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Title: The Spectre Bride
Author: William Harrison Ainsworth
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0800851.txt
Language:  English
Date first posted: August 2008
Date most recently updated: August 2008

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Title: The Spectre Bride
Author: William Harrison Ainsworth



The castle of Hernswolf, at the close of the year 1655, was the resort
of fashion and gaiety. The baron of that name was the most powerful
nobleman in Germany, and equally celebrated for the patriotic
achievements of his sons, and the beauty of his only daughter. The
estate of Hernswolf, which was situated in the centre of the Black
Forest, had been given to one of his ancestors by the gratitude of the
nation, and descended with other hereditary possessions to the family of
the present owner. It was a castellated, gothic mansion, built according
to the fashion of the times, in the grandest style of architecture, and
consisted principally of dark winding corridors, and vaulted tapestry
rooms, magnificent indeed in their size, but ill-suited to private
comfort, from the very circumstance of their dreary magnitude. A dark
grove of pine and mountain ash encompassed the castle on every side, and
threw an aspect of gloom around the scene, which was seldom enlivened by
the cheering sunshine of heaven.

* * * * *

The castle bells rung out a merry peal at the approach of a winter
twilight, and the warder was stationed with his retinue on the
battlements, to announce the arrival of the company who were invited to
share the amusements that reigned within the walls. The Lady Clotilda,
the baron's only daughter, had but just attained her seventeenth year,
and a brilliant assembly was invited to celebrate the birthday. The
large vaulted apartments were thrown open for the reception of the
numerous guests, and the gaieties of the evening had scarcely commenced
when the clock from the dungeon tower was heard to strike with unusual
solemnity, and on the instant a tall stranger, arrayed in a deep suit of
black, made his appearance in the ballroom. He bowed courteously on
every side, but was received by all with the strictest reserve. No one
knew who he was or whence he came, but it was evident from his
appearance, that he was a nobleman of the first rank, and though his
introduction was accepted with distrust, he was treated by all with
respect. He addressed himself particularly to the daughter of the baron,
and was so intelligent in his remarks, so lively in his sallies, and so
fascinating in his address, that he quickly interested the feelings of
his young and sensitive auditor. In fine, after some hesitation on the
part of the host, who, with the rest of the company, was unable to
approach the stranger with indifference, he was requested to remain a
few days at the castle, an invitation which was cheerfully accepted.

The dead of the night drew on, and when all had retired to rest, the
dull heavy bell was heard swinging to and fro in the grey tower, though
there was scarcely a breath to move the forest trees. Many of the
guests, when they met the next morning at the breakfast table, averred
that there had been sounds as of the most heavenly music, while all
persisted in affirming that they had heard awful noises, proceeding, as
it seemed, from the apartment which the stranger at that time occupied.
He soon, however, made his appearance at the breakfast circle, and when
the circumstances of the preceding night were alluded to, a dark smile
of unutterable meaning played round his saturnine features, and then
relapsed into an expression of the deepest melancholy. He addressed his
conversation principally to Clotilda, and when he talked of the
different climes he had visited, of the sunny regions of Italy, where
the very air breathes the fragrance of flowers, and the summer breeze
sighs over a land of sweets; when he spoke to her of those delicious
countries, where the smile of the day sinks into the softer beauty of
the night, and the loveliness of heaven is never for an instant
obscured, he drew tears of regret from the bosom of his fair auditor,
and for the first time she regretted that she was yet at home

Days rolled on, and every moment increased the fervour of the
inexpressible sentiments with which the stranger had inspired her. He
never discoursed of love, but he looked it in his language, in his
manner, in the insinuating tones of his voice, and in the slumbering
softness of his smile, and when he found that he had succeeded in
inspiring her with favourable sentiments, a sneer of the most diabolical
meaning spoke for an instant, and died again on his dark featured
countenance. When he met her in the company of her parents, he was at
once respectful and submissive, and it was only when alone with her, in
her ramble through the dark recesses of the forest, that he assumed the
guise of the more impassioned admirer.

As he was sitting one evening with the baron in the wainscotted
apartment of the library, the conversation happened to turn upon
supernatural agency. The stranger remained reserved and mysterious
during the discussion, but when the baron in a jocular manner denied the
existence of spirits, and satirically mocked their appearance, his eyes
glowed with unearthly lustre, and his form seemed to dilate to more than
its natural dimensions. When the conversation had ceased, a fearful
pause of a few seconds and a chorus of celestial harmony was heard
pealing through the dark forest glade. All were entranced with delight,
but the stranger was disturbed and gloomy; he looked at his noble host
with compassion, and something like a tear swam in his dark eye. After
the lapse of a few seconds, the music died gently in the distance, and
all was hushed as before. The baron soon after quitted the apartment,
and was followed almost immediately by the stranger. He had not long
been absent, when an awful noise, as of a person in the agonies of
death, was heard, and the Baron was discovered stretched dead along the
corridors. His countenance was convulsed with pain, and the grip of a
human hand was visible on his blackened throat. The alarm was instantly
given, the castle searched in every direction, but the stranger was seen
no more. The body of the baron, in the meantime, was quietly committed
to the earth, and the remembrance of the dreadful transaction, recalled
but as a thing that once was.

