The Spectre Hand
Do the dead ever revisit this earth?
On this subject even the ponderous and unsentimental Dr. Johnson
was of opinion that to maintain they did not, was to oppose the
concurrent and unvarying testimony of all ages and nations, as
there was no people so barbarous, and none so civilized, but among
whom apparitions of the dead were related and believed in. "That
which is doubted by single cavillers," he adds, "can very little
weaken the general evidence, and some who deny it with their
tongues confess it by their fears."
In the August of last year I found myself with three friends,
when on a northern tour, at the Hotel de Scandinavie, in the long
and handsome Carl Johan Gade of Christiana. A single day, or little
more, had sufficed us to "do" all the lions of the little Norwegian
capital—the royal palace, a stately white building, guarded by
slouching Norski riflemen in long coats, with wide-awakes and green
plumes; the great brick edifice wherein the Storthing is held, and
where the red lion appears on everything, from the king's throne to
the hall-porter's coal-scuttle; the castle of Aggerhuis and its
petty armoury, with a single suit of mail, and the long muskets of
the Scots who fell at Rhomsdhal; after which there is nothing more
to be seen; and when the little Tivoli gardens close at ten, all
Christiana goes to sleep till dawn next morning.
English carriages being perfectly useless in Norway, we had
ordered four of the native carrioles for our departure, as we were
resolved to start for the wild mountainous district named the
Dovrefeld, when a delay in the arrival of certain letters compelled
me to remain two days behind my companions, who promised to await
me at Rodnaes, near the head of the magnificent Rans-fiord; and
this partial separation, with the subsequent circumstance of having
to travel alone through districts that were totally strange to me,
with but a slight knowledge of the language, were the means of
bringing to my knowledge the story I am about to relate.
The table d'hôte is over by two o'clock in the fashionable
hotels of Christiana, so about four in the afternoon I quitted the
city, the streets and architecture of which resemble portions of
Tottenham Court Road, with stray bits of old Chester. In my
carriole, a comfortable kind of gig, were my portmanteau and
gun-case; these, with my whole person, and indeed the body of the
vehicle itself, being covered by one of those huge tarpaulin cloaks
furnished by the carriole company in the Store Standgade.
Though the rain was beginning to fall with a force and density
peculiarly Norse when I left behind me the red-tiled city with all
its green coppered spires, I could not but be struck by the bold
beauty of the scenery, as the strong little horse at a rasping pace
tore the light carriole along the rough mountain road, which was
bordered by natural forests of dark and solemn-looking pines,
interspersed with graceful silver birches, the greenness of the
foliage contrasting powerfully with the blue of the narrow fiords
that opened on every hand, and with the colours in which the
toy-like country houses were painted, their timber walls being
always snowy white, and their shingle roofs a flaming red. Even
some of the village spires wore the same sanguinary hue, presenting
thus a singular feature in the landscape.
The rain increased to an unpleasant degree; the afternoon seemed
to darken into evening, and the evening into night sooner than
usual, while dense masses of vapour came rolling down the steep
sides of the wooded hills, over which the sombre firs spread
everywhere and up every vista.that opened, like a sea of cones; and
as the houses became fewer and further apart, and not a single
wanderer was abroad, and I had but the pocket-map of my "John
Murray" to guide me, I soon became convinced that instead of
pursuing the route to Rodnaes I was somewhere on the banks of the
Tyri-fiord, at least three Norwegian miles (i.e. twenty-one
English) in the opposite direction, my little horse worn out, the
rain still falling in a continual torrent, night already at hand,
and mountain scenery of the most tremendous character everywhere
around me. I was in an almost circular valley (encompassed by a
chain of hills), which opened before me, after leaving a deep chasm
that the road enters, near a place which I afterwards learned bears
the name of Krogkleven.
Owing to the steepness of the road, and some decay in the
harness of my hired carriole, the traces parted, and then I found
myself, with the now useless horse and vehicle, far from any house,
homestead, or village where I could have the damage repaired or
procure shelter, the rain still pouring like a sheet of water, the
thick, shaggy, and impenetrable woods of Norwegian pine towering
all about mc, their shadows rendered all the darker by the unusual
gloom of the night.
To remain quietly in the carriole was unsuitable to a temperment
so impatient as mine; I drew it aside from the road, spread the
tarpaulin over my small stock of baggage and the gun-case, haltered
the pony to it, and set forth on foot, stiff, sore, and weary, in
search of succour; and, though armed only with a Norwegian
tolknife, having no fear of thieves or of molestation.
