Emily von Rosenthal–How She Was Spirited Away
by James White
Introductory Note: James White’s “Emily von Rosenthal—How She Was Spirited Away” adapts the typical Tales of Terror that were the specialty of Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. In this tale, the narrator asks his listeners to recognize the “romance” of everyday life while at the same time acknowledging the preeminence of rational thought.1This story is nine pages long, although an error in the pagination indicates that it is thirty-eight pages long.
Advisory: This story includes racist characterization and depicts domestic abuse.
“Adventures, sir?” said my opposite neighbour, in the Rocket light coach—“take my word for it they are as plentiful as ever. We have become wise, thoughtful, ingenious, money-making, utilitarial, and political—our eyes have become blind to the romance that still lies every where around us—our hearts seared with the red-hot iron of a detestable philosophy, which interdicts fancy and imagination as subversive of truth—good heavens! as if man were already converted into Babbage’s machine, and had no higher occupation than the evolution of arithmetical results.2Charles Babbage (1791-1871) designed plans for a “difference engine” that would calculate polynomials for logarithmic and trigonometric functions. ‘Millions of spiritual creatures walk the air,’ but they are of too refined and etherial a nature for our gross perceptions; millions of fine adventures—wild, chivalrous, romantic—are within our reach, but of too high and purified a kind for our dull and every-day faculties.3The quote is from John Milton, Paradise Lost IV: 677-678: “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth / Unseen.” What do you mean by an adventure, sir?”
The person who poured out this torrent of words had got in at the White Horse Cellar,—a thin, intelligent looking man, of from forty to fifty years of age, and his address had been excited by some casual observation I had made about the lack of adventure in a journey to Portsmouth at the present time, compared to the stirring days of Smollett and Fielding.4English novelists from the eighteenth century.
“An adventure?” I answered—“why, an attack by highwaymen—being benighted on our way—or even upset in a ditch.”
“The days of highwaymen,” answered my neighbour, “are indeed past—they went out at the same time, perhaps, with those of chivalry; good lamps and macadamized roads preserve us from being benighted on our journey; and the carefulness and skill of my friend Falconer save us from any danger of a ditch; but, after all, these are but external adventures—the husk, as it were, in which adventures are contained, not the adventures themselves—there must be something more to constitute an adventure than mere robbery, or darkness, or sprawling in a ditch—there must be character, individuality, perhaps romance. What sort of an adventure would a robbery be without a Captain Weasle?”5A comic character from Tobias Smollet’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748).
“Well, sir,” I said; “but you will grant that the incidents I mentioned are more likely to call forth those peculiarities than merely sweeping along behind four fine horses on a road as smooth as a bowling-green.”
“There’s the very thing,” replied the stranger; “it is this sweeping along, and these fine roads, that have centupled the materials for adventure—under the word adventure, comprising not merely accidents and assaults, but any thing that calls forth one’s surprise by its oddness—and that, I take it, is the widest sense adventure can be taken in. What do you think, sir, of tipping the son of a marquis with a half-crown at the end of a stage, or blowing up a duke for not attending to your luggage? Such things never happened in the slow-waggon days of Roderick Random.”6Written by Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random is a picaresque novel, a genre which episodically and often satirically chronicles the adventures of a member of the lower class who succeeds through his wit rather than his industry. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a familiar American example.
“No, but merely being a spectator of such an event as one of the nobility in the driving-box, does not constitute an adventure—you are but an indifferent party.”
“That’s what I complain of. People, I have said before, are so taken up with ‘this world’s cold realities,’ that they remain indifferent parties to any thing that does not actually touch themselves. But, if you gave a little play to your fancy, you would soon find that you are actually performing an adventure when you are driven by a right honourable whip. You wonder what circumstances led to such a fall; what train of mishaps and miseries ended at last in ruffianizing the mind and manners of an English noble. You talk of it when you get home, you boast of it once or twice a-week after dinner for the rest of your lifetime, and by that simple coming in contact with the patrician Jehu, you feel as if you had a share in his history; nay, you almost become ennobled yourself in contemplating his degradation; you begin to have a sort of distant relationship to his distinguished ancestors; when you read of the achievements of any of those worthies, you say, ‘ah, yes, very great man—I recollect his grandson drove me to Brighton, and a very good driver he was.’”
“But these things are reflections,” I said, “not adventures.”
“Not at all—the adventure consists in your having met with an incident which would have set the hairs of your grandfather’s wig on end with horror and disgust, and the relation of which will have, I sincerely hope, the same effect on your grandson’s natural locks. I appeal to the gentleman on my left, if, indeed, we have not set him to sleep. Will you decide between us, sir?”
