Works, by Guy de Maupassant

The White Lady

Fortuna, the goddess of chance and good luck, has always been Cupid’s best ally and Arnold T., who was a lieutenant in a hussar regiment, was evidently a special favorite of both those roguish deities.

This good-looking, well-bred young officer had been an enthusiastic admirer of the two Countesses W., mother and daughter, during a tolerably long leave of absence, which he spent with his relations in Vienna. He had admired them from the Prater, and worshiped them at the opera, but he had never had an opportunity of making their acquaintance, and when he was back at his dull quarters in Galicia, he liked to think about those two aristocratic beauties. Last summer his regiment was transferred to Bohemia, to a wildly romantic district, that had been made illustrious by a talented writer, which abounded in magnificent woods, lofty mountain-forests and castles, and which was a favorite summer resort of the neighboring aristocracy.

Who can describe his joyful surprise, when he and his men were quartered in an old, weather-beaten castle in the middle of a wood, and he learnt from the house-steward who received him that the owner of the castle was the husband, and, consequently, also the father of his Viennese ideals. An hour after he had taken possession of his old-fashioned, but beautifully furnished, room in a side-wing of the castle, he put on his full-dress uniform, and throwing his dolman over his shoulders, he went to pay his respects to the Count and the ladies.

He was received with the greatest cordiality. The Count was delighted to have a companion when he went out shooting, and the ladies were no less pleased at having some one to accompany them on their walks in the forests, or on their rides, so that he felt only half on the earth, and half in the seventh heaven of Mohammedan bliss. Before supper he had time to inspect the house more closely, and even to take a sketch of the large, gloomy building from a favorable point. The ancient seat of the Counts of W. was really very gloomy; in fact it created a sinister, uncomfortable feeling. The walls, which were crumbling away here and there, and which were covered with dark ivy; the round towers, which harbored jackdaws, owls, and hawks; the Æolian harp, which complained and sighed and wept in the wind; the stones in the castle yard, which were overgrown with grass; the cloisters, in which every footstep re-echoed; the great ancestral portraits which hung on the walls, coated as it were with dark, mysterious veils by the centuries which had passed over them — all this recalled to him the legends and fairy tales of his youth, and he involuntarily thought of the Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, and of Blue Beard, of the cruel mistress of the Kynast,1 and that aristocratic tigress of the Carpathians, who obtained the unfading charms of eternal youth by bathing in human blood.

1 A Castle, now a well-preserved ruin, in the Giant Mountains in N. Germany. The legend is that its mistress, Kunigerude, vowed to marry nobody except the Knight who should ride round the parapet of the Castle, and many perished in the attempt. At last one of them succeeded in performing the feat, but he merely sternly rebuked her, and took his leave. He was accompanied by his wife, disguised as his page, according to some versions of the legend. — TRANSLATOR.]

He came in to supper where he found himself for the first time in company with all the members of the family, just in the frame of mind that was suitable for ghosts, and was not a little surprised when his host told him, half smiling and half seriously, that the “White Lady” was disturbing the castle again, and that she had latterly been seen very often. “Yes, indeed,” Countess Ida exclaimed; “You must take care, Baron, for she haunts the very wing where your room is.” The hussar was just in the frame of mind to take the matter seriously, but, on the other hand, when he saw the dark, ardent eyes of the Countess, and then the merry blue eyes of her daughter fixed on him, any real fear of ghosts was quite out of the question with him. For Baron T. feared nothing in this world, but he possessed a very lively imagination, which could conjure up threatening forms from another world so plainly that sometimes he felt very uncomfortable at his own fancies. But on the present occasion that malicious apparition had no power over him; the ladies took care of that, for both of them were beautiful and amiable.

The Countess was a mature Venus of thirty-six, of middle height, and with the voluptuous figure of a true Viennese, with bright eyes, thick dark hair, and beautiful white teeth, while her daughter Ida, who was seventeen, had light hair and the pert little nose of the china figures of shepherdesses in the dress of the period of Louis XIV., and was short, slim, and full of French grace. Besides them and the Count, a son of twelve and his tutor were present at supper. It struck the hussar as strange that the tutor, who was a strongly-built young man, with a winning face and those refined manners which the greatest plebeian quickly acquires when brought into close and constant contact with the aristocracy, was treated with great consideration by all the family except the Countess, who treated him very haughtily. She assumed a particularly imperious manner towards her son’s tutor, and she either found fault with, or made fun of, everything that he did, while he put up with it all with smiling humility.

