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long since gone where neither blood nor banquet disturbs them in their caparison. Between the blaze from the fagots, and the lustre from the skies, lighting up those grotesquely carved walls, and storied roofs, the whole might have been taken for one of the Indian caverns, with all its gods quivering on the walls; and with ourselves for the worshippers at the altar fire, or the victims to be thrown into it.
Time and place make half the mind of every man. The time was late, the place was phantomish. The two dragoons were, as usual on all emergencies, as fast asleep as if they had been two Berlin watchmen, and, stretched upon the ground at a little distance, looked like two corpses waiting for transmission to their last bed.
We ourselves were at least solemn. Hussars, though they are gallant fellows, par metier, yet have a curious natural propensity to ghost stories; a thing to be accounted for from their being so often posted in lonely places, so often half asleep there, and so often half hungry and half drunk. Those causes of the imaginative faculty in the hussar brain may not be the most sublime, but the theory is not the less true. Von Hermand, a capital fellow in his way, and who would have taken a lion by the beard in the plains of Bilidulgerid, firmly believed in a variety of these phantasms which would have done honour to the invention of Wieland. The music of the last night came upon the tapis, the sylph that made it received my most animated panegyric, and at the moment of my expressing a wish, possibly made more potent by a lover-like sigh, for its return, lo, came the music, the very strain that we had heard twenty-four hours before, and twenty-four miles off! We looked at each other in blank astonishment. But we had other surprises. The wall against which the Major had fallen back, as a sort of rearguard, in case of a preternatural attack, proved treacherous to his hopes, and suddenly giving way, slipped him, completely culbutted, down a passage, where I lost sight of him at once. I of course sprang after my vanished comrade; but the fall was short, the mischief was no
thing, and we discovered that we had both descended half a dozen steps, and were lying lovingly together against a door. The Major was first on his feet, and in his indignation he gave the invisible enemy a kick furious enough to have broken down half the ancient doors of Jaxmund.
More of the sylph's wonders still. The door flew back, and a hall was opened before us, the very scene for a spell; it was of striking size, but filled and furnished as if the touch of decay had never been felt there. A long table stretched down the centre, covered with a princely entertainment; plate and ornaments in profusion glittered on the board; the walls were hung with fine folds of tapestry, old, but retaining the fresh dyes of yesterday, with the lavish richness and stately flourishings of the lovely looms of Arras and Artois. Lamps of silver and crystal were hung from the roof, and a whole constellation of them threw life among the pictures of a whole genealogy of Teutonic knights and sovereigns, loaded with chains of gold and jewels, and frowning through the bars of helmets that had been the terror of the Saxon infidel and the Saracen five hundred years before. All was magnificence; but all was solitude. That guests either had been there, or were to be there, was certain; for chairs were placed down the length of the table, and on the back of each was hung a sword, one of the large, old, twoedged blades of the Teutonic knights, in a belt of blackened steel.
All this was the very costume of necromancy, and the Major's honest countenance was obviously lengthened prodigiously. However, the beauty and richness of the hall, the equipment, and the entertainment, satisfied us that the ghosts, however feudal and formidable on other occasions, meant us no harm in the present instance. The wine, too, was true wine; no demon started from the flask of Johannisberg, of which my presumptuous hand dared to pluck out the gilded stopper. The huge covers concealed nothing more spiritualized than fish and venison; and, after a brief recognisance of the supper, I felt myself justified in pronouncing, that the shades of our an
cestors cultivated hospitality in very good style, and kept excellent cooks. Von Hermand also rapidly dropped from his spiritualities into a mere human creature, took his place in the pompous velvet-covered and lionclawed chair, at the head of the table, and did the honours with the skill of a court chamberlain.
The change was incomparable, from the hungry cell in which we had expected to pass the night, to this rich-cushioned, crystal-lighted, proudly pictured, and banquet-laid gallery; and before our progress could have been perceptible through the wilderness of good things which rose inglorious impediment upon our table, we had infused a courage into our souls that would have done battle against a whole army of electors, sworded and shrouded as haughtily as Charlemagne.