The person thus addressed lifted aside the silk handkerchief he had hitherto kept over his face, and presented a visage of such preternatural ugliness, that I started at the sudden disclosure. A lady at my side shrieked, and clung to my arm. The hideous apparition smiled in a manner which, of course, added to his grimness, and showed a row of teeth, of extraordinary length, which had evidently been sharpened to a point by a file or some other instrument. Deep lines were cut in every variety of square and circle, on every portion of his face; in short, he was the most complete specimen of the art of tatooing I had ever seen.
“I can scarcely decide,” he said, in very good English, “as in fact I have not been attending to the conversation. I am an Englishman, born in Derbyshire, I bore a lieutenant’s commission at the battle of Waterloo; I am now king of six brave and powerful nations, and have been paying a visit to your sovereign Victoria. If she would give me leave to settle the French Canadians, I and my brave people would eat them up in a week.”
The lady again screamed. “The gentleman’s a hannibal,” she said—“I knowed it from the shape of his teeth.”7“Hannibal” confused with “cannibal” is a reference to William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, act 2, scene 1, line 183: “thou wicked Hannibal!.”
The Indian King laughed.
My friend looked at me triumphantly. “Smooth roads and pleasant coaches, you see, are not so barren of adventure as you supposed. You don’t deny, I hope, that this is equal to an upset?”
“I don’t know, sir,” I replied. “George Psalmanazor lived in the days of the heavy flies.”8George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763, was the pseudonym of an otherwise unknown Frenchman who traveled across Europe assuming different personalities such as Irish pilgrim, Japanese convert, and Formosan immigrant.
“He was a quack and a humbug, and besides, you never would have met him travelling in one of those conveyances. It would not in the least degree increase the strangeness of this discovery though Falconer was to tumble us all into a ditch.”
“It might increase it very painfully to him,” said the tatooed monarch, with a demoniacal opening of his jaws, and an audible grinding of his pin-pointed teeth, “for I would have his scalp at my belt in the turn of a wrist.”
“They would hang you,” said my friend.
“I am sacred, not only as a king but as an ambassador. Grotius and Puffendorf are precise upon that point.”9Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Baron Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694) were theorists of international law.
“But you forfeit such sacredness by outraging the laws.”
“Not at all,” replied the King: “I was in an attorney’s-office before I got my commission, and know something of law. I give up the ambassador, but in my character of king I maintain I am inviolable.”
“What! if you commit a murder?”
“Yes—my sister Christina put Monaldeschi to death at Fontainbleau, and no notice was taken.”10A reference to Maria Christina Alexandra, 1626-1689, who abdicated the Swedish throne. As part of a later political manoever, she ordered the execution of an advisor believing that he had betrayed her.
“He was her own servant, and not a subject of France—and, according to Christina’s account, was tried for a state crime by a court which would have been considered legal in Sweden, found guilty, and executed according to law.”
“It was merely as a crowned head that the French lawyers passed it sub silentio, as we used to say in old Sweatem’s office. A sovereign regnant carries his OWN laws with him wherever he goes. I may scalp any man in my own dominions, without assigning any reason (and that, by a regularly published law, and not merely from the absence of any law); and, therefore, I conclude under that law I should be able to plead a justification.”
“I hope you won’t try it,” replied my friend, “for Falconer is a great friend of mine. But we have left the subject we started with; and now I think you will confess that there are more adventures within our reach at the present time, if we only choose to look for them, than when roads were bad and robbers plentiful. Can you imagine a stranger incident than meeting a king of the American Indians, quoting Grotius and Puffendorf, and recalling the experiences of an attorney’s office?”
“But you forget,” I rejoined, “one great source of adventure possessed by our ancestors, which our modern enquiries have dried up: I mean superstition. We have no haunted chambers in way-side inns—nor clanking of chains; nor spectres looking in upon us from high gallows-trees upon ‘the blasted heath.’”11From William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3, line 80: “Upon this blasted heath you stop our way.”
