THE VEILED BRIDE.
By the Author of the “Dance of the Dead.”
The deed was done—Louis XVI. was no more! A veil of secret horror and awe had spread over all France; nay, over the whole of Europe. Tyranny had assumed the colour of Liberty, whose divine rays, smiling and roseate as the dawn of a May-day morning, had vanished and left in its place the bloody scarlet of the Jacobins. At length Robespierre fell, and a new order of things arose. With a fearful heart had I watched the course of events; ten years had I been absent from my country, and with joy, therefore, did I embrace the mission, however dangerous, with which the court of ——— honoured me.—I set out for Paris; I passed the Rhine; my way led through the village of Montremy. I had already learnt that my venerable friend, (its minister) who had been intrusted with my education, when I passed my happy youth in the charming valleys of the province,—but who, for the last twenty years, had fulfilled the duties of a servant of God in this place,—had escaped the horrors of the reign of terror; and that he still lived, beloved and respected, in the midst of his spiritual children. The Marquis of Mongomery, however, the lord of the manor, had fallen its victim, and the magnificent chateau had been destroyed. When I approached the village, the beauty of the valley, joined to the stillness and calm of the evening, induced me to alight, and to pursue the course of a small rivulet which led to the village. I ordered my carriage to wait for me at the inn, and proceeded leisurely on my way.
Since I had passed the Rhine, my eyes had continually met with scenes of destruction, which spoke loudly of the days of terror, for the all-softening hand of time had only then begun to heal the wounds of this unhappy country, and to draw a veil over the desolation of these scenes. However afflicting the sight, I had by degrees become accustomed to it, added to which, the expedition with which I travelled, did not allow me to take a close inspection of the surrounding objects. But here, in the deep solitude of nature, the effect of which was heightened by the calm of a summer’s evening, and where nothing met my view but some roofless huts, peeping through the trees; behind which towered the ruins of the chateau, huge and black, like a burnt out volcano; at the sight of these horrors, in the midst of a scenery glowing in all the beauty and richness of nature, the mercy of God and the barbarity of man formed too striking a contrast, not to awaken feelings of a gloomy and melancholy nature. Lost in my reveries, I scarcely perceived that I had taken a small, but little trodden path, which led through meadows and underwood, leaving the village to the right. After walking for some time, I found myself shut in by hedges of considerable height, and of a regular cut. The place had all the appearance of a complete wilderness; but nevertheless bore witness that the hand of man had once been busy there. The grass had grown to such a height as to impede the step, and at every advance I made, the birds flew fluttering from out their quiet nests; here and there were recesses in the hedges, and occasionally a broken statue was seen lying on the ground; and in other places, a fragment was observed still standing on its pedestal. All this bespoke a deserted garden in the old French style, and, indeed, I perceived the chateau at a small distance. The hedges I walked between formed narrow alleys, open spaces, and serpentine walks. There was something in all this more dreadful than the mere solitude of a wilderness. Where Nature reigns alone in her native majesty, she is ever smiling, grand, or soothing; but where she triumphs over the works of men, her aspect is fearful and appalling; the genius of humanity veils her face and flies, while men are lost in awful contemplation of their own transient condition.—I approached the ruined edifice; the fire had destroyed only a small portion of the immense building; it still frowned in gloomy grandeur—magnificent even in ruins. A small gate led me to a kind of court-yard: bushes obstructed my path, and it was not without some difficulty I gained an entrance into the chateau. After forcing my way over different heaps of ashes and rubbish, I at length found myself in a large apartment, which led into several others. All wore the strong marks of a splendour, which had been effaced more by the rude hand of force and rapine, than by the slowly destroying hand of time. Torn arras, broken windows, fragments of costly furniture, and the architectural ornaments, were the gloomy, but powerful and eloquent, interpreters of the past. At length I reached a small chapel, where the broken altar and mutilated statues spoke the same language. I was about to retire, when leaning against the wall, at the back of the altar, to take another view of the building, a door suddenly opened behind me. I started, turned round, and saw an aperture which led into a low, dark vaulted passage. It was evident I had unconsciously touched and opened a hidden spring in the wall. Curiosity urged me to enter. I proceeded slowly, and soon found myself in a kind of vaulted hall of considerable extent. It was some time before I became so far accustomed to the dim twilight of the scene, as to enable me to discern the surrounding objects. The atmosphere was not oppressive as I had expected to find it; a strong current of air caused me to direct my attention towards the roof, when I perceived that the only light of the hall came through a cupola, the windows of which were broken, and accounted for the fresh stream of air which flowed into the closed vault. The veil of darkness had gradually dissolved before my eyes, and I remarked that the walls were ornamented with gloomy images and emblems of death. Fronting the door stood, upon a high pedestal in a niche, a statue representing a veiled female figure. On the pedestal was the simple inscription:
