The cold weather of the broad hills of the river valley had reached the edge of my 18th century manor in Northern Portugal. I had sojourned in the family home in the year 1909, for the leisure days and nights of the entire season of spring. The Córdova Manor was indeed a magnificent two storey building that had an imposing curved portico that was illumined by the large windows, with its embellished structure standing. There was a regal balcony that protruded over the mahogany door, between the two sturdy columns of masonry. The impressive coat of arms of the Marquis was remarkably evident, beneath the pediment and the flat roofs of the manor. There was a quaint gushing fountain within the patio of cobblestones, in the propinquity of the entrance.
My name is Bartolomeu Córdova, an honourable nobleman and artist of the region. The Córdova name was well dispersed and reputable throughout the country of Portugal, and its derivative name evolved from the illustrious city of Córdoba, in the adjoining country of Spain.
I remember that vivid night quite lucidly, as a menacing storm had presented itself over the vignoble, as the evening winds had blown with such a whistling birr. I can recall every minor detail, as I stand now with the recollection of her memory, tormenting me, with an uncontrollable passion I had never expressed before. And the daunting echoes of her provocative voice still haunt me miserably until this day, with such a constant and unwavering zeal. The silence, that dreadful silence that once prevailed behind these four walls of durance that immure me is interrupted, by the strong reverberation of my unwanted malediction. Is it the unfortunate hour of my demise, or shall I see her anon, gazing at her spectral guise of concupiscent appeal and seduction? Shall I ever forget that ghastly visage and portrait that haunts me, with a dismal shade of a vestige of despair?Will my prolonged madness ever abate one day?
It all began that festive night at the manor, when I had invited the Countess of Barcelos, Nina Montecalvo for dinner. She was an attractive young woman and intellectual. Naturally, she was part of the noble aristocracy of Portugal, and a young lady whose characteristics and features were extremely pleasant; but it was her remarkable wit that won me over in the end. We had taken a jaunty stroll in the garden and had been admiring the lovely landscape of the vineyards. I had described to her the history of the Córdova lineage, whilst she explained hers to me, so eloquently. She was fond of my name Bartolomeu and had mentioned to me that her grandfather was also named Bartolomeu.
This revelation had amused me and was exceedingly receptive to my ego. I had borne the Córdova name with distinction and honour, as well the reputable importance that it represented in the country. She had paid me a visit also, so that I could contribute to the arts; being that the arts could no longer depend on private patronage of mere governments. Out of deference for her I had a painter, paint a portrait of her natural apparent beauty, upon that same night.
Before we took dinner, I had surprised her with this impromptu gift. She was reluctant at first but then acquiesced, when I told her the portrait would remain in the manor respectfully. Indeed, the portrait once finished was divine and magnificent. The lineaments of the contours of her countenance were personified, through the graceful tincture that imbued her nobility that she exuded.
Afterwards, we ate dinner, and then proceeded to the parlour, where we shared a bottle of priceless wine and discussed how I was a renowned artist, whose paintings were never incondite. This was all that I remembered happening that night. But a terrible sense of fear had prevailed over me since then. It was a lingering effect so unyielding.
Time would pass, since that night with the countess, and life would resume its course of action. A bustling wind of the storm had aroused me from my sleep during one night, as the shutters had swayed back and forth. The common silence of the night was broken, and the unsteady commotion of the shutters startled my slumber.
Thence, I rose to the position of sitting in my bed, as I could see the visible gleam of the levin that had shined, from outside of my window. I closed the shutters, and then proceeded to return to my bed, and I attempted to sleep, despite the stir of the tempest. But as I lay in the bed and had my eyes closed, I began to hear a heavy, heavy breath upon my bare neck. When I opened my eyes subsequently, I saw nothing, except the occasional flicker of the lightning that had been disturbing me.
Was it my deluding imagination I had thought? Or was this nothing more than the peculiar effects of the tempest of the night? I had dismissed the anomaly to be a coincidence of the thunderbolts, and the heavy breath to be the gale that penetrated through the window sill.
Once more, the heavy breath I felt upon my neck and this time, it was even more unrestrainedly and unnerving it would seem. Suddenly, the breathing had increased with every passing minute. I opened my eyes straightway and saw the horrible glimpse of a hoary corpse of a being gazing into my surprising eyes. Her radiant red oval eyes loomed over me, with a terrifying stare of great ghastliness and her hair of canitude. I strove to free myself from the seductive grasp of her eyes, and when I did, I rose to my feet immediately. But as I rose to my feet, she had disappeared into the night, fleeing so abruptly from the window that was open.
The startling occurrence disrupted my strength and caused me to faint on the ground. When I bedawed the next morning, I was discovered by my maid Fátima, as I heard her muttering into my ear afterwards.
'Sir, sir are you all right?'
