J. Sheridan LeFanu
J. Sheridan LeFanu
Ordeal and Execution
As he spoke one of the strangest looking men I ever beheld entered the chapel at the door through which Carmilla had made her entrance and her exit. He was tall, narrow-chested, stooping, with high shoulders, and dressed in black. His face was brown and dried in with deep furrows; he wore an oddly-shaped hat with a broad leaf. His hair, long and grizzled, hung on his shoulders. He wore a pair of gold spectacles, and walked slowly, with an odd shambling gait, with his face sometimes turned up to the sky, and sometimes bowed down towards the ground, seemed to wear a perpetual smile; his long thin arms were swinging, and his lank hands, in old black gloves ever so much too wide for them, waving and gesticulating in utter abstraction.
“The very man!” exclaimed the General, advancing with manifest delight. “My dear Baron, how happy I am to see you, I had no hope of meeting you so soon.” He signed to my father, who had by this time returned, and leading the fantastic old gentleman, whom he called the Baron to meet him. He introduced him formally, and they at once entered into earnest conversation. The stranger took a roll of paper from his pocket, and spread it on the worn surface of a tomb that stood by. He had a pencil case in his fingers, with which he traced imaginary lines from point to point on the paper, which from their often glancing from it, together, at certain points of the building, I concluded to be a plan of the chapel. He accompanied, what I may term, his lecture, with occasional readings from a dirty little book, whose yellow leaves were closely written over.
They sauntered together down the side aisle, opposite to the spot where I was standing, conversing as they went; then they began measuring distances by paces, and finally they all stood together, facing a piece of the sidewall, which they began to examine with great minuteness; pulling off the ivy that clung over it, and rapping the plaster with the ends of their sticks, scraping here, and knocking there. At length they ascertained the existence of a broad marble tablet, with letters carved in relief upon it.
With the assistance of the woodman, who soon returned, a monumental inscription, and carved escutcheon, were disclosed. They proved to be those of the long lost monument of Mircalla, Countess Karnstein.
The old General, though not I fear given to the praying mood, raised his hands and eyes to heaven, in mute thanksgiving for some moments.
“Tomorrow,” I heard him say; “the commissioner will be here, and the Inquisition will be held according to law.”
Then turning to the old man with the gold spectacles, whom I have described, he shook him warmly by both hands and said:
“Baron, how can I thank you? How can we all thank you? You will have delivered this region from a plague that has scourged its inhabitants for more than a century. The horrible enemy, thank God, is at last tracked.”
My father led the stranger aside, and the General followed. I know that he had led them out of hearing, that he might relate my case, and I saw them glance often quickly at me, as the discussion proceeded.
My father came to me, kissed me again and again, and leading me from the chapel, said:
“It is time to return, but before we go home, we must add to our party the good priest, who lives but a little way from this; and persuade him to accompany us to the schloss.”
In this quest we were successful: and I was glad, being unspeakably fatigued when we reached home. But my satisfaction was changed to dismay, on discovering that there were no tidings of Carmilla. Of the scene that had occurred in the ruined chapel, no explanation was offered to me, and it was clear that it was a secret which my father for the present determined to keep from me.
The sinister absence of Carmilla made the remembrance of the scene more horrible to me. The arrangements for the night were singular. Two servants, and Madame were to sit up in my room that night; and the ecclesiastic with my father kept watch in the adjoining dressing room.
The priest had performed certain solemn rites that night, the purport of which I did not understand any more than I comprehended the reason of this extraordinary precaution taken for my safety during sleep.
I saw all clearly a few days later.
The disappearance of Carmilla was followed by the discontinuance of my nightly sufferings.
You have heard, no doubt, of the appalling superstition that prevails in Upper and Lower Styria, in Moravia, Silesia, in Turkish Serbia, in Poland, even in Russia; the superstition, so we must call it, of the Vampire.
If human testimony, taken with every care and solemnity, judicially, before commissions innumerable, each consisting of many members, all chosen for integrity and intelligence, and constituting reports more voluminous perhaps than exist upon any one other class of cases, is worth anything, it is difficult to deny, or even to doubt the existence of such a phenomenon as the Vampire.
