The Avenger by Thomas De Quincey


The Avenger

by Thomas De Quincey


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"Why callest thou me murderer, and not rather the wrath of God
burning after the steps of the oppressor, and cleansing the earth
when it is wet with blood?"
 
 
That series of terrific events by which our quiet city and
university in the northeastern quarter of Germany were convulsed
during the year 1816, has in itself, and considered merely as a
blind movement of human tiger-passion ranging unchained among men,
something too memorable to be forgotten or left without its own
separate record; but the moral lesson impressed by these events is
yet more memorable, and deserves the deep attention of coming
generations in their struggle after human improvement, not merely
in its own limited field of interest directly awakened, but in all
analogous fields of interest; as in fact already, and more than
once, in connection with these very events, this lesson has
obtained the effectual attention of Christian kings and princes
assembled in congress.  No tragedy, indeed, among all the sad ones
by which the charities of the human heart or of the fireside have
ever been outraged, can better merit a separate chapter in the
private history of German manners or social life than this
unparalleled case.  And, on the other hand, no one can put in a
better claim to be the historian than myself.
 
I was at the time, and still am, a professor in that city and
university which had the melancholy distinction of being its
theater.  I knew familiarly all the parties who were concerned in
it, either as sufferers or as agents.  I was present from first to
last, and watched the whole course of the mysterious storm which
fell upon our devoted city in a strength like that of a West Indian
hurricane, and which did seriously threaten at one time to
depopulate our university, through the dark suspicions which
settled upon its members, and the natural reaction of generous
indignation in repelling them; while the city in its more
stationary and native classes would very soon have manifested THEIR
awful sense of things, of the hideous insecurity for life, and of
the unfathomable dangers which had undermined their hearths below
their very feet, by sacrificing, whenever circumstances allowed
them, their houses and beautiful gardens in exchange for days
uncursed by panic, and nights unpolluted by blood.  Nothing, I can
take upon myself to assert, was left undone of all that human
foresight could suggest, or human ingenuity could accomplish.  But
observe the melancholy result: the more certain did these
arrangements strike people as remedies for the evil, so much the
more effectually did they aid the terror, but, above all, the awe,
the sense of mystery, when ten cases of total extermination,
applied to separate households, had occurred, in every one of which
these precautionary aids had failed to yield the slightest
assistance.  The horror, the perfect frenzy of fear, which seized
upon the town after that experience, baffles all attempt at
description.  Had these various contrivances failed merely in some
human and intelligible way, as by bringing the aid too tardily--
still, in such cases, though the danger would no less have been
evidently deepened, nobody would have felt any further mystery than
what, from the very first, rested upon the persons and the motives
of the murderers.  But, as it was, when, in ten separate cases of
exterminating carnage, the astounded police, after an examination
the most searching, pursued from day to day, and almost exhausting
the patience by the minuteness of the investigation, had finally
pronounced that no attempt apparently had been made to benefit by
any of the signals preconcerted, that no footstep apparently had
moved in that direction--then, and after that result, a blind
misery of fear fell upon the population, so much the worse than any
anguish of a beleaguered city that is awaiting the storming fury of
a victorious enemy, by how much the shadowy, the uncertain, the
infinite, is at all times more potent in mastering the mind than a
danger that is known, measurable, palpable, and human.  The very
police, instead of offering protection or encouragement, were
seized with terror for themselves.  And the general feeling, as it
was described to me by a grave citizen whom I met in a morning walk
(for the overmastering sense of a public calamity broke down every
barrier of reserve, and all men talked freely to all men in the
streets, as they would have done during the rockings of an
earthquake), was, even among the boldest, like that which sometimes
takes possession of the mind in dreams--when one feels oneself
sleeping alone, utterly divided from all call or hearing of
friends, doors open that should be shut, or unlocked that should be
triply secured, the very walls gone, barriers swallowed up by
unknown abysses, nothing around one but frail curtains, and a world
of illimitable night, whisperings at a distance, correspondence
going on between darkness and darkness, like one deep calling to
another, and the dreamer's own heart the center from which the
whole network of this unimaginable chaos radiates, by means of
which the blank PRIVATIONS of silence and darkness become powers
the most POSITIVE and awful.
 