When I had opened my eyes, I replied, 'What happened to me? What am I doing on the ground? I don't understand this occurrence. Please tell me if you know Fátima!'
'Verily, I do not know that sir!' she answered bemusedly.
'Did I fall Fátima to the ground? But how?'
'Perhaps, it was the storm sir, and you were attempting to close the shutters. You see, the shutters I found them left open, and I closed them afterwards when I entered the chamber', she answered.
The window appeared to be broken, as the shards of the window were seen on the floor scattered. Slowly I was then assisted to the bed, as she swept the shards. The maid had departed, to resume her duties in the house, whilst I pondered incessantly, what had transpired the inclement night before.
This, I afterwards had queried. I made the effort to forget the incident from the prior night and continued with my daily endeavours. Nevertheless, that day whilst I walked through the corridor pedetentously, I happened to see portraits of the former inhabitants. They all appeared to be of the Córdova family and were elegantly displayed before the guests of the house. Yet there was one portrait in particular that arrested my attention. It was a portrait of a mysterious woman, who resembled the exact stranger, who visited me in the night.
The colour of her hair was a different feature of her. In the portrait she had black hair, but the being I saw had gray hair worn by sediments. Her familiar eyes vermeil had been black in the portrait. I was lost for words, and dared to not think the unthinkable. Had I witnessed an encounter, with a tormented wraith of the house or her soul?
Daylight had ended, and the night had arrived anew. Once more, the tempest surged, with the levin and the gale. The thought of the unbidden phantom returning, began to surface in my mind unwantedly. All appeared to be exactly the same, as the night before, with the exception that I was awakened, by my restlessness. I had kept my eyes keen and vigilant to the storm, ever mindful of what transpired the night previously. I was lying in the bed, but staring at the window, thinking the intruder would reappear forthwith. But several minutes passed, and then hours passed, and it was midnight.
The active storm had subsided for a brief interval, as a heavy sleep began to possess me deeply and immensely. I had struggled to keep my eyes open, but I could no longer resist closing my eyes. And thus, I had closed my slumberous eyes sitting in my bed for a short moment, when I had encountered the unidentified interloper again.
This time she was behind me, as I was sleeping. The mysterious woman had reappeared in the night surreptitiously. It happened so quick that I did not have enough time to react to the situation. And when I did, I turned around to see the unknown culprit of my misfortune. But it was only a transient glance, as she had disappeared like an electric bolt of lightning afterwards.
There was nothing I could have done to prevent this, for it occurred so swiftly amidst the darkness of the night. What I descried was her appearance of a dead corpse that left me totally aghast. Her grisly countenance was yet hoary and Mephistophelian. Her penetrating eyes I could not forget, the deep blee of scarlet, and her long flowing hair was ashen. She wore a long silk white gown that resembled a cerement bedoven with stammel blood, and smeared with the grime from outside. That had been all I could see of her, before she hastened into the corridor. I saw her flee like a black cat, as I fell on the ground.
And I awoke to the sounds of the chirping of the birds in the patio nearby. All was very blurry in the beginning, and I felt an acute affliction and soporific lassitude that was overcoming me that I perceived at heightened intervals of awareness gradually. In the beginning, I felt a nauseating convulsion entered in me, and a spasmodic episode compelled me to shake then.
I spent the entirety of the day in my bed, suffering from what the doctors had speculated to be a fever of some nature; although they were not certain if what I was suffering was something more serious than a mere fever, since I was languishing, sighing and had muscular pains as well as an irregular pulse. At first whooping cough, small pox, phthisis was presumed, but I appeared to not be showing any symptoms of these zymotic maladies.
Afterwards, I was given a paregoric elixir. The doctor told me to repose for the nonce and not exert myself to a great degree. A grave concern oppressed me, as I could not be still or could I rest not knowing, what had afflicted me. Was this peculiar illness associated with the bizarre woman of the portrait in the corridor?
The inexplicable occurrence with the strange woman or ghost had disturbed and worried me to the core of my unsettling perception. Was this a bodement of defunction? Fátima took care of me like a devoted servant, and I was forever grateful for her unrecompensable compassion. The truth was she and her husband João, were faithful servants whose descendants, had served diligently our family for decades.
That night I remained in my bed, and a harrowing anxiety and delirium began to torment me with consistency. I felt this burning fire that was engrossing me from within, and apparent death was quickly enthralling my active sentience. I did not fully understand what was occurring, and for that reason, I soon concluded the thought that I was dying of an odd illness that was overbearing. Was I dying truly and had not known that actuality? What rational diagnosis could be attributed to this madness? Was I succumbing to a delirium manifest in my mind so deviously and untamed?
