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Clarimonde






THEOPHILE GAUTIER


Brother, you ask me if I have ever loved. Yes. My story is a strange and
terrible one; and though I am sixty-six years of age, I scarcely dare
even now to disturb the ashes of that memory.

From my earliest childhood I had felt a vocation to the priesthood, so
that all my studies were directed with that idea in view. Up to the age
of twenty-four my life had been only a prolonged novitiate. Having
completed my course of theology I successively received all the minor
orders, and my superiors judged me worthy, despite my youth, to pass the
last awful degree. My ordination was fixed for Easter week.

I had never gone into the world. My world was confined by the walls of
the college and the seminary. I knew in a vague sort of a way that there
was something called Woman, but I never permitted my thoughts to dwell
on such a subject, and I lived in a state of perfect innocence. Twice a
year only I saw my infirm and aged mother, and in those visits were
comprised my sole relations with the outer world.

I regretted nothing; I felt not the least hesitation at taking the last
irrevocable step; I was filled with joy and impatience. Never did a
betrothed lover count the slow hours with more feverish ardour; I slept
only to dream that I was saying mass; I believed there could be nothing
in the world more delightful than to be a priest; I would have refused
to be a king or a poet in preference. My ambition could conceive of no
loftier aim.

At last the great day came. I walked to the church with a step so light
that I fancied myself sustained in air, or that I had wings upon my
shoulders. I believed myself an angel, and wondered at the sombre and
thoughtful faces of my companions, for there were several of us. I had
passed all the night in prayer, and was in a condition wellnigh
bordering on ecstasy. The bishop, a venerable old man, seemed to me God
the Father leaning over his Eternity, and I beheld Heaven through the
vault of the temple.

You well know the details of that ceremony--the benediction, the
communion under both forms, the anointing of the palms of the hands with
the Oil of Catechumens, and then the holy sacrifice offered in concert
with the bishop.

Ah, truly spake Job when he declared that the imprudent man is one who
hath not made a covenant with his eyes! I accidentally lifted my head,
which until then I had kept down, and beheld before me, so close that it
seemed that I could have touched her--although she was actually a
considerable distance from me and on the further side of the sanctuary
railing--a young woman of extraordinary beauty, and attired with royal
magnificence. It seemed as though scales had suddenly fallen from my
eyes. I felt like a blind man who unexpectedly recovers his sight. The
bishop, so radiantly glorious but an instant before, suddenly vanished
away, the tapers paled upon their golden candlesticks like stars in the
dawn, and a vast darkness seemed to fill the whole church. The charming
creature appeared in brief relief against the background of that
darkness, like some angelic revelation. She seemed herself radiant, and
radiating light rather than receiving it.

I lowered my eyelids, firmly resolved not to again open them, that I
might not be influenced by external objects, for distraction had
gradually taken possession of me until I hardly knew what I was doing.

In another minute, nevertheless, I reopened my eyes, for through my
eyelashes I still beheld her, all sparkling with prismatic colours, and
surrounded with such a purple penumbra as one beholds in gazing at the
sun.

Oh, how beautiful she was! The greatest painters, who followed ideal
beauty into heaven itself, and thence brought back to earth the true
portrait of the Madonna, never in their delineations even approached
that wildly beautiful reality which I saw before me. Neither the verses
of the poet nor the palette of the artist could convey any conception of
her. She was rather tall, with a form and bearing of a goddess. Her
hair, of a soft blonde hue, was parted in the midst and flowed back over
her temples in two rivers of rippling gold; she seemed a diademed
queen. Her forehead, bluish-white in its transparency, extended its calm
breadth above the arches of her eyebrows, which by a strange singularity
were almost black, and admirably relieved the effect of sea-green eyes
of unsustainable vivacity and brilliancy. What eyes! With a single flash
they could have decided a man's destiny. They had a life, a limpidity,
an ardour, a humid light which I have never seen in human eyes; they
shot forth rays like arrows, which I could distinctly see enter my
heart. I know not if the fire which illumined them came from heaven or
from hell, but assuredly it came from one or the other. That woman was
either an angel or a demon, perhaps both. Assuredly she never sprang
from the flank of Eve, our common mother. Teeth of the most lustrous
pearl gleamed in her ruddy smile, and at every inflection of her lips
little dimples appeared in the satiny rose of her adorable cheeks. There
was a delicacy and pride in the regal outline of her nostrils bespeaking
noble blood. Agate gleams played over the smooth lustrous skin of her
half-bare shoulders, and strings of great blonde pearls--almost equal to
her neck in beauty of colour--descended upon her bosom. From time to
time she elevated her head with the undulating grace of a startled
serpent or peacock, thereby imparting a quivering motion to the high
lace ruff which surrounded it like a silver trellis-work.

She wore a robe of orange-red velvet, and from her wide ermine-lined
sleeves there peeped forth patrician hands of infinite delicacy, and so
ideally transparent that, like the fingers of Aurora, they permitted
the light to shine through them.

All these details I can recollect at this moment as plainly as though
they were of yesterday, for notwithstanding I was greatly troubled at
the time, nothing escaped me; the faintest touch of shading, the little
dark speck at the point of the chin, the imperceptible down at the
corners of the lips, the velvety floss upon the brow, the quivering
shadows of the eyelashes upon the cheeks, I could notice everything with
astonishing lucidity of perception.

And gazing I felt opening within me gates that had until then remained
closed; vents long obstructed became all clear, permitting glimpses of
unfamiliar perspectives within; life suddenly made itself visible to me
under a totally novel aspect. I felt as though I had just been born into
a new world and a new order of things. A frightful anguish commenced to
torture my heart as with red-hot pincers. Every successive minute seemed
to me at once but a second and yet a century. Meanwhile the ceremony was
proceeding, and with an effort of will sufficient to have uprooted a
mountain, I strove to cry out that I would not be a priest, but I could
not speak; my tongue seemed nailed to my palate, and I found it
impossible to express my will by the least syllable of negation. Though
fully awake, I felt like one under the influence of a nightmare, who
vainly strives to shriek out the one word upon which life depends.

She seemed conscious of the martyrdom I was undergoing, and, as though
to encourage me, she gave me a look replete with divinest promise. Her
eyes were a poem; their every glance was a song.

She said to me:

"If thou wilt be mine, I shall make thee happier than God Himself in His
paradise. The angels themselves will be jealous of thee. Tear off that
funeral shroud in which thou art about to wrap thyself. I am Beauty, I
am Youth, I am Life. Come to me! Together we shall be Love. Can Jehovah
offer thee aught in exchange? Our lives will flow on like a dream, in
one eternal kiss.

"Fling forth the wine of that chalice, and thou art free. I will conduct
thee to the Unknown Isles. Thou shalt sleep in my bosom upon a bed of
massy gold under a silver pavilion, for I love thee and would take thee
away from thy God, before whom so many noble hearts pour forth floods of
love which never reach even the steps of His throne!"

