Saturday, November 10, 2007



An American Tale
by Charles Brockden Brown
From Virtue's blissful paths away
The double-tongued are sure to stray;
Good is a forth-right journey still,
And mazy paths but lead to ill.
The following Work is delivered to the world as the first of
a series of performances, which the favorable reception of this
will induce the Writer to publish. His purpose is neither
selfish nor temporary, but aims at the illustration of some
important branches of the moral constitution of man. Whether
this tale will be classed with the ordinary or frivolous sources
of amusement, or be ranked with the few productions whose
usefulness secures to them a lasting reputation, the reader must
be permitted to decide.
The incidents related are extraordinary and rare. Some of
them, perhaps, approach as nearly to the nature of miracles as
can be done by that which is not truly miraculous. It is hoped
that intelligent readers will not disapprove of the manner in
which appearances are solved, but that the solution will be
found to correspond with the known principles of human nature.
The power which the principal person is said to possess can
scarcely be denied to be real. It must be acknowledged to be
extremely rare; but no fact, equally uncommon, is supported by
the same strength of historical evidence.
Some readers may think the conduct of the younger Wieland
impossible. In support of its possibility the Writer must
appeal to Physicians and to men conversant with the latent
springs and occasional perversions of the human mind. It will
not be objected that the instances of similar delusion are rare,
because it is the business of moral painters to exhibit their
subject in its most instructive and memorable forms. If history
furnishes one parallel fact, it is a sufficient vindication of
the Writer; but most readers will probably recollect an
authentic case, remarkably similar to that of Wieland.
It will be necessary to add, that this narrative is
addressed, in an epistolary form, by the Lady whose story it
contains, to a small number of friends, whose curiosity, with
regard to it, had been greatly awakened. It may likewise be
mentioned, that these events took place between the conclusion
of the French and the beginning of the revolutionary war. The
memoirs of Carwin, alluded to at the conclusion of the work,
will be published or suppressed according to the reception which
is given to the present attempt.
C. B. B.
September 3, 1798.
Chapter I
I feel little reluctance in complying with your request. You
know not fully the cause of my sorrows. You are a stranger to
the depth of my distresses. Hence your efforts at consolation
must necessarily fail. Yet the tale that I am going to tell is
not intended as a claim upon your sympathy. In the midst of my
despair, I do not disdain to contribute what little I can to the
benefit of mankind. I acknowledge your right to be informed of
the events that have lately happened in my family. Make what
use of the tale you shall think proper. If it be communicated
to the world, it will inculcate the duty of avoiding deceit. It
will exemplify the force of early impressions, and show the
immeasurable evils that flow from an erroneous or imperfect
My state is not destitute of tranquillity. The sentiment
that dictates my feelings is not hope. Futurity has no power
over my thoughts. To all that is to come I am perfectly
indifferent. With regard to myself, I have nothing more to
fear. Fate has done its worst. Henceforth, I am callous to
I address no supplication to the Deity. The power that
governs the course of human affairs has chosen his path. The
decree that ascertained the condition of my life, admits of no
recal. No doubt it squares with the maxims of eternal equity.
That is neither to be questioned nor denied by me. It suffices
that the past is exempt from mutation. The storm that tore up
our happiness, and changed into dreariness and desert the
blooming scene of our existence, is lulled into grim repose; but
not until the victim was transfixed and mangled; till every
obstacle was dissipated by its rage; till every remnant of good
was wrested from our grasp and exterminated.
How will your wonder, and that of your companions, be excited
by my story! Every sentiment will yield to your amazement. If
my testimony were without corroborations, you would reject it as
incredible. The experience of no human being can furnish a
parallel: That I, beyond the rest of mankind, should be
reserved for a destiny without alleviation, and without example!
Listen to my narrative, and then say what it is that has made me
deserve to be placed on this dreadful eminence, if, indeed,
every faculty be not suspended in wonder that I am still alive,
and am able to relate it.
My father's ancestry was noble on the paternal side; but his
mother was the daughter of a merchant. My grand-father was a
younger brother, and a native of Saxony. He was placed, when he
had reached the suitable age, at a German college. During the
vacations, he employed himself in traversing the neighbouring
territory. On one occasion it was his fortune to visit Hamburg.
He formed an acquaintance with Leonard Weise, a merchant of that
city, and was a frequent guest at his house. The merchant had
an only daughter, for whom his guest speedily contracted an
affection; and, in spite of parental menaces and prohibitions,
he, in due season, became her husband.
By this act he mortally offended his relations.
Thenceforward he was entirely disowned and rejected by them.
They refused to contribute any thing to his support. All
intercourse ceased, and he received from them merely that
treatment to which an absolute stranger, or detested enemy,
would be entitled.
He found an asylum in the house of his new father, whose
temper was kind, and whose pride was flattered by this alliance.
The nobility of his birth was put in the balance against his
poverty. Weise conceived himself, on the whole, to have acted
with the highest discretion, in thus disposing of his child. My
grand-father found it incumbent on him to search out some mode
of independent subsistence. His youth had been eagerly devoted
to literature and music. These had hitherto been cultivated
merely as sources of amusement. They were now converted into
the means of gain. At this period there were few works of taste
in the Saxon dialect. My ancestor may be considered as the
founder of the German Theatre. The modern poet of the same name
is sprung from the same family, and, perhaps, surpasses but
little, in the fruitfulness of his invention, or the soundness
of his taste, the elder Wieland. His life was spent in the
composition of sonatas and dramatic pieces. They were not
unpopular, but merely afforded him a scanty subsistence. He
died in the bloom of his life, and was quickly followed to the
grave by his wife. Their only child was taken under the
protection of the merchant. At an early age he was apprenticed
to a London trader, and passed seven years of mercantile
My father was not fortunate in the character of him under
whose care he was now placed. He was treated with rigor, and
full employment was provided for every hour of his time. His
duties were laborious and mechanical. He had been educated with
a view to this profession, and, therefore, was not tormented
with unsatisfied desires. He did not hold his present
occupations in abhorrence, because they withheld him from paths
more flowery and more smooth, but he found in unintermitted
labour, and in the sternness of his master, sufficient occasions
for discontent. No opportunities of recreation were allowed
him. He spent all his time pent up in a gloomy apartment, or
traversing narrow and crowded streets. His food was coarse, and
his lodging humble.
His heart gradually contracted a habit of morose and gloomy
reflection. He could not accurately define what was wanting to
his happiness. He was not tortured by comparisons drawn between
his own situation and that of others. His state was such as
suited his age and his views as to fortune. He did not imagine
himself treated with extraordinary or unjustifiable rigor. In
this respect he supposed the condition of others, bound like
himself to mercantile service, to resemble his own; yet every
engagement was irksome, and every hour tedious in its lapse.
In this state of mind he chanced to light upon a book written
by one of the teachers of the Albigenses, or French Protestants.
He entertained no relish for books, and was wholly unconscious
of any power they possessed to delight or instruct. This volume
had lain for years in a corner of his garret, half buried in
dust and rubbish. He had marked it as it lay; had thrown it, as
his occasions required, from one spot to another; but had felt
no inclination to examine its contents, or even to inquire what
was the subject of which it treated.
One Sunday afternoon, being induced to retire for a few
minutes to his garret, his eye was attracted by a page of this
book, which, by some accident, had been opened and placed full
in his view. He was seated on the edge of his bed, and was
employed in repairing a rent in some part of his clothes. His
eyes were not confined to his work, but occasionally wandering,
lighted at length upon the page. The words "Seek and ye shall
find," were those that first offered themselves to his notice.
His curiosity was roused by these so far as to prompt him to
proceed. As soon as he finished his work, he took up the book
and turned to the first page. The further he read, the more
inducement he found to continue, and he regretted the decline of
the light which obliged him for the present to close it.
The book contained an exposition of the doctrine of the sect
of Camissards, and an historical account of its origin. His
mind was in a state peculiarly fitted for the reception of
devotional sentiments. The craving which had haunted him was
now supplied with an object. His mind was at no loss for a
theme of meditation. On days of business, he rose at the dawn,
and retired to his chamber not till late at night. He now
supplied himself with candles, and employed his nocturnal and
Sunday hours in studying this book. It, of course, abounded
with allusions to the Bible. All its conclusions were deduced
from the sacred text. This was the fountain, beyond which it
was unnecessary to trace the stream of religious truth; but it
was his duty to trace it thus far.
A Bible was easily procured, and he ardently entered on the
study of it. His understanding had received a particular
direction. All his reveries were fashioned in the same mould.
His progress towards the formation of his creed was rapid.
Every fact and sentiment in this book were viewed through a
medium which the writings of the Camissard apostle had
suggested. His constructions of the text were hasty, and formed
on a narrow scale. Every thing was viewed in a disconnected
position. One action and one precept were not employed to
illustrate and restrict the meaning of another. Hence arose a
thousand scruples to which he had hitherto been a stranger. He
was alternately agitated by fear and by ecstacy. He imagined
himself beset by the snares of a spiritual foe, and that his
security lay in ceaseless watchfulness and prayer.
His morals, which had never been loose, were now modelled by
a stricter standard. The empire of religious duty extended
itself to his looks, gestures, and phrases. All levities of
speech, and negligences of behaviour, were proscribed. His air
was mournful and contemplative. He laboured to keep alive a
sentiment of fear, and a belief of the awe-creating presence of
the Deity. Ideas foreign to this were sedulously excluded. To
suffer their intrusion was a crime against the Divine Majesty
inexpiable but by days and weeks of the keenest agonies.
No material variation had occurred in the lapse of two years.
Every day confirmed him in his present modes of thinking and
acting. It was to be expected that the tide of his emotions
would sometimes recede, that intervals of despondency and doubt
would occur; but these gradually were more rare, and of shorter
duration; and he, at last, arrived at a state considerably
uniform in this respect.
His apprenticeship was now almost expired. On his arrival of
age he became entitled, by the will of my grand-father, to a
small sum. This sum would hardly suffice to set him afloat as
a trader in his present situation, and he had nothing to expect
from the generosity of his master. Residence in England had,
besides, become almost impossible, on account of his religious
tenets. In addition to these motives for seeking a new
habitation, there was another of the most imperious and
irresistable necessity. He had imbibed an opinion that it was
his duty to disseminate the truths of the gospel among the
unbelieving nations. He was terrified at first by the perils
and hardships to which the life of a missionary is exposed.
This cowardice made him diligent in the invention of objections
and excuses; but he found it impossible wholly to shake off the
belief that such was the injunction of his duty. The belief,
after every new conflict with his passions, acquired new
strength; and, at length, he formed a resolution of complying
with what he deemed the will of heaven.
The North-American Indians naturally presented themselves as
the first objects for this species of benevolence. As soon as
his servitude expired, he converted his little fortune into
money, and embarked for Philadelphia. Here his fears were
revived, and a nearer survey of savage manners once more shook
his resolution. For a while he relinquished his purpose, and
purchasing a farm on Schuylkill, within a few miles of the city,
set himself down to the cultivation of it. The cheapness of
land, and the service of African slaves, which were then in
general use, gave him who was poor in Europe all the advantages
of wealth. He passed fourteen years in a thrifty and laborious
manner. In this time new objects, new employments, and new
associates appeared to have nearly obliterated the devout
impressions of his youth. He now became acquainted with a woman
of a meek and quiet disposition, and of slender acquirements
like himself. He proffered his hand and was accepted.
His previous industry had now enabled him to dispense with
personal labour, and direct attention to his own concerns. He
enjoyed leisure, and was visited afresh by devotional
contemplation. The reading of the scriptures, and other
religious books, became once more his favorite employment. His
ancient belief relative to the conversion of the savage tribes,
was revived with uncommon energy. To the former obstacles were
now added the pleadings of parental and conjugal love. The
struggle was long and vehement; but his sense of duty would not
be stifled or enfeebled, and finally triumphed over every
His efforts were attended with no permanent success. His
exhortations had sometimes a temporary power, but more
frequently were repelled with insult and derision. In pursuit
of this object he encountered the most imminent perils, and
underwent incredible fatigues, hunger, sickness, and solitude.
The licence of savage passion, and the artifices of his depraved
countrymen, all opposed themselves to his progress. His courage
did not forsake him till there appeared no reasonable ground to
hope for success. He desisted not till his heart was relieved
from the supposed obligation to persevere. With his
constitution somewhat decayed, he at length returned to his
family. An interval of tranquillity succeeded. He was frugal,
regular, and strict in the performance of domestic duties. He
allied himself with no sect, because he perfectly agreed with
none. Social worship is that by which they are all
distinguished; but this article found no place in his creed. He
rigidly interpreted that precept which enjoins us, when we
worship, to retire into solitude, and shut out every species of
society. According to him devotion was not only a silent
office, but must be performed alone. An hour at noon, and an
hour at midnight were thus appropriated.
At the distance of three hundred yards from his house, on the
top of a rock whose sides were steep, rugged, and encumbered
with dwarf cedars and stony asperities, he built what to a
common eye would have seemed a summer-house. The eastern verge
of this precipice was sixty feet above the river which flowed at
its foot. The view before it consisted of a transparent
current, fluctuating and rippling in a rocky channel, and
bounded by a rising scene of cornfields and orchards. The
edifice was slight and airy. It was no more than a circular
area, twelve feet in diameter, whose flooring was the rock,
cleared of moss and shrubs, and exactly levelled, edged by
twelve Tuscan columns, and covered by an undulating dome. My
father furnished the dimensions and outlines, but allowed the
artist whom he employed to complete the structure on his own
plan. It was without seat, table, or ornament of any kind.
This was the temple of his Deity. Twice in twenty-four hours
he repaired hither, unaccompanied by any human being. Nothing
but physical inability to move was allowed to obstruct or
postpone this visit. He did not exact from his family
compliance with his example. Few men, equally sincere in their
faith, were as sparing in their censures and restrictions, with
respect to the conduct of others, as my father. The character
of my mother was no less devout; but her education had
habituated her to a different mode of worship. The loneliness
of their dwelling prevented her from joining any established
congregation; but she was punctual in the offices of prayer, and
in the performance of hymns to her Saviour, after the manner of
the disciples of Zinzendorf. My father refused to interfere in
her arrangements. His own system was embraced not, accurately
speaking, because it was the best, but because it had been
expressly prescribed to him. Other modes, if practised by other
persons, might be equally acceptable.
His deportment to others was full of charity and mildness.
A sadness perpetually overspread his features, but was unmingled
with sternness or discontent. The tones of his voice, his
gestures, his steps were all in tranquil unison. His conduct
was characterised by a certain forbearance and humility, which
secured the esteem of those to whom his tenets were most
obnoxious. They might call him a fanatic and a dreamer, but
they could not deny their veneration to his invincible candour
and invariable integrity. His own belief of rectitude was the
foundation of his happiness. This, however, was destined to
find an end.
Suddenly the sadness that constantly attended him was
deepened. Sighs, and even tears, sometimes escaped him. To the
expostulations of his wife he seldom answered any thing. When
he designed to be communicative, he hinted that his peace of
mind was flown, in consequence of deviation from his duty. A
command had been laid upon him, which he had delayed to perform.
He felt as if a certain period of hesitation and reluctance had
been allowed him, but that this period was passed. He was no
longer permitted to obey. The duty assigned to him was
transferred, in consequence of his disobedience, to another, and
all that remained was to endure the penalty.
He did not describe this penalty. It appeared to be nothing
more for some time than a sense of wrong. This was sufficiently
acute, and was aggravated by the belief that his offence was
incapable of expiation. No one could contemplate the agonies
which he seemed to suffer without the deepest compassion. Time,
instead of lightening the burthen, appeared to add to it. At
length he hinted to his wife, that his end was near. His
imagination did not prefigure the mode or the time of his
decease, but was fraught with an incurable persuasion that his
death was at hand. He was likewise haunted by the belief that
the kind of death that awaited him was strange and terrible.
His anticipations were thus far vague and indefinite; but they
sufficed to poison every moment of his being, and devote him to
ceaseless anguish.
Chapter II
Early in the morning of a sultry day in August, he left
Mettingen, to go to the city. He had seldom passed a day from
home since his return from the shores of the Ohio. Some urgent
engagements at this time existed, which would not admit of
further delay. He returned in the evening, but appeared to be
greatly oppressed with fatigue. His silence and dejection were
likewise in a more than ordinary degree conspicuous. My
mother's brother, whose profession was that of a surgeon,
chanced to spend this night at our house. It was from him that
I have frequently received an exact account of the mournful
catastrophe that followed.
As the evening advanced, my father's inquietudes increased.
He sat with his family as usual, but took no part in their
conversation. He appeared fully engrossed by his own
reflections. Occasionally his countenance exhibited tokens of
alarm; he gazed stedfastly and wildly at the ceiling; and the
exertions of his companions were scarcely sufficient to
interrupt his reverie. On recovering from these fits, he
expressed no surprize; but pressing his hand to his head,
complained, in a tremulous and terrified tone, that his brain
was scorched to cinders. He would then betray marks of
insupportable anxiety.
My uncle perceived, by his pulse, that he was indisposed, but
in no alarming degree, and ascribed appearances chiefly to the
workings of his mind. He exhorted him to recollection and
composure, but in vain. At the hour of repose he readily
retired to his chamber. At the persuasion of my mother he even
undressed and went to bed. Nothing could abate his
restlessness. He checked her tender expostulations with some
sternness. "Be silent," said he, "for that which I feel there
is but one cure, and that will shortly come. You can help me
nothing. Look to your own condition, and pray to God to
strengthen you under the calamities that await you." "What am
I to fear?" she answered. "What terrible disaster is it that
you think of?" "Peace--as yet I know it not myself, but come it
will, and shortly." She repeated her inquiries and doubts; but
he suddenly put an end to the discourse, by a stern command to
be silent.
She had never before known him in this mood. Hitherto all
was benign in his deportment. Her heart was pierced with sorrow
at the contemplation of this change. She was utterly unable to
account for it, or to figure to herself the species of disaster
that was menaced.
Contrary to custom, the lamp, instead of being placed on the
hearth, was left upon the table. Over it against the wall there
hung a small clock, so contrived as to strike a very hard stroke
at the end of every sixth hour. That which was now approaching
was the signal for retiring to the fane at which he addressed
his devotions. Long habit had occasioned him to be always awake
at this hour, and the toll was instantly obeyed.
Now frequent and anxious glances were cast at the clock. Not
a single movement of the index appeared to escape his notice.
As the hour verged towards twelve his anxiety visibly augmented.
The trepidations of my mother kept pace with those of her
husband; but she was intimidated into silence. All that was
left to her was to watch every change of his features, and give
vent to her sympathy in tears.
At length the hour was spent, and the clock tolled. The
sound appeared to communicate a shock to every part of my
father's frame. He rose immediately, and threw over himself a
loose gown. Even this office was performed with difficulty, for
his joints trembled, and his teeth chattered with dismay. At
this hour his duty called him to the rock, and my mother
naturally concluded that it was thither he intended to repair.
Yet these incidents were so uncommon, as to fill her with
astonishment and foreboding. She saw him leave the room, and
heard his steps as they hastily descended the stairs. She half
resolved to rise and pursue him, but the wildness of the scheme
quickly suggested itself. He was going to a place whither no
power on earth could induce him to suffer an attendant.
The window of her chamber looked toward the rock. The
atmosphere was clear and calm, but the edifice could not be
discovered at that distance through the dusk. My mother's
anxiety would not allow her to remain where she was. She rose,
and seated herself at the window. She strained her sight to get
a view of the dome, and of the path that led to it. The first
painted itself with sufficient distinctness on her fancy, but
was undistinguishable by the eye from the rocky mass on which it
was erected. The second could be imperfectly seen; but her
husband had already passed, or had taken a different direction.
What was it that she feared? Some disaster impended over her
husband or herself. He had predicted evils, but professed
himself ignorant of what nature they were. When were they to
come? Was this night, or this hour to witness the
accomplishment? She was tortured with impatience, and
uncertainty. All her fears were at present linked to his
person, and she gazed at the clock, with nearly as much
eagerness as my father had done, in expectation of the next
An half hour passed away in this state of suspence. Her eyes
were fixed upon the rock; suddenly it was illuminated. A light
proceeding from the edifice, made every part of the scene
visible. A gleam diffused itself over the intermediate space,
and instantly a loud report, like the explosion of a mine,
followed. She uttered an involuntary shriek, but the new sounds
that greeted her ear, quickly conquered her surprise. They were
piercing shrieks, and uttered without intermission. The gleams
which had diffused themselves far and wide were in a moment
withdrawn, but the interior of the edifice was filled with rays.
The first suggestion was that a pistol was discharged, and
that the structure was on fire. She did not allow herself time
to meditate a second thought, but rushed into the entry and
knocked loudly at the door of her brother's chamber. My uncle
had been previously roused by the noise, and instantly flew to
the window. He also imagined what he saw to be fire. The loud
and vehement shrieks which succeeded the first explosion, seemed
to be an invocation of succour. The incident was inexplicable;
but he could not fail to perceive the propriety of hastening to
the spot. He was unbolting the door, when his sister's voice
was heard on the outside conjuring him to come forth.
He obeyed the summons with all the speed in his power. He
stopped not to question her, but hurried down stairs and across
the meadow which lay between the house and the rock. The
shrieks were no longer to be heard; but a blazing light was
clearly discernible between the columns of the temple.
Irregular steps, hewn in the stone, led him to the summit. On
three sides, this edifice touched the very verge of the cliff.
On the fourth side, which might be regarded as the front, there
was an area of small extent, to which the rude staircase
conducted you. My uncle speedily gained this spot. His
strength was for a moment exhausted by his haste. He paused to
rest himself. Meanwhile he bent the most vigilant attention
towards the object before him.
Within the columns he beheld what he could no better
describe, than by saying that it resembled a cloud impregnated
with light. It had the brightness of flame, but was without its
upward motion. It did not occupy the whole area, and rose but
a few feet above the floor. No part of the building was on
fire. This appearance was astonishing. He approached the
temple. As he went forward the light retired, and, when he put
his feet within the apartment, utterly vanished. The suddenness
of this transition increased the darkness that succeeded in a
tenfold degree. Fear and wonder rendered him powerless. An
occurrence like this, in a place assigned to devotion, was
adapted to intimidate the stoutest heart.
His wandering thoughts were recalled by the groans of one
near him. His sight gradually recovered its power, and he was
able to discern my father stretched on the floor. At that
moment, my mother and servants arrived with a lanthorn, and
enabled my uncle to examine more closely this scene. My father,
when he left the house, besides a loose upper vest and slippers,
wore a shirt and drawers. Now he was naked, his skin throughout
the greater part of his body was scorched and bruised. His
right arm exhibited marks as of having been struck by some heavy
body. His clothes had been removed, and it was not immediately
perceived that they were reduced to ashes. His slippers and his
hair were untouched.
He was removed to his chamber, and the requisite attention
paid to his wounds, which gradually became more painful. A
mortification speedily shewed itself in the arm, which had been
most hurt. Soon after, the other wounded parts exhibited the
like appearance.
Immediately subsequent to this disaster, my father seemed
nearly in a state of insensibility. He was passive under every
operation. He scarcely opened his eyes, and was with difficulty
prevailed upon to answer the questions that were put to him. By
his imperfect account, it appeared, that while engaged in silent
orisons, with thoughts full of confusion and anxiety, a faint
gleam suddenly shot athwart the apartment. His fancy
immediately pictured to itself, a person bearing a lamp. It
seemed to come from behind. He was in the act of turning to
examine the visitant, when his right arm received a blow from a
heavy club. At the same instant, a very bright spark was seen
to light upon his clothes. In a moment, the whole was reduced
to ashes. This was the sum of the information which he chose to
give. There was somewhat in his manner that indicated an
imperfect tale. My uncle was inclined to believe that half the
truth had been suppressed.
Meanwhile, the disease thus wonderfully generated, betrayed
more terrible symptoms. Fever and delirium terminated in
lethargic slumber, which, in the course of two hours, gave place
to death. Yet not till insupportable exhalations and crawling
putrefaction had driven from his chamber and the house every one
whom their duty did not detain.
Such was the end of my father. None surely was ever more
mysterious. When we recollect his gloomy anticipations and
unconquerable anxiety; the security from human malice which his
character, the place, and the condition of the times, might be
supposed to confer; the purity and cloudlessness of the
atmosphere, which rendered it impossible that lightning was the
cause; what are the conclusions that we must form?
The prelusive gleam, the blow upon his arm, the fatal spark,
the explosion heard so far, the fiery cloud that environed him,
without detriment to the structure, though composed of
combustible materials, the sudden vanishing of this cloud at my
uncle's approach--what is the inference to be drawn from these
facts? Their truth cannot be doubted. My uncle's testimony is
peculiarly worthy of credit, because no man's temper is more
sceptical, and his belief is unalterably attached to natural
I was at this time a child of six years of age. The
impressions that were then made upon me, can never be effaced.
I was ill qualified to judge respecting what was then passing;
but as I advanced in age, and became more fully acquainted with
these facts, they oftener became the subject of my thoughts.
Their resemblance to recent events revived them with new force
in my memory, and made me more anxious to explain them. Was
this the penalty of disobedience? this the stroke of a
vindictive and invisible hand? Is it a fresh proof that the
Divine Ruler interferes in human affairs, meditates an end,
selects, and commissions his agents, and enforces, by
unequivocal sanctions, submission to his will? Or, was it
merely the irregular expansion of the fluid that imparts warmth
to our heart and our blood, caused by the fatigue of the
preceding day, or flowing, by established laws, from the
condition of his thoughts?*
*A case, in its symptoms exactly parallel to this, is
published in one of the Journals of Florence. See, likewise,
similar cases reported by Messrs. Merille and Muraire, in the
"Journal de Medicine," for February and May, 1783. The
researches of Maffei and Fontana have thrown some light upon
this subject.
Chapter III
The shock which this disastrous occurrence occasioned to my
mother, was the foundation of a disease which carried her, in a
few months, to the grave. My brother and myself were children
at this time, and were now reduced to the condition of orphans.
The property which our parents left was by no means
inconsiderable. It was entrusted to faithful hands, till we
should arrive at a suitable age. Meanwhile, our education was
assigned to a maiden aunt who resided in the city, and whose
tenderness made us in a short time cease to regret that we had
lost a mother.
The years that succeeded were tranquil and happy. Our lives
were molested by few of those cares that are incident to
childhood. By accident more than design, the indulgence and
yielding temper of our aunt was mingled with resolution and
stedfastness. She seldom deviated into either extreme of rigour
or lenity. Our social pleasures were subject to no unreasonable
restraints. We were instructed in most branches of useful
knowledge, and were saved from the corruption and tyranny of
colleges and boarding-schools.
Our companions were chiefly selected from the children of our
neighbours. Between one of these and my brother, there quickly
grew the most affectionate intimacy. Her name was Catharine
Pleyel. She was rich, beautiful, and contrived to blend the
most bewitching softness with the most exuberant vivacity. The
tie by which my brother and she were united, seemed to add force
to the love which I bore her, and which was amply returned.
Between her and myself there was every circumstance tending to
produce and foster friendship. Our sex and age were the same.
We lived within sight of each other's abode. Our tempers were
remarkably congenial, and the superintendants of our education
not only prescribed to us the same pursuits, but allowed us to
cultivate them together.
Every day added strength to the triple bonds that united us.
We gradually withdrew ourselves from the society of others, and
found every moment irksome that was not devoted to each other.
My brother's advance in age made no change in our situation. It
was determined that his profession should be agriculture. His
fortune exempted him from the necessity of personal labour. The
task to be performed by him was nothing more than
superintendance. The skill that was demanded by this was merely
theoretical, and was furnished by casual inspection, or by
closet study. The attention that was paid to this subject did
not seclude him for any long time from us, on whom time had no
other effect than to augment our impatience in the absence of
each other and of him. Our tasks, our walks, our music, were
seldom performed but in each other's company.
It was easy to see that Catharine and my brother were born
for each other. The passion which they mutually entertained
quickly broke those bounds which extreme youth had set to it;
confessions were made or extorted, and their union was postponed
only till my brother had passed his minority. The previous
lapse of two years was constantly and usefully employed.
O my brother! But the task I have set myself let me perform
with steadiness. The felicity of that period was marred by no
gloomy anticipations. The future, like the present, was serene.
Time was supposed to have only new delights in store. I mean
not to dwell on previous incidents longer than is necessary to
illustrate or explain the great events that have since happened.
The nuptial day at length arrived. My brother took possession
of the house in which he was born, and here the long protracted
marriage was solemnized.
My father's property was equally divided between us. A neat
dwelling, situated on the bank of the river, three quarters of
a mile from my brother's, was now occupied by me. These domains
were called, from the name of the first possessor, Mettingen.
I can scarcely account for my refusing to take up my abode with
him, unless it were from a disposition to be an economist of
pleasure. Self-denial, seasonably exercised, is one means of
enhancing our gratifications. I was, beside, desirous of
administering a fund, and regulating an household, of my own.
The short distance allowed us to exchange visits as often as we
pleased. The walk from one mansion to the other was no
undelightful prelude to our interviews. I was sometimes their
visitant, and they, as frequently, were my guests.
Our education had been modelled by no religious standard. We
were left to the guidance of our own understanding, and the
casual impressions which society might make upon us. My
friend's temper, as well as my own, exempted us from much
anxiety on this account. It must not be supposed that we were
without religion, but with us it was the product of lively
feelings, excited by reflection on our own happiness, and by the
grandeur of external nature. We sought not a basis for our
faith, in the weighing of proofs, and the dissection of creeds.
Our devotion was a mixed and casual sentiment, seldom verbally
expressed, or solicitously sought, or carefully retained. In
the midst of present enjoyment, no thought was bestowed on the
future. As a consolation in calamity religion is dear. But
calamity was yet at a distance, and its only tendency was to
heighten enjoyments which needed not this addition to satisfy
every craving.
My brother's situation was somewhat different. His
deportment was grave, considerate, and thoughtful. I will not
say whether he was indebted to sublimer views for this
disposition. Human life, in his opinion, was made up of
changeable elements, and the principles of duty were not easily
unfolded. The future, either as anterior, or subsequent to
death, was a scene that required some preparation and provision
to be made for it. These positions we could not deny, but what
distinguished him was a propensity to ruminate on these truths.
The images that visited us were blithsome and gay, but those
with which he was most familiar were of an opposite hue. They
did not generate affliction and fear, but they diffused over his
behaviour a certain air of forethought and sobriety. The
principal effect of this temper was visible in his features and
tones. These, in general, bespoke a sort of thrilling
melancholy. I scarcely ever knew him to laugh. He never
accompanied the lawless mirth of his companions with more than
a smile, but his conduct was the same as ours.
He partook of our occupations and amusements with a zeal not
less than ours, but of a different kind. The diversity in our
temper was never the parent of discord, and was scarcely a topic
of regret. The scene was variegated, but not tarnished or
disordered by it. It hindered the element in which we moved
from stagnating. Some agitation and concussion is requisite to
the due exercise of human understanding. In his studies, he
pursued an austerer and more arduous path. He was much
conversant with the history of religious opinions, and took
pains to ascertain their validity. He deemed it indispensable
to examine the ground of his belief, to settle the relation
between motives and actions, the criterion of merit, and the
kinds and properties of evidence.
There was an obvious resemblance between him and my father,
in their conceptions of the importance of certain topics, and in
the light in which the vicissitudes of human life were
accustomed to be viewed. Their characters were similar, but the
mind of the son was enriched by science, and embellished with
The temple was no longer assigned to its ancient use. From
an Italian adventurer, who erroneously imagined that he could
find employment for his skill, and sale for his sculptures in
America, my brother had purchased a bust of Cicero. He
professed to have copied this piece from an antique dug up with
his own hands in the environs of Modena. Of the truth of his
assertions we were not qualified to judge; but the marble was
pure and polished, and we were contented to admire the
performance, without waiting for the sanction of connoisseurs.
We hired the same artist to hew a suitable pedestal from a
neighbouring quarry. This was placed in the temple, and the
bust rested upon it. Opposite to this was a harpsichord,
sheltered by a temporary roof from the weather. This was the
place of resort in the evenings of summer. Here we sung, and
talked, and read, and occasionally banqueted. Every joyous and
tender scene most dear to my memory, is connected with this
edifice. Here the performances of our musical and poetical
ancestor were rehearsed. Here my brother's children received
the rudiments of their education; here a thousand conversations,
pregnant with delight and improvement, took place; and here the
social affections were accustomed to expand, and the tear of
delicious sympathy to be shed.
