But now suddenly the high walls appeared lined with books, the old spinet gave way to the secretaire of some man of learning, whose full-bottomed wig was peering above the back of a red-leather arm-chair. I could hear the quill coursing over the paper. The learned man, buried in thought, never moved; the silence was oppressive.
But fancy my astonishment when, slowly turning, the great scholar faced me, and I recognised the portrait of the famous lawyer Gregorius, marked No. 253 in the portrait-gallery at Darmstadt.
How on earth had this personage walked out of his grave?
I was asking myself this question when, in a hollow sepulchral voice, he pronounced these words:—
“Dominorum, ex jure Quintio, est jus utendi et abutendi quatenus naturalis ratio patitur.”
As this sapient precept dropped oracularly from his lips, a word at a time, his figure faded and turned pale. With the last word he had passed out of existence.
What more shall I tell you, my dear friends? For hours, twenty generations came defiling past me in Hans Burckhardt’s ancient mansion—Christians and Jews, nobles and commoners, fools and wise men of high art, and men of mere prose. Every one proclaimed his indefeasible right to the property; every one firmly believed himself sole lord and master of all he surveyed. Alas! Death breathed upon one after another, and they were all carried out, each as his turn came!
I was beginning to be familiar with this strange phantasmagoria. Each time that any of these honest folks turned round and declared to me, “This is mine!” I laughed and said, “Wait a bit, my fine fellow!—you will melt away just like the rest!”
At last I began to feel tired of it, when far away—very far—the cock crowed, announcing the dawn of day. His piercing call began to rouse the sleeper. The leaves rustled with the morning air; a slight shiver shook my frame; I felt my limbs gradually regaining their freedom, and, resting upon my elbow, I gazed with rapture upon the silent wide-spread land. But what I saw presently did not tend to exalt my spirits.
Along the little winding path to the cemetery were moving, in solemn procession, all the ghosts that had visited me in the night. Step by step they approached the decaying moss-grown door of the sacred inclosure; that silent, mournful march of spectres under the dim grey light of early morning was a gaunt and fearful sight.
And as I lay, more dead than alive, with gaping mouth and my face wet with cold perspiration, the head of the dismal line melted and disappeared among the weeping willows.
There were not many spectres, left, and I was beginning to feel a little more composed, when the very last, my uncle Christian himself, turned round to me under the mossy gate and beckoned me to follow! A distant faint ironical voice said—
“Caspar! Caspar! come! Six feet of this ground belong to you!”