J. Sheridan LeFanu
Alex X. Kaine
Copyright 1872, 2019
Table of Contents
Many years ago, a man took down my story. He was a “medical philosopher,” and told me he was the type of man who followed and respected beings of my kind.
I had, at that time, no reason to mistrust him, and he seemed genuinely interested in my account. He took down every word he could as I dictated my tale. But once I saw his published case book and the essay which accompanied it, I knew I had been deceived. He did not wish to educate the laity about my kind and our sufferings, but rather to feed the hatred and disgust already ingrained in the Victorian public. He preyed on that audience—giving them what they wished to read, rather than the truth—to gain himself fame and money.
I was disappointed, but I knew there would be those who would read between the lines, who would wonder at the way my story was presented, and who would suspect there was more to it, especially with the way the story abruptly ends in a deus ex machina. And I was quite right, as decades of literary criticism have proven.
I have let the critics have their way with the text for years, keeping my silence, but I feel now that the audience is ready for the truth, the real story. So, I present to you now the following text; it is my own account, once revised by Dr. Hesselius and his secretary to fit the sensibilities of a Victorian audience, and now revised by me, the original narrator, back to its original veracity.
I. An Early Incident
In Styria, we, though by no means magnificent people, inhabited a castle, or a schloss, as they were sometimes called. A small income in that part of the world went a long way. Eight or nine hundred a year did wonders. Scantily enough ours would have answered among wealthy people at home. My father was English, and I bear an English name, although I had never seen England as a girl. But there, in that lonely and primitive place, where everything was so marvelously cheap, I really did not see how ever so much more money would at all materially add to our comforts, or even luxuries.
My father was in the Austrian service, and retired upon a pension and his paternal inheritance. With that, he purchased this feudal residence and the small estate on which it stands—a bargain.
Nothing could have been more picturesque or solitary. It stood on a slight eminence in a forest. The road, which was very old and narrow, passed in front of its drawbridge, never raised in my time, and its moat, which was stocked with perch gamefish, was sailed over by many swans, and had floating upon its surface white fleets of water lilies.
Over all this, the schloss showed its many-windowed front; its towers, and its Gothic chapel.
The forest opened in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carried the road over a stream that wound in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this was a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stood extended fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest inhabited village was about seven miles to the left. The nearest inhabited schloss of any historic associations, was that of old General Spielsdorf, nearly twenty miles away to the right.
I have said “the nearest inhabited village,” because there was, only three miles westward, in the direction of General Spielsdorf’s schloss, a ruined village, with its quaint little church, by then roofless, in the aisle of which were the moldering tombs of the proud family of Karnstein, extinct, who once owned the equally desolate chateau which, in the thick of the forest, overlooked the silent ruins of the town.
I must tell you now, how very small was the party who constituted the inhabitants of our castle. I don’t include servants, or those dependents who occupy rooms in the buildings attached to the schloss. Listen, and wonder! My father, who was the kindest man on earth, but growing old; and I, at the date of my story, only nineteen.
I and my father constituted the entire family at the schloss. My mother, a Styrian lady, died in my infancy, but I had a good-natured governess, who had been with me from, I might almost say, my infancy. I could not remember the time when her plump, benevolent face was not a familiar picture in my memory.
This was Madame Perrodon, a native of Berne, whose care and good nature now in part supplied to me the loss of my mother. (Although I do not even remember her, so early I lost her, I have always felt a melancholy longing for the lady in whose womb I formed.) Madame made a third at our little dinner party. There was a fourth, Mademoiselle De Lafontaine, a lady such as you in England term, I believe, a “finishing governess.” She spoke French and German, Madame Perrodon French and broken English, to which my father and I added English, which, partly to prevent its becoming a lost language among us, and partly from patriotic motives, we spoke every day. The consequence was a Babel, at which strangers used to laugh, and which I shall make no attempt to reproduce in this narrative. And there were two or three young lady friends besides, pretty nearly of my own age, who were occasional visitors, for longer or shorter terms; and these visits I sometimes returned.
These were our regular social resources; but of course there were chance visits from “neighbors” of only five or six leagues distance. There had been, too, several male suitors that had visited over the two or three years leading up to the events I am about to relate to you, but none of our party—neither my father, Madame, Mademoiselle, nor I—had been very impressed by them.
My life was, notwithstanding, rather a solitary one, I can assure you.
My gouvernantes had only as much control over me as you might conjecture such sage persons would have in the case of a rather spoiled girl, whose only parent allowed her pretty nearly her own way in everything.
The first occurrence in my existence which produced a profound impression upon my mind, and which, in fact, never has faded even slightly, was one of the very earliest incidents of my life which I can recollect. Some people will think it so trifling that it should not be recorded here. You will see, however, by-and-by, why I mention it. The nursery, as it was called, though I had it all to myself, was a large room in the upper story of the castle, with a steep oak roof like a chapel. I can’t have been more than six years old, when one night I awoke, and looking round the room from my bed, failed to see the nursery maid. Neither was my nurse there; and I thought myself alone. I was not frightened, for I was one of those happy children who are studiously kept in ignorance of ghost stories, of fairy tales, and of all such lore as makes us cover up our heads when the door cracks suddenly, or the flicker of an expiring candle makes the shadow of a bedpost dance upon the wall, nearer to our faces. However, I was vexed and insulted at finding myself, as I conceived, neglected, and I began to whimper, preparatory to a hearty bout of roaring; when to my surprise, I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling. Her soft skin, cool from being outside the covers in my unheated room, made me shiver with pleasure. She smelled both sweet and tart, like a field of ripe lavender. I felt immediately delightfully soothed, and fell asleep again. I felt, I suppose, as the child who receives the attention and presence of her own loving mother. Though I never should have felt any deficit of love, having received so much maternal care and affection from my nurse and the doting of my father, I suppose I have been always a wicked girl, and as I have said—the melancholy longing for my mother never left me.
I slept, soothed in this way, for an unknown duration to me, when suddenly I was wakened by a sensation as if two needles ran into my breast very deep at the same moment, and I cried loudly. The lady started back, with her eyes fixed on me, and then slipped down upon the floor, and, as I thought, slid away and hid herself under the bed.
I was now for the first time frightened, and I yelled with all my might and main. Nurse, nursery maid, housekeeper, all came running in, and hearing my story, they made light of it, soothing me all they could meanwhile. “What a terrible dream!” the nursery maid declared, and I became nettled because it had been so vivid and seemed so real. And, child as I was, I could perceive that their faces were pale with an unwonted look of anxiety, and I saw them look under the bed, and about the room, and peep under tables and pluck open cupboards. Finally, after some minutes of rummaging, the housekeeper whispered to the nurse: “Lay your hand along that hollow in the bed; someone did lie there, so sure as you did not; the place is still warm!”
Though still shivering with the adrenaline of my momentary alarm, I felt a thrill of excitement at her words. I had not imagined the lady’s presence!
I remember the nursery maid petting me then, and all three examining my chest, where I told them I felt the puncture, and pronouncing that there was no sign visible that any such thing had happened to me. As a fanciful child would, I was indignant that they did not believe me about the pain I had endured. I did not admit to them, then, the feeling of soothing pleasure the maternal presence had granted upon me.
The nursery maid tried to convince me that it was she who had come and looked at me, and lain down beside me in the bed, and that I must have been half-dreaming not to have known her face. This, though supported by the nurse, I did not believe. I loved her as any child loves those kind to her, but I had never felt as soothed in the maid’s presence before or since that night, as I had with the lady who’d slid under my bed.
The housekeeper and the two other servants who were in charge of the nursery, remained sitting up all night; and from that time a servant always sat up in the nursery until I was about fourteen. (Although I slept more soundly for this, I confess that from this event onwards, my recurrent longing for my lost mother was mixed with a longing to again see this lady of the darkness.)
The morning after I saw this apparition I was in a state of great agitation.
I remember my father coming up and standing at the bedside and talking cheerfully. He asked the nurse a number of questions, and laughed very heartily at one of the answers; and then patted me on the shoulder. The he kissed me and told me not to be frightened—that it was nothing but a dream and could not harm me.
But I was not frightened anymore, and I was not convinced by his words, for I knew the visit of the strange woman was not a dream, and his incredulity and jocularity—though I knew these to be rooted in kindness and love—hurt me.
I remember, in the course of that day, an imposing old man, in a flapping black cassock, coming into the room with the nurse and housekeeper, and talking a little to them, and to me; his face was very hard and solemn, and he told me that because of what I’d seen, they were going to pray to sanctify me, and my bedroom, because my “dream” had revealed me to be filled with vile and wicked imaginings. This last part he whispered so only I could hear it. Unlike my father, who, though misunderstanding me, had tried to comfort me and told me not to be frightened, this man filled me with uneasy guilt over the vision of the woman and what it might reveal about me.
He came close to me, his hot cloying breath in my face, and roughly pressed my hands together and instructed me to say while they were praying, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” over and over again. I think these were the very words, for my nurse used for years to make me say them in my prayers.
I remember so well the forbidding face of that white-haired old man, in his black cassock, as he stood in that lofty, brown room, with the furniture of a fashion three hundred years old about him, and the scanty mote-filled light entering its shadowy atmosphere through the small lattice. He kneeled, and the three women with him, and he prayed aloud with a quavering voice for, what appeared to me, a long time, glancing every so often at me with a look of suspicion. I remember dread and a sense of terrible loss filling me as I watched and listened to him speak, on and on, for what felt unending hours.
I forget all my life preceding that eerie event, and for some time after it is all obscure also, but the scenes I have just described stand out vivid as the isolated pictures of the phantasmagoria surrounded by darkness.
II. A Guest
I am now going to tell you something so strange that it will require all your faith in my veracity to believe my story. It is not only true, but truth of which I have been an eyewitness.
It was a sweet late-summer evening, and my father asked me, as he sometimes did, to take a little ramble with him along that beautiful forest vista which I have mentioned as lying in front of the schloss.
“General Spielsdorf cannot come to us so soon as I had hoped,” said my father, as we pursued our walk.
He was to have paid us a visit of some weeks, and we had expected his arrival next day. He was to have brought with him a young lady, his niece and ward, Mademoiselle Rheinfeldt, whom I had never seen, but whom I had heard described as a very charming girl, and in whose society I had promised myself many happy days. I was more disappointed than a young lady living in a town, or a bustling neighborhood, can possibly imagine. This visit, and the new acquaintance it promised, had furnished my day dream for many weeks.
“And how soon does he come?” I asked.
“Not till autumn. Not for two months, I dare say,” he answered. “And I am very glad now, dear, that you never knew Mademoiselle Rheinfeldt.”
“And why?” I asked, both mortified and curious.
“Because the poor young lady is dead,” he replied. “I quite forgot I had not told you, but you were not in the room when I received the General’s letter this evening.”
I was very much shocked. General Spielsdorf had mentioned in his first letter, six or seven weeks before, that she was not so well as he would wish her, but there was nothing to suggest the remotest suspicion of mortal danger.
“Here is the General’s letter,” he said, handing it to me. “I am afraid he is in great affliction; the letter appears to me to have been written very nearly in distraction.”
We sat down on a rude bench, under a group of magnificent lime trees. The sun was setting with all its melancholy splendor behind the sylvan horizon, and the stream that flows beside our home, and passes under the steep old bridge I have mentioned, wound through many a group of noble trees, almost at our feet, reflecting in its current the fading crimson of the sky. General Spielsdorf’s letter was so extraordinary, so vehement, and in some places so self-contradictory, that I read it twice over—the second time aloud to my father—and was still unable to account for it, except by supposing that grief had unsettled his mind.
It said: “I have lost my darling daughter, for as such I loved her. During the last days of dear Berhta’s illness I was not able to write to you.
“Before then I had no idea of her danger. I have lost her, and now learn all, too late. She died in the peace of innocence, and in the glorious hope of a blessed futurity. The fiend who betrayed our infatuated hospitality has done it all. I thought I was receiving into my house innocence, gaiety, a charming companion for my lost Berhta. Heavens! What a fool have I been!
“I thank God my child died without a suspicion of the cause of her sufferings. She is gone without so much as conjecturing the nature of her illness, and the accursed passion of the agent of all this misery. I devote my remaining days to tracking and extinguishing a monster. I am told I may hope to accomplish my righteous and merciful purpose. At present there is scarcely a gleam of light to guide me. I curse my conceited incredulity, my despicable affectation of superiority, my blindness, my obstinacy—all—too late. I cannot write or talk collectedly now. I am distracted. So soon as I shall have a little recovered, I mean to devote myself for a time to enquiry, which may possibly lead me as far as Vienna. Some time in the autumn, two months hence or so, I will see you—that is, if you permit me; I will then tell you all that I scarce dare put upon paper now. Farewell. Pray for me, dear friend.”
In these terms ended this strange letter. Though I had never seen Berhta Rheinfeldt, my eyes filled with tears at the sudden intelligence; I was startled, as well as profoundly disappointed.
The sun had now set, and it was twilight by the time I had returned the General’s letter to my father.
It was a soft clear evening, and we loitered, speculating upon the possible meanings of the violent and incoherent sentences which I had just been reading. We had nearly a mile to walk before reaching the road that passes the schloss in front, and by that time the moon was shining brilliantly. At the drawbridge we met Madame Perrodon and Mademoiselle De Lafontaine, who had come out, without their bonnets, to enjoy the exquisite moonlight.
We heard their voices gabbling in animated dialogue as we approached. The silver light anointed them both, making their hair appear gray, though Mademoiselle’s hair was in daylight a rich, deep brown, and Madame’s was only usually streaked with age. We joined them at the drawbridge, and turned about to admire with them the beautiful scene.
The glade through which we had just walked lay before us. At our left the narrow road wound away under clumps of lordly trees, and was lost to sight amid the thickening forest. At the right the same road crossed the steep and picturesque bridge, near which stood a ruined tower which once guarded that pass; and beyond the bridge an abrupt eminence rose, covered with trees, and showed in the shadows some grey ivy-clustered rocks.
Over the sward and low grounds a thin film of mist was stealing like smoke, marking the distances with a transparent veil; and here and there we could see the river faintly flashing in the moonlight.
No softer, sweeter scene could be imagined. The news I had just heard made it melancholy; but nothing could disturb its character of profound serenity, and the enchanted glory and vagueness of the prospect.
My father, who enjoyed the picturesque, and I, stood looking in silence over the expanse beneath us. The two good governesses, standing a little way behind us, discoursed upon the scene, and were eloquent upon the moon.
Madame Perrodon was stout, middle-aged, and romantic, and talked and sighed poetically. Mademoiselle De Lafontaine—in right of her father who was a German, assumed to be psychological, metaphysical, and something of a mystic—now declared that when the moon shone with a light so intense it was well known that it indicated a special spiritual activity. The effect of the full moon in such a state of brilliancy was manifold. It acted on dreams, it acted on nervous people, it had marvelous physical influences connected with life. Mademoiselle related that her cousin, who was mate of a merchant ship, having taken a nap on deck on such a night, lying on his back, with his face full in the light on the moon, had wakened, after a dream of an old woman clawing him by the cheek, with his features horribly drawn to one side; and his countenance had never quite recovered its equilibrium.
“The moon, this night,” she said, “is full of idyllic and magnetic influence—and see, when you look behind you at the front of the schloss how all its windows flash and twinkle with that silvery splendor, as if unseen hands had lighted up the rooms to receive fairy guests.”
There are indolent styles of the spirits in which, indisposed to talk ourselves, the talk of others is pleasant to our listless ears; and I gazed on, pleased with the tinkle of the ladies’ conversation.
“I have got into one of my moping moods tonight,” said my father, after a silence, and quoting Shakespeare—whom, by way of keeping up our English, he used to read aloud—he said:
“‘In truth I know not why I am so sad.
It wearies me: you say it wearies you;
But how I got it—came by it….’
“I forget the rest. But I feel as if some great misfortune were hanging over us. I suppose the poor General’s afflicted letter has had something to do with it.”
At this moment the abrupt sound of carriage wheels and many hoofs upon the road, arrested our attention.
They seemed to be approaching from the high ground overlooking the bridge, and very soon the equipage emerged from that point. Two horsemen first crossed the bridge, then came a carriage drawn by four horses, and two men rode behind.
It seemed to be the traveling carriage of a person of rank; and we were all immediately absorbed in watching that very unusual spectacle. It became, in a few moments, greatly more interesting, for just as the carriage had passed the summit of the steep bridge, one of the equine leaders, taking fright, communicated his panic to the rest, and after a plunge or two, the whole team broke into a wild gallop together, and dashing between the horsemen who rode in front, came thundering along the road towards us with the speed of a hurricane.
The excitement of the scene was made painful by the clear, long-drawn screams of a female voice from the carriage window.
We all advanced in curiosity and horror; me rather in silence, the rest with various ejaculations of terror.
Our suspense did not last long. Just before you reach the castle drawbridge, on the route they were coming, there stands by the roadside a magnificent lime tree, on the other stands an ancient stone cross, at sight of which the horses, now going at a pace that was perfectly frightful, swerved so as to bring the wheel over the projecting roots of the tree.
I knew what was coming. I covered my eyes, unable to see it out, and turned my head away; at the same moment I heard a cry from my elder lady friends, who had gone on a little.
Curiosity opened my eyes, and I saw a scene of utter confusion. Two of the horses were on the ground, the carriage lay upon its side with two wheels in the air; the men were busy removing the traces, and a lady dressed in a long black gown and with a commanding air and figure had got out, and stood with clasped hands, raising the handkerchief that was in them every now and then to her eyes.
Through the carriage door was now lifted a young lady, who appeared to be lifeless. My dear old father was already beside the elder lady, with his hat in his hand, evidently tendering his aid and the resources of his schloss. The lady did not appear to hear him, or indeed to have eyes for anything but the slender girl who was being placed against the slope of the bank.
I approached; the young lady was apparently stunned, but she was certainly not dead. My father, who piqued himself on being something of a physician, had just had his fingers on her wrist and assured the lady, who declared herself her mother, that her pulse, though faint and irregular, was undoubtedly still distinguishable. The lady clasped her hands and looked upward, as if in a momentary transport of gratitude; but immediately she broke out again in that theatrical way which is, I believe, natural to some people.
She was what is called a fine looking woman for her time of life, and must have been handsome; she was tall, but not thin, and dressed in black velvet, and looked rather pale, but with a proud and commanding countenance, though now agitated strangely.
“Who was ever being so born to calamity?” I heard her cry, with clasped hands, as I came up. “Here am I, on a journey of life and death, in prosecuting which to lose an hour is possibly to lose all. My child will not have recovered sufficiently to resume her route for who can say how long. I must leave her: I cannot, dare not, delay. How far on, sir, can you tell, is the nearest village? I must leave her there; and shall not see my darling, or even hear of her till my return, two months hence.”
As I have said, I lived such a lonely life at the schloss, I positively shivered at the prospect of a new friend. I plucked my father by the coat, and whispered earnestly in his ear: “Oh! Papa, pray ask her to let her stay with us—it would be so delightful. Do, pray.”
To my satisfaction, my father immediately obeyed. “If Madame will entrust her child to the care of my daughter, and of her good gouvernante, Madame Perrodon, and permit her to remain as our guest, under my charge, until her return, it will confer a distinction and an obligation upon us, and we shall treat her with all the care and devotion which so sacred a trust deserves.”
“I cannot do that, sir, it would be to task your kindness and chivalry too cruelly,” said the lady, distractedly.
“It would, on the contrary, be to confer on us a very great kindness at the moment when we most need it. My daughter has just been disappointed by a cruel misfortune, in a visit from which she had long anticipated a great deal of happiness. If you confide this young lady to our care it will be her best consolation. The nearest village on your route is distant, and affords no such inn as you could think of placing your daughter at; you cannot allow her to continue her journey for any considerable distance without danger. If, as you say, you cannot suspend your journey, you must part with her tonight, and nowhere could you do so with more honest assurances of care and tenderness than here.”
As she considered my father’s words, there was something in this lady’s air and appearance so distinguished and even imposing, and in her manner so engaging, as to impress one, quite apart from the dignity of her entourage, with a conviction that she was a person of consequence.
By this time the carriage was replaced in its upright position, and the horses, quite tractable, in the carriage traces again.
The lady threw on her daughter a glance which I fancied was not quite so affectionate as one might have anticipated from the beginning of the scene; then she beckoned slightly to my father, and withdrew two or three steps with him out of my hearing; and talked to him with a fixed and stern countenance, not at all like that with which she had hitherto spoken.
I was filled with wonder that my father did not seem to perceive the change, though he sometimes did not pick up on the subtler layers of conversation, and I was also unspeakably curious to learn what it could be that she was speaking, almost in his ear, with so much earnestness and rapidity.
Two or three minutes at most I think she remained thus employed, then she turned, and a few steps brought her to where her daughter lay, supported by Madame Perrodon. She kneeled beside her for a moment and whispered, as Madame supposed, a little benediction in her ear; then hastily kissing her she stepped into her carriage, the door was closed, the footmen in stately liveries jumped up behind, the outriders spurred on, the postilions cracked their whips, the horses plunged and broke suddenly into a furious canter that threatened soon again to become a gallop, and the carriage whirled away, followed at the same rapid pace by the two horsemen in the rear.
III. 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 except 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 two 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. The night breeze picked up the gauzy red shawl she had wrapped round her shoulders, and it shimmered in the moonlight as it fluttered behind her.
In the hall, servants waited to receive her, and she was conducted without delay 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 my father 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? What is her name?”
“I like her extremely,” answered Madame. “She was too distressed to give her name yet, but 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,” the rest of us replied; we had not seen her.
Then Mademoiselle described a hideous woman dressed all in black, with papery white skin, and who was gazing all the time from the carriage window, nodding and grinning derisively towards the ladies, with gleaming and large eyes, 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,” Mademoiselle threw in, “their faces were so strangely lean 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, who we perceived to be the young lady’s mother, in the brief but earnest interview that had immediately preceded her departure.
