Charles Brockden Brown (17711810). Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 1857.
SINCE my return home, my mind had been fully occupied by schemes and reflections relative to Clithero. The project suggested by thee, and to which I had determined to devote my leisure, was forgotten, or remembered for a moment and at wide intervals. What, however, was nearly banished from my waking thoughts, occurred in an incongruous and half-seen form, to my dreams. During my sleep, the image of Waldegrave flitted before me. Methought the sentiment that impelled him to visit me was not affection or complacency, but inquietude and anger. Some service or duty remained to be performed by me, which I had culpably neglected: to inspirit my zeal, to awaken my remembrance, and incite me to the performance of this duty, did this glimmering messenger, this half-indignant apparition, come.
I commonly awake soon enough to mark the youngest dawn of the morning. Now, in consequence perhaps of my perturbed sleep, I opened my eyes before the stars had lost any of their lustre. This circumstance produced some surprise, until the images that lately hovered in my fancy were recalled, and furnished somewhat like a solution of the problem. Connected with the image of my dead friend was that of his sister. The discourse that took place at our last interview; the scheme of transcribing, for thy use, all the letters which, during his short but busy life, I received from him; the nature of this correspondence, and the opportunity which this employment would afford me of contemplating these ample and precious monuments of the intellectual existence and moral pre-eminence of my friend, occurred to my thoughts.
The resolution to prosecute the task was revived. The obligation of benevolence, with regard to Clithero, was not discharged. This, neither duty nor curiosity would permit to be overlooked or delayed; but why should my whole attention and activity be devoted to this man? The hours which were spent at home and in my chamber could not be more usefully employed than in making my intended copy.
In a few hours after sunrise I purposed to resume my way to the mountain. Could this interval be appropriated to a better purpose than in counting over my friends letters, setting them apart from my own, and preparing them for that transcription from which I expected so high and yet so mournful a gratification?
This purpose, by no violent union, was blended with the recollection of my dream. This recollection infused some degree of wavering and dejection into my mind. In transcribing these letters I should violate pathetic and solemn injunctions frequently repeated by the writer. Was there some connection between this purpose and the incidents of my vision? Was the latter sent to enforce the interdictions which had been formerly imposed?
Thou art not fully acquainted with the intellectual history of thy brother. Some information on that head will be necessary to explain the nature of that reluctance which I now feel to comply with thy request, and which had formerly so much excited thy surprise.
Waldegrave, like other men early devoted to meditation and books, had adopted, at different periods, different systems of opinion on topics connected with religion and morals. His earliest creeds tended to efface the impressions of his education; to deify necessity and universalize matter; to destroy the popular distinctions between soul and body, and to dissolve the supposed connection between the moral condition of man anterior and subsequent to death.
This creed he adopted with all the fulness of conviction, and propagated with the utmost zeal. Soon after our friendship commenced, fortune placed us at a distance from each other, and no intercourse was allowed but by the pen. Our letters, however, were punctual and copious. Those of Waldegrave were too frequently devoted to the defence of his favourite tenets.
Thou art acquainted with the revolution that afterwards took place in his mind. Placed within the sphere of religious influence, and listening daily to the reasonings and exhortations of Mr. S, whose benign temper and blameless deportment was a visible and constant lesson, he insensibly resumed the faith which he had relinquished, and became the vehement opponent of all that he had formerly defended. The chief object of his labours, in this new state of his mind, was to counteract the effect of his former reasonings on my opinions.
At this time, other changes took place in his situation, in consequence of which we were once more permitted to reside under the same roof. The intercourse now ceased to be by letter, and the subtle and laborious argumentations which he had formerly produced against religion, and which were contained in a permanent form, were combated in transient conversation. He was not only eager to subvert those opinions which he had contributed to instil into me, but was anxious that the letters and manuscripts which had been employed in their support should be destroyed. He did not fear wholly or chiefly on my own account. He believed that the influence of former reasonings on my faith would be sufficiently eradicated by the new; but he dreaded lest these manuscripts might fall into other hands, and thus produce mischiefs which it would not be in his power to repair. With regard to me, the poison had been followed by its antidote; but with respect to others, these letters would communicate the poison when the antidote could not be administered.
I would not consent to this sacrifice. I did not entirely abjure the creed which had, with great copiousness and eloquence, been defended in these letters. Besides, mixed up with abstract reasonings were numberless passages which elucidated the character and history of my friend. These were too precious to be consigned to oblivion; and to take them out of their present connection and arrangement would be to mutilate and deform them.
