Short Story -Tulisan tidak bersambung!
I'll post all english short story that i found in internet..
let`s enjoy to read it..
Jane Wallis Hicks
"Quiet the dog, house the pony and bar the doors against the dark."
Each night we heard and obeyed Pa's telling and each morning we woke safe, forgetting the terrors of the night in the new sun's warm shine and our breakfast bread.
Then Ma sickened bad and Pa carted her to Biddy Makepeace's for a laying on of hands.
"Remember," he instructed Rory, "Be sure and lock up tight come nightfall."
"I promise faithful Pa," I heard my oldest brother say. But come the dark he was out sparking Lucy Lovedance and Sim was left in charge. And Sim paid no heed to tellings.
"Waste of time, locking every door. Sick of pissing in pee-pots, me. And double sick of cleaning them each morn."
I begged him do as our father said, but he only laughed, did Sim. So I took the bairns to bed with me, making certain sure my door was locked and the shutters firmly barred. And in the morning on rising to oven the bread I found the outer door wide open and no sight nor sign of Sim.
When Rory rolled in lazy eyed and rough I told him all and he went in search. Was still out when Pa 'rived home at noon. I recounted Pa the tale and he heard me out grim faced, but shook his head when I asked if he was going hunting for our Sim.
"No point," he said. "Now get the dinner served."
Rory came back as we were finishing the stew. Pa cuffed him hard about the head and wouldn't let him speak or eat the portion I'd kept by. Then Pa coughed and cleared his throat, and when we looked at him he told us Ma had died with the sinking of the day. Padre Filton had her resting in the church, he said, to be dug in on the morrow. Then he handed me the ring of household keys. And Rory watched all squint eyed and pinched, knowing that by rights as eldest they should have passed to him. I held on to the keys, my two hands fighting the cold heavy weight that tried to drag them to the beaten earth. And as I clutched them so I studied them. I saw that each key large or small was welded firmly to the iron circlet. I held there in my hands the keys to every chest and every door within Pa's holding. They were my responsibility till Father relieved me of the charge. I was now the guardian, he said, seeing as I had a mind to keep the young 'uns safe and obey his words full strength, unlike some who should know better.
< 2 >
At first light Pa stowed the spades and lifted the girls into the cart. May took charge of the reins while me and Pa and Rory walked holding to the sides. When we reached the graveyard me and Pa and Rory took turns to open up the flinty ground while the bairns ranged about for pretties to place inside the grave. Then Pa and Padre placed her in. Padre said the binding words, my three sisters mewling and moaning and dropping in daisy buds onto the muslin shroud. Then my brother and I filled back the gritty soil and watched Pa and Padre Filton lay the blessed ironstone slab athwart her lying place to keep her safe. And when it was all done and Pa had paid the burial toll we set out straight for home.
This time Eve and Silence held the reins and all else walked to save the ageing mule. Once home I warmed the stew pot and we ate. After food Pa and Rory worked the land while I, with my sisters' help, cleaned and sewed and baked. At day's end Pa watched to see how I locked the doors and shutters against the coming of the night and nodded satisfied when I had it done.
And that night with the keys hard beneath my thin flock pillow, I heard the voices clearly for the first time. They sounded loud and plain outside my shuttered window abegging me to open up and come to them. And one of the voices was my brother Sim's. Another sounded lighter, like my Ma's. But mindful of my father's words I held to the keys and kept the shutters barred. And gradually the voices drifted quiet and sleep took me down.
And ever after it was as if Ma and Sim had never been. Pa never spoke of them and turned aside all questions and he never spoke again to Rory save for yes and no. After a month of this silence Rory left to marry Lucy Makepeace and spend his strength in her father's flourmill. I watched Pa's face set harder, carven lines of wrinkles digging valley's in his leathered skin and I went outside all day to take my brother's work-share then cooked and baked all eve. My sister May took duty for the house and twins all day.
< 3 >
From the very time that Rory left our home Pa shifted all his custom to Marlin's mill. Though being over in the next valley it was a longer trek to take the grain and the mule was far from strong.
For me, most nights, the voices came; the voices Pa said were only in my head. He gave me quintain boiled in honey to make me sleep but the taste was harsh and cast a dullness over me the following day. But I pretended to drink to keep from causing strife.
And my questions grew, filling my brain to bursting point till at last I took my thoughts to Padre Filton in the secrecy of Disclosing Hour. He refused to look me in the eye and talked of devils and temptations. Then he broke the holy pact and betrayed the questions to my Pa. And Pa bound my mouth with garlic cloth and he beat me till my skin was bruised and split and snatched back the keys till I could walk again.
And with the keys in Pa's hands I found that I slept quiet, nights. I heard no sounds, quested not for dimly recognised voices, but only slept soft sleep.
When I was fit again he gave me back my guardianship of the keys and the first night I slept upon their bulk I heard scratchings at my wooden shutters and the moaning of what might have been the wind. At first light on going to the running spring to cleanse my chamber pot I walked the long way round, past my chamber window and saw score marks bit deep into the ebony-wood shutters. I felt the chill of night come on me despite the warming of the sun. But I kept my counsel and Pa had replaced the wood by noon. That night I kept the dog inside my room, putting him at the foot of my bed. And though I heard a lone voice keening and crying out my name the dog he didn't stir.
The weeks turned and I learned to sleep with stopping in my ears. May and the bairns cast off their childhood with frightening speed and Pa rarely spoke outside the meeting house and took to reading sermon books. But I would not go to meetings any more and Pa ignored my backsliding. As long as I did my work and kept safety on my mind he seemed satisfied.
< 4 >
Then Widow Range took sick. She and her daughter lived a scant two fields away from us and Tildy asked my help to nurse her and Pa said I was to go. So I gave him back the keys and went to sit with Tildy. But like my Ma the widow sank fast and died swift as the sun did sink. Tildy begged for me to go to church with her and stand vigil till the morn and I went with her and Padre Filton into the church as night fell down upon us. That long night passed in dull-dead numbing coldness. I heard no outside sounds, no moans no skirl of wind but only the praying padre thanking his god for the ironwood and ironstone that kept us safe from harm.
We buried Widow Range, like Ma, soon as we could when the sun had risen above the mountains. Me and Tildy did the digging but it took all three of us to drag the heavy holding stone across the grave. Padre wore his leather gauntlets but me and Tildy had to do without, and sore rough bleeding work it was. But still he took the full toll into his strong-gloved hands when the burial was done.
He then took us in his wagon and dropped us to our homes as he went on his praying rounds. And that night with the keys once again beneath my head I heard voices calling in the dark and the loudest one sounded like the Widow Range.
I took care to go to Meeting with Pa and the bairns the next meeting morn but left the service before time, pleading my bowels. I walked then to Widow Range's grave and saw her capping stone was out of line. I'd helped lay it and knew full well it was not the same.
And now, tonight, I sit and wait the voices. My shutters are opened wide, my bedroom door unlocked, my binding keys thrown deep within the spring. The house is open to what may come and I am also ready. I will heed this call. I will leave the confines of my father's house and join that which waits outside. And as I go I call to the bairns, my sisters, to come and join the free.
Resembling in appearance all the wooden hostelries of the High Alps situated at the foot of glaciers in the barren rocky gorges that intersect the summits of the mountains, the Inn of Schwarenbach serves as a resting place for travellers crossing the Gemini Pass.
It remains open for six months in the year and is inhabited by the family of Jean Hauser; then, as soon as the snow begins to fall and to fill the valley so as to make the road down to Loeche impassable, the father and his three sons go away and leave the house in charge of the old guide, Gaspard Hari, with the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, and Sam, the great mountain dog.
The two men and the dog remain till the spring in their snowy prison, with nothing before their eyes except the immense white slopes of the Balmhorn, surrounded by light, glistening summits, and are shut in, blocked up and buried by the snow which rises around them and which envelops, binds and crushes the little house, which lies piled on the roof, covering the windows and blocking up the door.
It was the day on which the Hauser family were going to return to Loeche, as winter was approaching, and the descent was becoming dangerous. Three mules started first, laden with baggage and led by the three sons. Then the mother, Jeanne Hauser, and her daughter Louise mounted a fourth mule and set off in their turn and the father followed them, accompanied by the two men in charge, who were to escort the family as far as the brow of the descent. First of all they passed round the small lake, which was now frozen over, at the bottom of the mass of rocks which stretched in front of the inn, and then they followed the valley, which was dominated on all sides by the snow-covered summits.
A ray of sunlight fell into that little white, glistening, frozen desert and illuminated it with a cold and dazzling flame. No living thing appeared among this ocean of mountains. There was no motion in this immeasurable solitude and no noise disturbed the profound silence.
By degrees the young guide, Ulrich Kunsi, a tall, long-legged Swiss, left old man Hauser and old Gaspard behind, in order to catch up the mule which bore the two women. The younger one looked at him as he approached and appeared to be calling him with her sad eyes. She was a young, fairhaired little peasant girl, whose milk-white cheeks and pale hair looked as if they had lost their color by their long abode amid the ice. When he had got up to the animal she was riding he put his hand on the crupper and relaxed his speed. Mother Hauser began to talk to him, enumerating with the minutest details all that he would have to attend to during the winter. It was the first time that he was going to stay up there, while old Hari had already spent fourteen winters amid the snow, at the inn of Schwarenbach.
< 2 >
Ulrich Kunsi listened, without appearing to understand and looked incessantly at the girl. From time to time he replied: "Yes, Madame Hauser," but his thoughts seemed far away and his calm features remained unmoved.
They reached Lake Daube, whose broad, frozen surface extended to the end of the valley. On the right one saw the black, pointed, rocky summits of the Daubenhorn beside the enormous moraines of the Lommern glacier, above which rose the Wildstrubel. As they approached the Gemmi pass, where the descent of Loeche begins, they suddenly beheld the immense horizon of the Alps of the Valais, from which the broad, deep valley of the Rhone separated them.
In the distance there was a group of white, unequal, flat, or pointed mountain summits, which glistened in the sun; the Mischabel with its two peaks, the huge group of the Weisshorn, the heavy Brunegghorn, the lofty and formidable pyramid of Mount Cervin, that slayer of men, and the Dent- Blanche, that monstrous coquette.
Then beneath them, in a tremendous hole, at the bottom of a terrific abyss, they perceived Loeche, where houses looked as grains of sand which had been thrown into that enormous crevice that is ended and closed by the Gemmi and which opens, down below, on the Rhone.
The mule stopped at the edge of the path, which winds and turns continually, doubling backward, then, fantastically and strangely, along the side of the mountain as far as the almost invisible little village at its feet. The women jumped into the snow and the two old men joined them. "Well," father Hauser said, "good-by, and keep up your spirits till next year, my friends," and old Hari replied: "Till next year."
They embraced each other and then Madame Hauser in her turn offered her cheek, and the girl did the same.
When Ulrich Kunsi's turn came, he whispered in Louise's ear, "Do not forget those up yonder," and she replied, "No," in such a low voice that he guessed what she had said without hearing it. "Well, adieu," Jean Hauser repeated, "and don't fall ill." And going before the two women, he commenced the descent, and soon all three disappeared at the first turn in the road, while the two men returned to the inn at Schwarenbach.
They walked slowly, side by side, without speaking. It was over, and they would be alone together for four or five months. Then Gaspard Hari began to relate his life last winter. He had remained with Michael Canol, who was too old now to stand it, for an accident might happen during that long solitude. They had not been dull, however; the only thing was to make up one's mind to it from the first, and in the end one would find plenty of distraction, games and other means of whiling away the time.
< 3 >
Ulrich Kunsi listened to him with his eyes on the ground, for in his thoughts he was following those who were descending to the village. They soon came in sight of the inn, which was, however, scarcely visible, so small did it look, a black speck at the foot of that enormous billow of snow, and when they opened the door Sam, the great curly dog, began to romp round them.
"Come, my boy," old Gaspard said, "we have no women now, so we must get our own dinner ready. Go and peel the potatoes." And they both sat down on wooden stools and began to prepare the soup.
The next morning seemed very long to Kunsi. Old Hari smoked and spat on the hearth, while the young man looked out of the window at the snow- covered mountain opposite the house.
In the afternoon he went out, and going over yesterday's ground again, he looked for the traces of the mule that had carried the two women. Then when he had reached the Gemmi Pass, he laid himself down on his stomach and looked at Loeche.
The village, in its rocky pit, was not yet buried under the snow, from which it was sheltered by the pine woods which protected it on all sides. Its low houses looked like paving stones in a large meadow from above. Hauser's little daughter was there now in one of those gray-colored houses. In which? Ulrich Kunsi was too far away to be able to make them out separately. How he would have liked to go down while he was yet able!
But the sun had disappeared behind the lofty crest of the Wildstrubel and the young man returned to the chalet. Daddy Hari was smoking, and when he saw his mate come in he proposed a game of cards to him, and they sat down opposite each other, on either side of the table. They played for a long time a simple game called brisque and then they had supper and went to bed.
The following days were like the first, bright and cold, without any fresh snow. Old Gaspard spent his afternoons in watching the eagles and other rare birds which ventured on those frozen heights, while Ulrich returned regularly to the Gemmi Pass to look at the village. Then they played cards, dice or dominoes and lost and won a trifle, just to create an interest in the game.
< 4 >
One morning Hari, who was up first, called his companion. A moving, deep and light cloud of white spray was falling on them noiselessly and was by degrees burying them under a thick, heavy coverlet of foam. That lasted four days and four nights. It was necessary to free the door and the windows, to dig out a passage and to cut steps to get over this frozen powder, which a twelve hours' frost had made as hard as the granite of the moraines.
They lived like prisoners and did not venture outside their abode. They had divided their duties, which they performed regularly. Ulrich Kunsi undertook the scouring, washing and everything that belonged to cleanliness. He also chopped up the wood while Gaspard Hari did the cooking and attended to the fire. Their regular and monotonous work was interrupted by long games at cards or dice, and they never quarrelled, but were always calm and placid. They were never seen impatient or ill- humored, nor did they ever use hard words, for they had laid in a stock of patience for their wintering on the top of the mountain.
Sometimes old Gaspard took his rifle and went after chamois, and occasionally he killed one. Then there was a feast in the inn at Schwarenbach and they revelled in fresh meat. One morning he went out as usual. The thermometer outside marked eighteen degrees of frost, and as the sun had not yet risen, the hunter hoped to surprise the animals at the approaches to the Wildstrubel, and Ulrich, being alone, remained in bed until ten o'clock. He was of a sleepy nature, but he would not have dared to give way like that to his inclination in the presence of the old guide, who was ever an early riser. He breakfasted leisurely with Sam, who also spent his days and nights in sleeping in front of the fire; then he felt low-spirited and even frightened at the solitude, and was-seized by a longing for his daily game of cards, as one is by the craving of a confirmed habit, and so he went out to meet his companion, who was to return at four o'clock.
The snow had levelled the whole deep valley, filled up the crevasses, obliterated all signs of the two lakes and covered the rocks, so that between the high summits there was nothing but an immense, white, regular, dazzling and frozen surface. For three weeks Ulrich had not been to the edge of the precipice from which he had looked down on the village, and he wanted to go there before climbing the slopes which led to Wildstrubel. Loeche was now also covered by the snow and the houses could scarcely be distinguished, covered as they were by that white cloak.
< 5 >
Then, turning to the right, he reached the Loemmern glacier. He went along with a mountaineer's long strides, striking the snow, which was as hard as a rock, with his ironpointed stick, and with his piercing eyes he looked for the little black, moving speck in the distance, on that enormous, white expanse.
When he reached the end of the glacier he stopped and asked himself whether the old man had taken that road, and then he began to walk along the moraines with rapid and uneasy steps. The day was declining, the snow was assuming a rosy tint, and a dry, frozen wind blew in rough gusts over its crystal surface. Ulrich uttered a long, shrill, vibrating call. His voice sped through the deathlike silence in which the mountains were sleeping; it reached the distance, across profound and motionless waves of glacial foam, like the cry of a bird across the waves of the sea. Then it died away and nothing answered him.
He began to walk again. The sun had sunk yonder behind the mountain tops, which were still purple with the reflection from the sky, but the depths of the valley were becoming gray, and suddenly the young man felt frightened. It seemed to him as if the silence, the cold, the solitude, the winter death of these mountains were taking possession of him, were going to stop and to freeze his blood, to make his limbs grow stiff and to turn him into a motionless and frozen object, and he set off running, fleeing toward his dwelling. The old man, he thought, would have returned during his absence. He had taken another road; he would, no doubt, be sitting before the fire, with a dead chamois at his feet. He soon came in sight of the inn, but no smoke rose from it. Ulrich walked faster and opened the door. Sam ran up to him to greet him, but Gaspard Hari had not returned. Kunsi, in his alarm, turned round suddenly, as if he had expected to find his comrade hidden in a corner. Then he relighted the fire and made the soup, hoping every moment to see the old man come in. From time to time he went out to see if he were not coming. It was quite night now, that wan, livid night of the mountains, lighted by a thin, yellow crescent moon, just disappearing behind the mountain tops.
< 6 >
Then the young man went in and sat down to warm his hands and feet, while he pictured to himself every possible accident. Gaspard might have broken a leg, have fallen into a crevasse, taken a false step and dislocated his ankle. And, perhaps, he was lying on the snow, overcome and stiff with the cold, in agony of mind, lost and, perhaps, shouting for help, calling with all his might in the silence of the night.. But where? The mountain was so vast, so rugged, so dangerous in places, especially at that time of the year, that it would have required ten or twenty guides to walk for a week in all directions to find a man in that immense space. Ulrich Kunsi, however, made up his mind to set out with Sam if Gaspard did not return by one in the morning, and he made his preparations.
He put provisions for two days into a bag, took his steel climbing iron, tied a long, thin, strong rope round his waist, and looked to see that his ironshod stick and his axe, which served to cut steps in the ice, were in order. Then he waited. The fire was burning on the hearth, the great dog was snoring in front of it, and the clock was ticking, as regularly as a heart beating, in its resounding wooden case. He waited, with his ears on the alert for distant sounds, and he shivered when the wind blew against the roof and the walls. It struck twelve and he trembled: Then, frightened and shivering, he put some water on the fire, so that he might have some hot coffee before starting, and when the clock struck one he got up, woke Sam, opened the door and went off in the direction of the Wildstrubel. For five hours he mounted, scaling the rocks by means of his climbing irons, cutting into the ice, advancing continually, and occasionally hauling up the dog, who remained below at the foot of some slope that was too steep for him, by means of the rope. It was about six o'clock when he reached one of the summits to which old Gaspard often came after chamois, and he waited till it should be daylight.
The sky was growing pale overhead, and a strange light, springing nobody could tell whence, suddenly illuminated the immense ocean of pale mountain summits, which extended for a hundred leagues around him. One might have said that this vague brightness arose from the snow itself and spread abroad in space. By degrees the highest distant summits assumed a delicate, pink flesh color, and the red sun appeared behind the ponderous giants of the Bernese Alps.
< 7 >
Ulrich Kunsi set off again, walking like a hunter, bent over, looking for tracks, and saying to his dog: "Seek, old fellow, seek!"
He was descending the mountain now, scanning the depths closely, and from time to time shouting, uttering aloud, prolonged cry, which soon died away in that silent vastness. Then he put his ear to the ground to listen. He thought he could distinguish a voice, and he began to run and shouted again, but he heard nothing more and sat down, exhausted and in despair. Toward midday he breakfasted and gave Sam, who was as tired as himself, something to eat also, and then he recommenced his search.
When evening came he was still walking, and he had walked more than thirty miles over the mountains. As he was too far away to return home and too tired to drag himself along any further, he dug a hole in the snow and crouched in it with his dog under a blanket which he had brought with him. And the man and the dog lay side by side, trying to keep warm, but frozen to the marrow nevertheless. Ulrich scarcely slept, his mind haunted by visions and his limbs shaking with cold.
Day was breaking when he got up. His legs were as stiff as iron bars and his spirits so low that he was ready to cry with anguish, while his heart was beating so that he almost fell over with agitation, when he thought he heard a noise.
Suddenly he imagined that he also was going to die of cold in the midst of this vast solitude, and the terror of such a death roused his energies and gave him renewed vigor. He was descending toward the inn, falling down and getting up again, and followed at a distance by Sam, who was limping on three legs, and they did not reach Schwarenbach until four o'clock in the afternoon. The house was empty and the young man made a fire, had something to eat and went to sleep, so worn out that he did not think of anything more.
He slept for a long time, for a very long time, an irresistible sleep. But suddenly a voice, a cry, a name, "Ulrich!" aroused him from his profound torpor and made him sit up in bed. Had he been dreaming? Was it one of those strange appeals which cross the dreams of disquieted minds? No, he heard it still, that reverberating cry-which had entered his ears and remained in his flesh-to the tips of his sinewy fingers. Certainly somebody had cried out and called "Ulrich!" There was somebody there near the house, there could be no doubt of that, and he opened the door and shouted, "Is it you, Gaspard?" with all the strength of his lungs. But there was no reply, no murmur, no groan, nothing. It was quite dark and the snow looked wan.
