Wieland's Madness by Charles Brockden Brown
[As the story opens, the narratress, Clara Wieland, is entering
upon the happy realization of her love for Henry Pleyel, closest
friend of her brother "Wieland."
Their woodland home, Mettingen, on the banks of the then remote
Schuylkill, is the abode of music, letters and thorough culture.
The peace of high thinking and simple outdoor life hovers over
One sunny afternoon I was standing in the door of my house, when I
marked a person passing close to the edge of the bank that was in
front. His pace was a careless and lingering one, and had none of
that gracefulness and ease which distinguish a person with certain
advantages of education from a clown. His gait was rustic and
awkward. His form was ungainly and disproportioned. Shoulders
broad and square, breast sunken, his head drooping, his body of
uniform breadth, supported by long and lank legs, were the
ingredients of his frame. His garb was not ill adapted to such a
figure. A slouched hat, tarnished by the weather, a coat of thick
gray cloth, cut and wrought, as it seemed, by a country tailor,
blue worsted stockings, and shoes fastened by thongs and deeply
discolored by dust, which brush had never disturbed, constituted
There was nothing remarkable in these appearances: they were
frequently to be met with on the road and in the harvest-field. I
cannot tell why I gazed upon them, on this occasion, with more than
ordinary attention, unless it were that such figures were seldom
seen by me except on the road or field. This lawn was only
traversed by men whose views were directed to the pleasures of the
walk or the grandeur of the scenery.
He passed slowly along, frequently pausing, as if to examine the
prospect more deliberately, but never turning his eye toward the
house, so as to allow me a view of his countenance. Presently he
entered a copse at a small distance, and disappeared. My eye
followed him while he remained in sight. If his image remained for
any duration in my fancy after his departure, it was because no
other object occurred sufficient to expel it.
I continued in the same spot for half an hour, vaguely, and by
fits, contemplating the image of this wanderer, and drawing from
outward appearances those inferences, with respect to the
intellectual history of this person, which experience affords us.
I reflected on the alliance which commonly subsists between
ignorance and the practice of agriculture, and indulged myself in
airy speculations as to the influence of progressive knowledge in
dissolving this alliance and embodying the dreams of the poets. I
asked why the plow and the hoe might not become the trade of every
human being, and how this trade might be made conducive to, or at
least consistent with, the acquisition of wisdom and eloquence.
Weary with these reflections, I returned to the kitchen to perform
some household office. I had usually but one servant, and she was
a girl about my own age. I was busy near the chimney, and she was
employed near the door of the apartment, when some one knocked.
The door was opened by her, and she was immediately addressed with,
"Prythee, good girl, canst thou supply a thirsty man with a glass
of buttermilk?" She answered that there was none in the house.
"Aye, but there is some in the dairy yonder. Thou knowest as well
as I, though Hermes never taught thee, that, though every dairy be
a house, every house is not a dairy." To this speech, though she
understood only a part of it, she replied by repeating her
assurances that she had none to give. "Well, then," rejoined the
stranger, "for charity's sweet sake, hand me forth a cup of cold
water." The girl said she would go to the spring and fetch it.
"Nay, give me the cup, and suffer me to help myself. Neither
manacled nor lame, I should merit burial in the maw of carrion
crows if I laid this task upon thee." She gave him the cup, and he
turned to go to the spring.
I listened to this dialogue in silence. The words uttered by the
person without affected me as somewhat singular; but what chiefly
rendered them remarkable was the tone that accompanied them. It
was wholly new. My brother's voice and Pleyel's were musical and
energetic. I had fondly imagined that, in this respect, they were
surpassed by none. Now my mistake was detected. I cannot pretend
to communicate the impression that was made upon me by these
accents, or to depict the degree in which force and sweetness were
blended in them. They were articulated with a distinctness that
was unexampled in my experience. But this was not all. The voice
was not only mellifluent and clear, but the emphasis was so just,
and the modulation so impassioned, that it seemed as if a heart of
stone could not fail of being moved by it. It imparted to me an
emotion altogether involuntary and uncontrollable. When he uttered
the words, "for charity's sweet sake," I dropped the cloth that I
held in my hand; my heart overflowed with sympathy and my eyes with
This description will appear to you trifling or incredible. The
importance of these circumstances will be manifested in the sequel.
The manner in which I was affected on this occasion was, to my own
apprehension, a subject of astonishment. The tones were indeed
such as I never heard before; but that they should in an instant,
as it were, dissolve me in tears, will not easily be believed by
others, and can scarcely be comprehended by myself.
It will be readily supposed that I was somewhat inquisitive as to
the person and demeanor of our visitant. After a moment's pause, I
stepped to the door and looked after him. Judge my surprise when I
beheld the selfsame figure that had appeared a half-hour before
upon the bank. My fancy had conjured up a very different image. A
form and attitude and garb were instantly created worthy to
accompany such elocution; but this person was, in all visible
respects, the reverse of this phantom. Strange as it may seem, I
could not speedily reconcile myself to this disappointment.
Instead of returning to my employment, I threw myself in a chair
that was placed opposite the door, and sunk into a fit of musing.
My attention was in a few minutes recalled by the stranger, who
returned with the empty cup in his hand. I had not thought of the
circumstance, or should certainly have chosen a different seat. He
no sooner showed himself, than a confused sense of impropriety,
added to the suddenness of the interview, for which, not having
foreseen it, I had made no preparation, threw me into a state of
the most painful embarrassment. He brought with him a placid brow;
but no sooner had he cast his eyes upon me than his face was as
glowingly suffused as my own. He placed the cup upon the bench,
stammered out thanks, and retired.
It was some time before I could recover my wonted composure. I had
snatched a view of the stranger's countenance. The impression that
it made was vivid and indelible. His cheeks were pallid and lank,
his eyes sunken, his forehead overshadowed by coarse straggling
hairs, his teeth large and irregular, though sound and brilliantly
white, and his chin discolored by a tetter. His skin was of coarse
grain and sallow hue. Every feature was wide of beauty, and the
outline of his face reminded you of an inverted cone.
And yet his forehead, so far as shaggy locks would allow it to be
seen, his eyes lustrously black, and possessing, in the midst of
haggardness, a radiance inexpressibly serene and potent, and
something in the rest of his features which it would be in vain to
describe, but which served to betoken a mind of the highest order,
were essential ingredients in the portrait. This, in the effects
which immediately flowed from it, I count among the most
extraordinary incidents of my life. This face, seen for a moment,
continued for hours to occupy my fancy, to the exclusion of almost
every other image. I had proposed to spend the evening with my
brother; but I could not resist the inclination of forming a sketch
upon paper of this memorable visage. Whether my hand was aided by
any peculiar inspiration, or I was deceived by my own fond
conceptions, this portrait, though hastily executed, appeared
unexceptionable to my own taste.
I placed it at all distances and in all lights; my eyes were
riveted upon it. Half the night passed away in wakefulness and in
contemplation of this picture. So flexible, and yet so stubborn,
is the human mind! So obedient to impulses the most transient and
brief, and yet so unalterably observant of the direction which is
given to it! How little did I then foresee the termination of that
chain of which this may be regarded as the first link!
Next day arose in darkness and storm. Torrents of rain fell during
the whole day, attended with incessant thunder, which reverberated
in stunning echoes from the opposite declivity. The inclemency of
the air would not allow me to walk out. I had, indeed, no
inclination to leave my apartment. I betook myself to the
contemplation of this portrait, whose attractions time had rather
enhanced than diminished. I laid aside my usual occupations, and,
seating myself at a window, consumed the day in alternately looking
out upon the storm and gazing at the picture which lay upon a table
before me. You will perhaps deem this conduct somewhat singular,
and ascribe it to certain peculiarities of temper. I am not aware
of any such peculiarities. I can account for my devotion to this
image no otherwise than by supposing that its properties were rare
and prodigious. Perhaps you will suspect that such were the first
inroads of a passion incident to every female heart, and which
frequently gains a footing by means even more slight and more
improbable than these. I shall not controvert the reasonableness
of the suspicion, but leave you at liberty to draw from my
narrative what conclusions you please.
Night at length returned, and the storm ceased. The air was once
more clear and calm, and bore an affecting contrast to that uproar
of the elements by which it had been preceded. I spent the
darksome hours, as I spent the day, contemplative and seated at the
window. Why was my mind absorbed in thoughts ominous and dreary?
Why did my bosom heave with sighs and my eyes overflow with tears?
Was the tempest that had just passed a signal of the ruin which
impended over me? My soul fondly dwelt upon the images of my
brother and his children; yet they only increased the mournfulness
of my contemplations. The smiles of the charming babes were as
bland as formerly. The same dignity sat on the brow of their
father, and yet I thought of them with anguish. Something
whispered that the happiness we at present enjoyed was set on
mutable foundations. Death must happen to all. Whether our
felicity was to be subverted by it to-morrow, or whether it was
ordained that we should lay down our heads full of years and of
honor, was a question that no human being could solve. At other
times these ideas seldom intruded. I either forbore to reflect
upon the destiny that is reserved for all men, or the reflection
was mixed up with images that disrobed it of terror; but now the
uncertainty of life occurred to me without any of its usual and
alleviating accompaniments. I said to myself, We must die. Sooner
or later, we must disappear forever from the face of the earth.
Whatever be the links that hold us to life, they must be broken.
This scene of existence is, in all its parts, calamitous. The
greater number is oppressed with immediate evils, and those the
tide of whose fortunes is full, how small is their portion of
enjoyment, since they know that it will terminate!
For some time I indulged myself, without reluctance, in these
gloomy thoughts; but at length the delection which they produced
became insupportably painful. I endeavored to dissipate it with
music. I had all my grandfather's melody as well as poetry by
rote. I now lighted by chance on a ballad which commemorated the
fate of a German cavalier who fell at the siege of Nice under
Godfrey of Bouillon. My choice was unfortunate; for the scenes of
violence and carnage which were here wildly but forcibly portrayed
only suggested to my thoughts a new topic in the horrors of war.
I sought refuge, but ineffectually, in sleep. My mind was thronged
by vivid but confused images, and no effort that I made was
sufficient to drive them away. In this situation I heard the
clock, which hung in the room, give the signal for twelve. It was
the same instrument which formerly hung in my father's chamber, and
which, on account of its being his workmanship, was regarded by
everyone of our family with veneration. It had fallen to me in the
division of his property, and was placed in this asylum. The sound
awakened a series of reflections respecting his death. I was not
allowed to pursue them; for scarcely had the vibrations ceased,
when my attention was attracted by a whisper, which, at first,
appeared to proceed from lips that were laid close to my ear.
No wonder that a circumstance like this startled me. In the first
impulse of my terror, I uttered a slight scream and shrunk to the
opposite side of the bed. In a moment, however, I recovered from
my trepidation. I was habitually indifferent to all the causes of
fear by which the majority are afflicted. I entertained no
apprehension of either ghosts or robbers. Our security had never
been molested by either, and I made use of no means to prevent or
counterwork their machinations. My tranquillity on this occasion
was quickly retrieved. The whisper evidently proceeded from one
who was posted at my bedside. The first idea that suggested itself
was that it was uttered by the girl who lived with me as a servant.
Perhaps somewhat had alarmed her, or she was sick, and had come to
request my assistance. By whispering in my ear she intended to
rouse without alarming me.
Full of this persuasion, I called, "Judith, is it you? What do you
want? Is there anything the matter with you?" No answer was
returned. I repeated my inquiry, but equally in vain. Cloudy as
was the atmosphere, and curtained as my bed was, nothing was
visible. I withdrew the curtain, and, leaning my head on my elbow,
I listened with the deepest attention to catch some new sound.
Meanwhile, I ran over in my thoughts every circumstance that could
assist my conjectures.
My habitation was a wooden edifice, consisting of two stories. In
each story were two rooms, separated by an entry, or middle
passage, with which they communicated by opposite doors. The
passage on the lower story had doors at the two ends, and a
staircase. Windows answered to the doors on the upper story.
Annexed to this, on the eastern side, were wings, divided in like
manner into an upper and lower room; one of them comprised a
kitchen, and chamber above it for the servant, and communicated on
both stories with the parlor adjoining it below and the chamber
adjoining it above. The opposite wing is of smaller dimensions,
the rooms not being above eight feet square. The lower of these
was used as a depository of household implements; the upper was a
closet in which I deposited my books and papers. They had but one
inlet, which was from the room adjoining. There was no window in
the lower one, and in the upper a small aperture which communicated
light and air, but would scarcely admit the body. The door which
led into this was close to my bed head, and was always locked but
when I myself was within. The avenues below were accustomed to be
closed and bolted at nights.
The maid was my only companion; and she could not reach my chamber
without previously passing through the opposite chamber and the
middle passage, of which, however, the doors were usually
unfastened. If she had occasioned this noise, she would have
answered my repeated calls. No other conclusion, therefore, was
left me, but that I had mistaken the sounds, and that my
imagination had transformed some casual noise into the voice of a
human creature. Satisfied with this solution, I was preparing to
relinquish my listening attitude, when my ear was again saluted
with a new and yet louder whispering. It appeared, as before, to
issue from lips that touched my pillow. A second effort of
attention, however, clearly showed me that the sounds issued from
within the closet, the door of which was not more than eight inches
from my pillow.
This second interruption occasioned a shock less vehement than the
former. I started, but gave no audible token of alarm. I was so
much mistress of my feelings as to continue listening to what
should be said. The whisper was distinct, hoarse, and uttered so
as to show that the speaker was desirous of being heard by some one
near, but, at the same time, studious to avoid being overheard by
"Stop! stop, I say, madman as you are! there are better means than
that. Curse upon your rashness! There is no need to shoot."
Such were the words uttered, in a tone of eagerness and anger,
within so small a distance of my pillow. What construction could I
put upon them? My heart began to palpitate with dread of some
unknown danger. Presently, another voice, but equally near me, was
heard whispering in answer, "Why not? I will draw a trigger in
this business; but perdition be my lot if I do more!" To this the
first voice returned, in a tone which rage had heightened in a
small degree above a whisper, "Coward! stand aside, and see me do
it. I will grasp her throat; I will do her business in an instant;
she shall not have time so much as to groan." What wonder that I
was petrified by sounds so dreadful! Murderers lurked in my
closet. They were planning the means of my destruction. One
resolved to shoot, and the other menaced suffocation. Their means
being chosen, they would forthwith break the door. Flight
instantly suggested itself as most eligible in circumstances so
perilous. I deliberated not a moment; but, fear adding wings to my
speed, I leaped out of bed, and, scantily robed as I was, rushed
out of the chamber, downstairs, and into the open air. I can
hardly recollect the process of turning keys and withdrawing bolts.
My terrors urged me forward with almost a mechanical impulse. I
stopped not till I reached my brother's door. I had not gained the
threshold, when, exhausted by the violence of my emotions and by my
speed, I sunk down in a fit.
How long I remained in this situation I know not. When I
recovered, I found myself stretched on a bed, surrounded by my
sister and her female servants. I was astonished at the scene
before me, but gradually recovered the recollection of what had
happened. I answered their importunate inquiries as well as I was
able. My brother and Pleyel, whom the storm of the preceding day
chanced to detain here, informing themselves of every particular,
proceeded with lights and weapons to my deserted habitation. They
entered my chamber and my closet, and found everything in its
proper place and customary order. The door of the closet was
locked, and appeared not to have been opened in my absence. They
went to Judith's apartment. They found her asleep and in safety.
Pleyel's caution induced him to forbear alarming the girl; and,
finding her wholly ignorant of what had passed, they directed her
to return to her chamber. They then fastened the doors and
My friends were disposed to regard this transaction as a dream.
That persons should be actually immured in this closet, to which,
in the circumstances of the time, access from without or within was
apparently impossible, they could not seriously believe. That any
human beings had intended murder, unless it were to cover a scheme
of pillage, was incredible; but that no such design had been formed
was evident from the security in which the furniture of the house
and the closet remained.
I revolved every incident and expression that had occurred. My
senses assured me of the truth of them; and yet their abruptness
and improbability made me, in my turn, somewhat incredulous. The
adventure had made a deep impression on my fancy; and it was not
till after a week's abode at my brother's that I resolved to resume
the possession of my own dwelling.
There was another circumstance that enhanced the mysteriousness of
this event. After my recovery, it was obvious to inquire by what
means the attention of the family had been drawn to my situation.
