J. Sheridan LeFanu
We Compare Notes
We followed the cortege with our eyes until it was swiftly lost to sight in the misty wood; and the very sound of the hoofs and the wheels died away in the silent night air.
Nothing remained to assure us that the adventure had not been an illusion of a moment but the young lady, who just at that moment opened her eyes. I could not see, for her face was turned from me, but she raised her head, evidently looking about her, and I heard a very sweet voice ask complainingly, “Where is mamma?”
Our good Madame Perrodon answered tenderly, and added some comfortable assurances.
I then heard her ask:
“Where am I? What is this place?” and after that she said, “I don’t see the carriage; and Matska, where is she?”
Madame answered all her questions in so far as she understood them; and gradually the young lady remembered how the misadventure came about, and was glad to hear that no one in, or in attendance on, the carriage was hurt; and on learning that her mamma had left her here, till her return in about three months, she wept.
I was going to add my consolations to those of Madame Perrodon when Mademoiselle De Lafontaine placed her hand upon my arm, saying:
“Don’t approach, one at a time is as much as she can at present converse with; a very little excitement would possibly overpower her now.”
As soon as she is comfortably in bed, I thought, I will run up to her room and see her.
My father in the meantime had sent a servant on horseback for the physician, who lived about two leagues away; and a bedroom was being prepared for the young lady’s reception.
The stranger now rose, and leaning on Madame’s arm, walked slowly over the drawbridge and into the castle gate.
In the hall, servants waited to receive her, and she was conducted forthwith to her room. The room we usually sat in as our drawing room is long, having four windows, that looked over the moat and drawbridge, upon the forest scene I have just described.
It is furnished in old carved oak, with large carved cabinets, and the chairs are cushioned with crimson Utrecht velvet. The walls are covered with tapestry, and surrounded with great gold frames, the figures being as large as life, in ancient and very curious costume, and the subjects represented are hunting, hawking, and generally festive. It is not too stately to be extremely comfortable; and here we had our tea, for with his usual patriotic leanings he insisted that the national beverage should make its appearance regularly with our coffee and chocolate.
We sat here this night, and with candles lighted, were talking over the adventure of the evening.
Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle De Lafontaine were both of our party. The young stranger had hardly lain down in her bed when she sank into a deep sleep; and those ladies had left her in the care of a servant.
“How do you like our guest?” I asked, as soon as Madame entered. “Tell me all about her?”
“I like her extremely,” answered Madame, “she is, I almost think, the prettiest creature I ever saw; about your age, and so gentle and nice.”
“She is absolutely beautiful,” threw in Mademoiselle, who had peeped for a moment into the stranger’s room.
“And such a sweet voice!” added Madame Perrodon.
“Did you remark a woman in the carriage, after it was set up again, who did not get out,” inquired Mademoiselle, “but only looked from the window?”
“No, we had not seen her.”
Then she described a hideous black woman, with a sort of colored turban on her head, and who was gazing all the time from the carriage window, nodding and grinning derisively towards the ladies, with gleaming eyes and large white eyeballs, and her teeth set as if in fury.
“Did you remark what an ill-looking pack of men the servants were?” asked Madame.
“Yes,” said my father, who had just come in, “ugly, hang-dog looking fellows as ever I beheld in my life. I hope they mayn’t rob the poor lady in the forest. They are clever rogues, however; they got everything to rights in a minute.”
“I dare say they are worn out with too long traveling,” said Madame.
“Besides looking wicked, their faces were so strangely lean, and dark, and sullen. I am very curious, I own; but I dare say the young lady will tell you all about it tomorrow, if she is sufficiently recovered.”
“I don’t think she will,” said my father, with a mysterious smile, and a little nod of his head, as if he knew more about it than he cared to tell us.
This made us all the more inquisitive as to what had passed between him and the lady in the black velvet, in the brief but earnest interview that had immediately preceded her departure.
We were scarcely alone, when I entreated him to tell me. He did not need much pressing.
“There is no particular reason why I should not tell you. She expressed a reluctance to trouble us with the care of her daughter, saying she was in delicate health, and nervous, but not subject to any kind of seizure–she volunteered that–nor to any illusion; being, in fact, perfectly sane.”
“How very odd to say all that!” I interpolated. “It was so unnecessary.”
“At all events it was said,” he laughed, “and as you wish to know all that passed, which was indeed very little, I tell you. She then said, ‘I am making a long journey of vital importance–she emphasized the word–rapid and secret; I shall return for my child in three months; in the meantime, she will be silent as to who we are, whence we come, and whither we are traveling.’ That is all she said. She spoke very pure French. When she said the word ‘secret,’ she paused for a few seconds, looking sternly, her eyes fixed on mine. I fancy she makes a great point of that. You saw how quickly she was gone. I hope I have not done a very foolish thing, in taking charge of the young lady.”