Agencies of fear, as of any other passion, and, above all, of
passion felt in communion with thousands, and in which the heart
beats in conscious sympathy with an entire city, through all its
regions of high and low, young and old, strong and weak; such
agencies avail to raise and transfigure the natures of men; mean
minds become elevated; dull men become eloquent; and when matters
came to this crisis, the public feeling, as made known by voice,
gesture, manner, or words, was such that no stranger could
represent it to his fancy.  In that respect, therefore, I had an
advantage, being upon the spot through the whole course of the
affair, for giving a faithful narrative; as I had still more
eminently, from the sort of central station which I occupied, with
respect to all the movements of the case.  I may add that I had
another advantage, not possessed, or not in the same degree, by any
other inhabitant of the town.  I was personally acquainted with
every family of the slightest account belonging to the resident
population; whether among the old local gentry, or the new settlers
whom the late wars had driven to take refuge within our walls.
 
It was in September, 1815, that I received a letter from the chief
secretary to the Prince of M----, a nobleman connected with the
diplomacy of Russia, from which I quote an extract: "I wish, in
short, to recommend to your attentions, and in terms stronger than
I know how to devise, a young man on whose behalf the czar himself
is privately known to have expressed the very strongest interest.
He was at the battle of Waterloo as an aide-de-camp to a Dutch
general officer, and is decorated with distinctions won upon that
awful day.  However, though serving in that instance under English
orders, and although an Englishman of rank, he does not belong to
the English military service.  He has served, young as he is, under
VARIOUS banners, and under ours, in particular, in the cavalry of
our imperial guard.  He is English by birth, nephew to the Earl of
E., and heir presumptive to his immense estates.  There is a wild
story current, that his mother was a gypsy of transcendent beauty,
which may account for his somewhat Moorish complexion, though,
after all, THAT is not of a deeper tinge than I have seen among
many an Englishman.  He is himself one of the noblest looking of
God's creatures.  Both father and mother, however, are now dead.
Since then he has become the favorite of his uncle, who detained
him in England after the emperor had departed--and, as this uncle
is now in the last stage of infirmity, Mr. Wyndham's succession to
the vast family estates is inevitable, and probably near at hand.
Meantime, he is anxious for some assistance in his studies.
Intellectually he stands in the very first rank of men, as I am
sure you will not be slow to discover; but his long military
service, and the unparalleled tumult of our European history since
1805, have interfered (as you may suppose) with the cultivation of
his mind; for he entered the cavalry service of a German power when
a mere boy, and shifted about from service to service as the
hurricane of war blew from this point or from that.  During the
French anabasis to Moscow he entered our service, made himself a
prodigious favorite with the whole imperial family, and even now is
only in his twenty-second year.  As to his accomplishments, they
will speak for themselves; they are infinite, and applicable to
every situation of life.  Greek is what he wants from you;--never
ask about terms.  He will acknowledge any trouble he may give you,
as he acknowledges all trouble, en prince.  And ten years hence you
will look back with pride upon having contributed your part to the
formation of one whom all here at St. Petersburg, not soldiers
only, but we diplomates, look upon as certain to prove a great man,
and a leader among the intellects of Christendom."
 
Two or three other letters followed; and at length it was arranged
that Mr. Maximilian Wyndham should take up his residence at my
monastic abode for one year.  He was to keep a table, and an
establishment of servants, at his own cost; was to have an
apartment of some dozen or so of rooms; the unrestricted use of the
library; with some other public privileges willingly conceded by
the magistracy of the town; in return for all which he was to pay
me a thousand guineas; and already beforehand, by way of
acknowledgment for the public civilities of the town, he sent,
through my hands, a contribution of three hundred guineas to the
various local institutions for education of the poor, or for
charity.
 
