Ludwig Tieck: “The Lovecharm” 3/3

“Tales from the German of Tieck.” London: Edward Moxon, 64, New Bond Street. 1831.




“Her very paleness,” added the officer, “heightens her beauty. Her hazel eyes only sparkle the more intensely above those white cheeks and beneath those dark locks; and the singular, almost burning redness of her lips gives her face a truly magical appearance.”
“The air of silent melancholy that surrounds her,” said Anderson, “sheds a noble majesty over her.”
The bridegroom joined them, and askt after Roderick: he had been missing for some time, and they could not conceive what he was about. All set off in search of him.
“He is down in the hall,” said at length a young man whom they happened to ask, “in the midst of the coachmen, footmen, and grooms, shewing off tricks at cards, which make them stare till their wits ache.”
They walkt in, and interrupted the boisterous admiration of the servants, without however disturbing Roderick, who quietly went on conjuring. When he had finisht, he returned with the others into the garden, and said: “I do it only to strengthen the fellows in their faith: these puzzles give a hard blow to their groomships’ free-thinking inclinations, and help to make ’em true believers.”
“I see,” said the bridegroom, “my all-sufficing friend, among his other talents, does not think that of a mountebank beneath his cultivation.”
“We live in strange times,” replied the other; “who knows whether mountebanks may not come to rule the roast in their turn? One ought to despise nothing nowadays: the veriest straw of a talent may be that which is to break the camel’s back.”
When the two friends found themselves alone, Emilius again turned down the dark avenue and said: “Why am I in such a gloomy mood on this the happiest day of my life?
But I assure you, Roderick, though you will not believe me, I am not made for moving about amid such a mob of human beings,—for this parade of heartless courtesy,—for keeping my attention on the _qui vive_ to every letter of the alphabet, so that neither A nor Z may complain of being treated with disrespect,—for making low bows to her tenth cousin, and shaking hands warmly with my twentieth.
For this formal reverence to her parents,—for handing a flower from my nosegay of compliments to every lady that crosses the room,—for waiting to receive the tide of new-comers as wave after wave rushes over me, and then turning to give orders that their servants and horses may each have a full trough and pail set before them.”
“That is a watch that goes of its own accord;” answered Roderick. “Only look at your house! it was just built for such an occasion: and your head-butler, with his right hand taking up at the same time that his left hand is setting down, and one leg running north while the other seems to be making for south, was begotten and born for the very purpose of putting confusion in order.
He would set my brains to rights if he could get at ’em: were the whole city to come, he would find room for all; and he’ll make your hospitality the proverb of fifty miles round. Leave all such matters to him, and to your lovely bride; and where will you find so sweet a lightener of this world’s cares?”
“This morning before sunrise,” said Emilius, “I was walking through the wood; my thoughts were solemnly tuned; I felt to the bottom of my soul that my life is now taking a determinate cast, that it is become a serious thing, and that this passion has created me a home and a calling. In passing by that arbour yonder I heard sounds: it was my beloved in close conversation.
‘Has not it turned out now as I told you?’ said a strange voice; ‘just as I knew it would turn out? You have got your wish; so cheer up and be merry.’ I did not like to go in to them: as I came back I walkt nearer to the arbour; they had both left it. But I have been musing and musing ever since, what can these words mean?”
Roderick answered: “Perhaps she may have been in love with you this long time without your knowing it: this should make you all the happier.”
A late nightingale now lifted up her song, and seemed to be wishing the lover health and bliss. Emilius sank still deeper in thought.
“Come with me to clear up your spirits,” said Roderick, “down to the village, where you will find another couple; for you must not fancy that yours is the only wedding on which today’s sun is to shine. A young clown, finding his time lag heavily in the house with an ugly old maid, for want of something better to do did what makes the booby think himself bound in honour to turn her into his wife. They must both be drest out by this time; so don’t let us miss the sight; for doubtless it will be overpoweringly interesting.”
The melancholy man let himself be dragged along by his merry talkative friend, and they soon got to the cottage. The procession was just sallying forth on its way to church. The young countryman was in his usual linen frock; all his finery consisted in a pair of leather breeches, which he had polisht till they shone like a field of dandelions: he had a very simple look, and was a good deal ashamed.
The bride was tanned by the sun, and had only a few farewell leaves of youth still hanging about her: she was coarsely and poorly but cleanly drest: some red and blue silk ribbons, already somewhat faded, flaunted from her stomacher; but what chiefly disfigured her was, that her hair, after being stiffened with lard, flour, and pins, had been swept back from her forehead and piled up at the top of her head in a mound, on the summit of which lay the bridal chaplet. She smiled, and seemed glad at heart, but was bashful and downcast.
