Indian Ghost Stories by S. Mukerji (IV)

It was an afternoon of bright summer–that fateful summer whose blue skies were so soon to be darkened by the sinister clouds of war! The Royal Standard, intimating to the worthy citizens of Berlin the presence of their Emperor, floated gaily over the Imperial residence in the gentle breeze. The Emperor, wrapped in heavy thought–there was much for the mighty War Lord to think about during those last pregnant days before plunging Europe into an agony of tears and blood!–was pacing, alone, up and down a long gallery within the palace.
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His walk was agitated; there was a troubled frown upon his austere countenance. Every now and then he paused in his walk, and withdrew from his pocket a piece of paper, which he carefully read and re-read, and as he did so, angry, muttered words broke from him, and his hand flew instinctively to his sword hilt. Occasionally he raised his eyes to the walls on either side of him, upon which hung numerous portraits of his distinguished ancestors. He studied them gravely, from Frederick I, Burgrave of Nuremburg, to that other Frederick, his own father, and husband of the fair English princess against whose country he was so shortly going to wage the most horrible warfare that has ever been waged in the whole history of the world!

Suddenly, from the other end of the long portrait gallery he perceived coming towards him a shadowy female figure, dressed entirely in white, and carrying a large bunch of keys in her hand. She was not, this time, wearing the long flowing black veil in which she had appeared to him a few weeks previously, but the Emperor instantly recognized her, and the blood froze in his veins. He stood rooted to the ground, unable to advance or to retreat, paralysed with horror, the hair rising on his head, beads of perspiration standing on his brow.

The figure continued to advance in his direction, slowly, noiselessly, appearing rather to glide than to walk over the floor. There was an expression of the deepest sadness upon her countenance, and as she drew near to the stricken man watching her, she held out her arms towards him, as if to enfold him. The Emperor, his horror increasing, made a violent effort to move, but in vain. He seemed indeed paralysed; his limbs, his muscles, refused to obey him.

Then suddenly, just as the apparition came close up to him and he felt, as on the former occasion when he had been visited by her, that he was going to faint, she turned abruptly and moved away in the direction of a small side door. This she opened with her uncanny bunch of keys and without turning her head, disappeared.

At the exact moment of her disappearance the Emperor recovered his faculties. He was able to move, he was able to speak; his arms, legs, tongue, obeyed his autocratic will once more. He uttered a loud terrified cry, which resounded throughout the palace. Officers, chamberlains, guards, servants, came running to the gallery, white-faced, to see what had happened. They found their royal master in a state bordering on collapse. Yet, to the anxious questions which they put to him, he only replied incoherently and evasively; it was as if he knew something terrible, something dreadful, but did not wish to speak of it. Eventually he retired to his own apartments, but it was not until several hours had passed that he returned to his normal condition of mind…



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