My brother was an indefatigable student. The authors whom he
read were numerous, but the chief object of his veneration was
Cicero. He was never tired of conning and rehearsing his
productions. To understand them was not sufficient. He was
anxious to discover the gestures and cadences with which they
ought to be delivered. He was very scrupulous in selecting a
true scheme of pronunciation for the Latin tongue, and in
adapting it to the words of his darling writer. His favorite
occupation consisted in embellishing his rhetoric with all the
proprieties of gesticulation and utterance.
Not contented with this, he was diligent in settling and
restoring the purity of the text. For this end, he collected
all the editions and commentaries that could be procured, and
employed months of severe study in exploring and comparing them.
He never betrayed more satisfaction than when he made a
discovery of this kind.
It was not till the addition of Henry Pleyel, my friend's
only brother, to our society, that his passion for Roman
eloquence was countenanced and fostered by a sympathy of tastes.
This young man had been some years in Europe. We had separated
at a very early age, and he was now returned to spend the
remainder of his days among us.
Our circle was greatly enlivened by the accession of a new
member. His conversation abounded with novelty. His gaiety was
almost boisterous, but was capable of yielding to a grave
deportment when the occasion required it. His discernment was
acute, but he was prone to view every object merely as supplying
materials for mirth. His conceptions were ardent but ludicrous,
and his memory, aided, as he honestly acknowledged, by his
invention, was an inexhaustible fund of entertainment.
His residence was at the same distance below the city as ours
was above, but there seldom passed a day without our being
favoured with a visit. My brother and he were endowed with the
same attachment to the Latin writers; and Pleyel was not behind
his friend in his knowledge of the history and metaphysics of
religion. Their creeds, however, were in many respects
opposite. Where one discovered only confirmations of his faith,
the other could find nothing but reasons for doubt. Moral
necessity, and calvinistic inspiration, were the props on which
my brother thought proper to repose. Pleyel was the champion of
intellectual liberty, and rejected all guidance but that of his
reason. Their discussions were frequent, but, being managed
with candour as well as with skill, they were always listened to
by us with avidity and benefit.
Pleyel, like his new friends, was fond of music and poetry.
Henceforth our concerts consisted of two violins, an
harpsichord, and three voices. We were frequently reminded how
much happiness depends upon society. This new friend, though,
before his arrival, we were sensible of no vacuity, could not
now be spared. His departure would occasion a void which
nothing could fill, and which would produce insupportable
regret. Even my brother, though his opinions were hourly
assailed, and even the divinity of Cicero contested, was
captivated with his friend, and laid aside some part of his
ancient gravity at Pleyel's approach.
Chapter IV
Six years of uninterrupted happiness had rolled away, since
my brother's marriage. The sound of war had been heard, but it
was at such a distance as to enhance our enjoyment by affording
objects of comparison. The Indians were repulsed on the one
side, and Canada was conquered on the other. Revolutions and
battles, however calamitous to those who occupied the scene,
contributed in some sort to our happiness, by agitating our
minds with curiosity, and furnishing causes of patriotic
exultation. Four children, three of whom were of an age to
compensate, by their personal and mental progress, the cares of
which they had been, at a more helpless age, the objects,
exercised my brother's tenderness. The fourth was a charming
babe that promised to display the image of her mother, and
enjoyed perfect health. To these were added a sweet girl
fourteen years old, who was loved by all of us, with an
affection more than parental.
Her mother's story was a mournful one. She had come hither
from England when this child was an infant, alone, without
friends, and without money. She appeared to have embarked in a
hasty and clandestine manner. She passed three years of
solitude and anguish under my aunt's protection, and died a
martyr to woe; the source of which she could, by no
importunities, be prevailed upon to unfold. Her education and
manners bespoke her to be of no mean birth. Her last moments
were rendered serene, by the assurances she received from my
aunt, that her daughter should experience the same protection
that had been extended to herself.
On my brother's marriage, it was agreed that she should make
a part of his family. I cannot do justice to the attractions of
this girl. Perhaps the tenderness she excited might partly
originate in her personal resemblance to her mother, whose
character and misfortunes were still fresh in our remembrance.
She was habitually pensive, and this circumstance tended to
remind the spectator of her friendless condition; and yet that
epithet was surely misapplied in this case. This being was
cherished by those with whom she now resided, with unspeakable
fondness. Every exertion was made to enlarge and improve her
mind. Her safety was the object of a solicitude that almost
exceeded the bounds of discretion. Our affection indeed could
scarcely transcend her merits. She never met my eye, or
occurred to my reflections, without exciting a kind of
enthusiasm. Her softness, her intelligence, her equanimity,
never shall I see surpassed. I have often shed tears of
pleasure at her approach, and pressed her to my bosom in an
agony of fondness.
While every day was adding to the charms of her person, and
the stores of her mind, there occurred an event which threatened
to deprive us of her. An officer of some rank, who had been
disabled by a wound at Quebec, had employed himself, since the
ratification of peace, in travelling through the colonies. He
remained a considerable period at Philadelphia, but was at last
preparing for his departure. No one had been more frequently
honoured with his visits than Mrs. Baynton, a worthy lady with
whom our family were intimate. He went to her house with a view
to perform a farewell visit, and was on the point of taking his
leave, when I and my young friend entered the apartment. It is
impossible to describe the emotions of the stranger, when he
fixed his eyes upon my companion. He was motionless with
surprise. He was unable to conceal his feelings, but sat
silently gazing at the spectacle before him. At length he
turned to Mrs. Baynton, and more by his looks and gestures than
by words, besought her for an explanation of the scene. He
seized the hand of the girl, who, in her turn, was surprised by
his behaviour, and drawing her forward, said in an eager and
faultering tone, Who is she? whence does she come? what is her
The answers that were given only increased the confusion of
his thoughts. He was successively told, that she was the
daughter of one whose name was Louisa Conway, who arrived among
us at such a time, who sedulously concealed her parentage, and
the motives of her flight, whose incurable griefs had finally
destroyed her, and who had left this child under the protection
of her friends. Having heard the tale, he melted into tears,
eagerly clasped the young lady in his arms, and called himself
her father. When the tumults excited in his breast by this
unlooked-for meeting were somewhat subsided, he gratified our
curiosity by relating the following incidents.
"Miss Conway was the only daughter of a banker in London, who
discharged towards her every duty of an affectionate father. He
had chanced to fall into her company, had been subdued by her
attractions, had tendered her his hand, and been joyfully
accepted both by parent and child. His wife had given him every
proof of the fondest attachment. Her father, who possessed
immense wealth, treated him with distinguished respect,
liberally supplied his wants, and had made one condition of his
consent to their union, a resolution to take up their abode with
"They had passed three years of conjugal felicity, which had
been augmented by the birth of this child; when his professional
duty called him into Germany. It was not without an arduous
struggle, that she was persuaded to relinquish the design of
accompanying him through all the toils and perils of war. No
parting was ever more distressful. They strove to alleviate, by
frequent letters, the evils of their lot. Those of his wife,
breathed nothing but anxiety for his safety, and impatience of
his absence. At length, a new arrangement was made, and he was
obliged to repair from Westphalia to Canada. One advantage
attended this change. It afforded him an opportunity of meeting
his family. His wife anticipated this interview, with no less
rapture than himself. He hurried to London, and the moment he
alighted from the stage-coach, ran with all speed to Mr.
Conway's house.
"It was an house of mourning. His father was overwhelmed
with grief, and incapable of answering his inquiries. The
servants, sorrowful and mute, were equally refractory. He
explored the house, and called on the names of his wife and
daughter, but his summons was fruitless. At length, this new
disaster was explained. Two days before his arrival, his wife's
chamber was found empty. No search, however diligent and
anxious, could trace her steps. No cause could be assigned for
her disappearance. The mother and child had fled away together.
"New exertions were made, her chamber and cabinets were
ransacked, but no vestige was found serving to inform them as to
the motives of her flight, whether it had been voluntary or
otherwise, and in what corner of the kingdom or of the world she
was concealed. Who shall describe the sorrow and amazement of
the husband? His restlessness, his vicissitudes of hope and
fear, and his ultimate despair? His duty called him to America.
He had been in this city, and had frequently passed the door of
the house in which his wife, at that moment, resided. Her
father had not remitted his exertions to elucidate this painful
mystery, but they had failed. This disappointment hastened his
death; in consequence of which, Louisa's father became possessor
of his immense property."
This tale was a copious theme of speculation. A thousand
questions were started and discussed in our domestic circle,
respecting the motives that influenced Mrs. Stuart to abandon
her country. It did not appear that her proceeding was
involuntary. We recalled and reviewed every particular that had
fallen under our own observation. By none of these were we
furnished with a clue. Her conduct, after the most rigorous
scrutiny, still remained an impenetrable secret. On a nearer
view, Major Stuart proved himself a man of most amiable
character. His attachment to Louisa appeared hourly to
increase. She was no stranger to the sentiments suitable to her
new character. She could not but readily embrace the scheme
which was proposed to her, to return with her father to England.
This scheme his regard for her induced him, however, to
postpone. Some time was necessary to prepare her for so great
a change and enable her to think without agony of her separation
from us.
I was not without hopes of prevailing on her father entirely
to relinquish this unwelcome design. Meanwhile, he pursued his
travels through the southern colonies, and his daughter
continued with us. Louisa and my brother frequently received
letters from him, which indicated a mind of no common order.
They were filled with amusing details, and profound reflections.
While here, he often partook of our evening conversations at the
temple; and since his departure, his correspondence had
frequently supplied us with topics of discourse.
One afternoon in May, the blandness of the air, and
brightness of the verdure, induced us to assemble, earlier than
usual, in the temple. We females were busy at the needle, while
my brother and Pleyel were bandying quotations and syllogisms.
The point discussed was the merit of the oration for Cluentius,
as descriptive, first, of the genius of the speaker; and,
secondly, of the manners of the times. Pleyel laboured to
extenuate both these species of merit, and tasked his ingenuity,
to shew that the orator had embraced a bad cause; or, at least,
a doubtful one. He urged, that to rely on the exaggerations of
an advocate, or to make the picture of a single family a model
from which to sketch the condition of a nation, was absurd. The
controversy was suddenly diverted into a new channel, by a
misquotation. Pleyel accused his companion of saying
"polliciatur" when he should have said "polliceretur."
Nothing would decide the contest, but an appeal to the volume.
My brother was returning to the house for this purpose, when a
servant met him with a letter from Major Stuart. He immediately
returned to read it in our company.
Besides affectionate compliments to us, and paternal
benedictions on Louisa, his letter contained a description of a
waterfall on the Monongahela. A sudden gust of rain falling, we
were compelled to remove to the house. The storm passed away,
and a radiant moon-light succeeded. There was no motion to
resume our seats in the temple. We therefore remained where we
were, and engaged in sprightly conversation. The letter lately
received naturally suggested the topic. A parallel was drawn
between the cataract there described, and one which Pleyel had
discovered among the Alps of Glarus. In the state of the
former, some particular was mentioned, the truth of which was
questionable. To settle the dispute which thence arose, it was
proposed to have recourse to the letter. My brother searched
for it in his pocket. It was no where to be found. At length,
he remembered to have left it in the temple, and he determined
to go in search of it. His wife, Pleyel, Louisa, and myself,
remained where we were.
In a few minutes he returned. I was somewhat interested in
the dispute, and was therefore impatient for his return; yet, as
I heard him ascending the stairs, I could not but remark, that
he had executed his intention with remarkable dispatch. My eyes
were fixed upon him on his entrance. Methought he brought with
him looks considerably different from those with which he
departed. Wonder, and a slight portion of anxiety were mingled
in them. His eyes seemed to be in search of some object. They
passed quickly from one person to another, till they rested on
his wife. She was seated in a careless attitude on the sofa, in
the same spot as before. She had the same muslin in her hand,
by which her attention was chiefly engrossed.
The moment he saw her, his perplexity visibly increased. He
quietly seated himself, and fixing his eyes on the floor,
appeared to be absorbed in meditation. These singularities
suspended the inquiry which I was preparing to make respecting
the letter. In a short time, the company relinquished the
subject which engaged them, and directed their attention to
Wieland. They thought that he only waited for a pause in the
discourse, to produce the letter. The pause was uninterrupted
by him. At length Pleyel said, "Well, I suppose you have found
the letter."
"No," said he, without any abatement of his gravity, and
looking stedfastly at his wife, "I did not mount the
hill."--"Why not?"--"Catharine, have you not moved from that
spot since I left the room?"--She was affected with the
solemnity of his manner, and laying down her work, answered in
a tone of surprise, "No; Why do you ask that question?"--His
eyes were again fixed upon the floor. and he did not
immediately answer. At length, he said, looking round upon us,
"Is it true that Catharine did not follow me to the hill? That
she did not just now enter the room?"--We assured him, with one
voice, that she had not been absent for a moment, and inquired
into the motive of his questions.
"Your assurances," said he, "are solemn and unanimous; and
yet I must deny credit to your assertions, or disbelieve the
testimony of my senses, which informed me, when I was half way
up the hill, that Catharine was at the bottom."
We were confounded at this declaration. Pleyel rallied him
with great levity on his behaviour. He listened to his friend
with calmness, but without any relaxation of features.
"One thing," said he with emphasis, "is true; either I heard
my wife's voice at the bottom of the hill, or I do not hear your
voice at present."
"Truly," returned Pleyel, "it is a sad dilemma to which you
have reduced yourself. Certain it is, if our eyes can give us
certainty that your wife has been sitting in that spot during
every moment of your absence. You have heard her voice, you
say, upon the hill. In general, her voice, like her temper, is
all softness. To be heard across the room, she is obliged to
exert herself. While you were gone, if I mistake not, she did
not utter a word. Clara and I had all the talk to ourselves.
Still it may be that she held a whispering conference with you
on the hill; but tell us the particulars."
"The conference," said he, "was short; and far from being
carried on in a whisper. You know with what intention I left
the house. Half way to the rock, the moon was for a moment
hidden from us by a cloud. I never knew the air to be more
bland and more calm. In this interval I glanced at the temple,
and thought I saw a glimmering between the columns. It was so
faint, that it would not perhaps have been visible, if the moon
had not been shrowded. I looked again, but saw nothing. I
never visit this building alone, or at night, without being
reminded of the fate of my father. There was nothing wonderful
in this appearance; yet it suggested something more than mere
solitude and darkness in the same place would have done.
"I kept on my way. The images that haunted me were solemn;
and I entertained an imperfect curiosity, but no fear, as to the
nature of this object. I had ascended the hill little more than
half way, when a voice called me from behind. The accents were
clear, distinct, powerful, and were uttered, as I fully
believed, by my wife. Her voice is not commonly so loud. She
has seldom occasion to exert it, but, nevertheless, I have
sometimes heard her call with force and eagerness. If my ear
was not deceived, it was her voice which I heard.
"Stop, go no further. There is danger in your path." The
suddenness and unexpectedness of this warning, the tone of alarm
with which it was given, and, above all, the persuasion that it
was my wife who spoke, were enough to disconcert and make me
pause. I turned and listened to assure myself that I was not
mistaken. The deepest silence succeeded. At length, I spoke in
my turn. Who calls? is it you, Catharine? I stopped and
presently received an answer. "Yes, it is I; go not up; return
instantly; you are wanted at the house." Still the voice was
Catharine's, and still it proceeded from the foot of the stairs.
"What could I do? The warning was mysterious. To be uttered
by Catharine at a place, and on an occasion like these, enhanced
the mystery. I could do nothing but obey. Accordingly, I trod
back my steps, expecting that she waited for me at the bottom of
the hill. When I reached the bottom, no one was visible. The
moon-light was once more universal and brilliant, and yet, as
far as I could see no human or moving figure was discernible.
If she had returned to the house, she must have used wondrous
expedition to have passed already beyond the reach of my eye.
I exerted my voice, but in vain. To my repeated exclamations,
no answer was returned.
"Ruminating on these incidents, I returned hither. There was
no room to doubt that I had heard my wife's voice; attending
incidents were not easily explained; but you now assure me that
nothing extraordinary has happened to urge my return, and that
my wife has not moved from her seat."
Such was my brother's narrative. It was heard by us with
different emotions. Pleyel did not scruple to regard the whole
as a deception of the senses. Perhaps a voice had been heard;
but Wieland's imagination had misled him in supposing a
resemblance to that of his wife, and giving such a signification
to the sounds. According to his custom he spoke what he
thought. Sometimes, he made it the theme of grave discussion,
but more frequently treated it with ridicule. He did not
believe that sober reasoning would convince his friend, and
gaiety, he thought, was useful to take away the solemnities
which, in a mind like Wieland's, an accident of this kind was
calculated to produce.
Pleyel proposed to go in search of the letter. He went and
speedily returned, bearing it in his hand. He had found it open
on the pedestal; and neither voice nor visage had risen to
impede his design.
Catharine was endowed with an uncommon portion of good sense;
but her mind was accessible, on this quarter, to wonder and
panic. That her voice should be thus inexplicably and
unwarrantably assumed, was a source of no small disquietude.
She admitted the plausibility of the arguments by which Pleyel
endeavoured to prove, that this was no more than an auricular
deception; but this conviction was sure to be shaken, when she
turned her eyes upon her husband, and perceived that Pleyel's
logic was far from having produced the same effect upon him.
As to myself, my attention was engaged by this occurrence.
I could not fail to perceive a shadowy resemblance between it
and my father's death. On the latter event, I had frequently
reflected; my reflections never conducted me to certainty, but
the doubts that existed were not of a tormenting kind. I could
not deny that the event was miraculous, and yet I was invincibly
averse to that method of solution. My wonder was excited by the
inscrutableness of the cause, but my wonder was unmixed with
sorrow or fear. It begat in me a thrilling, and not unpleasing
solemnity. Similar to these were the sensations produced by the
recent adventure.
But its effect upon my brother's imagination was of chief
moment. All that was desirable was, that it should be regarded
by him with indifference. The worst effect that could flow, was
not indeed very formidable. Yet I could not bear to think that
his senses should be the victims of such delusion. It argued a
diseased condition of his frame, which might show itself
hereafter in more dangerous symptoms. The will is the tool of
the understanding, which must fashion its conclusions on the
notices of sense. If the senses be depraved, it is impossible
to calculate the evils that may flow from the consequent
deductions of the understanding.
I said, this man is of an ardent and melancholy character.
Those ideas which, in others, are casual or obscure, which are
entertained in moments of abstraction and solitude, and easily
escape when the scene is changed, have obtained an immoveable
hold upon his mind. The conclusions which long habit has
rendered familiar, and, in some sort, palpable to his intellect,
are drawn from the deepest sources. All his actions and
practical sentiments are linked with long and abstruse
deductions from the system of divine government and the laws of
our intellectual constitution. He is, in some respects, an
enthusiast, but is fortified in his belief by innumerable
arguments and subtilties.
His father's death was always regarded by him as flowing from
a direct and supernatural decree. It visited his meditations
oftener than it did mine. The traces which it left were more
gloomy and permanent. This new incident had a visible effect in
augmenting his gravity. He was less disposed than formerly to
converse and reading. When we sifted his thoughts, they were
generally found to have a relation, more or less direct, with
this incident. It was difficult to ascertain the exact species
of impression which it made upon him. He never introduced the
subject into conversation, and listened with a silent and
half-serious smile to the satirical effusions of Pleyel.
One evening we chanced to be alone together in the temple.
I seized that opportunity of investigating the state of his
thoughts. After a pause, which he seemed in no wise inclined to
interrupt, I spoke to him--"How almost palpable is this dark;
yet a ray from above would dispel it." "Ay," said Wieland, with
fervor, "not only the physical, but moral night would be
dispelled." "But why," said I, "must the Divine Will address
its precepts to the eye?" He smiled significantly. "True,"
said he, "the understanding has other avenues." "You have
never," said I, approaching nearer to the point--"you have never
told me in what way you considered the late extraordinary
incident." "There is no determinate way in which the subject
can be viewed. Here is an effect, but the cause is utterly
inscrutable. To suppose a deception will not do. Such is
possible, but there are twenty other suppositions more probable.
They must all be set aside before we reach that point." "What
are these twenty suppositions?" "It is needless to mention
them. They are only less improbable than Pleyel's. Time may
convert one of them into certainty. Till then it is useless to
expatiate on them."
Chapter V
Some time had elapsed when there happened another occurrence,
still more remarkable. Pleyel, on his return from Europe,
brought information of considerable importance to my brother.
My ancestors were noble Saxons, and possessed large domains in
Lusatia. The Prussian wars had destroyed those persons whose
right to these estates precluded my brother's. Pleyel had been
exact in his inquiries, and had discovered that, by the law of
male-primogeniture, my brother's claims were superior to those
of any other person now living. Nothing was wanting but his
presence in that country, and a legal application to establish
this claim.
Pleyel strenuously recommended this measure. The advantages
he thought attending it were numerous, and it would argue the
utmost folly to neglect them. Contrary to his expectation he
found my brother averse to the scheme. Slight efforts, he, at
first, thought would subdue his reluctance; but he found this
aversion by no means slight. The interest that he took in the
happiness of his friend and his sister, and his own partiality
to the Saxon soil, from which he had likewise sprung, and where
he had spent several years of his youth, made him redouble his
exertions to win Wieland's consent. For this end he employed
every argument that his invention could suggest. He painted, in
attractive colours, the state of manners and government in that
country, the security of civil rights, and the freedom of
religious sentiments. He dwelt on the privileges of wealth and
rank, and drew from the servile condition of one class, an
argument in favor of his scheme, since the revenue and power
annexed to a German principality afford so large a field for
benevolence. The evil flowing from this power, in malignant
hands, was proportioned to the good that would arise from the
virtuous use of it. Hence, Wieland, in forbearing to claim his
own, withheld all the positive felicity that would accrue to his
vassals from his success, and hazarded all the misery that would
redound from a less enlightened proprietor.
It was easy for my brother to repel these arguments, and to
shew that no spot on the globe enjoyed equal security and
liberty to that which he at present inhabited. That if the
Saxons had nothing to fear from mis-government, the external
causes of havoc and alarm were numerous and manifest. The
recent devastations committed by the Prussians furnished a
specimen of these. The horrors of war would always impend over
them, till Germany were seized and divided by Austrian and
Prussian tyrants; an event which he strongly suspected was at no
great distance. But setting these considerations aside, was it
laudable to grasp at wealth and power even when they were within
our reach? Were not these the two great sources of depravity?
What security had he, that in this change of place and
condition, he should not degenerate into a tyrant and
voluptuary? Power and riches were chiefly to be dreaded on
account of their tendency to deprave the possessor. He held
them in abhorrence, not only as instruments of misery to others,
but to him on whom they were conferred. Besides, riches were
comparative, and was he not rich already? He lived at present
in the bosom of security and luxury. All the instruments of
pleasure, on which his reason or imagination set any value, were
within his reach. But these he must forego, for the sake of
advantages which, whatever were their value, were as yet
uncertain. In pursuit of an imaginary addition to his wealth,
he must reduce himself to poverty, he must exchange present
certainties for what was distant and contingent; for who knows
not that the law is a system of expence, delay and uncertainty?
If he should embrace this scheme, it would lay him under the
necessity of making a voyage to Europe, and remaining for a
certain period, separate from his family. He must undergo the
perils and discomforts of the ocean; he must divest himself of
all domestic pleasures; he must deprive his wife of her
companion, and his children of a father and instructor, and all
for what? For the ambiguous advantages which overgrown wealth
and flagitious tyranny have to bestow? For a precarious
possession in a land of turbulence and war? Advantages, which
will not certainly be gained, and of which the acquisition, if
it were sure, is necessarily distant.
Pleyel was enamoured of his scheme on account of its
intrinsic benefits, but, likewise, for other reasons. His abode
at Leipsig made that country appear to him like home. He was
connected with this place by many social ties. While there he
had not escaped the amorous contagion. But the lady, though her
heart was impressed in his favor, was compelled to bestow her
hand upon another. Death had removed this impediment, and he
was now invited by the lady herself to return. This he was of
course determined to do, but was anxious to obtain the company
of Wieland; he could not bear to think of an eternal separation
from his present associates. Their interest, he thought, would
be no less promoted by the change than his own. Hence he was
importunate and indefatigable in his arguments and
He knew that he could not hope for mine or his sister's ready
concurrence in this scheme. Should the subject be mentioned to
us, we should league our efforts against him, and strengthen
that reluctance in Wieland which already was sufficiently
difficult to conquer. He, therefore, anxiously concealed from
us his purpose. If Wieland were previously enlisted in his
cause, he would find it a less difficult task to overcome our
aversion. My brother was silent on this subJect, because he
believed himself in no danger of changing his opinion, and he
was willing to save us from any uneasiness. The mere mention of
such a scheme, and the possibility of his embracing it, he knew,
would considerably impair our tranquillity.
One day, about three weeks subsequent to the mysterious call,
it was agreed that the family should be my guests. Seldom had
a day been passed by us, of more serene enjoyment. Pleyel had
promised us his company, but we did not see him till the sun had
nearly declined. He brought with him a countenance that
betokened disappointment and vexation. He did not wait for our
inquiries, but immediately explained the cause. Two days before
a packet had arrived from Hamburgh, by which he had flattered
himself with the expectation of receiving letters, but no
letters had arrived. I never saw him so much subdued by an
untoward event. His thoughts were employed in accounting for
the silence of his friends. He was seized with the torments of
jealousy, and suspected nothing less than the infidelity of her
to whom he had devoted his heart. The silence must have been
concerted. Her sickness, or absence, or death, would have
increased the certainty of some one's having written. No
supposition could be formed but that his mistress had grown
indifferent, or that she had transferred her affections to
another. The miscarriage of a letter was hardly within the
reach of possibility. From Leipsig to Hamburgh, and from
Hamburgh hither, the conveyance was exposed to no hazard.
He had been so long detained in America chiefly in
consequence of Wieland's aversion to the scheme which he
proposed. He now became more impatient than ever to return to
Europe. When he reflected that, by his delays, he had probably
forfeited the affections of his mistress, his sensations
amounted to agony. It only remained, by his speedy departure,
to repair, if possible, or prevent so intolerable an evil.
Already he had half resolved to embark in this very ship which,
he was informed, would set out in a few weeks on her return.
Meanwhile he determined to make a new attempt to shake the
resolution of Wieland. The evening was somewhat advanced when
he invited the latter to walk abroad with him. The invitation
was accepted, and they left Catharine, Louisa and me, to amuse
ourselves by the best means in our power. During this walk,
Pleyel renewed the subject that was nearest his heart. He
re-urged all his former arguments, and placed them in more
forcible lights.
They promised to return shortly; but hour after hour passed,
and they made not their appearance. Engaged in sprightly
conversation, it was not till the clock struck twelve that we
were reminded of the lapse of time. The absence of our friends
excited some uneasy apprehensions. We were expressing our
fears, and comparing our conjectures as to what might be the
cause, when they entered together. There were indications in
their countenances that struck me mute. These were unnoticed by
Catharine, who was eager to express her surprize and curiosity
at the length of their walk. As they listened to her, I
remarked that their surprize was not less than ours. They gazed
in silence on each other, and on her. I watched their looks,
but could not understand the emotions that were written in them.
These appearances diverted Catharine's inquiries into a new
channel. What did they mean, she asked, by their silence, and
by their thus gazing wildly at each other, and at her? Pleyel
profited by this hint, and assuming an air of indifference,
framed some trifling excuse, at the same time darting
significant glances at Wieland, as if to caution him against
disclosing the truth. My brother said nothing, but delivered
himself up to meditation. I likewise was silent, but burned
with impatience to fathom this mystery. Presently my brother
and his wife, and Louisa, returned home. Pleyel proposed, of
his own accord, to be my guest for the night. This
circumstance, in addition to those which preceded, gave new edge
to my wonder.
As soon as we were left alone, Pleyel's countenance assumed
an air of seriousness, and even consternation, which I had never
before beheld in him. The steps with which he measured the
floor betokened the trouble of his thoughts. My inquiries were
suspended by the hope that he would give me the information that
I wanted without the importunity of questions. I waited some
time, but the confusion of his thoughts appeared in no degree to
abate. At length I mentioned the apprehensions which their
unusual absence had occasioned, and which were increased by
their behaviour since their return, and solicited an
explanation. He stopped when I began to speak, and looked
stedfastly at me. When I had done, he said, to me, in a tone
which faultered through the vehemence of his emotions, "How were
you employed during our absence?" "In turning over the Della
Crusca dictionary, and talking on different subjects; but just
before your entrance, we were tormenting ourselves with omens
and prognosticks relative to your absence." "Catherine was with
you the whole time?" "Yes." "But are you sure?" "Most sure.
She was not absent a moment." He stood, for a time, as if to
assure himself of my sincerity. Then, clinching his hands, and
wildly lifting them above his head, "Lo," cried he, "I have news
to tell you. The Baroness de Stolberg is dead?"
This was her whom he loved. I was not surprised at the
agitations which he betrayed. "But how was the information
procured? How was the truth of this news connected with the
circumstance of Catharine's remaining in our company?" He was
for some time inattentive to my questions. When he spoke, it
seemed merely a continuation of the reverie into which he had
been plunged.
"And yet it might be a mere deception. But could both of us
in that case have been deceived? A rare and prodigious
coincidence! Barely not impossible. And yet, if the accent be
oracular--Theresa is dead. No, no," continued he, covering his
face with his hands, and in a tone half broken into sobs, "I
cannot believe it. She has not written, but if she were dead,
the faithful Bertrand would have given me the earliest
information. And yet if he knew his master, he must have easily
guessed at the effect of such tidings. In pity to me he was
"Clara, forgive me; to you, this behaviour is mysterious. I
will explain as well as I am able. But say not a word to
Catharine. Her strength of mind is inferior to your's. She
will, besides, have more reason to be startled. She is
Wieland's angel."
Pleyel proceeded to inform me, for the first time, of the
scheme which he had pressed, with so much earnestness, on my
brother. He enumerated the objections which had been made, and
the industry with which he had endeavoured to confute them. He
mentioned the effect upon his resolutions produced by the
failure of a letter. "During our late walk," continued he, "I
introduced the subject that was nearest my heart. I re-urged
all my former arguments, and placed them in more forcible
lights. Wieland was still refractory. He expatiated on the
perils of wealth and power, on the sacredness of conjugal and
parental duties, and the happiness of mediocrity.
"No wonder that the time passed, unperceived, away. Our
whole souls were engaged in this cause. Several times we came
to the foot of the rock; as soon as we perceived it, we changed
our course, but never failed to terminate our circuitous and
devious ramble at this spot. At length your brother observed,
"We seem to be led hither by a kind of fatality. Since we are
so near, let us ascend and rest ourselves a while. If you are
not weary of this argument we will resume it there."
"I tacitly consented. We mounted the stairs, and drawing the
sofa in front of the river, we seated ourselves upon it. I took
up the thread of our discourse where we had dropped it. I
ridiculed his dread of the sea, and his attachment to home. I
kept on in this strain, so congenial with my disposition, for
some time, uninterrupted by him. At length, he said to me,
"Suppose now that I, whom argument has not convinced, should
yield to ridicule, and should agree that your scheme is
eligible; what will you have gained? Nothing. You have other
enemies beside myself to encounter. When you have vanquished
me, your toil has scarcely begun. There are my sister and wife,
with whom it will remain for you to maintain the contest. And
trust me, they are adversaries whom all your force and stratagem
will never subdue." I insinuated that they would model
themselves by his will: that Catharine would think obedience
her duty. He answered, with some quickness, "You mistake.
Their concurrence is indispensable. It is not my custom to
exact sacrifices of this kind. I live to be their protector and
friend, and not their tyrant and foe. If my wife shall deem her
happiness, and that of her children, most consulted by remaining
where she is, here she shall remain." "But," said I, "when she
knows your pleasure, will she not conform to it?" Before my
friend had time to answer this question, a negative was clearly
and distinctly uttered from another quarter. It did not come
from one side or the other, from before us or behind. Whence
then did it come? By whose organs was it fashioned?
"If any uncertainty had existed with regard to these
particulars, it would have been removed by a deliberate and
equally distinct repetition of the same monosyllable, "No." The
voice was my sister's. It appeared to come from the roof. I
started from my seat. Catharine, exclaimed I, where are you?