These words seemed to float to my ears in a rhythm of infinite
sweetness, for her look was actually sonorous, and the utterances of her
eyes were re-echoed in the depths of my heart as though living lips had
breathed them into my life. I felt myself willing to renounce God, and
yet my tongue mechanically fulfilled all the formalities of the
ceremony. The fair one gave me another look, so beseeching, so
despairing that keen blades seemed to pierce my heart, and I felt my
bosom transfixed by more swords than those of Our Lady of Sorrows.

All was consummated; I had become a priest.

Never was deeper anguish painted on human face than upon hers. The
maiden who beholds her affianced lover suddenly fall dead at her side,
the mother bending over the empty cradle of her child, Eve seated at the
threshold of the gate of Paradise, the miser who finds a stone
substituted for his stolen treasure, the poet who accidentally permits
the only manuscript of his finest work to fall into the fire, could not
wear a look so despairing, so inconsolable. All the blood had abandoned
her charming face, leaving it whiter than marble; her beautiful arms
hung lifelessly on either side of her body as though their muscles had
suddenly relaxed, and she sought the support of a pillar, for her
yielding limbs almost betrayed her. As for myself, I staggered toward
the door of the church, livid as death, my forehead bathed with a sweat
bloodier than that of Calvary; I felt as though I were being strangled;
the vault seemed to have flattened down upon my shoulders, and it seemed
to me that my head alone sustained the whole weight of the dome.

As I was about to cross the threshold a hand suddenly caught mine--a
woman's hand! I had never till then touched the hand of any woman. It
was cold as a serpent's skin, and yet its impress remained upon my
wrist, burnt there as though branded by a glowing iron. It was she.
"Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?" she exclaimed in a low
voice, and immediately disappeared in the crowd.

The aged bishop passed by. He cast a severe and scrutinizing look upon
me. My face presented the wildest aspect imaginable; I blushed and
turned pale alternately; dazzling lights flashed before my eyes. A
companion took pity on me. He seized my arm and led me out. I could not
possibly have found my way back to the seminary unassisted. At the
corner of a street, while the young priest's attention was momentarily
turned in another direction, a negro page, fantastically garbed,
approached me, and without pausing on his way slipped into my hand a
little pocket-book with gold-embroidered corners, at the same time
giving me a sign to hide it. I concealed it in my sleeve, and there kept
it until I found myself alone in my cell. Then I opened the clasp. There
were only two leaves within, bearing the words, "Clarimonde. At the
Concini Palace." So little acquainted was I at that time with the things
of this world that I had never heard of Clarimonde, celebrated as she
was, and I had no idea as to where the Concini Palace was situated. I
hazarded a thousand conjectures, each more extravagant than the last;
but, in truth, I cared little whether she were a great lady or a
courtesan, so that I could but see her once more.

My love, although the growth of a single hour, had taken imperishable
root. I gave myself up to a thousand extravagancies. I kissed the place
upon my hand which she had touched, and I repeated her name over and
over again for hours in succession. I only needed to close my eyes in
order to see her distinctly as though she were actually present; and I
reiterated to myself the words she had uttered in my ear at the church
porch: "Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?" I comprehended
at last the full horror of my situation, and the funereal and awful
restraints of the state into which I had just entered became clearly
revealed to me. To be a priest!--that is, to be chaste, to never love,
to observe no distinction of sex or age, to turn from the sight of all
beauty, to put out one's own eyes, to hide forever crouching in the
chill shadows of some church or cloister, to visit none but the dying,
to watch by unknown corpses, and ever bear about with one the black
soutane as a garb of mourning for one's self, so that your very dress
might serve as a pall for your coffin.

What could I do in order to see Clarimonde once more? I had no pretext
to offer for desiring to leave the seminary, not knowing any person in
the city. I would not even be able to remain there but a short time, and
was only waiting my assignment to the curacy which I must thereafter
occupy. I tried to remove the bars of the window; but it was at a
fearful height from the ground, and I found that as I had no ladder it
would be useless to think of escaping thus. And, furthermore, I could
descend thence only by night in any event, and afterward how should I be
able to find my way through the inextricable labyrinth of streets? All
these difficulties, which to many would have appeared altogether
insignificant, were gigantic to me, a poor seminarist who had fallen in
love only the day before for the first time, without experience,
without money, without attire.

"Ah!" cried I to myself in my blindness, "were I not a priest I could
have seen her every day; I might have been her lover, her spouse.
Instead of being wrapped in this dismal shroud of mine I would have had
garments of silk and velvet, golden chains, a sword, and fair plumes
like other handsome young cavaliers. My hair, instead of being
dishonoured by the tonsure, would flow down upon my neck in waving
curls; I would have a fine waxed moustache; I would be a gallant." But
one hour passed before an altar, a few hastily articulated words, had
forever cut me off from the number of the living, and I had myself
sealed down the stone of my own tomb; I had with my own hand bolted the
gate of my prison!

I went to the window. The sky was beautifully blue; the trees had donned
their spring robes; nature seemed to be making parade of an ironical
joy. The Place was filled with people, some going, others coming;
young beaux and young beauties were sauntering in couples toward the
groves and gardens; merry youths passed by, cheerily trolling refrains
of drinking songs--it was all a picture of vivacity, life, animation,
gaiety, which formed a bitter contrast with my mourning and my solitude.
On the steps of the gate sat a young mother playing with her child. She
kissed its little rosy mouth still impearled with drops of milk, and
performed, in order to amuse it, a thousand divine little puerilities
such as only mothers know how to invent. The father standing at a
little distance smiled gently upon the charming group, and with folded
arms seemed to hug his joy to his heart. I could not endure that
spectacle. I closed the window with violence, and flung myself on my
bed, my heart filled with frightful hate and jealousy, and gnawed my
fingers and my bed covers like a tiger that has passed ten days without
food.

I know not how long I remained in this condition, but at last, while
writhing on the bed in a fit of spasmodic fury, I suddenly perceived the
Abbe Serapion, who was standing erect in the centre of the room,
watching me attentively. Filled with shame of myself, I let my head fall
upon my breast and covered my face with my hands.

"Romuald, my friend, something very extraordinary is transpiring within
you," observed Serapion, after a few moments' silence; "your conduct is
altogether inexplicable. You--always so quiet, so pious, so gentle--you
to rage in your cell like a wild beast! Take heed, brother--do not
listen to the suggestions of the devil. Fear not. Never allow yourself
to become discouraged. The most watchful and steadfast souls are at
moments liable to such temptation. Pray, fast, meditate, and the Evil
Spirit will depart from you."

The words of the Abbe Serapion restored me to myself, and I became a
little more calm. "I came," he continued, "to tell you that you have
been appointed to the curacy of C----. The priest who had charge of it
has just died, and Monseigneur the Bishop has ordered me to have you
installed there at once. Be ready, therefore, to start tomorrow."

