Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.

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J. Sheridan LeFanu



_Upon a paper attached to the Narrative which follows, Doctor Hesselius
has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a
reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the MS. illuminates.

This mysterious subject he treats, in that Essay, with his usual
learning and acumen, and with remarkable directness and condensation. It
will form but one volume of the series of that extraordinary man's
collected papers.

As I publish the case, in this volume, simply to interest the "laity," I
shall forestall the intelligent lady, who relates it, in nothing; and
after due consideration, I have determined, therefore, to abstain from
presenting any précis of the learned Doctor's reasoning, or extract from
his statement on a subject which he describes as "involving, not
improbably, some of the profoundest arcana of our dual existence, and
its intermediates."

I was anxious on discovering this paper, to reopen the correspondence
commenced by Doctor Hesselius, so many years before, with a person so
clever and careful as his informant seems to have been. Much to my
regret, however, I found that she had died in the interval.

She, probably, could have added little to the Narrative _which she
communicates in the following pages, with, so far as I can pronounce,
such conscientious particularity_.


_An Early Fright_

In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabit a castle,
or schloss. A small income, in that part of the world, goes a great way.
Eight or nine hundred a year does wonders. Scantily enough ours would
have answered among wealthy people at home. My father is English, and I
bear an English name, although I never saw England. But here, in this
lonely and primitive place, where everything is so marvelously cheap, I
really don't see how ever so much more money would at all materially add
to our comforts, or even luxuries.

My father was in the Austrian service, and retired upon a pension and
his patrimony, and purchased this feudal residence, and the small estate
on which it stands, a bargain.

Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary. It stands on a slight
eminence in a forest. The road, very old and narrow, passes in front of
its drawbridge, never raised in my time, and its moat, stocked with
perch, and sailed over by many swans, and floating on its surface white
fleets of water lilies.

Over all this the schloss shows its many-windowed front; its towers,
and its Gothic chapel.

The forest opens in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its
gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carries the road over a
stream that winds in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this
is a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall
door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stands extends
fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest
inhabited village is about seven of your English miles to the left. The
nearest inhabited schloss of any historic associations, is that of old
General Spielsdorf, nearly twenty miles away to the right.

I have said "the nearest _inhabited_ village," because there is, only
three miles westward, that is to say in the direction of General
Spielsdorf's schloss, a ruined village, with its quaint little church,
now roofless, in the aisle of which are the moldering tombs of the proud
family of Karnstein, now extinct, who once owned the equally desolate
chateau which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins
of the town.

Respecting the cause of the desertion of this striking and melancholy
spot, there is a legend which I shall relate to you another time.

I must tell you now, how very small is the party who constitute the
inhabitants of our castle. I don't include servants, or those dependents
who occupy rooms in the buildings attached to the schloss. Listen, and
wonder! My father, who is the kindest man on earth, but growing old; and
I, at the date of my story, only nineteen. Eight years have passed
since then.

I and my father constituted the family at the schloss. My mother, a
Styrian lady, died in my infancy, but I had a good-natured governess,
who had been with me from, I might almost say, my infancy. I could not
remember the time when her fat, benignant face was not a familiar
picture in my memory.

This was Madame Perrodon, a native of Berne, whose care and good nature
now in part supplied to me the loss of my mother, whom I do not even
remember, so early I lost her. She made a third at our little dinner
party. There was a fourth, Mademoiselle De Lafontaine, a lady such as
you term, I believe, a "finishing governess." She spoke French and
German, Madame Perrodon French and broken English, to which my father
and I added English, which, partly to prevent its becoming a lost
language among us, and partly from patriotic motives, we spoke every
day. The consequence was a Babel, at which strangers used to laugh, and
which I shall make no attempt to reproduce in this narrative. And there
were two or three young lady friends besides, pretty nearly of my own
age, who were occasional visitors, for longer or shorter terms; and
these visits I sometimes returned.

These were our regular social resources; but of course there were chance
visits from "neighbors" of only five or six leagues distance. My life
was, notwithstanding, rather a solitary one, I can assure you.

