Caroline, Baroness de la Motte Fouque’: “The Castle of Scharfenstein” 4

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.



Chapter IV


From the Diary of the Countess Julia de____,
After her entrance into public Life.

Thursday Evening, 10th Sept. 17__

That I am now actually here in the great capital, and thirty leagues from home, appears to me still like a dream. I had said to myself a hundred times on the way, that I should of course find a scene and mode of life the most different possible from all to which I had been accustomed at my aunt’s castle. But of what consequence was all that self-preparation? The ideas that I had formed were in reality nothing, though the good Madame Nägelin did what she could to assist my imagination.
She talked to me of streets, squares, theatres, casinos, arsenals, churches, crowds of people, noise, and confusion; yet, notwithstanding the picture she had drawn, I was quite confounded when we drove across the large illuminated Place de Parade down to my guardian’s house. Already on the high road from the last post-station, I could sometimes scarcely refrain from bursting into tears, all that we met with was so new, and I felt myself so much like a stranger, — like an intruder, in the world.
We met at every turn so many finely-dressed horsemen, so many grand equipages, and every one — even to the foot-passengers, stared so boldly into our carriage! Perhaps all the people could read in my pale and bewildered countenance what passed in my mind, for I saw that many of them laughed ironically, which doubled my confusion.
At the town-gate one of the Duke’s equipages passed by us on the way to the palace, which we saw at some distance. Our postillion directed our attention to this, — pointing to the carriage. “Her Highness the Duchess dowager,” said he; and I must confess that at this moment I felt a kind of triumph in the thought, that, in future, I, too, should be driven about in such an equipage. I was half-impelled to say to our talkative postillion that I was a demoiselle d’honneur at court, but conquered the propensity.
If such thoughts were blamable, it was not long ere I underwent the proper penance of a terrible embarrassment. I had leaned too far out of our carriage to look after the Duchess, when a young man in uniform passed quite close to me on horseback, and taking off his hat, bowed with great politeness. I felt that I blushed deep as crimson, for my cheeks even burned painfully as I drew back my head. “That was the Grand Duke himself — God bless him!” said the postillion. Good Heaven! how I trembled in very limb at these words! What must his Highness have thought of my boldness, and even indecorum!
At this house, my timidity and confused manners are treated with great indulgence, and, on our first arrival, my guardian came down stairs in the kindest manner to welcome us. How tranquil and firm he looks in the midst of all the bustle by which we are here surrounded! I was glad to give him my hand for protection, and he led me up stairs to the room that was appointed as mine.
“You will rest yourself here for a little while,” said he; “The Countess will soon be with you. I shall go to her and announce your arrival.” When he had retired, I begged of Madame Nägelin that she would not leave me; but she said, “It is now full time that I should learn to take care of myself. Besides, the rules of society in high life rendered it impossible that she could be always with me, as she was not entitled to move in the same circles. She knew her duty in this respect, and would, therefore, from the first moment, withdraw to her proper distance.”
It seemed to me that she was rather irritated, because the Count had not shown her much attention. But her vexation is this, — that on our very first entrance into what is called the world, the pleasant connections and habits of private life are disturbed and broken! Must this of necessity be so! — It is methinks, rather an evil omen!
As for the Countess, she seems to me in her demeanor somewhat too stiff and solemn; but, perhaps I do her injustice. Her looks and manner may be influenced by ill health; at least her complexion is very pale. Madame Nägelin thinks this is but the effect of the white and red paint which she must wear when she attends at court, hearing which, I answered, that I should never, as long as I lived, learn to disguise myself in that manner. She laughed rather ironically, and said, “I would change my mind in due time; for youth soon passed away, more especially with those who moved in the gay circles.”
Alas! this is but a sombre prospect! One cannot then enjoy life with impunity; and this reminds me of our very good priest’s favourite simile of the “thorns that lurk under the fairest flowers.” But in truth I can believe it all; for one’s mind feels here so restless and unquiet. Today I have particularly suffered on that account. The Countess desired me to go with her to the drawing-room, where she introduced me to many strange ladies and gentlemen. I trembled through every limb, and in my terror and confusion could not utter a word. Indeed I knew not what to say, and could only walk, bow, and curtsy like an automaton.
Besides, my face had not recovered from the cold air on our journey; my cheeks must have been as red as scarlet, and my hair was not properly arranged. One chance reflection that I caught in the mirror had completely ruined my self-possession that I might have otherwise retained, and I looked ashamed and confounded at the neatly adjusted dress and tranquil aspect of the ladies around me. I became quite distraught; and in a little while self-reproach was added to my other distress, for I could not but confess that the pain I now felt was but the result of mortified vanity, or perhaps some worse failing. How unfortunate, if for the future, I am doomed often to discover such dark shades in my own character!