No answer was returned. I searched the room, and the area
before it, but in vain. Your brother was motionless in his
seat. I returned to him, and placed myself again by his side.
My astonishment was not less than his."
"Well," said he, at length, "What think you of this? This is
the self-same voice which I formerly heard; you are now
convinced that my ears were well informed."
"Yes," said I, "this, it is plain, is no fiction of the
fancy." We again sunk into mutual and thoughtful silence. A
recollection of the hour, and of the length of our absence, made
me at last propose to return. We rose up for this purpose. In
doing this, my mind reverted to the contemplation of my own
condition. "Yes," said I aloud, but without particularly
addressing myself to Wieland, "my resolution is taken. I cannot
hope to prevail with my friends to accompany me. They may doze
away their days on the banks of Schuylkill, but as to me, I go
in the next vessel; I will fly to her presence, and demand the
reason of this extraordinary silence."
"I had scarcely finished the sentence, when the same
mysterious voice exclaimed, "You shall not go. The seal of
death is on her lips. Her silence is the silence of the tomb."
Think of the effects which accents like these must have had upon
me. I shuddered as I listened. As soon as I recovered from my
first amazement, "Who is it that speaks?" said I, "whence did
you procure these dismal tidings?" I did not wait long for an
answer. "From a source that cannot fail. Be satisfied. She is
dead." You may justly be surprised, that, in the circumstances
in which I heard the tidings, and notwithstanding the mystery
which environed him by whom they were imparted, I could give an
undivided attention to the facts, which were the subject of our
dialogue. I eagerly inquired, when and where did she die? What
was the cause of her death? Was her death absolutely certain?
An answer was returned only to the last of these questions.
"Yes," was pronounced by the same voice; but it now sounded from
a greater distance, and the deepest silence was all the return
made to my subsequent interrogatories.
"It was my sister's voice; but it could not be uttered by
her; and yet, if not by her, by whom was it uttered? When we
returned hither, and discovered you together, the doubt that had
previously existed was removed. It was manifest that the
intimation came not from her. Yet if not from her, from whom
could it come? Are the circumstances attending the imparting of
this news proof that the tidings are true? God forbid that they
should be true."
Here Pleyel sunk into anxious silence, and gave me leisure to
ruminate on this inexplicable event. I am at a loss to describe
the sensations that affected me. I am not fearful of shadows.
The tales of apparitions and enchantments did not possess that
power over my belief which could even render them interesting.
I saw nothing in them but ignorance and folly, and was a
stranger even to that terror which is pleasing. But this
incident was different from any that I had ever before known.
Here were proofs of a sensible and intelligent existence, which
could not be denied. Here was information obtained and imparted
by means unquestionably super-human.
That there are conscious beings, beside ourselves, in
existence, whose modes of activity and information surpass our
own, can scarcely be denied. Is there a glimpse afforded us
into a world of these superior beings? My heart was scarcely
large enough to give admittance to so swelling a thought. An
awe, the sweetest and most solemn that imagination can conceive,
pervaded my whole frame. It forsook me not when I parted from
Pleyel and retired to my chamber. An impulse was given to my
spirits utterly incompatible with sleep. I passed the night
wakeful and full of meditation. I was impressed with the belief
of mysterious, but not of malignant agency. Hitherto nothing
had occurred to persuade me that this airy minister was busy to
evil rather than to good purposes. On the contrary, the idea of
superior virtue had always been associated in my mind with that
of superior power. The warnings that had thus been heard
appeared to have been prompted by beneficent intentions. My
brother had been hindered by this voice from ascending the hill.
He was told that danger lurked in his path, and his obedience to
the intimation had perhaps saved him from a destiny similar to
that of my father.
Pleyel had been rescued from tormenting uncertainty, and from
the hazards and fatigues of a fruitless voyage, by the same
interposition. It had assured him of the death of his Theresa.
This woman was then dead. A confirmation of the tidings, if
true, would speedily arrive. Was this confirmation to be
deprecated or desired? By her death, the tie that attached him
to Europe, was taken away. Henceforward every motive would
combine to retain him in his native country, and we were rescued
from the deep regrets that would accompany his hopeless absence
from us. Propitious was the spirit that imparted these tidings.
Propitious he would perhaps have been, if he had been
instrumental in producing, as well as in communicating the
tidings of her death. Propitious to us, the friends of Pleyel,
to whom has thereby been secured the enjoyment of his society;
and not unpropitious to himself; for though this object of his
love be snatched away, is there not another who is able and
willing to console him for her loss?
Twenty days after this, another vessel arrived from the same
port. In this interval, Pleyel, for the most part, estranged
himself from his old companions. He was become the prey of a
gloomy and unsociable grief. His walks were limited to the bank
of the Delaware. This bank is an artificial one. Reeds and the
river are on one side, and a watery marsh on the other, in that
part which bounded his lands, and which extended from the mouth
of Hollander's creek to that of Schuylkill. No scene can be
imagined less enticing to a lover of the picturesque than this.
The shore is deformed with mud, and incumbered with a forest of
reeds. The fields, in most seasons, are mire; but when they
afford a firm footing, the ditches by which they are bounded and
intersected, are mantled with stagnating green, and emit the
most noxious exhalations. Health is no less a stranger to those
seats than pleasure. Spring and autumn are sure to be
accompanied with agues and bilious remittents.
The scenes which environed our dwellings at Mettingen
constituted the reverse of this. Schuylkill was here a pure and
translucid current, broken intO wild and ceaseless music by
rocky points, murmuring on a sandy margin, and reflecting on its
surface, banks of all varieties of height and degrees of
declivity. These banks were chequered by patches of dark
verdure and shapeless masses of white marble, and crowned by
copses of cedar, or by the regular magnificence of orchards,
which, at this season, were in blossom, and were prodigal of
odours. The ground which receded from the river was scooped
into valleys and dales. Its beauties were enhanced by the
horticultural skill of my brother, who bedecked this exquisite
assemblage of slopes and risings with every species of vegetable
ornament, from the giant arms of the oak to the clustering
tendrils of the honey-suckle.
To screen him from the unwholesome airs of his own residence,
it had been proposed to Pleyel to spend the months of spring
with us. He had apparently acquiesced in this proposal; but the
late event induced him to change his purpose. He was only to be
seen by visiting him in his retirements. His gaiety had flown,
and every passion was absorbed in eagerness to procure tidings
from Saxony. I have mentioned the arrival of another vessel
from the Elbe. He descried her early one morning as he was
passing along the skirt of the river. She was easily
recognized, being the ship in which he had performed his first
voyage to Germany. He immediately went on board, but found no
letters directed to him. This omission was, in some degree,
compensated by meeting with an old acquaintance among the
passengers, who had till lately been a resident in Leipsig.
This person put an end to all suspense respecting the fate of
Theresa, by relating the particulars of her death and funeral.
Thus was the truth of the former intimation attested. No
longer devoured by suspense, the grief of Pleyel was not long in
yielding to the influence of society. He gave himself up once
more to our company. His vivacity had indeed been damped; but
even in this respect he was a more acceptable companion than
formerly, since his seriousness was neither incommunicative nor
These incidents, for a time, occupied all our thoughts. In
me they produced a sentiment not unallied to pleasure, and more
speedily than in the case of my friends were intermixed with
other topics. My brother was particularly affected by them. It
was easy to perceive that most of his meditations were tinctured
from this source. To this was to be ascribed a design in which
his pen was, at this period, engaged, of collecting and
investigating the facts which relate to that mysterious
personage, the Daemon of Socrates.
My brother's skill in Greek and Roman learning was exceeded
by that of few, and no doubt the world would have accepted a
treatise upon this subject from his hand with avidity; but alas!
this and every other scheme of felicity and honor, were doomed
to sudden blast and hopeless extermination.
Chapter VI
I now come to the mention of a person with whose name the
most turbulent sensations are connected. It is with a
shuddering reluctance that I enter on the province of describing
him. Now it is that I begin to perceive the difficulty of the
task which I have undertaken; but it would be weakness to shrink
from it. My blood is congealed: and my fingers are palsied
when I call up his image. Shame upon my cowardly and infirm
heart! Hitherto I have proceeded with some degree of composure,
but now I must pause. I mean not that dire remembrance shall
subdue my courage or baffle my design, but this weakness cannot
be immediately conquered. I must desist for a little while.
I have taken a few turns in my chamber, and have gathered
strength enough to proceed. Yet have I not projected a task
beyond my power to execute? If thus, on the very threshold of
the scene, my knees faulter and I sink, how shall I support
myself, when I rush into the midst of horrors such as no heart
has hitherto conceived, nor tongue related? I sicken and recoil
at the prospect, and yet my irresolution is momentary. I have
not formed this design upon slight grounds, and though I may at
times pause and hesitate, I will not be finally diverted from
And thou, O most fatal and potent of mankind, in what terms
shall I describe thee? What words are adequate to the just
delineation of thy character? How shall I detail the means
which rendered the secrecy of thy purposes unfathomable? But I
will not anticipate. Let me recover if possible, a sober
strain. Let me keep down the flood of passion that would render
me precipitate or powerless. Let me stifle the agonies that are
awakened by thy name. Let me, for a time, regard thee as a
being of no terrible attributes. Let me tear myself from
contemplation of the evils of which it is but too certain that
thou wast the author, and limit my view to those harmless
appearances which attended thy entrance on the stage.
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 aukward. 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 grey cloth, cut and wrought, as it
seemed, by a country tailor, blue worsted stockings, and shoes
fastened by thongs, and deeply discoloured by dust, which brush
had never disturbed, constituted his dress.
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
towards 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 plough 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 "Pry'thee, 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 an 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 an heart of
stone could not fail of being moved by it. It imparted to me an
emotion altogether involuntary and incontroulable. 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 unbidden tears.
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 demeanour of our visitant. After a
moment's pause, I stepped to the door and looked after him.
Judge my surprize, when I beheld the self-same figure that had
appeared an 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 shewed 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
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 discoloured 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
purposed 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
rivetted 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 past 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 for ever 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 dejection which they
produced became insupportably painful. I endeavoured to
dissipate it with music. I had all my grand-father'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 pourtrayed, 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 every one 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
bed-side. 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," said I, "is it
you? What do you want? Is there any thing 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 stair-case. 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 comprized a kitchen, and chamber above it for the servant,
and communicated, on both stories, with the parlour 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 shewed 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 shew that the speaker was desirous of being
heard by some one near, but, at the same time, studious to avoid
being overheard by any other.
"Stop, stop, I say; madman as you are! there are better means
than that. Curse upon your rashness! There is no need to
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, down
stairs, 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 every thing 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 returned.
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 succour 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!
This was the third instance of a voice, exerted for the
benefit of this little community. The agent was no less
inscrutable in this, than in the former case. When I ruminated
upon these events, my soul was suspended in wonder and awe. Was
I really deceived in imagining that I heard the closet
conversation? I was no longer at liberty to question the
reality of those accents which had formerly recalled my brother
from the hill; which had imparted tidings of the death of the
German lady to Pleyel; and which had lately summoned them to my
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 satisfaction.
Chapter VII
I will not 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 shewed 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 acquaintance.
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 odours
of the cedars which embowered it, and of the honey-suckle 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 gulph. 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
panics were succeeded by the perturbations of surprize, 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 situation.
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 you?"
"A friend; one come, not to injure, but to save you; fear
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
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 star-light 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 unintermitted darkness.
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 lanthorn 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 sun-set, 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 neighbourhood 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 testified.
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 endeavoured 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 surprized 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 incontestibly 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
harbouring such atrocious purposes?
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
I am not destitute of courage. I have shewn 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 every where equally defenceless. 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
Here I had remained for the last four or five hours, without
the means of resistance or defence, 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?
He talked of my father. He intimated, that disclosure would
pull upon my head, the same destruction. Was then the death of
my father, portentous and inexplicable as it was, the
consequence of human machinations? It should seem, that this
being is apprised of the true nature of this event, and is
conscious of the means that led to it. Whether it shall
likewise fall upon me, depends upon the observance of silence.
Was it the infraction of a similar command, that brought so
horrible a penalty upon my father?
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 authorised 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 traveller 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 scite of the theatre of old Saguntum, he
lighted 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 together.
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 neighbouring countries.
His character excited considerable curiosity in this
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 waved 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
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 immoveable 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 endeavour 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.
Chapter VIII
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 sincerity.
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
modelled his behaviour 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 conjecture.
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 chuse us for their companions.
This state of things was more slow to arrive on this occasion
than on most others, on account of the gravity and loftiness of
this man's behaviour.
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
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 religious, Empire.
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 opposite inducements.
He spoke as if desirous of shewing 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 any thing 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 pretence 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 any one 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 surprize 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 marvellous, contained no instance
sufficiently parallel to those that had befallen ourselves, and
in which the solution was applicable to our own case.
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 an 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 mould his belief, but merely
to give birth to doubts.
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 an
higher order, he would believe only when his own ears were
assailed in a manner which could not be otherwise accounted for.
Civility forbad 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 heard in the
temple, at the foot of the hill, and in my closet, were not
really uttered by human organs. On this supposition he was
desired to explain how the effect was produced.
He answered, that the power of mimickry was very common.
Catharine's voice might easily be imitated by one at the foot of
the hill, who would find no difficulty in eluding, by flight,
the search of Wieland. The tidings of the death of the Saxon
lady were uttered by one near at hand, who overheard the
conversation, who conjectured her death, and whose conjecture
happened to accord with the truth. That the voice appeared to
come from the cieling was to be considered as an illusion of the
fancy. The cry for help, heard in the hall on the night of my
adventure, was to be ascribed to an 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 own breast.
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.
The temple was the principal scene of our social enjoyments;
yet the felicity that we tasted when assembled in this asylum,
was but the gleam of a former sun-shine. 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, moulded 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. It did not arise from the death
of the Saxon lady: it was not a contagious emanation from the
countenances of Wieland or Carwin. There was but one other
source whence it could flow. A nameless ecstacy thrilled
through my frame when any new proof occurred that the
ambiguousness of my behaviour was the cause.
Chapter IX
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
pourtrayed 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 at the temple. 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 stedfast, 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
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 possible 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 harbour.
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
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 staid, because his coming would afford him no
gratification. But why should we expect him to adhere to the
An 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 indispensible 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 detained him.
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
controuled me were, in some degree, removed. New dejection
succeeded, but was now produced by contemplating my late
behaviour. 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 shewed 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 controuled 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 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
apprized 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 shore.
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 an
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 relique 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
stile 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
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 defenceless.
The wind was in that direction in which, aided by the deathlike
repose of nature, it brought to me the murmur of the water-fall.
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 faultered, and I stood a moment to recover
I prevailed on myself at length to move towards 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 my 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. An 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. O! 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 fibres of my brain, and
rack every joint with agony.
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 shoulder.
"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 moon-light streamed into each window,
and every corner of the room was conspicuous, and yet I beheld
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.
Surprize had mastered my faculties. My frame shook, and the
vital current was congealed. I was conscious only to 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 distinguishable.
Solitude imposes least restraint upon the fancy. Dark is
less fertile of images than the feeble lustre of the moon. I
was alone, and the walls were chequered 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
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 aginst me was
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 phrenzy 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 irresistably 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 faultering.
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 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 endeavoured no longer to withdraw the door?
Have I not said that my actions were dictated by phrenzy? My
reason had forborne, for a time, to suggest or to sway my
resolves. I reiterated my endeavours. 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 an 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 of understanding.
Now had I arrived at the crisis of my fate. "O! 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 advanced.
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 adversary.
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 succour 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
demeanour. 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 hast 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 apprized 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 succour 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 honor."
He looked at me with greater stedfastness 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 worshipped; 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
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 succour 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
it would 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 harbour a
thought hostile to your safety.
"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 repelled."
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 and anxiety.
"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 moon-light 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.
Chapter X
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 defence. 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 breathing 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 counterwork the
machinations of this man, who had menaced destruction to all
that is dear to me, and whose cunning 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 apprized 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 intreaty to refrain from opening the closet? By what
inexplicable infatuation was I compelled to proceed?
Yet my conduct was wise. Carwin, unable to comprehend my
folly, ascribed my behaviour to my knowledge. He conceived
himself previously detected, and such detection being possible
to flow only from MY heavenly friend, and HIS enemy, his
fears acquired additional strength.
He is apprized of the nature and intentions of this being.
Perhaps he is a human agent. Yet, on that supposition his
atchievements are incredible. Why should I be selected as the
object of his care; or, if a mere mortal, should I not recognize
some one, whom, benefits imparted and received had prompted to
love me? What were the limits and duration of his guardianship?
Was the genius of my birth entrusted by divine benignity with
this province? Are human faculties adequate to receive stronger
proofs of the existence of unfettered and beneficent
intelligences than I have received?
But who was this man's coadjutor? The voice that
acknowledged an alliance in treachery with Carwin warned me to
avoid the summer-house. He assured me that there only my safety
was endangered. His assurance, as it now appears, was
fallacious. Was there not deceit in his admonition? Was his
compact really annulled? Some purpose was, perhaps, to be
accomplished by preventing my future visits to that spot. Why
was I enjoined silence to others, on the subject of this
admonition, unless it were for some unauthorized and guilty
No one but myself was accustomed to visit it. Backward, it
was hidden from distant view by the rock, and in front, it was
screened from all examination, by creeping plants, and the
branches of cedars. What recess could be more propitious to
secrecy? The spirit which haunted it formerly was pure and
rapturous. It was a fane sacred to the memory of infantile
days, and to blissful imaginations of the future! What a gloomy
reverse had succeeded since the ominous arrival of this
stranger! Now, perhaps, it is the scene of his meditations.
Purposes fraught with horror, that shun the light, and
contemplate the pollution of innocence, are here engendered, and
fostered, and reared to maturity.
Such were the ideas that, during the night, were tumultuously
revolved by me. I reviewed every conversation in which Carwin
had borne a part. I studied to discover the true inferences
deducible from his deportment and words with regard to his
former adventures and actual views. I pondered on the comments
which he made on the relation which I had given of the closet
dialogue. No new ideas suggested themselves in the course of
this review. My expectation had, from the first, been
disappointed on the small degree of surprize which this
narrative excited in him. He never explicitly declared his
opinion as to the nature of those voices, or decided whether
they were real or visionary. He recommended no measures of
caution or prevention.
But what measures were now to be taken? Was the danger which
threatened me at an end? Had I nothing more to fear? I was
lonely, and without means of defence. I could not calculate the
motives and regulate the footsteps of this person. What
certainty was there, that he would not re-assume his purposes,
and swiftly return to the execution of them?
This idea covered me once more with dismay. How deeply did
I regret the solitude in which I was placed, and how ardently
did I desire the return of day! But neither of these
inconveniencies were susceptible of remedy. At first, it
occurred to me to summon my servant, and make her spend the
night in my chamber; but the inefficacy of this expedient to
enhance my safety was easily seen. Once I resolved to leave the
house, and retire to my brother's, but was deterred by
reflecting on the unseasonableness of the hour, on the alarm
which my arrival, and the account which I should be obliged to
give, might occasion, and on the danger to which I might expose
myself in the way thither. I began, likewise, to consider
Carwin's return to molest me as exceedingly improbable. He had
relinquished, of his own accord, his design, and departed
without compulsion.
"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 defence. 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 defence 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
I have lost all faith in the stedfastness 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
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 towards 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 surprize? 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. An
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 required.
I no sooner perceived this, than I moved swiftly towards 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 behoved 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 pursue me?
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 enterprize 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 an 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 re-enter. 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 lonely condition.
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 a-jar. I shut, with trembling eagerness, and
drew every bolt that appended to it. I then passed with light
and less cautious steps through the parlour, but was surprized
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
moon-light 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 habitation.
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 endeavoured 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
Perhaps, relieved by this effusion, the slumber so much
wanted might have stolen on my senses, had there been no new
cause of alarm.
Chapter XI
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 parlour--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 precluded.
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 he raised his eyes and fixed them upon me. I read
in them an anguish altogether ineffable. Never had I witnessed
a like demeanour in Pleyel. Never, indeed, had I observed an
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
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 choaked by emotion. Grief and pity were
again mingled in his features. He resumed, in a tone half
suffocated by sobs:
"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 depravity.
"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 detestible
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 had 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. O 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 danger; 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, O think, think ere it be
too late, on the distresses which thy flight will entail upon
us; on the base, grovelling, 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? O 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 phrenzy, 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 phrenzy: 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 deplorable errors.
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.
Surprize 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
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?
Wrapt 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 and silent.
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 clue 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 footing.
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 behaviour 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 surprize at my address.
The benignity of his looks were no wise 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
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
harbour 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 pretence 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 pretence for his conduct, but believed that your more
unbiassed 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 any thing 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
marvellous; 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 proofs?"
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
Pleyel was no longer equally culpable. The sincerity of his
anguish, the depth of his despair, I remembered with some
tendencies to gratitude. Yet was he not precipitate? Was the
conjecture that my part was played by some mimic so utterly
untenable? Instances of this faculty are common. The
wickedness of Carwin must, in his opinion, have been adequate to
such contrivances, and yet the supposition of my guilt was
adopted in preference to that.
But how was this error to be unveiled? What but my own
assertion had I to throw in the balance against it? Would this
be permitted to outweigh the testimony of his senses? I had no
witnesses to prove my existence in another place. The real
events of that night are marvellous. Few, to whom they should
be related, would scruple to discredit them. Pleyel is
sceptical in a transcendant degree. I cannot summon Carwin to
my bar, and make him the attestor of my innocence, and the
accuser of himself.
My brother saw and comprehended my distress. He was
unacquainted, however, with the full extent of it. He knew not
by how many motives I was incited to retrieve the good opinion
of Pleyel. He endeavored to console me. Some new event, he
said, would occur to disentangle the maze. He did not question
the influence of my eloquence, if I thought proper to exert it.
Why not seek an interview with Pleyel, and exact from him a
minute relation, in which something may be met with serving to
destroy the probability of the whole?
I caught, with eagerness, at this hope; but my alacrity was
damped by new reflections. Should I, perfect in this respect,
and unblemished as I was, thrust myself, uncalled, into his
presence, and make my felicity depend upon his arbitrary
"If you chuse to seek an interview," continued Wieland, "you
must make haste, for Pleyel informed me of his intention to set
out this evening or to-morrow on a long journey."
No intelligence was less expected or less welcome than this.
I had thrown myself in a window seat; but now, starting on my
feet, I exclaimed, "Good heavens! what is it you say? a
journey? whither? when?"
"I cannot say whither. It is a sudden resolution I believe.
I did not hear of it till this morning. He promises to write to
me as soon as he is settled."
I needed no further information as to the cause and issue of
this journey. The scheme of happiness to which he had devoted
his thoughts was blasted by the discovery of last night. My
preference of another, and my unworthiness to be any longer the
object of his adoration, were evinced by the same act and in the
same moment. The thought of utter desertion, a desertion
originating in such a cause, was the prelude to distraction.
That Pleyel should abandon me forever, because I was blind to
his excellence, because I coveted pollution, and wedded infamy,
when, on the contrary, my heart was the shrine of all purity,
and beat only for his sake, was a destiny which, as long as my
life was in my own hands, I would by no means consent to endure.
I remembered that this evil was still preventable; that this
fatal journey it was still in my power to procrastinate, or,
perhaps, to occasion it to be laid aside. There were no
impediments to a visit: I only dreaded lest the interview
should be too long delayed. My brother befriended my
impatience, and readily consented to furnish me with a chaise
and servant to attend me. My purpose was to go immediately to
Pleyel's farm, where his engagements usually detained him during
the day.
Chapter XII
My way lay through the city. I had scarcely entered it when
I was seized with a general sensation of sickness. Every object
grew dim and swam before my sight. It was with difficulty I
prevented myself from sinking to the bottom of the carriage. I
ordered myself to be carried to Mrs. Baynton's, in hope that an
interval of repose would invigorate and refresh me. My
distracted thoughts would allow me but little rest. Growing
somewhat better in the afternoon, I resumed my journey.
My contemplations were limited to a few objects. I regarded
my success, in the purpose which I had in view, as considerably
doubtful. I depended, in some degree, on the suggestions of the
moment, and on the materials which Pleyel himself should furnish
me. When I reflected on the nature of the accusation, I burned
with disdain. Would not truth, and the consciousness of
innocence, render me triumphant? Should I not cast from me,
with irresistible force, such atrocious imputations?
What an entire and mournful change has been effected in a few
hours! The gulf that separates man from insects is not wider
than that which severs the polluted from the chaste among women.
Yesterday and to-day I am the same. There is a degree of
depravity to which it is impossible for me to sink; yet, in the
apprehension of another, my ancient and intimate associate, the
perpetual witness of my actions, and partaker of my thoughts, I
had ceased to be the same. My integrity was tarnished and
withered in his eyes. I was the colleague of a murderer, and
the paramour of a thief!
His opinion was not destitute of evidence: yet what proofs
could reasonably avail to establish an opinion like this? If
the sentiments corresponded not with the voice that was heard,
the evidence was deficient; but this want of correspondence
would have been supposed by me if I had been the auditor and
Pleyel the criminal. But mimicry might still more plausibly
have been employed to explain the scene. Alas! it is the fate
of Clara Wieland to fall into the hands of a precipitate and
inexorable judge.
But what, O man of mischief! is the tendency of thy thoughts?
Frustrated in thy first design, thou wilt not forego the
immolation of thy victim. To exterminate my reputation was all
that remained to thee, and this my guardian has permitted. To
dispossess Pleyel of this prejudice may be impossible; but if
that be effected, it cannot be supposed that thy wiles are
exhausted; thy cunning will discover innumerable avenues to the
accomplishment of thy malignant purpose.
Why should I enter the lists against thee? Would to heaven
I could disarm thy vengeance by my deprecations! When I think
of all the resources with which nature and education have
supplied thee; that thy form is a combination of steely fibres
and organs of exquisite ductility and boundless compass,
actuated by an intelligence gifted with infinite endowments, and
comprehending all knowledge, I perceive that my doom is fixed.
What obstacle will be able to divert thy zeal or repel thy
efforts? That being who has hitherto protected me has borne
testimony to the formidableness of thy attempts, since nothing
less than supernatural interference could check thy career.
Musing on these thoughts, I arrived, towards the close of the
day, at Pleyel's house. A month before, I had traversed the
same path; but how different were my sensations! Now I was
seeking the presence of one who regarded me as the most
degenerate of human kind. I was to plead the cause of my
innocence, against witnesses the most explicit and unerring, of
those which support the fabric of human knowledge. The nearer
I approached the crisis, the more did my confidence decay. When
the chaise stopped at the door, my strength refused to support
me, and I threw myself into the arms of an ancient female
domestic. I had not courage to inquire whether her master was
at home. I was tormented with fears that the projected journey
was already undertaken. These fears were removed, by her asking
me whether she should call her young master, who had just gone
into his own room. I was somewhat revived by this intelligence,
and resolved immediately to seek him there.
In my confusion of mind, I neglected to knock at the door,
but entered his apartment without previous notice. This
abruptness was altogether involuntary. Absorbed in reflections
of such unspeakable moment, I had no leisure to heed the
niceties of punctilio. I discovered him standing with his back
towards the entrance. A small trunk, with its lid raised, was
before him in which it seemed as if he had been busy in packing
his clothes. The moment of my entrance, he was employed in
gazing at something which he held in his hand.
I imagined that I fully comprehended this scene. The image
which he held before him, and by which his attention was so
deeply engaged, I doubted not to be my own. These preparations
for his journey, the cause to which it was to be imputed, the
hopelessness of success in the undertaking on which I had
entered, rushed at once upon my feelings, and dissolved me into
a flood of tears.
Startled by this sound, he dropped the lid of the trunk and
turned. The solemn sadness that previously overspread his
countenance, gave sudden way to an attitude and look of the most
vehement astonishment. Perceiving me unable to uphold myself,
he stepped towards me without speaking, and supported me by his
arm. The kindness of this action called forth a new effusion
from my eyes. Weeping was a solace to which, at that time, I
had not grown familiar, and which, therefore, was peculiarly
delicious. Indignation was no longer to be read in the features
of my friend. They were pregnant with a mixture of wonder and
pity. Their expression was easily interpreted. This visit, and
these tears, were tokens of my penitence. The wretch whom he
had stigmatized as incurably and obdurately wicked, now shewed
herself susceptible of remorse, and had come to confess her
This persuasion had no tendency to comfort me. It only
shewed me, with new evidence, the difficulty of the task which
I had assigned myself. We were mutually silent. I had less
power and less inclination than ever to speak. I extricated
myself from his hold, and threw myself on a sofa. He placed
himself by my side, and appeared to wait with impatience and
anxiety for some beginning of the conversation. What could I
say? If my mind had suggested any thing suitable to the
occasion, my utterance was suffocated by tears.
Frequently he attempted to speak, but seemed deterred by some
degree of uncertainty as to the true nature of the scene. At
length, in faltering accents he spoke:
"My friend! would to heaven I were still permitted to call
you by that name. The image that I once adored existed only in
my fancy; but though I cannot hope to see it realized, you may
not be totally insensible to the horrors of that gulf into which
you are about to plunge. What heart is forever exempt from the
goadings of compunction and the influx of laudable propensities?
"I thought you accomplished and wise beyond the rest of
women. Not a sentiment you uttered, not a look you assumed,
that were not, in my apprehension, fraught with the sublimities
of rectitude and the illuminations of genius. Deceit has some
bounds. Your education could not be without influence. A
vigorous understanding cannot be utterly devoid of virtue; but
you could not counterfeit the powers of invention and reasoning.
I was rash in my invectives. I will not, but with life,
relinquish all hopes of you. I will shut out every proof that
would tell me that your heart is incurably diseased.
"You come to restore me once more to happiness; to convince
me that you have torn her mask from vice, and feel nothing but
abhorrence for the part you have hitherto acted."
At these words my equanimity forsook me. For a moment I
forgot the evidence from which Pleyel's opinions were derived,
the benevolence of his remonstrances, and the grief which his
accents bespoke; I was filled with indignation and horror at
charges so black; I shrunk back and darted at him a look of
disdain and anger. My passion supplied me with words.
"What detestable infatuation was it that led me hither! Why
do I patiently endure these horrible insults! My offences exist
only in your own distempered imagination: you are leagued with
the traitor who assailed my life: you have vowed the
destruction of my peace and honor. I deserve infamy for
listening to calumnies so base!"
These words were heard by Pleyel without visible resentment.
His countenance relapsed into its former gloom; but he did not
even look at me. The ideas which had given place to my angry
emotions returned, and once more melted me into tears. "O!" I
exclaimed, in a voice broken by sobs, "what a task is mine!
Compelled to hearken to charges which I feel to be false, but
which I know to be believed by him that utters them; believed
too not without evidence, which, though fallacious, is not
"I came hither not to confess, but to vindicate. I know the
source of your opinions. Wieland has informed me on what your
suspicions are built. These suspicions are fostered by you as
certainties; the tenor of my life, of all my conversations and
letters, affords me no security; every sentiment that my tongue
and my pen have uttered, bear testimony to the rectitude of my
mind; but this testimony is rejected. I am condemned as
brutally profligate: I am classed with the stupidly and
sordidly wicked.
"And where are the proofs that must justify so foul and so
improbable an accusation? You have overheard a midnight
conference. Voices have saluted your ear, in which you imagine
yourself to have recognized mine, and that of a detected
villain. The sentiments expressed were not allowed to outweigh
the casual or concerted resemblance of voice. Sentiments the
reverse of all those whose influence my former life had
attested, denoting a mind polluted by grovelling vices, and
entering into compact with that of a thief and a murderer. The
nature of these sentiments did not enable you to detect the
cheat, did not suggest to you the possibility that my voice had
been counterfeited by another.
"You were precipitate and prone to condemn. Instead of
rushing on the impostors, and comparing the evidence of sight
with that of hearing, you stood aloof, or you fled. My
innocence would not now have stood in need of vindication, if
this conduct had been pursued. That you did not pursue it, your
present thoughts incontestibly prove. Yet this conduct might
surely have been expected from Pleyel. That he would not
hastily impute the blackest of crimes, that he would not couple
my name with infamy, and cover me with ruin for inadequate or
slight reasons, might reasonably have been expected." The sobs
which convulsed my bosom would not suffer me to proceed.
