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The Fall of the House of Usher


DE BERANGER

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in theautumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in theheavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through asingularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself,as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of themelancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was--but, with thefirst glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloompervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling wasunrelieved by any of that half-pleasureable, because poetic,sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternestnatural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon thescene before me--upon the mere house, and the simple landscapefeatures of the domain--upon the bleak walls--upon the vacanteye-like windows--upon a few rank sedges--and upon a few whitetrunks of decayed trees--with an utter depression of soul which Ican compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to theafter-dream of the reveller upon opium--the bitter lapse intoeveryday life--the hideous dropping off of the veil. There wasan iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart--an unredeemeddreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination couldtorture into aught of the sublime. What was it--I paused tothink--what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation ofthe House of Usher? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could Igrapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as Ipondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactoryconclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there <i are> combinationsof very simple natural objects which have the power of thusaffecting us, still the analysis of this power lies amongconsiderations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected,that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of thescene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient tomodify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowfulimpression; <p 138> and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horseto the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay inunruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down--but with ashudder even more thrilling than before--upon the remodelled andinverted images of the grey sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems,and the vacant and eye-like windows. Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed tomyself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher,had been one of my boon companions in boyhood; but many years hadelapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had latelyreached me in a distant part of the country--a letter from him--which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no otherthan a personal reply. The MS gave evidence of nervousagitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness--of a mentaldisorder which oppressed him--and of an earnest desire to see me,as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a view ofattempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some alleviationof his malady. It was the manner in which all this, and muchmore, was said--it was the apparent <i heart> that went with hisrequest--which allowed me no room for hesitation; and Iaccordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a verysingular summons. Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yetI really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been alwaysexcessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his veryancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiarsensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages,in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, inrepeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well asin a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even morethan to the orthodox and easily recognizable beauties, of musicalscience. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that thestem of the Usher race, all time-honoured as it was, had putforth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, thatthe entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and hadalways, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over inthought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises withthe accredited character of the people, and while speculatingupon the possible influence which the one, in <p 139> the longlapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other--it wasthis deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequentundeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony withthe name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to mergethe original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocalappellation of the 'House of Usher'--an appellation which seemedto include, in the minds of the peasantry who used it, both thefamily and the family mansion. I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childishexperiment--that of looking down within the tarn--had been todeepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt thatthe consciousness of the rapid increase of my suspersition--forwhy should I not so term it?--served mainly to accelerate theincrease itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical lawof all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might havebeen for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes tothe house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew in mymind a strange fancy--a fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I butmention it to show the vivid force of the sensations whichoppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as really tobelieve that about the whole mansion and domain there hung anatmosphere peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity--an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, butwhich had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the grey wall,and the silent tarn--a pestilent and mystic vapour, dull,sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued. Shaking off from my spirit what <i must> have been a dream,I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Itsprincipal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute <i fungi>overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-workfrom the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinarydilapidation. No portion of the masonry had fallen; and thereappeared to be a wild inconsistency between its still perfectadaptation of parts, and the crumbling condition of theindividual stones. In this there was much that reminded me ofthe specious totality of old woodwork which has rotted for longyears in some neglected vault, with no disturbance from thebreath of the external air. Beyond <p 140> this indication ofextensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token ofinstability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer mighthave discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extendingfrom the roof of the building in front, made its way down thewall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the sullenwaters of the tarn. Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to thehouse. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered theGothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thenceconducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricatepassages in my progress to the <i studio> of his master. Muchthat I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, toheighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken. While the objects around me--while the carvings of the ceilings,the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness of thefloors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled asI strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which, I hadbeen accustomed from my infancy--while I hesitated not toacknowledge how familiar was all this--I still wondered to findhow unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images werestirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician ofthe family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingledexpression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me withtrepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door andushered me into the presence of his master. The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a dis-tance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessiblefrom within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their waythrough the trellised panes, and served to render sufficientlydistinct the more prominent objects around; the eye, however,struggled in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, orthe recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperieshung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse,comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musicalinstruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitalityto the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over andpervaded all. <p 141> Upon my entrance, Usher rose from a sofa on which he hadbeen lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmthwhich had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdonecordiality--of the constrained effort of the <i ennuye> man ofthe world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced meof his perfect sincerity. We sat down; and for some moments,while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a feeling half of pity,half of awe. Surely, man had never before so terribly altered,in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher! It was withdifficulty that I could bring myself to admit the identity of thewan being before me with the companion of my early boyhood. Yetthe character of his face had been at all times remarkable. Acadaverousness of complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminousbeyond comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid, but of asurpassing beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew model,but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations; afinely-moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of awant of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness andtenuity; these features, with an inordinate expansion above theregions of the temple, made up altogether a countenance noteasily to be forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of theprevailing character of these features, and of the expressionthey were wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted towhom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the nowmiraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and evenawed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow allunheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated ratherthan fell about the face, I could not, even with effort, connectits arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity. In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with anincoherence--an inconsistency; and I soon found this to arisefrom a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome anhabitual trepidancy--an excessive nervous agitation. Forsomething of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less byhis letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits, andby conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical conformationand temperament. His action was alternately vivacious andsullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision(when the animal <p 142> spirits seemed utterly in abeyance) tothat species of energetic concision--that abrupt, weighty,unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation--that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may beobserved in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater ofopium, during the periods of his most intense excitement. It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of hisearnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me toafford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceivedto be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, aconstitutional and a family evil, and one for which he despairedto find a remedy--a mere nervous affection, he immediately added,which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in ahost of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailedthem, interested and bewildered me; although, perhaps, the terms,and the general manner of the narration had their weight. Hesuffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses; the mostinsipid food was alone endurable; he could wear only garments ofcertain texture; the odours of all flowers were oppressive; hiseyes were tortured by even a faint light; and there were butpeculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which didnot inspire him with horror. To an anomalous species of terror I found him a boundenslave. 'I shall perish,' said he, 'I <i must> perish in thisdeplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I belost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, butin their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the mosttrivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerableagitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger,except in its absolute effect--in terror. In this unnerved--inthis pitiable condition--I feel that the period will sooner orlater arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, insome struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.' I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken andequivocal hints, another singular feature of his mentalcondition. He was enchained by certain superstitious impressionsin regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for manyyears, he had never ventured forth--in regard to an influencewhose supposititious force was conveyed in terms too shadowy hereto be re-stated--an influence which some peculiarities in themere <p 143> form and substance of his family mansion, had, bydint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit--aneffect which the <i physique> of the grey walls and turrets, andof the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at length,brought about upon the <i morale> of his existence. He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much ofthe peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to amore natural and far more palpable origin--to the severe andlong-continued illness--indeed to the evidently approaching dis-solution--of a tenderly beloved sister--his sole companion forlong years--his last and only relative on earth. 'Her decease,'he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, 'would leavehim (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient raceof the Ushers.' While he spoke, the Lady Madeline (for so wasshe called) passed slowly through a remote portion of theapartment, and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled withdread--and yet I found it impossible to account for suchfeelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me, as my eyesfollowed her retreating steps. When a door, at length, closedupon her, my glance sought instinctively and eagerly thecountenance of the brother--but he had buried his face in hishands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinarywanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through whichtrickled many passionate tears. The disease of the Lady Madeline had long baffled the skillof her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away ofthe person, and frequent although transient affections of apartially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of hermalady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed; but, on theclosing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, shesuccumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressibleagitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer; and Ilearned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would thusprobably be the last I should obtain--that the lady, at leastwhile living, would be seen by me no more. For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by eitherUsher or myself; and during this period I was busied in earnest<p 144> endeavours to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. Wepainted and read together; or I listened, as if in a dream, tothe wild improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as acloser and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedlyinto the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceivethe futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from