The day was cold and promptly the night became colder, with the passing hours. The fever that I was suffering had overcome my strength, with such celerity and capacity that drained me even more. Saliva began to come out of my mouth, as I tried to maintain my composure. The irrepressible thought of death had no eschewal, as I was feckless to stop the pyrexial malady that was halting my equilibrium. The opium was given to me, but it did not abate the rapid obsession of the madness—this I felt. I fell into a lymphatic state of syncope, as my breathing became more intense, and the throbbing of my heart I heard thumping, thumping, as I was steadily falling into a very lethargic stupor exacerbating a hallucinatory odyssey. A horrible episode of funest delusions blinded my vision then, leading me to a frantic perturbance. Within minutes I would hear a voice and see a caliginosity engulfing me. The voice of the gruesome wraith spoke to me, with such a placidity that would not allay my terrible sufferance.
'The distressing madness will be ridden, and the lingering effects of this uncertainty, is the process of its maturity. Do not resist me now, instead embrace me, and embrace the calm redemption you can obtain through your admission of guilt Bartolomeu'.
It had been the last thing that I heard, before I closed my eyes amidst the nightly wind stirring. When I opened my eyes afterwards, I was inside a damp coffin buried six feet under, and it was completely midnight. My natural reaction to be expected was a startling clamour I expressed, as I anxiously pounded on the lid.
Quickly, I felt a sudden and distraught urge and growing need to escape, as the desperation of my finality had seemed compelling and unimaginative. I pounded and pounded, until the lid was opened then, by the haunting woman dressed in the familiar white gown, with her long flowing grey hair, and those crimson eyes that had captivated with such a noticeable gleam.
She was the vivid embodiment of the horrible death that had been harrying me, since the beginning. I could not escape the unwavering horror of her persecution, and this minacious being was somehow linked to my iniquitous past and prolonged guilt that in the end, I could not simply refel. This was incomprehensible to me, and I struggled afterwards to apply awareness.
She surprised me, 'What is going on? Who are you, and have I died and I am not aware of that occurrence? Is this an unyielding nightmare?'
She smiled at me and responded, 'Now, now, do not be startled much, for you will understand shortly everything'.
'Understand what?' I had uttered.
She covered my mouth so that I could not perhaps alert the gravedigger. 'Hush, you will understand I said. Hark! The night is still young, and we must depart with immediacy. You look too wan and feeble Bartolomeu!'
'How do you know my name? And what is your name?'
'You cannot hide from your truth, Bartolomeu. Certain discomforts are incidental to the truth'.
'Who are you?'
'My name is Nina Montecalvo, Countess of Barcelos', she replied.
'What is the truth?'
'You do not know the truth Bartolomeu?' She replied.
'Truly, you do not remember?'
'What are you implying? What do I need to remember?' I asked with vehemence.
The next thing I knew, I was again in my bed awakened during the sequential night. It appeared to be an opium dream of sheer terror I had been experiencing in that ghostly episode of uncertainty. The tertian fever had reduced with the defervescence, but my mind had rejected that terrible dream, and the contemplation of death and buried alive in a coffin had repulsed me. The impassive impulses and fanciful desires to scrutate were engrossing me in a disconcerting nature. I could bear no longer, and I rose to my feet anxiously. My mental state was depleting with every minute that had passed, and I then staggered listlessly to the corridor ahead.
But lo and behold, she was there present standing in front of me, with her inscrutable and unsightly guise of terror. I had strongly resisted the implicit temptation, but for how long I muttered? The implication was yet too unsolvable and mysterious to extricate so easily. Madness had begun to inject itself into my veins, as gradually the ordeal was impossible to quell. The nefarious voices of my unbearable daemons inside were imploring for needed answers.
'Why do you resist the truth?'
'What truth?' I queried.
'My death!' She responded.
She stretched her arm forth and offered the arm at my disposal, 'Accept the truth. You cannot abscond from impunity forever Bartolomeu'.
'No—I shall not falter to this maniacal whim of yours!' I had ejaculated.
I paused then asked forcibly, 'Who are you that you haunt me ghost?'
'Do you not remember that dreadful night?'
'What are you talking about? What dreadful night do you speak of?'
I was succumbing to her induced persuasion and my precarious madness. The intensity of the ordeal had begun to drain my brain in enervation. Senseless moments of fear and apprehension aggravated me suddenly. My countenance was wan, and my vigour was too weak. Impervious to my thinking, was the potential extrication from this danger I had yearned. I paced to and fro pondering in memory, as I passionately absorbed these unique impulses of sentiency and vehemence that simply were emerging. I felt this factible from the start, as it quickened my perceptive senses afterwards. I was uncertain and bestraughted of what course of action to take, or how long I would remain in this state of conflict. Post-haste, my intuition drove me to contemplate did I actually commit murder furtively?