“My dear sir, you are wofully mistaken in taking for granted the death of superstition, merely because she is buried. If we had courage to confess it, we should find that her subjects were as numerous as ever, and her power as great. Even at St John’s, my own college, sir—we perfectly well know the library is haunted. I myself, sir, when I was an under-graduate, had rooms just below it, and have heard most distinctly the roll of some hard substance from one end of the long gallery to the other—and after a pause the substance, whatever it was, has been trundled back again, and the game has gone on; and as a proof to you of the liveliness of superstition at that period, which is not a very remote one, I may tell you that those rooms are often unoccupied from their haunted reputation,—and that there is not a scout—I may almost say not a member of the college, who has not some vague fear of entering the library, or who is altogether sure that the popular account of the legend is not the correct one, namely, that the rolling sound—bump—bump—along the floor, is caused by the devil playing at bowls with the head of Archbishop Laud.”12William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury, was an opponent of the Puritans. He was beheaded during the English Civil War.
“I never heard the like in my born days,” said the lady at my right hand, with a sort of tremor in her voice, that showed she was not one of the unbelievers:—“I wouldn’t go into that room for to be made Queen of England.”
“There, sir!” cried my friend in triumph—“this sensible lady bears witness to the truth of what I say. Depend upon it, we are not one of us deprived of the happy power of thinking each strange tale devoutly true, if we could only tear off for a while the mummy-folds of interest, pride, rationality, and scepticism, in which we have wrapt ourselves. For my own part, I make it a rule to believe every thing. The experimental is as real to me as a tree or a stone—but, indeed, what right have we to call anything supernatural, till we have found how far the natural extends? The combinations of chemistry are more supernatural than a ghost—yet we believe them.”
“But we know their causes.”
“No, sir; we only see the effects of certain mixtures, and from the uniformity of the effect, we argue to a cause—but the cause itself is inexplicable. So perhaps is the cause of a ghost; but its existence may be as real, notwithstanding, as the stream we are crossing at this moment. Two gases in composition produce water—why may not two other gases produce a spectre?”
“Seeing is believing,” I said.
“I have seen, sir,” replied my friend—
“A ghost, sir?” enquired the lady, with her eyes distended with expectation.
“A spectre, madam,” he replied, with a good-humoured smile; “but here we are at Guildford, and I will tell you the story when we have changed horses.”
“Shortly after leaving college, I travelled for some years, and when I had grown tired of chasing my own shadow from Rome to Naples, from Paris to Vienna, I betook me, in a fit of repentance for time lost and money wasted, to the calm and sedate University of Heidelberg. It is certainly not very easy to find what is called gentlemanly society in those abodes of learning, where beer and tobacco dispute the pre-eminence with verbal scholarship and cloudy metaphysics; but, in finding one person about my own age, who had a soul above brown stout and meerschaums, I considered myself very fortunate. He was a fine, high-spirited youth, of noble family, and of what in that country passes for a large fortune. His name was Charles, or Karl von Hontheim; and before I had been a month matriculated, we both felt as if we had known each other all our lives. There is nothing so surprising among the Germans as the way in which they go through that procès monstre, which we call falling in love.13Procès monstre is French for “tremendous trial.” Instead of a quiet, pleasant sort of feeling, such as we experience it here, going on from simple flirtation through a season or two’s quadrilles, to a positive predilection, and finally to an offer of marriage—love in the heart of a German is a smouldering volcano or embryo earthquake. It seems to be his point of honour to feel as miserable as possible; and my friend Karl was, according to his own showing, the most wretched of men. The account of his woes was this:—a certain Emily von Rosenthal—one-half of whose attraction I firmly believe consisted in the prettiness of her name—was the daughter of an old baron who lived in complete seclusion in one of the most out-of-the-way districts of the Odenwald. Karl had become acquainted with her during her stay with an old relation—one of the Empress’ maids of honour at Schonbrunn—and seemed to have made so good use of his time and opportunities, that nothing was wanting but the consent of the old baron; Emily herself being nearly as romantic as my friend. But many things told against his chance with the secluded proprietor of Rosenthal. In the first place, he had a prejudice against the locality where the acquaintance had commenced; in the next place, he was sometimes in his own mind determined on marrying his daughter to a gentleman whose principal recommendation was that he was his neighbour, and would, therefore, not carry her far out of his reach; and, in the last place, he was not by any means anxious to marry her at all, as, besides losing her society, he foresaw there might be sundry inconveniences attending the event in the shape of settlements and portions; and, therefore, on the whole, balancing between marrying her to the Baron von Erbach and not marrying her at all,—the latter alternative was decidedly the favourite. But Emily, on parting with Karl, had given him to understand that she was very miserable at the thoughts of immurement in the old chateau of Rosenthal; and, accordingly, out of mere sympathy, he felt inconsolably wretched in his suite of rooms at Heidelberg. No wonder, indeed, that Emily was in doleful dumps at the expectation of all