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Tales of the Dead


THE SPECTRE-BEARER, continued

{216} situated near Rheinburg; but since entirely destroyed in the thirty years' war. A caravan of carriers from Liege filled the inn so entirely, that the landlord told Francis he could not give him a lodging; adding, that at the adjoining village he would find accommodations. -- Possibly he was actuated to this refusal by Francis's appearance, who certainly in point of garb might well be mistaken for a vagabond.

The landlord took him for a spy to a band of thieves, sent probably to rob the carriers: so that poor Francis, spite of his extreme lassitude, was compelled with his wallet at his back to proceed on his road; and having at his departure muttered through his teeth some bitter maledictions against the cruel and unfeeling landlord, the latter appeared touched with compassion for the poor stranger, and from the door of the inn called after him: "Young man; a word with you! If you resolve on passing the night here, I will procure you a lodging in that castle you now see on the hill; there you will have rooms in abundance, provided you are not afraid of being alone, for it is uninhabited. See, here are the keys belonging to it."

Francis joyfully accepted the landlord's proposition, and thanked him for it as if it had been an act of great charity.

"It is to me a matter of little moment where I {217} pass the night, provided I am at my ease, and have something to eat." But the landlord was an ill-tempered fellow; and wishing to revenge the invectives Francis had poured forth against him, he sent him to the castle in order that he might be tormented by the spirits which were said to frequent it.

This castle was situated on a steep rock, and was only separated from the village by the high-road and a little rivulet. Its delightful prospects caused it to be kept in good repair, and to be well furnished, as its owner made use of it as a hunting-seat: but no sooner did night come on than he quitted it, in order to avoid the apparitions and ghosts which haunted it; but during the day nothing of the sort was visible, and all was tranquil.

When it was quite dark, Francis with a lantern in his hand proceeded towards the castle. The landlord accompanied him, and carried a little basket of provisions, to which he had added a bottle of wine (which he said should stand the test), as well as two candles and two wax-tapers for the night. Francis, not thinking he should require so many things, and being apprehensive he should have to pay for them, asked why they were all brought.

"The light from my lantern,'' said he, "will suffice me till the time of my getting into bed; and ere I shall get out of it, the sun will have risen, for I am quite worn out with fatigue."

{218} "I will not endeavour to conceal from you," replied the landlord, "that according to the current reports this castle is haunted by evil spirits: but do not let that frighten you; you see I live sufficiently near, that, in case any thing extraordinary should happen to you, I can hear you call, and shall be in readiness with my people to render you any assistance. At my house there is somebody stirring all night, and there is also some one constantly on the watch. I have lived on this spot for thirty years, and cannot say that I have ever seen any thing to alarm me: indeed, I believe that you may with safety attribute any noises you hear during the night in this castle, to cats and weazels, with which the granaries are overrun. I have only provided you with the means of keeping up a light in case of need, for, at best, night is but a gloomy season; and, in addition, these candles are consecrated, and their light will undoubtedly keep off any evil spirits, should there be such in the castle."

The landlord spoke only the truth, when he said he had not seen any ghosts in the castle; for he never had the courage to set his foot within its doors after dark; and though he now spoke so courageously, the rogue would not have ventured on any account to enter. After having opened the door, he gave the basket into Francis's hand, pointed out the way he was to turn, and wished {219} him good night: while the latter, fully satisfied that the story of the ghosts must be fabulous, gaily entered. He recollected all that had been told him to the prejudice of the chevalier Bronkhorst, but unfortunately forgot what that brave Castellan had recommended to him at parting.

Comformably to the landlord's instructions, he went up stairs and came to a door, which the key in his possession soon unlocked: it opened into a long dark gallery, where his very steps re-echoed; this gallery led to a large hall, from which issued a suite of apartments furnished in a costly manner: he surveyed them all; and made choice of one in which to pass the night, that appeared rather more lively than the rest. The windows looked to the high-road, and every thing that passed in front of the inn could be distinctly heard from them. He lighted two candles, spread the cloth, ate very heartily, and felt completely at his ease so long as he was thus employed; for while eating, no thought or apprehension of spirits molested him; but he no sooner arose from table, than he began to feel a sensation strongly resembling fear.

In order to render himself secure, he locked the door, drew the bolts, and looked out from each window; but nothing was to be seen. Every thing along the high-road and in front of the inn was tranquil, where, contrary to the landlord's {220} assertions, not a single light was discernible. The sound of the horn belonging to the night-guard was the only thing that interrupted the silence which universally prevailed.