Next came the aged parents: her father too was only a labourer on the farm; and the hovel, the furniture, the clothing, all bore witness that their poverty was extreme. A dirty squinting musician followed the train, grinning and screaming and scratching his fiddle, which was patcht up of wood and pasteboard, and instead of strings had three bits of packthread.
The procession halted when his honour, their new master, came up to them. Some mischief-loving servants, lads and girls, tittered and laught, and jeered the bridal couple, especially the ladies’ maids, who thought themselves far handsomer, and saw themselves infinitely better drest, and wondered how people could be so vulgar.
A shudder came over Emilius: he lookt round for Roderick; but the latter as usual had already run away. An impertinent fop, with a head pilloried in a high starcht neckcloth, a footman to one of the visitors, eager to shew off his wit, shoved up to Emilius, giggling, and cried: “There your honour, what says your honour to this grand couple? They can neither of ’em guess where they are to find bread for tomorrow; and yet they mean to give a ball this afternoon, and that famous performer is already engaged.”
“No bread!” said Emilius; “can such things be?”
“Their wretchedness,” continued the chatterbox, “is notorious to the whole neighbourhood; but the fellow says he bears the creature the same goodwill, though she has nothing to boast of but her charms. Ay verily, as the song says, love can make black white! The brace of beggars have not even a bed, and must pass their wedding-night on the straw: they have just been round to every cottage, begging a pint of small beer, with which they mean to get royally drunk: a brave treat for a wedding, your honour!”
Everybody around burst out a-laughing, and the unhappy despised pair hung down their heads. Emilius pusht the coxcomb indignantly away, and cried: “Here, take this!” tossing a hundred ducats, which he had received that morning, into the hands of the amazed bridegroom.
The betrothed couple and their parents wept aloud, threw themselves clumsily on their knees, and kist his hands and the skirts of his coat.
He struggled to break loose from them. “Let that keep hunger out of doors as long as you can make it last!” he exclaimed, quite stunned by his feelings.
“Oh!” they all screamed, “oh your honour! we shall be rich and happy till the day of our deaths, and longer too, if we live longer.”
He did not know how he got away, but he found himself alone, and hastened with tremulous steps into the wood. There he sought out the thickest loneliest spot, and threw himself down on a grassy knoll, no longer keeping in the bursting flood of his tears.
“I am sick of life!” he cried: “I cannot be gay and happy; I will not. Make haste to receive me, dear kind mother earth, and shelter me with thy cool refreshing arms from the wild beasts that trample on thee and call themselves men. Oh God in heaven! how have I deserved that I should lie upon down, and be clothed in silk, that the grape should pour forth her precious heart’s blood for me, and that all should throng around me with offerings of homage and love!
This poor wretch is better and worthier than I; and misery is his nurse, and mockery and venomous scorn alone wish him joy on his wedding. Every delicacy that is placed before me, every draught out of my costly goblets, the soft luxury of my bed, my wearing gold and rich garments, will seem to me like so many sins, now that my eyes have seen how the world hunts down many thousand miserable beings, who are hungering after the dry bread I throw away, and who never know what a good meal is.
Oh now I can fully enter into your feelings, ye holy saints, whom the world scorns and scoffs at, ye who did scatter your all, even down to your very raiment, among the poor, and did gird your loins with sackcloth, and did resolve as beggars to undergo the gibes and the kicks wherewith brutal insolence and swilling voluptuousness drive the needy from their doors, that by so doing you might thoroughly purge yourselves from the foul sin of wealth.”
The world with all its inhabitants floated in a mist before his eyes: he resolved to look upon the destitute as his brethren, and to depart from the communion of the happy.
They had been waiting a long time for him in the hall, that the ceremony might be performed; the bride had grown uneasy; her parents had gone in search of him through the garden and park: at length he returned, lighter for having wept away his agitation; and the solemn knot was tied.
The company then walkt from the hall on the ground floor to the open gallery, to sit down to dinner. The bride and bridegroom led the way, and the rest followed in their train. Roderick offered his arm to a young girl who was lively and talkative.
“Why does a bride always cry, and look so serious and sad during the ceremony?” said she, as they mounted the stairs.
“Because it is the first time that she ever thoroughly feels what a momentous and mysterious thing life is:” answered Roderick.
