Emilius was sitting in deep thought at his table, awaiting his friend Roderick. A light was burning before him; the winter-evening was cold; and today he wisht for the presence of his fellow traveller, though at other times wont to avoid his society; for on this evening he purpost to disclose a secret to him and ask his advice. The timid, shy Emilius found so many difficulties, such insurmountable hinderances, in every affair he was engaged in, and in every event that befell him, that it almost seemed as if his destiny had been in an ironical mood when it threw him and Roderick together, Roderick being in all things the reverse of his friend. Fickle, flighty, always determined and fixt by the first impression, he attempted everything, had a plan for every emergency; no undertaking was too arduous for him, no obstacles could deter him. But in the midst of the pursuit he wearied and broke down just as suddenly as at first he had kindled and sprung forward: whatever then opposed him did not act as a spur to urge him more eagerly onward, but only made him abandon and despise what he had so hotly rusht into; and thus Roderick was evermore thoughtlessly beginning something new, and with no better reason relinquishing and carelessly forgetting what he had begun just before. Hence no day ever passed but the friends got into a quarrel, which threatened to be a death blow to their friendship: and yet what to all appearance thus divided them, was perhaps the very thing that bound them most closely together: each loved the other heartily; but each found passing satisfaction in being able to discharge the most justly deserved reproaches upon his friend.
Emilius, a rich young man of a sensitive and melancholy temperament, had become master of his fortune on his father's death, and had set out on his travels for the sake of cultivating his mind: he had already been spending several months however in a large town, to enjoy the pleasures of the carnival, about which he never gave himself the slightest trouble, and to make certain important arrangements concerning his fortune with some relations, whom he had scarcely yet visited. On his journey he had fallen in with the restless, ever-shifting and veering Roderick, who was living at variance with his guardians, and who, to get rid altogether of them and their troublesome admonitions, had caught eagerly at his new friend's offer to take him with him on his travels.
On their road they had already been often on the point of separating; but after every dispute both had only felt the more forcibly that neither could live without the other. Scarcely had they got out of their carriage in any town, when Roderick had already seen everything remarkable in it, to forget it all again on the morrow: while Emilius took a week to study thoroughly whatever was said in books about it, that he might not leave anything unnoticed; and after all out of indolence thought there was hardly anything worth going to look at. Roderick had immediately made a thousand acquaintances, and been to every public place of entertainment; and he would often bring his new-made friends to Emilius in his solitary chamber, where, as soon as he began to be tired of them, he left him alone with them. At other times he would confound the modest Emilius by heaping extravagant praises on his talents and acquirements in the presence of learned and intelligent men, and by telling them how much information they might derive from his friend with regard to languages, antiquities, or the fine arts, though he himself could never find leisure to listen to him on these subjects when the conversation happened to turn on them. But if Emilius ever chanced to be in a more active mood, he might almost make sure that his truant friend would have caught cold the night before at some ball or sledge-party, and be forced to keep his bed; so that, with the liveliest, most restless, and most communicative of men for his companion, Emilius lived in the greatest solitude.
On this day he confidently expected him, having made Roderick give him a solemn promise to spend the evening with him, in order to hear what it was that for several weeks had been depressing and agitating his pensive friend. Meanwhile Emilius wrote down the following lines:
'Tis sweet when spring its choir assembles,
And every nightingale is steeping
The trees in his melodious weeping,
Till leaf and bloom with rapture trembles.
Fair is the net that moonlight weaves;
Fair are the breezes' gambolings
As with lime-odours on their wings
They chase each other through the leaves.
Bright is the glory of the rose,
When Love's rich magic decks the earth,
From countless roses Love peeps forth,
Those stars wherewith Love's heaven glows.
But sweeter, fairer, brighter far
To me that little lamp's pale gleaming,
When, through the narrow casement streaming,
It bids me hail my evening star;
As from their braids she flings her tresses,
Then twines them in a flowery band,
While at each motion of her hand
The light robe to her fair form presses;
Or when she wakes her lute's deep slumbers,
And, as at morning's touch updarting,
The notes beneath her fingers starting,
Trip o'er the strings in playful numbers.
To stop their flight her voice she pours
Full after them; they laugh, and fly,
And to my heart for refuge hie:
Her voice pursues them through its doors.
Leave me, ye mischiefs! hence remove!
They bar themselves within, and say:
Till this be broken here we stay,
That thou mayst know what 'tis to love.
Emilius stood up fretfully. It grew darker, but no Roderick came; and he was wishing to tell him of his love for an unknown fair one, who dwelt in the opposite house, and who kept him at home all day long, and waking through many a night.
At length footsteps sounded on the stairs; the door opened without anybody knocking at it: and in came two gay masks with ugly visages, one of them a Turk, drest in red and blue silk, the other a Spaniard, in pale yellow and pink, with a plume of feathers waving on his hat. When Emilius was losing patience, Roderick took off his mask, shewed his well-known laughing countenance, and cried:
— Heyday, my good friend, what a drowned puppy of a face! Is this the way to look in the carnival? I am come with my dear young officer here to carry you off: there is a grand ball tonight at the masquerade-rooms; and, as I know you have forsworn ever putting on any other suit than that which you always wear of the devil's own colour, come with us black as you are; for it is getting somewhat late.
Emilius felt angry, and said:
— It seems that according to custom you have totally forgotten your engagement. I am extremely sorry, he added, turning to the stranger, that I cannot possibly be of your party: my friend has been overhasty in promising for me; indeed I cannot go out at all, having some matters of importance to talk over with him.
The stranger, who was well-bred and saw Emiliuses meaning, withdrew: but Roderick with the utmost indifference put on his mask again, took his stand before the glass, and exclaimed:
— Verily, I am a most hideous figure, am I not? After all my pains it is a tasteless, disgusting device.
— That there can be no question about! answered Emilius in vehement displeasure. Making a caricature of yourself, and stupefying your senses, are among the pleasures you are the fondest of driving at.
— Because you don't like dancing, said the other, and look upon it as a pernicious invention, not a soul in the world is to be merry. How tiresome it is when a man is made up of nothing but whims!
— Doubtless! replied his irritated friend; and you afford me ample opportunity for finding that it is so. I fancied that after our agreement you would have given me this one evening; but ——
— But it is the carnival, you know, interposed the other; and all my acquaintances, and divers fair ladies are expecting me at the grand ball tonight. Rely upon it, my dear friend, it is mere disease in you that makes you so unreasonably averse to all such amusements.