Pleyel was for a moment affected. He looked at me with some
expression of doubt; but this quickly gave place to a mournful
solemnity. He fixed his eyes on the floor as in reverie, and
"Two hours hence I am gone. Shall I carry away with me the
sorrow that is now my guest? or shall that sorrow be
accumulated tenfold? What is she that is now before me? Shall
every hour supply me with new proofs of a wickedness beyond
example? Already I deem her the most abandoned and detestable
of human creatures. Her coming and her tears imparted a gleam
of hope, but that gleam has vanished."
He now fixed his eyes upon me, and every muscle in his face
trembled. His tone was hollow and terrible--"Thou knowest that
I was a witness of your interview, yet thou comest hither to
upbraid me for injustice! Thou canst look me in the face and
say that I am deceived!--An inscrutable providence has fashioned
thee for some end. Thou wilt live, no doubt, to fulfil the
purposes of thy maker, if he repent not of his workmanship, and
send not his vengeance to exterminate thee, ere the measure of
thy days be full. Surely nothing in the shape of man can vie
with thee!
"But I thought I had stifled this fury. I am not constituted
thy judge. My office is to pity and amend, and not to punish
and revile. I deemed myself exempt from all tempestuous
passions. I had almost persuaded myself to weep over thy fall;
but I am frail as dust, and mutable as water; I am calm, I am
compassionate only in thy absence.--Make this house, this room,
thy abode as long as thou wilt, but forgive me if I prefer
solitude for the short time during which I shall stay." Saying
this, he motioned as if to leave the apartment.
The stormy passions of this man affected me by sympathy. I
ceased to weep. I was motionless and speechless with agony. I
sat with my hands clasped, mutely gazing after him as he
withdrew. I desired to detain him, but was unable to make any
effort for that purpose, till he had passed out of the room. I
then uttered an involuntary and piercing cry--"Pleyel! Art thou
gone? Gone forever?"
At this summons he hastily returned. He beheld me wild,
pale, gasping for breath, and my head already sinking on my
bosom. A painful dizziness seized me, and I fainted away.
When I recovered, I found myself stretched on a bed in the
outer apartment, and Pleyel, with two female servants standing
beside it. All the fury and scorn which the countenance of the
former lately expressed, had now disappeared, and was succeeded
by the most tender anxiety. As soon as he perceived that my
senses were returned to me, he clasped his hands, and exclaimed,
"God be thanked! you are once more alive. I had almost
despaired of your recovery. I fear I have been precipitate and
unjust. My senses must have been the victims of some
inexplicable and momentary phrenzy. Forgive me, I beseech you,
forgive my reproaches. I would purchase conviction of your
purity, at the price of my existence here and hereafter."
He once more, in a tone of the most fervent tenderness,
besought me to be composed, and then left me to the care of the
Chapter XIII
Here was wrought a surprizing change in my friend. What was
it that had shaken conviction so firm? Had any thing occurred
during my fit, adequate to produce so total an alteration? My
attendants informed me that he had not left my apartment; that
the unusual duration of my fit, and the failure, for a time, of
all the means used for my recovery, had filled him with grief
and dismay. Did he regard the effect which his reproaches had
produced as a proof of my sincerity?
In this state of mind, I little regarded my languors of body.
I rose and requested an interview with him before my departure,
on which I was resolved, notwithstanding his earnest
solicitation to spend the night at his house. He complied with
my request. The tenderness which he had lately betrayed, had
now disappeared, and he once more relapsed into a chilling
I told him that I was preparing to return to my brother's;
that I had come hither to vindicate my innocence from the foul
aspersions which he had cast upon it. My pride had not taken
refuge in silence or distance. I had not relied upon time, or
the suggestion of his cooler thoughts, to confute his charges.
Conscious as I was that I was perfectly guiltless, and
entertaining some value for his good opinion, I could not
prevail upon myself to believe that my efforts to make my
innocence manifest, would be fruitless. Adverse appearances
might be numerous and specious, but they were unquestionably
false. I was willing to believe him sincere, that he made no
charges which he himself did not believe; but these charges were
destitute of truth. The grounds of his opinion were fallacious;
and I desired an opportunity of detecting their fallacy. I
entreated him to be explicit, and to give me a detail of what he
had heard, and what he had seen.
At these words, my companion's countenance grew darker. He
appeared to be struggling with his rage. He opened his lips to
speak, but his accents died away ere they were formed. This
conflict lasted for some minutes, but his fortitude was finally
successful. He spoke as follows:
"I would fain put an end to this hateful scene: what I shall
say, will be breath idly and unprofitably consumed. The
clearest narrative will add nothing to your present knowledge.
You are acquainted with the grounds of my opinion, and yet you
avow yourself innocent: Why then should I rehearse these
grounds? You are apprized of the character of Carwin: Why then
should I enumerate the discoveries which I have made respecting
him? Yet, since it is your request; since, considering the
limitedness of human faculties, some error may possibly lurk in
those appearances which I have witnessed, I will briefly relate
what I know.
"Need I dwell upon the impressions which your conversation
and deportment originally made upon me? We parted in childhood;
but our intercourse, by letter, was copious and uninterrupted.
How fondly did I anticipate a meeting with one whom her letters
had previously taught me to consider as the first of women, and
how fully realized were the expectations that I had formed!
"Here, said I, is a being, after whom sages may model their
transcendent intelligence, and painters, their ideal beauty.
Here is exemplified, that union between intellect and form,
which has hitherto existed only in the conceptions of the poet.
I have watched your eyes; my attention has hung upon your lips.
I have questioned whether the enchantments of your voice were
more conspicuous in the intricacies of melody, or the emphasis
of rhetoric. I have marked the transitions of your discourse,
the felicities of your expression, your refined argumentation,
and glowing imagery; and been forced to acknowledge, that all
delights were meagre and contemptible, compared with those
connected with the audience and sight of you. I have
contemplated your principles, and been astonished at the
solidity of their foundation, and the perfection of their
structure. I have traced you to your home. I have viewed you
in relation to your servants, to your family, to your
neighbours, and to the world. I have seen by what skilful
arrangements you facilitate the performance of the most arduous
and complicated duties; what daily accessions of strength your
judicious discipline bestowed upon your memory; what correctness
and abundance of knowledge was daily experienced by your
unwearied application to books, and to writing. If she that
possesses so much in the bloom of youth, will go on accumulating
her stores, what, said I, is the picture she will display at a
mature age?
"You know not the accuracy of my observation. I was desirous
that others should profit by an example so rare. I therefore
noted down, in writing, every particular of your conduct. I was
anxious to benefit by an opportunity so seldom afforded us. I
laboured not to omit the slightest shade, or the most petty line
in your portrait. Here there was no other task incumbent on me
but to copy; there was no need to exaggerate or overlook, in
order to produce a more unexceptionable pattern. Here was a
combination of harmonies and graces, incapable of diminution or
accession without injury to its completeness.
"I found no end and no bounds to my task. No display of a
scene like this could be chargeable with redundancy or
superfluity. Even the colour of a shoe, the knot of a ribband,
or your attitude in plucking a rose, were of moment to be
recorded. Even the arrangements of your breakfast-table and
your toilet have been amply displayed.
"I know that mankind are more easily enticed to virtue by
example than by precept. I know that the absoluteness of a
model, when supplied by invention, diminishes its salutary
influence, since it is useless, we think, to strive after that
which we know to be beyond our reach. But the picture which I
drew was not a phantom; as a model, it was devoid of
imperfection; and to aspire to that height which had been really
attained, was by no means unreasonable. I had another and more
interesting object in view. One existed who claimed all my
tenderness. Here, in all its parts, was a model worthy of
assiduous study, and indefatigable imitation. I called upon
her, as she wished to secure and enhance my esteem, to mould her
thoughts, her words, her countenance, her actions, by this
"The task was exuberant of pleasure, and I was deeply engaged
in it, when an imp of mischief was let loose in the form of
Carwin. I admired his powers and accomplishments. I did not
wonder that they were admired by you. On the rectitude of your
judgement, however, I relied to keep this admiration within
discreet and scrupulous bounds. I assured myself, that the
strangeness of his deportment, and the obscurity of his life,
would teach you caution. Of all errors, my knowledge of your
character informed me that this was least likely to befall you.
"You were powerfully affected by his first appearance; you
were bewitched by his countenance and his tones; your
description was ardent and pathetic: I listened to you with
some emotions of surprize. The portrait you drew in his
absence, and the intensity with which you mused upon it, were
new and unexpected incidents. They bespoke a sensibility
somewhat too vivid; but from which, while subjected to the
guidance of an understanding like yours, there was nothing to
"A more direct intercourse took place between you. I need
not apologize for the solicitude which I entertained for your
safety. He that gifted me with perception of excellence,
compelled me to love it. In the midst of danger and pain, my
contemplations have ever been cheered by your image. Every
object in competition with you, was worthless and trivial. No
price was too great by which your safety could be purchased.
For that end, the sacrifice of ease, of health, and even of
life, would cheerfully have been made by me. What wonder then,
that I scrutinized the sentiments and deportment of this man
with ceaseless vigilance; that I watched your words and your
looks when he was present; and that I extracted cause for the
deepest inquietudes, from every token which you gave of having
put your happiness into this man's keeping?
"I was cautious in deciding. I recalled the various
conversations in which the topics of love and marriage had been
discussed. As a woman, young, beautiful, and independent, it
behoved you to have fortified your mind with just principles on
this subject. Your principles were eminently just. Had not
their rectitude and their firmness been attested by your
treatment of that specious seducer Dashwood? These principles,
I was prone to believe, exempted you from danger in this new
state of things. I was not the last to pay my homage to the
unrivalled capacity, insinuation, and eloquence of this man. I
have disguised, but could never stifle the conviction, that his
eyes and voice had a witchcraft in them, which rendered him
truly formidable: but I reflected on the ambiguous expression
of his countenance--an ambiguity which you were the first to
remark; on the cloud which obscured his character; and on the
suspicious nature of that concealment which he studied; and
concluded you to be safe. I denied the obvious construction to
appearances. I referred your conduct to some principle which
had not been hitherto disclosed, but which was reconcileable
with those already known.
"I was not suffered to remain long in this suspence. One
evening, you may recollect, I came to your house, where it was
my purpose, as usual, to lodge, somewhat earlier than ordinary.
I spied a light in your chamber as I approached from the
outside, and on inquiring of Judith, was informed that you were
writing. As your kinsman and friend, and fellow-lodger, I
thought I had a right to be familiar. You were in your chamber,
but your employment and the time were such as to make it no
infraction of decorum to follow you thither. The spirit of
mischievous gaiety possessed me. I proceeded on tiptoe. You
did not perceive my entrance; and I advanced softly till I was
able to overlook your shoulder.
"I had gone thus far in error, and had no power to recede.
How cautiously should we guard against the first inroads of
temptation! I knew that to pry into your papers was criminal;
but I reflected that no sentiment of yours was of a nature which
made it your interest to conceal it. You wrote much more than
you permitted your friends to peruse. My curiosity was strong,
and I had only to throw a glance upon the paper, to secure its
gratification. I should never have deliberately committed an
act like this. The slightest obstacle would have repelled me;
but my eye glanced almost spontaneously upon the paper. I
caught only parts of sentences; but my eyes comprehended more at
a glance, because the characters were short-hand. I lighted on
the words SUMMER-HOUSE, MIDNIGHT, and made out a passage
which spoke of the propriety and of the effects to be expected
from ANOTHER interview. All this passed in less than a
moment. I then checked myself, and made myself known to you,
by a tap upon your shoulder.
"I could pardon and account for some trifling alarm; but your
trepidation and blushes were excessive. You hurried the paper
out of sight, and seemed too anxious to discover whether I knew
the contents to allow yourself to make any inquiries. I
wondered at these appearances of consternation, but did not
reason on them until I had retired. When alone, these incidents
suggested themselves to my reflections anew.
"To what scene, or what interview, I asked, did you allude?
Your disappearance on a former evening, my tracing you to the
recess in the bank, your silence on my first and second call,
your vague answers and invincible embarrassment, when you, at
length, ascended the hill, I recollected with new surprize.
Could this be the summerhouse alluded to? A certain timidity
and consciousness had generally attended you, when this incident
and this recess had been the subjects of conversation. Nay, I
imagined that the last time that adventure was mentioned, which
happened in the presence of Carwin, the countenance of the
latter betrayed some emotion. Could the interview have been
with him?
"This was an idea calculated to rouse every faculty to
contemplation. An interview at that hour, in this darksome
retreat, with a man of this mysterious but formidable character;
a clandestine interview, and one which you afterwards
endeavoured with so much solicitude to conceal! It was a
fearful and portentous occurrence. I could not measure his
power, or fathom his designs. Had he rifled from you the secret
of your love, and reconciled you to concealment and noctural
meetings? I scarcely ever spent a night of more inquietude.
"I knew not how to act. The ascertainment of this man's
character and views seemed to be, in the first place, necessary.
Had he openly preferred his suit to you, we should have been
impowered to make direct inquiries; but since he had chosen this
obscure path, it seemed reasonable to infer that his character
was exceptionable. It, at least, subjected us to the necessity
of resorting to other means of information. Yet the
improbability that you should commit a deed of such rashness,
made me reflect anew upon the insufficiency of those grounds on
which my suspicions had been built, and almost to condemn myself
for harbouring them.
"Though it was mere conjecture that the interview spoken of
had taken place with Carwin, yet two ideas occurred to involve
me in the most painful doubts. This man's reasonings might be
so specious, and his artifices so profound, that, aided by the
passion which you had conceived for him, he had finally
succeeded; or his situation might be such as to justify the
secrecy which you maintained. In neither case did my wildest
reveries suggest to me, that your honor had been forfeited.
"I could not talk with you on this subject. If the
imputation was false, its atrociousness would have justly drawn
upon me your resentment, and I must have explained by what facts
it had been suggested. If it were true, no benefit would follow
from the mention of it. You had chosen to conceal it for some
reasons, and whether these reasons were true or false, it was
proper to discover and remove them in the first place. Finally,
I acquiesced in the least painful supposition, trammelled as it
was with perplexities, that Carwin was upright, and that, if the
reasons of your silence were known, they would be found to be
Chapter XIV
"Three days have elapsed since this occurrence. I have been
haunted by perpetual inquietude. To bring myself to regard
Carwin without terror, and to acquiesce in the belief of your
safety, was impossible. Yet to put an end to my doubts, seemed
to be impracticable. If some light could be reflected on the
actual situation of this man, a direct path would present
itself. If he were, contrary to the tenor of his conversation,
cunning and malignant, to apprize you of this, would be to place
you in security. If he were merely unfortunate and innocent,
most readily would I espouse his cause; and if his intentions
were upright with regard to you, most eagerly would I sanctify
your choice by my approbation.
"It would be vain to call upon Carwin for an avowal of his
deeds. It was better to know nothing, than to be deceived by an
artful tale. What he was unwilling to communicate, and this
unwillingness had been repeatedly manifested, could never be
extorted from him. Importunity might be appeased, or imposture
effected by fallacious representations. To the rest of the
world he was unknown. I had often made him the subject of
discourse; but a glimpse of his figure in the street was the sum
of their knowledge who knew most. None had ever seen him
before, and received as new, the information which my
intercourse with him in Valencia, and my present intercourse,
enabled me to give.
"Wieland was your brother. If he had really made you the
object of his courtship, was not a brother authorized to
interfere and demand from him the confession of his views? Yet
what were the grounds on which I had reared this supposition?
Would they justify a measure like this? Surely not.
"In the course of my restless meditations, it occurred to me,
at length, that my duty required me to speak to you, to confess
the indecorum of which I had been guilty, and to state the
reflections to which it had led me. I was prompted by no mean
or selfish views. The heart within my breast was not more
precious than your safety: most cheerfully would I have
interposed my life between you and danger. Would you cherish
resentment at my conduct? When acquainted with the motive which
produced it, it would not only exempt me from censure, but
entitle me to gratitude.
"Yesterday had been selected for the rehearsal of the
newly-imported tragedy. I promised to be present. The state of
my thoughts but little qualified me for a performer or auditor
in such a scene; but I reflected that, after it was finished, I
should return home with you, and should then enjoy an
opportunity of discoursing with you fully on this topic. My
resolution was not formed without a remnant of doubt, as to its
propriety. When I left this house to perform the visit I had
promised, my mind was full of apprehension and despondency. The
dubiousness of the event of our conversation, fear that my
interference was too late to secure your peace, and the
uncertainty to which hope gave birth, whether I had not erred in
believing you devoted to this man, or, at least, in imagining
that he had obtained your consent to midnight conferences,
distracted me with contradictory opinions, and repugnant
"I can assign no reason for calling at Mrs. Baynton's. I had
seen her in the morning, and knew her to be well. The concerted
hour had nearly arrived, and yet I turned up the street which
leads to her house, and dismounted at her door. I entered the
parlour and threw myself in a chair. I saw and inquired for no
one. My whole frame was overpowered by dreary and comfortless
sensations. One idea possessed me wholly; the inexpressible
importance of unveiling the designs and character of Carwin, and
the utter improbability that this ever would be effected. Some
instinct induced me to lay my hand upon a newspaper. I had
perused all the general intelligence it contained in the
morning, and at the same spot. The act was rather mechanical
than voluntary.
"I threw a languid glance at the first column that presented
itself. The first words which I read, began with the offer of
a reward of three hundred guineas for the apprehension of a
convict under sentence of death, who had escaped from Newgate
prison in Dublin. Good heaven! how every fibre of my frame
tingled when I proceeded to read that the name of the criminal
was Francis Carwin!
"The descriptions of his person and address were minute. His
stature, hair, complexion, the extraordinary position and
arrangement of his features, his aukward and disproportionate
form, his gesture and gait, corresponded perfectly with those of
our mysterious visitant. He had been found guilty in two
indictments. One for the murder of the Lady Jane Conway, and
the other for a robbery committed on the person of the honorable
Mr. Ludloe.
"I repeatedly perused this passage. The ideas which flowed
in upon my mind, affected me like an instant transition from
death to life. The purpose dearest to my heart was thus
effected, at a time and by means the least of all others within
the scope of my foresight. But what purpose? Carwin was
detected. Acts of the blackest and most sordid guilt had been
committed by him. Here was evidence which imparted to my
understanding the most luminous certainty. The name, visage,
and deportment, were the same. Between the time of his escape,
and his appearance among us, there was a sufficient agreement.
Such was the man with whom I suspected you to maintain a
clandestine correspondence. Should I not haste to snatch you
from the talons of this vulture? Should I see you rushing to
the verge of a dizzy precipice, and not stretch forth a hand to
pull you back? I had no need to deliberate. I thrust the paper
in my pocket, and resolved to obtain an immediate conference
with you. For a time, no other image made its way to my
understanding. At length, it occurred to me, that though the
information I possessed was, in one sense, sufficient, yet if
more could be obtained, more was desirable. This passage was
copied from a British paper; part of it only, perhaps, was
transcribed. The printer was in possession of the original.
"Towards his house I immediately turned my horse's head. He
produced the paper, but I found nothing more than had already
been seen. While busy in perusing it, the printer stood by my
side. He noticed the object of which I was in search. "Aye,"
said he, "that is a strange affair. I should never have met
with it, had not Mr. Hallet sent to me the paper, with a
particular request to republish that advertisement."
"Mr. Hallet! What reasons could he have for making this
request? Had the paper sent to him been accompanied by any
information respecting the convict? Had he personal or
extraordinary reasons for desiring its republication? This was
to be known only in one way. I speeded to his house. In answer
to my interrogations, he told me that Ludloe had formerly been
in America, and that during his residence in this city,
considerable intercourse had taken place between them. Hence a
confidence arose, which has since been kept alive by occasional
letters. He had lately received a letter from him, enclosing
the newspaper from which this extract had been made. He put it
into my hands, and pointed out the passages which related to
"Ludloe confirms the facts of his conviction and escape; and
adds, that he had reason to believe him to have embarked for
America. He describes him in general terms, as the most
incomprehensible and formidable among men; as engaged in
schemes, reasonably suspected to be, in the highest degree,
criminal, but such as no human intelligence is able to unravel:
that his ends are pursued by means which leave it in doubt
whether he be not in league with some infernal spirit: that his
crimes have hitherto been perpetrated with the aid of some
unknown but desperate accomplices: that he wages a perpetual
war against the happiness of mankind, and sets his engines of
destruction at work against every object that presents itself.
"This is the substance of the letter. Hallet expressed some
surprize at the curiosity which was manifested by me on this
occasion. I was too much absorbed by the ideas suggested by
this letter, to pay attention to his remarks. I shuddered with
the apprehension of the evil to which our indiscreet familiarity
with this man had probably exposed us. I burnt with impatience
to see you, and to do what in me lay to avert the calamity which
threatened us. It was already five o'clock. Night was
hastening, and there was no time to be lost. On leaving Mr.
Hallet's house, who should meet me in the street, but Bertrand,
the servant whom I left in Germany. His appearance and
accoutrements bespoke him to have just alighted from a toilsome
and long journey. I was not wholly without expectation of
seeing him about this time, but no one was then more distant
from my thoughts. You know what reasons I have for anxiety
respecting scenes with which this man was conversant. Carwin
was for a moment forgotten. In answer to my vehement inquiries,
Bertrand produced a copious packet. I shall not at present
mention its contents, nor the measures which they obliged me to
adopt. I bestowed a brief perusal on these papers, and having
given some directions to Bertrand, resumed my purpose with
regard to you. My horse I was obliged to resign to my servant,
he being charged with a commission that required speed. The
clock had struck ten, and Mettingen was five miles distant. I
was to Journey thither on foot. These circumstances only added
to my expedition.
"As I passed swiftly along, I reviewed all the incidents
accompanying the appearance and deportment of that man among us.
Late events have been inexplicable and mysterious beyond any of
which I have either read or heard. These events were coeval
with Carwin's introduction. I am unable to explain their origin
and mutual dependance; but I do not, on that account, believe
them to have a supernatural origin. Is not this man the agent?
Some of them seem to be propitious; but what should I think of
those threats of assassination with which you were lately
alarmed? Bloodshed is the trade, and horror is the element of
this man. The process by which the sympathies of nature are
extinguished in our hearts, by which evil is made our good, and
by which we are made susceptible of no activity but in the
infliction, and no joy but in the spectacle of woes, is an
obvious process. As to an alliance with evil geniuses, the
power and the malice of daemons have been a thousand times
exemplified in human beings. There are no devils but those
which are begotten upon selfishness, and reared by cunning.
"Now, indeed, the scene was changed. It was not his secret
poniard that I dreaded. It was only the success of his efforts
to make you a confederate in your own destruction, to make your
will the instrument by which he might bereave you of liberty and
"I took, as usual, the path through your brother's ground.
I ranged with celerity and silence along the bank. I approached
the fence, which divides Wieland's estate from yours. The
recess in the bank being near this line, it being necessary for
me to pass near it, my mind being tainted with inveterate
suspicions concerning you; suspicions which were indebted for
their strength to incidents connected with this spot; what
wonder that it seized upon my thoughts!
"I leaped on the fence; but before I descended on the
opposite side, I paused to survey the scene. Leaves dropping
with dew, and glistening in the moon's rays, with no moving
object to molest the deep repose, filled me with security and
hope. I left the station at length, and tended forward. You
were probably at rest. How should I communicate without
alarming you, the intelligence of my arrival? An immediate
interview was to be procured. I could not bear to think that a
minute should be lost by remissness or hesitation. Should I
knock at the door? or should I stand under your chamber
windows, which I perceived to be open, and awaken you by my
"These reflections employed me, as I passed opposite to the
summer-house. I had scarcely gone by, when my ear caught a
sound unusual at this time and place. It was almost too faint
and too transient to allow me a distinct perception of it. I
stopped to listen; presently it was heard again, and now it was
somewhat in a louder key. It was laughter; and unquestionably
produced by a female voice. That voice was familiar to my
senses. It was yours.
"Whence it came, I was at first at a loss to conjecture; but
this uncertainty vanished when it was heard the third time. I
threw back my eyes towards the recess. Every other organ and
limb was useless to me. I did not reason on the subject. I did
not, in a direct manner, draw my conclusions from the hour, the
place, the hilarity which this sound betokened, and the
circumstance of having a companion, which it no less
incontestably proved. In an instant, as it were, my heart was
invaded with cold, and the pulses of life at a stand.
"Why should I go further? Why should I return? Should I not
hurry to a distance from a sound, which, though formerly so
sweet and delectable, was now more hideous than the shrieks of
"I had no time to yield to this impulse. The thought of
approaching and listening occurred to me. I had no doubt of
which I was conscious. Yet my certainty was capable of
increase. I was likewise stimulated by a sentiment that partook
of rage. I was governed by an half-formed and tempestuous
resolution to break in upon your interview, and strike you dead
with my upbraiding.
"I approached with the utmost caution. When I reached the
edge of the bank immediately above the summer-house, I thought
I heard voices from below, as busy in conversation. The steps
in the rock are clear of bushy impediments. They allowed me to
descend into a cavity beside the building without being
detected. Thus to lie in wait could only be justified by the
momentousness of the occasion."
Here Pleyel paused in his narrative, and fixed his eyes upon
me. Situated as I was, my horror and astonishment at this tale
gave way to compassion for the anguish which the countenance of
my friend betrayed. I reflected on his force of understanding.
I reflected on the powers of my enemy. I could easily divine
the substance of the conversation that was overheard. Carwin
had constructed his plot in a manner suited to the characters of
those whom he had selected for his victims. I saw that the
convictions of Pleyel were immutable. I forbore to struggle
against the storm, because I saw that all struggles would be
fruitless. I was calm; but my calmness was the torpor of
despair, and not the tranquillity of fortitude. It was calmness
invincible by any thing that his grief and his fury could
suggest to Pleyel. He resumed--
"Woman! wilt thou hear me further? Shall I go on to repeat
the conversation? Is it shame that makes thee tongue-tied?
Shall I go on? or art thou satisfied with what has been already
I bowed my head. "Go on," said I. "I make not this request
in the hope of undeceiving you. I shall no longer contend with
my own weakness. The storm is let loose, and I shall peaceably
submit to be driven by its fury. But go on. This conference
will end only with affording me a clearer foresight of my
destiny; but that will be some satisfaction, and I will not part
without it."
Why, on hearing these words, did Pleyel hesitate? Did some
unlooked-for doubt insinuate itself into his mind? Was his
belief suddenly shaken by my looks, or my words, or by some
newly recollected circumstance? Whencesoever it arose, it could
not endure the test of deliberation. In a few minutes the flame
of resentment was again lighted up in his bosom. He proceeded
with his accustomed vehemence--
"I hate myself for this folly. I can find no apology for
this tale. Yet I am irresistibly impelled to relate it. She
that hears me is apprized of every particular. I have only to
repeat to her her own words. She will listen with a tranquil
air, and the spectacle of her obduracy will drive me to some
desperate act. Why then should I persist! yet persist I must."
Again he paused. "No," said he, "it is impossible to repeat
your avowals of love, your appeals to former confessions of your
tenderness, to former deeds of dishonor, to the circumstances of
the first interview that took place between you. It was on that
night when I traced you to this recess. Thither had he enticed
you, and there had you ratified an unhallowed compact by
admitting him--
"Great God! Thou witnessedst the agonies that tore my bosom
at that moment! Thou witnessedst my efforts to repel the
testimony of my ears! It was in vain that you dwelt upon the
confusion which my unlooked-for summons excited in you; the
tardiness with which a suitable excuse occurred to you; your
resentment that my impertinent intrusion had put an end to that
charming interview: A disappointment for which you endeavoured
to compensate yourself, by the frequency and duration of
subsequent meetings.
"In vain you dwelt upon incidents of which you only could be
conscious; incidents that occurred on occasions on which none
beside your own family were witnesses. In vain was your
discourse characterized by peculiarities inimitable of sentiment
and language. My conviction was effected only by an
accumulation of the same tokens. I yielded not but to evidence
which took away the power to withhold my faith.
"My sight was of no use to me. Beneath so thick an umbrage,
the darkness was intense. Hearing was the only avenue to
information, which the circumstances allowed to be open. I was
couched within three feet of you. Why should I approach nearer?
I could not contend with your betrayer. What could be the
purpose of a contest? You stood in no need of a protector.
What could I do, but retire from the spot overwhelmed with
confusion and dismay? I sought my chamber, and endeavoured to
regain my composure. The door of the house, which I found open,
your subsequent entrance, closing, and fastening it, and going
into your chamber, which had been thus long deserted, were only
confirmations of the truth.
"Why should I paint the tempestuous fluctuation of my
thoughts between grief and revenge, between rage and despair?
Why should I repeat my vows of eternal implacability and
persecution, and the speedy recantation of these vows?
"I have said enough. You have dismissed me from a place in
your esteem. What I think, and what I feel, is of no importance
in your eyes. May the duty which I owe myself enable me to
forget your existence. In a few minutes I go hence. Be the
maker of your fortune, and may adversity instruct you in that
wisdom, which education was unable to impart to you."
Those were the last words which Pleyel uttered. He left the
room, and my new emotions enabled me to witness his departure
without any apparent loss of composure. As I sat alone, I
ruminated on these incidents. Nothing was more evident than
that I had taken an eternal leave of happiness. Life was a
worthless thing, separate from that good which had now been
wrested from me; yet the sentiment that now possessed me had no
tendency to palsy my exertions, and overbear my strength. I
noticed that the light was declining, and perceived the
propriety of leaving this house. I placed myself again in the
chaise, and returned slowly towards the city.
Chapter XV
Before I reached the city it was dusk. It was my purpose to
spend the night at Mettingen. I was not solicitous, as long as
I was attended by a faithful servant, to be there at an early
hour. My exhausted strength required me to take some
refreshment. With this view, and in order to pay respect to one
whose affection for me was truly maternal, I stopped at Mrs.
Baynton's. She was absent from home; but I had scarcely entered
the house when one of her domestics presented me a letter. I
opened and read as follows:
"To Clara Wieland,
"What shall I say to extenuate the misconduct of last night?
It is my duty to repair it to the utmost of my power, but the
only way in which it can be repaired, you will not, I fear, be
prevailed on to adopt. It is by granting me an interview, at
your own house, at eleven o'clock this night. I have no means
of removing any fears that you may entertain of my designs, but
my simple and solemn declarations. These, after what has passed
between us, you may deem unworthy of confidence. I cannot help
it. My folly and rashness has left me no other resource. I
will be at your door by that hour. If you chuse to admit me to
a conference, provided that conference has no witnesses, I will
disclose to you particulars, the knowledge of which is of the
utmost importance to your happiness. Farewell.
What a letter was this! A man known to be an assassin and
robber; one capable of plotting against my life and my fame;
detected lurking in my chamber, and avowing designs the most
flagitious and dreadful, now solicits me to grant him a midnight
interview! To admit him alone into my presence! Could he make
this request with the expectation of my compliance? What had he
seen in me, that could justify him in admitting so wild a
belief? Yet this request is preferred with the utmost gravity.
It is not accompanied by an appearance of uncommon earnestness.
Had the misconduct to which he alludes been a slight incivility,
and the interview requested to take place in the midst of my
friends, there would have been no extravagance in the tenor of
this letter; but, as it was, the writer had surely been bereft
of his reason.
I perused this epistle frequently. The request it contained
might be called audacious or stupid, if it had been made by a
different person; but from Carwin, who could not be unaware of
the effect which it must naturally produce, and of the manner in
which it would unavoidably be treated, it was perfectly
inexplicable. He must have counted on the success of some plot,
in order to extort my assent. None of those motives by which I
am usually governed would ever have persuaded me to meet any one
of his sex, at the time and place which he had prescribed. Much
less would I consent to a meeting with a man, tainted with the
most detestable crimes, and by whose arts my own safety had been
so imminently endangered, and my happiness irretrievably
destroyed. I shuddered at the idea that such a meeting was
possible. I felt some reluctance to approach a spot which he
still visited and haunted.
Such were the ideas which first suggested themselves on the
perusal of the letter. Meanwhile, I resumed my journey. My
thoughts still dwelt upon the same topic. Gradually from
ruminating on this epistle, I reverted to my interview with
Pleyel. I recalled the particulars of the dialogue to which he
had been an auditor. My heart sunk anew on viewing the
inextricable complexity of this deception, and the inauspicious
concurrence of events, which tended to confirm him in his error.