To leave tomorrow without having been able to see her again, to add yet
another barrier to the many already interposed between us, to lose
forever all hope of being able to meet her, except, indeed, through a
miracle! Even to write her, alas! would be impossible, for by whom could
I despatch my letter? With my sacred character of priest, to whom could
I dare unbosom myself, in whom could I confide? I became a prey to the
bitterest anxiety.

Next morning Serapion came to take me away. Two mules freighted with our
miserable valises awaited us at the gate. He mounted one, and I the
other as well as I knew how.

As we passed along the streets of the city, I gazed attentively at all
the windows and balconies in the hope of seeing Clarimonde, but it was
yet early in the morning, and the city had hardly opened its eyes. Mine
sought to penetrate the blinds and window-curtains of all the palaces
before which we were passing. Serapion doubtless attributed this
curiosity to my admiration of the architecture, for he slackened the
pace of his animal in order to give me time to look around me. At last
we passed the city gates and commenced to mount the hill beyond. When we
arrived at its summit I turned to take a last look at the place where
Clarimonde dwelt. The shadow of a great cloud hung over all the city;
the contrasting colours of its blue and red roofs were lost in the
uniform half-tint, through which here and there floated upward, like
white flakes of foam, the smoke of freshly kindled fires. By a singular
optical effect one edifice, which surpassed in height all the
neighbouring buildings that were still dimly veiled by the vapours,
towered up, fair and lustrous with the gilding of a solitary beam of
sunlight--although actually more than a league away it seemed quite
near. The smallest details of its architecture were plainly
distinguishable--the turrets, the platform, the window-casements and
even the swallow-tailed weather vanes.

"What is that place I see over there, all lighted up by the sun?" I
asked Serapion. He shaded his eyes with his hand, and having looked in
the direction indicated, replied: "It is the ancient palace which the
Prince Concini has given to the courtesan Clarimonde. Awful things are
done there!"

At that instant, I know not yet whether it was a reality or an illusion,
I fancied I saw gliding along the terrace a shapely white figure, which
gleamed for a moment in passing and as quickly vanished. It was
Clarimonde.

Oh, did she know that at that very hour, all feverish and restless--from
the height of the rugged road which separated me from her and which,
alas! I could never more descend--I was directing my eyes upon the
palace where she dwelt, and which a mocking beam of sunlight seemed to
bring nigh to me, as though inviting me to enter therein as its lord?
Undoubtedly she must have known it, for her soul was too sympathetically
united with mine not to have felt its least emotional thrill, and that
subtle sympathy it must have been which prompted her to climb--although
clad only in her night-dress--to the summit of the terrace, amid the icy
dews of the morning.

The shadow gained the palace, and the scene became to the eye only a
motionless ocean of roofs and gables, amid which one mountainous
undulation was distinctly visible. Serapion urged his mule forward, my
own at once followed at the same gait, and a sharp angle in the road at
last hid the city of S---- forever from my eyes, as I was destined never
to return thither. At the close of a weary three-days' journey through
dismal country fields, we caught sight of the cock upon the steeple of
the church which I was to take charge of, peeping above the trees, and
after having followed some winding roads fringed with thatched cottages
and little gardens, we found ourselves in front of the facade, which
certainly possessed few features of magnificence. A porch ornamented
with some mouldings, and two or three pillars rudely hewn from
sandstone; a tiled roof with counterforts of the same sandstone as the
pillars, that was all. To the left lay the cemetery, overgrown with high
weeds, and having a great iron cross rising up in its centre; to the
right stood the presbytery, under the shadow of the church. It was a
house of the most extreme simplicity and frigid cleanliness. We entered
the enclosure. A few chickens were picking up some oats scattered upon
the ground; accustomed, seemingly, to the black habit of ecclesiastics,
they showed no fear of our presence and scarcely troubled themselves to
get out of our way. A hoarse, wheezy barking fell upon our ears, and we
saw an aged dog running toward us.

It was my predecessor's dog. He had dull bleared eyes, grizzled hair,
and every mark of the greatest age to which a dog can possibly attain. I
patted him gently, and he proceeded at once to march along beside me
with an air of satisfaction unspeakable. A very old woman, who had been
the housekeeper of the former cure, also came to meet us, and after
having invited me into a little back parlour, asked whether I intended
to retain her. I replied that I would take care of her, and the dog, and
the chickens, and all the furniture her master had bequeathed her at his
death. At this she became fairly transported with joy, and the Abbe
Serapion at once paid her the price which she asked for her little
property.

For a whole year I fulfilled all the duties of my calling with the most
scrupulous exactitude, praying and fasting, exhorting and lending
ghostly aid to the sick, and bestowing alms even to the extent of
frequently depriving myself of the very necessaries of life. But I felt
a great aridness within me, and the sources of grace seemed closed
against me. I never found that happiness which should spring from the
fulfilment of a holy mission; my thoughts were far away, and the words
of Clarimonde were ever upon my lips like an involuntary refrain. Oh,
brother, meditate well on this! Through having but once lifted my eyes
to look upon a woman, through one fault apparently so venial, I have
for years remained a victim to the most miserable agonies, and the
happiness of my life has been destroyed forever.