Francis closed the windows, once again looked round the room, and after snuffing the candles that they might burn the better, he threw himself on the bed, which he found good and comfortable: but although greatly fatigued, he could not get to sleep so soon as he had hoped. A slight palpitation of the heart, which he attributed to the agitation produced by the heat of his journey, kept him awake for a considerable time, till at length sleep came to his aid. After having as he imagined been asleep somewhat about an hour, he awoke and started up in a state of horror possibly not unusual to a person whose blood is overheated: this idea in some degree allayed his apprehensions; and he listened attentively, but could hear nothing excepting the clock, which struck the hour of midnight. Again he listened for an instant; and turning on his side, he was just going off to sleep again, when he fancied he heard a distant door grinding on its hinges, and then shut with a heavy noise. In an instant the idea of the ghost approaching caused him no little fear: but he speedily got the better of his alarm, by fancying it was only the wind; however, he could not comfort himself long {221} with this idea, for the sound approached nearer and nearer, and resembled the noise made by the clanging of chains, or the rattling of a large bunch of keys.

The terror which Francis experienced was beyond all description, and he put his head under the clothes. The doors continued to open with a frightful noise, and at last he heard some one trying different keys at the door of his room; one of them seemed perfectly to fit the lock, but the bolts kept the door fast; however, a violent shock like a clap of thunder caused them to give way, and in stalked a tall thin figure with a black beard, whose appearance was indicative of chagrin and melancholy. He was habited in the antique style, and on his left shoulder wore a red cloak or mantle, while his head was covered with a high-crowned hat. Three times with slow and measured steps he walked round the room, examined the consecrated candles, and snuffed them: he then threw off his cloak, unfolded a shaving apparatus, and took from it the razors, which he sharpened on a large leather strop hanging to his belt.

No powers are adequate to describe the agonies Francis endured: he recommended himself to the Virgin Mary, and endeavoured, as well as his fears would permit, to form an idea of the spectre's designs on him. Whether he purposed to cut his {222} throat, or only take off his beard, he was at a loss to determine. The poor traveller, however, was a little more composed, when he saw the spectre take out a silver shaving-pot, and in a bason of the same metal put some water; after which he made a lather, and then placed a chair. But a cold perspiration came over Francis, when the spectre with a grave air, made signs for him to sit in that chair.

He knew it was useless to resist this mandate, which was but too plainly given: and thinking it most prudent to make a virtue of necessity, and to put a good face on the matter, Francis obeyed the order, jumped nimbly out of bed, and seated himself as directed.

The spirit placed the shaving-bib round his neck: then taking a comb and scissars, cut off his hair and whiskers; after which he lathered, according to rule, his beard, his eye-brows and head, and shaved them all off completely from his chin to the nape of his neck. This operation ended, he washed his head, wiped and dried it very nicely, made him a low bow, folded up his case, put his cloak on his shoulder, and made towards the door to go away.

The consecrated candles had burnt most brilliantly during the whole of this operation; and by their clear light Francis discovered, on looking into the glass, that he had not a single hair remaining {223} on his head. Most bitterly did he deplore the loss of his beautiful brown hair: but he regained courage on remarking, that, however great the sacrifice, all was now over, and that the spirit had no more power over him.

In effect, the ghost walked towards the door with as grave an air as he had entered: but after going a few steps, he stopped, looked at Francis with a mournful air, and stroked his beard. He three times repeated this action; and was on the point of quitting the room, when Francis began to fancy he wanted something. With great quickness of thought he imagined it might be, that he wished him to perform a like service for him to that which he had just been executing on himself.

As the spectre, spite of his woe-begone aspect, appeared more inclined to raillery than gravity, and as his proceedings towards Francis appeared more a species of frolic than absolute ill treatment, the latter no longer appeared to entertain any apprehension of him; and in consequence determined to hazard the adventure. He therefore beckoned the phantom to seat himself in the chair. It instantly returned, and obeyed: taking off its cloak, and unfolding the case, it placed it on the table, and seated itself in the chair, in the attitude of one about to be shaved. Francis imitated precisely all he had seen it do: he cut off its hair and {224} whiskers, and then lathered its head. The spirit did not move an inch. Our barber's apprentice did not handle the razor very dexterously; so that having taken hold of the ghost's beard against the grain, the latter made a horrible grimace. Francis did not feel much assured by this action: however, he got through the job as well as he could, and rendered the ghost's head as completely bald as his own.

Hitherto the scene between the two performers had passed in profound silence; but on a sudden the silence was interrupted by the ghost exclaiming with a smiling countenance: -- "Stranger, I heartily thank you for the eminent service you have rendered me; for to you am I indebted for deliverance from my long captivity. During the space of three hundred years I have been immersed within these walls, and my soul has been condemned to submit to this chastisement as a punishment for my crimes, until some living being had the courage to exercise retaliation on me, by doing to me what I have done by others during my life.

