Charles Brockden Brown (17711810). Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 1857.
I HUNG over the unhappy wretch, whose emaciated form and rueful features sufficiently bespoke that savage hands had only completed that destruction which his miseries had begun. He was mangled by the tomahawk in a shocking manner, and there was little hope that human skill could save his life.
I was sensible of nothing but compassion. I acted without design, when, seating myself on the floor, I raised his head and placed it on my knees. This movement awakened his attention, and, opening his eyes, he fixed them on my countenance. They testified neither insensibility, nor horror, nor distraction. A faint emotion of surprise gave way to an appearance of tranquillity. Having perceived these tokens of a state less hopeless than I at first imagined, I spoke to him:My friend, how do you feel? Can any thing be done for you?
He answered me in a tone more firm and with more coherence of ideas than previous appearances had taught me to expect. No, said he; thy kindness, good youth, can avail me nothing. The end of my existence here is at hand. May my guilt be expiated by the miseries that I have suffered, and my good deeds only attend me to the presence of my divine Judge!
I am waiting, not with trembling or dismay, for this close of my sorrows. I breathed but one prayer, and that prayer has been answered. I asked for an interview with thee, young man; but, feeling as I now feel, this interview, so much desired, was beyond my hope. Now thou art come, in due season, to hear the last words that I shall need to utter.
I retired to the innermost recess of Norwalk, and gained the summit of a hill, by subterranean paths. This hill I knew to be on all sides inaccessible to human footsteps, and the subterranean passages were closed up by stones. Here I believed my solitude exempt from interruption, and my death, in consequence of famine, sure.
Some time after, awakening from a long sleep, I found victuals beside me. He that brought it was invisible. For a time, I doubted whether some messenger of heaven had not interposed for my salvation. How other than by supernatural means my retreat should be explored, I was unable to conceive. The summit was encompassed by dizzy and profound gulfs, and the subterranean passages were still closed.
This opinion, though corrected by subsequent reflection, tended to change the course of my desperate thoughts. My hunger, thus importunately urged, would not abstain, and I ate of the food that was provided. Henceforth I determined to live, to resume the path of obscurity and labour which I had relinquished, and wait till my God should summon me to retribution. To anticipate his call is only to redouble our guilt.
I designed not to return to Inglefields service, but to choose some other and remoter district. Meanwhile, I had left in his possession a treasure, which my determination to die had rendered of no value, but which my change of resolution restored. Enclosed in a box at Inglefields were the memoirs of Euphemia Lorimer, by which, in all my vicissitudes, I had been hitherto accompanied, and from which I consented to part only because I had refused to live. My existence was now to be prolonged, and this manuscript was once more to constitute the torment and the solace of my being.
I hastened to Inglefields by night. There was no need to warn him of my purpose. I desired that my fate should be an eternal secret to my ancient master and his neighbours. The apartment containing my box was well known, and easily accessible.
The box was found, but broken and rifled of its treasure. My transports of astonishment, and indignation, and grief, yielded to the resumption of my fatal purpose. I hastened back to the hill, and determined anew to perish.
This mood continued to the evening of the ensuing day. Wandering over rocks and pits, I discovered the manuscript lying under a jutting precipice. The chance that brought it hither was not less propitious and miraculous than that by which I had been supplied with food. It produced a similar effect upon my feelings, and, while in possession of this manuscript, I was reconciled to the means of life. I left the mountain, and, traversing the wilderness, stopped in Chetasco. That kind of employment which I sought was instantly procured; but my new vocation was scarcely assumed when a band of savages invaded our security.
Rambling in the desert by moonlight, I encountered these foes. They rushed upon me, and, after numerous wounds, which for the present neither killed nor disabled me, they compelled me to keep pace with them in their retreat. Some hours have passed since the troop was overtaken and my liberty redeemed. Hardships, and repeated wounds, inflicted at the moment when the invaders were surprised and slain, have brought me to my present condition. I rejoice that my course is about to terminate.
