied the mother.
"I wish they may not run away and lose themselves," said he; " they are so thoughtless."
The mother looked for the little ones, and brought them their evening luncheon. " It is warm," said the boy; " and Mary had a longing for the red cherries."
"Have a care, children," said the mother, " and do not run too far from home, and not into the wood; Father and I are going to the fields."
Little Andres answered: " Never fear, the wood frightens us; we shall sit here by the house, where there are people near us."
The mother went in, and soon came out again with her husband. They locked the door, and turned towards the fields to look after their labourers, and see their hay-harvest in the meadow. Their house lay upon a little green height, encircled by a pretty ring of paling, which likewise enclosed their fruit and flower garden. The hamlet stretched somewhat deeper down, and on the other side lay the castle of the Count. Martin rented the large form from this nobleman; and was living in contentment with his wife and only child; for he yearly saved some money, and had the prospect of becoming a man of substance by his industry, for the ground was productive, and the Count not illiberal.
As he walked with his wife to the fields, he gazed cheerfully round, and said: "What a different look this quarter has, Brigitta, from the place we lived in formerly! Here it is all so green; the whole village is bedecked with thick spreading fruit trees; the ground is full of beautiful herbs and flowers; all the houses are cheerful and cleanly, the inhabitants are at their ease: nay I could almost fancy that the woods are greener here than elsewhere, and the sky bluer; and, so far as the eye can reach, you have pleasure and delight in beholding the bountiful Earth."
"And whenever you cross the stream," said Brigitta, "you are, as it were, in another world, all is so dreary and withered; but every traveller declares that our village is the fairest in the country far and near."
"All but that fir-ground," said her husband; "do but look back to it, how dark and dismal that solitary spot is lying in the gay scene: the dingy fir-trees with the smoky huts behind them, the ruined stalls, the brook flowing past with a sluggish melancholy."
"It is true," replied Brigitta; " if you but approach that spot, you grow disconsolate and sad, you know not why. What sort of people can they be that live there, and keep themselves so separate from the rest of us, as if they had an evil conscience?"
"A miserable crew," replied the young Farmer: "gipsies, seemingly, that steal and cheat in other quarters, and have their hoard and hiding-plaee here. I wonder only that his Lordship suffers them."
"Who knows," said the wife, with an accent of pity, " but perhaps they may be poor people, wishing, out of shame, to conceal their poverty; for, after all, no one can say aught ill of them; the only thing is, that they do not go to church, and none knows how they live; for the little garden, which indeed seems altogether waste, cannot possibly support them; and fields they have none."
"God knows," said Martin, as they went along, "what trade they follow; no mortal comes to them; for the place they live in is as if bewitched and excommunicated, so that even our wildest fellows will not venture into it."
Such conversation they pursued, while walking to the fields. That gloomy spot they spoke of lay aside from the hamlet. In a dell, begirt with firs, you might behold a hut, and various ruined office-houses; rarely was smoke seen to mount from it, still more rarely did men appear there; though at times curious people, venturing somewhat nearer, had perceived upon the bench before the hut, some hideous women, in ragged clothes, dandling in their arms some children equally dirty and ill-favoured; black dogs were running up and down upon the boundary; and, of an evening, a man of monstrous size was seen to cross the footbridge of the brook, and disappear in the hut; and, in the darkness, various shapes were observed, moving like shadows round a fire in the open air. This piece of ground, the firs and the ruined huts, formed in truth a strange contrast with the bright green landscape, the white houses of the hamlet, and the stately new-built castle.
The two little ones had now eaten their fruit; it came into their heads to run races; and the little nimble Mary always got the start of the less active Andres. "It is not fair," cried Andres at last: "let us try it for some length, then we shall see who wins."
"As thou wilt," said Mary; "only to the brook we must not run."
"No," said Andres; "but there, on the hill, stands the large pear-tree, a quarter of a mile from this. I shall run by the left, round past the fir-ground; thou canst try it by the right over the fields; so we do not meet till we get up, and then we shall see which of us is swifter."
"Done," cried Mary, and began to run; "for we shall not mar one another by the way, and my father says it is as far to the hill by that side of the Gipsies' house as by this."
Andres had already started, and Mary, turning to the right, could no longer see him. " It is very silly," said she to herself: " I have only to take heart, and run along the bridge, past the hut, and through the yard, and I shall certainly be first." She was already standing by the brook and the clump of firs. "Shall I? No; it is too frightful," said she. A little white dog was standing on the farther side, and barking with might and main. In her terror, Mary thought the dog some monster, and sprang back. " Fy! fy!" said she: " the dolt is gone half way by this time, while I stand here considering." The little dog kept barking, and as she looked at it more narrowly, it seemed no longer frightful, but, on the contrary, quite pretty: it had a red collar round its neck, with a glittering bell; and as it raised its head, and shook itself in barking, the little bell sounded with the finest tinkle. "Well, I must risk it!" cried she: " I will run for life; quick, quick. I am through; certainly to Heaven, they cannot eat me up alive in half a minute!" And with this, the gay, courageous little Mary sprang along the footbridge; passed the dog, which ceased its barking and began to fawn on her; and in a moment she was standing on the other bank, and the black firs all round concealed from view her father's house, and the rest of the landscape.
But what was her astonishment when here! The loveliest, most variegated flower-garden, lay round her; tulips, roses and lilies were glittering in the fairest colours; blue and gold-red butterflies were wavering in the blossoms; cages of shining wire were hung on the espaliers, with many-coloured birds in them, singing beautiful songs; and children, in short white frocks, with flowing yellow hair and brilliant eyes, were frolicking about; some playing with lambkins, some feeding the birds, or gathering flowers, and giving them to one another; some, again, were eating cherries, grapes and ruddy apricots. No hut was to be seen; but instead of it, a large fair house, with a brazen door and lofty statues, stood glancing in the middle of the space. Mary was confounded with surprise, and knew not what to think: but, not being bashful, she went right up to the first of the children, held out her hand, and wished the little creature good-even.
"Art thou come to visit us, then?" said the glittering child; "I saw thee running, playing on the other side, but thou wert frightened at our little dog."
"So you are not gipsies and rogues," said Mary, " as Andres always told me? He is a stupid thing, and talks of much he does not understand."
"Stay with us," said the strange little girl; " thou wilt like it well."
"But we are running a race."
"Thou wilt find thy comrade soon enough. There, take and eat."
Mary ate, and found the fruit more sweet than any she had ever tasted in her life before; and Andres, and the race, and the prohibition of her parents, were entirely forgotten.
A stately woman, in a shining robe, came towards them, and asked about the stranger child. " Fairest lady," said Mary, " I came running hither by chance, and now they wish to keep me."
"Thou art aware, Zerina," said the lady, " that she can be here but for a little while; besides, thou shouldst have asked my leave."
"I thought," said Zerina, " when I saw her admitted across the bridge, that I might do it; we have often seen her running in the fields, and thou thyself hast taken pleasure in her lively temper. She will have to leave us soon enough."
"No, I will stay here," said the little stranger; " for here it is so beautiful, and here I shall find the prettiest playthings, and store of berries and cherries to boot. On the other side it is not half so grand."
The gold-robed lady went away with a smile; and many of the children now came bounding round the happy Mary in their mirth, and twitched her, and incited her to dance; others brought her lambs, or curious playthings; others made music on instruments, and sang to it.