While I stood contemplating the statue, which appeared of good workmanship, and was wondering at the singularity of placing a veiled figure as a monumental effigy, a ray of the parting sun glanced through the cupola and fell at my feet. It enabled me to see that I was standing upon a plate of metal covered with inscriptions. I stooped down, and read as follows: CLARA MONGOMERY, OF THE HOUSE OF LIMEUIL, BORN 1543, DIED 1559. Under this inscription were several others in smaller letters, and engraved by different hands. I attempted to decipher them, expecting to find some of those common-place remarks, by which insignificant travellers vainly hope to commemorate themselves. But what was my astonishment when I read these words: “Was seen the 20th of July, 1589; was observed the 14th of May, 1610;” several others followed, the last of which was: “Appeared the 21st of January, 1793.”—I remained for a considerable time lost in wonder and meditation upon the singularity of the object before me, when the shades of evening, which were rapidly closing around me, hastened my departure. I withdrew, and closing the secret door behind me, I crossed the chapel, and re-entered the apartments. When I had proceeded for some minutes, I found myself in a spacious hall leading to what had evidently been the grand avenue of the garden; at its extremity appeared the village, dimly seen through the twilight. It now first occurred to me that I must have taken another direction on quitting the chapel; but thinking this the nearest way, I proceeded at a quick rate, impelled by the desire to embrace my venerable tutor. As the village lay before me, I easily, by clearing a few hedges and ditches, succeeded in reaching it. On my entrance I observed different of villagers, who appeared to be earnestly engaged in some interesting subject: they were whispering to each other, and seemed pensive and afflicted. I approached an elderly man, who was standing alone, and inquired for the residence of the minister. The man was evidently labouring under deep afflictions; but he replied in a mild and collected manner, pointing out my nearest way, and then added, “If you walk on slowly, Sir, you will just see him returned from a burial—the burial of my poor niece.” The tone of suppressed grief, with which these last words were uttered, and the tear glistening in the old man’s eyes, greatly moved me: I made some inquiry after his niece and her death, and whilst the honest peasant replied to my questions, several others collected around us. The substance of his answer was, that Rosa, his niece, a lovely and lively girl of seventeen, had two days since cheerfully joined in the evening’s dance of the villagers under the trees; that she had quitted them for an instant, and stolen into the neighbouring thicket, in order to observe her lover secretly, when she was suddenly heard to utter a piercing shriek: they all ran to the spot, and found the poor girl stretched upon the ground, without any sign of life, and with her features dreadfully distorted by the marks of convulsive terror. “They say,” added the villager, “that the heat and the exertion of dancing had caused an apoplectic fit.”—”They may say what they please,” interrupted a young girl, “but I am convinced she was in perfect health. I have no doubt but she saw the WHITE.” “Don’t talk of that, my daughter, you must not, indeed,” said the old man, interrupting her. “Go, Lisette, conduct this gentleman to our good minister.”—I wished to have spoken somewhat longer with him, but it was clear he sought to break off the discourse. The other peasants seemed to hold him in great respect; they dispersed; he wished me a good night, and turned away. I followed my pretty conductress, who was waiting for me. I attempted to resume my questions about the death of her young friend, but was silenced by her naïve answer: “You heard, Sir, that my father commanded my silence on this subject, but whatever else I know, I will tell you with all my heart.” I inquired after my old friend. “This is his garden,” answered she, opening the gate, “and there he sits in his bower.” Before I could answer a word, my fair guide dropped me a courtesy, and disappeared among the bushes. At my first setting out upon my journey, I had strongly anticipated the pleasure of seeing my friend again; but now that I was near him, I found myself troubled and agitated. What I had seen in the vault of the ruined chateau,—what I had heard relating to the mysterious death of the young girl, so strongly occupied my mind, and absorbed all my faculties, that when I approached the bower, where the minister reposed, I scarcely recognized him. At the time I quitted him, he was an elderly, but hale and vigorous man; and I now beheld a venerable face of four score. When I entered the bower, the old gentleman rose to meet me. He took off his cap—his silver hair played in the evening breeze, and his clear blue eye gave me a friendly welcome: it was his old, well remembered, loving look. I took his hand and said, “Do you not know me?” He looked at me, shook his head, and pleaded old age as an excuse for his want of memory. “Dear Clairval,” said I again, “do you not even know my voice?” There passed a ray of joy over the old man’s face; with both his hands he parted my hair from forehead, and gazed earnestly in my eyes:—“Count Ferdinand! my dear, dear son!” exclaimed he, and sunk upon my breast.—After a quarter of an hour’s conversation, every trace, which time and care had impressed on his face, appeared to have vanished; he became animated by my presence, and I was again young in my memory. There were so many things to be inquired after, that time ran quickly away; and so strongly did the past occupy our minds, that the present was lost entirely.—At length, when we were about retiring to partake of a slight repast, he said, “I thank God doubly for having sent you to-day—for it has been a sad and heavy one, and I feel I shall not see many more. I have lost one child, and heaven blesses me with the sight of another before I close these eyes for ever.”—This brought me, of course, upon the mysterious manner of the death of the young girl, and upon my visit to the vault.—“How strange!” replied he, “you have then been at the vault! For many years not a human being has been there except myself. The peasants avoid that part of the gardens—and the spring in the wall is a secret.—Indeed,” added he, after a pause, “there is a mystery about the death of my poor Rosa! I loved her as my daughter,—she was innocent and beautiful, like Eve before her fall. Poor, poor girl! Fright was the cause of her death;—she had seen the WHITE LADY.”—“The white Lady!” exclaimed I. “Is it possible that I can hear such a thing from your mouth? I heard something of that kind from the peasants, but I treated it as a mere superstition; and now I hear you gravely repeating the very same thing!” He smiled and said, “God is a mystery, and his works are not less so. Let this suffice you. Philosophy kindles her torch only to show us that we are really in darkness. The White Lady does appear. However, I strictly forbade the peasantry to talk about it, as it is a subject not fit for them.