"Count Hartmann formerly resided in this castle: he was a man who recognized no law nor superior; was of an arrogant and overbearing disposition; committed every species of wickedness, and violated the most sacred rights of hospitality: he played all sorts of malicious tricks to strangers {225} who sought refuge under his roof, and to the poor who solicited his charity. I was his barber, and did every thing to please him. No sooner did I perceive a pious pilgrim, than in an endearing tone I urged him to come into the castle, and prepared a bath for him; and while he was enjoying the idea of being taken care of, I shaved his beard and head quite close, and then turned him out of the bye door, with raillery and ridicule. All this was seen by count Hartmann from his window with a sort of devilish pleasure, while the children would assemble round the abused stranger, and pursue him with cries of derision.

"One day there came a holy man from a far distant country; he wore a penitentiary cross at his back, and his devotion had imprinted scars on his feet, hands, and sides; his head was shaved, excepting a circle of hair left to resemble the crown of thorns worn by our Saviour. He asked some water to wash his feet as he passed by, and some bread to eat. I instantly put him into the bath; but did not respect even his venerable head. Upon which the pilgrim pronounced this terrible curse on me: 'Depraved wretch,' said he, 'know that at your death, the formidable gates of heaven, of hell, and of purgatory will alike be closed against your sinful soul, which shall wander through this castle, in the form of a ghost, until {226} some man, without being invited or constrained, shall do to you, what you have so long done to others."

"From that moment the marrow in my bones dried up, and I became a perfect shadow; my soul quitted my emaciated body, and remained wandering within these walls, according to the prediction of the holy man. In vain did I look and hope for release from the painful ties which held me to earth; for know, that no sooner is the soul separated from the body, than it aspires to the blissful regions of peace, and the ardour of its wishes causes years to appear as long as centuries, while it languishes in a strange element. As a punishment, I am compelled to continue the trade that I had exercised during my life; but, alas! my nocturnal appearance soon rendered this castle deserted. Now and then a poor pilgrim entered to pass the night here: when they did, however, I treated them all as I have done you. but not one has understood me, or rendered me the only service which could deliver my soul from this sad servitude. Henceforth no spirit will haunt this castle; for I shall now enjoy that repose of which I have been so long in search. Once again let me thank you, gallant youth; and believe, that had I power over the hidden treasures of the globe, I would give them all to you; but, unfortunately, during {227} my life riches did not fall to my lot, and this castle contains no store: however; listen to the advice I am now about to give you.

"Remain here till your hair has grown again; then return to your own country; and at that period of the year when the days and nights are of equal length, go on the bridge which crosses the Weser, and there remain till a friend, whom you will there meet, shall tell you what you ought to do to get possession of terrestrial wealth. When you are rolling in riches and prosperity, remember me; and on every anniversary of the day on which you released me from the heavy maledictions which overwhelmed me, cause a mass to be said for the repose of my soul. Adieu! I must now leave you."

Thus saying, the phantom vanished, and left his liberator perfectly astonished at the strange history he had just related. For a considerable time Francis remained immoveable, and reasoned with himself as to the reality of what he had seen; for he could not help fancying still that it was only a dream: but his closely shaved head soon convinced him that the event had actually taken place. He got into bed again, and slept soundly till mid-day.

The malicious inn-keeper had been on the watch from dawn of day for the appearance of the traveller, in order that he might enjoy a laugh {228} at his expense, and express his surprise at the night's adventure. But after waiting till his patience was nearly exhausted, and finding it approached to noon, he began to apprehend that the spirit had either strangled the stranger, or that he had died of fright. He therefore called his servants together, and ran with them to the castle, passing through every room till he reached the one in which he had observed the light the [sic] over-night; there he found a strange key in the door, which was still bolted; for Francis had drawn the bolts again after the ghost had vanished. The landlord, who was all anxiety, knocked loudly; and Francis on awaking, at first thought it was the phantom come to pay him a second visit; but at length recognising the landlord's voice, he got up and opened the door.

The landlord, affecting the utmost possible astonishment, clasped his hands together, and exclaimed, "Great God and all the saints! then the red cloak has actually been here and shaved you completely? I now see that the story was but too well founded. But pray relate to me all the particulars: tell me what the spirit was like; how he came thus to shave you; and what he said to you?"

Francis, having sense enough to discover his roguery, answered him by saying: "The spirit resembled a man wearing a red cloak; you know {229} full well how he performed the operation: and his conversation I perfectly remember; -- listen attentively: -- 'Stranger,' said he to me, 'do not trust to a certain inn-keeper who has a figure of malice for his sign; the rogue knew well what would happen to you. Adieu! I now quit this abode, as my time is come; and in future no spirit will make its appearance here. I am now about to be transformed into a night-mare, and shall constantly torment and haunt this said inn-keeper, unless he does penance for his villainy, by lodging, feeding, and furnishing you with every thing needful, till your hair shall grow again and fall in ringlets over your shoulders.'"

