Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu


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Page 1

My father was in the Austrian service, and retired upon a pension and
his patrimony, and purchased this feudal residence, and the small estate
on which it stands, a bargain.

Nothing can be more picturesque or solitary. It stands on a slight
eminence in a forest. The road, very old and narrow, passes in front of
its drawbridge, never raised in my time, and its moat, stocked with
perch, and sailed over by many swans, and floating on its surface white
fleets of water lilies.

Over all this the schloss shows its many-windowed front; its towers,
and its Gothic chapel.

The forest opens in an irregular and very picturesque glade before its
gate, and at the right a steep Gothic bridge carries the road over a
stream that winds in deep shadow through the wood. I have said that this
is a very lonely place. Judge whether I say truth. Looking from the hall
door towards the road, the forest in which our castle stands extends
fifteen miles to the right, and twelve to the left. The nearest
inhabited village is about seven of your English miles to the left. The
nearest inhabited schloss of any historic associations, is that of old
General Spielsdorf, nearly twenty miles away to the right.

I have said "the nearest _inhabited_ village," because there is, only
three miles westward, that is to say in the direction of General
Spielsdorf's schloss, a ruined village, with its quaint little church,
now roofless, in the aisle of which are the moldering tombs of the proud
family of Karnstein, now extinct, who once owned the equally desolate
chateau which, in the thick of the forest, overlooks the silent ruins
of the town.

Respecting the cause of the desertion of this striking and melancholy
spot, there is a legend which I shall relate to you another time.

I must tell you now, how very small is the party who constitute the
inhabitants of our castle. I don't include servants, or those dependents
who occupy rooms in the buildings attached to the schloss. Listen, and
wonder! My father, who is the kindest man on earth, but growing old; and
I, at the date of my story, only nineteen. Eight years have passed
since then.

I and my father constituted the family at the schloss. My mother, a
Styrian lady, died in my infancy, but I had a good-natured governess,
who had been with me from, I might almost say, my infancy. I could not
remember the time when her fat, benignant face was not a familiar
picture in my memory.

This was Madame Perrodon, a native of Berne, whose care and good nature
now in part supplied to me the loss of my mother, whom I do not even
remember, so early I lost her. She made a third at our little dinner
party. There was a fourth, Mademoiselle De Lafontaine, a lady such as
you term, I believe, a "finishing governess." She spoke French and
German, Madame Perrodon French and broken English, to which my father
and I added English, which, partly to prevent its becoming a lost
language among us, and partly from patriotic motives, we spoke every
day. The consequence was a Babel, at which strangers used to laugh, and
which I shall make no attempt to reproduce in this narrative. And there
were two or three young lady friends besides, pretty nearly of my own
age, who were occasional visitors, for longer or shorter terms; and
these visits I sometimes returned.

These were our regular social resources; but of course there were chance
visits from "neighbors" of only five or six leagues distance. My life
was, notwithstanding, rather a solitary one, I can assure you.

My gouvernantes had just so much control over me as you might conjecture
such sage persons would have in the case of a rather spoiled girl, whose
only parent allowed her pretty nearly her own way in everything.

The first occurrence in my existence, which produced a terrible
impression upon my mind, which, in fact, never has been effaced, was one
of the very earliest incidents of my life which I can recollect. Some
people will think it so trifling that it should not be recorded here.
You will see, however, by-and-by, why I mention it. The nursery, as it
was called, though I had it all to myself, was a large room in the upper
story of the castle, with a steep oak roof. I can't have been more than
six years old, when one night I awoke, and looking round the room from
my bed, failed to see the nursery maid. Neither was my nurse there; and
I thought myself alone. I was not frightened, for I was one of those
happy children who are studiously kept in ignorance of ghost stories, of
fairy tales, and of all such lore as makes us cover up our heads when
the door cracks suddenly, or the flicker of an expiring candle makes the
shadow of a bedpost dance upon the wall, nearer to our faces. I was
vexed and insulted at finding myself, as I conceived, neglected, and I
began to whimper, preparatory to a hearty bout of roaring; when to my
surprise, I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the
side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her
hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder,
and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down
beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her, smiling; I felt
immediately delightfully soothed, and fell asleep again. I was wakened
by a sensation as if two needles ran into my breast very deep at the
same moment, and I cried loudly. The lady started back, with her eyes
fixed on me, and then slipped down upon the floor, and, as I thought,
hid herself under the bed.

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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 22nd Sep 2019, 16:47