THE FATAL CHAIN.
FROM THE SWEDISH OF UNCLE ADAM.
One dreary autumn evening, shortly after I had taken
of my living (thus my friend, the Rev. Mr. Z., began his narrative),
I was sitting alone in my study, the same which I occupy to this day,
and from which I overlook the church and the churchyard, when a
servant-girl entered, and announced that a strange gentleman was
waiting in the drawing-room, who wished to speak to me. I hastened
downstairs, and found a good-looking young man, although he appeared to
be unusually pale, with an expression of wild grief in his eyes, which
led me to conclude that he was the bearer of some unpleasant
'I come to beg you for the key of the Lejonswärd'schen family vault,'
said he; 'I believe you have it.'
'What!' I demanded in astonishment, 'do you wish it now, at this late
'Yes; I must have it,' said the stranger, impatiently, 'for a corpse.
Alas! a corpse is to be interred immediately.'
The stranger's manners seemed to me to be so very peculiar that I still
hesitated. On perceiving this he cried,
'You appear to be unwilling to give it, sir. You need not hesitate; my
name is Lejonswärd, and the corpse which is to be laid in the narrow
tomb is that of my wife. I have one key, but require the other from
you. Will you still refuse it to me?'
I gave him the key, and with scarcely a word of thanks he hastened
away. I returned to my chamber, and gazed forth into the darkness which
shrouded the churchyard. I soon perceived lights moving over the graves
towards the vaults; the vault lies here, on this side, and the wall at
the entrance is ornamented by a lion holding in its paw a pierced
heart. The tomb was opened, and I saw the torchlight through the
grating. It was a gloomy sight, which I shall never forget.
The simple burial was over, and immediately afterwards a servant
brought me back the key.
Several years had passed, when the same gentleman entered my room one
'Do you recollect me?' he asked. I answered in the affirmative. 'It is
well,' continued he; 'I am going to become your parishioner, yonder at
'Are you going to live at Lejonsnäs? Surely you are not in earnest,
Herr Count! No one has resided there for nearly a hundred years.'
'So much the better! I will turn it once more into a human dwelling;
but I shall lead a very secluded life; my servant is to be my
major-domo, my coachman, and my valet; that will be a quiet household!
Will you accompany me?' continued he. 'Though the proprietor of the
estate, I am perfectly ignorant of its situation. Will you accompany
me, and instal me among my dear forefathers who are there in effigy?'
Having acquainted my wife with my intended journey, I seated myself
along with the count in his carriage, and set off, driven by the much
experienced domestic, who, besides his knowledge of the mysteries of
the kitchen and the bed-chamber, was also skilled in managing a pair of
We soon arrived at the estate. A large, heavy building, to which, wings
had been added, stood, with its dingy windows, in gloomy grandeur; a
double row of ancient trees skirted the spacious court-yard, in the
centre of which, surrounded by a wild and partly withered hedge of box,
arose a dried-up fountain. This is a slight description of the place.
The count smiled and looked at me. 'How does the house please you?'
said he. 'To me it looks like the abode of spectres. It is strange,'
continued he, 'that people are always anxious to attach a more intimate
connection with the world of spirits to places such as this, as if
spirits could not reveal their presence anywhere. You doubt my words.
You shake your head. Why? If there be no communication with the world
of spirits, why have we an inward voice which tells us that there is?'
'All have not such a voice,' I answered, smiling.
'There you are mistaken, dear sir,' replied the count, eagerly. 'You
cannot deny that there are things which pass our comprehension, which
therefore originate from a higher power; and there scarcely exists a
man who, once in his life at least, has not been placed in a situation
which has forced him to believe in the influence of a world of spirits.
Tell me, what is it that consoles him who has lost all that he held
dear? For instance, a--'--he was silent a moment, as if struggling with
inward emotion--'a wife,' continued he, 'and child. What is that--when,
crushed by the cruel hand of Fate, one kneels before a coffin--which
illumines the soul like a clear stream of light from a better world, or
whispers sweet comfort to the half-paralyzed heart?'
'Religion,' I replied; 'the consolation of religion, Herr Count.'
'No, no, Herr Pastor; religion has nothing to do with this. Religion
is a sentiment embracing duty and devotion, which is founded on faith,
and directed by reason. The sensation to which I allude is something
outward, something which affects the soul as suddenly as a flash of
lightning, without the thoughts having had time to dwell on the
possibility of consolation. It is as if a stream of light broke
unexpectedly upon the mind, Herr Pastor. It is not religion, but the
spirit of the beloved departed which bestows on the mourner a portion
of its own bliss.'
Just then the inspector arrived with the keys of the castle, and
interrupted our conversation. He also was of the same opinion as
myself, that the castle was not fit to be inhabited; but the count
remained firm to his intention of taking up his abode there.
'Give me the keys, inspector. You need not accompany us; my friend and
I will be able to find our way, I do not doubt. You need only tell us
to which doors the keys belong.'
The inspector bowed, and began as he was requested to sort the keys.