18th September
No — it surely cannot be absolutely sinful to take delight, as I have done, in the beautiful sights and varied amusements that are found here! At last I feel my spirits elated, and I am quite happy. “All this,” I have often said to myself, “is the result of human labour, — contrivance — or, in a word, of genius. How powerful — almost unlimited — is this genius, and how great and good that omniscient Ruler from whom all such gifts proceed!” And never have I felt myself more inclined to devout reflection than now, when my heart is thus filled with joy and gratitude.
Yesterday, I went to hear high mass sung in the great church, where, for the first time, I saw the Duke’s family assembled together. There appeared to me somewhat remarkable and affecting in this, that under the influence of such solemn music I should first behold those persons on whom my future lot and fortunes in life depend. I was particularly struck with their dignity of appearance and demeanor, and still more by the unaffected humility and sincerity of their devotion.
Through the whole assemblage, indeed, I was glad to perceive the most respectful conduct; and it seems to me as if such meetings were more requisite here , than in the serenity of the country, where one’s mind need never be disturbed from religious impressions. Yet, if among the woods and fields my heart was moved to devotion, here my attention is doubly fixed and concentrated.
The solemnity that awaits me tomorrow, is of a very different kind. I am presented to the Duchess, and this will cost me no little share of anxiety and trepidation. Meanwhile, I have learned from the Countess the circumstances that led to my being chosen as a maid of honour, which place she herself held for twelve years. Some months ago, when she was married, the good old Duchess requested the Count, her husband, to find some young person of his own family to replace the lady of whose service he had deprived her. He suggested me, and his proposal was approved of.
How one event always entwines itself in this world with another? We never know when or how circumstances, over which we have no control, may throw us at once into a situation wholly new, and perhaps uncongenial; but all this must be the work of a beneficent Providence, however, strange it appears to me!
I wish fervently that the hour of my presentation at the palace were only past. Those old swarthy walls, ramparts, and towers, inspire me with a kind of horror, and I felt this particularly today when I drove past them in the Countess’ carriage. She pointed out to me some lofty windows and said, “Mark, Julia, you will be living there soon. These were my apartments. May your time be spent there as contentedly as mine was, and may you leave them as gratefully and happy!”
I know not how it happened, but when she pronounced these words, her tone was very plaintive, and the tears rushed into my eyes as I looked up again at the windows. Alas! Why did my kind-hearted guardian make choice of me for this duty? Methinks he could scarcely have found any one who was less fitted for living at court.
19th September 17__
I can scarcely help laughing now at my childish fears of yesterday. My embarrassment, indeed, was soon over; for the Duchess is all kindness and condescension. She looked at me most favourably, when I made my curtsy before her; cast a significant glance of satisfaction at the Countess, then embraced me, and said, “How much I love these timid downcast eyes,” for after the first moment, I had indeed looked awkwardly on the ground, and felt that I blushed deeply. Afterwards she desired me to take my place on an ottoman that was opposite to her, and describe how I had lived till now, and how I had filled up my time in the country.
Perhaps my story was not given in the proper court style, for my hearers often looked at each other, and the Duchess often smiled. She listened very attentively, however, and doubtless was not dissatisfied; for she herself took the trouble of leading me through all the principal apartment, explaining to me the paintings, portraits, and statues with which the palace is richly adorned. She showed me also many specimens of the most curious mechanism; set the musical clocks in motion; and at last, because I expressed great wonder at a little golden bird, that, when wound up, clapped its wings, and sang like a bullfinch, she forced me to accept it as a present.
This has delighted me beyond measure, and at least ten times today I have wound him up, and the pretty creature has entertained me with his music. How kind was it in the Duchess to indulge my childish fancy in this manner! Doubtless she well knows how to win the hearts of those about her; for there was nothing she could have offered me by which I would have been so perfectly enchanted.
I was much struck by her manner when she spoke of her son the reigning Duke, to whom she is obviously much attached. His portrait, large as life, hangs in her own chamber; and though she directed my attention to it only as the likeness of our sovereign, yet it was easy to perceive, that she regarded it with all a mother’s pride and fondness. I was glad to perceive this, but I cannot say that I by any means admired his countenance. He has a cold proud expression, a look of imperious authority, that excites in the beholder dislike rather than willing obedience.