The Russian secretary had latterly corresponded with me from a
little German town, not more than ninety miles distant; and, as he
had special couriers at his service, the negotiations advanced so
rapidly that all was closed before the end of September.  And, when
once that consummation was attained, I, that previously had
breathed no syllable of what was stirring, now gave loose to the
interesting tidings, and suffered them to spread through the whole
compass of the town.  It will be easily imagined that such a story,
already romantic enough in its first outline, would lose nothing in
the telling.  An Englishman to begin with, which name of itself,
and at all times, is a passport into German favor, but much more
since the late memorable wars that but for Englishmen would have
drooped into disconnected efforts--next, an Englishman of rank and
of the haute noblesse--then a soldier covered with brilliant
distinctions, and in the most brilliant arm of the service; young,
moreover, and yet a veteran by his experience--fresh from the most
awful battle of this planet since the day of Pharsalia,--radiant
with the favor of courts and of imperial ladies; finally (which
alone would have given him an interest in all female hearts), an
Antinous of faultless beauty, a Grecian statue, as it were, into
which the breath of life had been breathed by some modern
Pygmalion;--such a pomp of gifts and endowments settling upon one
man's head, should not have required for its effect the vulgar
consummation (and yet to many it WAS the consummation and crest of
the whole) that he was reputed to be rich beyond the dreams of
romance or the necessities of a fairy tale.  Unparalleled was the
impression made upon our stagnant society; every tongue was busy in
discussing the marvelous young Englishman from morning to night;
every female fancy was busy in depicting the personal appearance of
this gay apparition.
 
On his arrival at my house, I became sensible of a truth which I
had observed some years before.  The commonplace maxim is, that it
is dangerous to raise expectations too high.  This, which is thus
generally expressed, and without limitation, is true only
conditionally; it is true then and there only where there is but
little merit to sustain and justify the expectation.  But in any
case where the merit is transcendent of its kind, it is always
useful to rack the expectation up to the highest point.  In
anything which partakes of the infinite, the most unlimited
expectations will find ample room for gratification; while it is
certain that ordinary observers, possessing little sensibility,
unless where they have been warned to expect, will often fail to
see what exists in the most conspicuous splendor.  In this instance
it certainly did no harm to the subject of expectation that I had
been warned to look for so much.  The warning, at any rate, put me
on the lookout for whatever eminence there might be of grandeur in
his personal appearance; while, on the other hand, this existed in
such excess, so far transcending anything I had ever met with in my
experience, that no expectation which it is in words to raise could
have been disappointed.
 
These thoughts traveled with the rapidity of light through my
brain, as at one glance my eye took in the supremacy of beauty and
power which seemed to have alighted from the clouds before me.
Power, and the contemplation of power, in any absolute incarnation
of grandeur or excess, necessarily have the instantaneous effect of
quelling all perturbation.  My composure was restored in a moment.
I looked steadily at him.  We both bowed.  And, at the moment when
he raised his head from that inclination, I caught the glance of
his eye; an eye such as might have been looked for in a face of
such noble lineaments--
 
 
     "Blending the nature of the star
      With that of summer skies;"
 
 
and, therefore, meant by nature for the residence and organ of
serene and gentle emotions; but it surprised, and at the same time
filled me more almost with consternation than with pity, to observe
that in those eyes a light of sadness had settled more profound
than seemed possible for youth, or almost commensurate to a human
sorrow; a sadness that might have become a Jewish prophet, when
laden with inspirations of woe.
 
Two months had now passed away since the arrival of Mr. Wyndham.
He had been universally introduced to the superior society of the
place; and, as I need hardly say, universally received with favor
and distinction.  In reality, his wealth and importance, his
military honors, and the dignity of his character, as expressed in
his manners and deportment, were too eminent to allow of his being
treated with less than the highest attention in any society
whatever.  But the effect of these various advantages, enforced and
recommended as they were by a personal beauty so rare, was somewhat
too potent for the comfort and self-possession of ordinary people;
and really exceeded in a painful degree the standard of pretensions
under which such people could feel themselves at their ease.  He
was not naturally of a reserved turn; far from it.  His disposition
had been open, frank, and confiding, originally; and his roving,
adventurous life, of which considerably more than one half had been
passed in camps, had communicated to his manners a more than
military frankness.  But the profound melancholy which possessed
him, from whatever cause it arose, necessarily chilled the native
freedom of his demeanor, unless when it was revived by strength of
friendship or of love.  The effect was awkward and embarrassing to
all parties.  Every voice paused or faltered when he entered a
room--dead silence ensued--not an eye but was directed upon him, or
else, sunk in timidity, settled upon the floor; and young ladies
seriously lost the power, for a time, of doing more than murmuring
a few confused, half-inarticulate syllables, or half-inarticulate
sounds.  The solemnity, in fact, of a first presentation, and the
utter impossibility of soon recovering a free, unembarrassed
movement of conversation, made such scenes really distressing to
all who participated in them, either as actors or spectators.
Certainly this result was not a pure effect of manly beauty,
however heroic, and in whatever excess; it arose in part from the
many and extraordinary endowments which had centered in his person,
not less from fortune than from nature; in part also, as I have
said, from the profound sadness and freezing gravity of Mr.
Wyndham's manner; but still more from the perplexing mystery which
surrounded that sadness.
 