My gouvernantes had just so much control over me as you might conjecture
such sage persons would have in the case of a rather spoiled girl, whose
only parent allowed her pretty nearly her own way in everything.

The first occurrence in my existence, which produced a terrible
impression upon my mind, which, in fact, never has been effaced, was one
of the very earliest incidents of my life which I can recollect. Some
people will think it so trifling that it should not be recorded here.
You will see, however, by-and-by, why I mention it. The nursery, as it
was called, though I had it all to myself, was a large room in the upper
story of the castle, with a steep oak roof. I can't have been more than
six years old, when one night I awoke, and looking round the room from
my bed, failed to see the nursery maid. Neither was my nurse there; and
I thought myself alone. I was not frightened, for I was one of those
happy children who are studiously kept in ignorance of ghost stories, of
fairy tales, and of all such lore as makes us cover up our heads when
the door cracks suddenly, or the flicker of an expiring candle makes the
shadow of a bedpost dance upon the wall, nearer to our faces. I was
vexed and insulted at finding myself, as I conceived, neglected, and I
began to whimper, preparatory to a hearty bout of roaring; when to my
surprise, I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the
side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her
hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder,
and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down
beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling; I felt
immediately delightfully soothed, and fell asleep again. I was wakened
by a sensation as if two needles ran into my breast very deep at the
same moment, and I cried loudly. The lady started back, with her eyes
fixed on me, and then slipped down upon the floor, and, as I thought,
hid herself under the bed.

I was now for the first time frightened, and I yelled with all my might
and main. Nurse, nursery maid, housekeeper, all came running in, and
hearing my story, they made light of it, soothing me all they could
meanwhile. But, child as I was, I could perceive that their faces were
pale with an unwonted look of anxiety, and I saw them look under the
bed, and about the room, and peep under tables and pluck open cupboards;
and the housekeeper whispered to the nurse: "Lay your hand along that
hollow in the bed; someone _did_ lie there, so sure as you did not; the
place is still warm."

I remember the nursery maid petting me, and all three examining my
chest, where I told them I felt the puncture, and pronouncing that there
was no sign visible that any such thing had happened to me.

The housekeeper and the two other servants who were in charge of the
nursery, remained sitting up all night; and from that time a servant
always sat up in the nursery until I was about fourteen.

I was very nervous for a long time after this. A doctor was called in,
he was pallid and elderly. How well I remember his long saturnine face,
slightly pitted with smallpox, and his chestnut wig. For a good while,
every second day, he came and gave me medicine, which of course I hated.

The morning after I saw this apparition I was in a state of terror, and
could not bear to be left alone, daylight though it was, for a moment.

I remember my father coming up and standing at the bedside, and talking
cheerfully, and asking the nurse a number of questions, and laughing
very heartily at one of the answers; and patting me on the shoulder, and
kissing me, and telling me not to be frightened, that it was nothing but
a dream and could not hurt me.

But I was not comforted, for I knew the visit of the strange woman was
_not_ a dream; and I was _awfully_ frightened.

I was a little consoled by the nursery maid's assuring me that it was
she who had come and looked at me, and lain down beside me in the bed,
and that I must have been half-dreaming not to have known her face. But
this, though supported by the nurse, did not quite satisfy me.

I remembered, in the course of that day, a venerable old man, in a black
cassock, coming into the room with the nurse and housekeeper, and
talking a little to them, and very kindly to me; his face was very sweet
and gentle, and he told me they were going to pray, and joined my hands
together, and desired me to say, softly, while they were praying, "Lord
hear all good prayers for us, for Jesus' sake." I think these were the
very words, for I often repeated them to myself, and my nurse used for
years to make me say them in my prayers.