< 8 >
The wind had risen, that icy wind that cracks the rocks and leaves nothing alive on those deserted heights, and it came in sudden gusts, which were more parching and more deadly than the burning wind of the desert, and again Ulrich shouted: "Gaspard! Gaspard! Gaspard." And then he waited again. Everything was silent on the mountain.
Then he shook with terror and with a bound he was inside the inn, when he shut and bolted the door, and then he fell into a chair trembling all over, for he felt certain that his comrade had called him at the moment he was expiring.
He was sure of that, as sure as one is of being alive or of eating a piece of bread. Old Gaspard Hari had been dying for two days and three nights somewhere, in some hole, in one of those deep, untrodden ravines whose whiteness is more sinister than subterranean darkness. He had been dying for two days and three nights and be had just then died, thinking of his comrade. His soul, almost before it was released, had taken its flight to the inn where Ulrich was sleeping, and it had called him by that terrible and mysterious power which the spirits of the dead have to haunt the living. That voiceless soul had cried to the worn-out soul of the sleeper; it had uttered its last farewell, or its reproach, or its curse on the man who had not searched carefully enough.
And Ulrich felt that it was there, quite close to him, behind the wall, behind the door which be had just fastened. It was wandering about, like a night bird which lightly touches a lighted window with his wings, and the terrified young man was ready to scream with horror. He wanted to run away, but did not dare to go out; he did not dare, and he should never dare to do it in the future, for that phantom would remain there day and night, round the inn, as long as the old man's body was not recovered and had not been deposited in the consecrated earth of a churchyard.
When it was daylight Kunsi recovered some of his courage at the return of the bright sun. He prepared his meal, gave his dog some food and then remained motionless on a chair, tortured at heart as he thought of the old man lying on the snow, and then, as soon as night once more covered the mountains, new terrors assailed him. He now walked up and down the dark kitchen, which was scarcely lighted by the flame of one candle, and he walked from one end of it to the other with great strides, listening, listening whether the terrible cry of the other night would again break the dreary silence outside. He felt himself alone, unhappy man, as no man had ever been alone before! He was alone in this immense desert of Snow, alone five thousand feet above the inhabited earth, above human habitation, above that stirring, noisy, palpitating life, alone under an icy sky! A mad longing impelled him to run away, no matter where, to get down to Loeche by flinging himself over the precipice; but he did not even dare to open the door, as he felt sure that the other, the dead man, would bar his road, so that he might not be obliged to remain up there alone:
< 9 >
Toward midnight, tired with walking, worn out by grief and fear, he at last fell into a doze in his chair, for he was afraid of his bed as one is of a haunted spot. But suddenly the strident cry of the other evening pierced his ears, and it was so shrill that Ulrich stretched out his arms to repulse the ghost, and he fell backward with his chair.
Sam, who was awakened by the noise, began to howl as frightened dogs do howl, and he walked all about the house trying to find out where the danger came from. When he got to the door, he sniffed beneath it, smelling vigorously, with his coat bristling and his tail stiff, while he growled angrily. Kunsi, who was terrified, jumped up, and, holding his chair by one leg, he cried: "Don't come in, don't come in, or I shall kill you." And the dog, excited by this threat, barked angrily at that invisible enemy who defied his master's voice. By degrees, however, he quieted down and came back and stretched himself in front of the fire, but he was uneasy and kept his head up and growled between his teeth.
Ulrich, in turn, recovered his senses, but as he felt faint with terror, he went and got a bottle of brandy out of the sideboard, and he drank off several glasses, one after anther, at a gulp. His ideas became vague, his courage revived and a feverish glow ran through his veins.
He ate scarcely anything the next day and limited himself to alcohol, and so he lived for several days, like a drunken brute. As soon as he thought of Gaspard Hari, he began to drink again, and went on drinking until he fell to the ground, overcome by intoxication. And there he remained lying on his face, dead drunk, his limbs benumbed, and snoring loudly. But scarcely had he digested the maddening and burning liquor than the same cry, "Ulrich!" woke him like a bullet piercing his brain, and he got up, still staggering, stretching out his hands to save himself from falling, and calling to Sam to help him. And the dog, who appeared to be going mad like his master, rushed to the door, scratched it with his claws and gnawed it with his long white teeth, while the young man, with his head thrown back drank the brandy in draughts, as if it had been cold water, so that it might by and by send his thoughts, his frantic terror, and his memory to sleep again.
< 10 >
In three weeks he had consumed all his stock of ardent spirits. But his continual drunkenness only lulled his terror, which awoke more furiously than ever as soon as it was impossible for him to calm it. His fixed idea then, which had been intensified by a month of drunkenness, and which was continually increasing in his absolute solitude, penetrated him like a gimlet. He now walked about the house like a wild beast in its cage, putting his ear to the door to listen if the other were there and defying him through the wall. Then, as soon as he dozed, overcome by fatigue, he heard the voice which made him leap to his feet.
At last one night, as cowards do when driven to extremities, he sprang to the door and opened it, to see who was calling him and to force him to keep quiet, but such a gust of cold wind blew into his face that it chilled him to the bone, and he closed and bolted the door again immediately, without noticing that Sam had rushed out. Then, as he was shivering with cold, he threw some wood on the fire and sat down in front of it to warm himself, but suddenly he started, for somebody was scratching at the wall and crying. In desperation he called out: "Go away!" but was answered by another long, sorrowful wail.
Then all his remaining senses forsook him from sheer fright. He repeated: "Go away!" and turned round to try to find some corner in which to hide, while the other person went round the house still crying and rubbing against the wall. Ulrich went to the oak sideboard, which was full of plates and dishes and of provisions, and lifting it up with superhuman strength, he dragged it to the door, so as to form a barricade. Then piling up all the rest of the furniture, the mattresses, palliasses and chairs, he stopped up the windows as one does when assailed by an enemy.
But the person outside now uttered long, plaintive, mournful groans, to which the young man replied by similar groans, and thus days and nights passed without their ceasing to howl at each other. The one was continually walking round the house and scraped the walls with his nails so vigorously that it seemed as if he wished to destroy them, while the other, inside, followed all his movements, stooping down and holding his ear to the walls and replying to all his appeals with terrible cries. One evening, however, Ulrich heard nothing more, and he sat down, so overcome by fatigue, that he went to sleep immediately and awoke in the morning without a thought, without any recollection of what had happened, just as if his head had been emptied during his heavy sleep, but he felt hungry, and he ate.
< 11 >
The winter was over and the Gemmi Pass was practicable again, so the Hauser family started off to return to their inn. As soon as they had reached the top of the ascent the women mounted their mule and spoke about the two men whom they would meet again shortly. They were, indeed, rather surprised that neither of them had come down a few days before, as soon as the road was open, in order to tell them all about their long winter sojourn. At last, however, they saw the inn, still covered with snow, like a quilt. The door and the window were closed, but a little smoke was coming out of the chimney, which reassured old Hauser. On going up to the door, however, he saw the skeleton of an animal which had been torn to pieces by the eagles, a large skeleton lying on its side.
They all looked close at it and the mother said:
"That must be Sam," and then she shouted: "Hi, Gaspard!" A cry from the interior of the house answered her and a sharp cry that one might have thought some animal had uttered it. Old Hauser repeated, "Hi, Gaspard!" and they heard another cry similar to the first.
Then the three men, the father and the two sons, tried to open the door, but it resisted their efforts. From the empty cow-stall they took a beam to serve as a battering-ram and hurled it against the door with all their might. The wood gave way and the boards flew into splinters. Then the house was shaken by a loud voice, and inside, behind the side board which was overturned, they saw a man standing upright, with his hair falling on his shoulders and a beard descending to his breast, with shining eyes, and nothing but rags to cover him. They did not recognize him, but Louise Hauser exclaimed:
"It is Ulrich, mother." And her mother declared that it was Ulrich, although his hair was white.
He allowed them to go up to him and to touch him, but he did not reply to any of their questions, and they were obliged to take him to Loeche, where the doctors found that he was mad, and nobody ever found out what had become of his companion.
Little Louise Hauser nearly died that summer of decline, which the physicians attributed to the cold air of the mountains.
When we started for our drive the sun was shining brightly on Munich, and the air was full of the joyousness of early summer. Just as we were about to depart, Herr Delbruck (the maitre d'hotel of the Quatre Saisons, where I was staying) came down bareheaded to the carriage and, after wishing me a pleasant drive, said to the coachman, still holding his hand on the handle of the carriage door, "Remember you are back by nightfall. The sky looks bright but there is a shiver in the north wind that says there may be a sudden storm. But I am sure you will not be late." Here he smiled and added, "for you know what night it is."
Johann answered with an emphatic, "Ja, mein Herr," and, touching his hat, drove off quickly. When we had cleared the town, I said, after signalling to him to stop:
"Tell me, Johann, what is tonight?"
He crossed himself, as he answered laconically: "Walpurgis nacht." Then he took out his watch, a great, old-fashioned German silver thing as big as a turnip and looked at it, with his eyebrows gathered together and a little impatient shrug of his shoulders. I realized that this was his way of respectfully protesting against the unnecessary delay and sank back in the carriage, merely motioning him to proceed. He started off rapidly, as if to make up for lost time. Every now and then the horses seemed to throw up their heads and sniff the air suspiciously. On such occasions I often looked round in alarm. The road was pretty bleak, for we were traversing a sort of high windswept plateau. As we drove, I saw a road that looked but little used and which seemed to dip through a little winding valley. It looked so inviting that, even at the risk of offending him, I called Johann to stop - and when he had pulled up, I told him I would like to drive down that road. He made all sorts of excuses and frequently crossed himself as he spoke. This somewhat piqued my curiosity, so I asked him various questions. He answered fencingly and repeatedly looked at his watch in protest.
Finally I said, "Well, Johann, I want to go down this road. I shall not ask you to come unless you like; but tell me why you do not like to go, that is all I ask." For answer he seemed to throw himself off the box, so quickly did he reach the ground. Then he stretched out his hands appealingly to me and implored me not to go. There was just enough of English mixed with the German for me to understand the drift of his talk. He seemed always just about to tell me something - the very idea of which evidently frightened him; but each time he pulled himself up saying, "Walpurgis nacht!"
< 2 >
I tried to argue with him, but it was difficult to argue with a man when I did not know his language. The advantage certainly rested with him, for although he began to speak in English, of a very crude and broken kind, he always got excited and broke into his native tongue - and every time he did so, he looked at his watch. Then the horses became restless and sniffed the air. At this he grew very pale, and, looking around in a frightened way, he suddenly jumped forward, took them by the bridles, and led them on some twenty feet. I followed and asked why he had done this. For an answer he crossed himself, pointed to the spot we had left, and drew his carriage in the direction of the other road, indicating a cross, and said, first in German, then in English, "Buried him - him what killed themselves."
I remembered the old custom of burying suicides at cross roads: "Ah! I see, a suicide. How interesting!" But for the life of me I could not make out why the horses were frightened.
Whilst we were talking, we heard a sort of sound between a yelp and a bark. It was far away; but the horses got very restless, and it took Johann all his time to quiet them. He was pale and said, "It sounds like a wolf - but yet there are no wolves here now."
"No?" I said, questioning him. "Isn't it long since the wolves were so near the city?"
"Long, long," he answered, "in the spring and summer; but with the snow the wolves have been here not so long."
Whilst he was petting the horses and trying to quiet them, dark clouds drifted rapidly across the sky. The sunshine passed away, and a breath of cold wind seemed to drift over us. It was only a breath, however, and more of a warning than a fact, for the sun came out brightly again.
Johann looked under his lifted hand at the horizon and said, "The storm of snow, he comes before long time." Then he looked at his watch again, and, straightway holding his reins firmly - for the horses were still pawing the ground restlessly and shaking their heads - he climbed to his box as though the time had come for proceeding on our journey.
< 3 >
I felt a little obstinate and did not at once get into the carriage.
"Tell me," I said, "about this place where the road leads," and I pointed down.
Again he crossed himself and mumbled a prayer before he answered, "It is unholy."
"What is unholy?" I enquired.
"Then there is a village?"
"No, no. No one lives there hundreds of years."
My curiosity was piqued, "But you said there was a village."
"Where is it now?"
Whereupon he burst out into a long story in German and English, so mixed up that I could not quite understand exactly what he said. Roughly I gathered that long ago, hundreds of years, men had died there and been buried in their graves; but sounds were heard under the clay, and when the graves were opened, men and women were found rosy with life and their mouths red with blood. And so, in haste to save their lives (aye, and their souls! - and here he crossed himself) those who were left fled away to other places, where the living lived and the dead were dead and not - not something. He was evidently afraid to speak the last words. As he proceeded with his narration, he grew more and more excited. It seemed as if his imagination had got hold of him, and he ended in a perfect paroxysm of fear - white-faced, perspiring, trembling, and looking round him as if expecting that some dreadful presence would manifest itself there in the bright sunshine on the open plain.
Finally, in an agony of desperation, he cried, "Walpurgis nacht!" and pointed to the carriage for me to get in.
All my English blood rose at this, and standing back I said, "You are afraid, Johann - you are afraid. Go home, I shall return alone, the walk will do me good." The carriage door was open. I took from the seat my oak walking stick - which I al ways carry on my holiday excursions - and closed the door, pointing back to Munich, and said, "Go home, Johann - Walpurgis nacht doesn't concern Englishmen."
The horses were now more restive than ever, and Johann was trying to hold them in, while excitedly imploring me not to do anything so foolish. I pitied the poor fellow, he was so deeply in earnest; but all the same I could not help laughing. His English was quite gone now. In his anxiety he had forgot ten that his only means of making me understand was to talk my language, so he jabbered away in his native German. It began to be a little tedious. After giving the direction, "Home!" I turned to go down the cross road into the valley.
< 4 >
With a despairing gesture, Johann turned his horses towards Munich. I leaned on my stick and looked after him. He went slowly along the road for a while, then there came over the crest of the hill a man tall and thin. I could see so much in the distance. When he drew near the horses, they began to jump and kick about, then to scream with terror. Johann could not hold them in; they bolted down the road, running away madly. I watched them out of sight, then looked for the stranger; but I found that he, too, was gone.
With a light heart I turned down the side road through the deepening valley to which Johann had objected. There was not the slightest reason, that I could see, for his objection; and I daresay I tramped for a couple of hours without thinking of time or distance and certainly without seeing a person or a house. So far as the place was concerned, it was desolation itself. But I did not notice this particularly till, on turning a bend in the road, I came upon a scattered fringe of wood; then I recognized that I had been impressed unconsciously by the desolation of the region through which I had passed.
I sat down to rest myself and began to look around. It struck me that it was considerably colder than it had been at the commencement of my walk - a sort of sighing sound seemed to be around me with, now and then, high overhead, a sort of muffled roar. Looking upwards I noticed that great thick clouds were drafting rapidly across the sky from north to south at a great height. There were signs of a coming storm in some lofty stratum of the air. I was a little chilly, and, thinking that it was the sitting still after the exercise of walking, I resumed my journey.
The ground I passed over was now much more picturesque. There were no striking objects that the eye might single out, but in all there was a charm of beauty. I took little heed of time, and it was only when the deepening twilight forced it self upon me that I began to think of how I should find my way home. The air was cold, and the drifting of clouds high overhead was more marked. They were accompanied by a sort of far away rushing sound, through which seemed to come at intervals that mysterious cry which the driver had said came from a wolf. For a while I hesitated. I had said I would see the deserted village, so on I went and presently came on a wide stretch of open country, shut in by hills all around. Their sides were covered with trees which spread down to the plain, dotting in clumps the gentler slopes and hollows which showed here and there. I followed with my eye the winding of the road and saw that it curved close to one of the densest of these clumps and was lost behind it.
< 5 >
As I looked there came a cold shiver in the air, and the snow began to fall. I thought of the miles and miles of bleak country I had passed, and then hurried on to seek shelter of the wood in front. Darker and darker grew the sky, and faster and heavier fell the snow, till the earth before and around me was a glistening white carpet the further edge of which was lost in misty vagueness. The road was here but crude, and when on the level its boundaries were not so marked as when it passed through the cuttings; and in a little while I found that I must have strayed from it, for I missed underfoot the hard surface, and my feet sank deeper in the grass and moss. Then the wind grew stronger and blew with ever increasing force, till I was fain to run before it. The air became icy- cold, and in spite of my exercise I began to suffer. The snow was now falling so thickly and whirling around me in such rap id eddies that I could hardly keep my eyes open. Every now and then the heavens were torn asunder by vivid lightning, and in the flashes I could see ahead of me a great mass of trees, chiefly yew and cypress all heavily coated with snow.
I was soon amongst the shelter of the trees, and there in comparative silence I could hear the rush of the wind high overhead. Presently the blackness of the storm had become merged in the darkness of the night. By-and-by the storm seemed to be passing away, it now only came in fierce puffs or blasts. At such moments the weird sound of the wolf appeared to be echoed by many similar sounds around me.
Now and again, through the black mass of drifting cloud, came a straggling ray of moonlight which lit up the expanse and showed me that I was at the edge of a dense mass of cypress and yew trees. As the snow had ceased to fall, I walked out from the shelter and began to investigate more closely. It appeared to me that, amongst so many old foundations as I had passed, there might be still standing a house in which, though in ruins, I could find some sort of shelter for a while. As I skirted the edge of the copse, I found that a low wall encircled it, and following this I presently found an opening. Here the cypresses formed an alley leading up to a square mass of some kind of building. Just as I caught sight of this, however, the drifting clouds obscured the moon, and I passed up the path in darkness. The wind must have grown colder, for I felt myself shiver as I walked; but there was hope of shelter, and I groped my way blindly on.
< 6 >
I stopped, for there was a sudden stillness. The storm had passed; and, perhaps in sympathy with nature's silence, my heart seemed to cease to beat. But this was only momentarily; for suddenly the moonlight broke through the clouds showing me that I was in a graveyard and that the square object before me was a great massive tomb of marble, as white as the snow that lay on and all around it. With the moonlight there came a fierce sigh of the storm which appeared to resume its course with a long, low howl, as of many dogs or wolves. I was awed and shocked, and I felt the cold perceptibly grow upon me till it seemed to grip me by the heart. Then while the flood of moonlight still fell on the marble tomb, the storm gave further evidence of renewing, as though it were returning on its track. Impelled by some sort of fascination, I approached the sepulchre to see what it was and why such a thing stood alone in such a place. I walked around it and read, over the Doric door, in German -
COUNTESS DOLINGEN OF GRATZ
SOUGHT AND FOUND DEATH
On the top of the tomb, seemingly driven through the solid marble - for the structure was composed of a few vast blocks of stone - was a great iron spike or stake. On going to the back I saw, graven in great Russian letters:
"The dead travel fast."
There was something so weird and uncanny about the whole thing that it gave me a turn and made me feel quite faint. I began to wish, for the first time, that I had taken Johann's advice. Here a thought struck me, which came under almost mysterious circumstances and with a terrible shock. This was Walpurgis Night!
Walpurgis Night was when, according to the belief of mill ions of people, the devil was abroad - when the graves were opened and the dead came forth and walked. When all evil things of earth and air and water held revel. This very place the driver had specially shunned. This was the depopulated village of centuries ago. This was where the suicide lay; and this was the place where I was alone - unmanned, shivering with cold in a shroud of snow with a wild storm gathering again up on me! It took all my philosophy, all the religion I had been taught, all my courage, not to collapse in a paroxysm of fright.
< 7 >
And now a perfect tornado burst upon me. The ground shook as though thousands of horses thundered across it; and this time the storm bore on its icy wings, not snow, but great hailstones which drove with such violence that they might have come from the thongs of Balearic slingers - hailstones that beat down leaf and branch and made the shelter of the cypresses of no more avail than though their stems were standing corn. At the first I had rushed to the nearest tree; but I was soon fain to leave it and seek the only spot that seemed to afford refuge, the deep Doric doorway of the marble tomb. There, crouching against the massive bronze door, I gained a certain amount of protection from the beating of the hail stones, for now they only drove against me as they ricochetted from the ground and the side of the marble.
As I leaned against the door, it moved slightly and opened inwards. The shelter of even a tomb was welcome in that pitiless tempest and I was about to enter it when there came a flash of forked lightning that lit up the whole expanse of the heavens. In the instant, as I am a living man, I saw, as my eyes turned into the darkness of the tomb, a beautiful woman with rounded cheeks and red lips, seemingly sleeping on a bier. As the thunder broke overhead, I was grasped as by the hand of a giant and hurled out into the storm. The whole thing was so sudden that, before I could realize the shock, moral as well as physical, I found the hailstones beating me down. At the same time I had a strange, dominating feeling that I was not alone. I looked towards the tomb. Just then there came another blinding flash which seemed to strike the iron stake that surmounted the tomb and to pour through to the earth, blasting and crumbling the marble, as in a burst of flame. The dead woman rose for a moment of agony while she was lapped in the flame, and her bitter scream of pain was drowned in the thundercrash. The last thing I heard was this mingling of dreadful sound, as again I was seized in the giant grasp and dragged away, while the hailstones beat on me and the air around seemed reverberant with the howling of wolves. The last sight that I remembered was a vague, white, moving mass, as if all the graves around me had sent out the phantoms of their sheeted dead, and that they were closing in on me through the white cloudiness of the driving hail.
