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despair seized upon me, for life to me was all in all! In vain my father endeavoured to compose me; and, finding his efforts unsuccessful, he contented himself with exacting from me the promise that this fatal secret of our house should be communicated to none.
"It was at this time I became acquainted with you. The conflict which raged within my bosom between reason and superstition, between the struggles of courage and the suggestions of despair, could not be concealed from you, though you could form no idea of its source. I accompanied you to Lubeck. The sight of the Dance of Death produced a remarkable effect upon my mind. I saw a representation of my mother's dream, and in that too I thought I perceived also its origin. A film seemed to fall from my eyes; it was the momentary triumph of sober reason. It struck me at once that the idea of this picture, which my mother had undoubtedly at one time seen, had been floating through her excited imagination, and had given rise to that dark vision, before whose fatal influence my father and I had prostrated ourselves so long, instead of ascribing the successive deaths of our family to their true source, in the infectious nature of that disease which my mother's insane love of dancing had infused into her own veins, and which had been the ominous inheritance of her offspring. The advances I had already made in the study of medicine, confirmed these views. The confined and solitary life my sisters had led, the total want of any precaution in separating those who were still in health from those who had been already attacked by this malady, was in itself sufficient to account for all which had happened. Animated by this idea, I hurried home in spite of all your entreaties. I laboured to make my father participate in my views, tos induce him to separate my other sisters from the already fast declining Regina; but the obstinacy of age, and his deep conviction of the vanity of all such efforts, rendered my efforts and plead ings unavailing.
"It was only after great difficulty that I was prevailed upon to part with my youngest sister, then a mere child, who, from the close connexion in which her life seemed to stand
with myself in that singular dream, bad become my favourite, and on whom I felt impelled to lavish all that love, which a certain involuntary shuddering sensation that I felt in the presence of my other sisters, as beings on whom Death had already set his seal, prevented me from bestowing fully upon them. It was only on my assuring my father that my peace, nay my life, depended on his granting me this request, that he consented that she should be brought up in the capital under my eye. I accompanied her thither myself. I watched over her with an anxiety proportioned to my love. Sher not so tall as her sisters had been at the same age. She seemed to unfold herself more slowly, and in all things, as well as her education, she was the reverse of them. Her gaiety, her liveliness, her enjoyment of life, which often inspired me with a deep melancholy, gave additional bloom to her personal appearance; I could trace in her no appearance of weakness of the breast; but she was still a tender,delicate nature, the blossom, as I might say, of a higher clime.':
"It was long before I returned to my father's house; but his sickness, which rendered a dangerous operation necessary, brought him to the capital with my two remaining sisters. What I had foreseen was now fulfilled.Jacoba had become Regina, Lucia Jacoba. I knew it would be so, and yet it struck me with horror; the more so when I observed, as I already hinted, that during the bloom of their ephemeral existence, all my sisters successively acquired a strong resemblance to their mother, and consequently to the portrait though not so close as may bhave appeared to your excited imagination, who saw them but for a moment and after a long interval. I cannot tell how the daily sight of these devoted maidens, who inspired at once pity and terror, wrought upon my heart. It brought back my old despair, my old fears, which at such moments reasoning could not subdue, that I and all of us, my darling with the rest, would become the victims of this hereditary plague. My situation was the more trying, that I was obliged to invent a thousand stratagems and little falsehoods to keep the sisters, then living in the same city, apart. I could not alto