that awaited her at home. You were none of you perhaps ever inside of an old German castle; but you will have a very good idea of it if you will transplant the jail of your nearest county town into a wild region among hills and woods—convert its court-yard and cells into long corridors, place some few articles of furniture, of a coarse and strong kind, in one or two of the rooms, and imagine the whole building very much in want of a county rate to keep it in habitable repair. This, at least, is a very close description of the residence of the beautiful Emily. Then, instead of the pleasing society of an enterprising housebreaker, or gentlemanly turnkey, think of being doomed to see no visage, from one year’s end to another, except that of her father, or the modest and undecided Baron von Erbach. Solitary confinement would have been a milder sentence. And then, if she moved into the village, as by courtesy a few straggling huts were called, her situation was not much improved. The schoolmaster had not visited the Odenwald, and I should imagine has scarcely yet opened his primer among that benighted and simple peasantry. Not the worse, perhaps, for them; but still to a young lady who had spent half a-year at Vienna—been presented at court, and had danced with all the whiskered pandours and the fierce hussars that shine forth in the refulgence of pearl jackets and diamond pantaloons, the change was “very tolerable,” as Dogberry says, “and not to be endured.”14From William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, act 3, scene 3, lines 35-36: “for the watch to babble and / to talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.” The unsophisticated natives of the village had no higher idea of a grandee than was offered them in the person of the baron himself; and they had a far higher reverence for the Wild Huntsman of their own forest, than for the Kaisar and all his court. But you ask who was the Wild Huntsman?—Thereby hangs a tale; and I give you my word of honour it is impossible for any incident to be better authenticated by the evidence both of eye-witnesses and ear-witnesses, than the repeated appearance of a certain form or shape, which, among the country people, bore the name of the Wilde Yager, or Wild Huntsman. I have conversed with many—hundreds I was going to say—but many dozens of people certainly, who have assured me they have seen him ‘and heard him,’—who have described the long white cloak in which he is enveloped, and the high-trotting black horse he rides on. Why should we disbelieve it? for observe, I pray you, his appearance is not a mere useless display—but has an object of a much loftier kind than merely to frighten old women and children. No reasoning could dissipate the belief universal in that district, that the appearance of the Wild Huntsman was the precursor of hostilities. In the profoundest peace there has been heard, in the sequestered valley of the Rosenthal, the tramp of a barbed horse and the clang of knightly steel,—so sure as this sound has been repeated three times, has war broken out within the month; and if you had heard, as I have, the proofs of this coincidence, to call it nothing more, you would pause a little before you altogether rejected it, or attributed it to the liveliness (or ghastliness rather) of the German imagination. But every spectre must have his legend,—and the legend of the Wild Huntsman of the Odenwald is this:—Long, long ago, a certain graf, or earl, was lord of the whole forest and half the neighbouring lands. A jolly old boy he seems to have been, as manners then were. When he drank Rhine wine, which was a feat he performed by the hogshead, he was tolerably happy,—happier when he fell in with a company of rich churchmen returning with the rents of their abbey-lands, or of merchants with their pack-saddles stuffed with gold,—but happiest of all when his foot was in stirrup and lance in rest, for hard knocks were both meat and drink to the graf of the Odenwald. Fierce, cruel, and tyrannical—even beyond the habits of chivalry—people were amazed to find that, from one of his marauding excursions, he brought home with him a lady from a far countrie, beautiful exceedingly, and still more surprised when they discovered that he made her his lawful wife, and paid her such deference and devotion as if she had been a saint, and he had turned her worshipper. But tigers can never be permanently tamed, however quiet they may appear for a season, so let Van Amburgh look to it.15Isaac A. Van Amburgh, 1801-1865, American circus animal trainer. He delighted Queen Victoria, and is believed to have been the first to put his head in a lion’s mouth. The graf seemed all of a sudden to recover his bloodthirsty disposition. Though an heir to his name and honours was now daily to be expected, he ordered his retainers to mount—brought out his black charger, and, when his fair young wife came to him, and begged him, by all the love she bore him, to delay his expedition for only a few days, he cursed her as she knelt, and repelled her with his iron-bound hand so rudely, that blood gushed out of her snow-white shoulder, and she fell senseless on the ground. The graf sprang into his saddle, and rode off. After a march of three days, he laid siege to the castle of a rival chief, and was repulsed with great slaughter. As he lay under an oak-tree that night, a vision appeared to him of his wife. She bore a poor dead baby in her arms, and said, “See, graf, what your cruelty has done. Oh! man of blood, our blood is upon your soul. Tomorrow’s fight will be your last; but the grave will refuse you rest. Go forth, and as war has been your delight, be the herald and harbinger of war.” In the next day’s assault he died, and from that time, which is now many centuries ago, his spectre has been seen in his habit as he lived, mounted on the fiery black horse, and announcing the near approach of strife and danger.—But here we have got to Godalming, and I must refresh my memory with a tumbler of sherry and water.”