Here the speaker was interrupted by the tumultuous entrance of the party by whom he had been brought hither. Their astonishment at seeing me sustaining the head of the dying man may be easily conceived. Their surprise was more strongly excited by the disappearance of the captive whom they had left in this apartment, bound hand and foot. It now appeared that, of the savage troop who had adventured thus far in search of pillage and blood, all had been destroyed but two, who had been led hither as prisoners. On their entrance into this house, one of the party had been sent to Walcots to summon Sarsefield to the aid of the wounded man, while others had gone in search of cords to secure the arms and legs of the captives, who had hitherto been manacled imperfectly.
The cords were brought and one of them was bound; but the other, before the same operation was begun upon him, broke, by a sudden effort, the feeble ligatures by which he was at present constrained, and, seizing a musket that lay near him, fired on his enemies, and then rushed out of doors. All eagerly engaged in the pursuit. The savage was fleet as a deer, and finally eluded his pursuers.
While their attention was thus engaged abroad, he that remained found means to extricate his wrists and ankles from his bonds, and, betaking himself to the stairs, escaped, as I before described, through the window of the room which I had occupied. They pestered me with their curiosity and wonder, for I was known to all of them; but, waiving the discussion of my own concerns, I entreated their assistance to carry Clithero to the chamber and the bed which I had just deserted.
I now, in spite of pain, fatigue, and watchfulness, set out to go to Waltons. Sarsefield was ready to receive me at the door, and the kindness and compassion of the family were active in my behalf. I was conducted to a chamber and provided with suitable attendance and remedies.
I was not unmindful of the more deplorable condition of Clithero. I incessantly meditated on the means for his relief. His case stood in need of all the vigilance and skill of a physician, and Sarsefield was the only one of that profession whose aid could be seasonably administered. Sarsefield, therefore, must be persuaded to bestow this aid.
There was but one mode of conquering his abhorrence of this man,to prepossess my friend with the belief of the innocence of Clithero, or to soothe him into pity by a picture of remorse and suffering. This could be done, and in the manner most conformable to truth, by a simple recital of the incidents that had befallen, and by repeating the confession which had been extorted from Clithero.
I requested all but my friend to leave my chamber, and then, soliciting a patient hearing, began the narrative of Waldegraves death; of the detection of Clithero beneath the shade of the elm; of the suspicions which were thence produced; and of the forest interview to which these suspicions gave birth. I then repeated, without variation or addition, the tale which was then told. I likewise mentioned my subsequent transactions in Norwalk, so far as they illustrated the destiny of Clithero.
During this recital, I fixed my eyes upon the countenance of Sarsefield, and watched every emotion as it arose or declined. With the progress of my tale, his indignation and his fury grew less, and at length gave place to horror and compassion.
His seat became uneasy; his pulse throbbed with new vehemence. When I came to the motives which prompted the unhappy man to visit the chamber of his mistress, he started from his seat, and sometimes strode across the floor in a troubled mood, and sometimes stood before me, with his breath almost suspended in the eagerness of his attention. When I mentioned the lifted dagger, the shriek from behind, and the apparition that interposed, he shuddered and drew back, as if a dagger had been aimed at his breast.
It is true. A tale like this could never be the fruit of invention, or be invented to deceive. He has done himself injustice. His character was spotless and fair. All his moral properties seemed to have resolved themselves into gratitude, fidelity, and honour.
We parted at the door, late in the evening, as he mentioned, and he guessed truly that subsequent reflection had induced me to return and to disclose the truth to Mrs. Lorimer. Clarice, relieved by the sudden death of her friend, and unexpectedly by all, arrived at the same hour.
These tidings astonished, afflicted, and delighted the lady. Her brothers death had been long believed by all but herself. To find her doubts verified, and his existence ascertained, was the dearest consolation that he ever could bestow. She was afflicted at the proofs that had been noted of the continuance of his depravity, but she dreaded no danger to herself from his malignity or vengeance.
