Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 

Home Ghost Stories Categories Authors Books Search

Ghost Stories

The Rival Ghosts
BY BRANDER MATTHEWS The good ship sped on her way ac...

A Remarkable Story Of A Ghost
Thrice called for, as an Evidence, in a Court of Justic...

Some Famous Ghosts Of The National Capitol
(Philadelphia _Press_, Oct. 2, 1898) The Capitol at ...

The Woman In Green
At this time, in the Pavilion-of-the-guests, in the ...

The Cold Hand
[Jerome Cardan, the famous physician, tells the followi...


...

Farm House 2 Interior Arrangement
The front door of this house opens into a small entry o...

The Difficulty Of Crossing A Field
One morning in July, 1854, a planter named Williams...

Appearances Of The Dead
We now pass beyond the utmost limits to which a "scient...

A Baffled Ambuscade
Connecting Readyville and Woodbury was a good, hard...





The Deserted House






ERNEST THEODOR AMADEUS HOFFMANN


You know already that I spent the greater part of last summer in X----,
began Theodore. The many old friends and acquaintances I found there,
the free, jovial life, the manifold artistic and intellectual
interests--all these combined to keep me in that city. I was happy as
never before, and found rich nourishment for my old fondness for
wandering alone through the streets, stopping to enjoy every picture in
the shop windows, every placard on the walls, or watching the passers-by
and choosing some one or the other of them to cast his horoscope
secretly to myself.

There is one broad avenue leading to the ---- Gate and lined with
handsome buildings of all descriptions, which is the meeting place of
the rich and fashionable world. The shops which occupy the ground floor
of the tall palaces are devoted to the trade in articles of luxury, and
the apartments above are the dwellings of people of wealth and position.
The aristocratic hotels are to be found in this avenue, the palaces of
the foreign ambassadors are there, and you can easily imagine that such
a street would be the centre of the city's life and gaiety.

I had wandered through the avenue several times, when one day my
attention was caught by a house which contrasted strangely with the
others surrounding it. Picture to yourselves a low building but four
windows broad, crowded in between two tall, handsome structures. Its one
upper story was a little higher than the tops of the ground-floor
windows of its neighbours, its roof was dilapidated, its windows patched
with paper, its discoloured walls spoke of years of neglect. You can
imagine how strange such a house must have looked in this street of
wealth and fashion. Looking at it more attentively I perceived that the
windows of the upper story were tightly closed and curtained, and that a
wall had been built to hide the windows of the ground floor. The
entrance gate, a little to one side, served also as a door-way for the
building, but I could find no sign of latch, lock, or even a bell on
this gate. I was convinced that the house must be unoccupied, for at
whatever hour of the day I happened to be passing I had never seen the
faintest signs of life about it.

You all, the good comrades of my youth, know that I have been prone to
consider myself a sort of clairvoyant, claiming to have glimpses of a
strange world of wonders, a world which you, with your hard common
sense, would attempt to deny or laugh away. I confess that I have often
lost myself in mysteries which after all turned out to be no mysteries
at all. And it looked at first as if this was to happen to me in the
matter of the deserted house, that strange house which drew my steps
and my thoughts to itself with a power that surprised me. But the point
of my story will prove to you that I am right in asserting that I know
more than you do. Listen now to what I am about to tell you.

One day, at the hour in which the fashionable world is accustomed to
promenade up and down the avenue, I stood as usual before the deserted
house, lost in thought. Suddenly I felt, without looking up, that some
one had stopped beside me, fixing his eyes on me. It was Count P----,
who told me that the old house contained nothing more mysterious than a
cake bakery belonging to the pastry cook whose handsome shop adjoined
the old structure. The windows of the ground floor were walled up to
give protection to the ovens, and the heavy curtains of the upper story
were to keep the sunlight from the wares laid out there. When the Count
informed me of this I felt as if a bucket of cold water had been
suddenly thrown over me. But I could not believe in this story of the
cake and candy factory. Through some strange freak of the imagination I
felt as a child feels when some fairy tale has been told it to conceal
the truth it suspects. I scolded myself for a silly fool; the house
remained unaltered in its appearance, and the visions faded in my brain,
until one day a chance incident woke them to life again.

I was wandering through the avenue as usual, and as I passed the
deserted house I could not resist a hasty glance at its close-curtained
upper windows. But as I looked at it, the curtain on the last window
near the pastry shop began to move. A hand, an arm, came out from
between its folds. I took my opera glass from my pocket and saw a
beautifully formed woman's hand, on the little finger of which a large
diamond sparkled in unusual brilliancy; a rich bracelet glittered on the
white, rounded arm. The hand set a tall, oddly formed crystal bottle on
the window ledge and disappeared again behind the curtain.