When he approached my chamber door, my terror kept me mute. He
put his ear, perhaps, to the crevice, but it caught the sound of
nothing human. Had I called, or made any token that denoted
some one to be within, words would have ensued; and as
omnipresence was impossible, this discovery, and the artless
narrative of what had just passed, would have saved me from his
murderous invectives. He went into his chamber, and after some
interval, I stole across the entry and down the stairs, with
inaudible steps. Having secured the outer doors, I returned
with less circumspection. He heard me not when I descended; but
my returning steps were easily distinguished. Now he thought
was the guilty interview at an end. In what other way was it
possible for him to construe these signals?
How fallacious and precipitate was my decision! Carwin's
plot owed its success to a coincidence of events scarcely
credible. The balance was swayed from its equipoise by a hair.
Had I even begun the conversation with an account of what befel
me in my chamber, my previous interview with Wieland would have
taught him to suspect me of imposture; yet, if I were
discoursing with this ruffian, when Pleyel touched the lock of
my chamber door, and when he shut his own door with so much
violence, how, he might ask, should I be able to relate these
incidents? Perhaps he had withheld the knowledge of these
circumstances from my brother, from whom, therefore, I could not
obtain it, so that my innocence would have thus been
irresistibly demonstrated.
The first impulse which flowed from these ideas was to return
upon my steps, and demand once more an interview; but he was
gone: his parting declarations were remembered.
Pleyel, I exclaimed, thou art gone for ever! Are thy
mistakes beyond the reach of detection? Am I helpless in the
midst of this snare? The plotter is at hand. He even speaks in
the style of penitence. He solicits an interview which he
promises shall end in the disclosure of something momentous to
my happiness. What can he say which will avail to turn aside
this evil? But why should his remorse be feigned? I have done
him no injury. His wickedness is fertile only of despair; and
the billows of remorse will some time overbear him. Why may not
this event have already taken place? Why should I refuse to see
This idea was present, as it were, for a moment. I suddenly
recoiled from it, confounded at that frenzy which could give
even momentary harbour to such a scheme; yet presently it
returned. At length I even conceived it to deserve
deliberation. I questioned whether it was not proper to admit,
at a lonely spot, in a sacred hour, this man of tremendous and
inscrutable attributes, this performer of horrid deeds, and
whose presence was predicted to call down unheard-of and
unutterable horrors.
What was it that swayed me? I felt myself divested of the
power to will contrary to the motives that determined me to seek
his presence. My mind seemed to be split into separate parts,
and these parts to have entered into furious and implacable
contention. These tumults gradually subsided. The reasons why
I should confide in that interposition which had hitherto
defended me; in those tokens of compunction which this letter
contained; in the efficacy of this interview to restore its
spotlessness to my character, and banish all illusions from the
mind of my friend, continually acquired new evidence and new
What should I fear in his presence? This was unlike an
artifice intended to betray me into his hands. If it were an
artifice, what purpose would it serve? The freedom of my mind
was untouched, and that freedom would defy the assaults of
blandishments or magic. Force was I not able to repel. On the
former occasion my courage, it is true, had failed at the
imminent approach of danger; but then I had not enjoyed
opportunities of deliberation; I had foreseen nothing; I was
sunk into imbecility by my previous thoughts; I had been the
victim of recent disappointments and anticipated ills: Witness
my infatuation in opening the closet in opposition to divine
Now, perhaps, my courage was the offspring of a no less
erring principle. Pleyel was for ever lost to me. I strove in
vain to assume his person, and suppress my resentment; I strove
in vain to believe in the assuaging influence of time, to look
forward to the birth-day of new hopes, and the re-exaltation of
that luminary, of whose effulgencies I had so long and so
liberally partaken.
What had I to suffer worse than was already inflicted?
Was not Carwin my foe? I owed my untimely fate to his
treason. Instead of flying from his presence, ought I not to
devote all my faculties to the gaining of an interview, and
compel him to repair the ills of which he has been the author?
Why should I suppose him impregnable to argument? Have I not
reason on my side, and the power of imparting conviction?
Cannot he be made to see the justice of unravelling the maze in
which Pleyel is bewildered?
He may, at least, be accessible to fear. Has he nothing to
fear from the rage of an injured woman? But suppose him
inaccessible to such inducements; suppose him to persist in all
his flagitious purposes; are not the means of defence and
resistance in my power?
In the progress of such thoughts, was the resolution at last
formed. I hoped that the interview was sought by him for a
laudable end; but, be that as it would, I trusted that, by
energy of reasoning or of action, I should render it auspicious,
or, at least, harmless.
Such a determination must unavoidably fluctuate. The poet's
chaos was no unapt emblem of the state of my mind. A torment
was awakened in my bosom, which I foresaw would end only when
this interview was past, and its consequences fully experienced.
Hence my impatience for the arrival of the hour which had been
prescribed by Carwin.
Meanwhile, my meditations were tumultuously active. New
impediments to the execution of the scheme were speedily
suggested. I had apprized Catharine of my intention to spend
this and many future nights with her. Her husband was informed
of this arrangement, and had zealously approved it. Eleven
o'clock exceeded their hour of retiring. What excuse should I
form for changing my plan? Should I shew this letter to
Wieland, and submit myself to his direction? But I knew in what
way he would decide. He would fervently dissuade me from going.
Nay, would he not do more? He was apprized of the offences of
Carwin, and of the reward offered for his apprehension. Would
he not seize this opportunity of executing justice on a
This idea was new. I was plunged once more into doubt. Did
not equity enjoin me thus to facilitate his arrest? No. I
disdained the office of betrayer. Carwin was unapprized of his
danger, and his intentions were possibly beneficent. Should I
station guards about the house, and make an act, intended
perhaps for my benefit, instrumental to his own destruction?
Wieland might be justified in thus employing the knowledge which
I should impart, but I, by imparting it, should pollute myself
with more hateful crimes than those undeservedly imputed to me.
This scheme, therefore, I unhesitatingly rejected. The views
with which I should return to my own house, it would therefore
be necessary to conceal. Yet some pretext must be invented. I
had never been initiated into the trade of lying. Yet what but
falshood was a deliberate suppression of the truth? To deceive
by silence or by words is the same.
Yet what would a lie avail me? What pretext would justify
this change in my plan? Would it not tend to confirm the
imputations of Pleyel? That I should voluntarily return to an
house in which honor and life had so lately been endangered,
could be explained in no way favorable to my integrity.
These reflections, if they did not change, at least suspended
my decision. In this state of uncertainty I alighted at the
HUT. We gave this name to the house tenanted by the farmer
and his servants, and which was situated on the verge of my
brother's ground, and at a considerable distance from the
mansion. The path to the mansion was planted by a double row of
walnuts. Along this path I proceeded alone. I entered the
parlour, in which was a light just expiring in the socket.
There was no one in the room. I perceived by the clock that
stood against the wall, that it was near eleven. The lateness
of the hour startled me. What had become of the family? They
were usually retired an hour before this; but the unextinguished
taper, and the unbarred door were indications that they had not
retired. I again returned to the hall, and passed from one room
to another, but still encountered not a human being.
I imagined that, perhaps, the lapse of a few minutes would
explain these appearances. Meanwhile I reflected that the
preconcerted hour had arrived. Carwin was perhaps waiting my
approach. Should I immediately retire to my own house, no one
would be apprized of my proceeding. Nay, the interview might
pass, and I be enabled to return in half an hour. Hence no
necessity would arise for dissimulation.
I was so far influenced by these views that I rose to execute
this design; but again the unusual condition of the house
occurred to me, and some vague solicitude as to the condition of
the family. I was nearly certain that my brother had not
retired; but by what motives he could be induced to desert his
house thus unseasonably I could by no means divine. Louisa
Conway, at least, was at home and had, probably, retired to her
chamber; perhaps she was able to impart the information I
I went to her chamber, and found her asleep. She was
delighted and surprized at my arrival, and told me with how much
impatience and anxiety my brother and his wife had waited my
coming. They were fearful that some mishap had befallen me, and
had remained up longer than the usual period. Notwithstanding
the lateness of the hour, Catharine would not resign the hope of
seeing me. Louisa said she had left them both in the parlour,
and she knew of no cause for their absence.
As yet I was not without solicitude on account of their
personal safety. I was far from being perfectly at ease on that
head, but entertained no distinct conception of the danger that
impended over them. Perhaps to beguile the moments of my long
protracted stay, they had gone to walk upon the bank. The
atmosphere, though illuminated only by the star-light, was
remarkably serene. Meanwhile the desirableness of an interview
with Carwin again returned, and I finally resolved to seek it.
I passed with doubting and hasty steps along the path. My
dwelling, seen at a distance, was gloomy and desolate. It had
no inhabitant, for my servant, in consequence of my new
arrangement, had gone to Mettingen. The temerity of this
attempt began to shew itself in more vivid colours to my
understanding. Whoever has pointed steel is not without arms;
yet what must have been the state of my mind when I could
meditate, without shuddering, on the use of a murderous weapon,
and believe myself secure merely because I was capable of being
made so by the death of another? Yet this was not my state. I
felt as if I was rushing into deadly toils, without the power of
pausing or receding.
Chapter XVI
As soon as I arrived in sight of the front of the house, my
attention was excited by a light from the window of my own
chamber. No appearance could be less explicable. A meeting was
expected with Carwin, but that he pre-occupied my chamber, and
had supplied himself with light, was not to be believed. What
motive could influence him to adopt this conduct? Could I
proceed until this was explained? Perhaps, if I should proceed
to a distance in front, some one would be visible. A sidelong
but feeble beam from the window, fell upon the piny copse which
skirted the bank. As I eyed it, it suddenly became mutable, and
after flitting to and fro, for a short time, it vanished. I
turned my eye again toward the window, and perceived that the
light was still there; but the change which I had noticed was
occasioned by a change in the position of the lamp or candle
within. Hence, that some person was there was an unavoidable
I paused to deliberate on the propriety of advancing. Might
I not advance cautiously, and, therefore, without danger? Might
I not knock at the door, or call, and be apprized of the nature
of my visitant before I entered? I approached and listened at
the door, but could hear nothing. I knocked at first timidly,
but afterwards with loudness. My signals were unnoticed. I
stepped back and looked, but the light was no longer
discernible. Was it suddenly extinguished by a human agent?
What purpose but concealment was intended? Why was the
illumination produced, to be thus suddenly brought to an end?
And why, since some one was there, had silence been observed?
These were questions, the solution of which may be readily
supposed to be entangled with danger. Would not this danger,
when measured by a woman's fears, expand into gigantic
dimensions? Menaces of death; the stunning exertions of a
warning voice; the known and unknown attributes of Carwin; our
recent interview in this chamber; the pre-appointment of a
meeting at this place and hour, all thronged into my memory.
What was to be done?
Courage is no definite or stedfast principle. Let that man
who shall purpose to assign motives to the actions of another,
blush at his folly and forbear. Not more presumptuous would it
be to attempt the classification of all nature, and the scanning
of supreme intelligence. I gazed for a minute at the window,
and fixed my eyes, for a second minute, on the ground. I drew
forth from my pocket, and opened, a penknife. This, said I, be
my safe-guard and avenger. The assailant shall perish, or
myself shall fall.
I had locked up the house in the morning, but had the key of
the kitchen door in my pocket. I, therefore, determined to gain
access behind. Thither I hastened, unlocked and entered. All
was lonely, darksome, and waste. Familiar as I was with every
part of my dwelling, I easily found my way to a closet, drew
forth a taper, a flint, tinder, and steel, and, in a moment as
it were, gave myself the guidance and protection of light.
What purpose did I meditate? Should I explore my way to my
chamber, and confront the being who had dared to intrude into
this recess, and had laboured for concealment? By putting out
the light did he seek to hide himself, or mean only to
circumvent my incautious steps? Yet was it not more probable
that he desired my absence by thus encouraging the supposition
that the house was unoccupied? I would see this man in spite of
all impediments; ere I died, I would see his face, and summon
him to penitence and retribution; no matter at what cost an
interview was purchased. Reputation and life might be wrested
from me by another, but my rectitude and honor were in my own
keeping, and were safe.
I proceeded to the foot of the stairs. At such a crisis my
thoughts may be supposed at no liberty to range; yet vague
images rushed into my mind, of the mysterious interposition
which had been experienced on the last night. My case, at
present, was not dissimilar; and, if my angel were not weary of
fruitless exertions to save, might not a new warning be
expected? Who could say whether his silence were ascribable to
the absence of danger, or to his own absence?
In this state of mind, no wonder that a shivering cold crept
through my veins; that my pause was prolonged; and, that a
fearful glance was thrown backward.
Alas! my heart droops, and my fingers are enervated; my ideas
are vivid, but my language is faint: now know I what it is to
entertain incommunicable sentiments. The chain of subsequent
incidents is drawn through my mind, and being linked with those
which forewent, by turns rouse up agonies and sink me into
Yet I will persist to the end. My narrative may be invaded
by inaccuracy and confusion; but if I live no longer, I will, at
least, live to complete it. What but ambiguities, abruptnesses,
and dark transitions, can be expected from the historian who is,
at the same time, the sufferer of these disasters?
I have said that I cast a look behind. Some object was
expected to be seen, or why should I have gazed in that
direction? Two senses were at once assailed. The same piercing
exclamation of HOLD! HOLD! was uttered within the same
distance of my ear. This it was that I heard. The airy
undulation, and the shock given to my nerves, were real.
Whether the spectacle which I beheld existed in my fancy or
without, might be doubted.
I had not closed the door of the apartment I had just left.
The stair-case, at the foot of which I stood, was eight or ten
feet from the door, and attached to the wall through which the
door led. My view, therefore, was sidelong, and took in no part
of the room.
Through this aperture was an head thrust and drawn back with
so much swiftness, that the immediate conviction was, that thus
much of a form, ordinarily invisible, had been unshrowded. The
face was turned towards me. Every muscle was tense; the
forehead and brows were drawn into vehement expression; the lips
were stretched as in the act of shrieking, and the eyes emitted
sparks, which, no doubt, if I had been unattended by a light,
would have illuminated like the coruscations of a meteor. The
sound and the vision were present, and departed together at the
same instant; but the cry was blown into my ear, while the face
was many paces distant.
This face was well suited to a being whose performances
exceeded the standard of humanity, and yet its features were
akin to those I had before seen. The image of Carwin was
blended in a thousand ways with the stream of my thoughts. This
visage was, perhaps, pourtrayed by my fancy. If so, it will
excite no surprize that some of his lineaments were now
discovered. Yet affinities were few and unconspicuous, and were
lost amidst the blaze of opposite qualities.
What conclusion could I form? Be the face human or not, the
intimation was imparted from above. Experience had evinced the
benignity of that being who gave it. Once he had interposed to
shield me from harm, and subsequent events demonstrated the
usefulness of that interposition. Now was I again warned to
forbear. I was hurrying to the verge of the same gulf, and the
same power was exerted to recall my steps. Was it possible for
me not to obey? Was I capable of holding on in the same
perilous career? Yes. Even of this I was capable!
The intimation was imperfect: it gave no form to my danger,
and prescribed no limits to my caution. I had formerly
neglected it, and yet escaped. Might I not trust to the same
issue? This idea might possess, though imperceptibly, some
influence. I persisted; but it was not merely on this account.
I cannot delineate the motives that led me on. I now speak as
if no remnant of doubt existed in my mind as to the supernal
origin of these sounds; but this is owing to the imperfection of
my language, for I only mean that the belief was more permanent,
and visited more frequently my sober meditations than its
opposite. The immediate effects served only to undermine the
foundations of my judgment and precipitate my resolutions.
I must either advance or return. I chose the former, and
began to ascend the stairs. The silence underwent no second
interruption. My chamber door was closed, but unlocked, and,
aided by vehement efforts of my courage, I opened and looked in.
No hideous or uncommon object was discernible. The danger,
indeed, might easily have lurked out of sight, have sprung upon
me as I entered, and have rent me with his iron talons; but I
was blind to this fate, and advanced, though cautiously, into
the room.
Still every thing wore its accustomed aspect. Neither lamp
nor candle was to be found. Now, for the first time, suspicions
were suggested as to the nature of the light which I had seen.
Was it possible to have been the companion of that supernatural
visage; a meteorous refulgence producible at the will of him to
whom that visage belonged, and partaking of the nature of that
which accompanied my father's death?
The closet was near, and I remembered the complicated horrors
of which it had been productive. Here, perhaps, was inclosed
the source of my peril, and the gratification of my curiosity.
Should I adventure once more to explore its recesses? This was
a resolution not easily formed. I was suspended in thought:
when glancing my eye on a table, I perceived a written paper.
Carwin's hand was instantly recognized, and snatching up the
paper, I read as follows:--
"There was folly in expecting your compliance with my
invitation. Judge how I was disappointed in finding another in
your place. I have waited, but to wait any longer would be
perilous. I shall still seek an interview, but it must be at a
different time and place: meanwhile, I will write this--How
will you bear--How inexplicable will be this transaction!--An
event so unexpected--a sight so horrible!"
Such was this abrupt and unsatisfactory script. The ink was
yet moist, the hand was that of Carwin. Hence it was to be
inferred that he had this moment left the apartment, or was
still in it. I looked back, on the sudden expectation of seeing
him behind me.
What other did he mean? What transaction had taken place
adverse to my expectations? What sight was about to be
exhibited? I looked around me once more, but saw nothing which
indicated strangeness. Again I remembered the closet, and was
resolved to seek in that the solution of these mysteries. Here,
perhaps, was inclosed the scene destined to awaken my horrors
and baffle my foresight.
I have already said, that the entrance into this closet was
beside my bed, which, on two sides, was closely shrowded by
curtains. On that side nearest the closet, the curtain was
raised. As I passed along I cast my eye thither. I started,
and looked again. I bore a light in my hand, and brought it
nearer my eyes, in order to dispel any illusive mists that might
have hovered before them. Once more I fixed my eyes upon the
bed, in hope that this more stedfast scrutiny would annihilate
the object which before seemed to be there.
This then was the sight which Carwin had predicted! This was
the event which my understanding was to find inexplicable! This
was the fate which had been reserved for me, but which, by some
untoward chance, had befallen on another!
I had not been terrified by empty menaces. Violation and
death awaited my entrance into this chamber. Some inscrutable
chance had led HER hither before me, and the merciless fangs
of which I was designed to be the prey, had mistaken their
victim, and had fixed themselves in HER heart. But where
was my safety? Was the mischief exhausted or flown? The steps
of the assassin had just been here; they could not be far off;
in a moment he would rush into my presence, and I should perish
under the same polluting and suffocating grasp!
My frame shook, and my knees were unable to support me. I
gazed alternately at the closet door and at the door of my room.
At one of these avenues would enter the exterminator of my honor
and my life. I was prepared for defence; but now that danger
was imminent, my means of defence, and my power to use them were
gone. I was not qualified, by education and experience, to
encounter perils like these: or, perhaps, I was powerless
because I was again assaulted by surprize, and had not fortified
my mind by foresight and previous reflection against a scene
like this.
Fears for my own safety again yielded place to reflections on
the scene before me. I fixed my eyes upon her countenance. My
sister's well-known and beloved features could not be concealed
by convulsion or lividness. What direful illusion led thee
hither? Bereft of thee, what hold on happiness remains to thy
offspring and thy spouse? To lose thee by a common fate would
have been sufficiently hard; but thus suddenly to perish--to
become the prey of this ghastly death! How will a spectacle
like this be endured by Wieland? To die beneath his grasp would
not satisfy thy enemy. This was mercy to the evils which he
previously made thee suffer! After these evils death was a boon
which thou besoughtest him to grant. He entertained no enmity
against thee: I was the object of his treason; but by some
tremendous mistake his fury was misplaced. But how comest thou
hither? and where was Wieland in thy hour of distress?
I approached the corpse: I lifted the still flexible hand,
and kissed the lips which were breathless. Her flowing drapery
was discomposed. I restored it to order, and seating myself on
the bed, again fixed stedfast eyes upon her countenance. I
cannot distinctly recollect the ruminations of that moment. I
saw confusedly, but forcibly, that every hope was extinguished
with the life of CATHARINE. All happiness and dignity must
henceforth be banished from the house and name of Wieland: all
that remained was to linger out in agonies a short existence;
and leave to the world a monument of blasted hopes and
changeable fortune. Pleyel was already lost to me; yet, while
Catharine lived life was not a detestable possession: but now,
severed from the companion of my infancy, the partaker of all my
thoughts, my cares, and my wishes, I was like one set afloat
upon a stormy sea, and hanging his safety upon a plank; night
was closing upon him, and an unexpected surge had torn him from
his hold and overwhelmed him forever.
Chapter XVII
I had no inclination nor power to move from this spot. For
more than an hour, my faculties and limbs seemed to be deprived
of all activity. The door below creaked on its hinges, and
steps ascended the stairs. My wandering and confused thoughts
were instantly recalled by these sounds, and dropping the
curtain of the bed, I moved to a part of the room where any one
who entered should be visible; such are the vibrations of
sentiment, that notwithstanding the seeming fulfilment of my
fears, and increase of my danger, I was conscious, on this
occasion, to no turbulence but that of curiosity.
At length he entered the apartment, and I recognized my
brother. It was the same Wieland whom I had ever seen. Yet his
features were pervaded by a new expression. I supposed him
unacquainted with the fate of his wife, and his appearance
confirmed this persuasion. A brow expanding into exultation I
had hitherto never seen in him, yet such a brow did he now wear.
Not only was he unapprized of the disaster that had happened,
but some joyous occurrence had betided. What a reverse was
preparing to annihilate his transitory bliss! No husband ever
doated more fondly, for no wife ever claimed so boundless a
devotion. I was not uncertain as to the effects to flow from
the discovery of her fate. I confided not at all in the efforts
of his reason or his piety. There were few evils which his
modes of thinking would not disarm of their sting; but here, all
opiates to grief, and all compellers of patience were vain.
This spectacle would be unavoidably followed by the outrages of
desperation, and a rushing to death.
For the present, I neglected to ask myself what motive
brought him hither. I was only fearful of the effects to flow
from the sight of the dead. Yet could it be long concealed from
him? Some time and speedily he would obtain this knowledge. No
stratagems could considerably or usefully prolong his ignorance.
All that could be sought was to take away the abruptness of the
change, and shut out the confusion of despair, and the inroads
of madness: but I knew my brother, and knew that all exertions
to console him would be fruitless.
What could I say? I was mute, and poured forth those tears
on his account, which my own unhappiness had been unable to
extort. In the midst of my tears, I was not unobservant of his
motions. These were of a nature to rouse some other sentiment
than grief or, at least, to mix with it a portion of
His countenance suddenly became troubled. His hands were
clasped with a force that left the print of his nails in his
flesh. His eyes were fixed on my feet. His brain seemed to
swell beyond its continent. He did not cease to breathe, but
his breath was stifled into groans. I had never witnessed the
hurricane of human passions. My element had, till lately, been
all sunshine and calm. I was unconversant with the altitudes
and energies of sentiment, and was transfixed with inexplicable
horror by the symptoms which I now beheld.
After a silence and a conflict which I could not interpret,
he lifted his eyes to heaven, and in broken accents exclaimed,
"This is too much! Any victim but this, and thy will be done.
Have I not sufficiently attested my faith and my obedience? She
that is gone, they that have perished, were linked with my soul
by ties which only thy command would have broken; but here is
sanctity and excellence surpassing human. This workmanship is
thine, and it cannot be thy will to heap it into ruins."
Here suddenly unclasping his hands, he struck one of them
against his forehead, and continued--"Wretch! who made thee
quicksighted in the councils of thy Maker? Deliverance from
mortal fetters is awarded to this being, and thou art the
minister of this decree."
So saying, Wieland advanced towards me. His words and his
motions were without meaning, except on one supposition. The
death of Catharine was already known to him, and that knowledge,
as might have been suspected, had destroyed his reason. I had
feared nothing less; but now that I beheld the extinction of a
mind the most luminous and penetrating that ever dignified the
human form, my sensations were fraught with new and
insupportable anguish.
I had not time to reflect in what way my own safety would be
effected by this revolution, or what I had to dread from the
wild conceptions of a madman. He advanced towards me. Some
hollow noises were wafted by the breeze. Confused clamours were
succeeded by many feet traversing the grass, and then crowding
intO the piazza.
These sounds suspended my brother's purpose, and he stood to
listen. The signals multiplied and grew louder; perceiving
this, he turned from me, and hurried out of my sight. All about
me was pregnant with motives to astonishment. My sister's
corpse, Wieland's frantic demeanour, and, at length, this crowd
of visitants so little accorded with my foresight, that my
mental progress was stopped. The impulse had ceased which was
accustomed to give motion and order to my thoughts.
Footsteps thronged upon the stairs, and presently many faces
shewed themselves within the door of my apartment. These looks
were full of alarm and watchfulness. They pryed into corners as
if in search of some fugitive; next their gaze was fixed upon
me, and betokened all the vehemence of terror and pity. For a
time I questioned whether these were not shapes and faces like
that which I had seen at the bottom of the stairs, creatures of
my fancy or airy existences.
My eye wandered from one to another, till at length it fell
on a countenance which I well knew. It was that of Mr. Hallet.
This man was a distant kinsman of my mother, venerable for his
age, his uprightness, and sagacity. He had long discharged the
functions of a magistrate and good citizen. If any terrors
remained, his presence was sufficient to dispel them.
He approached, took my hand with a compassionate air, and
said in a low voice, "Where, my dear Clara, are your brother and
sister?" I made no answer, but pointed to the bed. His
attendants drew aside the curtain, and while their eyes glared
with horror at the spectacle which they beheld, those of Mr.
Hallet overflowed with tears.
After considerable pause, he once more turned to me. "My
dear girl, this sight is not for you. Can you confide in my
care, and that of Mrs. Baynton's? We will see performed all
that circumstances require."
I made strenuous opposition to this request. I insisted on
remaining near her till she were interred. His remonstrances,
however, and my own feelings, shewed me the propriety of a
temporary dereliction. Louisa stood in need of a comforter, and
my brother's children of a nurse. My unhappy brother was
himself an object of solicitude and care. At length, I
consented to relinquish the corpse, and go to my brother's,
whose house, I said, would need mistress, and his children a
During this discourse, my venerable friend struggled with his
tears, but my last intimation called them forth with fresh
violence. Meanwhile, his attendants stood round in mournful
silence, gazing on me and at each other. I repeated my
resolution, and rose to execute it; but he took my hand to
detain me. His countenance betrayed irresolution and
reluctance. I requested him to state the reason of his
opposition to this measure. I entreated him to be explicit. I
told him that my brother had just been there, and that I knew
his condition. This misfortune had driven him to madness, and
his offspring must not want a protector. If he chose, I would
resign Wieland to his care; but his innocent and helpless babes
stood in instant need of nurse and mother, and these offices I
would by no means allow another to perform while I had life.
Every word that I uttered seemed to augment his perplexity
and distress. At last he said, "I think, Clara, I have entitled
myself to some regard from you. You have professed your
willingness to oblige me. Now I call upon you to confer upon me
the highest obligation in your power. Permit Mrs. Baynton to
have the management of your brother's house for two or three
days; then it shall be yours to act in it as you please. No
matter what are my motives in making this request: perhaps I
think your age, your sex, or the distress which this disaster
must occasion, incapacitates you for the office. Surely you
have no doubt of Mrs. Baynton's tenderness or discretion."
New ideas now rushed into my mind. I fixed my eyes
stedfastly on Mr. Hallet. "Are they well?" said I. "Is Louisa
well? Are Benjamin, and William, and Constantine, and Little
Clara, are they safe? Tell me truly, I beseech you!"
"They are well," he replied; "they are perfectly safe."
"Fear no effeminate weakness in me: I can bear to hear the
truth. Tell me truly, are they well?"
He again assured me that they were well.
"What then," resumed I, "do you fear? Is it possible for any
calamity to disqualify me for performing my duty to these
helpless innocents? I am willing to divide the care of them
with Mrs. Baynton; I shall be grateful for her sympathy and aid;
but what should I be to desert them at an hour like this!"
I will cut short this distressful dialogue. I still
persisted in my purpose, and he still persisted in his
opposition. This excited my suspicions anew; but these were
removed by solemn declarations of their safety. I could not
explain this conduct in my friend; but at length consented to go
to the city, provided I should see them for a few minutes at
present, and should return on the morrow.
Even this arrangement was objected to. At length he told me
they were removed to the city. Why were they removed, I asked,
and whither? My importunities would not now be eluded. My
suspicions were roused, and no evasion or artifice was
sufficient to allay them. Many of the audience began to give
vent to their emotions in tears. Mr. Hallet himself seemed as
if the conflict were too hard to be longer sustained. Something
whispered to my heart that havoc had been wider than I now
witnessed. I suspected this concealment to arise from
apprehensions of the effects which a knowledge of the truth
would produce in me. I once more entreated him to inform me
truly of their state. To enforce my entreaties, I put on an air
of insensibility. "I can guess," said I, "what has
happened--They are indeed beyond the reach of injury, for they
are dead! Is it not so?" My voice faltered in spite of my
courageous efforts.
"Yes," said he, "they are dead! Dead by the same fate, and
by the same hand, with their mother!"
"Dead!" replied I; "what, all?"
"All!" replied he: "he spared NOT ONE!"
Allow me, my friends, to close my eyes upon the after-scene.
Why should I protract a tale which I already begin to feel is
too long? Over this scene at least let me pass lightly. Here,
indeed, my narrative would be imperfect. All was tempestuous
commotion in my heart and in my brain. I have no memory for
ought but unconscious transitions and rueful sights. I was
ingenious and indefatigable in the invention of torments. I
would not dispense with any spectacle adapted to exasperate my
grief. Each pale and mangled form I crushed to my bosom.
Louisa, whom I loved with so ineffable a passion, was denied to
me at first, but my obstinacy conquered their reluctance.
They led the way into a darkened hall. A lamp pendant from
the ceiling was uncovered, and they pointed to a table. The
assassin had defrauded me of my last and miserable consolation.
I sought not in her visage, for the tinge of the morning, and
the lustre of heaven. These had vanished with life; but I hoped
for liberty to print a last kiss upon her lips. This was denied
me; for such had been the merciless blow that destroyed her,
I was carried hence to the city. Mrs. Hallet was my
companion and my nurse. Why should I dwell upon the rage of
fever, and the effusions of delirium? Carwin was the phantom
that pursued my dreams, the giant oppressor under whose arm I
was for ever on the point of being crushed. Strenuous muscles
were required to hinder my flight, and hearts of steel to
withstand the eloquence of my fears. In vain I called upon them
to look upward, to mark his sparkling rage and scowling
contempt. All I sought was to fly from the stroke that was
lifted. Then I heaped upon my guards the most vehement
reproaches, or betook myself to wailings on the haplessness of
my condition.
This malady, at length, declined, and my weeping friends
began to look for my restoration. Slowly, and with intermitted
beams, memory revisited me. The scenes that I had witnessed
were revived, became the theme of deliberation and deduction,
and called forth the effusions of more rational sorrow.
Chapter XVIII
I had imperfectly recovered my strength, when I was informed
of the arrival of my mother's brother, Thomas Cambridge. Ten
years since, he went to Europe, and was a surgeon in the British
forces in Germany, during the whole of the late war. After its
conclusion, some connection that he had formed with an Irish
officer, made him retire into Ireland. Intercourse had been
punctually maintained by letters with his sister's children, and
hopes were given that he would shortly return to his native
country, and pass his old age in our society. He was now in an
evil hour arrived.
I desired an interview with him for numerous and urgent
reasons. With the first returns of my understanding I had
anxiously sought information of the fate of my brother. During
the course of my disease I had never seen him; and vague and
unsatisfactory answers were returned to all my inquires. I had
vehemently interrogated Mrs. Hallet and her husband, and
solicited an interview with this unfortunate man; but they
mysteriously insinuated that his reason was still unsettled, and
that his circumstances rendered an interview impossible. Their
reserve on the particulars of this destruction, and the author
of it, was equally invincible.
For some time, finding all my efforts fruitless, I had
desisted from direct inquiries and solicitations, determined, as
soon as my strength was sufficiently renewed, to pursue other
means of dispelling my uncertainty. In this state of things my
uncle's arrival and intention to visit me were announced. I
almost shuddered to behold the face of this man. When I
reflected on the disasters that had befallen us, I was half
unwilling to witness that dejection and grief which would be
disclosed in his countenance. But I believed that all
transactions had been thoroughly disclosed to him, and confided
in my importunity to extort from him the knowledge that I
I had no doubt as to the person of our enemy; but the motives
that urged him to perpetrate these horrors, the means that he
used, and his present condition, were totally unknown. It was
reasonable to expect some information on this head, from my
uncle. I therefore waited his coming with impatience. At
length, in the dusk of the evening, and in my solitary chamber,
this meeting took place.