At these words the landlord was seized with a violent trembling: he crossed himself, and vowed to the Virgin Mary that he would take care of the young stranger, lodge him, and give him every thing he required free of cost. He then conducted him to his house, and faithfully fulfilled what he promised.

The spirit being no longer heard or scene, Francis was naturally looked on as a conjuror. He several times passed a night in the castle; and one evening a courageous villager accompanied him, and returned without having lost his hair. The lord of the castle, hearing that the formidable red cloak was no longer to be seen, was quite delighted, {230} and gave orders that the stranger who had delivered him from this spirit should be well taken care of.

Early in the month of September, Francis's hair began to form into ringlets, and he prepared to depart; for all his thoughts were directed towards the bridge over the Weser, where he hoped, according to the barber's predictions, to find the friend who would point out to him the way to make his fortune.

When Francis took leave of the landlord, the latter presented him with a handsome horse well appointed, and loaded with a large cloak-bag on the back of the saddle, and gave him at the same time a sufficient sum of money to complete his journey. This was a present from the lord of the castle, expressive of his thanks for having delivered him from the spirit, and rendered his castle again habitable.

Francis arrived at his native place in high spirits. He returned to his lodging in the little street, where he lived very retired, contenting himself for the present with secret information respecting Meta. All the tidings he thus gained were of a satisfactory nature; but he would neither visit her, nor make her acquainted with his return, till his fate was decided.

He waited with the utmost impatience for the equinox; till which, time seemed immeasurably {231} long. The night preceding the eventful day, he could not close his eyes to sleep; and that he might be sure of not missing the friend with whom as yet he was unacquainted, he took his station ere sun-rise on the bridge, where no human being but himself was to be discovered. Replete with hopes of future good fortune, he formed a thousand projects in what way to spend his money.

Already had he, during the space of nearly an hour, traversed the bridge alone, giving full scope to his imagination; when on a sudden the bridge presented a moving scene, and amongst others, many beggars took their several stations on it, to levy contributions on the passengers. The first of this tribe who asked charity of Francis was a poor devil with a wooden leg, who, being a pretty good physiognomist, judged from the gay and contented air of the young man that his request would be crowned with success; and his conjecture was not erroneous, for he threw a demi-florin into his hat.

Francis, meanwhile, feeling persuaded that the friend he expected must belong to the highest class of society, was not surprised at not seeing him at so early an hour, and waited therefore with patience. But as the hour for visiting the Exchange and the Courts of Justice drew near, his eyes were in constant motion. He discovered at an immense distance every well-dressed person who came on {232} the bridge, and his blood was in a perfect ferment as each approached him, for in some one of them did he hope to discover the author of his good fortune; but it was in vain his looking the people in the face, no one paid attention to him. The beggars, who at noon were seated on the ground eating their dinner, remarking that the young man they had seen from the first of the morning was the only person remaining with them on the bridge, and that he had not spoken to any one, or appeared to have any employment, took him for a lazy vagabond; and although they had received marks of his beneficence, they began to make game of him, and in derision called him the provost of the bridge. The physiognomist with the wooden leg remarked that his air was no longer so gay as in the morning, and that having drawn his hat over his face he appeared entirely lost in thought, for he walked slowly along, nibbling an apple with an abstracted air. The observer, resolving to benefit by what he had remarked, went to the further extremity of the bridge, and after well examining the visionary, came up to him as a stranger, asked his charity, and succeeded to his utmost wish; for Francis, without turning round his head, gave him another demi-florin.

In the afternoon a crowd of new faces presented themselves to Francis's observation, while he {233} became quite weary at his friend's tardiness; but hope still kept up his attention. However, the fast declining sun gave notice of the approach of night, and yet scarcely any of the many passers-by had noticed Francis. Some few, perhaps, had returned his salutation, but not one had, as he expected and hoped, embraced him. At length, the day so visibly declined that the bridge became nearly deserted; for even the beggars went away. A profound melancholy seized the heart of poor Francis, when he found his hopes thus deceived; and giving way to despair, he would have precipitated himself into the Weser, had not the recollection of Meta deterred him. He felt anxious, ere he terminated his days in so tragical a manner, to see her once again as she went to mass, and feast on the contemplations of her features.

He was preparing to quit the bridge, when the beggar with the wooden leg accosted him, for he had in vain puzzled his brains to discover what could possibly have caused the young man to remain on the bridge from morning till night. The poor cripple had waited longer than usual on account of Francis, in order to see when he went; but as he remained longer than he wished, curiosity at length induced him openly to address him in order to learn what he so ardently desired to know.

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