a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership
Title: The Dead Bride Author: Anonymous * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 0604201h.html Language: English Date first posted: July 2006 Date most recently updated: July 2006 This eBook was produced by: Malcolm Farmer Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
GO TO Project Gutenberg of Australia HOME PAGE
For these reasons public assemblies became gradually less numerous. Individual circles were, however, formed who tried to create the genial spirit of friendship that was so lacking in the formal gatherings.
One of these societies assembled about twice a week in one of the great assembly rooms which were at this epoch generally empty. There an agreeable meal was served and afterwards the company enjoyed—sometimes in the room, sometimes in promenading in the gardens outside—the charm of a decent and unrestrained conversation. The members of these parties knew each other, at least by name, but a certain Italian marquis who had joined these meetings, was unknown to them and even to everyone who found themselves at the Baths. This title of "Italian Marquis" seemed very singular when it was discovered that his name on the general list of visitors to Bad Nauheim appeared to belong to the North and consisted of such a large number of consonants that no one could pronounce it without difficulty.
His physiognomy and his manners offered plenty of peculiarities; his long pale face, his black eyes, his imperious glance had something so little attractive that everyone had certainly avoided him if he had not always had ready a good number of stories which proved a marvellous resource for the company in moments of weariness.
The only objection to his tales was that usually they exacted, at least, a little too much credulity on the part of his listeners. But, where so much was formal and constrained, where the social side of the season seemed to be so definite a failure and where boredom, weariness, and a certain menace seemed to hang in the air throughout the languid days, the society of the mysterious and complaisant foreigner was vaguely sought for the diversion that it brought.
The company rose from table; no one felt disposed to gaiety. Everyone was too fatigued from the ball of the preceding night to enjoy the pleasure of walking in the gardens although a beautiful moonlight invited them. No one had even the strength to sustain the conversation, and it was nothing surprising therefore if all, in consequence, wished more eagerly than usual for the presence of the Marquis.
"Where can he be?" cried the Countess in a tone of impatience.
"Certainly still at faro, putting the bankers to despair," replied Florence. "He caused the sudden departure of two of these gentlemen this morning."
"A very light loss," replied someone.
"For us," responded Florence, "but not for the proprietor of the Baths who has only forbidden gaming here that everyone may take to it more furiously."
"It would be better for the Marquis to abstain from such feats," whispered the Chevalier with a mysterious air, "the gamesters are revengeful and have generally secret means whereby to avenge themselves, and if the whisper going round is true that the Marquis is himself implicated in politics and in a very dubious manner."
"But," interrupted the Countess, "what did the Marquis do to the bankers?"
"Nothing! He wagered simply on those cards which always won, and what is singular, he staked very little on the numbers which he chose. The other players took, however, advantage of his good fortune and placed such huge sums on the lucky numbers that he selected that the bank was broken."
The Countess was about to put some other questions when the entry of the Marquis forced the conversation to take another turn.
"Here he is at last!" cried several people at once.
"To-day," said the Countess, "we have most eagerly desired your appearance and it is just to-day that you make us wait for it the longest!"
"Madam," replied the Marquis, immediately, "I have been thinking out an important combination and it has been a perfect success. I hope to-morrow there will not be here a single bank. I am going from one gaming-hall to another and there will not be enough post horses to take away the ruined bankers."
"Why don't you teach us," asked the Countess, "your marvellous art of always winning?"
"It would be very difficult, my fair lady; for that one must have a lucky hand—otherwise one can do nothing!"
"But," took up the Chevalier, laughing, "never have I seen a hand as lucky as yours!"
"As you are still young, my dear Chevalier, plenty of new things may come your way." Saying these words the Marquis threw on the Chevalier a glance so piercing that that young man cried lightly:
"Would you then, like to cast my horoscope?"
"We will not have that to-day," protested the Countess, languidly, "for who knows if your future destiny will secure us such an amusing story as the Marquis has promised us since two days ago?"
"I did not precisely say amusing," smiled the Marquis.
"But at least full of extraordinary events," insisted the Countess again. "We must have something of the kind to arouse us from the lethargy that overcomes us to-day."
"Very willingly, but I would know beforehand if any of you are already aware of the surprising things that are told of 'The Dead Bride'?"
But this name seemed to mean nothing to anyone in the company. The Marquis hesitated as if he would make yet further preamble to his story. The Countess and some of her friends, however, showed so openly their impatience that at last with a shrug he commenced his story in these words:
"Some time ago I decided to visit the Count Globoda in his estate in Bohemia. We had often met in several parts of Europe when the lightness of youth led us to pleasure, then again when the years had rendered us more calm and grave. At last, well advanced in age, we ardently desired, before the end of our days, to enjoy again by the charm of memory the agreeable moments we had passed together. I wished, on my side, to see the château of my friend. It was, according to the description that he had made me, in a very romantic valley. His ancestors had constructed it centuries ago, and their descendants had kept it up with such care that it conserved its imposing aspect and at the same time offered a most commodious dwelling.
"The Count ordinarily passed the greatest part of the year there with his family and only returned to the capital with the approach of winter.
"Aware of all these details, I did not announce my visit, and arrived one evening of the present season. I admired the smiling and varied country that was the château's domain. The friendly reception that was given me could not entirely conceal from me the secret sorrow painted on the countenance of the Count, that of his wife, and of their daughter, the beautiful Libussa. I was not slow to learn that all were still afflicted by the memory of the loss of the twin sister of Libussa whom death had taken from her family a year before. Libussa and Hildegard so much resembled each other that one could only distinguish them by a little sign in the form of a strawberry placed on the neck of Hildegard.
"They had left the chamber of the dead girl and all that was in it in the same state as it was during her life and the family would go and sit there when they wished to taste fully the sad satisfaction of regretting the cherished daughter who had had only one heart, one soul with her sister. So strong had been the affinity between the two girls that the parents could not believe that their separation would last for long; they feared that soon Libussa would follow her sister to the tomb.
"I did all I could to distract them from this deep sorrow, from this creeping shade of another sorrow, and, in going over the laughing scenes of our past life and turning their ideas on subjects less sad than those that occupied them, I saw with some satisfaction that my efforts were not entirely useless.
"Sometimes we promenaded in the neighbouring valley among all the delights of summer. Sometimes we went through the various apartments of the vast château of which the perfect preservation excited our astonishment and there we dwelt on the actions of the past generations whose portraits adorned many a long gallery.
"One evening the Count spoke to me in confidence of his projects for the future. Among others he told me how often he had wished that Libussa, who had already refused several marriages, although she was only sixteen years old, would make a suitable and happy union. While we were thus discoursing a gardener suddenly entered the chamber, open on the terrace, where we sat, and brokenly stammered out that someone had seen a phantom wandering in the grounds. It was believed to be that of the ancient chaplain of the château who had last appeared a hundred years before. Several servants followed the gardener, the pallor of their faces confirming the terrible news that this last had brought.
"The Count laughed at their rustic fears: 'You seem to be very frightened by your shade,' he said, and he sent them away, telling them not to come again with such stupid stories. 'It is really disappointing,' he observed to me as they departed, rebuked but whispering among themselves, 'to see how far the superstition of these people goes, and that it is impossible to disabuse them entirely of the effect of these old stories. From century to century has passed this absurd tale that from time to time an ancient chaplain of the château wanders in the neighbourhood and even says mass in the old church, and other stupidities of that sort! But these gross legends had, I thought, faded away since I possessed the château, but from what I hear now, they have not entirely disappeared.'
"He had hardly ceased speaking and with, I thought, more trouble than his words would have me believe he possessed, than the major-domo entered and announced with some agitation that a young gentleman with a splendid equipage had arrived unexpectedly before the château. The Count was not expecting a visitor, and with some surprise inquired the name of the newcomer. It was given as that of the Duca dei Foscarini, head of the famous Venetian patrician House of that name. I had met him in his native city a few months previously and I said so to the Count, but I did not add that I had been present at the betrothal of the young Venetian.
"Without waiting for the return of the major-domo with formal permission for him to enter the château, the young Duke had run up the steps and came eagerly into our apartment, the doors and windows of which stood wide to catch the evening air. I was delighted to see him, for he had been one of my favourite companions in his delightful city of pleasure, but, on beholding me he started back and seemed disturbed. Our meeting passed off, however, with the usual formalities of politeness. The Count received his young guest with respect. They had many common friends, and though the visit of the Venetian to this château in Bohemia was to be wondered at, it could not be taken as less than an honour.
"When he had thus, as it were, presented himself to his host the young Duke turned to me and with his natural easiness which went even beyond the breeding of his rank, said: 'Ah, my dear Marquis, now I find you here I can understand how it is that in this valley so distant from my own home there is someone who knows my name.'
"I asked him to explain these incomprehensible words, and he replied with a smile that strove to conceal, I thought, a faint distress: 'As I was driving underneath the mountain which guards the opening to this valley, I looked from the window of the coach to catch a little fresh air and I heard my name pronounced distinctly three times in a loud, strong voice, which afterwards added that I was welcome. I understand now that you must have been riding in the neighbourhood and recognized me. I feel ashamed of the tremor that possessed me when I heard those tones in that lonely spot.'
"The Count and I exchanged glances. The story appeared to us so strange that we thought the young man was embarking on an elaborate jest. I believed his character to be light and wild and I thought his sudden appearance in this lonely valley in Bohemia most extraordinary so I replied with some severity: 'Until I heard the major-domo announce you I was absolutely ignorant of your arrival in this part of the world. Nor could any of my people have recognized you, for those whom I had with me in Italy are not with me here. Besides,' said I, 'it would be very difficult for one wandering on the mountainside to recognize from any distance even the best-known equipage.'
"The trouble of the young Duke at this was evident. 'In that case,' he muttered, 'in that case—' and seemed unable to finish his sentence. To help the situation the incredulous Count said, very politely, that the voice which had declared the Duke to be welcome, whatever it was, had at least expressed the sentiments of all the family.
"Foscarini, without telling his host the motive of his visit, drew me apart and confided to me with much agitation that he had come in person to obtain the hand of the beautiful Libussa if he could receive her liking and the consent of her father.
"'The Countess Apollonia, your betrothed, is she then, dead?' I asked of him.
"'We will talk of that another time,' he replied, and these words were accompanied with such a sign and such a look, at once downcast and furious, that I concluded that Apollonia had been found guilty of unfaithfulness or some grave offence and that for that reason her betrothal with the Duke had been broken off. I therefore abstained from any further questions which might pain one who already seemed so deeply troubled. However, as he turned to me, and with, as I thought, unbalanced passion, begged me to be his spokesman and mediator to the Count to accord him at once the object of his wishes I took it upon me to represent to him in heavy fashion the danger of contracting another alliance for the sake of effacing the bitter souvenir of a loved and lost person and one without doubt once cherished tenderly.
"He interrupted impatiently and declared that it was far from him to be thinking of Libussa as a mere means of salving the wounds inflicted by another and that he would be the happiest of men if she would listen to his vows. He spoke with a gravity and earnestness that did something to allay the disquietude I felt. I promised to prepare the Count Globoda for his proposal and to give him all necessary information as to the family and the fortune of Foscarini. But, I assured the Duke at the same time, that I should not take too much trouble in the affair, as I was not used to mingle with anything of such a dubious issue as a marriage. The Duke expressed his satisfaction and exacted from me what then did not appear to me of any consequence—a promise not to mention his former engagement because that would mean disagreeable explanations.
"The consent of the Count to the suit of this unexpected pretender to the hand of Libussa was obtained with a swiftness that exceeded the young Duke's hopes. Have I told you that he was remarkably attractive in his person? There are perhaps some of you here who remember him? His shape was extremely good and he carried himself with great elegance, all his appointments were rich, but there was no vulgarity about the stately evidences of his wealth and birth. In short, all about him was well calculated to express with the greatest effect the ardour that he undoubtedly felt for Libussa and to move her heart. His courtesy and animation pleased the Countess and his expert knowledge of how to manage a country estate, of which he gave abundant evidence, pleased the Count, who thought that he would find in him a son-in-law who would continue the care that had always been given to his domain.
"Although, however, I saw the young Foscarini press his advantages with much zeal, I was surprised one evening when I received the news of his betrothal for I had not believed this would take place so soon. While we were at supper on that occasion there arose, I know not from whom, a chance remark as to the betrothal of a Foscarini the year previously in Venice and the Countess asked if—that Foscarini had been any relation of the young Duke who had been betrothed that day to her daughter?
"'Near enough,' replied I, remembering my promise, while Foscarini regarded me with an embarrassed air. In order to change the disconcerting subject I said: 'But, my dear Duke, who was the person who fixed your attentions on the beautiful Libussa? Was it a portrait that you say, or did some vivid description cause you to suppose that in this far-distant castle you would find the beauty the choice of which would do such honour to your taste?' All were listening to me with attention, for from the first the family had been surprised, though they had not cared to show this astonishment, at the sudden appearance of the young Venetian in the castle. All waited with considerable interest for his answer and their attention was heightened by his obvious hesitation. To satisfy my own curiosity, and, I confess, with a touch of malice, I insisted: 'If I do not deceive myself, you mentioned the other day in Venice that you intended to travel in Europe for six months, when all at once, I believe you were in Paris, you changed your plans and travelled suddenly and directly into Bohemia especially and entirely to see the charming Libussa.'
"'Yes, yes, your reason,' said the Countess softly. Pray tell us, Donato. I think,' she added, 'that you owe it to Libussa to prove to her that she has not been merely the object of your caprice.'
"The Duke glanced across the table at his fiancée, who sat beside her father. The look, I thought, was one of appeal and loving reproach, which I could not quite understand. He glanced at me, raised his shoulders, and with a sigh gave us this relation.
"'It was in Paris, as I told you. I was admiring the treasures of the Louvre Gallery of pictures. I had hardly entered when my eyes, however, left the beauties depicted on the walls and were irresistibly attracted to the sole occupant, save myself, of the vast chamber—a lady, with unutterably lovely features which were veiled by a melancholy air. I ventured, though fearfully, to approach her, and to follow her quite close without daring to address a word to her. I even followed her when she quitted the gallery and I drew her domestic apart—she was followed by one servant—and asked the name of his mistress. He gave it me and as I at once expressed the desire to make the acquaintance of the father of this beauty, he added that that would be difficult if I remained in Paris for the family had the intention to leave that city, and even France. "I will find an occasion," I murmured, and tried to read in the eyes of the lady whether my acquaintanceship would be welcome or no. She, however, probably believing that her domestic was still following her continued to walk away and soon, through a turn in the gallery, I had lost sight of her. While I had been trying to find her I had also lost all trace of the servant.'
"There was a slight pause after the Duke had finished his speech. He had said what no one expected to hear. He continued to gaze at Libussa with that glance of tender rebuke. It was she who broke the rather uneasy silence.
"'Who was this beautiful lady?' she demanded in an astonished tone.
"With a startled accent, the Duke exclaimed: 'What! is it possible that you did not see me in the gallery?'
"'I! See you! In Paris!' exclaimed the girl, and at the same time the Count ejaculated: 'Libussa! In Paris!'