I will not longer dwell upon those defeats, or on those inward victories
invariably followed by yet more terrible falls, but will at once proceed
to the facts of my story. One night my door-bell was long and violently
rung. The aged housekeeper arose and opened to the stranger, and the
figure of a man, whose complexion was deeply bronzed, and who was richly
clad in a foreign costume, with a poniard at his girdle, appeared under
the rays of Barbara's lantern. Her first impulse was one of terror, but
the stranger reassured her, and stated that he desired to see me at once
on matters relating to my holy calling. Barbara invited him upstairs,
where I was on the point of retiring. The stranger told me that his
mistress, a very noble lady, was lying at the point of death, and
desired to see a priest. I replied that I was prepared to follow him,
took with me the sacred articles necessary for extreme unction, and
descended in all haste. Two horses black as the night itself stood
without the gate, pawing the ground with impatience, and veiling their
chests with long streams of smoky vapour exhaled from their nostrils. He
held the stirrup and aided me to mount upon one; then, merely laying his
hand upon the pummel of the saddle, he vaulted on the other, pressed the
animal's sides with his knees, and loosened rein. The horse bounded
forward with the velocity of an arrow. Mine, of which the stranger held
the bridle, also started off at a swift gallop, keeping up with his
companion. We devoured the road. The ground flowed backward beneath us
in a long streaked line of pale grey, and the black silhouettes of the
trees seemed fleeing by us on either side like an army in rout. We
passed through a forest so profoundly gloomy that I felt my flesh creep
in the chill darkness with superstitious fear. The showers of bright
sparks which flew from the stony road under the ironshod feet of our
horses, remained glowing in our wake like a fiery trail; and had any one
at that hour of the night beheld us both--my guide and myself--he must
have taken us for two spectres riding upon nightmares. Witch-fires ever
and anon flitted across the road before us, and the night-birds shrieked
fearsomely in the depth of the woods beyond, where we beheld at
intervals glow the phosphorescent eyes of wildcats. The manes of the
horses became more and more dishevelled, the sweat streamed over their
flanks, and their breath came through their nostrils hard and fast. But
when he found them slacking pace, the guide reanimated them by uttering
a strange, guttural, unearthly cry, and the gallop recommenced with
fury. At last the whirlwind race ceased; a huge black mass pierced
through with many bright points of light suddenly rose before us, the
hoofs of our horses echoed louder upon a strong wooden drawbridge, and
we rode under a great vaulted archway which darkly yawned between two
enormous towers. Some great excitement evidently reigned in the castle.
Servants with torches were crossing the courtyard in every direction,
and above lights were ascending and descending from landing to landing.
I obtained a confused glimpse of vast masses of architecture--columns,
arcades, flights of steps, stairways--a royal voluptuousness and elfin
magnificence of construction worthy of fairyland. A negro page--the same
who had before brought me the tablet from Clarimonde, and whom I
instantly recognized--approached to aid me in dismounting, and the
major-domo, attired in black velvet with a gold chain about his neck,
advanced to meet me, supporting himself upon an ivory cane. Large tears
were falling from his eyes and streaming over his cheeks and white
beard. "Too late!" he cried, sorrowfully shaking his venerable head.
"Too late, sir priest! But if you have not been able to save the soul,
come at least to watch by the poor body."

He took my arm and conducted me to the death chamber. I wept not less
bitterly than he, for I had learned that the dead one was none other
than that Clarimonde whom I had so deeply and so wildly loved. A
prie-dieu stood at the foot of the bed; a bluish flame flickering in a
bronze patera filled all the room with a wan, deceptive light, here and
there bringing out in the darkness at intervals some projection of
furniture or cornice. In a chiselled urn upon the table there was a
faded white rose, whose leaves--excepting one that still held--had all
fallen, like odorous tears, to the foot of the vase. A broken black
mask, a fan, and disguises of every variety, which were lying on the
arm-chairs, bore witness that death had entered suddenly and
unannounced into that sumptuous dwelling. Without daring to cast my eyes
upon the bed, I knelt down and commenced to repeat the Psalms for the
Dead, with exceeding fervour, thanking God that He had placed the tomb
between me and the memory of this woman, so that I might thereafter be
able to utter her name in my prayers as a name forever sanctified by
death. But my fervour gradually weakened, and I fell insensibly into a
reverie. That chamber bore no semblance to a chamber of death. In lieu
of the foetid and cadaverous odours which I had been accustomed to
breathe during such funereal vigils, a languorous vapour of Oriental
perfume--I know not what amorous odour of woman--softly floated through
the tepid air. That pale light seemed rather a twilight gloom contrived
for voluptuous pleasure, than a substitute for the yellow-flickering
watch-tapers which shine by the side of corpses. I thought upon the
strange destiny which enabled me to meet Clarimonde again at the very
moment when she was lost to me forever, and a sigh of regretful anguish
escaped from my breast. Then it seemed to me that some one behind me had
also sighed, and I turned round to look. It was only an echo. But in
that moment my eyes fell upon the bed of death which they had till then
avoided. The red damask curtains, decorated with large flowers worked in
embroidery, and looped up with gold bullion, permitted me to behold the
fair dead, lying at full length, with hands joined upon her bosom. She
was covered with a linen wrapping of dazzling whiteness, which formed a
strong contrast with the gloomy purple of the hangings, and was of so
fine a texture that it concealed nothing of her body's charming form,
and allowed the eye to follow those beautiful outlines--undulating like
the neck of a swan--which even death had not robbed of their supple
grace. She seemed an alabaster statue executed by same skilful sculptor
to place upon the tomb of a queen, or rather, perhaps, like a slumbering
maiden over whom the silent snow had woven a spotless veil.

I could no longer maintain my constrained attitude of prayer. The air of
the alcove intoxicated me, that febrile perfume of half-faded roses
penetrated my very brain, and I commenced to pace restlessly up and down
the chamber, pausing at each turn before the bier to contemplate the
graceful corpse lying beneath the transparency of its shroud. Wild
fancies came thronging to my brain. I thought to myself that she might
not, perhaps, be really dead; that she might only have feigned death for
the purpose of bringing me to her castle, and then declaring her love.
At one time I even thought I saw her foot move under the whiteness of
the coverings, and slightly disarrange the long, straight folds of the
winding sheet.

And then I asked myself: "Is this indeed Clarimonde? What proof have I
that it is she? Might not that black page have passed into the service
of some other lady? Surely, I must be going mad to torture and afflict
myself thus!" But my heart answered with a fierce throbbing: "It is she;
it is she indeed!" I approached the bed again, and fixed my eyes with
redoubled attention upon the object of my incertitude. Ah, must I
confess it? That exquisite perfection of bodily form, although purified
and made sacred by the shadow of death, affected me more voluptuously
than it should have done, and that repose so closely resembled slumber
that one might well have mistaken it for such. I forgot that I had come
there to perform a funeral ceremony; I fancied myself a young bridegroom
entering the chamber of the bride, who all modestly hides her fair face,
and through coyness seeks to keep herself wholly veiled. Heartbroken
with grief, yet wild with hope, shuddering at once with fear and
pleasure, I bent over her and grasped the corner of the sheet. I lifted
it back, holding my breath all the while through fear of waking her. My
arteries throbbed with such violence that I felt them hiss through my
temples, and the sweat poured from my forehead in streams, as though I
had lifted a mighty slab of marble. There, indeed, lay Clarimonde, even
as I had seen her at the church on the day of my ordination. She was not
less charming than then. With her, death seemed but a last coquetry. The
pallor of her cheeks, the less brilliant carnation of her lips, her long
eyelashes lowered and relieving their dark fringe against that white
skin, lent her an unspeakably seductive aspect of melancholy chastity
and mental suffering; her long loose hair, still intertwined with some
little blue flowers, made a shining pillow for her head, and veiled the
nudity of her shoulders with its thick ringlets; her beautiful hands,
purer, more diaphanous than the Host, were crossed on her bosom in an
attitude of pious rest and silent prayer, which served to counteract all
that might have proven otherwise too alluring--even after death--in the
exquisite roundness and ivory polish of her bare arms from which the
pearl bracelets had not yet been removed. I remained long in mute
contemplation, and the more I gazed, the less could I persuade myself
that life had really abandoned that beautiful body forever. I do not
know whether it was an illusion or a reflection of the lamplight, but it
seemed to me that the blood was again commencing to circulate under that
lifeless pallor, although she remained all motionless. I laid my hand
lightly on her arm; it was cold, but not colder than her hand on the day
when it touched mine at the portals of the church. I resumed my
position, bending my face above her, and bathing her cheeks with the
warm dew of my tears. Ah, what bitter feelings of despair and
helplessness, what agonies unutterable did I endure in that long watch!
Vainly did I wish that I could have gathered all my life into one mass
that I might give it all to her, and breathe into her chill remains the
flame which devoured me. The night advanced, and feeling the moment of
eternal separation approach, I could not deny myself the last sad sweet
pleasure of imprinting a kiss upon the dead lips of her who had been my
only love.... Oh, miracle! A faint breath mingled itself with my breath,
and the mouth of Clarimonde responded to the passionate pressure of
mine. Her eyes unclosed, and lighted up with something of their former
brilliancy; she uttered a long sigh, and uncrossing her arms, passed
them around my neck with a look of ineffable delight. "Ah, it is thou,
Romuald;" she murmured in a voice languishingly sweet as the last
vibrations of a harp. "What ailed thee, dearest? I waited so long for
thee that I am dead; but we are now betrothed; I can see thee and visit
thee. Adieu, Romuald, adieu! I love thee. That is all I wished to tell
thee, and I give thee back the life which thy kiss for a moment
recalled. We shall soon meet again."

