THE HEREDITARY GOBLET.

FROM THE SWEDISH OF UNCLE ADAM.


Has the spiritual world any intercourse with the material world? This is a question which must always remain undecided, and which only fools and narrow-minded people definitively answer. It is by analogy alone that we can acquire any kind of right even to guess on this subject--we can determine nothing.

The whole creation is a continuation of imperceptible transitions; it is a close chain, and, in order to arrange it into a system to suit our ideas, the inquirer into it must parcel it into divisions. In nature none exist; the chain itself having no interruptions whatsoever.

As the events of one period influence those of another, by bringing about an uninterrupted series of results, in like manner the powers of nature produce a constant regeneration--a constant repetition of themselves in various forms.

Thus, it is only when we arrive at the boundary between life and eternity, when our conception of forms is no longer applicable, when we are close upon the transition to a higher state of being, that we admit that one link of the chain is missing. Despite of analogy, the want of positive evidence puts it out of our power to prove anything; but, however, the sages of our days, before whose eyes everything, except their own weakness, stands clear, may sneer at me, and consider me superstitious, and a lover of nursery-tales--however the frivolous may ridicule me, or be provoked at my belief in the possibility of such an intercourse--my reason does not reject this belief, and my experience corroborates it.

About twenty years ago I was staying with a lively party in the country. In our circles there reigned a degree of unaffected and openhearted hilarity, an almost childish joy, in which all seemed to participate, and which was not chilled by the highly-polished manners of those who were thus agreeably assembled. It was a charming September afternoon, and the country around was most beautiful; we gave ourselves up to the gaiety and the refreshing enjoyments of a country life. I felt particularly happy, and deeming myself far removed from all earthly sorrow, I fancied that I only breathed to sip in joy with every breath. But I had cause to be joyous, for my sister, who a few years previously had been married against her inclination, had shortly before written me that she now felt very happy with her husband, which hitherto had not been the case. He had altered his conduct, and had become kind, considerate, and cheerful--he was more affectionate and sincere, and Emilie had begun to lead a happier life than she had dared to hope for since the dreadful marriage ceremony had taken place.

This news made me joyful even to extravagance; for I had always loved Emilie more than myself; she had ever been the first to excuse my faults, the readiest to forgive injuries, and to forget her own afflictions; she was my most intimate and most sincere friend, and the whole world might have gazed freely, with me, into her clear eyes, and her pure soul. Her husband, Theodore, on the contrary, had never pleased me; he was one of those reserved, proud beings, who glide like an enigma through life. His feelings and thoughts were like words written in a cipher, to which one vainly endeavours to find the key. In his look there was an inexpressible something, which kept me at a distance; and with his fawning manners, he always appeared to me to resemble a magnificent flower, which even in its pomp looks suspicious--one of Linnĉus's Lucidĉ.

But I had been mistaken--my sister's letters told me so--her unhappiness had only been occasioned by trifling faults on both sides. I had, therefore, resolved to make atonement for my past injustice, and to become Theodore's friend, however repugnant this might be to my own feelings.

One evening we were all assembled in a summerhouse in the garden, chatting, laughing, and singing as merrily as if we had met to celebrate the funeral ceremony of Sorrow--there was no one who seemed to have the most distant idea that, even in our gayest moments, Fate, invisible and icy-cold, always stands amongst us ready to choose her next victim.

Suddenly a servant appeared--he inquired for me--he wore Theodore's livery--a fearful foreboding seized me, I grew pale--a suppressed murmur ran through the company, and the gloomy silence which followed made the moment still more dreadful. The servant handed me a letter--I was forced to sit down to prevent myself from falling; everyone remained in intense expectation, awaiting to hear what the contents of the letter might be!

I read it--'She is dead!' I exclaimed, in a low voice to myself--and 'dead!' sounded like an echo through the circle of my friends.

'Emilie!' I cried, and gazed fixedly before me, as if I were reflecting whether Emilie really could be dead. I sprang up like a madman, but suddenly stood as still as a frightened child--'My sister is dead!' I said to those present--'Farewell, my friends.'

I set off in the most terrible state of mind; I had been all at once hurled from the summit of happiness into the unfathomable depths of misery, where not even hope can find its way, and from which there is no other exit, except by death.

I had to travel thirty miles before I could see my Emilie in her coffin, and I arrived just the day previous to the funeral.

