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    Metzengerstein

    by Edgar Allan Poe
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    Pestis eram vivus - moriens tua mors ero.

    -- _Martin Luther_

    HORROR and fatality have been stalking abroad in all ages. Why
    then give a date to this story I have to tell? Let it suffice to say,
    that at the period of which I speak, there existed, in the interior
    of Hungary, a settled although hidden belief in the doctrines of the
    Metempsychosis. Of the doctrines themselves - that is, of their
    falsity, or of their probability - I say nothing. I assert, however,
    that much of our incredulity - as La Bruyere says of all our
    unhappiness - "_vient de ne pouvoir être seuls_." {*1}

    But there are some points in the Hungarian superstition which
    were fast verging to absurdity. They - the Hungarians - differed very
    essentially from their Eastern authorities. For example, "_The
    soul_," said the former - I give the words of an acute and
    intelligent Parisian - "_ne demeure qu'un seul fois dans un corps
    sensible: au reste - un cheval, un chien, un homme meme, n'est que la
    ressemblance peu tangible de ces animaux._"

    The families of Berlifitzing and Metzengerstein had been at
    variance for centuries. Never before were two houses so illustrious,
    mutually embittered by hostility so deadly. The origin of this enmity
    seems to be found in the words of an ancient prophecy - "A lofty name
    shall have a fearful fall when, as the rider over his horse, the
    mortality of Metzengerstein shall triumph over the immortality of
    Berlifitzing."

    To be sure the words themselves had little or no meaning. But
    more trivial causes have given rise - and that no long while ago - to
    consequences equally eventful. Besides, the estates, which were
    contiguous, had long exercised a rival influence in the affairs of a
    busy government. Moreover, near neighbors are seldom friends; and the
    inhabitants of the Castle Berlifitzing might look, from their lofty
    buttresses, into the very windows of the palace Metzengerstein. Least
    of all had the more than feudal magnificence, thus discovered, a
    tendency to allay the irritable feelings of the less ancient and less
    wealthy Berlifitzings. What wonder then, that the words, however
    silly, of that prediction, should have succeeded in setting and
    keeping at variance two families already predisposed to quarrel by
    every instigation of hereditary jealousy? The prophecy seemed to
    imply - if it implied anything - a final triumph on the part of the
    already more powerful house; and was of course remembered with the
    more bitter animosity by the weaker and less influential.

    Wilhelm, Count Berlifitzing, although loftily descended, was, at
    the epoch of this narrative, an infirm and doting old man, remarkable
    for nothing but an inordinate and inveterate personal antipathy to
    the family of his rival, and so passionate a love of horses, and of
    hunting, that neither bodily infirmity, great age, nor mental
    incapacity, prevented his daily participation in the dangers of the
    chase.

    Frederick, Baron Metzengerstein, was, on the other hand, not yet
    of age. His father, the Minister G--, died young. His mother, the Lady
    Mary, followed him quickly after. Frederick was, at that time, in his
    fifteenth year. In a city, fifteen years are no long period - a child
    may be still a child in his third lustrum: but in a wilderness - in
    so magnificent a wilderness as that old principality, fifteen years
    have a far deeper meaning.

    From some peculiar circumstances attending the administration of
    his father, the young Baron, at the decease of the former, entered
    immediately upon his vast possessions. Such estates were seldom held
    before by a nobleman of Hungary. His castles were without number. The
    chief in point of splendor and extent was the "Chateau
    Metzengerstein." The boundary line of his dominions was never clearly
    defined; but his principal park embraced a circuit of fifty miles.

    Upon the succession of a proprietor so young, with a character so
    well known, to a fortune so unparalleled, little speculation was
    afloat in regard to his probable course of conduct. And, indeed, for
    the space of three days, the behavior of the heir out-heroded Herod,
    and fairly surpassed the expectations of his most enthusiastic
    admirers. Shameful debaucheries - flagrant treacheries - unheard-of
    atrocities - gave his trembling vassals quickly to understand that no
    servile submission on their part - no punctilios of conscience on his
    own - were thenceforward to prove any security against the
    remorseless fangs of a petty Caligula. On the night of the fourth
    day, the stables of the castle Berlifitzing were discovered to be on
    fire; and the unanimous opinion of the neighborhood added the crime
    of the incendiary to the already hideous list of the Baron's
    misdemeanors and enormities.

