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THE DANCE OF DEATH.
FROM THE GERMAN.
A CHEERFUL evening party were assembled, some years ago, in Copenhagen, to celebrate the birth-day of a common friend. They were young and gay, but their mirth, which other wise might have overpast the bounds of moderation, was chastened and restrained by the accidental presence of a guest, whose passive rather than active participation in the scene, whose silent and grave deportment, and whose sparing, and almost whispered replies, when addressed, formed a strange contrast with the festivity and liveliness of the rest of the company.
Those who were acquainted with him, nevertheless, maintained, that among his intimate friends, the stranger was an interesting companion, possessed of a great fund of anecdote and observation, and a power of investing, when he chose, with an air of originality and novelty, the everyday occurrences and experiences of life. This vein, however, he rarely indulged, and, in mixed society, could with difficulty be prevailed on to open his lips. When he did, however, he was listened to with attention and reverence; and often the noisy mirth of the party became gradually hushed as he poured out, in his calm solemn tone, his rich stores of anecdote and narrative.
It seemed as if, on this occasion, the presence of some friends whom he had not seen for some time past, had gradually disposed him to be more communicative as the evening advanced, and dissipated that reserve which the loud gaiety of the party about him had at first inspired. The sparkling glass had circulated freely and frequently; song after song had, according to the custom of the country, enlivened the night, when some young wight, probably over head and ears in love, and anxious to let the world know it, commenced an air of Baggesen's, in which each guest, in his turn, sings a stanza, and drinks to the health of his mistress by her baptismal name, the company repeating the pledge in chorus.
Ere the silent guest was aware, his The host was filling turn had come. his empty glass, and pressing him to begin. He roused himself, as if waking from a dream, and turning suddenly round, said gravely, “ Let the dead rest in peace." "By all means," said the host," Sit iis levis terra. And so we'll drink to their memory; but come-you know the custom-a name we must have."
"Well, then," said the stranger, quickly, "I will give you one that will find an echo in every breastAMANDA.” “Amanda!" repeated the party, as they emptied their glasses. "Amanda!" said the younger brother of the landlord, who, being a great favourite with the stranger, ventured to take greater liberties with him than any other person. "I have a strong notion, friend L—, that you are palming off some imaginary divinity upon us, and that you really never knew what it was to be in love after all. Who ever heard of such a name, except in a sonnet! I'll lay my life too, that no Amanda ever equalled the flesh-and-blood charms of our own Elizas, Annas, and Margarets. Come, come-sweep away these airy fancies from your brain; -you have still time enough left,and I yet hope to dance at your marriage."
These words, apparently so harmless, seemed to produce a strange impression upon the stranger. He made a sudden movement, as if to interrupt the young man. "Dance!" he exclaimed, while his cheek grew pale, and a deep air of melancholy settled on his brow as he proceeded. "The charms of which ye speak are, indeed, nothing to me; and yet I do bear within my breast an image, which neither your realities nor your imaginations are likely soon to equal." He looked around him, for a moment, with a glance in which pride seemed to mingle with compassion; then the look of triumph passed away, and his countenance resumed its usual mild and tranquil expression.
"Convince us then of the fact,"
said the persevering young man,"draw out that black riband from your breast which has so often awakened my curiosity, and let us see the fair one who is attached to it." L- glanced his eye with an enquiring gaze upon the company, and perceiving curiosity and attention depicted in every countenance, he said, “Be it so!" He pulled out a plain gold case from his bosom, which he loosened from the riband, and opened it with a slight pressure.
A miniature of a female presented itself to view, in which, though the delicate features were not regularly beautiful, every one who beheld them felt at once that there lay some deep and irresistible attraction. A halo of grace and dignity seemed to surround the figure. The freshness and truth of colour in the cheek, the speaking lustre of the eye, the sweet and natural smile that played upon the lip, the clustering chestnut hair which fell in long ringlets around a countenance mild as angels wear, the simplicity of the white robe in which the figure was arrayed,—all seemed to shew that the picture must be a portrait; and yet there was about it a certain strange visionary and almost supernatural expression, which made the spectator doubt if such an image could represent reality. The miniature was handed round the table. Every one gazed on it with delight.