His entreaties and remonstrances were earnest and frequent, but always ineffectual. He had too much purity of motives to be angry at my stubbornness; but his sense of the mischievous tendency of these letters was so great, that my intractability cost him many a pang.
He was now gone, and I had not only determined to preserve these monuments, but had consented to copy them for the use of another; for the use of one whose present and eternal welfare had been the chief object of his cares and efforts. Thou, like others of thy sex, art unaccustomed to metaphysical refinements. Thy religion is the growth of sensibility and not of argument. Thou art not fortified and prepossessed against the subtleties with which the being and attributes of the Deity have been assailed. Would it be just to expose thee to pollution and depravity from this source? To make thy brother the instrument of thy apostasy, the author of thy fall? That brother whose latter days were so ardently devoted to cherishing the spirit of devotion in thy heart?
These ideas now occurred with more force than formerly. I had promised, not without reluctance, to give thee the entire copy of his letters; but I now receded from this promise. I resolved merely to select for thy perusal such as were narrative or descriptive. This could not be done with too much expedition. It was still dark, but my sleep was at an end, and, by a common apparatus, that lay beside my bed, I could instantly produce a light.
The light was produced, and I proceeded to the cabinet where all my papers and books are deposited. This was my own contrivance and workmanship, undertaken by the advice of Sarsefield, who took infinite pains to foster that mechanical genius which displayed itself so early and so forcibly in thy friend. The key belonging to this was, like the cabinet itself, of singular structure. For greater safety, it was constantly placed in a closet, which was likewise locked.
The key was found as usual, and the cabinet opened. The letters were bound together in a compact form, lodged in a parchment case, and placed in a secret drawer. This drawer would not have been detected by common eyes, and it opened by the motion of a spring, of whose existence none but the maker was conscious. This drawer I had opened before I went to sleep, and the letters were then safe.
Thou canst not imagine my confusion and astonishment, when, on opening the drawer, I perceived that the packet was gone. I looked with more attention, and put my hand within it; but the space was empty. Whither had it gone, and by whom was it purloined? I was not conscious of having taken it away, yet no hands but mine could have done it. On the last evening I had doubtless removed it to some other corner, but had forgotten it. I tasked my understanding and my memory. I could not conceive the possibility of any motives inducing me to alter my arrangements in this respect, and was unable to recollect that I had made this change.
What remained? This invaluable relic had disappeared. Every thought and every effort must be devoted to the single purpose of regaining it. As yet I did not despair. Until I had opened and ransacked every part of the cabinet in vain, I did not admit the belief that I had lost it. Even then this persuasion was tumultuous and fluctuating. It had vanished to my senses, but these senses were abused and depraved. To have passed, of its own accord, through the pores of this wood, was impossible; but, if it were gone, thus did it escape.
I was lost in horror and amazement. I explored every nook a second and a third time, but still it eluded my eye and my touch. I opened my closets and cases. I pried everywhere, unfolded every article of clothing, turned and scrutinized every instrument and tool, but nothing availed.
My thoughts were not speedily collected or calmed. I threw myself on the bed and resigned myself to musing. That my loss was irretrievable was a supposition not to be endured. Yet ominous terrors haunted me,a whispering intimation that a relic which I valued more than life was torn forever away by some malignant and inscrutable destiny. The same power that had taken it from this receptacle was able to waft it over the ocean or the mountains, and condemn me to a fruitless and eternal search.
But what was he that committed the theft? Thou only, of the beings who live, wast acquainted with the existence of these manuscripts. Thou art many miles distant, and art utterly a stranger to the mode or place of their concealment. Not only access to the cabinet, but access to the room, without my knowledge and permission, was impossible. Both were locked during this night. Not five hours had elapsed since the cabinet and drawer had been opened, and since the letters had been seen and touched, being in their ordinary position. During this interval, the thief had entered, and despoiled me of my treasure.
This event, so inexplicable and so dreadful, threw my soul into a kind of stupor or distraction, from which I was suddenly roused by a footstep softly moving in the entry near my door. I started from my bed, as if I had gained a glimpse of the robber. Before I could run to the door, some one knocked. I did not think upon the propriety of answering the signal, but hastened with tremulous fingers and throbbing heart to open the door. My uncle, in his night-dress, and apparently just risen from his bed, stood before me!
He marked the eagerness and perturbation of my looks, and inquired into the cause. I did not answer his inquiries. His appearance in my chamber and in this guise added to my surprise. My mind was full of the late discovery, and instantly conceived some connection between this unseasonable visit and my lost manuscript. I interrogated him in my turn as to the cause of his coming.
But why did you go up-stairs? You might easily imagine that the sound of your steps would alarm those below, who would be puzzled to guess who it was that had thought proper to amuse himself in this manner.