< 8 >
Gradually there came a sort of vague beginning of consciousness, then a sense of weariness that was dreadful. For a time I remembered nothing, but slowly my senses returned. My feet seemed positively racked with pain, yet I could not move them. They seemed to be numbed. There was an icy feeling at the back of my neck and all down my spine, and my ears, like my feet, were dead yet in torment; but there was in my breast a sense of warmth which was by comparison delicious. It was as a nightmare - a physical nightmare, if one may use such an expression; for some heavy weight on my chest made it difficult for me to breathe.
This period of semi-lethargy seemed to remain a long time, and as it faded away I must have slept or swooned. Then came a sort of loathing, like the first stage of seasickness, and a wild desire to be free of something - I knew not what. A vast stillness enveloped me, as though all the world were asleep or dead - only broken by the low panting as of some animal close to me. I felt a warm rasping at my throat, then came a consciousness of the awful truth which chilled me to the heart and sent the blood surging up through my brain. Some great animal was lying on me and now licking my throat. I feared to stir, for some instinct of prudence bade me lie still; but the brute seemed to realize that there was now some change in me, for it raised its head. Through my eyelashes I saw above me the two great flaming eyes of a gigantic wolf. Its sharp white teeth gleamed in the gaping red mouth, and I could feel its hot breath fierce and acrid upon me.
For another spell of time I remembered no more. Then I be came conscious of a low growl, followed by a yelp, renewed again and again. Then seemingly very far away, I heard a "Hol loa! holloa!" as of many voices calling in unison. Cautiously I raised my head and looked in the direction whence the sound came, but the cemetery blocked my view. The wolf still continued to yelp in a strange way, and a red glare began to move round the grove of cypresses, as though following the sound. As the voices drew closer, the wolf yelped faster and louder. I feared to make either sound or motion. Nearer came the red glow over the white pall which stretched into the darkness a round me. Then all at once from beyond the trees there came at a trot a troop of horsemen bearing torches. The wolf rose from my breast and made for the cemetery. I saw one of the horsemen (soldiers by their caps and their long military cloaks) raise his carbine and take aim. A companion knocked up his arm, and I heard the ball whiz over my head. He had evidently taken my body for that of the wolf. Another sighted the animal as it slunk away, and a shot followed. Then, at a gallop, the troop rode forward - some towards me, others following the wolf as it disappeared amongst the snow-clad cypresses.
< 9 >
As they drew nearer I tried to move but was powerless, al though I could see and hear all that went on around me. Two or three of the soldiers jumped from their horses and knelt beside me. One of them raised my head and placed his hand over my heart.
"Good news, comrades!" he cried. "His heart still beats!"
Then some brandy was poured down my throat; it put vigor into me, and I was able to open my eyes fully and look around. Lights and shadows were moving among the trees, and I heard men call to one another. They drew together, uttering frightened exclamations; and the lights flashed as the others came pouring out of the cemetery pell-mell, like men possessed. When the further ones came close to us, those who were around me asked them eagerly, "Well, have you found him?"
The reply rang out hurriedly, "No! no! Come away quick - quick! This is no place to stay, and on this of all nights!"
"What was it?" was the question, asked in all manner of keys. The answer came variously and all indefinitely as though the men were moved by some common impulse to speak yet were restrained by some common fear from giving their thoughts.
"It - it - indeed!" gibbered one, whose wits had plainly given out for the moment.
"A wolf - and yet not a wolf!" another put in shudderingly.
"No use trying for him without the sacred bullet," a third remarked in a more ordinary manner.
"Serve us right for coming out on this night! Truly we have earned our thousand marks!" were the ejaculations of a fourth.
"There was blood on the broken marble," another said after a pause, "the lightning never brought that there. And for him- -is he safe? Look at his throat! See comrades, the wolf has been lying on him and keeping his blood warm."
The officer looked at my throat and replied, "He is all right, the skin is not pierced. What does it all mean? We should never have found him but for the yelping of the wolf."
"What became of it?" asked the man who was holding up my head and who seemed the least panic-stricken of the party, for his hands were steady and without tremor. On his sleeve was the chevron of a petty officer.
< 10 >
"It went home," answered the man, whose long face was pall id and who actually shook with terror as he glanced around him fearfully. "There are graves enough there in which it may lie. Come, comrades - come quickly! Let us leave this cursed spot."
The officer raised me to a sitting posture, as he uttered a word of command; then several men placed me upon a horse. He sprang to the saddle behind me, took me in his arms, gave the word to advance; and, turning our faces away from the cypresses, we rode away in swift military order.
As yet my tongue refused its office, and I was perforce silent. I must have fallen asleep; for the next thing I remembered was finding myself standing up, supported by a soldier on each side of me. It was almost broad daylight, and to the north a red streak of sunlight was reflected like a path of blood over the waste of snow. The officer was telling the men to say nothing of what they had seen, except that they found an English stranger, guarded by a large dog.
"Dog! that was no dog," cut in the man who had exhibited such fear. "I think I know a wolf when I see one."
The young officer answered calmly, "I said a dog."
"Dog!" reiterated the other ironically. It was evident that his courage was rising with the sun; and, pointing to me, he said, "Look at his throat. Is that the work of a dog, master?"
Instinctively I raised my hand to my throat, and as I touched it I cried out in pain. The men crowded round to look, some stooping down from their saddles; and again there came the calm voice of the young officer, "A dog, as I said. If aught else were said we should only be laughed at."
I was then mounted behind a trooper, and we rode on into the suburbs of Munich. Here we came across a stray carriage into which I was lifted, and it was driven off to the Quatre Saisons - the young officer accompanying me, whilst a trooper followed with his horse, and the others rode off to their barracks.
When we arrived, Herr Delbruck rushed so quickly down the steps to meet me, that it was apparent he had been watching within. Taking me by both hands he solicitously led me in. The officer saluted me and was turning to withdraw, when I recognized his purpose and insisted that he should come to my rooms. Over a glass of wine I warmly thanked him and his brave comrades for saving me. He replied simply that he was more than glad, and that Herr Delbruck had at the first taken steps to make all the searching party pleased; at which ambiguous utterance the maitre d'hotel smiled, while the officer plead- duty and withdrew.
< 11 >
"But Herr Delbruck," I enquired, "how and why was it that the soldiers searched for me?"
He shrugged his shoulders, as if in depreciation of his own deed, as he replied, "I was so fortunate as to obtain leave from the commander of the regiment in which I serve, to ask for volunteers."
"But how did you know I was lost?" I asked.
"The driver came hither with the remains of his carriage, which had been upset when the horses ran away."
"But surely you would not send a search party of soldiers merely on this account?"
"Oh, no!" he answered, "but even before the coachman arrived, I had this telegram from the Boyar whose guest you are," and he took from his pocket a telegram which he handed to me, and I read:
Be careful of my guest - his safety is most precious to me. Should aught happen to him, or if he be missed, spare nothing to find him and ensure his safety. He is English and therefore adventurous. There are often dangers from snow and wolves and night. Lose not a moment if you suspect harm to him. I answer your zeal with my fortune.
As I held the telegram in my hand, the room seemed to whirl around me, and if the attentive maitre d'hotel had not caught me, I think I should have fallen. There was something so strange in all this, something so weird and impossible to imagine, that there grew on me a sense of my being in some way the sport of opposite forces - the mere vague idea of which seemed in a way to paralyze me. I was certainly under some form of mysterious protection. From a distant country had come, in the very nick of time, a message that took me out of the danger of the snow sleep and the jaws of the wolf.
#2 Original Poster (OP)
It happened that in the midst of the dissipations attendant upon London winter, there appeared at the various parties of the leaders of the ton a nobleman more remarkable for his singularities, than his rank. He gazed upon the mirth around him, as if he could not participate therein. Apparently, the light laughter of the fair only attracted his attention, that he might by a look quell it and throw fear into those breasts where thoughtlessness reigned. Those who felt this sensation of awe, could not explain whence it arose: some attributed it to the dead grey eye, which, fixing upon the object's face, did not seem to penetrate, and at one glance to pierce through to the inward workings of the heart; but fell upon the cheek with a leaden ray that weighed upon the skin it could not pass. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house; all wished to see him, and those who had been accustomed to violent excitement, and now felt the weight of ennui, were pleased at having something in their presence capable of engaging their attention. In spite of the deadly hue of his face, which never gained a wanner tint, either from the blush of modesty, or from the strong emotion of passion, though its form and outline were beautiful, many of the female hunters after notoriety attempted to win his attentions, and gain, at least, some marks of what they might term affection: Lady Mercer, who had been the mockery of every monster shewn in drawing-rooms since her marriage, threw herself in his way, and did all but put on the dress of a mountebank, to attract his notice - though in vain; - when she stood before him, though his eyes were apparently fixed upon hers, still it seemed as if they were unperceived; - even her unappalled impudence was baffled, and she left the field. But though the common adultress could not influence even the guidance of his eyes, it was not that the female sex was indifferent to him: yet such was the apparent caution with which he spoke to the virtuous wife and innocent daughter, that few knew he ever addressed himself to females. He had, however, the reputation of a winning tongue; and whether it was that it even overcame the dread of his singular character, or that they were moved by his apparent hatred of vice, he was as often among those females who form the boast of their sex from their domestic virtues, as among those who sully it by their vices.
< 2 >
About the same time, there came to London a young gentleman of the name of Aubrey: he was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood. Left also to himself by guardians, who thought it their duty merely to take care of his fortune, while they relinquished the more important charge of his mind to the care of mercenary subalterns, he cultivated more his imagination than his judgment. He had, hence, that high romantic feeling of honour and candour, which daily ruins so many milliners' apprentices. He believed all to sympathise with virtue, and thought that vice was thrown in by Providence merely for the picturesque effect of the scene, as we see in romances: he thought that the misery of a cottage merely consisted in the vesting of clothes, which were as warm, but which were better adapted to the painter's eye by their irregular folds and various coloured patches. He thought, in fine, that the dreams of poets were the realities of life. He was handsome, frank, and rich: for these reasons, upon his entering into the gay circles, many mothers surrounded him, striving which should describe with least truth their languishing or romping favourites: the daughters at the same time, by their brightening countenances when he approached, and by their sparkling eyes, when he opened his lips, soon led him into false notions of his talents and his merit. Attached as he was to the romance of his solitary hours, he was startled at finding, that, except in the tallow and wax candles that flickered, not from the presence of a ghost, but from want of snuffing, there was no foundation in real life for any of that congeries of pleasing pictures and descriptions contained in those volumes, from which he had formed his study. Finding, however, some compensation in his gratified vanity, he was about to relinquish his dreams, when the extraordinary being we have above described, crossed him in his career.
He watched him; and the very impossibility of forming an idea of the character of a man entirely absorbed in himself, who gave few other signs of his observation of external objects, than the tacit assent to their existence, implied by the avoidance of their contact: allowing his imagination to picture every thing that flattered its propensity to extravagant ideas, he soon formed this object into the hero of a romance, and determined to observe the offspring of his fancy, rather than the person before him. He became acquainted with him, paid him attentions, and so far advanced upon his notice, that his presence was always recognised. He gradually learnt that Lord Ruthven's affairs were embarrassed, and soon found, from the notes of preparation in __ Street, that he was about to travel. Desirous of gaining some information respecting this singular character, who, till now, had only whetted his curiosity, he hinted to his guardians, that it was time for him to perform the tour, which for many generations has been thought necessary to enable the young to take some rapid steps in the career of vice towards putting themselves upon an equality with the aged, and not allowing them to appear as if fallen from the skies, whenever scandalous intrigues are mentioned as the subjects of pleasantry or of praise, according to the degree of skill shewn in carrying them on. They consented: and Aubrey immediately mentioning his intentions to Lord Ruthven, was surprised to receive from him a proposal to join him. Flattered such a mark of esteem from him, who, apparently, had nothing in common with other men, he gladly accepted it, and in a few days they had passed the circling waters.
< 3 >
Hitherto, Aubrey had had no opportunity of studying Lord Ruthven's character, and now he found, that, though many more of his actions were exposed to his view, the results offered different conclusions from the apparent motives to his conduct. His companion was profuse in his liberality; - the idle, the vagabond, and the beggar, received from his hand more than enough to relieve their immediate wants. But Aubrey could not avoid remarking, that it was not upon the virtuous, reduced to indigence by the misfortunes attendant even upon virtue, that he bestowed his alms; - these were sent from the door with hardly suppressed sneers; but when the profligate came to ask something, not to relieve his wants, but to allow him to wallow in his lust, to sink him still deeper in his iniquity, he was sent away with rich charity. This was, however, attributed by him to the greater importunity of the vicious, which generally prevails over the retiring bashfulness of the virtuous indigent. There was one circumstance about the charity of his Lordship, which was still more impressed upon his mind: all those upon whom it was bestowed, inevitably found that there was a curse upon it, for they were all either led to the scaffold, or sunk to the lowest and the most abject misery. At Brussels and other towns through which they passed, Aubrey was surprised at the apparent eagerness with which his companion sought for the centres of all fashionable vice; there he entered into all the spirit of the faro table: he betted and always gambled with success, except where the known sharper was his antagonist, and then he lost even more than he gained; but it was always with the same unchanging face, with which he generally watched the society around: it was not, however, so when he encountered the rash youthful novice, or the luckless father of a numerous family; then his very wish seemed fortune's law - this apparent abstractedness of mind was laid aside, and his eyes sparkled with more fire than that of the cat whilst dallying with the half-dead mouse. In every town, he left the formerly affluent youth, torn from the circle he adorned, cursing, in the solitude of a dungeon, the fate that had drawn him within the reach of this fiend; whilst many a father sat frantic, amidst the speaking looks of mute hungry children, without a single farthing of his late immense wealth, wherewith to buy even sufficient to satisfy their present craving. Yet he took no money from the DILARANG KERAS table; but immediately lost, to the ruiner of many, the last gilder he had just snatched from the convulsive grasp of the innocent: this might but be the result of a certain degree of knowledge, which was not, however, capable of combating the cunning of the more experienced. Aubrey often wished to represent this to his friend, and beg him to resign that charity and pleasure which proved the ruin of all, and did not tend to his own profit; but he delayed it - for each day he hoped his friend would give him some opportunity of speaking frankly and openly to him; however, this never occurred. Lord Ruthven in his carriage, and amidst the various wild and rich scenes of nature, was always the same: his eye spoke less than his lip; and though Aubrey was near the object of his curiosity, he obtained no greater gratification from it than the constant excitement of vainly wishing to break that mystery, which to his exalted imagination began to assume the appearance of something supernatural.
< 4 >
They soon arrived at Rome, and Aubrey for a time lost sight of his companion; he left him in daily attendance upon the morning circle of an Italian countess, whilst he went in search of the memorials of another almost deserted city. Whilst he was thus engaged, letters arrived from England, which he opened with eager impatience; the first was from his sister, breathing nothing but affection; the others were from his guardians, the latter astonished him; if it had before entered into his imagination that there was an evil power resident in his companion these seemed to give him almost sufficient reason for the belief. His guardians insisted upon his immediately leaving his friend, and urged that his character was dreadfully vicious, for that the possession of irresistible powers of seduction, rendered his licentious habits more dangerous to society. It had been discovered, that his contempt for the adultress had not originated in hatred of her character; but that he had required, to enhance his gratification, that his victim, the partner of his guilt, should be hurled from the pinnacle of unsullied virtue, down to the lowest abyss of infamy and degradation: in fine, that all those females whom he had sought, apparently on account of their virtue, had, since his departure, thrown even the mask aside, and had not scrupled to expose the whole deformity of their vices to the public gaze.
Aubrey determined upon leaving one, whose character had not shown a single bright point on which to rest the eye. He resolved to invent some plausible pretext for abandoning him altogether, purposing, in the mean while, to watch him more closely, and to let no slight circumstances pass by unnoticed. He entered into the same circle, and soon perceived, that his Lordship was endeavouring to work upon the inexperience of the daughter of the lady whose house he chiefly frequented. In Italy, it is seldom that an unmarried female is met with in society; he was therefore obliged to carry on his plans in secret; but Aubrey's eye followed him in all his windings, and soon discovered that an assignation had been appointed, which would most likely end in the ruin of an innocent, though thoughtless girl. Losing no time, he entered the apartment of Lord Ruthven, and abruptly asked him his intentions with respect to the lady, informing him at the same time that he was aware of his being about to meet her that very night. Lord Ruthven answered, that his intentions were such as he supposed all would have upon such an occasion; and upon being pressed whether he intended to marry her, merely laughed. Aubrey retired; and, immediately writing a note, to say, that from that moment he must decline accompanying his Lordship in the remainder of their proposed tour, he ordered his servant to seek other apartments, and calling upon the mother of the lady informed her of all he knew, not only with regard to her daughter, but also concerning the character of his Lordship. The assignation was prevented. Lord Ruthven next day merely sent his servant to notify his complete assent to a separation; but did not hint any suspicion of his plans having been foiled by Aubrey's interposition.
< 5 >
Having left Rome, Aubrey directed his steps towards Greece, and crossing the Peninsula, soon found himself at Athens. He then fixed residence in the house of a Greek; and soon occupied himself in tracing the faded records of ancient glory upon monuments that apparently, ashamed of chronicling the deeds of freemen only before slaves, had hidden themselves beneath the sheltering soil or many coloured lichen. Under the same roof as himself, existed a being, so beautiful and delicate, that she might have formed the model for a painter, wishing to portray on canvass the promised hope of the faithful in Mahomet's paradise, save that her eyes spoke too much mind for any one to think she could belong to those who had no souls. As she danced upon the plain, or tripped along the mountain's side, one would have thought the gazelle a poor type of her beauties; for who would have exchanged her eye, apparently the eye of animated nature, for that sleepy luxurious look of the animal suited but to the taste of an epicure. The light step of Ianthe often accompanied Aubrey in his search after antiquities, and often would the unconscious girl, engaged in the pursuit of a Kashmere butterfly, show the whole beauty of her form, boating as it were upon the wind, to the eager gaze of him, who forgot the letters he had just decyphered upon an almost effaced tablet, in the contemplation of her sylph-like figure. Often would her tresses falling, as she flitted around, exhibit in the sun's ray such delicately brilliant and swiftly fading hues, as might well excuse the forgetfulness of the antiquary, who let escape from his mind the very object he had before thought of vital importance to the proper interpretation of a passage in Pausanias. But why attempt to describe charms which all feel, but none can appreciate? - It was innocence, youth, and beauty, unaffected by crowded drawing-rooms and stifling balls. Whilst he drew those remains of which he wished to preserve a memorial for his future hours, she would stand by, and watch the magic effects of his pencil, in tracing the scenes of her native place; she would then describe to him the circling dance upon the open plain, would paint to him in all the glowing colours of youthful memory, the marriage pomp she remembered viewing in her infancy; and then, turning to subjects that had evidently made a greater impression upon her mind, would tell him all the supernatural tales of her nurse. Her earnestness and apparent belief of what she narrated, excited the interest even of Aubrey; and often as she told him the tale of the living vampyre, who had passed years amidst his friends, and dearest ties, forced every year, by feeding upon the life of a lovely female to prolong his existence for the ensuing months, his blood would run cold, whilst he attempted to laugh her out of such idle and horrible fantasies; but Ianthe cited to him the names of old men, who had at last detected one living among themselves, after several of their near relatives and children had been found marked with the stamp of the fiend's appetite; and when she found him so incredulous, she begged of him to believe her, for it had been remarked, that those who had dared to question their existence, always had some proof given, which obliged them, with grief and heartbreaking, to confess it was true. She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and his horror was increased by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her, that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven.
< 6 >
Aubrey began to attach himself more and more to Ianthe; her innocence, so contrasted with all the affected virtues of the women among whom he had sought for his vision of romance, won his heart and while he ridiculed the idea of a young man of English habits, marrying an uneducated Greek girl, still he found himself more and more attached to the almost fairy form before him. He would tear himself at times from her, and, forming a plan for some antiquarian research, would depart, determined not to return until his object was attained; but he always found it impossible to fix his attention upon the ruins around him, whilst in his mind he retained an image that seemed alone the rightful possessor of his thoughts. Ianthe was unconscious of his love, and was ever the same frank infantile being he had first known. She always seemed to part from him with reluctance; but it was because she had no longer any one with whom she could visit her favourite haunts, whilst her guardian was occupied in sketching or uncovering some fragment which had yet escaped the destructive hand of time. She had appealed to her parents on the subject of Vampyres, and they both, with several present, affirmed their existence, pale with horror at the very name. Soon after, Aubrey determined to proceed upon one of his excursions, which was to detain him for a few hours; when they heard the name of the place, they all at once begged of him not to return at night, as he must necessarily pass through a wood, where no Greek would ever remain, after the day had closed, upon any consideration. They described it as the resort of the vampyres in their nocturnal orgies and denounced the most heavy evils as impending upon him who dared to cross their path. Aubrey made light of their representations, and tried to laugh them out of the idea; but when he saw them shudder at his daring thus to mock a superior, infernal power, the very name of which apparently made their blood freeze, he was silent.