I stopped as if frozen to stone; a weirdly pleasurable sensation,
mingled with awe, streamed through my being with the warmth of an
electric current. I stared up at the mysterious window and a sigh of
longing arose from the very depths of my heart. When I came to myself
again, I was angered to find that I was surrounded by a crowd which
stood gazing up at the window with curious faces. I stole away
inconspicuously, and the demon of all things prosaic whispered to me
that what I had just seen was the rich pastry cook's wife, in her Sunday
adornment, placing an empty bottle, used for rose-water or the like, on
the window sill. Nothing very weird about this.

Suddenly a most sensible thought came to me. I turned and entered the
shining, mirror-walled shop of the pastry cook. Blowing the steaming
foam from my cup of chocolate, I remarked: "You have a very useful
addition to your establishment next door." The man leaned over his
counter and looked at me with a questioning smile, as if he did not
understand me. I repeated that in my opinion he had been very clever to
set his bakery in the neighbouring house, although the deserted
appearance of the building was a strange sight in its contrasting
surroundings. "Why, sir," began the pastry cook, "who told you that the
house next door belongs to us? Unfortunately every attempt on our part
to acquire it has been in vain, and I fancy it is all the better so, for
there is something queer about the place."

You can imagine, dear friends, how interested I became upon hearing
these words, and that I begged the man to tell me more about the house.

"I do not know anything very definite, sir," he said. "All that we know
for a certainty is that the house belongs to the Countess S----, who
lives on her estates and has not been to the city for years. This house,
so they tell me, stood in its present shape before any of the handsome
buildings were raised which are now the pride of our avenue, and in all
these years there has been nothing done to it except to keep it from
actual decay. Two living creatures alone dwell there, an aged
misanthrope of a steward and his melancholy dog, which occasionally
howls at the moon from the back courtyard. According to the general
story the deserted house is haunted. In very truth my brother, who is
the owner of this shop, and myself have often, when our business kept us
awake during the silence of the night, heard strange sounds from the
other side of the walls. There was a rumbling and a scraping that
frightened us both. And not very long ago we heard one night a strange
singing which I could not describe to you. It was evidently the voice
of an old woman, but the tones were so sharp and clear, and ran up to
the top of the scale in cadences and long trills, the like of which I
have never heard before, although I have heard many singers in many
lands. It seemed to be a French song, but I am not quite sure of that,
for I could not listen long to the mad, ghostly singing, it made the
hair stand erect on my head. And at times, after the street noises are
quiet, we can hear deep sighs, and sometimes a mad laugh, which seem to
come out of the earth. But if you lay your ear to the wall in our back
room, you can hear that the noises come from the house next door." He
led me into the back room and pointed through the window. "And do you
see that iron chimney coming out of the wall there? It smokes so heavily
sometimes, even in summer when there are no fires used, that my brother
has often quarrelled with the old steward about it, fearing danger. But
the old man excuses himself by saying that he was cooking his food.
Heaven knows what the queer creature may eat, for often, when the pipe
is smoking heavily, a strange and queer smell can be smelled all over
the house."

The glass doors of the shop creaked in opening. The pastry cook hurried
into the front room, and when he had nodded to the figure now entering
he threw a meaning glance at me. I understood him perfectly. Who else
could this strange guest be, but the steward who had charge of the
mysterious house! Imagine a thin little man with a face the colour of a
mummy, with a sharp nose, tight-set lips, green cat's eyes, and a crazy
smile; his hair dressed in the old-fashioned style with a high toupet
and a bag at the back, and heavily powdered. He wore a faded old brown
coat which was carefully brushed, grey stockings, and broad, flat-toed
shoes with buckles. And imagine further, that in spite of his meagreness
this little person is robustly built, with huge fists and long, strong
fingers, and that he walks to the shop counter with a strong, firm step,
smiling his imbecile smile, and whining out: "A couple of candied
oranges--a couple of macaroons--a couple of sugared chestnuts----"