We were scarcely alone together, my governautes off to bed, 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 two 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 stately woman 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, without delay, 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 overly grand. 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.
As I reached the bedside and had just begun my little greeting, I was struck dumb in a moment.
I saw the very face—quite unchanged—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 both fear and guilty longing, 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. I could not help but return this knowing grin with a nervous one of my own, although I was filled with great trepidation as my feelings of guilt and longing whirled together like a storm.
I stood, frozen this way next to the young lady’s bed, entranced. My fingers twitched, yearning to reach out and feel if her skin were as soft as it appeared. Close to her as I was, I smelled the floral, tart oil the servants must have combed through her shining near-black hair. Thinking again of my lost mother, I wanted badly to slip into the sheets next to this young woman and have her wrap her arms around me in soothing comfort. As longing swelled inside my breast, so too came the guilt the priest in the black cassock had pressed upon me with his sandpaper hands, and an acute pain struck me in same spot I had felt the puncture all those years ago.
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 shock that had for a time suspended my utterances. My throat was thick, and my eyes stung as I spoke: “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, melting into growing familiarity, and her dimpling cheeks were now delightfully pretty and intelligent. No trace of melancholy marred her features.
Recovering myself, I 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, though I restrained myself from flinging back the sheets to join her in the warm bed.
“Perhaps they told you already, but my name is Laura,” I told her, after my long greeting.
She pressed my hand, she laid hers upon it, and her eyes glowed, as, looking hastily into mine, she smiled again, and blushed. “I am Carmilla,” she said. “I thank you and your papa for your kindness.”
“As I say, it is our pleasure to have such a guest as you!”
Carmilla smiled again very prettily. After a long pause, where she seemed to be deciding what to say, she went on: “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, lined in some rich 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, golden-brown skin and hair, and large striking eyes, and lips—your lips—you as you are here.”
I listened to her story with wonder, now noticing I had placed a hand at my heart, and urged her to go on.
Carmilla grinned and squeezed my hand which she still held. “Your looks won me; I climbed on the bed and put my arms about you, and I think we both fell asleep.” Her smile faded into concern as she continued, “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.”
“Indeed! Your face I have never forgotten since. I could not be misled by mere resemblance. You are the lady whom I saw then.”
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. The surprise at seeing the face presented in my early dream, and the fearful remembrance of the man in the black cassock lost their 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.
IV. Her Habits—A Saunter
I told you that I was charmed with her in most particulars.
There were some that did not please me so well.
I shall begin by describing her.
She was above the middle height of women. She was slender, and wonderfully graceful. Except that her movements were languid—very languid—yet there was nothing in her appearance to indicate any physical impairment to cause this. Her complexion was rich and brilliant; her features were delicate and beautifully formed; her eyes large, dark, and lustrous; her hair was quite wonderful, I never saw hair so magnificently thick and long when it was down about her shoulders; I often placed my hands under it, and laughed with wonder at its weight. It was exquisitely fine and soft, and in color a rich very dark brown, almost black, with something of gold or purple depending on the light. I loved to let it down, tumbling with its own weight, as, in her room, she lay back in her chair talking in her sweet low voice. I used to fold and braid it, and spread it out and play with it. Heavens!
I said there were particulars which did not please me. I have told you that her confidence won me the first night I saw her; but I found that she exercised with respect to herself, her mother, her history, everything in fact connected with her life, plans, and people, an ever wakeful reserve. I dare say I was unreasonable, perhaps I was wrong; I dare say I ought to have respected the solemn injunction laid upon my father by the stately lady in black velvet. But curiosity is a restless and unscrupulous passion, and no one girl can endure, with patience, that hers should be baffled by another. What harm could it do anyone to tell me what I so ardently desired to know? Had she no trust in my good sense or honor? Why would she not believe me when I assured her, so solemnly, that I would not divulge one syllable of what she told me to any mortal breathing?
“From where were you coming from when you arrived here? Another country?” I asked amidst a walk outside as I showed her the grounds of the schloss, trying as usual to uncover these details.
“You know I cannot say, Laura.”
“But then, what country are you from originally, Carmilla? Here in Austria, or somewhere quite far away?”
“I cannot say.”
There was a coldness, it seemed to me, beyond her years, in her smiling melancholy and persistent refusal to afford me the least ray of light.
I cannot say we quarreled upon this point, for she would not quarrel upon any. But it was the closest thing to anything resembling conflict or argument that passed between us.
It was, I suppose, unfair of me to press her, very ill-bred, but I really could not help it; and I might just as well have let it alone, because what she did tell me amounted, in my unconscionable estimation—to nothing.
It was all summed up in three very vague disclosures:
First—Her name was Carmilla.
Second—Her family was very ancient and noble.
Third—Her home lay in the direction of the west.
She would not tell me the name of her family, nor their family crest, nor the name of their estate, nor their country, nor even that of the region in which their country lay!
You are not to suppose that I worried her incessantly on these subjects. I watched opportunity, and rather insinuated than urged my inquiries. I tried to be sly, though once or twice, indeed, I did attack her more directly. But no matter what my tactics, utter failure was invariably the result.
“Carmilla, don’t you trust me? I swear to keep confidence of anything you tell me about the past.”
“I know, my dear. I trust you wholly, with my life. Still, I cannot speak of what you ask.”
I must add that as time passed, especially in response to these occasional direct attacks on my part, Carmilla—in contrast to her usual cold evasions—would pause for a moment after her refusal, and stare at me as if trying to measure something about my trustworthiness, and then give an outburst, a declaration of her devotion to me.
Once, as we sat alone upon a balcony in the western side of the schloss, overlooking a red-orange late summer sunset, she sat staring into my eyes for full a minute after refusing another burning inquiry of mine into her past life.
“You know I don’t wish to refuse you, my dear Laura,” she said finally, squeezing my hand with her own.
I, wounded by her constant refusals, simply glanced back at her eyes, then stared at the floor of the balcony, and did not reply.
To this, as she sometimes did when I became dejected, she placed her pretty arms about my neck, drew me to her, and laid her cheek to mine, murmuring with her silken lips near my ear, “Dearest, your little heart is wounded; think me not cruel because I obey the irresistible law of my mamma; if your dear heart is wounded, my wild heart bleeds with yours. You must know how I long to tell you everything, but I cannot yet overcome this spell upon me, not until I am sure of …” the meaning of her words was lost as her voice died for some moments. “Even that, I cannot say. For a while, seek to know no more of me and mine, but trust me with all your loving spirit.”
And when she had spoken such a rhapsody, she pressed me more closely in her trembling embrace, and her lips in soft kisses gently glowed upon my cheek. I was hurt at her refusal, but her murmured words sounded such like a lullaby in my ear, and soothed my resistance into a trance. My pain was softened and mingled with the pleasure of her touch, and this tension burned inside me in a confused, paralyzing mass.
“Yes, Carmilla,” I replied, chest tight with emotion, unable to meet her eyes.
In moments like these, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again. She would, too, take my chin and force my eyes to meet hers, blushing softly, and gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, she would breathe so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; with gloating eyes she drew me to her, and her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses; and she would whisper, almost in sobs, “You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.” Then she threw herself back in her chair, with her hands over her eyes, leaving me trembling.
Between these passionate moments there were long intervals of commonplace, of gaiety, of brooding melancholy, during which, except that I detected her eyes so full of melancholy fire, following me, her ways were neutral toward me, and there was always a languor about her. At these times I felt I might have been as nothing to her. Part of me knew I surely kept pressing this issue of her past because I wanted her to hold me in this way, to comfort me and declare her devotion to me.
These scenes of heightened tension, mixed with passionate declarations of devotion, happened not very frequently, but often enough that I found myself reflecting upon them when alone, in the vague and inhibitionless pocket of time between when I lay down for bed and when I fell asleep.
When she held me in rapture, I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of guilt. I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, but when I reflected upon these moments, flashes of the memory of that terrifying priest in the black cassock pressed upon my closed eyelids, and I remembered his grotesque expression as he glanced back at me over and over again while praying against me myself.
I felt innately content in her arms, yet also an ingrained self-disgust. This I know was a paradox, and of course at that time, I could not have explained it to you. All I knew then was as I fell further and further into adoration of her, I also felt terribly wicked.
Putting aside these tumultuous emotional spectacles, her daily habits were, in some respects, also odd. Perhaps not so singular in the opinion of a town lady like you, as they appeared to us rustic people. She used to come down very late, generally not till one o’clock, she would then take a cup of chocolate, but eat nothing; we then went out for a walk, which was a mere saunter, and she seemed, almost immediately, exhausted, and either returned to the schloss or sat on one of the benches that were placed, here and there, among the trees. This was a bodily languor in which her mind did not sympathize. She was always an animated talker, and very intelligent.
She sometimes alluded for a moment to her own home, or mentioned an adventure or situation, or an early recollection, which indicated a people of strange manners, and described customs of which we knew nothing. I gathered from these chance hints that her native country was much more remote than I had at first fancied.
As we sat thus one afternoon under the trees, about three weeks after her arrival, a funeral passed us by. It was that of a pretty young girl, whom I had often seen, the daughter of one of the rangers of the forest. The poor man was walking behind the coffin of his darling; she was his only child, and he looked quite heartbroken.
Peasants walking two-and-two came behind, they were singing a funeral hymn.
I rose to mark my respect as they passed, and joined in the hymn they were very sweetly singing.
My companion shook me a little roughly, and I turned surprised.
She said brusquely, “Don’t you perceive how discordant that is?”
“I think it very sweet, on the contrary,” I answered, vexed at the interruption, and very uncomfortable, lest the people who composed the little procession should observe and resent what was passing.
I resumed, therefore, instantly, and was again interrupted. “You pierce my ears,” said Carmilla, almost angrily, and stopping her ears with her little fingers. “Besides, I hate funerals. What a fuss! Why you must die—everyone must die; and all are happier when they do.” She stood now and turned to move in the direction of the schloss. “Let us return home to your papa.”
“My father has gone on to the churchyard. I thought you knew she was to be buried today.”
“She? I don’t trouble my head about peasants and strangers. I don’t know who she is,” answered Carmilla, with a flash from her fine eyes as she turned back to me.
“How can you say that?” I reproached her, upset by her callous, aristocratic reply. “She is the poor girl who fancied she saw a ghost a fortnight ago, and has been dying ever since, till yesterday, when she expired.”
“Tell me nothing about ghosts. I shan’t sleep tonight if you do.”
“I hope there is no plague or fever coming; all this looks very like it,” I continued. “The swineherd’s young wife died only a week ago, and she thought something seized her by the throat as she lay in her bed, and nearly strangled her. Papa says such horrible fancies do accompany some forms of fever. She was quite well the day before. She sank afterwards, and died before a week.”
“Well, her funeral is over, I hope, and her hymn sung; and our ears shan’t be tortured with that discord and jargon. It has made me nervous. Sit down here, beside me; sit close; hold my hand; press it hard-hard-harder.”
We had moved a little back, and had come to another seat.
She sat down. Her face underwent a change that alarmed and even terrified me for a moment. It darkened, and became horribly livid; her teeth and hands were clenched, and she frowned and compressed her lips, while she stared down upon the ground at her feet, and trembled all over with a continued shudder as irrepressible as if in fever. All her energies seemed strained to suppress a fit, with which she was then breathlessly tugging; and at length a low convulsive cry of suffering broke from her, and gradually the hysteria subsided. “There! That comes of strangling people with hymns!” she said at last. “Hold me, hold me still.”
I obeyed, stroking her hair as she leaned against me. “Though it may upset you to think of the suffering of peasants,” I said softly, “you shouldn’t be so callous.”
“You’re right of course, dearest,” she said, now subdued. “I lived so long in the presence of my mother—”
“A stately woman!”
“Indeed, she is—I fear I’ve inherited her views of the poor. I should have a kinder heart, as you do, my Laura. I promise to be better.”
I did not know how to reply to this, as I agreed with her assessment, but did not wish to criticize or admonish her further.
Finally, her shuddering subsided, and she said, “It is passing away.”
And so it did; and perhaps to dissipate the somber impression which the spectacle and her attitude had left upon me, she became unusually animated and chatty; and so we got home.
This was the first time I had seen her exhibit any definable symptoms of that delicacy of health which her mother had spoken of. It was the first time, also, I had seen her exhibit anything like temper.
Both passed away like a summer cloud; and only once afterwards did I witness on her part a momentary sign of anger. I will tell you how it happened.
Perhaps a week after the funeral incident, she and I were looking out of one of the long drawing room windows, when there entered the courtyard, over the drawbridge, a figure of a wanderer whom I knew very well. He used to visit the schloss generally twice a year, trying to sell strange wares that one might imagine used by an old plague doctor, trying to ward off sickness in the form of monsters.
It was the figure of a very short, stooped man with sharp lean features. He wore a pointed black beard, and he was smiling from ear to ear, showing his white fangs. He was dressed in buff, black, and scarlet, and crossed with more straps and belts than I could count, from which hung all manner of things. Behind, he carried a magic lantern, and two boxes, which I well knew, in one of which was a salamander, and in the other a mandrake. These monsters used to make my father laugh. They were compounded of parts of monkeys, parrots, squirrels, fish, and hedgehogs, dried and stitched together with great neatness and startling effect. He had a fiddle, a box of conjuring apparatus, a pair of foils and masks attached to his belt, several other mysterious cases dangling about him, and a black staff with copper ferrules in his hand. His companion was a rough spare dog, that followed at his heels, but stopped short, suspiciously at the drawbridge, and in a little while began to howl dismally.
In the meantime, the mountebank, standing in the midst of the courtyard, raised his grotesque beaked mask, and made us a very ceremonious bow, paying his compliments very volubly in atrocious French, and German not much better.
Then, disengaging his fiddle, he began to scrape a lively air to which he sang with a merry discord, dancing with ludicrous airs and activity, that made me laugh, in spite of the dog’s howling.
Then he advanced to the window with many smiles and salutations, and his hat in his left hand, his fiddle under his arm, and with a fluency that never took breath, he gabbled a long advertisement of all his accomplishments, and the resources of the various arts which he placed at our service, and the curiosities and entertainments which it was in his power, at our bidding, to display.
“Will your ladyships be pleased to buy an amulet against the oupire, which is going like the wolf, I hear, through these woods,” he said dropping his hat on the pavement. “They are dying of it right and left and here is a charm that never fails; only pinned to the pillow, and you may laugh in his face.”
These charms consisted of oblong slips of vellum papers, with cabalistic ciphers and diagrams upon them.
Carmilla instantly purchased one, and so did I.
He was looking up, and we were smiling down upon him, amused; at least, I can answer for myself. His piercing black eye, as he looked up in our faces, seemed to detect something that fixed for a moment his curiosity.
In an instant he unrolled a leather case, full of all manner of odd little steel instruments.
“See here, my lady,” he said, displaying it, and addressing me, “I profess, among other things less useful, the art of dentistry. Plague take the dog!” he interpolated. “Silence, beast! He howls so that your ladyships can scarcely hear a word. Your noble friend, the young lady at your right, has the sharpest tooth—long, thin, pointed, like an awl, like a needle; ha, ha!” Carmilla bristled beside me, and I glanced at her. Her eyes had become terrible—whether with anger or wounded heart at the insult, I was not yet sure. “With my sharp and long sight, as I look up, I have seen it distinctly; now if it happens to hurt the young lady, and I think it must, here am I, here are my file, my punch, my nippers; I will make it round and blunt, if her ladyship pleases; no longer the tooth of a fish, but of a beautiful young lady as she is.” As the man continued, I grew hot with embarrassment, sensing the growing sensitivity with which Carmilla received comments upon the appearance of her teeth. “Hey? Is the young lady displeased? Have I been too bold? Have I offended her?”
The young lady, indeed, looked very angry as she drew back from the window.
“How dare that scoundrel insult us so? Where is your father? I shall demand redress from him. My father would have had the wretch tied up to the pump, and flogged with a cart whip!”
She retired from the window a step or two, and sat down, and had hardly lost sight of the offender, when her wrath subsided as suddenly as it had risen, and she gradually recovered her usual tone, and seemed to forget the little plague doctor and his follies. “I’ve shamed myself, Laura. I shan’t lose my temper like that again. I should control myself better.”
“No! Carmilla, I’m sorry to have encouraged him to come so close to the house, to have allowed him to insult you!”
“Let us forget all about it, dearest one,” she said, taking my hand and pulling me down to the chaise with her—indeed, nearly upon her lap—and the fabric of her dress crinkled beneath my weight.
“I shall tell my father to be sure he never comes near to here again,” I promised.
“No, little one, I don’t need one man to protect me from another. You are comfort enough, and as you say, he is troubled enough these days.”
We sat there, chatting quietly and determinedly ignoring the man, until he and his howling dog moved off and away from our property. “I think your teeth are beautiful,” I said, shyly, as silence around us was restored. She flashed me a gleaming smile.
My father was out of spirits that evening. On coming in he told us that there had been another case very similar to the two fatal ones which had lately occurred. The sister of a young peasant on his estate, only a mile away, was very ill, had been, as she described it, attacked very nearly in the same way, and was now slowly but steadily sinking.
“All this,” said my father, “is strictly referable to natural causes. These poor people infect one another with their superstitions, and so repeat in imagination the images of terror that have infested their neighbors.”
“But that very circumstance frightens one horribly,” said Carmilla, with a glance at me. I fancied she was trying to defend the peasants, to show me she had changed her attitudes.
“How so?” inquired my father.
“I am so afraid of fancying I see such things; I think it would be as bad as reality.”
“The doctor said he would come here today,” said my father, after a silence. “I want to know what he thinks about it, and what he thinks we had better do.”
“Doctors never did me any good,” said Carmilla.
“Then you have been ill?” I asked, the constant dull hum of curiosity regarding Carmilla’s past now roaring in my ears.
“More ill than ever you were,” she answered, her voice chilled.
“Yes, a long time. I suffered from this very illness; but I forget all but my pain and weakness, and they were not so bad as are suffered in other diseases.”
“You were very young then?”
“I dare say, let us talk no more of it. You would not wound a friend?”
She looked languidly in my eyes, and passed her arm round my waist lovingly, and led me out of the room. My father was busy over some papers near the window.
“Why does your papa like to frighten us?” said the pretty girl with a sigh and a little shudder.
“He doesn’t, dear Carmilla, it is the very furthest thing from his mind.”
“Are you afraid, dearest?”
“I should be very much if I fancied there was any real danger of my being attacked, as those poor people feared. You were right to defend them.”
She smiled at me, and pressed a kiss to my cheek.
“You are afraid to die?” she asked.
“Yes, everyone is.”
“But to die as lovers may—to die together, so that they may live together? I’m not so afraid of that. It is as Dr. Hesselius has written … that the essential human is a spirit ... the material body merely houses our spirit, and death is consequently no interruption of the living person’s existence, but simply her extrication from the natural body. Girls are caterpillars while they live in the world, to be finally butterflies when the summer comes; but in the meantime they are grubs and larvae, don’t you see?”
I cannot say I quite followed Carmilla’s logic—I had at that time never heard of this Dr. Hesselius, who she told me was a “medical philosopher” with only a few essays published—but she was so engaging, as she always was, that I felt a little comforted.
“Perhaps,” I said, “my papa and the doctor can comfort them, and help them to see their superstitions, and help them to recover instead of succumbing to death.”
“Yes….” Carmilla said, her gaze now seeming to land far off. “Perhaps the doctor can do them more good than they did me.”
The next morning the doctor and a priestly man came, and they were closeted with my papa for some time. I, along with Madame and Mademoiselle, sat in the library adjacent. It was still too early for Carmilla to be stirring, and I had taken to completing my studies with my governesses in the mornings so I could spend all my time with Carmilla free from responsibility.
The doctor was a skillful man, of sixty and upwards, he wore powder, and shaved his pale face as smooth as a pumpkin. His priestly companion was an overlarge, bearded and gruff man, who made both the doctor and my father look childlike alongside him. I had never seen him before—he was not a local and must have been called in to assist with the high number of funerals. He wore a long black cassock, but no crucifix, and carried a writing notebook instead of a Bible. He wore a pair of gold spectacles with tiny round lenses that just covered his eyes, and flashed when passing your direction.
After a long time, the doctor and Papa emerged from the room together, and I heard Papa laugh, and say as they came out:
“Well, I do wonder at a wise man like you. What do you say to hippogriffs and dragons?”
The doctor was smiling, and made answer, shaking his head—“Nevertheless life and death are mysterious states, and we know little of the resources of either.”
His companion followed them a few paces behind, and gave a long, flashing glare at me. I grew uneasy as the moments passed, and again remembered the forbidding, rough-handed priest who had sanctified me and my bedroom so many years ago.
They walked on, and I heard no more. I did not then know what the doctor had been broaching, but perhaps you can guess it.
V. A Wonderful Likeness
This evening there arrived from Gratz the grave son of the picture cleaner, with a horse and cart laden with two large packing cases, having many pictures in each. It was a journey of ten leagues, and whenever a messenger arrived at the schloss from our little capital of Gratz, we used to crowd about him in the hall, to hear the news.
This arrival created in our secluded quarters quite a sensation. The cases remained in the hall, and the messenger was taken charge of by the servants till he had eaten his supper. Then with assistants, and armed with hammer, ripping chisel, and turnscrew, he met us in the hall, where we had assembled to witness the unpacking of the cases.
Carmilla sat looking listlessly on, while one after the other the old pictures, nearly all portraits, which had undergone the process of renovation, were brought to light. My mother was of an old Hungarian Roma family, and most of these pictures, which were about to be restored to their places, had come to us through her.