The ignorance and prepossessions of this woman were remarkable. On this subject only she was perverse, headstrong, obstinate. Her anxiety to benefit this arch-ruffian occupied her whole thoughts, and allowed her no time to reflect upon the reasonings or remonstrances of others. She could not be prevailed on to deny herself to his visits, and I parted from her in the utmost perplexity.
A messenger came to me at midnight, entreating my immediate presence. Some disaster had happened, but of what kind the messenger was unable to tell. My fears easily conjured up the image of Wiatte. Terror scarcely allowed me to breathe. When I entered the house of Mrs. Lorimer, I was conducted to her chamber. She lay upon the bed in a state of stupefaction, that arose from some mental cause. Clarice sat by her, wringing her hands, and pouring forth her tears without intermission. Neither could explain to me the nature of the scene. I made inquiries of the servants and attendants. They merely said that the family as usual had retired to rest, but their ladys bell rung with great violence, and called them in haste to her chamber, where they found her in a swoon upon the floor, and the young lady in the utmost affright and perturbation.
Suitable means being used, Mrs. Lorimer had, at length, recovered, but was still nearly insensible. I went to Clitheros apartments; but he was not to be found, and the domestics informed me that, since he had gone with me, he had not returned. The doors between this chamber and the court were open; hence, that some dreadful interview had taken place, perhaps with Wiatte, was an unavoidable conjecture. He had withdrawn, however, without committing any personal injury.
I need not mention my reflections upon this scene. All was tormenting doubt and suspense, till the morning arrived, and tidings were received that Wiatte had been killed in the streets. This event was antecedent to that which had occasioned Mrs. Lorimers distress and alarm. I now remembered that fatal prepossession by which the lady was governed, and her frantic belief that her death and that of her brother were to fall out at the same time. Could some witness of his death have brought her tidings of it? Had he penetrated, unexpected and unlicensed, to her chamber? and were these the effects produced by the intelligence?
Presently I knew that not only Wiatte was dead, but that Clithero had killed him. Clithero had not been known to return, and was nowhere to be found. He, then, was the bearer of these tidings, for none but he could have found access or egress without disturbing the servants.
These doubts were at length at an end. In a broken and confused manner, and after the lapse of some days, the monstrous and portentous truth was disclosed. After our interview, the lady and her daughter had retired to the same chamber; the former had withdrawn to her closet, and the latter to bed. Some ones entrance alarmed the lady, and, coming forth after a moments pause, the spectacle which Clithero has too faithfully described presented itself.
What could I think? A life of uniform hypocrisy, or a sudden loss of reason, were the only suppositions to be formed. Clithero was the parent of fury and abhorrence in my heart. In either case I started at the name. I shuddered at the image of the apostate or the maniac.
What? Kill the brother whose existence was interwoven with that of his benefactress and his friend? Then hasten to her chamber, and attempt her life? Lift a dagger to destroy her who had been the author of his being and his happiness?
He that could meditate a deed like this was no longer man. An agent from hell had mastered his faculties. He was become the engine of infernal malice, against whom it was the duty of all mankind to rise up in arms and never to desist till, by shattering it to atoms, its power to injure was taken away.
All inquiries to discover the place of his retreat were vain. No wonder, methought, that he wrapped himself in the folds of impenetrable secrecy. Curbed, checked, baffled in the midst of his career, no wonder that he shrunk into obscurity, that he fled from justice and revenge, that he dared not meet the rebukes of that eye which, dissolving in tenderness or flashing with disdain, had ever been irresistible.
But how shall I describe the ladys condition? Clithero she had cherished from his infancy. He was the stay, the consolation, the pride of her life. His projected alliance with her daughter made him still more dear. Her eloquence was never tired of expatiating on his purity and rectitude. No wonder that she delighted in this theme, for he was her own work. His virtues were the creatures of her bounty.