whichdarkness, as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth uponall objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasingradiation of gloom. I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hoursI thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet Ishould fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exactcharacter of the studies, or of the occupations, in which heinvolved me, or led me the way. An excited and highlydistempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. Hislong improvised dirges will ring for ever in my ears. Amongother things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singularperversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz ofVon Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancybrooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vagueness at whichI shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing notwhy;--from these paintings (vivid as their images now are beforeme) I would in vain endeavour to educe more than a small portionwhich should lie within the compass of merely written words. Bythe utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, hearrested and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea,that mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least--in thecircumstances then surrounding me--there arose out of the pureabstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to throw upon hiscanvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no shadow of which feltI ever yet in the contemplation of the certainly glowing yet tooconcrete reveries of Fuseli. One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend,partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may beshadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picturepresented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular vaultor tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and withoutinterruption or device. Certain accessory points of the designserved well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at anexceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet wasobserved in any <p 145> portion of its vast extent, and no torch,or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a floodof intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in aghastly and inappropriate splendour. I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditorynerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, withthe exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. Itwas, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himselfupon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to thefantastic character of the performances. But the fervid <ifacility> of his <i impromptus> could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in thewords of his wild fantasies (for he not unfrequently accompaniedhimself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of thatintense mental collectedness and concentration to which I havepreviously alluded as observable only in particular moments ofthe highest artificial excitement. The words of one of theserhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the moreforcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the underor mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, andfor the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, ofthe tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses,which were entitled 'The Haunted Palace', ran very nearly, if notaccurately, thus: I In the greenest of our valleys, By good angels tenanted, Once a fair and stately palace-- Radiant palace--reared its head. In the monarch Thought's dominion-- It stood there! Never seraph spread a pinion Over fabric half so fair. II Banners yellow, glorious, golden, On its roof did float and flow; (This--all this--was in the olden Time long ago) <p 146> And every gentle air that dallied, In that sweet day, Along the ramparts plumed and pallid, A winged odour went away. III Wanderers in that happy valley Through two luminous windows saw Spirits moving musically To a lute's well tuned law, Round about a throne, where sitting (Porphyrogene!) In state his glory well befitting, The ruler of the realm was seen. IV And all with pearl and ruby glowing Was the fair palace door, Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing And sparkling evermore, A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty Was but to sing, In voices of surpassing beauty, The wit and wisdom of their king. V But evil things, in robes of sorrow, Assailed the monarch's high estate; (Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow Shall dawn upon him, desolate!) And, round about his home, the glory That blushed and bloomed Is but a dim-remembered story, Of the old time entombed. VI And travellers now within that valley, Through the red-litten windows, see Vast forms that move fantastically To a discordant melody; <p 147> While, like a rapid ghastly river, Through the pale door, A hideous throng rush out forever, And laugh--but smile no more. I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad,led us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest anopinion of Usher's which I mention not so much on account of itsnovelty (for other men1 have thought thus), as on account of thepertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in itsgeneral form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more daringcharacter, and trespassed, under certain conditions, upon thekingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express the fullextent, or the earnest <i abandon> of his persuasion. Thebelief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted) withthe grey stones of the home of his forefathers. The conditionsof the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in themethod of collocation of these stones--in the order of theirarrangement, as well as in that of the many <i fungi> whichoverspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood around--above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement,and in its reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Itsevidence--the evidence of the sentience--was to be seen, he said,(and I here started as he spoke) in the gradual yet certaincondensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters andthe walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in thatsilent, yet importunate and terrible influence which forcenturies had moulded the destinies of his family, and which made<i him> what I now saw him--what he was. Such opinions need nocomment, and I will make none. Our books--the books which, for years, had formed no smallportion of the mental existence of the invalid--were, as might besupposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. Wepored together over such works as the <i Ververt et Chartreuse>of Gresset; the <i Belphegor> of Machiavelli; the <i Heaven andHell> of1 Watson, Dr Percival, Spallanzani, and especially the Bishop ofLandaff. <p 148>Swedenborg; the <i Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm> byHolberg; the <i Chiromancy> of Robert Flud, of Jean D'Indagine,and of De la Chambre; the <i Journey into the Blue Distance> ofTieck; and the <i City of the Sun> by Campanella. One favouritevolume was a small octavo edition of the <i DirectoriumInquisitorum>, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and therewere passages in <i Pomponius Mela>, about the old African Satyrsand Aegipans, over which Usher would sit dreaming for hours. Hischief delight, however, was found in the perusal of anexceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic--the manual ofa forgotten church--the <i Vigiliae Mortuorum Chorum EcclesiaeMaguntinae>. I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work,and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, oneevening, having informed me abruptly that the Lady Madeline wasno more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse for afortnight (previously to its final interment), in one of thenumerous vaults within the main walls of the building. Theworldly reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding,was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brotherhad been led to his resolution (so he told me) by considerationof the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, ofcertain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medicalmen, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burial-groundof