My father had a list in his hand, from which he read, as the artist rummaged out the corresponding numbers. I don’t know that the pictures were very good, but they were, undoubtedly, very old, and some of them very curious also. They had, for the most part, the merit of being now seen by me, I may say, for the first time; for the smoke and dust of time had all but obliterated them prior.
“There is a picture that I have not seen yet,” said my father. “In one corner, at the top of it, is the name, as well as I could read, ‘Marcia Karnstein,’ and the date ‘1698’; and I am curious to see how it has turned out.”
I remembered it; it was a small picture, about a foot and a half high, and nearly square, without a frame; but it was so blackened by age that I could not make it out.
The artist now produced it, with evident pride. It was quite beautiful; it was startling; it seemed to live. It was the effigy of Carmilla!
“Carmilla, dear, here is an absolute miracle. Here you are, living, smiling, ready to speak, in this picture. Isn’t it beautiful, Papa? And see, even the little mole on her throat.”
My father laughed and said, “Certainly it is a wonderful likeness!” But he seemed little struck by it and went on talking to the picture cleaner, who was also something of an artist, and discoursed with intelligence about the portraits or other works, which his art had just brought into light and color, while I was more and more lost in wonder the more I looked at the picture.
“Will you let me hang this picture in my room, Papa?” I asked.
“Certainly, dear,” said he, smiling, “I’m very glad you think it so like Carmilla. It must be prettier even than I thought it, if it is.”
The young lady did not acknowledge this pretty speech, did not seem to hear it. She was leaning back in her chaise, her fine eyes under their long lashes gazing on me in contemplation, and she smiled in a kind of rapture.
“And now you can read quite plainly the name that is written in the corner,” I told him. “It is not Marcia; it looks as if it was done in gold. The name is Mircalla, Countess Karnstein, and this is a little coronet over and underneath A.D. 1698.”
Papa nodded and went back to his conversation with the picture cleaner, and I went on talking to Carmilla, who still watched me. “I am descended from the Karnsteins; that is, Mamma was.”
“Ah, was she?” Carmilla asked with evident interest, though speaking in a slow, relaxed manner, “so am I, I think, a very long descent, very ancient. I don’t believe there are any of them left these days, are there?”
“None who bear the name. The family were ruined, I believe, in some civil wars, long ago, but the ruins of the castle are only about three miles away.”
“How interesting,” she said, still in her languorous way. She took a deep breath and propped herself upon her elbows, looking toward the door to the antechamber. “But see what beautiful moonlight!” She glanced through the hall door, which stood a little open. “Suppose you and I take a little ramble round the court, and look down at the road and river.”
“It is so like the night you came to us,” I said.
She sighed again; smiling.
She rose, and each with her arm about the other’s waist, we walked out upon the pavement.
In silence, slowly we walked down to the drawbridge, where the beautiful landscape opened before us.
“And so you were thinking of the night I came here?” she almost whispered. “Are you glad I came?”
“Delighted, dear Carmilla,” I answered.
“And you asked for the picture you think like me, to hang in your room,” she murmured with a sigh, as she drew her arm closer about my waist, and let her pretty head sink upon my shoulder. I could smell again the floral, tart scent of her dark hair as it brushed my face.
“How romantic you are, Carmilla,” I said. I felt my own breast growing giddy with the sensation of her upon my shoulder. It was much like the feeling of having drank a full glass of wine or champagne too quickly. I tried to cover this with some bravado: “Whenever you tell me your story, it will be made up chiefly of one great romance.”
She turned her head and kissed me silently along the collarbone, murmuring, “Sweet Laura.” Though it was a warm night, I shivered. My bravado failed, and my voice faded to a whisper:
“I am sure, Carmilla, you have been in love. That there is, at this moment, an affair of the heart going on. Another tale you cannot tell me, I suppose?”
She pulled away from my shoulder, and turned me to face her, reaching her slender fingers to caress my cheek. “I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered, “unless it be with you.”
How beautiful she looked in the moonlight!
Shy and strange was the look with which she quickly hid her face in my neck and hair, almost collapsing into me with tumultuous sighs. She seemed almost to sob and pressed in mine a hand that trembled.
Her soft cheek was glowing against mine. “Darling, darling,” she murmured into my ear, “I live in you, would die for you if I could, I love you so.”
“Carmilla, you say such things!” I cried, flustered with such proclamations.
“Oh Laura, Laura … would you for me, too?”
“Would I …?” I asked, and I pulled back to look at her. The question made me uneasy, and I tried to cover it with a weak attempt at humor. “Are we to go to war together, my dear Carmilla?”
She was gazing on me with eyes from which all fire, all meaning had flown, and a face colorless and apathetic. As if she had said nothing a moment before.
“Is there a chill in the air, dear?” she said drowsily. “I almost shiver; have I been dreaming? Let us come in. Come; come; come in.”
“You look ill, Carmilla; a little faint. You certainly must take some wine,” I said, my uneasiness melting into worry.
“Yes. I will. I’m better now. I shall be quite well in a few minutes. Yes, do give me a little wine,” answered Carmilla, as we approached the door. Then she turned back to the pretty view. “Let us look again for a moment; it is the last time, perhaps, I shall see the moonlight with you….”
“Why do you say that? How do you feel now, dear Carmilla? Are you really better?” I asked. “You spoke so strangely just now.” I brought her to one of the little wooden benches we kept by the entrance to the schloss. “Should we go inside?”
I was beginning to take alarm, lest she should have been stricken with the strange epidemic that they said had invaded the country about us.
“Papa would be grieved beyond measure,” I added, “if he thought you were ever so little ill, without immediately letting us know.”
She did not reply to this, and so I added: “I would be grieved, Carmilla.”
“We have a very skillful doctor near us, the physician who was with Papa today.”
“I’m sure he is. I know how kind you all are; but, dear child, I am quite well again. There is nothing ever wrong with me, but a little weakness. People say I am languid; I am incapable of exertion; I can scarcely walk as far as a child of three years old: and every now and then the little strength I have falters, and I become as you have just seen me. But after all I am very easily set up again; in a moment I am perfectly myself. See how I have recovered. Let us go in now.”
So, indeed, she had; and she and I talked a great deal, and very animated she was; and the remainder of that evening passed without any recurrence.
But there occurred that night an event which gave my thoughts quite a new turn, and seemed to startle even Carmilla’s languid nature into momentary energy.
VI. A Very Strange Agony
Chapter VI artwork by visioluxus a.k.a. Elisa Lazo de Valdez
When we got into the drawing room, and had sat down to our coffee and chocolate, although Carmilla did not take any, she seemed quite herself again, and Madame, and Mademoiselle De Lafontaine, joined us, and made a little card party, in the course of which Papa came in for what he called his “dish of tea.”
When the game was over he sat down beside Carmilla on the sofa, and asked her, a little anxiously, whether she had heard from her mother since her arrival.
She answered, “No.” I fancied she bristled a little at the mention of her mother.
He then asked whether she knew where a letter would reach her at present.
“I cannot tell,” she answered ambiguously, “but I have been thinking of leaving you; you have been already too hospitable and too kind to me, and it has been now over a month. I have given you an infinity of trouble, and I should wish to take a carriage tomorrow, and post in pursuit of her; I know where I shall ultimately find her, although I dare not yet tell you.”
“But you must not dream of any such thing,” exclaimed my father, to my great relief. I couldn’t bear the thought of Carmilla leaving, least because of her symptoms earlier. He went on: “We can’t afford to lose you so, and I won’t consent to your leaving us, except under the care of your mother, who was so good as to consent to your remaining with us till she should herself return. I should be quite happy if I knew that you heard from her: this evening the accounts of the progress of the mysterious disease that has invaded our neighborhood grow even more alarming; and my beautiful guest, I do feel the responsibility to protect you from it very much. But I shall do my best; and one thing is certain, that you must not think of leaving us without her distinct direction to that effect.”
“We should suffer too much in parting from you to consent to it easily,” I added earnestly. I worried my occasional hesitation in reply to her declarations of adoration had rebuffed her. Of course I sometimes did not know how to respond, but I did not want Carmilla to feel as though I did not want her there; I certainly did. I did not blame her for my own confused reactions to her advances. And I had lately felt our connection deepening.
“Thank you both a thousand times for your hospitality,” she answered, smiling bashfully at me. “You have all been too kind to me; I have seldom been so happy in all my life before, as here in your beautiful chateau, sir, under your care, and in the society of your dear daughter.” She looked at me as she said this, and I smiled in some relief.
My father gallantly, in his old-fashioned way, kissed her hand, smiling and pleased at her little speech.
I accompanied Carmilla as usual to her room, and sat and chatted with her while she was preparing for bed. She was standing before her dressing table, brushing out her hair.
“Do you think,” I said at length, “that you will ever confide fully in me?”
She turned around smiling, but made no answer, only continued to smile on me.
“You won’t answer that?” I said. “You can’t answer pleasantly; I ought not to have asked you.”
“You were quite right to ask me that, or anything. You do not know how dear you are to me, or you could not think any confidence too great to look for.”
But she fell silent then and continued to brush her hair, turning again but staring into my eyes from the mirror. After some minutes like this, she came and sat beside me on the bed, and gave me the brush. I loved to brush and groom her hair, and it was a delight whenever she consented to let me. She turned away and I began gently brushing from her head all the way down to the center of her back, where her locks ended. So close to her like this, I could smell her familiar scent.
“Laura… you know, I am under vows, more serious than a nun’s, and I dare not tell my story yet, even to you. The time is very near when you shall know everything … perhaps you think me cruel … but you cannot know how much I long to tell you all, now. But the time will come when you must learn for yourself.” Her voice dropped now to only a murmur, as if I might not hear if I was not so close to her, close enough to move her hair with my breath. “Yet… all I want is to be yours, for you to be mine. How jealous I am you cannot know.”
She turned and took my hand gently which held the brush, pulled the brush away, and kissed my fingers with her warm silken lips. A warm pleasure spread through me, originating from that spot. “The only other way … you’d have to come with me, loving me, to death. Do you love me, darling Laura?”
She looked again into my eyes with her languid expression, lids heavy.
“Carmilla, I…” I wanted to say “yes”—part of me still felt my attraction to her to be wicked, but I did love her. I wanted to tell her she was the dearest person to me, the only one as dear to me as my papa, but I felt reticent as long as she would not reveal her past to me.
She moved now to lay in her bed, and I was sitting at its edge, just like the first night she came to the schloss. “You’ve no reply, my love?”
“I don’t understand you, Carmilla. And I don’t understand this thing between us … You ask for such vows of love—to the death—but yet cannot tell me what that will mean? Who you are, where you come from?”
She gave a pretty little laugh at this, pulling the covers over her. “I speak as plainly as my own solemn covenant permits, dear Laura.” As she spoke, she reached out to me, laying her hand in my lap. I hadn’t yet prepared for bed, and still in my full dress, I felt my loins grow hot beneath the weight of her hand. “But I cannot deny how I feel about you, Laura. There is no such word as indifference in my nature.”
“Now, Carmilla, you are going to talk your wild nonsense again,” I said hastily, and took her hand in mine in an attempt to abate the hot sensation in my nethers and assuage my guilt. It made no difference, and I felt immediately a complicated guilt at both rebuffing her advance and at my desire to reciprocate it.
“Not I, silly little fool as I am, and full of whims and fancies; for your sake I’ll talk like a sage. Were you ever at a ball?”
“No; how you do run on.” I was thrown off balance by the unrelated question, but I recovered myself. “What is it like? How charming it must be.”
“I almost forget, it is years ago.”
I laughed, unwillingly—accidentally derisive. “You are not so old. Your first ball can hardly be forgotten yet.”
“I remember everything about it—with an effort.” She seemed to instantly forgive my tone, ignoring any meanness. “I see it all, as divers see what is going on above them, through a medium, dense, rippling, but transparent. There occurred that night what has confused the picture, and made its colors faint. I was all but assassinated in my bed, wounded here,” she touched her breast, “and never was the same since.”
“Were you near dying?” I placed my hand on my own breast, the spot I had felt the needles pierce me as a child.
“Yes, very—a cruel love—strange love, that would have taken my life. Love will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood…” here she paused, her eyelids heavier than ever, as though she could not fight the curtains falling. “Laura … let us go to sleep now; I feel so lazy. How can I get up just now and lock my door?”
She was lying now with her hands buried in her rich wavy hair, under her cheek, her little head upon the pillow, and the glittering crescents of her sleepy eyes followed me wherever I moved, with a kind of shy smile.
As I said, I wanted to reciprocate Carmilla’s declarations of love, but some hesitation stopped me. I felt I could not risk honesty, I could not risk committing myself so fully, first because of the shadow of that priest lurking in my subconscious, and second because she would confide in me no real answers about her past. Who was this cruel love, demanding sacrifice?
What could I sacrifice for Carmilla? What was I willing to?
“Good night, dear Carmilla,” was all I managed, and I crept from the room with an uncomfortable sensation of leaving things unfinished.
The precautions of nervous people are infectious, and persons of a like temperament are pretty sure, after a time, to imitate them. I had adopted Carmilla’s habit of locking her bedroom door and now locked my own, having taken into my head all her whimsical alarms about midnight invaders and prowling assassins. I had also adopted the precaution of making a brief search through my room, to satisfy myself that no lurking assassin or robber was “ensconced.”
These wise measures taken, I got into my bed and fell asleep. A light was burning in my room. This was an old habit, of very early date, and which nothing could have tempted me to dispense with.
Thus fortified I might take my rest in peace. But dreams come through stone walls, light up dark rooms, or darken light ones, and their persons make their exits and their entrances as they please, and laugh at locksmiths.
I had a dream that night that was the beginning of a very strange agony.
I cannot call it a nightmare, for I was quite conscious of being asleep.
But I was equally conscious of being in my room, and lying in bed, precisely as I actually was. I saw, or fancied I saw, the room and its furniture just as I had seen it last, except that it was very dark, and I saw something moving round the foot of the bed, which at first I could not accurately distinguish. But I soon saw that it was a sooty-, cassock-black animal that resembled a monstrous cat. It appeared to me about four or five feet long for it measured fully the length of the hearthrug as it passed over it; and it continued to-ing and fro-ing with the lithe, sinister restlessness of a beast in a cage. I could not cry out, although as you may suppose, I was terrified. Its pace was growing faster, and the room rapidly darker and darker, and at length so dark that I could no longer see anything of it but its yellow eyes. I felt it spring lightly on the bed. The two broad eyes approached my face, and suddenly I felt a stinging pain as if two large needles darted, an inch or two apart, deep into my breast. I waked with a scream. The room was lighted by the candle that burnt there all through the night, and I saw a female figure standing at the foot of the bed, a little to one side. It was in a dark loose dress, and its hair was down and covered its shoulders. A block of stone could not have been more still. There was not the slightest stir of respiration. As I stared at it, the figure appeared to have changed its place, and was now nearer the door; then, close to it, the door opened, and it passed out.
I was now relieved, and able to breathe and move. My first thought was that Carmilla had been playing me a trick, and that I had forgotten to secure my door. I hastened to it, and found it locked as usual on the inside. I was afraid to open it—I was horrified. I sprang into my bed and covered my head up in the bedclothes, and lay there more dead than alive till morning.
Chapter VII artwork by visioluxus a.k.a. Elisa Lazo de Valdez
It would be vain my attempting to tell you the horror with which I felt the occurrence of that night. It was no such transitory terror as a dream leaves behind it. It seemed to deepen by time, and communicated itself to the room and the very furniture that had encompassed the apparition. It stuck, rooted in me, the way the image of that forbidding priest praying in my nursery had. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have been so horrified; I could have found a way to accept what was happening to me. But I didn’t have those pieces till so late—nearly too late.
As it was, I could not bear next day to be alone for a moment. I should have told my papa, but I did not for two opposite reasons. On the one hand, I thought he would laugh at my story, and I could not bear its being treated as a jest; and on another I thought he might fancy that I had been attacked by the mysterious complaint which had invaded our neighborhood. I was afraid of alarming him.
I was comfortable enough with my good-natured companions, Madame Perrodon, and the vivacious Mademoiselle Lafontaine. They both perceived that I was out of spirits and nervous, and at length I told them what lay so heavy at my heart.
Mademoiselle laughed, but I fancied that Madame Perrodon looked anxious.
“By-the-by,” said Mademoiselle, laughing, “the long lime tree walk, behind Carmilla’s bedroom window, is haunted!”
“Nonsense!” exclaimed Madame, who probably thought the theme rather inopportune, “and who tells that story, my dear?”
“Martin says that he came up twice, when the old yard gate was being repaired, before sunrise, and twice saw the same female figure walking down the lime tree avenue.”
“So he well might, as long as there are cows to milk in the river fields,” said Madame.
“I daresay; but Martin chooses to be frightened, and never did I see fool more frightened.”
“You must not say a word about it to Carmilla, because she can see down that walk from her room window,” I interposed, thinking of her fancies about robbers and assassins, “and she is, if possible, a greater coward than I.”
Carmilla came down rather later than usual that day.
“I was so frightened last night,” she said, so soon as we were together, “and I am sure I should have seen something dreadful if it had not been for that charm I bought from the poor little hunchback whom I called such hard names. I had a dream of something black coming round my bed, and I awoke in a perfect horror, and I really thought, for some seconds, I saw a dark figure near the chimneypiece, but I felt under my pillow for my charm, and the moment my fingers touched it, the figure disappeared, and I felt quite certain, only that I had it by me, that something frightful would have made its appearance, and, perhaps, attacked me, as it did those poor people we heard of.”
“Well, listen to me,” I began, and recounted my adventure, at the recital of which she appeared horrified.
“And had you the charm near you?” she asked, earnestly.
“No, I had dropped it into a china vase in the drawing room, but I shall certainly take it with me tonight, as you have so much faith in it.”
At this distance of time I cannot tell you, or even understand, how I overcame my horror so effectually as to lie alone in my room that night. I remember distinctly that I pinned the charm to my pillow. I fell asleep almost immediately, and slept even more soundly than usual all night.
I passed the next night as well. My sleep was delightfully deep and dreamless.
But I wakened with a sense of lassitude and melancholy, which was almost luxurious.
“Well, I told you so,” said Carmilla, when I described my quiet sleep, “I had such delightful sleep myself last night; I pinned the charm to the breast of my nightdress. It was too far away the night before.”
For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome, possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet.
Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.
I would not admit that I was ill, I would not consent to tell my papa, or to have the doctor sent for me. As plenty in the village were still ill, I did not think it necessary to trouble him for my minor complaints and a single bad dream.
Carmilla became more devoted to me than ever, and her paroxysms of languid adoration more frequent. But there were times, too, where she simply watched me with that old expression which mirrored my melancholy.
“Why do you look so sad, Carmilla?”
“Oh, it’s nothing, my darling Laura. The spirits of night have been upon me. And I worry for you. For your future.”
“You sound like Papa! I’m quite fine. Besides, you said you once had the illness plaguing the villagers, and you sit here fine before me. And do I manifest any symptoms you had?”
“Mine were much more dramatic,” she admitted with some reluctance. I felt she wanted to say more, to tell me more of her past, perhaps, but she continued her obedience to her mother’s command of silence.
Without knowing it, I was now in a pretty advanced stage of the strangest illness under which mortals ever suffered. There was an unaccountable fascination in its earlier symptoms that more than reconciled me to the incapacitating effect of that stage of the malady. This fascination increased for a time, until it reached a certain point, when gradually a sense of the horrible mingled itself with it, deepening, as you shall hear, until it discolored and perverted the whole state of my life.
The first change I experienced was rather agreeable. It was very near the turning point from which began the descent of Avernus.
Certain vague and strange sensations visited me in my sleep. The prevailing one was of that pleasant, peculiar cold thrill which we feel in bathing, when we move against the current of a river. I recalled how Carmilla had described her memories of the ball, I see it all, as divers see what is going on above them, through a medium, dense, rippling, but transparent. This was soon accompanied by dreams that seemed interminable, and were so vague that I could never recollect their scenery and persons, or any one connected portion of their action. But they left an awful impression, and a sense of exhaustion, as if I had passed through a long period of great mental exertion and danger.
After all these dreams there remained on waking a remembrance of having been in a place very nearly dark, and of having spoken to people whom I could not see; and especially of one clear voice, of a female’s, very deep and womanly, that spoke as if at a distance, slowly, and producing always the same sensation of indescribable solemnity and fear. Sometimes there came a sensation as if a hand was drawn softly along my cheek and neck. Sometimes it was as if warm, silken lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself. My heart beat faster, my breathing rose and fell rapidly and full drawn; a sobbing, that rose into a sense of strangulation, supervened, and turned into a dreadful convulsion, in which my senses left me, and I became unconscious.
It was now three weeks since the commencement of this unaccountable state.
My sufferings had, during the last week, told upon my appearance. I had grown pale, my eyes were dilated and darkened underneath, and the languor which I had long felt began to display itself in my countenance.
My father asked me often whether I was ill; but, with an obstinacy, I persisted in assuring him that I was quite well.
In a sense this was true. I had no pain, I could complain of no bodily derangement. My complaint seemed to be one of the imagination, or the nerves, and, horrible as my sufferings were, I kept them, with a morbid reserve, very nearly to myself. Something about them was precious to me, I couldn’t bear to share them, even to find relief for the weight of suffering they brought upon me.
It could not be that terrible complaint which the peasants called the oupire, for I had now been suffering for three weeks, and they were seldom ill for much more than three days, when death had put an end to their miseries or they recovered. Plus, I dreaded the doctor examining me. I feared his tall companion may be in attendance, and he made me so uneasy.
Carmilla complained of dreams and feverish sensations, but by no means of so alarming a kind as mine.
Around this time when my symptoms were growing, we decided to make a little trip to the ruins of Karnstein. After the arrival of the portraits, I had been eager for Carmilla to see the ancient place where her likeness had lived. It was now early October, and the leaves in the forest around us were changing beautifully for autumn. Though now always fatigued, I suggested to Papa one morning that we go to the little ruined castle, which sat on a hill, to observe the leaves and show Carmilla the ancient home of the Karnsteins at the same time.