For my part I have heard no theory by which to explain what I myself have witnessed and experienced, other than that supplied by the ancient and well-attested belief of the country.
The next day the formal proceedings took place in the Chapel of Karnstein.
The grave of the Countess Mircalla was opened; and the General and my father recognized each his perfidious and beautiful guest, in the face now disclosed to view. The features, though a hundred and fifty years had passed since her funeral, were tinted with the warmth of life. Her eyes were open; no cadaverous smell exhaled from the coffin. The two medical men, one officially present, the other on the part of the promoter of the inquiry, attested the marvelous fact that there was a faint but appreciable respiration, and a corresponding action of the heart. The limbs were perfectly flexible, the flesh elastic; and the leaden coffin floated with blood, in which to a depth of seven inches, the body lay immersed.
Here then, were all the admitted signs and proofs of vampirism. The body, therefore, in accordance with the ancient practice, was raised, and a sharp stake driven through the heart of the vampire, who uttered a piercing shriek at the moment, in all respects such as might escape from a living person in the last agony. Then the head was struck off, and a torrent of blood flowed from the severed neck. The body and head was next placed on a pile of wood, and reduced to ashes, which were thrown upon the river and borne away, and that territory has never since been plagued by the visits of a vampire.
My father has a copy of the report of the Imperial Commission, with the signatures of all who were present at these proceedings, attached in verification of the statement. It is from this official paper that I have summarized my account of this last shocking scene.
J. Sheridan LeFanu
“There soon, however, appeared some drawbacks. In the first place, Millarca complained of extreme languor–the weakness that remained after her late illness–and she never emerged from her room till the afternoon was pretty far advanced. In the next place, it was accidentally discovered, although she always locked her door on the inside, and never disturbed the key from its place till she admitted the maid to assist at her toilet, that she was undoubtedly sometimes absent from her room in the very early morning, and at various times later in the day, before she wished it to be understood that she was stirring. She was repeatedly seen from the windows of the schloss, in the first faint grey of the morning, walking through the trees, in an easterly direction, and looking like a person in a trance. This convinced me that she walked in her sleep. But this hypothesis did not solve the puzzle. How did she pass out from her room, leaving the door locked on the inside? How did she escape from the house without unbarring door or window?
“In the midst of my perplexities, an anxiety of a far more urgent kind presented itself.
“My dear child began to lose her looks and health, and that in a manner so mysterious, and even horrible, that I became thoroughly frightened.
“She was at first visited by appalling dreams; then, as she fancied, by a specter, sometimes resembling Millarca, sometimes in the shape of a beast, indistinctly seen, walking round the foot of her bed, from side to side.
Lastly came sensations. One, not unpleasant, but very peculiar, she said, resembled the flow of an icy stream against her breast. At a later time, she felt something like a pair of large needles pierce her, a little below the throat, with a very sharp pain. A few nights after, followed a gradual and convulsive sense of strangulation; then came unconsciousness.”
Image: Olivier Theyskens
I could hear distinctly every word the kind old General was saying, because by this time we were driving upon the short grass that spreads on either side of the road as you approach the roofless village which had not shown the smoke of a chimney for more than half a century.
You may guess how strangely I felt as I heard my own symptoms so exactly described in those which had been experienced by the poor girl who, but for the catastrophe which followed, would have been at that moment a visitor at my father’s chateau. You may suppose, also, how I felt as I heard him detail habits and mysterious peculiarities which were, in fact, those of our beautiful guest, Carmilla!
A vista opened in the forest; we were on a sudden under the chimneys and gables of the ruined village, and the towers and battlements of the dismantled castle, round which gigantic trees are grouped, overhung us from a slight eminence.
In a frightened dream I got down from the carriage, and in silence, for we had each abundant matter for thinking; we soon mounted the ascent, and were among the spacious chambers, winding stairs, and dark corridors of the castle.
“And this was once the palatial residence of the Karnsteins!” said the old General at length, as from a great window he looked out across the village, and saw the wide, undulating expanse of forest. “It was a bad family, and here its bloodstained annals were written,” he continued. “It is hard that they should, after death, continue to plague the human race with their atrocious lusts. That is the chapel of the Karnsteins, down there.”