How hard to be endured was this sad reverse! She can be tranquil, but never more will she be happy. To promote her forgetfulness of him, I persuaded her to leave her country, which contained a thousand memorials of past calamity, and which was lapsing fast into civil broils. Clarice has accompanied us, and time may effect the happiness of others by her means, though she can never remove the melancholy of her mother.
He can never be regarded with complacency by my wife. He can never be thought of without shuddering by Clarice. Common ills are not without a cure less than death, but here all remedies are vain. Consciousness itself is the malady, the pest, of which he only is cured who ceases to think.
I could not but assent to this mournful conclusion: yet, though death was better to Clithero than life, could not some of his mistakes be rectified? Euphemia Lorimer, contrary to his belief, was still alive. He dreamed that she was dead, and a thousand evils were imagined to flow from that death. This death, and its progeny of ills, haunted his fancy, and added keenness to his remorse. Was it not our duty to rectify this error?
Sarsefield reluctantly assented to the truth of my arguments on this head. He consented to return, and afford the dying man the consolation of knowing that the being whom he adored as a benefactor and parent had not been deprived of existence, though bereft of peace by his act.
During Sarsefields absence my mind was busy in revolving the incidents that had just occurred. I ruminated on the last words of Clithero. There was somewhat in his narrative that was obscure and contradictory. He had left the manuscript, which he so much and so justly prized, in his cabinet. He entered the chamber in my absence, and found the cabinet unfastened and the manuscript gone. It was I by whom the cabinet was opened; but the manuscript supposed to be contained in it was buried in the earth beneath the elm. How should Clithero be unacquainted with its situation, since none but Clithero could have dug for it this grave?
This mystery vanished when I reflected on the history of my own manuscript. Clithero had buried his treasure with his own hands, as mine had been secreted by myself; but both acts had been performed during sleep. The deed was neither prompted by the will nor noticed by the senses of him by whom it was done. Disastrous and humiliating is the state of man! By his own hands is constructed the mass of misery and error in which his steps are forever involved.
Thus it was with thy friend. Hurried on by phantoms too indistinct to be now recalled, I wandered from my chamber to the desert. I plunged into some unvisited cavern, and easily proceeded till I reached the edge of a pit. There my step was deceived, and I tumbled headlong from the precipice. The fall bereaved me of sense, and I continued breathless and motionless during the remainder of the night and the ensuing day.
How little cognizance have men over the actions and motives of each other! How total is our blindness with regard to our own performances! Who would have sought me in the bowels of this mountain? Ages might have passed away, before my bones would be discovered in this tomb by some traveller whom curiosity had prompted to explore it.
I was roused from these reflections by Sarsefields return. Inquiring into Clitheros condition, he answered that the unhappy man was insensible, but that, notwithstanding numerous and dreadful gashes in different parts of his body, it was possible that, by submitting to the necessary treatment, he might recover.
Encouraged by this information, I endeavoured to awaken the zeal and compassion of my friend in Clitheros behalf. He recoiled with involuntary shuddering from any task which would confine him to the presence of this man. Time and reflection, he said, might introduce different sentiments and feelings, but at present he could not but regard this person as a maniac, whose disease was irremediable, and whose existence could not be protracted but to his own misery and the misery of others.
Finding him irreconcilably averse to any scheme connected with the welfare of Clithero, I began to think that his assistance as a surgeon was by no means necessary. He had declared that the sufferer needed nothing more than common treatment; and to this the skill of a score of aged women in this district, furnished with simples culled from the forest, and pointed out, of old time, by Indian leeches, was no less adequate than that of Sarsefield. These women were ready and officious in their charity, and none of them were prepossessed against the sufferer by a knowledge of his genuine story.
Sarsefield, meanwhile, was impatient for my removal to Inglefields habitation, and that venerable friend was no less impatient to receive me. My hurts were superficial, and my strength sufficiently repaired by a nights repose. Next day I went thither, leaving Clithero to the care of his immediate neighbours.