—Do you recollect the letter I wrote you ten years ago, in which I wished you joy on your quitting France?” “Certainly I do!” interrupted I, with vivacity; “I have often been astonished—more than astonished, in recollecting how clearly you unfolded the abyss of time before my eyes: all that was dark when I received your letter, became afterwards but too clear.” “What,” observed he again, “if this White Lady, as people call her, and my knowledge of the future were connected? You look astonished and doubtful: but so it is. Did you not remark the dates of the inscriptions at the foot of the veiled figure in the vault?” “I recollect the first two and the last,” said I, “and reflecting upon them, I was not a little struck to find that they marked the days of the death of Henry III., Henry IV., and Louis XVI. But what of this? The veiled figure”——“Is the white Lady!” interrupted my aged friend. “Your curiosity shall be satisfied. But let us take our supper,—we will speak of this hereafter.” We entered the house and sat down to table. After a short pause he began of his own accord. “The sudden death of my dear Rosa, has extinguished the last lingering spark of life. I shall not see you again, although you will return in a few weeks. Your unexpected presence at this very juncture, and your extraordinary visit to the secret vault, seem an admonition of Providence, which I shall obey. I promised you an explanation of this mystery: you shall have it. It is contained in a packet of papers, which I will place in your hands, and which you are at liberty to copy. I found these papers in the family archives of the chateau, in the third year of my residence here. The existence of these records, as well as that of the vault, were unknown, even to the lords of the manor, till within this century. The Marquis of Mongomery is dead; and, before I die, I think it my duty to send these papers to the present Count of Limeuil.—I request a favour at your hands. I have some time since prepared a letter to the Count, and only waited for an opportunity to send it, together with the papers. He lives at a short distance from Paris; take these papers with you, and send them to him immediately after your arrival in the capital. However, do not go to see him,” added he smiling; “he belongs to a party, whose politics are strongly opposite to those of your court.” He rose at these words, went out of the room, and returned shortly after with the packet. One of the papers was inscribed: CLARA MONGOMERY, THE VEILED BRIDE. The others were sealed, and directed to Count Limeuil. “After you have read this,” said he, “and used your discretion, with respect to copying it, you will enclose the whole in a sheet of paper, and forward the packet to the Count. I will order paper to be placed in your room; and a family seal of the Mongomerys, which is in my possession, will serve you to seal the packet.” “But why,” inquired I, “is this wonderful being represented veiled? Were her features not deemed worthy of being known to posterity? and if deemed unworthy, why represent her at all?” “You will not find an answer to your question in the papers,” replied he; “but a tradition prevails, that it was known during her lifetime, that she would wander the earth after her death; and that, if an image of her was to be placed over her tomb, she would appear in the same shape: her countenance was deemed to be fatal to the beholder, and on this account she was represented veiled—and,” added he, “it is under this form that she really appears.” “Indeed!” exclaimed I, while a feeling of awe thrilled through my whole frame. “Yes, my son,” replied he, “it is even so: twice have these eyes of mine beheld the veiled Lady.—As to the two last inscriptions which you read, they were engraved by my own hand.” she ever speak?” inquired I. “No;” said he, “she was never known to speak, and I did not address her. She does not appear on common occasions; and her appearance rarely fails to announce the death of a king of France.” My curiosity was intensely excited. The moment of our bidding good night having arrived, my old friend embraced me with all the tenderness of a parent, and gave me his blessing. There was a solemnity in his manner, and yet a heavenly smile played on his countenance—I never shall forget his look at that moment.
On retiring to my room, I found a writing-desk, paper, and a large family seal on the table, just as my old friend had told me. I seated myself, opened the parcel inscribed CLARA MONGOMERY, and began to read. I was greatly surprised, and somewhat disappointed, to find that these papers consisted of the letters of a young lady of the court of Henry the Second. I thought there must have been some mistake respecting the papers, and was on the point of laying them aside, when I reflected that the name of Limeuil, in the first letter, could not possibly be a mistake. I therefore resumed my reading; and my interest and astonishment increased, when I came to those points which had enabled my friend to take such an insight into the future. I availed myself of the permission I had received, and began to copy the letters; but being obliged to set out again next morning, and finding that I should be straitened in time, I contented myself with taking extracts, and copied only those letters which appeared indispensable, in order to connect the main facts.
The following are copies of the letters alluded to, as containing the sequel of the foregoing story.
CLARA TO MADAME DE LIMEUIL.
My dearest Mother,
I am in the greatest agitation, and scarcely able to write; I will, however, endeavour to compose myself; and indeed, what better means of regaining my wonted peace of mind can I seek, than writing to thee, tenderest of parents?
I promised in my last letter to give you an account of that celebrated beauty, the consort of our young Dauphin, Mary Queen of Scots; but how attempt to describe her charms, when all our famous poets, even Ronsard and Jodelle, confess their incapacity to do them justice; and indeed, at this moment of reconciliation, after having been on the brink of losing her friendship for ever, at this moment, when I still behold the smile of forgiveness playing round her lips, I feel less capable than ever of such a task: however, I must relate to you all that has lately occurred.