I had fallen before I had reached the threshold or was able to give
any signal. My brother related that, while this was transacting in
my chamber, he himself was awake, in consequence of some slight
indisposition, and lay, according to his custom, musing on some
favorite topic. Suddenly the silence, which was remarkably
profound, was broken by a voice of most piercing shrillness, that
seemed to be uttered by one in the hall below his chamber. "Awake!
arise!" it exclaimed; "hasten to succor one that is dying at your
This summons was effectual. There was no one in the house who was
not roused by it. Pleyel was the first to obey, and my brother
overtook him before he reached the hall. What was the general
astonishment when your friend was discovered stretched upon the
grass before the door, pale, ghastly, and with every mark of death!
But how was I to regard this midnight conversation? Hoarse and
manlike voices conferring on the means of death, so near my bed,
and at such an hour! How had my ancient security vanished! That
dwelling which had hitherto been an inviolate asylum was now beset
with danger to my life. That solitude formerly so dear to me could
no longer be endured. Pleyel, who had consented to reside with us
during the months of spring, lodged in the vacant chamber, in order
to quiet my alarms. He treated my fears with ridicule, and in a
short time very slight traces of them remained; but, as it was
wholly indifferent to him whether his nights were passed at my
house or at my brother's, this arrangement gave general
I will enumerate the various inquiries and conjectures which these
incidents occasioned. After all our efforts, we came no nearer to
dispelling the mist in which they were involved; and time, instead
of facilitating a solution, only accumulated our doubts.
In the midst of thoughts excited by these events, I was not
unmindful of my interview with the stranger. I related the
particulars, and showed the portrait to my friends. Pleyel
recollected to have met with a figure resembling my description in
the city; but neither his face or garb made the same impression
upon him that it made upon me. It was a hint to rally me upon my
prepossessions, and to amuse us with a thousand ludicrous anecdotes
which he had collected in his travels. He made no scruple to
charge me with being in love; and threatened to inform the swain,
when he met him, of his good fortune.
Pleyel's temper made him susceptible of no durable impressions.
His conversation was occasionally visited by gleams of his ancient
vivacity; but, though his impetuosity was sometimes inconvenient,
there was nothing to dread from his malice. I had no fear that my
character or dignity would suffer in his hands, and was not
heartily displeased when he declared his intention of profiting by
his first meeting with the stranger to introduce him to our
Some weeks after this I had spent a toilsome day, and, as the sun
declined, found myself disposed to seek relief in a walk. The
river bank is, at this part of it and for some considerable space
upward, so rugged and steep as not to be easily descended. In a
recess of this declivity, near the southern verge of my little
demesne, was placed a slight building, with seats and lattices.
From a crevice of the rock to which this edifice was attached there
burst forth a stream of the purest water, which, leaping from ledge
to ledge for the space of sixty feet, produced a freshness in the
air, and a murmur, the most delicious and soothing imaginable.
These, added to the odors of the cedars which embowered it, and of
the honeysuckle which clustered among the lattices, rendered this
my favorite retreat in summer.
On this occasion I repaired hither. My spirits drooped through the
fatigue of long attention, and I threw myself upon a bench, in a
state, both mentally and personally, of the utmost supineness. The
lulling sounds of the waterfall, the fragrance, and the dusk,
combined to becalm my spirits, and, in a short time, to sink me
into sleep. Either the uneasiness of my posture, or some slight
indisposition, molested my repose with dreams of no cheerful hue.
After various incoherences had taken their turn to occupy my fancy,
I at length imagined myself walking, in the evening twilight, to my
brother's habitation. A pit, methought, had been dug in the path I
had taken, of which I was not aware. As I carelessly pursued my
walk, I thought I saw my brother standing at some distance before
me, beckoning and calling me to make haste. He stood on the
opposite edge of the gulf. I mended my pace, and one step more
would have plunged me into this abyss, had not some one from behind
caught suddenly my arm, and exclaimed, in a voice of eagerness and
terror, "Hold! hold!"
The sound broke my sleep, and I found myself, at the next moment,
standing on my feet, and surrounded by the deepest darkness.
Images so terrific and forcible disabled me for a time from
distinguishing between sleep and wakefulness, and withheld from me
the knowledge of my actual condition. My first panic was succeeded
by the perturbations of surprise to find myself alone in the open
air and immersed in so deep a gloom. I slowly recollected the
incidents of the afternoon, and how I came hither. I could not
estimate the time, but saw the propriety of returning with speed to
the house. My faculties were still too confused, and the darkness
too intense, to allow me immediately to find my way up the steep.
I sat down, therefore, to recover myself, and to reflect upon my
This was no sooner done, than a low voice was heard from behind the
lattice, on the side where I sat. Between the rock and the lattice
was a chasm not wide enough to admit a human body; yet in this
chasm he that spoke appeared to be stationed. "Attend! attend! but
be not terrified."
I started, and exclaimed, "Good heavens! what is that? Who are
"A friend; one come not to injure but to save you: fear nothing."
This voice was immediately recognized to be the same with one of
those which I had heard in the closet; it was the voice of him who
had proposed to shoot rather than to strangle his victim. My
terror made me at once mute and motionless. He continued, "I
leagued to murder you. I repent. Mark my bidding, and be safe.
Avoid this spot. The snares of death encompass it. Elsewhere
danger will be distant; but this spot, shun it as you value your
life. Mark me further: profit by this warning, but divulge it not.
If a syllable of what has passed escape you, your doom is sealed.
Remember your father, and be faithful."
Here the accents ceased, and left me overwhelmed with dismay. I
was fraught with the persuasion that during every moment I remained
here my life was endangered; but I could not take a step without
hazard of falling to the bottom of the precipice. The path leading
to the summit was short, but rugged and intricate. Even starlight
was excluded by the umbrage, and not the faintest gleam was
afforded to guide my steps. What should I do? To depart or remain
was equally and eminently perilous.
In this state of uncertainty, I perceived a ray flit across the
gloom and disappear. Another succeeded, which was stronger, and
remained for a passing moment. It glittered on the shrubs that
were scattered at the entrance, and gleam continued to succeed
gleam for a few seconds, till they finally gave place to
The first visitings of this light called up a train of horrors in
my mind; destruction impended over this spot; the voice which I had
lately heard had warned me to retire, and had menaced me with the
fate of my father if I refused. I was desirous, but unable to
obey; these gleams were such as preluded the stroke by which he
fell; the hour, perhaps, was the same. I shuddered as if I had
beheld suspended over me the exterminating sword.
Presently a new and stronger illumination burst through the lattice
on the right hand, and a voice from the edge of the precipice above
called out my name. It was Pleyel. Joyfully did I recognize his
accents; but such was the tumult of my thoughts that I had not
power to answer him till he had frequently repeated his summons. I
hurried at length from the fatal spot, and, directed by the lantern
which he bore, ascended the hill.
Pale and breathless, it was with difficulty I could support myself.
He anxiously inquired into the cause of my affright and the motive
of my unusual absence. He had returned from my brother's at a late
hour, and was informed by Judith that I had walked out before
sunset and had not yet returned. This intelligence was somewhat
alarming. He waited some time; but, my absence continuing, he had
set out in search of me. He had explored the neighborhood with the
utmost care, but, receiving no tidings of me, he was preparing to
acquaint my brother with this circumstance, when he recollected the
summer-house on the bank, and conceived it possible that some
accident had detained me there. He again inquired into the cause
of this detention, and of that confusion and dismay which my looks
I told him that I had strolled hither in the afternoon, that sleep
had overtaken me as I sat, and that I had awakened a few minutes
before his arrival. I could tell him no more. In the present
impetuosity of my thoughts, I was almost dubious whether the pit
into which my brother had endeavored to entice me, and the voice
that talked through the lattice, were not parts of the same dream.
I remembered, likewise, the charge of secrecy, and the penalty
denounced if I should rashly divulge what I had heard. For these
reasons I was silent on that subject, and, shutting myself in my
chamber, delivered myself up to contemplation.
What I have related will, no doubt, appear to you a fable. You
will believe that calamity has subverted my reason, and that I am
amusing you with the chimeras of my brain instead of facts that
have really happened. I shall not be surprised or offended if
these be your suspicions. I know not, indeed, how you can deny
them admission. For, if to me, the immediate witness, they were
fertile of perplexity and doubt, how must they affect another to
whom they are recommended only by my testimony? It was only by
subsequent events that I was fully and incontestably assured of the
veracity of my senses.
Meanwhile, what was I to think? I had been assured that a design
had been formed against my life. The ruffians had leagued to
murder me. Whom had I offended? Who was there, with whom I had
ever maintained intercourse, who was capable of harboring such
My temper was the reverse of cruel and imperious. My heart was
touched with sympathy for the children of misfortune. But this
sympathy was not a barren sentiment. My purse, scanty as it was,
was ever open, and my hands ever active, to relieve distress. Many
were the wretches whom my personal exertions had extricated from
want and disease, and who rewarded me with their gratitude. There
was no face which lowered at my approach, and no lips which uttered
imprecations in my hearing. On the contrary, there was none, over
whose fate I had exerted any influence or to whom I was known by
reputation, who did not greet me with smiles and dismiss me with
proofs of veneration: yet did not my senses assure me that a plot
was laid against my life?
I am not destitute of courage. I have shown myself deliberative
and calm in the midst of peril. I have hazarded my own life for
the preservation of another; but now was I confused and panic-
struck. I have not lived so as to fear death; yet to perish by an
unseen and secret stroke, to be mangled by the knife of an
assassin, was a thought at which I shuddered: what had I done to
deserve to be made the victim of malignant passions?
But soft! was I not assured that my life was safe in all places but
one? And why was the treason limited to take effect in this spot?
I was everywhere equally defenseless. My house and chamber were at
all times accessible. Danger still impended over me; the bloody
purpose was still entertained, but the hand that was to execute it
was powerless in all places but one!
Here I had remained for the last four or five hours, without the
means of resistance or defense; yet I had not been attacked. A
human being was at hand, who was conscious of my presence, and
warned me hereafter to avoid this retreat. His voice was not
absolutely new, but had I never heard it but once before? But why
did he prohibit me from relating this incident to others, and what
species of death will be awarded if I disobey?
Such were the reflections that haunted me during the night, and
which effectually deprived me of sleep. Next morning, at
breakfast, Pleyel related an event which my disappearance had
hindered him from mentioning the night before. Early the preceding
morning, his occasions called him to the city: he had stepped into
a coffee-house to while away an hour; here he had met a person
whose appearance instantly bespoke him to be the same whose hasty
visit I have mentioned, and whose extraordinary visage and tones
had so powerfully affected me. On an attentive survey, however, he
proved, likewise, to be one with whom my friend had had some
intercourse in Europe. This authorized the liberty of accosting
him, and after some conversation, mindful, as Pleyel said, of the
footing which this stranger had gained in my heart, he had ventured
to invite him to Mettingen. The invitation had been cheerfully
accepted, and a visit promised on the afternoon of the next day.
This information excited no sober emotions in my breast. I was, of
course, eager to be informed as to the circumstances of their
ancient intercourse. When and where had they met? What knew he of
the life and character of this man?
In answer to my inquiries, he informed me that, three years before,
he was a traveler in Spain. He had made an excursion from Valencia
to Murviedro, with a view to inspect the remains of Roman
magnificence scattered in the environs of that town. While
traversing the site of the theater of old Saguntum, he alighted
upon this man, seated on a stone, and deeply engaged in perusing
the work of the deacon Marti. A short conversation ensued, which
proved the stranger to be English. They returned to Valencia
His garb, aspect, and deportment were wholly Spanish. A residence
of three years in the country, indefatigable attention to the
language, and a studious conformity with the customs of the people,
had made him indistinguishable from a native when he chose to
assume that character. Pleyel found him to be connected, on the
footing of friendship and respect, with many eminent merchants in
that city. He had embraced the Catholic religion, and adopted a
Spanish name instead of his own, which was CARWIN, and devoted
himself to the literature and religion of his new country. He
pursued no profession, but subsisted on remittances from England.
While Pleyel remained in Valencia, Carwin betrayed no aversion to
intercourse, and the former found no small attractions in the
society of this new acquaintance, On general topics he was highly
intelligent and communicative. He had visited every corner of
Spain, and could furnish the most accurate details respecting its
ancient and present state. On topics of religion and of his own
history, previous to his TRANSFORMATION into a Spaniard, he was
invariably silent. You could merely gather from his discourse that
he was English, and that he was well acquainted with the
His character excited considerable curiosity in the observer. It
was not easy to reconcile his conversion to the Romish faith with
those proofs of knowledge and capacity that were exhibited by him
on different occasions. A suspicion was sometimes admitted that
his belief was counterfeited for some political purpose. The most
careful observation, however, produced no discovery. His manners
were at all times harmless and inartificial, and his habits those
of a lover of contemplation and seclusion. He appeared to have
contracted an affection for Pleyel, who was not slow to return it.
My friend, after a month's residence in this city, returned into
France, and, since that period, had heard nothing concerning Carwin
till his appearance at Mettingen.
On this occasion Carwin had received Pleyel's greeting with a
certain distance and solemnity to which the latter had not been
accustomed. He had waived noticing the inquiries of Pleyel
respecting his desertion of Spain, in which he had formerly
declared that it was his purpose to spend his life. He had
assiduously diverted the attention of the latter to indifferent
topics, but was still, on every theme, as eloquent and judicious as
formerly. Why he had assumed the garb of a rustic Pleyel was
unable to conjecture. Perhaps it might be poverty; perhaps he was
swayed by motives which it was his interest to conceal, but which
were connected with consequences of the utmost moment.
Such was the sum of my friend's information. I was not sorry to be
left alone during the greater part of this day. Every employment
was irksome which did not leave me at liberty to meditate. I had
now a new subject on which to exercise my thoughts. Before evening
I should be ushered into his presence, and listen to those tones
whose magical and thrilling power I had already experienced. But
with what new images would he then be accompanied?
Carwin was an adherent to the Romish faith, yet was an Englishman
by birth, and, perhaps, a Protestant by education. He had adopted
Spain for his country, and had intimated a design to spend his days
there, yet now was an inhabitant of this district, and disguised by
the habiliments of a clown! What could have obliterated the
impressions of his youth and made him abjure his religion and his
country? What subsequent events had introduced so total a change
in his plans? In withdrawing from Spain, had he reverted to the
religion of his ancestors? or was it true that his former
conversion was deceitful, and that his conduct had been swayed by
motives which it was prudent to conceal?
Hours were consumed in revolving these ideas. My meditations were
intense; and, when the series was broken, I began to reflect with
astonishment on my situation. From the death of my parents till
the commencement of this year my life had been serene and blissful
beyond the ordinary portion of humanity; but now my bosom was
corroded by anxiety. I was visited by dread of unknown dangers,
and the future was a scene over which clouds rolled and thunders
muttered. I compared the cause with the effect, and they seemed
disproportioned to each other. All unaware, and in a manner which
I had no power to explain, I was pushed from my immovable and lofty
station and cast upon a sea of troubles.
I determined to be my brother's visitant on this evening; yet my
resolves were not unattended with wavering and reluctance.
Pleyel's insinuations that I was in love affected in no degree my
belief; yet the consciousness that this was the opinion of one who
would probably be present at our introduction to each other would
excite all that confusion which the passion itself is apt to
produce. This would confirm him in his error and call forth new
railleries. His mirth, when exerted upon this topic, was the
source of the bitterest vexation. Had he been aware of its
influence upon my happiness, his temper would not have allowed him
to persist; but this influence it was my chief endeavor to conceal.
That the belief of my having bestowed my heart upon another
produced in my friend none but ludicrous sensations was the true
cause of my distress; but if this had been discovered by him my
distress would have been unspeakably aggravated.
As soon as evening arrived, I performed my visit. Carwin made one
of the company into which I was ushered. Appearances were the same
as when I before beheld him. His garb was equally negligent and
rustic. I gazed upon his countenance with new curiosity. My
situation was such as to enable me to bestow upon it a deliberate
examination. Viewed at more leisure, it lost none of its wonderful
properties. I could not deny my homage to the intelligence
expressed in it, but was wholly uncertain whether he were an object
to be dreaded or adored, and whether his powers had been exerted to
evil or to good.
He was sparing in discourse; but whatever he said was pregnant with
meaning, and uttered with rectitude of articulation and force of
emphasis of which I had entertained no conception previously to my
knowledge of him. Notwithstanding the uncouthness of his garb, his
manners were not unpolished. All topics were handled by him with
skill, and without pedantry or affectation. He uttered no
sentiment calculated to produce a disadvantageous impression; on
the contrary, his observations denoted a mind alive to every
generous and heroic feeling. They were introduced without parade,
and accompanied with that degree of earnestness which indicates
He parted from us not till late, refusing an invitation to spend
the night here, but readily consented to repeat his visit. His
visits were frequently repeated. Each day introduced us to a more
intimate acquaintance with his sentiments, but left us wholly in
the dark concerning that about which we were most inquisitive. He
studiously avoided all mention of his past or present situation.