“It is time to go back in my story to my friend Karl and his disconsolate enchantress, the fair Emily von Rosenthal. ‘Though boaties rowed and rivers flowed, with many a hill between,’ they managed to keep up an animated correspondence by means of the post-office, the slit in whose wall gave, no doubt, the original idea of the inter-parietal communications of Pyramus and Thisbe.16In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers separated by their parents, could only communicate through a crack in the wall between their houses. Their story is better known as the play within the play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It is impossible to say what mischief might have happened if the frequent epistles had not opened a safety valve to the fiery passion that devoured poor Karl. ‘Sure, heaven sent letters for some wretch’s aid,’ which is another argument in favour of Mr Hill’s penny postage—for absent love is a great enough evil of itself without the additional misery of paying a double letter.17The quote is from Alexander Pope’s, “Eloisa to Abalard,” lines 51-52: “Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s aid, / Some banish’d lover, or some captive maid.” Pages, volumes, reams, were mutually written and received, and love had at last reached the point when it becomes sublime, when my inspection of it was for a while interrupted by my friend getting a lieutenant’s commission in the dragoons, and leaving the classic shades of the Heidelburghen, where I had made his acquaintance, to join his regiment. I pursued my studies for another month or two, and then received an invitation from Karl to visit him at his castle in the west of Germany, and afterwards to accompany him to the station where the detachment of the regiment he belonged to was at that time quartered. Nothing could be more agreeable. I set off at the end of March, just when the weather begins to be fittest for travelling and sight-seeing; and, after a delightful journey on horseback, for I took two or three of my horses abroad with me, I arrived at the hospitable castle of Hontheim.
“‘Don’t you think I am the luckiest dog in Europe?’ were the first words he said to me. ‘The troop I belong to is stationed at Waldback, only fourteen miles from Rosenthal. Emily knows of our good fortune. Did you ever hear of anything so fortunate.’
“There was no gainsaying the fact, that his was a very agreeable incident in the life of a man condemned to country quarters, and I congratulated him accordingly. I rejoiced in it also on my own account, as I confess I had become so far interested in his love as to have a great anxiety to see the inspirer of it. It was also a part of the country with which I was unacquainted, and as I knew it was the land of mysteries and hobgoblins, I was determined to judge for myself whether indeed there are things in this dull prosaic earth of ours which are not dreamt of in our philosophy.18William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 1, scene 5, lines 191-192: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” I went—and saw—but I will not anticipate.
“As to my friend Karl’s sisters, it would make the story more romantic, perhaps, if I told you about their elegance, beauty, and all the other qualities that travelling Englishmen are so clever at discovering in foreign ladies—for my own part, I never saw a girl who had not been brought up at the feet of an English mother, with whom I would trust my happiness; but this by the way. Karl’s sisters were very tolerable to look at, and accomplished after the manner of accomplishments in their country; but as it was no difficult matter to perceive that Werther was an especial favourite with them—and that Goethe’s other prose writings were their chief literary studies, I soon came to the conclusion that such poison would not be long in producing the baneful effects which, I verily believe, it was that prurient old satyr’s intention to create on the mind and manners of his countrymen. 19Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, German poet, novelist, playwright, natural philosopher, and author of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). The author is being satiric here, since this tale features a love-lorn hero who confides in his friend, just as Goethe’s novel does. And this prophecy is now completely fulfilled, as both of them are separated from their husbands, without, at the same time, losing a single particle of their status and reputation. Well, a fortnight or so passed pleasantly enough—Karl making Rosenthal, and the inhabitants of Rosenthal, so constantly the theme of his discourse, that I really think I knew every cranny of the old castle, and all the individuals connected with it, as intimately as if they had been my own home and my own relations. The old Baron was described as a fine relic of a man once acquainted with the world, but now fallen into old age and the hands of his confessor,—which, between them, seemed to have stripped him of all the experience he had acquired, and left his mind a tabula rasa on which the persons nearest him could make almost whatever impression they chose. His friend and neighbour, the Baron Von Erbach, seemed a younger edition of the Baron Von Rosenthal, with the additional disadvantage of never having seen the world at all: but to compensate for this lack of experience, he had what very few people in his condition have—a salutary distrust in his own wisdom, and even in the evidence of his own senses. He would rather take another person’s word for it that the sun was shining, than state such a fact on his own authority. Emily was, of course, an angel; and the confessor a fit individual to make up a trio with the two barons, as he seemed to be as simple as ignorance and his legendary studies could make him.