“A grand idea!” Papa said, “what a lovely spot to observe the colors, and it will be good for you to get some fresh air, I think. I should like to go with you,” he went on, “but I must meet again with the doctor and his companion.”
“No more deaths, I hope!” We had not heard of more deaths for some weeks by this point, though other symptoms prevailed, and the doctor had kept busy. Surely the doctor was needed more in the village than for my mild case.
“No deaths recently, though some do still complain of the superstitious hauntings.”
“I shall have Madame and Mademoiselle take you and Carmilla. Perhaps you can make a picnic of it. A late lunch? When Carmilla comes down it shall be the warmest time of day, much the right time for your trip.”
Madame, Mademoiselle, and I had the carriage packed and ready to go by the time Carmilla awoke and came down that afternoon. I was dismayed when, at the news of our little plan, Carmilla seemed not pleased, but instead rather afraid.
“Aren’t they quite haunted?” she asked, a little tremor in her voice.
I exchanged looks with Madame and Mademoiselle at these words. I had told them she was more coward than I, now they saw.
Papa laughed heartily and tried to comfort her. “What is this fanciful world of faeries and spirits everyone seems to believe in these days! No, my dear, it is only the ruined vestige of a once-great family. A place of historic interest.”
“And so lovely,” observed Madame, “in a melancholy sort of way. I think Laura should like to show you even in winter that picturesque spot, Carmilla. But with the leaves changed it will be even prettier.”
“Come Carmilla,” I said, putting my elbow out for her to take, as a suitor might for a lady. “It’s near two o’clock. There cannot be any spirits out at this time. And I have so wanted to show you the ruins, ever since you arrived. And especially since the portrait arrived of the Countess that once lived there, who looked so like you!”
Carmilla grinned at these words, her cheeks dimpling in their familiar way. She had been touched when I hung that portrait in my room and grinned each time she saw it there. She took my arm almost shyly, then looked down as though ashamed of her cowardice. “Shall you protect me if any evil spirits appear?” she asked.
With Carmilla sufficiently soothed, we piled into the carriage and made our way towards the ruins. The little party consisted of Madame, Mademoiselle, Carmilla and I, and the driver, an elderly woman called Johanna. The carriage was a barouche, and Carmilla and I sat squeezed in front on either side of the driver, while the plump Madame and thin-framed Mademoiselle balanced in the back seats behind us.
That the driver was a woman was wondrous to Carmilla. At Carmilla’s request, she told her the story of how this had come to be. As the rest in our party knew, in Johanna’s youth, she had been the wife of a driver for many years in Vienna and then in Gratz. When he’d seized and died suddenly while driving one day—in the middle of a job transporting passengers—she had taken over his horse and cart, and gotten the riders to safety.
“And I just kept it up after that. Took over the job.”
Carmilla listened to this with rapt attention, while my governautes and I enjoyed the familiar tale and Carmilla’s reactions.
“I’d had to take the reins plenty of times before,” Johanna assured her.
“But why?” Carmilla asked in wonder.
“Oh, he was a terrible drunk,” the driver responded sadly. “I loved the man, but first he was addicted to the laudanum, and later the bottle once he couldn’t get it anymore. It was the drink that took him from me.”
“Was he the driver at the schloss, for your papa Laura?”
“Oh, no,” Johanna told her. “No he never saw our beautiful schloss, we always lived in the city. I’m only so lucky to be there because Laura’s father is one of a handful willing to hire a woman for the job. He found me in Gratz, desperate for work after my husband’s usual clients found new men drivers.”
Carmilla received this information in silence—I think, impressed. “Your papa is a good man,” she said finally.
We all warmly agreed to this. “Laura is biased of course,” the driver said, “But it’s not many men would forgo the notions of propriety like that.”
“And why not!” interjected Mademoiselle. “Johanna is our best driver yet at the schloss.”
The driver tipped her hat at that. Before we could go further on this subject, we had arrived. I could not have wished for a more beautiful day to bring Carmilla to the ruins. The sky was overcast so it was not too bright to look around with clear eyes. A light fog hung all around the scene, giving everything a slight softened effect. The damp ruins stood as solid and quiet as ever, and the leaves’ orange, yellow, tan, brown, and bright red colors popped around the gray of the stone. Here and there, a dark hunter green fir brought out the warmness of the autumn colors even further by contrast. The fog made the leaves shine with a light mist, making the woods almost glitter as we walked up the summit to the castle.
“Oh Laura, it’s so lovely!” Carmilla exclaimed prettily, taking my free hand as we walked forward. All five of us held a basket, each holding a little of our prepared lunch. There was an old crumbling table and benches set in the middle of what had once been, I’m sure, a bustling village. Johanna pulled a set of fluffy towels from her basket and spread them on the benches for us to sit upon. Mademoiselle spread a small cloth on the table, and Madame, Carmilla, and I began arranging our lunch upon it.
It was a delightful luncheon—or rather, a delightful afternoon tea. We had prepared tea and packed into old milk bottles, which we took now cold in small metal cups meant for travellers. Madame passed around tea sandwiches—some prepared with cream and cucumber, some with egg—and we enjoyed our late afternoon meal. As was her way, Carmilla barely ate her portion, which she offered to me, though she drank all her tea.
Our conversation mainly consisted of appreciation of the beauty around us. It was not difficult, then, for Carmilla and I to get away from the others and be alone to observe the ruins.
“You girls take a look around,” Madame smiled at us, observing Carmilla’s curious gazing at our surroundings. “We can clear up here.”
“Thank you,” I smiled and took Carmilla’s hand as she rose.
We walked through the village streets, and I pointed out little buildings that my father and I had imagined the purposes for many times over the years during our visits. “We guess that may have been a little tavern inn, from the size,” or, “This little row of buildings seem like small shops the way they are arranged and laid out.”
Carmilla listened attentively, smiling all the while and looking around her. “It is such a delight to be here with you, Laura,” she said. “And to hear of this place through your eyes.”
We climbed the hill to the castle. It was not a safe structure to be inside too long, though we did take some moments to walk through the remaining walls and try to guess what the rooms were used for.
“The chapel,” I said after some time, “is my favorite. It’s just down the other side of this little hill. Shall I show you?”
“Please,” Carmilla urged, and we headed there.
The chapel was as pretty as ever. The stones, some of which still had whitewash clinging to them, seemed to gleam in the soft light of the afternoon. There was no roof now, so as we entered we could see the sky and the canopy of leaves above us.
The walking had tired me, even though we had just taken food, and I asked to sit upon a little fallen log inside the chapel walls.
“Are you alright, Laura?” Carmilla asked with concern. “Usually it is I who must rest after such an excursion.”
“To be honest, I am not sure,” I admitted. “Although I have slept better since taking your advice with the charm, I still find myself fatigued so easily. Only please don’t tell papa.”
“If that’s what you wish, but your papa is so kind,” she replied. “Johanna’s story and my own are proof. He is not a man of judgment.”
“Oh, of course,” I said hastily, “I don’t fear his judgment. I fear he shall worry himself over me too much.”
“He is the kindest parent I could wish for,” I said fervently. “I have always felt a little melancholy for not knowing my mamma. But I have not been lacking love and attention. His heart expands to give me the love of two parents. I do not wish to worry him.”
“He reminds me of my own papa,” Carmilla said. She stared up at the castle on the summit near us. I did not speak as I hoped she would go on, revealing something new about her past. She acquiesced. “He never forced me to do anything, you know. We live in a society with many pressures for young ladies, but he never forced me to get married or entertain suitors I had no interest in. He left me free to live my life. But Mamma …”
She stopped here and said no more, but sat pensively, biting her lower lip and still staring above her.
I tried waiting as long as I could for her to go on and reveal more, but she seemed too lost in thought. So I retrieved the thread of our conversation. “I cannot say I am especially fond of all the company my papa keeps lately,” I said. “Of course the doctor is necessary, but he has a companion I find almost frightening.”
“I have not yet seen either the doctor or his companion,” Carmilla said thoughtfully. “They must come while I am still asleep? Anyway,” she finally turned and looked back to me, and reached her hand to my face. “I cannot see that you are sick at all, dear Laura. Your complexion looks rich as ever, just as golden brown as when we met. Smooth and dewy, as when sun hits fresh wet sand on the morning beach….”
“You have been to a beach, Carmilla?” I asked with delight. “Oh tell me about it! I’ve still never been beyond our borders.”
“Oh yes, many times. Mamma loves Italy in particular. I think she may hail from there long ago.”
“So you are descended from the Karnsteins and the Romans? Your family history is so rich!”
“Hm?” She asked languidly, looking puzzled for a moment. “Oh, yes, of course…. I’ve … ancestors from both sources. It was my papa, you know, descended of the Karnsteins. A duke.”
“Is your papa dead?” I asked. I had noticed the past tense in all her descriptions. Carmilla looked arrested at the question and pulled her arm away from mine. Perhaps I had pushed too far in breaching this familiar territory of secrets, rather than letting her reveal things naturally, and feared I had offended her. I tried to soften the question: “Is that why your Mamma was wearing the grieving dress?”
“Oh, no,” she said, and I thought there was an inexplicable trace of relief in her voice. Then with unaccountable disgust, she said, “She wears it for herself. For the things she wants and cannot have.”
“So your papa is alive?”
She did not answer me, though she looked the like she wanted to. Instead she made a movement like a person choking, as if she were actually choking on her words.
“Carmilla, are you alright? Shall I fetch more tea to restore you?”
She shook her head and took my arm again, breathing slowly and heavily in her languorous way. “I’ve told you I have secrets in my past … dark secrets, dear Laura. And I’m forbidden to say more. You know she has forbidden me. Forgive me.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have asked again,” I said automatically. Though I was frustrated again at her refusal to answer, she seemed physically unable to disobey her mother any further, and I felt a pang of guilt at the pain I must be putting her through each time I explicitly inquired.
“Carmilla …” I began, unsure of what I would say next. “Carmilla, you’re right. I keep asking when I know you cannot say. I haven’t been able to help it—I just want to know you. Every morsel of knowledge feeds my hunger to know you more. But I don’t care anymore about the past. I mean—I do care, I want to know because I care about you. But I don’t need to know anything.”
She lay her head upon my shoulder, hair cascading down over me in its familiar way. She paused, sighing, seeming to consider her reply. “Are you sure?”
Her question touched me, as often her response to this subject was often cold and indifferent in regard to my feelings.
She went on: “You know I wish to tell you all. Can you still love me without knowing?” Then she dropped her voice, as if speaking to herself, and asked, “Would you still love me if you did know?”
I thought of Papa then, and his kind heart and lack of judgment of Johanna’s past or sex. Then I thought of the terrible priest in his black cassock from my childhood, and the doctor’s cassocked, spectacled companion with the flashing eyes. I knew who I would rather emulate.
“I love you, as you are, Carmilla, without condition. I trust you will tell me, someday, when you can. If I need to know.”
Carmilla straightened to look at me and smiled. Her eyes were wide and sparkled with joy at my reply.
I could not help but grin irrepressibly back at her beautiful, dimpled face. With the same feeling of luxurious melancholy that I had lately been feeling as my symptoms began, I reached for Carmilla, arms around her waist, and pulled her close to me, face to face.
She, a little taller than I, twisted where she sat and reached her forearms over my shoulders, twining her fingers together behind my neck. We sat in this way some moments until, both at the same moment, we leaned toward one another.
I was filled with an indescribable ecstasy—my lips upon her silken ones, tasting her. She cupped my jaw in her warm little hand, and I held her waist, feeling her long luscious hair tickling my fingers. My loins grew warm again, as that night when I sat in her bed, but this time in a delicious way. My body trembled as we touched.
The moments slipped by and we pulled apart, each a shy smile upon her lips.
“I love you, Laura.”
“And I you, Carmilla.”
We still sat embracing when we heard the approach of footsteps.
“Girls,” Mademoiselle called as she approached the chapel. Carmilla and I pulled apart and stood up together. Mademoiselle entered and smiled at the sight of us. She began in her loquacious way to describe the scenery. “Ah look at the leaves peaking over this roofless chapel, as though the ceiling were painted in these myriad colors! No wonder you have spent so much time here.” Carmilla and I glanced at each other, grinned, and looked away. “But we must be heading back. The sun will start to set soon, and we promised your papa not to let you become chilled.”
Carmilla and I followed Mademoiselle back out of the chapel. On the ride back, we sat again on either side of the driver. Carmilla exchanged charming pleasantries with our party, saying how enchanted she had been with the ruins and how she had been wrong to be frightened. I felt now the looks we exchanged during the quiet lulls in conversation held a special new spark.
My recent symptoms of lassitude came over me again after we arrived at the schloss and the sun set. The excursion to the ruins fatigued me more than I expected, although I tried not to let Papa notice. But by the time we took supper, I could not deny it any longer.
“I think our trip tired me too much, and I should sleep early tonight,” I told the table after I had finished eating. “I’m sorry Carmilla, I don’t think I can stay awake any longer tonight.”
“Why apologize? Take your rest!” Carmilla said, smiling charmingly.
“You’re still our guest.”
“You are wearier even than I,” she insisted.
“Yes, Laura,” Papa agreed. “I’m sure we can keep Carmilla entertained this evening. Please do get some rest.”
I agreed finally on the condition that Carmilla see me to bed as I usually saw her. She helped me into my nightclothes and sat at the edge of my bed brushing my hair for a few minutes.
“Laura,” she said, taking my hand but looking down at it with concern wrinkling her forehead. “You must rest, so I won’t keep you too long. But I feel I must apologize if I was too bold at the ruins—”
“No!” I interrupted her, smiling. “No, dear Carmilla. I was just as ‘bold’ as you.”
She smiled back, then brought my hand to her lips and kissed it. “You have made my life so joyous, Laura. I’m so happy with you.”
“And I you.”
She sat smiling down at me for some moments. Then, seeming to come to herself, she said, “But now, you should rest.”
I smiled back at her, feeling soothed. My eyelids were heavy, and I wanted to drift off with her holding my hand, but I had picked up that habit of locking my door.
“Good night, dear Laura,” she said, and kissed my forehead with her soft lips. I hobbled up and locked the door behind her, and then threw myself into sleep upon my bed.
I had a dream that night, which led immediately to an odd discovery.
That night, instead of the voice I was accustomed to hear in the dark, I heard one, sweet, tender, girlish, and familiar, close to my ear, which said:
“Your love warns you to beware of the assassin.” At the same time a light unexpectedly sprang up, and I saw Carmilla, standing with eyes closed, near the foot of my bed, in her white nightdress, bathed, from her chin to her feet, in one great stain of blood.
I wakened with a shriek, possessed with the one idea that Carmilla was being murdered. I remember springing from my bed—no longer languid but instead full of adrenaline—and my next recollection is that of standing on the lobby, crying for help.
Madame and Mademoiselle came scurrying out of their rooms in alarm; a lamp burned always on the lobby, and seeing me, they soon learned the cause of my terror.
I insisted on our knocking at Carmilla’s door. Our knocking was unanswered.
It soon became a pounding and an uproar. We shrieked her name, but all was vain.
We all grew frightened, for the door was locked. We hurried back, in panic, to my room. There we rang the bell long and furiously. If my father’s room had been at that side of the house, we would have called him up at once to our aid. But, alas! he was quite out of hearing, and to reach him involved an excursion for which we none of us had courage.
Servants, however, soon came running up the stairs; I had got on my dressing gown and slippers meanwhile, and my companions were already similarly furnished. Recognizing the voices of the servants on the lobby, we sallied out together; and having renewed, as fruitlessly, our summons at Carmilla’s door, I ordered the men to force the lock. They did so, and we stood, holding our lights aloft, in the doorway, and so stared into the room.
We called her by name; but there was still no reply. We looked round the room. Everything was undisturbed. But Carmilla was gone.
Chapter VIII artwork illustrated by Anton Mustavo
At sight of the room, perfectly undisturbed except for our violent entrance, we began to cool a little, and soon recovered our senses sufficiently to dismiss the men. It had struck Mademoiselle that possibly Carmilla had been wakened by the uproar at her door, and in her first panic had jumped from her bed, and hid herself in a press, or behind a curtain, from which she could not, of course, emerge until the majordomo and his myrmidons had withdrawn. But I could not stop seeing the vision of Carmilla drenched in blood, and still feared terribly for her. We now recommenced our search and began to call her name again.
It was all to no purpose. Our perplexity and my agitation increased. We examined the windows, but they were secured.
“Carmilla!” I cried in desperation, “if you have concealed yourself, play this cruel trick no longer—come out and end our anxieties!”
It was all useless. I was by this time convinced that she was not in the room, nor in the dressing room, the door of which was still locked on this side. “She could not have passed it,” Madame said, “I am utterly puzzled.”
“Perhaps Carmilla discovered one of those secret passages which the old housekeeper said were known to exist in the schloss,” Mademoiselle suggested, and I saw Madame give her a skeptical look.
“A little time will, no doubt, explain all,” Madame said, petting my arm in an attempt at reassurance.
It was past four o’clock, and I preferred passing the remaining hours of darkness in Madame’s room. Daylight brought no solution of the difficulty.
The whole household, with my father at its head, was in a state of agitation the next morning. Every part of the chateau was searched. The grounds were explored. No trace of the missing lady could be discovered. The stream was about to be dragged; my father was in distraction; what a tale to have to tell the poor girl’s mother on her return!
I, too, was almost beside myself, though my grief was quite of a different kind. The vision of her white gown crimsoned with gore repeated in my mind’s eye over and over. I kept thinking of her words, “Love will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood…” Thinking she had referred to some specific individual, I wondered had some terrible assassin invaded our home and got to her at last, despite her precautions and her locked door?
The morning was passed in alarm and excitement. It was now one o’clock, and still no tidings. As this was the time she often came down to use, I happened to run up to Carmilla’s room, and to my astonishment I found her standing at her dressing table. I was astounded. I could not believe my eyes. She was perfectly safe, in her dressing gown, and she beckoned me to her with her pretty finger, in silence. Her face expressed extreme distress.
I ran to her in an ecstasy of joy; I kissed and embraced her again and again. “Carmilla, my Carmilla! You are safe! I saw a terrible vision of you last night and I thought I’d lost you forever!”
“Oh Laura!” she said, and the words seemed wrenched from her. She seemed to sob into my shoulder as I held her.
She pulled back and stared at me a long few moments, conflict apparent in her expression. “Laura, I—I must tell you, they’re coming—”
“We must tell Papa you are here, that you are alright!” I reached to the bell and rang it vehemently, to bring others to the spot who might at once relieve my father’s anxiety.
“Dear Carmilla, what has become of you all this time? I have been in agonies of anxiety about you,” I exclaimed. “Where have you been? How did you come back?”
She watched me ring the bell, and her expression became one of utter despair. As we heard the footsteps thundering up the stairs and through the hall, closer and closer, she whispered to me, “I cannot say it all with the others here.”
“What?” I was astonished, but by this time, Madame, Mademoiselle, my father, and a number of the servants were in the room. Carmilla was, of course, overwhelmed with inquiries, congratulations, and welcomes. Her gaze, now and again, locked with mine, and was significant. But I could not now press her to give her full meaning in the presence of the others.
“Where have you been, dear Carmilla?” Madame and Papa asked in near unison.
“Last night has been a night of wonders,” she said. She had regained some composure and was giving a little melancholy smile to the others. Only I could see past it, that she was not being quite truthful, and that she seemed almost weary with the attention.
“For mercy’s sake, explain all you can,” Papa exclaimed.
“It was past two last night,” she said, and her voice sounded almost rehearsed, “when I went to sleep as usual in my bed, with my doors locked, that of the dressing room, and that opening upon the gallery. My sleep was uninterrupted, and, so far as I know, dreamless; but I woke just now on the sofa in the dressing room there, and I found the door between the rooms open, and the other door forced. How could all this have happened without my being wakened? It must have been accompanied with a great deal of noise, and I am particularly easily wakened; and how could I have been carried out of my bed without my sleep having been interrupted, I whom the slightest stir startles?”
My father took a turn up and down the room, thinking. He had not seemed to notice her tone or her weariness. I suppose it was not so out of the ordinary for her to seem fatigued. I saw Carmilla’s eye follow him for a moment with the same melancholy gaze as was her way.
When my father had sent the servants away, Mademoiselle having gone in search of a little bottle of valerian and smelling salts, and there being no one now in the room with Carmilla, except my father, Madame, and myself, he came to her thoughtfully, took her hand very kindly, led her to the sofa, and sat down beside her.
“Will you forgive me, my dear, if I risk a conjecture, and ask a question?”
“Who can have a better right?” she said, voice still weary. “Ask what you please, and I will answer you. But my story is simply one of bewilderment and darkness. I know absolutely nothing. Put any question you please, but you know, of course,” she looked at me as she spoke, “the limitations Mamma has placed me under.”
“Perfectly, my dear child,” Papa said. “I need not approach the topics on which she desires our silence.” Carmilla was still looking at me, eyes locked, as my father kept talking. I fancied she was trying to tell me something silently, and I became chilled. What was it she had said? They’re coming.
“Now,” Papa went on, “the marvel of last night consists in your having been removed from your bed and your room, without being wakened, and this removal having occurred apparently while the windows were still secured, and the two doors locked upon the inside. I will tell you my theory and ask you a question.”
Carmilla looked back to my father, leaning on her hand dejectedly; Madame and I were listening breathlessly.
“Now, my question is this. Have you ever been suspected of walking in your sleep?”
“Never, since I was very young indeed.”
“But you did walk in your sleep when you were young?”
“Yes; I know I did. I have been told so often by my old nurse.”
My father smiled and nodded.