The fair Queen Mary, who treats me with all the friendship of a relative, and even calls me her little sister, frequently comes to pay me a visit, and is accustomed, whenever she has occasion to appear in some new or foreign costume, to come and dress in my apartment, in order to have my opinion upon it. Among the crowd of admirers who gather round the royal flower of Scotland, is a certain nobleman of the name of Chastelard; an infatuated, foppish creature, who on all occasions pursues and annoys her with the expressions of his ridiculous passion. The fair Dauphiness, affable to all, speaks now and then to him, and occasionally condescends to accept his poetical homage, although in her heart she despises and detests him. I said his poetical homage, though it is well known that the verses are purchased by him from the pen of Ronsard. As he observed that the Dauphiness distinguished me by her friendship above all the young ladies of the court, he cultivated my acquaintance, and at last ventured to solicit me to intercede in his behalf with my royal friend. You may well suppose that I gave him a distinct denial, but the coxcomb carried his presumption so far, that on one occasion, when I accompanied the fair Mary to one of the Queen’s private circles, where we both went attired in the Scottish garb, he introduced himself secretly in a closet, and at the very moment when, on our return, we had begun to take off our dresses, he stepped forward, and throwing himself at the feet of the Queen, declared his passion. She sternly commanded him to retire instantly. How beautiful did she appear in this moment of offended majesty!—Frightened to death, and confused as I was, I scarcely could convince her of my innocence, for she insisted that he could not possibly have been introduced without my knowledge. I was most sensibly hurt at her suspicion, and at the loss of her friendship; but the worst was yet to come. The following day there was to be a small tournament. As the affair between the Queen of Scots and Chastelard had become known, and been generally talked of, the latter was vile enough to pretend, that his visit had been intended to me. The consequence was, that when I appeared by the side of Queen Catherine, I remarked a general whispering, and observed that all eyes were upon me. I thought I should have died with shame, and the more so, as the Dauphiness did not appear to notice me. At the close of the tournament, Chastelard approached me with a smile of confidence, but I publicly turned my back upon him; upon this he muttered something about forgetfulness and former favours, whereupon I turned round, and unable to restrain my indignation, called him a liar, and left him. In a forced passion, and in a shrill tone, I heard him exclaim—“My lady, this demands satisfaction!” At this moment the young Count Mongomery approached me, and begged me to leave this satisfaction to him. My heart was full, I was unable to utter a single syllable in reply, and the Count took my silence for consent. “Mount and break a lance with me, Chastelard!” cried he leaping into his saddle, and forcing the dastard to do the same. I saw that the Queen was about to interpose, but it was too late, for Chastelard, struck by the irresistible lance of the young Count, lay already stretched on the sand. There was a general burst of applause. The Queen kissed my forehead, and the fair Mary approached and embraced me tenderly, asking my pardon for the suspicion she had entertained, and in such touching expressions that I could not restrain my tears. The whispers of the crowd were finished; nothing was now visible but an expression of universal contempt against Chastelard, and the King gave orders that he should instantly quit the court.
The following evening there was a private assembly at the Queen’s; my attendance could not be dispensed with. Nay, you may well smile, my dear Mother, and so do I too; but your little Clara, with all her simplicity, is now the decided favourite of the two most distinguished queens in Christendom; of Catherine de Medicis, the proud and mighty Queen of France; and of the lovely Sovereign of Scotland. You often praised the beauties of the court of Francis the First; but you should see an assembly of the Queen’s to be in perfect raptures. The royal consort herself still commands admiration; but what shall I say of that soft, melancholy beauty, the Princess Elizabeth, once happy in being betrothed to the heir of Spain, Don Carlos; but now condemned to be the spouse of his father, the gloomy Philip the Second. There is an ineffable melancholy in her dark eyes; and it is remarked, that she hardly ever speaks since the sad change in her fate. At her side brightens in a charming contrast, that wonderful child, her sister, Marguerite de Valois, all spirit, all splendour; but there is something in her burning eye, which I almost fear, speaking, as it does, of a genius of an awful kind. Then there are the famous beauties Mademoiselle de Tournon, and Maria Princess of Nevers, and many more—all surrounded by the flower of our young nobility, who do not yield to them in beauty and accomplishments, really present a most splendid spectacle. But all—all of them must yield to the lovely Mary Stuart. You should see her when, in her Scottish attire, she sings the old ballads of her country, accompanying herself on the lute; or when she recites some of her latest poetical effusions; you are unable to tell whether it is the sweetness of her voice, or the graces by which she is encircled, which impart to her beauty such an inexpressible charm; or if it is this wonderful beauty, which spreads such a spell round her accomplishments. The Dauphin, her husband, a tender and delicate youth, still manifests all the fervour of a lover: it would seem as if possession did but augment the charm that attracted him. The back-ground of this splendid picture, and which certainly heightens its lustre, is formed by the wits and the learned, who shine in these assemblies. There are seen philosophers, poets, artists, and even magicians and astrologers. The latter are quite in the fashion. The Queen keeps one in her service, who is called Roger. When I first saw him, he pretended to read on my brow, that I should live through many centuries. Can there be a better proof, my dear Mother, what a foolish science this is? They will never bring me to believe a word of all they say. But this Roger did not enjoy so high a reputation as another magician, of whom I shall speak immediately; and Roger’s fate was decided in the very assembly which I am now describing. This other magician is the far-famed Bishop Gauric, who is said to be a perfect adept in the most occult sciences, and to have the command of all the spirits. Love of study induced him to renounce his