Caroline, Baroness de la Motte Fouque’: “The Castle of Scharfenstein” 5a
Excerpt, “GERMAN STORIES:Selected From the Works of Hoffmann, De La Motte Fouque’, Pichler, Kruse, and Others.”By R.P. Gillies, Esq. in three Volumes.Vol. I.London:1826.
THE CASTLE OF SCHARFENSTEIN
Chapter V, Part 1 of 2
Recollections of the Julia de__
20th December, 17_
h, Heaven! The days of peace, joy, and delightful illusions are now past!Aye, this is indeed that love, of which the mere reflection, as it is described in romances and poems, has so often agitated my heart.And how fearful is this reality!Amid the dreadful conflict of feelings by which I am assailed, I know not whither to turn for support and consolation.If I dared speak to the Duchess!But no – that is impossible – she is far too elevated in rank to be made a confidante, and the Countess is unfortunately very ill.Either of them might assist me; but as to Madame Nägelin, though good and kind-hearted, yet, in the affairs of this world, she is helpless as a child.
That unfortunate hunting party at Scharfenstein!
From the very onset, I was afraid of its consequences; and yet, the day was so beautiful, our drive thither, and our amusements there so inviting! Alas! Why must joy and sorrow so often travel together? By how many people in the town must our brilliant appearance have been envied! Every window was crowded with admiring spectators, all watching our grand sledges, our fine prancing and richly caparisoned horses, hung with bells, which sounded so delightfully in the still morning air.
And, as to myself, did I not forget all the past, and every thing else in the world, so totally was I engrossed by this new pleasure? Did not my heart heave with rapture, when I flew, swift as an arrow, along the smooth glittering road, and the Prince sitting behind me, guided our course so adroitly and securely. The town soon lay far behind us, and we came always deeper and deeper into the dark regions of the pine forests, where, how strange was the contrast presented by the silent loneliness of all nature and the lively ringing of our horses’ accoutrements!
What I then heard or said, truly I could not repeat; the time passed away like a fairy dream. Only, I well remember that when we were mounting the steep ascent to Scharfenstein, the Duke, who was driving his mother also in a sledge, came up with us, and shouted wildly that we might keep out of his way. Then, for the first time, my dream was broken, and my heart was again awoke to fearful and gloomy apprehensions.
The party assembled in the castle at a sumptuous dejeune a la fourchette. Here, it happened that the Duchess was forcibly reminded of the pleasant days that she had spent in early life with her late husband at Scharfenstein. She pointed out his portrait and her own, and then asked the Duke whether he had no thoughts of ever bringing home a princess to share in his prosperity?
His dark brows immediately contracted, and he threw back his head with an air of disdain. “Where is there any woman,” said he, “by whom this heart could be understood? As well might you expect to use the fires of Hecla in the narrow chamber of a cottage, as to confine me with the trammels of domestic life!”
His mother looked at him mournfully, and meanwhile the young prince’s eyes were anxiously searching for mine. I answered him kindly in the same manner; and though I could have controlled my words, yet my looks unavoidably betrayed that I was glad to cling to him as a friend. The Duke’s expression was indeed so strange and ill-timed, that the whole party seemed perplexed, and lost in my mysterious apprehensions.
Soon after this, however, the bugle-horns were heard from the castle court, and the hunt was immediately to begin. Our breakfast party dispersed, in a short time we reassembled at the outward gate, where the Duchess and all the other ladies mounted courageously on horseback. At that time Prince Charles came to me and said in a low voice, “Will Julia, then, fulfill the promise which her looks already made to her too happy lover?” Heaven forgive me, I spoke sincerely and answered him “Yes.”
But how fearful are the consequences that this word may bring on him and on me! In a few minutes afterwards, the Duke came up at a hard trot, forced himself betwixt us, — took hold of my horse’s bridle, and forced me to ride away with him into a wild thicket. There he broke out into such passionate vehemence of language, accompanied with such tones and gestures, that I might have fallen senseless at my tormentor’s feet, had it not been that the whole party came right after us, and the sport then properly began.