"And her name is, or was, Amanda?" resumed the young man who had first addressed the stranger; so far well-her Christian name at least is no secret.'
“No,” replied L- -; " and yet I could perchance call her by seven others, each as appropriately hers as the last, for she bore them-'
"All!" said the young man, interrupting him with a smile.
"Yes, all !" repeated L―, gazing steadily on the picture, which had now come back into his hand-" all! -and yet my intended bride, whom this portrait represents, bore but one!"
"This, then," said the landlord," is the portrait of your intended bride. I begin now to remember something faintly of the story."
"It is—and it is not," said Lsighing. "Ican answer only," said he, as he perceived the growing astonish
ment of the company, which must appear enigmas to you all, though, alas, they are none to me. -But let us change the subject. Dark sayings, without explanation, disturb good fellowship, and we have not met to-night to entertain each other with melancholy stories."
"For my part," said the landlord, "I should desire nothing better. I am sure, my dear L-, you will not now refuse to give us some explanation as to some events in your life, of which I have a dim recollection of having heard. I remember faintly, that a report of your intended marriage was suddenly succeeded by the intelligence of your having set out on a journey to the south to visit a sick friend. When you did at last return, you mixed no longer with general society; and even in the smaller circle of your friends, you have been silent on many subjects, on which they have refrained from questions, only lest the sympathy which would have prompted their enquiries should be mistaken for mere curiosity."
"My silence," said L, with another enquiring glance at the company, "has arisen, not from want of confidence, but from the dislike I felt at the idea of attracting observation, as one who has been the sport of events so extraordinary, that he who has experienced them is sure to be looked upon by his fellow men either as a miraculous being, a visionary, or-a liar. None of the three hypotheses are agreeable to me, nor do I
pretend to be altogether indifferent to the good opinion of the world while I live in it. The event to which you allude has, in fact, nothing in it of a supernatural character; viewed in its prosaic aspect, it is one unfortunately not very uncommon, and I therefore make no further demand on your forbearance but this, that I shall not be made the subject of impertinent curiosity; with the exception of my name, you are welcome to communicate it to any one whose understanding and power of judgment are not absolutely limited to what falls within the scope of his five senses; for though these events, incredible as they may appear to some, are perfectly capable of a natural explanation, the tone which I feel I must adopt in their narration
must be not only a melancholy one, but tedious, perhaps, and repulsive, to those whose hearts acknowledge no sympathy with any higher world than that of sense. All, therefore, who expect a lively entertainment, had better at once. go I have given them warning."
None rose, however; and Lclosing the miniature, and placing it before him, proceeded as follows:
"During that gay period of youth when we are so apt to prefer the illusive promises of fancy to the realities of life, it was my fortune to form an acquaintance, which, notwithstanding the naturally dreamy tendency of my mind, soon concentrated all its attention on the dreary scenes which are actually presented in this our confined existence.Some time before the period of which I speak, during the English attack on Copenhagen in 1801, the students had formed a military corps of their own; but its spirit and discipline had been rapidly on the decline during the years of peace which followed, till the patriotic enthusiasm of its founders was again roused by the arrival of that remarkable year which witnessed the approach of the British army to the shores of Denmark. The students, old and young, flocked back with redoubled zeal to their neglected colours; the rapid succession of events which followed,-the blockade of the capital, animating every breast with zeal, the sympathetic influence of enthusiasm, had cemented the ties of acquaintance and friendship among young men formerly but little acquainted with each other, and united them after the fatigues of the day in little joyous clubs and societies, where animating war-songs and patriotic sentiments soon banished those gloomy feelings which the existing state of matters would occasionally inspire.
"On these occasions, I had frequently met with a young man, to whom at first I was conscious of entertaining a feeling of dislike, though I felt unable to ascribe it to any other cause than the difference of our habits and personal appearance. He was not tall, but slenderly made, and with features of great delicacy. His clear and piercing eye often wandered over the
scene about him with a restless, but penetrating glance. There was something noisy and extravagant in his mirth, which revolted me, because it appeared not to come from the heart; the loud laughter with which he generally accompanied his somewhat far-fetched witticisms, seemed to be less the offspring of gaiety, than of a mind that mocked itself, Selfish even in his convivial moments, it seemed to be his study to maintain his superiority over his companions even in his mirth; and the recklessness with which he occasionally assailed his friends, produced a painful impression on myself, and on all.
