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





China Goose Colonel Halifax's Ghost Story facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Feedback