Pestis eram vivus—moriens tua mors ero.
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
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
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
, 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
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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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