He pointed down to the grey walls of the Gothic building partly visible through the foliage, a little way down the steep. “And I hear the axe of a woodman,” he added, “busy among the trees that surround it; he possibly may give us the information of which I am in search, and point out the grave of Mircalla, Countess of Karnstein. These rustics preserve the local traditions of great families, whose stories die out among the rich and titled so soon as the families themselves become extinct.”
“We have a portrait, at home, of Mircalla, the Countess Karnstein; should you like to see it?” asked my father.
“Time enough, dear friend,” replied the General. “I believe that I have seen the original; and one motive which has led me to you earlier than I at first intended, was to explore the chapel which we are now approaching.”
“What! see the Countess Mircalla,” exclaimed my father; “why, she has been dead more than a century!”
“Not so dead as you fancy, I am told,” answered the General.
“I confess, General, you puzzle me utterly,” replied my father, looking at him, I fancied, for a moment with a return of the suspicion I detected before. But although there was anger and detestation, at times, in the old General’s manner, there was nothing flighty.
“There remains to me,” he said, as we passed under the heavy arch of the Gothic church–for its dimensions would have justified its being so styled–“but one object which can interest me during the few years that remain to me on earth, and that is to wreak on her the vengeance which, I thank God, may still be accomplished by a mortal arm.”
“What vengeance can you mean?” asked my father, in increasing amazement.
“I mean, to decapitate the monster,” he answered, with a fierce flush, and a stamp that echoed mournfully through the hollow ruin, and his clenched hand was at the same moment raised, as if it grasped the handle of an axe, while he shook it ferociously in the air.
“What?” exclaimed my father, more than ever bewildered.
“To strike her head off.”
“Cut her head off!”
“Aye, with a hatchet, with a spade, or with anything that can cleave through her murderous throat. You shall hear,” he answered, trembling with rage. And hurrying forward he said:
“That beam will answer for a seat; your dear child is fatigued; let her be seated, and I will, in a few sentences, close my dreadful story.”
The squared block of wood, which lay on the grass-grown pavement of the chapel, formed a bench on which I was very glad to seat myself, and in the meantime the General called to the woodman, who had been removing some boughs which leaned upon the old walls; and, axe in hand, the hardy old fellow stood before us.
He could not tell us anything of these monuments; but there was an old man, he said, a ranger of this forest, at present sojourning in the house of the priest, about two miles away, who could point out every monument of the old Karnstein family; and, for a trifle, he undertook to bring him back with him, if we would lend him one of our horses, in little more than half an hour.
“Have you been long employed about this forest?” asked my father of the old man.
“I have been a woodman here,” he answered in his patois, “under the forester, all my days; so has my father before me, and so on, as many generations as I can count up. I could show you the very house in the village here, in which my ancestors lived.”
“How came the village to be deserted?” asked the General.
“It was troubled by revenants, sir; several were tracked to their graves, there detected by the usual tests, and extinguished in the usual way, by decapitation, by the stake, and by burning; but not until many of the villagers were killed.
“But after all these proceedings according to law,” he continued–“so many graves opened, and so many vampires deprived of their horrible animation–the village was not relieved. But a Moravian nobleman, who happened to be traveling this way, heard how matters were, and being skilled–as many people are in his country–in such affairs, he offered to deliver the village from its tormentor. He did so thus: There being a bright moon that night, he ascended, shortly after sunset, the towers of the chapel here, from whence he could distinctly see the churchyard beneath him; you can see it from that window. From this point he watched until he saw the vampire come out of his grave, and place near it the linen clothes in which he had been folded, and then glide away towards the village to plague its inhabitants.
“The stranger, having seen all this, came down from the steeple, took the linen wrappings of the vampire, and carried them up to the top of the tower, which he again mounted. When the vampire returned from his prowlings and missed his clothes, he cried furiously to the Moravian, whom he saw at the summit of the tower, and who, in reply, beckoned him to ascend and take them. Whereupon the vampire, accepting his invitation, began to climb the steeple, and so soon as he had reached the battlements, the Moravian, with a stroke of his sword, clove his skull in twain, hurling him down to the churchyard, whither, descending by the winding stairs, the stranger followed and cut his head off, and next day delivered it and the body to the villagers, who duly impaled and burnt them.