“But our bride,” continued the girl, “in her gravity goes far beyond all I have ever yet seen. Indeed there is always something melancholy about her, and one can never catch her in a downright merry laugh.”
“This does the more honour to her heart,” replied Roderick, himself more serious than usual. “You don’t know perhaps that the bride a few years ago took a lovely little orphan girl into her house, to educate her. All her time was devoted to this child, and the gentle creature’s love was her sweetest reward.
When the girl was seven years old, she was lost on a walk about the town; and in spite of all the pains that have been used, nobody has ever found out what became of her. Our noble-minded hostess has taken this misfortune so much to heart, that she has been a prey ever since to silent grief, and nothing can win her mind away from longing after her little playfellow.”
“A most interesting adventure indeed!” said the young lady. “One might see a whole romance in three volumes growing out of this seed. It will be a strange sight, and it will not be for nothing, when this lost star reappears. What a pretty poem it would make! Don’t you think so, sir?”
The party took their seats: the bride and bridegroom were in the centre, looking out on the gay landscape. Everybody talkt and drank healths, and all was mirth and good humour: the bride’s parents were perfectly happy: the bridegroom alone was reserved and thoughtful, ate but little, and took no part in the conversation.
He started on hearing musical sounds roll down through the air from above, but grew calm again when he found they were only the soft notes of some bugles, travelling along with a pleasant murmur over the shrubs and through the park, and dying away on the distant hills. Roderick had placed the musicians in the gallery overhead, and Emilius was satisfied with this arrangement.
Toward the end of the dinner he called the butler, and, turning to his bride, said: “My love, let poverty also have a share of our superfluities.”
He then ordered him to send a number of bottles of wine, and abundance of pastry as well as other dishes, to the poor couple, that with them too this might be a day of rejoicing, to which in aftertimes they might look back with pleasure.
“See my friend,” exclaimed Roderick, “how beautifully all things in this world hang together! My idle trick of busying myself in other folks’ concerns, and chattering about whatever comes uppermost, though you will never give over finding fault with it, has at all events been the cause of this good deed.”
Several persons began making pretty speeches to their host on his kind and charitable heart; and Roderick’s neighbour lispt about the sweetness of romantic compassion and sentimental magnanimity.
“O say no more!” cried Emilius indignantly: “this is no good action; it is no action at all; it is nothing. When swallows and linnets feed on the crumbs that are thrown away from the waste of this meal, and carry them to their young in their nest, shall not I remember a poor brother, who needs my help? If I might follow my heart, ye would laugh and jeer at me, just as ye have laught and jeered at many others, who have gone forth into the wilderness that they might hear no more of this world and its generosity.”
Everybody was silent; and Roderick, perceiving from his friend’s glowing eyes how vehemently he was displeased, was afraid that in his present irritation he might forget himself still further, and tried to give the conversation a rapid turn on other subjects.
But Emilius was become restless and absent; his eyes wandered, more especially toward the upper gallery, where the servants who lived in the top story were engaged in a variety of occupations.
“Who is that ugly old woman?” he at length askt, “that is so busy up there, and is coming back again every moment in her grey cloak?”
“She is one of my servants,” said his bride; “she is to overlook and manage my chambermaids and other girls.”
“How can you endure to have anything so hideous perpetually at your elbow?” replied Emilius.
“Let her alone,” answered the young lady: “God meant the ugly to live as well as the handsome; and she is such a good honest creature, she may be of great use to us.”
On rising from table everybody gathered round the bridegroom, again wisht him joy, and urgently begged him to let them have a ball. The bride too said, breathing a gentle kiss on his forehead: “You will not deny your wife’s first request, my beloved; we have all been delighting in the hope of this. It is so long since I danced last; and you have never yet seen me dance. Have you no curiosity how I shall acquit myself in this new character? my mother tells me I look better than at any other time.”
“I never saw you in such gay spirits before,” said Emilius. “I will not throw a damp over your mirth; do as you please: only don’t let anybody ask me to make a laughing stock of myself by trying to cut clumsy capers.”
“Oh, if you are a bad dancer,” she answered laughing, “you may feel quite safe; we shall all readily consent to your sitting still.” The bride then retired to put on her ball dress.
“She does not know,” whispered Emilius to Roderick, as he withdrew, “that there is a secret door by which I can get from the next room into hers: I will surprise her while she is dressing.”
When Emilius had left them, and many of the ladies were also gone to make such changes in their attire as were requisite for the ball, Roderick took the young men aside and led the way to his own room.