She kept, however, by the playmate who had first met her; for Zerina was the kindest and loveliest of them all. Little Mary cried and cried again: "I will stay with you forever; I will stay with you, and you shall be my sisters;" at which the children all laughed, and embraced her." Now we shall have a royal sport," said Zerina. She ran into the Palace, and returned with a little golden box, in which lay a quantity of seeds, like glittering dust. She lifted of it with her little hand, and scattered some grains on the green earth. Instantly the grass begun to move, as in waves; and, after a few moments, bright rose bushes started from the ground, shot rapidly up, and budded all at once, while the sweetest perfume filled the place. Mary also took a little of the dust, and, having scattered it, she saw white lilies, and the most variegated pinks, pushing up. At a signal from Zerina, the flowers disappeared, and others rose in their room. "Now," said Zerina, "look for something greater." She laid two pine-seeds in the ground, and stamped them in sharply with her foot. Two green bushes stood before them. "Grasp me fast." said she; and Mary threw her arms about the slender form. She felt herself borne upwards; for the trees were springing under them with the greatest speed; the tall pines waved to and fro, and the two children held each other fast embraced, swinging this way and that in the red clouds of the twilight, and kissed each other; while the rest were climbing up and down the trunks with quick dexterity, pushing and teasing one another with loud laughter when they met; if any one fell down in the press, it flew through the air, and sank slowly and surely to the ground. At length Mary was beginning to be frightened; and the other little child sang a few loud tones, and the trees again sank down, and set them on the ground as gradually as they had lifted them before to the clouds.
They next went through the brazen door of the palace. Here many fair women, elderly and young, were sitting in the round hall, partaking of the fairest fruits, and listening to glorious invisible music. In the vaulting of the ceiling, palms, flowers and groves stood painted, among which little figures of children were sporting and winding in every graceful posture; and with the tones of the music, the images altered and glowed with the most burning colours; now the blue and green were sparkling like radiant light, now these tints faded back in paleness, the purple flamed up, and the gold took fire; and then the naked children seemed to be alive among the flower-garlands, and to draw breath, and emit it through their ruby-coloured lips; so that by fits you could see the glance of their little white teeth, and the lighting up of their azure eyes.
From the hall, a stair of brass led down to a subterranean chamber. Here lay much gold and silver, and precious stones of every hue shone out between them. Strange vessels stood along the walls, and all seemed filled with costly things. The gold was worked into many forms, and glittered with the friendliest red. Many little dwarfs were busied sorting the pieces from the heap, and putting them in the vessels; others, hunchbacked and bandy legged, with long red noses, were tottering slowly along, half-bent to the ground, under full sacks, which they bore as millers do their grain; and, with much panting, shaking out the gold-dust on the ground. Then they darted awkwardly to the right and left, and caught the rolling balls that were like to run away; and it happened now and then that one in his eagerness overset the other, so that both fell heavily and clumsily to the ground. They made angry faces, and looked askance, as Mary laughed at their gestures and their ugliness. Behind them sat an old crumpled little man, whom Zerina reverently greeted; he thanked her with a grave inclination of his head. He held a sceptre in his hand, and wore a crown upon his brow, and all the other dwarfs appeared to regard him as their master, and obey his nod.
"What more wanted ?" asked he, with a surly voice, as the children came a little nearer. Mary was afraid, and did not speak; but her companion answered, they were only come to look about them in the chambers. "Still your old child's tricks!" replied the dwarf: "Will there never be an end to idleness?" With this, he turned again to his employment, kept his people weighing and sorting the ingots; some he sent away on errands, some he chid with angry tones.
"Who is the gentleman?" said Mary.
"Our Metal-Prince," replied Zerina, as they walked along.
They seemed once more to reach the open air, for they were standing by a lake, yet no sun appeared, and they saw no sky above their heads. A little boat received them, and Zerina steered it diligently forwards. It shot rapidly along. On gaining the middle of the lake, the stranger saw that multitudes of pipes, channels and brooks, were spreading from the little sea in every direction. " These waters to the right," said Zerina, " flow beneath your garden, and this is why it blooms so freshly; by the other side we get down into the great stream." On a sudden, out of all the channels, and from every quarter of the lake, came a crowd of little children swimming up; some wore garlands of sedge and water-lily; some had red stems of coral, others were blowing on crooked shells; a tumultuous noise echoed merrily from the dark shores; among the children might be seen the fairest women sporting in the waters, and often several of the children sprang about some one of them, and with kisses hung upon her neck and shoulders. All saluted the strangers; and these steered onwards through the revelry out of the lake, into a little river, which grew narrower and narrower. At last the boat came aground. The strangers took their leave, and Zerina knocked against the cliff. This opened like a door, and a female form, all red, assisted them to mount. "Are you all brisk here?" inquired Zerina. "They are just at work," replied the other, " and happy as they could wish; indeed, the heat is very pleasant."
They went up a winding stair, and on a sudden Mary found herself in a most resplendent hall, so that as she entered, her eyes were dazzled by the radiance. Flame-coloured tapestry covered the walls with a purple glow; and when her eye had grown a little used to it, the stranger saw, to her astonishment, that, in the tapestry, there were figures moving up and down in dancing joyfulness; in form so beautiful, and of so fair proportions, that nothing could be seen more graceful; their bodies were as of red crystal, so that it appeared as if the blood were visible within them, flowing and playing in its courses. They smiled on the stranger, and saluted her with various bows; but as Mary was about approaching nearer them, Zerina plucked her sharply back, crying: " Thou wilt burn thyself, my little Mary, for the whole of it is fire."
Mary felt the heat. " Why do the pretty creatures not come out," said she, " and play with us ?"
"As thou livest in the Air," replied the other, " so are they obliged to stay continually in Fire, and would faint and languish if they left it. Look now, how glad they are, how they laugh and shout; those down below spread out the fire-floods everywhere beneath the earth, and thereby the flowers, and fruits, and wine, are made to flourish; these red streams again, are to run beside the brooks of water; and thus the fiery creatures are kept ever busy and glad. But for thee it is too hot here; let us return to the garden."
In the garden, the scene had changed since they left it. The moonshine was lying on every flower; the birds were silent, and the children were asleep in complicated groups, among the green groves. Mary and her friend, however, did not feel fatigue, but walked about in the warm summer night, in abundant talk, till morning.
When the day dawned, they refreshed themselves on fruit and milk, and Mary said: " Suppose we go, by way of change, to the firs, and see how things look there?"
"With all my heart," replied Zerina; " thou wilt see our watchmen too, and they will surely please thee; they are standing up among the trees on the mound." The two proceeded through the flower-garden by pleasant groves, full of nightingales; then they ascended a vine-hill; and at last, after long following the windings of a clear brook, arrived at the firs, and the height which bounded the domain. " How does it come," said Mary, " that we have to walk so far here, when without, the circuit is so narrow?"
"I know not," said her friend; " but so it is."
They mounted to the dark firs, and a chill wind blew from without in their faces; a haze seemed lying far and wide over the landscape. On the top were many strange forms standing; with mealy, dusty faces; their misshapen heads not unlike those of white owls; they were clad in folded cloaks of shaggy wool; they held umbrellas of curious skins stretched out above them; and they waved and fanned themselves incessantly with large bat's wings, which flared out curiously beside the woollen roquelaures. "I could laugh, yet I am frightened," cried Mary.
"These are our good trusty watchmen," said her playmate; " they stand here and wave their fans, that cold anxiety and inexplicable fear may fall on every one that attempts to approach us. They are covered so, because without it is now cold and rainy, which they cannot bear. But snow, or wind, or cold air, never reaches down to us; here is an everlasting spring and summer: yet if these poor people on the top were not frequently relieved, they would certainly perish."
"But who are you, then ?" said Mary, while again descending to the flowery fragrance; "or have you no name at all?"
"We are called the Elves," replied the friendly child; " people talk about us in the Earth, as I have heard."