    But during the tumult occasioned by this occurrence, the young
    nobleman himself sat apparently buried in meditation, in a vast and
    desolate upper apartment of the family palace of Metzengerstein. The
    rich although faded tapestry hangings which swung gloomily upon the
    walls, represented the shadowy and majestic forms of a thousand
    illustrious ancestors. _Here_, rich-ermined priests, and pontifical
    dignitaries, familiarly seated with the autocrat and the sovereign,
    put a veto on the wishes of a temporal king, or restrained with the
    fiat of papal supremacy the rebellious sceptre of the Arch-enemy.
    _There_, the dark, tall statures of the Princes Metzengerstein -
    their muscular war-coursers plunging over the carcasses of fallen
    foes - startled the steadiest nerves with their vigorous expression;
    and _here_, again, the voluptuous and swan-like figures of the dames
    of days gone by, floated away in the mazes of an unreal dance to the
    strains of imaginary melody.

    But as the Baron listened, or affected to listen, to the
    gradually increasing uproar in the stables of Berlifitzing - or
    perhaps pondered upon some more novel, some more decided act of
    audacity - his eyes became unwittingly rivetted to the figure of an
    enormous, and unnaturally colored horse, represented in the tapestry
    as belonging to a Saracen ancestor of the family of his rival. The
    horse itself, in the foreground of the design, stood motionless and
    statue-like - while farther back, its discomfited rider perished by
    the dagger of a Metzengerstein.

    On Frederick's lip arose a fiendish expression, as he became
    aware of the direction which his glance had, without his
    consciousness, assumed. Yet he did not remove it. On the contrary, he
    could by no means account for the overwhelming anxiety which appeared
    falling like a pall upon his senses. It was with difficulty that he
    reconciled his dreamy and incoherent feelings with the certainty of
    being awake. The longer he gazed the more absorbing became the spell
    - the more impossible did it appear that he could ever withdraw his
    glance from the fascination of that tapestry. But the tumult without
    becoming suddenly more violent, with a compulsory exertion he
    diverted his attention to the glare of ruddy light thrown full by the
    flaming stables upon the windows of the apartment.

    The action, however, was but momentary, his gaze returned
    mechanically to the wall. To his extreme horror and astonishment, the
    head of the gigantic steed had, in the meantime, altered its
    position. The neck of the animal, before arched, as if in compassion,
    over the prostrate body of its lord, was now extended, at full
    length, in the direction of the Baron. The eyes, before invisible,
    now wore an energetic and human expression, while they gleamed with a
    fiery and unusual red; and the distended lips of the apparently
    enraged horse left in full view his gigantic and disgusting teeth.

    Stupified with terror, the young nobleman tottered to the door.
    As he threw it open, a flash of red light, streaming far into the
    chamber, flung his shadow with a clear outline against the quivering
    tapestry, and he shuddered to perceive that shadow - as he staggered
    awhile upon the threshold - assuming the exact position, and
    precisely filling up the contour, of the relentless and triumphant
    murderer of the Saracen Berlifitzing.

    To lighten the depression of his spirits, the Baron hurried into
    the open air. At the principal gate of the palace he encountered
    three equerries. With much difficulty, and at the imminent peril of
    their lives, they were restraining the convulsive plunges of a
    gigantic and fiery-colored horse.

    "Whose horse? Where did you get him?" demanded the youth, in a
    querulous and husky tone of voice, as he became instantly aware that
    the mysterious steed in the tapestried chamber was the very
    counterpart of the furious animal before his eyes.

    "He is your own property, sire," replied one of the equerries,
    "at least he is claimed by no other owner. We caught him flying, all
    smoking and foaming with rage, from the burning stables of the Castle
    Berlifitzing. Supposing him to have belonged to the old Count's stud
    of foreign horses, we led him back as an estray. But the grooms there
    disclaim any title to the creature; which is strange, since he bears
    evident marks of having made a narrow escape from the flames.

    "The letters W. V. B. are also branded very distinctly on his
    forehead," interrupted a second equerry, "I supposed them, of course,
    to be the initials of Wilhelm Von Berlifitzing - but all at the
    castle are positive in denying any knowledge of the horse."

    "Extremely singular!" said the young Baron, with a musing air,
    and apparently unconscious of the meaning of his words. "He is, as
    you say, a remarkable horse - a prodigious horse! although, as you
    very justly observe, of a suspicious and untractable character, let
    him be mine, however," he added, after a pause, "perhaps a rider like
    Frederick of Metzengerstein, may tame even the devil from the stables
    of Berlifitzing."