Were there, then, no exceptions to this condition of awestruck
admiration?  Yes; one at least there was in whose bosom the spell
of all-conquering passion soon thawed every trace of icy reserve.
While the rest of the world retained a dim sentiment of awe toward
Mr. Wyndham, Margaret Liebenheim only heard of such a feeling to
wonder that it could exist toward HIM.  Never was there so
victorious a conquest interchanged between two youthful hearts--
never before such a rapture of instantaneous sympathy.  I did not
witness the first meeting of this mysterious Maximilian and this
magnificent Margaret, and do not know whether Margaret manifested
that trepidation and embarrassment which distressed so many of her
youthful co-rivals; but, if she did, it must have fled before the
first glance of the young man's eye, which would interpret, past
all misunderstanding, the homage of his soul and the surrender of
his heart.  Their third meeting I DID see; and there all shadow of
embarrassment had vanished, except, indeed, of that delicate
embarrassment which clings to impassioned admiration.  On the part
of Margaret, it seemed as if a new world had dawned upon her that
she had not so much as suspected among the capacities of human
experience.  Like some bird she seemed, with powers unexercised for
soaring and flying, not understood even as yet, and that never
until now had found an element of air capable of sustaining her
wings, or tempting her to put forth her buoyant instincts.  He, on
the other hand, now first found the realization of his dreams, and
for a mere possibility which he had long too deeply contemplated,
fearing, however, that in his own case it might prove a chimera, or
that he might never meet a woman answering the demands of his
heart, he now found a corresponding reality that left nothing to
seek.
 
Here, then, and thus far, nothing but happiness had resulted from
the new arrangement.  But, if this had been little anticipated by
many, far less had I, for my part, anticipated the unhappy
revolution which was wrought in the whole nature of Ferdinand von
Harrelstein.  He was the son of a German baron; a man of good
family, but of small estate who had been pretty nearly a soldier of
fortune in the Prussian service, and had, late in life, won
sufficient favor with the king and other military superiors, to
have an early prospect of obtaining a commission, under flattering
auspices, for this only son--a son endeared to him as the companion
of unprosperous years, and as a dutifully affectionate child.
Ferdinand had yet another hold upon his father's affections: his
features preserved to the baron's unclouded remembrance a most
faithful and living memorial of that angelic wife who had died in
giving birth to this third child--the only one who had long
survived her.  Anxious that his son should go through a regular
course of mathematical instruction, now becoming annually more
important in all the artillery services throughout Europe, and that
he should receive a tincture of other liberal studies which he had
painfully missed in his own military career, the baron chose to
keep his son for the last seven years at our college, until he was
now entering upon his twenty-third year.  For the four last he had
lived with me as the sole pupil whom I had, or meant to have, had
not the brilliant proposals of the young Russian guardsman
persuaded me to break my resolution.  Ferdinand von Harrelstein had
good talents, not dazzling but respectable; and so amiable were his
temper and manners that I had introduced him everywhere, and
everywhere he was a favorite; and everywhere, indeed, except
exactly there where only in this world he cared for favor.
Margaret Liebenheim, she it was whom he loved, and had loved for
years, with the whole ardor of his ardent soul; she it was for
whom, or at whose command, he would willingly have died.  Early he
had felt that in her hands lay his destiny; that she it was who
must be his good or his evil genius.
 