They now perceived a mighty bustle on the green. " The fair Bird is come!" cried the children to them: all hastened to the hall. Here, as they approached, young and old were crowding over the threshold, all shouting for joy; and from within resounded a triumphant peal of music. Having entered, they perceived the vast circuit filled with the most varied forms, and all were looking upwards to a large Bird with glancing plumage, that was sweeping slowly round in the dome, and in its stately flight describing many a circle. The music sounded more gaily than before; the colours and lights alternated more rapidly. At last the music ceased; and the Bird, with a rustling noise, floated down upon a glittering crown that hung hovering in air under the high window, by which the hall was lighted from above. His plumage was purple and green, and shining golden streaks played through it; on his head there waved a diadem of feathers, so resplendent that they glanced like jewels. His bill was red, and his legs of a glancing blue. As he moved, the tints gleamed through each other, and the eye was charmed with their radiance. His size was as that of an eagle. But now he opened his glittering beak; and sweetest melodies came pouring from his moved breast, in finer tones than the lovesick nightingale gives forth; still stronger rose the song, and streamed like floods of Light, so that all, the very children themselves, were moved by it to tears of joy and rapture. When he ceased, all bowed before him; he again flew round the dome in circles, then darted through the door, and soared into the light heaven, where he shone far up like a red point, and then soon vanished from their eyes.
"Why are ye all so glad ?" inquired Mary, bending to her fair playmate, who seemed smaller than yesterday.
"The King is coming!" said the little one; "many of us have never seen him, and whithersoever he turns his face, there is happiness and mirth; we have long looked for him, more anxiously than you look for spring when winter lingers with you; and now he has announced, by his fair herald, that he is at hand. This wise and glorious Bird, that has been sent to us by the King, is called Phoenix; he dwells far off in Arabia, on a tree, which there is no other that resembles on Earth, as in like manner there is no second Phoenix. When he feels himself grown old, he builds a pile of balm and incense, kindles it, and dies singing; and then from the fragrant ashes, soars up the renewed Phoenix with unlessened beauty. It is seldom he so wings his course that men behold him; and when once in centuries this does occur, they note it in their annals, and expect remarkable events. But now, my friend, thou and I must part; for the sight of the King is not permitted thee."
Then the lady with the golden robe came through the throng, and beckoning Mary to her, led her into a sequestered walk. "Thou must leave us, my dear child," said she; "the King is to hold his court here for twenty years, perhaps longer; and fruitfulness and blessings will spread far over the land, but chiefly here beside us; all the brooks and rivulets will become more bountiful, all the fields and gardens richer, the wine more generous, the meadows more fertile, and the woods more fresh and green; a milder air will blow, no hail shall hurt, no flood shall threaten. Take this ring, and think of us: but beware of telling any one of our existence; or we must fly this land, and thou and all around will lose the happiness and blessing of our neighbourhood. Once more, kiss thy playmate, and farewell." They issued from the walk; Zerina wept, Mary stooped to embrace her, and they parted. Already she was on the narrow bridge; the cold air was blowing on her back from the firs; the little dog barked with all its might, and rang its little bell; she looked round, then hastened over, for the darkness of the firs, the bleakness of the ruined huts, the shadows of the twilight, were filling her with terror.
"What a night my parents must have had on my account!" said she within herself, as she stept on the green; " and I dare not tell them where I have been, or what wonders I have witnessed, nor indeed would they believe me." Two men passing by saluted her; and as they went along, she heard them say: "What a pretty girl! Where can she come from?" With quickened steps she approached the house: but the trees which were hanging last night loaded with fruit, were now standing dry and leafless; the house was differently painted, and a new barn had been built beside it. Mary was amazed, and thought she must be dreaming. In this perplexity she opened the door; and behind the table sat her father, between an unknown woman and a stranger youth. "Good God ! Father," cried she, "where is my mother?"
"Thy mother!" said the woman, with a forecasting tone, and sprang towards her: " Ha, thou surely canst not—Yes, indeed, indeed thou art my lost, long-lost dear, only Mary!'' She had recognised her by a little brown mole beneath the chin, as well as by her eyes and shape. All embraced her, all were moved with joy, and the parents wept. Mary was astonished that she almost reached to her father's stature; and she could not understand how her mother had become so changed and faded; she asked the name of the stranger youth. " It is our neighbour's Andres," said Martin. " How comest thou to us again, so unexpectedly, after seven long years? Where hast thou been? Why didst thou never send us tidings of thee?"
"Seven years!" said Mary, and could not order her ideas and recollections. "Seven whole years?"
"Yes, yes," said Andres, laughing, and shaking her trustfully by the hand; " I have won the race, good Mary; I was at the pear- tree and back again seven years ago, and thou, sluggish creature, art but just returned!"
They again asked, they pressed her; but remembering her instruction, she could answer nothing. It was they themselves chiefly that, by degrees, shaped a story for her: How, having lost her way, she had been taken up by a coach, and carried to a strange remote part, where she could not give the people any notion of her parents' residence; how she was conducted to a distant town, where certain worthy persons brought her up and loved her; how they had lately died, and at length she had recollected her birthplace, and so returned. "No matter how it is!" exclaimed her mother; "enough, that we have thee again, my little daughter, my own, my all!"
Andres waited supper, and Mary could not be at home in anything she saw. The house seemed small and dark; she felt astonished at her dress, which was clean and simple, but appeared quite foreign; she looked at the ring on her finger, and the gold of it glittered strangely, enclosing a stone of burning red. To her father's question, she replied that the ring also was a present from her benefactors.
She was glad when the hour of sleep arrived, and she hastened to her bed. Next morning she felt much more collected; she had now arranged her thoughts a little, and could better stand the questions of the people in the village, all of whom came in to bid her welcome. Andres was there too with the earliest, active, glad, and serviceable beyond all others. The blooming maiden of fifteen had made a deep impression on him; he had passed a sleepless night. The people of the castle likewise sent for Mary, and she had once more to tell her story to them, which was now grown quite familiar to her. The old Count and his Lady were surprised at her good-breeding; she was modest, but not embarrassed; she made answer courteously in good phrases to all their questions; all fear of noble persons and their equipage had passed away from her; for when she measured these halls and forms by the wonders and the high beauty she had seen with the Elves in their hidden abode, this earthly splendour seemed but dim to her, the presence of men was almost mean. The young lords were charmed with her beauty.
It was now February. The trees were budding earlier than usual; the nightingale had never come so soon; the spring rose fairer in the land than the oldest men could recollect it. In every quarter, little brooks gushed out to irrigate the pastures and meadows; the hills seemed heaving, the vines rose higher and higher, the fruit-trees blossomed as they had never done; and a swelling fragrant blessedness hung suspended heavily in rosy clouds over the scene. All prospered beyond expectation: no rude day, no tempest injured the fruits; the wine flowed blushing in immense grapes; and the inhabitants of the place felt astonished, and were captivated as in a sweet dream. The next year was like its forerunner; but men had now become accustomed to the marvellous. In autumn, Mary yielded to the pressing entreaties of Andres and her parents; she was betrothed to him, and in winter they were married.
She often thought with inward longing of her residence behind the fir-trees; she continued serious and still. Beautiful as all that lay around her was, she knew of something yet more beautiful; and from the remembrance of this, a faint regret attuned her nature to soft melancholy. It smote her painfully when her father and mother talked about the gipsies and vagabonds, that dwelt in the dark spot of ground. Often she was on the point of speaking out in defence of those good beings, whom she knew to be the benefactors of the land; especially to Andres, who appeared to take delight in zealously abusing them: yet still she repressed the word that was struggling to escape her bosom. So passed this year; in the next, she was solaced by a little daughter, whom she named Elfrida, thinking of the designation of her friendly Elves.