Even the place of his abode in the city he concealed from us.
Our sphere in this respect being somewhat limited, and the
intellectual endowments of this man being indisputably great, his
deportment was more diligently marked and copiously commented on by
us than you, perhaps, will think the circumstances warranted. Not
a gesture, or glance, or accent, that was not, in our private
assemblies, discussed, and inferences deduced from it. It may well
be thought that he modeled his behavior by an uncommon standard,
when, with all our opportunities and accuracy of observation, we
were able for a long time to gather no satisfactory information.
He afforded us no ground on which to build even a plausible
There is a degree of familiarity which takes place between constant
associates, that justifies the negligence of many rules of which,
in an earlier period of their intercourse, politeness requires the
exact observance. Inquiries into our condition are allowable when
they are prompted by a disinterested concern for our welfare; and
this solicitude is not only pardonable, but may justly be demanded
from those who choose us for their companions. This state of
things was more slow to arrive at on this occasion than on most
others, on account of the gravity and loftiness of this man's
Pleyel, however, began at length to employ regular means for this
end. He occasionally alluded to the circumstances in which they
had formerly met, and remarked the incongruousness between the
religion and habits of a Spaniard with those of a native of
Britain. He expressed his astonishment at meeting our guest in
this corner of the globe, especially as, when they parted in Spain,
he was taught to believe that Carwin should never leave that
country. He insinuated that a change so great must have been
prompted by motives of a singular and momentous kind.
No answer, or an answer wide of the purpose, was generally made to
these insinuations. Britons and Spaniards, he said, are votaries
of the same Deity, and square their faith by the same precepts;
their ideas are drawn from the same fountains of literature, and
they speak dialects of the same tongue; their government and laws
have more resemblances than differences; they were formerly
provinces of the same civil, and, till lately, of the same
As to the motives which induce men to change the place of their
abode, these must unavoidably be fleeting and mutable. If not
bound to one spot by conjugal or parental ties, or by the nature of
that employment to which we are indebted for subsistence, the
inducements to change are far more numerous and powerful than
He spoke as if desirous of showing that he was not aware of the
tendency of Pleyel's remarks; yet certain tokens were apparent that
proved him by no means wanting in penetration. These tokens were
to be read in his countenance, and not in his words. When anything
was said indicating curiosity in us, the gloom of his countenance
was deepened, his eyes sunk to the ground, and his wonted air was
not resumed without visible struggle. Hence, it was obvious to
infer that some incidents of his life were reflected on by him with
regret; and that, since these incidents were carefully concealed,
and even that regret which flowed from them laboriously stifled,
they had not been merely disastrous. The secrecy that was observed
appeared not designed to provoke or baffle the inquisitive, but was
prompted by the shame or by the prudence of guilt.
These ideas, which were adopted by Pleyel and my brother as well as
myself, hindered us from employing more direct means for
accomplishing our wishes. Questions might have been put in such
terms that no room should be left for the pretense of misapprehension;
and, if modesty merely had been the obstacle, such questions would
not have been wanting; but we considered that, if the disclosure
were productive of pain or disgrace, it was inhuman to extort it.
Amidst the various topics that were discussed in his presence,
allusions were, of course, made to the inexplicable events that had
lately happened. At those times the words and looks of this man
were objects of my particular attention. The subject was
extraordinary; and anyone whose experience or reflections could
throw any light upon it was entitled to my gratitude. As this man
was enlightened by reading and travel, I listened with eagerness to
the remarks which he should make.
At first I entertained a kind of apprehension that the tale would
be heard by him with incredulity and secret ridicule. I had
formerly heard stories that resembled this in some of their
mysterious circumstances; but they were commonly heard by me with
contempt. I was doubtful whether the same impression would not now
be made on the mind of our guest; but I was mistaken in my fears.
He heard them with seriousness, and without any marks either of
surprise or incredulity. He pursued with visible pleasure that
kind of disquisition which was naturally suggested by them. His
fancy was eminently vigorous and prolific; and, if he did not
persuade us that human beings are sometimes admitted to a sensible
intercourse with the Author of nature, he at least won over our
inclination to the cause. He merely deduced, from his own
reasonings, that such intercourse was probable, but confessed that,
though he was acquainted with many instances somewhat similar to
those which had been related by us, none of them were perfectly
exempted from the suspicion of human agency.
On being requested to relate these instances, he amused us with
many curious details. His narratives were constructed with so much
skill, and rehearsed with so much energy, that all the effects of a
dramatic exhibition were frequently produced by them. Those that
were most coherent and most minute, and, of consequence, least
entitled to credit, were yet rendered probable by the exquisite art
of this rhetorician. For every difficulty that was suggested a
ready and plausible solution was furnished. Mysterious voices had
always a share in producing the catastrophe; but they were always
to be explained on some known principles, either as reflected into
a focus or communicated through a tube. I could not but remark
that his narratives, however complex or marvelous, contained no
instance sufficiently parallel to those that had befallen
ourselves, and in which the solution was applicable to our own
My brother was a much more sanguine reasoner than our guest. Even
in some of the facts which were related by Carwin, he maintained
the probability of celestial interference, when the latter was
disposed to deny it, and had found, as he imagined, footsteps of a
human agent. Pleyel was by no means equally credulous. He
scrupled not to deny faith to any testimony but that of his senses,
and allowed the facts which had lately been supported by this
testimony not to mold his belief, but merely to give birth to
It was soon observed that Carwin adopted, in some degree, a similar
distinction. A tale of this kind, related by others, he would
believe, provided it was explicable upon known principles; but that
such notices were actually communicated by beings of a higher order
he would believe only when his own ears were assailed in a manner
which could not be otherwise accounted for. Civility forbade him
to contradict my brother or myself, but his understanding refused
to acquiesce in our testimony. Besides, he was disposed to
question whether the voices were not really uttered by human
organs. On this supposition he was desired to explain how the
effect was produced.
He answered that the cry for help, heard in the hall on the night
of my adventure, was to be ascribed to a human creature, who
actually stood in the hall when he uttered it. It was of no
moment, he said, that we could not explain by what motives he that
made the signal was led hither. How imperfectly acquainted were we
with the condition and designs of the beings that surrounded us!
The city was near at hand, and thousands might there exist whose
powers and purposes might easily explain whatever was mysterious in
this transaction. As to the closet dialogue, he was obliged to
adopt one of two suppositions, and affirm either that it was
fashioned in my own fancy, or that it actually took place between
two persons in the closet.
Such was Carwin's mode of explaining these appearances. It is
such, perhaps, as would commend itself as most plausible to the
most sagacious minds; but it was insufficient to impart conviction
to us. As to the treason that was meditated against me, it was
doubtless just to conclude that it was either real or imaginary;
but that it was real was attested by the mysterious warning in the
summer-house, the secret of which I had hitherto locked up in my
A month passed away in this kind of intercourse. As to Carwin, our
ignorance was in no degree enlightened respecting his genuine
character and views. Appearances were uniform. No man possessed a
larger store of knowledge, or a greater degree of skill in the
communication of it to others; hence he was regarded as an
inestimable addition to our society. Considering the distance of
my brother's house from the city, he was frequently prevailed upon
to pass the night where he spent the evening. Two days seldom
elapsed without a visit from him; hence he was regarded as a kind
of inmate of the house. He entered and departed without ceremony.
When he arrived he received an unaffected welcome, and when he
chose to retire no importunities were used to induce him to remain.
Carwin never parted with his gravity. The inscrutableness of his
character, and the uncertainty whether his fellowship tended to
good or to evil, were seldom absent from our minds. This
circumstance powerfully contributed to sadden us.
My heart was the seat of growing disquietudes. This change in one
who had formerly been characterized by all the exuberances of soul
could not fail to be remarked by my friends. My brother was always
a pattern of solemnity. My sister was clay, molded by the
circumstances in which she happened to be placed. There was but
one whose deportment remains to be described as being of importance
to our happiness. Had Pleyel likewise dismissed his vivacity?
He was as whimsical and jestful as ever, but he was not happy. The
truth in this respect was of too much importance to me not to make
me a vigilant observer. His mirth was easily perceived to be the
fruit of exertion. When his thoughts wandered from the company, an
air of dissatisfaction and impatience stole across his features.
Even the punctuality and frequency of his visits were somewhat
lessened. It may be supposed that my own uneasiness was heightened
by these tokens; but, strange as it may seem, I found, in the
present state of my mind, no relief but in the persuasion that
Pleyel was unhappy.
That unhappiness, indeed, depended for its value in my eyes on the
cause that produced it. There was but one source whence it could
flow. A nameless ecstasy thrilled through my frame when any new
proof occurred that the ambiguousness of my behavior was the cause.
My brother had received a new book from Germany. It was a tragedy,
and the first attempt of a Saxon poet of whom my brother had been
taught to entertain the highest expectations. The exploits of
Zisca, the Bohemian hero, were woven into a dramatic series and
connection. According to German custom, it was minute and diffuse,
and dictated by an adventurous and lawless fancy. It was a chain
of audacious acts and unheard-of disasters. The moated fortress
and the thicket, the ambush and the battle, and the conflict of
headlong passions, were portrayed in wild numbers and with terrific
energy. An afternoon was set apart to rehearse this performance.
The language was familiar to all of us but Carwin, whose company,
therefore, was tacitly dispensed with.
The morning previous to this intended rehearsal I spent at home.
My mind was occupied with reflections relative to my own situation.
The sentiment which lived with chief energy in my heart was
connected with the image of Pleyel. In the midst of my anguish, I
had not been destitute of consolation. His late deportment had
given spring to my hopes. Was not the hour at hand which should
render me the happiest of human creatures? He suspected that I
looked with favorable eyes upon Carwin. Hence arose disquietudes
which he struggled in vain to conceal. He loved me, but was
hopeless that his love would be compensated. Is it not time, said
I, to rectify this error? But by what means is this to be
effected? It can only be done by a change of deportment in me; but
how must I demean myself for this purpose?
I must not speak. Neither eyes nor lips must impart the
information. He must not be assured that my heart is his, previous
to the tender of his own; but he must be convinced that it has not
been given to another; he must be supplied with space whereon to
build a doubt as to the true state of my affections; he must be
prompted to avow himself. The line of delicate propriety,—how
hard it is not to fall short, and not to overleap it!
This afternoon we shall meet. . . . We shall not separate till
late. It will be his province to accompany me home. The airy
expanse is without a speck. This breeze is usually steadfast, and
its promise of a bland and cloudless evening may be trusted. The
moon will rise at eleven, and at that hour we shall wind along this
bank. Possibly that hour may decide my fate. If suitable
encouragement be given, Pleyel will reveal his soul to me; and I,
ere I reach this threshold, will be made the happiest of beings.
And is this good to be mine? Add wings to thy speed, sweet
evening; and thou, moon, I charge thee, shroud thy beams at the
moment when my Pleyel whispers love. I would not for the world
that the burning blushes and the mounting raptures of that moment
should be visible.
But what encouragement is wanting? I must be regardful of
insurmountable limits. Yet, when minds are imbued with a genuine
sympathy, are not words and looks superfluous? Are not motion and
touch sufficient to impart feelings such as mine? Has he not eyed
me at moments when the pressure of his hand has thrown me into
tumults, and was it impossible that he mistook the impetuosities of
love for the eloquence of indignation?
But the hastening evening will decide. Would it were come! And
yet I shudder at its near approach. An interview that must thus
terminate is surely to be wished for by me; and yet it is not
without its terrors. Would to heaven it were come and gone!
I feel no reluctance, my friends, to be thus explicit. Time was,
when these emotions would be hidden with immeasurable solicitude
from every human eye. Alas! these airy and fleeting impulses of
shame are gone. My scruples were preposterous and criminal. They
are bred in all hearts by a perverse and vicious education, and
they would still have maintained their place in my heart, had not
my portion been set in misery. My errors have taught me thus much
wisdom:—that those sentiments which we ought not to disclose it is
criminal to harbor.
It was proposed to begin the rehearsal at four o'clock. I counted
the minutes as they passed; their flight was at once too rapid and
too slow: my sensations were of an excruciating kind; I could taste
no food, nor apply to any task, nor enjoy a moment's repose; when
the hour arrived I hastened to my brother's.
Pleyel was not there. He had not yet come. On ordinary occasions
he was eminent for punctuality. He had testified great eagerness
to share in the pleasures of this rehearsal. He was to divide the
task with my brother, and in tasks like these he always engaged
with peculiar zeal. His elocution was less sweet than sonorous,
and, therefore, better adapted than the mellifluences of his friend
to the outrageous vehemence of this drama.
What could detain him? Perhaps he lingered through forgetfulness.
Yet this was incredible. Never had his memory been known to fail
upon even more trivial occasions. Not less impossible was it that
the scheme had lost its attractions, and that he stayed because his
coming would afford him no gratification. But why should we expect
him to adhere to the minute?
A half-hour elapsed, but Pleyel was still at a distance. Perhaps
he had misunderstood the hour which had been proposed. Perhaps he
had conceived that to-morrow, and not to-day, had been selected for
this purpose; but no. A review of preceding circumstances
demonstrated that such misapprehension was impossible; for he had
himself proposed this day, and this hour. This day his attention
would not otherwise be occupied; but to-morrow an indispensable
engagement was foreseen, by which all his time would be engrossed;
his detention, therefore, must be owing to some unforeseen and
extraordinary event. Our conjectures were vague, tumultuous, and
sometimes fearful. His sickness and his death might possibly have
Tortured with suspense, we sat gazing at each other, and at the
path which led from the road. Every horseman that passed was, for
a moment, imagined to be him. Hour succeeded hour, and the sun,
gradually declining, at length disappeared. Every signal of his
coming proved fallacious, and our hopes were at length dismissed.
His absence affected my friends in no insupportable degree. They
should be obliged, they said, to defer this undertaking till the
morrow; and perhaps their impatient curiosity would compel them to
dispense entirely with his presence. No doubt some harmless
occurrence had diverted him from his purpose; and they trusted that
they should receive a satisfactory account of him in the morning.
It may be supposed that this disappointment affected me in a very
different manner. I turned aside my head to conceal my tears. I
fled into solitude, to give vent to my reproaches without
interruption or restraint. My heart was ready to burst with
indignation and grief. Pleyel was not the only object of my keen
but unjust upbraiding. Deeply did I execrate my own folly. Thus
fallen into ruins was the gay fabric which I had reared! Thus had
my golden vision melted into air!
How fondly did I dream that Pleyel was a lover! If he were, would
he have suffered any obstacle to hinder his coming? "Blind and
infatuated man!" I exclaimed. "Thou sportest with happiness. The
good that is offered thee thou hast the insolence and folly to
refuse. Well, I will henceforth intrust my felicity to no one's
keeping but my own."
The first agonies of this disappointment would not allow me to be
reasonable or just. Every ground on which I had built the
persuasion that Pleyel was not unimpressed in my favor appeared to
vanish. It seemed as if I had been misled into this opinion by the
most palpable illusions.
I made some trifling excuse, and returned, much earlier than I
expected, to my own house. I retired early to my chamber, without
designing to sleep. I placed myself at a window, and gave the
reins to reflection.
The hateful and degrading impulses which had lately controlled me
were, in some degree, removed. New dejection succeeded, but was
now produced by contemplating my late behavior. Surely that
passion is worthy to be abhorred which obscures our understanding
and urges us to the commission of injustice. What right had I to
expect his attendance? Had I not demeaned myself like one
indifferent to his happiness, and as having bestowed my regards
upon another? His absence might be prompted by the love which I
considered his absence as a proof that he wanted. He came not
because the sight of me, the spectacle of my coldness or aversion,
contributed to his despair. Why should I prolong, by hypocrisy or
silence, his misery as well as my own? Why not deal with him
explicitly, and assure him of the truth?
You will hardly believe that, in obedience to this suggestion, I
rose for the purpose of ordering a light, that I might instantly
make this confession in a letter. A second thought showed me the
rashness of this scheme, and I wondered by what infirmity of mind I
could be betrayed into a momentary approbation of it. I saw with
the utmost clearness that a confession like that would be the most
remediless and unpardonable outrage upon the dignity of my sex, and
utterly unworthy of that passion which controlled me.
I resumed my seat and my musing. To account for the absence of
Pleyel became once more the scope of my conjectures. How many
incidents might occur to raise an insuperable impediment in his
way! When I was a child, a scheme of pleasure, in which he and his
sister were parties, had been in like manner frustrated by his
absence; but his absence, in that instance, had been occasioned by
his falling from a boat into the river, in consequence of which he
had run the most imminent hazard of being drowned. Here was a
second disappointment endured by the same persons, and produced by
his failure. Might it not originate in the same cause? Had he not
designed to cross the river that morning to make some necessary
purchases in New Jersey? He had preconcerted to return to his own
house to dinner but perhaps some disaster had befallen him.