The pastry cook smiled at me and then spoke to the old man. "You do not
seem to be quite well. Yes, yes, old age, old age! It takes the strength
from our limbs." The old man's expression did not change, but his voice
went up: "Old age?--Old age?--Lose strength?--Grow weak?--Oho!" And with
this he clapped his hands together until the joints cracked, and sprang
high up into the air until the entire shop trembled and the glass
vessels on the walls and counters rattled and shook. But in the same
moment a hideous screaming was heard; the old man had stepped on his
black dog, which, creeping in behind him, had laid itself at his feet on
the floor. "Devilish beast--dog of hell!" groaned the old man in his
former miserable tone, opening his bag and giving the dog a large
macaroon. The dog, which had burst out into a cry of distress that was
truly human, was quiet at once, sat down on its haunches, and gnawed at
the macaroon like a squirrel. When it had finished its tidbit, the old
man had also finished the packing up and putting away of his purchases.
"Good night, honoured neighbour," he spoke, taking the hand of the
pastry cook and pressing it until the latter cried aloud in pain. "The
weak old man wishes you a good night, most honourable Sir Neighbour," he
repeated, and then walked from the shop, followed closely by his black
dog. The old man did not seem to have noticed me at all. I was quite
dumfoundered in my astonishment.

"There, you see," began the pastry cook. "This is the way he acts when
he comes in here, two or three times a month, it is. But I can get
nothing out of him except the fact that he was a former valet of Count
S----, that he is now in charge of this house here, and that every
day--for many years now--he expects the arrival of his master's family."
The hour was now come when fashion demanded that the elegant world of
the city should assemble in this attractive shop. The doors opened
incessantly, the place was thronged, and I could ask no further
questions.

This much I knew, that Count P----'s information about the ownership and
the use of the house were not correct; also, that the old steward, in
spite of his denial, was not living alone there, and that some mystery
was hidden behind its discoloured walls. How could I combine the story
of the strange and gruesome singing with the appearance of the beautiful
arm at the window? That arm could not be part of the wrinkled body of an
old woman; the singing, according to the pastry cook's story, could not
come from the throat of a blooming and youthful maiden. I decided in
favour of the arm, as it was easy to explain to myself that some trick
of acoustics had made the voice sound sharp and old, or that it had
appeared so only in the pastry cook's fear-distorted imagination. Then I
thought of the smoke, the strange odours, the oddly formed crystal
bottle that I had seen, and soon the vision of a beautiful creature held
enthralled by fatal magic stood as if alive before my mental vision. The
old man became a wizard who, perhaps quite independently of the family
he served, had set up his devil's kitchen in the deserted house. My
imagination had begun to work, and in my dreams that night I saw clearly
the hand with the sparkling diamond on its finger, the arm with the
shining bracelet. From out thin, grey mists there appeared a sweet face
with sadly imploring blue eyes, then the entire exquisite figure of a
beautiful girl. And I saw that what I had thought was mist was the fine
steam flowing out in circles from a crystal bottle held in the hands of
the vision.

"Oh, fairest creature of my dreams," I cried in rapture, "reveal to me
where thou art, what it is that enthralls thee. Ah, I know it! It is
black magic that holds thee captive--thou art the unhappy slave of that
malicious devil who wanders about brown-clad and be-wigged in pastry
shops, scattering their wares with his unholy springing and feeding his
demon dog on macaroons, after they have howled out a Satanic measure in
five-eighth time. Oh, I know it all, thou fair and charming vision. The
diamond is the reflection of the fire of thy heart. But that bracelet
about thine arm is a link of the chain which the brown-clad one says is
a magnetic chain. Do not believe it, O glorious one! See how it shines
in the blue fire from the retort. One moment more and thou art free. And
now, O maiden, open thy rosebud mouth and tell me----" In this moment a
gnarled fist leaped over my shoulder and clutched at the crystal bottle,
which sprang into a thousand pieces in the air. With a faint, sad moan,
the charming vision faded into the blackness of the night.

When morning came to put an end to my dreaming I hurried through the
avenue, seeking the deserted house as usual and I saw something
glistening in the last window of the upper story. Coming nearer I
noticed that the outer blind had been quite drawn up and the inner
curtain slightly opened. The sparkle of a diamond met my eye. O kind
Heaven! The face of my dream looked at me, gently imploring, from above
the rounded arm on which her head was resting. But how was it possible
to stand still in the moving crowd without attracting attention?
Suddenly I caught sight of the benches placed in the gravel walk in the
centre of the avenue, and I saw that one of them was directly opposite
the house. I sprang over to it, and leaning over its back, I could stare
up at the mysterious window undisturbed. Yes, it was she, the charming
maiden of my dream! But her eye did not seem to seek me as I had at
first thought; her glance was cold and unfocused, and had it not been
for an occasional motion of the hand and arm, I might have thought that
I was looking at a cleverly painted picture.