“Well, what has happened is this. You got up in your sleep, unlocked the door, not leaving the key, as usual, in the lock, but taking it out and locking it on the outside; you again took the key out, and carried it away with you to some one of the five-and-twenty rooms on this floor, or perhaps upstairs or downstairs. There are so many rooms and closets, so much heavy furniture, and such accumulations of lumber, that it would require a week to search this old castle thoroughly. Do you see, now, what I mean?”
“I do, but not all,” she answered.
“And how, sir,” Madame asked, “do you account for her finding herself on the sofa in the dressing room, which we had searched so carefully?”
“She came there after you had searched it, still in her sleep, and at last awoke spontaneously, and was as much surprised to find herself where she was as anyone else. I wish all mysteries were as easily and innocently explained as yours, Carmilla,” he said, laughing nervously. I was not sure whether Papa himself believed his words, but he was evidently so relieved at finding her that any explanation would do.
Carmilla smiled beautifully at him, but I fancied a trace of pity in her eyes. Papa went on, “And so we may congratulate ourselves on the certainty that the most natural explanation of the occurrence is one that involves no drugging, no tampering with locks, no burglars, or poisoners, or witches—nothing that need alarm Carmilla, or anyone else, for our safety.”
Carmilla was looking charmingly. Nothing could be more beautiful than her tints. Her beauty was, I think, enhanced by that graceful languor that was peculiar to her. I think my father was silently contrasting her looks with mine, for he said:
“I wish my poor Laura was looking more like herself"; and he sighed.
IX. The Doctor
From this moment, I could not find myself entirely alone with Carmilla again, and so I could not hear what it was she had so desperately wanted to tell me.
That night, we took supper and coffee all together as usual—Madame, Mademoiselle, and Papa with Carmilla and me—and when the time came that I usually chatted with Carmilla, alone, as she prepared for bed, we discovered that despite that Carmilla would not hear of an attendant sleeping in her room, my father had 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.
Aware of the presence so close to us right outside the door, I sat with her in silence for some time, brushing her lustrous hair as I often had while she lay back against her pillow. She reached for my hand a few times, pressing it to her cheek for a moment, but did not speak.
I leaned closer to her, and whispered, “Dear Carmilla, what happened? What was it you said you must tell me? Who is ‘coming’?”
Her face lost its tint, grew paler than I had ever seen, and she shook her head warningly with a glance at the door. It was not the cold refusal to answer me that she had so often given before, it seemed instead a fearful deferral.
That night passed quietly; and next morning early, the doctor, whom my father had sent for without telling me, arrived to see me.
Madame accompanied me to the library; and there the grave little doctor with white hair, was waiting to receive me. I was relieved to see that his burly, priestly companion was not with him.
Pressed by my father to reveal all, I told him the story of my illness, and as I proceeded he grew graver and graver. I did not tell him about Carmilla’s disappearance and sleepwalking, because at that time I thought it completely irrelevant, and I am chilled now to imagine the consequences if I had.
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.”
“I can tell you, sir, I’m quite certain it is not consumption,” the doctor said. Though I had not suspected that ailment before his visit, I felt relieved at this pronouncement.
But in contrast to these words, my father’s smile faded into shadow as the doctor, with a very grave face, beckoned him to him. The men sent Madame and I across the room so they could talk privately.
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 was very large, and I and Madame stood together, burning with curiosity, at the farther end.
I became increasingly irritated as the minutes passed that I was not included in the conversation about my own health. 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 what ailment could be more terrible than consumption?
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 quite understand it. Laura, come here, dear; now attend to Doctor Fink, 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 there!” 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, becoming angry that they would not tell me what was going on.
“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, alarm mixing with my frustration. I had never noticed this little spot he described, and looking down I could not see it because of the angle.
“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, flustered.
“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?”
“As I have already said, 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, who despite her dismissal, had not left the room. He 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, when I return with my companion, Baron Vordenburg, a priest knowledgeable on these matters.
“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.”
“Of course,” I said. “But what is the matter?” My irritation at being left out of the discussion of my own health persisted.
“Do not worry your head about it, my dear girl,” the doctor said paternally. “We shall take care of you and take care of it.”
“How soon can we expect your return?” Papa asked with some anxiety, and his urgency overruled my ability to argue with the doctor. “Where is the Baron-priest now?”
“He is now staying near that abandoned village west of here, investigating the ruins of the chapel there for reasons related to what we discuss. I am sure I shall find him there, and I’ll return with him directly.”
“I see.” Papa was silent then for a moment, and then spoke as if just remembering something important: “Doctor, 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 return with your friend, and you can’t do better than both 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, this afternoon.”
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 took his leave from there. I saw him mount his horse there 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 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.
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 as pleased as I’d expect 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, and I was left wondering and puzzling over the oddity of all this, especially his apparent meanness in answer to my queries.
X. An Arrival
Still I could not get alone with Carmilla. I waited in great agitation for her to come down that day, pacing in the library as I took my lessons from Madame and Mademoiselle. I was still burning to know what she had so feared to tell me the night before, and now I wanted to share the happenings of the morning with her as well. I thought of going to sit up and wait by her room for her to wake, but I was not now allowed to be alone, and Madame wouldn’t hear of watching me pining outside Carmilla’s door on such a fine morning as it was.
“Let us take a walk, my dear,” Madame suggested, although I had not finished my work. “We can take our lunch outside. The fresh air shall do good for your health, I think. Mademoiselle can guide Carmilla to us if she awakens while we’re out.”
I acquiesced, thinking I could no more quicken Carmilla by waiting outside her door than anything else.
To the western side of the schloss there are a set of very old stone tables and benches huddled within an ancient gothic gazebo, almost planted into the ground after so many centuries, and this is where we took our picnic. The moss has grown up wonderfully around the base of the stone legs. The morning mist was heavy over everything and we found the stone to be cool and damp, but not unpleasantly so. The servants placed towels on the benches which softened them and kept our clothes dry, just as Johanna had done at the ruins.
The fog, much heavier than the light fog at the ruins, lay close to the grass across the wide expanse of field between us and the forest, and although the trees closest immediately to us were clear and crisp, each layer deeper into the forest looked flatter and grayer, as though wide sheets of wax paper of increasing opacity separated each layer. The peak of autumn had now passed, and the trees were growing more bare as winter pulled the leaves to the ground little by little.
Papa joined us, and the three of us sat attempting to enjoy the view around the schloss in quiet wonder. I say “attempting,” because although the vision of the mist floating above the wide landscape before us was quite picturesque, each was absorbed in his or her own thoughts. I imagined Madame and Papa were worried for my and Carmilla’s health, while I chewed my lower lip in impatience waiting for Carmilla to arrive.
Around the time we took our lunch, we heard a carriage arrive.
The vision of this carriage mounting the hill, blurred by the mist, reminded me of that night when Carmilla first came to us. Indeed, it was moving with such rapid speed that I was quite frightened this carriage, too, would tip over. But the driver wisely slowed their pace as they approached our drawbridge and the lime tree across the path. Our entire party—papa, Madame, I, and the servants attending us—all paused to watch this approach. I am sure we were all wondering if this was the doctor returned with the Baron-priest, or if it was Carmilla’s mother (as it was now past the two months she had stated her journey would take), or the General.
It turned out to be the General, though he came to us from the east, and not the west as we’d expect if he was arriving to us from his home. He rode his own black stallion and dismounted as he pulled up ahead of his carriage, which I assumed held his belongings. He had hanging from his belt an old woodman’s hatchet, which I found curious, but supposed he must have been doing some horticulture gathering to graft in his own garden as was some people’s hobby. After the usual greetings, he was easily persuaded to accept the vacant seat at our little stone table and bench in front of the schloss where we were eating.
It had been about ten months since we had last seen him: but that time had sufficed to make an alteration of years in his appearance. He had grown thinner; something of gloom and anxiety had taken the place of that cordial serenity which used to characterize his features. His dark blue eyes, always penetrating, now gleamed with a sterner light from under his shaggy grey eyebrows. It was not such a change as grief alone usually induces, and angrier passions seemed to have had their share in bringing it about.
We had not long resumed our lunch, when the General began to talk, with his usual soldierly directness, of the bereavement, as he termed it, which he had sustained in the death of his beloved niece and ward; and he then broke out in a tone of intense bitterness and fury, inveighing against the “hellish arts” to which she had fallen a victim, and expressing, with more exasperation than piety, his wonder that Heaven should tolerate so monstrous an indulgence of the lusts and malignity of hell.
My father, who saw at once that something very extraordinary had befallen, and could see the alarm produced in Madame by the General’s behavior, tried to dismiss us both.
“Perhaps you two ladies can await us inside, as the General and I catch up.”
“I think so,” Madame said, standing at once and taking my hand. “It is quite chilly now—and Laura must complete her French lesson.”
“No,” I said, surprising even myself with my boldness. I stayed seated, and gently took my hand back into my lap. “Papa, it has been so long since we have seen the General, I would like to stay. But it has grown chilly, I don’t begrudge Madame leaving. I’m not to be alone, but Papa—you and the General should suffice?”
“As you wish, my dear. Indeed, Madame, you may go.” Madame looked a little hurt at my refusal to join her, but gathered up her things and went inside.
“General,” my father said, “if not too painful, please detail the circumstances which you thought justified the strong terms in which you have just expressed yourself.”
“I should tell you all with pleasure,” said the General, “but none of you would not believe me.”
“Why should we not?” Papa asked.
“Because,” the General answered testily, “you believe in nothing but what consists with your own prejudices and illusions. I remember when I was like you, but I have learned better.”
“Try me,” said my father; “I am not such a dogmatist as you suppose. Besides, I know very well that you generally require proof for what you believe, and am, therefore, very strongly predisposed to respect your conclusions.”
“You are right in supposing that I have not been led lightly into a belief in the marvelous—for what I have experienced is marvelous—and I have been forced by extraordinary evidence to credit that which ran counter, diametrically, to all my theories. I have been made the dupe of a preternatural conspiracy.”
Notwithstanding his professions of confidence in the General’s discernment, I saw my father, at this point, glance at the General over his sandwich, with, as I thought, a marked suspicion of his sanity, though still an openness willing to listen. It was much the same expression he had given the doctor earlier that day.
The General did not see any of this pass over my papa’s face, luckily. He was looking gloomily and curiously into the glades and vistas of the woods that surrounded us.
“You know the location of the Ruins of Karnstein, yes?” he said.
“Of course, we’ve visited then many times through the years, have you not?”
“I have never had a reason to venture there. But now I have a special object in exploring, would you bring me there to inspect them? There is a ruined chapel, isn’t there, with a great many tombs of that extinct family?”
“So there are—highly interesting,” said my father. “I hope you are thinking of claiming the title and estates?”
My father said this gaily, but the General did not recollect the laugh, or even the smile, which courtesy exacts for a friend’s joke; on the contrary, he looked grave and even fierce, ruminating on a matter that stirred his anger and horror.
“Something very different,” he said, gruffly. “I mean to unearth some of those fine people. I hope, by God’s blessing, to accomplish a pious sacrilege here, which will relieve our earth of certain monsters, and enable honest people to sleep in their beds without being assailed by murderers. I have strange things to tell you, my dear friend, such as I myself would have scouted as incredible a few months since.”
My father looked at him again, but this time not with a glance of suspicion—with an eye, rather, of keen intelligence and alarm.
“The house of Karnstein,” my father said, “has been long extinct: a hundred years at least. My dear wife was maternally descended from the Karnsteins. But the name and title have long ceased to exist. The castle is a ruin; the very village is deserted; it is fifty years since the smoke of a chimney was seen there; not a roof left.”
“Quite true. I have heard a great deal about that since I last saw you; a great deal that will astonish you. But I had better relate everything in the order in which it occurred,” said the General. “You saw my dear ward—my child, I may call her. No creature could have been more beautiful, and only months ago none more blooming.”
“Yes, poor thing! When I saw her last she certainly was quite lovely,” said my father. “I was grieved and shocked more than I can tell you, my dear friend; I knew what a blow it was to you.”
He took the General’s hand, and they exchanged a kind pressure. Tears gathered in the old soldier’s eyes. He did not seek to conceal them. He said:
“We have been very old friends; I knew you would feel for me, childless as I am. She had become an object of very near interest to me, and repaid my care by an affection that cheered my home and made my life happy. That is all gone. The years that remain to me on earth may not be very long; but by God’s mercy I hope to accomplish a service to mankind before I die, and to subserve the vengeance of Heaven upon the fiends who have murdered my poor beloved in the spring of her hopes and beauty!”
“You said, just now, that you intended relating everything as it occurred,” said my father. “Pray do; I assure you that it is not mere curiosity that prompts me.”
XI. The General's Story
Chapter XI artwork by visioluxus a.k.a. Elisa Lazo de Valdez
“With all my heart,” said the General, with an effort; and after a short pause in which to arrange his subject, he commenced one of the strangest narratives I had ever heard. As he talked, my father and I frequently exchanged looks of interest at the events of his story.
“My dear child was looking forward with great pleasure to the visit you had been so good as to arrange for her to your charming daughter.” Here he made me a gallant but melancholy bow. “In the meantime we had an invitation to my old friend the Count Carlsfeld, whose schloss is about six leagues to the other side of Karnstein. It was to attend the series of fetes which, you remember, were given by him in honor of his illustrious visitor, the Grand Duke Charles.”
“Yes; and very splendid, I believe, they were,” said my father.
“Princely! But then his hospitalities are quite regal. The night from which my sorrow dates was devoted to a magnificent ball. The grounds were thrown open, the trees hung with colored lamps. There was such a display of fireworks as Paris itself had never witnessed. And such music—music, you know, is my weakness—such ravishing music! The finest instrumental band, perhaps, in the world, and the finest singers who could be collected from all the great operas in Europe. As you wandered through these fantastically illuminated grounds, the moon-lighted chateau throwing a rosy light from its long rows of windows, you would suddenly hear these ravishing voices stealing from the silence of some grove, or rising from boats upon the lake. I felt myself, as I looked and listened, carried back into the romance and poetry of my early youth.
“When the fireworks were ended, and the ball beginning, we returned to the noble suite of rooms that were thrown open to the dancers.
“It was a very aristocratic assembly. I was myself almost the only ‘nobody’ present.
“My dear child was looking quite beautiful. Her excitement and delight added an unspeakable charm to her features, always lovely. I remarked a young lady, dressed magnificently, who appeared to me to be observing my ward with extraordinary interest. I had seen her, earlier in the evening, in the great hall, and again, for a few minutes, walking near us, on the terrace under the castle windows, similarly employed—throwing interested looks toward us. A lady with a stately air, like a person of rank, accompanied her as a chaperon. This lady wore an extravagant and heavy mourning dress and a thick, opaque veil. I thought it perhaps inappropriate for a woman in such a deep state of mourning to attend such a ball, but her beautiful child must have begged to attend, and as is common with the aristocracy, the intricate fashion of her dress—despite mourning colors—was otherwise quite appropriate to the occasion of the ball.
“We were now in one of the salons. My poor dear child had been dancing and was resting a little in one of the chairs near the door; I was standing near. The two ladies I have mentioned had approached and the younger took the chair next my ward; while her companion stood beside me, and for a little time addressed herself, in a low tone, to her charge.
“Availing herself of the privilege of her veil, she turned to me, and in the tone of an old friend, and calling me by my name, opened a conversation with me, which piqued my curiosity a good deal. She referred to many scenes where she had met me—at Court, and at distinguished houses. She alluded to little incidents which I had long ceased to think of, but which, I found, had only lain in abeyance in my memory, for they instantly started into life at her touch.
“I became more and more curious to ascertain who she was, every moment. She parried my attempts to discover very adroitly and pleasantly. It was as if the party were a masquerade, and she were hiding her identity for some protective reason. But the heaviness of her veil and her black clothes implied mourning someone very close, which I felt rude to ask about. The knowledge she showed of many passages in my life seemed to me all but unaccountable; and she appeared to take a not unnatural pleasure in foiling my curiosity, and in seeing me flounder in my eager perplexity, from one conjecture to another.
“In the meantime the young lady, whom her mother called by the odd name of Millarca, when she once or twice addressed her, had, with the same ease and grace, got into conversation with my ward.
“She introduced herself to Berhta by saying that her mother was a very old acquaintance of mine. She spoke of the agreeable audacity; she talked like a friend; she admired her dress, and insinuated very prettily her admiration of her beauty. She was very witty and lively when she pleased, and after a time they had grown very good friends.
“She had a remarkably beautiful face. I had never seen it before, neither had my dear child. But though it was new to us, the features were so engaging, as well as lovely, that it was impossible not to feel the attraction powerfully. My poor girl did so. I never saw anyone more taken with another at first sight, unless, indeed, it was the stranger herself, who seemed quite to have lost her heart to my ward.
“In the meantime, I put not a few questions to the elder lady.
“‘You have puzzled me utterly,’ I said. ‘Is that not enough? Won’t you, now, consent to stand on equal terms, and do me the kindness to lift the crape from your face? Surely it is no insult to your grief to reveal your identity to me.’
“‘Can any request be more unreasonable?’ she replied with rather more a lighthearted note than I’d expect from a grieving noblewoman. ‘Ask a lady to yield an advantage! Beside, how do you know you should recognize me? Years make changes.’
“‘As you see,’ I said, with a bow, and, I suppose, a rather melancholy little laugh. ‘At all events, you won’t deny this,’ I said, ‘that being honored by your permission to converse, I ought to know how to address you. Shall I say Madame la Comtesse?’
“‘As to that,’ she began; but she was interrupted, almost as she opened her lips, by a gentleman, dressed in black, who looked particularly elegant and distinguished, with this drawback, that his face was the most deadly pale I ever saw, except in death. He was in the plain evening dress of a gentleman; and he said, without a smile, but with a courtly and unusually low bow:—
“‘Will Madame la Comtesse permit me to say a very few words which may interest her?’
“The lady turned quickly to him, and touched her lip in token of silence; she then said to me, ‘Keep my place for me, General; I shall return when I have said a few words.’
“And with this injunction, she walked a little aside with the gentleman in black, and talked for some minutes, apparently very earnestly. They then walked away slowly together in the crowd, and I lost them for some minutes.
“I spent the interval in cudgeling my brains for a conjecture as to the identity of the lady who seemed to remember me so kindly, and I was thinking of turning about and joining in the conversation between my pretty ward and the Countess’s daughter, and trying whether, by the time she returned, I might not have a surprise in store for her, by having her name, title, chateau, and estates at my fingers’ ends. But at this moment she returned, accompanied by the pale man in black, who said:
“‘I shall return and inform Madame la Comtesse when her carriage is at the door.’
“He withdrew with a bow.
“‘Then we are to lose Madame la Comtesse, but I hope only for a few hours,’ I said, with a low bow.
“‘It may be that only, or it may be a few weeks. It was very unlucky his speaking to me just now as he did. Do you now know me?’
“I assured her I did not.
“‘You shall know me,’ she said, ‘but not at present. We are older and better friends than, perhaps, you suspect. I cannot yet declare myself. I’ll admit I wear not this veil for grief, but for privacy. I shall in three weeks pass your beautiful schloss, about which I have been making enquiries. I shall then look in upon you for an hour or two and renew a friendship which I never think of without a thousand pleasant recollections. This moment a piece of news has reached me like a thunderbolt. I must set out now, and travel by a devious route, nearly a hundred miles, with all the dispatch I can possibly make. My perplexities multiply. I am only deterred by the compulsory reserve I practice from immediately making a very singular request of you. But now I shall. My poor child has not quite recovered her strength. Her horse fell with her, at a hunt which she had ridden out to witness, her nerves have not yet recovered the shock, and our physician says that she must on no account exert herself for some time to come. We came here, in consequence, by very easy stages—hardly six leagues a day. I must now travel day and night, on a mission of life and death—a mission the critical and momentous nature of which I shall be able to explain to you when we meet, as I hope we shall, in a few weeks, without the necessity of any concealment.’
“She went on to make her petition, and it was in the tone of a person from whom such a request amounted to conferring, rather than seeking a favor.
“This was only in manner, and, as it seemed, quite unconsciously. Than the terms in which it was expressed, nothing could be more deprecatory. It was simply that I would consent to take charge of her daughter during her absence.
“This was, all things considered, a strange, not to say, an audacious request. She had in some sort disarmed me, by stating and admitting everything that could be urged against it, and throwing herself entirely upon my chivalry. At the same moment, by a fatality that seems to have predetermined all that happened, my poor child came to my side, and, in an undertone, besought me to invite her new friend, Millarca, to pay us a visit. She had just been asking her, and thought, if her mamma would allow her, she would like it extremely.
“At another time I should have told her to wait a little, until, at least, we knew who they were. But I had not a moment to think in. The two ladies assailed me together, and I must confess the refined and beautiful face of the young lady, about which there was something extremely engaging, as well as the elegance and fire of high birth, determined me; and, quite overpowered, I submitted, and undertook, too easily, the care of the young lady, whom her mother called Millarca.
“The Countess beckoned to her daughter, who listened with grave attention while she told her, in general terms, how suddenly and peremptorily she had been summoned, and also of the arrangement she had made for her under my care, adding that I was one of her earliest and most valued friends.
“I made, of course, such speeches as the case seemed to call for, and found myself, on reflection, in a position which I did not half like.
“The gentleman in black returned, and very ceremoniously conducted the lady from the room.
“The demeanor of this gentleman was such as to impress me with the conviction that the Countess was a lady of very much more importance than her modest title alone might have led me to assume.
“Her last charge to me was that no attempt was to be made to learn more about her than I might have already guessed, until her return. Our distinguished host, whose guest she was, knew her reasons.
