Discover more from The Elysian
Obscurity, The Thirtieth Chapter
In which the Comte finds his wife alone, at last.
In the street there was a man playing the violin, its melody mournful and melancholy. The music that earned his keep could not contain his sorrow and so he rose with the dawn to play for his soul.
We might hear those notes from time to time if we are still enough to listen. For they strike at the strings of our spirits when we least expect them. This affliction is known to the modern reader as melancholia, and it is an ailment without cause or causality. As the sound of a violin, it only haunts us when we are at our most vulnerable—and there threatens to consume us.
Those who hear its notes know well their allure. For there has never been a feeling so beautifully despairing, no emotion so elegantly despondent. Like the sirens who lure sailors to their shores, melancholia asks us to abandon ourselves to her sound and become possessed by her song—and yet we risk our own ruin in doing so. For melancholia can lure her suitors into the deep until the sound can be heard no more.
For those so thoroughly drowned in their despair, death appears an altogether enticing opportunity. One that will alleviate the adherent of their struggle and allow them the gentle reprieve of feeling nothing at all. There is a certain romance to sinking into that sweet sorrow, adrift in the arms of melancholia at last—death’s song no longer jarring to the senses but whispered softly into one’s ears.
Not all who hear the violin’s tune succumb to its seduction. For many can hear the music for a moment or two, and yet still withdraw from its whiles—and this, it must be said, is the more fruitful endeavor. For idleness begets idleness and happiness begets happiness, and it is only the individual who can choose their eventual fate, leaning into or away from that discomforting melody.
Our Veuve St. Vincent was one of those who leaned away from her melancholia, but only because she knew well what lay at the bottom of that abyss and she was careful to close her ears against it. Alas, her unfortunate husband, the Comte de Saint Germain leaned too deeply into his, and so became completely mired by it.
In that lonesome descent, he could hear only his own sorrow and he became mad by its sound, tortured by the strings that played in his head until they became muddled by the waters that lured him into the deep—his ears muted of their ability to hear, his senses distorted from their ability to feel. His life forgotten. Indiscernible from the waters into which he sank.
How many times had he cried out to Providence? How many times had he asked that his burden be removed from him? That he might think of his wife no longer? That his head not be filled with vulgarities and his hands removed from their ability to create them? How many times had he asked to be freed from his madness and yet wept from its persistence? And how many times did God turn His head? Determined to look away from the creature He created?
The Comte did not mourn for his soul, for he had always known it to be lost, but he wept for hers. For hers was his destiny—the blood that called out to him from the ground, that would give him the power to remain remembered for his spilling of it, just as Cain became known for the death of his brother. Wretched as one descending into Hell, he was determined to arrest the devil playing his strings—to pluck the fiddle from his grasp and play his own tune.
And so, he devised a scheme. To feel her breath rise and fall beneath his hand and to know it was within his power to decide its end. To take her with him into that lonesome chasm where they could drown in the gentle arms of melancholia at last—his soul no longer tortured by his song but descending into that sweet silence together—fulfilling at last their morbid destiny.
Séverine awoke to the harrowing aria of an inconsolable violin.
Drawn by its eerie reverie, she draped a cloak about her nightdress, lit a candle in her hand, and stepped tentatively to the door. She could hear the music playing so remorsefully and could feel its sorrow permeate her skin. Her hands touched the door, her eyelids closed. It was as though she heard her future and was lured toward it. At last, she became so consumed by the song that she opened the door and met her future in that dark early dawn.
There was a slight chill and a gentle fog, the stillness so desolate and dark. There was not a soul in those streets save the man that played his tune and the two who were tormented by it. Séverine stepped tenderly into the night, so did her shadow. Their delicate dance drawing one toward the other.
The candle in her hand flickered and Séverine shone bright within it’s glow, the pallor of her skin free from her veil, her face and neck exposed as though she were not afraid to brave the darkness. And then, a lone streetlamp fell across the face of her husband, the first time she set eyes upon him since she thought him dead on her boudoir floor—his mangled face contorted into a wicked smile.
She took a breath.
Séverine had compassion for her husband. His only fault was weakness in spirit—his mind so easily overcome by the demons that would possess him. How she had wished, once, that he would see fit to occasion his own demise, at last drowning himself with the darkness that consumed him. Alas, he was not fit enough to meet that end.
The demons that plagued him were no longer a danger only to herself, and she knew no other way to rid him of them but to kill the man who harbored them. Like the pigs Christ once sent careening over the cliffs, she too would be forced to excise those demons so he might harm her city no longer.
He took another step toward her, but it would be his last. Looking into the eyes of the one who had once been her husband, Séverine let the candle spill from her hand as she pulled the knife from her cloak, slashing it across his throat as the violinist’s strings screeched to a stop. He fell before her, the beating of his heart the only sound she could hear, until it’s beat slowed to an adagio and then ceased to play at all, the silence deafening to her ears at last.
If one had been gazing upon the two, they would not have seen star-crossed lovers, as is often found in stories such as these, instead they would have seen two halves of a greater whole. The husband in his cloak of black, the wife in her nightdress of white, her candle spilled beside her as a splatter of blood fell upon her.
It was only as she recognized the silence, that the music of the violin had at once retired of its song, that there was an actual man who had played it. She lifted her head to see the dawn. A new day, one without the sounds of melancholia to darken it, and there in the middle of it, a lone violinist with his eyes agape, the village opened of their doors and standing in their nightshirts, and the philanthropist smiling most delightedly.
Séverine stood tall, the knife clattering to the cobblestone as its blood fell to the streets. She knew what they saw—the murderess they had always rumored to her to be, at last proven to be so. Beneath the quiet elegance of her exterior, she was exposed for her flaws and seen for her inequities. The light tumbled toward her, the warmth rising from foreign lands to the east, but she could no longer feel it.
The widow lifted her veil to her face, the darkness shrouding her from the sun as the townspeople cried against her.
"Mesdames et messieurs," the philanthropist said as he stepped into the square. "Place this woman under arrest."
We next read The Thirty-First Chapter, in which the boy finds himself alone, and the sole avenger of his family.