I was so lost in my adoration of the mysterious being in the window, so
aroused and excited throughout all my nerve centres, that I did not hear
the shrill voice of an Italian street hawker, who had been offering me
his wares for some time. Finally he touched me on the arm; I turned
hastily and commanded him to let me alone. But he did not cease his
entreaties, asserting that he had earned nothing today, and begging me
to buy some small trifle from him. Full of impatience to get rid of him
I put my hand in my pocket. With the words: "I have more beautiful
things here," he opened the under drawer of his box and held out to me a
little, round pocket mirror. In it, as he held it up before my face, I
could see the deserted house behind me, the window, and the sweet face
of my vision there.

I bought the little mirror at once, for I saw that it would make it
possible for me to sit comfortable and inconspicuously, and yet watch
the window. The longer I looked at the reflection in the glass, the more
I fell captive to a weird and quite indescribable sensation, which I
might almost call a waking dream. It was as if a lethargy had lamed my
eyes, holding them fastened on the glass beyond my power to loosen them.
And now at last the beautiful eyes of the fair vision looked at me, her
glance sought mine and shone deep down into my heart.

"You have a pretty little mirror there," said a voice beside me. I
awoke from my dream, and was not a little confused when I saw smiling
faces looking at me from either side. Several persons had sat down upon
the bench, and it was quite certain that my staring into the window, and
my probably strange expression, had afforded them great cause for
amusement.

"You have a pretty little mirror there," repeated the man, as I did not
answer him. His glance said more, and asked without words the reason of
my staring so oddly into the little glass. He was an elderly man, neatly
dressed, and his voice and eyes were so full of good nature that I could
not refuse him my confidence. I told him that I had been looking in the
mirror at the picture of a beautiful maiden who was sitting at a window
of the deserted house. I went even farther; I asked the old man if he
had not seen the fair face himself. "Over there? In the old house--in
the last window?" He repeated my questions in a tone of surprise.

"Yes, yes," I exclaimed.

The old man smiled and answered: "Well, well, that was a strange
delusion. My old eyes--thank Heaven for my old eyes! Yes, yes, sir. I
saw a pretty face in the window there, with my own eyes; but it seemed
to me to be an excellently well-painted oil portrait."

I turned quickly and looked toward the window; there was no one there,
and the blind had been pulled down. "Yes," continued the old man, "yes,
sir. Now it is too late to make sure of the matter, for just now the
servant, who, as I know, lives there alone in the house of the Countess
S----, took the picture away from the window after he had dusted it, and
let down the blinds."

"Was it, then, surely a picture?" I asked again, in bewilderment.

"You can trust my eyes," replied the old man. "The optical delusion was
strengthened by your seeing only the reflection in the mirror. And when
I was in your years it was easy enough for my fancy to call up the
picture of a beautiful maiden."

"But the hand and arm moved," I exclaimed. "Oh, yes, they moved, indeed
they moved," said the old man smiling, as he patted me on the shoulder.
Then he arose to go, and bowing politely, closed his remarks with the
words, "Beware of mirrors which can lie so vividly. Your obedient
servant, sir."

You can imagine how I felt when I saw that he looked upon me as a
foolish fantast. I hurried home full of anger and disgust, and promised
myself that I would not think of the mysterious house. But I placed the
mirror on my dressing-table that I might bind my cravat before it, and
thus it happened one day, when I was about to utilize it for this
important business, that its glass seemed dull, and that I took it up
and breathed on it to rub it bright again. My heart seemed to stand
still, every fibre in me trembled in delightful awe. Yes, that is all
the name I can find for the feeling that came over me, when, as my
breath clouded the little mirror, I saw the beautiful face of my dreams
arise and smile at me through blue mists. You laugh at me? You look upon
me as an incorrigible dreamer? Think what you will about it--the fair
face looked at me from out of the mirror! But as soon as the clouding
vanished, the face vanished in the brightened glass.