Following the road on foot in the face of the blinding rain, a
Scotch plaid and oilskin my sole protection now, I perceived ere
long a side-gate and little avenue, which indicated my vicinity to
some place of abode. After proceeding about three hundred yards or
so, the wood became more open, a light appeared before me, and I
found it to proceed from a window on the ground floor of a little
two-storeyed mansion, built entirely of wood. The sash, which was
divided in the middle, was unbolted, and stood partially and most
invitingly open; and knowing how hospitable the Norwegians are,
without troubling myself to look for the entrance-door, I stepped
over the low sill into the room (which was tenantless) and looked
about for a bell-pull, forgetting that in that country, where there
are no mantelpieces, it is generally to be found behind the
The floor was, of course, bare, and painted brown; a high German
stove, like a black iron pillar, stood in one corner on a stone
block; the door, which evidently communicated with some other
apartment, was constructed to open in the middle, with one of the
quaint lever handles peculiar to the country. The furniture was all
of plain Norwegian pine, highly varnished; a reindeer-skin spread
on the floor, and another over an easy chair, were the only
luxuries; and on the table lay the "Illustret Tidende," the
"Aftonblat," and other papers of that morning, with a meerschaum
and pouch of tobacco, all serving to show that some one had
recently quitted the room.
I had just taken in all these details by a glance, when there
entered a tall thin man of gentlemanly appearance, clad in a rough
tweed suit, with a scarlet shirt, open at the throat, a simple but
degagé style of costume, which he seemed to wear with a natural
grace, for it is not every man who can dress thus and still retain
am air of distinction. Pausing, he looked at me with some surprise
and inquiringly, as I began my apologies and explanation in
"Taler de Dansk-Norsk," said he, curtly.
"I cannot speak either with fluency, but—"
"You are welcome, however, and I shall assist you in the
prosecution of your journey.
Meantime, here is cognac. I am an old soldier, and know the
comforts of a full canteen, and of the Indian weed, too, in a wet
bivouac. There is a pipe at your service.".I thanked him, and
(while he gave directions to his servants to go after the carriole
proceeded to observe him more closely, for something in his
voice and eye interested me deeply.
There was much of broken-hearted melancholy—something that
indicated a hidden sorrow—in his features, which were handsome, and
very slightly aquiline. His face was pale and careworn; his hair
and moustache, though plentiful, were perfectly white-blanched, yet
he did not seem over forty years of age. His eyes were blue, but
without softness, being strangely keen and sad in expression, and
times there were when a startled look, that savoured of fright, or
pain, or insanity, or of all mingled, came suddenly into them. This
unpleasant expression tended greatly to neutralize the symmetry of
a face that otherwise was evidently a fine one. Suddenly a light
seemed to spread over it, as I threw off some of my sodden
mufflings, and he exclaimed— "You speak Danskija, and English too,
I know! Have you quite forgotten me, Herr Kaptain?"
he added, grasping my hand with kindly energy. "Don't you
remember Carl Holberg of the Danish Guards?"
The voice was the same as that of the once happy, lively, and
jolly young, Danish officer, whose gaiety of temper and exuberance
of spirit made him seem a species of madcap, who was wont to give
champagne suppers at the Klampenborg Gardens to great ladies of the
court and to ballet-girls of the Hof Theatre with equal liberality;
to whom many a fair Danish girl had lost her heart, and who, it was
said, had once the effrontery to commence a flirtation with one of
the royal princesses when he was on guard at the Amalienborg
Palace. But how was I to reconcile this change, the appearance of
many years of premature age, that had come upon him?
"I remember you perfectly, Carl," said I, while we shook hands;
"yet it is so long since we met; moreover—excuse me—but I knew not
whether you were in the land of the living."
The strange expression, which I cannot define, came over his
face as he said, with a low, sad tone— "Times there are when I know
not whether I am of the living or the dead. It is twenty years
since our happy days—twenty years since I was wounded at the Battle
of Idstedt—and it seems as if 'twere twenty ages."
"Old friend, I am indeed glad to meet you again."
"Yes, old you may call me with truth," said he, with a sad,
weary smile, as he passed his hand tremulously over his whitened
locks, which I could remember being a rich auburn.
All reserve was at an end now, and we speedily recalled a score
and more of past scenes of merriment and pleasure, enjoyed
together—prior to the campaign of Holstein—in Copenhagen, that most
delightful and gay of all the northern cities; and, under the
influence of memory, his now withered face seemed to brighten, and
some of its former expression stole back again.
"Is this your fishing or shooting quarters, Carl?" I asked.
"Neither. It is my permanent abode."
