The True Story of a Vampire
by Count Stenbock Eric
Vampire stories are generally located in Styria; mine is also.
Styria is by no means the romantic kind of place described by those
who have certainly never been there. It is a flat, uninteresting
country, only celebrated for its turkeys, its capons, and the
stupidity of its inhabitants. Vampires generally arrive at night, in
carriages drawn by two black horses.
Our Vampire arrived by the commonplace means of the railway train,
and in the afternoon.
You must think I am joking, or perhaps that by the word "Vampire" I
mean a financial vampire.
No, I am quite serious. The Vampire of whom I am speaking, who laid
waste our hearth and home, was a real vampire.
Vampires are generally described as dark, sinister-looking, and
singularly handsome. Our Vampire was, on the contrary, rather fair,
and certainly was not at first sight sinister-looking, and though
decidedly attractive in appearance, not what one would call singularly
Yes, he desolated our home, killed my brother—the one object of my
adoration—also my dear father. Yet, at the same time, I must say that
I myself came under the spell of his fascination, and, in spite of
all, have no ill-will towards him now.
Doubtless you have read in the papers passim of "the Baroness and
her beasts." It is to tell how I came to spend most of my useless
wealth on an asylum for stray animals that I am writing this.
I am old now; what happened then was when I was a little girl of
about thirteen. I will begin by describing our household. We were
Poles: our name was Wronski: we lived in Styria, where we had a
castle. Our household was very limited. It consisted, with the
exclusion of domestics, of only my father, our governess—a worthy
Belgian named Mademoiselle Vonnaert—my brother, and myself. Let me
begin with my father: he was old and both my brother and I were
children of his old age. Of my mother I remember nothing: she died in
giving birth to my brother, who was only one year, or not as much,
younger than in self. Our father was studious, continually occupied in
reading books, chiefly on recondite subjects and in all kinds of
He had a long white beard, and wore habitually a black velvet
How kind he was to us! It was more than I could tell. Still it was
not I who was the favourite.
His whole heart went out to Gabriel—Gabryel as we spelt it in
Polish. He was always called by the Russian abbreviation Gavril—I
mean, of course, my brother, who had a resemblance to the only
portrait of my mother, a slight chalk sketch which hung in my father's
study. But I was by no means jealous: my brother was and has been the
only love of my life. It is for his sake that I am now keeping in
Westbourne Park a home for stray cats and dogs.
I was at that time, as I said before, a little girl; my name was
Carmela. My long tangled hair was always all over the place, and never
would combed straight. I was not pretty—at least, looking at a
photograph of me at that time. I do not think I could describe myself
as such. Yet at the same time, when I look at the photograph, I think
my expression may have been pleasing to some people: irregular
features, large mouth, and large wild eyes.
I was by way of being naughty—not so naughty Gabriel in the
opinion of Mlle Vonnaert. Mlle Vonnaert. I may intercalate, was a
wholly excellent person, middle-aged, who really did speak good
French, although she was a Belgian, and could also make herself
understood in German, which, as you may or may not know, is the
current language of Styria.
I find it difficult to describe my brother Gabriel; there was
something about him strange and superhuman, or perhaps I should rather
say praeterhuman, something between the animal and the divine. Perhaps
the Greek idea of the Faun might illustrate what I mean: but that will
not do either. He had large, wild, gazelle-like eyes: his hair, like
mine, was in a perpetual tangle—that point he had in common with me,
and indeed, as I afterwards heard, our mother having been of gipsy
race, it will account for much of the innate wildness there was in our
natures. I was wild enough, but Gabriel was much wilder. Nothing would
induce him to put on shoes and stockings, except on Sundays—when he
also allowed his hair to be combed, but only by me. How shall I
describe the grace of that lovely mouth, shaped verily "en arc
d'amour." I always think of the text in the Psalm, "Grace is shed
forth on thy lips, therefore has God blessed thee eternally"— lips
that seemed to exhale the very breath of life. Then that beautiful,
lithe, living, elastic form!
He could run faster than any deer: spring like a squirrel to the
topmost branch of a tree: he might have stood for the sign and symbol
of vitality itself. But seldom could he be induced by Mlle Vonnaert to
learn lessons; but when he did so, he learnt with extraordinary
quickness. He would play upon every conceivable instrument, holding a
violin here, there, and everywhere except the right place:
manufacturing instruments for himself out of reeds—even sticks. Mlle
Vonnaert made futile efforts to induce him to learn to play the piano.
I suppose he was what was called spoilt, though merely in the
superficial sense of the word. Our father allowed him to indulge in
One of his peculiarities, when quite a little child, was horror at
the sight of meat. Nothing on earth would induce him to taste it.
