The Warning Ghost: 1795

18th-century-couple-and-man-with-knife

THE WARNING GHOST.

Its Timely Appearance Prevented a Dastardly Crime.

A German count, who had served with distinction many years in the Prussian army, found himself, after the treaty of Basel [1795], about to leave the service, not only from his own inclination, but also because called to the management of a large estate, fallen to him through his mother’s early death, but according to her will held during his minority by his father, with whom it was to remain in case the son died first without children.

As a child he had but seldom seen his father, and since his mother’s death, never without aversion, and could all the less love the man, ever unfriendly to him and cruel to his mother, when all the glow of his heart was turned to one whom he, with unceasing pain, had seen at last succumb a victim of many years’ suffering.

After passing some merry weeks among his comrades, and half promising not to leave the regiment forever, he departed, accompanied by a thousand good wishes from his friends who reluctantly saw him go, and went straight to an old castle that belonged to him to make with his father, who dwelt there, the necessary arrangements for the impending change. Reluctantly he approached the parental abode, and a presentiment almost persuaded him to turn back, but from conviction of the necessity for one conference he continued his journey.

The father had married again, and with the second wife had other children. The son, whose remembrance of a beloved mother made him feel ill at the bare idea of a stepmother, was made the more unhappy by knowing how, even in his mother’s lifetime, she stood in relations with his father which had caused the dead much grief. However, the few days he intended to stay there once over and the business done, there opened before him the smiling prospect of a life of independence, which he meant to devote to the improvement of his wide estate. Filled with these thoughts, and more cheerful the nearer he came to his property, already recognizing forests on the side and green mountains in the background as his own, he lost by degrees that unpleasant feeling which had till now accompanied him, and wholly abandoned himself to the happiness of standing on the threshold of a new course of existence.

“Indeed he is to be congratulated who turns his mind to the cultivation of the earth, and brings to it art and knowledge. Nature is grateful toward those devoted to her, and only with the shallow brains who embrace her without ardor can she, in rain and drought, and failure of crops, seem to be angry. The true farmer, who knows how to profit by her manifold gifts, she will never destroy.”

Amid such contemplations he arrived at nightfall at the castle, and could not repress a shudder upon entering. His father, to whom he had written announcing his coming, was absent, but was hourly expected. In the meantime the newcomer visited the garden and the adjoining field, because he did not wish to see his step-mother yet. Later, long after dark, they announced to him his father’s return. He went in, and found a chilly reception. After supper they wished each other “goodnight,” and separated. A servant of the house lighted him to his room, where, wearied by the journey and disagreeable fancies excited by the sight of such strange yet near relatives, he soon found uneasy sleep.

About one o’clock he awoke from deep dreams. A little dog which was very dear to him. and had accompanied him on this journey, sprang anxiously to the bed, and with complaining whimper seemed to want to show his master something. He raised himself, and after he had taken the dog on the bed and caressed him without his ceasing to cringe with fear and softly whine, he gave him closer attention, and observed by the moonlight that the dog’s eyes remained always directed toward one corner of the room. He looked there to learn what could frighten the dog, and his blood ran cold and his hair bristled, when he saw a mist-like figure that resembled his dead mother in every line, and, crouching in the corner, seemed sinking with trouble and fear. She looked sadly at him, and then with audible groans toward the door, while she lifted her arms in lamentation and warning. The count was beside himself, and unable to speak to the phantom; his breath seemed to fail him. Outside he heard heavy steps go up and down, then stop close beside his door, as if someone doubted whether to come in or not.

This lasted by turns a long while, and still more perplexed his stupefied senses. It was impossible for him to scream or move a hand. By and by he sought again to collect himself, and as he again looked in the corner the apparition was no more to be seen, but the walking up and down outside, and the doubtful pauses before the door, went on all the plainer. Then he suddenly took courage, sprang up, seized his sword, and tore open the door, with the words:

“What do you want?”

He could see nothing in the dark vestibule, but he heard something fall near him, and some one flying down the stairs. Looking about, he picked up a large knife, which he kept, and went back to his room, where he watched through the rest of the night, with a thousand torturing thoughts. In the morning, when the servant came with breakfast, the count asked him what had been the disturbance in the house that night.

“So it awakened you, too,” answered the old huntsman. “I thought there were thieves, and would have given an alarm; but when I saw it was the gracious master who went about the house, probably because he could not sleep, I stayed quietly in bed and went to sleep again.”

When the huntsman had gone the count drew the knife from its sheath and found his father’s name on it. An icy chill ran over him. He at once ordered horses. The dog had sprung out when the door was first opened, and could not be brought back by caresses or threats. Just as the carriage came he returned to his master. The count traveled away without speaking to any one, and in melancholy turned back to the city. The fearful thought that his father would have murdered him, and the ghost of his mother appeared to waken and to warn, pursued him incessantly with terrible pain. A riddle to his friends, since he could disclose the horrible affair to no one, his dark meditations not to be dispersed, he had to be given in charge of a skilled physician, who could not learn from him the cause of his sullen behavior.

He died in deep melancholy a few months later, after hearing of his father’s sudden death and his mismanagement of the property. Among his papers this story was found, written down with the same particulars as told here. — Translated for the Argonaut from the German of Barnhagen von Ense.

The Argonaut 13 February 1915

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This tale illustrates perfectly what Mrs Daffodil always says, viz., that the Germans really have no talent for ghost stories. If this had been a good, wholesome English ghost story, the young count would not have died at the end, but would have struggled in the dark with his nefarious father and cut his throat. Upon turning up the light, he would discover that not only was his father dead, but the “ghost” was his mother, held captive while her death was simulated and the count’s inheritance falsely reported to lure him within reach of his dastardly parent. The story ends as the count tenderly enfolds his mother while blood from the unpleasant incident soaks into the floor, leaving a stain which can never be eradicated.

And that, Herr Barnhagen von Ense* (where do they get these names?) if you will be guided by Mrs Daffodil, is how a proper ghost story ends.

Mrs Daffodil will pass over in silence the florid paragraph about ardour, knowledge, and the gratitude of Mother Nature. She would like to see Herr von Ense spout that sort of rubbish to any sturdy yeoman farmer after his crops have been destroyed by a hail-storm.

*Mrs Daffodil is informed that the correct spelling of the author’s name is Karl August Varnhagen von Ense. The Argonaut did not scruple about “borrowing” foreign authors’ work and Mrs Daffodil suspects that they were often late with royalty cheques.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

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