Story 9 - The Fall of the House of by Spitoufs
Story 9 - The Fall of the House of by Spitoufs
During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the
autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in
the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through
a singularly dreary tract of country and at length found
myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of
the melancholy House of Usher.
I know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the
building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit.
I say insufferable for the feeling was unrelieved by any of
that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which
the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of
the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me -
upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the
domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the vacant eye-like windows
- upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few white trunks of
decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul which I can
compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the
after-dream of the reveller upon opium- the bitter lapse into
everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil.
There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart -
an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the
imagination could torture into aught of the sublime.
What was it - I paused to think - what was it that so unnerved
me in the contemplation of the House of Usher ?
It was a mystery all insoluble nor could I grapple with the
shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered.
I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion,
that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very
simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting
us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations
beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere
different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the
details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify,
or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression
and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous
brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre
by the dwelling, and gazed down- but with a shudder even more
thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images
of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant
and eye-like windows.
Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself
a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been
one of my boon companions in boyhood but many years had
elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately
reached me in a distant part of the country - a letter from him
- which, in its wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no
other than a personal reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous
agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily illness - of a mental
disorder which oppressed him - and of an earnest desire to see
me, as his best, and indeed his only personal friend, with a
view of attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some
alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this,
and much more, was said -it was the apparent heart that went
with his request - which allowed me no room for hesitation
and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a
very singular summons.
Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet
I really knew little of my friend.
His reserve had been always excessive and habitual.
I was aware, however, that his very ancient family had been
noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of
temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many
works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated
deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a
passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than
to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of musical
science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the
stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put
forth, at no period, any enduring branch in other words,
that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and
had always, with very trifling and very temporary variation,
so lain.
It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in
thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises
with the accredited character of the people, and while
speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the
long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other -
it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the
consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the
patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified
the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the
quaint and equivocal appellation of the House of Usher -
an appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the
peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.
I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment- that of looking down within the tarn - had been to
deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt
that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition-
for why should I not so term it ? - served mainly to accelerate
the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical
law of all sentiments having terror as a basis.
And it might have been for this reason only, that, when I again
uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool,
there grew in my mind a strange fancy - a fancy so ridiculous,
indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the
sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my
imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion
and domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and
their immediate vicinity - an atmosphere which had no affinity
with the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the
decayed trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn - a
pestilent and mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible,
and leaden-hued.
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream,
I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building.
Its principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity.
The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread
the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the
eaves. Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation.
No portion of the masonry had fallen and there appeared to be
a wild inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of
parts, and the crumbling condition of the individual stones.
In this there was much that reminded me of the specious totality
of old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some
neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the
external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay,
however, the fabric gave little token of instability.
Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered
a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of
the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zig-zag
direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.
Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house.
A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic
archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted
me, in silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my
progress to the studio of his master.
Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how,
to heighten 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 the
floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which rattled
as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as which,
I had been accustomed from my infancy - while I hesitated not to
acknowledge how familiar was all this - I still wondered to find
how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary images were
stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the physician of
the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression
of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation
and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered 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
distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether
inaccessible from within.
Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the
trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct
the more prominent objects around the eye, however, struggled
in vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the
recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling.
Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The general furniture was
profuse, comfortless, antique, and tattered.
Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about, but
failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed
an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable
gloom hung over and pervaded all.
Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been
lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth
which had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone
cordiality - of the constrained effort of the ennuy man of the
world. A glance, however, at his countenance, convinced me of
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 with difficulty that I
could bring myself to admit the identity of the man being before
me with the companion of my early boyhood.
Yet the character of his face had been at all times remarkable.
A cadaverousness of complexion an eye large, liquid, and
luminous beyond comparison lips somewhat thin and very pallid,
but of a surpassingly beautiful curve a nose of a delicate
Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar
formations a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of
prominence, of a want of moral energy hair of a more than web-
like softness and tenuity these features, with an inordinate
expansion above the regions of the temple, made up altogether
a countenance not easily to be forgotten.
And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of
these features, and of the expression they were wont to convey,
lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I spoke.
The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now miraculous lustre
of the eye, above all things startled and even awed me.
The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all unheeded,
and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated rather than fell
about the face, I could not, even with effort conect its
Arabesque expression with any idea of simple humanity.