the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind thesinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase,on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to opposewhat I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means anunnatural, precaution. At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in thearrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having beenencoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in whichwe placed it (and which had been so long unopened that ourtorches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave uslittle opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, andentirely without means of admission for light; lying, at greatdepth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in whichwas my own sleeping apartment. It had been used, apparently, inremote feudal times, for the worst purpose of a donjon-keep, and,in later days, <p 149> as a place of deposit for powder, or someother highly combustible substance, as a portion of its floor,and the whole interior of a long archway through which we reachedit, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massiveiron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weightcaused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon itshinges. Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels withinthis region of horror, we partially turned aside the yetunscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of thetenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister nowfirst arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps, mythoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned thatthe deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies of ascarcely intelligible nature had always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead--for we couldnot regard her unawed. The disease which had thus entombed thelady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual in all maladiesof a strictly cataleptical character, the mockery of a faintblush upon the bosom and the face, and that suspiciouslylingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in death. Wereplaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the doorof iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomyapartments of the upper portion of the house. And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, anobservable change came over the features of the mental disorderof my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinaryoccupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamberto chamber with hurried, unequal, and objectless step. Thepallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a moreghastly hue--but the luminousness of his eye had utterly goneout. The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard nomore; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habituallycharacterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when Ithought his unceasingly agitated mind was labouring with someoppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for thenecessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve allinto the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld himgazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of theprofoundest attention, as if <p 150> listening to some imaginarysound. It was no wonder that his condition terrified--that itinfected me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certaindegrees, the wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressivesuperstitions. It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the nightof the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the LadyMadeline within the donjon, that I experienced the full power ofsuch feelings. Sleep came not near my couch--while the hourswaned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousnesswhich had dominion over me. I endeavoured to believe that much,if not all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influenceof the gloomy furniture of the room--of the dark and tattereddraperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a risingtempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls, and rustleduneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my efforts werefruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame;and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus ofutterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and astruggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peeringearnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened--I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me--tocertain low and indefinite sounds which came, through the pausesof the storm, at long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpoweredby an intense sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable,I threw on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleepno more during the night), and endeavoured to arouse myself fromthe pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidlyto and fro through the apartment. I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light stepon an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presentlyrecognized it as that of Usher. In an instant afterwards herapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing alamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan--but,moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes--anevidently restrained <i hysteria> in his whole demeanour. Hisair appalled me--but anything was preferable to the solitudewhich I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his presence asa relief. 'And you have not seen it?' he said abruptly, after havingstared <p 151> about him for some moments in silence--'you havenot then seen it?--but, stay! you shall.' Thus speaking, andhaving carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of thecasements, and threw it freely open to the storm. The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted usfrom our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternlybeautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and itsbeauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in ourvicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in thedirection of the wind; and the exceeding density of the clouds(which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) didnot prevent our perceiving the lifelike velocity with which theyflew careering from all points against each other, withoutpassing away into the distance. I say that even their exceedingdensity did not prevent our perceiving this--yet we had noglimpse of the moon or stars--nor was there any flashing forth ofthe lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses ofagitated vapour, as well as all terrestrial objects immediatelyaround us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintlyluminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hungabout and enshrouded the mansion. 'You must not--you shall not behold this!' said I,shudderingly, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence,from the window to a seat. 'These appearances, which bewilderyou, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon--or it may bethat they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of thetarn. Let us close this casement;--the air is chilling anddangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favourite romances. I will read, and you shall listen;--and so we will pass away thisterrible night together.' The antique volume which I had taken up was the <i MadTrist> of Sir Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favouriteof Usher's more in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, thereis little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which couldhave had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of myfriend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand; andI indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now agitatedthe hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of mentaldisorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the extremeness ofthe folly which I should read. Could I have judged, indeed, bythe wild <p 152> overstrained air of vivacity with which hehearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the words of the tale, Imight well have congratulated myself upon the success