I will not weary you with a detailed recital of my sensations the next
few days. I will only say that I repeated again the experiments with the
mirror, sometimes with success, sometimes without. When I had not been
able to call up the vision, I would run to the deserted house and stare
up at the windows; but I saw no human being anywhere about the building.
I lived only in thoughts of my vision; everything else seemed
indifferent to me. I neglected my friends and my studies. The tortures
in my soul passed over into, or rather mingled with, physical sensations
which frightened me, and which at last made me fear for my reason. One
day, after an unusually severe attack, I put my little mirror in my
pocket and hurried to the home of Dr. K----, who was noted for his
treatment of those diseases of the mind out of which physical diseases
so often grow. I told him my story; I did not conceal the slightest
incident from him, and I implored him to save me from the terrible fate
which seemed to threaten me. He listened to me quietly, but I read
astonishment in his glance. Then he said: "The danger is not as near as
you believe, and I think that I may say that it can be easily prevented.
You are undergoing an unusual psychical disturbance, beyond a doubt.
But the fact that you understand that some evil principle seems to be
trying to influence you, gives you a weapon by which you can combat it.
Leave your little mirror here with me, and force yourself to take up
with some work which will afford scope for all your mental energy. Do
not go to the avenue; work all day, from early to late, then take a long
walk, and spend your evenings in the company of your friends. Eat
heartily, and drink heavy, nourishing wines. You see I am endeavouring
to combat your fixed idea of the face in the window of the deserted
house and in the mirror, by diverting your mind to other things, and by
strengthening your body. You yourself must help me in this."

I was very reluctant to part with my mirror. The physician, who had
already taken it, seemed to notice my hesitation. He breathed upon the
glass and holding it up to me, he asked: "Do you see anything?"

"Nothing at all," I answered, for so it was.

"Now breathe on the glass yourself," said the physician, laying the
mirror in my hands.

I did as he requested. There was the vision even more clearly than ever
before.

"There she is!" I cried aloud.

The physician looked into the glass, and then said: "I cannot see
anything. But I will confess to you that when I looked into this glass,
a queer shiver overcame me, passing away almost at once. Now do it once
more."

I breathed upon the glass again and the physician laid his hand upon
the back of my neck. The face appeared again, and the physician, looking
into the mirror over my shoulder, turned pale. Then he took the little
glass from my hands, looked at it attentively, and locked it into his
desk, returning to me after a few moments' silent thought.

"Follow my instructions strictly," he said. "I must confess to you that
I do not yet understand those moments of your vision. But I hope to be
able to tell you more about it very soon."

Difficult as it was to me, I forced myself to live absolutely according
to the doctor's orders. I soon felt the benefit of the steady work and
the nourishing diet, and yet I was not free from those terrible attacks,
which would come either at noon, or, more intensely still, at midnight.
Even in the midst of a merry company, in the enjoyment of wine and song,
glowing daggers seemed to pierce my heart, and all the strength of my
intellect was powerless to resist their might over me. I was obliged to
retire, and could not return to my friends until I had recovered from my
condition of lethargy. It was in one of these attacks, an unusually
strong one, that such an irresistible, mad longing for the picture of my
dreams came over me, that I hurried out into the street and ran toward
the mysterious house. While still at a distance from it, I seemed to see
lights shining out through the fast-closed blinds, but when I came
nearer I saw that all was dark. Crazy with my desire I rushed to the
door; it fell back before the pressure of my hand. I stood in the dimly
lighted vestibule, enveloped in a heavy, close atmosphere. My heart beat
in strange fear and impatience. Then suddenly a long, sharp tone, as
from a woman's throat, shrilled through the house. I know not how it
happened that I found myself suddenly in a great hall brilliantly
lighted and furnished in old-fashioned magnificence of golden chairs and
strange Japanese ornaments. Strongly perfumed incense arose in blue
clouds about me. "Welcome--welcome, sweet bridegroom! the hour has come,
our bridal hour!" I heard these words in a woman's voice, and as little
as I can tell, how I came into the room, just so little do I know how it
happened that suddenly a tall, youthful figure, richly dressed, seemed
to arise from the blue mists. With the repeated shrill cry: "Welcome,
sweet bridegroom!" she came toward me with outstretched arms--and a
yellow face, distorted with age and madness, stared into mine! I fell
back in terror, but the fiery, piercing glance of her eyes, like the
eyes of a snake, seemed to hold me spellbound. I did not seem able to
turn my eyes from this terrible old woman, I could not move another
step. She came still nearer, and it seemed to me suddenly as if her
hideous face were only a thin mask, beneath which I saw the features of
the beautiful maiden of my vision. Already I felt the touch of her
hands, when suddenly she fell at my feet with a loud scream, and a voice
behind me cried:

"Oho, is the devil playing his tricks with your grace again? To bed, to
bed, your grace. Else there will be blows, mighty blows!"

I turned quickly and saw the old steward in his night clothes, swinging
a whip above his head. He was about to strike the screaming figure at my
feet when I caught at his arm. But he shook me from him, exclaiming:
"The devil, sir! That old Satan would have murdered you if I had not
come to your aid. Get away from here at once!"