Next morning Aubrey set off upon his excursion unattended; he was surprised to observe the melancholy face of his host, and was concerned to find that his words, mocking the belief of those horrible fiends, had inspired them with such terror. When he was about to depart, Ianthe came to the side of his horse, and earnestly begged of him to return, ere night allowed the power of these beings to be put in action; - he promised. He was, however, so occupied in his research, that he did not perceive that day-light would soon end, and that in the horizon there was one of those specks which, in the warmer climates, so rapidly gather into a tremendous mass, and pour all their rage upon the devoted country. - He at last, however, mounted his horse, determined to make up by speed for his delay: but it was too late. Twilight, in these southern climates, is almost unknown; immediately the sun sets, night begins: and ere he had advanced far, the power of the storm was above - its echoing thunders had scarcely an interval of rest; - its thick heavy rain forced its way through the canopying foliage, whilst the blue forked lightning seemed to fall and radiate at his very feet. Suddenly his horse took fright, and he was carried with dreadful rapidity through the entangled forest. The animal at last, through fatigue, stopped, and he found, by the glare of lightning, that he was in the neighbourhood of a hovel that hardly lifted itself up from the masses of dead leaves and brushwood which surrounded it. Dismounting, he approached, hoping to find some one to guide him to the town, or at least trusting to obtain shelter from the pelting of the storm. As he approached, the thunders, for a moment silent, allowed him to hear the dreadful shrieks of a woman mingling with the stifled, exultant mockery of a laugh, continued in one almost unbroken sound; - he was startled: but, roused by the thunder which again rolled over his head, he, with a sudden effort, forced open the door of the hut. He found himself in utter darkness: the sound, however, guided him. He was apparently unperceived; for, though he called, still the sounds continued, and no notice was taken of him. He found himself in contact with some one, whom he immediately seized; when a voice cried, "Again baffled!" to which a loud laugh succeeded; and he felt himself grappled by one whose strength seemed superhuman: determined to sell his life as dearly as he could, he struggled; but it was in vain: he was lifted from his feet and hurled with enormous force against the ground: - his enemy threw himself upon him, and kneeling upon his breast, had placed his hands upon his throat when the glare of many torches penetrating through the hole that gave light in the day, disturbed him; - he instantly rose, and, leaving his prey, rushed through the door, and in a moment the crashing of branches, as he broke through the wood, was no longer heard. The storm was now still; and Aubrey, incapable of moving, was soon heard by those without. They entered; the light of their torches fell upon mud walls, and the thatch loaded on every individual straw with heavy flakes of soot. At the desire of Aubrey they searched for her who had attracted him by her cries; he was again left in darkness; but what was his horror, when the light of the torches once more burst upon him, to perceive the airy form of his fair conductress brought in a lifeless corpse. He shut his eyes, hoping that it was but a vision arising from his disturbed imagination; but he again saw the same form, when he unclosed them, stretched by his side. There was no colour upon her cheek, not even upon her lip; yet there was a stillness about her face that seemed almost as attaching as the life that once dwelt there: - upon her neck and breast was blood, and upon her throat were the marks of teeth having opened the vein: - to this the men pointed, crying, simultaneously struck with horror, "A Vampyre! a Vampyre!" A litter was quickly formed, and Aubrey was laid by the side of her who had lately been to him the object of so many bright and fairy visions, now fallen; with the flower of life that had died within her. He knew not what his thoughts were - his mind was benumbed and seemed to shun reflection and take refuge in vacancy; - he held almost unconsciously in his hand a naked dagger of a particular construction, which had been found in the hut. They were soon met by different parties who had been engaged in the search of her whom a mother had missed. Their lamentable cries as they approached the city, forewarned the parents of some dreadful catastrophe. - To describe their grief would be impossible; but when they ascertained the cause of their child's death, they looked at Aubrey and pointed to the corpse. They were inconsolable; both died brokenhearted.
< 7 >
Aubrey being put to bed was seized with a most violent fever, and was often delirious; in these intervals he would call upon Lord Ruthven and upon Ianthe - by some unaccountable combination he seemed to beg of his former companion to spare the being he loved. At other times he would imprecate maledictions upon his head, and curse him as her destroyer. Lord Ruthven chanced at this time to arrive at Athens, and from whatever motive, upon hearing of the state of Aubrey, immediately placed himself in the same house, and became his constant attendant. When the latter recovered from his delirium, he was horrified and startled at the sight of him whose image he had now combined with that of a Vampyre; but Lord Ruthven, by his kind words, implying almost repentance for the fault that had caused their separation, and still more by the attention, anxiety, and care which he showed, soon reconciled him to his presence. His lordship seemed quite changed; he no longer appeared that apathetic being who had so astonished Aubrey; but as soon as his convalescence began to be rapid, he again gradually retired into the same state of mind, and Aubrey perceived no difference from the former man, except that at times he was surprised to meet his gaze fixed intently upon him, with a smile of malicious exultation playing upon his lips: he knew not why, but this smile haunted him. During the last stage of the invalid's recovery, Lord Ruthven was apparently engaged in watching the tideless waves raised by the cooling breeze, or in marking the progress of those orbs, circling, like our world, the moveless sun; - indeed, he appeared to wish to avoid the eyes of all.
Aubrey's mind, by this shock, was much weakened, and that elasticity of spirit which had once so distinguished him now seemed to have fled for ever. He was now as much a lover of solitude and silence as Lord Ruthven; but much as he wished for solitude, his mind could not find it in the neighbourhood of Athens; if he sought it amidst the ruins he had formerly frequented, Ianthe's form stood by his side; - if he sought it in the woods, her light step would appear wandering amidst the underwood, in quest of the modest violet; then suddenly turning round, would show, to his wild imagination, her pale face and wounded throat, with a meek smile upon her lips. He determined to fly scenes, every feature of which created such bitter associations in his mind. He proposed to Lord Ruthven, to whom he held himself bound by the tender care he had taken of him during his illness, that they should visit those parts of Greece neither had yet seen. They travelled in every direction, and sought every spot to which a recollection could be attached: but though they thus hastened from place to place, yet they seemed not to heed what they gazed upon. They heard much of robbers, but they gradually began to slight these reports, which they imagined were only the invention of individuals, whose interest it was to excite the generosity of those whom they defended from pretended dangers. In consequence of thus neglecting the advice of the inhabitants, on one occasion they travelled with only a few guards, more to serve as guides than as a defence. Upon entering, however, a narrow defile, at the bottom of which was the bed of a DILARANG KERAS, with large masses of rock brought down from the neighbouring precipices, they had reason to repent their negligence; for scarcely were the whole of the party engaged in the narrow pass, when they were startled by the whistling of bullets close to their heads, and by the echoed report of several guns. In an instant their guards had left them, and, placing themselves behind rocks, had begun to fire in the direction whence the report came. Lord Ruthven and Aubrey, imitating their example, retired for a moment behind the sheltering turn of the defile: but ashamed of being thus detained by a foe, who with insulting shouts bade them advance, and being exposed to unresisting slaughter, if any of the robbers should climb above and take them in the rear, they determined at once to rush forward in search of the enemy. Hardly had they lost the shelter of rock, when Lord Ruthven received a shot in the shoulder, which brought him to the ground. Aubrey hastened to his assistance; and, no longer heeding the contest or his own peril, was soon surprised by seeing the robbers' faces around him - his guards having, upon Lord Ruthven's being wounded, immediately thrown up their arms and surrendered.
< 8 >
By promises of great reward, Aubrey soon induced them to convey his wounded friend to a neighbouring cabin; and having agreed upon a ransom, he was no more disturbed by their presence - they being content merely to guard the entrance till their comrade should return with the promised sum, for which he had an order. Lord Ruthven's strength rapidly decreased; in two days mortification ensued, and death seemed advancing with hasty steps. His conduct and appearance had not changed; he seemed as unconscious of pain as he had been of the objects about him: but towards the close of the last evening, his mind became apparently uneasy, and his eye often fixed upon Aubrey, who was induced to offer his assistance with more than usual earnestness - "Assist me! you may save me - you may do more than that - I mean not life, I heed the death of my existence as little as that of the passing day; but you may save my honour, your friend's honour." - "How? tell me how? I would do any thing," replied Aubrey. - "I need but little, my life ebbs apace - I cannot explain the whole - but if you would conceal all you know of me, my honour were free from stain in the world's mouth - and if my death were unknown for some time in England - I - I - but life." - "It shall not be known." - "Swear!" cried the dying man raising himself with exultant violence. "Swear by all your soul reveres, by all your nature fears, swear that for a year and a day you will not impart your knowledge of my crimes or death to any living being in any way, whatever may happen, or whatever you may see." - His eyes seemed bursting from their sockets; "I swear!" said Aubrey; he sunk laughing upon his pillow, and breathed no more.
Aubrey retired to rest, but did not sleep; the many circumstances attending his acquaintance with this man rose upon his mind, and he knew not why; when he remembered his oath a cold shivering came over him, as if from the presentiment of something horrible awaiting him. Rising early in the morning, he was about to enter the hovel in which he had left the corpse, when a robber met him, and informed him that it was no longer there, having been conveyed by himself and comrades, upon his retiring, to the pinnacle of a neighbouring mount, according to a promise they had given his lordship, that it should be exposed to the first cold ray of the moon that rose after his death. Aubrey astonished, and taking several of the men, determined to go and bury it upon the spot where it lay. But, when he had mounted to the summit he found no trace of either the corpse or the clothes, though the robbers swore they pointed out the identical rock on which they had laid the body. For a time his mind was bewildered in conjectures, but he at last returned, convinced that they had buried the corpse for the sake of the clothes.
< 9 >
Weary of a country in which he had met with such terrible misfortunes, and in which all apparently conspired to heighten that superstitious melancholy that had seized upon his mind, he resolved to leave it, and soon arrived at Smyrna. While waiting for a vessel to convey him to Otranto, or to Naples, he occupied himself in arranging those effects he had with him belonging to Lord Ruthven. Amongst other things there was a case containing several weapons of offence, more or less adapted to ensure the death of the victim. There were several daggers and ataghans. Whilst turning them over, and examining their curious forms, what was his surprise at finding a sheath apparently ornamented in the same style as the dagger discovered in the fatal hut; - he shuddered; hastening to gain further proof, he found the weapon, and his horror may be imagined when he discovered that it fitted, though peculiarly shaped, the sheath he held in his hand. His eyes seemed to need no further certainty - they seemed gazing to be bound to the dagger, yet still he wished to disbelieve; but the particular form, the same varying tints upon the haft and sheath were alike in splendour on both, and left no room for doubt; there were also drops of blood on each.
He left Smyrna, and on his way home, at Rome, his first inquiries were concerning the lady he had attempted to snatch from Lord Ruthven's seductive arts. Her parents were in distress, their fortune ruined, and she had not been heard of since the departure of his lordship. Aubrey's mind became almost broken under so many repeated horrors; he was afraid that this lady had fallen a victim to the destroyer of Ianthe. He became morose and silent; and his only occupation consisted in urging the speed of the postilions, as if he were going to save the life of some one he held dear. He arrived at Calais; a breeze, which seemed obedient to his will, soon wafted him to the English shores; and he hastened to the mansion of his fathers, and there, for a moment, appeared to lose, in the embraces and caresses of his sister, all memory of the past. If she before, by her infantine caresses, had gained his affection, now that the woman began to appear, she was still more attaching as a companion.
< 10 >
Miss Aubrey had not that winning grace which gains the gaze and applause of the drawing-room assemblies. There was none of that light brilliancy which only exists in the heated atmosphere of a crowded apartment. Her blue eye was never lit up by the levity of the mind beneath. There was a melancholy charm about it which did not seem to arise from misfortune, but from some feeling within, that appeared to indicate a soul conscious of a brighter realm. Her step was not that light footing, which strays where'er a butterfly or a colour may attract - it was sedate and pensive. When alone, her face was never brightened by the smile of joy; but when her brother breathed to her his affection, and would in her presence forget those griefs she knew destroyed his rest, who would have exchanged her smile for that of the voluptuary? It seemed as if those eyes, that face were then playing in the light of their own native sphere. She was yet only eighteen, and had not been presented to the world, it having been thought by her guardians more fit that her presentation should be delayed until her brother's return from the continent, when he might be her protector. It was now, therefore, resolved that the next drawing-room, which was fast approaching, should be the epoch of her entry into the "busy scene." Aubrey would rather have remained in the mansion of his fathers, and feed upon the melancholy which overpowered him. He could not feel interest about the frivolities of fashionable strangers, when his mind had been so torn by the events he had witnessed; but he determined to sacrifice his own comfort to the protection of his sister. They soon arrived in town, and prepared for the next day, which had been announced as a drawing- room.
The crowd was excessive - a drawing-room had not been held for long time, and all who were anxious to bask in the smile of royalty, hastened thither. Aubrey was there with his sister. While he was standing in a corner by himself, heedless of all around him, engaged in the remembrance that the first time he had seen Lord Ruthven was in that very place - he felt himself suddenly seized by the arm, and a voice he recognized too well, sounded in his ear - "Remember your oath." He had hardly courage to turn, fearful of seeing a spectre that would blast him, when he perceived, at a little distance, the same figure which had attracted his notice on this spot upon his first entry into society. He gazed till his limbs almost refusing to bear their weight, he was obliged to take the arm of a friend, and forcing a passage through the crowd, he threw himself into his carriage, and was driven home. He paced the room with hurried steps, and fixed his hands upon his head, as if he were afraid his thoughts were bursting from his brain. Lord Ruthven again before him - circumstances started up in dreadful array - the dagger - his oath. - He roused himself, he could not believe it possible - the dead rise again! - He thought his imagination had conjured up the image his mind was resting upon. It was impossible that it could be real - he determined, therefore, to go again into society; for though he attempted to ask concerning Lord Ruthven, the name hung upon his lips and he could not succeed in gaining information. He went a few nights after with his sister to the assembly of a near relation. Leaving her under the protection of a matron, he retired into a recess, and there gave himself up to his own devouring thoughts. Perceiving, at last, that many were leaving, he roused himself, and entering another room, found his sister surrounded by several, apparently in earnest conversation; he attempted to pass and get near her, when one, whom he requested to move, turned round, and revealed to him those features he most abhorred. He sprang forward, seized his sister's arm, and, with hurried step, forced her towards the street: at the door he found himself impeded by the crowd of servants who were waiting for their lords; and while he was engaged in passing them, he again heard that voice whisper close to him - "Remember your oath!" - He did not dare to turn, but, hurrying his sister, soon reached home.
< 11 >
Aubrey became almost distracted. If before his mind had been absorbed by one subject, how much more completely was it engrossed now that the certainty of the monster's living again pressed upon his thoughts. His sister's attentions were now unheeded, and it was in vain that she intreated him to explain to her what had caused his abrupt conduct. He only uttered a few words, and those terrified her. The more he thought, the more he was bewildered. His oath startled him; - was he then to allow this monster to roam, bearing ruin upon his breath, amidst all he held dear, and not avert its progress? His very sister might have been touched by him. But even if he were to break his oath, and disclose his suspicions, who would believe him? He thought of employing his own hand to free the world from such a wretch; but death, he remembered, had been already mocked. For days he remained in state; shut up in his room, he saw no one, and ate only when his sister came, who, with eyes streaming with tears, besought him, for her sake, to support nature. At last, no longer capable of bearing stillness and solitude, he left his house, roamed from street to street, anxious to fly that image which haunted him. His dress became neglected, and he wandered, as often exposed to the noon-day sun as to the mid-night damps. He was no longer to be recognized; at first he returned with evening to the house; but at last he laid him down to rest wherever fatigue overtook him. His sister, anxious for his safety, employed people to follow him; but they were soon distanced by him who fled from a pursuer swifter than any - from thought. His conduct, however, suddenly changed. Struck with the idea that he left by his absence the whole of his friends, with a fiend amongst them, of whose presence they were unconscious, he determined to enter again into society, and watch him closely, anxious to forewarn, in spite of his oath, all whom Lord Ruthven approached with intimacy. But when he entered into a room, his haggard and suspicious looks were so striking, his inward shuddering so visible, that his sister was at last obliged to beg of him to abstain from seeking, for her sake, a society which affected him so strongly. When, however, remonstrance proved unavailing, the guardians thought proper to interpose, and, fearing that his mind was becoming alienated, they thought it high time to resume again that trust which had been before imposed upon them by Aubrey's parents.
< 12 >
Desirous of saving him from the injuries and sufferings he had daily encountered in his wanderings, and of preventing him from exposing to the general eye those marks of what they considered folly, they engaged a physician to reside in the house, and take constant care of him. He hardly appeared to notice it, so completely was his mind absorbed by one terrible subject. His incoherence became at last so great that he was confined to his chamber. There he would often lie for days, incapable of being roused. He had become emaciated, his eyes had attained a glassy lustre; - the only sign of affection and recollection remaining displayed itself upon the entry of his sister; then he would sometimes start, and, seizing her hands, with looks that severely afflicted her, he would desire her not to touch him. "Oh, do not touch him - if your love for me is aught, do not go near him!" When, however, she inquired to whom he referred, his only answer was, "True! true!" and again he sank into a state, whence not even she could rouse him. This lasted many months: gradually, however, as the year was passing, his incoherences became less frequent, and his mind threw off a portion of its gloom, whilst his guardians observed, that several times in the day he would count upon his fingers a definite number, and then smile.
The time had nearly elapsed, when, upon the last day of the year, one of his guardians entering his room, began to converse with his physician upon the melancholy circumstance of Aubrey's being in so awful a situation, when his sister was going next day to be married. Instantly Aubrey's attention was attracted; he asked anxiously to whom. Glad of this mark of returning intellect, of which they feared he had been deprived, they mentioned the name of the Earl of Marsden. Thinking this was a young Earl whom he had met with in society, Aubrey seemed pleased, and astonished them still more by his expressing his intention to be present at the nuptials, and desiring to see his sister. They answered not, but in a few minutes his sister was with him. He was apparently again capable of being affected by the influence of her lovely smile; for he pressed her to his breast, and kissed her cheek, wet with tears, flowing at the thought of her brother's being once more alive to the feelings of affection. He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what was his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the resemblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her; - then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he - But he could not advance - it seemed as if that voice again bade him remember his oath - he turned suddenly round, thinking Lord Ruthven was near him but saw no one. In the meantime the guardians and physician, who had heard the whole, and thought this was but a return of his disorder, entered, and forcing him from Miss Aubrey, desired her to leave him. He fell upon his knees to them, he implored, he begged of them to delay but for one day. They, attributing this to the insanity they imagined had taken possession of his mind endeavoured to pacify him, and retired.
< 13 >
Lord Ruthven had called the morning after the drawing-room, and had been refused with every one else. When he heard of Aubrey's ill health, he readily understood himself to be the cause of it; but when he learned that he was deemed insane, his exultation and pleasure could hardly be concealed from those among whom he had gained this information. He hastened to the house of his former companion, and, by constant attendance, and the pretence of great affection for the brother and interest in his fate, he gradually won the ear of Miss Aubrey. Who could resist his power? His tongue had dangers and toils to recount - could speak of himself as of an individual having no sympathy with any being on the crowded earth, save with her to whom he addressed himself; - could tell how, since he knew her, his existence had begun to seem worthy of preservation, if it were merely that he might listen her soothing accents; - in fine, he knew so well how to use the serpent's art, or such was the will of fate, that he gained her affections. The title of the elder branch falling at length to him, he obtained an important embassy, which served as an excuse for hastening the marriage (in spite of her brother's deranged state), which was to take place the very day before his departure for the continent.
Aubrey, when he was left by the physician and his guardians, attempted to bribe the servants, but in vain. He asked for pen and paper; it was given him; he wrote a letter to his sister, conjuring her, as she valued her own happiness, her own honour, and the honour of those now in the grave, who once held her in their arms as their hope and the hope of their house, to delay but for a few hours that marriage, on which he denounced the most heavy curses. The servants promised they would deliver it; but giving it to the physician, he thought it better not to harass any more the mind of Miss Aubrey by, what he considered, the ravings of a maniac. Night passed on without rest to the busy inmates of the house; and Aubrey heard, with a horror that may more easily be conceived than described, the notes of busy preparation. Morning came, and the sound of carriages broke upon his ear. Aubrey grew almost frantic. The curiosity of the servants at last overcame their vigilance; they gradually stole away, leaving him in the custody of an helpless old woman. He seized the opportunity, with one bound was out of the room, and in a moment found himself in the apartment where all were nearly assembled. Lord Ruthven was the first to perceive him: he immediately approached, and, taking his arm by force, hurried him from the room, speechless with rage. When on the staircase, Lord Ruthven whispered in his ear - "Remember your oath, and know, if not my bride to day, your sister is dishonoured. Women are frail!" So saying, he pushed him towards his attendants, who, roused by the old woman, had come in search of him. Aubrey could no longer support himself; his rage not finding vent, had broken a blood-vessel, and he was conveyed to bed. This was not mentioned to his sister, who was not present when he entered, as the physician was afraid of agitating her. The marriage was solemnized, and the bride and bridegroom left London.