gether succeed, and the misery I felt at such moments how shall I describe! Your coming, your mistake, filled up the measure of my despair. When you wrote, I found it for a long time impossible to answer your af fectionate letter. moin de zonid "It was only long after the return of my family to their home that I regained my composure. The theory of medicine had long been hateful to me; though in the course of my researches into that fatal disorder, to which our family seemed destined, I had more than once met with instances in which the disease, after a certain period, seemed to concentrate itself on its victim, so as not to be transmitted to her subsequent offspring. My father too, who, during his residence in the capital, had perceived my distracted state of mind, took the opportunity of giving me, as he thought, a word of comfort, though it only wrung from me a bitter smile. He told me of a dream which he had had after my mother's death, and which he had hitherto concealed, because its import seemed to be of a threatening nature for me; although at the same time it seemed to give him the assurance, that at least I should not perish by the same fate which had overwhelmed my sisters. He thought he saw me, whether young or old he could not say, for my face was covered, lying asleep or dead in some foreign country. My baggage was heaped about me, and on fire; but the thick smoke which arose from the pile prevented him from-perceiving whether I was burnt
or not. N
lent; but I saw that his confidence in the certainty of dreams was in no shape abated. But my chief source of consolation lay in the slow and natural growth of my Amanda, who did not, like her sisters, resemble a mere hothouse plant, but a sweet natural flower, though her light and ethereal being would render her equally unable to encounter the rude breath of earthly sorrow, or the inAuence of a rugged clime; and you, whether accidentally or not-(and this gives me, I confess, -new hope and courage) you have a second time been the preserver of her life, by sheltering her from the blight of a stormy and freezing autumnal night, which would have been enough to blast at once this delicate production of a more genial clime. You, like a protecting angel, conducted her to her paternal home; that home where the angel of death has now, I trust, marked the threshold with blood for the last time, since the scythe that swept away my venerable father, with the same stroke mowed down the last declining life of his daughters.
In truth, I begin to cherish the best hopes of the future. In her mild eye that beams with no unearthly light, her cheek that glows with no concealed fever, there are no traces of the consuming worm within; only, as I have already said, the delicacy of her frame requires the tenderest care. A rude wind might blast this fragile flower; and therefore I give her to you, as the oldest, the most tried and trusted of my friends, with my whole heart; but upon this condition, that you never yield to her often repeatred wish to learn to dance, for that too violent and exciting exercise, which proved fatal to her mother, which devoted her sisters, even while yet unborn, to death, and which is my terror and aversion, her tender frame and easily agitated disposition, I am sure, are unable to bear. Will you promise me this ??
"Though at first much shocked at this dream, yet, viewed in the light already mentioned, it had on the whole a consoling tendency; and for this reason he had communicated it to me, though still with some shrinking sensations at its recollection. It was now my turn to afford him consolation, by pointing out to him that this dream, vague and indistinct in its meaning like most others, had probably been already" The picture-her picture, had, fulfilled, since my effects had in fact been all burnt about me during the bombardment of Copenhagen, and I myself, in a diseased and scarcely conscious state of mind, only extricated from danger by the exertions of my friends. He seemed struck with this observation, and was si
during his relation, lain before me on the table: its heavenly smile, and, still more, the tranquil and clear narrative of my friend, had banished from my bosom the last remains of uncomfortable feeling, and awakened with a still livelier emotion sympathy with this being so lovely, so
worthy to be loved. What could be more fascinating than thus to become the protecting angel of such a creature! The very conviction that I had already involuntarily been so, gave a higher impulse to my love and my confidence. I promised him every thing.
"Let me be brief-brief as the solitary year of my happiness! Business still detained my friend at home, and regard for appearances would not allow me to reconduct to the capital my Amanda, to whom 1 had not declared my sentiments, and to whom, indeed, it would have been indecent to have done so, while her dearest relations were hardly consigned to the tomb. One plan, however, suggested itself, which appeared the more advisable from the advantages which the pure air and tranquil amusements of a country life seemed to promise to her who was the object of our solicitude.
"The Count, with whom her mother had danced that fatal Dance of Death, now an old man, had long been in possession of the situation formerly held by his father, and was at this time an inhabitant of an estate upon the island. Always attached to the family of the pastor, he offered Amanda a residence in his family, and, on the pretext that her health might suffer from a longer residence in this house of death, we had her immediately removed from its gloomy images to the more cheerful mansion of the Count.