I rushed from the hall, and sought in vain in the darkness for the door
of the house. Behind me I heard the hissing blows of the whip and the
old woman's screams. I drew breath to call aloud for help, when suddenly
the ground gave way under my feet; I fell down a short flight of stairs,
bringing up with such force against a door at the bottom that it sprang
open, and I measured my length on the floor of a small room. From the
hastily vacated bed, and from the familiar brown coat hanging over a
chair, I saw that I was in the bed-chamber of the old steward. There was
a trampling on the stair, and the old man himself entered hastily,
throwing himself at my feet. "By all the saints, sir," he entreated with
folded hands, "whoever you may be, and however her grace, that old Satan
of a witch has managed to entice you to this house, do not speak to any
one of what has happened here. It will cost me my position. Her crazy
excellency has been punished, and is bound fast in her bed. Sleep well,
good sir, sleep softly and sweetly. It is a warm and beautiful July
night. There is no moon, but the stars shine brightly. A quiet good
night to you." While talking, the old man had taken up a lamp, had led
me out of the basement, pushed me out of the house door, and locked it
behind me. I hurried home quite bewildered, and you can imagine that I
was too much confused by the gruesome secret to be able to form any
explanation of it in my own mind for the first few days. Only this much
was certain, that I was now free from the evil spell that had held me
captive so long. All my longing for the magic vision in the mirror had
disappeared, and the memory of the scene in the deserted house was like
the recollection of an unexpected visit to a madhouse. It was evident
beyond a doubt that the steward was the tyrannical guardian of a crazy
woman of noble birth, whose condition was to be hidden from the world.
But the mirror? and all the other magic? Listen, and I will tell you
more about it.

Some few days later I came upon Count P---- at an evening entertainment.
He drew me to one side and said, with a smile, "Do you know that the
secrets of our deserted house are beginning to be revealed?" I listened
with interest; but before the Count could say more the doors of the
dining-room were thrown open, and the company proceeded to the table.
Quite lost in thought at the words I had just heard, I had given a young
lady my arm, and had taken my place mechanically in the ceremonious
procession. I led my companion to the seats arranged for us, and then
turned to look at her for the first time. The vision of my mirror stood
before me, feature for feature, there was no deception possible! I
trembled to my innermost heart, as you can imagine; but I discovered
that there was not the slightest echo even, in my heart, of the mad
desire which had ruled me so entirely when my breath drew out the magic
picture from the glass. My astonishment, or rather my terror, must have
been apparent in my eyes. The girl looked at me in such surprise that I
endeavoured to control myself sufficiently to remark that I must have
met her somewhere before. Her short answer, to the effect that this
could hardly be possible, as she had come to the city only yesterday for
the first time in her life, bewildered me still more and threw me into
an awkward silence. The sweet glance from her gentle eyes brought back
my courage, and I began a tentative exploring of this new companion's
mind. I found that I had before me a sweet and delicate being, suffering
from some psychic trouble. At a particularly merry turn of the
conversation, when I would throw in a daring word like a dash of pepper,
she would smile, but her smile was pained, as if a wound had been
touched. "You are not very merry tonight, Countess. Was it the visit
this morning?" An officer sitting near us had spoken these words to my
companion, but before he could finish his remarks his neighbour had
grasped him by the arm and whispered something in his ear, while a lady
at the other side of the table, with glowing cheeks and angry eyes,
began to talk loudly of the opera she had heard last evening. Tears came
to the eyes of the girl sitting beside me. "Am I not foolish?" She
turned to me. A few moments before she had complained of headache.
"Merely the usual evidences of a nervous headache," I answered in an
easy tone, "and there is nothing better for it than the merry spirit
which bubbles in the foam of this poet's nectar." With these words I
filled her champagne glass, and she sipped at it as she threw me a look
of gratitude. Her mood brightened, and all would have been well had I
not touched a glass before me with unexpected strength, arousing from it
a shrill, high tone. My companion grew deadly pale, and I myself felt a
sudden shiver, for the sound had exactly the tone of the mad woman's
voice in the deserted house.

While we were drinking coffee I made an opportunity to get to the side
of Count P----. He understood the reason for my movement. "Do you know
that your neighbour is Countess Edwina S----? And do you know also that
it is her mother's sister who lives in the deserted house, incurably mad
for many years? This morning both mother and daughter went to see the
unfortunate woman. The old steward, the only person who is able to
control the Countess in her outbreaks, is seriously ill, and they say
that the sister has finally revealed the secret to Dr. K----."