The young people lived with Martin and Brigitta, the house being large enough for all; and helped their parents in conducting their now extended husbandry. The little Elfrida soon displayed peculiar faculties and gifts; for she could walk at a very early age, and could speak perfectly before she was a twelvemonth old; and after some few years, she had become so wise and clever, and of such wondrous beauty, that all people regarded her with astonishment; and her mother could not keep away the thought that her child resembled one of those shining little ones in the space behind the Firs. Elfrida cared not to be with other children; but seemed to avoid, with a sort of horror, their tumultuous amusements; and liked best to be alone. She would then retire into a corner of the garden, and read, or work diligently with her needle; often also you might see her sitting, as if deep sunk in thought; or violently walking up and down the alleys, speaking to herself. Her parents readily allowed her to have her will in these things, for she was healthy, and waxed apace; only her strange sagacious answers and observations often made them anxious. " Such wise children do not grow to age," her grandmother, Brigitta, many times observed; " they are too good for this world; the child, besides, is beautiful beyond nature, and will never find its proper place on Earth."
The little girl had this peculiarity, that she was very loath to let herself be served by any one, but endeavoured to do everything herself. She was almost the earliest riser in the house; she washed herself carefully, and dressed without assistance: at night she was equally careful; she took special heed to pack up her clothes and washes with her own hands, allowing no one, not even her mother, to meddle with her articles. The mother humoured her in this caprice, not thinking it of any consequence. But what was her astonishment, when, happening one holiday to insist, regardless of Elfrida's tears and screams, on dressing her out for a visit to the castle, she found upon her breast, suspended by a string, a piece of gold of a strange form, which she directly recognised as one of that sort she had seen in such abundance in the subterranean vault! The little thing was greatly frightened; and at last confessed that she had found it in the garden, and as she liked it much, had kept it carefully: she at the same time prayed so earnestly and pressingly to have it back, that Mary fastened it again on its former place, and, full of thoughts, went out with her in silence to the castle.
Sidewards from the farmhouse lay some offices for the storing of produce and implements; and behind these there was a little green, with an old grove, now visited by no one, as, from the new arrangement of the buildings, it lay too far from the garden. In this solitude Elfrida delighted most; and it occurred to nobody to interrupt her here, so that frequently her parents did not see her for half a day. One afternoon her mother chanced to be in these buildings, seeking for some lost article among the lumber; and she noticed that a beam of light was coming in, through a chink in the wall. She took a thought of looking through this aperture, and seeing what her child was busied with; and it happened that a stone was lying loose, and could be pushed aside, so that she obtained a view right into the grove. Elfrida was sitting there on a little bench, and beside her the well-known Zerina; and the children were playing, and amusing one another, in the kindliest unity. The Elf embraced her beautiful companion, and said mournfully: " Ah! dear little creature, as I sport with thee, so have I sported with thy mother, when she was a child; but you mortals so soon grow tall and thoughtful! It is very hard: wert thou but to be a child as long as I!"
"Willingly would I do it," said Elfrida; " but they all say, I shall come to sense, and give over playing altogether; for I have great gifts, as they think, for growing wise. Ah! and then I shall see thee no more, thou dear Zerina! Yet it is with us as with the fruit-tree flowers: how glorious the blossoming apple-tree, with its red bursting buds! It looks so stately and broad; and every one, that passes under it, thinks surely something great will come of it; then the sun grows hot, and the buds come joyfully forth; but the wicked kernel is already there, which pushes off and casts away the fair flower's dress; and now, in pain and waxing, it can do nothing more, but must grow to fruit in harvest. An apple, to be sure, is pretty and refreshing; yet nothing to the blossom of spring. So is it also with us mortals: I am not glad in the least at growing to be a tall girl. Ah! could I but once visit you!"
"Since the King is with us," said Zerina, "it is quite impossible; but I will come to thee, my darling, often, often; and none shall see me either here or there. I will pass invisible through the air, or fly over to thee like a bird. O! we will be much, much together, while thou art still little. What can I do to please thee?"
"Thou must like me very dearly," said Elfrida, " as I like thee in my heart; But come, let us make another rose."
Zerina took the well-known box from her bosom, threw two grains from it on the ground; and instantly a green bush stood before them, with two deep-red roses, bending their heads, as if to kiss each other. The children plucked them smiling, and the bush disappeared. "O that it would not die so soon!" said Elfrida; " this red child, this wonder of the Earth!"
"Give it me here," said the little Elf; then breathed thrice upon the budding rose, and kissed it thrice. "Now," said she, giving back the rose, "it will continue fresh and blooming till winter."
"I will keep it," said Elfrida, " as an image of thee; I will guard it in my little room, and kiss it night and morning, as if it were thyself."
"The sun is setting," said the other; " I must home." They embraced again, and Zerina vanished.
In the evening, Mary clasped her child to her breast, with a feeling of alarm and veneration. She henceforth allowed the good little girl more liberty than formerly; and often calmed her husband, when he came to search for the child; which for some time he was wont to do, as her retiredness did not please him; and he feared that, in the end, it might make her silly, or even pervert her understanding. The mother often glided to the chink; and almost always found the bright Elf beside her child, employed in sport, or in earnest conversation.
"Wouldst thou like to fly ?" inquired Zerina once.
"O well! How well!" replied Elfrida; and the fairy clasped her mortal playmate in her arms, and mounted with her from the ground, till they hovered above the grove. The mother, in alarm, forgot herself, and pushed out her head in terror to look after them; when Zerina, from the air, held up her finger, and threatened yet smiled; then descended with the child, embraced her, and disappeared. After this, it happened more than once that Mary was observed by her; and every time, the shining little creature shook her head, or threatened, yet with friendly looks.
Often, in disputing with her husband, Mary had said in her zeal: "Thou dost injustice to the poor people in the hut!" But when Andres pressed her to explain why she differed in opinion from the whole village, nay from his Lordship himself; and how she could understand it better than the whole of them, she still broke off embarrassed, and became silent. One day, after dinner, Andres grew more violent than ever; and maintained that, by one means or another, the crew must be packed away, as a nuisance to the country; when his wife, in anger, said to him: "Hush! for they are benefactors to thee and to every one of us."
"Benefactors!" cried the other, in astonishment: " These rogues and vagabonds?"
In her indignation, she was now at last tempted to relate to him, under promise of the strictest secrecy, the history of her youth: and as Andres at every word grew more incredulous, and shook his head in mockery, she took him by the hand, and led him to the chink; where, to his amazement, he beheld the glittering Elf sporting with his child, and caressing her in the grove. He knew not what to say; an exclamation of astonishment escaped him, and Zerina raised her eyes. On the instant she grew pale, and trembled violently; not with friendly, but with indignant looks, she made the sign of threatening, and then said to Elfrida: "Thou canst not help it, dearest heart; but they will never learn sense, wise as they believe themselves." She embraced the little one with stormy haste; and then, in the shape of a raven, flew with hoarse cries over the garden, towards the Firs.
In the evening, the little one was very still; she kissed her rose with tears; Mary felt depressed and frightened, Andres scarcely spoke. It grew dark. Suddenly there went a rustling through the trees; birds flew to and fro with wild screaming, thunder was heard to roll, the Earth shook, and tones of lamentation moaned in the air. Andres and his wife had not courage to rise; they shrouded themselves within the curtains, and with fear and trembling awaited the day. Towards morning, it grew calmer; and all was silent when the Sun, with his cheerful light, rose over the wood.