This man was our nearest relation, and had ever treated us
with the affection of a parent. Our meeting, therefore, could
not be without overflowing tenderness and gloomy joy. He rather
encouraged than restrained the tears that I poured out in his
arms, and took upon himself the task of comforter. Allusions to
recent disasters could not be long omitted. One topic
facilitated the admission of another. At length, I mentioned
and deplored the ignorance in which I had been kept respecting
my brother's destiny, and the circumstances of our misfortunes.
I entreated him to tell me what was Wieland's condition, and
what progress had been made in detecting or punishing the author
of this unheard-of devastation.
"The author!" said he; "Do you know the author?"
"Alas!" I answered, "I am too well acquainted with him. The
story of the grounds of my suspicions would be painful and too
long. I am not apprized of the extent of your present
knowledge. There are none but Wieland, Pleyel, and myself, who
are able to relate certain facts."
"Spare yourself the pain," said he. "All that Wieland and
Pleyel can communicate, I know already. If any thing of moment
has fallen within your own exclusive knowledge, and the relation
be not too arduous for your present strength, I confess I am
desirous of hearing it. Perhaps you allude to one by the name
of Carwin. I will anticipate your curiosity by saying, that
since these disasters, no one has seen or heard of him. His
agency is, therefore, a mystery still unsolved."
I readily complied with his request, and related as
distinctly as I could, though in general terms, the events
transacted in the summer-house and my chamber. He listened
without apparent surprize to the tale of Pleyel's errors and
suspicions, and with augmented seriousness, to my narrative of
the warnings and inexplicable vision, and the letter found upon
the table. I waited for his comments.
"You gather from this," said he, "that Carwin is the author
of all this misery."
"Is it not," answered I, "an unavoidable inference? But what
know you respecting it? Was it possible to execute this
mischief without witness or coadjutor? I beseech you to relate
to me, when and why Mr. Hallet was summoned to the scene, and by
whom this disaster was first suspected or discovered. Surely,
suspicion must have fallen upon some one, and pursuit was made."
My uncle rose from his seat, and traversed the floor with
hasty steps. His eyes were fixed upon the ground, and he seemed
buried in perplexity. At length he paused, and said with an
emphatic tone, "It is true; the instrument is known. Carwin may
have plotted, but the execution was another's. That other is
found, and his deed is ascertained."
"Good heaven!" I exclaimed, "what say you? Was not Carwin
the assassin? Could any hand but his have carried into act this
dreadful purpose?"
"Have I not said," returned he, "that the performance was
another's? Carwin, perhaps, or heaven, or insanity, prompted
the murderer; but Carwin is unknown. The actual performer has,
long since, been called to judgment and convicted, and is, at
this moment, at the bottom of a dungeon loaded with chains."
I lifted my hands and eyes. "Who then is this assassin? By
what means, and whither was he traced? What is the testimony of
his guilt?"
"His own, corroborated with that of a servant-maid who spied
the murder of the children from a closet where she was
concealed. The magistrate returned from your dwelling to your
brother's. He was employed in hearing and recording the
testimony of the only witness, when the criminal himself,
unexpected, unsolicited, unsought, entered the hall,
acknowledged his guilt, and rendered himself up to justice.
"He has since been summoned to the bar. The audience was
composed of thousands whom rumours of this wonderful event had
attracted from the greatest distance. A long and impartial
examination was made, and the prisoner was called upon for his
defence. In compliance with this call he delivered an ample
relation of his motives and actions." There he stopped.
I besought him to say who this criminal was, and what the
instigations that compelled him. My uncle was silent. I urged
this inquiry with new force. I reverted to my own knowledge,
and sought in this some basis to conjecture. I ran over the
scanty catalogue of the men whom I knew; I lighted on no one who
was qualified for ministering to malice like this. Again I
resorted to importunity. Had I ever seen the criminal? Was it
sheer cruelty, or diabolical revenge that produced this
He surveyed me, for a considerable time, and listened to my
interrogations in silence. At length he spoke: "Clara, I have
known thee by report, and in some degree by observation. Thou
art a being of no vulgar sort. Thy friends have hitherto
treated thee as a child. They meant well, but, perhaps, they
were unacquainted with thy strength. I assure myself that
nothing will surpass thy fortitude.
"Thou art anxious to know the destroyer of thy family, his
actions, and his motives. Shall I call him to thy presence, and
permit him to confess before thee? Shall I make him the
narrator of his own tale?"
I started on my feet, and looked round me with fearful
glances, as if the murderer was close at hand. "What do you
mean?" said I; "put an end, I beseech you, to this suspence."
"Be not alarmed; you will never more behold the face of this
criminal, unless he be gifted with supernatural strength, and
sever like threads the constraint of links and bolts. I have
said that the assassin was arraigned at the bar, and that the
trial ended with a summons from the judge to confess or to
vindicate his actions. A reply was immediately made with
significance of gesture, and a tranquil majesty, which denoted
less of humanity than godhead. Judges, advocates and auditors
were panic-struck and breathless with attention. One of the
hearers faithfully recorded the speech. There it is," continued
he, putting a roll of papers in my hand, "you may read it at
your leisure."
With these words my uncle left me alone. My curiosity
refused me a moment's delay. I opened the papers, and read as
Chapter XIX
"Theodore Wieland, the prisoner at the bar, was now called
upon for his defence. He looked around him for some time in
silence, and with a mild countenance. At length he spoke:
"It is strange; I am known to my judges and my auditors. Who
is there present a stranger to the character of Wieland? who
knows him not as an husband--as a father--as a friend? yet here
am I arraigned as criminal. I am charged with diabolical
malice; I am accused of the murder of my wife and my children!
"It is true, they were slain by me; they all perished by my
hand. The task of vindication is ignoble. What is it that I am
called to vindicate? and before whom?
"You know that they are dead, and that they were killed by
me. What more would you have? Would you extort from me a
statement of my motives? Have you failed to discover them
already? You charge me with malice; but your eyes are not shut;
your reason is still vigorous; your memory has not forsaken you.
You know whom it is that you thus charge. The habits of his
life are known to you; his treatment of his wife and his
offspring is known to you; the soundness of his integrity, and
the unchangeableness of his principles, are familiar to your
apprehension; yet you persist in this charge! You lead me
hither manacled as a felon; you deem me worthy of a vile and
tormenting death!
"Who are they whom I have devoted to death? My wife--the
little ones, that drew their being from me--that creature who,
as she surpassed them in excellence, claimed a larger affection
than those whom natural affinities bound to my heart. Think ye
that malice could have urged me to this deed? Hide your
audacious fronts from the scrutiny of heaven. Take refuge in
some cavern unvisited by human eyes. Ye may deplore your
wickedness or folly, but ye cannot expiate it.
"Think not that I speak for your sakes. Hug to your hearts
this detestable infatuation. Deem me still a murderer, and drag
me to untimely death. I make not an effort to dispel your
illusion: I utter not a word to cure you of your sanguinary
folly: but there are probably some in this assembly who have
come from far: for their sakes, whose distance has disabled
them from knowing me, I will tell what I have done, and why.
"It is needless to say that God is the object of my supreme
passion. I have cherished, in his presence, a single and
upright heart. I have thirsted for the knowledge of his will.
I have burnt with ardour to approve my faith and my obedience.
"My days have been spent in searching for the revelation of
that will; but my days have been mournful, because my search
failed. I solicited direction: I turned on every side where
glimmerings of light could be discovered. I have not been
wholly uninformed; but my knowledge has always stopped short of
certainty. Dissatisfaction has insinuated itself into all my
thoughts. My purposes have been pure; my wishes indefatigable;
but not till lately were these purposes thoroughly accomplished,
and these wishes fully gratified.
"I thank thee, my father, for thy bounty; that thou didst not
ask a less sacrifice than this; that thou placedst me in a
condition to testify my submission to thy will! What have I
withheld which it was thy pleasure to exact? Now may I, with
dauntless and erect eye, claim my reward, since I have given
thee the treasure of my soul.
"I was at my own house: it was late in the evening: my
sister had gone to the city, but proposed to return. It was in
expectation of her return that my wife and I delayed going to
bed beyond the usual hour; the rest of the family, however, were
"My mind was contemplative and calm; not wholly devoid of
apprehension on account of my sister's safety. Recent events,
not easily explained, had suggested the existence of some
danger; but this danger was without a distinct form in our
imagination, and scarcely ruffled our tranquillity.
"Time passed, and my sister did not arrive; her house is at
some distance from mine, and though her arrangements had been
made with a view to residing with us, it was possible that,
through forgetfulness, or the occurrence of unforeseen
emergencies, she had returned to her own dwelling.
"Hence it was conceived proper that I should ascertain the
truth by going thither. I went. On my way my mind was full of
these ideas which related to my intellectual condition. In the
torrent of fervid conceptions, I lost sight of my purpose. Some
times I stood still; some times I wandered from my path, and
experienced some difficulty, on recovering from my fit of
musing, to regain it.
"The series of my thoughts is easily traced. At first every
vein beat with raptures known only to the man whose parental and
conjugal love is without limits, and the cup of whose desires,
immense as it is, overflows with gratification. I know not why
emotions that were perpetual visitants should now have recurred
with unusual energy. The transition was not new from sensations
of joy to a consciousness of gratitude. The author of my being
was likewise the dispenser of every gift with which that being
was embellished. The service to which a benefactor like this
was entitled, could not be circumscribed. My social sentiments
were indebted to their alliance with devotion for all their
value. All passions are base, all joys feeble, all energies
malignant, which are not drawn from this source.
"For a time, my contemplations soared above earth and its
inhabitants. I stretched forth my hands; I lifted my eyes, and
exclaimed, O! that I might be admitted to thy presence; that
mine were the supreme delight of knowing thy will, and of
performing it! The blissful privilege of direct communication
with thee, and of listening to the audible enunciation of thy
"What task would I not undertake, what privation would I not
cheerfully endure, to testify my love of thee? Alas! thou
hidest thyself from my view: glimpses only of thy excellence
and beauty are afforded me. Would that a momentary emanation
from thy glory would visit me! that some unambiguous token of
thy presence would salute my senses!
"In this mood, I entered the house of my sister. It was
vacant. Scarcely had I regained recollection of the purpose
that brought me hither. Thoughts of a different tendency had
such absolute possession of my mind, that the relations of time
and space were almost obliterated from my understanding. These
wanderings, however, were restrained, and I ascended to her
"I had no light, and might have known by external
observation, that the house was without any inhabitant. With
this, however, I was not satisfied. I entered the room, and the
object of my search not appearing, I prepared to return.
"The darkness required some caution in descending the stair.
I stretched my hand to seize the balustrade by which I might
regulate my steps. How shall I describe the lustre, which, at
that moment, burst upon my vision!
"I was dazzled. My organs were bereaved of their activity.
My eye-lids were half-closed, and my hands withdrawn from the
balustrade. A nameless fear chilled my veins, and I stood
motionless. This irradiation did not retire or lessen. It
seemed as if some powerful effulgence covered me like a mantle.
"I opened my eyes and found all about me luminous and
glowing. It was the element of heaven that flowed around.
Nothing but a fiery stream was at first visible; but, anon, a
shrill voice from behind called upon me to attend.
"I turned: It is forbidden to describe what I saw: Words,
indeed, would be wanting to the task. The lineaments of that
being, whose veil was now lifted, and whose visage beamed upon
my sight, no hues of pencil or of language can pourtray.
"As it spoke, the accents thrilled to my heart. "Thy prayers
are heard. In proof of thy faith, render me thy wife. This is
the victim I chuse. Call her hither, and here let her
fall."--The sound, and visage, and light vanished at once.
"What demand was this? The blood of Catharine was to be
shed! My wife was to perish by my hand! I sought opportunity
to attest my virtue. Little did I expect that a proof like this
would have been demanded.
"My wife! I exclaimed: O God! substitute some other victim.
Make me not the butcher of my wife. My own blood is cheap.
This will I pour out before thee with a willing heart; but
spare, I beseech thee, this precious life, or commission some
other than her husband to perform the bloody deed.
"In vain. The conditions were prescribed; the decree had
gone forth, and nothing remained but to execute it. I rushed
out of the house and across the intermediate fields, and stopped
not till I entered my own parlour.
"My wife had remained here during my absence, in anxious
expectation of my return with some tidings of her sister. I had
none to communicate. For a time, I was breathless with my
speed: This, and the tremors that shook my frame, and the
wildness of my looks, alarmed her. She immediately suspected
some disaster to have happened to her friend, and her own speech
was as much overpowered by emotion as mine.
"She was silent, but her looks manifested her impatience to
hear what I had to communicate. I spoke, but with so much
precipitation as scarcely to be understood; catching her, at the
same time, by the arm, and forcibly pulling her from her seat.
"Come along with me: fly: waste not a moment: time will be
lost, and the deed will be omitted. Tarry not; question not;
but fly with me!
"This deportment added afresh to her alarms. Her eyes
pursued mine, and she said, "What is the matter? For God's sake
what is the matter? Where would you have me go?"
"My eyes were fixed upon her countenance while she spoke. I
thought upon her virtues; I viewed her as the mother of my
babes: as my wife: I recalled the purpose for which I thus
urged her attendance. My heart faltered, and I saw that I must
rouse to this work all my faculties. The danger of the least
delay was imminent.
"I looked away from her, and again exerting my force, drew
her towards the door--'You must go with me--indeed you must.'
"In her fright she half-resisted my efforts, and again
exclaimed, 'Good heaven! what is it you mean? Where go? What
has happened? Have you found Clara?"
"Follow me, and you will see," I answered, still urging her
reluctant steps forward.
"What phrenzy has seized you? Something must needs have
happened. Is she sick? Have you found her?"
"Come and see. Follow me, and know for yourself."
"Still she expostulated and besought me to explain this
mysterious behaviour. I could not trust myself to answer her;
to look at her; but grasping her arm, I drew her after me. She
hesitated, rather through confusion of mind than from
unwillingness to accompany me. This confusion gradually abated,
and she moved forward, but with irresolute footsteps, and
continual exclamations of wonder and terror. Her interrogations
Of "what was the matter?" and "whither was I going?" were
ceaseless and vehement.
"It was the scope of my efforts not to think; to keep up a
conflict and uproar in my mind in which all order and
distinctness should be lost; to escape from the sensations
produced by her voice. I was, therefore, silent. I strove to
abridge this interval by my haste, and to waste all my attention
in furious gesticulations.
"In this state of mind we reached my sister's door. She
looked at the windows and saw that all was desolate--"Why come
we here? There is no body here. I will not go in."
"Still I was dumb; but opening the door, I drew her into the
entry. This was the allotted scene: here she was to fall. I
let go her hand, and pressing my palms against my forehead, made
one mighty effort to work up my soul to the deed.
"In vain; it would not be; my courage was appalled; my arms
nerveless: I muttered prayers that my strength might be aided
from above. They availed nothing.
"Horror diffused itself over me. This conviction of my
cowardice, my rebellion, fastened upon me, and I stood rigid and
cold as marble. From this state I was somewhat relieved by my
wife's voice, who renewed her supplications to be told why we
came hither, and what was the fate of my sister.
"What could I answer? My words were broken and inarticulate.
Her fears naturally acquired force from the observation of these
symptoms; but these fears were misplaced. The only inference
she deduced from my conduct was, that some terrible mishap had
befallen Clara.
"She wrung her hands, and exclaimed in an agony, "O tell me,
where is she? What has become of her? Is she sick? Dead? Is
she in her chamber? O let me go thither and know the worst!"
"This proposal set my thoughts once more in motion. Perhaps
what my rebellious heart refused to perform here, I might obtain
strength enough to execute elsewhere.
"Come then," said I, "let us go."
"I will, but not in the dark. We must first procure a
"Fly then and procure it; but I charge you, linger not. I
will await for your return.
"While she was gone, I strode along the entry. The fellness
of a gloomy hurricane but faintly resembled the discord that
reigned in my mind. To omit this sacrifice must not be; yet my
sinews had refused to perform it. No alternative was offered.
To rebel against the mandate was impossible; but obedience would
render me the executioner of my wife. My will was strong, but
my limbs refused their office.
"She returned with a light; I led the way to the chamber; she
looked round her; she lifted the curtain of the bed; she saw
"At length, she fixed inquiring eyes upon me. The light now
enabled her to discover in my visage what darkness had hitherto
concealed. Her cares were now transferred from my sister to
myself, and she said in a tremulous voice, "Wieland! you are not
well: What ails you? Can I do nothing for you?"
"That accents and looks so winning should disarm me of my
resolution, was to be expected. My thoughts were thrown anew
into anarchy. I spread my hand before my eyes that I might not
see her, and answered only by groans. She took my other hand
between her's, and pressing it to her heart, spoke with that
voice which had ever swayed my will, and wafted away sorrow.
"My friend! my soul's friend! tell me thy cause of grief. Do
I not merit to partake with thee in thy cares? Am I not thy
"This was too much. I broke from her embrace, and retired to
a corner of the room. In this pause, courage was once more
infused into me. I resolved to execute my duty. She followed
me, and renewed her passionate entreaties to know the cause of
my distress.
"I raised my head and regarded her with stedfast looks. I
muttered something about death, and the injunctions of my duty.
At these words she shrunk back, and looked at me with a new
expression of anguish. After a pause, she clasped her hands,
and exclaimed--
"O Wieland! Wieland! God grant that I am mistaken; but surely
something is wrong. I see it: it is too plain: thou art
undone--lost to me and to thyself." At the same time she gazed
on my features with intensest anxiety, in hope that different
symptoms would take place. I replied to her with vehemence--
"Undone! No; my duty is known, and I thank my God that my
cowardice is now vanquished, and I have power to fulfil it.
Catharine! I pity the weakness of thy nature: I pity thee, but
must not spare. Thy life is claimed from my hands: thou must
"Fear was now added to her grief. 'What mean you? Why talk
you of death? Bethink yourself, Wieland: bethink yourself, and
this fit will pass. O why came I hither! Why did you drag me
"I brought thee hither to fulfil a divine command. I am
appointed thy destroyer, and destroy thee I must." Saying this
I seized her wrists. She shrieked aloud, and endeavoured to
free herself from my grasp; but her efforts were vain.
"Surely, surely Wieland, thou dost not mean it. Am I not thy
wife? and wouldst thou kill me? Thou wilt not; and yet--I
see--thou art Wieland no longer! A fury resistless and horrible
possesses thee--Spare me--spare--help--help--"
"Till her breath was stopped she shrieked for help--for
mercy. When she could speak no longer, her gestures, her looks
appealed to my compassion. My accursed hand was irresolute and
tremulous. I meant thy death to be sudden, thy struggles to be
brief. Alas! my heart was infirm; my resolves mutable. Thrice
I slackened my grasp, and life kept its hold, though in the
midst of pangs. Her eye-balls started from their sockets.
Grimness and distortion took place of all that used to bewitch
me into transport, and subdue me into reverence.
"I was commissioned to kill thee, but not to torment thee
with the foresight of thy death; not to multiply thy fears, and
prolong thy agonies. Haggard, and pale, and lifeless, at length
thou ceasedst to contend with thy destiny.
"This was a moment of triumph. Thus had I successfully
subdued the stubbornness of human passions: the victim which
had been demanded was given: the deed was done past recal.
"I lifted the corpse in my arms and laid it on the bed. I
gazed upon it with delight. Such was the elation of my
thoughts, that I even broke into laughter. I clapped my hands
and exclaimed, 'It is done! My sacred duty is fulfilled! To
that I have sacrificed, O my God! thy last and best gift, my
"For a while I thus soared above frailty. I imagined I had
set myself forever beyond the reach of selfishness; but my
imaginations were false. This rapture quickly subsided. I
looked again at my wife. My joyous ebullitions vanished, and I
asked myself who it was whom I saw? Methought it could not be
Catharine. It could not be the woman who had lodged for years
in my heart; who had slept, nightly, in my bosom; who had borne
in her womb, who had fostered at her breast, the beings who
called me father; whom I had watched with delight, and cherished
with a fondness ever new and perpetually growing: it could not
be the same.
"Where was her bloom! These deadly and blood-suffused orbs
but ill resemble the azure and exstatic tenderness of her eyes.
The lucid stream that meandered over that bosom, the glow of
love that was wont to sit upon that cheek, are much unlike these
livid stains and this hideous deformity. Alas! these were the
traces of agony; the gripe of the assassin had been here!
"I will not dwell upon my lapse into desperate and outrageous
sorrow. The breath of heaven that sustained me was withdrawn
and I sunk into MERE MAN. I leaped from the floor: I
dashed my head against the wall: I uttered screams of horror:
I panted after torment and pain. Eternal fire, and the
bickerings of hell, compared with what I felt, were music and a
bed of roses.
"I thank my God that this degeneracy was transient, that he
deigned once more to raise me aloft. I thought upon what I had
done as a sacrifice to duty, and WAS CALM. My wife was
dead; but I reflected, that though this source of human
consolation was closed, yet others were still open. If the
transports of an husband were no more, the feelings of a father
had still scope for exercise. When remembrance of their mother
should excite too keen a pang, I would look upon them, and BE
"While I revolved these ideas, new warmth flowed in upon my
heart--I was wrong. These feelings were the growth of
selfishness. Of this I was not aware, and to dispel the mist
that obscured my perceptions, a new effulgence and a new mandate
were necessary.
"From these thoughts I was recalled by a ray that was shot
into the room. A voice spake like that which I had before
heard--'Thou hast done well; but all is not done--the sacrifice
is incomplete--thy children must be offered--they must perish
with their mother!--'
Chapter XX
Will you wonder that I read no farther? Will you not rather
be astonished that I read thus far? What power supported me
through such a task I know not. Perhaps the doubt from which I
could not disengage my mind, that the scene here depicted was a
dream, contributed to my perseverance. In vain the solemn
introduction of my uncle, his appeals to my fortitude, and
allusions to something monstrous in the events he was about to
disclose; in vain the distressful perplexity, the mysterious
silence and ambiguous answers of my attendants, especially when
the condition of my brother was the theme of my inquiries, were
remembered. I recalled the interview with Wieland in my
chamber, his preternatural tranquillity succeeded by bursts of
passion and menacing actions. All these coincided with the
tenor of this paper.
Catharine and her children, and Louisa were dead. The act
that destroyed them was, in the highest degree, inhuman. It was
worthy of savages trained to murder, and exulting in agonies.
Who was the performer of the deed? Wieland! My brother!
The husband and the father! That man of gentle virtues and
invincible benignity! placable and mild--an idolator of peace!
Surely, said I, it is a dream. For many days have I been vexed
with frenzy. Its dominion is still felt; but new forms are
called up to diversify and augment my torments.
The paper dropped from my hand, and my eyes followed it. I
shrunk back, as if to avoid some petrifying influence that
approached me. My tongue was mute; all the functions of nature
were at a stand, and I sunk upon the floor lifeless.
The noise of my fall, as I afterwards heard, alarmed my
uncle, who was in a lower apartment, and whose apprehensions had
detained him. He hastened to my chamber, and administered the
assistance which my condition required. When I opened my eyes
I beheld him before me. His skill as a reasoner as well as a
physician, was exerted to obviate the injurious effects of this
disclosure; but he had wrongly estimated the strength of my body
or of my mind. This new shock brought me once more to the brink
of the grave, and my malady was much more difficult to subdue
than at first.
I will not dwell upon the long train of dreary sensations,
and the hideous confusion of my understanding. Time slowly
restored its customary firmness to my frame, and order to my
thoughts. The images impressed upon my mind by this fatal paper
were somewhat effaced by my malady. They were obscure and
disjointed like the parts of a dream. I was desirous of freeing
my imagination from this chaos. For this end I questioned my
uncle, who was my constant companion. He was intimidated by the
issue of his first experiment, and took pains to elude or
discourage my inquiry. My impetuosity some times compelled him
to have resort to misrepresentations and untruths.
Time effected that end, perhaps, in a more beneficial manner.
In the course of my meditations the recollections of the past
gradually became more distinct. I revolved them, however, in
silence, and being no longer accompanied with surprize, they did
not exercise a death-dealing power. I had discontinued the
perusal of the paper in the midst of the narrative; but what I
read, combined with information elsewhere obtained, threw,
perhaps, a sufficient light upon these detestable transactions;
yet my curiosity was not inactive. I desired to peruse the
My eagerness to know the particulars of this tale was mingled
and abated by my antipathy to the scene which would be
disclosed. Hence I employed no means to effect my purpose. I
desired knowledge, and, at the same time, shrunk back from
receiving the boon.
One morning, being left alone, I rose from my bed, and went
to a drawer where my finer clothing used to be kept. I opened
it, and this fatal paper saluted my sight. I snatched it
involuntarily, and withdrew to a chair. I debated, for a few
minutes, whether I should open and read. Now that my fortitude
was put to trial, it failed. I felt myself incapable of
deliberately surveying a scene of so much horror. I was
prompted to return it to its place, but this resolution gave
way, and I determined to peruse some part of it. I turned over
the leaves till I came near the conclusion. The narrative of
the criminal was finished. The verdict of GUILTY reluctantly
pronounced by the jury, and the accused interrogated why
sentence of death should not pass. The answer was brief,
solemn, and emphatical.
"No. I have nothing to say. My tale has been told. My
motives have been truly stated. If my judges are unable to
discern the purity of my intentions, or to credit the statement
of them, which I have just made; if they see not that my deed
was enjoined by heaven; that obedience was the test of perfect
virtue, and the extinction of selfishness and error, they must
pronounce me a murderer.
"They refuse to credit my tale; they impute my acts to the
influence of daemons; they account me an example of the highest
wickedness of which human nature is capable; they doom me to
death and infamy. Have I power to escape this evil? If I have,
be sure I will exert it. I will not accept evil at their hand,
when I am entitled to good; I will suffer only when I cannot
elude suffering.
"You say that I am guilty. Impious and rash! thus to usurp
the prerogatives of your Maker! to set up your bounded views and
halting reason, as the measure of truth!
"Thou, Omnipotent and Holy! Thou knowest that my actions
were conformable to thy will. I know not what is crime; what
actions are evil in their ultimate and comprehensive tendency or
what are good. Thy knowledge, as thy power, is unlimited. I
have taken thee for my guide, and cannot err. To the arms of
thy protection, I entrust my safety. In the awards of thy
justice, I confide for my recompense.
"Come death when it will, I am safe. Let calumny and
abhorrence pursue me among men; I shall not be defrauded of my
dues. The peace of virtue, and the glory of obedience, will be
my portion hereafter."
Here ended the speaker. I withdrew my eyes from the page;
but before I had time to reflect on what I had read, Mr.
Cambridge entered the room. He quickly perceived how I had been
employed, and betrayed some solicitude respecting the condition
of my mind.
His fears, however, were superfluous. What I had read, threw
me into a state not easily described. Anguish and fury,
however, had no part in it. My faculties were chained up in
wonder and awe. Just then, I was unable to speak. I looked at
my friend with an air of inquisitiveness, and pointed at the
roll. He comprehended my inquiry, and answered me with looks of
gloomy acquiescence. After some time, my thoughts found their
way to my lips.
Such then were the acts of my brother. Such were his words.
For this he was condemned to die: To die upon the gallows! A
fate, cruel and unmerited! And is it so? continued I,
struggling for utterance, which this new idea made difficult; is
"No. He is alive. There could be no doubt as to the cause
of these excesses. They originated in sudden madness; but that
madness continues. and he is condemned to perpetual
"Madness, say you? Are you sure? Were not these sights, and
these sounds, really seen and heard?"
My uncle was surprized at my question. He looked at me with
apparent inquietude. "Can you doubt," said he, "that these were
illusions? Does heaven, think you, interfere for such ends?"
"O no; I think it not. Heaven cannot stimulate to such
unheard-of outrage. The agent was not good, but evil."
"Nay, my dear girl," said my friend, "lay aside these
fancies. Neither angel nor devil had any part in this affair."
"You misunderstand me," I answered; "I believe the agency to
be external and real, but not supernatural."
"Indeed!" said he, in an accent of surprize. "Whom do you
then suppose to be the agent?"
"I know not. All is wildering conjecture. I cannot forget
Carwin. I cannot banish the suspicion that he was the setter of
these snares. But how can we suppose it to be madness? Did
insanity ever before assume this form?"
"Frequently. The illusion, in this case, was more dreadful
in its consequences, than any that has come to my knowledge;
but, I repeat that similar illusions are not rare. Did you
never hear of an instance which occurred in your mother's
"No. I beseech you relate it. My grandfather's death I have
understood to have been extraordinary, but I know not in what
respect. A brother, to whom he was much attached, died in his
youth, and this, as I have heard, influenced, in some remarkable
way, the fate of my grandfather; but I am unacquainted with
"On the death of that brother," resumed my friend, "my father
was seized with dejection, which was found to flow from two
sources. He not only grieved for the loss of a friend, but
entertained the belief that his own death would be inevitably
consequent on that of his brother. He waited from day to day in
expectation of the stroke which he predicted was speedily to
fall upon him. Gradually, however, he recovered his
cheerfulness and confidence. He married, and performed his part
in the world with spirit and activity. At the end of twenty-one
years it happened that he spent the summer with his family at an
house which he possessed on the sea coast in Cornwall. It was
at no great distance from a cliff which overhung the ocean, and
rose into the air to a great height. The summit was level and
secure, and easily ascended on the land side. The company
frequently repaired hither in clear weather, invited by its pure
airs and extensive prospects. One evening in June my father,
with his wife and some friends, chanced to be on this spot.
Every one was happy, and my father's imagination seemed
particularly alive to the grandeur of the scenery.
"Suddenly, however, his limbs trembled and his features
betrayed alarm. He threw himself into the attitude of one
listening. He gazed earnestly in a direction in which nothing
was visible to his friends. This lasted for a minute; then
turning to his companions, he told them that his brother had
just delivered to him a summons, which must be instantly obeyed.
He then took an hasty and solemn leave of each person, and,
before their surprize would allow them to understand the scene,
he rushed to the edge of the cliff, threw himself headlong, and
was seen no more.
"In the course of my practice in the German army, many cases,
equally remarkable, have occurred. Unquestionably the illusions
were maniacal, though the vulgar thought otherwise. They are
all reducible to one class,* and are not more difficult of
explication and cure than most affections of our frame."
This opinion my uncle endeavoured, by various means, to
impress upon me. I listened to his reasonings and illustrations
with silent respect. My astonishment was great on finding
proofs of an influence of which I had supposed there were no
examples; but I was far from accounting for appearances in my
uncle's manner. Ideas thronged into my mind which I was unable
to disjoin or to regulate. I reflected that this madness, if
madness it were, had affected Pleyel and myself as well as
Wieland. Pleyel had heard a mysterious voice. I had seen and
heard. A form had showed itself to me as well as to Wieland.
The disclosure had been made in the same spot. The appearance
was equally complete and equally prodigious in both instances.
Whatever supposition I should adopt, had I not equal reason to
tremble? What was my security against influences equally
terrific and equally irresistable?
It would be vain to attempt to describe the state of mind
which this idea produced. I wondered at the change which a
moment had affected in my brother's condition. Now was I
stupified with tenfold wonder in contemplating myself. Was I
not likewise transformed from rational and human into a creature
of nameless and fearful attributes? Was I not transported to
the brink of the same abyss? Ere a new day should come, my
hands might be embrued in blood, and my remaining life be
consigned to a dungeon and chains.
With moral sensibility like mine, no wonder that this new
dread was more insupportable than the anguish I had lately
endured. Grief carries its own antidote along with it. When
thought becomes merely a vehicle of pain, its progress must be
stopped. Death is a cure which nature or ourselves must
administer: To this cure I now looked forward with gloomy
My silence could not conceal from my uncle the state of my
thoughts. He made unwearied efforts to divert my attention from
views so pregnant with danger. His efforts, aided by time, were
in some measure successful. Confidence in the strength of my
resolution, and in the healthful state of my faculties, was once
more revived. I was able to devote my thoughts to my brother's
state, and the causes of this disasterous proceeding.
My opinions were the sport of eternal change. Some times I
conceived the apparition to be more than human. I had no
grounds on which to build a disbelief. I could not deny faith
to the evidence of my religion; the testimony of men was loud
and unanimous: both these concurred to persuade me that evil
spirits existed, and that their energy was frequently exerted in
the system of the world.