For my part, I was delighted. I was longing to see and talk to her; and only waiting till the doctor should give me leave. You, who live in towns, can have no idea how great an event the introduction of a new friend is, in such a solitude as surrounded us.
The doctor did not arrive till nearly one o’clock; but I could no more have gone to my bed and slept, than I could have overtaken, on foot, the carriage in which the princess in black velvet had driven away.
When the physician came down to the drawing room, it was to report very favorably upon his patient. She was now sitting up, her pulse quite regular, apparently perfectly well. She had sustained no injury, and the little shock to her nerves had passed away quite harmlessly. There could be no harm certainly in my seeing her, if we both wished it; and, with this permission I sent, forthwith, to know whether she would allow me to visit her for a few minutes in her room.
The servant returned immediately to say that she desired nothing more.
You may be sure I was not long in availing myself of this permission.
Our visitor lay in one of the handsomest rooms in the schloss. It was, perhaps, a little stately. There was a somber piece of tapestry opposite the foot of the bed, representing Cleopatra with the asps to her bosom; and other solemn classic scenes were displayed, a little faded, upon the other walls. But there was gold carving, and rich and varied color enough in the other decorations of the room, to more than redeem the gloom of the old tapestry.
There were candles at the bedside. She was sitting up; her slender pretty figure enveloped in the soft silk dressing gown, embroidered with flowers, and lined with thick quilted silk, which her mother had thrown over her feet as she lay upon the ground.
What was it that, as I reached the bedside and had just begun my little greeting, struck me dumb in a moment, and made me recoil a step or two from before her? I will tell you.
I saw the very face which had visited me in my childhood at night, which remained so fixed in my memory, and on which I had for so many years so often ruminated with horror, when no one suspected of what I was thinking.
It was pretty, even beautiful; and when I first beheld it, wore the same melancholy expression.
But this almost instantly lighted into a strange fixed smile of recognition.
There was a silence of fully a minute, and then at length she spoke; I could not.
“How wonderful!” she exclaimed. “Twelve years ago, I saw your face in a dream, and it has haunted me ever since.”
“Wonderful indeed!” I repeated, overcoming with an effort the horror that had for a time suspended my utterances. “Twelve years ago, in vision or reality, I certainly saw you. I could not forget your face. It has remained before my eyes ever since.”
Her smile had softened. Whatever I had fancied strange in it, was gone, and it and her dimpling cheeks were now delightfully pretty and intelligent.
I felt reassured, and continued more in the vein which hospitality indicated, to bid her welcome, and to tell her how much pleasure her accidental arrival had given us all, and especially what a happiness it was to me.
I took her hand as I spoke. I was a little shy, as lonely people are, but the situation made me eloquent, and even bold. She pressed my hand, she laid hers upon it, and her eyes glowed, as, looking hastily into mine, she smiled again, and blushed.
She answered my welcome very prettily. I sat down beside her, still wondering; and she said:
“I must tell you my vision about you; it is so very strange that you and I should have had, each of the other so vivid a dream, that each should have seen, I you and you me, looking as we do now, when of course we both were mere children. I was a child, about six years old, and I awoke from a confused and troubled dream, and found myself in a room, unlike my nursery, wainscoted clumsily in some dark wood, and with cupboards and bedsteads, and chairs, and benches placed about it. The beds were, I thought, all empty, and the room itself without anyone but myself in it; and I, after looking about me for some time, and admiring especially an iron candlestick with two branches, which I should certainly know again, crept under one of the beds to reach the window; but as I got from under the bed, I heard someone crying; and looking up, while I was still upon my knees, I saw you–most assuredly you–as I see you now; a beautiful young lady, with golden hair and large blue eyes, and lips–your lips–you as you are here.
“Your looks won me; I climbed on the bed and put my arms about you, and I think we both fell asleep. I was aroused by a scream; you were sitting up screaming. I was frightened, and slipped down upon the ground, and, it seemed to me, lost consciousness for a moment; and when I came to myself, I was again in my nursery at home. Your face I have never forgotten since. I could not be misled by mere resemblance. You are the lady whom I saw then.”
Last 2 photos: Carmilla, Gustavo Lopez
It was now my turn to relate my corresponding vision, which I did, to the undisguised wonder of my new acquaintance.
“I don’t know which should be most afraid of the other,” she said, again smiling–“If you were less pretty I think I should be very much afraid of you, but being as you are, and you and I both so young, I feel only that I have made your acquaintance twelve years ago, and have already a right to your intimacy; at all events it does seem as if we were destined, from our earliest childhood, to be friends. I wonder whether you feel as strangely drawn towards me as I do to you; I have never had a friend–shall I find one now?” She sighed, and her fine dark eyes gazed passionately on me.