“This Moravian nobleman had authority from the then head of the family to remove the tomb of Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, which he did effectually, so that in a little while its site was quite forgotten.”
“Can you point out where it stood?” asked the General, eagerly.
The forester shook his head, and smiled.
“Not a soul living could tell you that now,” he said; “besides, they say her body was removed; but no one is sure of that either.”
Having thus spoken, as time pressed, he dropped his axe and departed, leaving us to hear the remainder of the General’s strange story.
J. Sheridan LeFanu
As Carmilla would not hear of an attendant sleeping in her room, my father arranged that a servant should sleep outside her door, so that she would not attempt to make another such excursion without being arrested at her own door.
That night passed quietly; and next morning early, the doctor, whom my father had sent for without telling me a word about it, arrived to see me.
Madame accompanied me to the library; and there the grave little doctor, with white hair and spectacles, whom I mentioned before, was waiting to receive me.
I told him my story, and as I proceeded he grew graver and graver.
We were standing, he and I, in the recess of one of the windows, facing one another. When my statement was over, he leaned with his shoulders against the wall, and with his eyes fixed on me earnestly, with an interest in which was a dash of horror.
After a minute’s reflection, he asked Madame if he could see my father.
He was sent for accordingly, and as he entered, smiling, he said:
“I dare say, doctor, you are going to tell me that I am an old fool for having brought you here; I hope I am.”
But his smile faded into shadow as the doctor, with a very grave face, beckoned him to him.
He and the doctor talked for some time in the same recess where I had just conferred with the physician. It seemed an earnest and argumentative conversation. The room is very large, and I and Madame stood together, burning with curiosity, at the farther end. Not a word could we hear, however, for they spoke in a very low tone, and the deep recess of the window quite concealed the doctor from view, and very nearly my father, whose foot, arm, and shoulder only could we see; and the voices were, I suppose, all the less audible for the sort of closet which the thick wall and window formed.
After a time my father’s face looked into the room; it was pale, thoughtful, and, I fancied, agitated.
“Laura, dear, come here for a moment. Madame, we shan’t trouble you, the doctor says, at present.”
Accordingly I approached, for the first time a little alarmed; for, although I felt very weak, I did not feel ill; and strength, one always fancies, is a thing that may be picked up when we please.
My father held out his hand to me, as I drew near, but he was looking at the doctor, and he said:
“It certainly is very odd; I don’t understand it quite. Laura, come here, dear; now attend to Doctor Spielsberg, and recollect yourself.”
“You mentioned a sensation like that of two needles piercing the skin, somewhere about your neck, on the night when you experienced your first horrible dream. Is there still any soreness?”
“None at all,” I answered.
“Can you indicate with your finger about the point at which you think this occurred?”
“Very little below my throat–here,” I answered.
I wore a morning dress, which covered the place I pointed to.
“Now you can satisfy yourself,” said the doctor. “You won’t mind your papa’s lowering your dress a very little. It is necessary, to detect a symptom of the complaint under which you have been suffering.”
I acquiesced. It was only an inch or two below the edge of my collar.
“God bless me!–so it is,” exclaimed my father, growing pale.
“You see it now with your own eyes,” said the doctor, with a gloomy triumph.
“What is it?” I exclaimed, beginning to be frightened.
“Nothing, my dear young lady, but a small blue spot, about the size of the tip of your little finger; and now,” he continued, turning to papa, “the question is what is best to be done?”
Is there any danger?”I urged, in great trepidation.
“I trust not, my dear,” answered the doctor. “I don’t see why you should not recover. I don’t see why you should not begin immediately to get better. That is the point at which the sense of strangulation begins?”
“Yes,” I answered.
“And–recollect as well as you can–the same point was a kind of center of that thrill which you described just now, like the current of a cold stream running against you?”
“It may have been; I think it was.”
“Ay, you see?” he added, turning to my father. “Shall I say a word to Madame?”
“Certainly,” said my father.
He called Madame to him, and said:
“I find my young friend here far from well. It won’t be of any great consequence, I hope; but it will be necessary that some steps be taken, which I will explain by-and-by; but in the meantime, Madame, you will be so good as not to let Miss Laura be alone for one moment. That is the only direction I need give for the present. It is indispensable.”