'This one belongs to the large house-door; this, to the suite of rooms
occupied by the councillor of blessed memory; and this, to the
apartments which the councillor's wife inhabited. This key belongs to
the young count's rooms; or,' continued he, rather embarrassed, 'to the
rooms in the western wing, which belonged to your grandfather, Herr
Count, when he was a young man.'
'Enough, good sir. We shall find our way,' said the count, as he
smilingly interrupted him.
We approached the castle. 'Did you hear,' said the count, 'the young
count's rooms?' The young count was my grandfather. This shows that
traditions never grow old. He is still called THE YOUNG COUNT here,
although it is about fifty years since he died, old and infirm.'
As we entered the lofty arched entrance-hall, a chill, dank air met us.
Here and there a portion of the ornamental gilding from the walls had
fallen away, and several large oil-paintings, representing bear-hunts,
had become spotted with mould and dust.
'The entrance-hall is not particularly inviting,' said the count; 'but
let us proceed farther.'
The key was placed into the heavy, elaborately ornamented door, leading
to the apartments of the councillor above mentioned. We entered an
antechamber, hung with several portraits and landscapes of the Dutch
school; here, in a richly-gilt frame, which the hand of time had
partially robbed of its brilliancy, was a lady dressed as a
shepherdess, with a broad-brimmed straw hat upon her powdered head, and
a shepherd's crook in her hand; a lovely smile played round the rosy
lips, and the bright and speaking eyes sparkled with gaiety.
'That,' said the count, 'is my grandmother. She is smiling to us. She
was painted as a bride, and there she still sits in her youthful
beauty. It is the same with portraits as with the soul--they never grow
We went on, and entered a room with a polished oaken floor, and the
walls hung with gilded leather in richly-gilt partitions; there was a
stiff grandeur about the room, which was rendered more formal by the
old-fashioned furniture. The mouldings of the ceilings were decorated
by groups of clumsy figures, a remnant of the grotesque taste, and
accumulation of ornaments so prevalent in the seventeenth century. This
had formerly been the chamber in which the councillor had studied, and
it had been left untouched, just as it was during his lifetime. A
clock, in a large stand of Chinese painting, in black and gold, stood
silent and covered with dust in a corner, and a thick bell-rope with
ponderous silk tassels still hung in another corner near the heavy
writing-table, before which was placed, as if the student had only a
moment before arisen from it, a narrow, high-backed chair, with legs
curved outwards. Beyond this room came a bed-chamber, decorated in the
style as the one we had just left.
'By Heavens,' said the count, 'it almost seems as if you were
right. I cannot reconcile myself to these rooms, and to this furniture.
Rooms and furniture--if I may so express myself--are our nearest
acquaintances--a chair, a table, a sofa, are often our most intimate
At length we arrived at two small rooms, the windows of which looked
out upon the garden; they seemed to have been more recently occupied,
and were more simply furnished.
'I shall pitch my tent here!' said the count. 'The arrangements cannot
be said to be of the newest fashion, but, at any rate, there is a more
cheerful aspect about this place than in any other part of the castle.'
Before the table stood an arm-chair, which formerly had been gilded,
but now the white grounding was visible in many places; the red velvet
with which it was covered was not faded; indeed, upon the whole, the
colours were better preserved in this room than in the others. I was
surprised at it, but the count, who regarded everything in his own
peculiar way, merely remarked that the chamber lay on the northern side
of the house.
'You see, Herr Pastor, where the full glare of the sun cannot
penetrate, anything old is better preserved. It is a well-known fact,
that what is ancient is best preserved in darkness; this holds good as
well in the material as in the moral world, for light is only required
by that which is growing. Objects that decay are more easily destroyed
in light than in twilight. Hence,' he added, with a satirical curl of
his lip, 'darkness is so necessary for the preservation of what is
These apartments having been brought into some sort of order, the count
established himself in them; from the time he had taken possession of
his paternal property, his temper appeared to have become more equable.
The castle harmonized with his restless soul, which cared not for the
present, but loved rather to live amidst the memory of the past, which
was crowded with familiar acquaintances; or, to endeavour to seek a
dark and mysterious intercourse with another and to us unknown, world.
He was a visionary, but a noble visionary, with a deep sense of
everything that is good and grand. I frequently visited him, and found
him often engaged in reading, but he always hid his book when I
entered. Once, however, I happened to catch a glimpse of it; it was
Jung Stilling's works.
'I see, count,' said I, 'that you are reading about ghosts and
apparitions. You surely do not believe in them?'
'Why should I not? Is there anything absurd in that belief, or do you
suppose that man is the only being in the creation intellectually
endowed? That he stands next to God? Do you not believe in the
possibility that the human soul, when freed from its vile earthly
garment, can receive a more perfect, an ethereal body, suited to its
new state? I believe in it, and find comfort in the thought. What
were man if he did not, even here below, penetrate, however dimly, into
a future existence, and acquire a slight knowledge of its mysteries?