Her head fell back, but her arms yet encircled me, as though to retain
me still. A furious whirlwind suddenly burst in that window, and entered
the chamber. The last remaining leaf of the white rose for a moment
palpitated at the extremity of the stalk like a butterfly's wing, then
it detached itself and flew forth through the open casement, bearing
with it the soul of Clarimonde. The lamp was extinguished, and I fell
insensible upon the bosom of the beautiful dead.

When I came to myself again I was lying on the bed in my little room at
the presbytery, and the old dog of the former cure was licking my hand
which had been hanging down outside of the covers. Afterward I learned
that I had lain thus for three days, giving no evidence of life beyond
the faintest respiration. Barbara told me that the same
coppery-complexioned man who came to seek me on the night of my
departure from the presbytery, had brought me back the next morning in
a close litter, and departed immediately afterward; but none knew of any
castle in the neighbourhood answering to the description of that in
which I had again found Clarimonde.

One morning I found the Abbe Serapion in my room. While he inquired
after my health in hypocritically honeyed accents, he constantly kept
his two great yellow lion-eyes fixed upon me, and plunged his look into
my soul like a sounding lead. Suddenly he said, in a clear vibrant
voice, which rang in my ears like the trumpets of the Last Judgment:

"The great courtesan Clarimonde died a few days ago, at the close of an
orgie which lasted eight days and eight nights. It was something
infernally splendid. The abominations of the banquets of Belshazzar and
Cleopatra were re-enacted there. Good God, what age are we living in?
The guests were served by swarthy slaves who spoke an unknown tongue,
and who seemed to me to be veritable demons. The livery of the very
least among them would have served for the gala-dress of an emperor.
There have always been very strange stories told of this Clarimonde, and
all her lovers came to a violent or miserable end. They used to say that
she was a ghoul, a female vampire; but I believe she was none other than
Beelzebub himself."

He ceased to speak and commenced to regard me more attentively than
ever, as though to observe the effect of his words on me. I could not
refrain from starting when I heard him utter the name of Clarimonde, and
this news of her death, in addition to the pain it caused me by reason
of its coincidence with the nocturnal scenes I had witnessed, filled me
with an agony and terror which my face betrayed, despite my utmost
endeavours to appear composed. Serapion fixed an anxious and severe look
upon me, and then observed: "My son, I must warn you that you are
standing with foot raised upon the brink of an abyss; take heed lest you
fall therein. Satan's claws are long, and tombs are not always true to
their trust. The tombstone of Clarimonde should be sealed down with a
triple seal, for, if report be true, it is not the first time she has
died. May God watch over you, Romuald!"

And with these words the Abbe walked slowly to the door. I did not see
him again at that time, for he left for S---- almost immediately.

I became completely restored to health and resumed my accustomed duties.
The memory of Clarimonde and the words of the old Abbe were constantly
in my mind; nevertheless no extraordinary event had occurred to verify
the funereal predictions of Serapion, and I had commenced to believe
that his fears and my own terrors were overexaggerated, when one night I
had a strange dream. I had hardly fallen asleep when I heard my
bed-curtains drawn apart, as their rings slided back upon the curtain
rod with a sharp sound. I rose up quickly upon my elbow, and beheld the
shadow of a woman standing erect before me. I recognized Clarimonde
immediately. She bore in her hand a little lamp, shaped like those which
are placed in tombs, and its light lent her fingers a rosy transparency,
which extended itself by lessening degrees even to the opaque and milky
whiteness of her bare arm. Her only garment was the linen winding-sheet
which had shrouded her when lying upon the bed of death. She sought to
gather its folds over her bosom as though ashamed of being so scantily
clad, but her little hand was not equal to the task. She was so white
that the colour of the drapery blended with that of her flesh under the
pallid rays of the lamp. Enveloped with this subtle tissue which
betrayed all the contour of her body, she seemed rather the marble
statue of some fair antique rather than a woman endowed with life. But
dead or living, statue or woman, shadow or body, her beauty was still
the same, only that the green light of her eyes was less brilliant, and
her mouth, once so warmly crimson, was only tinted with a faint tender
rosiness, like that of her cheeks. The little blue flowers which I had
noticed entwined in her hair were withered and dry, and had lost nearly
all their leaves, but this did not prevent her from being charming--so
charming that notwithstanding the strange character of the adventure,
and the unexplainable manner in which she had entered my room, I felt
not even for a moment the least fear.

She placed the lamp on the table and seated herself at the foot of my
bed; then bending toward me, she said, in that voice at once silvery
clear and yet velvety in its sweet softness, such as I never heard from
any lips save hers:

"I have kept thee long in waiting, dear Romuald, and it must have seemed
to thee that I had forgotten thee. But I come from afar off, very far
off, and from a land whence no other has ever yet returned. There is
neither sun nor moon in that land whence I come: all is but space and
shadow; there is neither road nor pathway: no earth for the foot, no air
for the wing; and nevertheless behold me here, for Love is stronger than
Death and must conquer him in the end. Oh what sad faces and fearful
things I have seen on my way hither! What difficulty my soul, returned
to earth through the power of will alone, has had in finding its body
and reinstating itself therein! What terrible efforts I had to make ere
I could lift the ponderous slab with which they had covered me! See, the
palms of my poor hands are all bruised! Kiss them, sweet love, that they
may be healed!" She laid the cold palms of her hands upon my mouth, one
after the other. I kissed them, indeed, many times, and she the while
watched me with a smile of ineffable affection.

