ROMANCE OF THE PYRENEES (1803)

CATHERINE CUTHBERTSON (fl. 1803–30)


Catherine Cuthbertson was one of the best of the Radcliffe imitators, but nothing is known about her other than her novels: Santo Sebastiano (1806), Forest of Montalbano (1810), Adelaide; or, The Countercharm (1813), Rosabella (1817), The Hut and the Castle (1823), Sir Ethelbert (1830), and her earliest novel, Romance of the Pyrenees (1803). This was published anonymously in 1803 by G. and J. Robinson, the publishers of Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho, and was understandably attributed to Radcliffe. It skilfully draws upon Walpole, Lewis and Radcliffe, and uses most of the techniques of the Radcliffe School, even to the extent of explaining the supernatural by the natural – the phantom in this instance is revealed to be a parrot. Some misfortune caused the destruction of the stock of the first edition before it was removed from the warehouse for distribution, but the novel became famous in a serialized reprint and in subsequent editions, and was translated into French and German.

Copyright © 2000, 2012 Rictor Norton


The barren appearance of the country as they descended the mountains gave birth to many gloomy apprehensions which they had not experienced in France; but these fears were in some measure lulled by the out-riders assuring signora Octavia that they were sufficiently armed and prepared to repel the attack of any banditti that could molest them. It was past sun-set, and the dusk of evening was gliding fast into the darker shades of night, when, having entered an extensive valley at the foot of the Pyrenees, the carriage suddenly struck out of the main road into a winding path through a thick and gloomy forest. Victoria and Hero felt new alarms; whilst Octavia, more accustomed to travelling, appeared perfectly composed, until the rising of the moon, which in some degree becalmed the fears of her companions, first awakened hers, by its bright beams, which now and then penetrated through the thick foliage of the wood, discovering to her that the road they were slowly passing over was an unbeaten turf, that bore not the vestige of a single wheel, or any trace whatever of being frequented. Instantly concluding the drivers had mistaken the way, she hastened to inform them of her supposition. For some time they obstinately asserted they were in the right road to Bascara, and Victoria thought all contention with them vain; but signora Bernini now convinced that there was some collusion between the postillions and a banditti [sic], roused at once all the spirit she was mistress of, declared she would not be trifled with, and commanded the attendants immediately to compel the drivers to turn back to the last inn they had stopped at near the foot of the Pyrenees.
          Murmuring at an order which they considered so unreasonable, the attendants were proceeding slowly to obey, when the sound of many horses’ feet against the rocky soil suddenly assailed their ears. Victoria was alarmed, and Octavia by no means devoid of serious apprehension; but Hero was almost frantic with joy, as she had no doubt of its being conte Urbino and attendants coming to conduct them back to France.
          The horses drew nearer and still nearer, when the out-riders in consternation declared the approach of a numerous banditti, which they instantly prepared to engage with. In one moment more the coach was surrounded by a band of armed ruffians; and the loud clashing of swords, and the continued discharge of carabines, announced to the trembling and terror-struck females the imminence and magnitude of their danger; and scarcely had they time to offer up prayers to heaven for succour, when the coach door was thrown open by the victorious banditti, and they, almost expiring with well-grounded apprehensions, dragged from the carriage, and each tied to the back of a ruffian on horseback, the appearance alone of whom, without the aid of other circumstances, would have proved sufficient to extinguish the flame of courage in more heroic minds.
          Hero’s wild shrieks were soon silenced by her grim conductor, who coolly informed her he should shoot her through the head if she did not instantly cease. Resistance Victoria and Octavia were without power of offering, even could resistance avail. Devoutly they consigned themselves to the care of heaven; but even their pious reliance upon that Being who is the protector of the friendless was scarcely sufficient to support their fainting spirits when the ruffians rode off with them into the most intricate part of the forest.
          The moon was now completely obscured, and scarcely a ray of light could penetrate through the surrounding gloom. Along narrow, winding, and uneven paths, these ruffians rode, until cautiously descending a sudden and steep declivity, our three dismayed females found themselves at the brink of a rapid stream, where a boat and some more ruffians were waiting; into the boat were they hurried, and six oars plied by those ruffians glided them swiftly along.
          Again the moon broke forth in all her splendour, displaying in full force the gloomy horrors of the scenery. For about half a quarter of a league, rocks of an astonishing height bounded the stream on one side, and on the other a lofty and almost impenetrable wood. At length the wood was suddenly lost, and they were enveloped by stupendous black rocks, which seemed to threaten every moment to fall in heavy vengeance upon them, often almost closing at top for a length of way together, precluding every ray of light, save what a lantern in the boat afforded; and very frequently the helmsman seemed to encounter no trifling share of difficulty in navigating the boat with safety through this most perplexed labyrinth of rocks.