At first, and perhaps to the last, I pitied him exceedingly.  But
my pity soon ceased to be mingled with respect.  Before the arrival
of Mr. Wyndham he had shown himself generous, indeed magnanimous.
But never was there so painful an overthrow of a noble nature as
manifested itself in him.  I believe that he had not himself
suspected the strength of his passion; and the sole resource for
him, as I said often, was to quit the city--to engage in active
pursuits of enterprise, of ambition, or of science.  But he heard
me as a somnambulist might have heard me--dreaming with his eyes
open.  Sometimes he had fits of reverie, starting, fearful,
agitated; sometimes he broke out into maniacal movements of wrath,
invoking some absent person, praying, beseeching, menacing some
air-wove phantom; sometimes he slunk into solitary corners,
muttering to himself, and with gestures sorrowfully significant, or
with tones and fragments of expostulation that moved the most
callous to compassion.  Still he turned a deaf ear to the only
practical counsel that had a chance for reaching his ears.  Like a
bird under the fascination of a rattlesnake, he would not summon up
the energies of his nature to make an effort at flying away.
"Begone, while it is time!" said others, as well as myself; for
more than I saw enough to fear some fearful catastrophe.  "Lead us
not into temptation!" said his confessor to him in my hearing (for,
though Prussians, the Von Harrelsteins were Roman Catholics), "lead
us not into temptation!--that is our daily prayer to God.  Then, my
son, being led into temptation, do not you persist in courting,
nay, almost tempting temptation.  Try the effects of absence,
though but for a month."  The good father even made an overture
toward imposing a penance upon him, that would have involved an
absence of some duration.  But he was obliged to desist; for he saw
that, without effecting any good, he would merely add spiritual
disobedience to the other offenses of the young man.  Ferdinand
himself drew his attention to THIS; for he said: "Reverend father!
do not you, with the purpose of removing me from temptation, be
yourself the instrument for tempting me into a rebellion against
the church.  Do not you weave snares about my steps; snares there
are already, and but too many."  The old man sighed, and desisted.
 
Then came--But enough!  From pity, from sympathy, from counsel, and
from consolation, and from scorn--from each of these alike the poor
stricken deer "recoiled into the wilderness;" he fled for days
together into solitary parts of the forest; fled, as I still hoped
and prayed, in good earnest and for a long farewell; but, alas! no:
still he returned to the haunts of his ruined happiness and his
buried hopes, at each return looking more like the wreck of his
former self; and once I heard a penetrating monk observe, whose
convent stood near the city gates: "There goes one ready equally
for doing or suffering, and of whom we shall soon hear that he is
involved in some great catastrophe--it may be of deep calamity--it
may be of memorable guilt."
 
So stood matters among us.  January was drawing to its close; the
weather was growing more and more winterly; high winds, piercingly
cold, were raving through our narrow streets; and still the spirit
of social festivity bade defiance to the storms which sang through
our ancient forests.  From the accident of our magistracy being
selected from the tradesmen of the city, the hospitalities of the
place were far more extensive than would otherwise have happened;
for every member of the corporation gave two annual entertainments
in his official character.  And such was the rivalship which
prevailed, that often one quarter of the year's income was spent
upon these galas.  Nor was any ridicule thus incurred; for the
costliness of the entertainment was understood to be an expression
of OFFICIAL pride, done in honor of the city, not as an effort of
personal display.  It followed, from the spirit in which these
half-yearly dances originated, that, being given on the part of the
city, every stranger of rank was marked out as a privileged guest,
and the hospitality of the community would have been equally
affronted by failing to offer or by failing to accept the
invitation.
 
Hence it had happened that the Russian guardsman had been
introduced into many a family which otherwise could not have hoped
for such a distinction.  Upon the evening at which I am now
arrived, the twenty-second of January, 1816, the whole city, in its
wealthier classes, was assembled beneath the roof of a tradesman
who had the heart of a prince.  In every point our entertainment
was superb; and I remarked that the music was the finest I had
heard for years.  Our host was in joyous spirits; proud to survey
the splendid company he had gathered under his roof; happy to
witness their happiness; elated in their elation.  Joyous was the
dance--joyous were all faces that I saw--up to midnight, very soon
after which time supper was announced; and that also, I think, was
the most joyous of all the banquets I ever witnessed.  The
accomplished guardsman outshone himself in brilliancy; even his
melancholy relaxed.  In fact, how could it be otherwise? near to
him sat Margaret Liebenheim--hanging upon his words--more lustrous
and bewitching than ever I had beheld her.  There she had been
placed by the host; and everybody knew why.  That is one of the
luxuries attached to love; all men cede their places with pleasure;
women make way.  Even she herself knew, though not obliged to know,
why she was seated in that neighborhood; and took her place, if
with a rosy suffusion upon her cheeks, yet with fullness of
happiness at her heart.
 