The looks of prince Charles pleased me far better; I should say that he had a liveliness of disposition, and kindness of heart, of which the other is devoid. In his picture, however, he is represented gazing with rather a mournful expression on the wide sea, and distant blue sky, which fill one side of the canvas. Prince Charles accompanied our troops to the East Indies, and for the last three years has been absent on this foreign service. The thoughts of his being thus so far remote were perhaps more than the Duchess could bear to dwell upon; she went hastily past his portrait, which I would gladly have contemplated for a long time.
Well, I shall soon have leisure enough to study all the paintings, for, in a few days, I am to begin my regular attendance. The Duchess will not allow of any further delay; and, I must confess, that my impatience is such, I can hardly wait so long. How rapidly one mood of mind is changed for another in this world! But, a little while ago, I feared that which I now so ardently wished for; but, I trust, it is not merely my own vanity, and the dazzling pomp of the court, that has thus changed my mind. No!
The unexpected condescension of the Duchess, her kindness, which is like that of a mother, and the security that I shall enjoy under her protection — these are considerations which might surely have a natural influence over my feelings; and Heaven will protect me from the sin of irrational and childish fickleness.
23d September
The Lady Gabrielle, who is premiere dame d’honneur, is much older than I am. Of course, she has not so fresh a complexion, nor such lively spirits; but, as to these last circumstances, she herself seems to be of a different opinion. She dresses precisely as I do, wears roses in her hair; and trips up the great staircase fast enough, indeed, but not without so great exertion, that, when she comes to the last steps, she is quite exhausted, and totters, panting and breathless, into her own apartment.
I behaved so incautiously, that on one occasion, when this happened, I could not help laughing at her. Observing how I was amused, she gave me a very severe look, and turned away without speaking; but, since then, she has often scolded me, and has exposed me to many vexations.
I suffered most from her conduct yesterday evening, when the Duchess had the pleasure of a visit from the Grand Duke – on which occasion, the circle happened to be pretty numerous, and more formal than usual. The Duchess, however, who was in a gay humour, proposed that every one in the company should assume some historical or theatrical character and, for the rest of the evening, keep up a conversation suited to the part so chosen, which would, of course, give rise to the most laughable associations, and meetings of incongruous heroes and heroines.
I was terrified at this plan, as I knew not any part that I could play, and, even if I had known one, would have been unable to fancy myself anything else but what I really am. When I was sitting there quite puzzled, and vainly considering what I ought to do, Gabrielle began to laugh. “Now, Countess,” said she; “have the fairy tales of the nursery, or the fetes champetres of your aunt’s rural abode, left no beau ideal in your mind, such as you could now impersonize for our amusement?”
At these words I blushed so violently that I durst not lift up my eyes, or attempt any answer, while the Duke, rather, as I thought, in a tone of irritation, called out, “Mademoiselle Gabrielle, you say that a nursery tale is to afford the character to be adopted by the Countess. Of course, then, she will decide upon Cinderella, who started from her seclusion and solitude like a beautiful flower from the bud, completely eclipsing the charms of her elder sisters, and beholding all the princes of the earth at her feet.”
Hearing this, Gabrielle immediately turned pale, and retired into the background. The Duchess followed her with an angry look; but towards me, too, her regards were by no means so kind and encouraging as usual, though, being quite unconscious of having committed any fault, I could not comprehend for what reason she should be offended with me.
It seemed, however, as if this little interruption had broken in upon the good spirits of all the party, so that the intended games were, of course, given up. The Duke continued to speak in a tone of sharpness and irritation; the Duchess herself was half embarrassed, and I was, of course, quite downcast and afraid. Music at length began, and this brought all into the usual train. Gabrielle sang, and the applause that she obtained from every one, by her full clear voice, indemnified her amply for the slight vexation that she had met with before; while, on the contrary, I remained, through the whole evening, retired and in confusion, not venturing to address to her, or to any one else, a single word.
When, on returning to my own apartments, I related what had happened to the good Madame Nägelin, she shook her head doubtfully, as if she thought that this affair might lead to very serious consequences. “I well know,” said she, “what effects arise from such petty jealousies, among people of the world, and I heartily wish my Julia had never provoked any such hostility; for, of all the enemies to which we can be exposed, affronted Vanity is the most dangerous, because it is in secret always that she plans her revenge; we are ruined before we have had time to suspect that we are in danger.
Besides, vanity, my child, gives birth to vanity. It flatters us in one way, even if we should feel pain in another, to be exalted and triumph over our neighbors. Julia, Julia,” added she, in a serious tone, “be therefore on your guard.”
Certainly I shall act according to these hints, and, today, in the first place, I shall wait on the lady Gabrielle. Perhaps I shall yet be able to win her confidence by respectful behavior, and by praising (which would, indeed, be no more than just) her talents in music, and her superior knowledge of the world, to which I cannot make any pretensions. Even if these methods should fail, yet, in my own conscience, I can remain tranquil, for I have never, in thought, word, or deed, injured this irritable lady.