          At length, after an intricate and dangerous navigation, they approached the mouth of an immense and hideous cavern; the external of which, on the instant it was beheld, annihilating every idea in the mind of the dismayed spectator but that of its leading to immediate destruction. Into it the boat now glided, with only the feeble rays of a lantern to light them through this dark and apparently illimitable place; and where the mournful echo of the lofty vaulted roof, made clearer by the influence of the water beneath, resounded the strokes of the oars terrifically upon the beating hearts of our fear-chilled captives.
          For about half an hour the boat proceeded slowly: an awfully horrid silence prevailed, interrupted only by the convulsive sobs and half stifled cries of Hero. At length a distant ray of light glanced feebly on the water: it was not the light of heaven; it seemed like reflected fire, and, brightening and increasing as they advanced, added horror to horror by discovering all the terrors of the place. They eye now reaching the boundary of the cavern, beheld in its concave architecture figures of fantastic formation, which, seen in light and shade, and varying their appearances as the boat moved on, seemed like grim spectres floating in the air; whilst the water, left in one mass of shadow, was seen as a black unfathomable gulf, on the surface of which the light now played in sanguinary rays, like flames of liquid fire.
          Hero, casting her eyes around in wild dismay, fell at once into a swoon. Bernini, with a soul harrowed up by terror, sat motionless in the sad stupor of horrid amazement and despair; while Victoria, shuddering and appalled by what she saw and all she apprehended, sunk upon her knees, and, as the only hope she had left, in defiance of the stern interdict from speaking, fervently and audibly consigned herself and two hapless companions to the protection of heaven, imploring from its mercy fortitude to bear, as she ought, those trials it might judge proper to inflict upon her.
          Benefiting by the light, the boat passed more swiftly on, and at last they entered a recess which formed a kind of harbour, that seemed the termination of the cavern. Its roof was low, and a winding staircase met the edge of the water, where half a dozen more ruffians, bearing each a torch (which emitted the light that guided the helmsman and terrified the captives), were waiting the arrival of the boat, which they soon hauled close to the steps.
          Victoria and Octavia were first lifted out of the boat; but both, subdued by agonising terrors, were unable to support themselves, and sunk against some of the projections of the rock; when the boatmen, seeing they were unable to walk, bore them, as well as Hero, in their arms, preceded by the torch-bearers, up winding ascents, through narrow passages, trap-doors, and strange-formed iron works, into an immense kitchen of Gothic or rather Saracen architecture, where a deformed and melancholy-looking old woman was employed, as they entered, in washing the stain of blood from a table and the floor.
          Victoria and Bernini were placed in arm chairs; – Hero on a table, being still insensible.
          ‘Why,’ said the old woman petulantly, ‘Why do you bring your dead bodies littering here, Juan?’
          ‘We left all the game we killed to-night behind us in the forest,’ replied one of the men; ‘so put on your spectacles, mistress Teresa, and you will then see, that this, is not a corse yet.’
          ‘More is the pity!’ returned Teresa: ‘Poor young woman! was she my child, I should pray to heaven to close her eyes for ever.’
          ‘You would, would you!’ answered the man, grinning: ‘that is a good one, d—m me; and the young woman would be much obliged to you for your kind prayers: but if I mistake not, if the wench could speak, she would not cry amen to it.’ . . .
          ‘I wonder,’ said Teresa, ‘that my master has any stomach for food to-night: I should have thought the dish of blood he has already had, would have been supper enough for him.’
          ‘Pish,’ replied Juan, ‘you think like what you are – an old fool. Blood is no new sight to him; and I shall eat my supper with a good appetite I warrant, although I have sent more than one soul post to hell this night. There was warm work in the forest. Your attendants fought hard, ladies, and died bravely.’
          This shocking intelligence, and the depravity of the boasting murderer, harrowed up the very souls of Victoria and Octavia; while Hero, now deprived of all reason, in fancy beheld the weapon of death levelled at her, and upon her knees vehemently implored Juan to spare her life.
          ‘Is the wench mad?’ said he, staring at her: then, familiarly patting her cheek, continued, ‘Do you think that we don’t know better than to put a pretty young woman to death? No, no; they are treasures so seldom seen in this castle, that we know how to prize them.’
          The few remaining particles of Victoria’s firmness now fled at once; she fainted, and fell back in her chair unobserved.


[SOURCE: Catherine Cuthbertson, Romance of the Pyrenees, 4 vols, 3rd edn (London: G. Robinson, 1807), vol. 1, pp. 202–9, 216–17]


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