Sarsefields engagements compelled him to prosecute his journey into Virginia, from which he had somewhat deviated in order to visit Solesbury. He proposed to return in less than a month, and then to take me in his company to New York. He has treated me with paternal tenderness, and insists upon the privilege of consulting for my interest as if he were my real father. Meanwhile these views have been disclosed to Inglefield, and it is with him that I am to remain, with my sisters, until his return.
My reflections have been various and tumultuous. They have been busy in relation to you, to Weymouth, and especially to Clithero. The latter, polluted with gore and weakened by abstinence, fatigue, and the loss of blood, appeared in my eyes to be in a much more dangerous condition than the event proved him to be. I was punctually informed of the progress of his cure, and proposed in a few days to visit him. The duty of explaining the truth, respecting the present condition of Mrs. Lorimer, had devolved upon me. By imparting this intelligence, I hoped to work the most auspicious revolutions in his feelings, and prepared, therefore, with alacrity, for an interview.
In this hope I was destined to be disappointed. On the morning on which I intended to visit him, a messenger arrived from the house in which he was entertained, and informed us that the family, on entering the sick mans apartment, had found it deserted. It appeared that Clithero had, during the night, risen from his bed and gone secretly forth. No traces of his flight have since been discovered.
But, oh, my friend, the death of Waldegrave, thy brother, is at length divested of uncertainty and mystery. Hitherto, I had been able to form no conjecture respecting it; but the solution was found shortly after this time.
Queen Mab, three days after my adventure, was seized in her hut on suspicion of having aided and counselled her countrymen in their late depredations. She was not to be awed or intimidated by the treatment she received, but readily confessed and gloried in the mischief she had done, and accounted for it by enumerating the injuries which she had received from her neighbours.
These injuries consisted in contemptuous or neglectful treatment, and in the rejection of groundless and absurd claims. The people of Chetasco were less obsequious to her humours than those of Solesbury, her ancient neighbourhood, and her imagination brooded for a long time over nothing but schemes of revenge. She became sullen, irascible, and spent more of her time in solitude than ever.
A troop of her countrymen at length visited her hut. Their intentions being hostile, they concealed from the inhabitants their presence in this quarter of the country. Some motives induced them to withdraw and postpone, for the present, the violence which they meditated. One of them, however, more sanguinary and audacious than the rest, would not depart without some gratification of his vengeance. He left his associates and penetrated by night into Solesbury, resolving to attack the first human being whom he should meet. It was the fate of thy unhappy brother to encounter this ruffian, whose sagacity made him forbear to tear away the usual trophy from the dead, lest he should afford grounds for suspicion as to the authors of the evil.
Satisfied with this exploit, he rejoined his companions, and, after an interval of three weeks, returned with a more numerous party, to execute a more extensive project of destruction. They were counselled and guided, in all their movements, by Queen Mab, who now explained these particulars and boldly defied her oppressors. Her usual obstinacy and infatuation induced her to remain in her ancient dwelling and prepare to meet the consequences.
This disclosure awakened anew all the regrets and anguish which flowed from that disaster. It has been productive, however, of some benefit. Suspicions and doubts, by which my soul was harassed, and which were injurious to the innocent, are now at an end. It is likewise some imperfect consolation to reflect that the assassin has himself been killed, and probably by my own hand. The shedder of blood no longer lives to pursue his vocation, and justice is satisfied.
Thus have I fulfilled my promise to compose a minute relation of my sufferings. I remembered my duty to thee, and, as soon as I was able to hold a pen, employed it to inform thee of my welfare. I could not at that time enter into particulars, but reserved a more copious narrative till a period of more health and leisure.
On looking back, I am surprised at the length to which my story has run. I thought that a few days would suffice to complete it; but one page has insensibly been added to another, till I have consumed weeks and filled volumes. Here I will draw to a close; I will send you what I have written, and discuss with you in conversation my other immediate concerns, and my schemes for the future. As soon as I have seen Sarsefield, I will visit you. FAREWELL.