Experience had taught me the insecurity of a canoe, and that was
the only kind of boat which Pleyel used; I was, likewise, actuated
by an hereditary dread of water. These circumstances combined to
bestow considerable plausibility on this conjecture; but the
consternation with which I began to be seized was allayed by
reflecting that, if this disaster had happened, my brother would
have received the speediest information of it. The consolation
which this idea imparted was ravished from me by a new thought.
This disaster might have happened, and his family not be apprised
of it. The first intelligence of his fate may be communicated by
the livid corpse which the tide may cast, many days hence, upon the
Thus was I distressed by opposite conjectures; thus was I tormented
by phantoms of my own creation. It was not always thus. I can
ascertain the date when my mind became the victim of this
imbecility; perhaps it was coeval with the inroad of a fatal
passion,—a passion that will never rank me in the number of its
eulogists; it was alone sufficient to the extermination of my
peace; it was itself a plenteous source of calamity, and needed not
the concurrence of other evils to take away the attractions of
existence and dig for me an untimely grave.
The state of my mind naturally introduced a train of reflections
upon the dangers and cares which inevitably beset a human being.
By no violent transition was I led to ponder on the turbulent life
and mysterious end of my father. I cherished with the utmost
veneration the memory of this man, and every relic connected with
his fate was preserved with the most scrupulous care. Among these
was to be numbered a manuscript containing memoirs of his own life.
The narrative was by no means recommended by its eloquence; but
neither did all its value flow from my relationship to the author.
Its style had an unaffected and picturesque simplicity. The great
variety and circumstantial display of the incidents, together with
their intrinsic importance as descriptive of human manners and
passions, made it the most useful book in my collection. It was
late: but, being sensible of no inclination to sleep, I resolved to
betake myself to the perusal of it.
To do this, it was requisite to procure a light. The girl had long
since retired to her chamber: it was therefore proper to wait upon
myself. A lamp, and the means of lighting it, were only to be
found in the kitchen. Thither I resolved forthwith to repair; but
the light was of use merely to enable me to read the book. I knew
the shelf and the spot where it stood. Whether I took down the
book, or prepared the lamp in the first place, appeared to be a
matter of no moment. The latter was preferred, and, leaving my
seat, I approached the closet in which, as I mentioned formerly, my
books and papers were deposited.
Suddenly the remembrance of what had lately passed in this closet
occurred. Whether midnight was approaching, or had passed, I knew
not. I was, as then, alone and defenseless. The wind was in that
direction in which, aided by the deathlike repose of nature, it
brought to me the murmur of the waterfall. This was mingled with
that solemn and enchanting sound which a breeze produces among the
leaves of pines. The words of that mysterious dialogue, their
fearful import, and the wild excess to which I was transported by
my terrors, filled my imagination anew. My steps faltered, and I
stood a moment to recover myself.
I prevailed on myself at length to move toward the closet. I
touched the lock, but my fingers were powerless; I was visited
afresh by unconquerable apprehensions. A sort of belief darted
into my mind that some being was concealed within whose purposes
were evil. I began to contend with those fears, when it occurred
to me that I might, without impropriety, go for a lamp previously
to opening the closet. I receded a few steps; but before I reached
the chamber door my thoughts took a new direction. Motion seemed
to produce a mechanical influence upon me. I was ashamed of my
weakness. Besides, what aid could be afforded me by a lamp?
My fears had pictured to themselves no precise object. It would be
difficult to depict in words the ingredients and hues of that
phantom which haunted me. A hand invisible and of preternatural
strength, lifted by human passions, and selecting my life for its
aim, were parts of this terrific image. All places were alike
accessible to this foe; or, if his empire were restricted by local
bounds, those bounds were utterly inscrutable by me. But had I not
been told, by some one in league with this enemy, that every place
but the recess in the bank was exempt from danger?
I returned to the closet, and once more put my hand upon the lock.
Oh, may my ears lose their sensibility ere they be again assailed
by a shriek so terrible! Not merely my understanding was subdued
by the sound; it acted on my nerves like an edge of steel. It
appeared to cut asunder the fibers of my brain and rack every joint
The cry, loud and piercing as it was, was nevertheless human. No
articulation was ever more distinct. The breath which accompanied
it did not fan my hair, yet did every circumstance combine to
persuade me that the lips which uttered it touched my very
"Hold! hold!" were the words of this tremendous prohibition, in
whose tone the whole soul seemed to be wrapped up, and every energy
converted into eagerness and terror.
Shuddering, I dashed myself against the wall, and, by the same
involuntary impulse, turned my face backward to examine the
mysterious monitor. The moonlight streamed into each window, and
every corner of the room was conspicuous, and yet I beheld nothing!
The interval was too brief to be artificially measured, between the
utterance of these words and my scrutiny directed to the quarter
whence they came. Yet, if a human being had been there, could he
fail to have been visible? Which of my senses was the prey of a
fatal illusion? The shock which the sound produced was still felt
in every part of my frame. The sound, therefore, could not but be
a genuine commotion. But that I had heard it was not more true
than that the being who uttered it was stationed at my right ear;
yet my attendant was invisible.
I cannot describe the state of my thoughts at that moment.
Surprise had mastered my faculties. My frame shook, and the vital
current was congealed. I was conscious only of the vehemence of my
sensations. This condition could not be lasting. Like a tide,
which suddenly mounts to an overwhelming height and then gradually
subsides, my confusion slowly gave place to order, and my tumults
to a calm. I was able to deliberate and move. I resumed my feet,
and advanced into the midst of the room. Upward, and behind, and
on each side, I threw penetrating glances. I was not satisfied
with one examination. He that hitherto refused to be seen might
change his purpose, and on the next survey be clearly
Solitude imposes least restraint upon the fancy. Dark is less
fertile of images than the feeble luster of the moon. I was alone,
and the walls were checkered by shadowy forms. As the moon passed
behind a cloud and emerged, these shadows seemed to be endowed with
life, and to move. The apartment was open to the breeze, and the
curtain was occasionally blown from its ordinary position. This
motion was not unaccompanied with sound. I failed not to snatch a
look and to listen when this motion and this sound occurred. My
belief that my monitor was posted near was strong, and instantly
converted these appearances to tokens of his presence; and yet I
could discern nothing.
When my thoughts were at length permitted to revert to the past,
the first idea that occurred was the resemblance between the words
of the voice which I had just heard and those which had terminated
my dream in the summer-house. There are means by which we are able
to distinguish a substance from a shadow, a reality from the
phantom of a dream. The pit, my brother beckoning me forward, the
seizure of my arm, and the voice behind, were surely imaginary.
That these incidents were fashioned in my sleep is supported by the
same indubitable evidence that compels me to believe myself awake
at present; yet the words and the voice were the same. Then, by
some inexplicable contrivance, I was aware of the danger, while my
actions and sensations were those of one wholly unacquainted with
it. Now, was it not equally true that my actions and persuasions
were at war? Had not the belief that evil lurked in the closet
gained admittance, and had not my actions betokened an
unwarrantable security? To obviate the effects of my infatuation,
the same means had been used.
In my dream, he that tempted me to my destruction was my brother.
Death was ambushed in my path. From what evil was I now rescued?
What minister or implement of ill was shut up in this recess? Who
was it whose suffocating grasp I was to feel should I dare to enter
it? What monstrous conception is this? My brother?
No; protection, and not injury, is his province. Strange and
terrible chimera! Yet it would not be suddenly dismissed. It was
surely no vulgar agency that gave this form to my fears. He to
whom all parts of time are equally present, whom no contingency
approaches, was the author of that spell which now seized upon me.
Life was dear to me. No consideration was present that enjoined me
to relinquish it. Sacred duty combined with every spontaneous
sentiment to endear to me my being. Should I not shudder when my
being was endangered? But what emotion should possess me when the
arm lifted against me was Wieland's?
Ideas exist in our minds that can be accounted for by no
established laws. Why did I dream that my brother was my foe? Why
but because an omen of my fate was ordained to be communicated?
Yet what salutary end did it serve? Did it arm me with caution to
elude or fortitude to bear the evils to which I was reserved? My
present thoughts were, no doubt, indebted for their hue to the
similitude existing between these incidents and those of my dream.
Surely it was frenzy that dictated my deed. That a ruffian was
hidden in the closet was an idea the genuine tendency of which was
to urge me to flight. Such had been the effect formerly produced.
Had my mind been simply occupied with this thought at present, no
doubt the same impulse would have been experienced; but now it was
my brother whom I was irresistibly persuaded to regard as the
contriver of that ill of which I had been forewarned. This
persuasion did not extenuate my fears or my danger. Why then did I
again approach the closet and withdraw the bolt? My resolution was
instantly conceived, and executed without faltering.
The door was formed of light materials. The lock, of simple
structure, easily forewent its hold. It opened into the room, and
commonly moved upon its hinges, after being unfastened, without any
effort of mine. This effort, however, was bestowed upon the
present occasion. It was my purpose to open it with quickness; but
the exertion which I made was ineffectual. It refused to open.
At another time, this circumstance would not have looked with a
face of mystery. I should have supposed some casual obstruction
and repeated my efforts to surmount it. But now my mind was
accessible to no conjecture but one. The door was hindered from
opening by human force. Surely, here was a new cause for affright.
This was confirmation proper to decide my conduct. Now was all
ground of hesitation taken away. What could be supposed but that I
deserted the chamber and the house? that I at least endeavored no
longer to withdraw the door?
Have I not said that my actions were dictated by frenzy? My reason
had forborne, for a time, to suggest or to sway my resolves. I
reiterated my endeavors. I exerted all my force to overcome the
obstacle, but in vain. The strength that was exerted to keep it
shut was superior to mine.
A casual observer might, perhaps, applaud the audaciousness of this
conduct. Whence, but from a habitual defiance of danger, could my
perseverance arise? I have already assigned, as distinctly as I am
able, the cause of it. The frantic conception that my brother was
within, that the resistance made to my design was exerted by him,
had rooted itself in my mind. You will comprehend the height of
this infatuation, when I tell you that, finding all my exertions
vain, I betook myself to exclamations. Surely I was utterly bereft
Now I had arrived at the crisis of my fate. "Oh, hinder not the
door to open," I exclaimed, in a tone that had less of fear than of
grief in it. "I know you well. Come forth, but harm me not. I
beseech you, come forth."
I had taken my hand from the lock and removed to a small distance
from the door. I had scarcely uttered these words, when the door
swung upon its hinges and displayed to my view the interior of the
closet. Whoever was within was shrouded in darkness. A few
seconds passed without interruption of the silence. I knew not
what to expect or to fear. My eyes would not stray from the
recess. Presently, a deep sigh was heard. The quarter from which
it came heightened the eagerness of my gaze. Some one approached
from the farther end. I quickly perceived the outlines of a human
figure. Its steps were irresolute and slow. I recoiled as it
By coming at length within the verge of the room, his form was
clearly distinguishable. I had prefigured to myself a very
different personage. The face that presented itself was the last
that I should desire to meet at an hour and in a place like this.
My wonder was stifled by my fears. Assassins had lurked in this
recess. Some divine voice warned me of danger that at this moment
awaited me. I had spurned the intimation, and challenged my
I recalled the mysterious countenance and dubious character of
Carwin. What motive but atrocious ones could guide his steps
hither? I was alone. My habit suited the hour, and the place, and
the warmth of the season. All succor was remote. He had placed
himself between me and the door. My frame shook with the vehemence
of my apprehensions.
Yet I was not wholly lost to myself; I vigilantly marked his
demeanor. His looks were grave, but not without perturbation.
What species of inquietude it betrayed the light was not strong
enough to enable me to discover. He stood still; but his eyes
wandered from one object to another. When these powerful organs
were fixed upon me, I shrunk into myself. At length he broke
silence. Earnestness, and not embarrassment, was in his tone. He
advanced close to me while he spoke:—
"What voice was that which lately addressed you?"
He paused for an answer; but, observing my trepidation, he resumed,
with undiminished solemnity, "Be not terrified. Whoever he was, he
has done you an important service. I need not ask you if it were
the voice of a companion. That sound was beyond the compass of
human organs. The knowledge that enabled him to tell you who was
in the closet was obtained by incomprehensible means.
"You knew that Carwin was there. Were you not apprised of his
intents? The same power could impart the one as well as the other.
Yet, knowing these, you persisted. Audacious girl! But perhaps
you confided in his guardianship. Your confidence was just. With
succor like this at hand you may safely defy me.
"He is my eternal foe; the baffler of my best-concerted schemes.
Twice have you been saved by his accursed interposition. But for
him I should long ere now have borne away the spoils of your
He looked at me with greater steadfastness than before. I became
every moment more anxious for my safety. It was with difficulty I
stammered out an entreaty that he would instantly depart, or suffer
me to do so. He paid no regard to my request, but proceeded in a
more impassioned manner:—
"What is it you fear? Have I not told you you are safe? Has not
one in whom you more reasonably place trust assured you of it?
Even if I execute my purpose, what injury is done? Your prejudices
will call it by that name, but it merits it not.
"I was impelled by a sentiment that does you honor; a sentiment
that would sanctify my deed; but, whatever it be, you are safe. Be
this chimera still worshiped; I will do nothing to pollute it."
There he stopped.
The accents and gestures of this man left me drained of all
courage. Surely, on no other occasion should I have been thus
pusillanimous. My state I regarded as a hopeless one. I was
wholly at the mercy of this being. Whichever way I turned my eyes,
I saw no avenue by which I might escape. The resources of my
personal strength, my ingenuity, and my eloquence, I estimated at
nothing. The dignity of virtue and the force of truth I had been
accustomed to celebrate, and had frequently vaunted of the
conquests which I should make with their assistance.
I used to suppose that certain evils could never befall a being in
possession of a sound mind; that true virtue supplies us with
energy which vice can never resist; that it was always in our power
to obstruct, by his own death, the designs of an enemy who aimed at
less than our life. How was it that a sentiment like despair had
now invaded me, and that I trusted to the protection of chance, or
to the pity of my persecutor?
His words imparted some notion of the injury which he had
meditated. He talked of obstacles that had risen in his way. He
had relinquished his design. These sources supplied me with
slender consolation. There was no security but in his absence.
When I looked at myself, when I reflected on the hour and the
place, I was overpowered by horror and dejection.
He was silent, museful, and inattentive to my situation, yet made
no motion to depart. I was silent in my turn. What could I say?
I was confident that reason in this contest would be impotent. I
must owe my safety to his own suggestions. Whatever purpose
brought him hither, he had changed it. Why then did he remain?
His resolutions might fluctuate, and the pause of a few minutes
restore to him his first resolutions.
Yet was not this the man whom we had treated with unwearied
kindness? whose society was endeared to us by his intellectual
elevation and accomplishments? who had a thousand times expatiated
on the usefulness and beauty of virtue? Why should such a one be
dreaded? If I could have forgotten the circumstances in which our
interview had taken place, I might have treated his words as jests.
Presently, he resumed:—
"Fear me not: the space that severs us is small, and all visible
succor is distant. You believe yourself completely in my power;
that you stand upon the brink of ruin. Such are your groundless
fears. I cannot lift a finger to hurt you. Easier would it be to
stop the moon in her course than to injure you. The power that
protects you would crumble my sinews and reduce me to a heap of
ashes in a moment, if I were to harbor a thought hostile to your
"Thus are appearances at length solved. Little did I expect that
they originated hence. What a portion is assigned to you! Scanned
by the eyes of this intelligence, your path will be without pits to
swallow or snares to entangle you. Environed by the arms of this
protection, all artifices will be frustrated and all malice
Here succeeded a new pause. I was still observant of every gesture
and look. The tranquil solemnity that had lately possessed his
countenance gave way to a new expression. All now was trepidation
"I must be gone," said he, in a faltering accent. "Why do I linger
here? I will not ask your forgiveness. I see that your terrors
are invincible. Your pardon will be extorted by fear, and not
dictated by compassion. I must fly from you forever. He that
could plot against your honor must expect from you and your friends
persecution and death. I must doom myself to endless exile."
Saying this, he hastily left the room. I listened while he
descended the stairs, and, unbolting the outer door, went forth. I
did not follow him with my eyes, as the moonlight would have
enabled me to do. Relieved by his absence, and exhausted by the
conflict of my fears, I threw myself on a chair, and resigned
myself to those bewildering ideas which incidents like these could
not fail to produce.