Andres dressed himself; and Mary now observed that the stone of the ring upon her finger had become quite pale. On opening the door, the sun shone clear on their faces, but the scene around them they could scarcely recognise. The freshness of the wood was gone; the hills were shrunk, the brooks were flowing languidly with scanty streams, the sky seemed gray; and when you turned to the Firs, they were standing there no darker or more dreary than the other trees. The huts behind them were no longer frightful; and several inhabitants of the village came and told about the fearful night, and how they had been across the spot where the gipsies had lived; how these people must have left the place at last, for their huts were standing empty, and within had quite a common look, just like the dwellings of other poor people: some of their household gear was left behind.
Elfrida in secret said to her mother: " I could not sleep last night; and in my fright at the noise, I was praying from the bottom of my heart, when the door suddenly opened, and my playmate entered to take leave of me. She had a travelling-pouch slung round her, a hat on her head, and a large staff in her hand. She was very angry at thee; since on thy account she had now to suffer the severest and most painful punishments, as she had always been so fond of thee; for all of them, she said, were very loath to leave this quarter."
Mary forbade her to speak of this; and now the ferryman came across the river, and told them new wonders. As it was growing dark, a stranger man of large size had come to him, and hired his boat till sunrise; and with this condition, that the boatman should remain quiet in his house, at least should not cross the threshold of his door. "I was frightened," continued the old man, "and the strange bargain would not let me sleep. I slipped softly to the window, and looked towards the river. Great clouds were driving restlessly through the sky, and the distant woods were rustling fearfully; it was as if my cottage shook, and moans and lamentations glided round it. On a sudden, I perceived a white streaming light, that grew broader and broader, like many thousands of falling stars; sparkling and waving, it proceeded forward from the dark Fir-ground, moved over the fields, and spread itself along towards the river. Then I heard a trampling, a jingling, a bustling, and rushing, nearer and nearer; it went forwards to my boat, and all stept into it, men and women, as it seemed, and children; and the tall stranger ferried them over. In the river were by the boat swimming many thousands of glittering forms; in the air white clouds and lights were wavering; and all lamented and bewailed that they must travel forth so far, far away, and leave their beloved dwelling. The noise of the rudder and the water creaked and gurgled between whiles, and then suddenly there would be silence. Many a time the boat landed, and went back, and was again laden; many heavy casks, too, they took along with them, which multitudes of horrid-looking little fellows carried and rolled; whether they were devils or goblins, Heaven only knows. Then came, in waving brightness, a stately freight; it seemed an old man, mounted on a small white horse, and all were crowding round him. I saw nothing of the horse but its head; for the rest of it was covered with costly glittering cloths and trappings: on his brow the old man had a crown, so bright that, as he came across, I thought the sun was rising there, and the redness of the dawn glimmering in my eyes. Thus it went on all night; I at last fell asleep in the tumult, half in joy, half in terror. In the morning all was still; but the river is, as it were, run off, and I know not how I am to steer my boat in it now."
The same year there came a blight; the woods died away, the springs ran dry; and the scene, which had once been the joy of every traveller, was in autumn standing waste, naked and bald; scarcely showing here and there, in the sea of sand, a spot or two where grass, with a dingy greenness, still grew up. The fruit trees all withered, the vines faded away, and the aspect of the place became so melancholy, that the Count, with his people, next year left the castle, which in time decayed and fell to ruins.
Elfrida gazed on her rose day and night with deep longing, and thought of her kind playmate; and as it drooped and withered, so did she also hang her head; and before the spring, the little maiden had herself faded away. Mary often stood upon the spot before the hut, and wept for the happiness that had departed. She wasted herself away like her child, and in a few years she too was gone. Old Martin, with his son-in-law, returned to the quarter where he had lived before.
The forenoon bells were sounding from the high cathedral. Over the wide square in front of it were men and women walking to and fro, carriages rolling along, and priests proceeding to their various churches. Ferdinand was standing on the broad stair, with his eyes over the multitude, looking at them as they came up to attend the service. The sunshine glittered on the white stones, all were seeking shelter from the heat. He alone had stood for a long time leaning on a pillar, amid the burning beams, without regarding them; for he was lost in the remembrances which mounted up within his mind. He was calling back his bygone life; and inspiring his soul with the feeling which had penetrated all his being, and swallowed up every other wish in itself. At the same hour, in the past year, had he been standing here, looking at the women and the maidens coming to mass; with indifferent heart, and smiling face, he had viewed the variegated procession; many a kind look had roguishly met his, and many a virgin cheek had blushed; his busy eye had observed the pretty feet, how they mounted the steps, and how the wavering robe fell more or less aside, to let the dainty little ancles come to sight. Then a youthful form had crossed the square: clad in black; slender, and of noble mien, her eyes modestly cast down before her, carelessly she hovered up the steps with lovely grace; the silken robe lay round that fairest of forms, and rocked itself as in music about the moving limbs; she was mounting the highest step, when by chance she raised her head, and struck his eye with a ray of the purest azure. He was pierced as if by lightning. Her foot caught the robe; and quickly as he darted towards her, he could not prevent her having, for a moment, in the most charming posture, lain kneeling at his feet. He raised her; she did not look at him, she was all one blush; nor did she answer his inquiry whether she was hurt. He followed her into the church: his soul saw nothing but the image of that form kneeling before him, and that loveliest of bosoms bent-towards him. Next day he visited the threshold of the church again; for him that spot was consecrated ground. He had been intending to pursue his travels, his friends were expecting him impatiently at home; but from henceforth his native country was here, his heart and its wishes were inverted. He saw her often, she did not shun him; yet it was but for a few separate and stolen moments; for her wealthy family observed her strictly, and still more a powerful and jealous bridegroom. They mutually confessed their love, but knew not what to do; for he was a stranger, and could offer his beloved no such splendid fortune as she was entitled to expect. He now felt his poverty; yet when he reflected on his former way of life, it seemed to him that he was passing rich; for his existence was rendered holy, his heart floated forever in the fairest emotion; Nature was now become his friend, and her beauty lay revealed to him; he felt himself no longer alien from worship and religion; and he now crossed this threshold, and the mysterious dimness of the temple, with far other feelings than in former days of levity. He withdrew from his acquaintances, and lived only to love. When he walked through her street, and saw her at the window, he was happy for the day. He had often spoken to her in the dusk of the evening; her garden was adjacent to a friend's, who, however, did not know his secret. Thus a year had passed away.
All these scenes of his new existence again moved through his remembrance. He raised his eyes; that noble form was even then gliding over the square; she shone out of the confused multitude like a sun. A lovely music sounded in his longing heart; and as she approached, he retired into the church. He offered her the holy water; her white fingers trembled as they touched his, she bowed with grateful kindness. He followed her, and knelt down near her. His whole heart was melting in sadness and love; it seemed to him as if, from the wounds of longing, his being were bleeding away in fervent prayers; every word of the priest went through him, every tone of the music poured new devotion into his bosom; his lips quivered, as the fair maiden pressed the crucifix of her rosary to her ruby mouth. How dim had been his apprehension of this Faith and this Love before! The priest elevated the Host, and the bell sounded; she bowed more humbly, and crossed her breast; and, like a flash, it struck through all his powers and feelings, and the image on the altar seemed alive, and the coloured dimness of the windows as a light of paradise; tears flowed fast from his eyes, and allayed the swelling fervour of his heart.
The service was concluded. He again offered her the consecrated font; they spoke some words, and she withdrew. He stayed behind, in order to excite no notice; he looked after her till the hem of her garment vanished round the corner; and he felt like the wanderer, weary and astray, from whom, in the thick forest, the last gleam of the setting sun departs. He awoke from his dream, as an old withered hand slapped him on the shoulder, and some one called him by name.