I remembered so well the thoughtful sweet face of that white-haired old
man, in his black cassock, as he stood in that rude, lofty, brown room,
with the clumsy furniture of a fashion three hundred years old about
him, and the scanty light entering its shadowy atmosphere through the
small lattice. He kneeled, and the three women with him, and he prayed
aloud with an earnest quavering voice for, what appeared to me, a long
time. I forget all my life preceding that event, and for some time after
it is all obscure also, but the scenes I have just described stand out
vivid as the isolated pictures of the phantasmagoria surrounded
by darkness.


_A Guest_

I am now going to tell you something so strange that it will require all
your faith in my veracity to believe my story. It is not only true,
nevertheless, but truth of which I have been an eyewitness.

It was a sweet summer evening, and my father asked me, as he sometimes
did, to take a little ramble with him along that beautiful forest vista
which I have mentioned as lying in front of the schloss.

"General Spielsdorf cannot come to us so soon as I had hoped," said my
father, as we pursued our walk.

He was to have paid us a visit of some weeks, and we had expected his
arrival next day. He was to have brought with him a young lady, his
niece and ward, Mademoiselle Rheinfeldt, whom I had never seen, but whom
I had heard described as a very charming girl, and in whose society I
had promised myself many happy days. I was more disappointed than a
young lady living in a town, or a bustling neighborhood can possibly
imagine. This visit, and the new acquaintance it promised, had furnished
my day dream for many weeks.

"And how soon does he come?" I asked.

"Not till autumn. Not for two months, I dare say," he answered. "And I
am very glad now, dear, that you never knew Mademoiselle Rheinfeldt."

"And why?" I asked, both mortified and curious.

"Because the poor young lady is dead," he replied. "I quite forgot I had
not told you, but you were not in the room when I received the General's
letter this evening."

I was very much shocked. General Spielsdorf had mentioned in his first
letter, six or seven weeks before, that she was not so well as he would
wish her, but there was nothing to suggest the remotest suspicion
of danger.

"Here is the General's letter," he said, handing it to me. "I am afraid
he is in great affliction; the letter appears to me to have been written
very nearly in distraction."

We sat down on a rude bench, under a group of magnificent lime trees.
The sun was setting with all its melancholy splendor behind the sylvan
horizon, and the stream that flows beside our home, and passes under the
steep old bridge I have mentioned, wound through many a group of noble
trees, almost at our feet, reflecting in its current the fading crimson
of the sky. General Spielsdorf's letter was so extraordinary, so
vehement, and in some places so self-contradictory, that I read it twice
over - the second time aloud to my father - and was still unable to
account for it, except by supposing that grief had unsettled his mind.

It said "I have lost my darling daughter, for as such I loved her.
During the last days of dear Bertha's illness I was not able to write
to you.

"Before then I had no idea of her danger. I have lost her, and now learn
_all_, too late. She died in the peace of innocence, and in the glorious
hope of a blessed futurity. The fiend who betrayed our infatuated
hospitality has done it all. I thought I was receiving into my house
innocence, gaiety, a charming companion for my lost Bertha. Heavens!
what a fool have I been!

"I thank God my child died without a suspicion of the cause of her
sufferings. She is gone without so much as conjecturing the nature of
her illness, and the accursed passion of the agent of all this misery. I
devote my remaining days to tracking and extinguishing a monster. I am
told I may hope to accomplish my righteous and merciful purpose. At
present there is scarcely a gleam of light to guide me. I curse my
conceited incredulity, my despicable affectation of superiority, my
blindness, my obstinacy - all - too late. I cannot write or talk
collectedly now. I am distracted. So soon as I shall have a little
recovered, I mean to devote myself for a time to enquiry, which may
possibly lead me as far as Vienna. Some time in the autumn, two months
hence, or earlier if I live, I will see you - that is, if you permit me;
I will then tell you all that I scarce dare put upon paper now.
Farewell. Pray for me, dear friend."

In these terms ended this strange letter. Though I had never seen Bertha
Rheinfeldt my eyes filled with tears at the sudden intelligence; I was
startled, as well as profoundly disappointed.

The sun had now set, and it was twilight by the time I had returned the
General's letter to my father.