In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an
incoherence- an inconsistency and I soon found this to arise
from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an
habitual trepidancy - an excessive nervous agitation.
For something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less
by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits,
and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical
conformation and temperament. His action was alternately vivacious
and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous indecision
when the animal spirits seemed utterly in abeyance to that
species of energetic concision- that abrupt, weighty, unhurried,
and hollow-sounding enunciation - that leaden, self-balanced
and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed
in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium,
during the periods of his most intense excitement.
It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his
earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to
afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived
to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional
and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a
remedy - a mere nervous affection, he immediately added, which
would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a host
of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed them,
interested and bewildered me although, perhaps, the terms, and
the general manner of the narration had their weight.
He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the senses the most
insipid food was alone endurable he could wear only garments
of certain texture the odors of all flowers were oppressive
his eyes were tortured by even a faint light and there were
but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments,
which did not inspire him with horror.
To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave.
I shall perish, said he, I must perish in this deplorable
folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise , shall I be lost. I dread
the events of the future, not in themselves, but in their
results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial,
incident, which may operate upon this intolerable agitation
of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its
absolute effect - in terror. In this unnerved- in this pitiable
condition -I feel that the period will sooner or later arrive
when I must abandon life and reason together, in some struggle
with the grim phantasm, FEAR.
I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and
equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental
condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious
impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and
whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth - in regard
to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed in
terms too shadowy here to be re-stated - an influence which some
peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family
mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained
over his spirit - an effect which the physique of the gray walls
and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked
down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of his
He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the
peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a
more natural and far more palpable origin - to the severe and
long-continued illness - indeed to the evidently approaching
dissolution - of a tenderly beloved sister - his sole companion
for long years - his last and only relative on earth.
Her decease, he said, with a bitterness which I can never
forget, would leave him him the hopeless and the frail
the last of the ancient race of the Ushers.
While he spoke, the lady Madeline for so was she called passed
slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without
having noticed my presence, disappeared.
I regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with dread
- and yet I found it impossible to account for such feelings.
A sensation of stupor oppressed me, as my eyes followed her
retreating steps. When a door, at length, closed upon her,
my glance sought instinctively and eagerly the countenance of
the brother- but he had buried his face in his hands, and I
could only perceive that a far more than ordinary wanness had
overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled many
passionate tears.
The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of her
physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the person,
and frequent although transient affections of a partially
cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis.
Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her
malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed but, on the
closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she
succumbed as her brother told me at night with inexpressible
agitation to the prostrating power of the destroyer and I
learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would
thus probably be the last I should obtain - that the lady,
at least while living, would be seen by me no more.
For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either
Usher or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest
endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted
and read together or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and
still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the
recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the
futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness,
as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all
objects of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing
radiation of gloom.
I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I
thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher.
Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the
exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which
he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly
distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all.
His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears.
Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular
perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz
of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy
brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at
which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered
knowing not why - from these paintings vivid as their images
now are before me I would in vain endeavor to educe more than
a small portion which should lie within the compass of merely
written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of
his designs, he arrested and overawed attention.
If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher.
For me at least - in the circumstances then surrounding me -
there arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac
contrived to throw upon his canvas, anintensity of intolerable
awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation
of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.
One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking
not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed
forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the
interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel,
with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or device.
Certain accessory points of the design served well to convey
the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth below
the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any portion
of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial source of
light was discernible yet a flood of intense rays rolled
throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and inappropriate
I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory
nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer,
with the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments.
It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined
himself upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure,
to the fantastic character of his performances.
But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so
accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes,
as well as in the words of his wild fantasias for he not
unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal
improvisations, the result of that intense mental collectedness
and concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable
only in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement.
The words of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered.
I was, perhaps, the more forcibly impressed with it, as he
gave it, because, in the under or mystic current of its meaning,
I fancied that I perceived, and for the first time, a full
consciousness on the part of Usher, of the tottering of his
lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which were entitled
The Haunted Palace, ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace -
Radiant palace - reared its head.
In the monarch Thoughts dominion -
It stood there !
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
This - all this - was in the olden
Time long ago
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lutes well-tund law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
Porphyrogene !
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
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.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarchs 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.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody
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 an opinion
of Ushers which I mention not so much on account of its novelty,
for other men have thought thus, as on account of the
pertinacity with which he maintained it.