“When in this way I had acquired a competent knowledge, at second hand, from Karl, who himself was indebted for all his information to his fair correspondent, we set off for the secluded station to which Karl was appointed. A venerable captain was the only other officer, and as he was a very good specimen of his country, we soon were on the best of terms with the silent and smoking philosopher, who rarely interfered with us, and never objected to take whatever duty Karl was too much occupied to perform. In fact, it was quite a holiday; and, of course, our first business was to reconnoitre the position of Rosenthal Castle, preparatory to taking any steps to effect a lodgement. Recollect my similitude of the county jail—a similitude applicable in more ways than one,—as I will venture to say there are few malefactors have longed more ardently for their release than did the imprisoned Emily. At last we determined between us that I should effect an entrance; and, accordingly, at the close of an April day, I found myself benighted in the neighbourhood of the castle, and thundered at the door—intending to crave admission and shelter for the night. Long, long did I sit at the portal gate, knocking with all my might. At last, a voice, trembling with agitation, cried from the inside—‘In the name of St Hubert and St James, what want you here?’
“‘Food and shelter. I have lost my way in the forest; and my horse is tired.’
“‘He trotted too fast over the drawbridge. We adjure you in the name all the saints to retire.’
“‘Why? what are you afraid of? Tell your master, whoever he is, that I am an Englishman, who craves his hospitality only for the night.’
“‘An Englishman?’ said the voice; and then, after a little whispering, the key was turned, and the creaking old gate revolved upon its hinges, and presented to my astonished eyes three individuals; one of them bearing a little tin box, and dressed in full canonicals, the other two close behind him, and looking over his shoulders, as if expecting to see some wonderful appearance. The little tin box contained one of the thigh-bones and three ribs of St Hubert, and was borne by the worthy father confessor of the other two gentlemen, who were no less distinguished personages than the barons of Erbach and Rosenthal. The box and surplice were rapidly hustled out of sight—a retainer was summoned to take my horse, and with some little appearance of knightly hospitality, I was ushered into a large room, where some bottles and glasses, on a huge table before the fire, showed that the ghostly father did not altogether interdict the creature comforts from his faithful flock.
“‘You will pardon me, stranger,’ said the old Baron, ‘for having kept you waiting outside the gate so long; for—’tis a wild country this—some of the peasantry, they say, are disaffected,—and—so you see’—
“‘I beg you’ll make no apologies,’ I said; ‘I am too grateful that you have let me in at last, to find any fault with the delay. My poor black, also.’
“‘Is your horse black, sir?’ enquired the younger baron; ‘Father Joannes was just saying so.’
“And, in short, it very soon came out that the three wise men of Rosenthal had been startled from their wine-cups by the fear of a visit from the Wild Huntsman. Now, though I have described them as somewhat simple, I must say, that from all I heard on that occasion, their belief in the occasional apparition of the figure I have described to you, was perfectly sincere; and, what is more, supported by many clearer and more convincing proofs than one-half of the things that their religion calls upon them to credit. And such were the tales they told, and so authenticated, that on going to my couch that night, I was half inclined to fancy that they were perfectly justified in what had at first struck me as an instance of childish credulity. Before many days had passed, I was in a condition to speak from my own experience,—but here we are at Liphork, where the coach stops for lunch; and, if you wish to have a very bad lunch, and to pay for it very highly, I advise you to avail yourself of this opportunity. The beer, however, is good.