    "You are mistaken, my lord; the horse, as I think we mentioned,
    is _not_ from the stables of the Count. If such had been the case, we
    know our duty better than to bring him into the presence of a noble
    of your family."

    "True!" observed the Baron, dryly, and at that instant a page of
    the bedchamber came from the palace with a heightened color, and a
    precipitate step. He whispered into his master's ear an account of
    the sudden disappearance of a small portion of the tapestry, in an
    apartment which he designated; entering, at the same time, into
    particulars of a minute and circumstantial character; but from the
    low tone of voice in which these latter were communicated, nothing
    escaped to gratify the excited curiosity of the equerries.

    The young Frederick, during the conference, seemed agitated by a
    variety of emotions. He soon, however, recovered his composure, and
    an expression of determined malignancy settled upon his countenance,
    as he gave peremptory orders that a certain chamber should be
    immediately locked up, and the key placed in his own possession.

    "Have you heard of the unhappy death of the old hunter
    Berlifitzing?" said one of his vassals to the Baron, as, after the
    departure of the page, the huge steed which that nobleman had adopted
    as his own, plunged and curvetted, with redoubled fury, down the long
    avenue which extended from the chateau to the stables of
    Metzengerstein.

    "No!" said the Baron, turning abruptly toward the speaker, "dead!
    say you?"

    "It is indeed true, my lord; and, to a noble of your name, will
    be, I imagine, no unwelcome intelligence."

    A rapid smile shot over the countenance of the listener. "How
    died he?"

    "In his rash exertions to rescue a favorite portion of his
    hunting stud, he has himself perished miserably in the flames."

    "I-n-d-e-e-d-!" ejaculated the Baron, as if slowly and
    deliberately impressed with the truth of some exciting idea.

    "Indeed;" repeated the vassal.

    "Shocking!" said the youth, calmly, and turned quietly into the
    chateau.

    From this date a marked alteration took place in the outward
    demeanor of the dissolute young Baron Frederick Von Metzengerstein.
    Indeed, his behavior disappointed every expectation, and proved
    little in accordance with the views of many a manoeuvering mamma;
    while his habits and manner, still less than formerly, offered any
    thing congenial with those of the neighboring aristocracy. He was
    never to be seen beyond the limits of his own domain, and, in this
    wide and social world, was utterly companionless - unless, indeed,
    that unnatural, impetuous, and fiery-colored horse, which he
    henceforward continually bestrode, had any mysterious right to the
    title of his friend.

    Numerous invitations on the part of the neighborhood for a long
    time, however, periodically came in. "Will the Baron honor our
    festivals with his presence?" "Will the Baron join us in a hunting of
    the boar?" - "Metzengerstein does not hunt;" "Metzengerstein will not
    attend," were the haughty and laconic answers.

    These repeated insults were not to be endured by an imperious
    nobility. Such invitations became less cordial - less frequent - in
    time they ceased altogether. The widow of the unfortunate Count
    Berlifitzing was even heard to express a hope "that the Baron might
    be at home when he did not wish to be at home, since he disdained the
    company of his equals; and ride when he did not wish to ride, since
    he preferred the society of a horse." This to be sure was a very
    silly explosion of hereditary pique; and merely proved how singularly
    unmeaning our sayings are apt to become, when we desire to be
    unusually energetic.

    The charitable, nevertheless, attributed the alteration in the
    conduct of the young nobleman to the natural sorrow of a son for the
    untimely loss of his parents - forgetting, however, his atrocious and
    reckless behavior during the short period immediately succeeding that
    bereavement. Some there were, indeed, who suggested a too haughty
    idea of self-consequence and dignity. Others again (among them may be
    mentioned the family physician) did not hesitate in speaking of
    morbid melancholy, and hereditary ill-health; while dark hints, of a
    more equivocal nature, were current among the multitude.

    Indeed, the Baron's perverse attachment to his lately-acquired
    charger - an attachment which seemed to attain new strength from
    every fresh example of the animal's ferocious and demon-like
    propensities - at length became, in the eyes of all reasonable men, a
    hideous and unnatural fervor. In the glare of noon - at the dead hour
    of night - in sickness or in health - in calm or in tempest - the
    young Metzengerstein seemed rivetted to the saddle of that colossal
    horse, whose intractable audacities so well accorded with his own
    spirit.