What were we did we not all believe in this, to a greater or lesser
extent? I maintain that there does not exist a man who has not some
belief in spirits, even though he may ridicule the idea to others. When
Death steals away the best beloved of a man's heart, seizes her in his
bony arms, and draws her down into the gloom of the grave--when the
hand of Providence lies heavily upon him--rest assured, my friend,
that man will believe in a spiritual world.'
'Assuredly; and he ought to do so. No one should dare to doubt the
future existence of the soul.'
'I speak of the atmosphere as being peopled with spirits; to that
belief the soul of man clings when sorrowing for the dead.'
'Sorrow often leads to wild ideas,' I remarked.
'Sorrow!' repeated the count. 'You are partly right; sorrow constitutes
the night in the fate of mankind. When we are prosperous we heed not
the noiseless, measured movement of the wheel of fate; the earthy
element asserts its right over us, and cheats us into the belief that
we are happy. True happiness and sorrow are more in unison than we are
apt to fancy. If we sit on a peaceful evening with a beloved wife and
her children, and thank the Lord for all the blessings we enjoy, it is
their presence which constitutes our happiness; or, if we fall upon our
knees by the side of their inanimate corpses, though we are bowed down
with grief for their loss at first, after a time we cease to feel that
we are alone. There is a something invisible, inaudible, and yet
intelligible to our inmost soul that tells us restoration succeeds to
dissolution, and life succeeds to death; and this something I call a
mysterious intercourse with the spirit world.'
'But, count,' I suggested, 'reason points out to us--'
'Reason!' repeated he, impetuously interrupting me. 'Speak not of cold
reason! What is that power which some possess of divining every
feeling, every thought of those near them? What is feeling in
comparison with foreboding--judgment in comparison with faith? He who
acknowledges the existence of a higher world--who sincerely and
earnestly believes in a connection between his feelings and their
author--God--is a person of elevated mind; the man, on the contrary,
who in his pride of intellect detracts from the Holy One, and divides
the indivisible, is grovelling and limited in his ideas. I never could
endure that over-wise reason, which would force itself into everything,
fancying that it could take part in everything, without doing so in
reality. Do not say, therefore, Herr Pastor, what reason points out to
us. I contend that reason knows nothing about the matter.'
I found it was not worth while to dispute with the count, for as he
would not admit the right of reason, I had nothing to advance against
his vague and undefinable notions.
'It is a comfort,' said the count, one day, 'to believe in spiritual
visits. I live alone here; my servants inhabit the second story, and
you may possibly fancy that my time often hangs heavily on my hands.
Far from it; when my candles begin to burn dimly in the evening, and
the thick foliage is rustling gently--when the old furniture creaks,
and a distant sound is heard, which may either be taken for the
ringing of bells or the chanting of low murmuring voices, then my true
life begins. I saunter up and down the room, and at times stand still
and listen. Ah, then, often do I feel as if a flood of joy were rushing
on my wounded heart--there is a flitting sound in the adjoining
chamber--"Julia, Julia! thou hast not forgotten me!" I exclaim; and,
calm and happy, I retire to rest and fall asleep dreaming of her.'
The count sank into deep thought, but he soon raised his dark eyes
again, and gazing into my face, he said,
'You are my friend, are you not, even though you do not approve of my
chimeras, as you reasonable people call them? I speak of my Julia; you
do not know her, although she has for year belonged to your parish. She
it was who, on the evening that I saw you for the first time, was
conveyed to her last resting-place--she, my wife. I will tell you about
my Julia, and you must not endeavour to dissuade me, by reasoning, from
a belief which has become so necessary to me.'
The count seated himself in a large arm-chair, and began his narrative
The house of Baron Lindesparre, in Stockholm, was, at the period from
which my story dates, the rendezvous of all the talent and beauty of
the capital. His soirées were noted for the distinguished tone which
pervaded them, for their unconstrained mirth, and their elegance
without ostentation. His splendid apartments were tastefully arranged,
without a single article being placed so as to appear more prominent
than the rest; where all was luxury the profusion was not observable.
It was only when one analyzed the magnificence of the house that one
found it was magnificent.
The baron had been many years a widower: his wife, a Spaniard by birth,
I never saw, but she had left a daughter, beautiful and gentle, a being
formed partly of the glowing roses of the South, and partly of the snow
of the North. She was the fairy of the place, and hundreds vied for a
smile from her lips. This was Julia. She became my wife.
We had been married half a year, and had a separate residence, but on
every soirée Julia went to her father's to do the honours of the house.
On one of these evenings the company was more numerous than usual, and
I observed a gentleman among the crowd whom I did not know, and who
kept his eyes continually fixed upon my wife. He was tall and thin,
with a countenance pale and attenuated, the features were almost stiff
and inanimate, and the flashing eyes alone, which he fixed with a sort
of scornful look upon my Julia, betrayed life. He was dressed in black,
but a small star of brilliants sparkled from his button-hole, showing
that he was in the service of some government. The man appeared to be
about fifty years of ago, and a few grey hairs peeped out here and
there among his otherwise black locks. I know not why I took such a
strong interest in him; I fancied him disagreeable, and yet I was
attracted to him. His was a sort of spell such as certain snakes are
said to exercise over their victims.