“It is wearing toward evening,” he said, “and will soon be dark; so make haste all of you and mask yourselves, that we may render this night glorious in the annals of merriment and madness. Give your fancies free range in choosing your characters; the wilder and uglier the better.
Try every combination of shaggy mane, and squinting eye, and mouth gaping like a volcano; pile mountains atop of your shoulders, or plump yourselves out into Falstaffs; and as a whet to your inventions I promise a kiss from the bride to the figure that would be the likeliest to make her miscarry.
A wedding is such an out-of-the-way event in ones life; the bride and bridegroom are so suddenly plunged, by a sort of magic, head over heels into a new unaccustomed element, that it is impossible to throw too much madness and folly into this festival, in order to keep pace with the whirlpool that is bearing a brace of human beings from the state where they were two to the state where they become one.
And that all things round about may be fitting accompaniments for the dizzy dream on the wings of which they are floating toward a new life. So let us rave away the night, making all sail before the breeze; and a fig for such as look twice on the dull sour faces that, would bid you behave rationally and soberly.”
“Don’t be afraid,” said the young officer; “we have brought a large chest full of masks and mad carnival dresses from town with us, such as would make even you stare.”
“But see here,” returned Roderick, “what a gem I have got from my tailor, who was on the point of cutting up this peerless treasure into strips. He had bought it of an old crone who must doubtless have worn it on gala-days, when she went to Lucifer’s drawing room on the Blocksberg. Look at this scarlet bodice with its gold tassels and fringe, at this cap besmeared with the last fee the hag got from Beelzebub or his imps! it will give me a right worshipful air.
To match these choice morsels I have this green velvet petticoat, with its saffron lining, and this mask which would melt even Medusa to a grin. Thus accoutred I mean to lead the chorus of anti-graces, myself their mother-queen, to the bedroom. Make the best speed you can, and we will then go in solemn procession to fetch the bride.”
The bugles were still playing: the company were strolling about the garden, or sitting before the house. The sun had gone down behind thick murky clouds, and the country was lying in the grey dusk, when a parting gleam suddenly burst athwart the cloudy veil, and flooded every spot around, but above all the building, its galleries and pillars and wreaths of flowers, as it were with red blood.
At this moment the parents of the bride and the other visitors saw a train of the most grotesque figures move toward the upper corridor. Roderick led the way as the scarlet old woman, and was followed by humpbacks, bulging paunches, cumbrous wigs, Scaramouches, Punches, shrivelled Pantaloons, curtsying women embankt by enormous hoops, and overcanopied with a yard of horsehair, powder, and pomatum, and by every disgusting shape that can be imagined, as if a nightmair had been unrolling her stores.
They jumpt, and twirled, and tottered, and stumbled, and straddled, and strutted, and swaggered along the gallery, and then vanisht behind one of the doors. But few of the beholders had been able to laugh, so utterly were they astounded by the strange sight.
Suddenly a piercing shriek burst from one of the rooms, and forth into the bloodred glow of the sunset rusht the pale bride, in a short white frock, about which wreaths of flowers were dangling, with her lovely bosom all naked, and her rich locks streaming through the air. As though mad, with rolling eyes and wrencht face, she darted along the gallery, and blinded by terrour could find neither door nor staircase; and immediately after dasht Emilius in chase of her, with the sparkling Turkish dagger in his high-uplifted hand.
Now she was at the end of the passage … she could go no further … he reacht her. His maskt friends and the grey old woman were running after him. But in his fury he had already pierced her bosom, and cut across her white neck; her blood spouted forth into the radiance of the setting sun.
The old woman had claspt her arms round him to tear him back; he struggled fiercely, hurled himself along with her over the railing, and they both fell almost lifeless at the feet of the relations who had been staring in dumb horrour at the bloody scene.
Above, and in the court, or hurrying down the steps or along the galleries, were seen the hideous masks, standing or running about, in various clusters, like fiends of hell.
Roderick took his dying friend in his arms. He had found him in his wife’s room, playing with the dagger. She was almost drest when he entered. At the sight of the detested red bodice his memory had rekindled; the horrid vision of that night had risen up before his eyes; and gnashing his teeth he had darted after his trembling, flying bride, to avenge that murder and all those devilish doings.
The old woman, ere she died, confest the crime that had been perpetrated; and the gladness and mirth of the whole house were suddenly changed into sorrow and lamentation and dismay.
~ The End ~