Wieland; or The Transformation, An American Tale
Charles Brockden Brown
Part 3 out of 5
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
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
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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
"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
"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.
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
"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,
that not a LINEAMENT REMAINED!
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
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.
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
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