Order could not readily be introduced into my thoughts. The voice
still rung in my ears. Every accent that was uttered by Carwin was
fresh in my remembrance. His unwelcome approach, the recognition
of his person, his hasty departure, produced a complex impression
on my mind which no words can delineate. I strove to give a slower
motion to my thoughts, and to regulate a confusion which became
painful; but my efforts were nugatory. I covered my eyes with my
hand, and sat, I know not how long, without power to arrange or
utter my conceptions.
I had remained for hours, as I believed, in absolute solitude. No
thought of personal danger had molested my tranquillity. I had
made no preparation for defense. What was it that suggested the
design of perusing my father's manuscript? If, instead of this, I
had retired to bed and to sleep, to what fate might I not have been
reserved. The ruffian, who must almost have suppressed his
breathings to screen himself from discovery, would have noticed
this signal, and I should have awakened only to perish with
affright, and to abhor myself. Could I have remained unconscious
of my danger? Could I have tranquilly slept in the midst of so
deadly a snare?
And who was he that threatened to destroy me? By what means could
he hide himself in this closet? Surely he is gifted with
supernatural power. Such is the enemy of whose attempts I was
forewarned. Daily I had seen him and conversed with him. Nothing
could be discerned through the impenetrable veil of his duplicity.
When busied in conjectures as to the author of the evil that was
threatened, my mind did not light for a moment upon his image. Yet
has he not avowed himself my enemy? Why should he be here if he
had not meditated evil?
He confesses that this has been his second attempt. What was the
scene of his former conspiracy? Was it not he whose whispers
betrayed him? Am I deceived? or was there not a faint resemblance
between the voice of this man and that which talked of grasping my
throat and extinguishing my life in a moment? Then he had a
colleague in his crime; now he is alone. Then death was the scope
of his thoughts; now an injury unspeakably more dreadful. How
thankful should I be to the power that has interposed to save me!
That power is invisible. It is subject to the cognizance of one of
my senses. What are the means that will inform me of what nature
it is? He has set himself to counter-work the machinations of this
man, who had menaced destruction to all that is dear to me, and
whose coming had surmounted every human impediment. There was none
to rescue me from his grasp. My rashness even hastened the
completion of his scheme, and precluded him from the benefits of
deliberation. I had robbed him of the power to repent and forbear.
Had I been apprised of the danger, I should have regarded my
conduct as the means of rendering my escape from it impossible.
Such, likewise, seem to have been the fears of my invisible
protector. Else why that startling entreaty to refrain from
opening the closet? By what inexplicable infatuation was I
compelled to proceed?
"Surely," said I, "there is omnipotence in the cause that changed
the views of a man like Carwin. The divinity that shielded me from
his attempts will take suitable care of my future safety. Thus to
yield to my fears is to deserve that they should be real."
Scarcely had I uttered these words, when my attention was startled
by the sound of footsteps. They denoted some one stepping into the
piazza in front of my house. My new-born confidence was
extinguished in a moment. Carwin, I thought, had repented his
departure, and was hastily returning. The possibility that his
return was prompted by intentions consistent with my safety found
no place in my mind. Images of violation and murder assailed me
anew, and the terrors which succeeded almost incapacitated me from
taking any measures for my defense. It was an impulse of which I
was scarcely conscious that made me fasten the lock and draw the
bolts of my chamber door. Having done this, I threw myself on a
seat; for I trembled to a degree which disabled me from standing,
and my soul was so perfectly absorbed in the act of listening, that
almost the vital motions were stopped.
The door below creaked on its hinges. It was not again thrust to,
but appeared to remain open. Footsteps entered, traversed the
entry, and began to mount the stairs. How I detested the folly of
not pursuing the man when he withdrew, and bolting after him the
outer door! Might he not conceive this omission to be a proof that
my angel had deserted me, and be thereby fortified in guilt?
Every step on the stairs which brought him nearer to my chamber
added vigor to my desperation. The evil with which I was menaced
was to be at any rate eluded. How little did I preconceive the
conduct which, in an exigence like this, I should be prone to
adopt! You will suppose that deliberation and despair would have
suggested the same course of action, and that I should have
unhesitatingly resorted to the best means of personal defense
within my power. A penknife lay open upon my table. I remembered
that it was there, and seized it. For what purpose you will
scarcely inquire. It will be immediately supposed that I meant it
for my last refuge, and that, if all other means should fail, I
should plunge it into the heart of my ravisher.
I have lost all faith in the steadfastness of human resolves. It
was thus that in periods of calm I had determined to act. No
cowardice had been held by me in greater abhorrence than that which
prompted an injured female to destroy, not her injurer ere the
injury was perpetrated, but herself when it was without remedy.
Yet now this penknife appeared to me of no other use than to baffle
my assailant and prevent the crime by destroying myself. To
deliberate at such a time was impossible; but, among the tumultuous
suggestions of the moment, I do not recollect that it once occurred
to me to use it as an instrument of direct defense.
The steps had now reached the second floor. Every footfall
accelerated the completion without augmenting the certainty of
evil. The consciousness that the door was fast, now that nothing
but that was interposed between me and danger, was a source of some
consolation. I cast my eye toward the window. This, likewise, was
a new suggestion. If the door should give way, it was my sudden
resolution to throw myself from the window. Its height from the
ground, which was covered beneath by a brick pavement, would insure
my destruction; but I thought not of that.
When opposite to my door the footsteps ceased. Was he listening
whether my fears were allayed and my caution were asleep? Did he
hope to take me by surprise? Yet, if so, why did he allow so many
noisy signals to betray his approach? Presently the steps were
again heard to approach the door. A hand was laid upon the lock,
and the latch pulled back. Did he imagine it possible that I
should fail to secure the door? A slight effort was made to push
it open, as if, all bolts being withdrawn, a slight effort only was
I no sooner perceived this than I moved swiftly toward the window.
Carwin's frame might be said to be all muscle. His strength and
activity had appeared, in various instances, to be prodigious. A
slight exertion of his force would demolish the door. Would not
that exertion be made? Too surely it would; but, at the same
moment that this obstacle should yield and he should enter the
apartment, my determination was formed to leap from the window. My
senses were still bound to this object. I gazed at the door in
momentary expectation that the assault would be made. The pause
continued. The person without was irresolute and motionless.
Suddenly it occurred to me that Carwin might conceive me to have
fled. That I had not betaken myself to flight was, indeed, the
least probable of all conclusions. In this persuasion he must have
been confirmed on finding the lower door unfastened and the chamber
door locked. Was it not wise to foster this persuasion? Should I
maintain deep silence, this, in addition to other circumstances,
might encourage the belief, and he would once more depart. Every
new reflection added plausibility to this reasoning. It was
presently more strongly enforced when I noticed footsteps
withdrawing from the door. The blood once more flowed back to my
heart, and a dawn of exultation began to rise; but my joy was
short-lived. Instead of descending the stairs, he passed to the
door of the opposite chamber, opened it, and, having entered, shut
it after him with a violence that shook the house.
How was I to interpret this circumstance? For what end could he
have entered this chamber? Did the violence with which he closed
the door testify the depth of his vexation? This room was usually
occupied by Pleyel. Was Carwin aware of his absence on this night?
Could he be suspected of a design so sordid as pillage? If this
were his view, there were no means in my power to frustrate it. It
behooved me to seize the first opportunity to escape; but, if my
escape were supposed by my enemy to have been already effected, no
asylum was more secure than the present. How could my passage from
the house be accomplished without noises that might incite him to
Utterly at a loss to account for his going into Pleyel's chamber, I
waited in instant expectation of hearing him come forth. All,
however, was profoundly still. I listened in vain for a
considerable period to catch the sound of the door when it should
again be opened. There was no other avenue by which he could
escape, but a door which led into the girl's chamber. Would any
evil from this quarter befall the girl?
Hence arose a new train of apprehensions. They merely added to the
turbulence and agony of my reflections. Whatever evil impended
over her, I had no power to avert it. Seclusion and silence were
the only means of saving myself from the perils of this fatal
night. What solemn vows did I put up, that, if I should once more
behold the light of day, I would never trust myself again within
the threshold of this dwelling!
Minute lingered after minute, but no token was given that Carwin
had returned to the passage. What, I again asked, could detain him
in this room? Was it possible that he had returned, and glided
unperceived away? I was speedily aware of the difficulty that
attended an enterprise like this; and yet, as if by that means I
were capable of gaining any information on that head, I cast
anxious looks from the window.
The object that first attracted my attention was a human figure
standing on the edge of the bank. Perhaps my penetration was
assisted by my hopes. Be that as it will, the figure of Carwin was
clearly distinguishable. From the obscurity of my station, it was
impossible that I should be discerned by him; and yet he scarcely
suffered me to catch a glimpse of him. He turned and went down the
steep, which in this part was not difficult to be scaled.
My conjecture, then, had been right. Carwin has softly opened the
door, descended the stairs, and issued forth. That I should not
have overheard his steps was only less incredible than that my eyes
had deceived me. But what was now to be done? The house was at
length delivered from this detested inmate. By one avenue might he
again reenter. Was it not wise to bar the lower door? Perhaps he
had gone out by the kitchen door. For this end, he must have
passed through Judith's chamber. These entrances being closed and
bolted, as great security was gained as was compatible with my
The propriety of these measures was too manifest not to make me
struggle successfully with my fears. Yet I opened my own door with
the utmost caution, and descended as if I were afraid that Carwin
had been still immured in Pleyel's chamber. The outer door was
ajar. I shut it with trembling eagerness, and drew every bolt that
appended to it. I then passed with light and less cautious steps
through the parlor, but was surprised to discover that the kitchen
door was secure. I was compelled to acquiesce in the first
conjecture that Carwin had escaped through the entry.
My heart was now somewhat eased of the load of apprehension. I
returned once more to my chamber, the door of which I was careful
to lock. It was no time to think of repose. The moonlight began
already to fade before the light of the day. The approach of
morning was betokened by the usual signals. I mused upon the
events of this night, and determined to take up my abode henceforth
at my brother's. Whether I should inform him of what had happened
was a question which seemed to demand some consideration. My
safety unquestionably required that I should abandon my present
As my thoughts began to flow with fewer impediments, the image of
Pleyel, and the dubiousness of his condition, again recurred to me.
I again ran over the possible causes of his absence on the
preceding day. My mind was attuned to melancholy. I dwelt, with
an obstinacy for which I could not account, on the idea of his
death. I painted to myself his struggles with the billows, and his
last appearance. I imagined myself a midnight wanderer on the
shore, and to have stumbled on his corpse, which the tide had cast
up. These dreary images affected me even to tears. I endeavored
not to restrain them. They imparted a relief which I had not
anticipated. The more copiously they flowed, the more did my
general sensations appear to subside into calm, and a certain
restlessness give way to repose.
Perhaps, relieved by this effusion, the slumber so much wanted
might have stolen on my senses, had there been no new cause of
I was aroused from this stupor by sounds that evidently arose in
the next chamber. Was it possible that I had been mistaken in the
figure which I had seen on the bank? or had Carwin, by some
inscrutable means, penetrated once more into this chamber? The
opposite door opened; footsteps came forth, and the person,
advancing to mine, knocked.
So unexpected an incident robbed me of all presence of mind, and,
starting up, I involuntarily exclaimed, "Who is there?" An answer
was immediately given. The voice, to my inexpressible
astonishment, was Pleyel's.
"It is I. Have you risen? If you have not, make haste; I want
three minutes' conversation with you in the parlor. I will wait
for you there." Saying this, he retired from the door.
Should I confide in the testimony of my ears? If that were true,
it was Pleyel that had been hitherto immured in the opposite
chamber; he whom my rueful fancy had depicted in so many ruinous
and ghastly shapes; he whose footsteps had been listened to with
such inquietude! What is man, that knowledge is so sparingly
conferred upon him! that his heart should be wrung with distress,
and his frame be exanimated with fear, though his safety be
encompassed with impregnable walls! What are the bounds of human
imbecility! He that warned me of the presence of my foe refused
the intimation by which so many racking fears would have been
Yet who would have imagined the arrival of Pleyel at such an hour?
His tone was desponding and anxious. Why this unseasonable
summons? and why this hasty departure? Some tidings he, perhaps,
bears of mysterious and unwelcome import.
My impatience would not allow me to consume much time in
deliberation; I hastened down. Pleyel I found standing at a
window, with eyes cast down as in meditation, and arms folded on
his breast. Every line in his countenance was pregnant with
sorrow. To this was added a certain wanness and air of fatigue.
The last time I had seen him appearances had been the reverse of
these. I was startled at the change. The first impulse was to
question him as to the cause. This impulse was supplanted by some
degree of confusion, flowing from a consciousness that love had too
large, and, as it might prove, a perceptible, share in creating
this impulse. I was silent.
Presently be raised his eyes and fixed them upon me. I read in
them an anguish altogether ineffable. Never had I witnessed a like
demeanor in Pleyel. Never, indeed, had I observed a human
countenance in which grief was more legibly inscribed. He seemed
struggling for utterance; but, his struggles being fruitless, he
shook his head and turned away from me.
My impatience would not allow me to be longer silent. "What," said
I, "for heaven's sake, my friend,—what is the matter?"
He started at the sound of my voice. His looks, for a moment,
became convulsed with an emotion very different from grief. His
accents were broken with rage:—
"The matter! O wretch!—thus exquisitely fashioned,—on whom
nature seemed to have exhausted all her graces; with charms so
awful and so pure! how art thou fallen! From what height fallen!
A ruin so complete,—so unheard of!"
His words were again choked by emotion. Grief and pity were again
mingled in his features. He resumed, in a tone half suffocated by
"But why should I upbraid thee? Could I restore to thee what thou
hast lost, efface this cursed stain, snatch thee from the jaws of
this fiend, I would do it. Yet what will avail my efforts? I have
not arms with which to contend with so consummate, so frightful a
"Evidence less than this would only have excited resentment and
scorn. The wretch who should have breathed a suspicion injurious
to thy honor would have been regarded without anger: not hatred or
envy could have prompted him; it would merely be an argument of
madness. That my eyes, that my ears, should bear witness to thy
fall! By no other way could detestable conviction be imparted.
"Why do I summon thee to this conference? Why expose myself to thy
derision? Here admonition and entreaty are vain. Thou knowest him
already for a murderer and thief. I thought to have been the first
to disclose to thee his infamy; to have warned thee of the pit to
which thou art hastening; but thy eyes are open in vain. Oh, foul
and insupportable disgrace!
"There is but one path. I know you will disappear together. In
thy ruin, how will the felicity and honor of multitudes be
involved! But it must come. This scene shall not be blotted by
his presence. No doubt thou wilt shortly see thy detested
paramour. This scene will be again polluted by a midnight
assignation. Inform him of his dangers; tell him that his crimes
are known; let him fly far and instantly from this spot, if he
desires to avoid the fate which menaced him in Ireland.
"And wilt thou not stay behind? But shame upon my weakness! I
know not what I would say. I have done what I purposed. To stay
longer, to expostulate, to beseech, to enumerate the consequences
of thy act,—what end can it serve but to blazon thy infamy and
embitter our woes? And yet, oh, think—think ere it be too late—
on the distresses which thy flight will entail upon us; on the
base, groveling, and atrocious character of the wretch to whom thou
hast sold thy honor. But what is this? Is not thy effrontery
impenetrable and thy heart thoroughly cankered? Oh, most specious
and most profligate of women!"
Saying this, he rushed out of the house. I saw him in a few
moments hurrying along the path which led to my brother's. I had
no power to prevent his going, or to recall or to follow him. The
accents I had heard were calculated to confound and bewilder. I
looked around me, to assure myself that the scene was real. I
moved, that I might banish the doubt that I was awake. Such
enormous imputations from the mouth of Pleyel! To be stigmatized
with the names of wanton and profligate! To be charged with the
sacrifice of honor! with midnight meetings with a wretch known to
be a murderer and thief! with an intention to fly in his company!
What I had heard was surely the dictate of frenzy, or it was built
upon some fatal, some incomprehensible mistake. After the horrors
of the night, after undergoing perils so imminent from this man, to
be summoned to an interview like this!—to find Pleyel fraught with
a belief that, instead of having chosen death as a refuge from the
violence of this man, I had hugged his baseness to my heart, had
sacrificed for him my purity, my spotless name, my friendships, and
my fortune! That even madness could engender accusations like
these was not to be believed.
What evidence could possibly suggest conceptions so wild? After
the unlooked-for interview with Carwin in my chamber, he retired.
Could Pleyel have observed his exit? It was not long after that
Pleyel himself entered. Did he build on this incident his odious
conclusions? Could the long series of my actions and sentiments
grant me no exemption from suspicions so foul? Was it not more
rational to infer that Carwin's designs had been illicit? that my
life had been endangered by the fury of one whom, by some means, he
had discovered to be an assassin and robber? that my honor had been
assailed, not by blandishments, but by violence?