He started back, and recognised his friend, the testy old Albert, who lived apart from men, and whose solitary house was open to Ferdinand alone: " Do you remember our engagement?" said the hoarse husky voice. " O yes," said Ferdinand: " and will you perform your promise today ?"
"This very hour," replied the other, " if you like to follow me."
They walked through the city to a remote street, and there entered a large edifice. " Today," said the old man, " you must push through with me into my most solitary chamber, that we may not be disturbed." They passed through many rooms, then along some stairs; they wound their way through passages: and Ferdinand, who had thought himself familiar with the house, was now astonished at the multitude of apartments, and the singular arrangement of the spacious building; but still more that the old man, a bachelor, and without family, should inhabit it by himself, with a few servants, and never let out any part of the superfluous room to strangers. Albert at length unbolted a door, and said: "Now, here is the place." They entered a large high chamber, hung round with red damask, which was trimmed with golden listings; the chairs were of the same stuff; and, through heavy red silk curtains covering the windows, came a purple light. " Wait a little," said the old man, and wont into another room. Ferdinand took up some books: he found them to contain strange unintelligible characters, circles and lines, with many curious plates; and from the little he could read, they seemed to be works on alchemy; he was aware already that the old man had the reputation of a gold-maker. A lute was lying on the table, singularly overlaid with mother-of-pearl, and coloured wood; and representing birds and flowers in very splendid forms. The star iu the middle was a large piece of mother-of-pearl, worked in the most skilful manner into many intersecting circular figures, almost like the centre of a window in a Gothic church. " You are looking at my instrument," said Albert, coming back; "it is two hundred years old: I brought it with me as a memorial of my journey into Spain. But let us leave all that, and do you take a seat."
They sat down beside the table, which was likewise covered with a red cloth; and the old man placed upon it something which was carefully wrapped up. "From pity to your youth," he began, "I promised lately to predict to you whether you could ever become happy or not; and this promise I will in the present hour perform, though you hold the matter only as a jest. You need not be alarmed; for what I purpose will take place without danger; no dread invocations shall be made by me, nor shall any horrid apparition terrify your senses. The business I am on may fail in two ways: either if you do not love so truly as you have been willing to persuade me; for then my labour is in vain, and nothing will disclose itself; or, if you shall disturb the oracle and destroy it, by a useless question, or a hasty movement, should you leave your seat and dissipate the figure; you must therefore promise me to keep yourself quite still."
Ferdinand gave his word, and the old man unfolded from its cloths the packet he had placed on the table. It was a golden goblet, of very skilful and beautiful workmanship. Round its broad foot ran a garland of flowers, intertwined with myrtles, and various other leaves and fruits, worked out in high chasing with dim and with brilliant gold. A corresponding ring, but still richer, with figures of children, and wild little animals playing with them, or flying from them, wound itself about the middle of the cup. The bowl was beautifully turned; it bent itself back at the top as if to meet the lips; and within, the gold sparkled with a red glow. Old Albert placed the cup between him and the youth, whom he then beckoned to come nearer. " Do you not feel something," said he, " when your eye loses itself in this splendour?"
"Yes," answered Ferdinand, " this brightness glances into my inmost heart; I might almost say I felt it like a kiss in my longing bosom."
"It is right, then!" said the old man. "Now let not your eyes wander any more, but fix them steadfastly on the glittering of this gold, and think as intensely as you can of the woman whom you love."
Both sat quiet for a while, looking earnestly upon the gleaming cup. Ere long, however, Albert, with mute gestures, began, at first slowly, then faster, and at last in rapid movements, to whirl his outstretched finger in a constant circle round the glitter of the bowl. Then he paused, and recommenced his circles in the opposite direction. After this had lasted for a little, Ferdinand began to think he heard the sound of music; it came as from without, in some distant street, but soon the tones approached, they quivered more distinctly through the air; and at last no doubt remained with him that they were flowing from the hollow of the cup. The music became stronger, and of such piercing power, that the young man's heart was throbbing to the notes, and tears were flowing from his eyes. Busily old Albert's hand now moved in various lines across the mouth of the goblet; and it seemed as if sparks were issuing from his fingers, and darting in forked courses to the gold, and tinkling as they met it. The glittering points increased; and followed, as if strung on threads, the movements of his finger to and fro; they shone with various hues, and crowded more and more together till they joined in unbroken lines. And now it seemed as if the old man, in the red dusk, were stretching a wondrous net over the gleaming gold; for he drew the beams this way and that at pleasure, and wove up with them the opening of the bowl; they obeyed him, and remained there like a cover, wavering to and fro, and playing into one another. Having so fixed them, he again described the circle round the rim; the music then moved off, grew fainter and fainter, and at last died away. While the tones departed, the sparkling net quivered to and fro as in pain. In its increasing agitation it broke in pieces; and the beaming threads rained down in drops into the cup; but as the drops fell, there arose from them a ruddy cloud, which moved within itself in manifold eddies, and mounted over the brim like foam. A bright point darted with exceeding swiftness through the cloudy circle, and began to form the Image in the midst of it. On a sudden there looked out from the vapour as it were an eye; over this came a playing and curling as of golden locks; and soon there went a soft blush up and down the shadow, and Ferdinand beheld the smiling face of his beloved, the blue eyes, the tender cheeks, the fair red mouth. The head waved to and fro; rose clearer and more visible upon the slim white neck, and nodded towards the enraptured youth. Old Albert still kept casting circles round the cup; and out of it emerged the glancing shoulders; and as the fair form mounted more and more from its golden couch, and bent in lovely kindness this way and that, the soft curved parted breasts appeared, and on their summits two loveliest rose-buds glancing with sweet secret red. Ferdinand fancied he felt the breath, as the beloved form bent waving towards him, and almost touched him with its glowing lips; in his rapture he forgot his promise and himself; he started up and clasped that ruby mouth to him with a kiss, and meant to seize those lovely arms, and lift the enrapturing form from its golden prison. Instantly a violent trembling quivered through the lovely shape; the head and body broke away as in a thousand lines; and a rose was lying at the bottom of the goblet, in whose redness that sweet smile still seemed to play. The longing young man caught it and pressed it to his lips; and in his burning ardour it withered and melted into air.
"Thou hast kept thy promise badly," said the old man, with, an angry tone; " thou hast none but thyself to blame." He again wrapped up the goblet, drew aside the curtains, and opened a window: the clear daylight broke in; and Ferdinand, in sadness, and with many fruitless excuses, left old Albert still in anger.
In an agitated mood, he hastened through the streets of the city. Without the gate, he sat down beneath the trees. She had told him in the morning that she was to go that night, with some relations, to the country. Intoxicated with love, he rose, he sat, he wandered in the wood: that fair kind form was still before him, as it flowed and mounted from the glowing gold; he looked that she would now step forth to meet him in the splendour of her beauty, and again that loveliest image broke away in pieces from his eyes; and he was indignant at himself that, by his rest? less passion and the tumult of his senses, he should have destroyed the shape, and perhaps his hopes, forever.
As the walk, in the afternoon, became crowded, he withdrew deeper into the thickets; but he still kept the distant highway in his eye; and every coach that issued from the gate was carefully examined by him.
The night approached. The setting sun was throwing forth its red splendour, when from the gate rushed out the richly gilded coach, gleaming with a fiery brightness in the glow of evening. He hastened towards it. Her eye had already seized him. Kindly and smilingly she leaned her glittering bosom from the window; he caught her soft salutation and signal; he was standing by the coach, her full look fell on his, and as she drew back to move away, the rose which had adorned her bosom flew out, and lay at his feet. He lifted it, and kissed it; and he felt as if it presaged to him that he should not see his loved one any more, that now his happiness had faded away from him forever.