bishopric; and it was but lately that he came to court, under the simple name of Master Lucas, where, to the no small vexation of Roger, he is treated by the Queen with great respect. He is a venerable looking old man; small in his figure, but remarkable for the power of his eye, which forms a singular contrast with the general mildness of his manner. I am very fond of him, perhaps from his partiality to me, for it has been remarked, that I am the only young lady at the court, whom he chooses to honour by his conversation. Roger, evidently jealous of this introduction of a rival, talked a great deal of magic, while Master Lucas maintained a respectful silence. The Queen paid no attention to Roger, but desired Master Lucas to cast the nativity of the young Queen Mary. He declined with modesty; but Roger immediately stepped forward, saying he would show the Dauphiness all her future life in a magic mirror, which he began to arrange. Whilst he was thus engaged, Master Lucas approached the Dauphiness, who stood next to me. He spoke to us, and taking for a moment, as if by chance, her hand, he gazed at it intently for an instant, but without making any remark; indeed, it was done so instantaneously, that I scarcely think the Dauphiness herself noticed it. In the meantime Roger had arranged his mirror, and invited the Queen of Scots to look at the images of her future life; but Master Lucas preventing her, inquired, “Do you yourself know, Master Roger, what her Majesty is to see?” “No!” replied the other disdainfully, “do you consider me an impostor?” “Not an impostor;” answered Master Lucas, “but you are imprudent!”—On hearing this, no one ventured to look into the mirror, fearing some gloomy aspect. Roger was highly offended, and requested Master Lucas to look himself into the glass. “Willingly,” replied the latter, “but first of all, you would do well to look into it yourself, for you will scarcely have time to do so.” Every one now turned eagerly to the magical glass, and there appeared Roger, surrounded by officers, who were leading him away as a prisoner; a loud burst of laughter followed. And indeed, before Roger had time to express his indignation, there entered a lieutenant of the King’s bodyguard, who, with many excuses to the Queen, presented the order to arrest Roger, who was accused of high treason, on account of magical attempts against the life of his Majesty. The Queen was greatly agitated; the assembly dispersed; but the fame of Master Lucas increased prodigiously.
Now, my dear Mother, before I close this long epistle, I must make a confession to you. I really do not know where to find words to do it; but it is something which I must not conceal, and is the true cause for the agitation in which I began this letter. Dear Mother, I really believe I am in love; or rather I feel it with the utmost certainty; for if what I feel is not love, then I do not know, and hope never to know, what love is. And now, as the secret is out, I can freely speak to thee, my good Mother, my best friend. The young Count Mongomery, who so bravely vindicated my honour, has at once triumphed over my enemy and over my heart. He declared his love that very evening, and I—directed him to you, my dearest Mother. He is the son of the famous Chevalier Delorge, who once, at a combat of wild beasts, picked up a glove, which his lady had dropped between a lion and a tiger; and if you look at him, you will say, that he will prove no less valiant than his father. But wherefore talk of him, when he is himself the bearer of this letter? You will see him, hear him, and I feel sure that he will return with your consent.
CLARA TO THE SAME.
O, how much do I repent that I sent Mongomery away, he who alone could afford me protection! Ah! my dear Mother, I often used to smile at what I imagined the visionary dangers of the court, thinking that its intrigues could involve only politicians or coquettes: but how much was I mistaken! how little did I think that I should myself be in danger, and be obliged to have recourse to dissimulation!
I have always been astonished at the assurances of friendship which I received from Queen Catherine, a woman incapable of soft emotions or virtuous feelings. At length the secret is disclosed; and, shuddering, I look into the abyss which, covered with flowers, yawns at my feet. For some time past, I have observed that the King became very marked in his attentions towards me, which I at first mistook for common politeness. Judge, then, how much I was surprized and offended, when, the day before yesterday, being alone with the Queen, she left me for some moments, and the King, suddenly entering, made me a most passionate—a most dishonourable declaration of love. I replied as my feelings dictated, and he departed expressing his hopes of a speedy alteration in my sentiments. He was scarcely gone, the Queen re-entered. It might naturally be supposed, that she, who owes me protection, would at such a moment have been more than ready to afford it me. Fool that I was! After having heard my tale, she surveyed me with a look of mingled pity and anger, and said, “I knew it: but I did not think you to be such a child as to throw away your own happiness!” I burst into a flood of tears, and the Queen left me. I immediately retired to my beloved Queen Mary, who is the confident of my love. She was by no means surprized at what I told her; and, with heavenly kindness, tried to calm my agitation, and then unfolded to me the whole intrigue. The Queen Catherine, jealous of the beauty and influence of the celebrated Diana de Poitiers—Valentinois, the King’s mistress, had long wished to substitute another favourite in her place, who being a creature of her own, would not counteract her influence. The passion for me, which the Queen had observed rising in her consort’s breast, was a happy circumstance, of which the wary Queen did not fail to profit, and therefore it was herself who facilitated the interview. The Dauphiness now, of all things, commended me to dissemble and to be secret, “for,” observed she, “your love to Mongomery has already transpired, and in all probability has hastened the declaration of the King. The best course for you to pursue, in order to escape the dangers that threaten you, will be to marry Mongomery secretly the moment he returns, and then to rejoin your mother, as you have so often expressed a wish to do.” I, myself, think this to be the only resource left us. Would to God, Mongomery were here! In the evening, at the Queen’s, I dissembled as well as I could: she herself was all smiles, and more friendly than ever: she called me her good, her reasonable child. I did not see the King. Heaven protect us! I wish all was over, and that Mongomery and myself were quietly settled with you at your chateau!