Being myself acquainted with her intended protector, I accompanied her thither, and while I strove, by every endeavour, to gain her af fection, some expressions which es caped her made me aware that I was already possessed of it. The close of the year of mourning was fixed for our marriage. I had already cast my eye upon an estate in the neighbourhood, which I had resolved to purchase, instead of that which had fallen to me. Partly with the view of restoring the activity of my friend, partly to escape the pain of being separated from my love, and partly because such matters are generally most advantageously managed by the intervention of a third party, I begged him immediately to set about the negotiation for the purchase. He undertook the commission readily, but his own affairs soon afterwards sum
moned him to the capital, and he set
"The bargain was found to be attended with difficulty. The matter was studiously protracted, in hopes of obtaining a higher price, and at last, as the close of the year approached, I resolved not to wait for the purchase, but to celebrate our Amanda had all nuptials at once. along enjoyed the best health. My friend engaged for us a simple but comfortable residence in the city, but the Count would not hear of the marriage being performed any where except in his own house. The day was at last fixed; we only waited for Emanuel, who, for some time past, had from time to time put off his arrival. At last he wrote that he would certainly appear on the day of the marriage.
"The day arrived, and yet he came not. The Count's chamberlain entered, and delivered to me a letter, which had been put into his hands the day before, under a cover, in which he was requested to deliver it to me shortly before the ceremony took place.
"It was from Emanuel, and ran as follows. Do not be anxious should I not appear at the marriage, and on no account put off the ceremony. The cause of my detention is for the good of all of us. You yourself will thank me for it.'
"This new enigma disconcerted me; but a bridegroom must endeavour to conceal his uneasiness, and a singular chance made me at last regard the unexpected absence of Emanuel, which, in fact, I attributed to caprice, as not altogether to be regretted. The Count had, notwithstanding my entreaties, made preparations for a ball, at which, after the ceremony had been quietly performed in the chapel, our union was to be publicly announced to the company. I knew how much the mind of my friend, so prone to repose faith in omens of every kind, would be agitated by the very idea of dancing.
"I succeeded in calming Amanda's mind as to the prolonged absence of her brother; but I felt that I began to regard with a feeling of oppression the idea of his arrival, which might momentarily take place.
young people were eagerly listening "The guests assembled.
to the music, which began to echo from the great hall. I was intent only on my own happiness; when, to my dismay, the old Count, stepping up, introduced his son to my Amanda, with a request that she would open the ball, while the young Countess, his daughter, offered her hand to me. I scarcely noticed her, in the confusion with which I ran up to the Count, to inform him that Amanda never danced, and had never learnt to do so. Father and son were equally astonished; the possibility of such an event had never occurred to them.
"But,' exclaimed the son,' can such a pattern of grace and dignity require to learn what nature herself must have taught her?'
"Amanda, who perhaps attributed my confusion to a feeling of shame at her ignorance, looked at me entreatingly, and whispered to me, 'I have never tried; but my eye has taught me something.'
"What could I say? and, in truth, I confess I could not see why, merely for fear of my absent friend, I should make myself ridiculous; nay, I could not but feel a sensation of pride in the triumph which I anticipated for my bride. The Countess and I were the second couple; some of the more honoured guests made up the third and fourth, and the dance began.
"After a few turns, however, the music, at the suggestion of the young Count, changed to a lively waltz; and the dancers began to revolve in giddier circles. I felt as if lightning struck; my feet seemed glued to the ground; the young Countess vainly endeavoured to draw me along with her; my eyes alone retained life and motion, and followed the footsteps of Amanda, who, light as a sylph, but blooming beyond aught that I had ever seen, was flitting round in the arms of the Count.
At once the door opened, and I saw Emanuel enter in full dress, but he was arrested on the threshold; his eyes were rooted on Amanda. Suddenly he smote his hands together above his head, and sank at the same moment to the ground with a cry that rang through the hall.
"This accident seemed to disenchant me. My feet were loosened. I and others flew towards him like lightning, raised him, and carried
him through the hall, into an adjoining room, which served as a passage to the hall. All this was the work of a moment. Amanda, however, had observed the confusion, had heard the name of her brother; that loud and piercing cry had echoed through her heart. As if transported out of herself, she tore herself out of the supporting arms of the Count, flew across the court into the chamber beyond, and sunk, weeping, imploring, in the most lively agitation, at the feet of her brother.