Hurried steps were passing up stairs and down; the whole house was in commotion; all was bustle and tumult, preparing for the great festivities of the morrow. The mother was the gladdest and most active; the bride heeded nothing, but retired into her chamber to meditate upon her changing destiny. The family were still looking for their elder son, the captain, with his wife; and for two elder daughters, with their husbands: Leopold, the younger, was maliciously busied in increasing the disorder, aud deepening the tumult; perplexing all, while he pretended to be furthering it. Agatha, his still unmarried sister, was in vain endeavouring to make him. reasonable, and persuade him simply to do nothing, and to let the rest have peace; but her mother said: " Never mind him and his folly; for today a little more or less of it amounts to nothing; only this I beg of one and all of you, that as I have so much to think about already, you would trouble me with no fresh tidings, unless it be of something that especially concerns us; I care not whether any one have let some china fall, whether one spoon or two spoons are wanting, whether any of the stranger servants have been breaking windows; with all such freaks as these, I beg you would not vex me by recounting them. Were these days of tumult over, we will reckon matters; not till then."
"Bravely spoken, mother!" cried her son; " these sentiments are worthy of a governor. And if it chance that any of the maids should break her neck; the cook get tipsy, or set the chimney on fire; the butler, for joy, let all the malmsey run upon the floor, or down his throat, you shall not hear a word of such small tricks. If, indeed, an earthquake were to overset the house! that, my dear mother, could not be kept secret."
"When will he leave his folly!" said the mother: " What must thy sisters think, when they find thee every jot as riotous as when they left thee two years ago?"
"They must do justice to my force of character," said Leopold, " and grant that I am not so changeable as they or their husbands, who have altered so much within these few years, and so little to their advantage."
The bridegroom now entered, and inquired for the bride. Her maid was sent to call her. " Has Leopold made my request to you, my dear mother?" said he.
"I did, forsooth!" said Leopold. "There is such confusion here among us, not one of them can think a reasonable thought."
The bride entered, and the young pair joyfully saluted one another. " The request I meant," continued the bridegroom, "is this: That you would not take it ill, if I should bring another guest into your house, which, in truth, is full enough already."
"You are aware yourself," replied the mother, " that extensive as it is, I could scarcely find another chamber."
" Notwithstanding, I have partly managed it already," cried Leopold;
" I have had the large apartment furbished up."
"Why, that is quite a miserable place," replied the mother; "for many years it has been nothing but a lumber-room."
"But it is splendidly repaired," said Leopold; " and our friend, for whom it is intended, does not mind such matters, he desires nothing but our love. Besides, he has no wife, and likes to' be alone; it is the very place for him. We have had enough of trouble in persuading him to come, and show himself again among his fellow-creatures."
"Not your dismal conjuror and gold-maker, certainly?" cried Agatha.
"No other," said the bridegroom, " if you will still call him so."
"Then do not let him, mother," said the sister. " What should a man like that do here? I have seen him on the street with Leopold, and I was positively frightened at his face. The old sinner, too, almost never goes to church; he loves neither God nor man; and it cannot come to good to bring such infidels under the roof, on a solemnity like this. Who knows what may be the consequence!"
"To hear her talk!" said Leopold, in anger. "Thou condemnest without knowing him; and because the cut of his nose does not please thee, and he is no longer young and handsome, thou concludest him a wizard, and a servant of the Devil."
"Grant a place in your house, dear mother," said the bridegroom, "to our old friend, and let him take a part in our general joy. He seems, my dear Agatha, to have endured much suffering, which has rendered him distrustful and misanthropic; he avoids all society, his only exceptions are Leopold and myself. I owe him much; it was he that first gave my mind a good direction; nay, I may say, it is he alone that has rendered me perhaps worthy of my Julia's love."
"He lends me all his books," continued Leopold; " and, what is more, his old manuscripts; and what is more still, his money, on my bare word. He is a man of the most Christian turn, my little sister. And who knows, when thou hast seen him better, whether thou wilt not throw off thy coyness, and take a fancy to him, ugly as he now appears to thee?"
"Well, bring him to us," said the mother; " I have had to hear so much of him from Leopold already, that I have a curiosity to be acquainted with him. Only you must answer for it, that I cannot lodge him better."
Meantime strangers were announced. They were members of the family, the married daughters, and the officer; they had brought their children with them. The good old lady was delighted to behold her grandsons; all was welcoming, and joyful talk; and Leopold and the bridegroom, having also given and received their greeting, went away to seek their ancient melancholic friend.
The latter lived most part of the year in the country, about a league from town; but he also kept a little dwelling for himself in a garden near the gate. Here, by chance, the young men had become acquainted with him. They now found him in a coffeehouse, where they had previously agreed to meet. As the evening had come on, they brought him, after some little conversation, directly to the house.
The stranger met a kindly welcome from the mother; the daughters stood a little more aloof from him. Agatha especially was shy, and carefully avoided his looks. But the first general compliments were scarcely over, when the old man's eye appeared to settle on the bride, who had entered the apartment later; he seemed as if transported, and it was observed that he was struggling to conceal a tear. The bridegroom rejoiced in his joy, and happening sometime after to be standing with him by a side at the window, he took his hand, and asked him: "Now, what think you of my lovely Julia? Is she not an angel?"
"O my friend!" replied the old man, with emotion, "such grace and beauty I have never seen; or rather, I should say (for that expression was not just), she is so fair, so ravishing, so heavenly, that I feel as if I had long known her; as if she were to me, utter stranger though she is, the most familiar form of my imagination, some shape which had always been an inmate of my heart."
"I understand you," said the young man: " yes, the truly beautiful, the great and sublime, when it overpowers us with astonishment and admiration, still does not surprise us as a thing foreign, never heard of, never seen; but, on the other hand, our own inmost nature in such moments becomes clear to us, our deepest remembrances are awakened, our dearest feelings made alive."
The stranger, during supper, mixed but little in the conversation; his looks were fixed on the bride, so earnestly and constantly, that she at last became embarrassed and alarmed. The captain told of a campaign which he had served in; the rich merchant of his speculations and the bad times; the country gentleman of the improvements which he meant to make in his estate.
Supper being done, the bridegroom took his leave, returning for the last time to his lonely chamber; for in future it was settled that the married pair were to live in the mother's house, their chambers were already furnished. The company dispersed, and Leopold conducted the stranger to his room. "You will excuse us," said he, as they went along, "for having been obliged to lodge you rather far away, and not so comfortably as our mother wished; but you see, yourself, how numerous our family is, and more relations are to come tomorrow. For one thing, you will not run away from us; there is no finding of your course through this enormous house."
They went through several passages, and Leopold at last took leave, and bade his guest good-night. The servant placed two wax-lights on the table; then asked the stranger whether he should help him to undress, and as the latter waived his help in that particular, he also went away, and the stranger found himself alone.
"How does it chance, then," said he, walking up and down, " that this Image springs so vividly from my heart today? I forgot the long past, and thought I saw herself. I was again young, and her voice sounded as of old; I thought I was awakening from a heavy dream; but no, I am now awake, and those fair moments were but a sweet delusion."
He was too restless to sleep; he looked at some pictures on the walls, and then round on the chamber. "Today," cried he, "all is so familiar to me, I could almost fancy I had known this house and this apartment of old." He tried to settle his remembrances, and lifted some large books which were standing in a corner. As he turned their leaves, he shook his head. A lute case was leaning on the wall; he opened it, and found a strange old instrument, time-worn, and without the strings."