< 14 >
Aubrey's weakness increased; the effusion of blood produced symptoms of the near approach of death. He desired his sister's guardians might be called, and when the midnight hour had struck, he related composedly what the reader has perused - he died immediately after.
The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a Vampyre!
#3 Original Poster (OP)
The House Of The Dead Hand by.
"Above all," the letter ended, "don't leave Siena without seeing Doctor Lombard's Leonardo. Lombard is a queer old Englishman, a mystic or a madman (if the two are not synonymous), and a devout student of the Italian Renaissance. He has lived for years in Italy, exploring its remotest corners, and has lately picked up an undoubted Leonardo, which came to light in a farmhouse near Bergamo. It is believed to be one of the missing pictures mentioned by Vasari, and is at any rate, according to the most competent authorities, a genuine and almost untouched example of the best period.
"Lombard is a queer stick, and jealous of showing his treasures; but we struck up a friendship when I was working on the Sodomas in Siena three years ago, and if you will give him the enclosed line you may get a peep at the Leonardo. Probably not more than a peep, though, for I hear he refuses to have it reproduced. I want badly to use it in my monograph on the Windsor drawings, so please see what you can do for me, and if you can't persuade him to let you take a photograph or make a sketch, at least jot down a detailed description of the picture and get from him all the facts you can. I hear that the French and Italian governments have offered him a large advance on his purchase, but that he refuses to sell at any price, though he certainly can't afford such luxuries; in fact, I don't see where he got enough money to buy the picture. He lives in the Via Papa Giulio."
Wyant sat at the table d'hote of his hotel, re-reading his friend's letter over a late luncheon. He had been five days in Siena without having found time to call on Doctor Lombard; not from any indifference to the opportunity presented, but because it was his first visit to the strange red city and he was still under the spell of its more conspicuous wonders -- the brick palaces flinging out their wrought-iron torch-holders with a gesture of arrogant suzerainty; the great council-chamber emblazoned with civic allegories; the pageant of Pope Julius on the Library walls; the Sodomas smiling balefully through the dusk of mouldering chapels -- and it was only when his first hunger was appeased that he remembered that one course in the banquet was still untasted.
< 2 >
He put the letter in his pocket and turned to leave the room, with a nod to its only other occupant, an olive-skinned young man with lustrous eyes and a low collar, who sat on the other side of the table, perusing the Fanfulla di Domenica. This gentleman, his daily vis-a-vis, returned the nod with a Latin eloquence of gesture, and Wyant passed on to the ante-chamber, where he paused to light a cigarette. He was just restoring the case to his pocket when he heard a hurried step behind him, and the lustrouseyed young man advanced through the glass doors of the diningroom.
"Pardon me, sir," he said in measured English, and with an intonation of exquisite politeness; "you have let this letter fall."
Wyant, recognizing his friend's note of introduction to Doctor Lombard, took it with a word of thanks, and was about to turn away when he perceived that the eyes of his fellow diner remained fixed on him with a gaze of melancholy interrogation.
"Again pardon me," the young man at length ventured, "but are you by chance the friend of the illustrious Doctor Lombard?"
"No," returned Wyant, with the instinctive Anglo-Saxon distrust of foreign advances. Then, fearing to appear rude, he said with a guarded politeness: "Perhaps, by the way, you can tell me the number of his house. I see it is not given here."
The young man brightened perceptibly. "The number of the house is thirteen; but any one can indicate it to you -- it is well known in Siena. It is called," he continued after a moment, "the House of the Dead Hand."
Wyant stared. "What a queer name!" he said.
"The name comes from an antique hand of marble which for many hundred years has been above the door."
Wyant was turning away with a gesture of thanks, when the other added: "If you would have the kindness to ring twice."
"To ring twice?"
"At the doctor's." The young man smiled. "It is the custom."
It was a dazzling March afternoon, with a shower of sun from the mid-blue, and a marshalling of slaty clouds behind the umbercolored hills. For nearly an hour Wyant loitered on the Lizza, watching the shadows race across the naked landscape and the thunder blacken in the west; then he decided to set out for the House of the Dead Hand. The map in his guidebook showed him that the Via Papa Giulio was one of the streets which radiate from the Piazza, and thither he bent his course, pausing at every other step to fill his eye with some fresh image of weather-beaten beauty. The clouds had rolled upward, obscuring the sunshine and hanging like a funereal baldachin above the projecting cornices of Doctor Lombard's street, and Wyant walked for some distance in the shade of the beetling palace fronts before his eye fell on a doorway surmounted by a sallow marble hand. He stood for a moment staring up at the strange emblem. The hand was a woman's -- a dead drooping hand, which hung there convulsed and helpless, as though it had been thrust forth in denunciation of some evil mystery within the house, and had sunk struggling into death.
< 3 >
A girl who was drawing water from the well in the court said that the English doctor lived on the first floor, and Wyant, passing through a glazed door, mounted the damp degrees of a vaulted stairway with a plaster AEsculapius mouldering in a niche on the landing. Facing the AEsculapius was another door, and as Wyant put his hand on the bell-rope he remembered his unknown friend's injunction, and rang twice.
His ring was answered by a peasant woman with a low forehead and small close-set eyes, who, after a prolonged scrutiny of himself, his card, and his letter of introduction, left him standing in a high, cold ante-chamber floored with brick. He heard her wooden pattens click down an interminable corridor, and after some delay she returned and told him to follow her.
They passed through a long saloon, bare as the ante-chamber, but loftily vaulted, and frescoed with a seventeenth-century Triumph of Scipio or Alexander -- martial figures following Wyant with the filmed melancholy gaze of shades in limbo. At the end of this apartment he was admitted to a smaller room, with the same atmosphere of mortal cold, but showing more obvious signs of occupancy. The walls were covered with tapestry which had faded to the gray-brown tints of decaying vegetation, so that the young man felt as though he were entering a sunless autumn wood. Against these hangings stood a few tall cabinets on heavy gilt feet, and at a table in the window three persons were seated: an elderly lady who was warming her hands over a brazier, a girl bent above a strip of needle-work, and an old man.
As the latter advanced toward Wyant, the young man was conscious of staring with unseemly intentness at his small round-backed figure, dressed with shabby disorder and surmounted by a wonderful head, lean, vulpine, eagle-beaked as that of some artloving despot of the Renaissance: a head combining the venerable hair and large prominent eyes of the humanist with the greedy profile of the adventurer. Wyant, in musing on the Italian portrait-medals of the fifteenth century, had often fancied that only in that period of fierce individualism could types so paradoxical have been produced; yet the subtle craftsmen who committed them to the bronze had never drawn a face more strangely stamped with contradictory passions than that of Doctor Lombard.
< 4 >
"I am glad to see you," he said to Wyant, extending a hand which seemed a mere framework held together by knotted veins. "We lead a quiet life here and receive few visitors, but any friend of Professor Clyde's is welcome." Then, with a gesture which included the two women, he added dryly: "My wife and daughter often talk of Professor Clyde."
"Oh yes -- he used to make me such nice toast; they don't understand toast in Italy," said Mrs. Lombard in a high plaintive voice.
It would have been difficult, from Doctor Lombard's manner and appearance to guess his nationality; but his wife was so inconsciently and ineradicably English that even the silhouette of her cap seemed a protest against Continental laxities. She was a stout fair woman, with pale cheeks netted with red lines. A brooch with a miniature portrait sustained a bogwood watchchain upon her bosom, and at her elbow lay a heap of knitting and an old copy of The Queen.
The young girl, who had remained standing, was a slim replica of her mother, with an apple-cheeked face and opaque blue eyes. Her small head was prodigally laden with braids of dull fair hair, and she might have had a kind of transient prettiness but for the sullen droop of her round mouth. It was hard to say whether her expression implied ill-temper or apathy; but Wyant was struck by the contrast between the fierce vitality of the doctor's age and the inanimateness of his daughter's youth.
Seating himself in the chair which his host advanced, the young man tried to open the conversation by addressing to Mrs. Lombard some random remark on the beauties of Siena. The lady murmured a resigned assent, and Doctor Lombard interposed with a smile: "My dear sir, my wife considers Siena a most salubrious spot, and is favorably impressed by the cheapness of the marketing; but she deplores the total absence of muffins and cannel coal, and cannot resign herself to the Italian method of dusting furniture."
"But they don't, you know -- they don't dust it!" Mrs. Lombard protested, without showing any resentment of her husband's manner.
"Precisely -- they don't dust it. Since we have lived in Siena we have not once seen the cobwebs removed from the battlements of the Mangia. Can you conceive of such housekeeping? My wife has never yet dared to write it home to her aunts at Bonchurch."
< 5 >
Mrs. Lombard accepted in silence this remarkable statement of her views, and her husband, with a malicious smile at Wyant's embarrassment, planted himself suddenly before the young man.
"And now," said he, "do you want to see my Leonardo?"
"Do I?" cried Wyant, on his feet in a flash.
The doctor chuckled. "Ah," he said, with a kind of crooning deliberation, "that's the way they all behave -- that's what they all come for." He turned to his daughter with another variation of mockery in his smile. "Don't fancy it's for your beaux yeux, my dear; or for the mature charms of Mrs. Lombard," he added, glaring suddenly at his wife, who had taken up her knitting and was softly murmuring over the number of her stitches.
Neither lady appeared to notice his pleasantries, and he continued, addressing himself to Wyant: "They all come -- they all come; but many are called and few are chosen." His voice sank to solemnity. "While I live," he said, "no unworthy eye shall desecrate that picture. But I will not do my friend Clyde the injustice to suppose that he would send an unworthy representative. He tells me he wishes a description of the picture for his book; and you shall describe it to him -- if you can."
Wyant hesitated, not knowing whether it was a propitious moment to put in his appeal for a photograph.
"Well, sir," he said, "you know Clyde wants me to take away all I can of it."
Doctor Lombard eyed him sardonically. "You're welcome to take away all you can carry," he replied; adding, as he turned to his daughter: "That is, if he has your permission, Sybilla."
The girl rose without a word, and laying aside her work, took a key from a secret drawer in one of the cabinets, while the doctor continued in the same note of grim jocularity: "For you must know that the picture is not mine -- it is my daughter's."
He followed with evident amusement the surprised glance which Wyant turned on the young girl's impassive figure.
"Sybilla," he pursued, "is a votary of the arts; she has inherited her fond father's passion for the unattainable. Luckily, however, she also recently inherited a tidy legacy from her grandmother; and having seen the Leonardo, on which its discoverer had placed a price far beyond my reach, she took a step which deserves to go down to history: she invested her whole inheritance in the purchase of the picture, thus enabling me to spend my closing years in communion with one of the world's masterpieces. My dear sir, could Antigone do more?"
< 6 >
The object of this strange eulogy had meanwhile drawn aside one of the tapestry hangings, and fitted her key into a concealed door.
"Come," said Doctor Lombard, "let us go before the light fails us."
Wyant glanced at Mrs. Lombard, who continued to knit impassively.
"No, no," said his host, "my wife will not come with us. You might not suspect it from her conversation, but my wife has no feeling for art -- Italian art, that is; for no one is fonder of our early Victorian school."
"Frith's Railway Station, you know," said Mrs. Lombard, smiling. "I like an animated picture."
Miss Lombard, who had unlocked the door, held back the tapestry to let her father and Wyant pass out; then she followed them down a narrow stone passage with another door at its end. This door was iron-barred, and Wyant noticed that it had a complicated patent lock. The girl fitted another key into the lock, and Doctor Lombard led the way into a small room. The dark panelling of this apartment was irradiated by streams of yellow light slanting through the disbanded thunder clouds, and in the central brightness hung a picture concealed by a curtain of faded velvet.
"A little too bright, Sybilla," said Doctor Lombard. His face had grown solemn, and his mouth twitched nervously as his daughter drew a linen drapery across the upper part of the window.
"That will do -- that will do." He turned impressively to Wyant. "Do you see the pomegranate bud in this rug? Place yourself there -- keep your left foot on it, please. And now, Sybilla, draw the cord."
Miss Lombard advanced and placed her hand on a cord hidden behind the velvet curtain.
"Ah," said the doctor, "one moment: I should like you, while looking at the picture, to have in mind a few lines of verse. Sybilla --"
Without the slightest change of countenance, and with a promptness which proved her to be prepared for the request, Miss Lombard began to recite, in a full round voice like her mother's, St. Bernard's invocation to the Virgin, in the thirty-third canto of the Paradise.
"Thank you, my dear," said her father, drawing a deep breath as she ended. "That unapproachable combination of vowel sounds prepares one better than anything I know for the contemplation of the picture."
< 7 >
As he spoke the folds of velvet slowly parted, and the Leonardo appeared in its frame of tarnished gold:
From the nature of Miss Lombard's recitation Wyant had expected a sacred subject, and his surprise was therefore great as the composition was gradually revealed by the widening division of the curtain.
In the background a steel-colored river wound through a pale calcareous landscape; while to the left, on a lonely peak, a crucified Christ hung livid against indigo clouds. The central figure of the foreground, however, was that of a woman seated in an antique chair of marble with bas-reliefs of dancing maenads. Her feet rested on a meadow sprinkled with minute wild-flowers, and her attitude of smiling majesty recalled that of Dosso Dossi's Circe. She wore a red robe, flowing in closely fluted lines from under a fancifully embroidered cloak. Above her high forehead the crinkled golden hair flowed sideways beneath a veil; one hand drooped on the arm of her chair; the other held up an inverted human skull, into which a young Dionysus, smooth, brown and sidelong as the St. John of the Louvre, poured a stream of wine from a high-poised flagon. At the lady's feet lay the symbols of art and luxury: a flute and a roll of music, a platter heaped with grapes and roses, the torso of a Greek statuette, and a bowl overflowing with coins and jewels; behind her, on the chalky hilltop, hung the crucified Christ. A scroll in a corner of the foreground bore the legend: Lux Mundi.
Wyant, emerging from the first plunge of wonder, turned inquiringly toward his companions. Neither had moved. Miss Lombard stood with her hand on the cord, her lids lowered, her mouth drooping; the doctor, his strange Thoth-like profile turned toward his guest, was still lost in rapt contemplation of his treasure.
Wyant addressed the young girl.
"You are fortunate," he said, "to be the possessor of anything so perfect."
"It is considered very beautiful," she said coldly.
"Beautiful -- beautiful!" the doctor burst out. "Ah, the poor, worn out, over-worked word! There are no adjectives in the language fresh enough to describe such pristine brilliancy; all their brightness has been worn off by misuse. Think of the things that have been called beautiful, and then look at that!"
< 8 >
"It is worthy of a new vocabulary," Wyant agreed.
"Yes," Doctor Lombard continued, "my daughter is indeed fortunate. She has chosen what Catholics call the higher life -- the counsel of perfection. What other private person enjoys the same opportunity of understanding the master? Who else lives under the same roof with an untouched masterpiece of Leonardo's? Think of the happiness of being always under the influence of such a creation; of living into it; of partaking of it in daily and hourly communion! This room is a chapel; the sight of that picture is a sacrament. What an atmosphere for a young life to unfold itself in! My daughter is singularly blessed. Sybilla, point out some of the details to Mr. Wyant; I see that he will appreciate them."
The girl turned her dense blue eyes toward Wyant; then, glancing away from him, she pointed to the canvas.
"Notice the modeling of the left hand," she began in a monotonous voice; "it recalls the hand of the Mona Lisa. The head of the naked genius will remind you of that of the St. John of the Louvre, but it is more purely pagan and is turned a little less to the right. The embroidery on the cloak is symbolic: you will see that the roots of this plant have burst through the vase. This recalls the famous definition of Hamlet's character in Wilhelm Meister. Here are the mystic rose, the flame, and the serpent, emblem of eternity. Some of the other symbols we have not yet been able to decipher."
Wyant watched her curiously; she seemed to be reciting a lesson.
"And the picture itself?" he said. "How do you explain that? Lux Mundi -- what a curious device to connect with such a subject! What can it mean?"
Miss Lombard dropped her eyes: the answer was evidently not included in her lesson.
"What, indeed?" the doctor interposed. "What does life mean? As one may define it in a hundred different ways, so one may find a hundred different meanings in this picture. Its symbolism is as many-faceted as a well-cut diamond. Who, for instance, is that divine lady? Is it she who is the true Lux Mundi -- the light reflected from jewels and young eyes, from polished marble and clear waters and statues of bronze? Or is that the Light of the World, extinguished on yonder stormy hill, and is this lady the Pride of Life, feasting blindly on the wine of iniquity, with her back turned to the light which has shone for her in vain? Something of both these meanings may be traced in the picture; but to me it symbolizes rather the central truth of existence: that all that is raised in incorruption is sown in corruption; art, beauty, love, religion; that all our wine is drunk out of skulls, and poured for us by the mysterious genius of a remote and cruel past."
< 9 >
The doctor's face blazed: his bent figure seemed to straighten itself and become taller.
"Ah," he cried, growing more dithyrambic, "how lightly you ask what it means! How confidently you expect an answer! Yet here am I who have given my life to the study of the Renaissance; who have violated its tomb, laid open its dead body, and traced the course of every muscle, bone, and artery; who have sucked its very soul from the pages of poets and humanists; who have wept and believed with Joachim of Flora, smiled and doubted with AEneas Sylvius Piccolomini; who have patiently followed to its source the least inspiration of the masters, and groped in neolithic caverns and Babylonian ruins for the first unfolding tendrils of the arabesques of Mantegna and Crivelli; and I tell you that I stand abashed and ignorant before the mystery of this picture. It means nothing -- it means all things. It may represent the period which saw its creation; it may represent all ages past and to come. There are volumes of meaning in the tiniest emblem on the lady's cloak; the blossoms of its border are rooted in the deepest soil of myth and tradition. Don't ask what it means, young man, but bow your head in thankfulness for having seen it!"
Miss Lombard laid her hand on his arm.
"Don't excite yourself, father," she said in the detached tone of a professional nurse.
He answered with a despairing gesture. "Ah, it's easy for you to talk. You have years and years to spend with it; I am an old man, and every moment counts!"
"It's bad for you," she repeated with gentle obstinacy.
The doctor's sacred fury had in fact burnt itself out. He dropped into a seat with dull eyes and slackening lips, and his daughter drew the curtain across the picture.
Wyant turned away reluctantly. He felt that his opportunity was slipping from him, yet he dared not refer to Clyde's wish for a photograph. He now understood the meaning of the laugh with which Doctor Lombard had given him leave to carry away all the details he could remember. The picture was so dazzling, so unexpected, so crossed with elusive and contradictory suggestions, that the most alert observer, when placed suddenly before it, must lose his coordinating faculty in a sense of confused wonder. Yet how valuable to Clyde the record of such a work would be! In some ways it seemed to be the summing up of the master's thought, the key to his enigmatic philosophy.
< 10 >
The doctor had risen and was walking slowly toward the door. His daughter unlocked it, and Wyant followed them back in silence to the room in which they had left Mrs. Lombard. That lady was no longer there, and he could think of no excuse for lingering.
He thanked the doctor, and turned to Miss Lombard, who stood in the middle of the room as though awaiting farther orders.
"It is very good of you," he said, "to allow one even a glimpse of such a treasure."
She looked at him with her odd directness. "You will come again?" she said quickly; and turning to her father she added: "You know what Professor Clyde asked. This gentleman cannot give him any account of the picture without seeing it again."
Doctor Lombard glanced at her vaguely; he was still like a person in a trance.
"Eh?" he said, rousing himself with an effort.
"I said, father, that Mr. Wyant must see the picture again if he is to tell Professor Clyde about it," Miss Lombard repeated with extraordinary precision of tone.
Wyant was silent. He had the puzzled sense that his wishes were being divined and gratified for reasons with which he was in no way connected.
"Well, well," the doctor muttered, "I don't say no -- I don't say no. I know what Clyde wants -- I don't refuse to help him." He turned to Wyant. "You may come again -- you may make notes," he added with a sudden effort. "Jot down what occurs to you. I'm willing to concede that."
Wyant again caught the girl's eye, but its emphatic message perplexed him.
"You're very good," he said tentatively, "but the fact is the picture is so mysterious -- so full of complicated detail -- that I'm afraid no notes I could make would serve Clyde's purpose as well as -- as a photograph, say. If you would allow me --"
Miss Lombard's brow darkened, and her father raised his head furiously.
"A photograph? A photograph, did you say? Good God, man, not ten people have been allowed to set foot in that room! A photograph?"
Wyant saw his mistake, but saw also that he had gone too far to retreat.
"I know, sir, from what Clyde has told me, that you object to having any reproduction of the picture published; but he hoped you might let me take a photograph for his personal use -- not to be reproduced in his book, but simply to give him something to work by. I should take the photograph myself, and the negative would of course be yours. If you wished it, only one impression would be struck off, and that one Clyde could return to you when he had done with it."
< 11 >
Doctor Lombard interrupted him with a snarl. "When he had done with it? Just so: I thank thee for that word! When it had been re-photographed, drawn, traced, autotyped, passed about from hand to hand, defiled by every ignorant eye in England, vulgarized by the blundering praise of every art-scribbler in Europe! Bah! I'd as soon give you the picture itself: why don't you ask for that?"