This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of
all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had
assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under certain
conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization.
I lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon
of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected as I have
previously hinted with the gray stones of the home of his
forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been here,
he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of these
stones - in the order of their arrangement, as well as in that
of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the decayed
trees which stood around - above all, in the in the long
undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its
reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence -
the evidence of the sentience - was to be seen, he said,
and I here started as he spoke, in the gradual yet certain
condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters
and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that
silent, yet importunate and terrible influence which for
centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which
made him what I now saw him - what he was. Such opinions need
no comment, and I will make none.
Our books - the books which, for years, had formed no small
portion of the mental existence of the invalid - were, as
might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of
phantasm. We pored together over such together over such works
as the Ververt et Chartreuse of Gresset the Belphegor of
Machiavelli the Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg
the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg
the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean DIndagin, and of
De la Chambre the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck
and the City of the Sun of Campanella.
One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the
Directorium Inquisitorium , by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne
and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old
African Satyrs and Oegipans, over which Usher would sit
dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in
the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in
quarto Gothic -the manual of a forgotten church -
the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.
I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work,
and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when,
one evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline
was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse
for a fortnight, previously to its final interment, in one of
the numerous vaults within the main walls of the building.
The worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular
proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute.
The brother had been led to his resolution so he told me by
consideration of the unusual character of the malady of the
deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part
of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation
of the burial-ground of the family.
I will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister
countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on the
day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to oppose what
I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means an
unnatural, precaution.
At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the
arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having
been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in
which we placed it and which had been so long unopened that
our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere,
gave us little opportunity for investigation was small, damp,
and entirely without means of admission for light lying,
at great depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building
in which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used,
apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of
a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for
powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion
of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through
which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper.
The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected.
Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as
it moved upon its hinges.
Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this
region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed
lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant.
A striking similitude between the brother and sister now
first arrested my attention and Usher, divining, perhaps,
my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I learned
that the deceased and himself had been twins, and that sympathies
of a scarcely intelligible nature had always existed between
Our glances, however, rested not long upon the dead - for we
could not regard her unawed. The disease which had thus
entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left, as usual
in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the
mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that
suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible
in death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having
secured the door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the
scarcely less gloomy apartments of the upper portion of the
And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable
change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend.
His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were
neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with
hurried, unequal, and objectless step.
The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if possible, a more
ghastly hue - but the luminousness of his eye had utterly
gone out.
The once occasional huskiness of his tone was heard no more
and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme terror, habitually
characterized his utterance. There were times, indeed, when I
thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring with some
oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the
necessary courage.
At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere
inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon
vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest
attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound.
It was no wonder that his condition terrified - that it infected
me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the
wild influences of his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.
It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of
the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline
within the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such
feelings. Sleep came not near my couch - while the hours waned
and waned away. I struggled to reason off the nervousness which
had dominion over me. I endeavored to believe that much, if not
all of what I felt, was due to the bewildering influence of
the gloomy furniture of the room - of the dark and tattered
draperies, which, tortured into motion by the breath of a
rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the walls,
and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed.
But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually
pervaded my frame and, at length, there sat upon my very heart
an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a
gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and,
peering earnestly within the intense darkness of the chamber,
harkened - I know not why, except that an instinctive spirit
prompted me - to certain low and indefinite sounds which
came, through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew
not whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror,
unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with
haste for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night,
and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition into
which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through
the apartment.
I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on
an adjoining staircase arrested my attention.
I presently recognised it as that of Usher. In an instant
afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered,
bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan-
but, moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes -
an evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor.
His air appalled me - but anything was preferable to the
solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his
presence as a relief.
And you have not seen it ? he said abruptly, after having
stared about him for some moments in silence -
you have not then seen it ? - but, stay ! you shall.
Thus speaking, and having carefully shaded his lamp, he
hurried to one of the casements, and threw it freely open to
the storm.
The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from
our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful
night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty.
A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity
for there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction
of the wind and the exceeding density of the clouds
which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the house
did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with
which they flew careering from all points against each other,
without passing away into the distance. I say that even their
exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this -
yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars - nor was there any
flashing forth of the lightning.
But the under surfaces of the huge masses of agitated vapor,
as well as all terrestrial objects immediately around us, were
glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly luminous and
distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung about 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 bewilder you, are merely
electrical phenomena not uncommon - or it may be that they have
their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn.