Another thing which was particularly remarkable about him was his
extraordinary power over animals. Everything seemed to come tame to his
hand. Birds would sit on his shoulder. Then sometimes Mlle Vonnaert
and I would lose him in the woods— he would suddenly dart away. Then
we would find him singing softly or whistling to himself, with all
manner of woodland creatures around him—hedgehogs, little foxes, wild
rabbits, marmots, squirrels, and such like. He would frequently bring
these things home with him and insist on keeping them. This strange
menagerie was the terror of poor Mlle Vonnaert's heart. He chose to
live in a little room at the top of a turret; but which, instead of
going upstairs, he chose to reach by means of a very tall
chestnut-tree, through the window. But in contradiction of all his, it
was his custom to serve every Sunday Mass in the parish church, with
hair nicely combed and with white surplice and red cassock. He looked
as demure and tamed as possible. Then came the element of the divine.
What an expression of ecstasy there was in those glorious eyes!
Thus far I have not been speaking about the Vampire. However, let
me begin with my narrative at last. One day my father had to go to the
neighbouring town—as he frequently had. This time he returned
accompanied by a guest. The gentleman, he said, had missed his train,
through the late arrival of another at our station, which was a
junction, and he would therefore, as trains were not frequent in our
parts, have had to wait there all night. He had joined in conversation
with my father in the too-late-arriving train from the town: and had
consequently accepted my father's invitation to stay the night at our
house. But of course, you know, in those out-of-the-way parts we are
almost patriarchal in our hospitality.
He was announced under the name of Count Vardalek—the name being
Hungarian. But he spoke German well enough: not with the monotonous
accentuation of Hungarians, but rather, if anything, with a slight
Slavonic intonation. His voice was peculiarly soft and insinuating. We
soon afterwards found that he could talk Polish, and Mlle Vonnaert
vouched for his good French.
Indeed he seemed to know all languages. But let me give my first
impressions. He was rather tall with fair wavy hair, rather long,
which accentuated a certain effeminacy about his smooth face.
His figure had something—I cannot say what—serpentine about it.
The features were refined; and he had long, slender, subtle,
magnetic-looking hands, a somewhat long sinuous nose, a graceful
mouth, and an attractive smile, which belied the intense sadness of the
expression of the eyes. When he arrived his eyes were half
closed—indeed they were habitually so—so that I could not decide
their colour. He looked worn and wearied. I could not possibly guess
Suddenly Gabriel burst into the room: a yellow butterfly was
clinging to his hair. He was carrying in his arms a little squirrel.
Of course he was barelegged as usual. The stranger looked up at his
approach; then I noticed his eves. They were green: they seemed to
dilate and grow larger. Gabriel stood stock-still, with a startled
look, like that of a bird fascinated by a serpent.
But nevertheless he held out his hand to the newcomer Vardalek,
taking his hand—I don't know why I noticed this trivial
thing—pressed the pulse with his forefinger. Suddenly Gabriel darted
from the room and rushed upstairs, going to his turret-room this time
by the staircase instead of the tree. I was in terror what the Count
might think of him. Great was my relief when he came down in his
velvet Sunday suit, and shoes and stockings. I combed his hair, and set
him generally right.
When the stranger came down to dinner his appearance had somewhat
altered; he looked much younger. There was an elasticity of the skin,
combined with a delicate complexion, rarely to be found in a man.
Before, he had struck me as being very pale.
Well, at dinner we were all charmed with him, especially my father.
He seemed to be thoroughly acquainted with all my father's particular
hobbies. Once, when my father was relating some of his military
experiences, he said something about a drummer-boy who was wounded in
battle. His eyes opened completely again and dilated: this time with a
particularly disagreeable expression, dull and dead, yet at the same
time animated by some horrible excitement. But this was only
The chief subject of his conversation with my father was about
certain curious mystical books which my father had just lately picked
up, and which he could not make out, but Vardalek seemed completely to
understand. At dessert-time my father asked him if he were in a great
hurry to reach his destination: if not, would he not stay with us a
little while: though our place was out of the way, he would find much
that would interest him in his library.
He answered, "I am in no hurry. I have no particular reason for
going to that place at all, and if I can be of service to you in
deciphering these books, I shall be only too glad." He added with a
smile which was bitter, very very bitter: "You see I am a
cosmopolitan, a wanderer on the face of the earth."
After dinner my father asked him if he played the piano. He said,
"Yes, I can a little," and he sat down at the piano. Then he played a
Hungarian csardas—wild, rhapsodic, wonderful.
That is the music which makes men mad. He went on in the same
Gabriel stood stock-still by the piano, his eyes dilated and fixed,
his form quivering. At last he said very slowly, at one particular
motive—for want of a better word you may call it the relâche of a
csardas, by which I mean that point where the original quasi-slow
movement begins again— "Yes, I think I could play that."
Then he quickly fetched his fiddle and self-made xylophone, and
did, actually alternating the instruments, render the same very well
Vardalek looked at him, and said in. a very sad voice, "Poor child!
you have the soul of music within you."
I could not understand why he should seem to commiserate instead of
congratulate Gabriel on what certainly showed an extraordinary talent.
