Caroline, Baroness de la Motte Fouque’: “The Castle of Scharfenstein” 5b of 6
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 2 of 2
Just before my departure for England
arewell, farewell, my beloved native land!
You cast me from you, cruelly, it is true. Disguised, and like an abandoned criminal in the darkness of the night, I must quit the walls of this town. No one here will regret my departure, and all will soon forget the poor guilty Julia, as if she had never been.
Guilty, indeed, I am; therefore, oh heart! be steady and unshrinking in thy penance; and Heaven will prove a just and merciful judge. That happiness which, in my levity and presumption, I wished to possess against the will of Providence, has been wholly taken from me. Be it so then; let my resignation, if possible, prove an atonement, and may I be guided henceforth by the pure influence of the Christian faith — by self-denial — voluntary suffering, and submission of spirit.
But my dearest Charles! I hear that they have invented wicked falsehoods to delude you! Truly, you cannot be reproached for believing them, for Heaven alone knows by what snares your life has been environed. I weep only because you cannot weep — because you cherish anger even against your faithful Julia, instead of compassion and forgiveness. If these words could only reach your ears, the truth would be felt in your inmost heart.
Alas, Charles! we shall now look anxiously forward to a far different journey from that which we had planned to India. Our wanderings are like those of the pilgrims, of whom it is said, that they advance two steps, and lose one, on their way to the Holy Land. But let us not be wearied or despondent, though the way be long, for at one time or another we must come to our journey’s end.
Here, Felix, there occur some lines half obliterated, on which I cannot venture; for the tears of heart-felt affliction have imprinted on them the sacred seal of mystery. How could we sport as we have so often done with this life, which, if the curtain be drawn from its concealed truths, is so frightfully tragic? I am, in truth, so disturbed and agitated, that it seems as if I could never more obtain even one hour of rest. What then, is our whole existence in this world, but a ceaseless conflict and alternation of crime and repentance?
Once more my feelings are completely changed; the balm of divine peace and consolation has been poured out profoundly on our heads; but, to understand me, you must hear all that passed last night, though I almost dread to set it on paper, as if it could not be real, and the spell might be broken!
It was late in the evening, when I was summoned to the Prince. I found him no longer confined to his bed, but resting on the sofa, just as he had appeared at our first interview. He seemed, with anxious inquiry, to read on my features the emotion that had been produced by the perusal of the manuscripts.
“Julius,” said he, “It is now my duty to give you an explanation of much which you cannot yet have even guessed; therefore, take your place, and listen quietly to what I have to say.”
The Prince then roused himself from the reclining posture in which I found him, and, with the fire of youth in his eyes, he leant forward and addressed me.
“Even though we should deny the personal existence of malignant demons in the world, yet we cannot doubt the influence of that one omnipotent spirit of evil, who tempts us into crimes — renders the ground, as it were, hollow beneath our feet, and, depriving us of reason and recollection, forces us into the gulf thus prepared for our destruction.
“What, then, would become of us, if it were not for the assistance of Divine Providence, by which our very enemies are sometimes turned into agents for our rescue? My heart was always too warm and too susceptible — the restraints that I laid on myself were feeble and easily broken through, — and alas! that barrier being removed, I did not fall myself alone, but forced along with me an amiable and angelic being into misery.
“Julia’s affection, indeed, was of such a character, that it ought to have shielded me against all the poisonous calumny of the world. But the belief in another’s innocence — such is our deprived nature — is an impression very easily disturbed. Could you have supposed that Julia’s devotion to me, and the unshrinking confidence with which she had received my addresses, formed the means by which our infernal adversary led me on to discontent and suspicion?
“It would have been long, indeed, before the Duke, with all his agents, could have brought me to this. Gabrielle had been constantly endeavouring to fan the fires of jealousy into flame, but in vain. My mother, too, deceived and misled by every one, accused Julia of blamable levity; for she thought, that before my arrival, the innocent girl, if she had not encouraged, yet, in consequence, perhaps of her timidity and inexperience, had submitted to receive attentions from the Duke, even that an understanding and mutual confidence still subsisted betwixt them.
