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.





The Death Bogle Of The Cross Roads And The Inextinguishable Candle Of The Old White House Pitlochry The Devils Of Loudun facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

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