Gabriel was shy even as the wild animals who were tame to him. Never
before had he taken to a stranger. Indeed, as a rule, if any stranger
came to the house by any chance, he would hide himself, and I had to
bring him up his food to the turret chamber. You may imagine what was
my surprise when I saw him walking about hand in hand with Vardalek
the next morning, in the garden, talking lively with him, and showing
his collection of pet animals, which he had gathered from the woods,
and for which we had had to fit up a regular zoological gardens. He
seemed utterly under the domination of Vardalek. What surprised us was
(for otherwise we liked the stranger, especially for being kind to
him) that he seemed, though not noticeably at first—except perhaps to
me, who noticed everything with regard to him—to be gradually losing
his general health and vitality. He did not become pale as yet; but
there was a certain languor about his movements which certainly there
was by no means before.
My father got more and more devoted to Count Vardalek. He helped
him in his studies: and my father would hardly allow him to go away,
which he did sometimes—to Trieste, he said: he always came back,
bringing us presents of strange Oriental jewellery or textures.
I knew all kinds of people came to Trieste, Orientals included.
Still, there was a strangeness and magnificence about these things
which I was sure even then could not possibly have come from such a
place as Trieste, memorable to me chiefly for its necktie shops.
When Vardalek was away, Gabriel was continually asking for him and
talking about him. Then at the same time he seemed to regain his old
vitality and spirits. Vardalek always returned looking much older,
wan, and weary. Gabriel would rush to meet him, and kiss him on the
mouth. Then he gave a slight shiver: and after a little while began to
look quite young again.
Things continued like this for some time. My father would not hear
of Vardalek's going away permanently. He came to be an inmate of our
house. I indeed, and Mlle Vonnaert also, could not help noticing what
a difference there was altogether about Gabriel. But my father seemed
totally blind to it.
One night I had gone downstairs to fetch something which I had left
in the drawing-room. As I was going up again I passed Vardalek's room.
He was playing on a piano, which had been specially put there for him,
one of Chopin's nocturnes, very beautifully: I stopped, leaning on the
banisters to listen.
Something white appeared on the dark staircase. We believed in
ghosts in our part. I was transfixed with terror, and clung to the
baIlisters. What was my astonishment to see Gabriel walking slowly
down the staircase, his eyes fixed as though in a trance! This
terrified me even more than a ghost would. Could I believe my senses?
Could that be Gabriel?
I simply could not move. Gabriel, clad in his long white
night-shirt, came downstairs and opened the door. He left it open.
Vardalek still continued playing, but talked as he played.
He said—this time speaking in Polish—Nie umiem wyrazic jak ciechi
kocham—"My darling, I fain would spare thee: but thy life is my life,
and I must live, I who would rather die. Will God not have any mercy
on me? Oh! Oh! life; oh, the torture of life!" Here he struck one
agonized and strange chord, then continued playing softly, "O,
Gabriel, my beloved! my life, yes life—oh, why life? I am sure this
is but a little that I demand of thee. Sorely thy superabundance of
life can spare little to one who is already dead. No, stay," he said
now almost harshly, "what must be, must be!"
Gabriel stood there quite still, with the same fixed vacant
expression, in the room. He was evidently walking in his sleep.
Vardalek played on: then said, "Ah!" with a sign of terrible agony.
Then very gently, ''Go now, Gabriel; it is enough." And Gabriel went
out of the room.and ascended the staircase at the same slow pace, with
the same unconscious stare. Vardalek struck the piano, and although he
did not play loudly, it seemed as though the strings would break. You
never heard music so strange and so heart-rending!
I only know I was found by Mlle Vonnaert in the morning, in an
unconscious state, at the foot of the stairs. Was it a dream after
all? I am sure now that it was not. I thought then it might be, and
said nothing to anyone about it. Indeed, what could I say?
Well, to let me cut a long story short, Gabriel, who had never
known a moment's sickness in his life, grew ill: and we had to send to
Gratz for a doctor, who could give no explanation of Gabriel's strange
illness. Gradual wasting away, he said: absolutely no organic
complaint. What could this mean?
My father at last became conscious of the fact that Gabriel was
ill. His anxiety was fearful. The last trace of grey faded from his
hair, and it became quite white. We sent to Vienna for doctors.
But all with the same result.
Gabriel was generally unconscious, and when conscious, only seemed
to recognize Vardalek, who sat continually by his bedside, nursing him
with the utmost tenderness.
One day I was alone in the room: and Vardalek cried suddenly,
almost fiercely, "Send for a priest at once, at once," he repeated.
"It is now almost too late!"
Gabriel stretched out his arms spasmodically, and put them round
Vardalek's neck. This was the only movement he had made, for some
time. Vardalek bent down and kissed him on the lips.
I rushed downstairs: and the priest was sent for. When I came back
Vardalek was not there. The priest administered extreme unction. I
think Gabriel was already dead, although we did not think so at the
Vardalek had utterly disappeared; and when we looked for him he was
nowhere to be found; nor have I seen or heard of him since.
My father died very soon afterwards: suddenly aged, and bent down
with grief. And so the whole of the Wronski property came into my sole
possession. And here I am, an old woman, generally laughed at for
keeping, in memory of Gabriel, an asylum for stray animals—and—
people do not, as a rule, believe in Vampires!