“At last, my brother ventured one day, in a strain of bitter irony, to laugh at my romantic passion. He heaped insult upon insult, till at last he boasted, though with an air of contempt and indifference, that Julia had granted him many private interviews. I had never, in my life, been subject to anger; therefore was by no means on my guard against an attack of this passion. I knew not how its raging waves collect unobserved, till at once they break over our heads, and now, therefore, I fell an unresisting victim.
“Quite frantic with rage, forgetting all considerations, so that I thought not of revenge, but only of destruction to myself and all others, I rushed sword in hand against my brother. He parried my attack with a wave of his arm. He stood quietly and scornfully, and his looks of just reproach moved me in such manner that a complete revolution took place in my mind, and I threw myself at his feet.
“For a long while, indeed, I knew not what I did, nor what passed around me; and, on recovering my senses, I found myself in a chamber, of which the door was locked. Even then, I scarcely knew what had happened, nor could form any distinct thoughts or wishes. But late in the night I heard, under the floor, the noise of a carriage driving into the castle court. Soon afterwards, an officer, rather advanced in years, whom I had till now never seen, entered my room. He showed me the Duke’s written command, that I should go with him to Scharfenstein — to which I made not the slightest objection, for, in my despair, all circumstances were to me become indifferent.
“On my arrival here, I fell into a kind of melancholy stupefaction, that blunted my senses almost against every impression. The crime into which my ungovernable rage had betrayed me made me feel a kind of contempt even for all mankind. Above all, however, I detested myself, and that Julia whom I had so fondly loved. Even these impulses were feeble and imperfect. At that period I could scarcely be said to live. I had only faint glimmerings of thought, and these I wished to avoid rather than encourage. Years passed away in this mood, to which another succeeded that was far more insupportable.
“This was the consciousness of reviving strength, and the decrease of my dark melancholy, followed by intense paroxysms of hatred and revenge. I thought of wreaking vengeance on Julia, and escaping from the horrid bondage in which I now suffered. At length nature seemed to give way under this struggle, and I became very ill, of which news probably were sent to the capital, for the Duke’s physicians came to visit me. I had a great distrust of his remedies, and steadfastly refused to follow his prescriptions. The fear of poison was then never absent from my mind, and the love of life increased, as the hope, by degrees awoke, that my situation might yet be completely changed.
“In one respect, the change indeed came. I recovered, and, with returning health, came back the energies of my mind, and I acquired a victory over those passions by which I had been tormented. With regard to my own conduct at the last meeting with my brother, I reflected on it with deep humiliation, for I was more than ever conscious that I had been in the wrong. As to Julia, my emotions were now more of sorrow than of anger; yet, on this point, I was forced to acknowledge myself still as a mere ordinary mortal. When I thought of her, I could not be tranquil, and therefore sought repose by endeavouring, however, vainly, to avoid the recollection of her altogether.
“Yet, as if even this might not be, the parrot was then brought hither. I knew not from whence he came, but accepted the bird willingly as an amusement in my solitude. No sooner was he seated in his ring, that he screamed aloud, “Pardon — oh pardon!’ and ‘Farewell — farewell!” These words came from her, said I; but, alas! at that time I was far from giving to them a proper interpretation. I thought they were the expressions of a guilty, faithless woman, while it was she who had been injured, and who thus nobly forgave me!
“And yet, strange to tell, the tones moved me almost as much as if I had indeed heard her own voice; for Julius, there is a universal presence in recollection. I felt it in every whispering of the air through the window. Now and then I thought of my flute, on which, in better days, I had so often played in Julia’s presence. I longed for it, and requested that it might be brought to me, which was agreed to; and, with the flute was sent almost every thing that had been left in my cabinet in town — so that I found myself established here as if I had been at home. At last came my favourite dog. I could not help bursting into tears; when, recognizing me, he barked aloud for joy — put up his paws on my shoulders, and laid his head on my bosom.
“So unconquerable,” said I, “are the impressions of attachment, even in irrational creatures, — it is principle that God has implanted in all beings — but for the human race alone, it is reserved to be faithless.” At that moment, it seemed as if the voice of some invisible monitor said to me, “Love may be injured, but it is an amaranthine flower; it is immortal; preserve it, then, like a sacred relic in thy soul, and it will be restored to its first perfection in Heaven!”