"Well, sir," said Wyant calmly, "if you will trust me with it, I'll engage to take it safely to England and back, and to let no eye but Clyde's see it while it is out of your keeping."
The doctor received this remarkable proposal in silence; then he burst into a laugh.
"Upon my soul!" he said with sardonic good humor.
It was Miss Lombard's turn to look perplexedly at Wyant. His last words and her father's unexpected reply had evidently carried her beyond her depth.
"Well, sir, am I to take the picture?" Wyant smilingly pursued.
"No, young man; nor a photograph of it. Nor a sketch, either; mind that, -- nothing that can be reproduced. Sybilla," he cried with sudden passion, "swear to me that the picture shall never be reproduced! No photograph, no sketch -- now or afterward. Do you hear me?"
"Yes, father," said the girl quietly.
"The vandals," he muttered, "the desecrators of beauty; if I thought it would ever get into their hands I'd burn it first, by God!" He turned to Wyant, speaking more quietly. "I said you might come back -- I never retract what I say. But you must give me your word that no one but Clyde shall see the notes you make."
Wyant was growing warm.
"If you won't trust me with a photograph I wonder you trust me not to show my notes!" he exclaimed.
The doctor looked at him with a malicious smile.
"Humph!" he said; "would they be of much use to anybody?"
Wyant saw that he was losing ground and controlled his impatience.
"To Clyde, I hope, at any rate," he answered, holding out his hand. The doctor shook it without a trace of resentment, and Wyant added: "When shall I come, sir?"
"To-morrow -- to-morrow morning," cried Miss Lombard, speaking suddenly.
She looked fixedly at her father, and he shrugged his shoulders.
< 12 >
"The picture is hers," he said to Wyant.
In the ante-chamber the young man was met by the woman who had admitted him. She handed him his hat and stick, and turned to unbar the door. As the bolt slipped back he felt a touch on his arm.
"You have a letter?" she said in a low tone.
"A letter?" He stared. "What letter?"
She shrugged her shoulders, and drew back to let him pass.
As Wyant emerged from the house he paused once more to glance up at its scarred brick facade. The marble hand drooped tragically above the entrance: in the waning light it seemed to have relaxed into the passiveness of despair, and Wyant stood musing on its hidden meaning. But the Dead Hand was not the only mysterious thing about Doctor Lombard's house. What were the relations between Miss Lombard and her father? Above all, between Miss Lombard and her picture? She did not look like a person capable of a disinterested passion for the arts; and there had been moments when it struck Wyant that she hated the picture.
The sky at the end of the street was flooded with turbulent yellow light, and the young man turned his steps toward the church of San Domenico, in the hope of catching the lingering brightness on Sodoma's St. Catherine.
The great bare aisles were almost dark when he entered, and he had to grope his way to the chapel steps. Under the momentary evocation of the sunset, the saint's figure emerged pale and swooning from the dusk, and the warm light gave a sensual tinge to her ecstasy. The flesh seemed to glow and heave, the eyelids to tremble; Wyant stood fascinated by the accidental collaboration of light and color.
Suddenly he noticed that something white had fluttered to the ground at his feet. He stooped and picked up a small thin sheet of note-paper, folded and sealed like an old-fashioned letter, and bearing the superscription: --
To the Count Ottaviano Celsi.
Wyant stared at this mysterious document. Where had it come from? He was distinctly conscious of having seen it fall through the air, close to his feet. He glanced up at the dark ceiling of the chapel; then he turned and looked about the church. There was only one figure in it, that of a man who knelt near the high altar.
< 13 >
Suddenly Wyant recalled the question of Doctor Lombard's maidservant. Was this the letter she had asked for? Had he been unconsciously carrying it about with him all the afternoon? Who was Count Ottaviano Celsi, and how came Wyant to have been chosen to act as that nobleman's ambulant letter-box?
Wyant laid his hat and stick on the chapel steps and began to explore his pockets, in the irrational hope of finding there some clue to the mystery; but they held nothing which he had not himself put there, and he was reduced to wondering how the letter, supposing some unknown hand to have bestowed it on him, had happened to fall out while he stood motionless before the picture.
At this point he was disturbed by a step on the floor of the aisle, and turning, he saw his lustrous-eyed neighbor of the table d'hote.
The young man bowed and waved an apologetic hand.
"I do not intrude?" he inquired suavely.
Without waiting for a reply, he mounted the steps of the chapel, glancing about him with the affable air of an afternoon caller.
"I see," he remarked with a smile, "that you know the hour at which our saint should be visited."
Wyant agreed that the hour was indeed felicitous.
The stranger stood beamingly before the picture.
"What grace! What poetry!" he murmured, apostrophizing the St. Catherine, but letting his glance slip rapidly about the chapel as he spoke.
Wyant, detecting the manoeuvre, murmured a brief assent.
"But it is cold here -- mortally cold; you do not find it so?" The intruder put on his hat. "It is permitted at this hour -- when the church is empty. And you, my dear sir -- do you not feel the dampness? You are an artist, are you not? And to artists it is permitted to cover the head when they are engaged in the study of the paintings."
He darted suddenly toward the steps and bent over Wyant's hat.
"Permit me -- cover yourself!" he said a moment later, holding out the hat with an ingratiating gesture.
A light flashed on Wyant.
"Perhaps," he said, looking straight at the young man, "you will tell me your name. My own is Wyant."
The stranger, surprised, but not disconcerted, drew forth a coroneted card, which he offered with a low bow. On the card was engraved: --
< 14 >
Il Conte Ottaviano Celsi.
"I am much obliged to you," said Wyant; "and I may as well tell you that the letter which you apparently expected to find in the lining of my hat is not there, but in my pocket."
He drew it out and handed it to its owner, who had grown very pale.
"And now," Wyant continued, "you will perhaps be good enough to tell me what all this means."
There was no mistaking the effect produced on Count Ottaviano by this request. His lips moved, but he achieved only an ineffectual smile.
"I suppose you know," Wyant went on, his anger rising at the sight of the other's discomfiture, "that you have taken an unwarrantable liberty. I don't yet understand what part I have been made to play, but it's evident that you have made use of me to serve some purpose of your own, and I propose to know the reason why."
Count Ottaviano advanced with an imploring gesture.
"Sir," he pleaded, "you permit me to speak?"
"I expect you to," cried Wyant. "But not here," he added, hearing the clank of the verger's keys. "It is growing dark, and we shall be turned out in a few minutes."
He walked across the church, and Count Ottaviano followed him out into the deserted square.
"Now," said Wyant, pausing on the steps.
The Count, who had regained some measure of self-possession, began to speak in a high key, with an accompaniment of conciliatory gesture.
"My dear sir -- my dear Mr. Wyant -- you find me in an abominable position -- that, as a man of honor, I immediately confess. I have taken advantage of you -- yes! I have counted on your amiability, your chivalry -- too far, perhaps? I confess it! But what could I do? It was to oblige a lady" -- he laid a hand on his heart --"a lady whom I would die to serve!" He went on with increasing volubility, his deliberate English swept away by a DILARANG KERAS of Italian, through which Wyant, with some difficulty, struggled to a comprehension of the case.
Count Ottaviano, according to his own statement, had come to Siena some months previously, on business connected with his mother's property; the paternal estate being near Orvieto, of which ancient city his father was syndic. Soon after his arrival in Siena the young Count had met the incomparable daughter of Doctor Lombard, and falling deeply in love with her, had prevailed on his parents to ask her hand in marriage. Doctor Lombard had not opposed his suit, but when the question of settlements arose it became known that Miss Lombard, who was possessed of a small property in her own right, had a short time before invested the whole amount in the purchase of the Bergamo Leonardo. Thereupon Count Ottaviano's parents had politely suggested that she should sell the picture and thus recover her independence; and this proposal being met by a curt refusal from Doctor Lombard, they had withdrawn their consent to their son's marriage. The young lady's attitude had hitherto been one of passive submission; she was horribly afraid of her father, and would never venture openly to oppose him; but she had made known to Ottaviano her intention of not giving him up, of waiting patiently till events should take a more favorable turn. She seemed hardly aware, the Count said with a sigh, that the means of escape lay in her own hands; that she was of age, and had a right to sell the picture, and to marry without asking her father's consent. Meanwhile her suitor spared no pains to keep himself before her, to remind her that he, too, was waiting and would never give her up.
< 15 >
Doctor Lombard, who suspected the young man of trying to persuade Sybilla to sell the picture, had forbidden the lovers to meet or to correspond; they were thus driven to clandestine communication, and had several times, the Count ingenuously avowed, made use of the doctor's visitors as a means of exchanging letters.
"And you told the visitors to ring twice?" Wyant interposed.
The young man extended his hands in a deprecating gesture. Could Mr. Wyant blame him? He was young, he was ardent, he was enamored! The young lady had done him the supreme honor of avowing her attachment, of pledging her unalterable fidelity; should he suffer his devotion to be outdone? But his purpose in writing to her, he admitted, was not merely to reiterate his fidelity; he was trying by every means in his power to induce her to sell the picture. He had organized a plan of action; every detail was complete; if she would but have the courage to carry out his instructions he would answer for the result. His idea was that she should secretly retire to a convent of which his aunt was the Mother Superior, and from that stronghold should transact the sale of the Leonardo. He had a purchaser ready, who was willing to pay a large sum; a sum, Count Ottaviano whispered, considerably in excess of the young lady's original inheritance; once the picture sold, it could, if necessary, be removed by force from Doctor Lombard's house, and his daughter, being safely in the convent, would be spared the painful scenes incidental to the removal. Finally, if Doctor Lombard were vindictive enough to refuse his consent to her marriage, she had only to make a sommation respectueuse, and at the end of the prescribed delay no power on earth could prevent her becoming the wife of Count Ottaviano.
Wyant's anger had fallen at the recital of this simple romance. It was absurd to be angry with a young man who confided his secrets to the first stranger he met in the streets, and placed his hand on his heart whenever he mentioned the name of his betrothed. The easiest way out of the business was to take it as a joke. Wyant had played the wall to this new Pyramus and Thisbe, and was philosophic enough to laugh at the part he had unwittingly performed.
< 16 >
He held out his hand with a smile to Count Ottaviano.
"I won't deprive you any longer," he said, "of the pleasure of reading your letter."
"Oh, sir, a thousand thanks! And when you return to the casa Lombard, you will take a message from me -- the letter she expected this afternoon?"
"The letter she expected?" Wyant paused. "No, thank you. I thought you understood that where I come from we don't do that kind of thing -- knowingly."
"But, sir, to serve a young lady!"
"I'm sorry for the young lady, if what you tell me is true" -- the Count's expressive hands resented the doubt --"but remember that if I am under obligations to any one in this matter, it is to her father, who has admitted me to his house and has allowed me to see his picture."
"His picture? Hers!"
"Well, the house is his, at all events."
"Unhappily -- since to her it is a dungeon!"
"Why doesn't she leave it, then?" exclaimed Wyant impatiently.
The Count clasped his hands. "Ah, how you say that -- with what force, with what virility! If you would but say it to her in that tone -- you, her countryman! She has no one to advise her; the mother is an idiot; the father is terrible; she is in his power; it is my belief that he would kill her if she resisted him. Mr. Wyant, I tremble for her life while she remains in that house!"
"Oh, come," said Wyant lightly, "they seem to understand each other well enough. But in any case, you must see that I can't interfere -- at least you would if you were an Englishman," he added with an escape of contempt.
Wyant's affiliations in Siena being restricted to an acquaintance with his land-lady, he was forced to apply to her for the verification of Count Ottaviano's story.
The young nobleman had, it appeared, given a perfectly correct account of his situation. His father, Count Celsi-Mongirone, was a man of distinguished family and some wealth. He was syndic of Orvieto, and lived either in that town or on his neighboring estate of Mongirone. His wife owned a large property near Siena, and Count Ottaviano, who was the second son, came there from time to time to look into its management. The eldest son was in the army, the youngest in the Church; and an aunt of Count Ottaviano's was Mother Superior of the Visitandine convent in Siena. At one time it had been said that Count Ottaviano, who was a most amiable and accomplished young man, was to marry the daughter of the strange Englishman, Doctor Lombard, but difficulties having arisen as to the adjustment of the young lady's dower, Count Celsi-Mongirone had very properly broken off the match. It was sad for the young man, however, who was said to be deeply in love, and to find frequent excuses for coming to Siena to inspect his mother's estate.
< 17 >
Viewed in the light of Count Ottaviano's personality the story had a tinge of opera bouffe; but the next morning, as Wyant mounted the stairs of the House of the Dead Hand, the situation insensibly assumed another aspect. It was impossible to take Doctor Lombard lightly; and there was a suggestion of fatality in the appearance of his gaunt dwelling. Who could tell amid what tragic records of domestic tyranny and fluttering broken purposes the little drama of Miss Lombard's fate was being played out? Might not the accumulated influences of such a house modify the lives within it in a manner unguessed by the inmates of a suburban villa with sanitary plumbing and a telephone?
One person, at least, remained unperturbed by such fanciful problems; and that was Mrs. Lombard, who, at Wyant's entrance, raised a placidly wrinkled brow from her knitting. The morning was mild, and her chair had been wheeled into a bar of sunshine near the window, so that she made a cheerful spot of prose in the poetic gloom of her surroundings.
"What a nice morning!" she said; "it must be delightful weather at Bonchurch."
Her dull blue glance wandered across the narrow street with its threatening house fronts, and fluttered back baffled, like a bird with clipped wings. It was evident, poor lady, that she had never seen beyond the opposite houses.
Wyant was not sorry to find her alone. Seeing that she was surprised at his reappearance he said at once: "I have come back to study Miss Lombard's picture."
"Oh, the picture --" Mrs. Lombard's face expressed a gentle disappointment, which might have been boredom in a person of acuter sensibilities. "It's an original Leonardo, you know," she said mechanically.
"And Miss Lombard is very proud of it, I suppose? She seems to have inherited her father's love for art."
Mrs. Lombard counted her stitches, and he went on: "It's unusual in so young a girl. Such tastes generally develop later."
Mrs. Lombard looked up eagerly. "That's what I say! I was quite different at her age, you know. I liked dancing, and doing a pretty bit of fancy-work. Not that I couldn't sketch, too; I had a master down from London. My aunts have some of my crayons hung up in their drawing-room now -- I did a view of Kenilworth which was thought pleasing. But I liked a picnic, too, or a pretty walk through the woods with young people of my own age. I say it's more natural, Mr. Wyant; one may have a feeling for art, and do crayons that are worth framing, and yet not give up everything else. I was taught that there were other things."
< 18 >
Wyant, half-ashamed of provoking these innocent confidences, could not resist another question. "And Miss Lombard cares for nothing else?"
Her mother looked troubled.
"Sybilla is so clever -- she says I don't understand. You know how self-confident young people are! My husband never said that of me, now -- he knows I had an excellent education. My aunts were very particular; I was brought up to have opinions, and my husband has always respected them. He says himself that he wouldn't for the world miss hearing my opinion on any subject; you may have noticed that he often refers to my tastes. He has always respected my preference for living in England; he likes to hear me give my reasons for it. He is so much interested in my ideas that he often says he knows just what I am going to say before I speak. But Sybilla does not care for what I think --"
At this point Doctor Lombard entered. He glanced sharply at Wyant. "The servant is a fool; she didn't tell me you were here." His eye turned to his wife. "Well, my dear, what have you been telling Mr. Wyant? About the aunts at Bonchurch, I'll be bound!"
Mrs. Lombard looked triumphantly at Wyant, and her husband rubbed his hooked fingers, with a smile.
"Mrs. Lombard's aunts are very superior women. They subscribe to the circulating library, and borrow Good Words and the Monthly Packet from the curate's wife across the way. They have the rector to tea twice a year, and keep a page-boy, and are visited by two baronets' wives. They devoted themselves to the education of their orphan niece, and I think I may say without boasting that Mrs. Lombard's conversation shows marked traces of the advantages she enjoyed."
Mrs. Lombard colored with pleasure.
"I was telling Mr. Wyant that my aunts were very particular."
"Quite so, my dear; and did you mention that they never sleep in anything but linen, and that Miss Sophia puts away the furs and blankets every spring with her own hands? Both those facts are interesting to the student of human nature." Doctor Lombard glanced at his watch. "But we are missing an incomparable moment; the light is perfect at this hour."
Wyant rose, and the doctor led him through the tapestried door and down the passageway.
< 19 >
The light was, in fact, perfect, and the picture shone with an inner radiancy, as though a lamp burned behind the soft screen of the lady's flesh. Every detail of the foreground detached itself with jewel-like precision. Wyant noticed a dozen accessories which had escaped him on the previous day.
He drew out his note-book, and the doctor, who had dropped his sardonic grin for a look of devout contemplation, pushed a chair forward, and seated himself on a carved settle against the wall.
"Now, then," he said, "tell Clyde what you can; but the letter killeth."
He sank down, his hands hanging on the arm of the settle like the claws of a dead bird, his eyes fixed on Wyant's notebook with the obvious intention of detecting any attempt at a surreptitious sketch.
Wyant, nettled at this surveillance, and disturbed by the speculations which Doctor Lombard's strange household excited, sat motionless for a few minutes, staring first at the picture and then at the blank pages of the note-book. The thought that Doctor Lombard was enjoying his discomfiture at length roused him, and he began to write.
He was interrupted by a knock on the iron door. Doctor Lombard rose to unlock it, and his daughter entered.
She bowed hurriedly to Wyant, without looking at him.
"Father, had you forgotten that the man from Monte Amiato was to come back this morning with an answer about the bas-relief? He is here now; he says he can't wait."
"The devil!" cried her father impatiently. "Didn't you tell him --"
"Yes; but he says he can't come back. If you want to see him you must come now."
"Then you think there's a chance? --"
He turned and looked at Wyant, who was writing assiduously.
"You will stay here, Sybilla; I shall be back in a moment."
He hurried out, locking the door behind him.
Wyant had looked up, wondering if Miss Lombard would show any surprise at being locked in with him; but it was his turn to be surprised, for hardly had they heard the key withdrawn when she moved close to him, her small face pale and tumultuous.
"I arranged it -- I must speak to you," she gasped. "He'll be back in five minutes."
Her courage seemed to fail, and she looked at him helplessly.
< 20 >
Wyant had a sense of stepping among explosives. He glanced about him at the dusky vaulted room, at the haunting smile of the strange picture overhead, and at the pink-and-white girl whispering of conspiracies in a voice meant to exchange platitudes with a curate.
"How can I help you?" he said with a rush of compassion.
"Oh, if you would! I never have a chance to speak to any one; it's so difficult -- he watches me -- he'll be back immediately."
"Try to tell me what I can do."
"I don't dare; I feel as if he were behind me." She turned away, fixing her eyes on the picture. A sound startled her. "There he comes, and I haven't spoken! It was my only chance; but it bewilders me so to be hurried."
"I don't hear any one," said Wyant, listening. "Try to tell me."
"How can I make you understand? It would take so long to explain." She drew a deep breath, and then with a plunge --"Will you come here again this afternoon -- at about five?" she whispered.
"Come here again?"
"Yes -- you can ask to see the picture, -- make some excuse. He will come with you, of course; I will open the door for you -- and -- and lock you both in" -- she gasped.
"Lock us in?"
"You see? You understand? It's the only way for me to leave the house -- if I am ever to do it" -- She drew another difficult breath. "The key will be returned -- by a safe person -- in half an hour, -- perhaps sooner --"
She trembled so much that she was obliged to lean against the settle for support.
"Wyant looked at her steadily; he was very sorry for her.
"I can't, Miss Lombard," he said at length.
"I'm sorry; I must seem cruel; but consider --"
He was stopped by the futility of the word: as well ask a hunted rabbit to pause in its dash for a hole!
Wyant took her hand; it was cold and nerveless.
"I will serve you in any way I can; but you must see that this way is impossible. Can't I talk to you again? Perhaps --"
"Oh," she cried, starting up, "there he comes!"
Doctor Lombard's step sounded in the passage.
< 21 >
Wyant held her fast. "Tell me one thing: he won't let you sell the picture?"
"No -- hush!"
"Make no pledges for the future, then; promise me that."
"In case he should die: your father is an old man. You haven't promised?"
She shook her head.
"Don't, then; remember that."
She made no answer, and the key turned in the lock.
As he passed out of the house, its scowling cornice and facade of ravaged brick looked down on him with the startlingness of a strange face, seen momentarily in a crowd, and impressing itself on the brain as part of an inevitable future. Above the doorway, the marble hand reached out like the cry of an imprisoned anguish.
Wyant turned away impatiently.
"Rubbish!" he said to himself. "She isn't walled in; she can get out if she wants to."
Wyant had any number of plans for coming to Miss Lombard's aid: he was elaborating the twentieth when, on the same afternoon, he stepped into the express train for Florence. By the time the train reached Certaldo he was convinced that, in thus hastening his departure, he had followed the only reasonable course; at Empoli, he began to reflect that the priest and the Levite had probably justified themselves in much the same manner.