My father-in-law came towards me. 'Who is that gentleman dressed in
black?' I asked.
'Ah,' answered the old man, 'I had almost forgotten to introduce you;
he is a Spaniard, a countryman of my beloved wife. Come.'
I followed him, and soon stood before the strange-looking guest.
'Don Caldero,' began my father-in-law; 'allow me to have the honour of
introducing to you my son-in-law, Count Lejonswärd--Don Caldero,
attaché to the Spanish Embassy.'
The stranger in the black dress said a few polite words to my
father-in-law, who then moved on.
'As far as I can judge from observation, count, you are the happiest
husband in all cold Sweden. I am glad to have made your acquaintance,'
said the Spaniard; 'I have long remarked you, and intended to have
inquired your name. You, like myself, appear to pay attention not only
to the outward but also to the inward properties of mankind. I rejoice
to have met a kindred spirit.'
Thus began my acquaintance with a man who, notwithstanding his cold,
severe, repulsive manners, possessed a fiery soul, and a mind capable
of conceiving grand ideas. From this evening Don Caldero became
intimate with me, and his clear understanding, the captivating warmth
which he too well knew how to mingle with his elegant conversation,
guided my ideas and feelings into a direction for which I was already
predisposed by character, but in which, without Don Caldero, I probably
never would have gone so far. He often visited at our house, and I
became more and more attached to the highly-talented and well-informed
Spaniard, and he, too, seemed disposed to like me. It was he who, with
a clearness which I am not capable of imitating, pointed out to me the
connection between God and man, between the visible and the invisible
world, who proved to me the existence of a communication between a
spiritual world and ours, manifested in dreams, forebodings, and in
mysterious intimations of the influence of a higher power, which we
experience in moments of grave importance. It was he who placed before
me the truth of apparitions, purified from all superstition--that is to
say, denying them to be gross, material manifestations, but receiving
them as produced through the interposition of beings endowed with
greater powers of intellect than ourselves. You should have heard him,
sir, and though you are so great a sceptic, you would have believed him
as I did.
We often amused ourselves with playing at chess, game that has always
interested me greatly. Don Caldero shared my taste, and we sometimes
fought a whole evening over one game.
'Chess pleases me,' he used to say, 'because it depends less than
anything else upon the chance of fate. Fate makes itself visible
everywhere, hence one must seek a pastime which excludes it as much as
possible; our pastimes ought to be such, that spirits cannot interfere
and amuse themselves at our expense.'
Don Caldero frequented my father-in-law's soirées, and my house, but
hitherto he had never invited me to visit him. He resided in a large
mansion quite by himself, and never received any strangers. His
character did not attract people, it rather caused him to be avoided;
for few knew, or could understand, his great worth, and fewer still
were inclined to follow him in his bold flights through the vast
regions of fancy.
After praising his friend at some length, the count concluded his
eulogy by saying:
In a word, Herr Pastor, there is but one such man in the world, and
that man is called Caldero.
At length, one evening, Caldero did invite me. He lived at the
farther end of the northern suburb, in a house which he had furnished
according to his own taste. On entering the saloon I found no one, the
apartment was empty, and merely lighted by a single handsome lamp,
which hung from the ceiling, and which cast a subdued light around. I
went farther: everywhere I encountered the same silence, the same
twilight, the same heavy grandeur, which was to be traced in every
object. I stood still, a strange feeling creeping over me, the nursery
legends about enchanted castles flashed across my mind, and I fancied
myself transported into one whose owner, with all his retainers, lay in
one of the inner chambers, buried for many centuries in a profound
magical slumber. These thoughts were soon, however, chafed away by soft
steps upon the rich carpet, and Caldero's gloomy figure stood before
'Welcome, count!' he said, courteously. 'I thank you for coming to my
hermitage, where, you must know, I have never invited anyone but
yourself. I longed for one evening to take entire possession of you;
pardon my selfishness.'
He led me into the inner cabinet. This was a small chamber, but lofty,
and fitted up in a still more gloomy style than the others. The walls,
hung with dark-red velvet, contrasted strangely with the white and gold
pilasters which stood at the four corners. In the middle of the room
was a table, upon which was placed a chessboard between a pair of tall
wax candles. We seated ourselves upon the sofa, and my host appeared to
be reflecting upon something; at length he exclaimed:
'Count! perhaps you may think it extraordinary that the Spaniard
Caldero has formed such an affection for you. He considers it his duty
to explain why; but in order to do so, I must give you a slight sketch
of my history.'
I listened with great attention to what this strange introduction might
lead, and Don Caldero continued:
'I was born and educated in Madrid; my father was a poor but excellent
man, belonging to the ancient nobility, and I imbibed from my earliest
infancy high notions of the value of rank. Latterly it has fallen in my
estimation, although I cannot even now entirely free myself from a
prejudice in favour of the advantages of good birth. I was, as I said
before, poor, but proud, as every Spaniard should be, and an ardent
longing to obtain honour and distinction dwelt in my youthful breast.