— Which of us has the fairest claim to be called diseased, said Emilius, I will not examine. But I cannot think that your incomprehensible frivolousness, your hunger and thirst for dissipation, your restless chase after pleasures that leave the heart empty, are altogether the healthiest state of human nature. On certain points at all events you might make a little allowance for my weakness, if you are determined to call it so; and you know there is nothing in the world that so sets my whole soul on edge as a ball with its frightful music. Somebody has said, that to a deaf person who cannot hear the music a party of dancers must look like so many patients for a madhouse: but to my mind this detestable music itself, this twirling and whirling and pirouetting of half a dozen notes, each treading on its own heels, in those odious tunes, which ram themselves into our memory, nay, I might say, mix themselves up with our very blood, so that one cannot get rid of the taint for many a woful day after; this to me is the very trance of madness; and if I could ever bring myself to think dancing endurable, it would be dancing to the tune of silence.
— Bravo, signor paradox-monger! exclaimed the mask: You are so far gone, that you choose to think the most natural, the most innocent, and the merriest thing in the world unnatural, ay, and shocking.
— I cannot change my feelings, said his grave friend. From my very childhood these tunes have made me unhappy, and have often all but driven me out of my senses. They are to me the ghosts and spectres and furies in the world of sound, and they come and buz round my head, and grin at me with horrid laughter.
— Sheer nervousness! returned the other; just like your extravagant abhorrence of spiders and divers other harmless insects.
— Harmless you call them! cried Emilius indignantly, because you have no repugnance to such things. To him however that feels the same disgust and loathing, the same unutterable shuddering, as I feel, start up within him and shoot through his whole frame at the sight of them, these miscreate deformities, such as toads, beetles, or that most nauseous of all Nature's abortions, the bat, are not indifferent or insignificant: their very existence is a state of direct enmity and warfare against his. In good truth one might smile at the unbelievers whose imagination is too barren for ghosts and fearful goblins, and such births of night as we see in sickness, to grow up in it, or who stare and marvel at Dante's descriptions; when the commonest everyday life is perpetually paralysing our eyesight with some of these portentous distorted masterpieces among the works of horrour. Yet how can we have a real feeling and love for beauty, without detesting and recoiling from such monstrosities?
— Why recoil from them? askt Roderick: why should we see nothing in the vast realm of water, in lakes, rivers, and seas, but those dismal objects which you have taught yourself to find there? why not rather look on such creatures as queer, amusing, and ludicrous mummers? so that the deep might be called a kind of large maskt ballroom. But your caprices go still further; for while you love roses with a sort of idolatry, there are other flowers for which you have a no less passionate hatred: yet what harm has the dear bright tulip ever done you? or all the other gay children of summer that you persecute? Thus again you have an antipathy to sundry colours, to sundry scents, and to a number of thoughts; and you never take any pains to strengthen yourself against these moods, but give way to them and sink down into them as into a luxurious feather bed; so that I often fear I shall lose you altogether some day, and find nothing but a patchwork of whims and prejudices sitting at that table instead of my Emilius.
Emilius was wroth to the bottom of his heart, and answered not a word. He had now given up all thought of making his intended confession; nor did the thoughtless Roderick shew the least wish to hear the secret which his melancholy companion had announced to him with such an air of solemnity. He was sitting carelessly in the armchair, playing with his mask, when on a sudden he cried:
— Be so kind, Emilius, as to lend me your large cloak.
— What for? askt the other.
— I hear music in the church over the way, answered Roderick; and some how or other I have mist this hour every evening since we have been here. Today it comes just in the nick: I can cover my dress with your cloak, hiding my mask and turban under it; and so, when the music is over, I may go straight to the ball.
Emilius muttered between his teeth as he went for the cloak to his wardrobe, and then, forcing himself to put on an ironical smile, he gave it to Roderick who was already on his legs.
— There, I'll leave you my Turkish dagger that I bought yesterday, said the mask, as he wrapt himself up: Take care of it for me; it is a bad habit, this carrying about toys of cold steel: one can never tell what ill use may not be made of them, should a quarrel arise, or any other knot that it is easier to cut than untie. We shall meet again tomorrow; good bye; a pleasant evening to you.
He did not wait for an answer, but ran down stairs.
When Emilius was alone, he tried to forget his anger, and to look only at the laughable side of his friend's behaviour. His eyes rested on the shining, finely wrought dagger, and he said:
— What must be the feelings of a man who could thrust this sharp iron into the breast of an enemy! but oh, what must be his who should hurt a beloved object with it!
He lockt it up, then gently folded back the window shutters, and lookt across the narrow street. But no light was stirring; the opposite house was quite dark; the dear form that dwelt in it, and that was wont to appear there about this time engaged in divers household affairs, seemed to be absent. Perhaps she may be at the ball, thought Emilius, little as it sorted with her retired way of life. Ere long however a light came in: the little girl whom his beloved unknown had about her, and with whom she used to pass a great part of the day and of the evening, carried a candle through the room and closed the shutters. A chink still let the light through, wide enough for Emilius, where he stood, to overlook a part of the little room: and there the happy youth would often stay till after midnight as if charmed to the spot, watching every motion of her hand, every look of her beloved face. It was a joy to see her teaching the child to read, or giving her lessons in sewing and knitting. On inquiry he had learnt that the little girl was a poor orphan, whom his fair maiden had charitably taken into the house, to educate her.
Emiliuses friends could not conceive why he lived in this narrow street, in this comfortless lodging, why he was so little to be seen in society, or how he employed himself. Without employment, in solitude, he was happy: only he felt out of humour with himself at his own bashfulness, which withheld him from trying to become nearer acquainted with this beauteous being, notwithstanding the friendliness with which she had several times greeted and thankt him. He knew not that she would often gaze over at him with eyes no less lovesick than his own: he guessed not what wishes were forming in her heart, of what an effort, what a sacrifice she felt herself capable, so she might but attain the possession of his love.
After walking a few times up and down the room, the light having gone away again with the child, he suddenly made up his mind, in spite of all his feelings and inclinations, to go to the ball; for it struck him that his unknown might have made an exception for once to her usual secluded habits, for the sake of enjoying the world and its gaieties.