I cannot tell what happened through the rest of the day. It was not till late in the evening that I recollected myself, when I was seated in a carriage with the Duchess; and I knew that a wearisome life of suffering and conflict was before me. Oh happy days of youth and hope — how soon your illusions have passed away — and an inward voice almost warns me that it is forever!
30th February, 17__ (in the following year)
When I now read over the preceding pages, it seems as if many years had elapsed since I wrote them. What bitter tears have fallen to efface their traces! That Julia who wrote them is no longer the same. Her once childish and smiling countenance is become gloomy and pale; her tearful eyes look dimly on the glimmering twilight of the past. Tormented both by her own emotions and the passions of others, she is an unhappy being; held constantly in suspense between the respectful homage of an ardent lover, and the persecution of insolent tyranny. Which of these two is indeed to prevail, and how can all this end?
Under a mask of icy coldness, the Duke’s whole existence labours under the frenzy of passion which threatens every moment to break out. As for his mother’s conduct, it is guided alternately by compassionate sympathy, and the mere pompous formality of high rank. She has sent me warning messages by the Countess, and has threatened me with being deposed and exiled from court. In return, as far was I from expressing my regret on that account, that I only begged permission to go for a few months into voluntary retirement.
My request would be taken into consideration was the answer, for she cannot venture to provoke the Duke by any decisive measures. Even this woman, firm and exalted as she seems, trembles in the presence of her eldest son. How or where, then, shall a poor helpless girl, such as I am, hope to be secure against his anger? As for thee, my only beloved Charles, least of all must thou know the cause of my terror; and Heaven grant that no apprehension of the truth may find its way to thy mind!
1st May 17__
How have I strength to carry through that which I deemed utterly impossible? Am I awake, or has it not all been but a dream? If I can believe my senses, we were privately betrothed in the church of St. Mary. The good Madame Nägelin was a witness to the ceremony, and in few days we are to set sail for India. In his arms, after this long interval of doubts and fears, I shall greet a new world. I shall behold him ever with me, and no human power shall…
Shall part us, I would have written; but I was interrupted by a summons to attend the Duchess. I found her in tears, and she could hardly tranquilize herself so as to speak with me. “Julia,” said she at last, “It is you alone who can restore to me my lost peace of mind. You have indeed been the cause of discord in the family of your benefactress — but I well know that this is not the result of any design on your part. You have been misled by the too great susceptibility of your own heart, which is yet young and inexperienced. But it is your duty to recall it from wandering.
“Promise me to exert your utmost skill and ingenuity in order that Prince Charles may get the better of his present mad passion. For, believe me, Julia, the feelings by which he is actuated are not justifiable. It is but a base and selfish attachment that can thus contend against the dictates of reason; for he knows well that his rank forbids him to marry the daughter of a subject. If he really loved you, he would fly from your presence.
“Therefore, my dear child, you must prove that you are too pure and too proud to encourage in him these dishonourable and unworthy purposes. I placed the utmost confidence in your virtue, and I now beseech you, let me not be disappointed. Say, Julia, shall the Duchess have thrown herself on your generosity and implored you in vain?”
I now fell at her feet, and clung to her garments. I was on the point of disclosing to her the whole truth, but a single thought of the consequences that this might bring on Charles, closed my lips and my heart. I wept, without making any answer, kissed her hand, and retired from her presence like a condemned sinner.
Incapable of telling a direct falsehood, I have yet deceived her, for, by her looks I read plainly that she considered my excessive affliction as a proof that I had determined for the future to avoid those errors which had thus rendered both her and myself so unhappy. Such, alas! are the evils — the curse, I may say – which follows duplicity and concealment. One act of necessity leads to another.
What I have experienced and suffered today no language could even faintly express. Oh merciful Heaven! How has this fate come at once like a thunder-cloud over us! Prince Charles has been arrested by order of the Duke, and dragged away from the capital.
Lately an obscure rumour spread that the former had, under the influence of a temporary fit of madness, drawn his sword again his brother. Alas! poor unsuspecting Charles! Couldst thou but have known that the wicked Duke has, for a long time, had no object nearer to his heart than that of accomplishing thy destruction!