I confess to my shame that I had entirely forgotten the advice of the
Abbe Serapion and the sacred office wherewith I had been invested. I had
fallen without resistance, and at the first assault. I had not even made
the least effort to repel the tempter. The fresh coolness of
Clarimonde's skin penetrated my own, and I felt voluptuous tremors pass
over my whole body. Poor child! in spite of all I saw afterward, I can
hardly yet believe she was a demon; at least she had no appearance of
being such, and never did Satan so skilfully conceal his claws and
horns. She had drawn her feet up beneath her, and squatted down on the
edge of the couch in an attitude full of negligent coquetry. From time
to time she passed her little hand through my hair and twisted it into
curls, as though trying how a new style of wearing it would become my
face. I abandoned myself to her hands with the most guilty pleasure,
while she accompanied her gentle play with the prettiest prattle. The
most remarkable fact was that I felt no astonishment whatever at so
extraordinary an adventure, and as in dreams one finds no difficulty in
accepting the most fantastic events as simple facts, so all these
circumstances seemed to me perfectly natural in themselves.

"I loved thee long ere I saw thee, dear Romuald, and sought thee
everywhere. Thou wast my dream, and I first saw thee in the church at
the fatal moment. I said at once, 'It is he!' I gave thee a look into
which I threw all the love I ever had, all the love I now have, all the
love I shall ever have for thee--a look that would have damned a
cardinal or brought a king to his knees at my feet in view of all his
court. Thou remainedst unmoved, preferring thy God to me!

"Ah, how jealous I am of that God whom thou didst love and still lovest
more than me!

"Woe is me, unhappy one that I am! I can never have thy heart all to
myself, I whom thou didst recall to life with a kiss--dead Clarimonde,
who for thy sake bursts asunder the gates of the tomb, and comes to
consecrate to thee a life which she has resumed only to make thee
happy!"

All her words were accompanied with the most impassioned caresses,
which bewildered my sense and my reason to such an extent, that I did
not fear to utter a frightful blasphemy for the sake of consoling her,
and to declare that I loved her as much as God.

Her eyes rekindled and shone like chrysoprases. "In truth?--in very
truth? as much as God!" she cried, flinging her beautiful arms around
me. "Since it is so, thou wilt come with me; thou wilt follow me
whithersoever I desire. Thou wilt cast away thy ugly black habit. Thou
shalt be the proudest and most envied of cavaliers; thou shalt be my
lover! To be the acknowledged lover of Clarimonde, who has refused even
a Pope, that will be something to feel proud of! Ah, the fair,
unspeakably happy existence, the beautiful golden life we shall live
together! And when shall we depart, my fair sir?"

"Tomorrow! Tomorrow!" I cried in my delirium.

"Tomorrow, then, so let it be!" she answered. "In the meanwhile I shall
have opportunity to change my toilet, for this is a little too light and
in nowise suited for a voyage. I must also forthwith notify all my
friends who believe me dead, and mourn for me as deeply as they are
capable of doing. The money, the dresses, the carriages--all will be
ready. I shall call for thee at this same hour. Adieu, dear heart!" And
she lightly touched my forehead with her lips. The lamp went out, the
curtains closed again, and all became dark; a leaden, dreamless sleep
fell on me and held me unconscious until the morning following.

I awoke later than usual, and the recollection of this singular
adventure troubled me during the whole day. I finally persuaded myself
that it was a mere vapour of my heated imagination. Nevertheless its
sensations had been so vivid that it was difficult to persuade myself
that they were not real, and it was not without some presentiment of
what was going to happen that I got into bed at last, after having
prayed God to drive far from me all thoughts of evil, and to protect the
chastity of my slumber.

I soon fell into a deep sleep, and my dream was continued. The curtains
again parted, and I beheld Clarimonde, not as on the former occasion,
pale in her pale winding-sheet, with the violets of death upon her
cheeks but gay, sprightly, jaunty, in a superb travelling dress of green
velvet, trimmed with gold lace, and looped up on either side to allow a
glimpse of satin petticoat. Her blond hair escaped in thick ringlets
from beneath a broad black felt hat, decorated with white feathers
whimsically twisted into various shapes. In one hand she held a little
riding whip terminated by a golden whistle. She tapped me lightly with
it, and exclaimed: "Well, my fine sleeper, is this the way you make your
preparations? I thought I would find you up and dressed. Arise quickly,
we have no time to lose."

I leaped out of bed at once.

"Come, dress yourself, and let us go," she continued, pointing to a
little package she had brought with her. "The horses are becoming
impatient of delay and champing their bits at the door. We ought to
have been by this time at least ten leagues distant from here."

I dressed myself hurriedly, and she handed me the articles of apparel
herself one by one, bursting into laughter from time to time at my
awkwardness, as she explained to me the use of a garment when I had made
a mistake. She hurriedly arranged my hair, and this done, held up before
me a little pocket mirror of Venetian crystal, rimmed with silver
filigree-work, and playfully asked: "How dost find thyself now? Wilt
engage me for thy valet de chambre?"

I was no longer the same person, and I could not even recognize myself.
I resembled my former self no more than a finished statue resembles a
block of stone. My old face seemed but a coarse daub of the one
reflected in the mirror. I was handsome, and my vanity was sensibly
tickled by the metamorphosis. That elegant apparel, that richly
embroidered vest had made of me a totally different personage, and I
marvelled at the power of transformation owned by a few yards of cloth
cut after a certain pattern. The spirit of my costume penetrated my very
skin, and within ten minutes more I had become something of a coxcomb.

In order to feel more at ease in my new attire, I took several turns up
and down the room. Clarimonde watched me with an air of maternal
pleasure, and appeared well satisfied with her work. "Come, enough of
this child's-play! Let us start, Romuald, dear. We have far to go, and
we may not get there in time." She took my hand and led me forth. All
the doors opened before her at a touch, and we passed by the dog without
awaking him.

At the gate we found Margheritone waiting, the same swarthy groom who
had once before been my escort. He held the bridles of three horses, all
black like those which bore us to the castle--one for me, one for him,
one for Clarimonde. Those horses must have been Spanish genets born of
mares fecundated by a zephyr, for they were fleet as the wind itself,
and the moon, which had just risen at our departure to light us on our
way, rolled over the sky like a wheel detached from her own chariot. We
beheld her on the right leaping from tree to tree, and putting herself
out of breath in the effort to keep up with us. Soon we came upon a
level plain where, hard by a clump of trees, a carriage with four
vigorous horses awaited us. We entered it, and the postilions urged
their animals into a mad gallop. I had one arm around Clarimonde's
waist, and one of her hands clasped in mine; her head leaned upon my
shoulder, and I felt her bosom, half bare, lightly pressing against my
arm. I had never known such intense happiness. In that hour I had
forgotten everything, and I no more remembered having ever been a priest
than I remembered what I had been doing in my mother's womb, so great
was the fascination which the evil spirit exerted upon me. From that
night my nature seemed in some sort to have become halved, and there
were two men within me, neither of whom knew the other. At one moment I
believed myself a priest who dreamed nightly that he was a gentleman,
at another that I was a gentleman who dreamed he was a priest. I could
no longer distinguish the dream from the reality, nor could I discover
where the reality began or where ended the dream. The exquisite young
lord and libertine railed at the priest, the priest loathed the
dissolute habits of the young lord. I always retained with extreme
vividness all the perceptions of my two lives. Only there was one absurd
fact which I could not explain to myself--namely, that the consciousness
of the same individuality existed in two men so opposite in character.
It was an anomaly for which I could not account--whether I believed
myself to be the cure of the little village of C----, or Il Signor
Romualdo, the titled lover of Clarimonde.

Be that as it may, I lived, at least I believed that I lived, in Venice.
I have never been able to discover rightly how much of illusion and how
much of reality there was in this fantastic adventure. We dwelt in a
great palace on the Canaleio, filled with frescoes and statues, and
containing two Titians in the noblest style of the great master, which
were hung in Clarimonde's chamber. It was a palace well worthy of a
king. We had each our gondola, our barcarolli in family livery, our
music hall, and our special poet. Clarimonde always lived upon a
magnificent scale; there was something of Cleopatra in her nature. As
for me, I had the retinue of a prince's son, and I was regarded with as
much reverential respect as though I had been of the family of one of
the twelve Apostles or the four Evangelists of the Most Serene
Republic. I would not have turned aside to allow even the Doge to pass,
and I do not believe that since Satan fell from heaven, any creature was
ever prouder or more insolent than I. I went to the Ridotto, and played
with a luck which seemed absolutely infernal. I received the best of all
society--the sons of ruined families, women of the theatre, shrewd
knaves, parasites, hectoring swashbucklers. But notwithstanding the
dissipation of such a life, I always remained faithful to Clarimonde. I
loved her wildly. She would have excited satiety itself, and chained
inconstancy. To have Clarimonde was to have twenty mistresses; aye, to
possess all women: so mobile, so varied of aspect, so fresh in new
charms was she all in herself--a very chameleon of a woman, in sooth.
She made you commit with her the infidelity you would have committed
with another, by donning to perfection the character, the attraction,
the style of beauty of the woman who appeared to please you. She
returned my love a hundred-fold, and it was in vain that the young
patricians and even the Ancients of the Council of Ten made her the most
magnificent proposals. A Foscari even went so far as to offer to espouse
her. She rejected all his overtures. Of gold she had enough. She wished
no longer for anything but love--a love youthful, pure, evoked by
herself, and which should be a first and last passion. I would have been
perfectly happy but for a cursed nightmare which recurred every night,
and in which I believed myself to be a poor village cure, practising
mortification and penance for my excesses during the day. Reassured by
my constant association with her, I never thought further of the strange
manner in which I had become acquainted with Clarimonde. But the words
of the Abbe Serapion concerning her recurred often to my memory, and
never ceased to cause me uneasiness.

For some time the health of Clarimonde had not been so good as usual;
her complexion grew paler day by day. The physicians who were summoned
could not comprehend the nature of her malady and knew not how to treat
it. They all prescribed some insignificant remedies, and never called a
second time. Her paleness, nevertheless, visibly increased, and she
became colder and colder, until she seemed almost as white and dead as
upon that memorable night in the unknown castle. I grieved with anguish
unspeakable to behold her thus slowly perishing; and she, touched by my
agony, smiled upon me sweetly and sadly with the fateful smile of those
who feel that they must die.

One morning I was seated at her bedside, after breakfasting from a
little table placed close at hand, so that I might not be obliged to
leave her for a single instant. In the act of cutting some fruit I
accidentally inflicted rather a deep gash on my finger. The blood
immediately gushed forth in a little purple jet, and a few drops spurted
upon Clarimonde. Her eyes flashed, her face suddenly assumed an
expression of savage and ferocious joy such as I had never before
observed in her. She leaped out of her bed with animal agility--the
agility, as it were, of an ape or a cat--and sprang upon my wound, which
she commenced to suck with an air of unutterable pleasure. She swallowed
the blood in little mouthfuls, slowly and carefully, like a connoisseur
tasting a wine from Xeres or Syracuse. Gradually her eyelids half
closed, and the pupils of her green eyes became oblong instead of round.
From time to time she paused in order to kiss my hand, then she would
recommence to press her lips to the lips of the wound in order to coax
forth a few more ruddy drops. When she found that the blood would no
longer come, she arose with eyes liquid and brilliant, rosier than a May
dawn; her face full and fresh, her hand warm and moist--in fine, more
beautiful than ever, and in the most perfect health.

"I shall not die! I shall not die!" she cried, clinging to my neck, half
mad with joy. "I can love thee yet for a long time. My life is thine,
and all that is of me comes from thee. A few drops of thy rich and noble
blood, more precious and more potent than all the elixirs of the earth,
have given me back life."

This scene long haunted my memory, and inspired me with strange doubts
in regard to Clarimonde; and the same evening, when slumber had
transported me to my presbytery, I beheld the Abbe Serapion, graver and
more anxious of aspect than ever. He gazed attentively at me, and
sorrowfully exclaimed: "Not content with losing your soul, you now
desire also to lose your body. Wretched young man, into how terrible a
plight have you fallen!" The tone in which he uttered these words
powerfully affected me, but in spite of its vividness even that
impression was soon dissipated, and a thousand other cares erased it
from my mind. At last one evening, while looking into a mirror whose
traitorous position she had not taken into account, I saw Clarimonde in
the act of emptying a powder into the cup of spiced wine which she had
long been in the habit of preparing after our repasts. I took the cup,
feigned to carry it to my lips, and then placed it on the nearest
article of furniture as though intending to finish it at my leisure.
Taking advantage of a moment when the fair one's back was turned, I
threw the contents under the table, after which I retired to my chamber
and went to bed, fully resolved not to sleep, but to watch and discover
what should come of all this mystery. I did not have to wait long.
Clarimonde entered in her night-dress, and having removed her apparel,
crept into bed and lay down beside me. When she felt assured that I was
asleep, she bared my arm, and drawing a gold pin from her hair,
commenced to murmur in a low voice:

"One drop, only one drop! One ruby at the end of my needle.... Since
thou lovest me yet, I must not die!... Ah, poor love! His beautiful
blood, so brightly purple, I must drink it. Sleep, my only treasure!
Sleep, my god, my child! I will do thee no harm; I will only take of thy
life what I must to keep my own from being forever extinguished. But
that I love thee so much, I could well resolve to have other lovers
whose veins I could drain; but since I have known thee all other men
have become hateful to me.... Ah, the beautiful arm! How round it is!
How white it is! How shall I ever dare to prick this pretty blue vein!"
And while thus murmuring to herself she wept, and I felt her tears
raining on my arm as she clasped it with her hands. At last she took the
resolve, slightly punctured me with her pin, and commenced to suck up
the blood which oozed from the place. Although she swallowed only a few
drops, the fear of weakening me soon seized her, and she carefully tied
a little band around my arm, afterward rubbing the wound with an unguent
which immediately cicatrized it.