CLARA TO THE SAME.
How much do I thank you, my dear Mother, for your blessing on our union. Mongomery is quite in raptures with you, and says, had it not been for the daughter, he should most assuredly have fallen in love with the mother. He is entirely of the opinion of the good Queen Mary. In a few days, the festivity to celebrate the nuptials of the unhappy Princess Elizabeth will begin. We have fixed our marriage for the same period. I hope, in the midst of the bustle, that we shall better escape observation. Heaven grant, that the gloomy clouds which gather over the fatal nuptials of this amiable and devoted princess may bode nothing sinister to thy poor Clara.
CLARA TO THE SAME.
Oh, Mother! where shall I find words to describe the terrible scene I witnessed! The recollection makes my hair stand on end; all my limbs tremble with fear; and such a chill is at my heart, that I fear I shall not be able to give you a full account. I will therefore be brief.
Since, according to the better advice of my more experienced friends, I did not appear decidedly to repulse the King, I grew more and more into favour with the Queen Catherine, I was scarcely permitted to quit her for a few hours in the day. I must now tell you, that since the late proof of Master Lucas’s art, and Roger’s arrest, the Queen has betrayed a strange degree of agitation and restlessness of mind. Yesterday evening, at a late hour, she sent for me. I found her alone, in her closet. I could perceive that she had something to communicate, but felt a struggle in so doing. At length, she treated the matter jestingly, and told me, that Master Lucas had promised her, for that night, a magic sight, and that, as she did not like to remain alone with him, I should stay in the closet, where, if I chose, I might observe all the apparitions through the curtains. I could not well refuse: I was myself indeed anxious to see, for once, something of that kind, having often heard wonderful accounts of the art. The closet, in which we were, was divided from the next apartment, a large saloon, by a curtain. From time to time, we heard a singular noise proceeding from the saloon. The Queen told me, that Master Lucas was there engaged in mystical preparations. At length, a clock struck seven times. The Queen said, this was the sign by which she was called. She then left me, entering the magic apartment, whilst I remained behind the curtain, from whence I could distinctly hear and see every thing that passed.
Master Lucas repeatedly expressed his wish that the Queen would desist from her purpose; he represented to her, that possibly an apparition might meet her eyes, which would shake her mind too violently. But she obstinately persisted in her design; and it was now, for the first time, I learned that she had asked to see the fate of France and her kings.
After a good deal of discussion, Master Lucas at length promised to satisfy her.—“You will see,” said he, “the line of the kings as they are to ascend the throne in succession, the longer or shorter stay of the apparitions marking the longer or shorter period of their reign. If they disappear whilst seated on the throne, this will be the sign of a natural death; but if they fall from it, it will indicate a violent end.”
Master Lucas now began his incantation. He incensed the place; a dense cloud of perfumed vapour filled the saloon, and was dissipated by degrees. I saw, in the back-ground, the royal throne, adorned with armories and the crown, but pale and dim as a faint reflexion in the water. A king was sitting upon the throne; but scarcely had I recognized in him the shape of Henry II., our present sovereign, when he fell with a fearful crash. I shuddered, but the Queen sustained this horrible sight with a composure which astonished me, although I knew the firmness of her character.
Immediately after this apparition, came a figure like the Dauphin: he seated himself on the throne, but disappeared very shortly. Instantly, a child appeared, resembling Prince Charles, took his place on the royal seat, staying rather longer than the former apparitions, and then disappeared. A crowned youth now ascended the throne, and I thought I recognized in his countenance the features of Henry, the younger prince. He sat for some time; a crash was then heard, like the fall of a thunderbolt, and the apparition fell suddenly from the throne.
The Queen now seemed violently agitated, and hid her face with her hands. The Master made a sign, and all vanished in an instant. Would you believe it, dear Mother, appalling as the spectacle had been, the Queen had not yet seen enough of horrors: she pressed the fearful man to renew his incantation, for she was determined to see the further destiny of the empire and its kings.
Master Lucas consented, and the throne appeared anew. A young handsome man, having likewise a crown on his head, approached with hasty steps to the throne; but he stopped for some time upon the ascent, before he took his seat. The Queen imagined she recognized in him young Henry of Navarre, whom she mortally hates, on account of his mother, for she exclaimed—“What! little Bearn on my throne?” Master Lucas instantly flew towards her, and conjured her, as she valued her life, not to utter a syllable. He appeared to have no small difficulty in resuming his operations, for the whole magic image trembled like an object reflected in troubled water. When, after many and powerful spells, he had again succeeded in restoring every thing to its former state, I saw the King again sitting placidly upon his throne. But his stay was not of very long duration, and he fell with a noise resembling thunder.