    There were circumstances, moreover, which coupled with late
    events, gave an unearthly and portentous character to the mania of
    the rider, and to the capabilities of the steed. The space passed
    over in a single leap had been accurately measured, and was found to
    exceed, by an astounding difference, the wildest expectations of the
    most imaginative. The Baron, besides, had no particular _name_ for
    the animal, although all the rest in his collection were
    distinguished by characteristic appellations. His stable, too, was
    appointed at a distance from the rest; and with regard to grooming
    and other necessary offices, none but the owner in person had
    ventured to officiate, or even to enter the enclosure of that
    particular stall. It was also to be observed, that although the three
    grooms, who had caught the steed as he fled from the conflagration at
    Berlifitzing, had succeeded in arresting his course, by means of a
    chain-bridle and noose - yet no one of the three could with any
    certainty affirm that he had, during that dangerous struggle, or at
    any period thereafter, actually placed his hand upon the body of the
    beast. Instances of peculiar intelligence in the demeanor of a noble
    and high-spirited horse are not to be supposed capable of exciting
    unreasonable attention - especially among men who, daily trained to
    the labors of the chase, might appear well acquainted with the
    sagacity of a horse - but there were certain circumstances which
    intruded themselves per force upon the most skeptical and phlegmatic;
    and it is said there were times when the animal caused the gaping
    crowd who stood around to recoil in horror from the deep and
    impressive meaning of his terrible stamp - times when the young
    Metzengerstein turned pale and shrunk away from the rapid and
    searching expression of his earnest and human-looking eye.

    Among all the retinue of the Baron, however, none were found to
    doubt the ardor of that extraordinary affection which existed on the
    part of the young nobleman for the fiery qualities of his horse; at
    least, none but an insignificant and misshapen little page, whose
    deformities were in everybody's way, and whose opinions were of the
    least possible importance. He - if his ideas are worth mentioning at
    all - had the effrontery to assert that his master never vaulted into
    the saddle without an unaccountable and almost imperceptible shudder,
    and that, upon his return from every long-continued and habitual
    ride, an expression of triumphant malignity distorted every muscle in
    his countenance.

    One tempestuous night, Metzengerstein, awaking from a heavy
    slumber, descended like a maniac from his chamber, and, mounting in
    hot haste, bounded away into the mazes of the forest. An occurrence
    so common attracted no particular attention, but his return was
    looked for with intense anxiety on the part of his domestics, when,
    after some hours' absence, the stupendous and magnificent battlements
    of the Chateau Metzengerstein, were discovered crackling and rocking
    to their very foundation, under the influence of a dense and livid
    mass of ungovernable fire.

    As the flames, when first seen, had already made so terrible a
    progress that all efforts to save any portion of the building were
    evidently futile, the astonished neighborhood stood idly around in
    silent and pathetic wonder. But a new and fearful object soon
    rivetted the attention of the multitude, and proved how much more
    intense is the excitement wrought in the feelings of a crowd by the
    contemplation of human agony, than that brought about by the most
    appalling spectacles of inanimate matter.

    Up the long avenue of aged oaks which led from the forest to the
    main entrance of the Chateau Metzengerstein, a steed, bearing an
    unbonneted and disordered rider, was seen leaping with an impetuosity
    which outstripped the very Demon of the Tempest.

    The career of the horseman was indisputably, on his own part,
    uncontrollable. The agony of his countenance, the convulsive struggle
    of his frame, gave evidence of superhuman exertion: but no sound,
    save a solitary shriek, escaped from his lacerated lips, which were
    bitten through and through in the intensity of terror. One instant,
    and the clattering of hoofs resounded sharply and shrilly above the
    roaring of the flames and the shrieking of the winds - another, and,
    clearing at a single plunge the gate-way and the moat, the steed
    bounded far up the tottering staircases of the palace, and, with its
    rider, disappeared amid the whirlwind of chaotic fire.

    The fury of the tempest immediately died away, and a dead calm
    sullenly succeeded. A white flame still enveloped the building like a
    shroud, and, streaming far away into the quiet atmosphere, shot forth
    a glare of preternatural light; while a cloud of smoke settled
    heavily over the battlements in the distinct colossal figure of - _a
    horse_.
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