This longing was increased tenfold by my passion for a lovely girl as
poor as myself, but even more richly endowed with ancestors. The slight
difference which existed in the ancientness of our lineage, combined
with my poverty, prevented our love from becoming anything more than a
hopeless passion; for her parents, proud of their pure Christian blood,
which for centuries had remained unmixed, could not endure the idea of
their daughter uniting herself to me, whose early ancestor was a Moor,
a scion of that noble race who once occupied a portion of Spain. Still
youth and love easily forget these small differences, and Maria, so the
young lady was called, loved me most fervently. Often when she left
mass she bestowed upon me a few minutes undisturbed by witnesses. Ah!
how happy I then was! I fancied my own individual merit would, in time,
convince Maria's parents that I was worthy of her hand; I therefore
sought to be appointed to the diplomatic corps, a path which, under our
weak government, was a sure road to distinction; nor was it long before
I was named attaché to the mission to Vienna.
'I met my beloved; it was for the last time; and never shall that
moment pass from my memory.
'"Do not forget your faithful Alphonso," I whispered, as I pressed her
in my arms. I felt how her tears rolled down her blooming cheeks.
'"See, beloved Maria," I said, at length, giving her a small golden
chain, which I had received from my mother--"see, here is something as
a remembrance of me; keep it faithfully. If, however, you should
forsake me, then return it to me, and I will wear it, and die thinking
of, and praying for, you."'
'"Never, never!" murmured Maria, as she took the chain.
'"Never, never!" I repeated, pressing her to my heart. "But, Maria!" I
continued after I had become more composed, "you might perhaps, forget
me; will you, as a proof of our eternal union, share a consecrated
wafer with your lover?" I had one, which I broke in two. "God is our
witness!" we both said. The clock in the adjoining cloister struck
'"I must go," cried Maria. "For ever yours; for ever and for ever!"
'Long after she had disappeared I stood rooted to the spot, striving to
catch a glimpse of her in the moonlight. "For ever--for ever!" sounded
in my ears, and, midst golden dreams of a future full of bliss and
honour, I wended my way home.
'I had been about a year in Vienna, when one evening a stranger brought
me a packet. It contained the chain. I was horrified.
'"Deceived!--forsaken!--forgotten!" I cried. "But no, it is
impossible!" A slip of paper which was enclosed, contained, to my
comfort, the following words: "I remember my oath, but am forced to
break it. Do not despise Maria."'
Don Caldero showed me a locket, which he wore near his heart. 'Do you
know this face?' said he. I started; they were the features of my wife.
'My wife!' I cried, in an agitated voice.
'No, my friend,' replied Caldero, with a bitter smile; 'it was her
mother. On this account I attached myself to you, for I still love the
mother in her child. I have suffered, I have become resigned, but I
have never forgotten: and I willingly cling to the belief, that
necessity and compulsion alone robbed me of my Maria. Let us play,
I silently seated myself at the chess-table, on which was ranged a
splendid set of chessmen; the board was of black-and-white stone,
and the men of one party were of silver, with tops of clear
crystal, diamond cut, while those of the other side were of a dark
steel-coloured metal, with dark red-tops.
'It is not usual,' began Don Caldero, 'to play chess for money; yet why
should we not at least venture something? I should like--I have often
very strange ideas--I should like to give your Julia the chain which
her mother possessed for a time; it is neither valuable nor modern, but
perhaps if she hears its history, she may kindly wear it in remembrance
of Don Caldero. I will stake the necklace, and you, count, will you
stake a lock of the dark hair of your Julia? She will doubtless give
it, if you ask for it. You must forgive an old, despised lover, for
fancying he sees the mother when he gazes on your wife.'
'I consent willingly to this arrangement,' I replied, smiling.
We played; but it seemed as though Don Caldero took pains to lose, and
he speedily succeeded in his endeavours.
'I am vanquished,' he said quietly, as he went towards a casket, which
I had not hitherto observed. 'Here, count, is the chain; I shall be
more calm when it is no longer in my hands.'
The chain was more costly than I had imagined, and I was pleased at the
idea of Julia wearing it when Caldero visited us. I instantly wrote a
note to Julia, in which, without mentioning anything about her mother,
I told her of Caldero's and my bet, and begged her for a lock of her
hair, in case, against my expectation, I should lose the next game. I
sent a servant to my house with this note and the chain to my wife,
after which we again returned to the chess-table. Now Caldero became
more cautious; I, on the contrary, was seized by a secret anxiety, an
uneasiness which I could not explain. I did not perceive the false
moves I was too evidently making. Don Caldero drew my attention to my
carelessness and more than once, made me take back my move; all was in
vain, I was as though bewitched, and could no longer calculate my
position. At length the servant returned, bringing a small note from
Julia. She jested at the taste of our Spanish friend, yet sent the lock
of hair, at the same time entreating me not again, not even for more
costly ornaments than the chain, to stake the ringlets of my wife. I
showed Caldero the note; he read it, and seemed to turn pale.