The streets were brilliantly lighted up; the snow crackled under his feet; carriages rolled by him; and masks in every variety of dress whistled and twittered as they passed him. Many of the houses resounded with the dancing music which he so much abhorred; and he could not bring himself to take the nearest way to the ballroom, to which people from all quarters were streaming and flocking.
He walkt round the old church, gazed at its high tower rising majestically into the dark sky, and enjoyed the stillness and solitude of this deserted place. Within the recess of a large doorway, the varied sculptures of which he had often contemplated with pleasure, while calling up visions of the olden times and the arts that adorned them, he now again took his stand, to give himself up for a few moments to his musings.
He had not been there long, when his attention was attracted by a figure that was pacing restlessly to and fro, and seemed to be waiting for somebody. By the light of a lamp burning before an image of the Virgin, he distinctly made out the face, as well as the strange dress. It was an old woman of the uttermost hideousness, which struck the eye the more from her being grotesquely clad in a scarlet bodice embroidered with gold. Emilius fancied at first it must be some extravagant mask that had lost its way: but the bright light soon convinced him that the old brown wrinkled face was one of Nature's ploughing, and no mimic exaggeration.
In a few minutes two men made their appearance, wrapt up in cloaks, who seemed to approach the spot with cautious steps, often turning their heads aside to see whether anybody was following. The old woman went up to them.
— Have you got the candles? she askt hastily and with a gruff voice.
— Here they are, said one of the men: you know the price; let us settle the matter and have done with it.
The old woman seemed to be giving him some money, which he counted over beneath his cloak.
— I rely upon you, she again began, that they are made exactly according to rule, at the right time and place, so that they cannot fail of their effect.
— You need not be uneasy on that score, returned the man, and hurried away.
His companion, who staid behind, was a youth: he took the old woman by the hand, and said:
— Can it be true, Alexia, that certain rites and spells, as those old wild stories, in which I could never put faith, tell us, can fetter the free will of man, and make love and hatred grow up in the heart?
— Ay forsooth! answered the scarlet woman; but one and one must make two, and many a one must be added thereto, before such mighty things come to pass. It is not these candles alone, moulded beneath the midnight darkness of the new moon, and drencht with human blood, it is not the mere uttering magical words and incantations, that can give you the mastery over the soul of another: there is much more belonging to such works, as the initiated well know.
— I may depend upon you then! cried the stranger.
— Tomorrow after midnight I am at your service, replied the old woman. You shall not be the first person that ever was dissatisfied with my skill. Tonight, as you have heard, I have some one else in hand, one whose senses and soul our art shall twist about whichever way we choose, just as easily as I twist this hair out of my head.
These last words she uttered with a half grin; and they separated, walking off in different directions.
Emilius came forth from the dark niche shuddering, and lifted his looks to the image of the Virgin with the Child.
— Before thine eyes, thou mild and blessed one, he said half aloud, are these miscreants audaciously holding their market and trafficking in their infernal drugs. But as thou embracest thy child with thy love, so doth heavenly Love encircle us all with its protecting arms; we feel their touch; and our poor hearts beat joyously and tremulously toward a greater heart that will never forsake us.
Clouds were rolling along over the pinnacles of the tower and the high roof of the church; the everlasting stars lookt down through the midst of them gleaming with mild serenity; and Emilius drew his thoughts resolutely away from these nightly abominations, and mused on the beauty of his unknown. He again entered the peopled streets, and bent his steps toward the brightly illuminated ballroom, from which voices, and the rattling of carriages, and now and then, when there was a pause, the clamorous music, came sounding to his ears.
In the ballroom he was instantly lost amid the streaming throng: dancers ran round him; masks darted by him to and fro; kettledrums and trumpets stunned his ears; and it seemed to him as if human life had melted away into a dream. He walkt along one row after another, and his eye alone was wakeful, seeking after those beloved eyes and that fair head with its brown locks, for the sight of which he yearned this evening more intensely than ever, at the same time that he inwardly reproacht their adored possessor, for allowing herself to plunge and be lost in this stormy sea of confusion and folly. No! he said to himself; no heart that loves can willingly expose itself to this dreary hubbub of noise, in which every longing and every tear is scoft and mockt at by the wild laughter of pealing trumpets. The whispering of trees, the murmuring of brooks, the soft notes of the harp, and the song that gushes forth in all its richness and sweetness from an overflowing bosom, are the sounds in which love dwells. But this is the very thundering and shouting of hell in the frenzy of its despair.
He saw nothing like her whom he was seeking for; and he could not possibly give enterance to the notion that her beloved face might perhaps be lurking behind some odious mask.
He had already ranged up and down the room three times over, and had in vain run his eyes along all the ladies that were sitting and unmaskt, when the Spaniard joined him and said:
— I am glad you are come after all; are you looking for your friend?
Emilius had quite forgotten him; he said however somewhat embarrast:
— In truth I wonder I have not met him here, for his mask is not to be mistaken.
— Can you guess what the harum-scarum fellow is about? answered the young officer. He never danced at all, and hardly staid ten minutes in the ballroom: for he soon fell in with his friend Anderson, who is just come up from the country: their conversation turned upon books; and as Anderson has never seen the new poem, Roderick would not rest till he had made them open one of the back rooms for him; and there he is now sitting beside a solitary taper, holding his companion fast, and declaiming the whole poem to him, not omitting even the invocation to the muse.
— It's just like him, said Emilius; he is always the child of the moment. I have done all in my power, and even run the risk of some amicable quarrels, to cure him of this habit of for ever living extempore, and playing out his whole life in impromptus, card after card, as it chances to turn up, without once looking over his hand. But these follies have struck such deep root in his heart, he would sooner part with his best friend than with them. That very same poem, which he is so fond of that he always carries it about in his pocket, he wanted to read to me a few days ago, and I had earnestly begged him to do so: but he had scarcely got beyond the first description of the moon, when, just as I had resigned myself to the enjoyment of its beauties, he suddenly jumpt up, ran out of the room, came back with the cook's apron round his waist, tore down the bell-rope in ringing to have the fire lighted, and insisted on broiling me some beefsteaks, for which I had not the least appetite, and which he fancies nobody in Europe dresses so well, though, if he is in luck, he does not spoil them above nine times in ten.
The Spaniard laught, and askt:
— Has he never been in love?
— After his fashion, replied Emilius very gravely; as if he were making game of love and of himself, with a dozen women at a time, and, if you would believe his words, raving after every one of them: but ere a week passes over his head, they are all spunged out of it, and not even a blot is left behind.