Dr. K---- was the physician to whom I had turned in my own anxiety, and
you can well imagine that I hurried to him as soon as I was free, and
told him all that had happened to me in the last days. I asked him to
tell me as much as he could about the mad woman, for my own peace of
mind; and this is what I learned from him under promise of secrecy.

"Angelica, Countess Z----," thus the doctor began, "had already passed
her thirtieth year, but was still in full possession of great beauty,
when Count S----, although much younger than she, became so fascinated
by her charm that he wooed her with ardent devotion and followed her to
her father's home to try his luck there. But scarcely had the Count
entered the house, scarcely had he caught sight of Angelica's younger
sister, Gabrielle, when he awoke as from a dream. The elder sister
appeared faded and colourless beside Gabrielle, whose beauty and charm
so enthralled the Count that he begged her hand of her father. Count
Z---- gave his consent easily, as there was no doubt of Gabrielle's
feelings toward her suitor. Angelica did not show the slightest anger at
her lover's faithlessness. "He believes that he has forsaken me, the
foolish boy! He does not perceive that he was but my toy, a toy of which
I had tired." Thus she spoke in proud scorn, and not a look or an action
on her part belied her words. But after the ceremonious betrothal of
Gabrielle to Count S----, Angelica was seldom seen by the members of her
family. She did not appear at the dinner table, and it was said that she
spent most of her time walking alone in the neighbouring wood.

"A strange occurrence disturbed the monotonous quiet of life in the
castle. The hunters of Count Z----, assisted by peasants from the
village, had captured a band of gipsies who were accused of several
robberies and murders which had happened recently in the neighbourhood.
The men were brought to the castle courtyard, fettered together on a
long chain, while the women and children were packed on a cart.
Noticeable among the last was a tall, haggard old woman of terrifying
aspect, wrapped from head to foot in a red shawl. She stood upright in
the cart, and in an imperious tone demanded that she should be allowed
to descend. The guards were so awed by her manner and appearance that
they obeyed her at once.

"Count Z---- came down to the courtyard and commanded that the gang
should be placed in the prisons under the castle. Suddenly Countess
Angelica rushed out of the door, her hair all loose, fear and anxiety in
her pale face. Throwing herself on her knees, she cried in a piercing
voice, 'Let these people go! Let these people go! They are innocent!
Father, let these people go! If you shed one drop of their blood I will
pierce my heart with this knife!' The Countess swung a shining knife in
the air and then sank swooning to the ground. 'Yes, my beautiful
darling--my golden child--I knew you would not let them hurt us,'
shrilled the old woman in red. She cowered beside the Countess and
pressed disgusting kisses to her face and breast, murmuring crazy words.
She took from out the recesses of her shawl a little vial in which a
tiny goldfish seemed to swim in some silver-clear liquid. She held the
vial to the Countess's heart. The latter regained consciousness
immediately. When her eyes fell on the gipsy woman, she sprang up,
clasped the old creature ardently in her arms, and hurried with her into
the castle.

"Count Z----, Gabrielle, and her lover, who had come out during this
scene, watched it in astonished awe. The gipsies appeared quite
indifferent. They were loosed from their chains and taken separately to
the prisons. Next morning Count Z---- called the villagers together. The
gipsies were led before them and the Count announced that he had found
them to be innocent of the crimes of which they were accused, and that
he would grant them free passage through his domains. To the
astonishment of all present, their fetters were struck off and they were
set at liberty. The red-shawled woman was not among them. It was
whispered that the gipsy captain, recognizable from the golden chain
about his neck and the red feather in his high Spanish hat, had paid a
secret visit to the Count's room the night before. But it was
discovered, a short time after the release of the gipsies, that they
were indeed guiltless of the robberies and murders that had disturbed
the district.

"The date set for Gabrielle's wedding approached. One day, to her great
astonishment, she saw several large wagons in the courtyard being packed
high with furniture, clothing, linen, with everything necessary for a
complete household outfit. The wagons were driven away, and the
following day Count Z---- explained that, for many reasons, he had
thought it best to grant Angelica's odd request that she be allowed to
set up her own establishment in his house in X----. He had given the
house to her, and had promised her that no member of the family, not
even he himself, should enter it without her express permission. He
added also, that, at her urgent request, he had permitted his own valet
to accompany her, to take charge of her household.