Further doubts were impossible. The Abbe Serapion was right.
Notwithstanding this positive knowledge, however, I could not cease to
love Clarimonde, and I would gladly of my own accord have given her all
the blood she required to sustain her factitious life. Moreover, I felt
but little fear of her. The woman seemed to plead with me for the
vampire, and what I had already heard and seen sufficed to reassure me
completely. In those days I had plenteous veins, which would not have
been so easily exhausted as at present; and I would not have thought of
bargaining for my blood, drop by drop. I would rather have opened myself
the veins of my arm and said to her: "Drink, and may my love infiltrate
itself throughout thy body together with my blood!" I carefully avoided
ever making the least reference to the narcotic drink she had prepared
for me, or to the incident of the pin, and we lived in the most perfect
harmony.

Yet my priestly scruples commenced to torment me more than ever, and I
was at a loss to imagine what new penance I could invent in order to
mortify and subdue my flesh. Although these visions were involuntary,
and though I did not actually participate in anything relating to them,
I could not dare to touch the body of Christ with hands so impure and a
mind defiled by such debauches whether real or imaginary. In the effort
to avoid falling under the influence of these wearisome hallucinations,
I strove to prevent myself from being overcome by sleep. I held my
eyelids open with my fingers, and stood for hours together leaning
upright against the wall, fighting sleep with all my might; but the dust
of drowsiness invariably gathered upon my eyes at last, and finding all
resistance useless, I would have to let my arms fall in the extremity of
despairing weariness, and the current of slumber would again bear me
away to the perfidious shores. Serapion addressed me with the most
vehement exhortations, severely reproaching me for my softness and want
of fervour. Finally, one day when I was more wretched than usual, he
said to me: "There is but one way by which you can obtain relief from
this continual torment, and though it is an extreme measure it must be
made use of; violent diseases require violent remedies. I know where
Clarimonde is buried. It is necessary that we shall disinter her
remains, and that you shall behold in how pitiable a state the object
of your love is. Then you will no longer be tempted to lose your soul
for the sake of an unclean corpse devoured by worms, and ready to
crumble into dust. That will assuredly restore you to yourself." For my
part, I was so tired of this double life that I at once consented,
desiring to ascertain beyond a doubt whether a priest or a gentleman had
been the victim of delusion. I had become fully resolved either to kill
one of the two men within me for the benefit of the other, or else to
kill both, for so terrible an existence could not last long and be
endured. The Abbe Serapion provided himself with a mattock, a lever, and
a lantern, and at midnight we wended our way to the cemetery of ----,
the location and place of which were perfectly familiar to him. After
having directed the rays of the dark lantern upon the inscriptions of
several tombs, we came at last upon a great slab, half concealed by huge
weeds and devoured by mosses and parasitic plants, whereupon we
deciphered the opening lines of the epitaph:

Here lies Clarimonde
Who was famed in her life-time
As the fairest of women.[1]

[Footnote 1:

Ici git Clarimonde
Qui fut de son vivant
La plus belle du monde.

The broken beauty of the lines is unavoidably lost in the translation.]

"It is here without a doubt," muttered Serapion, and placing his lantern
on the ground, he forced the point of the lever under the edge of the
stone and commenced to raise it. The stone yielded, and he proceeded to
work with the mattock. Darker and more silent than the night itself, I
stood by and watched him do it, while he, bending over his dismal toil,
streamed with sweat, panted, and his hard-coming breath seemed to have
the harsh tone of a death rattle. It was a weird scene, and had any
persons from without beheld us, they would assuredly have taken us
rather for profane wretches and shroud-stealers than for priests of God.
There was something grim and fierce in Serapion's zeal which lent him
the air of a demon rather than of an apostle or an angel, and his great
aquiline face, with all its stern features brought out in strong relief
by the lantern-light, had something fearsome in it which enhanced the
unpleasant fancy. I felt an icy sweat come out upon my forehead in huge
beads, and my hair stood up with a hideous fear. Within the depths of my
own heart I felt that the act of the austere Serapion was an abominable
sacrilege; and I could have prayed that a triangle of fire would issue
from the entrails of the dark clouds, heavily rolling above us, to
reduce him to cinders. The owls which had been nestling in the
cypress-trees, startled by the gleam of the lantern, flew against it
from time to time, striking their dusty wings against its panes, and
uttering plaintive cries of lamentation; wild foxes yelped in the far
darkness, and a thousand sinister noises detached themselves from the
silence. At last Serapion's mattock struck the coffin itself, making its
planks re-echo with a deep sonorous sound, with that terrible sound
nothingness utters when stricken. He wrenched apart and tore up the lid,
and I beheld Clarimonde, pallid as a figure of marble, with hands
joined; her white winding-sheet made but one fold from her head to her
feet. A little crimson drop sparkled like a speck of dew at one corner
of her colourless mouth. Serapion, at this spectacle, burst into fury:
"Ah, thou art here, demon! Impure courtesan! Drinker of blood and gold!"
And he flung holy water upon the corpse and the coffin, over which he
traced the sign of the cross with his sprinkler. Poor Clarimonde had no
sooner been touched by the blessed spray than her beautiful body
crumbled into dust, and became only a shapeless and frightful mass of
cinders and half-calcined bones.

"Behold your mistress, my Lord Romuald!" cried the inexorable priest, as
he pointed to these sad remains. "Will you be easily tempted after this
to promenade on the Lido or at Fusina with your beauty?" I covered my
face with my hands, a vast ruin had taken place within me. I returned to
my presbytery, and the noble Lord Romuald, the lover of Clarimonde,
separated himself from the poor priest with whom he had kept such
strange company so long. But once only, the following night, I saw
Clarimonde. She said to me, as she had said the first time at the
portals of the church: "Unhappy man! Unhappy man! What hast thou done?
Wherefore have hearkened to that imbecile priest? Wert thou not happy?
And what harm had I ever done thee that thou shouldst violate my poor
tomb, and lay bare the miseries of my nothingness? All communication
between our souls and our bodies is henceforth forever broken. Adieu!
Thou will yet regret me!" She vanished in air as smoke, and I never saw
her more.

Alas! she spoke truly indeed. I have regretted her more than once, and I
regret her still. My soul's peace has been very dearly bought. The love
of God was not too much to replace such a love as hers. And this,
brother, is the story of my youth. Never gaze upon a woman, and walk
abroad only with eyes ever fixed upon the gr





Next: The Stalls Of Barchester Cathedral

Previous: The Withered Arm



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