They parted in the crowd, and Emilius walkt toward the remote apartment, from which, long before he reacht it, he caught his friend's loud recitative.
— Ah, so you are here too! exclaimed Roderick, as he entered: you have just hit the right moment; I am at the very passage where we were interrupted the other day: sit down, and you may hear the remainder.
— I am not in a humour for it now, said Emilius: besides the time and place do not seem to me exactly suited to such an employment.
— And why not? answered Roderick. Time and place are made for us, not we for time and place. Is not good poetry just as good at one hour as at another? Is not it right to read it? and can that which is right ever become wrong? Or would you rather dance? There is a lack of men; and you need only jump about for a few hours, at the mere risk of tiring your legs, to lay strong siege to the hearts of as many grateful beauties as you choose.
— Good night! cried the other with his hand on the door; I am going home.
Roderick called out to him:
— Only one word! I shall set off tomorrow at daybreak with my friend here, to spend a few days in the country, but will look in upon you to say goodbye before we start. Should you be asleep, as is most likely, you need not take the trouble of waking; for, before a week is out, I shall be back again.
— The strangest being upon earth! he continued, turning to his neighbour; so moping and fretful, such a splitter of thoughts, that he turns all his pleasures sour; or rather there is no such thing as pleasure for him. Instead of walking about with his fellow creatures in broad daylight and enjoying himself, he gets down to the bottom of the well of his fancies, in the hope of now and then catching a glimpse of a star. Everything must be in the superlative for him: everything must be pure, and majestic, and etherial, and celestial: his heart must be always throbbing and heaving, even when he is standing before a puppet show. He never laughs or cries, but can only smile and weep; and forsooth there is mighty little difference between his weeping and his smiling. When anything, be it what it may, falls short of his anticipations and preconceptions, which are always flying up out of reach and sight, he puts on a tragical face, and complains that it is a base and soulless world. At this very moment, I make no doubt, he is requiring that under the masks of a Pantaloon or a Punch there should be a soul glowing with unearthly desires and ideal aspirations, and that Harlequin should outmoralize Hamlet on the nothingness of sublunary things: and if these expectations are disappointed, as they can never fail to be, the dew is sure to rise into his eyes, and he will turn his back on the whole motley scene in desponding contempt.
— He must be atrabilious then? askt his hearer.
— Not that exactly, answered Roderick: he has only been spoilt by the indulgence of his overfond parents and by his own. He has accustomed himself to let his heart ebb and flow as regularly as the sea; and if this motion is ever at a stop, he cries out a miracle! and would offer a prize to the philosopher who should give a satisfactory explanation of so marvellous a phenomenon. He is the best fellow under the sun; but all my painstaking to break him of this perverseness has been utterly vain and thrown away; and if I would not earn scurvy thanks for my goodwill, I must even let him follow his own devices.
— Might not a physician do him good? remarkt Anderson.
— It is one of his whims, replied Roderick, to entertain a supreme contempt for the whole medical art. He will have it that every disease is something different and distinct in every particular patient, that there is no arranging it under any class, and that it is absurd to think of healing it by attending to ancient practice, and still more so by what is called theory: he would much rather apply to an old woman, and make use of sympathetic cures. In like manner he despises all foresight in other matters, and everything like regularity, moderation, and common sense: the last above all he holds in special abhorrence, as the antipode and arch-enemy to all enthusiasm. While yet a child he framed for himself an ideal of a noble character; and his constant aim is to make himself what he considers such, that is to say, a being who shews his superiority to all earthly things by his scorn for riches. Merely to avoid being suspected of stinginess, or of giving unwillingly, or of caring about money, he flings it right and left by handfuls; with all his large fortune he is for ever poor and distrest, and is the bubble of all such as are not gifted with precisely the same sort of magnanimity which for himself he is determined to attain to. To be his friend is the task of all tasks: for he is so touchy, you need only cough, or eat with your knife, or not sip your drink as delicately as a cow, or even pick your teeth, to offend him mortally.
— Was he never in love? askt his country friend.
— Whom should he love? whom could he love? answered Roderick. He despises all the daughters of earth; and if he had a favorite, and were ever to suspect that she had not an angelical contempt for dress, or liked dancing at times as well as star-gazing, it would break his heart: still more tremendous would it be, if she were ever so unlucky as to sneeze.
Meanwhile Emilius was again standing among the crowd: but on a sudden he was seized by that heart-burning, that shivering, which had already so often come over him in the midst of a multitude in a like state of excitement. It drove him out of the ballroom, out of the house, and along the desolate streets; nor did he recover and regain the quiet possession of his senses, till he reacht his lonely chamber. The night light was already burning; he sent his servant to bed: everything over the way was silent and dark, and he sat down to pour forth the feelings which the ball had aroused, in verse.
Within the heart 'tis still;
Sleep each wild thought encages:
Now stirs a wicked will,
Would see how madness rages,
And cries: Wild spirit awake!
Loud cymbals catch the cry,
And back its echoes shake;
And, shouting peals of laughter,
The trumpet rushes after,
And cries: Wild spirit awake!
Amid them flute-tones fly,
Like arrows, keen and numberless;
And with bloodhound yell
Pipes the onset swell;
And violins and violoncellos,
And horns whence thunder bellows;
To leave the victim slumberless,
And drag forth prisoned madness,
And cruelly murder all quiet and innocent gladness.
What will be the end of this commotion?
Where the shore to this turmoiling ocean?
What seeks the tossing throng,
As it wheels and whirls along?
On! on! the lustres
Like hellstars bicker:
Let us twine in closer clusters,
On! on! ever closer and quicker!
How the silly things throb, throb amain!
Hence all quiet!
Peal more proudly,
Squeal more loudly, Ye cymbals, ye trumpets! bedull all pain,
Till it laugh again.
Thou beckonest to me, beauty's daughter;
Smiles ripple o'er thy lips,
And o'er thine eye's blue water;
O let me breathe on thee,
Ere parted hence we flee,
Ere aught that light eclipse!
I know that beauty's flowers soon wither:
Those lips, within whose rosy cells
Thy spirit warbles its sweet spells,
Death's clammy kiss ere long will press together.
I know, that face so fair and full
Is but a masquerading skull:
But hail to thee skull so fair and so fresh!
Why should I weep and whine and wail,
That what blooms now must soon grow pale,
And that worms must batten on that sweet flesh?
