Imágenes de página
PDF
ePub

CHAPTER V.

THE LORELEY IN PERSON.

YES, it was she. Angels and ministers of grace, defend us! She-no dream, but fairer far than all that dreams can fashion-she herself, the Loreley! Beautiful, but with a chill and stony beauty, like the beauty of Medusa, that curdled the blood and froze the veins of men; calm, uncompassionate, pitiless, she was gazing (and I now knew she had long been gazing) upon this death-struggle for life as though the agonies of it were to her the commonest matter of course, and the result of it a subject of supreme indifference. It had been sung to me in songs, I had read it in legends, I had dreamed it in dreams; I could not now mistake that gaze. It was the gaze of the Loreley. She sat as though she had nothing to do but to sleek her beautiful body in the sunshine, while her victims were gurgling their stifled death-cries in the dreadful gulfs far down. She sat, I say, high above the silly crowd; alone, upon the hood of the gangway near which I was standing; isolated, unnoticed, indifferent, even as the Lady Witch upon her rock. Her hidden arms drew tight across her bosom her long silken scarf, which, thus closely draped about her, left distinctly outlined the noble contour of her perfect shoulders. Now that I was suddenly made aware of her presence, I became, at the same moment, instinct

ively conscious that she had long been there, and that I had all this while been standing within the magic of that strange, cold, beautiful regard, and under the ghostlike gaze of that clear, spiritual eye. So indifferent to, and so abstracted from the crowd around us

-so unlike to, and so dissociate from all others did that strange woman appear, that in now beholding her I at once realized the conviction of how impossible it would have been for me to have noticed her presence until (as in the case of the Gentleman in Black) some accident had forced my consciousness out of the limits of that trivial sphere within which those two apparitions must, I felt persuaded, in obedience to every law of their nature, remain invisible.

A new boat had now been sent out from the steamer, and the child, apparently lifeless, was picked up and brought back to its mother. The strong swimmer, by whose exertions the little boy had been recovered, refused all assistance from the boat, and swam slowly after it toward the steamer. Nobody any longer paid the least attention to his proceedings. And while the crowd on deck gathered with noisy but heartfelt congratulation round the poor mother, the savior of her child entered the vessel unperceived.

I myself had not noticed his return. I remained spellbound and immovable under the melancholy eye of the Loreley; and I was still absorbed in the intense contemplation of the perplexing passionlessness of that Gorgonian face, when I suddenly perceived that he was standing before her.

But how changed were his features! Now, for the first time, I fully recognized all the noble beauty of

er.

them; for now those features were animated, for the first time since I had seen them, by an expression, and that expression was one of mute but passionate prayThe whole countenance worked and labored with the concentrated action of internal forces. The painful quivering of the lip, the deep imploring of the earnest eye, all were agonizingly eloquent with the pathos of that unuttered appeal. And calmly, coldly, upon that imploring face, from the lofty heights. of her chilly self-isolation, the beautiful Loreley looked down in silence, with the cruel dead tranquillity of her empty, unanswering, extinguished eye. Then, as with a supreme effort, from the long-laboring lip of the man before her, a voice, broken and hollow, inarticulately muttered these words-" Still never ?”

And sharp, freezing, and incisive as the long shrill note of the hautboy was the answer of the Loreley"Never!" It sounded-(that short stern word, that meant so much, mocking the word it answered)-like a ghostly echo in a hollow, empty ruin, where nothing but such an echo any longer dwells.

For a moment the face of the man was swathed in a livid pallor as of death. The next moment those marble features had completely resumed their habitual repose, and he disappeared down the staircase into the cabin, noiseless, calmly, almost imperceptibly, as when, some hours before, I had seen him leave the table just as it clattered down at my feet, and so greatly startled us all.

At that moment I was called away to attend to the child, and thus lost sight of the Loreley. This was my first actual practice as a physician. A glance at

my little patient sufficed to assure me that only very simple restoratives were needed. And, having spoken a few words of encouragement and reassurance to the mother of the lad, I was turning away to give the necessary directions to the steward, when a gray-headed valet-de-chambre, the perfection of neat decorum, presented himself before us, and, bowing to the poor woman with that deference which is only manifested by the servants of persons of the highest breeding to those whom they assume to be of lower rank than their masters, respectfully requested the good woman, in the name of the Count and Countess R-, to do the count and countess the favor to join them in the private cabin, and to bring with her the little boy, for whose comfort and refreshment every preparation had been made.

Thus I finally lost sight of the four human beings who were in any way associated in my mind with the mysterious side of that day's events; and, once more on the deck of the "Loreley" steamer, the great Commonplace resumed "her ancient," but not "solitary reign."

CHAPTER VI.

PUBLIC OPINION. WE REACH COLOGNE. - THE OLD CRANE ON THE OLD TOWER, AND WHAT IT SEEMS TO BE SAYING.

PUBLIC opinion on board the "Loreley" steamer was much excited by the recent occurrence. Every body was asking, "Who is the Gentleman in Black?" The steward, who was naturally our chief source of information on this subject, could tell us nothing more than that the name of the strange gentleman, whose conduct had excited such conflicting feelings and inspired so much curiosity among my fellow-travelers, was Count Edmond R- ; that he was the possessor of an immense majorat in Prussian Silesia, and the last descendant of a well-known and very ancient family.

The mysterious Loreley thus receded from the luminous realms of Fable, and only revealed herself to the common light of day as a Silesian countess! The stern and terrible sorceress, by whose spells I had been so magically mastered, was, by indisputable evidence, neither more nor less than the wife of Count Edmond R. Others, however, besides myself, had noticed the extraordinary, and more than human indifference which had characterized the conduct of the Witch, now reduced to the rank assigned to her by the Almanac de Gotha. She too, the wife of so

« AnteriorContinuar »