I found everything as usual at the country-house of my sister; the oaks were still standing, rustling in the alley; the rivulet, on the banks of which Emilie and I had last sat beside each other, quietly rippled along--everything was the same; she alone was missing--she had passed away, and gone to her Heavenly Father.

Theodore came to meet me; he was pale; and looked confused; he embraced me, and shed a few tears--I remained as cold as a statue.

I could not understand myself; formerly I had so readily sympathized in the happiness, the sorrow, and the fate of my fellow-creatures--but now, I could take no interest in my own.

Emilie's portrait hung on the wall; how beautiful, how blooming she looked, gentleness beamed from those happy eyes, and that smiling mouth seemed only made to shower blessings on all. 'Thus she was,' I thought; 'thus she always looked upon me;--let me go alone to my sister!' I said in an irritable tone, turning to Theodore, who stood beside me; 'I wish to take leave of her undisturbed.'

He seemed to wish to dissuade me from this, but I would not listen to him, rushed towards the room where the corpse was lying, and drawing out the key, I shut and locked the door, just as Theodore was about to enter.

Here stood the star-spangled coffin, surrounded by massive silver-sconces, the candles in which, with their long wicks, threw a gloomy light upon the black hangings of the apartment.

I fell upon my knees by the side of the coffin and grasped one of my poor sister's hands--it was clenched!--I shuddered, and let it go again, it fell heavily back upon the shroud. A veil was thrown over the face; I wished once more to behold the sweet features; I raised the veil--a distorted, livid countenance grinned at me, the dim, wide extended eyes seemed to wish to pierce through me with their gaze. I grew chill with horror, and dropped the veil. 'Emilie!' I whispered, seized with unutterable anguish. 'It is thee, nevertheless! This frightful head is covered with thy beautiful curls! O God! How death distorts the human face!'

I hurried from the room, it seemed to me as if ghostly spectres stood in every corner, and gazed at me with their rayless eyes--I hardly knew how I got out--but I fancied I heard hollow, scornful laughter behind me.

On the day of the funeral I met old Anna, the companion of my poor sister during her short worldly career; she had been her nurse, and had built her modest hopes and the happiness of her life upon Emilie. Now, she was alone, poor old woman; the object on which all her affections had been centred was gone, and in the future she saw only darkness and misery. As she stood there with her recollections, she resembled an aged tree from times gone by, and which, in a circle of younger and unknown plants, awaits the last storm.

I considered it would be only an annoyance to my brother-in-law if I questioned him concerning the last moments of my beloved sister--but with Anna this would not be the case, I therefore inquired of her.

With the usual garrulity of old age, she now began to describe to me the life of my sister, from the time that I had last seen her; she seemed to find consolation in relating all that she had seen, and had enjoyed, and what she had lost. There often seems nothing which binds aged people to this life but the pleasure of being able to complain--why then should not this faithful old woman be allowed to enjoy this one privilege?

She pictured to me with a sort of enthusiasm how happy Emilie had been, how kind Theodore had lately shown himself, how grieved he had been when my sister caught cold and became seriously ill, with what anxiety he had endeavoured to procure relief for her, how he watched by her bed-side, counted every respiration, and in what despair he was when she finally expired in the most frightful convulsions. 'The day after her decease,' continued the old woman, weeping, 'I saw him prostrate on his knees by the bed-side of the corpse.'

I had therefore done Theodore injustice, had been cold and reserved to one who by his conduct had deserved a better return from me. 'Why must this be?' I thought. 'Why cannot I bear his look? Why do I recoil from his friendship? He certainly never offended me, and Emilie perceived her faults, and became happy with him--why, then, should I increase his sorrow?'

Such were the reproaches which I made to myself, and I again resolved to act like a friend and a brother to him; but it was impossible--between us there existed such a decided aversion that we were never at our ease in the company of each other.

My sister was buried in the evening. The ceremony was solemn and mournful, and the future appeared to me as dark as the church in which it took place. Notwithstanding the numerous lights, a gloomy obscurity reigned throughout the sacred edifice, the dusky monotony of which was uninterrupted, save here and there by escutcheons, distinguishable only from the columns against which they hung by their glaring colours; the coffin was lowered into the family vault; I looked down--it was so dark and sombre in the space below; it seemed to me as if I gazed into eternity. 'Farewell, Emilie!' I said once more--and she was gone.