Let me laugh but today and tomorrow,
And what care I for sorrow,
While thus on the waves of the dance by each other we sail?
Now thou art mine,
And I am thine:
And what though pain and trouble wait
To seize thee at the gate,
And sob, and tear, and groan, and sigh,
Stand ranged in state
On thee to fly,
Blithely let us look and cheerily
On death that grins so drearily!
What would grief with us, or anguish?
They are foes that we know how to vanquish.
I press thine answering fingers,
Thy look upon me lingers,
Or the fringe of thy garment will waft me a kiss:
Thou rollest on in light;
I fall back into night;
Even despair is bliss.
From this delight,
From this wild revel's surge
Perchance there may emerge
Foul jealousy, and scorn, and envious spite.
But this is our glory and pride;
When thee I despise,
I turn but my eyes,
And the fair one beside thee will welcome my gaze,
And she is my bride!
O happy, happy maze!
Or shall it be her neighbour?
Whose eyes, like a sabre,
Flash and pierce,
Their glance is so fierce.
Thus jumping and prancing,
All together go dancing
Adown life's giddy cave;
Nor living, nor loving,
But dizzily roving
Through dreams to a grave.
There below 'tis yet worse:
Earth's flowers and its clay
Roof a gloomier day,
Hide a still deeper curse.
Ring then, ye cymbals, enliven this dream!
Ye horns shout a fiercer, more vulture-like scream!
And frisk caper skip prance dance yourselves out of breath!
For your life is all art,
Love has given you no heart:
So hurrah till you plunge into bottomless death.
He had ended, and was standing by the window. Then she came into the opposite chamber, lovely, as he had never yet seen her: her brown hair floated freely, and played in wanton ringlets about the whitest of necks; she was but lightly clad, and seemed as if she meant to finish some little household matters at this late hour of the night before she went to bed: for she placed two candles in two corners of the room, set the green cloth on the table to rights, and withdrew again.
Emilius was still sunk in his sweet dreams, and gazing on the image which his beloved had left in his mind, when to his horrour the frightful, the scarlet old woman walkt through the chamber: the gold on her head and breast glared ghastlily as it threw back the light.
She had vanisht again. Was he to believe his eyes? Was it not some delusive phantom of the night that his own feverish imagination had conjured up before him?
But no! she returned, still more hideous than before, with a long grey and black mane flying wildly and haggardly about her breast and back. The beauteous maiden followed her, pale, stiff; her lovely bosom was all bared, but her whole form was like a marble statue.
Betwixt them they led the sweet little child, crying and clinging imploringly to the fair maiden, who lookt not down upon it. The child lifted up and claspt its little beseeching hands, and stroakt the pale neck and cheeks of the marble beauty. But she held it fast by the hair, and in the other hand a silver basin.
Then the old woman growled, and pulled out a long knife, and drew it across the white neck of the child. Here something crawled forth from behind that they seemed not to perceive, or it must have struck them with the same thrilling terrour as Emilius. A serpent curled its loathsome neck, scale after scale, lengthening and still lengthening, out of the darkness, and stoopt down over the child, whose lifeless limbs hung from the old woman's arms: its black tongue lickt up the spirting red blood, and a green sparkling eye shot over into the eye, and brain, and heart of Emilius, who instantly dropt on the ground.
He was senseless when found by Roderick some hours after.
A party of friends were sitting on the brightest summer morning in a green arbour, assembled at an excellent breakfast. Laughter and jests passed round; and many a time did the glasses kiss with a merry health to the young couple, and a wish that they might be the happiest of the happy. The bride and bridegroom were not present; she being still engaged in dressing, while the young husband was sauntering by himself down an avenue some way off, musing upon his happiness.
— What a pity it is, said Anderson, that we are to have no music! All our ladies are beclouded at the thought, and never in their whole lives longed for a dance so much as today, when it is quite out of the question: it is far too painful to his feelings.
— I can tell you a secret though, exclaimed a young officer, that we are to have a dance after all; and a rare riotous and madcap one it will be. Everything is already arranged; the musicians are come secretly and quartered out of sight. Roderick has managed the whole business; for he says one ought not to let him always have his own way, or to humour his strange caprices overmuch, especially on such a day as this.
— Besides, observed another young man, he is already become much more tractable and sociable than he used to be; so that I think he himself will not be sorry at the alteration. Indeed the whole wedding has been brought about all on the sudden, and has taken everybody by surprise.
— His whole history, resumed Anderson, is just as extraordinary as his character. You must all remember how, being on his travels last autumn, he arrived in our city, and spent the winter there, living like a melancholy man almost entirely in his own room, and never visiting our theatre or taking part in any other amusement. He all but quarrelled with Roderick, his most intimate friend, for trying to divert him, and refusing to pamper all his moping fantasies. In fact this overstrained irritability and moroseness must have been a disease that was gathering in his body: for you know he was attackt four months ago by such a violent nervous fever, that his life was for a long time despaired of. After his frenzy had raved itself out, and he returned to his senses, he had almost entirely lost his memory: nothing but his childhood and early youth kept its hold on his mind; and he was totally unable to recollect anything that had happened during his journey, or immediately before his illness. He had to begin his acquaintance afresh with all his friends, even with Roderick; and it is only by little and little that his thoughts have grown lighter, and that the past with all that had befallen him has come back, though still in dim colours, into his memory. He had been removed into his uncle's house, that better care might be taken of him; and he was just like a child, letting them do whatever they chose with him. The first time he went out to enjoy the warmth of the spring in the park, he saw a girl sitting pensively by the roadside. She lookt up; her eye met his; and seized with an inexplicable yearning he stopt the carriage, got out, sat down by her, took hold of her hands, and burst into a flood of tears. His friends were again alarmed for his intellects: but he grew calm, cheerful, and conversable, got introduced to the girl's parents, and at his very first visit askt for her hand, which, with her parents consent, she granted him. Since that time he has been happy, and a new life has sprung up within him: day after day he has become healthier and more contented. A week ago he paid me a visit at this country house, and was above measure delighted with it; indeed so much so that he would not rest till he had made me sell it to him. I might easily have turned his passionate desire to my own advantage, and his loss; for when he once sets his heart on a thing, he will have it, and that too forthwith. He immediately let it be got ready, sent furniture that he may spend the summer months here; and thus it has come to pass that we are all met for his wedding in my old garden.