"At other times his deep and overpowering melancholy kept every friend at a distance. The study which he professed to pursue was medicine, but his friends said, with little success; for while engaged most earnestly in his studies, a strange fit of anxiety and restlessness would come over him; he would throw his books aside, desert his classes, and either wander about in a state of listless idleness, though without plunging into any dissipation, (for the care he took of his health seemed almost ludicrous,) or devote himself with assiduity to drawing and painting, for which he had a decided turn. He had considerable skill in miniature-painting on ivory, and his efforts in this department were always at the service of his friends. When he devoted his pencil to other subjects, his drawings had invariably something of a gloomy character. Snakes were seen lurking under his flowers; funeral processions issuing from some lovely vine-covered habitation; corpses floating on the waves of a sunny sea; his fancy revelled in the strangest, the most varied funereal devices; while, in all his sketches, there was something which left upon the mind a feeling of a disagreeable kind.
"You who are acquainted with me as I then was, will see at once, that there could be but few points of contact between myself and Emanuel, for such was his Christian name. Meantime the bombardment had commenced; the destructive bombs scattered ruin in all directions, no place of security was to be found. The day was even more terrible than the night, for there was something
peculiarly appalling in the hissing of the balls, and the bursting of the Congreve rockets, which deafened us on every side, while they were invisible to the eye.
"A small division of the corps to which I belonged, had one day received orders to occupy a bastion. I had been a little too late, but was hastening after my comrades, and had already come in sight of them, when a bomb falling in the midst of four or five of them who were standing together, burst at that instant, killing almost all of them, and scattering their mangled limbs into the air. The others, who were not far off, fled, as might be expected, and were still engaged in attending to their own safety, when I, perceiving that the danger was over, and eager to afford such assistance as was in my power, hurried up to the scene of the catastrophe.
A young man was standing among the mangled corpses, pale and motionless, but apparently unhurt. It was Emanuel. Who is killed?' was my first question. He looked up, turned his clear piercing eyes upon me, and was silent. Suddenly he smote his hands together; the tears rushed into his eyes, and with a voice interrupted by loud sobs, he pronounced the name of an amiable youth, the promising heir of a respectable civil officer, and, strange enough, our common friend. I repeated the name with a shuddering tone. 'Alas! alas!' said he, it is even so, and I am unhurt; not two minutes before he had accidentally changed places with me. He is taken, and I am left; O would I were in his place now! Do not mistake me,' continued he, as I gazed on him with astonishment, this is no burst of friendship; I love existence far more dearly than I did him; but better this death, than a slow, a terrible one!'
"What gloomy ideas are these!' said I; let us go and'Enjoy ourselves!-is it not so ?' interrupted he;' to laugh, and to for
"No, friend,' replied I; I have little inclination at present for enjoyment-but to fulfil our duty.
"In the meantime our comrades had returned to the spot, followed by those on whom devolved the mourn
ful task of removing the wounded. and the dead. We marched as if nothing had happened, to perform the task appointed for us, that of placing our supplies of powder under cover in a distant magazine. Chance had made Emanuel my companion. We worked hard and spoke but little. I felt, however, that the dislike I had at first so decidedly felt to the young man, was fast giving place to a warm sympathy for his sufferings. I had obtained a partial glance into a dark but wounded spirit, and had seen enough to incline me to ascribe the startling circumstances of his character, to a mind anxiously labouring to deceive itself as to its true situation. I know not whether the visible sympathy which I manifested, contrasted with my former coldness, had affected him also with a similar emotion; but so it was, that when the night summoned us to rest, we parted like old and trusty friends, with a warm pressure of the hand.