But we were recalled from this Elysium of heroism to a sense of the shortness of mortal enjoyments, by another wonder. The music floated round us again, and through a mingling of words, wild as an invocation, we heard the name of Steinfort, and a summons to follow the invisible minstrel. I cordially wished the scoundrel in the fosse at Magdeburgh for the interruption, and Von Hermand, now proof to all interferences from the clouds, loudly seconded my resolution. But then came the music again, floating so tremblingly, stealing with such sweet and dying cadences, melting round us with such bewitching tenderness of entreaty, such preternatural melody of supplication, that my heroism gave way, and in the full expectancy of catching the sylph and her guitar, in propria persona, in the next apartment, I silently laid down the glass that I had just filled to her health, whatever she might be, stole to the door, opened it, stole along a passage, where a faint light glimmered, whether from earth or heaven; and before I had made three steps, felt the ground shake under me, give way, slip down, I do not know how many feet or fathoms, and myself, with a cord twisted round my arms, and a handkerchief tied across my mouth, by a whole bevy of invisible hands, but strong as ever were flesh and blood.
I must confess that I was not pre
pared for this catastrophe; and that in the uncertainty whether I was to be dungeoned for life, or murdered and thrown among the lumber of the hundred and one caverns of Jaxmund, I cordially wished for the time that my love of music and swindler-hunting had stopped on the other side of the walls. But where was the use of penitence now? I could not move a limb, I could not utter a word. I gathered the fragments of my fortitude about me once more; made a virtue of necessity, and tried to persuade myself, that as I was made to be shot, I might as well meet my natural fate by a bandit's bullet as a French tirailleur's. While I was thus pondering, a pale light began to creep along the wall, distended, grew brighter, gleamed through the dungeon-for dungeon it evidently was; and, finally, rested upon something fixed high up in the rack, but which soon appeared to be a large mirror. The wonder grew, the mirror was peopled with figures, sitting apparently in some kind oflegislature, and in deep deliberation. All were wrapped in cloaks and furs, and in the old costume of Germany, but all with their caps drawn over their brows; and so far as countenance was concerned, completely concealed. What their deliberations might be, was equally hidden from all ears, but those of the world of spirits, of which they seemed to be a privy council. But they were evidently by no means passively employed. Individuals rose from time to time, gesticulated with great earnestness, and on certain gestures, the whole session seconded their sentiments by a general rising, and a drawing and brandishing of swords. But what was my alarm and astonishment, when I saw my unlucky friend Von Hermand dragged forward, in the arms of a group of masks, bound hand and foot, and forced to the foot of this formidable table, evidently to answer with his life. A dozen swords were hanging over his head, and it was soon clear that the unlucky Major, no great orator by nature, and amazingly puzzled by the novelty of his situation, was making a disastrous business of the defence. All movement on my part was impossible. I was inexpressibly grieved at the imminent peril of my old friend.
But there stood I, tied hand and foot, and not unconscious that my own defence was to come next, though without the slightest possible idea of the nature of our crime. The trial was soon closed. Von Hermand was forced out. A few words from the President collected the opinions of the assembly. My friend was dragged in again, a crape tied over his eyes, and a block brought to the foot of the table, before which he was compelled to kneel. A mask, with a naked two-handed sword, now advanced; and in another instant I should have seen the horrible spectacle of his death, when a shriek, a struggle, and a door bursting open, shewed me the apparition, for so it looked, of one of my most gallant comrades in the Tyrolese war-Frederic Von Walstein, rushing in, tearing the crape from the kneeling man's eyes, throwing its arms round him, and flinging the sword of death to the farthest end of the hall.
All was instant confusion. rose, and every sword was out of its sheath; but there was palpably a division of sentiment in the struggle; for while the majority crowded round the president, and seemed disposed to assert his sentence, a considerable number formed a circle round the culprit and his protector, and held the court at bay. The tumult grew high, and while not a sound could reach my ears, yet passions, by no means spiritual, were clearly making wild work with the gravity of the tribunal. Swords began to be busy, and a sweep of a huge blade that fell on the President's cap, and narrowly escaped shearing the head off his shoulders, developed his face, and shewed, to my immeasurable surprise, the actual features of the Astrologer! Another wonder -the necromancer's danger brought in another party, in the shape of a beautiful girl, fantastically dressed, who threw her arms round his neck, disarmed him of the sword with which he was about to return the blow, and led him from the chair. In the midst of the vision a sudden explosion shook the cell around
Utter darkness veiled all to my eyes. I was again seized, again led through a passage of many steps, Erebus, where, however, my fetters were cut away, and
and dark as
the handkerchief untied from my mouth, and, with stern injunctions of silence while on the spot, and of secrecy for ever after, I was ushered from dungeon to dungeon, until I found myself once more under the open sky, which I had, I will acknowledge, almost given up the idea of ever seeing again.