In the end the answer of the shocking truth would be revealed to me. Swift flashbacks started to enter my mind, as I recalled that horrific night that the menacing wraith had made reference to. In the corridor I saw her portrait, and there was blood dripping from the eyes of the countess. I was horrified and began to walk towards my chamber away from the corridor at once, when I saw João and Fátima standing both in the hall placidly. I called upon them, as a gnast from their candle I saw. They did not respond, but merely stared at me. I would be aghast with that consternating image I had descried.
The onerous thought of madness was beginning to invade the voices in my head amain. I started to think of the tormented countess and her implications of a hidden truth or secret of the family. I knew of her immense and unbridled powers of mesmeric persuasion over me. But my problem would be then compounded, with the fact that I had remembered why, she was haunting me in the first place.
These insurmountable fears I was acquiring quickly. I knew that my deliverance was in my hands. Nervous, extremely nervous—was I that I had lost myself in the insanity of the intolerable predicament I was in. And worse was the reality of my conflicting condition. Then, I was going mad—yes—mad, and slowly my body was overtaken with a languid stupor I could not avoid any longer.
Horrible desperation entered in me, as the opium effects of delirium prevailed. There seemed to be no-return from the truth, the once lovely countess of Barcelos had been killed. That was the credible truth I failed to accept and realise, since the murder. I was blinded by my hysteria that I could not think clearly or rationally enough to accept that horrendous night of nocency. But she the brazen and dominant phantom calmed my fear, like a mother would of her dearest child. She put her arms around me, with her voluptuous contours and her long flowing black hair that encompassed my cheeks so soothingly to comfort me.
A definite distressful disquietude obsessed me and obstructed my deliberation in furore. There for a moment with her I found solace that relieved my mortification. But how was I to suppress the unstoppable compulsion of madness too tenacious and unbroken in me?Conflictive thoughts were becoming insupportable, as I started to remember every detail of that hideous night.
Thus, that night had transpired normally, as I had invited the countess to accompany me in the hall. A pressing penchant had compelled me to share a glass of wine together, and we shared the bottle of wine. She was soon in an inebriated state and so was I then. I left her in the antechambre, as I slept in the settee of the parlour.
When I awoke I discovered she was dead. Apparently, João had violated her, and was seduced by her feminine persuasion and lubricious attraction, with his perverse limerence. Her callipygian contours were extremely illecebrous and she was vivacious in her mien, but she did not merit death. He had departed his home that morning after an argument with Fátima, where he killed her and then killed the countess in the manor of gore. He had committed suicide, before my very own eyes after confessing the murders. His impacting confession had amazed me.
My crime, my horrible crime was that I failed to report the murders to the authorities out of attainture. I buried the countess in a clump of earth in the cellar conscientiously, with the bloody white gown she bore that night. As for Fátima and João, I buried them as well in the cellar. I was to pay for my cowardice sin and lack of rectitude.
I began to hear voices in my head telling me to go to the cellar, as I fremished. It was a dim and drear shadow of horror that wielded dominion, over the gloomy cellar of finew, as I opened the heavy door and began to unearth the remains of the countess, João and Fátima. There in that awful and deplorable cellar were their bones and skulls.
Commination doomed my perpetual soul to demise. The avatar of death was found, in the scarlet hue of blood that was shed upon that tragic night. The nameless portrait that haunted me was the very same portrait I painted of the countess before. The house since that memorable night was completely abandoned in ruination. There was nothing but dust and viscous cobwebs visibly seen throughout the fragmentary remains of the manor, and the elegant stairway was then nothing more than dilapidated walls and rickety stairs in decadence. All the peramene beauty and disposition of the manor was a spectral illusion of the former grandeur of the Córdova manor in conspectuity.
The illusion was finally over, and I had accepted the truth. I was free of her implacable dominion over me, and no sin any longer to remit. I wanted to believe in that untruth, and sought to convince myself ever more of her ignoscency. What resulted next you wonder?
I eventually confessed to my part in the murders and was arrested. Madness was considered to be the culprit. I was imprisoned and sentenced to be interned in an asylum in Lisbon, by the local judge who saw no regression in me. I was examined and found to be incompetent, as the severity of the crimes, were too heinous and bloodthirsty, as I had lapsed in my world of phantasy.
The mere thought of madness had compelled me to believe my erroneous perception of reality, over the consequential circumstance of irony that belasted me. Hence it was in the vague irony that I found the true actuality of the suspense that encompassed the illimitable boundary of the parallelism of truth and falsehood behind a portrait. However, the embedded essence of madness is construed, by the presupposition that manifests in the form of verisimilitude.
The ponçeau of the pyrrhous blood I can vividly see still in my mind swithly. The vengeful voice—the voice of the countess I hear in my mind day and night, within the hopeless dungeon that is my infernal and earthly Hades. She is not dead—for her ghostly footsteps I hear nearby, beyond the walls of this horrendous asylum.
God please help my poor soul of damnation and guilt!