“We may rely upon your kindness, Madame, I know,” added my father.
Madame satisfied him eagerly.
“And you, dear Laura, I know you will observe the doctor’s direction.”
“I shall have to ask your opinion upon another patient, whose symptoms slightly resemble those of my daughter, that have just been detailed to you–very much milder in degree, but I believe quite of the same sort. She is a young lady–our guest; but as you say you will be passing this way again this evening, you can’t do better than take your supper here, and you can then see her. She does not come down till the afternoon.”
“I thank you,” said the doctor. “I shall be with you, then, at about seven this evening.”
And then they repeated their directions to me and to Madame, and with this parting charge my father left us, and walked out with the doctor; and I saw them pacing together up and down between the road and the moat, on the grassy platform in front of the castle, evidently absorbed in earnest conversation.
The doctor did not return. I saw him mount his horse there, take his leave, and ride away eastward through the forest.
Nearly at the same time I saw the man arrive from Dranfield with the letters, and dismount and hand the bag to my father.
In the meantime, Madame and I were both busy, lost in conjecture as to the reasons of the singular and earnest direction which the doctor and my father had concurred in imposing. Madame, as she afterwards told me, was afraid the doctor apprehended a sudden seizure, and that, without prompt assistance, I might either lose my life in a fit, or at least be seriously hurt.
The interpretation did not strike me; and I fancied, perhaps luckily for my nerves, that the arrangement was prescribed simply to secure a companion, who would prevent my taking too much exercise, or eating unripe fruit, or doing any of the fifty foolish things to which young people are supposed to be prone.
About half an hour after my father came in–he had a letter in his hand–and said:
“This letter had been delayed; it is from General Spielsdorf. He might have been here yesterday, he may not come till tomorrow or he may be here today.”
He put the open letter into my hand; but he did not look pleased, as he used when a guest, especially one so much loved as the General, was coming.
On the contrary, he looked as if he wished him at the bottom of the Red Sea. There was plainly something on his mind which he did not choose to divulge.
“Papa, darling, will you tell me this?” said I, suddenly laying my hand on his arm, and looking, I am sure, imploringly in his face.
“Perhaps,” he answered, smoothing my hair caressingly over my eyes.
“Does the doctor think me very ill?”
“No, dear; he thinks, if right steps are taken, you will be quite well again, at least, on the high road to a complete recovery, in a day or two,” he answered, a little dryly. “I wish our good friend, the General, had chosen any other time; that is, I wish you had been perfectly well to receive him.”
“But do tell me, papa,” I insisted, “what does he think is the matter with me?”
“Nothing; you must not plague me with questions,” he answered, with more irritation than I ever remember him to have displayed before; and seeing that I looked wounded, I suppose, he kissed me, and added, “You shall know all about it in a day or two; that is, all that I know. In the meantime you are not to trouble your head about it.”
He turned and left the room, but came back before I had done wondering and puzzling over the oddity of all this; it was merely to say that he was going to Karnstein, and had ordered the carriage to be ready at twelve, and that I and Madame should accompany him; he was going to see the priest who lived near those picturesque grounds, upon business, and as Carmilla had never seen them, she could follow, when she came down, with Mademoiselle, who would bring materials for what you call a picnic, which might be laid for us in the ruined castle.
At twelve o’clock, accordingly, I was ready, and not long after, my father, Madame and I set out upon our projected drive.
Passing the drawbridge we turn to the right, and follow the road over the steep Gothic bridge, westward, to reach the deserted village and ruined castle of Karnstein.
No sylvan drive can be fancied prettier. The ground breaks into gentle hills and hollows, all clothed with beautiful wood, totally destitute of the comparative formality which artificial planting and early culture and pruning impart.
The irregularities of the ground often lead the road out of its course, and cause it to wind beautifully round the sides of broken hollows and the steeper sides of the hills, among varieties of ground almost inexhaustible.
Turning one of these points, we suddenly encountered our old friend, the General, riding towards us, attended by a mounted servant. His portmanteaus were following in a hired wagon, such as we term a cart.
The General dismounted as we pulled up, and, after the usual greetings, was easily persuaded to accept the vacant seat in the carriage and send his horse on with his servant to the schloss.