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HOW THE HERO BECOMES A VAGABOND.
The château, as we have said, having the reputation of being haunted, the circumstance of a light being sometimes seen flitting from window to window at night excited no surprise, although much consternation. A hamlet containing between twenty and thirty souls, formed the entire human neighbourhood; the spot being shut in by a circle of hills from the rest of the inhabited world. The loneliness of the place, indeed, was its chief recommendation. No one could have conceived that, on climbing an eminence of a hundred paces, he should at once find himself on the brink of a thickly-peopled valley, with a great town in the midst ; yet it had been a favourite project of Carl Benzel, in the days of his glory, to cut a vista through the mount, opposite the windows of a particular room, so that, at one moment surrounded by the most entire solitude, he might the next, if his caprice willed it, be within the view and hearing of
“-the hum, the crowd, the shock of men." The disappearance of old Christine had excited little or no remark at the time it took place; yet now it was somehow or other connected in the imagination of the neighbours with the mysterious lights. The poor woman had died, it was thought, either in the house, or after she had left it to return to her own home, wherever that might be; and now her spirit was supposed, by a natural process of ratiocination, to haunt the spot, which in life she had loved so well, as seldom to be tempted to leave it-unless when her rheumatic lameness allowed.
There was one inhabitant of the hamlet, however, who had imbibed, in the course of her intromissions with the town, in the quality of a trafficker in eggs, & portion of its heresies ; and she declared that the new inmates of the château could be no other than a band of robbers, who, after playing their pranks in wealthier quarters, took refuge here, as in a place too retired to be within the ken of the police. Liese was a pretty young girl, high-spirited and good-tempered, who always brought her eggs to a fair market; for there was hardly a gay young bachelor in Aix-la-Chapelle who did not deal with her, in the hope (continually disappointed) of getting a kiss from her rich and ruby lips into the bargain. She cared not a pin for ghosts, living too innocently, and sleeping too soundly to be troubled by their visits. She concluded that the old woman had left the house many days ago, and thought it no want of charity to believe that the new-comers, who only stirred at night, and were invisible during the day, were persons of very so-so character.
By degrees, however, the question took a stronger hold upon her lively imagination. Her curiosity was roused. If the strangers were robbers, how did it happen that no one had ever seen them enter or leave the house ; while, at the same time, they took not the slightest precaution to conceal their residence there, but carried a candle openly from window to window, or left it burning all night in one of the worst and remotest apartments ? Liese thought of these seeming contradictions till she determined to unravel them ; and being aware that it would be in vain to request the aid even of the stoutest heart in the hamlet, she set out alone on the adventure.
Her choosing the night-time for the exploit may seem to have been a useless expenditure of courage ; but it in reality arose from fear. When a younger girl, she had been accustomed to play with her companions in every corner of the deserted mansion, and thus possessed a knowledge of the localities far superior to any that could have been obtained by the strangers in a few days' acquaintance with the premises. She, in fact, knew how to enter the house without troubling the latch of the door at all; and if detected in her progress to the upper apartments, could make her es. cape by passages in which any other than one accustomed to them from childhood would require the clue of Ariadne.
The night she chose was dark, to conceal her form, and gusty, that her reasonably light tread might not be heard ; and, having screwed her courage to the sticking place, she stole out of her cottage, glided round the end of the château, climbed like a cat to a window several yards from the ground, unfastened it by inserting her hand through a broken pane, and, in another minute, found herself panting, more from mental excitement than bodily exertion, on the great staircase. She paused to listen ; then bounded, like a deer, up a dozen steps; and paused again. Here she
heard a man's voice, and her heart began to quake. In another moment pride mastered fear, and advancing more cautiously, she put back her hair from her ears, and endeavoured to catch the purport of his words. The tone was not conversational. It put her in mind of a declamation on the stage, or an address from the pulpit. The speaker paused frequently, and sometimes in an interrogative manner, yet there was no answer. Liese became less afraid every moment, and more eager after discovery; and at length, in a passion of curiosity, she darted up the remaining flight, without pausing till her ear was close to a door, through the chinks of which she perceived light; when she heard distinctly the following words, pronounced in a feeble but musical and manly voice.
My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my
heart. They change the night into day; the light is short because of darkness.
“If I wait, the grave is mine home; I have made my bed in the darkness.
“« I have said to corruption, thou art my father; to the worm, thou art my mother and my sister.
"" He hath fenced up my way that I cannot pass, and he hath set darkness in my path.
«• He hath stripped me of my glory, and taken the crown from
head. "" He hath destroyed me on every side, and I am gone;
and my hope he hath removed like a tree. “ My harp is also turned to mourning, and my voice into the voice of them that weep.
5. My skin is black upon me, and my bones are burnt with heat.
“« I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls.'”
This singular lament, which poor Liese imagined to be the spontaneous outpouring of a troubled heart, filled her with compassion. She knocked gently at the door. A sudden stir took place in the interior, and she could hear the sound of a man's foot upon the floor. While uncertain what to do, the stranger spoke again :
“ • His troops come together, and raise up their array against me, and encamp round about my tabernacle'—Come on, ye sons of Belial, for I will sell my life by the inch! • earth, cover thou not my blood !” Liese opened the door in a panic, for she imagined that a crowd of the expected enemies were on the stairs, and women are always on the side of the minority. A young man stood in the middle of the floor, leaning with one hand upon a chair for support, while with the other he strove in vain to steady his sword, which he pointed towards the door. His countenance was pale and haggard, and a cluster of matted locks, as black as the raven's wing, hung over the forehead; beneath which a pair of eyes gleamed with so strange a lustre as to give an unearthly character to the whole head.
Liese saw at once that the unhappy stranger was in the delirium of fever, and she retreated some steps, uncertain what to do.
“ Get thee gone,” said he, “ get thee behind me! The day of temptation is over, and hell shall not prevail against me!” His words became fainter; his sword fell from the trembling hand that held it; and before Liese could reach him he had sunk fainting on the floor. With some difficulty she lifted him
and to bed ; and while doing so had an opportunity of scanning more closely his wan and wasted features.