"I had occasion next day to be the bearer of various orders, and, among others, one addressed to Emanuel. I entered unperceived-(he had not heard my gentle tap at the door)→→→ into a comfortable apartment, but in a state of even more than studentlike confusion;-a circumstance the more striking, that at that time both old and young generally kept their whole effects as carefully packed as possible, that they might the more easily be transported, in the event of their habitations being set on fire by the bombardment.
"He was seated at a large table, covered with books and painting materials; his head rested on both his hands, and he was gazing attentively on a small miniature painting. It is the same which lies near me, and which has so deeply attracted your attention, only it was then unframed, the ivory being merely pasted upon the paper. I had time to look at it, for he did not observe me till I laid my hand upon his shoulder; the gay and animated grace which seemed shed over the figure, struck me perhaps the more, from the contrast it presented to the living, but drooping and desponding young man, who had but yesterday lost a friend, and whose deep desolation of heart had so plainly revealed itself on that occasion.
"He started up as he felt the pressure of my hand, and almost involuntarily drew the paper over the miniature. How now?' said I; 'is it with so sad an aspect that you regard this lovely portrait, whose charming features are sufficient to inspire any one with cheerfulness; particularly since this successful effort seems to be the work of your own hands? My poor friend! have I guessed the cause of your melancholy-Is it love-unfortunate, hopeless love?'
“Most unfortunate,' said he, interrupting me, 'for-but,' continued he, you have already had a glance of it, so look at it as you will: I do in truth consider it as one of my most successful attempts, and the more so, that no one sat for it. It was the mind that guided the pencil.' So saying, he again uncovered the
"With increasing astonishment and delight did I gaze upon those lovely features; I was fascinated; I could not turn my eyes from them; the longer they rested on the picture, the deeper I felt its magic sink into my heart. I could not divest myself of the idea, that this portrait must represent the object of my friend's attachment. And the very idea of seeing, knowing, loving so angelic a being as it presented itself to my mind, seemed more than a counterpoise for all the difficulties, all the miseries of life.
"I have heard it said,' said I at last, that all married people, and all lovers, have a certain resemblance to each other; I cannot say that I have in general found it so, but for once it strikes me the saying is right. I think,' said I, comparing him with the portrait, I think I can here and there recognise some traits of your features.'
'Very possibly,' he replied, 'very likely for the picture is that of my
I knew not why at the moment, but I felt that this explanation filled my bosom with indescribable joy. Your sister?' replied I, hastily 'happy brother who can boast of such a sister! What is her name?'
"He was silent; I raised my eyes from the picture to fix them upon him. He was pale, and seemed not to have heard my question. I repeat
ed it. He looked at me with a fixed stare, and answered as hesitatingly 'Her as I myself did even now. name is I cannot tell!'
"You cannot tell?' said I, with astonishment.
"O persecute me not,' cried he, springing up with impatience, 'ask me not-you have touched a wound that still festers in my heart.'
"I laid down the picture in confusion; a strange suspicion, which struck me dumb, sprang up at that moment in my mind. I began to fear that by some strange mental aberration, his love for this angelic sister might be more than fraternal; and resolved at once never more to touch upon a subject so dangerous.
"I left him; but chance threw us together again in the course of the evening; for a fire, occasioned by the bursting of a bomb, took place in his lodging. On the first intelligence of this disaster, I hurried along with some friends who were not known to him, to his house. He was standing quietly in his room, giving himself no concern about his effects, and apparently doubtful whether he would take the trouble of saving himself or not. I succeeded in drawing him away almost by force; but the greater part of his small possessions was consumed. From that moment he seemed to attach himself exclusively to me;-every day during our military companionship his society in turn became dearer to me, so that at last the very defects in his character which had at first sight appeared to me so repulsive, now that I had begun to look upon his conduct from a different point of view, presented themselves in an interesting light, as the efforts of a mind struggling against despair; and the melancholy Emanuel (not perhaps without some reference to his lovely sister) became to me an object of the warmest sympathy and friendship.
"My suspicions, which still continued, prevented me from putting any questions to himself as to his family, willingly as I would have done so; and all which I was able to gather from other sources was, that his father was clergyman of a country town, in one of the small islands belonging to Denmark, in the Baltic; that he was a widower, and, besides this son, had four daughters in life.