These ideas connected themselves with the image of Carwin.
Where is the proof, said I, that daemons may not be subjected to
the controul of men? This truth may be distorted and debased in
the minds of the ignorant. The dogmas of the vulgar, with
regard to this subject, are glaringly absurd; but though these
may justly be neglected by the wise, we are scarcely justified
in totally rejecting the possibility that men may obtain
supernatural aid.
The dreams of superstition are worthy of contempt.
Witchcraft, its instruments and miracles, the compact ratified
by a bloody signature, the apparatus of sulpherous smells and
thundering explosions, are monstrous and chimerical. These have
no part in the scene over which the genius of Carwin presides.
That conscious beings, dissimilar from human, but moral and
voluntary agents as we are, some where exist, can scarcely be
denied. That their aid may be employed to benign or malignant
purposes, cannot be disproved.
Darkness rests upon the designs of this man. The extent of
his power is unknown; but is there not evidence that it has been
now exerted?
I recurred to my own experience. Here Carwin had actually
appeared upon the stage; but this was in a human character. A
voice and a form were discovered; but one was apparently
exerted, and the other disclosed, not to befriend, but to
counteract Carwin's designs. There were tokens of hostility,
and not of alliance, between them. Carwin was the miscreant
whose projects were resisted by a minister of heaven. How can
this be reconciled to the stratagem which ruined my brother?
There the agency was at once preternatural and malignant.
The recollection of this fact led my thoughts into a new
channel. The malignity of that influence which governed my
brother had hitherto been no subject of doubt. His wife and
children were destroyed; they had expired in agony and fear; yet
was it indisputably certain that their murderer was criminal?
He was acquitted at the tribunal of his own conscience; his
behaviour at his trial and since, was faithfully reported to me;
appearances were uniform; not for a moment did he lay aside the
majesty of virtue; he repelled all invectives by appealing to
the deity, and to the tenor of his past life; surely there was
truth in this appeal: none but a command from heaven could have
swayed his will; and nothing but unerring proof of divine
approbation could sustain his mind in its present elevation.
*Mania Mutabilis. See Darwin's Zoonomia, vol. ii. Class
III. 1.2. where similar cases are stated.
Chapter XXI
Such, for some time, was the course of my meditations. My
weakness, and my aversion to be pointed at as an object of
surprize or compassion, prevented me from going into public. I
studiously avoided the visits of those who came to express their
sympathy, or gratify their curiosity. My uncle was my principal
companion. Nothing more powerfully tended to console me than
his conversation.
With regard to Pleyel, my feelings seemed to have undergone
a total revolution. It often happens that one passion supplants
another. Late disasters had rent my heart, and now that the
wound was in some degree closed, the love which I had cherished
for this man seemed likewise to have vanished.
Hitherto, indeed, I had had no cause for despair. I was
innocent of that offence which had estranged him from my
presence. I might reasonably expect that my innocence would at
some time be irresistably demonstrated, and his affection for me
be revived with his esteem. Now my aversion to be thought
culpable by him continued, but was unattended with the same
impatience. I desired the removal of his suspicions, not for
the sake of regaining his love, but because I delighted in the
veneration of so excellent a man, and because he himself would
derive pleasure from conviction of my integrity.
My uncle had early informed me that Pleyel and he had seen
each other, since the return of the latter from Europe. Amidst
the topics of their conversation, I discovered that Pleyel had
carefully omitted the mention of those events which had drawn
upon me so much abhorrence. I could not account for his silence
on this subject. Perhaps time or some new discovery had altered
or shaken his opinion. Perhaps he was unwilling, though I were
guilty, to injure me in the opinion of my venerable kinsman. I
understood that he had frequently visited me during my disease,
had watched many successive nights by my bedside, and manifested
the utmost anxiety on my account.
The journey which he was preparing to take, at the
termination of our last interview, the catastrophe of the
ensuing night induced him to delay. The motives of this journey
I had, till now, totally mistaken. They were explained to me by
my uncle, whose tale excited my astonishment without awakening
my regret. In a different state of mind, it would have added
unspeakably to my distress, but now it was more a source of
pleasure than pain. This, perhaps, is not the least
extraordinary of the facts contained in this narrative. It will
excite less wonder when I add, that my indifference was
temporary, and that the lapse of a few days shewed me that my
feelings were deadened for a time, rather than finally
Theresa de Stolberg was alive. She had conceived the
resolution of seeking her lover in America. To conceal her
flight, she had caused the report of her death to be propagated.
She put herself under the conduct of Bertrand, the faithful
servant of Pleyel. The pacquet which the latter received from
the hands of his servant, contained the tidings of her safe
arrival at Boston, and to meet her there was the purpose of his
This discovery had set this man's character in a new light.
I had mistaken the heroism of friendship for the phrenzy of
love. He who had gained my affections, may be supposed to have
previously entitled himself to my reverence; but the levity
which had formerly characterized the behaviour of this man,
tended to obscure the greatness of his sentiments. I did not
fail to remark, that since this lady was still alive, the voice
in the temple which asserted her death, must either have been
intended to deceive, or have been itself deceived. The latter
supposition was inconsistent with the notion of a spiritual, and
the former with that of a benevolent being.
When my disease abated, Pleyel had forborne his visits, and
had lately set out upon this journey. This amounted to a proof
that my guilt was still believed by him. I was grieved for his
errors, but trusted that my vindication would, sooner or later,
be made.
Meanwhile, tumultuous thoughts were again set afloat by a
proposal made to me by my uncle. He imagined that new airs
would restore my languishing constitution, and a varied
succession of objects tend to repair the shock which my mind had
received. For this end, he proposed to me to take up my abode
with him in France or Italy.
At a more prosperous period, this scheme would have pleased
for its own sake. Now my heart sickened at the prospect of
nature. The world of man was shrowded in misery and blood, and
constituted a loathsome spectacle. I willingly closed my eyes
in sleep, and regretted that the respite it afforded me was so
short. I marked with satisfaction the progress of decay in my
frame, and consented to live, merely in the hope that the course
of nature would speedily relieve me from the burthen.
Nevertheless, as he persisted in his scheme, I concurred in it
merely because he was entitled to my gratitude, and because my
refusal gave him pain.
No sooner was he informed of my consent, than he told me I
must make immediate preparation to embark, as the ship in which
he had engaged a passage would be ready to depart in three days.
This expedition was unexpected. There was an impatience in his
manner when he urged the necessity of dispatch that excited my
surprize. When I questioned him as to the cause of this haste,
he generally stated reasons which, at that time, I could not
deny to be plausible; but which, on the review, appeared
insufficient. I suspected that the true motives were concealed,
and believed that these motives had some connection with my
brother's destiny.
I now recollected that the information respecting Wieland
which had, from time to time, been imparted to me, was always
accompanied with airs of reserve and mysteriousness. What had
appeared sufficiently explicit at the time it was uttered, I now
remembered to have been faltering and ambiguous. I was resolved
to remove my doubts, by visiting the unfortunate man in his
Heretofore the idea of this visit had occurred to me; but the
horrors of his dwelling-place, his wild yet placid physiognomy,
his neglected locks, the fetters which constrained his limbs,
terrible as they were in description, how could I endure to
Now, however, that I was preparing to take an everlasting
farewell of my country, now that an ocean was henceforth to
separate me from him, how could I part without an interview? I
would examine his situation with my own eyes. I would know
whether the representations which had been made to me were true.
Perhaps the sight of the sister whom he was wont to love with a
passion more than fraternal, might have an auspicious influence
on his malady.
Having formed this resolution, I waited to communicate it to
Mr. Cambridge. I was aware that, without his concurrence, I
could not hope to carry it into execution, and could discover no
objection to which it was liable. If I had not been deceived as
to his condition, no inconvenience could arise from this
proceeding. His consent, therefore, would be the test of his
I seized this opportunity to state my wishes on this head.
My suspicions were confirmed by the manner in which my request
affected him. After some pause, in which his countenance
betrayed every mark of perplexity, he said to me, "Why would you
pay this visit? What useful purpose can it serve?"
"We are preparing," said I, "to leave the country forever:
What kind of being should I be to leave behind me a brother in
calamity without even a parting interview? Indulge me for three
minutes in the sight of him. My heart will be much easier after
I have looked at him, and shed a few tears in his presence."
"I believe otherwise. The sight of him would only augment
your distress, without contributing, in any degree, to his
"I know not that," returned I. "Surely the sympathy of his
sister, proofs that her tenderness is as lively as ever, must be
a source of satisfaction to him. At present he must regard all
mankind as his enemies and calumniators. His sister he,
probably, conceives to partake in the general infatuation, and
to join in the cry of abhorrence that is raised against him. To
be undeceived in this respect, to be assured that, however I may
impute his conduct to delusion, I still retain all my former
affection for his person, and veneration for the purity of his
motives, cannot but afford him pleasure. When he hears that I
have left the country, without even the ceremonious attention of
a visit, what will he think of me? His magnanimity may hinder
him from repining, but he will surely consider my behaviour as
savage and unfeeling. Indeed, dear Sir, I must pay this visit.
To embark with you without paying it, will be impossible. It
may be of no service to him, but will enable me to acquit myself
of what I cannot but esteem a duty. Besides," continued I, "if
it be a mere fit of insanity that has seized him, may not my
presence chance to have a salutary influence? The mere sight of
me, it is not impossible, may rectify his perceptions."
"Ay," said my uncle, with some eagerness; "it is by no means
impossible that your interview may have that effect; and for
that reason, beyond all others, would I dissuade you from it."
I expressed my surprize at this declaration. "Is it not to
be desired that an error so fatal as this should be rectified?"
"I wonder at your question. Reflect on the consequences of
this error. Has he not destroyed the wife whom he loved, the
children whom he idolized? What is it that enables him to bear
the remembrance, but the belief that he acted as his duty
enjoined? Would you rashly bereave him of this belief? Would
you restore him to himself, and convince him that he was
instigated to this dreadful outrage by a perversion of his
organs, or a delusion from hell?
"Now his visions are joyous and elate. He conceives himself
to have reached a loftier degree of virtue, than any other human
being. The merit of his sacrifice is only enhanced in the eyes
of superior beings, by the detestation that pursues him here,
and the sufferings to which he is condemned. The belief that
even his sister has deserted him, and gone over to his enemies,
adds to his sublimity of feelings, and his confidence in divine
approbation and future recompense.
"Let him be undeceived in this respect, and what floods of
despair and of horror will overwhelm him! Instead of glowing
approbation and serene hope, will he not hate and torture
himself? Self-violence, or a phrenzy far more savage and
destructive than this, may be expected to succeed. I beseech
you, therefore, to relinquish this scheme. If you calmly
reflect upon it, you will discover that your duty lies in
carefully shunning him."
Mr. Cambridge's reasonings suggested views to my
understanding, that had not hitherto occurred. I could not but
admit their validity, but they shewed, in a new light, the depth
of that misfortune in which my brother was plunged. I was
silent and irresolute.
Presently, I considered, that whether Wieland was a maniac,
a faithful servant of his God, the victim of hellish illusions,
or the dupe of human imposture, was by no means certain. In
this state of my mind it became me to be silent during the visit
that I projected. This visit should be brief: I should be
satisfied merely to snatch a look at him. Admitting that a
change in his opinions were not to be desired, there was no
danger from the conduct which I should pursue, that this change
should be wrought.
But I could not conquer my uncle's aversion to this scheme.
Yet I persisted, and he found that to make me voluntarily
relinquish it, it was necessary to be more explicit than he had
hitherto been. He took both my hands, and anxiously examining
my countenance as he spoke, "Clara," said he, "this visit must
not be paid. We must hasten with the utmost expedition from
this shore. It is folly to conceal the truth from you, and,
since it is only by disclosing the truth that you can be
prevailed upon to lay aside this project, the truth shall be
"O my dear girl!" continued he with increasing energy in his
accent, "your brother's phrenzy is, indeed, stupendous and
frightful. The soul that formerly actuated his frame has
disappeared. The same form remains; but the wise and benevolent
Wieland is no more. A fury that is rapacious of blood, that
lifts his strength almost above that of mortals, that bends all
his energies to the destruction of whatever was once dear to
him, possesses him wholly.
"You must not enter his dungeon; his eyes will no sooner be
fixed upon you, than an exertion of his force will be made. He
will shake off his fetters in a moment, and rush upon you. No
interposition will then be strong or quick enough to save you.
"The phantom that has urged him to the murder of Catharine
and her children is not yet appeased. Your life, and that of
Pleyel, are exacted from him by this imaginary being. He is
eager to comply with this demand. Twice he has escaped from his
prison. The first time, he no sooner found himself at liberty,
than he hasted to Pleyel's house. It being midnight, the latter
was in bed. Wieland penetrated unobserved to his chamber, and
opened his curtain. Happily, Pleyel awoke at the critical
moment, and escaped the fury of his kinsman, by leaping from his
chamber-window into the court. Happily, he reached the ground
without injury. Alarms were given, and after diligent search,
your brother was found in a chamber of your house, whither, no
doubt, he had sought you.
"His chains, and the watchfulness of his guards, were
redoubled; but again, by some miracle, he restored himself to
liberty. He was now incautiously apprized of the place of your
abode: and had not information of his escape been instantly
given, your death would have been added to the number of his
atrocious acts.
"You now see the danger of your project. You must not only
forbear to visit him, but if you would save him from the crime
of embruing his hands in your blood, you must leave the country.
There is no hope that his malady will end but with his life, and
no precaution will ensure your safety, but that of placing the
ocean between you.
"I confess I came over with an intention to reside among you,
but these disasters have changed my views. Your own safety and
my happiness require that you should accompany me in my return,
and I entreat you to give your cheerful concurrence to this
After these representations from my uncle, it was impossible
to retain my purpose. I readily consented to seclude myself
from Wieland's presence. I likewise acquiesced in the proposal
to go to Europe; not that I ever expected to arrive there, but
because, since my principles forbad me to assail my own life,
change had some tendency to make supportable the few days which
disease should spare to me.
What a tale had thus been unfolded! I was hunted to death,
not by one whom my misconduct had exasperated, who was conscious
of illicit motives, and who sought his end by circumvention and
surprize; but by one who deemed himself commissioned for this
act by heaven; who regarded this career of horror as the last
refinement of virtue; whose implacability was proportioned to
the reverence and love which he felt for me, and who was
inaccessible to the fear of punishment and ignominy!
In vain should I endeavour to stay his hand by urging the
claims of a sister or friend: these were his only reasons for
pursuing my destruction. Had I been a stranger to his blood;
had I been the most worthless of human kind; my safety had not
been endangered.
Surely, said I, my fate is without example. The phrenzy
which is charged upon my brother, must belong to myself. My foe
is manacled and guarded; but I derive no security from these
restraints. I live not in a community of savages; yet, whether
I sit or walk, go into crouds, or hide myself in solitude, my
life is marked for a prey to inhuman violence; I am in perpetual
danger of perishing; of perishing under the grasp of a brother!
I recollected the omens of this destiny; I remembered the
gulf to which my brother's invitation had conducted me; I
remembered that, when on the brink of danger, the author of my
peril was depicted by my fears in his form: Thus realized, were
the creatures of prophetic sleep, and of wakeful terror!
These images were unavoidably connected with that of Carwin.
In this paroxysm of distress, my attention fastened on him as
the grand deceiver; the author of this black conspiracy; the
intelligence that governed in this storm.
Some relief is afforded in the midst of suffering, when its
author is discovered or imagined; and an object found on which
we may pour out our indignation and our vengeance. I ran over
the events that had taken place since the origin of our
intercourse with him, and reflected on the tenor of that
description which was received from Ludloe. Mixed up with
notions of supernatural agency, were the vehement suspicions
which I entertained, that Carwin was the enemy whose
machinations had destroyed us.
I thirsted for knowledge and for vengeance. I regarded my
hasty departure with reluctance, since it would remove me from
the means by which this knowledge might be obtained, and this
vengeance gratified. This departure was to take place in two
days. At the end of two days I was to bid an eternal adieu to
my native country. Should I not pay a parting visit to the
scene of these disasters? Should I not bedew with my tears the
graves of my sister and her children? Should I not explore
their desolate habitation, and gather from the sight of its
walls and furniture food for my eternal melancholy?
This suggestion was succeeded by a secret shuddering. Some
disastrous influence appeared to overhang the scene. How many
memorials should I meet with serving to recall the images of
those I had lost!
I was tempted to relinquish my design, when it occurred to me
that I had left among my papers a journal of transactions in
shorthand. I was employed in this manuscript on that night when
Pleyel's incautious curiosity tempted him to look over my
shoulder. I was then recording my adventure in THE RECESS, an
imperfect sight of which led him into such fatal errors.
I had regulated the disposition of all my property. This
manuscript, however, which contained the most secret
transactions of my life, I was desirous of destroying. For this
end I must return to my house, and this I immediately determined
to do.
I was not willing to expose myself to opposition from my
friends, by mentioning my design; I therefore bespoke the use of
Mr. Hallet's chaise, under pretence of enjoying an airing, as
the day was remarkably bright.
This request was gladly complied with, and I directed the
servant to conduct me to Mettingen. I dismissed him at the
gate, intending to use, in returning, a carriage belonging to my
Chapter XXII
The inhabitants of the HUT received me with a mixture of joy
and surprize. Their homely welcome, and their artless sympathy,
were grateful to my feelings. In the midst of their inquiries,
as to my health, they avoided all allusions to the source of my
malady. They were honest creatures, and I loved them well. I
participated in the tears which they shed when I mentioned to
them my speedy departure for Europe, and promised to acquaint
them with my welfare during my long absence.
They expressed great surprize when I informed them of my
intention to visit my cottage. Alarm and foreboding overspread
their features, and they attempted to dissuade me from visiting
an house which they firmly believed to be haunted by a thousand
ghastly apparitions.
These apprehensions, however, had no power over my conduct.
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 shapes.
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
Here it was that the incomprehensible behaviour of Carwin was
witnessed: this the stage on which that enemy of man shewed
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 to 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 key-hole. 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 colour 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
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 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.
O that this grateful oblivion had lasted for ever! 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--"O! fly--fly far and for
ever!--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 offence! 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 offences. 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 intellects
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
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 accusations.
"Alas!" said I, "I have no one to accuse. Leave me to my
fate. Fly from a scene stained with cruelty; devoted to
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 happened?"
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 visage 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! begone!"
"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 errors; to set you beyond
the reach of similar fears; to rebuild your fame as far as I am
"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
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
"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 continued--
"You are not apprized 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 every one possesses this power. Perhaps,
though a casual position of my organs in my youth shewed 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.
"For a time the possession of so potent and stupendous an
endowment elated me with pride. Unfortified by principle,
subjected to poverty, stimulated by headlong passions, I made
this powerful engine subservient to the supply of my wants, and
the gratification of my vanity. I shall not mention how
diligently I cultivated this gift, which seemed capable of
unlimited improvement; nor detail the various occasions on which
it was successfully exerted to lead superstition, conquer
avarice, or excite awe.
"I left America, which is my native soil, in my youth. I
have been engaged in various scenes of life, in which my
peculiar talent has been exercised with more or less success.
I was finally betrayed by one who called himself my friend, into
acts which cannot be justified, though they are susceptible of
"The perfidy of this man compelled me to withdraw from
Europe. I returned to my native country, uncertain whether
silence and obscurity would save me from his malice. I resided
in the purlieus of the city. I put on the garb and assumed the
manners of a clown.
"My chief recreation was walking. My principal haunts were
the lawns and gardens of Mettingen. In this delightful region
the luxuriances of nature had been chastened by judicious art,
and each successive contemplation unfolded new enchantments.
" I was studious of seclusion: I was satiated with the
intercourse of mankind, and discretion required me to shun their
intercourse. For these reasons I long avoided the observation
of your family, and chiefly visited these precincts at night.
"I was never weary of admiring the position and ornaments of
THE TEMPLE. Many a night have I passed under its roof,
revolving no pleasing meditations. When, in my frequent
rambles, I perceived this apartment was occupied, I gave a
different direction to my steps. One evening, when a shower had
just passed, judging by the silence that no one was within, I
ascended to this building. Glancing carelessly round, I
perceived an open letter on the pedestal. To read it was
doubtless an offence against politeness. Of this offence,
however, I was guilty.
"Scarcely had I gone half through when I was alarmed by the
approach of your brother. To scramble down the cliff on the
opposite side was impracticable. I was unprepared to meet a
stranger. Besides the aukwardness attending such an interview
in these circumstances, concealment was necessary to my safety.
A thousand times had I vowed never again to employ the dangerous
talent which I possessed; but such was the force of habit and
the influence of present convenience, that I used this method of
arresting his progress and leading him back to the house, with
his errand, whatever it was, unperformed. I had often caught
parts, from my station below, of your conversation in this
place, and was well acquainted with the voice of your sister.
"Some weeks after this I was again quietly seated in this
recess. The lateness of the hour secured me, as I thought, from
all interruption. In this, however, I was mistaken, for Wieland
and Pleyel, as I judged by their voices, earnest in dispute,
ascended the hill.
"I was not sensible that any inconvenience could possibly
have flowed from my former exertion; yet it was followed with
compunction, because it was a deviation from a path which I had
assigned to myself. Now my aversion to this means of escape was
enforced by an unauthorized curiosity, and by the knowledge of
a bushy hollow on the edge of the hill, where I should be safe
from discovery. Into this hollow I thrust myself.
"The propriety of removal to Europe was the question eagerly
discussed. Pleyel intimated that his anxiety to go was
augmented by the silence of Theresa de Stolberg. The temptation
to interfere in this dispute was irresistible. In vain I
contended with inveterate habits. I disguised to myself the
impropriety of my conduct, by recollecting the benefits which it
might produce. Pleyel's proposal was unwise, yet it was
enforced with plausible arguments and indefatigable zeal. Your
brother might be puzzled and wearied, but could not be
convinced. I conceived that to terminate the controversy in
favor of the latter was conferring a benefit on all parties.
For this end I profited by an opening in the conversation, and
assured them of Catharine's irreconcilable aversion to the
scheme, and of the death of the Saxon baroness. The latter
event was merely a conjecture, but rendered extremely probable
by Pleyel's representations. My purpose, you need not be told,
was effected.
"My passion for mystery, and a species of imposture, which I
deemed harmless, was thus awakened afresh. This second lapse
into error made my recovery more difficult. I cannot convey to
you an adequate idea of the kind of gratification which I
derived from these exploits; yet I meditated nothing. My views
were bounded to the passing moment, and commonly suggested by
the momentary exigence.
"I must not conceal any thing. Your principles teach you to
abhor a voluptuous temper; but, with whatever reluctance, I
acknowledge this temper to be mine. You imagine your servant
Judith to be innocent as well as beautiful; but you took her
from a family where hypocrisy, as well as licentiousness, was
wrought into a system. My attention was captivated by her
charms, and her principles were easily seen to be flexible.
"Deem me not capable of the iniquity of seduction. Your
servant is not destitute of feminine and virtuous qualities; but
she was taught that the best use of her charms consists in the
sale of them. My nocturnal visits to Mettingen were now
prompted by a double view, and my correspondence with your
servant gave me, at all times, access to your house.
"The second night after our interview, so brief and so little
foreseen by either of us, some daemon of mischief seized me.
According to my companion's report, your perfections were little
less than divine. Her uncouth but copious narratives converted
you into an object of worship. She chiefly dwelt upon your
courage, because she herself was deficient in that quality. You
held apparitions and goblins in contempt. You took no
precautions against robbers. You were just as tranquil and
secure in this lonely dwelling, as if you were in the midst of
a crowd.
"Hence a vague project occurred to me, to put this courage to
the test. A woman capable of recollection in danger, of warding
off groundless panics, of discerning the true mode of
proceeding, and profiting by her best resources, is a prodigy.
I was desirous of ascertaining whether you were such an one.
"My expedient was obvious and simple: I was to counterfeit
a murderous dialogue; but this was to be so conducted that
another, and not yourself, should appear to be the object. I
was not aware of the possibility that you should appropriate
these menaces to yourself. Had you been still and listened, you
would have heard the struggles and prayers of the victim, who
would likewise have appeared to be shut up in the closet, and
whose voice would have been Judith's. This scene would have
been an appeal to your compassion; and the proof of cowardice or
courage which I expected from you, would have been your
remaining inactive in your bed, or your entering the closet with
a view to assist the sufferer. Some instances which Judith
related of your fearlessness and promptitude made me adopt the
latter supposition with some degree of confidence.
"By the girl's direction I found a ladder, and mounted to
your closet window. This is scarcely large enough to admit the
head, but it answered my purpose too well.
"I cannot express my confusion and surprize at your abrupt
and precipitate flight. I hastily removed the ladder; and,
after some pause, curiosity and doubts of your safety induced me
to follow you. I found you stretched on the turf before your
brother's door, without sense or motion. I felt the deepest
regret at this unlooked-for consequence of my scheme. I knew
not what to do to procure you relief. The idea of awakening the
family naturally presented itself. This emergency was critical,
and there was no time to deliberate. It was a sudden thought
that occurred. I put my lips to the key-hole, and sounded an
alarm which effectually roused the sleepers. My organs were
naturally forcible, and had been improved by long and assiduous
"Long and bitterly did I repent of my scheme. I was somewhat
consoled by reflecting that my purpose had not been evil, and
renewed my fruitless vows never to attempt such dangerous
experiments. For some time I adhered, with laudable
forbearance, to this resolution.
"My life has been a life of hardship and exposure. In the
summer I prefer to make my bed of the smooth turf, or, at most,
the shelter of a summer-house suffices. In all my rambles I
never found a spot in which so many picturesque beauties and
rural delights were assembled as at Mettingen. No corner of
your little domain unites fragrance and secrecy in so perfect a
degree as the recess in the bank. The odour of its leaves, the
coolness of its shade, and the music of its water-fall, had
early attracted my attention. Here my sadness was converted
into peaceful melancholy--here my slumbers were sound, and my
pleasures enhanced.
"As most free from interruption, I chose this as the scene of
my midnight interviews with Judith. One evening, as the sun
declined, I was seated here, when I was alarmed by your
approach. It was with difficulty that I effected my escape
unnoticed by you.
"At the customary hour, I returned to your habitation, and
was made acquainted by Judith, with your unusual absence. I
half suspected the true cause, and felt uneasiness at the danger
there was that I should be deprived of my retreat; or, at least,
interrupted in the possession of it. The girl, likewise,
informed me, that among your other singularities, it was not
uncommon for you to leave your bed, and walk forth for the sake
of night-airs and starlight contemplations.
"I desired to prevent this inconvenience. I found you easily
swayed by fear. I was influenced, in my choice of means, by the
facility and certainty of that to which I had been accustomed.
All that I forsaw was, that, in future, this spot would be
cautiously shunned by you.
"I entered the recess with the utmost caution, and
discovered, by your breathings, in what condition you were. The
unexpected interpretation which you placed upon my former
proceeding, suggested my conduct on the present occasion. The
mode in which heaven is said by the poet, to interfere for the
prevention of crimes,** was somewhat analogous to my province,
and never failed to occur to me at seasons like this. It was
requisite to break your slumbers, and for this end I uttered the
powerful monosyllable, "hold! hold!" My purpose was not
prescribed by duty, yet surely it was far from being atrocious
and inexpiable. To effect it, I uttered what was false, but it
was well suited to my purpose. Nothing less was intended than
to injure you. Nay, the evil resulting from my former act, was
partly removed by assuring you that in all places but this you
were safe.
*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 exertion 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
This power is difficult to explain, but the fact is
undeniable. Experience shews 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.
**--Peeps through the blanket of the dark, and cries Hold!
Chapter XXIII
"My morals will appear to you far from rigid, yet my conduct
will fall short of your suspicions. I am now to confess actions
less excusable, and yet surely they will not entitle me to the
name of a desperate or sordid criminal.
"Your house was rendered, by your frequent and long absences,
easily accessible to my curiosity. My meeting with Pleyel was
the prelude to direct intercourse with you. I had seen much of
the world, but your character exhibited a specimen of human
powers that was wholly new to me. My intercourse with your
servant furnished me with curious details of your domestic
management. I was of a different sex: I was not your husband;
I was not even your friend; yet my knowledge of you was of that
kind, which conjugal intimacies can give, and, in some respects,
more accurate. The observation of your domestic was guided by
"You will not be surprized that I should sometimes profit by
your absence, and adventure to examine with my own eyes, the
interior of your chamber. Upright and sincere, you used no
watchfulness, and practised no precautions. I scrutinized every
thing, and pried every where. Your closet was usually locked,
but it was once my fortune to find the key on a bureau. I
opened and found new scope for my curiosity in your books. One
of these was manuscript, and written in characters which
essentially agreed with a short-hand system which I had learned
from a Jesuit missionary.
"I cannot justify my conduct, yet my only crime was
curiosity. I perused this volume with eagerness. The intellect
which it unveiled, was brighter than my limited and feeble
organs could bear. I was naturally inquisitive as to your ideas
respecting my deportment, and the mysteries that had lately
"You know what you have written. You know that in this
volume the key to your inmost soul was contained. If I had been
a profound and malignant impostor, what plenteous materials were
thus furnished me of stratagems and plots!
"The coincidence of your dream in the summer-house with my
exclamation, was truly wonderful. The voice which warned you to
forbear was, doubtless, mine; but mixed by a common process of
the fancy, with the train of visionary incidents.
"I saw in a stronger light than ever, the dangerousness of
that instrument which I employed, and renewed my resolutions to
abstain from the use of it in future; but I was destined
perpetually to violate my resolutions. By some perverse fate,
I was led into circumstances in which the exertion of my powers
was the sole or the best means of escape.
"On that memorable night on which our last interview took
place, I came as usual to Mettingen. I was apprized of your
engagement at your brother's, from which you did not expect to
return till late. Some incident suggested the design of
visiting your chamber. Among your books which I had not
examined, might be something tending to illustrate your
character, or the history of your family. Some intimation had
been dropped by you in discourse, respecting a performance of
your father, in which some important transaction in his life was
"I was desirous of seeing this book; and such was my habitual
attachment to mystery, that I preferred the clandestine perusal
of it. Such were the motives that induced me to make this
attempt. Judith had disappeared, and finding the house
unoccupied, I supplied myself with a light, and proceeded to
your chamber.
"I found it easy, on experiment, to lock and unlock your
closet door without the aid of a key. I shut myself in this
recess, and was busily exploring your shelves, when I heard some
one enter the room below. I was at a loss who it could be,
whether you or your servant. Doubtful, however, as I was, I
conceived it prudent to extinguish the light. Scarcely was this
done, when some one entered the chamber. The footsteps were
easily distinguished to be yours.
"My situation was now full of danger and perplexity. For
some time, I cherished the hope that you would leave the room so
long as to afford me an opportunity of escaping. As the hours
passed, this hope gradually deserted me. It was plain that you
had retired for the night.
"I knew not how soon you might find occasion to enter the
closet. I was alive to all the horrors of detection, and
ruminated without ceasing, on the behaviour which it would be
proper, in case of detection, to adopt. I was unable to
discover any consistent method of accounting for my being thus
"It occurred to me that I might withdraw you from your
chamber for a few minutes, by counterfeiting a voice from
without. Some message from your brother might be delivered,
requiring your presence at his house. I was deterred from this
scheme by reflecting on the resolution I had formed, and on the
possible evils that might result from it. Besides, it was not
improbable that you would speedily retire to bed, and then, by
the exercise of sufficient caution, I might hope to escape
"Meanwhile I listened with the deepest anxiety to every
motion from without. I discovered nothing which betokened
preparation for sleep. Instead of this I heard deep-drawn
sighs, and occasionally an half-expressed and mournful
ejaculation. Hence I inferred that you were unhappy. The true
state of your mind with regard to Pleyel your own pen had
disclosed; but I supposed you to be framed of such materials,
that, though a momentary sadness might affect you, you were
impregnable to any permanent and heartfelt grief. Inquietude
for my own safety was, for a moment, suspended by sympathy with
your distress.
"To the former consideration I was quickly recalled by a
motion of yours which indicated I knew not what. I fostered the
persuasion that you would now retire to bed; but presently you
approached the closet, and detection seemed to be inevitable.
You put your hand upon the lock. I had formed no plan to
extricate myself from the dilemma in which the opening of the
door would involve me. I felt an irreconcilable aversion to
detection. Thus situated, I involuntarily seized the door with
a resolution to resist your efforts to open it.