The guardsman pressed forward to claim Miss Liebenheim's hand for
the next dance; a movement which she was quick to favor, by
retreating behind one or two parties from a person who seemed
coming toward her.  The music again began to pour its voluptuous
tides through the bounding pulses of the youthful company; again
the flying feet of the dancers began to respond to the measures;
again the mounting spirit of delight began to fill the sails of the
hurrying night with steady inspiration.  All went happily.  Already
had one dance finished; some were pacing up and down, leaning on
the arms of their partners; some were reposing from their
exertions; when--O heavens! what a shriek! what a gathering tumult!
 
Every eye was bent toward the doors--every eye strained forward to
discover what was passing.  But there, every moment, less and less
could be seen, for the gathering crowd more and more intercepted
the view;--so much the more was the ear at leisure for the shrieks
redoubled upon shrieks.  Miss Liebenheim had moved downward to the
crowd.  From her superior height she overlooked all the ladies at
the point where she stood.  In the center stood a rustic girl,
whose features had been familiar to her for some months.  She had
recently come into the city, and had lived with her uncle, a
tradesman, not ten doors from Margaret's own residence, partly on
the terms of a kinswoman, partly as a servant on trial.  At this
moment she was exhausted with excitement, and the nature of the
shock she had sustained.  Mere panic seemed to have mastered her;
and she was leaning, unconscious and weeping, upon the shoulder of
some gentleman, who was endeavoring to soothe her.  A silence of
horror seemed to possess the company, most of whom were still
unacquainted with the cause of the alarming interruption.  A few,
however, who had heard her first agitated words, finding that they
waited in vain for a fuller explanation, now rushed tumultuously
out of the ballroom to satisfy themselves on the spot.  The
distance was not great; and within five minutes several persons
returned hastily, and cried out to the crowd of ladies that all was
true which the young girl had said.  "What was true?"  That her
uncle Mr. Weishaupt's family had been murdered; that not one member
of the family had been spared--namely, Mr. Weishaupt himself and
his wife, neither of them much above sixty, but both infirm beyond
their years; two maiden sisters of Mr. Weishaupt, from forty to
forty-six years of age, and an elderly female domestic.
 
An incident happened during the recital of these horrors, and of
the details which followed, that furnished matter for conversation
even in these hours when so thrilling an interest had possession of
all minds.  Many ladies fainted; among them Miss Liebenheim--and
she would have fallen to the ground but for Maximilian, who sprang
forward and caught her in his arms.  She was long of returning to
herself; and, during the agony of his suspense, he stooped and
kissed her pallid lips.  That sight was more than could be borne by
one who stood a little behind the group.  He rushed forward, with
eyes glaring like a tiger's, and leveled a blow at Maximilian.  It
was poor, maniacal Von Harrelstein, who had been absent in the
forest for a week.  Many people stepped forward and checked his
arm, uplifted for a repetition of this outrage.  One or two had
some influence with him, and led him away from the spot; while as
to Maximilian, so absorbed was he that he had not so much as
perceived the affront offered to himself.  Margaret, on reviving,
was confounded at finding herself so situated amid a great crowd;
and yet the prudes complained that there was a look of love
exchanged between herself and Maximilian, that ought not to have
escaped her in such a situation.  If they meant by such a
situation, one so public, it must be also recollected that it was a
situation of excessive agitation; but, if they alluded to the
horrors of the moment, no situation more naturally opens the heart
to affection and confiding love than the recoil from scenes of
exquisite terror.
 