No, I am not mistaken!" cried he, in astonishment; "this lute is too remarkable; it is the Spanish lute of my long-departed friend, old Albert! Here are his magic books; this is the chamber where he raised for me that blissful vision; the red of the tapestry is faded, its golden hem is become dim; but strangely vivid in my heart is all pertaining to those hours. It was for this the fear went over me as I was coming hither, through these long complicated passages where Leopold conducted me. O Heaven! On this very table did the Shape rise budding forth, and grow up as if watered and refreshed by the redness of the gold. The same image smiled upon me here, which has almost driven me crazy in the hall tonight; in that hall where I have walked so often in trustful speech with Albert!"
He undressed, but slept very little. Early in the morning he was up, and looking at the room again; he opened the window, and the same gardens and buildings were lying before him as of old, only many other houses had been built since then. "Forty years have vanished," sighed he, "since that afternoon; and every day of those bright times has a longer life than all the intervening space."
He was called to the company. The morning passed in varied talk: at last the bride entered in her marriage-dress. As the old man noticed her, he fell into a state of agitation, such that every one observed it. They proceeded to the church, and the marriage ceremony Was performed. The party was again at home, when Leopold inquired: " Now, mother, how do you like our friend, the good morose old gentleman?"
"I had figured him, by your description," said she, much more frightful; he is mild and sympathetic, and might gain from one an honest trust in him."
"Trust?" cried Agatha; " in these burning frightful eyes, these thousandfold wrinkles, that pale sunk mouth, that strange laugh of his, which looks and sounds so mockingly? No; God keep me from such friends! If evil spirits ever take the shape of men, they must assume some shape like this."
"Perhaps a younger and more handsome one," replied the mother; " but I cannot recognise the good old man in thy description. One easily observes that he is of a violent temperament, and has inured himself to lock up his feelings in his own bosom; perhaps, too, as Leopold was saying, he may have encountered many miseries; so he is grown mistrustful, and has lost that simple openness, which is especially the portion of the happy."
The rest of the party entered, and broke off their conversation. Dinner was served up; and the stranger sat between Agatha and the rich merchant. When the toasts were beginning, Leopold cried out: "Now, stop a little, worthy friends; we must have the golden goblet down for this, then let it travel round."
He was rising, but his mother beckoned him to keep his seat: " Thou wilt not find it," said she, " for the plate is all stowed elsewhere." She walked out rapidly to seek it herself.
"How brisk and busy is our good old lady still!" observed the merchant. "See how nimbly she can move, with all her breadth and weight, and reckoning sixty by this time of day. Her face is always bright and joyful, and today she is particularly happy, for she sees herself made young again in Julia."
The stranger gave assent, and the lady entered with the goblet. It was filled with wine, and began to circulate, each toasting what was dearest and most precious to him. Julia gave the welfare of her husband, he the love of his fair Julia; and thus did every one as it became his turn. The mother lingered, as the goblet came to her.
"Come, quick with it," said the captain, somewhat hastily and rudely; "we know, you reckon all men faithless, and not one among them worthy of a woman's love. What, then, is dearest to you?"
His mother looked at him, while the mildness of her brow was on a sudden overspread with angry seriousness. "Since my son," said she, "knows me so well, and can judge my mind so rigorously, let me be permitted not to speak what I was thinking of, and let him endeavour, by a life of constant love, to falsify what he gives out as my opinion." She pushed the goblet on, without drinking, and the company was for a while embarrassed and disturbed.
"It is reported," said the merchant, in a whisper, turning to the stranger, "that she did not love her husband; but another, who proved faithless to her. She was then, it seems, the finest woman in the city."
When the cup reached Ferdinand, he gazed upon it with astonishment; for it was the very goblet out of which old Albert had called forth to him the lovely shadow. He looked in upon the gold, and the waving of the wine; his hand shook; it would not have surprised him, if from the magic bowl that glowing form had again mounted up, and brought with it his vanished youth. "No!" said he, after some time, half-aloud, "it is wine that is gleaming here!"
"Ay, what else?" cried the merchant, laughing: "Drink and be merry."
A thrill of terror passed over the old man; he pronounced the name " Francesca" in a vehement tone, and set the goblet to his lips. The mother cast upon him an inquiring and astonished look.
"Whence is this bright goblet?" said Ferdinand, who also felt ashamed of his embarrassment.
"Many years ago, long ere I was born," said Leopold, " my father bought it, with this house and all its furniture, from an old solitary bachelor; a silent man, whom the neighbours thought a dealer in the Black Art."
The stranger did not say that he had known this old man; for his whole being was too much perplexed, too like an enigmatic dream, to let the rest look into it, even from afar.
The cloth being withdrawn, he was left alone with the mother, as the young ones had retired to make ready for the ball. "Sit down by me," said the mother; "we will rest, for our dancing years are past; and if it is not rude, allow me to inquire whether you have seen our goblet elsewhere, or what it was that moved you so intensely?"
"O my lady," said the old man, "pardon my foolish violence and emotion; but ever since I crossed your threshold, I feel as if I were no longer myself; every moment I forget that my head is gray, that the hearts which loved me are dead. Your beautiful daughter, who is now celebrating the gladdest day of her existence, is so like a maiden whom I knew and adored in my youth, that I could reckon it a miracle. Like, did I say? No, she is not like; it is she herself! In this house, too, I have often been; and once I became acquainted with this cup in a manner I shall not forget." Here he told her his adventure. " On the evening of that day," concluded he, "in the park, I saw my loved one for tho last time, as she was passing in her coach. A rose fell from her bosom; this I gathered; she herself was lost to me, for she proved faithless, and soon after married."
"God in Heaven!" cried the lady, violently moved, and starting up, " thou art not Ferdinand?"
"It is my name," replied he.
"I am Francesca," said the lady.
They sprang forward to embrace, then started suddenly back. Each viewed the other with investigating looks: both strove again to evolve from the ruins of Time those lineaments which of old they had known and loved in one another; and as, in dark tempestuous nights, amid the flight of black clouds, there are moments when solitary stars ambiguously twinkle forth, to disappear next instant, so to these two was there shown now and then from the eyes, from the brow and lips, the transitory gleam of some well-known feature; and it seemed as if their Youth stood in the distance, weeping smiles. He bowed down, and kissed her hand, while two big drops rolled from his eyes. They then embraced each other cordially.
"Is thy wife dead ?" inquired she.
"I was never married," sobbed the other.
"Heavens!" cried she, wringing her hands, " then it is I who have been faithless! But no, not faithless. On returning from the country, where I stayed two months, I heard from every one, thy friends as well as mine, that thou wert long ago gone home, and married in thy own country. They showed me the most convincing letters, they pressed me vehemently, they profited by my despondency, my indignation; and so it was that I gave my hand to another, a deserving husband; but my heart and my thoughts were always thine."
"I never left this town," said Ferdinand; " but after a while I heard that thou wert married. They wished to part us, and they have succeeded. Thou art a happy mother; I live in the past, and all thy children I will love as if they were my own. But how strange that we should never once have met!"
"I seldom went abroad," said she; " and as my husband took another name, soon after we were married, from a property which he inherited, thou couldst have no suspicion that we were so near together."
"I avoided men," said Ferdinand, " and lived for solitude. Leopold is almost the only one that has attracted me, and led me out amongst my fellows. O my beloved friend, it is like a frightful spectre-story, to think how we lost, and have again found each other!"
As the young people entered, the two were dissolved in tears, and in the deepest emotion. Neither of them told what had occurred, the secret seemed too holy. But ever after, the old man was the friend of the house; and Death alone parted these two beings, who had found each other so strangely, to reunite them in a short time, beyond the power of separation.