"Suddenly you receded from the door. This deportment was
inexplicable, but the relief it afforded me was quickly gone.
You returned, and I once more was thrown into perplexity. The
expedient that suggested itself was precipitate and inartificial.
I exerted my organs and called upon you TO HOLD.
"That you should persist in spite of this admonition, was a
subject of astonishment. I again resisted your efforts; for the
first expedient having failed, I knew not what other to resort
to. In this state, how was my astonishment increased when I
heard your exclamations!
"It was now plain that you knew me to be within. Further
resistance was unavailing and useless. The door opened, and I
shrunk backward. Seldom have I felt deeper mortification, and
more painful perplexity. I did not consider that the truth
would be less injurious than any lie which I could hastily
frame. Conscious as I was of a certain degree of guilt, I
conceived that you would form the most odious suspicions. The
truth would be imperfect, unless I were likewise to explain the
mysterious admonition which had been given; but that explanation
was of too great moment, and involved too extensive consequences
to make me suddenly resolve to give it.
"I was aware that this discovery would associate itself in
your mind, with the dialogue formerly heard in this closet.
Thence would your suspicions be aggravated, and to escape from
these suspicions would be impossible. But the mere truth would
be sufficiently opprobrious, and deprive me for ever of your
good opinion.
"Thus was I rendered desperate, and my mind rapidly passed to
the contemplation of the use that might be made of previous
events. Some good genius would appear to you to have interposed
to save you from injury intended by me. Why, I said, since I
must sink in her opinion, should I not cherish this belief? Why
not personate an enemy, and pretend that celestial interference
has frustrated my schemes? I must fly, but let me leave wonder
and fear behind me. Elucidation of the mystery will always be
practicable. I shall do no injury, but merely talk of evil that
was designed, but is now past.
"Thus I extenuated my conduct to myself, but I scarcely
expect that this will be to you a sufficient explication of the
scene that followed. Those habits which I have imbibed, the
rooted passion which possesses me for scattering around me
amazement and fear, you enjoy no opportunities of knowing. That
a man should wantonly impute to himself the most flagitious
designs, will hardly be credited, even though you reflect that
my reputation was already, by my own folly, irretrievably
ruined; and that it was always in my power to communicate the
truth, and rectify the mistake.
"I left you to ponder on this scene. My mind was full of
rapid and incongruous ideas. Compunction, self-upbraiding,
hopelesness, satisfaction at the view of those effects likely to
flow from my new scheme, misgivings as to the beneficial result
of this scheme took possession of my mind, and seemed to
struggle for the mastery.
"I had gone too far to recede. I had painted myself to you
as an assassin and ravisher, withheld from guilt only by a voice
from heaven. I had thus reverted into the path of error, and
now, having gone thus far, my progress seemed to be irrevocable.
I said to myself, I must leave these precincts for ever. My
acts have blasted my fame in the eyes of the Wielands. For the
sake of creating a mysterious dread, I have made myself a
villain. I may complete this mysterious plan by some new
imposture, but I cannot aggravate my supposed guilt.
"My resolution was formed, and I was swiftly ruminating on
the means for executing it, when Pleyel appeared in sight. This
incident decided my conduct. It was plain that Pleyel was a
devoted lover, but he was, at the same time, a man of cold
resolves and exquisite sagacity. To deceive him would be the
sweetest triumph I had ever enjoyed. The deception would be
momentary, but it would likewise be complete. That his delusion
would so soon be rectified, was a recommendation to my scheme,
for I esteemed him too much to desire to entail upon him lasting
"I had no time to reflect further, for he proceeded, with a
quick step, towards the house. I was hurried onward
involuntarily and by a mechanical impulse. I followed him as he
passed the recess in the bank, and shrowding myself in that
spot, I counterfeited sounds which I knew would arrest his
"He stopped, turned, listened, approached, and overheard a
dialogue whose purpose was to vanquish his belief in a point
where his belief was most difficult to vanquish. I exerted all
my powers to imitate your voice, your general sentiments, and
your language. Being master, by means of your journal, of your
personal history and most secret thoughts, my efforts were the
more successful. When I reviewed the tenor of this dialogue, I
cannot believe but that Pleyel was deluded. When I think of
your character, and of the inferences which this dialogue was
intended to suggest, it seems incredible that this delusion
should be produced.
"I spared not myself. I called myself murderer, thief,
guilty of innumerable perjuries and misdeeds: that you had
debased yourself to the level of such an one, no evidence,
methought, would suffice to convince him who knew you so
thoroughly as Pleyel; and yet the imposture amounted to proof
which the most jealous scrutiny would find to be
"He left his station precipitately and resumed his way to the
house. I saw that the detection of his error would be
instantaneous, since, not having gone to bed, an immediate
interview would take place between you. At first this
circumstance was considered with regret; but as time opened my
eyes to the possible consequences of this scene, I regarded it
with pleasure.
"In a short time the infatuation which had led me thus far
began to subside. The remembrance of former reasonings and
transactions was renewed. How often I had repented this kind of
exertion; how many evils were produced by it which I had not
foreseen; what occasions for the bitterest remorse it had
administered, now passed through my mind. The black catalogue
of stratagems was now increased. I had inspired you with the
most vehement terrors: I had filled your mind with faith in
shadows and confidence in dreams: I had depraved the
imagination of Pleyel: I had exhibited you to his understanding
as devoted to brutal gratifications and consummate in hypocrisy.
The evidence which accompanied this delusion would be
irresistible to one whose passion had perverted his judgment,
whose jealousy with regard to me had already been excited, and
who, therefore, would not fail to overrate the force of this
evidence. What fatal act of despair or of vengeance might not
this error produce?
"With regard to myself, I had acted with a phrenzy that
surpassed belief. I had warred against my peace and my fame:
I had banished myself from the fellowship of vigorous and pure
minds: I was self-expelled from a scene which the munificence
of nature had adorned with unrivalled beauties, and from haunts
in which all the muses and humanities had taken refuge.
"I was thus torn by conflicting fears and tumultuous regrets.
The night passed away in this state of confusion; and next
morning in the gazette left at my obscure lodging, I read a
description and an offer of reward for the apprehension of my
person. I was said to have escaped from an Irish prison, in
which I was confined as an offender convicted of enormous and
complicated crimes.
"This was the work of an enemy, who, by falsehood and
stratagem, had procured my condemnation. I was, indeed, a
prisoner, but escaped, by the exertion of my powers, the fate to
which I was doomed, but which I did not deserve. I had hoped
that the malice of my foe was exhausted; but I now perceived
that my precautions had been wise, for that the intervention of
an ocean was insufficient for my security.
"Let me not dwell on the sensations which this discovery
produced. I need not tell by what steps I was induced to seek
an interview with you, for the purpose of disclosing the truth,
and repairing, as far as possible, the effects of my misconduct.
It was unavoidable that this gazette would fall into your hands,
and that it would tend to confirm every erroneous impression.
"Having gained this interview, I purposed to seek some
retreat in the wilderness, inaccessible to your inquiry and to
the malice of my foe, where I might henceforth employ myself in
composing a faithful narrative of my actions. I designed it as
my vindication from the aspersions that had rested on my
character, and as a lesson to mankind on the evils of credulity
on the one hand, and of imposture on the other.
"I wrote you a billet, which was left at the house of your
friend, and which I knew would, by some means, speedily come to
your hands. I entertained a faint hope that my invitation would
be complied with. I knew not what use you would make of the
opportunity which this proposal afforded you of procuring the
seizure of my person; but this fate I was determined to avoid,
and I had no doubt but due circumspection, and the exercise of
the faculty which I possessed, would enable me to avoid it.
"I lurked, through the day, in the neighbourhood of
Mettingen: I approached your habitation at the appointed hour:
I entered it in silence, by a trap-door which led into the
cellar. This had formerly been bolted on the inside, but Judith
had, at an early period in our intercourse, removed this
impediment. I ascended to the first floor, but met with no one,
nor any thing that indicated the presence of an human being.
"I crept softly up stairs, and at length perceived your
chamber door to be opened, and a light to be within. It was of
moment to discover by whom this light was accompanied. I was
sensible of the inconveniencies to which my being discovered at
your chamber door by any one within would subject me; I
therefore called out in my own voice, but so modified that it
should appear to ascend from the court below, 'Who is in the
chamber? Is it Miss Wieland?"
"No answer was returned to this summons. I listened, but no
motion could be heard. After a pause I repeated my call, but no
less ineffectually.
"I now approached nearer the door, and adventured to look in.
A light stood on the table, but nothing human was discernible.
I entered cautiously, but all was solitude and stillness.
"I knew not what to conclude. If the house were inhabited,
my call would have been noticed; yet some suspicion insinuated
itself that silence was studiously kept by persons who intended
to surprize me. My approach had been wary, and the silence that
ensued my call had likewise preceded it; a circumstance that
tended to dissipate my fears.
"At length it occurred to me that Judith might possibly be in
her own room. I turned my steps thither; but she was not to be
found. I passed into other rooms, and was soon convinced that
the house was totally deserted. I returned to your chamber,
agitated by vain surmises and opposite conjectures. The
appointed hour had passed, and I dismissed the hope of an
"In this state of things I determined to leave a few lines on
your toilet, and prosecute my journey to the mountains.
Scarcely had I taken the pen when I laid it aside, uncertain in
what manner to address you. I rose from the table and walked
across the floor. A glance thrown upon the bed acquainted me
with a spectacle to which my conceptions of horror had not yet
"In the midst of shuddering and trepidation, the signal of
your presence in the court below recalled me to myself. The
deed was newly done: I only was in the house: what had lately
happened justified any suspicions, however enormous. It was
plain that this catastrophe was unknown to you: I thought upon
the wild commotion which the discovery would awaken in your
breast: I found the confusion of my own thoughts unconquerable,
and perceived that the end for which I sought an interview was
not now to be accomplished.
"In this state of things it was likewise expedient to conceal
my being within. I put out the light and hurried down stairs.
To my unspeakable surprize, notwithstanding every motive to
fear, you lighted a candle and proceeded to your chamber.
"I retired to that room below from which a door leads into
the cellar. This door concealed me from your view as you
passed. I thought upon the spectacle which was about to present
itself. In an exigence so abrupt and so little foreseen, I was
again subjected to the empire of mechanical and habitual
impulses. I dreaded the effects which this shocking exhibition,
bursting on your unprepared senses, might produce.
"Thus actuated, I stept swiftly to the door, and thrusting my
head forward, once more pronounced the mysterious interdiction.
At that moment, by some untoward fate, your eyes were cast back,
and you saw me in the very act of utterance. I fled through the
darksome avenue at which I entered, covered with the shame of
this detection.
"With diligence, stimulated by a thousand ineffable emotions,
I pursued my intended journey. I have a brother whose farm is
situated in the bosom of a fertile desert, near the sources of
the Leheigh, and thither I now repaired.
Chapter XXIV
"Deeply did I ruminate on the occurrences that had just
passed. Nothing excited my wonder so much as the means by which
you discovered my being in the closet. This discovery appeared
to be made at the moment when you attempted to open it. How
could you have otherwise remained so long in the chamber
apparently fearless and tranquil? And yet, having made this
discovery, how could you persist in dragging me forth: persist
in defiance of an interdiction so emphatical and solemn?
"But your sister's death was an event detestable and ominous.
She had been the victim of the most dreadful species of
assassination. How, in a state like yours, the murderous
intention could be generated, was wholly inconceivable.
"I did not relinquish my design of confessing to you the part
which I had sustained in your family, but I was willing to defer
it till the task which I had set myself was finished. That
being done, I resumed the resolution. The motives to incite me
to this continually acquired force. The more I revolved the
events happening at Mettingen, the more insupportable and
ominous my terrors became. My waking hours and my sleep were
vexed by dismal presages and frightful intimations.
"Catharine was dead by violence. Surely my malignant stars
had not made me the cause of her death; yet had I not rashly set
in motion a machine, over whose progress I had no controul, and
which experience had shewn me was infinite in power? Every day
might add to the catalogue of horrors of which this was the
source, and a seasonable disclosure of the truth might prevent
numberless ills.
"Fraught with this conception, I have turned my steps hither.
I find your brother's house desolate: the furniture removed,
and the walls stained with damps. Your own is in the same
situation. Your chamber is dismantled and dark, and you exhibit
an image of incurable grief, and of rapid decay.
"I have uttered the truth. This is the extent of my
offences. You tell me an 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 an 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 bad 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 rancour.
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
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 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
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
These words were a sufficient explication of the scene. The
nature of his phrenzy, 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 undescribable 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 embrued in my blood. I firmly believed that
Carwin's was the instigation. I could rescue me 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 feet.
"O 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
Twice did Carwin attempt to speak, but his words died away
upon his lips. My brother resumed in a tone of greater
"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 acts to have proceeded not from an heavenly
prompter, but from human treachery! Will not his rage mount
into whirlwind? Will not he tare limb from limb this devoted
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 its office.
"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,
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 controul.
Carwin, irresolute, striving in vain for utterance, his
complexion pallid as death, his knees beating one against
another, slowly obeyed the mandate and withdrew.
Chapter XXV
A few words more and I lay aside the pen for ever. 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 the grave.
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 havock and rage it was reasonable to
predict. The first suggestion of my fears had been disproved by
my experience. Carwin had acknowledged his offences, and yet
had escaped. The vengeance which I had harboured 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; yet my brother was unmoved, and
had dismissed him in safety. Surely thou wast more than man,
while I am sunk below the beasts.
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
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 life.
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; yet 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 rescue?
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 all 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 profound silence.
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 looks.
"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 towards 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 labours 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 sublime.
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 any one could be stedfast 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 satisfied.
"I thank thee, my God, for this last illumination! My enemy
is thine also. I deemed him to be 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
lustre. 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 daemon. The visage and voice which urged me to
the sacrifice of my family, were his. Now he personates a human
form: then he was invironed with the lustre 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
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-defence I was
incapable. The phrenzy 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
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 stedfast 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 for ever this passion for blood!
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
sufficiency 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! Succourless!"
Carwin listened to my intreaties 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 passed; 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
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
Even now I hesitated to strike. I shrunk from his assault,
but in vain.--
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 for ever 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
gulph before me is inevitable and near. I will die, but then
only when my tale is at an end.
Chapter XXVI
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;
Thus long had the power which controuled 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 stedfastness 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 defence. 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 his awe.
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 phrenzy, and ascend into rational and human. Be
lunatic no longer."
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 convulsion. 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 thought. My heart was
visited and rent by his pangs--Oh that thy phrenzy 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
paricide and savage! Can I wish for the continuance of thy
being? No.
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 demeanour, 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 thought.
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
liedest, 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 sight.
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 re-entrance, 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
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 phrenzy 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 destiny?
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 feet?
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 revered 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 havock 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 it.--
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 wouldest not
behold my death!
Thou are gone! murmuring and reluctant! And now my repose is
coming--my work is done!
Chapter XXVII
[Written three years after the foregoing, and dated at Montpellier.]
I imagined that I had forever laid aside the pen; and that I
should take up my abode in this part of the world, was of all
events the least probable. My destiny I believed to be
accomplished, and I looked forward to a speedy termination of my
life with the fullest confidence.
Surely I had reason to be weary of existence, to be impatient
of every tie which held me from the grave. I experienced this
impatience in its fullest extent. I was not only enamoured of
death, but conceived, from the condition of my frame, that to
shun it was impossible, even though I had ardently desired it;
yet here am I, a thousand leagues from my native soil, in full
possession of life and of health, and not destitute of
Such is man. Time will obliterate the deepest impressions.
Grief the most vehement and hopeless, will gradually decay and
wear itself out. Arguments may be employed in vain: every
moral prescription may be ineffectually tried: remonstrances,
however cogent or pathetic, shall have no power over the
attention, or shall be repelled with disdain; yet, as day
follows day, the turbulence of our emotions shall subside, and
our fluctuations be finally succeeded by a calm.
Perhaps, however, the conquest of despair was chiefly owing
to an accident which rendered my continuance in my own house
impossible. At the conclusion of my long, and, as I then
supposed, my last letter to you, I mentioned my resolution to
wait for death in the very spot which had been the principal
scene of my misfortunes. From this resolution my friends
exerted themselves with the utmost zeal and perseverance to make
me depart. They justly imagined that to be thus surrounded by
memorials of the fate of my family, would tend to foster my
disease. A swift succession of new objects, and the exclusion
of every thing calculated to remind me of my loss, was the only
method of cure.
I refused to listen to their exhortations. Great as my
calamity was, to be torn from this asylum was regarded by me as
an aggravation of it. By a perverse constitution of mind, he
was considered as my greatest enemy who sought to withdraw me
from a scene which supplied eternal food to my melancholy, and
kept my despair from languishing.
In relating the history of these disasters I derived a
similar species of gratification. My uncle earnestly dissuaded
me from this task; but his remonstrances were as fruitless on
this head as they had been on others. They would have withheld
from me the implements of writing; but they quickly perceived
that to withstand would be more injurious than to comply with my
wishes. Having finished my tale, it seemed as if the scene were
closing. A fever lurked in my veins, and my strength was gone.
Any exertion, however slight, was attended with difficulty, and,
at length, I refused to rise from my bed.
I now see the infatuation and injustice of my conduct in its
true colours. I reflect upon the sensations and reasonings of
that period with wonder and humiliation. That I should be
insensible to the claims and tears of my friends; that I should
overlook the suggestions of duty, and fly from that post in
which only I could be instrumental to the benefit of others;
that the exercise of the social and beneficent affections, the
contemplation of nature and the acquisition of wisdom should not
be seen to be means of happiness still within my reach, is, at
this time, scarcely credible.
It is true that I am now changed; but I have not the
consolation to reflect that my change was owing to my fortitude
or to my capacity for instruction. Better thoughts grew up in
my mind imperceptibly. I cannot but congratulate myself on the
change, though, perhaps, it merely argues a fickleness of
temper, and a defect of sensibility.
After my narrative was ended I betook myself to my bed, in
the full belief that my career in this world was on the point of
finishing. My uncle took up his abode with me, and performed
for me every office of nurse, physician and friend. One night,
after some hours of restlessness and pain, I sunk into deep
sleep. Its tranquillity, however, was of no long duration. My
fancy became suddenly distempered, and my brain was turned into
a theatre of uproar and confusion. It would not be easy to
describe the wild and phantastical incongruities that pestered
me. My uncle, Wieland, Pleyel and Carwin were successively and
momently discerned amidst the storm. Sometimes I was swallowed
up by whirlpools, or caught up in the air by half-seen and
gigantic forms, and thrown upon pointed rocks, or cast among the
billows. Sometimes gleams of light were shot into a dark abyss,
on the verge of which I was standing, and enabled me to
discover, for a moment, its enormous depth and hideous
precipices. Anon, I was transported to some ridge of AEtna, and
made a terrified spectator of its fiery torrents and its pillars
of smoke.
However strange it may seem, I was conscious, even during my
dream, of my real situation. I knew myself to be asleep, and
struggled to break the spell, by muscular exertions. These did
not avail, and I continued to suffer these abortive creations
till a loud voice, at my bed side, and some one shaking me with
violence, put an end to my reverie. My eyes were unsealed, and
I started from my pillow.
My chamber was filled with smoke, which, though in some
degree luminous, would permit me to see nothing, and by which I
was nearly suffocated. The crackling of flames, and the
deafening clamour of voices without, burst upon my ears.
Stunned as I was by this hubbub, scorched with heat, and nearly
choaked by the accumulating vapours, I was unable to think or
act for my own preservation; I was incapable, indeed, of
comprehending my danger.
I was caught up, in an instant, by a pair of sinewy arms,
borne to the window, and carried down a ladder which had been
placed there. My uncle stood at the bottom and received me. I
was not fully aware of my situation till I found myself
sheltered in the HUT, and surrounded by its inhabitants.
By neglect of the servant, some unextinguished embers had
been placed in a barrel in the cellar of the building. The
barrel had caught fire; this was communicated to the beams of
the lower floor, and thence to the upper part of the structure.
It was first discovered by some persons at a distance, who
hastened to the spot and alarmed my uncle and the servants. The
flames had already made considerable progress, and my condition
was overlooked till my escape was rendered nearly impossible.
My danger being known, and a ladder quickly procured, one of
the spectators ascended to my chamber, and effected my
deliverance in the manner before related.
This incident, disastrous as it may at first seem, had, in
reality, a beneficial effect upon my feelings. I was, in some
degree, roused from the stupor which had seized my faculties.
The monotonous and gloomy series of my thoughts was broken. My
habitation was levelled with the ground, and I was obliged to
seek a new one. A new train of images, disconnected with the
fate of my family, forced itself on my attention, and a belief
insensibly sprung up, that tranquillity, if not happiness, was
still within my reach. Notwithstanding the shocks which my
frame had endured, the anguish of my thoughts no sooner abated
than I recovered my health.
I now willingly listened to my uncle's solicitations to be
the companion of his voyage. Preparations were easily made, and
after a tedious passage, we set our feet on the shore of the
ancient world. The memory of the past did not forsake me; but
the melancholy which it generated, and the tears with which it
filled my eyes, were not unprofitable. My curiosity was
revived, and I contemplated, with ardour, the spectacle of
living manners and the monuments of past ages.
In proportion as my heart was reinstated in the possession of
its ancient tranquillity, the sentiment which I had cherished
with regard to Pleyel returned. In a short time he was united
to the Saxon woman, and made his residence in the neighbourhood
of Boston. I was glad that circumstances would not permit an
interview to take place between us. I could not desire their
misery; but I reaped no pleasure from reflecting on their
happiness. Time, and the exertions of my fortitude, cured me,
in some degree, of this folly. I continued to love him, but my
passion was disguised to myself; I considered it merely as a
more tender species of friendship, and cherished it without
Through my uncle's exertions a meeting was brought about
between Carwin and Pleyel, and explanations took place which
restored me at once to the good opinion of the latter. Though
separated so widely our correspondence was punctual and
frequent, and paved the way for that union which can only end
with the death of one of us.
In my letters to him I made no secret of my former
sentiments. This was a theme on which I could talk without
painful, though not without delicate emotions. That knowledge
which I should never have imparted to a lover, I felt little
scruple to communicate to a friend.
A year and an half elapsed when Theresa was snatched from him
by death, in the hour in which she gave him the first pledge of
their mutual affection. This event was borne by him with his
customary fortitude. It induced him, however, to make a change
in his plans. He disposed of his property in America, and
joined my uncle and me, who had terminated the wanderings of two
years at Montpellier, which will henceforth, I believe, be our
permanent abode.
If you reflect upon that entire confidence which had
subsisted from our infancy between Pleyel and myself; on the
passion that I had contracted, and which was merely smothered
for a time; and on the esteem which was mutual, you will not,
perhaps, be surprized that the renovation of our intercourse
should give birth to that union which at present subsists. When
the period had elapsed necessary to weaken the remembrance of
Theresa, to whom he had been bound by ties more of honor than of
love, he tendered his affections to me. I need not add that the
tender was eagerly accepted.
Perhaps you are somewhat interested in the fate of Carwin.
He saw, when too late, the danger of imposture. So much
affected was he by the catastrophe to which he was a witness,
that he laid aside all regard to his own safety. He sought my
uncle, and confided to him the tale which he had just related to
me. He found a more impartial and indulgent auditor in Mr.
Cambridge, who imputed to maniacal illusion the conduct of
Wieland, though he conceived the previous and unseen agency of
Carwin, to have indirectly but powerfully predisposed to this
deplorable perversion of mind.
It was easy for Carwin to elude the persecutions of Ludloe.
It was merely requisite to hide himself in a remote district of
Pennsylvania. This, when he parted from us, he determined to
do. He is now probably engaged in the harmless pursuits of
agriculture, and may come to think, without insupportable
remorse, on the evils to which his fatal talents have given
birth. The innocence and usefulness of his future life may, in
some degree, atone for the miseries so rashly or so
thoughtlessly inflicted.
More urgent considerations hindered me from mentioning, in
the course of my former mournful recital, any particulars
respecting the unfortunate father of Louisa Conway. That man
surely was reserved to be a monument of capricious fortune. His
southern journies being finished, he returned to Philadelphia.
Before he reached the city he left the highway, and alighted at
my brother's door. Contrary to his expectation, no one came
forth to welcome him, or hail his approach. He attempted to
enter the house, but bolted doors, barred windows, and a silence
broken only by unanswered calls, shewed him that the mansion was
He proceeded thence to my habitation, which he found, in like
manner, gloomy and tenantless. His surprize may be easily
conceived. The rustics who occupied the hut told him an
imperfect and incredible tale. He hasted to the city, and
extorted from Mrs. Baynton a full disclosure of late disasters.
He was inured to adversity, and recovered, after no long
time, from the shocks produced by this disappointment of his
darling scheme. Our intercourse did not terminate with his
departure from America. We have since met with him in France,
and light has at length been thrown upon the motives which
occasioned the disappearance of his wife, in the manner which I
formerly related to you.
I have dwelt upon the ardour of their conjugal attachment,
and mentioned that no suspicion had ever glanced upon her
purity. This, though the belief was long cherished, recent
discoveries have shewn to be questionable. No doubt her
integrity would have survived to the present moment, if an
extraordinary fate had not befallen her.
Major Stuart had been engaged, while in Germany, in a contest
of honor with an Aid de Camp of the Marquis of Granby. His
adversary had propagated a rumour injurious to his character.
A challenge was sent; a meeting ensued; and Stuart wounded and
disarmed the calumniator. The offence was atoned for, and his
life secured by suitable concessions.
Maxwell, that was his name, shortly after, in consequence of
succeeding to a rich inheritance, sold his commission and
returned to London. His fortune was speedily augmented by an
opulent marriage. Interest was his sole inducement to this
marriage, though the lady had been swayed by a credulous
affection. The true state of his heart was quickly discovered,
and a separation, by mutual consent, took place. The lady
withdrew to an estate in a distant county, and Maxwell continued
to consume his time and fortune in the dissipation of the
Maxwell, though deceitful and sensual, possessed great force
of mind and specious accomplishments. He contrived to mislead
the generous mind of Stuart, and to regain the esteem which his
misconduct, for a time, had forfeited. He was recommended by
her husband to the confidence of Mrs. Stuart. Maxwell was
stimulated by revenge, and by a lawless passion, to convert this
confidence into a source of guilt.
The education and capacity of this woman, the worth of her
husband, the pledge of their alliance which time had produced,
her maturity in age and knowledge of the world--all combined to
render this attempt hopeless. Maxwell, however, was not easily
discouraged. The most perfect being, he believed, must owe his
exemption from vice to the absence of temptation. The impulses
of love are so subtile, and the influence of false reasoning,
when enforced by eloquence and passion, so unbounded, that no
human virtue is secure from degeneracy. All arts being tried,
every temptation being summoned to his aid, dissimulation being
carried to its utmost bound, Maxwell, at length, nearly
accomplished his purpose. The lady's affections were withdrawn
from her husband and transferred to him. She could not, as yet,
be reconciled to dishonor. All efforts to induce her to elope
with him were ineffectual. She permitted herself to love, and
to avow her love; but at this limit she stopped, and was
Hence this revolution in her sentiments was productive only
of despair. Her rectitude of principle preserved her from
actual guilt, but could not restore to her her ancient
affection, or save her from being the prey of remorseful and
impracticable wishes. Her husband's absence produced a state of
suspense. This, however, approached to a period, and she
received tidings of his intended return. Maxwell, being
likewise apprized of this event, and having made a last and
unsuccessful effort to conquer her reluctance to accompany him
in a journey to Italy, whither he pretended an invincible
necessity of going, left her to pursue the measures which
despair might suggest. At the same time she received a letter
from the wife of Maxwell, unveiling the true character of this
man, and revealing facts which the artifices of her seducer had
hitherto concealed from her. Mrs. Maxwell had been prompted to
this disclosure by a knowledge of her husband's practices, with
which his own impetuosity had made her acquainted.
This discovery, joined to the delicacy of her scruples and
the anguish of remorse, induced her to abscond. This scheme was
adopted in haste, but effected with consummate prudence. She
fled, on the eve of her husband's arrival, in the disguise of a
boy, and embarked at Falmouth in a packet bound for America.
The history of her disastrous intercourse with Maxwell, the
motives inducing her to forsake her country, and the measures
she had taken to effect her design, were related to Mrs.
Maxwell, in reply to her communication. Between these women an
ancient intimacy and considerable similitude of character
subsisted. This disclosure was accompanied with solemn
injunctions of secrecy, and these injunctions were, for a long
time, faithfully observed.
Mrs. Maxwell's abode was situated on the banks of the Wey.
Stuart was her kinsman; their youth had been spent together; and
Maxwell was in some degree indebted to the man whom he betrayed,
for his alliance with this unfortunate lady. Her esteem for the
character of Stuart had never been diminished. A meeting
between them was occasioned by a tour which the latter had
undertaken, in the year after his return from America, to Wales
and the western counties. This interview produced pleasure and
regret in each. Their own transactions naturally became the
topics of their conversation; and the untimely fate of his wife
and daughter were related by the guest.
Mrs. Maxwell's regard for her friend, as well as for the
safety of her husband, persuaded her to concealment; but the
former being dead, and the latter being out of the kingdom, she
ventured to produce Mrs. Stuart's letter, and to communicate her
own knowledge of the treachery of Maxwell. She had previously
extorted from her guest a promise not to pursue any scheme of
vengeance; but this promise was made while ignorant of the full
extent of Maxwell's depravity, and his passion refused to adhere
to it.
At this time my uncle and I resided at Avignon. Among the
English resident there, and with whom we maintained a social
intercourse, was Maxwell. This man's talents and address
rendered him a favorite both with my uncle and myself. He had
even tendered me his hand in marriage; but this being refused,
he had sought and obtained permission to continue with us the
intercourse of friendship. Since a legal marriage was
impossible, no doubt, his views were flagitious. Whether he had
relinquished these views I was unable to judge.
He was one in a large circle at a villa in the environs, to
which I had likewise been invited, when Stuart abruptly entered
the apartment. He was recognized with genuine satisfaction by
me, and with seeming pleasure by Maxwell. In a short time, some
affair of moment being pleaded, which required an immediate and
exclusive interview, Maxwell and he withdrew together. Stuart
and my uncle had been known to each other in the German army;
and the purpose contemplated by the former in this long and
hasty journey, was confided to his old friend.
A defiance was given and received, and the banks of a
rivulet, about a league from the city, was selected as the scene
of this contest. My uncle, having exerted himself in vain to
prevent an hostile meeting, consented to attend them as a
surgeon.--Next morning, at sun-rise, was the time chosen.
I returned early in the evening to my lodgings.
Preliminaries being settled between the combatants, Stuart had
consented to spend the evening with us, and did not retire till
late. On the way to his hotel he was exposed to no molestation,
but just as he stepped within the portico, a swarthy and
malignant figure started from behind a column. and plunged a
stiletto into his body.
The author of this treason could not certainly be discovered;
but the details communicated by Stuart, respecting the history
of Maxwell, naturally pointed him out as an object of suspicion.
No one expressed more concern, on account of this disaster, than
he; and he pretended an ardent zeal to vindicate his character
from the aspersions that were cast upon it. Thenceforth,
however, I denied myself to his visits; and shortly after he
disappeared from this scene.
Few possessed more estimable qualities, and a better title to
happiness and the tranquil honors of long life, than the mother
and father of Louisa Conway: yet they were cut off in the bloom
of their days; and their destiny was thus accomplished by the
same hand. Maxwell was the instrument of their destruction,
though the instrument was applied to this end in so different a
I leave you to moralize on this tale. That virtue should
become the victim of treachery is, no doubt, a mournful
consideration; but it will not escape your notice, that the
evils of which Carwin and Maxwell were the authors, owed their
existence to the errors of the sufferers. All efforts would
have been ineffectual to subvert the happiness or shorten the
existence of the Stuarts, if their own frailty had not seconded
these efforts. If the lady had crushed her disastrous passion
in the bud, and driven the seducer from her presence, when the
tendency of his artifices was seen; if Stuart had not admitted
the spirit of absurd revenge, we should not have had to deplore
this catastrophe. If Wieland had framed juster notions of moral
duty, and of the divine attributes; or if I had been gifted with
ordinary equanimity or foresight, the double-tongued deceiver
would have been baffled and repelled.

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