'Her handwriting resembles her mother's,' he said, and laid the note
upon the table. 'Let us continue.'
We played on, but I soon found myself completely surrounded by his men;
my strange uneasiness increased at each moment; I felt as though a
drawn sword were suspended by a hair over my head; the candles seemed
to burn blue; the white tops of my kings appeared to assume a pale
milk-white colour, whereas the dark-red of Calderos men glowed like
fiery coals, radiant with some inward light.
'Checkmated,' he said, in a low tone. 'Checkmated, count,' he repeated,
louder; but I sat immovable, staring fixedly at the chessmen. I
experienced a horrible sensation, as though an evil spirit were
standing behind me, with his burning hot hand upon my head;
nevertheless I was shivering--a death-like coldness had crept over my
whole body, and yet--At length I ventured to glance at Don Caldero; his
gloomy countenance was more pale than usual, he looked like a corpse,
and his dark hollow eyes were intently fixed upon me. 'This is the 12th
of August,' he murmured, as if to himself. 'Reconciliation with the
dead. Count, give me the lock of hair.'
I handed it to him, and then, rising from my seat as one intoxicated, I
staggered out of the house. I was conscious of nothing that was going
on; but Caldero followed me.
'Forgive me, count, my strange behaviour; but it is exactly twenty
years this day since Maria and I shared the consecrated wafer. I have
kept my oath. Good night, count. Do not forget your friend.'
I hastened home. Never in my life have I so distinctly beard a voice of
warning in the inmost depths of my soul. 'Hasten! hasten! hasten!'
cried the voice; and I flew rather than walked.
'Is Julia up still?' I asked of the servant who let me in.
'The countess?' he inquired. 'Yes, yes; the countess!'
'The countess must be still up; she dismissed her maid only a few
I ran to my wife's room. Julia was sitting in an arm-chair before her
toilet-table, and quite calmly, as though she had not heard my hasty
'God be praised that my foreboding of evil has not proved true!' I
'Julia!' I cried, in an agony of anxiety--'Julia, do you not hear me?'
Still the same silence. She sat immovable before the mirror, and her
lovely features were reflected in the glass; the trinket which I had
won was round her neck, and a gentle expression was in her tender black
'Julia! Julia!' I cried, seizing her hand. It was cold, but not rigid.
God! my God! She was dead! I know not what further happened, but a
fortnight later I was with you, Herr Pastor, to place the remains of my
Julia in my family vault.'
The count had risen, and strode up and down the room in great
agitation. The clock struck eleven.
'Art thou there, Julia?' he cried, while his eyes roved wildly round.
'Come in! come in!' He opened the door leading to the adjoining room,
and called out into the darkness, 'Julia, I am here! here is thy
husband!' A cold draught of air alone was wafted into the room, and a
slight rustling noise was discernible. 'She passes on,' said the count.
He slammed the door, and sank into an arm-chair. 'She will not come to
me! My God! my God! let me go to her!'
The count sat for awhile lost in deep thought; at length he sprang up,
gazed at me with eyes beaming with joy, and exclaimed,
'Pastor Z., it is glorious to hope!'
When I left him I actually found myself trembling, and I was right glad
that the servant lighted me along the deserted apartments, so powerful
is the effect of the imagination when excited.
I continued to visit the count from time to time. His grief had, I
fancied, calmed down, but his health was beginning to suffer,
imperceptibly to himself perhaps, but not so to those who saw him now
and then. I remarked that he was gradually becoming more strange; he
often laughed at things which were not at all ludicrous; nevertheless,
he was always the same amiable man I had ever known him, and his
judgment was clear on every subject except when the mystic world was
touched upon, then his thoughts used to wander, and Julia, his beloved
Julia, was always the pivot round which his ideas turned.
In the middle of winter I suddenly received a message, to the effect
that I was wanted immediately at the castle. The messenger could not
tell the reason why I had been summoned, but said that the count's
valet had ordered him to saddle a horse and to ride as fast as he could
to me. I suspected some misfortune, so set off instantly.
When I entered the count's room he was seated at a table.
'Ah, is it you, Pastor Z.?' he said, when he perceived me. 'Have you
come to preach peace to my soul? Begin, sir; it will be amusing to
listen--ha, ha, ha!--to hope in God? God? what is that? No, pastor, now
I am wise--I believe in nothing, not even in myself, nor in you,
priest, you black-skinned slug! You are one of those who wind
themselves round mankind, and lie with a double tongue! Speak on, sir!'
His flashing eyes and uplifted arm, which threatened to strike, caused
me to start back: he was evidently deranged. His pale lips trembled
with rage, and his black hair hung in disorder about his brow, from
which drops of perspiration rolled down his cheeks. I perceived that
here I could be of no use; I therefore went to the bell to summon the
servant. He made his appearance, pale, and with eyes red from weeping.