My horse was there tied to a pillar, but I could discover no vestige of my friends. The Major and the two old dragoons were vanished from the face of the land. Had they vanished from the face of the earth, too? The question was beyond my powers of settlement. I yet resolved not to leave the place without doing all that could be done, by scrutinizing every spot where any sign of them might be discoverable. But nothing was to be seen for miles round but ruin heaped on ruin; and of whom was I to ask questions but of the hawks and cormorants that screamed round me, and often stooped so close that they evidently tool: me for some vagrant grampus dallying on shore?
I gave a week to the search, galloped miles without number, fretted myself into a fever, and rode my horse into a skeleton. Still all was as dark as the riddle of the Sphinx; and, in deep vexation and serious fear of meeting the faces of my unhappy friend's household, I at length turned my horse's head towards Rostock. The last day of my journey was actually one of the most depressing I had ever experienced, and I prolonged my journey late into the evening, that I might leave as little leisure to tell my melancholy tale on this night as pos sible. But to my utter surprise, I found his house lighted up, as if for a grand gala. It struck me that the widow was making the earliest use of her liberty. I made my way into the house. The first man I met was Von Hermand himself; the next Walstein; then came the two wives. But the enigma was still unexplained and inexplicable. I could get not a syllable on the subject from any pair of lips in the room. But Von
Hermand took me aside, and made it his gravest request, that nothing of
our castle adventure should be mentioned until I had his permission.
All this was infinitely perplexing
but there was no time for quarreling with the world, for Madame Von Hermand summoned me to hand one of her fair friends to the supper table. I was angry with man, though scarcely knowing why, and my wrath was rapidly extending to the better portion of the species; but, after all, was I to be discontented because, instead of sorrow and sables, I met good humour and cotillons; and, instead of being summoned to follow somebody's funeral, I was only ordered to join the general procession to supper? I was introduced to the lady in question, and at the first glance instantly forgot my wrath, my reflections, and, I am afraid, my prudence. The sylph, the niece, the fairy queen-the, I know not what-the being of the blue eyes and chestnut curls, stood laughing, blushing a little, and looking the brilliant picture of life and loveliness before me! I was fairly entranced, and for the first time in my long admiration of beauty, I felt no inclination to be free. I felt, by fatal instinct, that the true enslaver was come at last, and that my day of liberty was done. Before the hour was over, I had made my confession, and found that my fair saint was Madelina Steinfort, sister of the lost lover, the invisible fugitive, the returned husband.
But, further than this knowledge, no adjuration could force a word from her coral lips. My destiny, however, was decided. As to leave Madelina I found to be utterly impossible, and to continue sighing and making fine speeches to her was hors de mode, I offered her, without circumlocution, all the good or ill that was contained in a captaincy of cavalry, a little Silesian domain, and a heart in a state of the most furious conflagration. The sex are compassionate, and she had compassion. We were married within the month, and from that hour I found her more tyrannical than ever in her commands, that I should never, by word, glance, or even by thought, ask her a syllable about mask, cavern, or castle. At the end of a year, and a year of as much happiness as I suppose is generally to be found in this round and wicked world, she made me the father of a beautiful boy, and offered to tell me the whole true history of Jaxmund and its wonders.
