It is the embrace of Death [they are] yearning for. Death, the final triumphant lover.
Bela Lugosi was speaking, at the time, of the effect his portrayal of Count Dracula had on women of a certain morbid turn of mind.
Count Dracula could–so goes the vampire mythos–bestow upon his lovers a sort of ghastly immortality. But what if Death itself were to approach a mourner, in a cemetery, with an offer of love? In this story from eighteenth century Ireland, Death–now a man, now a woman–does just that, with fatal results.
In the churchyard of the little village of Eringle Truagh, it’s said, you can find several graves–some of men, some of women–who fell victim to a stranger’s sinister tenderness. All the victims were recently bereaved mourners paying solitary visits to the graves of loved ones, in the hour before sunset.
The mourner would be sitting quietly, perhaps talking to their lost loved one as people do in the early stages of grief. Young women would report a surpassingly handsome man would come to them, seemingly out of nowhere; men, an almost angelically beautiful woman.
Whatever the gender, the stranger would sit beside the mourner and begin to talk in the gentlest, most consoling voice: of how their loved one was in a happier world than this, healthy, vigorous, and joyful as they had never been on earth. Gradually, the mourner would be so enchanted by the sympathetic stranger that he or she would forget their grief and allow themselves to be drawn away from the grave to sit on the stone wall that surrounded the churchyard, or, occasionally, on the church’s porch. They found themselves caught up altogether in sudden new love, apparently mutual, for the stranger would continue the soft seductive talk until gradually the two would begin to kiss and caress one another and time became one endless moment.
Inevitably, though, the mourner would recall the drab life to which they must return, and say regretfully I must go. And inevitably, they would ask of this wonderfully kind and loving stranger When will I see you again?
The answer was always the same: they could not meet again for four weeks. The stranger asked for a solemn pledge, however, that they would meet again, on this very day four weeks hence. The pledge was given and sealed with a kiss, and the mourner would depart in far lighter heart than before. . .
only to look back from the gate to see the beautiful stranger simply vanish into the shadows.
Somehow the mourner knew, then, that the stranger was no lover, but Death itself with whom they had made a rendezvous.
And so the legend goes that, in every case where a mourner met the stranger in the churchyard, they were faithful to that rendezvous.
For each mourner so seduced wasted away and died. . .four weeks to the day from that chance meeting with Death, the final triumphant lover.
The story of Death as a beautiful, strange lover was collected by J. Aeneas Corcoran for the book Irish Ghosts (2002). That account was based on one by the novelist William Carleton (1794-1869), who heard the story firsthand from the villagers of Eringle Truagh.
The quote from Bela Lugosi comes from The Penguin Encyclopedia of Horror and the Supernatural (edited by Jack Sullivan; 1986).
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