'Look!' cried the count, wildly laughing--'only look, Pastor Z.! The
livelong night he has been borrowing from the fountain of tears, and
talking no end of nonsense, merely because I told the fool the simple
fact that neither he nor I possessed a soul, and that there is no such
thing as right or wrong. Well? How comical you look--ha, ha, ha! You,
and my man yonder, look like a couple of frightened sheep. You may rely
on what I say, he would have come if it had been in his power; but all
is over, he cannot come. Yes, look yonder, stare at your heaven: it is
air, mere air, nothing but empty air. Do you understand? The earth is a
solid lump, upon which cabbages, long-tailed monkeys, men, and other
plants grow; and above is heaven, that is to say, sensibly speaking,
air, atmosphere. Well? Are you not capable of comprehending this? it is
as clear as the day. Just listen,' he continued; 'mankind is a sort of
animal of prey, which, even when tamed, do not lose their natural
propensities; they are worse than beasts of prey, for even the tiger
loves its mate and its young, but look, man murders them--murders, do
He hid his face in his hands, and wept aloud.
'I do not know what the letter could have contained,' whispered the
servant. 'The count received it yesterday evening; he seemed overjoyed
when he beheld the handwriting, and before I left the room; when I
returned, however, he was just as you now see him. The poor count!' he
continued; 'he was such an excellent master!'
The count sprang to his feet as if he had been terrified by something.
'Ho!' he cried, and his wild eyes wandered round the room. 'So much
blood, so much poison were flowing over the earth; then a serpent
stretched out its scaly head from the bottomless pit and seized the
white dove. She fluttered her wings, the poor little thing, but first
one part of her and then the other was crushed in the serpent's throat.
It was her dead mother who devoured her: it was horrible! Look
yonder--look, Herr Pastor! A thick darkness overspread the earth; not a
single ray of hope could penetrate through the bloody vapour to her!
Nay, good pastor, it was merely a freak of fancy, but at the same time
a picture of the truth. Her mother and her husband murdered her. Do you
In this strain the unhappy man continued to rave for several days. I
remained in the castle, for I hoped he might rally. A doctor was called
in: he applied many remedies, none of which, however, seemed to afford
the sufferer any relief. The count continued to be insane, and never
for an instant did he close his eyes in sleep. At length, however, he
became exhausted, and was obliged to be carried to his bed. I was then
called to him. How much he had changed! his dark eyes had sunken
greatly? and looked like flames half extinguished; his cheeks had
fallen in, and his brow was full of wrinkles. He lay apparently in a
state of complete exhaustion, and when I addressed him he did not
His servant privately handed me the fatal letter. It was from Don
Caldero, and ran as follows:
'Dear Count,--When this letter reaches you, I shall be no more. It
shall be laid in my desk, ready to be sent to you after my death. I owe
you an explanation to divest you of your erroneous ideas respecting
another world. For a long time past I have not believed in a future
life, but it has been one of my favourite amusements to observe the
faith of enthusiasts. It gave me pleasure when I perceived a man misled
by his faith, and I laughed in my sleeve at such folly. I influenced
your opinions, as I found you to be a fit subject for my experiments.
'I am a Catholic; from my youth upwards my eye has been accustomed to
weeping Madonnas; I have heard the miracles respecting the saints
narrated, and was expected to believe all I heard. The consequence is,
that I have ended by believing nothing, The whole of religion rests
upon the conviction of the present and eternal existence of the
immortal soul; but there is no proof that man possesses a soul, any
more than there is proof of the truth of the above-mentioned miracles.
Man is an animal like the other inhabitants of the globe, with this
exception only, that he has a more perfectly-developed brain, and a
greater number of intellectual organs. Life is quite independent of
soul. I have studied these subjects, and have become convinced that the
theory about the soul is a fabrication of the priesthood, invented to
enable them the more easily to govern the body. There can be no Divine
disposer of human events, else wickedness would not prosper in this
world as it does, whilst uprightness suffers. There is a governing law
in nature which dooms mankind to death, just as the trees are compelled
annually to shed their leaves. I saw how oaths were broken with
impunity; I shared with a maiden, whom I loved more than my life, a
consecrated wafer, the most sacred thing I then knew: she broke the
oath and became happy, while I, who kept it, became miserable. Hence
I began to believe in fate, and not in Providence, and learned to
despise mankind to prevent myself from hating them.
'I met you and your Julia; she was her daughter. She was beautiful,
and as yet nothing had occurred to try her character. For awhile my old
dreams of faithful love revived, and for the daughter's sake I forgave
the mother, who had so deeply wounded the most sacred of all feelings,
if anything can be termed sacred. To be brief, count, I fancied myself
once more in my enthusiastic youthful days; I forgot the sentiments
experience had induced me to adopt, and faith in Maria's love blossomed
anew in my heart, like the flowers which take root in the loose ashes
of a volcano. I fancied my innocent Maria would meet me in another
world with a kind welcome, and joyfully traverse with me the regions of
space. You see, count, that the notion of eternity and God proceeds
from our conceptions of love, and that, where there is no love, faith
is also wanting.