The house was large, and in a very lovely country. One side of it lookt on a river and some woody hills beyond; shrubs and trees of various kinds were scattered about the lawn; and immediately before the windows lay a flower garden sweetening the air. The orange and lemon trees were ranged in a large open hall, from which small doors led to the store rooms, cellars, and pantries. On the other side a meadow spread out its green floor, opening immediately into the park. The two long wings of the house formed a spacious court; and broad open galleries, borne by three rows of pillars standing one above the other, ran round it, connecting all the rooms in the house, and giving it a singular and interesting character: for figures were perpetually moving along these arcades, some engaged in one employment, some in another; new forms kept stepping forth between the pillars and out of the various rooms, which anon vanisht and then reappeared above or below, to be lost behind one of the doors: parties too would often assemble there for tea or for some game; and thus from below the whole had the look of a theatre, before which everybody was glad to stop awhile, with a foreboding that something strange or pleasing was sure to meet his eyes ere long.
The party of young people were just rising, when the bride came in her full dress through the garden walking toward them. She was clad in violet-coloured velvet: a sparkling necklace lay cradled on her glittering neck; the costly lace just allowed her white swelling bosom to glimmer through; and her wreath of myrtle and white roses gave her brown hair a still more beautiful tint.
She greeted them all graciously, and the young men were astonisht at her surpassing beauty. She had been gathering flowers in the garden, and was going back into the house to see after the arrangements for dinner.
The tables had been set out in the lower open gallery, and shone dazzlingly with their white coverings and their load of sparkling crystal: rich clusters of many-coloured flowers rose from the graceful necks of alabaster vases; green garlands, starred with white blossoms, twined round the columns: and it was a lovely sight to behold the bride gliding along with gentle motion between the tables and the pillars, amid the light of the flowers, overlooking the whole with a searching glance, and then vanishing; and reappearing a moment after above, to pass into her chamber.
— She is the loveliest, most enchanting creature I ever saw! cried Anderson: our friend is indeed a happy man.
— Her very paleness, added the officer, hightens her beauty. Her hazel eyes only sparkle the more intensely above those white cheeks and beneath those dark locks; and the singular, almost burning redness of her lips gives her face a truly magical appearance.
— The air of silent melancholy that surrounds her, said Anderson, sheds a noble majesty over her.
The bridegroom joined them, and askt after Roderick: he had been missing for some time, and they could not conceive what he was about. All set off in search of him.
— He is down in the hall, said at length a young man whom they happened to ask, in the midst of the coachmen, footmen, and grooms, shewing off tricks at cards, which make them stare till their wits ache.
They walkt in, and interrupted the boisterous admiration of the servants, without however disturbing Roderick, who quietly went on conjuring. When he had finisht, he returned with the others into the garden, and said:
— I do it only to strengthen the fellows in their faith: these puzzles give a hard blow to their groomships' free-thinking inclinations, and help to make 'em true believers.
— I see, said the bridegroom, my all-sufficing friend, among his other talents, does not think that of a mountebank beneath his cultivation.
— We live in strange times, replied the other; who knows whether mountebanks may not come to rule the roast in their turn? One ought to despise nothing nowadays: the veriest straw of a talent may be that which is to break the camel's back.
When the two friends found themselves alone, Emilius again turned down the dark avenue and said:
— Why am I in such a gloomy mood on this the happiest day of my life? But I assure you, Roderick, though you will not believe me, I am not made for moving about amid such a mob of human beings — for this parade of heartless courtesy — for keeping my attention on the qui vive to every letter of the alphabet, so that neither A nor Z may complain of being treated with disrespect — for making low bows to her tenth cousin, and shaking hands warmly with my twentieth — for this formal reverence to her parents — for handing a flower from my nosegay of compliments to every lady that crosses the room — for waiting to receive the tide of new-comers as wave after wave rushes over me, and then turning to give orders that their servants and horses may each have a full trough and pail set before them.
— That is a watch that goes of its own accord; answered Roderick. Only look at your house! it was just built for such an occasion: and your head-butler, with his right hand taking up at the same time that his left hand is setting down, and one leg running north while the other seems to be making for south, was begotten and born for the very purpose of putting confusion in order. He would set my brains to rights if he could get at 'em: were the whole city to come, he would find room for all; and he'll make your hospitality the proverb of fifty miles round. Leave all such matters to him, and to your lovely bride; and where will you find so sweet a lightener of this world's cares?
— This morning before sunrise, said Emilius, I was walking through the wood; my thoughts were solemnly tuned; I felt to the bottom of my soul that my life is now taking a determinate cast, that it is become a serious thing, and that this passion has created me a home and a calling. In passing by that arbour yonder I heard sounds: it was my beloved in close conversation. Has not it turned out now as I told you? said a strange voice; just as I knew it would turn out? You have got your wish; so cheer up and be merry. I did not like to go in to them: as I came back I walkt nearer to the arbour; they had both left it. But I have been musing and musing ever since, what can these words mean?
— Perhaps she may have been in love with you this long time without your knowing it: this should make you all the happier.
A late nightingale now lifted up her song, and seemed to be wishing the lover health and bliss. Emilius sank still deeper in thought.
— Come with me to clear up your spirits, said Roderick, down to the village, where you will find another couple; for you must not fancy that yours is the only wedding on which today's sun is to shine. A young clown, finding his time lag heavily in the house with an ugly old maid, for want of something better to do did what makes the booby think himself bound in honour to turn her into his wife. They must both be drest out by this time; so don't let us miss the sight; for doubtless it will be overpoweringly interesting.
The melancholy man let himself be dragged along by his merry talkative friend, and they soon got to the cottage. The procession was just sallying forth on its way to church. The young countryman was in his usual linen frock; all his finery consisted in a pair of leather breeches, which he had polisht till they shone like a field of dandelions: he had a very simple look, and was a good deal ashamed.
The bride was tanned by the sun, and had only a few farewell leaves of youth still hanging about her: she was coarsely and poorly but cleanly drest: some red and blue silk ribbons, already somewhat faded, flaunted from her stomacher; but what chiefly disfigured her was, that her hair, after being stiffened with lard, flour, and pins, had been swept back from her forehead and piled up at the top of her head in a mound, on the summit of which lay the bridal chaplet. She smiled, and seemed glad at heart, but was bashful and downcast.