"In this place, so rural—so solitary? Ah! you have become a
Benedick—taken to love in a cottage, and so forth—yet I don't see
any signs of—"
"Hush! for godsake! You know not who hears us," he exclaimed, as
terror came over his face; and he withdrew his hand from the table
on which it was resting, with a nervous suddenness of action that
was unaccountable, or as if hot iron had touched it.
"Why ?—Can we not talk of such things?" asked I.
"Scarcely here—or anywhere to me," he said, incoherently. Then,
fortifying himself with a stiff glass of cognac and foaming
seltzer, he added: "You know that my engagement with my cousin
Marie Louise Viborg was broken off—beautiful though she was,
perhaps is still, for even.twenty years could not destroy her
loveliness of feature and brilliance of expression—but you never
"I thought you behaved ill to her—were mad, in fact."
A spasm came over his face. Again he twitched his hand away as
if a wasp had stung, or something unseen had touched it, as he
said— "She was very proud, imperious and jealous."
"She resented, of course, your openly wearing the opal ring
which was thrown to you from the palace window by the
"The ring—the ring! Oh, do not speak of that!" said he, in a
hollow tone. "Mad ?—yes, I was mad— and yet I am not, though I have
undergone, and even now am undergoing, that which would break the
heart of a Holger Danske! But you shall hear, if I can tell it with
coherence and without interruption, the reason why I fled from
society, and the world—and for all these twenty miserable years
have buried myself in this mountain solitude, where the forest
overhangs the fiord, and where no woman's face shall ever smile on
mine! In short, after some reflection and many involuntary
sighs—and being urged, when the determination to un-bosom himself
wavered—Carl Holberg related to me a little narrative so singular
and wild, that but for the sad gravity—or intense solemnity of his
manner—and the air of perfect conviction that his manner bore with
it, I should have deemed him utterly—mad!
"Marie Louise and I were to be married, as you remember, to cure
me of all my frolics and expensive habits—the very day was fixed;
you were to be the groomsman, and had selected a suite of jewels
for the bride in the Kongens Nytorre; but the war that broke out in
Schleswig-Holstein drew my battalion of the guards to the field,
whither I went without much regret so far as my fiancée was
concerned; for, sooth to say, both of us were somewhat weary of our
engagement, and were unsuited to each other: so we had not been
without piques, coldnesses, and even quarrels, till keeping up
appearances partook of boredom.
"I was with General Krogh when that decisive battle was fought
at Idstedt between our troops and the Germanising Holsteiners under
General Willisen. My battalion of the guards was detached from the
right wing with orders to advance from Salbro on the Holstein rear,
while the centre was to be attacked, pierced, and the batteries
beyond it carried at the point of the bayonet, all of which was
brilliantly done. But prior to that I was sent, with directions to
extend my company in skirmishing order, among thickets that covered
a knoll which is crowned by a ruined edifice, part of an old
monastery with a secluded burial-ground.
"Just prior to our opening fire the funeral of a lady of rank,
apparently, passed us, and I drew my men aside to make way for the
open catafalque, on which lay the coffin covered with white flowers
and silver coronets, while behind it were her female attendants,
clad in black cloaks in the usual fashion, and carrying wreaths of
white flowers and immortelles to lay upon the grave.
Desiring these mourners to make all speed lest they might find
themselves under a fire of cannon and musketry, my company opened,
at six hundred yards, on the Holsteiners, who were coming on with
great spirit. We skirmished with them for more than an hour, in the
long clear twilight of the July evening, and gradually, but with
considerable loss, were driving them through the thicket and over
the knoll on which the ruins stand, when a half-spent bullet
whistled through an opening in the mouldering wall and struck me on
the back part of the head, just below my bearskin cap. A thousand
stars seem to flash around me, then darkness succeeded. I staggered
and fell, believing myself mortally wounded; a pious invocation
trembled on my lips, the roar of the red and distant battle passed
away, and I became completely insensible.
"How long I lay thus I know not, but when I imagined myself
coming back to life and to the world I was in a handsome, but
rather old-fashioned apartment, hung, one portion of it
with.tapestry and the other with rich drapery. A subdued light that
came, I could not discover from where, filled it. On a buffet lay
my sword and my brown bearskin cap of the Danish Guards. I had been
borne from the field evidently, but when and to where? I was
extended on a soft fauteuil or couch, and my uniform coat was open.
Some one was kindly supporting my head—a woman dressed in white,
like a bride; young and so lovely, that to attempt any description
of her seems futile!
"She was like the fancy portraits one occasionally sees of
beautiful girls, for she was divine, perfectly so, as some
enthusiast's dream, or painter's happiest conception. A long
respiration, induced by admiration, delight, and the pain of my
wound escaped me. She was so exquisitely fair, delicate and pale,
middle-sized and slight, yet charmingly round, with hands that were
perfect, and marvellous golden hair that curled in rippling masses
about her forehead and shoulders, and from amid which her piquante
little face peeped forth as from a silken nest. Never have I
forgotten that face, nor shall I be permitted, to do so, while life
lasts at least," he added, with a strange contortion of feature,
expressive of terror rather than ardour; "it is ever before my
eyes, sleeping or waking, photographed in my heart and on my brain!
I strove to rise, but she stilled, or staved me, by a caressing
gesture, as a mother would her child, while softly her bright
beaming eyes smiled into mine, with more of tenderness, perhaps,
than love; while in her whole air there was much of dignity and
" 'Where am I?' was my first question.
" 'With me,' she answered naïvely; 'is it not enough?'
"I kissed her hand, and said— " 'The bullet, I remember, struck me
down in a place of burial on the Salbro Road—strange!'
" 'Why strange?'
" 'As I am fond of rambling among graves when in my thoughtful
" 'Among graves—why?' she asked.
" 'They look so peaceful and quiet.'
"Was she laughing at my unwonted gravity, that so strange a light
seemed to glitter in her eyes, on her teeth, and over all her
lovely face? I kissed her hands again, and she left them in
Adoration began to fill my heart and eyes, and be faintly
murmured on my lips; for the great beauty of the girl bewildered
and intoxicated me; and, perhaps, I was emboldened by past success
in more than one love affair. She sought to withdraw her hand,
" 'Look not thus; I know how lightly you hold the love of one
" 'Of my cousin Marie Louise? Oh! what of that! I never, never
loved till now!' and, drawing a ring from her finger, I slipped my
beautiful opal in its place.
" 'And you love me?" she whispered.
" 'Yes; a thousand times, yes!'
" 'But you are a soldier—wounded, too. Ah! if you should die before
we meet again!'
" 'Or, if you should die ere then?' said I, laughingly.
" 'Die—I am already dead to the world—in loving you; but, living
or dead, our souls are as one, and—'
" 'Neither heaven nor the powers beneath shall separate us now!' I
exclaimed, as something of melodrama began to mingle with the
genuineness of the sudden passion with which she had inspired me.
She was so impulsive, so full of brightness and ardour, as compared
to the cold, proud, and calm Marie Louise. I boldly encircled her
with my arms; then her glorious eyes seemed to fill with the subtle
light of love, while there was a strange magnetic thrill in her
touch, and, more than all, in her kiss.
" ' Carl, Carl!' she sighed.
" 'What! You know my name?—And yours?'
" 'Thyra. But ask no more.'
"There are but three words to express the emotion that possessed
me—bewilderment, intoxication, madness. I showered kisses on her
beautiful eyes, on her soft tresses, on her lips that met mine half
way; but this excess of joy, together with the pain of my wound,
began to overpower me; a sleep, a growing and drowsy torpor,
against which I struggled in vain, stole over me. I remember
clasping her firm little hand in mine, as if to save myself from
sinking into oblivion, and then—no more—no more!
"On again coming back to consciousness, I was alone. The sun was
rising, but had not yet risen. The scenery the thickets through
which we had skirmished, rose dark as the deepest indigo against
the amber-tinted eastern sky; and the last light of the waning moon
yet silvered the pools and marshes around the borders of the Langsö
Lake, where now eight thousand men, the slain of yesterday's
battle, were lying stark and stiff. Moist with dew and blood, I
propped myself on one elbow and looked around me, with such wonder
that a sickness came over my heart. I was again in the cemetery
where the bullet had struck me down; a little grey owl was whooping
and blinking in a recess of the crumbling wall. Was the drapery of
the chamber but the ivy that rustled thereon?—for where the buffet
stood there was an old square tomb, whereon lay my sword and
"The last rays of the waning moonlight stole through the ruins
on a new-made grave—the fancied fauteuil on which I lay—strewn with
the flowers of yesterday, and at its head stood a temporary cross,
hung with white garlands and wreaths of immortelles. Another ring
was on my finger now; but where was she, the donor? Oh, what
opium-dream, or what insanity was this?
"For a time I remained utterly bewildered by the vividness of my
recent dream, for such I believed it to be. But if a dream, how
came this strange ring, with a square emerald stone, upon my
finger? And where was mine? Perplexed by these thoughts, and filled
with wonder and regret that the beauty I had seen had no reality, I
picked my way over the ghostly débris of the battlefield, faint,
feverish, and thirsty, till at the end of a long avenue of lindens
I found shelter in a stately brick mansion, which I learned
belonged to the Count of Idstert, a noble, on whose hospitality—as
he favoured the Holsteiners—I meant to intrude as little as
"He received me, however, courteously and kindly. I found him in
deep mourning: and on discovering, by chance, that I was the
officer who had halted the line of skirmishers when the funeral
cortège passed on the previous day, he thanked me with earnestness,
adding, with a deep; sigh, that it was the burial of his only
" 'Half my life seems to have gone with her—my lost darling! She
was so sweet, Herr Kaptain—so gentle, and so surpassingly
beautiful—my poor Thyra!'
" 'Who did you say?' I exclaimed, in a voice that sounded strange
and unnatural, while half-starting from the sofa on which I had
cast myself, sick at heart and faint from loss of blood.
" 'Thyra, my daughter, Herr Kaptain,' replied the Count, too
full of sorrow to remark my excitement, for this had been the
quaint old Danish name uttered in my dream. 'See, what a child I
have lost!' he added, as he drew back a curtain which covered a
full-length portrait, and, to my growing horror and astonishment, I
beheld, arrayed in white even as I had seen her in my vision, the
fair girl with the masses of golden hair, the beautiful eyes, and
the piquante smile lighting up her features even on the canvas, and
I was rooted to the spot.
" 'This ring, Herr Count?' I gasped. He let the curtain fall
from his hand, and now a terrible emotion seized him, as he almost
tore the jewel from my finger.
" 'My daughter's ring!' he exclaimed. 'It was buried with her
yesterday—her grave has been violated—violated by your infamous
As he spoke, a mist seemed to come over my sight; a giddiness made
my senses reel, then a hand—the soft little hand of last night,
with my opal ring on its third finger—came stealing into mine,
unseen! More than that, a kiss from tremulous lips I could not see,
was pressed on mine, as I sank backward and fainted! The remainder
of my story must be briefly told.
"My soldiering was over; my nervous system was too much
shattered for further military service. On my homeward way to join
and be wedded to Marie Louise—a union with whom was intensely
repugnant to me now—I pondered deeply over the strange subversion
of the laws of nature presented by my adventure; or the madness, it
might be, that had come upon me.
On the day I presented myself to my intended bride and
approached to salute her, I felt a hand—the same hand—laid softly
on mine. Starting, and trembling, I looked around me; but saw
nothing. The grasp was firm. I passed my other hand over it, and
felt the slender fingers and the shapely wrist; yet still I saw
nothing, and Marie Louise gazed at my motions, my pallor, doubt and
terror, with calm, but cool indignation.
"I was about to speak—to explain—to say I know not what, when a
kiss from lips I could not see sealed mine, and with a cry like a
scream I broke away from my friends and fled.
"All deemed me mad, and spoke with commiseration of my wounded
head; and when I went abroad in the streets men eyed me with
curiosity, as one over whom some evil destiny hung—as one to whom
something terrible had happened, and gloomy thoughts were wasting
me to a shadow. My narrative may seem incredible; but this
attendant, unseen yet palpable, is ever by my side, and if under
any impulse, such even as sudden pleasure in meeting you, I for a
moment forget it, the soft and gentle touch of a female hand
reminds me of the past, and haunts me, for a guardian demon—if I
may use such a term—rules my destiny: one lovely, perhaps, as an
"Life has no pleasures, but only terrors for me now. Sorrow,
doubt, horror and perpetual dread, have sapped the roots of
existence; for a wild and clamorous fear of what the next moment
may bring forth is ever in my heart, and when the touch comes my
soul seems to die within me.
"You know what haunts me now—God help me! God help me! You do
not understand all this, you would say. Still less do I but in all
the idle or extravagant stories I have read of ghosts— stories once
my sport and ridicule, as the result of vulgar superstition or
ignorance—the so-called supernatural visitor was visible to the
eye, or heard by the ear; but the ghost, the fiend, the invisible
Thing that is ever by the side of Carl Holberg, is only sensible to
the touch—it is the unseen but tangible substance of an
He had got thus far when he gasped, grew livid, and, passing his
right hand over the left, about an inch above it, with trembling
fingers, he said—"It is here—here now—even with you present, I feel
her hand on mine; the clasp is tight and tender, and she will never
leave me, but with life!
And then this once gay, strong, and gallant fellow, now the
wreck of himself in body and in spirit, sank forward with his head
between his knees, sobbing and faint.
Four months afterwards, when with my friends, I was shooting
bears at Hammerfest, I read in the Norwegian "Aftenposten," that
Carl Holberg had shot himself in bed, on Christmas Eve.
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