1st week of the Carnival, 2d October
Formerly, when I read in romances of the festivities and splendour which I now witness, I always supposed that the author had made a free use of his poetic privileges, and had invented much of the pageantry which he described. How little did I then expect that I should one day find a realization of all these dreams! Were I to speak of the opera alone, how could I express what delight it has afford me?
I need not attempt to describe what I felt; – the scenery – the actors – the grouping – the situation, and the story so brilliantly developed, would, of course have been enough, alone, to rivet my attention; but, when such impressions are strengthened and concentrated, when the scenes as it were, acquire tenfold life, by means of the most enchanting music, this union in one place, and for one purpose, of many noble arts, appear to me the most exquisite of all princely enjoyments. I was here so confounded and wrapt up in what passed before me, that it was long before I remarked how the Duke was constantly gazing at me through his glass.
To say the truth, this manner of his is always very disagreeable, and I am glad to appear as if I did not take any notice of his conduct. However, between the acts, his Highness maneuvered so as to have a place next to mine, and whispered, “Has then the Countess Julia eyes and ears only for this passing stage play, and can nothing more serious engage her attention?”
I knew not what to answer; it seemed as if he expected that I should understand him, though he would not be at the trouble to explain his meaning. “I thought,” said I, “that we were all met here in order to enjoy the opera — I did not know that any other object…”
“So, then,” said he, interrupting me, “the mere framework of the picture contents you?” He looked dark and frowningly, and I was about to tell him that his words were an absolute riddle, but just then the Duchess called to us. She kept me for a long time fixed beside her, asking what I thought of the opera, and a hundred other questions, so that I escaped by this means the continuance of a tiresome dialogue with the Duke.
I must not forget to mention that one evening before this, when we had gone to a tragedy, his conduct had given me much annoyance. The play was Othello, and Desdemona’s grief moved me indescribably, so that I could not help shedding tears, which the Duke remarked; and, as I thought, he laughed at me scornfully.
“Whom are you weeping for?” said he. “Is it for her who has kindled these flames of jealousy and revenge? Or for the unhappy man who feels them burning within him, and consuming his vitals? Of what consequence are a few woman’s tears, compared with the nameless torments which he suffers? Women only know the difference between a clear and cloudy sky; but we must have either Paradise or Pandemonium. This Moor utters not one-half of the rage which I could express.”
I trembled at these frightful words, and was indeed so much discomposed, that I could scarcely sit out the remainder of the tragedy. Alas! Why is it so ordained that this proud and violent man should so often disturb my best and most innocent enjoyments!
In a few days there is to be a masquerade, and for a long time past this has been almost the only topic of conversation. Remembering what I have heard and read of such entertainments, I cannot deny that my curiosity is raised, and yet I am afraid of the licentiousness and confusion to which they are said to give rise. If the Duke only — I scarcely know what I would say — if he would not be so wild and overbearing! When he comes near me, I am so confounded and perplexed, that my usual good spirits quite desert me.
Besides, who knows what construction the world may put to his presumption, which always gains confidence from my timidity. This very morning, Gabrielle assailed me with a volley of ironical questions. She spoke of stolen confidential converse – of significant glances – of suspicious whispers, and so forth. Well, Heaven is my witness how gladly I would dispense with all such attentions, and how thankful I should be to any one who could show me the means of escaping from them.
5th October. After the Ball.
What an evening was that of yesterday! In the grand illuminated hall, amid the rose-coloured light, and the crowd of masks, was I not altogether changed, not only in dress, but even in feelings and character, and are such changes allowable? I fear not; for even now, I can scarcely recollect again what I was or what I ought to be. How did it happen then?
Aye … the Duchess had transformed me into a kind of Indian fairy-queen, and I was to play the part of Titania. My ornaments were fantastic enough. I had a diamond crown in my hair, over this was thrown a light purple veil, so long, that it extended from the crown of my head to the ground. My other dress, which I thought was cut much too short in the skirts, was of a bright sparkling silver stuff. I had besides, a pearl necklace and ear-rings; a golden sceptre twined round with lotus flowers in my right hand; and, in the other, a fan of palm tree leaves from the banks of the Ganges. In this grand attire, they placed me before a large mirror, and with shame, I must confess, that my heart beat quickly with a feeling of triumph, at the brilliant figure which I made there.