“Emily von Rosenthal was certainly a beautiful girl; and, as I was not to be her husband, I confess the wild romance I saw in her disposition added to her attraction. With her, and, indeed, with the old people also, I managed to make myself such a favourite, that I was invited to prolong my visit,—which, you will perceive, was the very thing I wished;—and, besides the duty of being useful to my friend, there is no denying that such an insight into the secret recesses of the old baronial family was very agreeable to myself. The brace of barons and their worthy confessor were indeed well deserving of a study, for three such originals are not often to be encountered. The lover was as queer a specimen of the tender passion as one can well imagine; seeming to consider the whole art and mystery of love-making to consist in adopting the opinion of his enslaver, though she altered it as often as Hamlet in the play. Polonius was a type of him. The two other worthies seemed to make it quite as much a point to retain their own opinions, however absurd; and, between them all, what with philandering with the young lady, and drinking with the old men, my time passed very agreeably. A meeting at last was effected, through my means, between the lovers—daggers and flashes of lightning, what vows they swore! Commend me to a German for thundering protestations,—what tears they wept! for Karl was not above the lachrymatory weaknesses of his countrymen,—and all the time I could not imagine what possible obstacle there could be to his marrying her on the spot; but, alas! alas! the meeting had been perceived by some prying eyes,—cold looks were cast on me; the young lady ordered into close confinement within the castle walls—visited three times a-day by the confessor—and once at least by the Baron von Erbach—and affairs in all respects wore as gloomy an aspect as could well be desired. She prayed and besought me not to leave her,—so the cold looks of the trio were thrown away upon me,—their hints disregarded—and their viands and wines consumed as unconcernedly as ever. Who or what the stranger might be who had been seen in company with the fair Emily and the English stranger, nobody had discovered. We, of course, with the licence allowable in love and war, flatly denied the whole accusation,—and we were not without some remote hopes that better days would shine on us when the present tyranny should be overpast. But now comes the main incident of my story. One evening—it was on the 13th of April—when we were all gathered together as usual round the wood fire in the hall, low growls of thunder were heard at a distance among the hills—long shrill gusts of wind sounded every now and then along the deserted corridors—and, by fitful plashes, a pattering of rain sounded dismally against the window.
“‘Here is a wild night,’ said Father Joannes, stirring up one of the immense logs upon the fire—‘may the saints have pity upon travellers.’
“‘And send them a cup of comfort like this,’ added the old baron, filling up his glass.
“‘Ah! very true,’ said the younger baron, and followed his senior’s example.
“‘None but the wicked would go abroad in such weather,’ observed the reverend gentleman, who never was altogether pleased unless he received a little contradiction to his remarks; ‘and therefore I withdraw my request that the saints would have pity on them.’
“‘Very true,’ said the Baron von Erbach, ‘I did not think of that.’
“‘But are the wicked peculiarly fond of bad weather for their journeys?’ I enquired.
“‘They are the cause of it, my good friend,’ explained the confessor; ‘nature is so disgusted at the sight of them that she falls into convulsions—the elements themselves are affected—the wind howls for fear—the rain falls in sorrow, as is fully explained in a learned book by a brother of our order on the causes of storms and earthquakes.’ So you perceive that Colonel Reid and the ingenious American are not the first who have studied those matters.20Sir William Reid, 1791-1858, British meteorologist and military engineer, wrote The Law of Storms. He corresponded with William C. Redfield, 1789-1857, an American geologist and meteorologist. But to go on with the conversation in the great hall at Rosenthal:—When about an hour had been spent in listening to various sage opinions upon a multitude of subjects, the storm every now and then getting the better of our eloquence, and sounding indeed very appalling in that dilapidated old mansion, we were startled from our seats in the very middle of a tremendous gust, by repeated knocks at the principal gate, and the sound of many voices demanding admission. When we recovered a little from our surprise at such an unusual event, we went in a body across the main quadrangle to the gate, and on opening it, seven or eight of the villagers—men, women, and children, all huddled together in the extremity of terror, rushed into the yard imploring us to save them. Before we had time to enquire into the cause of their alarm, we were joined by the beautiful Emily herself, carefully wrapped up in her cloak, who clung to my arm, and looked on without saying a word. The confessor hurried off as fast as possible for the little tin box which he had displayed so piously on my first appearance; and the two barons, making out from the confused report of the villagers that they had seen the Wild Huntsman in full trot, skirting the wood, and coming directly towards the hamlet, fell into such an agony of fear that they could do nothing but cross themselves with amazing activity, and repeat the creed and the commandments as fast as they were able. Father Joannes appeared at last with his talisman of bones, and rattled them with the most exemplary devotion. A fresh batch of terrified peasants now rushed distractedly into the court-yard; and while the rain continued to pour, and the now almost dark evening was fitfully illumined by vivid streaks of lightning, there certainly did come into that quadrangle a form enveloped in a long white mantle, mounted on a splendid black charger. It was a stately animal, and trotted proudly up to the very spot where I was standing with Emily clinging to my arm. There could be no mistake; I saw it with my own eyes. The figure stooped solemnly down when he reached the spot; and the next minute I missed my fair companion from my side; and amid repeated flashes of lightning, while the thunder rolled in long eddying volleys, that nearly shook the turrets to the ground, I thought I saw her seated in front of the mysterious shape, whatever it might be, and disappearing through the portal.”