Next came the aged parents: her father too was only a labourer on the farm; and the hovel, the furniture, the clothing, all bore witness that their poverty was extreme. A dirty squinting musician followed the train, grinning and screaming and scratching his fiddle, which was patcht up of wood and pasteboard, and instead of strings had three bits of packthread.
The procession halted when his honour, their new master, came up to them. Some mischief-loving servants, lads and girls, tittered and laught, and jeered the bridal couple, especially the ladies' maids, who thought themselves far handsomer, and saw themselves infinitely better drest, and wondered how people could be so vulgar.
A shudder came over Emilius: he lookt round for Roderick; but the latter as usual had already run away. An impertinent fop, with a head pilloried in a high starcht neckcloth, a footman to one of the visitors, eager to shew off his wit, shoved up to Emilius, giggling, and cried:
— There your honour, what says your honour to this grand couple? They can neither of 'em guess where they are to find bread for tomorrow; and yet they mean to give a ball this afternoon, and that famous performer is already engaged.
— No bread! said Emilius; can such things be?
— Their wretchedness, continued the chatterbox, is notorious to the whole neighbourhood; but the fellow says he bears the creature the same goodwill, though she has nothing to boast of but her charms. Ay, verily, as the song says, love can make black white! The brace of beggars have not even a bed, and must pass their wedding-night on the straw: they have just been round to every cottage, begging a pint of small beer, with which they mean to get royally drunk: a brave treat for a wedding, your honour!
Everybody around burst out a-laughing, and the unhappy despised pair hung down their heads. Emilius pusht the coxcomb indignantly away, and cried:
— Here, take this! tossing a hundred ducats, which he had received that morning, into the hands of the amazed bridegroom.
The betrothed couple and their parents wept aloud, threw themselves clumsily on their knees, and kist his hands and the skirts of his coat.
He struggled to break loose from them.
— Let that keep hunger out of doors as long as you can make it last! he exclaimed, quite stunned by his feelings.
— Oh! they all screamed, oh your honour! we shall be rich and happy till the day of our deaths, and longer too, if we live longer.
He did not know how he got away, but he found himself alone, and hastened with tremulous steps into the wood. There he sought out the thickest loneliest spot, and threw himself down on a grassy knoll, no longer keeping in the bursting flood of his tears.
— I am sick of life! he cried: I cannot be gay and happy; I will not. Make haste to receive me, dear kind mother earth, and shelter me with thy cool refreshing arms from the wild beasts that trample on thee and call themselves men. Oh God in heaven! how have I deserved that I should lie upon down, and be clothed in silk, that the grape should pour forth her precious heart's blood for me, and that all should throng around me with offerings of homage and love! This poor wretch is better and worthier than I; and misery is his nurse, and mockery and venomous scorn alone wish him joy on his wedding. Every delicacy that is placed before me, every draught out of my costly goblets, the soft luxury of my bed, my wearing gold and rich garments, will seem to me like so many sins, now that my eyes have seen how the world hunts down many thousand thousand miserable beings, who are hungering after the dry bread I throw away, and who never know what a good meal is. Oh now I can fully enter into your feelings, ye holy saints, whom the world scorns and scoffs at, ye who did scatter your all, even down to your very raiment, among the poor, and did gird your loins with sackcloth, and did resolve as beggars to undergo the gibes and the kicks wherewith brutal insolence and swilling voluptuousness drive the needy from their doors, that by so doing you might thoroughly purge yourselves from the foul sin of wealth.
The world with all its inhabitants floated in a mist before his eyes: he resolved to look upon the destitute as his brethren, and to depart from the communion of the happy.
They had been waiting a long time for him in the hall, that the ceremony might be performed; the bride had grown uneasy; her parents had gone in search of him through the garden and park: at length he returned, lighter for having wept away his agitation; and the solemn knot was tied.
The company then walkt from the hall on the ground floor to the open gallery, to sit down to dinner. The bride and bridegroom led the way, and the rest followed in their train. Roderick offered his arm to a young girl who was lively and talkative.
— Why does a bride always cry, and look so serious and sad during the ceremony? said she, as they mounted the stairs.
— Because it is the first time that she ever thoroughly feels what a momentous and mysterious thing life is, answered Roderick.
— But our bride, continued the girl, in her gravity goes far beyond all I have ever yet seen. Indeed there is always something melancholy about her, and one can never catch her in a downright merry laugh.
— This does the more honour to her heart, replied Roderick, himself more serious than usual. You don't know perhaps that the bride a few years ago took a lovely little orphan girl into her house, to educate her. All her time was devoted to this child, and the gentle creature's love was her sweetest reward. When the girl was seven years old, she was lost on a walk about the town; and in spite of all the pains that have been used, nobody has ever found out what became of her. Our noble-minded hostess has taken this misfortune so much to heart, that she has been a prey ever since to silent grief, and nothing can win her mind away from longing after her little playfellow.
— A most interesting adventure indeed! said the young lady. One might see a whole romance in three volumes growing out of this seed. It will be a strange sight, and it will not be for nothing, when this lost star reappears. What a pretty poem it would make! Don't you think so, sir?
The party took their seats: the bride and bridegroom were in the centre, looking out on the gay landscape. Everybody talkt and drank healths, and all was mirth and good humour: the bride's parents were perfectly happy: the bridegroom alone was reserved and thoughtful, ate but little, and took no part in the conversation.
He started on hearing musical sounds roll down through the air from above, but grew calm again when he found they were only the soft notes of some bugles, travelling along with a pleasant murmur over the shrubs and through the park, and dying away on the distant hills. Roderick had placed the musicians in the gallery overhead, and Emilius was satisfied with this arrangement.
Toward the end of the dinner he called the butler, and, turning to his bride, said:
— My love, let poverty also have a share of our superfluities.
He then ordered him to send a number of bottles of wine, and abundance of pastry as well as other dishes, to the poor couple, that with them too this might be a day of rejoicing, to which in aftertimes they might look back with pleasure.
— See my friend, exclaimed Roderick, how beautifully all things in this world hang together! My idle trick of busying myself in other folks' concerns, and chattering about whatever comes uppermost, though you will never give over finding fault with it, has at all events been the cause of this good deed.
Several persons began making pretty speeches to their host on his kind and charitable heart; and Roderick's neighbour lispt about the sweetness of romantic compassion and sentimental magnanimity.