It was a soft clear evening, and we loitered, speculating upon the
possible meanings of the violent and incoherent sentences which I had
just been reading. We had nearly a mile to walk before reaching the road
that passes the schloss in front, and by that time the moon was shining
brilliantly. At the drawbridge we met Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle
De Lafontaine, who had come out, without their bonnets, to enjoy the
exquisite moonlight.

We heard their voices gabbling in animated dialogue as we approached. We
joined them at the drawbridge, and turned about to admire with them the
beautiful scene.

The glade through which we had just walked lay before us. At our left
the narrow road wound away under clumps of lordly trees, and was lost to
sight amid the thickening forest. At the right the same road crosses the
steep and picturesque bridge, near which stands a ruined tower which
once guarded that pass; and beyond the bridge an abrupt eminence rises,
covered with trees, and showing in the shadows some grey
ivy-clustered rocks.

Over the sward and low grounds a thin film of mist was stealing like
smoke, marking the distances with a transparent veil; and here and there
we could see the river faintly flashing in the moonlight.

No softer, sweeter scene could be imagined. The news I had just heard
made it melancholy; but nothing could disturb its character of profound
serenity, and the enchanted glory and vagueness of the prospect.

My father, who enjoyed the picturesque, and I, stood looking in silence
over the expanse beneath us. The two good governesses, standing a little
way behind us, discoursed upon the scene, and were eloquent upon
the moon.

Madame Perrodon was fat, middle-aged, and romantic, and talked and
sighed poetically. Mademoiselle De Lafontaine - in right of her father
who was a German, assumed to be psychological, metaphysical, and
something of a mystic - now declared that when the moon shone with a
light so intense it was well known that it indicated a special spiritual
activity. The effect of the full moon in such a state of brilliancy was
manifold. It acted on dreams, it acted on lunacy, it acted on nervous
people, it had marvelous physical influences connected with life.
Mademoiselle related that her cousin, who was mate of a merchant ship,
having taken a nap on deck on such a night, lying on his back, with his
face full in the light on the moon, had wakened, after a dream of an old
woman clawing him by the cheek, with his features horribly drawn to one
side; and his countenance had never quite recovered its equilibrium.

"The moon, this night," she said, "is full of idyllic and magnetic
influence - and see, when you look behind you at the front of the schloss
how all its windows flash and twinkle with that silvery splendor, as if
unseen hands had lighted up the rooms to receive fairy guests."

There are indolent styles of the spirits in which, indisposed to talk
ourselves, the talk of others is pleasant to our listless ears; and I
gazed on, pleased with the tinkle of the ladies' conversation.

"I have got into one of my moping moods tonight," said my father, after
a silence, and quoting Shakespeare, whom, by way of keeping up our
English, he used to read aloud, he said:

"'In truth I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me: you say it wearies you;
But how I got it - came by it.'

"I forget the rest. But I feel as if some great misfortune were hanging
over us. I suppose the poor General's afflicted letter has had something
to do with it."

At this moment the unwonted sound of carriage wheels and many hoofs upon
the road, arrested our attention.

They seemed to be approaching from the high ground overlooking the
bridge, and very soon the equipage emerged from that point. Two horsemen
first crossed the bridge, then came a carriage drawn by four horses, and
two men rode behind.

It seemed to be the traveling carriage of a person of rank; and we were
all immediately absorbed in watching that very unusual spectacle. It
became, in a few moments, greatly more interesting, for just as the
carriage had passed the summit of the steep bridge, one of the leaders,
taking fright, communicated his panic to the rest, and after a plunge or
two, the whole team broke into a wild gallop together, and dashing
between the horsemen who rode in front, came thundering along the road
towards us with the speed of a hurricane.

The excitement of the scene was made more painful by the clear,
long-drawn screams of a female voice from the carriage window.

We all advanced in curiosity and horror; me rather in silence, the rest
with various ejaculations of terror.