“‘But here,’ she said, ‘neither I nor my daughter could safely remain for more than a day. I lifted my veil imprudently for a moment, about an hour ago, and, too late, I fancied you saw me. So I resolved to seek an opportunity of talking a little to you. Had I found that you had seen me, I would have thrown myself on your high sense of honor to keep my secret some weeks. As it is, I am satisfied that you did not see me; but if you now suspect, or, on reflection, should suspect, who I am, I commit myself, in like manner, entirely to your honor. My daughter will observe the same secrecy, and I well know that you will, from time to time, remind her, lest she should thoughtlessly disclose it.’
“She whispered a few words to her daughter, kissed her hurriedly twice, and went away, accompanied by the pale gentleman in black, and disappeared in the crowd.
“‘In the next room,’ said Millarca, ‘there is a window that looks upon the hall door. I should like to see the last of Mamma, and to kiss my hand to her.’
“We assented, of course, and accompanied her to the window. We looked out, and saw a handsome old-fashioned carriage, with a troop of couriers and footmen. We saw the slim figure of the pale gentleman in black, as he held a thick velvet cloak, and placed it about her shoulders and threw the hood over her head. She nodded to him, and just touched his hand with hers. He bowed low repeatedly as the door closed, and the carriage began to move.
“‘She is gone,’ said Millarca, with a sigh.
“‘She is gone,’ I repeated to myself, for the first time—in the hurried moments that had elapsed since my consent—reflecting upon the folly of my act.
“‘She did not look up,’ said the young lady, plaintively.
“‘The Countess had taken off her veil, perhaps, and did not care to show her face,’ I said; ‘and she could not know that you were in the window.’
“She sighed, and looked in my face. She was so beautiful that I relented. I was sorry I had for a moment repented of my hospitality, and I determined to make her amends for the unavowed churlishness of my reception.
“The young lady joined my ward in persuading me to return to the grounds, where the concert was soon to be renewed. We did so, and walked up and down the terrace that lies under the castle windows.
“Millarca became very intimate with us, and amused us with lively descriptions and stories of most of the great people whom we saw upon the terrace. I liked her more and more every minute. Her gossip without being ill-natured, was extremely diverting to me, who had been so long out of the great world. I thought what life she would give to our lonely evenings at home.
“This ball was not over until the morning sun had almost reached the horizon. It pleased the Grand Duke to dance till then, so loyal people could not go away, or think of bed.
“We had just got through a crowded saloon, when my ward asked me what had become of Millarca. I thought she had been by her side, and she fancied she was by mine. The fact was, we had lost her.
“All my efforts to find her were vain. I feared that she had mistaken, in the confusion of a momentary separation from us, other people for her new friends, and had, possibly, pursued and lost them in the extensive grounds which were thrown open to us.
“Now, in its full force, I recognized a new folly in my having undertaken the charge of a young lady without so much as knowing her full name; and fettered as I was by promises, of the reasons for imposing which I knew nothing, I could not even point my inquiries by saying that the missing young lady was the daughter of the Countess who had taken her departure a few hours before.
“Morning broke. It was clear daylight before I gave up my search. It was not till near two o’clock next day that we heard anything of my missing charge.
“At about that time a servant knocked at my niece’s door, to say that he had been earnestly requested by a young lady, who appeared to be in great distress, to make out where she could find the General Spielsdorf and the young lady his daughter, in whose charge she had been left by her mother.
“There could be no doubt, notwithstanding the slight inaccuracy, that our young friend had turned up; and so she had. Would to heaven we had lost her!
“She told my poor child a story to account for her having failed to recover us for so long. Very late, she said, she had got to the housekeeper’s bedroom in despair of finding us, and had then fallen into a deep sleep which, long as it was, had hardly sufficed to recruit her strength after the fatigues of the ball.
“That day Millarca came home with us. I was only too happy, after all, to have secured so charming a companion for my dear girl, and not to have lost her.
“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.”
XII. The Meeting
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.
You must understand, reader, that back then, there had not yet been Dracula or any of the published tales that followed. There was no Anne Rice or John Ajvide Lindqvist. There was only, to snobbish aristocracy of which I was a part, the “myths and superstitions” of country folk, which we saw as no different from any other tales of ghoulish faeries or the penny dreadfuls of Varney, which of course never reached us in our isolated Austrian schloss. So I had no point of reference to understand my symptoms or Carmilla’s. I had no way yet to deduce what the doctor, his companion, and the General had deduced.
Nonetheless, my father and I exchanged a significant look. Neither of us wished to interrupt the General’s tale, however, and he continued.
“My beloved child,” the General resumed, “was now growing rapidly worse. The physician who attended her had failed to produce the slightest impression on her disease, for such I then supposed it to be. He saw my alarm, and suggested a consultation. I called in an abler physician, from Gratz.
“Several days elapsed before he arrived. He was a good and pious, as well as a learned man. Having seen my poor ward together, they withdrew to my library to confer and discuss. I, from the adjoining room, where I awaited their summons, heard these two gentlemen’s voices raised in something sharper than a strictly philosophical discussion. I knocked at the door and entered. I found the old physician from Gratz maintaining his theory. His rival was combating it with undisguised ridicule, accompanied with bursts of laughter. This unseemly manifestation subsided and the altercation ended on my entrance.
“‘Sir,’ said my first physician,’ my learned brother seems to think that you want a conjuror, and not a doctor.’
“‘Pardon me,’ said the old physician from Gratz, looking displeased, ‘I shall state my own view of the case in my own way another time. I grieve, Monsieur le General, that by my skill and science I can be of no use. Before I go I shall do myself the honor to suggest something to you.’
“He seemed thoughtful, and sat down at a table and began to write.
“Profoundly disappointed, I made my bow, and as I turned to go, the other doctor pointed over his shoulder to his companion who was writing, and then, with a shrug, significantly touched his forehead.
“This consultation, then, left me precisely where I was. I walked out into the grounds, all but distracted. The doctor from Gratz, in ten or fifteen minutes, overtook me. He apologized for having followed me, but said that he could not conscientiously take his leave without a few words more. He told me that he could not be mistaken; no natural disease exhibited the same symptoms; and that death was already very near. There remained, however, a day, or possibly two, of life. If the fatal seizure were at once arrested, with great care and skill her strength might possibly return. But all hung now upon the confines of the irrevocable. One more assault might extinguish the last spark of vitality which is, every moment, ready to die.
“‘Assault? What is the nature of the seizure you speak of?’ I entreated.
“‘I have stated all fully in this note, which I place in your hands upon the distinct condition that you send for the nearest clergyman, and open my letter in his presence, and on no account read it till he is with you; you would despise it else, and it is a matter of life and death. Should the priest fail you, then, indeed, you may read it.’
“He asked me, before taking his leave finally, whether I would wish to see a man curiously learned upon the very subject, which, after I had read his letter, would probably interest me above all others, and he urged me earnestly to invite him to visit him there; and so took his leave.
“The ecclesiastic was absent, and I read the letter by myself. At another time, or in another case, it might have excited my ridicule. But into what quackeries will not people rush for a last chance, where all accustomed means have failed, and the life of a beloved object is at stake?
“Nothing, you will say, could be more absurd than the learned man’s letter.
“It was monstrous enough to have consigned him to a madhouse. He said that the patient was suffering from the visits of a vampire! The punctures which she described as having occurred near the throat, were, he insisted, the insertion of those two long, thin, and sharp teeth which, it is well known, are peculiar to vampires; and there could be no doubt, he added, as to the well-defined presence of the small livid mark which all concurred in describing as that induced by the demon’s lips, and every symptom described by the sufferer was in exact conformity with those recorded in every case of a similar visitation.”
Thinking back to that morning with the doctor, I heard these words with some shock, and tried to gauge by staring at my father’s expression whether he made the same connection as I with the General’s words now and those of the doctor earlier. He glanced at me frightfully for a moment, but did not speak, and his expression of wonder made me think perhaps the doctor had described my symptoms of being something supernatural, but not specified the cause to be a vampire.
Neither of us spoke, and the General continued, noticing nothing of our reactions: “Being myself wholly skeptical as to the existence of any such portent as the vampire, the supernatural theory of the good doctor furnished, in my opinion, but another instance of learning and intelligence oddly associated with some one hallucination. I was so miserable, however, that, rather than try nothing, I acted upon the instructions of the letter.
“I concealed myself in the dark dressing room, that opened upon the poor patient’s room, in which a candle was burning, and watched there till she was fast asleep. I stood at the door, peeping through the small crevice, my sword laid on the table beside me, as my directions prescribed, until, a little after one, I saw a large black object, very ill-defined, crawl, as it seemed to me, over the foot of the bed, and swiftly spread itself up to the poor girl’s throat, where it swelled, in a moment, into a great, palpitating mass.
“For a few moments I had stood petrified. I now sprang forward, with my sword in my hand. I swung the sword hard to strike, and it met with a body, but the black creature suddenly contracted towards the foot of the bed and glided over it. Standing on the floor about a yard below the foot of the bed, with a glare of skulking ferocity and horror fixed on me I saw a female figure. My ears were then gradually filled with a scream, I daresay, of rage, but there was a whine of despair in it, too, and I saw that without movement, her mouth had lengthened and grown and was producing this terrible sound. Paying no attention to what my sword had already done, and speculating I know not what, I struck at her instantly with my sword; but I then saw her standing near the door, unscathed. Horrified, I pursued, and struck again. She was gone; and my sword flew to shivers against the door. Then I saw it had drawn blood, and I was a little satisfied, although I could not be sure if any of it was Millarca’s.
“I can’t describe to you all that passed on that horrible night. The whole house was up and stirring. The specter Millarca was gone. But her victim was sinking fast, and before the morning dawned, my precious Berhta died. I had stopped the monster from taking her away from me, one way or another.”
The old General was agitated. He had become more and more manic in speech and gesture the as he progressed with his tale, and now that he’d come to the culmination, his eyes seemed nearly to be popping out of his face.
We did not speak to him. The story was so fantastical, yet so close to what I had experienced with that black beastly shape, and the form of Carmilla moving without movement to my door. Yet his story was confused—had the “beast” killed his darling Berhta? I thought it sounded more like it had been done by his own sword, and horror stole over me as I stared at this old fellow I had believed I knew well an hour before.
The General leaned against the table, head in hands. My papa put his hand upon the General’s shoulder. He looked at me again, with that same look of dazed fright, and I thought he too noticed the discrepancy in the General’s story.
I several times tried to bring myself to ask the explicit details of how Berhta died, but I couldn’t do it. I kept thinking of that priest in the flapping black cassock, his quavering voice, and my own nights with the palpitating black mass. What would become of me, if the General knew of my own visitations? I felt sure there was a connection between Berhta’s story and mine, between Millarca and Carmilla. But if they were one in the same, and I admitted my symptoms, would the General hide in my dressing room, and pounce out to strike me dead as I dreamt? If he suspected Carmilla to be a vampire, as I now did, would he try to kill her? Surely he would assume she intended me harm, though I myself could not quite believe it. Hadn’t it been her voice that had awakened me the night I’d seen her washed in blood? Perhaps there was more at work here than there seemed. I could not fully trust his story—I needed to speak with her.
All these thoughts passed through me in a split-second as the General dried his eyes and sighed heavily. Before I could act or speak, in the following moments several things happened at once, and I will try to relate them as I perceived them.
First, we all heard the loud hooves of horses approaching and crossing the drawbridge, and turned to see the doctor and his companion, the Baron-priest Vordenburg, riding up to the castle on their own horses. Papa rose to greet them, and had taken a few steps toward the archway farthest facing away from the schloss.
Second, I heard the voices of Carmilla and Madame, who were at that moment approaching.
I turned, and under the narrow, arched doorway of the gazebo, surmounted by one of those demoniacal grotesques in which the cynical and ghastly fancy of old Gothic carving delights, I saw very gladly the beautiful face and figure of Carmilla enter.
With some terror for her safety, I was just about to rise and speak a warning in contrast to her peculiarly engaging smile; when with a cry, the old man by my side caught up the woodman’s hatchet I had supposed to be for horticulture, and started forward.
On seeing him, a brutalized change came over Carmilla’s features. It was an instantaneous and terrifying transformation, and she made a crouching step backwards. Before I could utter a scream, the General struck at her with all his force—nearly striking Madame in the process—but Carmilla dived under his blow, and unscathed, caught him in her tiny grasp by the wrist. He struggled for a moment to release his arm, but his hand opened, the axe fell to the ground, and the lady was gone.
“Oh!” Madame cried, and both I and my father rushed forward to catch the lady before she fainted.
I had not breathed since first seeing Carmilla approach, and suddenly now sucked in a sweet breath of relief; she and Madame were yet unharmed. I thought again of the General striking what he’d perceived as a great beast above Berhta, and yet striking and killing his ward in a murderous rage.
The General staggered against a stone pillar. His grey hair stood upon his head, and a moisture shone over his face, as if he were at the point of death.
The frightful scene had passed in a moment. My father and I brought Madame to lay against a pillar. There was no servant present to send for smelling salts. My father briefly looked in terror at the General, and then began to call “Carmilla,” but no answer came. I knew Carmilla would not return, yet I needed desperately to speak with her. I had to understand—was what the General told us entirely true? Or was his story twisted in some way to justify the murder of his own ward?
“She called herself Carmilla?” demanded the General, still agitated.
The men who had just arrived had now run up to the gazebo and entered. Having witnessed the shocking scene, the doctor cried, “What madness is this? Who is this man? Why do you attack a young woman?”
The Baron, who I heard now speak for the first time, said in a booming, forbidding voice, his golden spectacles flashing in the light: “That was the very beast, doctor. Did you not mark her transformation on being confronted? This man is enlightened as we are.”
“Carmilla, yes,” I answered the General’s question from moments before, distractedly.
“Aye,” he said; “that is Millarca. That is the same person who long ago was called Mircalla, Countess Karnstein. She is a vampire and was buried many years ago in the chapel of the Karnstein ruins.”
“Vampire!” my father cried in bewilderment. He had not seen Carmilla’s livid expression upon meeting the General, and seemed to struggle as I did with all these revelations at once.
“I’m sure she came to you much the same way she came to Berhta and I. A claim by her mother of a life-or-death matter calling her away, and that the girl was of delicate health and needed a place to stay?”
My father paled.
The General smiled grimly. “There remains to me 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 gazebo, and his clenched hand was at the same moment raised, grasping the handle of the 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.”
“No more righteous an act can be done,” the Baron interjected, drawing his whole burly self up as if imbued with the righteousness he spoke of.
“You’re sure that was the monster?” the doctor asked. “Child, was the figure you say you saw in the night—did it resemble that young lady?”
“I—I—” I stuttered, unable to bring myself to betray Carmilla.
“Her terror is confirmation enough,” the Baron interrupted. I saw now he too was bearing a weapon, a sharp wooden stake gripped in his massive fist. He wore again the heavy black cassock of his priesthood, and my voice died in my throat at this frightening sight.
“Who are you?” the General now demanded of the two men. The doctor explained he was simply the local physician, and that he and the local priests had brought the Baron-priest Vordenburg to our little corner of Styria in response to the strange sickness spreading through the peasantry.
“I have been investigating the ruins of Karnstein,” the Baron said. He pushed his spectacles further up his rough nose. “I have made it my life’s work to track the demonic beasts of the night, and none so much as the predator of the vampire. My first parish was troubled by revenants; 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. The place is a ruin now, and I set out to follow any leads on further monsters of that kind to eradicate them.”
“And you have tracked the the vampire—the Countess Mircalla—to the Karnstein ruins,” the General said. It was not a question.
“Indeed, I came to suspect one such vampire takes frequent, temporary residence in the old chapel at the ruins. But though I have desecrated and dug up every overt tomb to find the beast, I had not yet been able to. I did not know the beast’s name or identity—with that in hand there are prayers I may try to find her. If it is her chapel of origin, perhaps it explains her power to evade me so long. Their powers are greater when they rest where they were born to the night. I have found in my research they must only return to their coffins for a few hours each morning in such cases.”
“Aye, perhaps your timing has been unlucky so far. Armed with her name and your experience, we shall find it together, my good man,” the General exclaimed, and the two men shook hands.
The doctor and my father exchanged glances at this, both clearly unable to find a way to react to this declaration. Madame now began to stir, and I rushed to her side to revive her gently.
I heard the General now explaining his story all over again to the doctor and the Baron as I helped Madame to her feet and towards the schloss. She was so shaken that my attentions were now fully occupied in getting her inside and onto a little chaise to rest. But I myself trembled terribly and I longed to escape to find Carmilla myself and get the truth from her. Perhaps now, equipped as I was with the General’s warped version of her past, she would consent to confide all in me.
The men all spent some hours searching the grounds around the schloss for Carmilla, but it was in vain. They returned some hours later and, after some discussion in the library, took their supper with us. I was still greatly agitated, and although I had tried to eavesdrop on their conversation, they had excluded me. Madame was laying to rest and Mademoiselle had now been assigned my constant companion (I was still not to be left alone, even though they were sure now that Carmilla was the root of my illness). Before suppertime, Mademoiselle had asked several times after Carmilla—Madame had been in no state to explain her disappearance, and I first tried to explain the truth. But she found this so hard to comprehend that she assumed I was making mistakes with my French (she often demanded I practice my languages in everyday conversation, as I mentioned before). Finally, I told her no one knew where Carmilla was, and perhaps she was just taking a stroll and would soon return to us.
We all sat down at the table for supper in silence. The servants and Mademoiselle knew nothing of the men’s designs nor plans, and the men themselves seemed uncomfortable revealing too much.
But not long after the servants left us to eat, the Baron with his gravelly, booming voice, declared: “We must sanctify this house before we set out on our mission. Then we must rest. There is no use in pursuit tonight, anyway. The beast will be at her strongest during these hours, especially with this full moon. We must wait till the morning hours, when the beast will be forced to return and rest in her casket, immobilized.”
Mademoiselle was quite puzzled by this speech and inquired as to if there were some great animal haunting the schloss.
“Not an animal, per se,” the General replied. “But something of that sort. We must all stay indoors until it is safe to hunt.”
“We cannot try to track her resting place in the night?” the doctor asked.
“Too dangerous, my friend,” said the Baron, and then grossly shoved a mouthful of meat pie into his wide mouth.
“But how will we find her?”
“Now that I have her name, we can surely find it faster. And perhaps after the fright from today, she will be more careless about covering her tracks when she returns.”
“That’s enough!” my gentle father said, watching with horror the anguish on my face as I listened to these pronouncements. “This isn’t a topic befitting mixed company.”
Mademoiselle and I ate quickly and soon left the men to continue their scheming. I had my own plot in mind, to escape Mademoiselle and get outside to find Carmilla. I must speak to her—warn her of the plan against her. If the General and Baron were right, this would be a dangerous endeavor, but I had to try.
“Shall we play some cards, my dear?” asked Mademoiselle distractedly as we exited the dining room.
“No … no I think not,” I said, my voice full of honest weariness, though I was using it dishonestly. “I think I must rest after all the excitement of today.”
“Perhaps that is best.”
Mademoiselle helped me prepare for bed, helping me comb my thick curls much like I had so often done for Carmilla. I found that I missed Carmilla’s touch terribly, and an acute pang seemed to strike my heart and only grow sharper as the minutes passed.
“Thank you, Mademoiselle,” I said abruptly as she worked. “That’s enough. I must lay down.”
“As you wish,” she said, and helped me into bed. She prepared herself to sit on the little chaise parallel to my bed on its left side, which lay against the wall where the door was. But I implored her instead to sit outside.
“I cannot sleep with a presence in here,” I said, again using the weakness my illness had wrought to sound more spent than I felt. “And I need sleep so desperately. Pray, please, if I mustn’t be alone, sit outside.”
“But I must ensure you stay alone,” Mademoiselle said, “Even if I doze off. I will have to lock the door.”
“Then you may lock it from the outside, yes?”
Though she did not look pleased with my request, she assented at the sight of, I daresay, my pale and sickly face, “Yes, dear Laura. Sleep well.”
I heard the door lock, and Mademoiselle pull up a chair to sit outside my door. I waited for the evening to die, watching the sunset from my little bedroom window across the foot of my bed. I had not unlatched that window in years, and it was quite small. I worried it may squeal and whine loudly with rust when opened. But it would have to do for my plan.
I waited till it was nearly three o’clock to climb out of bed, listen at the door for Mademoiselle’s tell-tale snore, and head for my window. The window indeed made a terrible cry as I separated the metal from the latch, but Mademoiselle slept on. The wintry air outside was chilled and wet, the mist still laying over the landscape in a thick blanket.
My window was some distance above a little parapet, and as a little girl I had once or twice snuck out there and into the grounds, though it had been years. I tried dressing myself as most appropriately as I could. I had a simple dress I had used to wear when traveling or riding with my father through the countryside and we were meant to meet no company. Although we had no term for it back then, it was what is now called a short jumper dress, as often worn by children in back in those days. I pulled it on, and, looking quite absurd I’m sure, I also pulled over it the shortest sacque jacket I could find—a very formal one made of red silk—for warmth.
I climbed down to the parapet carefully, and crawled toward the point where I knew the stone had decayed away enough to give me good foot and handholds to lower down to the ground.
The moonlight was very bright that night, and despite the cold autumn air, my hands were slippery with sweat as I crept along the top of the wall. About two-thirds along the way to the spot I knew I could descend, I froze as a light just ahead of me, to my right, illuminated the window. As I said, it was very late now, I could not imagine who would be awake. I carefully moved backwards until I knew my body fell under the shadow of a tower of the schloss to my left. I trembled as I watched two figures appear in the window.
One of the figures was holding an oil lamp at chest height. The light licked upwards, illuminating his features in a shadowy, flickering way. It was the Baron-priest, and the light seemed first swallowed by the black of his cassock, until it hit his chin, which appeared skull-like, aside from the familiar spectacles which flashed like beacons. To his right stood the General.