— O say no more! cried Emilius indignantly: this is no good action; it is no action at all; it is nothing. When swallows and linnets feed on the crumbs that are thrown away from the waste of this meal, and carry them to their young in their nest, shall not I remember a poor brother, who needs my help? If I might follow my heart, ye would laugh and jeer at me, just as ye have laught and jeered at many others, who have gone forth into the wilderness that they might hear no more of this world and its generosity.
Everybody was silent; and Roderick, perceiving from his friend's glowing eyes how vehemently he was displeased, was afraid that in his present irritation he might forget himself still further, and tried to give the conversation a rapid turn on other subjects.
But Emilius was become restless and absent; his eyes wandered, more especially toward the upper gallery, where the servants who lived in the top story were engaged in a variety of occupations.
— Who is that ugly old woman? he at length askt, that is so busy up there, and is coming back again every moment in her grey cloak?
— She is one of my servants, said his bride; she is to overlook and manage my chambermaids and other girls.
— How can you endure to have anything so hideous perpetually at your elbow? replied Emilius.
— Let her alone, answered the young lady: God meant the ugly to live as well as the handsome; and she is such a good honest creature, she may be of great use to us.
On rising from table everybody gathered round the bridegroom, again wisht him joy, and urgently begged him to let them have a ball. The bride too said, breathing a gentle kiss on his forehead:
— You will not deny your wife's first request, my beloved; we have all been delighting in the hope of this. It is so long since I danced last; and you have never yet seen me dance. Have you no curiosity how I shall acquit myself in this new character? my mother tells me I look better than at any other time.
— I never saw you in such gay spirits before, said Emilius. I will not throw a damp over your mirth; do as you please: only don't let anybody ask me to make a laughing stock of myself by trying to cut clumsy capers.
— Oh, if you are a bad dancer, she answered laughing, you may feel quite safe; we shall all readily consent to your sitting still.
The bride then retired to put on her ball dress.
— She does not know, whispered Emilius to Roderick, as he withdrew, that there is a secret door by which I can get from the next room into hers: I will surprise her while she is dressing.
When Emilius had left them, and many of the ladies were also gone to make such changes in their attire as were requisite for the ball, Roderick took the young men aside and led the way to his own room.
— It is wearing toward evening, he said, and will soon be dark; so make haste all of you and mask yourselves, that we may render this night glorious in the annals of merriment and madness. Give your fancies free range in choosing your characters; the wilder and uglier the better. Try every combination of shaggy mane, and squinting eye, and mouth gaping like a volcano; pile mountains atop of your shoulders, or plump yourselves out into Falstaffs; and as a whet to your inventions I promise a kiss from the bride to the figure that would be the likeliest to make her miscarry. A wedding is such an out-of-the-way event in ones life; the bride and bridegroom are so suddenly plunged, by a sort of magic, head over heels into a new unaccustomed element, that it is impossible to throw too much madness and folly into this festival, in order to keep pace with the whirlpool that is bearing a brace of human beings from the state where they were two to the state where they become one, and that all things round about may be fitting accompaniments for the dizzy dream on the wings of which they are floating toward a new life. So let us rave away the night, making all sail before the breeze; and a fig for such as look twice on the dull sour faces that would bid you behave rationally and soberly.
— Don't be afraid, said the young officer; we have brought a large chest full of masks and mad carnival dresses from town with us, such as would make even you stare.
— But see here, returned Roderick, what a gem I have got from my tailor, who was on the point of cutting up this peerless treasure into strips. He had bought it of an old crone who must doubtless have worn it on gala-days, when she went to Lucifer's drawing room on the Blocksberg. Look at this scarlet bodice with its gold tassels and fringe, at this cap besmeared with the last fee the hag got from Beelzebub or his imps! it will give me a right worshipful air. To match these choice morsels I have this green velvet petticoat, with its saffron lining, and this mask which would melt even Medusa to a grin. Thus accoutred I mean to lead the chorus of anti-graces, myself their mother-queen, to the bedroom. Make the best speed you can, and we will then go in solemn procession to fetch the bride.
The bugles were still playing: the company were strolling about the garden, or sitting before the house. The sun had gone down behind thick murky clouds, and the country was lying in the grey dusk, when a parting gleam suddenly burst athwart the cloudy veil, and flooded every spot around, but above all the building, its galleries and pillars and wreaths of flowers, as it were with red blood.
At this moment the parents of the bride and the other visitors saw a train of the most grotesque figures move toward the upper corridor. Roderick led the way as the scarlet old woman, and was followed by humpbacks, bulging paunches, cumbrous wigs, Scaramouches, Punches, shrivelled Pantaloons, curtsying women embankt by enormous hoops, and overcanopied with a yard of horsehair, powder, and pomatum, and by every disgusting shape that can be imagined, as if a nightmair had been unrolling her stores. They jumpt, and twirled, and tottered, and stumbled, and straddled, and strutted, and swaggered along the gallery, and then vanisht behind one of the doors. But few of the beholders had been able to laugh, so utterly were they astounded by the strange sight.
Suddenly a piercing shriek burst from one of the rooms, and forth into the bloodred glow of the sunset rusht the pale bride, in a short white frock, about which wreaths of flowers were dangling, with her lovely bosom all naked, and her rich locks streaming through the air. As though mad, with rolling eyes and wrencht face, she darted along the gallery, and blinded by terrour could find neither door nor staircase; and immediately after dasht Emilius in chase of her, with the sparkling Turkish dagger in his high-uplifted hand.
Now she was at the end of the passage ... she could go no further ... he reacht her. His maskt friends and the grey old woman were running after him. But in his fury he had already pierced her bosom, and cut across her white neck; her blood spouted forth into the radiance of the setting sun.
The old woman had claspt her arms round him to tear him back; he struggled fiercely, hurled himself along with her over the railing, and they both fell almost lifeless at the feet of the relations who had been staring in dumb horrour at the bloody scene.
Above, and in the court, or hurrying down the steps or along the galleries, were seen the hideous masks, standing or running about, in various clusters, like fiends of hell.
Roderick took his dying friend in his arms. He had found him in his wife's room, playing with the dagger. She was almost drest when he entered. At the sight of the detested red bodice his memory had rekindled; the horrid vision of that night had risen up before his eyes; and gnashing his teeth he had darted after his trembling, flying bride, to avenge that murder and all those devilish doings.
The old woman, ere she died, confest the crime that had been perpetrated; and the gladness and mirth of the whole house were suddenly changed into sorrow and lamentation and dismay.