“Henceforth, not only could I bear to think steadfastly of Julia, but her image constantly hovered around me, like a glorified visitant from the habilitations of the blest. Her faults and errors belonged only to this earth; but the Julia whom I loved was mine for eternity. These thoughts, for the future, were to me like the rainbow’s arch of forgiveness, hope and promise, succeeding a dark tempest in the sky. I have been better both in mind and frame; have been little disturbed by temporal cares, and my affections were indeed fixed on another world.
“But then, Julius, you made your appearance. The general whose name you mentioned as your father was Julia’s guardian. This circumstance, and even the sound of your name, of course, broke in greatly upon my repose — for a thousand questions occurred to me, which I would have wished to ask. But fearful that the truth would not bear investigation, I timidly repressed them all. It was the will of Providence, however, that, by your means, the veil of mystery should one day be withdrawn; and now I may ask of you, do you know, or can you guess whether the unhappy Julia yet lives? Or – but I cannot help faltering when I speak of this — how her heart was reconciled to her sad destiny and mine? Conceal nothing, my dear friend, however agonizing the truth may be. I can bear it better than suspense.”
I was on the point of making the Prince acquainted with my own dim recollections — of the letters which my mother used to receive, from an unfortunate sister resident in England, and all the rest, which has been already described to you. When the physician, who had not been here for several days, made his appearance. There was somewhat reserved in his looks and demeanor, which immediately struck me; and he in his turn was visibly surprised by the improved looks of the Prince. “What miracle has wrought this change?” said he. “I find his Highness’ pulse beating like that of a healthy young man, and there is not the slightest symptom of fever. “
“It will be well,” said the Prince, “when you have thus restored me to the strength of youth, if you can protect me also from its mental delusions and disquietude.” The physician, after some other questions, finding that his advice was no longer required here, rose to take his leave, and seeming in great haste, refused the Prince’s invitation to remain all night, as his business called him hence. He had been appointed by a lady, who was now very ill, for a visit at that hour, and he could not keep her waiting any longer. “You are perhaps going farther by the same road,” said the Prince, “and may return by our castle?”
“Your Highness will excuse me,” said the physician, “my visit thus far was to you alone, but why should I conceal that there is a patient whom I am now to see on my homeward route whose recovery altogether depended on that of your Highness.”
“You speak in riddles,” said the Prince.
“In short,” replied the physician. “there resides in this neighbourhood a very beautiful, though blind lady, who lives, as she says, altogether by the notes of your flute, which fall cheeringly as that sunlight which she can never more behold, into the darkness of her world, and change her wearisome night into bright morning.”
At these words the Prince turned pale, and looked anxiously at the doctor.
“In direct terms,” added the latter, “I must explain to your Highness, this unfortunate lady says that all the pleasantest remembrances of her youth are awoke by your music — that these form now the only solace that she has left to support existence. That in listening to you she beholds every scene or image, once more in the most vivid hues, as if all had been restored. But now, since the flute has been for several nights neglected, she has fallen into a state which one might well call a living death. All this was revealed to me by an old nurse who attends her, and who begged me to say whether the beloved music would be heard again, or was indeed silent forever?
“I now hasten to her with the information, that since your Highness is quite recovered, your evening amusements will doubtless be resumed.”
“Who is the lady?” said the Prince in a faltering voice.
“She is an English emigree,” said the physician, “who came many years ago to reside in this forest, having purchased an old ruinous castle, of which she has since been a constant inmate. It is said that early affliction and constant weeping deprived her thus untimely of her sight.”
“It is she — it is Julia!” cried the Prince, bursting into tears, and throwing himself into my arms.
“For Heaven’s sake,” said I to the physician, “let me go with you on your visit! A thousand cherished recollections crowd upon my mind, and hopes that may yet be realized. I must see the lady.”
“You can see her indeed, without leaving this room,” said the physician, leading me to the window. “Mark yonder in the moonlight. Her form is distinguishable on the wild rocky cliff, where she never fails to watch at this hour, in hopes that the music will be heard once more — and bring back youth and sunlight to her imagination.”
The Prince had now opened the lattice. He knelt down with the flute in his hands, and tried to wake its wonted notes, but could not — sobbed aloud — bent down his head for some moments in silent prayer. Then, as if supernaturally tranquilized, resumed the instrument, and without once faltering, poured forth such an exquisite stream of sorrowful modulation, that the effect was unearthly. It was like the voice of a beneficent spirit, lamenting over the misfortunes and errors of mankind.