A month later, after his return to England, he was unexpectedly relieved from these alternatives of extenuation and approval. A paragraph in the morning paper announced the sudden death of Doctor Lombard, the distinguished English dilettante who had long resided in Siena. Wyant's justification was complete. Our blindest impulses become evidence of perspicacity when they fall in with the course of events.
Wyant could now comfortably speculate on the particular complications from which his foresight had probably saved him. The climax was unexpectedly dramatic. Miss Lombard, on the brink of a step which, whatever its issue, would have burdened her with retrospective compunction, had been set free before her suitor's ardor could have had time to cool, and was now doubtless planning a life of domestic felicity on the proceeds of the Leonardo. One thing, however, struck Wyant as odd -- he saw no mention of the sale of the picture. He had scanned the papers for an immediate announcement of its transfer to one of the great museums; but presently concluding that Miss Lombard, out of filial piety, had wished to avoid an appearance of unseemly haste in the disposal of her treasure, he dismissed the matter from his mind. Other affairs happened to engage him; the months slipped by, and gradually the lady and the picture dwelt less vividly in his mind.
< 22 >
It was not till five or six years later, when chance took him again to Siena, that the recollection started from some inner fold of memory. He found himself, as it happened, at the head of Doctor Lombard's street, and glancing down that grim thoroughfare, caught an oblique glimpse of the doctor's house front, with the Dead Hand projecting above its threshold. The sight revived his interest, and that evening, over an admirable frittata, he questioned his landlady about Miss Lombard's marriage.
"The daughter of the English doctor? But she has never married, signore."
"Never married? What, then, became of Count Ottaviano?"
"For a long time he waited; but last year he married a noble lady of the Maremma."
"But what happened -- why was the marriage broken?"
The landlady enacted a pantomime of baffled interrogation.
"And Miss Lombard still lives in her father's house?"
"Yes, signore; she is still there."
"And the Leonardo --"
"The Leonardo, also, is still there."
The next day, as Wyant entered the House of the Dead Hand, he remembered Count Ottaviano's injunction to ring twice, and smiled mournfully to think that so much subtlety had been vain. But what could have prevented the marriage? If Doctor Lombard's death had been long delayed, time might have acted as a dissolvent, or the young lady's resolve have failed; but it seemed impossible that the white heat of ardor in which Wyant had left the lovers should have cooled in a few short weeks.
As he ascended the vaulted stairway the atmosphere of the place seemed a reply to his conjectures. The same numbing air fell on him, like an emanation from some persistent will-power, a something fierce and imminent which might reduce to impotence every impulse within its range. Wyant could almost fancy a hand on his shoulder, guiding him upward with the ironical intent of confronting him with the evidence of its work.
A strange servant opened the door, and he was presently introduced to the tapestried room, where, from their usual seats in the window, Mrs. Lombard and her daughter advanced to welcome him with faint ejaculations of surprise.
Both had grown oddly old, but in a dry, smooth way, as fruits might shrivel on a shelf instead of ripening on the tree. Mrs. Lombard was still knitting, and pausing now and then to warm her swollen hands above the brazier; and Miss Lombard, in rising, had laid aside a strip of needle-work which might have been the same on which Wyant had first seen her engaged.
< 23 >
Their visitor inquired discreetly how they had fared in the interval, and learned that they had thought of returning to England, but had somehow never done so.
"I am sorry not to see my aunts again," Mrs. Lombard said resignedly; "but Sybilla thinks it best that we should not go this year."
"Next year, perhaps," murmured Miss Lombard, in a voice which seemed to suggest that they had a great waste of time to fill.
She had returned to her seat, and sat bending over her work. Her hair enveloped her head in the same thick braids, but the rose color of her cheeks had turned to blotches of dull red, like some pigment which has darkened in drying.
"And Professor Clyde -- is he well?" Mrs. Lombard asked affably; continuing, as her daughter raised a startled eye: "Surely, Sybilla, Mr. Wyant was the gentleman who was sent by Professor Clyde to see the Leonardo?"
Miss Lombard was silent, but Wyant hastened to assure the elder lady of his friend's well-being.
"Ah -- perhaps, then, he will come back some day to Siena," she said, sighing. Wyant declared that it was more than likely; and there ensued a pause, which he presently broke by saying to Miss Lombard: "And you still have the picture?"
She raised her eyes and looked at him. "Should you like to see it?" she asked.
On his assenting, she rose, and extracting the same key from the same secret drawer, unlocked the door beneath the tapestry. They walked down the passage in silence, and she stood aside with a grave gesture, making Wyant pass before her into the room. Then she crossed over and drew the curtain back from the picture.
The light of the early afternoon poured full on it: its surface appeared to ripple and heave with a fluid splendor. The colors had lost none of their warmth, the outlines none of their pure precision; it seemed to Wyant like some magical flower which had burst suddenly from the mould of darkness and oblivion.
He turned to Miss Lombard with a movement of comprehension.
"Ah, I understand -- you couldn't part with it, after all!" he cried.
"No -- I couldn't part with it," she answered.
"It's too beautiful, -- too beautiful," -- he assented.
"Too beautiful?" She turned on him with a curious stare. "I have never thought it beautiful, you know."
< 24 >
He gave back the stare. "You have never --"
She shook her head. "It's not that. I hate it; I've always hated it. But he wouldn't let me -- he will never let me now."
Wyant was startled by her use of the present tense. Her look surprised him, too: there was a strange fixity of resentment in her innocuous eye. Was it possible that she was laboring under some delusion? Or did the pronoun not refer to her father?
"You mean that Doctor Lombard did not wish you to part with the picture?"
"No -- he prevented me; he will always prevent me."
There was another pause. "You promised him, then, before his death --"
"No; I promised nothing. He died too suddenly to make me." Her voice sank to a whisper. "I was free -- perfectly free -- or I thought I was till I tried."
"Till you tried?"
"To disobey him -- to sell the picture. Then I found it was impossible. I tried again and again; but he was always in the room with me."
She glanced over her shoulder as though she had heard a step; and to Wyant, too, for a moment, the room seemed full of a third presence.
"And you can't" -- he faltered, unconsciously dropping his voice to the pitch of hers.
She shook her head, gazing at him mystically. "I can't lock him out; I can never lock him out now. I told you I should never have another chance."
Wyant felt the chill of her words like a cold breath in his hair.
"Oh" -- he groaned; but she cut him off with a grave gesture.
"It is too late," she said; "but you ought to have helped me that day."
#4 Original Poster (OP)
It was a bright sunny afternoon with a fresh breeze blowing from the northeast. The small sloop was making a series of very short tacking maneuvers as it made its way gingerly up the narrow channel.
The forest marched down the steep rocky hillsides to abruptly meet the sea below on both shores. The tiny but sturdy craft was tossed precariously by the rip tides created in the close waterway. The sole occupant reset her grip on the tiller and brought the sloop around in yet another tack headed toward a little niche in the eastern shoreline. She was kneeling in the boat's compact cockpit watching carefully ahead for any telltale clues on the water that dangerous rocks lay just out of sight below the surface. She held her course on a starboard tack until she was just past a rocky spur which broke the forest cover and actually spilled over into the sea.
When she was about eighty yards from the shoreline she abruptly swung the boat head to the wind bringing it to an almost dead stop in the water. After loosing the sheets on both her jib and mainsails, she quickly scrambled to the bow and let her anchor line out till she felt the anchor touch bottom. She then expertly continued to pay out enough of the line to properly set the anchor, allowing for both safe swinging room as the wind might shift and the expected change of depth as the tides came and went.
She had been so occupied with the business of sailing her small sloop, that she had not noticed that she had an audience. A tall slim young man in blue jeans, T-shirt and black leather bomber style jacket was sitting on the rocky spur smiling with open admiration at the sailing skill of the woman skipper on the neat little sloop. As she stood from securing the anchor and started to lower and tie down her sails, he arose and quickly walked back up into the trees behind him. So she never knew that her arrival had been noted.
When the sloop was secured to her satisfaction, Katherine went below and put a tiny kettle on the single burner in the diminutive galley. As she waited for the water to boil, she pulled a thick dog-eared ring binder out of a shelf to the left of the companionway and opened it to the last entry. This book served a dual purpose as a ship's log and personal journal. She noted her time of arrival and location of the tiny sheltered anchorage, the weather which was close to perfection for a sailor and a personal note that this seemed a great spot in which to write and create.
< 2 >
Katherine was just past her thirty second birthday, short of stature with what she self deprecatingly called a well-rounded figure. She had short cropped almost boyish auburn hair and blue grey eyes. When not working at her research position at a Vancouver newspaper, she was usually to be found out on her tiny sailboat or bent over a computer keyboard creating either the poetry or short stories that her abundant imagination thrived on. Now she had the best of both pursuits as she'd recently purchased a new laptop that allowed her to enjoy both leisure's at once.
When the kettle had boiled, Katherine made a large mug of steaming hot tea and taking the laptop with her, went back on deck. She made herself a comfortable workspace on the foredeck with her back leaning against a sail bag which in turn was propped against the mast. Before starting, she relaxed with the tea and surveyed her temporary neighbourhood.
The beaches were quite narrow strands, mere ribbons of sand between the water and the forest. There were a couple of other rock spurs which jutted into the channel but the one she was to the lee of seemed to be the largest and the only one which gave sufficient shelter to provide the one-craft size anchorage in which she lay. At first glance, the hillsides looked totally devoid of settlement. But when she looked more closely, she spotted at least four widely separated structures perched on the slopes and almost hidden by the forest cover.
One such structure, obviously a private home, albeit a large one, was nearly directly above her. She smiled inwardly thinking how often she had purchased a lottery ticket in hopes of realizing a dream home on the sea just like this one. Tea finished, Katherine turned to her laptop and let her imagination take flight.
Matt followed a well trodden path up the hill towards the big house perched above him. He shoved his hands in the pockets of the jacket as he moved in a long lazy stride. His short black hair matched the jacket and provided a contrast to his fair complexion. The eyes were perhaps his most outstanding feature, they were expressive of his every emotion and a very striking shade of green. As he made his way up the hill, he found himself wondering about the woman sailor who had chosen to anchor right in front of his house.
< 3 >
What made a woman want to sail alone and why was she here? Certainly, he thought, this wasn't the middle on nowhere, in fact, they weren't too far from Vancouver by either road or sea. But what brought this young woman to this spot all alone. He shrugged off the thoughts as he climbed the stairs to the deck and let himself into the house. He'd probably never know.
He went to the kitchen first to fill a kettle and make tea. While the water was heating, he checked his voice mail and found, surprisingly, only two messages. One was from his road manager who just wanted to get together sometime soon to go over details for next month's tour dates and one from a fellow musician who congratulated him on the recent Blues Award. Neither message was urgent enough to be returned right away and besides, he thought, these few days alone are my time.
When the tea was made, he carried his mug downstairs to the studio with its big windows overlooking the water below. He sat down on a low overstuffed couch, picked up a six-string guitar and started to play.
At first he merely toyed with the instrument, running a slide up and down and picking out series of notes almost like scales. For Matt this was very much akin to the warm up stretches done by an athlete before a game. He found it both relaxing and therapeutic. The guitar almost seemed to cry beneath his skilled hands and slowly the toying became more serious and took real form. The words may come later but he was developing a melody that seemed to haunt him with its need to be played.
After running through the basic melody several times, he paused long enough to drink the tea which was getting quite cool then he crossed to the consul where he turned a recorder on to capture the developing work. When he stood, he glanced out the window and was able to see just the top of the mast of the anchored sloop. His earlier thoughts about the woman aboard flooded back.
"What brought you to my doorstep, hmm?" he mused aloud. He ran the fingers of one hand through his short hair causing one lock to fall across his forehead. He brushed at it ineffectually and went back to the guitar. The boat anchored below and its lone occupant were still in his thoughts and he found the only images that he could conjure were of water and sails. The music took on the fluid but powerful tones of the ocean as the melody really started to materialize.
< 4 >
Two hours later, he finally laid the guitar aside and padded barefoot back upstairs to start some dinner. He placed a couple of small boneless chicken breasts in a spice and white wine mix to marinate. Then he took some brown rice from a canister to cook it. He would then stir fry some vegetables; snow peas, onions, peppers and broccoli to add to the rice for a great side dish to the chicken.
While the rice was cooking, he went across to the large upstairs windows and his eyes were drawn again to the small boat below. He could see the whole boat from this vantage but no one was on deck. Katherine had also put away her laptop by now and was out of his sight below decks starting some dinner of her own. Hers consisted of a can of clam chowder and a sandwich made of thick home baked bread that she had made prior to departing on her cruise adventure. Matt found himself wondering again who she was and why she had chosen this locale for her anchorage.
Katherine was just finishing the few dishes from her solitary supper and was looking forward to a mug of the coffee she could now smell brewing. She intended to work into the evening and so had put a full pot into the coffee percolator. The smell of the coffee was enticing to one other soul that early summer evening.
Matt had gone for his usual after dinner stroll along the beach and his eyes were drawn to the little sloop in the sheltered alcove. The craft was laying almost broadside to the beach and he could see her sides were painted midnight black with a blue white moon and icy blue stars grouped near the bow against the black field. He was now very curious to know the name of the little boat and to know more about her owner.
As he strolled along the sand, his nostrils caught the scent of a rich and delicious smelling coffee wafting across the water. Perhaps he should go back to the house and make his own coffee, he thought, as the scent tingled his taste buds. Instead his pace became more purposeful and he made his way quickly down the sand to the very edge of the rocky spur. In the lee of the spur there was a very short wooden float which extended only about ten feet into the water and was held there quite firmly by two large chains which were fastened to two very thick and sturdy posts which had been planted securely into the earth. Tied to the float was a small wooden row boat which Matt would sometimes use to do a little fishing, a pastime that he found very relaxing.
< 5 >
Matt quickly climbed into the row boat and bent his back to the task of rowing out towards the anchored sloop. He glanced over his shoulders frequently as he pulled on the oars to ensure his course was true. The summer sun would not go down for another two hours nearly so he was not concerned about being on the water in the dark. He kept telling himself he'd just row around the sloop, give her a look then maybe head down the shore to the next rock spur and back. After all, he reasoned, he could use the workout. The deck of the small sloop was empty, as Katherine was still finishing up her dishes.
As Matt gave one last pull on his oars, he came alongside the sloop at her stern and got his first look at her name. Painted on the same black field in the icy blue paint with stars to decorate it were the words 'BLUES IN THE NIGHT' and Vancouver, Canada in smaller script beneath it. Matt chuckled out loud with pleasure. What a great name for a neat little cruiser like this, he thought.
Katherine jumped at the sudden human sound of Matt's chuckle coming from so close to her. She recovered herself and cautiously took two steps up the companionway, just enough to see around her. However, Matt's rowboat was low enough in the water that it was out of sight from this angle. Katherine moved right out on deck just as Matt shipped his oars and called out.
"Ahoy aboard Blues!" he called tentatively, then smiled when Katherine spun around towards the sound of his voice and he got a chance to see the lady sailor up close for the first time. Katherine, for her part, was a little off balance by his sudden appearance in the midst of her solitude but recovered her cool quickly.
"Hi, you startled me. I was below and didn't hear you rowing up." She was assessing the young man before her. He was very handsome and the little growth of goatee and mustache gave him an almost 'bad boy' look that she found somehow quite appealing. "Can I help you?" She asked, wondering just what he was doing here, had he come from the house on the hillside and was he who she thought he was? Even in the casual jeans and turtle necked shirt that he wore she was almost certain of his identity.
< 6 >
"Hi, I'm Matt. I live just there," he said, pointing up the house above them. "I don't have many visiting boats here. There's really only room for one very small boat, likes yours, so....
Anyway, I smelled your coffee and was looking at your paint job. That's an awesome name!"
He wasn't quite sure what to say next and so fell silent.
"Thanks," Katherine said, smiling inwardly to herself. Yes indeed, she thought, this was Matt Michaels, the blues guitarist. She had known that he lived somewhere just outside of Vancouver but never dreamed of meeting him in quite this fashion. She continued, "I like the blues and it seemed to work somehow, you know?"
Matt was boldly examining her as she spoke, and he liked what he saw. Even clad in an oversize sweatshirt and canvas cargo pants, she was still quite feminine and her blue grey eyes had a wonderfully deep and dreamy look about them like the stars on her boat. Katherine felt his scrutiny and became a little self conscious.
"So did you come to borrow some coffee?" she asked. He chuckled again, a rich sound that she thought suddenly made him seem older than she had at first guessed. She was trying to remember a recent article that the paper had run about him but all she could recall for sure was he had recently won some sort of award.
"Not really, but now that you mention it...I would sure love a cup." he smiled winningly, "We could just say this is a visit from the neighbourhood welcome wagon, what do you think? Hi!, I'm Matt, welcome to the neighbourhood." He winked at her and continued, "May I come aboard Skipper, ëcause that coffee smells too good to miss."
She smiled broadly at his boldness. His green eyes flashed with enjoyment of the little game he was concocting and she found herself trusting him despite all the usual warnings she knew so well about strangers. Besides, she reasoned, he wasn't really a stranger because she knew who he was, even if they'd never met.
"Well Matt, I'm Katherine." She told him. "And, conveniently enough, I just made a full pot so why don't we tie your dingy here and you can share a cup with me while you tell me all about the neighbourhood." She had leaned over the transom and taken the little rowboat's painter in hand. She tied it off securely to a cleat on the starboard corner of the transom. She then lowered the little two step ladder that would allow Matt to easily climb to the deck of the sloop.
< 7 >
Once Matt was aboard and on a level with her, Katherine realized he was quite a bit taller than she had first thought. He was very slim but beneath the fine features she could certainly detect a strength and solidity.
Matt extended his hand and they exchanged an almost formal handshake. Katherine was again conscious of his strength through the firm grip he took of her hand. He held the grip a little longer than necessary and caught her eyes in his sparkling green ones.
"So it's official, Katherine," he solemnly pronounced, "Welcome to the neighbourhood." He broke into a boyish grin and added, "Now how about that cup of coffee?"
Katherine went below to pour the coffee. Matt made no move to follow her but instead was examining the rigging and fittings of the sloop. He was very impressed with the tidy little boat. She was very well maintained and every last line was coiled neatly evidencing the respect and care that her owner obviously felt for the craft.
"What do you take in yours?" she called from below.
"Just cream," he replied. "Is that cinnamon I smell, too?"
"Yes it is. I like to put a little in my after dinner coffee. It really adds a nice flavour" Katherine came back on deck, handing Matt a large steaming mug. "Oh, I hope you like cinnamon."
"Love it." he grinned, "In fact, I kind of have a taste for spices of all sorts. Nutmeg and allspice are good in coffee too." Matt followed Katherine's lead and moved out onto the tiny foredeck of the sloop. There was a thick wool blanket spread out there which made it a comfortable spot to lounge while they talked. She put her mug in a safe but easy to reach spot by the mast and he did likewise. When she settled down, she was cross-legged Indian style. Matt sat beside her but stretched his legs out in front of him keeping his sneakers off the blanket.
"So Mr. Welcome Wagon, tell me about the neighbourhood." she asked.
"What's there to tell? I live up there. There's a couple of other houses along the way there but I've never met the neighbours." He shrugged. "I'm not really home very much and when I am I'm usually working. But the scenery here is beautiful and it's just good, you know?"
< 8 >
"I know what you mean, Matt." she said, staring into the mug that she cradled in both hands. "I love it out here too. Whenever I get the chance to get away for a few days, I get out on the boat and just look for a quiet spot."
"So that's what brought you here today." he said softly. "I saw you arrive this afternoon. You're a pretty good sailor, Kathie. You handle this little boat like a pro." his praise sounded quite genuine and she looked up from the coffee and gave him a grateful smile.
"Thanks, she is a very forgiving little boat to sail." Katherine told him. "I've been single-handing her for almost four years now, so we've kind of become used to one another."
"That's an interesting way to put it." he mused, "Kind of like the way I feel about my guitar. Sometimes I feel that it's simply a part of me, the music's great when its like that."
"Music is the most fluid and alive of all the arts." she said with conviction. "I've always surrounded myself with all kinds. But I think I'm most partial to the blues because they seem to come from closest to the soul. I listen to a lot of Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton, John Lee Hooker and ......oh too many to mention."
"Maybe even me, now and then?" he asked, with a twinkle in those green eyes. She felt a little heat rise in her cheeks with his words. She thought that she must sound rather contrived bringing up the blues like she had with Matt being an award winning artist.
Matt reached across and patted one of her knees. "It's all right, Kathie. I know I'm not the only blues musician out there. There's a whole lot of really great ones. And I wasn't really expecting you to heap praises on me or anything. I really think it's great to meet anyone who loves the music the way you obviously do." He gave her knee one last squeeze before withdrawing his hand.
"I really must get to know your music better." she told him, though her mind was still focused on the hand which had come close to caressing her knee, instead of a casual pat of reassurance.
Matt took the last swallow of his coffee and placed the mug back against the mast. "Well in that case, I'll see that you get tickets to my next show. That coffee was superb." He stretched his arms above his head, clasping his hands together as he did so, then took a deep breath and started to rise. "I should be heading back to the house. I'm trying to be more disciplined about working. Thank you for the coffee and the talk. It's been a pleasure."