He has judged me without hearing. He has drawn from dubious
appearances conclusions the most improbable and unjust. He has
loaded me with all outrageous epithets. He has ranked me with
prostitutes and thieves. I cannot pardon thee, Pleyel, for this
injustice. Thy understanding must be hurt. If it be not,—if thy
conduct was sober and deliberate,—I can never forgive an outrage
so unmanly and so gross.
These thoughts gradually gave place to others. Pleyel was
possessed by some momentary frenzy; appearances had led him into
palpable errors. Whence could his sagacity have contracted this
blindness? Was it not love? Previously assured of my affection
for Carwin, distracted with grief and jealousy, and impelled hither
at that late hour by some unknown instigation, his imagination
transformed shadows into monsters, and plunged him into these
This idea was not unattended with consolation. My soul was divided
between indignation at his injustice and delight on account of the
source from which I conceived it to spring. For a long time they
would allow admission to no other thoughts. Surprise is an emotion
that enfeebles, not invigorates. All my meditations were
accompanied with wonder. I rambled with vagueness, or clung to one
image with an obstinacy which sufficiently testified the maddening
influence of late transactions.
Gradually I proceeded to reflect upon the consequences of Pleyel's
mistake, and on the measures I should take to guard myself against
future injury from Carwin. Should I suffer this mistake to be
detected by time? When his passion should subside, would he not
perceive the flagrancy of his injustice and hasten to atone for it?
Did it not become my character to testify resentment for language
and treatment so opprobrious? Wrapped up in the consciousness of
innocence, and confiding in the influence of time and reflection to
confute so groundless a charge, it was my province to be passive
As to the violences meditated by Carwin, and the means of eluding
them, the path to be taken by me was obvious. I resolved to tell
the tale to my brother and regulate myself by his advice. For this
end, when the morning was somewhat advanced, I took the way to his
house. My sister was engaged in her customary occupations. As
soon as I appeared, she remarked a change in my looks. I was not
willing to alarm her by the information which I had to communicate.
Her health was in that condition which rendered a disastrous tale
particularly unsuitable. I forbore a direct answer to her
inquiries, and inquired, in my turn, for Wieland.
"Why," said she, "I suspect something mysterious and unpleasant has
happened this morning. Scarcely had we risen when Pleyel dropped
among us. What could have prompted him to make us so early and so
unseasonable a visit I cannot tell. To judge from the disorder of
his dress, and his countenance, something of an extraordinary
nature has occurred. He permitted me merely to know that he had
slept none, nor even undressed, during the past night. He took
your brother to walk with him. Some topic must have deeply engaged
them, for Wieland did not return till the breakfast hour was
passed, and returned alone. His disturbance was excessive; but he
would not listen to my importunities, or tell me what had happened.
I gathered, from hints which he let fall, that your situation was
in some way the cause; yet he assured me that you were at your own
house, alive, in good health, and in perfect safety. He scarcely
ate a morsel, and immediately after breakfast went out again. He
would not inform me whither he was going, but mentioned that he
probably might not return before night."
I was equally astonished and alarmed by this information. Pleyel
had told his tale to my brother, and had, by a plausible and
exaggerated picture, instilled into him unfavorable thoughts of me.
Yet would not the more correct judgment of Wieland perceive and
expose the fallacy of his conclusions? Perhaps his uneasiness
might arise from some insight into the character of Carwin, and
from apprehensions for my safety. The appearances by which Pleyel
had been misled might induce him likewise to believe that I
entertained an indiscreet though not dishonorable affection for
Carwin. Such were the conjectures rapidly formed. I was
inexpressibly anxious to change them into certainty. For this end
an interview with my brother was desirable. He was gone no one
knew whither, and was not expected speedily to return. I had no
clew by which to trace his footsteps.
My anxieties could not be concealed from my sister. They
heightened her solicitude to be acquainted with the cause. There
were many reasons persuading me to silence; at least, till I had
seen my brother, it would be an act of inexcusable temerity to
unfold what had lately passed. No other expedient for eluding her
importunities occurred to me but that of returning to my own house.
I recollected my determination to become a tenant of this roof. I
mentioned it to her. She joyfully acceded to this proposal, and
suffered me with less reluctance to depart when I told her that it
was with a view to collect and send to my new dwelling what
articles would be immediately useful to me.
Once more I returned to the house which had been the scene of so
much turbulence and danger. I was at no great distance from it
when I observed my brother coming out. On seeing me he stopped,
and, after ascertaining, as it seemed, which way I was going, he
returned into the house before me. I sincerely rejoiced at this
event, and I hastened to set things, if possible, on their right
His brow was by no means expressive of those vehement emotions with
which Pleyel had been agitated. I drew a favorable omen from this
circumstance. Without delay I began the conversation.
"I have been to look for you," said I, "but was told by Catharine
that Pleyel had engaged you on some important and disagreeable
affair. Before his interview with you he spent a few minutes with
me. These minutes he employed in upbraiding me for crimes and
intentions with which I am by no means chargeable. I believe him
to have taken up his opinions on very insufficient grounds. His
behavior was in the highest degree precipitate and unjust, and,
until I receive some atonement, I shall treat him, in my turn, with
that contempt which he justly merits; meanwhile, I am fearful that
he has prejudiced my brother against me. That is an evil which I
most anxiously deprecate, and which I shall indeed exert myself to
remove. Has he made me the subject of this morning's conversation?"
My brother's countenance testified no surprise at my address. The
benignity of his looks was nowise diminished.
"It is true," said he, "your conduct was the subject of our
discourse. I am your friend as well as your brother. There is no
human being whom I love with more tenderness and whose welfare is
nearer my heart. Judge, then, with what emotions I listened to
Pleyel's story. I expect and desire you to vindicate yourself from
aspersions so foul, if vindication be possible."
The tone with which he uttered the last words affected me deeply.
"If vindication be possible!" repeated I. "From what you know, do
you deem a formal vindication necessary? Can you harbor for a
moment the belief of my guilt?"
He shook his head with an air of acute anguish. "I have
struggled," said he, "to dismiss that belief. You speak before a
judge who will profit by any pretense to acquit you who is ready to
question his own senses when they plead against you."
These words incited a new set of thoughts in my mind. I began to
suspect that Pleyel had built his accusations on some foundation
unknown to me. "I may be a stranger to the grounds of your belief.
Pleyel loaded me with indecent and virulent invectives, but he
withheld from me the facts that generated his suspicions. Events
took place last night of which some of the circumstances were of an
ambiguous nature. I conceived that these might possibly have
fallen under his cognizance, and that, viewed through the mists of
prejudice and passion, they supplied a pretense for his conduct,
but believed that your more unbiased judgment would estimate them
at their just value. Perhaps his tale has been different from what
I suspect it to be. Listen, then, to my narrative. If there be
anything in his story inconsistent with mine, his story is false."
I then proceeded to a circumstantial relation of the incidents of
the last night. Wieland listened with deep attention. Having
finished, "This," continued I, "is the truth. You see in what
circumstances an interview took place between Carwin and me. He
remained for hours in my closet, and for some minutes in my
chamber. He departed without haste or interruption. If Pleyel
marked him as he left the house, (and it is not impossible that he
did,) inferences injurious to my character might suggest themselves
to him. In admitting them, he gave proofs of less discernment and
less candor than I once ascribed to him."
"His proofs," said Wieland, after a considerable pause, "are
different. That he should be deceived is not possible. That he
himself is not the deceiver could not be believed, if his testimony
were not inconsistent with yours; but the doubts which I
entertained are now removed. Your tale, some parts of it, is
marvelous; the voice which exclaimed against your rashness in
approaching the closet, your persisting, notwithstanding that
prohibition, your belief that I was the ruffian, and your
subsequent conduct, are believed by me, because I have known you
from childhood, because a thousand instances have attested your
veracity, and because nothing less than my own hearing and vision
would convince me, in opposition to her own assertions, that my
sister had fallen into wickedness like this."
I threw my arms around him and bathed his cheek with my tears.
"That," said I, "is spoken like my brother. But what are the
He replied, "Pleyel informed me that, in going to your house, his
attention was attracted by two voices. The persons speaking sat
beneath the bank, out of sight. These persons, judging by their
voices, were Carwin and you. I will not repeat the dialogue. If
my sister was the female, Pleyel was justified in concluding you to
be indeed one of the most profligate of women. Hence his
accusations of you, and his efforts to obtain my concurrence to a
plan by which an eternal separation should be brought about between
my sister and this man."
I made Wieland repeat this recital. Here indeed was a tale to fill
me with terrible foreboding. I had vainly thought that my safety
could be sufficiently secured by doors and bars, but this is a foe
from whose grasp no power of divinity can save me! His artifices
will ever lay my fame and happiness at his mercy. How shall I
counterwork his plots or detect his coadjutor? He has taught some
vile and abandoned female to mimic my voice. Pleyel's ears were
the witnesses of my dishonor. This is the midnight assignation to
which he alluded. Thus is the silence he maintained when
attempting to open the door of my chamber, accounted for. He
supposed me absent, and meant, perhaps, had my apartment been
accessible, to leave in it some accusing memorial.
[As this part opens, the unhappy Clara is describing her hurried
return to the same ill-fated abode at Mettingen. Hence kind
friends had borne her after the catastrophe of her brother
Wieland's "transformation." This was the crowning horror of all:
the morbid fanatic, prepared by gloomy anticipations of some
terrible sacrifice to be demanded in the name of religion, had
found himself goaded to blind fury, by a mysterious compelling
voice, to yield up to God the lives of his beloved wife and family;
and had done the awful deed!
Though chained in his madhouse, he persists in his delusion;
insists that it still remains for him to sacrifice his sister
Clara; and twice breaks away in wild efforts to find and destroy
I took an irregular path which led me to my own house. All was
vacant and forlorn. A small enclosure near which the path led was
the burying ground belonging to the family. This I was obliged to
pass. Once I had intended to enter it, and ponder on the emblems
and inscriptions which my uncle had caused to be made on the tombs
of Catharine and her children; but now my heart faltered as I
approached, and I hastened forward that distance might conceal it
from my view.
When I approached the recess, my heart again sunk. I averted my
eyes, and left it behind me as quickly as possible. Silence
reigned through my habitation, and a darkness which closed doors
and shutters produced. Every object was connected with mine or my
brother's history. I passed the entry, mounted the stair, and
unlocked the door of my chamber. It was with difficulty that I
curbed my fancy and smothered my fears. Slight movements and
casual sounds were transformed into beckoning shadows and calling
I proceeded to the closet. I opened and looked round it with
fearfulness. All things were in their accustomed order. I sought
and found the manuscript where I was used to deposit it. This
being secured, there was nothing to detain me; yet I stood and
contemplated awhile the furniture and walls of my chamber. I
remembered how long this apartment had been a sweet and tranquil
asylum; I compared its former state with its present dreariness,
and reflected that I now beheld it for the last time.
Here it was that the incomprehensible behavior of Carwin was
witnessed; this the stage on which that enemy of man showed himself
for a moment unmasked. Here the menaces of murder were wafted to
my ear; and here these menaces were executed.
These thoughts had a tendency to take from me my self-command. My
feeble limbs refused to support me, and I sunk upon a chair.
Incoherent and half-articulate exclamations escaped my lips. The
name of Carwin was uttered and eternal woes—woes like that which
his malice had entailed upon us—were heaped upon him. I invoked
all-seeing heaven to drag to light and punish this betrayer, and
accused its providence for having thus long delayed the retribution
that was due to so enormous a guilt.
I have said that the window shutters were closed. A feeble light,
however, found entrance through the crevices. A small window
illuminated the closet, and, the door being closed, a dim ray
streamed through the keyhole. A kind of twilight was thus created,
sufficient for the purposes of vision, but, at the same time,
involving all minuter objects in obscurity.
This darkness suited the color of my thoughts. I sickened at the
remembrance of the past. The prospect of the future excited my
loathing. I muttered, in a low voice, "Why should I live longer?
Why should I drag a miserable being? All for whom I ought to live
have perished. Am I not myself hunted to death?"
At that moment my despair suddenly became vigorous. My nerves were
no longer unstrung. My powers, that had long been deadened, were
revived. My bosom swelled with a sudden energy, and the conviction
darted through my mind, that to end my torments was, at once,
practicable and wise.
I knew how to find way to the recesses of life. I could use a
lancet with some skill, and could distinguish between vein and
artery. By piercing deep into the latter, I should shun the evils
which the future had in store for me, and take refuge from my woes
in quiet death.
I started on my feet, for my feebleness was gone, and hasted to the
closet. A lancet and other small instruments were preserved in a
case which I had deposited here. Inattentive as I was to foreign
considerations, my ears were still open to any sound of mysterious
import that should occur. I thought I heard a step in the entry.
My purpose was suspended, and I cast an eager glance at my chamber
door, which was open. No one appeared, unless the shadow which I
discerned upon the floor was the outline of a man. If it were, I
was authorized to suspect that some one was posted close to the
entrance, who possibly had overheard my exclamations.
My teeth chattered, and a wild confusion took the place of my
momentary calm. Thus it was when a terrific visage had disclosed
itself on a former night. Thus it was when the evil destiny of
Wieland assumed the lineaments of something human. What horrid
apparition was preparing to blast my sight?
Still I listened and gazed. Not long, for the shadow moved; a
foot, unshapely and huge, was thrust forward; a form advanced from
its concealment, and stalked into the room. It was Carwin!
While I had breath, I shrieked. While I had power over my muscles,
I motioned with my hand that he should vanish. My exertions could
not last long: I sunk into a fit.
Oh that this grateful oblivion had lasted forever! Too quickly I
recovered my senses. The power of distinct vision was no sooner
restored to me, than this hateful form again presented itself, and
I once more relapsed.
A second time, untoward nature recalled me from the sleep of death.
I found myself stretched upon the bed. When I had power to look
up, I remembered only that I had cause to fear. My distempered
fancy fashioned to itself no distinguishable image. I threw a
languid glance round me: once more my eyes lighted upon Carwin.
He was seated on the floor, his back rested against the wall; his
knees were drawn up, and his face was buried in his hands. That
his station was at some distance, that his attitude was not
menacing, that his ominous visage was concealed, may account for my
now escaping a shock violent as those which were past. I withdrew
my eyes, but was not again deserted by my senses.
On perceiving that I had recovered my sensibility, he lifted his
head. This motion attracted my attention. His countenance was
mild, but sorrow and astonishment sat upon his features. I averted
my eyes and feebly exclaimed, "Oh, fly!—fly far and forever!—I
cannot behold you and live!"
He did not rise upon his feet, but clasped his hands, and said, in
a tone of deprecation, "I will fly. I am become a fiend, the sight
of whom destroys. Yet tell me my offense! You have linked curses
with my name; you ascribe to me a malice monstrous and infernal. I
look around: all is loneliness and desert! This house and your
brother's are solitary and dismantled! You die away at the sight
of me! My fear whispers that some deed of horror has been
perpetrated; that I am the undesigning cause."
What language was this? Had he not avowed himself a ravisher? Had
not this chamber witnessed his atrocious purposes? I besought him
with new vehemence to go.
He lifted his eyes:—"Great heaven! what have I done? I think I
know the extent of my offenses. I have acted, but my actions have
possibly effected more than I designed. This fear has brought me
back from my retreat. I come to repair the evil of which my
rashness was the cause, and to prevent more evil. I come to
confess my errors."
"Wretch!" I cried, when my suffocating emotions would permit me to
speak, "the ghosts of my sister and her children,—do they not rise
to accuse thee? Who was it that blasted the intellect of Wieland?
Who was it that urged him to fury and guided him to murder? Who,
but thou and the devil, with whom thou art confederated?"
At these words a new spirit pervaded his countenance. His eyes
once more appealed to heaven. "If I have memory—if I have being—
I am innocent. I intended no ill; but my folly, indirectly and
remotely, may have caused it. But what words are these? Your
brother lunatic! His children dead!"
What should I infer from this deportment? Was the ignorance which
these words implied real or pretended? Yet how could I imagine a
mere human agency in these events? But, if the influence was
preternatural or maniacal in my brother's case, they must be
equally so in my own. Then I remembered that the voice exerted was
to save me from Carwin's attempts. These ideas tended to abate my
abhorrence of this man, and to detect the absurdity of my
"Alas!" said I, "I have no one to accuse. Leave me to my fate.
Fly from a scene stained with cruelty, devoted to despair."