Indeed! That is strange. Nay, it is impossible! It was your feet surely that I heard pacing so solemnly and indefatigably across the long room for near an hour. I could not for my life conjecture, for a time, who it was, but finally concluded that it was you. There was still, however, some doubt, and I came hither to satisfy myself.
These tidings were adapted to raise all my emotions to a still higher pitch. I questioned him with eagerness as to the circumstances he had noticed. He said he had been roused by a sound, whose power of disturbing him arose, not from its loudness, but from its uncommonness. He distinctly heard some one pacing to and fro with bare feet, in the long room: this sound continued, with little intermission, for an hour. He then noticed a cessation of the walking, and a sound as if some one were lifting the lid of the large cedar chest that stood in the corner of this room. The walking was not resumed, and all was silent. He listened for a quarter of an hour, and busied himself in conjecturing the cause of this disturbance. The most probable conclusion was, that the walker was his nephew, and his curiosity had led him to my chamber to ascertain the truth.
This dwelling has three stories. The two lower stories are divided into numerous apartments. The upper story constitutes a single room whose sides are the four walls of the house, and whose ceiling is the roof. This room is unoccupied, except by lumber, and imperfectly lighted by a small casement at one end. In this room were footsteps heard by my uncle.
The staircase leading to it terminated in a passage near my door. I snatched the candle, and, desiring him to follow me, added that I would ascertain the truth in a moment. He followed, but observed that the walking had ceased long enough for the person to escape.
I ascended to the room, and looked behind and among the tables, and chairs, and casks, which were confusedly scattered through it, but found nothing in the shape of man. The cedar chest, spoken of by Mr. Huntly, contained old books, and remnants of maps and charts, whose worthlessness unfitted them for accommodation elsewhere. The lid was without hinges or lock. I examined this repository, but there was nothing which attracted my attention.
The way between the kitchen-door and the door of the long room had no impediments. Both were usually unfastened; but the motives by which any stranger to the dwelling, or indeed any one within it, could be prompted to choose this place and hour for an employment of this kind, were wholly incomprehensible.
When the family rose, inquiries were made; but no satisfaction was obtained. The family consisted only of four persons,my uncle, my two sisters, and myself. I mentioned to them the loss I had sustained, but their conjectures were no less unsatisfactory on this than on the former incident.
There was no end to my restless meditations. Waldegrave was the only being, besides myself, acquainted with the secrets of my cabinet. During his life these manuscripts had been the objects of perpetual solicitude; to gain possession, to destroy or secrete them, was the strongest of his wishes. Had he retained his sensibility on the approach of death, no doubt he would have renewed, with irresistible solemnity, his injunctions to destroy them.
Now, however, they had vanished. There were no materials of conjecture; no probabilities to be weighed, or suspicions to revolve. Human artifice or power was unequal to this exploit. Means less than preternatural would not furnish a conveyance for this treasure.
It was otherwise with regard to this unseasonable walker. His inducements indeed were beyond my power to conceive; but to enter these doors and ascend these stairs demanded not the faculties of any being more than human.
This intrusion, and the pillage of my cabinet, were contemporary events. Was there no more connection between them than that which results from time? Was not the purloiner of my treasure and the wanderer the same person? I could not reconcile the former incident with the attributes of man; and yet a secret faith, not to be outrooted or suspended, swayed me, and compelled me to imagine that the detection of this visitant would unveil the thief.
These thoughts were pregnant with dejection and reverie. Clithero, during the day, was forgotten. On the succeeding night, my intentions, with regard to this man, returned. I derived some slender consolation from reflecting, that time, in its long lapse and ceaseless revolutions, might dissipate the gloom that environed me. Meanwhile, I struggled to dismiss the images connected with my loss and to think only of Clithero.
My impatience was as strong as ever to obtain another interview with this man. I longed with vehemence for the return of day. I believed that every moment added to his sufferings, intellectual and physical, and confided in the efficacy of my presence to alleviate or suspend them. The provisions I had left would be speedily consumed, and the abstinence of three days was sufficient to undermine the vital energies. I sometimes hesitated whether I ought not instantly to depart. It was night indeed, but the late storm had purified the air, and the radiance of a full moon was universal and dazzling.
From this attempt I was deterred by reflecting that my own frame needed the repairs of sleep. Toil and watchfulness, if prolonged another day, would deeply injure a constitution by no means distinguished for its force. I must, therefore, compel, if it were possible, some hours of repose. I prepared to retire to bed, when a new incident occurred to divert my attention for a time from these designs.