< 9 >
They both rose and Katherine picked up both mugs as they made their way back to the stern of the vessel. Once there, Matt took the mugs out of her hands and deposited them safely on one of the cockpit seats. He turned and took both her hands in his and she felt the electricity of his touch as his fingers played subtly on her palms.
"It was great meeting you, Katherine." he said, softly. His green eyes caught her blue grey ones and she felt the intensity and passion that simmered just below his surface. "Would you consider dining out tomorrow evening? I don't mean "out" exactly. But, I'd be very pleased if you'd join me for dinner up at the house."
Katherine's heart almost skipped a beat. The combination of his hands on hers and the deep endless wells of his intense eyes were having an intoxicating effect on her. She managed to regain her composure and answered him with a smile.
"Yes, I'd like that very much."
Katherine watched him as he made the short trip back to the little landing. After he'd tied the little dingy back in it's place, he looked back across the water and gave her a quick wave before disappearing into the trees.
She went below and tried, unsuccessfully, to put the final verses on a poem about the wind and sea that she had started earlier in the day. Somehow, Matt had managed in a few short minutes to totally sidetrack her.
Katherine gave up the effort and decided to call it a night. She went up on deck to retrieve the blanket from the foredeck and recheck the anchor line. She glanced up at the sky studded with the millions of tiny points of light not seen from the city and marveled, as always, at the vastness.
When she was back below decks she pulled her journal from it's shelf and sat down to sum up her day. But where to begin, she thought.
This is a great little anchorage. Just big enough for Blues and no one else! But now there is someone else!! Who would have guessed I'd anchor right in front of Matt Michaels house!!? My God but he's gorgeous. I can't believe he was even here....seems like a dream. Get a grip, girl. He's just a guy...dinner...what is that? Probably has his own cook up there in that big house. Well, maybe I'm not being fair. I hardly know him. Oooohhh but when he touched me!!!
< 10 >
Above her, in the house on the hill, Matt played on into the late evening. Running endless tunes through his head, trying to play away his tension. He kept reviewing his encounter with Katherine trying to figure out just where and when it changed from idle curiosity to ... what was it now? Infatuation? She was quite different from the kind of women he was used to meeting. Good lord though, he mused, she really was pretty, in a very appealing tom-boy kind of way. What would tomorrow bring?
He put down the acoustic guitar he had been playing. Instead he picked up the Fender Stratocaster, turned on the amp and let loose with a heart rending, gut twisting slow blues solo that left him finally drained both physically and emotionally.
Matt crossed his bedroom to the window which looked out over the water. There was no moon so the night was profoundly dark here away from the city lights. But he could see the little anchor light glowing brightly from the top of the mast of "Blues in the Night". The sight seemed to reassure him and he sprawled across the big bed and slept.
Katherine didn't bring much in the way of clothing with her when she sailed except the practical and serviceable shirts, sweat shirts and canvas pants that wore well for the kind of physical activity that sailing required. But she had come straight from the office to the marina on this trip so she had the dressy blouse that she had worn with her business suit that day. It was a very summery mint green and would look just fine with her blue jeans for a casual dinner date.
She made a quick and effortless trip to shore in her Zodiac inflatable with its small outboard motor. Matt was waiting there on the landing; this time helping her tie up the little craft. He then extended a hand and helped her out onto the float.
"I'm so glad you decided to join me." he said. "I don't get a chance to cook for a beautiful lady every day."
Katherine recalled her musings of the previous evening about a cook and felt the heat rise a little in her cheeks. She smiled up at him, "I'm looking forward to it. Thanks for asking me"
< 11 >
They moved off the little landing and she followed his lead up the pathway through the trees to the house. The path climbed quite steeply in places and several times he took her hand in his to guide her in the tricky footing. Each time he held her hand, images flooded her mind of those hands holding her much more intimately and she wondered if somehow he sensed her imaginings.
They climbed a short wide wooden staircase at the side of the house which brought them up to a spacious deck. Matt opened the double french doors and ushered her in to the house. To her left was a dining area with a small round wooden table and four comfortably cushioned captains style chairs. He had draped the table with a fine white linen cloth and added a single tall blue taper candle to the center. He really was trying to impress, she thought.
To the left was a large living area, with floor to ceiling windows at the far end of the room looking out over the water. Katherine was drawn to them immediately.
"The view is spectacular from here." she told him. He had crossed to the kitchen and now came back across the room with two wine glasses in hand.
"That's one of the reasons I bought the house." he replied, "Some wine?"
"Yes please." she said, taking the glass he offered. She took a small taste of the delicate white wine and savoured the richness. "Mmm, this is very good."
"Glad you like it. Hope you like seafood too." He grinned, "You're a sailor right? You do like the fruit of the ocean?"
"I do like seafood, very much, Matt." she grinned back at him. "Besides, it's not often that a handsome man like yourself cooks me a meal. I think I should be thankful"
"Oh I'm sure there are plenty of handsome men around who'd be happy to cook you dinner, Katherine." he retorted, baiting her. "They're probably lined up round the block!"
"Not my block!" she replied, with a rueful chuckle. She turned back to the window to drink in more of the view. He moved close behind her so she could actually feel his warm breath on the nape of her neck. She felt a sudden but very pleasant tingling sensation creep down her spine. He put one hand across her shoulder, pointing across the water to the south and west. Her eyes followed the direction he indicated but the rest of her senses were on the contact now between them.
< 12 >
"When you came up the channel did you see the rocks way down there on the other shore? There's always a big group of seals there." he asked her.
"Yes, I remember them well. They sure were noisy." Katherine laughed a little nervously. Matt had dropped the hand that was pointing but made no move to break the contact between them.
"The fishing's really great just around there. Those seals know what they're talking about!" he laughed. "Come on. Let's eat." With one arm around her shoulders, he lead her back across the room and then pulled out her chair to help her get seated. The sun had all but gone so the candle light made beautiful patterns on the wall of the room as they began to dine.
He had made a light salad of romaine lettuce, almond slivers and raisins in a wine vinegar dressing to start. Katherine was quite surprised and found herself reassessing her opinion of him quite drastically. For the main course, he brought out shrimp and crabmeat which were served on a bed of fettucine with a rather delicate Alfredo sauce. The meal was totally tantalizing and the wine complemented it perfectly. As they ate, he put her at ease with his uncontrived interest in who she was and what she was about. She explained her job at the paper then added that she'd much rather write than research for others.
"Do you write then?" he asked, as he poured her a little more wine.
She chuckled almost to herself. "Yes I write. But most of it will probably never leave my computer's hard drive. I'm kind of a perfectionist, so it's never good enough to show to a friend let alone a publisher."
"You have to step out there and take that risk." he urged. "It's like my music. You just reach a point where even if it isn't perfect you commit to it, record it and move on."
"That's a great philosophy, Matt" she said softly. "Maybe I'll do that ..." Her eyes were sparkling in the candle's glow and Matt was reminded of the stars on the boat.
"You have stars in your eyes, Kathie" he told her.
"I have a 'star' across the table." she quipped back, and giggled. His laughter mingled with hers and he reached across the table and gently took the wine glass from her hand.
< 13 >
He then took her hand in both his, caressing it softly from the inside of her wrist to her finger tips. She trembled a little as the sensations of his touch traveled with electric speed to her core.
"You're hands are so soft and small." he marveled, thinking of his first impression of her as she sailed the little sloop so expertly all alone. "Would you let me read some of your writing some day?" he asked. "I'm not as intimidating as a publisher might be."
"I could I suppose." Katherine said quietly. "I will think about it Matt. It's a kind offer." He released his hold on her hand and smoothly started to clear their empty plates from the table.
"I'm not a harsh critic at all" he reassured her, "I'm awestruck by anyone who can express themselves in writing."
Katherine took a deep breath and another short sip of her wine. Is it the wine that's going to my head, she thought. All she wanted was for Matt to touch her, take her hand again. Instead, he merely put his head around the corner of the kitchen doorway.
"Hope you like strawberries," he announced.
"Dessert too!" her surprise evident in her voice. "Thank you, I love strawberries. They are one of my favourites!"
He returned with the strawberries, sliced and served with ice cream and whipped cream. As he placed the bowl before her with a flourish, she became quite conscious of his closeness and fought an urge to reach out for him. Matt sat down again, stretching his long legs out beneath the table and folding his hands together across his stomach.
"You're not having strawberries?" she queried, noticing that he'd brought only the one bowl.
"I thought perhaps you might share one or two of yours." he told her, his green eyes twinkling in the candlelight. She lowered her eyes quickly from his, feeling a certain heat rise in her cheeks.
"Sure." she whispered. She spooned out a mouthful of the fruit and cream extending her arm towards him. Matt took the proffered spoonful, leaning forward toward her a little but not altering his comfortable stretching posture. Katherine had to slide her chair closer to his to reach his mouth safely.
"That's good." Matt murmured, and she wasn't sure if he was referring to the strawberries or not. She took a spoonful of the fruit herself and savoured the taste.
< 14 >
"Yes they are good." she agreed. When she again extended her arm to feed him another spoonful, he unclasped his hands and grasped her wrist very gently. He extended one finger to caress the inside of her wrist again as he took the fruit into his mouth.
"Very good indeed." he stated quietly. He rose and crossed to the big windows with his back to her. She was taken aback by his sudden departure which left her with feelings that were all mixed up.
Katherine toyed with the rest of the fruit and ice cream in the bowl, watching Matt' back as he gazed out the dark windows. After a couple of more mouthfuls, she laid the spoon aside and wiped the corners of her mouth with her napkin. His voice, when it came startled her.
"Had enough?" he asked, without turning around. It took her a second to realize that the darkness outside allowed him to see her reflection without turning.
"Yes thanks, Matt. It was delicious" She crossed the room to where he stood but stopped one pace short of being right at his side. She extended one hand and touched his shoulder.
"Matt, what are you thinking?"
He turned towards her all smiles, but the green eyes had a much heavier emotion apparent in their half lidded sultry look. She found herself drawn into them like a moth to a flame.
"I was thinking how strange it was that you came and anchored right here." he said, he grasped both her wrists in his and pulled her towards him. She came willingly and found herself cradled against his chest. "You're so completely unlike anyone I've met before," He had not released his gentle hold on her wrists until he had guided them comfortably to hold him around his waist. When he did let go, he again gently caressed her with his fingertips.
Katherine drew in a breath and wondered would it be her last. She though she could die right here and now in his embrace, in arms that were now enfolding her and gently caressing her back and neck through her blouse.
"Matt ..." she started tentatively, but the words just escaped her.
"What love?" he murmured, his lips against her forehead, his warm breath making her head swim.
"Matt I want ..." she again choked on the words. Her arms and hands held him very tightly as though she were drowning and he was her saviour. Matt placed several tiny kisses on her forehead, then spoke again.
< 15 >
"You want what, my love?" There he said it again, she thought. She reeled internally, feeling the emotional power in his every gentle and subtle touch. She raised her face a little to his, her head thrown back and neck exposed. One of his hands came up to cradle the nape of her neck and the other grasped her waist to pull her more tightly against him.
"You want what ...?" he asked again, then as he continued to gently kiss her forehead, ears and cheeks he whispered softly against her skin. "You want me to kiss you some more? Like this, or this, or perhaps this?" He chuckled, but it was a soft and very kind sound. His lips nuzzled against her ear, he spoke again. "May I tell you what I want?" he asked.
"Yes" came her tiny voice. Her whole body now tingled with the intimacy of every contact between them. She longed to tell him how much she wanted him right now but speech was near impossible.
Again his voice softly caressed her senses, " I want to make love to you. I want to know every part of you inside and out. I want to make you feel something so strong that you'll never want for another. I want you to cry out my name and I want you to know that I will cherish you. Do you want me to do those things to you?" His lips were still brushing her cheek and ear as he spoke these words. Her senses reeling, she could barely stand. Tears stung her eyes and her cheeks burned with the heat of her desire.
"Matt, I ..." she faltered again over the words, but then his eyes caught hers and she saw herself reflected there in his desire. "I want you," she whispered simply, "Make love to me, Matt."
His mouth bent to hers then, finally. And she parted her lips and welcomed him. Below them, outside the windows was the soft glow of her anchor light beacon and across the room the candle guttered and went out.
Lisa gazed out over the Caribbean Sea, feeling the faint breeze against her face - eyes shut, the white sand warm between her bare toes. The place was beautiful beyond belief, but it was still unable to ease the grief she felt as she remembered the last time she had been here.
She had married James right here on this spot three years ago to the day. Dressed in a simple white shift dress, miniature white roses attempting to tame her long dark curls, Lisa had been happier than she had ever thought possible. James was even less formal but utterly irresistible in creased summer trousers and a loose white cotton shirt. His dark hair slightly ruffled and his eyes full of adoration as his looked at his bride to be. The justice of the peace had read their vows as they held hands and laughed at the sheer joy of being young, in love and staying in a five star resort on the Caribbean island of the Dominican Republic. They had seen the years blissfully stretching ahead of them, together forever. They planned their children, two she said, he said four so they compromised on three (two girls and a boy of course); where they would live, the travelling they would do together - it was all certain, so they had thought then.
But that seemed such a long time ago now. A lot can change in just a few years - a lot of heartache can change a person and drive a wedge through the strongest ties, break even the deepest love. Three years to the day and they had returned, though this time not for the beachside marriages the island was famous for but for one of its equally popular quickie divorces.
Lisa let out a sigh that was filled with pain and regret. What could she do but move on, find a new life and new dreams? - the old one was beyond repair. How could this beautiful place, with its lush green coastline, eternity of azure blue sea and endless sands be a place for the agony she felt now?
The man stood watching from the edge of the palm trees. He couldn't take his eyes of the dark-haired woman he saw standing at the water's edge, gazing out to sea as though she was waiting for something - or someone. She was beautiful, with her slim figure dressed in a loose flowing cotton dress, her crazy hair and bright blue eyes not far off the colour of the sea itself. It wasn't her looks that attracted him though; he came across many beautiful women in his work as a freelance photographer. It was her loneliness and intensity that lured him. Even at some distance he was aware that she was different from any other woman he could meet.
< 2 >
Lisa sensed the man approaching even before she turned around. She had been aware of him standing there staring at her and had felt strangely calm about being observed. She looked at him and felt the instant spark of connection she had only experienced once before. He walked slowly towards her and they held each other's gaze. It felt like meeting a long lost friend - not a stranger on a strange beach.
Later, sitting at one of the many bars on the resort, sipping the local cocktails they began to talk. First pleasantries, their hotels, the quality of the food and friendliness of the locals. Their conversation was strangely hesitant considering the naturalness and confidence of their earlier meeting. Onlookers, however, would have detected the subtle flirtation as they mirrored each other's actions and spoke directly into each other's eyes. Only later, after the alcohol had had its loosening effect, did the conversation deepen. They talked of why they were here and finally, against her judgement, Lisa opened up about her heartache of the past year and how events had led her back to the place where she had married the only man she believed she could ever love. She told him of things that had been locked deep inside her, able to tell no one. She told him how she had felt after she had lost her baby.
She was six months pregnant and the happiest she had ever been when the pains had started. She was staying with her mother as James was working out of town. He hadn't made it back in time. The doctor had said it was just one of those things, that they could try again. But how could she when she couldn't even look James in the eye. She hated him then, for not being there, for not hurting as much as her but most of all for looking so much like the tiny baby boy that she held for just three hours before the took him away. All through the following months she had withdrawn from her husband, family, friends. Not wanting to recover form the pain she felt - that would have been a betrayal of her son. At the funeral she had refused to stand next to her husband and the next day she had left him.
< 3 >
Looking up, Lisa could see her pain reflected in the man's eyes. For the first time in months she didn't feel alone, she felt the unbearable burden begin to lift from her, only a bit but it was a start. She began to believe that maybe she had a future after all and maybe it could be with this man, with his kind hazel eyes, wet with their shared tears.
They had come here to dissolve their marriage but maybe there was hope. Lisa stood up and took James by the hand and led him away from the bar towards the beech where they had made their vows to each other three years ago. Tomorrow she would cancel the divorce; tonight they would work on renewing their promises.
#10 Original Poster (OP)
Memoirs of a Vampire Hunter by Peter Allchin
I stood at the edge of a large precipice, set high in the Vosges Mountains of France. Leaning forward, I peered down into the valley far below. From experience, I knew the villagers would be doing what generations before them had done each and every sunset: preparing for the night. Fires would be burning brightly to keep out the cold, doors locked, windows shuttered and secured to keep out the unwanted and the feared. Before nightfall, which was fast approaching, the innkeeper would have served and said goodbye to his last customer before securing his premises.
The journey from the village had been difficult. Deeply scarred with ruts from the wheels of countless coach journeys to and from the castle, the road, such as it was, was no more than a narrow track, extremely steep and hardly fit for man or beast.
To my right, pine trees marked the boundary between track and oblivion as the ground suddenly dropped away. To the left, more trees, dense, dark and foreboding, clung to the mountain-side. Now, over three gruelling hours after leaving the comfort of my room at the inn, I had reached my destination: Castle Vasislaw.
I remembered Van Helsing telling me of this place some years before. His last communiqué was almost a year ago to the day. It had been rather vague, which was typical of him, so I thought nothing of it. Now, his trail had led me here.
My having to walk had been unavoidable as no-one from the village had been willing to bring me here, not even for a generous reward. To be honest, their fear and loathing of this place and its owner was understandable. People I spoke to, which I ad-mit, were no more than a handful, cowered at the very mention of the name Vasislaw. They begged me not to go and made it quite clear that they expected no return journey.
This day was to be, as I was so emphatically informed, my last should I enter the castle.
Evening twilight. The boundary between night and day. Shadows creeping out from their hiding places like a tide of darkness swallowing everything in sight. A no-mans land, where, in many villages and hamlets throughout the world, good folk retreat to the safety of their homes, while the unholy ones prepare for their nightly tasks.
My gaze turned towards the sky and I watched as one by one, stars twinkled in the gathering gloom as the cloak of darkness slowly descended.
I took my pipe, then, having lit it, filled my lungs with the aromatic smell of tobacco, and marveled at the surrounding scenery as the dying sun, now pale orange, dipped below the trees on the horizon. The moon, which earlier had been a pale disk, had gained in brightness in the early evening sky. I have never ceased to be amazed at such incredi-ble beauty so far away. Before me, as if on an artist's canvas, was a picture of pure peace and tranquility. Behind me... I felt a sudden chill as the hairs on the back of my neck bristled. What torment lay there, inside that castle of death and depravity, I could only imagine. In the distance, somewhere deep in the forest, I heard the howling of wolves paying homage to the moon.
I turned to face the castle, steeling myself for what I was about to do.
In the fading daylight, large stone gargoyles stared down at me, their eyes piercing into mine as if willing, no, daring me to enter the castle. Conical spires reached up to the heavens, as if pointing fingers in defiance at the Lord; nothing Heavenly would I see behind these walls.
My eyes took in all before me. To the left of the castle was a courtyard more than large enough for a team and carriage to turn with ease. Iron gates led, I assumed, to the sta-bles, although the ivy choking the metalwork made it obvious and somehow sad that these gates had long since ceased their proper use. I cautiously approached the main door and lifted the heavy knocker, but before I could slam it against the thick oak, I heard movement from within.
I listened intently as a key turned in the rusty lock. The harsh grating of the mechanism sent shivers down my spine. I stood back, beads of perspiration began to form on my brow, though the temperature was approaching freezing point. With racing heart, I watched as the large, heavy, iron-strapped oak door creaked slowly open on ancient hinges.
The sun by now had disappeared, leaving me alone to face the night. Moon-light flooded in through the open doorway, casting my shadow eerily upon the flagstone floor. Instinctively, my right hand tightened on the ebony sheathed dagger concealed in the deep pocket of my greatcoat.
The dagger felt good in my grasp, for this was no ordinary weapon. A thin strip of rock-hard ebony had been bonded to both sides of the fine steel blade, stopping a half-inch from the razor sharp steel point. Meticulous chamfering of the wood made it indistinguishable to the touch between wood and steel. It had been made for one spe-cial purpose, and that special purpose was the reason why I had travelled so many miles to this cold, uninviting, evil place.
I had long given up the undoubted safer, but inherently hit and miss, method of searching for a vampire's coffin in daylight and hammering a wooden stake through its heart! No, for me, direct confrontation was the only way. With one lightning-fast strike, the vampire I sought within those walls would be no more. After all, I was young, twenty five years of age, fit and healthy. But more than that, I had been in the company of two dear friends, without whose help and encouragement, I would not have survived.
Straining my eyes, I could see, at the far end of the hall, flames from candles flickering and dancing in the incoming draught of cold air, but the air within was silent. Nothing stirred, no footsteps, no words of greeting, nothing. Slowly, cautiously, I moved forward into the unknown.
|Thread Tools||Search this Thread|
|Poems - Tulisan tidak bersambung!||Kalina||English||37|
- Pengumuman selengkapnya di Forum Pengumuman & Saran