"The strange appearance of Emanuel, his cry, his fainting, had created a confusion which, for a moment, I confess withdrew my attention from her. It was when her brother began to recover his senses, that I first observed her deadly paleness. Methought I saw again the dying Lucia in my gaily dressed bride, whose white robes and myrtle wreath reminded me of the ghastly bridegroom of her sisters, who thus seemed to step in between me and my happiness. She hung, cold, inanimate, tottering, upon my arm.
"She was immediately carried to bed. She never rose from it again. Her sickness took even a more sudden and terrible character than usual, which, indeed, under the circumstances, might have been expected. Never, I may say, had my poor Amanda been in so great a state of excitement as during this, her first and last dance. The sudden shock she received, the coldness of the open room, and the still more open court, swept by a rude autumnal wind, at a moment when the general confusion prevented any measures of precaution from being taken, had wrought terrible ravages in her tender frame, and would have been enough, even without a hereditary predisposition to the malady, to have produced the same fatal consequences. The disease seized on her with that fatal and rapid grasp from which it derives its name; in a fortnight she was numbered with the dead.
"Her decline seemed for a moment to restore the physical strength of her unhappy brother. He burst out into the loudest reproaches against me, and every one who sought to withdraw him from the bedside of the invalid. It was wonderful how his weak frame bore up against it, but
he scarcely ever left her side. She died in his arms; he covered the dead body with kisses; force alone could detach him from it.
"But almost instantly after, a strange dull inaction seemed to come over his mind. He reproached me no longer, as I had expected, but asked to know how all had happened, and in turn told me, with a bitter and heart-piercing smile, that he had been prevented from coming by a serious indisposition. I had caught, as the physicians thought, a cough arising from cold, but with the natural nervousness of my disposition, I thought I discerned in it the seeds of the long-dreaded malady, and as the physician assured me that a few days would remove it, I resolved to stay away from the marriage, in order to give his prescriptions (which were chiefly rest and quietness) every fair chance; and if the truth were as I suspected, not to disturb your happiness by any uneasiness on my account. But the day before the marriage I was seized with an inexpressible feeling of anxiety. I recollected that your marriage would be celebrated in the same mansion, perhaps in the same chamber, where my mother, with her yet unborn offspring, had been devoted to death. I could not rest; some unknown power seemed to impel me forward, as if to prevent some great, some inexplicable evil. I was instantly on my way; at the last station on the road, while waiting for my horses, I dressed, that I might lose no time. I camenot to prevent-but every thing was now too clearly explained. I had come to fulfil my destiny.'
"My friend remained completely resigned to his fate. The death of his sister had convinced him of the certainty of his own. With her life, his own relish for life had utterly departed. Already it seemed to lie behind him like a shadow; he felt an impatient, irrepressible longing to be with those who had gone before.
"The physicians at first maintained that his malady-for he already felt its influence on his frame-was but imaginary. And as he submitted quietly to every thing, it cost me but little trouble to induce him to travel with me. I will not trouble you with my own feelings or sufferings: I urged him to go to the south of
France, the climate of which was so
"I cared little, as you may imagine, during these shifting scenes, about financial concerns, and when I revisited this country, it was to find that I had returned to it only not absolutely a beggar, and destined, I fear, to make all my friends melancholy about me.
"Thus has a numerous family been effaced from the earth, though_not from my heart, leaving behind them nothing but this portrait, which seems daily to hold forth the lesson, how vain is beauty, how fleeting is life!"
L- ceased, and the silence continued, while the portrait circulated once more among the now deeply affected and sympathizing assembly. The evening, which had begun with loud revelry, had gradually glided into the deep stillness of night. The friends rose, and even the younger of them, who had proposed the health of their mistresses with such proud confidence and frolic vanity, separated in silence, after pressing the hand of the narrator, as if in token that he had become to all of them an object of esteem, of sympathy, and affection.