of mydesign. I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story whereEthelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain forpeaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds tomake good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, thewords of the narrative run thus: 'And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and whowas now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the winewhich he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with thehermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn,but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the risingof the tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, madequickly room in the plankings of the door for his gauntletedhand; and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, andripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry andhollow-sounding wood alarmed and reverberated throughout theforest.' At the termination of this sentence I started, and for amoment, paused; for it appeared to me (although I at onceconcluded that my excited fancy had deceived me)--it appeared tome that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, therecame, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in itsexact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dullone certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which SirLauncelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt,the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention; for, amidthe rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinarycommingled noises of the still increasing storm, the sound, initself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested ordisturbed me. I continued the story: 'But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within thedoor, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of themaliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scalyand prodigious demeanour, and of a fiery tongue, which sate inguard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver; and uponthe wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legendenwritten-- <p 153> Who entered herein, a conquerer hath bin; Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;and Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of thedragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, witha shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, thatEthelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against thedreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.' Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wildamazement--for there could be no doubt whatever that, in thisinstance, I did actually hear (although from what direction itproceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparentlydistant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming orgrating sound--the exact counterpart of what my fancy had alreadyconjured up for the dragon's unnatural shriek as described by theromancer. Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of thesecond and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousandconflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror werepredominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind toavoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness ofmy companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed thesounds in question; although, assuredly, a strange alterationhad, during the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanour. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually brought roundhis chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber;and thus I could but partially perceive his features, although Isaw that his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast--yet I knew that he was notasleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I caught aglance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too, was atvariance with this idea--for he rocked from side to side with agentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly takennotice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot,which thus proceeded: 'And now, the champion, having escaped from the terriblefury of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, andof the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removedthe carcass from out of the way before him, and approached <p154> valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to wherethe shield was upon the wall; which in sooth tarried not for hisfull coming, but fell down at his feet upon the silver floor,with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound.' No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than--as if ashield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon afloor of silver--I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic,and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completelyunnerved, I leaped to my feet; but the measured rocking movementof Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before him, and throughout his wholecountenance there reigned a stony rigidity. But, as I placed myhand upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over hiswhole person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I sawthat he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as ifunconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I atlength drank in the hideous import of his words. 'Not hear it?--yes, I hear it, and <i have> heard it. Long--long--long--many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heardit--yet I dared not--oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am!--Idared not--I <i dared> not speak! <i We have put her living inthe tomb>! Said I not that my senses were acute? I <i now> tellyou that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I heard them--many, many days ago--yet I dared not--<i I darednot speak>! And now--to-night--Ethelred--ha! ha!--the breakingof the hermit's door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and theclangour of the shield!--say, rather, the rending of her coffin,and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and herstruggles within the coppered archway of the vault! Oh whithershall I fly? Will she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying toupbraid me for my haste? Have I not heard her footsteps on thestair? Do I not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating ofher heart? MADMAN!' here he sprang furiously to his feet, andshrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he was giving uphis soul--'MADMAN! I TELL YOU THAT SHE NOW STANDS WITHOUT THEDOOR!' As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there hadbeen found the potency of a spell--the huge antique panels towhich the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant,their <p 155> ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of therushing gust--but then without those doors there DID stand thelofty and enshrouded figure of the Lady Madeline of Usher. Therewas blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of some bitterstruggle upon every portion of her emaciated frame. For a momentshe remained trembling and reeling to and fro upon the threshold,then, with a low moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the personof her brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies,bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors hehad anticipated. From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myselfcrossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path awild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual couldhave issued; for the vast house and its shadows were alone behindme. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-redmoon which now shone vividly through that once barely-discerniblefissure of which I have before spoken as extending from the roofof the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base. While Igazed, this fissure rapidly widened--there came a fierce breathof the whirlwind--the entire orb of the satellite burst at onceupon my sight--my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushingasunder--there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like thevoice of a thousand waters--and the deep and dank tarn at my feetclosed sullenly and silently over the fragments of the 'HOUSE OFUSHER'.


 

 

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