An examination went on that night before the magistrates, but all
was dark; although suspicion attached to a negro named Aaron, who
had occasionally been employed in menial services by the family,
and had been in the house immediately before the murder.  The
circumstances were such as to leave every man in utter perplexity
as to the presumption for and against him.  His mode of defending
himself, and his general deportment, were marked by the coolest,
nay, the most sneering indifference.  The first thing he did, on
being acquainted with the suspicions against himself, was to laugh
ferociously, and to all appearance most cordially and unaffectedly.
He demanded whether a poor man like himself would have left so much
wealth as lay scattered abroad in that house--gold repeaters, massy
plate, gold snuff boxes--untouched?  That argument certainly
weighed much in his favor.  And yet again it was turned against
him; for a magistrate asked him how HE happened to know already
that nothing had been touched.  True it was, and a fact which had
puzzled no less than it had awed the magistrates, that, upon their
examination of the premises, many rich articles of bijouterie,
jewelry, and personal ornaments, had been found lying underanged,
and apparently in their usual situations; articles so portable that
in the very hastiest flight some might have been carried off.  In
particular, there was a crucifix of gold, enriched with jewels so
large and rare, that of itself it would have constituted a prize of
great magnitude.  Yet this was left untouched, though suspended in
a little oratory that had been magnificently adorned by the elder
of the maiden sisters.  There was an altar, in itself a splendid
object, furnished with every article of the most costly material
and workmanship, for the private celebration of mass.  This
crucifix, as well as everything else in the little closet, must
have been seen by one at least of the murderous party; for hither
had one of the ladies fled; hither had one of the murderers
pursued.  She had clasped the golden pillars which supported the
altar--had turned perhaps her dying looks upon the crucifix; for
there, with one arm still wreathed about the altar foot, though in
her agony she had turned round upon her face, did the elder sister
lie when the magistrates first broke open the street door.  And
upon the beautiful parquet, or inlaid floor which ran round the
room, were still impressed the footsteps of the murderer.  These,
it was hoped, might furnish a clew to the discovery of one at least
among the murderous band.  They were rather difficult to trace
accurately; those parts of the traces which lay upon the black
tessellae being less distinct in the outline than the others upon
the white or colored.  Most unquestionably, so far as this went, it
furnished a negative circumstance in favor of the negro, for the
footsteps were very different in outline from his, and smaller, for
Aaron was a man of colossal build.  And as to his knowledge of the
state in which the premises had been found, and his having so
familiarly relied upon the fact of no robbery having taken place as
an argument on his own behalf, he contended that he had himself
been among the crowd that pushed into the house along with the
magistrates; that, from his previous acquaintance with the rooms
and their ordinary condition, a glance of the eye had been
sufficient for him to ascertain the undisturbed condition of all
the valuable property most obvious to the grasp of a robber that,
in fact, he had seen enough for his argument before he and the rest
of the mob had been ejected by the magistrates; but, finally, that
independently of all this, he had heard both the officers, as they
conducted him, and all the tumultuous gatherings of people in the
street, arguing for the mysteriousness of the bloody transaction
upon that very circumstance of so much gold, silver, and jewels,
being left behind untouched.
 
In six weeks or less from the date of this terrific event, the
negro was set at liberty by a majority of voices among the
magistrates.  In that short interval other events had occurred no
less terrific and mysterious.  In this first murder, though the
motive was dark and unintelligible, yet the agency was not so;
ordinary assassins apparently, and with ordinary means, had
assailed a helpless and unprepared family; had separated them;
attacked them singly in flight (for in this first case all but one
of the murdered persons appeared to have been making for the street
door); and in all this there was no subject for wonder, except the
original one as to the motive.  But now came a series of cases
destined to fling this earliest murder into the shade.  Nobody
could now be unprepared; and yet the tragedies, henceforward, which
passed before us, one by one, in sad, leisurely, or in terrific
groups, seemed to argue a lethargy like that of apoplexy in the
victims, one and all.  The very midnight of mysterious awe fell
upon all minds.
 
