Fiction > Charles Brockden Brown > Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker
Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810).  Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker.  1857.
Letter III
To Edgar Huntly.
  AFTER the fatigues of the day, I returned home. As I entered, my wife was breaking the seal of a letter; but, on seeing me, she forbore, and presented the letter to me.
  “I saw,” said she, “by the superscription of this letter, who the writer was. So, agreeably to your wishes, I proceeded to open it; but you have come just time enough to save me the trouble.”  2
  This letter was from you. It contained information relative to Clithero. See how imminent a chance it was that saved my wife from a knowledge of its contents! It required all my efforts to hide my perturbation from her and excuse myself from showing her the letter.  3
  I know better than you the character of Clithero, and the consequences of a meeting between him and my wife. You may be sure that I would exert myself to prevent a meeting.  4
  The method for me to pursue was extremely obvious. Clithero is a madman, whose liberty is dangerous, and who requires to be fettered and imprisoned as the most atrocious criminal.  5
  I hastened to the chief-magistrate, who is my friend, and, by proper representations, obtained from him authority to seize Clithero wherever I should meet with him, and effectually debar him from the perpetration of new mischiefs.  6
  New York does not afford a place of confinement for lunatics as suitable to his case as Pennsylvania. I was desirous of placing him as far as possible from the place of my wife’s residence. Fortunately, there was a packet for Philadelphia on the point of setting out on her voyage. This vessel I engaged to wait a day or two, for the purpose of conveying him to Pennsylvania Hospital. Meanwhile, proper persons were stationed at Powles Hook, and at the quays where the various stage-boats from Jersey arrive.  7
  These precautions were effectual. Not many hours after the receipt of your intelligence, this unfortunate man applied for a passage at Elizabethtown, was seized the moment he set his foot on shore, and was forthwith conveyed to the packet, which immediately set sail.  8
  I designed that all these proceedings should be concealed from the women, but unfortunately neglected to take suitable measures for hindering the letter, which you gave me reason to expect on the ensuing day, from coming into their hands. It was delivered to my wife in my absence, and opened immediately by her.  9
  You know what is, at present, her personal condition. You know what strong reasons I had to prevent any danger or alarm from approaching her. Terror could not assume a shape more ghastly than this. The effects have been what might have been easily predicted. Her own life has been imminently endangered, and an untimely birth has blasted my fondest hope. Her infant, with whose future existence so many pleasures were entwined, is dead.  10
  I assure you, Edgar, my philosophy has not found itself lightsome and active under this burden. I find it hard to forbear commenting on your rashness in no very mild terms. You acted in direct opposition to my counsel and to the plainest dictates of propriety. Be more circumspect and more obsequious for the future.  11
  You knew the liberty that would be taken of opening my letters; you knew of my absence from home during the greatest part of the day, and the likelihood, therefore, that your letters would fall into my wife’s hands before they came into mine. These considerations should have prompted you to send them under cover to Whitworth or Harvey, with directions to give them immediately to me.  12
  Some of these events happened in my absence; for I determined to accompany the packet myself, and see the madman safely delivered to the care of the hospital.  13
  I will not torture your sensibility by recounting the incidents of his arrest and detention. You will imagine that his strong but perverted reason exclaimed loudly against the injustice of his treatment. It was easy for him to out-reason his antagonist, and nothing but force could subdue his opposition. On me devolved the province of his jailer and his tyrant,—a province which required a heart more steeled by spectacles of suffering and the exercise of cruelty than mine had been.  14
  Scarcely had we passed the Narrows, when the lunatic, being suffered to walk the deck, (as no apprehensions were entertained of his escape in such circumstances,) threw himself overboard, with a seeming intention to gain the shore. The boat was immediately manned; the fugitive was pursued; but, at the moment when his flight was overtaken, he forced himself beneath the surface, and was seen no more.  15
  With the life of this wretch, let our regrets and our forebodings terminate. He has saved himself from evils for which no time would have provided a remedy, from lingering for years in the noisome dungeon of a hospital. Having no reason to continue my voyage, I put myself on board a coasting-sloop, and regained this city in a few hours. I persuade myself that my wife’s indisposition will be temporary. It was impossible to hide from her the death of Clithero, and its circumstances. May this be the last arrow in the quiver of adversity! Farewell.


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