Carwin stood for a time musing and mournful. At length he said,
"What has happened? I came to expiate my crimes: let me know them
in their full extent. I have horrible forebodings! What has
I was silent; but, recollecting the intimation given by this man
when he was detected in my closet, which implied some knowledge of
that power which interfered in my favor, I eagerly inquired, "What
was that voice which called upon me to hold when I attempted to
open the closet? What face was that which I saw at the bottom of
the stairs? Answer me truly."
"I came to confess the truth. Your allusions are horrible and
strange. Perhaps I have but faint conceptions of the evils which
my infatuation has produced; but what remains I will perform. It
was MY VOICE that you heard! It was MY FACE that you saw!"
For a moment I doubted whether my remembrance of events were not
confused. How could he be at once stationed at my shoulder and
shut up in my closet? How could he stand near me and yet be
invisible? But if Carwin's were the thrilling voice and the fiery
image which I had heard and seen, then was he the prompter of my
brother, and the author of these dismal outrages.
Once more I averted my eyes and struggled for speech:—"Begone!
thou man of mischief! Remorseless and implacable miscreant,
"I will obey," said he, in a disconsolate voice; "yet, wretch as I
am, am I unworthy to repair the evils that I have committed? I
came as a repentant criminal. It is you whom I have injured, and
at your bar am I willing to appear and confess and expiate my
crimes. I have deceived you; I have sported with your terrors; I
have plotted to destroy your reputation. I come now to remove your
terrors; to set you beyond the reach of similar fears; to rebuild
your fame as far as I am able.
"This is the amount of my guilt, and this the fruit of my remorse.
Will you not hear me? Listen to my confession, and then denounce
punishment. All I ask is a patient audience."
"What!" I replied; "was not thine the voice that commanded my
brother to imbrue his hands in the blood of his children?—to
strangle that angel of sweetness, his wife? Has he not vowed my
death, and the death of Pleyel, at thy bidding? Hast thou not made
him the butcher of his family?—changed him who was the glory of
his species into worse than brute?—robbed him of reason and
consigned the rest of his days to fetters and stripes?"
Carwin's eyes glared and his limbs were petrified at this
intelligence. No words were requisite to prove him guiltless of
these enormities: at the time, however, I was nearly insensible to
these exculpatory tokens. He walked to the farther end of the
room, and, having recovered some degree of composure, he spoke:—
"I am not this villain. I have slain no one; I have prompted none
to slay; I have handled a tool of wonderful efficacy without
malignant intentions, but without caution. Ample will be the
punishment of my temerity, if my conduct has contributed to this
evil." He paused.
I likewise was silent. I struggled to command myself so far as to
listen to the tale which he should tell. Observing this, he
"You are not apprised of the existence of a power which I possess.
I know not by what name to call it. It enables me to mimic
exactly the voice of another, and to modify the sound so that it
shall appear to come from what quarter and be uttered at what
distance I please.
"I know not that everyone possesses this power. Perhaps, though a
casual position of my organs in my youth showed me that I possessed
it, it is an art which may be taught to all. Would to God I had
died unknowing of the secret! It has produced nothing but
degradation and calamity."
 Biloquium, or ventrilocution. Sound is varied according to the
variations of direction and distance. The art of the ventriloquist
consists in modifying his voice according to all these variations,
without changing his place. See the work of the Abbe de la
Chappelle, in which are accurately recorded the performances of one
of these artists, and some ingenious though unsatisfactory
speculations are given on the means by which the effects are
produced. This power is, perhaps, given by nature, but is
doubtless improvable, if not acquirable, by art. It may, possibly,
consist in an unusual flexibility or extension of the bottom of the
tongue and the uvula. That speech is producible by these alone
must be granted, since anatomists mention two instances of persons
speaking without a tongue. In one case the organ was originally
wanting, but its place was supplied by a small tubercle, and the
uvula was perfect. In the other the tongue was destroyed by
disease, but probably a small part of it remained.
This power is difficult to explain, but the fact is undeniable.
Experience shows that the human voice can imitate the voice of all
men and of all inferior animals. The sound of musical instruments,
and even noises from the contact of inanimate substances, have been
accurately imitated. The mimicry of animals is notorious; and Dr.
Burney ("Musical Travels") mentions one who imitated a flute and
violin, so as to deceive even his ears.
[After Carwin's confession of his powers of ventriloquism all the
mysteries are cleared up—save one. The owner of the voice heard
in Clara's chamber, on the first night after the wanderer appeared
at Mettingen; the threatener on the edge of the precipice; the spy
in Clara's closet, and would-be intruder; the manipulator of the
vile plot that destroyed her lover's confidence—all these hidden
identities have materialized in the person of this one unhappy man.
But while confessing the prying disposition which led to these
sins, in efforts to protect himself from discovery, Carwin still
denies that Wieland's mad acts were perpetrated at his
"I have uttered the truth. This is the extent of my offenses. You
tell me a horrid tale of Wieland being led to the destruction of
his wife and children by some mysterious agent. You charge me with
the guilt of this agency, but I repeat that the amount of my guilt
has been truly stated. The perpetrator of Catharine's death was
unknown to me till now; nay, it is still unknown to me."
At that moment, the closing of a door in the kitchen was distinctly
heard by us. Carwin started and paused. "There is some one
coming. I must not be found here by my enemies, and need not,
since my purpose is answered."
I had drunk in, with the most vehement attention, every word that
he had uttered. I had no breath to interrupt his tale by
interrogations or comments. The power that he spoke of was
hitherto unknown to me; its existence was incredible; it was
susceptible of no direct proof.
He owns that his were the voice and face which I heard and saw. He
attempts to give a human explanation of these phantasms but it is
enough that he owns himself to be the agent: his tale is a lie, and
his nature devilish. As he deceived me, he likewise deceived my
brother, and now do I behold the author of all our calamities!
Such were my thoughts when his pause allowed me to think. I should
have bade him begone if the silence had not been interrupted; but
now I feared no more for myself; and the milkiness of my nature was
curdled into hatred and rancor. Some one was near, and this enemy
of God and man might possibly be brought to justice. I reflected
not that the preternatural power which he had hitherto exerted
would avail to rescue him from any toils in which his feet might be
entangled. Meanwhile, looks, and not words, of menace and
abhorrence, were all that I could bestow.
He did not depart. He seemed dubious whether by passing out of the
house, or by remaining somewhat longer where he was, he should most
endanger his safety. His confusion increased when steps of one
barefoot were heard upon the stairs. He threw anxious glances
sometimes at the closet, sometimes at the window, and sometimes at
the chamber door; yet he was detained by some inexplicable
fascination. He stood as if rooted to the spot.
As to me, my soul was bursting with detestation and revenge. I had
no room for surmises and fears respecting him that approached. It
was doubtless a human being, and would befriend me so far as to aid
me in arresting this offender.
The stranger quickly entered the room. My eyes and the eyes of
Carwin were at the same moment darted upon him. A second glance
was not needed to inform us who he was. His locks were tangled,
and fell confusedly over his forehead and ears. His shirt was of
coarse stuff, and open at the neck and breast. His coat was once
of bright and fine texture, but now torn and tarnished with dust.
His feet, his legs, and his arms, were bare. His features were the
seat of a wild and tranquil solemnity, but his eyes bespoke
inquietude and curiosity.
He advanced with a firm step, and looking as in search of some one.
He saw me and stopped. He bent his sight on the floor, and,
clenching his hands, appeared suddenly absorbed in meditation.
Such were the figure and deportment of Wieland! Such, in his
fallen state, were the aspect and guise of my brother!
Carwin did not fail to recognize the visitant. Care for his own
safety was apparently swallowed up in the amazement which this
spectacle produced. His station was conspicuous, and he could not
have escaped the roving glances of Wieland; yet the latter seemed
totally unconscious of his presence.
Grief at this scene of ruin and blast was at first the only
sentiment of which I was conscious. A fearful stillness ensued.
At length Wieland, lifting his hands, which were locked in each
other, to his breast, exclaimed, "Father! I thank thee. This is
thy guidance. Hither thou hast led me, that I might perform thy
will. Yet let me not err; let me hear again thy messenger!"
He stood for a minute as if listening; but, recovering from his
attitude, he continued, "It is not needed. Dastardly wretch! thus
eternally questioning the behests of thy Maker! weak in resolution,
wayward in faith!"
He advanced to me, and, after another pause, resumed:—"Poor girl!
a dismal fate has set its mark upon thee. Thy life is demanded as
a sacrifice. Prepare thee to die. Make not my office difficult by
fruitless opposition. Thy prayers might subdue stones; but none
but he who enjoined my purpose can shake it."
These words were a sufficient explication of the scene. The nature
of his frenzy, as described by my uncle, was remembered. I, who
had sought death, was now thrilled with horror because it was near.
Death in this form, death from the hand of a brother, was thought
upon with indescribable repugnance.
In a state thus verging upon madness, my eye glanced upon Carwin.
His astonishment appeared to have struck him motionless and dumb.
My life was in danger, and my brother's hand was about to be
imbrued in my blood. I firmly believed that Carwin's was the
instigation. I could rescue myself from this abhorred fate; I
could dissipate this tremendous illusion; I could save my brother
from the perpetration of new horrors, by pointing out the devil who
seduced him. To hesitate a moment was to perish. These thoughts
gave strength to my limbs and energy to my accents; I started on my
"Oh, brother! spare me! spare thyself! There is thy betrayer. He
counterfeited the voice and face of an angel, for the purpose of
destroying thee and me. He has this moment confessed it. He is
able to speak where he is not. He is leagued with hell, but will
not avow it; yet he confesses that the agency was his."
My brother turned slowly his eyes, and fixed them upon Carwin.
Every joint in the frame of the latter trembled. His complexion
was paler than a ghost's. His eye dared not meet that of Wieland,
but wandered with an air of distraction from one space to another.
"Man," said my brother, in a voice totally unlike that which he had
used to me, "what art thou? The charge has been made. Answer it.
The visage—the voice—at the bottom of these stairs—at the hour
of eleven—to whom did they belong? To thee?"
Twice did Carwin attempt to speak, but his words died away upon his
lips. My brother resumed, in a tone of greater vehemence:—
"Thou falterest. Faltering is ominous. Say yes or no; one word
will suffice; but beware of falsehood. Was it a stratagem of hell
to overthrow my family? Wast thou the agent?"
I now saw that the wrath which had been prepared for me was to be
heaped upon another. The tale that I heard from him, and his
present trepidations, were abundant testimonies of his guilt. But
what if Wieland should be undeceived! What if he shall find his
act to have proceeded not from a heavenly prompter, but from human
treachery! Will not his rage mount into whirlwind? Will not he
tear limb from limb this devoted wretch?
Instinctively I recoiled from this image; but it gave place to
another. Carwin may be innocent, but the impetuosity of his judge
may misconstrue his answers into a confession of guilt. Wieland
knows not that mysterious voices and appearances were likewise
witnessed by me. Carwin may be ignorant of those which misled my
brother. Thus may his answers unwarily betray himself to ruin.
Such might be the consequences of my frantic precipitation, and
these it was necessary, if possible, to prevent. I attempted to
speak; but Wieland, turning suddenly upon me, commanded silence, in
a tone furious and terrible. My lips closed, and my tongue refused
"What art thou?" he resumed, addressing himself to Carwin. "Answer
me: whose form—whose voice,—was it thy contrivance? Answer me."
The answer was now given, but confusedly and scarcely articulated.
"I meant nothing—I intended no ill—if I understand—if I do not
mistake you—it is too true—I did appear—in the entry—did speak.
The contrivance was mine, but—"
These words were no sooner uttered, than my brother ceased to wear
the same aspect. His eyes were downcast; he was motionless; his
respiration became hoarse, like that of a man in the agonies of
death. Carwin seemed unable to say more. He might have easily
escaped; but the thought which occupied him related to what was
horrid and unintelligible in this scene, and not to his own danger.
Presently the faculties of Wieland, which, for a time, were chained
up, were seized with restlessness and trembling. He broke silence.
The stoutest heart would have been appalled by the tone in which he
spoke. He addressed himself to Carwin:—
"Why art thou here? Who detains thee? Go and learn better. I
will meet thee, but it must be at the bar of thy Maker. There
shall I bear witness against thee."
Perceiving that Carwin did not obey, he continued, "Dost thou wish
me to complete the catalogue by thy death? Thy life is a worthless
thing. Tempt me no more. I am but a man, and thy presence may
awaken a fury which may spurn my control. Begone!"
Carwin, irresolute, striving in vain for utterance, his complexion
pallid as death, his knees beating one against another, slowly
obeyed the mandate and withdrew.
A few words more and I lay aside the pen forever. Yet why should I
not relinquish it now? All that I have said is preparatory to this
scene, and my fingers, tremulous and cold as my heart, refuse any
further exertion. This must not be. Let my last energies support
me in the finishing of this task. Then will I lay down my head in
the lap of death. Hushed will be all my murmurs in the sleep of
Every sentiment has perished in my bosom. Even friendship is
extinct. Your love for me has prompted me to this task; but I
would not have complied if it had not been a luxury thus to feast
upon my woes. I have justly calculated upon my remnant of
strength. When I lay down the pen the taper of life will expire;
my existence will terminate with my tale.
Now that I was left alone with Wieland, the perils of my situation
presented themselves to my mind. That this paroxysm should
terminate in havoc and rage it was reasonable to predict. The
first suggestion of my fears had been disproved by my experience.
Carwin had acknowledged his offenses, and yet had escaped. The
vengeance which I had harbored had not been admitted by Wieland;
and yet the evils which I had endured, compared with those
inflicted on my brother, were as nothing. I thirsted for his
blood, and was tormented with an insatiable appetite for his
destruction; but my brother was unmoved, and had dismissed him in
safety. Surely thou wast more than man, while I am sunk below the
Did I place a right construction on the conduct of Wieland? Was
the error that misled him so easily rectified? Were views so vivid
and faith so strenuous thus liable to fading and to change? Was
there not reason to doubt the accuracy of my perceptions? With
images like these was my mind thronged, till the deportment of my
brother called away my attention.
I saw his lips move and his eyes cast up to heaven. Then would he
listen and look back, as if in expectation of some one's
appearance. Thrice he repeated these gesticulations and this
inaudible prayer. Each time the mist of confusion and doubt seemed
to grow darker and to settle on his understanding. I guessed at
the meaning of these tokens. The words of Carwin had shaken his
belief, and he was employed in summoning the messenger who had
formerly communed with him, to attest the value of those new
doubts. In vain the summons was repeated, for his eye met nothing
but vacancy, and not a sound saluted his ear.
He walked to the bed, gazed with eagerness at the pillow which had
sustained the head of the breathless Catharine, and then returned
to the place where I sat. I had no power to lift my eyes to his
face: I was dubious of his purpose; this purpose might aim at my
Alas! nothing but subjection to danger and exposure to temptation
can show us what we are. By this test was I now tried, and found
to be cowardly and rash. Men can deliberately untie the thread of
life, and of this I had deemed myself capable. It was now that I
stood upon the brink of fate, that the knife of the sacrificer was
aimed at my heart, I shuddered, and betook myself to any means of
escape, however monstrous.
Can I bear to think—can I endure to relate the outrage which my
heart meditated? Where were my means of safety? Resistance was
vain. Not even the energy of despair could set me on a level with
that strength which his terrific prompter had bestowed upon
Wieland. Terror enables us to perform incredible feats; but terror
was not then the state of my mind: where then were my hopes of
Methinks it is too much. I stand aside, as it were, from myself; I
estimate my own deservings; a hatred, immortal and inexorable, is
my due. I listen to my own pleas, and find them empty and false:
yes, I acknowledge that my guilt surpasses that of mankind; I
confess that the curses of a world and the frowns of a Deity are
inadequate to my demerits. Is there a thing in the world worthy of
infinite abhorrence? It is I.
What shall I say? I was menaced, as I thought, with death, and, to
elude this evil, my hand was ready to inflict death upon the
menacer. In visiting my house, I had made provision against the
machinations of Carwin. In a fold of my dress an open penknife was
concealed. This I now seized and drew forth. It lurked out of
view; but I now see that my state of mind would have rendered the
deed inevitable if my brother had lifted his hand. This instrument
of my preservation would have been plunged into his heart.
O insupportable remembrance! hide thee from my view for a time;
hide it from me that my heart was black enough to meditate the
stabbing of a brother! a brother thus supreme in misery; thus
towering in virtue!
He was probably unconscious of my design, but presently drew back.
This interval was sufficient to restore me to myself. The madness,
the iniquity, of that act which I had purposed rushed upon my
apprehension. For a moment I was breathless with agony. At the
next moment I recovered my strength, and threw the knife with
violence on the floor.
