THE FATAL CHAIN.

FROM THE SWEDISH OF UNCLE ADAM.


One dreary autumn evening, shortly after I had taken possession 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 intelligence.

'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 hour?'

'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 morning.

'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 Lejonsnäs.'

'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 horses.

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 old.'

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 companions.'

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 old.'

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 as follows:

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 me.

'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 eleven.

'"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, count.'

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 minutes ago.'

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 steps.

'God be praised that my foreboding of evil has not proved true!' I exclaimed.

No answer.

'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 eyes.

'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 you hear?'

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 now understand?'

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 answer.

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.

'Caldero.'


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 undisturbed.

'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, and the key of the vault will be needed no more!