The castle had been the rendez. vous of a number of Prussian officers and men of rank, who had fallen into the new theory of constitutions and charters. The solitude of the place allowed of their meeting in security, and the formalities of the old Teutonic knighthood were carried on as a disguise for the changes of the state. Von Walstein, who had taken the name of Steinfort for a Brandenburg estate, had been enamoured of their opinions, and dispatched to carry on their correspondence in Rostock. There, however, he had fallen in love, forgot his commission, and married. A menace from the Secret Council recalled him, and he was spirited off to Jaxmund. The Astrologer was his uncle, a man of rank and fortune, but wild with extravagant science, a real enthusiast, and full of fantasies of freedom. My sylph had followed him, partly to reclaim him from his visions, and partly to recall her brother. Our arrival had given her additional hopes of effecting both purposes, and by a magic lantern, fairy music, and the common contrivances of her uncle's apparatus for discovering what they were doing in the stars, she had contrived to draw us on. The seizure of Von Hermand was the consequence of his having been deemed a spy; and, as the nature of their deliberations laid them at the mercy of government, my poor friend was very near paying for his knowledge with his head. In the critical moment Steinfort had recognised him, rushed forward, and attempted to save his life. On his liberation, an oath had been exacted from all the parties, that the whole transaction should be kept in the strictest secrecy for a time. The time was now elapsed; the seal was now taken from the bond, by the reconciliation of the leaders of the Council to Government, and the discovery, as being safe for the principals, now became common property.
The banquet in Jaxmund had been prepared for the reception of some distinguished converts on that night, and the whole tissue of mystery, magnificence, harmony, and repulsion, was the natural work of a design at once to keep away all intrusion, and to impress the new initiated with the mysticism that turns the German into a hero.
THE GREAT WEST INDIA MEETING.
PUBLIC meetings are one of the most important parts of the British constitution. We allude not to those meetings, where large masses of the lower and ignorant classes of the community are brought together, for no other objects but to excite still farther their already inflamed minds, or poison by additional falsehood their already perverted judgments; not to those in which artificers and mechanics are called on to dictate to legislatures on subjects requiring as profound study, and as extensive information, as the Principia of Newton, or the Calculus of La Grange; not to those in which ambition is to be awakened by flattery, and truth stifled by violence, and prejudice confirmed by applause. From such meetings no good can be anticipated; and the nation which has the misfortune to be governed or overawed by their dictates, is on the high-road to perdition. But the meetings we allude to are of a totally different character; those in which the relative situation of the different classes of society to each other is not inverted but preserved; in which men assemble, headed by their natural leaders, under the influence of a common feeling, or the pressure of a common necessity, to deliberate on matters in which they have a common interest; in which the object in view is not to awaken passion, but to state facts; not to flatter ambition, but to draw attention to suffering; not to overawe the will, but to convince the understanding, or melt the heart. Public meetings of such a character are the true resource of a free people; they are the great instrument in which the public voice is sounded, when it requires to speak in its loudest tones; the means by which the interests and the calamities of the remoter parts of the empire may be made known at its centre, and the prejudices or local interests of the governing legislature moulded according to the wants or necessities of its remote dependencies.
Meetings of this description are in a peculiar manner required in regard
to our colonial, and especially our West India possessions. Such is the disposition of mankind to be governed by what they see, in preference to what they hear; by clamour at home, rather than suffering abroad; by prejudiced or impassioned declamation from the depositaries of power in the centre of the empire, rather than the strongest facts, or the most convincing appeals, from mere individuals in its extremities; so that it is impossible that the colonies should not be sacrificed, when they come in collision with domestic prejudice, if their cause is not occasionally supported by the united influence of rank, wealth, information, and talent, at such great assemblages. This position, true of all our distant colonies, is, in an especial manner, applicable to the West India islands. The cause of the planters there has to contend, not only with the natural inattention to their interests, which arises from their being wholly unrepresented in Parliament, situated at a great distance from this island, and placed in circumstances of civilisation, industry, and climate, wholly different from what is here known, and utterly unintelligible to a great proportion of its inhabitants; but, with the additional and far more formidable, because more sincere and respectable feelings, arising from the love of freedom and the influence of religion.
Slavery in itself, and considered without regard to the slow changes and imperceptible progress by which its abolition is prepared in the economy of nature, is a state of society so abhorrent both to the feelings of freemen, and the spirit of Christianity, that it is not surprising that a numerous and sincere, though illinformed and mistaken, party in this country should regard it as an evil, which should at all hazards, and without vouching a reply to the West India proprietors, be at once extinguished. The true answer to this argument is, that the West India proprietors are as desirous as any sectarians in this country for the extirpation of slavery; that they wait