Now appeared three kings, one after the other, upon the throne, which became brighter and brighter; they sat each of them longer, much longer, than the former, and disappeared in a sitting posture. But when a fourth king had ascended the throne, Master Lucas again caused the apparition to disappear, and absolutely refused to show any thing more of the future. The Queen solicited in vain, and at length threatened him with her own and the King’s displeasure. Master Lucas now grew wroth, and exclaimed—“Since you will not remain in peace, gaze on—gaze on! till horror freezes your heart,—terror palsies your limbs; and may you not rest till all is fulfilled that you have seen!” His aspect now grew so terrible and appalling, that I feared I should have swooned away on the spot, and I fain would have fled from that scene of horror, had not the fear of detection retained me. The Queen must be endued with nerves of steel, for she calmly said, she was prepared for the worst, knowing that the spirits had no power over her. She persisted with more vehemence than before, till at length Master Lucas was again prevailed upon to renew the magic rites. The throne again appeared, with the king who had last ascended it. He sat quietly for a short time; then a peal of distant thunder burst over the throne, and became louder and louder: at length, the king rose, and—oh, Mother, how can I describe the horrible scene!—a frightful noise, more fearful than all the former, was heard; the sceptre and the crown were dashed to the earth; and immediately afterwards, the whole throne was shattered into pieces. The king was still standing on the ruins; but, a few moments after, he fell amidst a most tremendous crash. Monsters now began to rise, of more hideous shapes than any I had ever beheld embodied by the painter’s imagination in pictures of hell. These monsters combated with each other upon the ruins of the throne, which were soon dyed with blood; they tore one another in pieces, while shrieks of horror and yells of despair arose around. At length, a chair was seen to arise in the midst of this chaos, and a man, clad in shining arms, and invested with all the attributes of a hero, sat thereon. Ere long, the chair became transformed into a throne, far more magnificent than the former; its supporters were sceptres intertwined, and it was based upon crowns.
More I could not see; for the Queen became so terrified by the appalling scene before her, that her nerves of iron at length gave way, and she fell senseless to the ground. I hastened to assist her; but Master Lucas withheld me by force, exclaiming—“Lady, you are a dead woman, if you venture a single step forward!” At the same time I felt as if surrounded by flames—the air was fire! In deadly fear I hastened into the closet; and it was not until a long time afterwards that I, by the assistance of the Queen and Master Lucas, recovered my senses.
The Queen endeavoured to cheer my spirits, and tried to persuade me that all had been but an optical illusion; but Master Lucas, with solemnity, remained silent, and only from time to time cast a look at me full of the deepest grief and melancholy. I have felt myself very ill ever since; last night my sleep was broken by wild and feverish dreams, and my imagination tormented by the most hideous phantasms. Methought that the threat pronounced by Master Lucas against the Queen, that she should live to be a witness of all the events pictured in the magical glass, had alighted upon myself; and that I was doomed to find no rest in the grave, until every thing was accomplished.—I am better to-day, but still very faint; however, I must make an effort, for the Queen sends unceasingly to inquire about me, and even wrote me a note, wherein she assures me, she could not be tranquil before she had beheld me again healthy and cheerful. Besides, to-morrow is the great tournament, in honour of the nuptials of the Princess Elizabeth; and the day after unites me for ever to my beloved Mongomery. A few hours of sleep will, I hope, completely restore me.—I forgot to mention, that I promised, to Master Lucas and the Queen, strictly to keep the secret about the magical scene. I shall keep my promise;—but with you, my dearest Mother, I never had, nor shall I ever have, a secret. In fact, how could I have kept concealed from you something that so strongly moved me? and besides, I know your secresy.
CLARA TO THE SAME.
Dearest Mother,—You will receive these lines by an express. One horror follows close upon another. In dreadful and rapid succession, the prognostics which I detailed to you begin to be fulfilled. The King is dead! Thy poor Clara and her Mongomery must fly, in order to escape the vengeance which perhaps even now impends over its victims. To thy maternal bosom shall we fly for refuge.
MONGOMERY TO CLARA.
My Beloved,—I have time but for two words. The King, before he died, declared my innocence, pardoned me, and acquitted me of all responsibility. And, Clara, indeed I am innocent. But still we are in danger; you equally with myself. You appear to be privy to some secret of the Queen’s: that is enough.—This night, a page will bring you a dress, in which you will disguise yourself; therefore, do you and your faithful Cecily arrange every thing accordingly, and be prepared to follow the page, who will conduct you by a secret and secure path to a chapel, where a holy priest will consecrate our union; and then, away for ever to the asylum of our love!
CLARA TO MADAME DE LIMEUIL.
My dearest Mother,—I am still here. I send this by another express, in case the first should not have reached you in time. I am still here; but this evening will see me united for ever to Mongomery, and then we shall depart from this place without delay. I shall now endeavour to give you a short account of the last dreadful event.