Now the truth is, I felt rather unaccountably towards the beautiful stranger. I did feel, as she said, “drawn towards her,” but there was also something of repulsion. In this ambiguous feeling, however, the sense of attraction immensely prevailed. She interested and won me; she was so beautiful and so indescribably engaging.
I perceived now something of languor and exhaustion stealing over her, and hastened to bid her good night.
“The doctor thinks,” I added, “that you ought to have a maid to sit up with you tonight; one of ours is waiting, and you will find her a very useful and quiet creature.”
“How kind of you, but I could not sleep, I never could with an attendant in the room. I shan’t require any assistance–and, shall I confess my weakness, I am haunted with a terror of robbers. Our house was robbed once, and two servants murdered, so I always lock my door. It has become a habit–and you look so kind I know you will forgive me. I see there is a key in the lock.”
She held me close in her pretty arms for a moment and whispered in my ear, “Good night, darling, it is very hard to part with you, but good night; tomorrow, but not early, I shall see you again.”
She sank back on the pillow with a sigh, and her fine eyes followed me with a fond and melancholy gaze, and she murmured again “Good night, dear friend.”
Young people like, and even love, on impulse. I was flattered by the evident, though as yet undeserved, fondness she showed me. I liked the confidence with which she at once received me. She was determined that we should be very near friends.
Next day came and we met again. I was delighted with my companion; that is to say, in many respects.
Her looks lost nothing in daylight–she was certainly the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and the unpleasant remembrance of the face presented in my early dream, had lost the effect of the first unexpected recognition.
She confessed that she had experienced a similar shock on seeing me, and precisely the same faint antipathy that had mingled with my admiration of her. We now laughed together over our momentary horrors.
The Roses of the Moon, excerpt: Saint Lucy’s Day
by Aline deWinter
In my Gothic fantasy, The Roses of the Moon, the thin veneer of Christianity cracks under the pressure of ancient rites of demonic magic practiced by the Countess of Castle Szeppasszony, Orzsebet. In this very early scene, nine year old Marcsa Virag goes with her nurse, Katalin, to the procession of Saint Lucy to pray that the evil secrets of her mother, Countess Orzsebet, be left hidden in the darkness for all of their sakes.
We came out of the gloomy castle into sunshine and snow so bright that I had to pull my large, soft hood low to shade my eyes and keep them from weeping. Katalin pulled her hood up as well, though I knew it was to hide her face. Over the stately tolling of the bells the most beautiful singing swelled, reverberating around the mountains to the heavens above.
We hurried north along the icy lane to the Chapel of the Angels. It was all the way over on the other side of the River Kigyo at the base of the Mountain of the Moon. In ancient times the chapel had been carved out of the living rock. It was faced with a deep portico of stone spires that rose through the air before the cliff like ladders, encrusted over with mystic carvings. Souls of the blessed and damned, devils, angels, and saints floated, bending around the majestic figure of Christ at the Last Judgment. Gothic niches housing statues of angels climbed the sheer face of the cliff above the chapel to a ruin at the top. Lights sparkled at the feet of these angels lit by the monks who climbed a thousand stairs to reach them. A paved courtyard went around this majestic façade and out over a ledge to the edge of the river chasm. A wide bridge spanned the gap to the gate in the northern curtain wall. It was quite splendid to see the horses flying over that broad viaduct during my father’s rituals of war, or the processions of monks coming across in the twilight carrying lighted candles as they wound through the castle on their way to the cathedral in the village.
On Saint Lucy’s Day, the gates on both sides of the river were open to the throng. When we arrived at the bridge, the procession was already making its way around the courtyard. Many of our courtiers stood along the inner walls wearing their best fur hats, long cloaks and jewels that sparkled in the mystic light of the lamps they carried in honor of Saint Lucy. We found a place in the back of the crowd, but I could not resist squeezing through the farthingales and cloaks to get a closer look.
Smoke of frankincense and myrrh poured out of golden censers that were swung by three priests in rich, glittering robes at the head of the stately pageant. Our sublime choir followed the priests. The deep voices of the older men thundered forth mixing with the soaring high tones of the boys’ voices in such celestial harmony that I shivered with emotion. The singers carried a white, flaring candles that cast damp halos around their faces. Frost streamed from their mouths, and their cheeks burned bright red. The dragging hems of their cassocks grew dark with wet snow. Painted icons of the saints and martyrs in golden frames bristling above them on long, golden stems came towards us like an advancing army. The censers swayed, the voices boomed and rose as if moved by the breath of God.