I could not remain any longer within the doors. I ran down stairs and across the court. The draw bridge fell at my signal. I rushed forth, and never halted in my breathless course till I had reached the summit of the rock and stood beside her. I cannot describe what follows; the impressions of all that passed are remembered like those of a dream. The first words that she uttered, proved to me that my hopes have been well-founded. She fell fainting into my arms and, scarcely aware of what I did, but acting by mere impulse, I bore her down the cliff. I know not how the distance was got over; but I never relaxed in my efforts, nor awoke to self-possession and consciousness, till I had brought her into the Prince’s apartments.
Felix, what a moment was that when they met again, though they could not mutually behold each other!
“It is morning,” said the Countess, when she first recovered from her swoon, and breathed once more on the bosom of her beloved.
The clear light of day has indeed broken out around us — and as you, Felix, may doubtless have anticipated, it is proved that I am the offspring of this ill-fated and yet now happy marriage. Oh dearest mother, how sincerely my heart now feels your affection, and how grateful I am for the counsels that you afforded me! No longer am I at any loss to explain the mysterious voice that of yore spoke to me in solitude, or the unconquerable yearnings of my spirit, even in childhood, after that rank in life, and that domestic happiness of which it seemed that I was debarred forever.
How deeply moving was her appearance now! Her head from long habit declined in melancholy — her dark eyes shrouded by their impenetrable veil! The Prince looked at her with emotion to which no words could give adequate utterance. “Oh, my beloved Julia,” said he. “How much has my attachment cost you? Those beautiful eloquent eyes?” With those words, he kissed them gently.
“My dearest Charles,” answered she. “Heaven has yet allowed us to retain all the freshness of our youthful feelings. Though I have spent many years in darkness, and you have been shut up within prison walls. The malignant influence of the world has not destroyed those emotions, and I was almost happy, when I knew that you were so near to me and could reckon you still mine.”
“You should be informed, Felix, that at the period when she appeared to me as a traveling dealer in Nüremberg toys, she had just then ventured back to her native country, and saw me for the first time since the month of my birth. “So then” said she to herself, “I have a son, and he is a stranger among strangers. Who knows whether he will ever find his way back to his father’s capital — and to his proper sphere in life?” Soon afterwards, she entrusted me to her old friend Madame Nägelin, who had accompanied her to England, and who brought me to my mother’s guardian. He was at that time traveling with his wife, being sent as a diplomatist to a distance country, where he remained for several years. The Count received me very willingly, and after his return, I passed, without exciting any suspicion, for his own son.
So, then, Felix — such are the intricate ways of Providence. I have been here appointed as my father’s watcher. I have been to him at last like a peace messenger from Heaven, inspiring him with new hope. Indeed, with a tranquility and confidence. Who can measure or appreciate the deep inscrutable plans of Supreme Power?
You will ask me, perhaps, what is to happen farther; but I have nothing more to relate. We are all of us at peace, and contented with our lot. The Prince is a state prisoner, and the Countess Julia remains, or seems to remain, a female hermit as before. It is requisite to keep up appearances, and no other course was under existing circumstances at our command. Yet, in those two hearts, how deep and placid is now the feeling of boundless unanimity and confidence! To them, henceforth, what is all the world, with its anxieties, tumults and intrigues? They know not even that it exists.
Felix, it is needless to attempt a delineation in words of that which is quite indescribable. But I would wish to feel as much of all this, as it is possible for a looker-on to feel by sympathy.
However, that the sky might not remain at present altogether free from clouds, the crafty castellan has contrived to make his escape from Scharfenstein. Whither has he directed his flight? What new misfortune will he contrive to raise up against us? It cannot, however, be quite overpowering, and, whatever may happen, I am prepared and resolute. At the worst, I shall betake myself as a dernier resort to the old Duchess, in whose presence possibly the whole truth may be brought to light.
Perhaps I alone must do penance for the short interval of cheerfulness which I was the means of affording to these two sufferers. But I must confess, my feelings as to present and actual experiences have been such, that, for some time past, I have had little room left in my mind for speculations on the future.
To be continued…