“Lodd massy!” exclaimed the lady, whom I had fancied asleep, so silent had she been while the gentleman was telling this story, “and was the poor crittur never heard of again? She was not married to the ghost sure?”
“Madam,” replied the gentleman, “all that I can say is, that I myself saw the incident I have related. What happened in that mysterious journey I have no means of finding out. It is sufficient to say, that the two barons were exceedingly grateful to my friend Karl von Hontheim, who was fortunate enough to deliver the heiress of Rosenthal from the clutches of the Wild Huntsman—the younger of those noblemen being farther induced to forfeit all claim to the lady’s hand from being afflicted with a severe rheumatic affection in the knee, which he attributed to kneeling for upwards of two hours on the wet court-yard, for it was a very long time before any of the party recovered courage enough to rise from their prostration. I can add nothing more, except that my friend Karl and his bride are still alive; and that last year, when I was there, they showed me a magnificent black horse, now very much failed from age, but still healthy, and by the aid of boiled oats likely to live some time. But this, I see, is Peterfield, where I unfortunately leave you—a good day, gentlemen, and a pleasant journey to Portsmouth.
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- Adventure fiction
- Gothic literature
- Love story/Marriage plot
- Christian literature
How To Cite (MLA Format)
James White. “Emily von Rosenthal–How She Was Spirited Away.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine, vol. 45, no. 282, 1839, pp. 490-528. Edited by Sari Carter. Victorian Short Fiction Project, 29 November 2023, https://vsfp.byu.edu/index.php/title/emily-von-rosenthal-how-she-was-spirited-away/.
16 December 2016
28 November 2023
|↑1||This story is nine pages long, although an error in the pagination indicates that it is thirty-eight pages long.|
|↑2||Charles Babbage (1791-1871) designed plans for a “difference engine” that would calculate polynomials for logarithmic and trigonometric functions.|
|↑3||The quote is from John Milton, Paradise Lost IV: 677-678: “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth / Unseen.”|
|↑4||English novelists from the eighteenth century.|
|↑5||A comic character from Tobias Smollet’s The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748).|
|↑6||Written by Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random is a picaresque novel, a genre which episodically and often satirically chronicles the adventures of a member of the lower class who succeeds through his wit rather than his industry. Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a familiar American example.|
|↑7||“Hannibal” confused with “cannibal” is a reference to William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, act 2, scene 1, line 183: “thou wicked Hannibal!.”|
|↑8||George Psalmanazar, 1679?-1763, was the pseudonym of an otherwise unknown Frenchman who traveled across Europe assuming different personalities such as Irish pilgrim, Japanese convert, and Formosan immigrant.|
|↑9||Hugo Grotius (1583-1645) and Baron Samuel von Pufendorf (1632-1694) were theorists of international law.|
|↑10||A reference to Maria Christina Alexandra, 1626-1689, who abdicated the Swedish throne. As part of a later political manoever, she ordered the execution of an advisor believing that he had betrayed her.|
|↑11||From William Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth, Act 1, Scene 3, line 80: “Upon this blasted heath you stop our way.”|
|↑12||William Laud (1573-1645), Archbishop of Canterbury, was an opponent of the Puritans. He was beheaded during the English Civil War.|
|↑13||Procès monstre is French for “tremendous trial.”|
|↑14||From William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, act 3, scene 3, lines 35-36: “for the watch to babble and / to talk is most tolerable and not to be endured.”|
|↑15||Isaac A. Van Amburgh, 1801-1865, American circus animal trainer. He delighted Queen Victoria, and is believed to have been the first to put his head in a lion’s mouth.|
|↑16||In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Pyramus and Thisbe, lovers separated by their parents, could only communicate through a crack in the wall between their houses. Their story is better known as the play within the play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.|
|↑17||The quote is from Alexander Pope’s, “Eloisa to Abalard,” lines 51-52: “Heaven first taught letters for some wretch’s aid, / Some banish’d lover, or some captive maid.”|
|↑18||William Shakespeare, Hamlet, act 1, scene 5, lines 191-192: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”|
|↑19||Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, 1749-1832, German poet, novelist, playwright, natural philosopher, and author of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774). The author is being satiric here, since this tale features a love-lorn hero who confides in his friend, just as Goethe’s novel does.|
|↑20||Sir William Reid, 1791-1858, British meteorologist and military engineer, wrote The Law of Storms. He corresponded with William C. Redfield, 1789-1857, an American geologist and meteorologist.|