* * * * *

After the departure of the stranger, who had indeed fascinated her very
senses, the spirits of the gentle Clotilda evidently declined. She loved
to walk early and late in the walks that he had once frequented, to
recall his last words; to dwell on his sweet smile; and wander to the
spot where she had once discoursed with him of love. She avoided all
society, and never seemed to be happy but when left alone in the
solitude of her chamber. It was then that she gave vent to her
affliction in tears; and the love that the pride of maiden modesty
concealed in public, burst forth in the hours of privacy. So beauteous,
yet so resigned was the fair mourner, that she seemed already an angel
freed from the trammels of the world, and prepared to take her flight to
heaven.

As she was one summer evening rambling to the sequestered spot that had
been selected as her favourite residence, a slow step advanced towards
her. She turned round, and to her infinite surprise discovered the
stranger. He stepped gaily to her side, and commenced an animated
conversation. 'You left me,' exclaimed the delighted girl; 'and I
thought all happiness was fled from me for ever; but you return, and
shall we not again be happy?'--'Happy,' replied the stranger, with a
scornful burst of derision, 'Can I ever be happy again--can there;--but
excuse the agitation, my love, and impute it to the pleasure I
experience at our meeting. Oh! I have many things to tell you; aye! and
many kind words to receive; is it not so, sweet one? Come, tell me
truly, have you been happy in my absence? No! I see in that sunken eye,
in that pallid cheek, that the poor wanderer has at least gained some
slight interest in the heart of his beloved. I have roamed to other
climes, I have seen other nations; I have met with other females,
beautiful and accomplished, but I have met with but one angel, and she
is here before me. Accept this simple offering of my affection,
dearest,' continued the stranger, plucking a heath-rose from its stem;
'it is beautiful as the wild flowers that deck thy hair, and sweet as is
the love I bear thee.'--'It is sweet, indeed,' replied Clotilda, 'but
its sweetness must wither ere night closes around. It is beautiful, but
its beauty is short-lived, as the love evinced by man. Let not this,
then, be the type of thy attachment; bring me the delicate evergreen,
the sweet flower that blossoms throughout the year, and I will say, as I
wreathe it in my hair, "The violets have bloomed and died--the roses
have flourished and decayed; but the evergreen is still young, and so is
the love of heart!"--you will not--cannot desert me. I live but in you;
you are my hopes, my thoughts, my existence itself: and if I lose you, I
lose my all--I was but a solitary wild flower in the wilderness of
nature, until you transplanted me to a more genial soil; and can you now
break the fond heart you first taught to glow with passion?'--'Speak not
thus,' returned the stranger, 'it rends my very soul to hear you; leave
me--forget me--avoid me for ever--or your eternal ruin must ensue. I am
a thing abandoned of God and man--and did you but see the scared heart
that scarcely beats within this moving mass of deformity, you would flee
me, as you would an adder in your path. Here is my heart, love, feel how
cold it is; there is no pulse that betrays its emotion; for all is
chilled and dead as the friends I once knew.'--'You are unhappy, love,
and your poor Clotilda shall stay to succour you. Think not I can
abandon you in your misfortunes. No! I will wander with thee through the
wide world, and be thy servant, thy slave, if thou wilt have it so. I
will shield thee from the night winds, that they blow not too roughly on
thy unprotected head. I will defend thee from the tempest that howls
around; and though the cold world may devote thy name to scorn--though
friends may fall off, and associates wither in the grave, there shall be
one fond heart who shall love thee better in thy misfortune, and cherish
thee, bless thee still.' She ceased, and her blue eyes swam in tears, as
she turned it glistening with affection towards the stranger. He averted
his head from her gaze, and a scornful sneer of the darkest, the
deadliest malice passed over his fine countenance. In an instant, the
expression subsided; his fixed glassy eye resumed its unearthly
chillness, and he turned once again to his companion. 'It is the hour of
sunset,' he exclaimed; 'the soft, the beauteous hour, when the hearts of
lovers are happy, and nature smiles in unison with their feelings; but
to me it will smile no longer--ere the morrow dawns I shall very far,
from the house of my beloved; from the scenes where my heart is
enshrined, as in a sepulchre. But must I leave thee, dearest flower of
the wilderness, to be the sport of a whirlwind, the prey of the mountain
blast?'--'No, we will not part,' replied the impassioned girl; 'where
thou goest, will I go; thy home shall be my home; and thy God shall be
my God.'--'Swear it, swear it,' resumed the stranger, wildly grasping
her by the hand; 'swear to the fearful oath I shall dictate.' He then
desired her to kneel, and holding his right hand in a menacing attitude
towards heaven, and throwing back his dark raven locks, exclaimed in a
strain of bitter imprecation with the ghastly smile of an incarnate
fiend, 'May the curses of an offended God,' he cried, 'haunt thee, cling
to thee for ever in the tempest and in the calm, in the day and in the
night, in sickness and in sorrow, in life and in death, shouldst thou
swerve from the promise thou hast here made to be mine. May the dark
spirits of the damned howl in thine ears the accursed chorus of
fiends--may the air rack thy bosom with the quenchless flames of hell!
May thy soul be as the lazar-house of corruption, where the ghost of
departed pleasure sits enshrined, as in a grave: where the
hundred-headed worm never dies where the fire is never extinguished. May
a spirit of evil lord it over thy brow, and proclaim, as thou passest
by, "THIS IS THE ABANDONED OF GOD AND MAN;" may fearful spectres haunt
thee in the night season; may thy dearest friends drop day by day into
the grave, and curse thee with their dying breath: may all that is most
horrible in human nature, more solemn than language can frame, or lips
can utter, may this, and more than this, be thy eternal portion,
shouldst thou violate the oath that thou has taken.' He ceased--hardly
knowing what she did, the terrified girl acceded to the awful
adjuration, and promised eternal fidelity to him who was henceforth to
be her lord. 'Spirits of the damned, I thank thee for thine assistance,'
shouted the stranger; 'I have wooed my fair bride bravely. She is
mine--mine for ever.--Aye, body and soul both mine; mine in life, and
mine in death. What in tears, my sweet one, ere yet the honeymoon is
past? Why! indeed thou hast cause for weeping: but when next we meet we
shall meet to sign the nuptial bond.' He then imprinted a cold salute on
the cheek of his young bride, and softening down the unutterable horrors
of his countenance, requested her to meet him at eight o'clock on the
ensuing evening in the chapel adjoining to the castle of Hernswolf. She
turned round to him with a burning sigh, as if to implore protection
from himself, but the stranger was gone.

On entering the castle, she was observed to be impressed with deepest
melancholy. Her relations vainly endeavoured to ascertain the cause of
her uneasiness; but the tremendous oath she had sworn completely
paralysed her faculties, and she was fearful of betraying herself by
even the slightest intonation of her voice, or the least variable
expression of her countenance. When the evening was concluded, the
family retired to rest; but Clotilda, who was unable to take repose,
from the restlessness of her disposition, requested to remain alone in
the library that adjoined her apartment.

All was now deep midnight; every domestic had long since retired to
rest, and the only sound that could be distinguished was the sullen howl
of the ban-dog as he bayed, the waning moon Clotilda remained in the
library in an attitude of deep meditation. The lamp that burnt on the
table, where she sat, was dying away, and the lower end of the apartment
was already more than half obscured. The clock from the northern angle
of the castle tolled out the hour of twelve, and the sound echoed
dismally in the solemn stillness of the night. Sudden the oaken door at
the farther end of the room was gently lifted on its latch, and a
bloodless figure, apparelled in the habiliments of the grave, advanced
slowly up the apartment. No sound heralded its approach, as it moved
with noiseless steps to the table where the lady was stationed. She did
not at first perceive it, till she felt a death-cold hand fast grasped
in her own, and heard a solemn voice whisper in her ear, 'Clotilda.' She
looked up, a dark figure was standing beside her; she endeavoured to
scream, but her voice was unequal to the exertion; her eye was fixed, as
if by magic, on the form which, slowly removed the garb that concealed
its countenance, and disclosed the livid eyes and skeleton shape of her
father. It seemed to gaze on her with pity, an regret, and mournfully
exclaimed--'Clotilda, the dresses and the servants are ready, the church
bell has tolled, and the priest is at the altar, but where is the
affianced bride? There is room for her in the grave, and tomorrow shall
she be with me.'--'Tomorrow?' faltered out the distracted girl; 'the
spirits of hell shall have registered it, and tomorrow must the bond be
cancelled.' The figure ceased--slowly retired, and was soon lost in the
obscurity of distance.

The morning--evening--arrived; and already as the hall clock struck
eight, Clotilda was on her road to the chapel. It was a dark, gloomy
night, thick masses of dun clouds sailed across the firmament, and the
roar of the winter wind echoed awfully through the forest trees. She
reached the appointed place; a figure was in waiting for her--it
advanced--and discovered the features of the stranger. 'Why! this is
well, my bride,' he exclaimed, with a sneer; 'and well will I repay thy
fondness. Follow me.' They proceeded together in silence through the
winding avenues of the chapel, until they reached the adjoining
cemetery. Here they paused for an instant; and the stranger, in a
softened tone, said, 'But one hour more, and the struggle will be over.
And yet this heart of incarnate malice can feel, when it devotes so
young, so pure a spirit to the grave. But it must--it must be,' he
proceeded, as the memory of her past love rushed on her mind; 'for the
fiend whom I obey has so willed it. Poor girl, I am leading thee indeed
to our nuptials; but the priest will be death, thy parents the
mouldering skeletons that rot in heaps around; and the witnesses to our
union, the lazy worms that revel on the carious bones of the dead. Come,
my young bride, the priest is impatient for his victim.' As they
proceeded, a dim blue light moved swiftly before them, and displayed at
the extremity of the churchyard the portals of a vault. It was open, and
they entered it in silence. The hollow wind came rushing through the
gloomy abode of the dead; and on every side were piled the mouldering
remnants of coffins, which dropped piece by piece upon the damp mud.
Every step they took was on a dead body; and the bleached bones rattled
horribly beneath their feet. In the centre of the vault rose a heap of
unburied skeletons, whereon was seated, a figure too awful even for the
darkest imagination to conceive. As they approached it, the hollow vault
rung with a hellish peal of laughter; and every mouldering corpse seemed
endued with unholy life. The stranger paused, and as he grasped his
victim in his hand, one sigh burst from his heart--one tear glistened in
his eye. It was but for an instant; the figure frowned awfully at his
vacillation, and waved his gaunt hand.

The stranger advanced; he made certain mystic circles in the air,
uttered unearthly words, and paused in excess of terror. On a sudden he
raised his voice and wildly exclaimed--'Spouse of the spirit of
darkness, a few moments are yet thine; that thou may'st know to whom
thou hast consigned thyself. I am the undying spirit of the wretch who
curst his Saviour on the cross. He looked at me in the closing hour of
his existence, and that look hath not yet passed away, for I am curst
above all on earth. I am eternally condemned to hell and I must cater
for my master's taste till the world is parched as is a scroll, and the
heavens and the earth have passed away. I am he of whom thou may'st have
read, and of whose feats thou may'st have heard. A million souls has my
master condemned me to ensnare, and then my penance is accomplished, and
I may know the repose of the grave. Thou art the thousandth soul that I
have damned. I saw thee in thine hour of purity, and I marked thee at
once for my home. Thy father did I murder for his temerity, and
permitted to warn thee of thy fate; and myself have I beguiled for thy
simplicity. Ha! the spell works bravely, and thou shall soon see, my
sweet one, to whom thou hast linked thine undying fortunes, for as long
as the seasons shall move on their course of nature--as long as the
lightning shall flash, and the thunders roll, thy penance shall be
eternal. Look below! and see to what thou art destined.' She looked, the
vault split in a thousand different directions; the earth yawned
asunder; and the roar of mighty waters was heard. A living ocean of
molten fire glowed in the abyss beneath her, and blending with the
shrieks of the damned, and the triumphant shouts of the fiends, rendered
horror more horrible than imagination. Ten millions of souls were
writhing in the fiery flames, and as the boiling billows dashed them
against the blackened rocks of adamant, they cursed with the blasphemies
of despair; and each curse echoed in thunder cross the wave. The
stranger rushed towards his victim. For an instant he held her over the
burning vista, looked fondly in her face and wept as he were a child.
This was but the impulse of a moment; again he grasped her in his arms,
dashed her from him with fury; and as her last parting glance was cast
in kindness on his face, shouted aloud, 'not mine is the crime, but the
religion that thou professest; for is it not said that there is a fire
of eternity prepared for the souls of the wicked; and hast not thou
incurred its torments?' She, poor girl, heard not, heeded not the shouts
of the blasphemer. Her delicate form bounded from rock to rock, over
billow, and over foam; as she fell, the ocean lashed itself as it were
in triumph to receive her soul, and as she sunk deep in the burning pit,
ten thousand voices reverberated from the bottomless abyss, 'Spirit of
evil! here indeed is an eternity of torments prepared for thee; for here
the worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.'



THE END.



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