In their midst, altar boys rang musical hand bells to herald the arrival of Saint Lucy. Her holy relics were carried high above the crowd on the shoulders of six stout clerics. As they passed, I saw Saint Lucy sitting on a tall chair inside a litter of golden filigree. Struck by a ray of sunlight, her ivory face gleamed, her hair streamed like a river of gold, but the sockets of her eyes were the empty holes of a mask. The eyes that lay in her golden dish were pale blue sapphires.
I prayed to Saint Lucy to forgive me for seeing wrong things, and asked that all the bad luck I had caused be buried deep in the earth with my doll. I prayed that the magical link to my doll be broken, and that my moon baths have the power to wash all evil away.
Katalin was weeping. I went back to hold her hand, but just before I did, I saw my mother following the procession in a long blue cloak that dragged behind her in the mud and snow. Her ladies came after, watching their steps, carrying their Saint Lucy’s lanterns in one hand and daintily pinching their skirts up above their ankles with the other. My mother’s hooded head was bowed as if she was in deep prayer, fingering her beads like a nun. But I was not sure she really was praying, for she walked in the shadow of the bier and the darkness clung to her like soot. When she passed I did not think she saw me, or if she did, she paid me no mind.
I thought it would be fun to share some bits and pieces of my forthcoming novel, The Roses of the Moon and find out what people think. It has many faery tale elements woven int the narrative.
The Roses of the Moon
Increases potency and power
“Marcsa Virag, get away from the door!”
The voice struck like a blast of cold wind, blowing me into the shadows below the torchlight. The toes of my pointed shoes caught in the swirling hem of my shirts, tripping me to the floor. I broke my fall with my hands and lay winded for a moment. As I struggled to catch my breath I glanced around for my doll. She was gone. I turned to look back the way I had come and, through a blur of tears, saw my doll’s small, dark shape lying in a wand of firelight between the wall and the door that was cracked open upon the private chambers of the Countess Orzsebet.
There was a flicker of silence. I crept forward thinking that I might have time slip back and rescue my doll before anybody noticed, when suddenly the door opened wide, and in that shaft of light, the profile of a long-nosed mask appeared, surrounded by an elaborate circular neck ruff. A glimmer of bright fabric rained down from the mask to the floor and a single hand curled there around the handle of a long whip. The mask slowly turned to face me, its eyeholes stared in my direction, and the frill fanned out around it like the neck feathers of a great bird of prey. When the Countess saw me, she drew swiftly back into the room and out of sight, only to reappear and gaze at me again.
Captured in the beams of the Countess’s eyes, I was unable to move, frozen like a mouse crouching in the witch grass waiting for the descending claws. Suddenly she was walking towards me with a smooth, gliding step that reminded me of the small serpents that slithered into my chamber in the night and hid beneath my bed to escape the winter cold. The eyes behind the holes of the mask bore down upon me, baleful and fiery blue.
The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into
her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my
eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had
burned out her eyes!
“Marcsa Virag, you have not seen what you think you have seen. Mark me! You do not remember a thing.”
Wheeling around, she threw my doll at my feet, floated back to her chamber and shut me out.
The corridor was colder and darker than ever now. The Countess Orzsebet, my mother, had sucked away all of the heat and light and taken it away into her personal domain. My doll lay face down like a fragment of torn shadow. Her black hair was tangled. Her dress was draggled and ripped. With my eyes still fixated upon my mother’s door, I leaned over slowly and picked her up. When I looked at her face I almost dropped her again. Someone had burned out her eyes!
I held my poor doll to my heart and ran as fast as I could down the rest of the corridor, almost tripping down a flight of wide sloping steps. I sped across the wintry cobbled courtyard where the ice-cold waters in the unicorn fountain were frozen in the air like silver ribbons. I plunged into a shadowy, smoky maze of arches and out again into the dim winter light of the Castle Courtyard that stretched behind the Main Gate to the steps of the Reception Hall. My steps echoed as I raced across the flagstones, scattering a flock of pigeons that flew around me like a storm. Finally I arrived at the tall, heavy doors to my wing of the castle and the guard let me inside. I slowed my pace down the wide corridor to the grand staircase that swept up to the galleries. My legs were heavy as I climbed into the gloom. I had to sit down to catch my breath. One look at my doll told me, more than words, that my mother hated me. I pressed the tip of my tongue against my teeth to calm myself. Above the top step, the landing stretched spaciously to the foot of an enormous tapestry of a beautiful walled garden where ladies danced with hares around a tree in the moonlight.
I fixed my gaze on the rich colors of the tapestry and finished my climb up the stairs. One either side of that weaving were two stained glass windows that shone hot for a moment and then dimmed, telling me that the sun had just fallen below the rim of the Carpathian Mountains.