The sound awoke my brother from his reverie. He gazed alternately
at me and at the weapon. With a movement equally solemn he stooped
and took it up. He placed the blade in different positions,
scrutinizing it accurately, and maintaining, at the same time, a
Again he looked at me; but all that vehemence and loftiness of
spirit which had so lately characterized his features were flown.
Fallen muscles, a forehead contracted into folds, eyes dim with
unbidden drops, and a ruefulness of aspect which no words can
describe, were now visible.
His looks touched into energy the same sympathies in me, and I
poured forth a flood of tears. This passion was quickly checked by
fear, which had now no longer my own but his safety for their
object. I watched his deportment in silence. At length he spoke:—
"Sister," said he, in an accent mournful and mild, "I have acted
poorly my part in this world. What thinkest thou? Shall I not do
better in the next?"
I could make no answer. The mildness of his tone astonished and
encouraged me. I continued to regard him with wistful and anxious
"I think," resumed he, "I will try. My wife and my babes have gone
before. Happy wretches! I have sent you to repose, and ought not
to linger behind."
These words had a meaning sufficiently intelligible. I looked at
the open knife in his hand and shuddered, but knew not how to
prevent the deed which I dreaded. He quickly noticed my fears, and
comprehended them. Stretching toward me his hand, with an air of
increasing mildness, "Take it," said he; "fear not for thy own
sake, nor for mine. The cup is gone by, and its transient
inebriation is succeeded by the soberness of truth.
"Thou angel whom I was wont to worship! fearest thou, my sister,
for thy life? Once it was the scope of my labors to destroy thee,
but I was prompted to the deed by heaven; such, at least, was my
belief. Thinkest thou that thy death was sought to gratify
malevolence? No. I am pure from all stain. I believed that my
God was my mover!
"Neither thee nor myself have I cause to injure. I have done my
duty; and surely there is merit in having sacrificed to that all
that is dear to the heart of man. If a devil has deceived me, he
came in the habit of an angel. If I erred, it was not my judgment
that deceived me, but my senses. In thy sight, Being of beings! I
am still pure. Still will I look for my reward in thy justice!"
Did my ears truly report these sounds? If I did not err, my
brother was restored to just perceptions. He knew himself to have
been betrayed to the murder of his wife and children, to have been
the victim of infernal artifice; yet he found consolation in the
rectitude of his motives. He was not devoid of sorrow, for this
was written on his countenance; but his soul was tranquil and
Perhaps this was merely a transition of his former madness into a
new shape. Perhaps he had not yet awakened to the memory of the
horrors which he had perpetrated. Infatuated wretch that I was!
To set myself up as a model by which to judge of my heroic brother!
My reason taught me that his conclusions were right; but, conscious
of the impotence of reason over my own conduct, conscious of my
cowardly rashness and my criminal despair, I doubted whether anyone
could be steadfast and wise.
Such was my weakness, that even in the midst of these thoughts my
mind glided into abhorrence of Carwin, and I uttered, in a low
voice, "O Carwin! Carwin! what hast thou to answer for?"
My brother immediately noticed the involuntary exclamation.
"Clara!" said he, "be thyself. Equity used to be a theme for thy
eloquence. Reduce its lessons to practice, and be just to that
unfortunate man. The instrument has done its work, and I am
"I thank thee, my God, for this last illumination! My enemy is
thine also. I deemed him to be a man,—the man with whom I have
often communed; but now thy goodness has unveiled to me his true
nature. As the performer of thy behests, he is my friend."
My heart began now to misgive me. His mournful aspect had
gradually yielded place to a serene brow. A new soul appeared to
actuate his frame, and his eyes to beam with preternatural luster.
These symptoms did not abate, and he continued:—
"Clara, I must not leave thee in doubt. I know not what brought
about thy interview with the being whom thou callest Carwin. For a
time I was guilty of thy error, and deduced from his incoherent
confessions that I had been made the victim of human malice. He
left us at my bidding, and I put up a prayer that my doubts should
be removed. Thy eyes were shut and thy ears sealed to the vision
that answered my prayer.
"I was indeed deceived. The form thou hast seen was the
incarnation of a demon. The visage and voice which urged me to the
sacrifice of my family were his. Now he personates a human form;
then he was environed with the luster of heaven.
"Clara," he continued, advancing closer to me, "thy death must
come. This minister is evil, but he from whom his commission was
received is God. Submit then with all thy wonted resignation to a
decree that cannot be reversed or resisted. Mark the clock. Three
minutes are allowed to thee, in which to call up thy fortitude and
prepare thee for thy doom." There he stopped.
Even now, when this scene exists only in memory, when life and all
its functions have sunk into torpor, my pulse throbs, and my hairs
uprise; my brows are knit, as then, and I gaze around me in
distraction. I was unconquerably averse to death; but death,
imminent and full of agony as that which was threatened, was
nothing. This was not the only or chief inspirer of my fears.
For him, not for myself, was my soul tormented. I might die, and
no crime, surpassing the reach of mercy, would pursue me to the
presence of my Judge; but my assassin would survive to contemplate
his deed, and that assassin was Wieland!
Wings to bear me beyond his reach I had not. I could not vanish
with a thought. The door was open, but my murderer was interposed
between that and me. Of self-defense I was incapable. The frenzy
that lately prompted me to blood was gone: my state was desperate;
my rescue was impossible.
The weight of these accumulated thoughts could not be borne. My
sight became confused; my limbs were seized with convulsion; I
spoke, but my words were half formed:—
"Spare me, my brother! Look down, righteous Judge! snatch me from
this fate! take away this fury from him, or turn it elsewhere! "
Such was the agony of my thoughts that I noticed not steps entering
my apartment. Supplicating eyes were cast upward; but when my
prayer was breathed I once more wildly gazed at the door. A form
met my sight; I shuddered as if the God whom I invoked were
present. It was Carwin that again intruded, and who stood before
me, erect in attitude and steadfast in look!
The sight of him awakened new and rapid thoughts. His recent tale
was remembered; his magical transitions and mysterious energy of
voice. Whether he were infernal or miraculous or human, there was
no power and no need to decide. Whether the contriver or not of
this spell, he was able to unbind it, and to check the fury of my
brother. He had ascribed to himself intentions not malignant.
Here now was afforded a test of his truth. Let him interpose, as
from above; revoke the savage decree which the madness of Wieland
has assigned to heaven, and extinguish forever this passion for
My mind detected at a glance this avenue to safety. The
recommendations it possessed thronged as it were together, and made
but one impression on my intellect. Remoter effects and collateral
dangers I saw not. Perhaps the pause of an instant had sufficed to
call them up. The improbability that the influence which governed
Wieland was external or human; the tendency of this stratagem to
sanction so fatal an error or substitute a more destructive rage in
place of this; the insufficiency of Carwin's mere muscular forces
to counteract the efforts and restrain the fury of Wieland, might,
at a second glance, have been discovered; but no second glance was
allowed. My first thought hurried me to action, and, fixing my
eyes upon Carwin, I exclaimed,—
"O wretch! once more hast thou come? Let it be to abjure thy
malice; to counterwork this hellish stratagem; to turn from me and
from my brother this desolating rage!
"Testify thy innocence or thy remorse; exert the powers which
pertain to thee, whatever they be, to turn aside this ruin. Thou
art the author of these horrors! What have I done to deserve thus
to die? How have I merited this unrelenting persecution? I adjure
thee, by that God whose voice thou hast dared to counterfeit, to
save my life!
"Wilt thou then go?—leave me! Succorless!"
Carwin listened to my entreaties unmoved, and turned from me. He
seemed to hesitate a moment,—then glided through the door. Rage
and despair stifled my utterance. The interval of respite was
past; the pangs reserved for me by Wieland were not to be endured;
my thoughts rushed again into anarchy. Having received the knife
from his hand, I held it loosely and without regard; but now it
seized again my attention, and I grasped it with force.
He seemed to notice not the entrance or exit of Carwin. My gesture
and the murderous weapon appeared to have escaped his notice. His
silence was unbroken; his eye, fixed upon the clock for a time, was
now withdrawn; fury kindled in every feature; all that was human in
his face gave way to an expression supernatural and tremendous. I
felt my left arm within his grasp.
Even now I hesitated to strike. I shrunk from his assault, but in
Here let me desist. Why should I rescue this event from oblivion?
Why should I paint this detestable conflict? Why not terminate at
once this series of horrors?—Hurry to the verge of the precipice,
and cast myself forever beyond remembrance and beyond hope?
Still I live; with this load upon my breast; with this phantom to
pursue my steps; with adders lodged in my bosom, and stinging me to
madness; still I consent to live!
Yes! I will rise above the sphere of mortal passions; I will spurn
at the cowardly remorse that bids me seek impunity in silence, or
comfort in forgetfulness. My nerves shall be new-strung to the
task. Have I not resolved? I will die. The gulf before me is
inevitable and near. I will die, but then only when my tale is at
My right hand, grasping the unseen knife, was still disengaged. It
was lifted to strike. All my strength was exhausted but what was
sufficient to the performance of this deed. Already was the energy
awakened and the impulse given that should bear the fatal steel to
his heart, when—Wieland shrunk back; his hand was withdrawn.
Breathless with affright and desperation, I stood, freed from his
grasp; unassailed; untouched.
Thus long had the power which controlled the scene forborne to
interfere: but now his might was irresistible; and Wieland in a
moment was disarmed of all his purposes. A voice, louder than
human organs could produce, shriller than language can depict,
burst from the ceiling and commanded him—TO HOLD!
Trouble and dismay succeeded to the steadfastness that had lately
been displayed in the looks of Wieland. His eyes roved from one
quarter to another, with an expression of doubt. He seemed to wait
for a further intimation.
Carwin's agency was here easily recognized. I had besought him to
interpose in my defense. He had flown. I had imagined him deaf to
my prayer, and resolute to see me perish; yet he disappeared merely
to devise and execute the means of my relief.
Why did he not forbear when this end was accomplished? Why did his
misjudging zeal and accursed precipitation overpass that limit? Or
meant he thus to crown the scene, and conduct his inscrutable plots
to this consummation?
Such ideas were the fruit of subsequent contemplation. This moment
was pregnant with fate. I had no power to reason. In the career
of my tempestuous thoughts, rent into pieces as my mind was by
accumulating horrors, Carwin was unseen and unsuspected. I partook
of Wieland's credulity, shook with his amazement, and panted with
Silence took place for a moment: so much as allowed the attention
to recover its post. Then new sounds were uttered from above:—
"Man of errors! cease to cherish thy delusion; not heaven or hell,
but thy senses, have misled thee to commit these acts. Shake off
thy frenzy, and ascend into rational and human. Be lunatic no
My brother opened his lips to speak. His tone was terrific and
faint. He muttered an appeal to heaven. It was difficult to
comprehend the theme of his inquiries. They implied doubt as to
the nature of the impulse that hitherto had guided him, and
questioned whether he had acted in consequence of insane
To these interrogatories the voice, which now seemed to hover at
his shoulder, loudly answered in the affirmative. Then
uninterrupted silence ensued.
Fallen from his lofty and heroic station; now finally restored to
the perception of truth; weighed to earth by the recollection of
his own deeds; consoled no longer by a consciousness of rectitude
for the loss of offspring and wife,—a loss for which he was
indebted to his own misguided hand,—Wieland was transformed at
once into the MAN OF SORROWS!
He reflected not that credit should be as reasonably denied to the
last as to any former intimation; that one might as justly be
ascribed to erring or diseased senses as the other. He saw not
that this discovery in no degree affected the integrity of his
conduct; that his motives had lost none of their claims to the
homage of mankind; that the preference of supreme good, and the
boundless energy of duty, were undiminished in his bosom.
It is not for me to pursue him through the ghastly changes of his
countenance. Words he had none. Now he sat upon the floor,
motionless in all his limbs, with his eyes glazed and fixed, a
monument of woe.
Anon a spirit of tempestuous but undesigning activity seized him.
He rose from his place and strode across the floor, tottering and
at random. His eyes were without moisture, and gleamed with the
fire that consumed his vitals. The muscles of his face were
agitated by convulsions. His lips moved, but no sound escaped him.
That nature should long sustain this conflict was not to be
believed. My state was little different from that of my brother.
I entered, as it were, into his thoughts. My heart was visited and
rent by his pangs. "Oh that thy frenzy had never been cured! that
thy madness, with its blissful visions, would return! or, if that
must not be, that thy scene would hasten to a close!—that death
would cover thee with his oblivion!
"What can I wish for thee? Thou who hast vied with the great
Preacher of thy faith in sanctity of motives, and in elevation
above sensual and selfish! Thou whom thy fate has changed into
parricide and savage! Can I wish for the continuance of thy being?
For a time his movements seemed destitute of purpose. If he
walked; if he turned; if his fingers were entwined with each other;
if his hands were pressed against opposite sides of his head with a
force sufficient to crush it into pieces; it was to tear his mind
from self-contemplation; to waste his thoughts on external objects.
Speedily this train was broken. A beam appeared to be darted into
his mind which gave a purpose to his efforts. An avenue to escape
presented itself; and now he eagerly gazed about him. When my
thoughts became engaged by his demeanor, my fingers were stretched
as by a mechanical force, and the knife, no longer heeded or of
use, escaped from my grasp and fell unperceived on the floor. His
eye now lighted upon it; he seized it with the quickness of
I shrieked aloud, but it was too late. He plunged it to the hilt
in his neck; and his life instantly escaped with the stream that
gushed from the wound. He was stretched at my feet; and my hands
were sprinkled with his blood as he fell.
Such was thy last deed, my brother! For a spectacle like this was
it my fate to be reserved! Thy eyes were closed—thy face ghastly
with death—thy arms, and the spot where thou lyedst, floated in
thy life's blood! These images have not for a moment forsaken me.
Till I am breathless and cold, they must continue to hover in my
Carwin, as I said, had left the room; but he still lingered in the
house. My voice summoned him to my aid; but I scarcely noticed his
reentrance, and now faintly recollect his terrified looks, his
broken exclamations, his vehement avowals of innocence, the
effusions of his pity for me, and his offers of assistance.
I did not listen—I answered him not—I ceased to upbraid or
accuse. His guilt was a point to which I was indifferent. Ruffian
or devil, black as hell or bright as angels, thenceforth he was
nothing to me. I was incapable of sparing a look or a thought from
the ruin that was spread at my feet.
When he left me, I was scarcely conscious of any variation in the
scene. He informed the inhabitants of the hut of what had passed,
and they flew to the spot. Careless of his own safety, he hasted
to the city to inform my friends of my condition.
My uncle speedily arrived at the house. The body of Wieland was
removed from my presence, and they supposed that I would follow it;
but no, my home is ascertained; here I have taken up my rest, and
never will I go hence, till, like Wieland, I am borne to my grave.
Importunity was tried in vain. They threatened to remove me by
violence,—nay, violence was used; but my soul prizes too dearly
this little roof to endure to be bereaved of it. Force should not
prevail when the hoary locks and supplicating tears of my uncle
were ineffectual. My repugnance to move gave birth to
ferociousness and frenzy when force was employed, and they were
obliged to consent to my return.
They besought me—they remonstrated—they appealed to every duty
that connected me with Him that made me and with my fellow-men—in
vain. While I live I will not go hence. Have I not fulfilled my
Why will ye torment me with your reasonings and reproofs? Can ye
restore to me the hope of my better days? Can ye give me back
Catharine and her babes? Can ye recall to life him who died at my
I will eat—I will drink—I will lie down and rise up—at your
bidding; all I ask is the choice of my abode. What is there
unreasonable in this demand? Shortly will I be at peace. This is
the spot which I have chosen in which to breathe my last sigh.
Deny me not, I beseech you, so slight a boon.
Talk not to me, O my reverend friend! of Carwin. He has told thee
his tale, and thou exculpatest him from all direct concern in the
fate of Wieland. This scene of havoc was produced by an illusion
of the senses. Be it so; I care not from what source these
disasters have flowed; it suffices that they have swallowed up our
hopes and our existence.
What his agency began, his agency conducted to a close. He
intended, by the final effort of his power, to rescue me and to
banish his illusions from my brother. Such is his tale, concerning
the truth of which I care not. Henceforth I foster but one wish: I
ask only quick deliverance from life and all the ills that attend
Go, wretch! torment me not with thy presence and thy prayers.—
Forgive thee? Will that avail thee when thy fateful hour shall
arrive? Be thou acquitted at thy own tribunal, and thou needest
not fear the verdict of others. If thy guilt be capable of blacker
hues, if hitherto thy conscience be without stain, thy crime will
be made more flagrant by thus violating my retreat. Take thyself
away from my sight if thou wouldst not behold my death!
Thou art gone! murmuring and reluctant! And now my repose is
coming—my work is done!