At last the waiting-maid brought me the small half mask of black silk, which, though it cannot in reality prevent our being recognized, yet gives to the wearer a feeling as if she were under a veil of mystery, and renders one’s spirits, therefore, more bold and buoyant. The Duchess examined my dress carefully before I left my room, and expressed satisfaction at my appearance. Yet I know not how it was — all at once she seemed to hesitate, and the tones of her voice changed as if some painful apprehension had come over her; till, as if determined to resist such an untimely mood of mind, she hastened away to her carriage.
Arrived at the rooms, how astonished and confounded was I at first, by the infinite variety of figures, many graceful and attractive, but far more that were beyond description hideous and absurd. I was glad to cling for protection to Gabrielle’s arm, who walked proudly and confidently through the saloon in an antique Spanish dress. The Grand Duke had disdained the trouble of assuming any character, appearing in a black Venetian mantle, with a mask indeed, though every one knew him, and his humour seemed a strange mixture of gaiety and chagrin. From the first moment of my appearance, his regards were directed at me, and continued fixed in such manner, as to rob me of all self-possession.
“Why then, beautiful Julia,” said he, “have you assumed an empire only over the fabulous spirits of the air? Would you thus appear to mortals only by fits and starts, in your uncertain wanderings? Yet beware! For fairies sometimes fall under the power of more potent spirits, and there are influences in the world of which you know not yet.”
While the Duke thus spoke, and I wished heartily that I could escape from him, there arose through the ball-room a strange murmuring of voices and involuntarily we were obliged to move as the crowd drove us on, till I perceived that all this attention had been excited by the figure of a tall graceful Bramin. He had just then made his entree, and was looking round on the motley groups. At last his eyes lighted on me, and he immediately hastened up, took my hand, and led me towards the Duchess.
“This brilliant fairy queen,” said he, “calls me from my own land of dark superstitions into a new sphere of light and joy. For her sake, then, I cast off, along with these garments, my old faith and all the prejudices of my country, in order to bend submissively beneath the sceptre of this gracious and beautiful empress.”
With these words, throwing aside his Bramin attire, he presented to us the figure of a handsome young knight, with the eastern insignia of the order of St. John. “CHARLES — Charles!” exclaimed the Duchess, and he threw himself at the feet of his enraptured mother. She could say no more, but that single tone of her voice, as she pronounced his name, had deeply moved every heart in the assembly.
“The Prince — the Prince returned from India!” was now called aloud, and echoed through all the rooms. In her great joy, the Duchess kissed and embraced me as well as her son. “Dear little enchantress!” said she, “thy appearance tonight with thy diamond crown, and palm-tree leaves, was a kind of foreboding what happiness would come to me from the shores of the Ganges.”
The Prince also continued to address me in the most flattering terms; but the Duke’s expression and looks, which I just then met (for he had taken off his mask), were horrible, and I felt quite overpowered by this unexpected scene. It seems the Prince had contrived to obtain leave of absence, and had come home alone, when no one was aware of his intention. The army will not return for many months.
Afterwards I had the honour of being his partner in the dance, and he begged that I would make allowances for his awkwardness, as during his long absence, he had been quite unaccustomed to such amusements. But how little did he require to make any such apology! He danced so lightly — so simply and gracefully! Surely he is far handsomer than his picture, though it was by my recollection of it that I was enabled at the first glance to recognize him.
It seems now as if I had seen and known him all the days of my life, and as if I could share with him all the cherished thoughts of my own heart; – but how little resemblance there is between this Prince Charles and his brother, whose looks are always as dark and threatening as a thunder-cloud? Since Prince Charles returned, the Duke once said to me, “Forget not Othello!” and his tone was such, that my blood ran cold in every vein.
There is one part of my own conduct, with which perhaps I ought not to be quite satisfied. The Prince requested that I would allow him to keep the mask which I had laid aside at the supper-table; and I gave it to him without hesitation. “It would serve,” he said, “as a remembrance of the day when he returned home, and of the remarkable coincidence between his Asiatic habiliments, and mine as an Indian fairy.
“This dark shrine,” added he, “empty as it now is, will not fail to remind us of the angelic beauty that greeted me on my first entrance here, and in these hollow circles, unmeaning as they would seem to others, I discover still the radiance of two bright eyes, that I shall evermore behold, in hours when they no longer behold me.” I felt the delightful influence of these words penetrate to my very heart, but that I had not done right in giving him a present, as if to encourage such flatteries, was not long after very painfully proved, when the Duchess happened to ask what I had done with my mask?
Alas! instead of venturing to tell her the truth, I was silent and embarrassed, — till at last I had recourse to deception. I stooped down as if I would search for it under the table — and then, with a faltering tongue stammered out, “I have lost it.” This, indeed, has left a sad stain on my conscience, and I know not when it will be effaced.
To be continued…