Before supper was over their conversation again turned on to the ghost, and Baron T. asked whether they did not possess a picture of the White Lady. “Of course we have one,” they all replied at once; whereupon Baron T. begged to be allowed to see it. “I will show it you tomorrow,” the Count said. “No, Papa, now, immediately,” the younger lady said mockingly; “just before the ghostly hour, such a thing creates a much greater impression.”

All who were present, not excepting the boy and his tutor, took a candle and then they walked as if they had formed a torchlight procession, to the wing of the house where the hussar’s room was. There was a life-size picture of the White Lady hanging in a Gothic passage near his room, among other ancestral portraits, and it by no means made a terrible impression on anyone who looked at it, but rather the contrary. The ghost, dressed in stiff, gold brocade and purple velvet, and with a hawk on her wrist, looked like one of those seductive Amazons of the fifteenth century, who exercised the art of laying men and game at their feet with equal skill.

“Don’t you think that the White Lady is very like mamma?” Countess Ida said, interrupting the Baron’s silent contemplation of the picture. “There is no doubt of it,” the hussar replied, while the Countess smiled and the tutor turned red, and they were still standing before the picture, when a strong gust of wind suddenly extinguished all the lights, and they all uttered a simultaneous cry. The White Lady, the little Count whispered, but she did not come, and as it was luckily a moonlight night, they soon recovered from their momentary shock. The family retired to their apartments, while the hussar and the tutor went to their own rooms, which were situated in the wing of the castle which was haunted by the White Lady; the officer’s being scarcely thirty yards from the portrait, while the tutor’s were rather further down the corridor.

The hussar went to bed, and was soon fast asleep, and though he had rather uneasy dreams nothing further happened. But while they were at breakfast the next morning, the Count’s body-servant told them, with every appearance of real terror, that as he was crossing the court-yard at midnight, he had suddenly heard a noise like bats in the open cloisters, and when he looked he distinctly saw the White Lady gliding slowly through them; but they merely laughed at the poltroon, and though our hussar laughed also, he fully made up his mind, without saying a word about it, to keep a look-out for the ghost that night.

Again they had supper alone, without any company, had some music and pleasant talk and separated at half-past eleven. The hussar, however, only went to his room for form’s sake; he loaded his pistols, and when all was quiet in the castle, he crept down into the court-yard and took up his position behind a pillar which was quite hidden in the shade, while the moon, which was nearly at the full, flooded the cloisters with its clear, pale light.

There were no lights to be seen in the castle except from two windows, which were those of the Countess’s apartments, and soon they were also extinguished. The clock struck twelve, and the hussar could scarcely breathe from excitement; the next moment, however, he heard the noise which the Count’s body-servant had compared to that of bats, and almost at the same instant a white figure glided slowly through the open cloisters and passed so close to him, that it almost made his blood curdle, and then it disappeared in the wing of the castle which he and the tutor occupied.

The officer who was usually so brave, stood as though he was paralyzed for a few moments, but then he took heart, and feeling determined to make the nearer acquaintance of the spectral beauty, he crept softly up the broad staircase and took up his position in a deep recess in the cloisters, where nobody could see him.

He waited for a long time; he heard every quarter strike, and at last, just before the close of the witching hour, he heard the same noise like the rustling of bats, and then she came, he felt the flutter of her white dress, and she stood before him — it was indeed the Countess.

He presented his pistol at her as he challenged her, but she raised her hand menacingly. “Who are you?” he exclaimed. “If you are really a ghost, prove it, for I am going to fire.” “For heaven’s sake!” the White Lady whispered, and at the same instant two white arms were thrown round him, and he felt a full, warm bosom heaving against his own.

After that night the ghost appeared more frequently still. Not only did the White Lady make her appearance every night in the cloisters, only to disappear in the proximity of the hussar’s rooms as long as the family remained at the castle, but she even followed them to Vienna.

Baron T., who went to that capital on leave of absence during the following winter, and who was the Count’s guest at the express wish of his wife, was frequently told by the footman that although hitherto she had seemed to be confined to the old castle in Bohemia, she had shown herself now here, now there, in the mansion in Vienna, in a white dress and making a noise like the wings of a bat, and bearing a striking resemblance to the beautiful Countess.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:09