Three weeks had passed since the murder at Mr. Weishaupt's--three
weeks the most agitated that had been known in this sequestered
city.  We felt ourselves solitary, and thrown upon our own
resources; all combination with other towns being unavailing from
their great distance.  Our situation was no ordinary one.  Had
there been some mysterious robbers among us, the chances of a
visit, divided among so many, would have been too small to distress
the most timid; while to young and high-spirited people, with
courage to spare for ordinary trials, such a state of expectation
would have sent pulses of pleasurable anxiety among the nerves.
But murderers! exterminating murderers!--clothed in mystery and
utter darkness--these were objects too terrific for any family to
contemplate with fortitude.  Had these very murderers added to
their functions those of robbery, they would have become less
terrific; nine out of every ten would have found themselves
discharged, as it were, from the roll of those who were liable to a
visit; while such as knew themselves liable would have had warning
of their danger in the fact of being rich; and would, from the very
riches which constituted that danger, have derived the means of
repelling it.  But, as things were, no man could guess what it was
that must make him obnoxious to the murderers.  Imagination
exhausted itself in vain guesses at the causes which could by
possibility have made the poor Weishaupts objects of such hatred to
any man.  True, they were bigoted in a degree which indicated
feebleness of intellect; but THAT wounded no man in particular,
while to many it recommended them.  True, their charity was narrow
and exclusive, but to those of their own religious body it expanded
munificently; and, being rich beyond their wants, or any means of
employing wealth which their gloomy asceticism allowed, they had
the power of doing a great deal of good among the indigent papists
of the suburbs.  As to the old gentleman and his wife, their
infirmities confined them to the house.  Nobody remembered to have
seen them abroad for years.  How, therefore, or when could they
have made an enemy?  And, with respect to the maiden sisters of Mr.
Weishaupt, they were simply weak-minded persons, now and then too
censorious, but not placed in a situation to incur serious anger
from any quarter, and too little heard of in society to occupy much
of anybody's attention.
 
Conceive, then, that three weeks have passed away, that the poor
Weishaupts have been laid in that narrow sanctuary which no
murderer's voice will ever violate.  Quiet has not returned to us,
but the first flutterings of panic have subsided.  People are
beginning to respire freely again; and such another space of time
would have cicatrized our wounds--when, hark! a church bell rings
out a loud alarm;--the night is starlight and frosty--the iron
notes are heard clear, solemn, but agitated.  What could this mean?
I hurried to a room over the porter's lodge, and, opening the
window, I cried out to a man passing hastily below, "What, in God's
name, is the meaning of this?"  It was a watchman belonging to our
district.  I knew his voice, he knew mine, and he replied in great
agitation:
 
"It is another murder, sir, at the old town councilor's, Albernass;
and this time they have made a clear house of it."
 
"God preserve us!  Has a curse been pronounced upon this city?
What can be done?  What are the magistrates going to do?"
 
"I don't know, sir.  I have orders to run to the Black Friars,
where another meeting is gathering.  Shall I say you will attend,
sir?"
 
"Yes--no--stop a little.  No matter, you may go on; I'll follow
immediately."
 
I went instantly to Maximilian's room.  He was lying asleep on a
sofa, at which I was not surprised, for there had been a severe
stag chase in the morning.  Even at this moment I found myself
arrested by two objects, and I paused to survey them.  One was
Maximilian himself.  A person so mysterious took precedency of
other interests even at a time like this; and especially by his
features, which, composed in profound sleep, as sometimes happens,
assumed a new expression, which arrested me chiefly by awaking some
confused remembrance of the same features seen under other
circumstances and in times long past; but where?  This was what I
could not recollect, though once before a thought of the same sort
had crossed my mind.  The other object of my interest was a
miniature, which Maximilian was holding in his hand.  He had gone
to sleep apparently looking at this picture; and the hand which
held it had slipped down upon the sofa, so that it was in danger of
falling.  I released the miniature from his hand, and surveyed it
attentively.  It represented a lady of sunny, oriental complexion,
and features the most noble that it is possible to conceive.  One
might have imagined such a lady, with her raven locks and imperial
eyes, to be the favorite sultana of some Amurath or Mohammed.  What
was she to Maximilian, or what HAD she been?  For, by the tear
which I had once seen him drop upon this miniature when he believed
himself unobserved, I conjectured that her dark tresses were
already laid low, and her name among the list of vanished things.
Probably she was his mother, for the dress was rich with pearls,
and evidently that of a person in the highest rank of court
beauties.  I sighed as I thought of the stern melancholy of her
son, if Maximilian were he, as connected, probably, with the fate
and fortunes of this majestic beauty; somewhat haughty, perhaps, in
the expression of her fine features, but still noble--generous--
confiding.  Laying the picture on the table, I awoke Maximilian,
and told him of the dreadful news.  He listened attentively, made
no remark, but proposed that we should go together to the meeting
of our quarter at the Black Friars.  He colored upon observing the
miniature on the table; and, therefore, I frankly told him in what
situation I had found it, and that I had taken the liberty of
admiring it for a few moments.  He pressed it tenderly to his lips,
sighed heavily, and we walked away together.
 

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“You'll never know everything about anything, especially something you love.”

- Julia Child

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