A little before the tournament, two ladies and myself were waiting for the Queen in the antechamber, when the King entered. He loaded me with compliments, and seized a favourable moment of again whispering his passion in my ear. How he came to misinterpret one of my answers, I know not, but, forgetful of the place where he was, he seized me in his arms, and detaching a knot of ribbon from my bosom, imprinted a kiss on my forehead. At this moment Mongomery entered; he coloured highly, but had self-possession enough to pass with a slight bow. The King, in this moment of excitement, called after him:—“Mongomery, the world says that you are in love with the fair Limeuil!”—“She is my betrothed,” answered he with affected coolness. “Well,” said the King, “in that case I owe you satisfaction, and let this knot of ribbon serve for my gauntlet.” With these words he attached it to his helmet. Alarmed at his manner, I whispered into Mongomery’s ear, “There is no resource, let us instantly fly hence!”—
In the midst of the tournament the King challenged Mongomery, and on passing me, he whispered: “You are the reward, fair Clara!” Before my agitation permitted a reply, he was near Mongomery. The latter refused repeatedly to enter the list. The Queen sent the Duke of Savoy, supplicating the King to desist; but he remained obstinate, and Mongomery was compelled to comply. At the first shock, the King’s lance passed close to Mongomery’s helmet, at the second, a part of the crest was carried away. I was in deadly fear, for it was evident that the King aimed at Mongomery’s head, who both times had kept his lance sunk. The King seemed offended at this, and muttered some words, which I could not hear. Upon this they rushed wildly against each other; Mongomery’s lance struck the King upon the chest with such violence, that it was shivered into splinters, and the King bloody and fainting, dropped from the saddle. A splinter of Mongomery’s lance had pierced his eye and entered his head. Of what happened after this, I was altogether unconscious: my senses swam, and when I returned to myself I was lying on a couch in my own apartment.
I have just received a suit of male attire from Mongomery, in order to facilitate our escape. The night is dark: when you receive this, your Clara will perhaps be already in your vicinity.
CECILY TO MADAME DE LIMEUIL.
Madam—It is my painful duty to communicate to you the more minute circumstances of an event, which has already filled your maternal heart with inflexible grief.
You know from your daughter’s last letter how all things were arranged for her flight with Count Mongomery. In the dead of night we followed the page out of town without experiencing any molestation. The Lady Clara was disguised in male attire, and I had so muffled up my features as to escape recognition. Near the chapel, concealed behind a hedge, waited the carriage. The Count met us at the door; a priest was in readiness, and in a few minutes the ceremony was concluded. The young pair quitted the chapel full of the most brilliant hopes: little did they dream of the fate which awaited them. The Count stepped a little forward to look for the carriage, and his young bride, who now thought all danger past, embraced me with all the enthusiasm of joy and confidence. At this moment the report of a gun was heard, a ball passed hissing near me; a second followed, and the Countess sank to the ground. Quick as lightning Mongomery flew to the spot, and had sufficient self-possession to dispatch his people in search of the murderers; but they had vanished, and no trace of them could be discovered. Without doubt one of the balls had been destined for the Count, and the other for Clara. Deceived by Clara’s disguise the murderers had doubtless mistaken her for her consort, and myself for the Countess. Clara recovered but for a few seconds; she took the hand of the despairing Mongomery. “If ever you have loved me, said she, swear to fulfil what I request with my dying breath.” He solemnly pledged his word. “I thank you,” said she, “and shall now die content. What I demand of you, is to seek no vengeance, but instantly to fly!” As she faintly breathed forth these last words, she sank into his arms, and her gentle spirit fled to a better world.
No words can paint the agony of Mongomery’s mind, but I aroused him from the stupor of grief, by urging him to fulfil his pledge. In melancholy silence we conveyed the body to a neighbouring convent; I undertook the care of Clara’s interment, and then I prevailed upon him to fly.
As for myself, Madam, I am determined never again to quit this abode of peace, where, totally given up to religious meditation, I shall pray to heaven to grant you its divine consolation as a balm to your affliction, and never, never shall I cease to pray for the peace of the soul of my sweet departed friend.
In the archives of Chateau Mongomery, it is stated, that in the year 1559 a stranger, who called himself Master Lucas, arrived there, and that under his direction a vault was prepared to receive the body of an illustrious lady, whose veiled statue was placed over her tomb. The body, which previously had been buried in a distant convent, arrived during the night. The whole transaction was mysterious, and kept a profound secret.
The greater part of the night had been occupied with copying these letters. I sealed the packet, addressed it to Count Limeuil, as my old friend had directed me, and was about to retire to rest, to enjoy a few hours of slumber before my departure. I had not been so totally absorbed in the tale before me, but what, at different times in the night I thought I heard a noise in the house; this began anew, and increased considerably. Hasty footsteps approached my room, and the servant entered in tears, telling me that during the night my old friend had been taken very ill. He would not, however, allow them to disturb me, but now, as he seemed in a dying state, they thought it their duty to awaken me. I hastened down to my friend’s room, and found the servants in deep distress, and some clergymen and peasants standing round his bed—he had that instant breathed his last! A placid smile played on his venerable features, and what appeared a mystery to the mortal, will doubtless now be to his eternal part, clear harmony and divine truth.
- Vide Literary Magnet, Vol. ii. p. 177.
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