The Cold Embrace

Mary Elizabeth Braddon
The Cold Embrace
by Mary E. Braddon
HE was an artist--such things as happened to him happen sometimes to
He was a German--such things as happened to him happen sometimes
to Germans.
He was young, handsome, studious, enthusiastic, metaphysical,
reckless, unbelieving, heartless.
And being young, handsome and eloquent, he was beloved.
He was an orphan, under the guardianship of his dead father's brother,
his uncle Wilhelm, in whose house he had been brought up from a little
child; and she who loved him was his cousin--his cousin Gertrude,
whom he swore he loved in return.
Did he love her? Yes, when he first swore it. It soon wore out, this
passionate love; how threadbare and wretched a sentiment it became at
last in the selfish heart of the student! But in its golden dawn, when he
was only nineteen, and had just returned from his apprenticeship to a
great painter at Antwerp, and they wandered together in the most
romantic outskirts of the city at rosy sunset, by holy moonlight, or
bright and joyous morning, how beautiful a dream!
They keep it a secret from Wilhelm, as he has the father's ambition of a
wealthy suitor for his only child--a cold and dreary vision beside the
lover's dream.
So they are betrothed; and standing side by side when the dying sun
and the pale rising moon divide the heavens, he puts the betrothal ring
upon her finger, the white and taper finger whose slender shape he

knows so well. This ring is a peculiar one, a massive golden serpent, its
tail in its mouth, the symbol of eternity; it had been his mother's, and he
would know it amongst a thousand. If he were to become blind
tomorrow, he could select it from amongst a thousand by the touch
He places it on her finger, and they swear to be true to each other for
ever and ever--through trouble and danger--sorrow and change--in
wealth or poverty. Her father must needs be won to consent to their
union by and by, for they were now betrothed, and death alone could
part them.
But the young student, the scoffer at revelation, yet the enthusiastic
adorer of the mystical, asks:
"Can death part us? I would return to you from the grave, Gertrude. My
soul would come back to be near my love. And you--you, if you died
before me--the cold earth would not hold you from me; if you loved me,
you would return, and again these fair arms would be clasped round my
neck as they are now."
But she told him, with a holier light in her deep-blue eyes than had ever
shone in his--she told him that the dead who die at peace with God are
happy in heaven, and cannot return to the troubled earth; and that it is
only the suicide--the lost wretch on whom sorrowful angels shut the
door of Paradise--whose unholy spirit haunts the footsteps of the living.
The first year of their betrothal is passed, and she is alone, for he has
gone to Italy, on a commission for some rich man, to copy Raphaels,
Titians, Guidos, in a gallery at Florence. He has gone to win fame,
perhaps; but it is not the less bitter--he is gone!
Of course her father misses his young nephew, who has been as a son
to him; and he thinks his daughter's sadness no more than a cousin
should feel for a cousin's absence.
In the meantime, the weeks and months pass. The lover writes--often at
first, then seldom--at last, not at all.

How many excuses she invents for him! How many times she goes to
the distant little post-office, to which he is to address his letters! How
many times she hopes, only to be disappointed! How many times she
despairs, only to hope again!
But real despair comes at last, and will not be put off any more. The
rich suitor appears on the scene, and her father is determined. She is to
marry at once. The wedding-day is fixed--the fifteenth of June.
The date seems to burn into her brain.
The date, written in fire, dances for ever before her eyes.
The date, shrieked by the Furies, sounds continually in her ears.
But there is time yet--it is the middle of May--there is time for a letter
to reach him at Florence; there is time for him to come to Brunswick, to
take her away and marry her, in spite of her father--in spite of the
whole world.
But the days and the weeks fly by, and he does not write--he does not
come. This is indeed despair which usurps her heart, and will not be put
It is the fourteenth of June. For the last time she goes to the little
Continue reading on your phone by scaning this QR Code

 / 5
Tip: The current page has been bookmarked automatically. If you wish to continue reading later, just open the Dertz Homepage, and click on the 'continue reading' link at the bottom of the page.