Those who wish to bring about a reconciliation between the brothers, say that Charles is mad, and is only to be pitied for what he has done. All this I have learned from Madame Nägelin, who is the only one with whom I now can speak in confidence, and who goes out from time to time to bring me intelligence. Madness, indeed!
Alas, how deep and acute feelings, — how the noblest attributes of the human heart are misunderstood and calumniated in this world! — But the world adds more in the present instance. People insist that a wildness and inconsistency have for a long time been visible in his demeanour. My beloved Charles! They have discovered that thou art insane, because thou art not like others, cold-hearted, insensible, and a hypocrite! But why should their words disturb him or me? Could he but regain his liberty, and were I but once more in his presence all might yet be well!
Madame Nägelin has again gone to visit one of her acquaintance, and till she returns I feel so terrified that I cannot for a moment compose myself. I sit here as if in prison, like a proscribed and condemned criminal. No one comes to inquire for me; the chambers of the Duchess are closed against me, and my guardian has been for some time absent on diplomatic business. How shall I support this unexampled suspense and misery?
Oh, Heaven! That was, indeed, too much!
The Duke here in my apartments! How could he bear to look at me, or I at him? Before I had time to reflect, unexpectedly, and sudden as fate, he stood before me. “Julia,” said he, “my visit is, no doubt, as unwelcome as it is unceremonious, and, perhaps, you have already cursed me in your heart?”
I was so terrified that I could not express my indignation. I trembled in every limb, and even held up my hands imploringly, but could not speak.
“Unhappy girl,” said he. “Your presence has at length rendered us all miserable. Our domestic peace is undermined and ruined. But do not think worse of me than I deserve. I can yet forgive, if you will prove that you repent of what you have done.”
I turned from him with a kind of horror.
“Reflect,” added he, after a little time. “Reflect, that Charles must, from henceforth, be dead to this world. You are unavoidably and forever separated from him. The court — your family — even people of middling rank will look on you with distrust and aversion. Wither, now, can you turn for refuge?”
“Banish us both then!” cried I, throwing myself at his feet. “Grant us but the favour that we may leave this country, and never more hold any intercourse with its inhabitants!”
The Duke laughed scornfully. “So, then,” said he, “the melancholy brain-sick fool has infected you with his own absurd fancies, and their influence has become thus deeply rooted in your heart? Go – go!” added he scornfully, quitting my hand, which he had taken to raise me up. “You are too childish to love, or to be loved by any man. It is only good for nothing fantastic coxcombs that you can encourage.”
Wounded to the heart by such expressions in contempt of my betrothed husband, I felt, at that moment, not only the conscious rectitude of Charles, but was even inspired with a share of his pride. The Duke had, indeed, said every thing that was possible, in order to degrade himself in my estimation. He had just now uttered a more insulting falsehood, and it seemed to me as if my whole frame were clad in iron armour.
I despised him too much to care for his menaces. He was already at the door on his retreat, and I covered my face with both hands, that I might now see him; when, suddenly, he turned back, and ran to me with great impetuosity.
“Julia,” cried he, “without my aid, you are utterly lost. Do not deceive and betray yourself … for if you had but the courage to be happy, and would follow good counsel, all might yet be retrieved.”
I shuddered at these words. I was unwilling to allow my thoughts to dwell on his meaning, which was but too evident. In this contention I was quite confused, and know not what I answered. I heard, for a while, the Duke’s vehement thundering voice. It tormented me, though I did not attend to the sense of what he uttered. But, at length, all was silent; he had taken his departure, and I was left quite alone.
Yet, no! I should not have said this! Heavenly Father, thou are with me still, and also with Charles. Oh! May thy merciful support and guidance never forsake us!
Madame Nägelin is arrived, and has come without news, for Martin, the Prince’s valet, was not to be found. In a short time, however, my guardian is to return home. I depend much on his counsel. What will his decision be? What can I do now?
To be continued…