'Your wife died suddenly on the anniversary of the day on which Maria
and I had taken the oath. I considered this event as a sign from
Heaven, from her who, yonder above the skies, still loved me. I thought
the mother had called her daughter to herself, for she was the only
being on earth who testified to her broken oath. I deceived myself.
'I had scarcely returned to Spain, when I received a visit from a monk.
'"Pardon me, senor," said he, "if I take the liberty of putting a
question to you. Have you a chain, which you once received from a
distinguished lady whom you loved?"
'I gazed at the man in astonishment, and answered, "Yes; what can you
know about it?"
'"Señor, I prepared an old woman for death who had been engaged in some
cases of poisoning, and she confessed the following, which she gave me
permission to repeat, if by so doing any advantage might be gained:
'One evening,' these were her words, 'I was summoned to a young and
beautiful lady, she was called Maria Viso'--was that the name of your
beloved?--'and she begged me to insert a powerful poison in the clasp
of a chain.'
'"Although the wretched woman was accustomed to such commissions, she
nevertheless asked who was to wear the chain? The lady answered that it
had been given to her by an importunate suitor who was called Caldero,
and she now wished to send back the chain to him. She also said that
her feelings towards him were changed, and she now preferred another,
but that her parents, who formerly opposed her marriage with him, had
become anxious for it, and wished to force it on her, and she was
determined to get rid of him.
'"The woman thereupon inserted the poison into the clasp. The lady had
afterwards married a heretic, and this act of hers it was which had
roused the poisoner's conscience, for notwithstanding her being so
great a criminal, she was an orthodox Catholic. She sought to find you
out, in the hope that the scheme had not succeeded according to the
lady's intentions. The Lord be praised and thanked that you did not
wear that chain, you would undoubtedly have died if you had; the best
thing you can do with it will be to present it to our poor monastery,
for with the pure everything is pure, and the poison might be expunged
by melting the gold."
'I stood like one turned into a statue of stone. It was, then, the
decree of fate that the mother should be accessary to the daughter's
death, and the latter be sacrificed for the crime of the former!
'Picture to yourself now, if you can, count, blessed spirits: imagine
to yourself, now, a heaven on earth with a woman you love; cling to a
belief in another world; if you can do all this, then you are indeed a
perfect fool. I have relapsed into my old views: the earth remains
earth, and nothing more. When you are reading this I shall be dead,
cold, and buried. If, however, I have an immortal soul, you will know
the contents of this letter before it arrives, otherwise you must
believe that nothing remains of him who once was your friend.
The much-to-be-pitied victim of Caldero's cold atheism and contempt of
mankind still sat in the same position, staring gloomily before him,
without uttering a syllable, but now and then heaving a deep-drawn
sigh. It was evident that he would soon be at rest, for every day he
became weaker and weaker.
I scarcely ever left the bedside of the unfortunate young man, in the
hope that he might, if only for a few minutes, regain his senses, when
I could speak peace to his soul.
One evening, after this sad state of affairs had continued without
interruption for a fortnight, I was sitting at a table reading, with my
back turned to the count, when I heard a low whispering behind me; it
was his voice. I listened--it was a fervent, humble prayer for peace in
death, and pardon for all his sins. I let him finish his prayer
'Who is there?' asked the count, in a feeble tone.
I drew near to the bed.
'Is it you, Pastor Z.?' he said mildly. 'Still up? It is late. I am
happy now, my friend, for it will soon be day; I have had a long night.
I am dying, but I bear within me a strong voice crying, 'Love is
faith,' and I pray, bowing myself in humility before the God of Love. I
have wandered from the right path, I was misled, misfortune pursued me,
and I became, through my thoughtlessness, Julia's murderer. The
crushing intelligence contained in Caldero's letter shook my trust in
everything, for it is a relief to a guilty soul not to believe in a
Judge. But my presumptuous folly was punished, my understanding became
obscured. A light has burst upon me now, and since I have prayed I feel
at peace. I prayed--for many years I neglected to do so--yes, I prayed
with clasped hands, as my mother used to teach me when I was an
innocent child. Alas, I ought always to have prayed thus.'
He ceased speaking, and leaning his head against his pillow, he looked
steadfastly at me with a mild, glorified expression of countenance. I
had sunk upon my knees at the side of his bed, and poured forth thanks
to my God for the ray of light and hope which he had permitted to
penetrate the darkened mind of the poor sufferer.
'Lord!' I entreated, 'grant him light!'
'Light,' he repeated, in a low whisper, 'Lord! more light. God be
praised! there is light!'
He closed his eyes, heaved a long sigh, and in another world he
received an explanation of that secret, the solution of which he had
only grasped in his last hour.
He now reposes in the family vault by the side of his beloved Julia;
the receptacle of the dead is full. The pieces of his shattered
escutcheon lie scattered upon the floor around his coffin,
key of the vault will be needed no more!