Our suspense did not last long. Just before you reach the castle
drawbridge, on the route they were coming, there stands by the roadside
a magnificent lime tree, on the other stands an ancient stone cross, at
sight of which the horses, now going at a pace that was perfectly
frightful, swerved so as to bring the wheel over the projecting roots
of the tree.

I knew what was coming. I covered my eyes, unable to see it out, and
turned my head away; at the same moment I heard a cry from my lady
friends, who had gone on a little.

Curiosity opened my eyes, and I saw a scene of utter confusion. Two of
the horses were on the ground, the carriage lay upon its side with two
wheels in the air; the men were busy removing the traces, and a lady
with a commanding air and figure had got out, and stood with clasped
hands, raising the handkerchief that was in them every now and then
to her eyes.

Through the carriage door was now lifted a young lady, who appeared to
be lifeless. My dear old father was already beside the elder lady, with
his hat in his hand, evidently tendering his aid and the resources of
his schloss. The lady did not appear to hear him, or to have eyes for
anything but the slender girl who was being placed against the slope
of the bank.

I approached; the young lady was apparently stunned, but she was
certainly not dead. My father, who piqued himself on being something of
a physician, had just had his fingers on her wrist and assured the lady,
who declared herself her mother, that her pulse, though faint and
irregular, was undoubtedly still distinguishable. The lady clasped her
hands and looked upward, as if in a momentary transport of gratitude;
but immediately she broke out again in that theatrical way which is, I
believe, natural to some people.

She was what is called a fine looking woman for her time of life, and
must have been handsome; she was tall, but not thin, and dressed in
black velvet, and looked rather pale, but with a proud and commanding
countenance, though now agitated strangely.

"Who was ever being so born to calamity?" I heard her say, with clasped
hands, as I came up. "Here am I, on a journey of life and death, in
prosecuting which to lose an hour is possibly to lose all. My child will
not have recovered sufficiently to resume her route for who can say how
long. I must leave her: I cannot, dare not, delay. How far on, sir, can
you tell, is the nearest village? I must leave her there; and shall not
see my darling, or even hear of her till my return, three months hence."

I plucked my father by the coat, and whispered earnestly in his ear:
"Oh! papa, pray ask her to let her stay with us - it would be so
delightful. Do, pray."

"If Madame will entrust her child to the care of my daughter, and of her
good gouvernante, Madame Perrodon, and permit her to remain as our
guest, under my charge, until her return, it will confer a distinction
and an obligation upon us, and we shall treat her with all the care and
devotion which so sacred a trust deserves."

"I cannot do that, sir, it would be to task your kindness and chivalry
too cruelly," said the lady, distractedly.

"It would, on the contrary, be to confer on us a very great kindness at
the moment when we most need it. My daughter has just been disappointed
by a cruel misfortune, in a visit from which she had long anticipated a
great deal of happiness. If you confide this young lady to our care it
will be her best consolation. The nearest village on your route is
distant, and affords no such inn as you could think of placing your
daughter at; you cannot allow her to continue her journey for any
considerable distance without danger. If, as you say, you cannot suspend
your journey, you must part with her tonight, and nowhere could you do
so with more honest assurances of care and tenderness than here."

There was something in this lady's air and appearance so distinguished
and even imposing, and in her manner so engaging, as to impress one,
quite apart from the dignity of her equipage, with a conviction that she
was a person of consequence.

By this time the carriage was replaced in its upright position, and the
horses, quite tractable, in the traces again.

The lady threw on her daughter a glance which I fancied was not quite so
affectionate as one might have anticipated from the beginning of the
scene; then she beckoned slightly to my father, and withdrew two or
three steps with him out of hearing; and talked to him with a fixed and
stern countenance, not at all like that with which she had
hitherto spoken.

I was filled with wonder that my father did not seem to perceive the
change, and also unspeakably curious to learn what it could be that she
was speaking, almost in his ear, with so much earnestness and rapidity.

Two or three minutes at most I think she remained thus employed, then
she turned, and a few steps brought her to where her daughter lay,
supported by Madame Perrodon. She kneeled beside her for a moment and

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