Let us close this casement - the air is chilling and dangerous
to your frame. Here is one of your favorite romances.
I will read, and you shall listen- and so we will pass away
this terrible night together.
The antique volume which I had taken up was the Mad Trist of
Sir Launcelot Canning but I had called it a favorite of
Ushers more in sad jest than in earnest for, in truth,
there is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity
which could have had interest for the lofty and spiritual
ideality of my friend. It was, however, the only book immediately
at hand I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now
agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief for the history
of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies even in the
extremeness of the folly which I should read.
Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of
vivacity with which he harkened, or apparently harkened, to
the words of the tale, I might well have congratulated myself
upon the success of my design.
I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where
Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for
peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to
make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the
words of the narrative run thus:
And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was
now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine
which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the
hermit, who, in in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn,
but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising
of the tempest, uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows,
made quickly room in the plankings of the door for his gauntleted
hand and now pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and
ripped, and tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and
hollow-sounding wood alarummed and reverberated throughout
the forest.
At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment,
paused for it appeared to me although I at once concluded that
my excited fancy had deceived me - it appeared to me that,
from some very remote portion of the mansion, there came,
indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its exact
similarity of character, the echo but a stifled and dull one
certainly of the very cracking and ripping sound which
Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt,
the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention for, amid
the rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the ordinary
commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the sound,
in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested or
disturbed me. I continued the story:
But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door,
was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful
hermit but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and
prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard
before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver and upon the
wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend
enwritten -
Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win
And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the
dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with
a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that
Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his hands against the
dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was never before heard.
Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild
amazement - for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this
instance, I did actually hear although from what direction it
proceeded I found it impossible to say a low and apparently
distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or
grating sound - the exact counterpart of what my fancy had
already conjured up for the dragons unnatural shriek as
described by the romancer.
Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this
second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand
conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were
predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to
avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of
my companion.
I was by no means certain that he had noticed the sounds in
question although, assuredly, a strange alteration had, during
the last few minutes, taken place in his demeanor. From a position
fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his chair, so as
to sit with his face to the door of the chamber and thus I
could but partially perceive his features, although I saw that
his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly.
His head had dropped upon his breast - yet I knew that he was
not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I
caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too,
was at variance with this idea - for he rocked from side to side
with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly
taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir
Launcelot, which thus proceeded:
And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury
of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of
the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed
the carcass from out of the way before him, and approached
valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to where the
shield was upon the wall which in sooth tarried not for his
full 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 a
shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a
floor of silver - I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic,
and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation.
Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet but the measured
rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed.
I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly
before him, and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a
stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder,
there came a strong shudder over his whole person a sickly
smile quivered about his lips and I saw that he spoke in a low,
hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my presence.
Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous
import of his words.
Not hear it ? - yes, I hear it, and have heard it.
Long - long - long - many minutes, many hours, many days,
have I heard it - yet I dared not - oh, pity me, miserable wretch
that I am ! - I dared not - I dared not speak ! We have put her
living in the tomb ! Said I not that my senses were accute?
I now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the
hollow coffin. I heard them - many, many days ago - yet I dared
not- I dared not speak ! And now - to-night - Ethelred - ha ! ha !
- the breaking of the hermits door, and the death-cry of the
dragon, and the clangor of the shield ! - say, rather, the
rending of her coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her
prison, and her struggles within the coppered archway of the
vault ! Oh whither shall I fly ? Will she not be here anon?
Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for my haste ? Have I not
heard her footstep on the stair ? Do I not distinguish that
heavy and horrible beating of her heart ? Madman ! - here he
sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables,
as if in the effort he were giving up his soul - Madman !
I tell you that she now stands without the door !
As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been
found the potency of a spell - the huge antique pannels to
which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant,
their ponderous and ebony jaws.
It was the work of the rushing gust - but then without those doors
there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady
Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and
the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her
emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling
to and fro upon the threshold - then, with a low moaning cry,
fell heavily inward upon the person of her brother , and in
her violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor
a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast.
The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself
crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path
a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual
could have issued for the vast house and its shadows were alone
behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and
blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once barely
-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as extending
from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to the base.
While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened - there came a
fierce breath of the whirlwind - the entire orb of the
satellite burst at once upon my sight - my brain reeled as
I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder - there was a long
tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters -
and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and
silently over the fragments of the House of Usher .