"When the wedding festivities were over, Count S---- and his bride
departed for their home, where they spent a year in cloudless happiness.
Then the Count's health failed mysteriously. It was as if some secret
sorrow gnawed at his vitals, robbing him of joy and strength. All
efforts of his young wife to discover the source of his trouble were
fruitless. At last, when the constantly recurring fainting spells
threatened to endanger his very life, he yielded to the entreaties of
his physicians and left his home, ostensibly for Pisa. His young wife
was prevented from accompanying him by the delicate condition of her own
health.

"And now," said the doctor, "the information given me by Countess S----
became, from this point on, so rhapsodical that a keen observer only
could guess at the true coherence of the story. Her baby, a daughter,
born during her husband's absence, was spirited away from the house, and
all search for it was fruitless. Her grief at this loss deepened to
despair, when she received a message from her father stating that her
husband, whom all believed to be in Pisa, had been found dying of heart
trouble in Angelica's home in X----, and that Angelica herself had
become a dangerous maniac. The old Count added that all this horror had
so shaken his own nerves that he feared he would not long survive it.

"As soon as Gabrielle was able to leave her bed, she hurried to her
father's castle. One night, prevented from sleeping by visions of the
loved ones she had lost, she seemed to hear a faint crying, like that of
an infant, before the door of her chamber. Lighting her candle she
opened the door. Great Heaven! there cowered the old gipsy woman,
wrapped in her red shawl, staring up at her with eyes that seemed
already glazing in death. In her arms she held a little child, whose
crying had aroused the Countess. Gabrielle's heart beat high with
joy--it was her child--her lost daughter! She snatched the infant from
the gipsy's arms, just as the woman fell at her feet lifeless. The
Countess's screams awoke the house, but the gipsy was quite dead and no
effort to revive her met with success.

"The old Count hurried to X---- to endeavour to discover something that
would throw light upon the mysterious disappearance and reappearance of
the child. Angelica's madness had frightened away all her female
servants; the valet alone remained with her. She appeared at first to
have become quite calm and sensible. But when the Count told her the
story of Gabrielle's child she clapped her hands and laughed aloud,
crying: 'Did the little darling arrive? You buried her, you say? How the
feathers of the gold pheasant shine in the sun! Have you seen the green
lion with the fiery blue eyes?' Horrified the Count perceived that
Angelica's mind was gone beyond a doubt, and he resolved to take her
back with him to his estates, in spite of the warnings of his old valet.
At the mere suggestion of removing her from the house Angelica's ravings
increased to such an extent as to endanger her own life and that of the
others.

"When a lucid interval came again Angelica entreated her father, with
many tears, to let her live and die in the house she had chosen. Touched
by her terrible trouble he granted her request, although he believed the
confession which slipped from her lips during this scene to be a fantasy
of her madness. She told him that Count S---- had returned to her arms,
and that the child which the gipsy had taken to her father's house was
the fruit of their love. The rumour went abroad in the city that Count
Z---- had taken the unfortunate woman to his home; but the truth was
that she remained hidden in the deserted house under the care of the
valet. Count Z---- died a short time ago, and Countess Gabrielle came
here with her daughter Edwina to arrange some family affairs. It was not
possible for her to avoid seeing her unfortunate sister. Strange things
must have happened during this visit, but the Countess has not confided
anything to me, saying merely that she had found it necessary to take
the mad woman away from the old valet. It had been discovered that he
had controlled her outbreaks by means of force and physical cruelty; and
that also, allured by Angelica's assertions that she could make gold, he
had allowed himself to assist her in her weird operations.

"It would be quite unnecessary," thus the physician ended his story, "to
say anything more to you about the deeper inward relationship of all
these strange things. It is clear to my mind that it was you who brought
about the catastrophe, a catastrophe which will mean recovery or speedy
death for the sick woman. And now I will confess to you that I was not a
little alarmed, horrified even, to discover that--when I had set myself
in magnetic communication with you by placing my hand on your neck--I
could see the picture in the mirror with my own eyes. We both know now
that the reflection in the glass was the face of Countess Edwina."

I repeat Dr. K----'s words in saying that, to my mind also, there is no
further comment that can be made on all these facts. I consider it
equally unnecessary to discuss at any further length with you now the
mysterious relationship between Angelica, Edwina, the old valet, and
myself--a relationship which seemed the work of a malicious demon who
was playing his tricks with us. I will add only that I left the city
soon after all these events, driven from the place by an oppression I
could not shake off. The uncanny sensation left me suddenly a month or
so later, giving way to a feeling of intense relief that flowed through
all my veins with the warmth of an electric current. I am convinced that
this change within me came about in the moment when the mad woman died.





Next: The Mysterious Sketch

Previous: The Open Door



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK