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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 �tre 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

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

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

"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

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

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

Edgar Allan Poe