At first I thought they must be having some kind of discussion, but then I saw the Baron’s right hand—the one not holding the lamp, was raised in a ceremonial fashion, and in the deep sockets of his eyes, his eyelids were closed. He was praying. “Sanctifying” the house, no doubt. I thought again of all those years before, when the old rough priest had come to sanctify me and my bedroom after Carmilla had been there.
I lay prostrate, clinging to the stone, for what felt an interminable duration, but finally the men stepped back from the window. I wondered if they would now proceed to the next window ahead of me, but I felt I was running out of time and must hurry. If I didn’t reach Carmilla before morning, I could not warn her of the men’s plans.
I rushed forwards, and in my haste I tore several spots in my silken jacket. I passed the window where the men had stood, and I pushed forward, passing the next. I kept going, carefully, but looked behind me, and saw that indeed the men had now appeared in the frame following the previous window. Nervous panic rose within me, mixing with the acute pang of longing to see Carmilla, and I finished my journey along the wall. Praying the men would not see my movement, I threw myself over the outer edge and began to climb downwards. My feet slipped through the tiny footholds that had once been enough for my childish shoes of a decade ago, but I clawed the rough stone and managed to slide down without too much injury, only raw cuts along my hands where the skin had been roughly rubbed off as I fell.
Now I wanted to rush into the forest to find Carmilla, but waited until again the light extinguished from the windows, indicating the men were moving from one room to another. Once all the windows were dark, I sprinted towards the western woods. As I reached the safety of the dark shadows, I tripped over a tree root and fell on my bloody hands. I stifled my own cry, and then gathered myself together to stand, breathing hard and rubbing my palms against my silk jacket.
The forest was as lovely as ever, moonlight streaming through the branches of the trees. Some last leaves remained on the branches, but in the silvery light of night, all the trees and their leaves simply appeared as a thousand shades of gray. I made sure the schloss was out of sight before I started to call out Carmilla’s name.
“Carmilla? Carmilla!” my voice gained volume as I moved forward, pushing the underbrush out of my way as I stumbled through the wood. It seemed an eternity I moved this way, wandering and calling out my dear Carmilla’s name. I felt as though in a trance, a hellish Sisyphean dream where my wandering would never end.
I cannot tell you how much time passed like this, I do not know, but my throat was raw and my voice cracked when finally I heard the reply:
“Laura! Laura! Darling Laura!”
I saw her emerge from between the boles and boughs, not disheveled and torn up as I was, nor with the violent face she’d beheld the General with when he attacked her. She was as charmingly beautiful as ever, and she rushed forwards, gathering me up into her arms.
“Laura! What’s happened to you? You’re—” She stopped speaking abruptly, looking at my shredded palms. “Oh Laura…” She kissed my hands with her silken lips, and I felt all the pain there ease and melt away, though the wounds stayed. It was as if something in her kiss or saliva was an anesthetic like that of Dr. Morton.
“I had … to find you … Carmilla,” I said brokenly. She gathered me up in an embrace and held me tight. Her strength seemed to imbue into me. “They’re going to kill you. They say you’re a vampire, that you want to kill me.”
“And yet you came to find me?”
“There’s more to it, isn’t there?” I was still heaving breaths, but I went on: “The General said you killed his ward, but he told the story with such a manic eye … as I imagined what he described, I envisioned he struck her down while trying to strike you. And Carmilla, you love me, don’t you? It wasn’t all a lie?”
“Not a lie, my dearest Laura,” she whispered, and her low alto voice, usually so smooth and even, cracked. She held me tighter.
“Then tell me, Carmilla. Tell me everything. Please, confide all in me. Let me know all, as you promised I would.”
Chapter XIV artwork by visioluxus a.k.a. Elisa Lazo de Valdez
chapter content warning: attempted sexual assault
“Yes….” she said, and she helped me to sit down on a fallen beam nearby. First she tore a bit of fabric from her skirts and wiped off my sweaty and, I’m sure, dirty face, and then she brushed my hair away from my face and tied it back as though the fabric was a ribbon.
“Oh Laura,” Carmilla said, taking my torn hands in hers, “I have wanted so badly to tell you everything, but I was afraid. First, of Mamma, and then of you.”
“Of me?” I was astonished. “Of your mamma?”
“How could I tell you the truth unless I knew you loved me as I love you? If you did not love me, if you were not wholly committed, then I knew you would toss me out and want me dead. And I would be as lonely as before. As I have been all these centuries….”
“Carmilla, how could I? I promise that no matter what you tell me, I will love you as trees love water, as the stars love the moon.”
She looked at me seriously, more serious and alert than I’d ever seen her, and she took a breath, and spoke. “Alright. I will tell you, then. Everything.
“When we first arrived here, I was just going through the motions—following Mamma’s orders as usual. I’ve never known exactly her machinations or schemes, but I had a part to play and I owed her my life as every child owes her mother, and so I did what she said. And I had long since lost curiosity or interest. I was just existing. I had lost interest in everything, really, before you, Laura.
“Mamma isn’t my real mother, I mean she is not who carried me in her womb and birthed me to this world. But she did sire me into the world of darkness, to this life of a revenant.
“It happened so long ago … centuries nearly … I struggle for the details, but I’ll tell you what I can.
“I was seventeen. At that time quite of age—past age—to be married off to some nobleman and cloistered away from the delightful company of my siblings and the lively conversation of my parents’ court—the court of the Karnsteins. I did not want to marry, though it seemed inevitable, and I consistently rejected the suitors that presented themselves before my parents and me. I was not an only child, nor even the eldest, so my parents never pressured me too hard. As I have said to you before, my father, who could have forced the matter, never did, as he seemed to value my happiness above tradition. I daresay he was in no rush to pay the price of a dowry, anyhow.
“As I say, years went by in this way, I happily living with my family, unmarried and unbetrothed, when one night there was a grand ball which my family hosted. It was a masquerade ball in the style of the Carnival of Venice, each year hosted by a different nobleman’s castle on Shrove Tuesday, and that year it was my father’s turn.
“You’ll find it unbelievable, perhaps, but at that time I was quite the dancer. I danced for hours, enjoying the company of strangers, until I was quite exhausted. Amongst the masks, it was impossible to tell the identity of almost all partners—indeed I was often unsure of my partner’s gender—costumes were not required to match conventional masculine or feminine ideas. Yet as the night wore on, you’d begin to recognize certain partners—a feminine partner with a scaled fish mask and a flowing Prussian blue gown, an ambiguously dressed partner with a lovely dove mask and a caped suit of white, a masculine partner with the mask of a terrible hooded cobra who roughly grabbed me each time we met in dance.
“As I said, I danced so long and with so many partners as to become quite fatigued, so I found a balcony off the dance hall in which to regain my strength, and sat on a little stone bench there gazing at the moonlight of the full moon. I sat there for some time, perhaps dozing off a little, when suddenly I heard hurried footsteps and a door clattering shut behind me.
“I turned and stood, startled, and with a chill recognized the dancer who had grabbed me so roughly—the cobra mask. Under the mask, the dancer wore a wicked smirk which seemed to mirror the expression of the open-mouthed, hood-spread, fang-bearing snake.
“‘Don’t you recognize me, little Countess?’ he asked in a sickly sweet, but male voice, and my chill grew deeper. I was still wearing my mask—a feline mask that covered my face from forehead to chin—so how could he know who I was? Was ‘countess’ a lucky guess? But his smirk of recognition seemed to show otherwise, and now I felt I recognized his voice, too. Women know instinctively it’s best not to provoke a threatening man, but I found myself bristled by his over-familiarity.
“Still, I tried to sound calm, unaffected, as I said, ‘From the dance floor? Yes.’ Then before I could help myself, ‘You have quite a rough style of dance, monsieur.’
“‘How rough you have no idea, little kitten,’ he said, and my chill evaporated into steaming anger. His wide grin was now a leer. ‘But you’ve known me before this night.’ He pulled off his mask and I did recognize him, though at first I could not quite place from where. After a few confused moments, a thrill of horror passed through me. He was a suitor from some weeks before who, though he had caused quite a commotion at our castle, I had completely forgotten about in the midst of the preparations for the Carnival and Lent.
“He was a stranger, from some other region of the country, who had heard word of my eligibility and age. Many families with a daughter as old as I was might have paid well to marry me off as soon as the first interested nobleman appeared, and this man had not hidden his agenda. He’d come with a title but no money. My father was an Earl, and this man a Marquess, but he had lost all his money. He boasted he would take an old maid off my father’s hands for a pretty fee, and confer his title upon me as his wife, surely helping my father’s ‘standing.’
“He was heartily laughed at by my father, a proud man, and all his attendants at court, for his rudeness and audacity. (It should have been my first sign that it matters not whether someone is peasantry or aristocracy in regards to their character, but you, dear Laura, are who opened my eyes to that.) But the man refused to leave, continuing to insult me and my father as though this tactic would change our minds.
“As he dug himself further and further into the pit with his words, my father’s anger boiled over and he ordered guards to drag the man away and off our property. There had been a struggle, and it was quite a spectacle, but as I said, it was soon forgotten in the frenzy of preparations for the Carnival.
“This man now stood looming before me, his hand clutching the handle of a blade at his side, leering at me with the rictus grin of a skull.
“‘Now, little kitten you shall be mine, dowry or not, and you’ll be grateful for the prestige my name will give you.’
“‘Will I?’ I demanded, trying to sound defiant. Yet my voice cracked against my will. The man was unstable and ready for violence—I knew my virtue or my life were in danger now, perhaps both.
“And I was quite right. He sprang on me like a cobra upon prey and began tearing at my clothes. I fought him, screaming at the top of my voice for I knew there must be plenty of people below us upon the walk to hear—though how long it might take them to find or reach me I had no idea. “Help, help! Get your hands off me!” I cried and I fought, clawing at his face with my hands, digging fingers into his closed eyelids and punching whatever bit of him I could. But he had me pinned against the bannister of the balcony and my dress—bless and curse it both—it was so corseted that protected me from his ravishing intents, but it restricted my movement so much that I couldn’t wriggle free of his weight.
“We struggled like this for some minutes and I heard commotion as people below shouted to get help and sent people up inside the castle to reach us and stop this murderous spectacle unfolding. Yet they kept bursting out the wrong balconies.
“Finally he gave up on claiming me by forcing himself on my body and chose to revenge himself instead. He drew his sword just as the door behind him burst open with my failed rescuers, and slashed the blade across my torso. The pain was agony, and I toppled backwards over the balustrade, falling three stories, quite nearly to my death.
“I cannot really speak to what happened next because it is such a blur, but I will try. I awoke in a dim room, my weeping mother and siblings nearby, and my father standing outside the door conferring with a doctor. ‘She shouldn’t have been moved from the lawn. She’ll be dead within minutes.’
“I fainted again—or perhaps I began to die, then—and I was only roused by the feeling of two sharp pricks upon my breast, along with a strange sensation of cold—as if I lay down, my neck just under the surface of a moving stream, the current passing upwards past my face. I would have screamed if I could’ve, but all my breath had been stolen by the fall, and all I could do was wheeze for air.
“Above me I saw Mamma and Matska—whom you may have seen in the carriage the night we came here. Matska was terrifying, with papery white skin and a terrible beak-like nose. She looked so old. I was frightened of her then; I am frightened of her now. But Mamma next to her was the definition of lovely—stately and beautiful, her skin smooth and pale and her hair dark and braided and hanging over her shoulder as she leaned above me. She had a spot of crimson near the corner of her mouth, and she reached to feed me some drink—what I believed at the time was wine to rouse me.
“For a blink of an eye, I underwent an agony greater than anything I have felt before or since, but Mamma pulled my broken body to her and it melted away in an instant. It was the feeling of my body dying completely, and Mamma’s powers sedated me against the pain. When it was over, I realized I had already been prepared for burial in the chapel, but not yet buried, and Mamma had come to me in my little casket and pulled me out to turn me. She said I must remain there until they did the burial, and then she returned to fetch me some days later.
“Her motives are strange to me still, but she told me she wanted to be my mother. That all she ever dreamt as a girl or young woman was to be a mother of beautiful daughters, and that in life she was never given this chance. I suspect she died in childbirth, and Matska turned her, but I don’t know for sure. I don’t know what Matska is—if she is like us or if she is some other creature. She is sometimes with us and sometimes not, and she never speaks.
“For some years Mamma doted on me, but I missed my own mother back then terribly, and a real maternal connection never formed. She grew disenchanted with me and began to seek new daughters.
“I could not run away—I tried. But every time I awoke back in my coffin in Mamma’s carriage, Matska staring over me.
“I was terribly lonely. When I say years passed in this way, I mean decades, centuries, dear Laura, of this life with Mamma, who was so bitter in her words by the time she decided I was not her perfect daughter as to sting my heart with every speech. And always the shadow of Matska hanging over us, trapping me.
“The price for her gift was that I became indentured to her, and since I could not be the perfect daughter, I must help her find another. My part was then to ingratiate myself with a noble family and weaken the daughter Mamma marked and craved, and then Mamma would return to turn her into one of us.
“Yet time after time, she was dissatisfied. She came to take whomever I had subjugated and, whether it be right then or months or years later, set Matska to terrorize me when she decided I had failed.
“I don’t know what she does with her other ‘failed children’—if they face the same fate as me, pawns in her machinations, or if she has some way of destroying them. I did not care, I could not care after decades and decades of the same rote life, I was just going through the motions. My true mind numb behind a body that did as she wished.
“And that is when I came to your schloss—you were the next in line, dear Laura—but you awoke me from this death dream, and I wanted you for myself. Not as a daughter, or sister, but….” Carmilla paused here for the first time, biting her bottom lip in agitation. I could see tears stinging the corners of her eyes and I took her hand in mine and squeezed, and her beautiful dark gaze lifted to meet mine.
“... as a lover?” I said, and my voice cracked from disuse. My chest felt as though it might burst.
“Oh, don’t hate me, dear Laura. Don’t hate me for loving you so dearly.”
“I could never hate you, Carmilla.”
The tears clinging to her lashes broke away then, traveling down her cheeks in shining lines. She was silent a few moments longer, and then gave a pretty little cough to clear her thick voice before speaking again:
“Of course I had seen you years before… that much I told you was true. I’d had a vision of you, grown as you are now, and me a child, and we’d huddled together in comfort. I must have tried to feed on you in my sleep, to frighten you so, and then I slipped away. I was still in a haze of the death dream, so I never knew if that had even been real until I saw your face when I arrived here weeks ago. It was quite as much a surprise to me when I saw you again as it was for you.
“I didn’t know what to do, so I followed the normal motions in trying to woo you. I befriended you as I befriend all her potential daughters, as I had befriended Berhta, and I tried to gain your love.
“But as the days passed, I became sincerely enchanted with you. I wanted to please you. I found myself sincerely remorseful after attacking those peasant girls….”
I gasped, and saw again two beads of tears at the corners of her eyes.
“You must know it was me, Laura. But I swear to you, I was sorry. It’s no excuse, but Mamma always cast away the peasantry simply as food … she only targeted the rich or aristocratic for her daughters, and I simply took on her views. And I tried to feed on them less and less as the days passed … and no longer took their lives. Though perhaps it would have been a mercy, considering how frightened they were.
“As I said, I wanted you for myself. And if you didn’t want me … I still didn’t want to give you up to my mother to be consumed by her and tossed aside as I had been. As so many of my old brief companions had been. But I found it so difficult to fight the motions so familiar to me, Laura. I began feeding on you, to weaken you … but I told you to pin the charm to your pillow to protect you from consciousness while I did it. As you came closer and closer to your succumbing to weakness, I tried to resist feeding each night, until that night you awoke at my warning words, and I was able to break my trance in order to escape discovery.
“I don’t want to give you to Mamma, Laura, but she’ll be here any day now, and I don’t know what to do! She will expect by now you to be ripe for her to turn, if she judges you ‘worthy’.”
Carmilla spit out the last word with disgust.
“And if not?” I asked with trepidation.
“She’ll kill you, of course, my darling.”
XV. The Trance
I had been so wrapped up in Carmilla’s tale, and the danger of her mamma and Matska, that I had nearly forgotten about our immediate danger—the men who wished to destroy her. And now we had been together so long talking, that the moon was gone down past the tree line, and surely dawn would come soon.
“Listen to me, Carmilla,” I said urgently, “We’ll have to face your mamma when she comes and figure out what to do then. But we have more immediate problems—the men want to destroy you—”
“That buffoon General, you mean?” she scoffed. “He may have tracked me here, but there’s no way he can find my resting place. And if he faces me awake, you saw how weak he is against my powers.”
“No—not just the General! There is a man, a priest called Baron Vonderburg, who seems to know all about your kind, how to destroy you, and how to find your grave now that he knows your name. He says he has a spell or something to find it.”
Carmilla now looked concerned, her grip on my hands tighter.
“I had to warn you, Carmilla!”
“My dear Laura, I thank you. But I’m not sure how we can stop them. I’m compelled to my own tomb when Mamma leaves me this close to it. She has my only other coffin, and it takes some special magic that I don’t know to make any other suitable.”
We sat in silence for some moments, before I said, in some desperation, “What if I try to talk to the General—explain the whole situation? Your mamma and Matska are the true villains. I can tell him you are not at fault, that it is your mamma and Matska behind it all. That he should be directing his rage at them, instead?”
“I don’t think that will work,” Carmilla said, with a sad smile. “I am guilty of weakening his ward. And what about the Baron you speak of? Won’t they just want to kill all three of us—me, Mamma, and Matska?”
“Perhaps….” I said, feeling truly dreadful, and that there was no way out of this murderous dilemma for us. I thought of the crimes Carmilla had committed in the past at the order of her mamma, and those she had killed. Did she deserve the fate the men planned for her? But she seemed now repentant and remorseful.
“Must you feed on humans, Carmilla?”
“I don’t think so,” she said, looking puzzled at the question. “I have gotten by on the blood of goats and cattle when necessary.”
“And must you kill?”
“No, not unless I’m very weak and must steal the life of another … as I said, I stopped killing the peasants once you struck me with conscience.”
“I don’t suppose the men would believe me if I said you’d sworn to stop taking the lives of others.”
“I’ll swear it to you, Laura; but no, I don’t think it would stop them.”
“Carmilla,” I said, suddenly a thought occurring to me, “Carmilla—couldn’t you turn me? If I had the strength you had when fighting off the General, then maybe I could help you escape, or stop the men?”
“Dear Laura, you’d be just as trapped as I by the limits of our kind, and you no coffin to rest in… I fear you’d die from the dawn. And anyway, I’ve never turned anyone….”
“It was always Mamma who did it. I didn’t want to trap anyone as I had been trapped.”
“But if I were to consent?”
“Laura, it wouldn’t do you any good for our current predicament….”
As we sat pondering our dilemma, Carmilla grew suddenly rigid, and she stood up very abruptly, nearly knocking me off our little bench. Her lids had become heavy, eyes glazed, and she began to utter in a guttural whisper, “Mamma, mamma, mamma….” over and over. Then she began to march in a direct line to the west—toward the ruins of Karnstein. She was in a trance.
“Carmilla!” I shouted, trying to pull her back and awaken her. “Stop! Carmilla!” But she threw me away from her. I landed hard on the leaves and roots of the forest floor, and I turned to see Carmilla still striding determinedly forward. Dawn’s light was trickling through the leaves. I pushed myself up and ran after Carmilla, but as the moments passed she stopped showing any physical signs of movement—yet still she proceeded towards the west. It was just like that night—which felt so long ago—where she had moved from the foot of my bed to out my door, seeming to move without movement.
I ran after her, still shouting her name, and threw myself upon her, pulling her, trying to get in front of her to push her backwards—anything to get her to stop.
But she was lost to me then, still chanting without lips moving, “Mamma, mamma, mamma, mamma….”
I followed her in this way, soon losing pace with her and only running to keep up, until we reached the ruins of Karnstein. “Carmilla!” I cried desperately, my throat rawer than ever, as she glided up the stairs of the chapel.
A little ways behind the pulpit, where an altar of communion might sit, a tomb rose up out of the ground—now nothing but dirt as the wooden floor of the chapel had rotted away long before. Carmilla paused next to the tomb, eyes still closed, voice still chanting, and then she was gone, and the tomb lowered back into the ground, swallowed by the earth, as if nothing had been disturbed.
I threw myself down upon the spot and wept. I wept and called her name but there was nothing I could do. I tried to dig away the earth and reach the top of her decaying stone tomb, but I was too weak and ill to pull off the lid myself. A plaque upon the stone read: Mircalla, Countess of Karnstein, died 1700. She had died only two years after the portrait in our schloss had been painted.
Then I realized I had betrayed her by upsetting the earth so much, and I worked to push it all back into place. I wept so much that I began a coughing fit, and sat and forced myself to get a handle on my body. After some time breathing in this way to calm myself, I stood and began gathering brush to cover the spot and obscure it as much as possible.
In this solitude, having just listened to so strange a story, connected, as it was, with the chapel and tombs moldering among the dust and ivy round me—in this haunted spot, darkened by the towering foliage that rose on every side, dense and high above its noiseless walls—a horror began to steal over me, and my heart sank.
I did not know now what to do; the men would surely be preparing now to come and kill my dear Carmilla. What could I do to stop them? A wicked part of me wished Carmilla’s mamma would come to the schloss and kill all of them except my gentle papa, but I knew there was no one to come save us; I would have to do whatever I could myself, even if it be in vain.
I determined to try to tell the General the truth; even if it would not convince him, at least it would delay him. Perhaps I could feign so much hysteria as to stall them until Carmilla awoke from her trance and could escape beyond the borders of Styria and find a new tomb. I would surely see the men on the trail that lead from the ruins to the schloss and could waylay them there.
I gathered myself, disheveled and dirty, and began to run back eastward.