When I returned to my own room, I placed myself at the window, and looked out upon the fields. The church in which my sister rested lay in the background, illuminated by the silver rays which the pale moon cast upon it. I stood and thought of her life in another world, of our reunion there, and I gazed up towards the heavens, as if I expected to behold her glorified spirit floating in the moonlight. Suddenly it seemed to me as if I heard a movement behind me; I turned round, but saw nothing, for at this moment the moon disappeared behind a cloud--the noise continued--I thought I heard the door of a corner cupboard open--something fell jingling upon the ground and rolled towards me, the moon now shone forth again, and I grew chill with horror--there stood Emilie wrapped in her shroud, gazing at me earnestly with her hollow eyes! She pointed to that which lay on the ground. A moment later and the spectre had disappeared, and my almost broken heart recommenced beating, and warmth returned again to my stiffened limbs. Was it imagination--only a phantom of my excited fancy? No matter; I had distinctly seen her, and something glittering lay at my feet. It was a silver goblet, and no other than that which Emilie had received from her mother as a wedding gift. It was of an antique form, and had been handed down to the females of my mother's family as an heir-loom. There was an old legend attached to it, which prophesied that it should cause the last possessor to obtain speedy happiness. I had not before thought of this; but now it struck me, for I remembered that Emilie was the last possessor, since she had no daughter to whom to bequeath it I lighted a candle, and examined the old family relic more attentively; it was ornamented with flowers and inscriptions, written in hieroglyphics, or some unknown character--I did not understand it. Inside the goblet was thickly gilded, but I soon remarked that from the bottom to about the middle the gold had become of a silvery white, and that also a streak of the same colour extended on one side up to the rim.

It appeared as if some fluid had worn away the gold and laid bare the silver. 'Strange!' I thought 'Nothing can dissolve gold--what can this be?' I determined I would ask some clever man about it, and could not rest until I found an opportunity on the following day, under some pretence or other, to repair to the neighbouring town.

I went to the doctor, a venerable old man, and showed him the goblet, without telling him how it had come into my possession; and I asked him what it could have been that had produced the white appearance.

The old man answered smiling, 'It only shows that the possessor is no chemist, but the goblet is not injured, and you have only to let a goldsmith heat it thoroughly.'

'What has made it so?' I inquired.

'That I cannot exactly tell,' he answered, 'but probably something of quicksilver, which has adhered to the gold--perhaps a solution of corrosive-sublimate.'

'Is not corrosive-sublimate poison?' I asked, horror-struck.

'Yes, certainly it is poisonous--why so?' demanded the old man, surprised at my warmth.

'Nothing!' I replied, trying to regain my composure, 'but tell me, my dear sir! how do people die who have taken this poison?'

He cast a searching glance at me.

'They die,' he said, at last, shrugging his shoulders. 'They die in the most dreadful torments--death is preceded by tremor, and burning in the stomach, and finally by fearful convulsions, which distort the features, and the corpse soon goes to decay.'

Now, all at once a terrible secret was clearly disclosed to me, and almost staggering, I left the worthy old man, who, astonished at my unusual behaviour, seemed to doubt whether I were in my right senses. And he was right, if he did so, for at this moment I was hovering on the brink of insanity. I thank God that I did not really become insane.

Like a spirit of vengeance I flew back to Theodore; I found him sitting on the sofa, and occupied in reading. He rose and came to meet me, with his usual smiling manner. With terrible calmness, and an inward joy, such as a fiend might experience when he is about to crush his victim, I drew forth the goblet, and fixing a look upon Theodore, as if I could annihilate him, I demanded of him with suppressed anger,

'Do you know this?'

He turned pale.

'Confess!' I continued; 'confess, Demon! that my sister received her death by means of this goblet!'

Theodore's usual self-possession entirely forsook him, and he stood there, as if he had fallen from a cloud, and 'Yes!' the only word audible to my excited nerves, convinced me of his crime.

'God!' I cried, shaking the trembling sinner--'Do you know that there is a God? He, not I, will punish you!'

I left him and became as tranquil again as if nothing had happened.

As I drove past the church, on my journey home, I cast a sad glance through the lattice window, into the family vault; I could distinguish the coffin of my sister; 'Emilie, I have revenged you!' I cried, as if the deceased could hear me, and in almost a happy state of mind I continued my journey.

Not long after this, Theodore put an end to his existence, in a fit of gloomy despair. May God be merciful to his soul!

The family goblet could never more be found. Probably Theodore had destroyed that mute witness of his crime. Thus the last possessor had, in fulfilment of the prophecy, received speedy happiness from it--and that happiness was--Death!