"'Yes! You, yourself, mademoiselle,' smiled the Duke, a little piqued by what he regarded as an excess of coquetry. 'The servant whom for my good fortune you left in Paris and whom the same evening I met by an odd chance in the street, proved my good angel. He told me your father's name and where I might find you, and, as you know, I left immediately for Bohemia.'
"'What a fable,' said the Count to his daughter. 'Libussa,' he added in turning towards me, 'has never left her own country and I myself have not been to Paris for seventeen years.'
"The Duke stared at the Count and his daughter with eyes full of the same surprise with which they regarded him. The conversation had fallen into a heavy silence, if I had not taken some pains to change the subject and to keep with difficulty a casual topic in play until the end of the repast. No sooner had we risen from table than the Count led the Duke into the embrasure of a window; I contrived to stand a few paces apart and appear to be absorbed in admiring a new lustre of an uncommon and intricate design which had been placed upon the mantelshelf. All the while, however, I was overhearing the whispered conversation between the Count and his future son-in-law.
"The elder man began in a tone at once angry and serious.
"'What motive could you have had,' he demanded, 'to invent that singular scene of the picture gallery in the French museum, for, believe me, it will serve you no good turn. For myself I cannot see why you should not have declared in all simplicity the reason which brought you here to demand my daughter's hand in marriage. But, even if you had had any repugnance to make such a truthful statement there are a thousand forms you could have given your reply without being reduced to invent such a stupid fable.'
"'M. le Comte,' replied the Duke, highly offended, 'at table I was silent because I was forced to believe that you had your reasons for keeping secret the presence of your daughter in Paris. I was mute simply from discretion but the strength of your reproaches forces me to hold to what I have already said, and despite your reluctance to believe what I say, to maintain before everyone that the capital of France is the place where I had seen, for the first time, your daughter Libussa.'
"'But, if I prove to you not only by the testimony of my people and servants but also by that of all my vassals that my daughter has never left her native country nor this castle?'
"'I shall still believe in the witness of my eyes and my ears on which, pardon me, I am obliged to rely more than on any evidence that you may bring forward.'
"Upon this serious declaration the anger of the Count sank a little.
"'What you say is really extraordinary,' he replied in a calmer tone. 'Your serious air persuades me that you have been duped by an illusion and that you have seen another person whom you have taken for my daughter. Excuse me for having taken the thing a little warmly.'
"'Another person! I must then not only have taken another person for your daughter, but also the servant of whom I spoke to you and who gave me so precise a description of this castle is, according to what you say, also another person.'
"'My dear Foscarini, this servant was some rascal who knew the château and who, God knows for what motive, spoke to you like that and described as my daughter a lady who resembled her.'
"'I certainly don't wish to contradict you for the pleasure of doing so,' replied the Duke, 'but how do you explain that your daughter had exactly all the features which, after the meeting at Paris, my imagination has preserved with the most scrupulous fidelity?'
"The Count shook his head and gave an uneasy gesture with his hands, and the young Venetian continued:
"'There is more, but pardon me if I find myself in the necessity of mentioning a detail that, had we not come to this pass, would never have passed my lips. When I was following the lady down the empty gallery the fichu that was covering her neck was a little disarranged and I could see distinctly a little mole in the form and colour of a wild strawberry.'
"At these words the Count's uneasiness greatly increased. A light pallor overspread his face.
"'That's a curious thing,' he muttered, 'that's a strange thing; it seems that you're going to try and make me believe a very odd story.'
"The young Duke insisted with vivacity:
"'I have only one request to make: this little mole, is it found on the neck of Libussa?'
"'No, monsieur,' replied the Count, fixedly regarding Foscarini.
"'No!' echoed the young Duke, with the greatest possible surprise.
"'No, I tell you,' repeated the Count. 'The twin sister of Libussa who singularly resembled her had the sign of which you speak, and has, more than a year ago, taken it with her to the tomb.'
"'But, it is only a few months,' exclaimed the young man in the most poignant accents, 'since I have seen her in Paris.'
"At this moment the Countess and Libussa who had held themselves apart a prey to grave anxiety and knew not what to think of this whispered conversation in the window-place of which the subject appeared so important, approached with a timid and anxious air. But the Count with an imperious gesture caused them to retire, then he led the Duke into the furthest part of the deep window embrasure. They continued their conversation in voices so low that I could hear nothing more.
"I was extremely surprised when that same night the Count gave the order to open, in his presence, the coffin of Hildegard. First he had given me briefly an account of the affair and asked me to assist the Duke and himself at the opening of the coffin. The young Venetian declared his repugnance at being present at this ceremony the sole thought of which, he said, made him shudder with fright and he added that he had never been able to surmount, especially at night-time, his horror of the lugubrious and the dreadful. The Count begged him to speak to no one of the scene in the gallery in Paris, and, above all to spare the extreme sensibility of his fiancée the recital of the secret conversation which they had had together in the window-place even if she begged him to inform her of what had taken place between her father and himself.
"The young Venetian made this promise, but nothing could persuade him to be present at the opening of Hildegard's coffin.
"It was the Count and I, therefore, who alone entered the chapel attached to the château in the middle of that night. The sacristan awaited us with a lantern amid the shadows of the porch. The moon had set, it was a dark night, and vaporous clouds hid the stars.
"As we proceeded through the silent church, where the sacristan's lantern seemed only sufficient to reveal the shadows, I perceived that my friend was much moved.
"'Is it possible,' he muttered, 'that she was not really dead, that some ruffian came to rob the tomb and found in her some signs of life? I am a lunatic to suppose it, and if it had been so, would she not return to her parents instead of escaping to some distant country? Yet he spoke with such a sincerity and air of truth I must see with my own eyes that my Hildegard rests peacefully in her coffin; that alone will convince me.' With these last words his voice rose in a tone so dismal and so strong that the sacristan turned his head. Startled by this movement the Count dropped his voice and clutching my arm added in a feverish whisper: 'Can I think that there will exist the least trace of the features of my daughter and that corruption will have spared her beauty? Let us return, Marquis, our investigation will be futile, nothing but a few bones will meet our gaze and how can I tell that they are not those of a stranger?'
"He was about to give the order not to open the vault where we had then arrived and I admitted that in his position I should have been inclined to a similar resolution but, the first step being taken it was better to go on to the end and to see if the corpse of Hildegard and the rich jewels that had been buried with her were undisturbed. I added that it was quite possible that death had not entirely destroyed her features. The Count pressed my hand convulsively and admitted the reason of my argument, and we followed the sacristan who, selecting a large key from his girdle, opened the iron door of the vault. His pallor and the shaking of his limbs showed that he was not used to this manner of expedition.
"I do not know"—the Marquis glanced round with a dry smile—"if any member of the company has ever found themselves at midnight in a lonely chapel passing into a vault to examine the leaden coffins which hold the mortal remains of an illustrious House. It is certain that in such a moment the noise of the keys in the locks produces an extraordinary impression and one shudders lest the door should swing on its hinges and close one in, and one hesitates a moment before gazing at the contents of the coffin when the lid is finally lifted.
"On this occasion I saw that the Count was more affected than myself with these superstitious terrors. A stifled sigh broke from him and the sweat pearled on his forehead as he did violence to his feelings but I observed that he dare not glance on any other coffin than that of his daughter. This he opened himself.
"'Did I not say that she would be untouched!' I cried, in peeping over his shoulder and seeing that the features of the corpse had still a perfect resemblance to those of Libussa.
"The dead girl lay, indeed, as if she were asleep, her fair tresses carefully raised on a white satin pillow, the jewels, lovingly disposed by the tender hands of her mother, sparkling on her arms and bosom and among the folds of her pale gown, where they were mingled with sprigs of bay, rosemary and other aromatic herbs.
"The Count stared at his daughter transfixed with astonishment and I was obliged to hold him back for he wished to imprint a kiss on the forehead of this lovely corpse.
"'Do not trouble the peace of one who reposes so sweetly,' I said, and I used every effort to withdraw the Count as soon as possible from this sad dwelling of the dead.
"Upon our return to the Castle we found everyone in a state of restless excitement. The two ladies had tormented the Duke to tell them what had passed and declared that they did not admit as a reasonable excuse his promise of silence. The young man was vexed and uneasy and glad to escape, upon our return, to his own chamber.
"The Countess and Libussa then pleaded with us to tell them the secret which had so suddenly distracted the peaceful household, but all their appeals were in vain. They succeeded better on the next day with the sacristan whom they went to see secretly and he told them all he knew. But this small amount of knowledge only excited in a more lively fashion their desire to learn the conversation which had occasioned this nocturnal visit to the vaults.
"As to myself, I spent the rest of the night turning over in mind possible explanations for the figure which Foscarini had seen in Paris. The conclusion I came to I knew I could never relate to the Count for he was one who absolutely refused to admit the relations of another world with our own.
"Under these circumstances I was glad to see that as the days passed the singular circumstances were, if not entirely forgotten, only referred to rarely and very lightly. The ladies were satisfied, or affected to be so, that there had been a mistake on the young Venetian's part and that he had taken another lady for Libussa. The Count was also prepared to pass over in silence an extraordinary circumstance that he could not explain.
"There was, besides, another matter which continued to give me a good deal of anxiety. This was the persistent refusal of the Duke to explain privately with me the betrothal that he had contracted previously in Venice. I no longer believed that the beautiful Apollonia had been in fault; I spoke of her beauty, her good qualities and the sumptuous feast which had celebrated her betrothal to Foscarini and I observed that when I spoke so he showed a lively embarrassment. This and other details forced me to conclude that the fidelity of the young Venetian for Apollonia had been broken in the picture gallery at the view of the beautiful unknown, and that Apollonia had been abandoned because of the sudden and almost lunatic infatuation which her betrothed had felt for the stranger, and this when she had believed him to be incapable of breaking an alliance solemnly concluded.
"I thought from this that the charming Libussa was not likely to find much happiness in her union with Foscarini, seeing he was a man who had abandoned on a mere caprice a woman to whom he had been solemnly betrothed, and, as the day of the marriage approached, I resolved to unmask the perfidious lover and to make him repent his infidelity.
"One day I had an excellent chance of arriving at my end. Supper finished, we were all at table; from casual conversation we grew on to the subject of whether iniquity generally finds its punishment in this world. I observed quietly that I had seen some striking examples of this truth. Libussa and her mother then pressed me to give one.
"'In this case, ladies,' I replied, 'permit me to tell you a story which according to my opinion will directly interest you.'
"'Interest us?' they replied, and I threw at the same time a glance on the Duke, who for several days, had shown me a good deal of quiet defiance and mistrust and I saw that his uneasy conscience made him pale.
"'I at least think so,' I replied. 'But, my dear Count, will you excuse me if the supernatural mixes sometimes in my narration?'
"'Very willingly,' replied he, laughing. 'All I would express is my astonishment that so many of these things have happened to you and that I can get no proof of anything of the kind.'
"I perceived that the Duke was making signs that he approved this opinion but I gave him no attention and replied to the Count: 'Everyone has not perhaps the eyes to see.'
"'That may be,' replied he, still smiling.
"I leant towards him and whispered in his ear in an expressive tone: 'But this corpse intact in the coffin, is that then an ordinary phenomenon?'
"He was astonished and angry and I continued in a low voice: 'It would perhaps be very easy to explain in a natural manner, but it would be useless to give such an explanation to you.'
"This whispering irritated the Countess: 'We are getting away from our story,' she said, with a sudden petulance, and made a sign to me to commence.
"Glancing round the company I thus began: 'The scene of my anecdote is at Venice.'
"'I ought to know something about it, then,' replied the Duke, with an angry and suspicious look.
"'Perhaps,' I replied, 'but there were plenty of people who had good reasons to keep all these events secret and it happened about eighteen months ago at the period when you commenced your travels. The family of a very rich nobleman whom I shall call Filippo had reason to go to Livorno for business affairs where he gained the heart of an amiable and pretty girl named Clara. When about to return to Venice he promised this young girl and her relations to return immediately to marry her and his departure was preceded by ceremonies which concluded by becoming fantastic.
"'After the two lovers had exhausted all the protestations possible to a mutual affection, Filippo invoked the help of the demon of vengeance in the case of infidelity and to this dreadful goddess he sent his petition that either of the lovers who was unfaithful should not rest, even in the tomb, and, if the wronged one died first he or she should have the power to rise from the dead and pursue the perjured one until he or she was forced in this ghastly manner to remember the vows that had been forgotten.
"'The elder people seated at the table when these vows were exchanged, remembering their own youth, gave no hindrance to these romantic ideas that rose from the exultation of excited passion.
"'The lovers concluded by pricking their wrists, allowing their blood to drop in their glasses which were filled with white champagne.
"' "Our souls shall be as inseparable as our blood!" cried Filippo who drank of the glass and gave the rest to Clara!'
"At this moment the young Duke showed an obvious agitation and from time to time he cast on me menacing glances and I was forced to conclude that in his adventure there had passed some such scene. I can, however, affirm that I recount the exact details of the ceremony which took place at the departure of Filippo from Livorno—such as may be found written in a letter by the mother of Clara. 'Who would,' I continued, 'after so many evidences of such a violent passion, expect a catastrophe?'
"'From the moment of the return of Filippo to Venice a young beauty who had been hidden until then in a distant convent where she was being educated, appeared among patrician society, where she was hailed as a miracle of loveliness and excited the admiration of the city.
"'The parents of Filippo had heard a good deal of Clara and of the projected alliance between her and their son. But they were not altogether pleased at this projected marriage. They wished their son to unite himself to one of their own nation and rank and they presented him to the relations of Camilla, which was the name of the young beauty who had newly appeared from the convent. Her family was among the most distinguished in Venice, her dowry was considerable, and while these advantages attracted the parents, Filippo himself was not insensible to the exquisite grace and beauty of the young lady and to the distinction she accorded him. He was flattered at being so soon the favourite pretender of one after whom every young patrician in Venice sighed.
"'It was the period of the carnival and these days of license and gaiety completed the intrigue. Filippo went everywhere with Camilla and the memory of Livorno soon preserved but a small place in his heart. His letters to Clara became colder and colder; he disliked the reproaches she sent in return to their brief epistles and ceased at length to write at all to his absent betrothed and did all that he could to hasten his union with Camilla, incomparably more beautiful and more rich.
"'The agonies of Clara, manifest by the shaking writing of her letters and by the imprints of tears on her paper had no more power than the prayers of this unfortunate girl on the heart of the volatile Filippo and even when she, driven to despair, wrote and menaced him, according to their mutual vows and threatened to pursue him even after she was in the tomb where grief would soon end her, and draw him down with her to death. This made no impression upon his mind, entirely occupied with the thought of tasting perfect happiness in the arms of Camilla.
"'The father of this young person, my intimate friend, invited me some time before to the wedding. Numerous business affairs as well as the claims of gaiety kept this gentleman this summer in the town so that he could not enjoy as commodiously as usual the pleasures of the country. However, he often invited his friends to his pleasure villa on the banks of the Brenta and it was there he decided to celebrate with considerable pomp the marriage of his daughter.
"'A peculiar circumstance caused the ceremony to be deferred for some weeks. The parents of Camilla having tasted happiness in their own marriage desired that their daughter should receive the nuptial benediction of the same priest who had given it to them. The latter, however, who, despite his great age, had an appearance of vigorous health, was struck down by a slow fever which did not at first permit him to leave his bed. However, he began to recover slowly, went from better to better, and on the eve of the marriage was at last well. Some secret power however, it seemed, was forbidding this union, for the good priest was seized even the very day of the marriage with so violent a fit of shuddering that it was believed he had fallen into a relapse of his fever and he dare not leave his house, and sent a messenger to the young people desiring them to choose another priest to marry them.
"'The young girl's parents persisted however in their design to have the union of their daughter blessed by the venerable old man whom they so much loved and respected. They had certainly spared themselves plenty of chagrin if they had not departed from this idea. All the preparations had been made for the festival of marriage, and as it was difficult to put off this fete it was decided to hold it and consider it as a ceremony of betrothal.
"From early morning the gondoliers in their handsomest habits waited for the company on the edge of the canal. Soon their joyous songs were heard as they conducted to the country villa, ornamented with flowers, the numerous gondolas which enclosed the choicest society of Venice.
"'During the banquet, which was prolonged until the evening, the betrothed exchanged their rings. At the same instant a piercing cry was heard, and struck with terror all the guests and filled Filippo with fright.
"'They ran to the windows; twilight, however, was beginning to fall, nobody could distinguish the objects in the garden very well and nothing was discovered.'
"'Stop an instant,' said the Duke to me, with a haggard smile; his face, which had frequently changed colour, showed all the torments of his guilty conscience. 'I well know this cry heard in the open air! It is borrowed from the Memoirs of Mile. Clarion. Her dead lovers tormented her in this so original manner. The cry was followed by a clapping of hands; I hope, M. le Marquis, that you will not forget this particularity in your tale.'
"Taking no heed of his ill-humour and his impertinent interruption beyond a keen look, I replied quietly: 'And why cannot you believe that something of this sort happened to that actress? Your incredulity seems to me extraordinary. To support it you bring forward facts which prove you are utterly wrong.'
"The Countess made an impatient sign to me to continue and so I took up my tale.
"'A little after the company heard this inexplicable cry I begged Camilla, in front of whom I was seated, to let me once more see her ring which I had already admired. Not only was the stone beautiful, but the setting was of almost priceless workmanship. This ring was no longer on her finger, it was searched for, but not a trace of it discovered. Everyone rose up in order that the search might be more thorough but it was useless.
"'Meanwhile the moment for the diversions of the evening approached. Fireworks were to be given on the Brenta before the ball, everyone masked and went into his or her gondola. The spectacle was splendid, but there was no gaiety; nothing could be more striking than the silence which reigned during this festival. No one opened his mouth save now and then to say in the coldest and most formal manner: "Bravo!" as the stars of fire rose into the air.
"'The ball was one of the most brilliant that I have ever seen. The jewels with which the highborn ladies were covered reflected the light of the lustres and sent it back with a new brilliancy. Camilla was the person most richly adorned; her father, who loved luxury, had rejoiced in taking care that no one in the assembly should equal his daughter in splendour or in beauty.
"'To better assure himself of the supreme triumph of his daughter he made a tour of the ballroom glancing at the toilettes of the other ladies and what was his surprise to see on another guest exactly the same stones as those that sparkled on the charming person of Camilla! This lady's father was so surprised that he had the weakness to show a slight chagrin as he turned on his heel from in front of the unknown to seek out his daughter. He consoled himself, however, with the thought that a cluster of brilliants intended for Camilla, and with which she was to be adorned at the supper table, would efface all the magnificence of the other lady.
"'As the guests went in to supper Camilla was presented by her father with this bouquet of diamonds which, like drops of flame and water, rainbow and flame, she held negligently in a white hand already fatigued by the magnificence of the evening. What, however, was the surprise of her father when as the company seated themselves at table he glanced round and saw that the lady dressed like his daughter also had a bouquet of diamonds not less precious than that which Camilla carried!
"'His curiosity was so excited that he could not contain it, and rising from the table slipped behind the lady who, like all the others was masked, and whispered: "Is it being too indiscreet, beautiful mask, to ask you to whisper to me your name?" But to his great astonishment the lady shook her head and turned away.
"'The major-domo entered at the same moment and demanded if the company had become more numerous since dinner seeing that the covers no longer sufficed? His master replied "no" with a vexed air and accused his domestics of negligence, but the major-domo persisted that there was one person too many among the company.
"'Another cover was placed on the table and the master of the feast counted the places himself and proved that there was one more than the number of people whom he had invited. As he had recently, because of some unconsidered words, been in trouble with the government, he feared that some spy had slipped into the festival. This vexed him. He was not fearful that on such occasion anything should be said or any incident occur which should get him into disfavour with the senate but he resented the introduction of a government agent into an entertainment for the betrothal of his daughter.
"'To discover who was the uninvited member of the company he begged all present to have the goodness to unmask but in order not to disturb the feast, to put off doing so until the hour of departure. Meanwhile, he apprised his servants secretly to keep a sharp look-out that no one should slip away from the revels.
"'It was truly a magnificent collation. The supper surpassed the dinner in taste and splendour, everyone expressed surprise at the extraordinary luxury displayed and which outshone everything that anyone had been accustomed to see, even in Venice. The exquisite choice and endless variety of the wines was particularly praised.
"'The father of Camilla was, however, not satisfied and complained loudly that some accident had happened to his excellent red champagne which prevented him from offering a single glass to his guests.
"'The company tried to give itself over to gaiety, that gaiety which had not been known during the whole of the day. There was some attempt at laughter and conversation, but not anywhere near where I was seated. Here, curiosity only absorbed everyone. I had placed myself not far from the lady attired in exactly the same costume as the bride and who carried a similar bouquet of diamonds. I remarked that she neither ate nor drank, that she neither addressed to nor responded to a sole word with her neighbours. She seemed to have her eyes constantly fixed on the two fiances.
"'This singularity gradually became noticed throughout the whole room and again troubled the joy which had begun to manifest itself. People whispered one to another numerous conjectures on this mysterious person. The general opinion was that an unhappy passion for Filippo must be the cause of this extraordinary conduct.
"'The persons who rose from the table first were those who sat near the unknown. They hastened to get away from her and to find gayer company. Their places were occupied by others who hoped to find in the silent lady someone whom they knew and obtain from her a more gracious reception. But this was useless.
"'In the same instant when glasses of white champagne were being sent round the company, Filippo took a chair near to the unknown. She then appeared a little more animated, she turned towards Filippo (this she had not done to any of the others) and she presented him her glass as if asking him to drink. Filippo trembled violently while she regarded him fixedly.
"'"The wine is red!" cried he, in showing the glass raising it high before him. "I thought that there was no red champagne here?"
"'"Red!" replied with an astonished air the father of Camilla, who was standing near.
"'"Look at the lady's glass," replied Filippo.
"'"The wine there is as white as that in the other glasses," replied the startled host. He then called as witness all his guests, who declared unanimously that the wine was white.
"'Filippo did not drink, but left his chair; a second glance from the eyeholes of his neighbour's mask had occasioned him a frightful agitation. He took the father of Camilla aside and whispered some words in his ear. The result of this was that the master of the feast turned instantly to the company and addressed them in these words: "Ladies and gentlemen, I beg you, for reasons that you will soon know, to take off your masks for an instant."
"'As this invitation expressed the general wish, so strong was the desire to see the silent lady without her mask, all the visages were uncovered in a flash with the exception of that of the stranger on whom all glances were fixed.
"'There was a moment of silence, then the betrothed's father said: "You alone have kept your mask, may I hope that you will now take it off!"
"'She made no response but sat among them in an obstinate silence. This conduct was the more conspicuous as the father of Camilla recognized in those who had unmasked all the people whom he had invited to the festival and so was convinced without a doubt that the silent lady was uninvited. He did not wish to use any discourtesy in forcing her to unmask as the extraordinary richness of her attire showed her to be a lady of quality and almost rendered it impossible to suppose that she was a government spy. "Perhaps," he thought, "she is a friend of the family who does not live at Venice and who, from her arrival in the town had heard of the feast and had imagined this unexpected arrival as an innocent pleasantry."
"'He questioned all the domestics as to whether they had seen the arrival of this lady or knew anything about her, but all in vain. Nor was there among the crowd of lackeys who had attended their masters and mistresses to the festival one who belonged to the mysterious lady.
"'But what I thought the strangest of all the strange things about her was that when I had first seen her she had not been carrying the bouquet of diamonds, but had been in possession of these as soon as the bride received her gift.
"'The prolonged and baffled whispering that had succeeded to any attempt at conversation was becoming every instant louder when suddenly the masked lady rose from the place she had kept at the empty supper-board, made a sign to Filippo to follow her, and turned towards the door.
"'It was Camilla who took her bridegroom by the hand and implored him not to obey the signal. She had for a long time observed with what attention the mysterious lady had regarded her betrothed. She had also remarked that he had left this stranger in a frightful agitation and it appeared that there was in all this some folly caused by love.
"'The master of the house, deaf to all the representations of his daughter and a prey to the liveliest alarm, followed the unknown, certainly at some distance at first, but hastening his step as soon as he saw her outside the ballroom. In this moment the cry that they had heard before the fall of dusk was repeated, but heard more clearly because of the silence of the night. Terror passed among the assembly.
"'When the father of Camilla recovered from his first shudder of horror he looked about him and could no longer perceive the least trace of the unknown lady. Such of the guests who had been in the garden had not seen her pass; the neighbourhood was filled with a noisy, numerous crowd, the riverbank was busy with gondoliers and nobody had seen the mysterious stranger.
"'All these circumstances caused such a lively disquietude among the company that everyone desired to return home at once, and the master of the house was obliged to let the gondoliers depart much quicker than they had come. So in confusion and dismay broke up this brilliant scene.
"'By the next day the two lovers had regained their calm. Filippo had even adopted the opinion of Camilla, who believed that the unknown was a person whose wits had been unsettled by some love emotion. As to the frightful cry, twice repeated at twilight and midnight, this no doubt, she said, could be put down to one of the guests who had diverted themselves in this cruel manner. And as to the arrival and departure of the lady without anyone seeing her could not this be easily attributed to the inattention of the domestics? Then, as to the disappearance of the ring which had not yet been found, could not this be due to the dishonesty of some servant who had found and concealed the jewel? Anything that could throw a doubt on these explanations was dismissed and there was only one difficulty in continuing the marriage festival. The old priest who was to have given the Benediction had suddenly expired and the friendship which had united him so intimately with the parents of Camilla did not permit them to think of marriage and festivals in the weeks that followed his death.
"'The day when this venerable ecclesiastic was buried brought news that shocked the frivolous heart of Filippo. He learnt by a letter from the mother of Clara of the death of that young girl. Succumbing to the chagrin which had been caused her by the infidelity of the man whom she had never ceased to love, she had died suddenly, but in her last hour she had sworn that she would not repose in the tomb but that she would follow her perjured lover until he had fulfilled the promise he had made.
"'This circumstance produced on Filippo a more lively impression than all the imprecations of the unhappy lover. He recalled that the first cry heard in the midst of the betrothal ceremonies had taken place at the precise instant when Clara had ceased to live. He was then firmly persuaded that the unknown mask had been the ghost of Clara.
"'This thought deprived him at intervals of the use of his reason. He constantly carried this letter on his person and, with a distracted air, several times drew it from his pocket to consider it fixedly. Even the presence of Camilla did not prevent him from doing this.
"'As she supposed that this letter contained the cause of the extraordinary change in Filippo she looked for a chance to read it. She found this one day when Filippo, absorbed in a profound reflection had allowed the letter to fall. When Filippo came out of his distraction he saw by the pallor and shudderings of Camilla that she had read the letter which he took from her nervous hands and implored her to tell him what she would have him do?
"'Camilla replied sadly: "Love me with more fidelity than you did one who is no more," and he promised her this in a transport of passion. But his agitation augmented without cease and roused to an uncontrollable pitch of violence the morning of the day of the marriage.
"'In going, almost before dawn, according to the custom of the country, to the house of Camilla's father there to fetch her to the church, he believed he saw constantly the shadow of Clara walking at his side. Never had anybody seen two people go to receive the nuptial benedictions with so mournful an air.
"I accompanied the parents of Camilla who had prayed me to be a witness. Often afterwards did we recall this lugubrious morning. We went silently to the church of Santa Maria de la Salute. During our walk Filippo repeatedly asked me in a wild manner to bid the strange woman not to follow Camilla so closely because he supposed she had some vile design against her.
"'"What strange woman?" I demanded of him.
"'"In the name of God do not speak so loud!" replied he. "You must see how she tried to place herself by force between Camilla and myself."
"'"Chimeras, my friend, there is no one between you and Camilla."
"'"Please to Heaven that my eyes deceive me. May she not," he added, muttering, "try to get into the church? Surely we shall leave her at the door!"
"'"She shall not enter," I replied, and to the great surprise of the parents of Camilla, I made gestures as if I was bidding someone to cease a pursuit and leave us.
"'When we arrived at the church we found the father of Filippo. As soon as the bridegroom perceived him he took leave of him as if he were about to die. Camilla sobbed; Filippo, turning about, cried: "There is the strange woman! See! She has contrived to enter!"
"'The parents of Camilla did not know if, under these circumstances, it was right to allow the religious ceremony to commence. But Camilla, absorbed in her love, cried: "These chimerical ideas are precisely the reason that renders it necessary for me to be with him to care for him!"
"'They approached the altar; in the same minute a gust of wind blew out the candles. The priest appeared vexed that the windows had not been more firmly closed. Filippo cried: "The windows! But did you not see that there was someone here who blew out the candles?" Everyone regarded him with astonishment and Filippo cried, hastily withdrawing his hand from that of Camilla: "Do you not see that I am being taken from the side of my bride?"
"'Camilla fell unconscious between the arms of her parents and the priest declared that, under these strange circumstances it was impossible to proceed with the marriage.
"'The relations of the groom and bride attributed the state of Filippo to a mental disturbance. They even supposed that he was a victim of poison, when, breaking from all attempts to restrain him, he cast himself on the steps of the altar where he almost immediately expired in the midst of most violent convulsions. The surgeons who opened his body could discover nothing, however, to justify such a suspicion.
"'Everything possible was done to hush up this adventure. Talk of mental aberration and of poison could not, however, explain the appearance of the mysterious mask at the betrothal ceremonies. Another striking detail was that the wedding ring lost in the country house was found among the other jewels of Camilla as soon as they returned from the church.'
"'There is what I call a marvellous story,' smiled the Count. His wife gave a profound sigh and Libussa cried: 'You really did make me shudder!'
"'So must every affianced person who listens to such stories,' replied I, sternly regarding the Duke who, while I had spoken had often risen and re-seated himself and who, by his unsteady and flashing regard had witnessed his displeasure at what I said.
"'A word,' he whispered in my ear that evening when we passed up the great stairs on our way to our chambers. 'I have seen through your schemes, that invented story———'
"'Stop!' I replied in a severe tone. 'Believe me, I know what I am about and how can you dare to accuse of falsehood a man of honour?'
"'We will talk of that presently,' replied he with a mocking air. 'But tell me, where did you get the anecdote of the blood mixed with the wine? I know the person from whose life you gleaned that detail!'
"'I can assure you that I have only taken it from the life of Filippo. For the rest, it may be common enough incident—like the sudden cry. This singular manner of uniting two people for ever must often have presented itself to the imagination of ardent lovers.'
"'Very well, that may be so,' replied the young Duke, 'there was, however, in your story, several other details which resembled much those of another adventure.'
"'No doubt. All love affairs have a family resemblance.'
"The young patrician replied passionately:
"'No matter for that. All I ask of you is not to make any allusion to any person as to my past life. Take care how you recount any more anecdotes to our host. Only on the condition of your future discretion can I pardon you your very ingenious fiction.'
"'Conditions! Pardon! And who are you to speak to me like that? This is a little too much! Here is my reply. To-morrow morning the Count shall learn that you have been already betrothed and the demands and threats that you have made to me on that subject.'
"'Marquis, if you dare to do so——'
"'Ah! ah! Yes, if I dare! I certainly do dare! I owe this candour to an old friend. The impostor who ventures to accuse me of falsehood shall no longer wear in this house his deceptive mask!'
"Anger had, in fact, led me, despite myself, so far that a duel became inevitable. The Duke defied me. We arranged, before separating, to meet the next morning in the neighbouring wood with pistols, and there, before daybreak, we went, each accompanied by a servant, into the depths of the forest.
"The young Venetian having remarked that I had said nothing as to the disposition of my body if I were killed, told me that he would charge himself with this duty, and made arrangements with my servant for the disposal of my corpse as if the duel were already decided.
"When we had chosen our spot and our domestics were priming our pistols he said to me that he was willing to overlook my offence and clasp my hand in friendship if I were to apologize.
"'Remember,' said he, 'that a duel between us will not be very equal. I am young,' he added, 'already in several affairs I have proved that my hand is sure. It is true that I have not killed every one, but always I have struck my adversary at the point where I have decided to do so. Here it will be, and for the first time for me, a fight to the death. It is the sole means to prevent you from betraying me, but if here you will give me your word of honour not to speak to the Count on anything which concerns my past life, I consent to regard the affair as terminated.'
"I had naturally to reject his proposal, and did so.
"'In this case, recommend your soul to God,' replied the young Duke. 'We must prepare ourselves. It is for you to fire first,' he added.
"'I will give you the first shot,' I responded.
"He refused. Then I fired and knocked the pistol out of his hand. He was very surprised, but his astonishment was even greater when, having taken another weapon, he missed his shot at me.
"He pretended that he had directed this at my heart but his shot went wide and he made the excuse that the least tremble of fright on my part had been the cause of my escape.
"On his invitation we made a second attempt. I again, to his great astonishment, shot his pistol from his hand. This time the bullet went so near his fingers that he was slightly wounded.
"His second shot passed near me but missed altogether.
"I said that I would not fire again but, as one might attribute to the violent agitation of his blood the fact that he had missed me twice, I told him that he might shoot as me again.
"Before he had time to refuse this offer the Count, with his daughter on his arm, hurried through the forest and put himself between us.
"He complained bitterly of this conduct on the part of his guests and demanded of me an explanation as to the cause of our quarrel. Then I explained the whole affair to him in the presence of Foscarini. The embarrassed behaviour of the young Venetian convinced the Count and Libussa of the reality of the reproaches that his conscience made him.
"It was not long, however, before the Duke was able to profit so well from the love that Libussa had for him that a complete change took place in the point of view of the Count. Won over by his daughter's entreaties and by the obvious advantages that the match presented, he said to me that same evening:
"'You are right! I ought to behave rigorously and send the Duke out of my house. But what would this Apollonia gain? He has abandoned her, and in any case, would not see her again. More important for me is this—he is the sole man for whom my daughter has shown the least inclination. Leave these two young people to follow their wishes. The Countess is also of my way of thinking and she admits that she will be very sad if our house loses the handsome Venetian. There are,' he added, sadly, 'many infidelities in the world which circumstances must excuse.'
"'But it seems to me there are no circumstances in this present occurrence'—I began. I however, stopped my arguments when I saw that the Count held firmly to his opinion.
"The marriage took place without further delay or hindrance. There was, however, little gaiety at the feast, though outwardly it was splendid and costly. The ball in the evening was absolutely sad. Foscarini alone danced with an extraordinary vigour and fire.
"'Happily, M. le Marquis,' said he in leaving the dance for a moment and in laughing close to my ear, 'there is not here a ghost as there was in your wedding at Venice.'
"'Ah,' said I, raising my finger, 'do not rejoice too soon. Nemesis walks slowly, and very often one does not perceive her until she is on one's heels.' To my surprise, he received this warning in complete silence, then turning away brusquely, once more joined in the dance with a frantic abandon and bravura.
"The Countess in vain begged him not to so exhaust himself; it was only when he was completely out of breath that Libussa was able to withdraw him from the ballroom on to the terrace. A few moments afterwards I saw her return into the chamber; she was in tears and they did not seem to me to be occasioned by joy. I could not speak to her for she hurried out of the ballroom.
"As I stood near to the door by which she had left in the hopes of seeing her again, I saw her immediately after her departure re-enter the ballroom, and this time with a serene face. I followed her and noted that she at once asked the Duke to dance with her and that far from trying to moderate his frenzied gaiety she shared it and even increased it by her example.
"I remarked that, this dance finished, the Duke took leave of the parents of Libussa and hastened, with her through a little door which led to the nuptial chamber.
"While I was puzzling myself as to some explanation for this change in the behaviour of Libussa who had endeavoured first to restrain the immoderate gaiety of the Duke, had left the room in tears because she had not been able to do so, and a few seconds afterwards had returned and not only shared but encouraged his wild behaviour, I noted that the Count and his body-servants were having a whispered conversation near the door, and beyond them in the outer chamber I saw the figure of the head gardener at whom they continually glanced.
"I approached the group and gathered from the agitated questions and answers that flew between the master and the two servants that the organ of the church was playing and that all the edifice was illuminated. This had been perceived just as midnight struck.
"The Count was very vexed at being told what he considered a stupid fable and demanded why he had not been advised of this before? The reply was that the servants had been watching the church to see how the affair would terminate. The gardener added that when the lights had gone out and the organ music had ceased the figure of the old chaplain had been seen leaving the church door and disappearing into the night. He also added that the country-folk who lived near the forest had come into the grounds of the château during the day to say that the summit of the mountain which dominated the valley was illuminated and that spirits were dancing there.
"'You hear?' the Count glanced at me with a smile of sombre contempt. 'Here are all the ridiculous old stories of the neighbourhood brought up because everyone is excited by the festival. We shall hear next of the "Dead Bride"—I hope she will not fail to come and play her part.'
"The body-servant then endeavoured to draw the gardener away as he feared the tales of this fellow would dangerously inflame the anger of the Count.
"'One can at least listen,' I said to my host, 'to this that your people think that they have seen.' I turned to the gardener who stood uneasily in the shadow: 'What of this "Dead Bride"—do you wish to say something about that? Have you indeed seen such a shape?'
"The fellow raised his shoulders without speaking.
"'Wasn't I right?' cried the Count in irritation. 'You see, he is going to pretend that he has seen her! The minds of these people are so full of these ideas that it does not take much for them to think that they see what they believe. Did you see her?' he demanded hoarsely of the gardener, and the man sullenly nodded his head. 'And under what form?' demanded the Count.
"'I beg a thousand pardons,' stammered the servant, at last urged to speak by a greater fear than that of his master's wrath, 'but I did see a shape and it resembled the late Mlle. Hildegard. She passed in the garden quite near to me and entered into the château....'
"'Ah!' interrupted the Count. 'In the future be a little more prudent in your chimerical ideas and leave my daughter in peace in her tomb. That is enough.' He made a brusque sign to his people in the ante-chamber and turning to me, asked with a wildness in his manner that belied the irony of his words: 'What do you think of that—this apparition of Hildegard?'
"'I hope she will only appear to the gardener. Remember the adventure in the museum in Paris!'
"'You are right. It is, like that, merely an invention which I am not able for the moment to understand. Do not think I am convinced of any supernatural appearance,' he added sternly; 'believe me, I would sooner have refused my daughter to the Duke because of that gross lie than because he abandoned his first lover.'
"'I see,' I replied dryly, 'that we are not likely to agree on this point, for as my credulity appears strange to you, your doubts appear to me incomprehensible.'
"The guests who had gathered together at the château retired one by one and I remained alone with the Count and his wife when Libussa, vested still in her ball-dress, showed herself at the door of the room and looked round in astonishment at seeing it empty.
"'What does this signify?' demanded the Countess, but her husband was too startled to say anything.
"'Where is Donato?' cried Libussa.
"'You demand that of me?' replied her mother. 'Did I not see you leave with him by that door?'
"'No, no! You are mistaken!'
"'Mistaken! Impossible, my dear child! It's only a few moments ago. You danced with him with a singular gaiety and then you left together by the little door.'
"'I, my mother?'
"'Yes, my dear Libussa. How can you have forgotten it?'
"'I have forgotten nothing, I assure you.'
"'Where then have you been all this while?'
"'In my sister's chamber,' said Libussa.
"I remarked that at these words the Count paled a little and his fearful regard searched mine, but he remained silent. The Countess thought that her daughter deceived her and said in afflicted tone: 'How can you have such a singular idea, especially on a day like this?'
"'I couldn't tell you the reason. I know only that I felt suddenly a great sadness in my heart and I felt at the same time the firm hope of finding her in her chamber, perhaps occupied in playing the guitar like she used to do. Therefore I went up there quite quietly in the darkness, glided into the room and listened.'
"'What did you find?'
"'Alas! Nothing! But the lively desire that I had to see my sister joined to the scene of the dance so exhausted me that as soon as I seated myself on a chair I fell deeply asleep.'
"'How long is it since you quitted the ballroom?'
"'The clock on the tower had struck eleven and three-quarters when I entered in my sister's room.'
"'How can she speak like that?' whispered the Countess to her husband. 'She talks like that—but I know that the clock struck eleven hours and three-quarters when I was begging, in this very place, Libussa to dance a little more moderately.'
"The Count did not reply to this: 'And your husband?' he said, turning to his daughter.
"'I thought, as I have already told you, that I should find him here.'
"'Good God,' said her mother, 'she is wandering in her mind. But he, where is he, then?'
"'Where should he be, my good mother?' said Libussa with a quiet air.
"The Count then took a torch and made me a sign to follow him. A hideous spectacle awaited us in the bridal chamber where he conducted me. We found the Duke extended on the ground; there was not the least sign of life in him and his features were disfigured in a frightful manner.
"Judge the bitter grief of Libussa when they were forced to tell her this news, and all the efforts of those summoned to the assistance of the Duke to recall him to life were without success.
"The Count and his family fell into a consternation against which all attempts to console them were useless. I was forced to leave them to their sorrow and take my departure from the château. Before I left the neighbourhood I was careful to glean what explanations I could from the villagers upon this strange story. I could only learn of a wild anecdote. This 'Dead Bride' had lived in the valley in the fourteenth or fifteenth century. She was a noble lady who had conducted herself towards her lover with such ingratitude and perfidy that he died of chagrin. In the conclusion, when she was about to be married to someone else he appeared on her wedding night and she died. The legend was that the spirit of this unhappy creature wandered on the earth as a penance and took all manner of forms, particularly those of charming creatures, to render lovers unfaithful. As it was not permitted to her to re-clothe herself in the appearance of a living person she appeared under the disguise of girls lately deceased and if possible under the shape of one who resembled her the most.
"It was for this reason that her formless ghost haunted the château where she had once lived, and, if occasion offered, took on the likeness of a dead young girl of the house to which she had once belonged. She was also said to haunt galleries and museums in search of dead beauties whose charms she could assume for the undoing of some living, faithful lover. These dismal pilgrimages were to be repeated in punishment for her perfidy until she found the man so faithful that she was not able to induce him to forget his living betrothed. This had not yet occurred.
"I asked what connection this tale could have with the apparition of the old chaplain of which I had heard speak while I had been in the château and I was told that the fate of this last depended on that of the lady because he had helped her in her criminal love affairs. But no one could give me any satisfaction as to the voice which had called the Duke by his name as he drove under the mountain, nor what signified the illuminated chapel, which had been suddenly lit up a little before midnight while the sound of High Mass was heard and the organ pealing. No one knew either how to explain the dance on the mountain which dominated the valley.
"However," added the Marquis, "you must admit that these traditions adapted themselves marvellously to what I had witnessed with my own eyes in the château, and could, to a certain point, explain all the mysteries of the story of Libussa and the handsome Venetian, but I am not in a position to give a more satisfactory and exact solution. I reserve for another time a second history of this same 'Dead Bride.' I learnt it several weeks later and it seemed to me interesting. This evening, however, it is too late, and I fear to have already, with my long recital, taken up a little too much the leisure of the company."
As he finished these words some of his audience, though thanking him for the pains he had taken to amuse them, showed signs of a lively disbelief in his tale. He was about to reply to their objections when an acquaintance of his entered with a serious air and said several words in his ear. The company noted the curious contrast offered by the alarmed and hurried air of the new-comer as he whispered to the Marquis and the calm of the latter in listening to him.
"Make haste! Make haste!" said this acquaintance, impatient at seeing the coolness of the Marquis. "In a few minutes you will repent of this delay!"
"I am much obliged to you for your affection and solicitude," replied the Marquis. But he took up his hat and cane as leisurely as if he had been taking leave in the ordinary way and was preparing to salute ceremoniously the company when the man who had come to warn him cried: "You are lost!"
An officer at the head of a file of men entered and demanded the Marquis, who at once stepped forward.
"You are my prisoner," said the officer, and the Marquis followed him, after having said farewell with a laughing air to the company and having begged the ladies not to have any uneasiness on his account.
"No uneasiness!" said the man who had come to warn him. "Know, then, ladies and gentlemen, that the Marquis has been discovered to have connections with highly suspected persons. The death sentence is likely to be soon pronounced on him. On hearing this news I came, as you saw, to warn him. If he had listened to me at once he would perhaps have had time to escape. Well, after the way he behaved, I no longer feel sorry for him. I scarcely can think he is in his right mind."
The company, who had been singularly troubled by this sudden event, were exchanging all sorts of conjectures when the officer re-entered and once more demanded the Marquis.
"But he left with you just now!" cried someone.
"No, he must have returned, we have seen no one. He has disappeared," said the officer, smiling, and he forced them to search every place in the room. But this was useless. The whole house was turned upside down in vain, and on the morrow the officer left Bad Nauheim without his prisoner, and much chagrined.
This site is full of FREE ebooks - Project Gutenberg Australia