XVI. Ordeal and Execution
But I did not meet the men upon the trail. I ran with the strength of those possessed all the way to the schloss. There was some frenzy of activity happening around the castle—servants were spread out searching behind the gazebo, trees and bushes, and between every tower. As I stumbled across the drawbridge, I saw the sun was half risen—already it was later than I’d hoped; perhaps I could stall the men long enough.
“Laura! Laura!” the servants called, and I realized the frenzy was that I had been missing. “Laura is here!”
Madame and Mademoiselle came running from the schloss’s entrance to catch me up in their arms in greeting. They were both looking very frightened, even upon seeing me, and Madame said: “Where have you been, child? We thought you had been stolen away! The men are telling such tales!”
I was so out of breath that it was some moments before I could speak, heaving through every breath: “I must… see my papa! I must talk to the General!”
The ladies exchanged glances full of concern.
“Please,” I urged, “Take me to Papa.”
They brought me inside and I saw quite a strange sight before me. In the entrance hall, where only a few weeks before the picture cleaner’s son had been taking out each painting from his burlap bag, now the Baron-priest had his own, with tools of destruction laid out on top. There were wooden stakes and those of sharpened silver, a stack of flint and kindling for fire, and finally three sheathed sickle blades. He had clearly packed to leave in a hurry—he only need pick up the sides of the bag and tie it shut when ready, everything was arranged in the sack’s opening.
He had a smaller bag hanging from his belt—which he wore over top of his long cassock robe—with little bottles of some liquids inside, along with some books and a long scroll, and also hanging from his belt were a series of crucifixes of different sizes. He was looking quite impatient, having not yet noticed me, but once he had, his face lit up in excitement.
“Get the doctor, get the General!” he cried to no one particular.
Madame and Mademoiselle set me on our little entrance chaise and ran to fetch my papa from the library, and he returned a few moments later with the General and doctor. Papa burst from the library and ran to throw his arms around me.
“Pray, get her something to eat,” he said to the governesses and they left to obey.
I found my father’s strong embrace heartening—familiar and welcome after the cold, wretched morning, and I pressed my face into his shoulder and let out a short sob.
He stroked my hair, full of leaves and little bits of brush, and said, “It’s alright, darling, you’re safe now, it’s alright.”
“Papa,” I said, “I have to tell you—”
“No, eat first,” he commanded as a servant appeared with a plate of biscuits and a cup of tea. I took some, and Papa went on, “How did she get to you in your room? How did you get away?”
I spoke through my mouthful of crumbs, “Papa, it’s not Carmilla we should fear. She didn’t ‘get to me,’ I ran out to find her—”
“I had to know the truth, Papa! It isn’t her, it’s her mamma, she’s after me, and she’s imprisoned Carmilla for years!”
“What is this nonsense?” the General shouted and strode toward us quickly. “You’ve seen the monster? Do you know where she is?”
I tried then to relate, with as much brevity as possible, the story of Carmilla’s past—how she had been murdered, how she had been turned to a vampire, and how she had been trapped by her mamma. “General, she didn’t kill your Berhta… you know that,” I finished. “And she only weakened her at the orders of her mamma and a beast which follows them called ‘Matska.’ Carmilla is indentured to her mamma, but she has never turned anyone herself.”
“She’s killed plenty,” the Baron-priest declared. “All those villagers, and think of how many we don’t even know about. She’s lying to you, girl, trying to save her own self. We must get moving! We should have left hours ago!” the Baron shouted, his face growing red and shiny with sweat, and his lenses flashing dangerously.
“We have two hours before noontime,” the doctor said, trying to assure him. “Plenty of time to get there and do the work.”
“Papa, no, listen to me,” I said desperately, “Please, don’t let them. Carmilla isn’t the villain, and she needs help to escape her mamma and Matska!”
“Lady,” the doctor interjected in his soft-spoken voice, “have you then been with your guest all this time? Until you returned to us here in the schloss? It has been morning for some hours now….”
And here, reader, I look back at my reply with so much self-loathing. I was so desperate, and the doctor spoke so kindly to me in comparison with the General and the Baron-priest, I told him the truth. I told him and my papa that after Carmilla had finally confided all in me, she had grown suddenly rigid as if in a trance, and how I had tried to stop her from marching toward Karnstein, but she was too strong, and she began to progress forward like a spirit, no visible movement at all.
“How far did you follow her?” the doctor asked.
“I followed her all the way—I couldn’t give up on trying to stop her.”
“Then you saw,” the Baron-priest said, a wicked grin spreading across his solemn face, “her resting place?”
Now realizing my foolish mistake, I did not reply, and refused from here on to speak any longer. Though my papa, the doctor, everyone in the room badgered me to tell more, I refused.
“This girl is obviously under the power and influence of the demonic hellish beast,” the General bellowed. “We must leave NOW, we’re running out of time!”
“I concur,” the Baron said, and in one swift movement, grabbed up his bag’s strings, tied them tight, and threw it over his back. “To the carriage now!”
He pushed forward past us and out the door, and the doctor, looking back with a worried expression for a moment, hurried out after him.
“Come, Arthur,” the General said to my poor papa, who still held me in his arms. The General grabbed my father by the arm and picked him up roughly, sending me sprawling off the chaise.
“Now see here, General—!” my father began, but the General quickly shouted over him:
“And we bring the girl. She will show us where the beast sleeps.”
Now he grabbed me, too, by the arm, and I tried to wrest myself free, crying, “Unhand me, General!” He grabbed me then by the hair, and began to drag both my dear papa and I out the schloss entrance, to the amazement of the servants present, some of whom made to move forward to help us.
Madame and Mademoiselle both cried out in outrage, but the General turned back to all and shouted, “No one shall stop my sacred mission for revenge, come no closer!” He briefly let go of my father and thrust forward his pelvis, showing there a loaded pistol which glinted in the sunlight streaming through the entrance. He drew it and aimed for my head.
The women fell back, gasping. Once he had recovered and seen, my father cried, “Alright, old friend, we won’t fight you. Don’t threaten Laura!”
The General shoved the pistol back into his belt. He turned and took hold of my father again, dragging us down the stairs which led down from the schloss door to the trail toward the drawbridge while my governautes and our servants watched helplessly.
I looked up now and saw in the General’s face the same manic expression I had seen when he told us the story of Berhta’s death. I was sure now that the General had killed her. He seemed now to have gone completely mad, perhaps with guilt or grief or both, and to have given himself over to these violent tendencies.
My papa tried to appeal to the General’s reason: “General, dear friend, there’s no reason to treat us so roughly, let us go and talk this over and make a plan.”
“There IS a plan!” he shouted, and now threw Papa into the carriage, to be driven by the Baron and the doctor. “Let’s go, men! And let us complete our righteous mission!”
“You’ll kill all of us the way you killed your ward!” I screamed as he hurled me in behind my father, still by my hair. And as I looked back, I saw the manic expression for a moment shift to a grieved look of clarity. Then his face contorted into a terrible exaggerated smile of delight, and he slammed the door and locked us in. I felt the weight of the carriage change as he hurled himself to sit on the driver’s bench, and then we were off.
“General! General!” Papa cried, banging against the locked doors of the brougham carriage.
After some moments where it was clear no one would free us, my papa pulled me to him in the carriage and held me, and though I tried to be strong, I was exhausted and tears of fatigue and terror streamed down my cheeks. I thought he must fear the General as much as I, for he trembled terribly.
The journey through the forest to the ruins was rough and fast, and though the night before it had seemed to be an eternity, it ended all too soon as I wanted the carriage to slow.
The area around the ruins is much too rough for a carriage, and when the Baron and the General unlocked and threw open the carriage doors, I saw we were at the bottom of the summit upon which the castle sat. It took a moment for me to gain my bearings. We were under the chimneys and gables of the ruined village that surrounded them, 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. With the General pushing my papa and I forward with his pistol pointed toward us, 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, as he passed a great window and looked out across the village, and saw the wide, undulating expanse of forest. “They say it was a bad family, and that is why they became extinct on the male side,” he continued. “It is hard that one of their wicked women should, after death, continue to plague the human race with her atrocious lusts. That is the chapel of the Karnsteins, down there.”
He pointed down to the grey walls of the Gothic building—now familiar to me—partly visible through the foliage, a little way down the steep.
Our large party now stumbled down the other side of the summit into the chapel, and here the General grabbed me again, this time by my arms on either side, and thrust me ahead of him through the gargoyle-topped chapel entrance.
“Show us, girl! Show us where the hell-spawn sleeps!”
As my father made a movement to come to my aid, the General let go of one of my arms to grab his pistol again and point it into his face.
I struggled with the General, trying to push him back, covering my eyes so that my glance would not betray Carmilla, screaming in invented hysterics—in short, I was not very ladylike.
Though the General, the doctor, and the Baron all harassed me over and over for some minutes, sometimes in the tone of inveigling and sometimes in the tone of threats, I refused to tell them, or point, or speak any sense at all. I saw the General about to strike me, fulfilling a threat, when my father’s hand grabbed his arm and pulled him back.
“Stop! Can’t you see you’ve terrified her? She’s in no state to help you.”
The Baron-priest nodded and finally he and the doctor helped my father pull the General back away from me. “She’s under the control of the beast, General. There is no need for violence against the innocent. Or at least the naïve.”
The General huffed, pulled by the men away from me. His eyes were wide and popping as he watched me fall back against a rotting pew. My father came to me and helped me up, gripping my hand protectively.
“Find her!” the General screamed, voice pitched like a banshee. “You have her name, Baron, find her!”
“Yes, it would have been easier with the girl, but I can do it.” The Baron-priest then began his work, and we all turned to watch, me despite myself.
He took the scroll of paper from his waist bag, 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.
Then he took out a set of strange little silver trinkets that he spread upon the paper. He took out a bottle of what seemed simple water, but which had a little crucifix floating near its bottom, and poured the liquid over his hands. He stoppered this, then shut his eyes, spread his hands out over the scroll and its pieces, and began muttering some kind of spell, or prayer—call it whichever pleases your religious sensibilities most—and the only bit of this muttering I could understand was the repeated name of “Countess Mircalla of Karnstein.”
The doctor, still a man of science after all, gasped loudly as the pieces began to move on their own. I moved a little closer, leaving behind the clutching hand of my father, and saw now that the scroll was a hand-drawn map of the chapel and that each of the known tombs was marked upon it as a little rectangle. Slowly, the seconds drawn out like a single grain falling at a time in an hourglass, the pieces moved along the sheet and gathered all upon the spot where I knew Carmilla’s grave to be as though by some magnetic force.
“No!” I cried before I could help myself. And here again I look back and hate myself for betraying Carmilla with my impulsive reactions.
Demented excitement spread from the Baron’s face to the General’s, and both men rushed toward the ground beneath which I knew Carmilla to be sleeping. The General, who had a bag I had not yet noticed, pulled out of it now four long spades, and the two began to dig frantically. The doctor looked from them to my papa and I, torn, and then started forward to help.
In what felt like very little time, they had extracted around the great casket. It was made of marble, dirty and aged on the outside and very heavy.
The Baron paused now, looking up through the absent roof of the chapel, “We’re running out of time. We must hurry! Lift the lid!”
He began pushing with heavy breaths to separate the lid, which was itself four inches of marble at least, sometimes shoving in his spade as leverage. The doctor and General followed his lead, and then commanded my papa to help them. My father’s face was very conflicted, but he seemed compelled by horrified fascination now. He wanted to see. He moved forward and helped the men.
Finally the lid shifted with a great scraping sound, and we all peered in, all the men momentarily frozen by the sight of Carmilla. The General and my father recognized each his perfidious and beautiful guest, in the face now disclosed to view. The features, though over a hundred and fifty years had passed since her funeral, were tinted with the warmth of life. No cadaverous smell exhaled from the coffin. There was a faint but appreciable respiration, and a corresponding action of the heart. The doctor poked and examined her; the limbs were perfectly flexible, the flesh elastic; and the coffin floated with blood, in which to a depth of seven inches, the body lay immersed like a bath.
“Carmilla!” I screamed, trying in vain to wake her. “Carmilla!”
But my words only served to snap the men out of their fascinated staring, and the Baron began digging in his burlap bag for his murderous weapons.
“Now we kill the beast!” he cried, and first he plucked out two bits of flint and kindling and handed these to the General, and then he pulled out a silver stake, which he immediately moved to plunge into the heart of my beloved Carmilla—surely to pin her in place.
As when the meeting of all these parties had happened the afternoon before, a great many things happened here at once. Carmilla’s eyes burst open, it seemed in delayed reaction to my voice calling her, but now of course I know it was because the sun had finally risen to noontide and she was free of her morning trance. She moved so quickly from out beneath the Baron’s plunge that she seemed to vanish and reappear behind them. The livid, brutal expression from the day before again transformed her face.
The Baron’s fist, clenching the stake, fell then into the pool of blood, which splashed up all over the men, into their faces and eyes and mouths, and a cacophony of horrified coughs and shouts followed this. The General, not distracted by being bathed in blood, darted his head around in a frenzy until he locked eyes with my Carmilla. His hands fumbled with the flints, and though he set one bit of kindling to fire, he dropped this to the ground, and instead reached for the pistol at his belt and shot at her.
“Die beast!” he cried, but the plain leaden bullet passed through her like she was air, and she crouched ready to strike at him. He dropped the useless gun and reached for his sheathed sword—which I believed to be the same that struck down Berhta—and slashed at her; but Carmilla dodged his blade, vanishing again and reappearing behind the doctor, who stood on the opposite side of the marble tomb.
She opened her mouth, revealing her needle-like fangs which seemed to grow as she stretched her mouth wide, and seemed about to strike the doctor when abruptly she stopped, and took a step backwards, her face full of fear. I looked across the chapel to where her gaze fell, and saw her mamma had just entered, along with the snarling beast who could only be Matska.
Though all this passed in the span of about twenty seconds, I will pause here to describe to you what I saw, as this entire scene is imprinted vividly in my memory. I had not paid attention to how intricate it was the first time I’d seen her, but her mamma still wore a fashionable mourning dress as the General had described. The dress had mourning crape worked into ornate forms and gave the overall effect of covering nearly the whole ensemble, as is appropriate for the deep, initial mourning for the death of a someone very emotionally close. Though she hadn’t been wearing a veil the night Carmilla came to us—perhaps it had been thrown askew from the crash—she wore one now, the crape pulled back away from her livid face and over her hair like a nun’s habit.
Matska was harder to behold, not exactly human and not exactly beast in form. Her body seemed to shimmer with a wretched, swallowing blackness, at once in the form of a person and then in the form of a great furry, bear-like beast. Her face, which remained the same despite the shifting form around her, was human, though her papery skin hung off her skull like a corpse. As I stared in horror, she seemed to choose a form, and shapeshifted to the beastly, furry creature I had once beheld in a dream upon my bed.
In that moment, Carmilla’s mamma screeched a terrible maternal cry, and rushed towards the General (whom, I suppose, she recognized) while Matska, each movement imitating and synchronized with that of Mamma, struck at the Baron-priest. Carmilla explained to me later that Mamma and Matska had powers far beyond hers because they were so old and had turned and consumed so many creatures. And with these powers, the two of them ripped apart these men after only moments of struggle.
Before the Baron had succumbed and been crushed between Matska’s terrible jaws, he had managed to slash her with the silver stake, which now clattered to the ground. A black, tar-like liquid oozed from her palpitating side where she had been struck, and she moved a little slower, as with a limp.
The two of them now turned their attention to the remaining men—Matska to the doctor, and Mamma to my papa. Matska jumped up upon the edges of the open tomb to reach the doctor, and Mamma seemed to move without movement, as Carmilla had done.
As I said, these events happened so quickly, I find it hard to put down to paper in the right order, and while this carnage took place, Carmilla and I locked glances. She had fallen back out of fright at first sight of the two women, but now had crawled around the tomb to see me. She gestured toward the bag of the Baron’s weapons, and I, understanding immediately, reached to grab one of the sickles.
Seeing in that moment Mamma reaching for my papa, I screamed and, with the stupidity only possessed by those who fear for the lives of their loved ones, jumped upon her back and pulled her back, my free arm around her neck and my legs wrapped around her waist. My father fell to the ground, and she screeched a terrible sound and tried to pry me off her, but I maneuvered as best I could and slashed the sickle before her face, then grabbed the tip with my other hand and pulled it back until it struck her throat.
As I know now, silver is like a hot iron to the skin of a vampire, and the sickle’s shining blade pulled through Mamma’s neck like a hot knife through the fat of a cooked animal, sizzling terrible and causing a terrible rotting odor to fill my nostrils. My face as I held onto her torso with my legs was filled with the ancient, musty crape, which scraped against my cheeks as her head fell backwards and thudded against my chest. We toppled backwards—Mamma’s body falling upon me—and I lay pinned beneath it, though I threw off the terrible heavy lump of her head.
I saw now that Matska had made quick work of the doctor, and I felt a pang at seeing his mangled body. I could not myself feel very sorry for the deaths of the General and Baron who had tried to kill Carmilla, but the doctor had simply become caught up in the violence they’d instigated. But I had little time to lament anyone’s death, because Matska now turned her attention to me, shrieking a most terrible cry of anger. She pounced upon me at once and sank her terrible, wolf-like teeth into my shoulder.
Now, you may remember that the General had dropped a burning bit of kindling and a torch, and now my papa grabbed up this weapon and flung himself upon Matska to try and stop her from killing me. I saw Carmilla rush behind him, seeming to think nothing of the flames licking up her own dress and arms as she helped him pull Matska away from me. My father threw his torch upon the beast and she lit up at once, as though made of the driest, thinnest kindling wood.
My papa threw himself to my side, but seeing now Carmilla burning and trying to put out her dress, I directed my father to aid her. He scrambled up and began opening the unsmashed bottles of holy water and throwing them upon her to put out the fire. Though she cried out in pain as the water and fire both touched her skin, she was only hurt, not mortally wounded.
I, on the other hand, heaved heavy breaths, and lay dying upon the stone and earthy floor of the chapel. Seeing the fire was out, my papa rushed back to me, finished pulling away the remains of Mamma, and tried to stop the bleeding from my shoulder and neck.
“No, no, no,” he cried, and I saw his now dirty and bloody face streaked with tears. I had never seen my papa so broken as to cry. I tried to reach for his face to dry his cheeks, but I couldn’t move. There seemed some kind of terrible poison in Matska’s fangs, and I knew I was going to die.
Carmilla came and knelt down beside us, tears hanging off the lashes of her beautiful eyes, too.
“Oh, Laura, my darling Laura …” she whispered.
I tried to get out a word, but I could not speak.
“Oh, my Laura!” my papa cried, “Not you, too, I can’t lose you. Not your mother and you.”
I looked into Carmilla’s eyes, and I tried then to communicate what I wanted to say, what my throat was too thick to ask. She seemed to understand, and her face hardened, and she spoke. “There … is a way….”
“A way?” Papa turned to her distractedly.
“A way to save her. A way to keep her. A way to go back to how things were. Well, a little different.” I nodded my head as slightly as I could, and Carmilla went on, “I could make her like me.”
“But … but…” and my papa must have thought to protest turning me into a monster like Carmilla, but he stopped himself, and looked down at me, and shook his head.
“I’ve never done it, but I think I know how.”
A long pause stretched, and I felt the life seeping out of my body along with the blood my papa tried to stop with only his hands.
“Do it,” he said hoarsely, looking into her charming eyes.
“It must be her choice. I won’t indenture her the way Mamma did me.” Carmilla turned her face back to me. “It must be your choice.”
With the little strength I had left in me, I showed my assent by a blink and a tiny nod. I swallowed air for breath as I tried to whisper “yes.”
She and Papa seemed to get my meaning, and my papa moved backward to let Carmilla work. She leaned down over me, obscuring my vision with her luscious hair. Through the dark, purple-black strands, I could see the sun peeking through the chapel’s roofless top, and then I felt a sharp prick, like two needles digging into my breast. My heavy eyelids shut, and I wanted now to succumb now to sleep, to death, but Carmilla shook me, and when I opened my eyes again, I saw she had torn open her own skin at the wrist and was holding the bleeding cut above my mouth.
“You must reach for it,” she commanded. “If you consent.”
With all my strength left I lifted my head and pressed my lips to her wrist, and drank. Her blood was salty, and tasted like the floral tart scent I’d always smelt by her in those evenings in her room as she prepared for bed, which felt like a thousand years ago.
Then my body died, and I felt a moment of agony until Carmilla gathered me up, sitting, into an embrace, and I felt no more pain, but was frozen as the transformation took place. My papa reached around my other side and held us in his arms, and I was born again.
Our lives could not quite go back to how they had been after such an ordeal of carnage and violence and general uproar. My father dismissed the entire household of servants, even my kind governautes, with very little explanation. He had a little casket made for me, which he packed up in the carriage Carmilla’s mamma and Matska had used, which had her own portable casket. He did not bother to explain to anyone what had happened in the chapel, where we had spent the following days burying the bodies of those who had expired, but simply took us away from Styria and Austria to settle somewhere else. At his request, we were always careful not to feed to the point of a victim becoming conscious or ill, and we agreed that whenever possible, we should avoid making these victims human.
There was nowhere our kind hadn’t been rumored, but as there was the common misconception we couldn’t bear sunlight, he took us somewhere drenched in it to avoid suspicion. He found a little villa in Italy to settle in, and when strangers remarked on his daughters’ pale, beautiful complexions, he implied we had settled in that country to treat our consumption.
We spent many happy years there, the three of us, living much as we had before with a small household of servants, sometimes participating in the aristocratic life of masquerades and balls, and sometimes spending quiet days and evenings playing card games and otherwise entertaining one another serenely at home, until my dear papa died. He wouldn’t consent to join our kind, and we respected his wishes, Carmilla mourning him as much as I, since he had become a father-in-law to her.
Since that time, Carmilla and I have remained devoted to one another, travelling the world. Neither is indentured to the other; we are bonded and sustained by love.