Charles Brockden Brown (17711810). Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 1857.
MY deportment, at an interview so much desired and so wholly unforeseen, was that of a maniac. The petrifying influence of surprise yielded to the impetuosities of passion. I held him in my arms; I wept upon his bosom; I sobbed with emotion which, had it not found passage at my eyes, would have burst my heart-strings. Thus I, who had escaped the deaths that had previously assailed me in so many forms, should have been reserved to solemnize a scene like this bydying for joy!
The sterner passions and habitual austerities of my companion exempted him from pouring out this testimony of his feelings. His feelings were, indeed, more allied to astonishment and incredulity than mine had been. My person was not instantly recognised. He shrunk from my embrace as if I were an apparition or impostor. He quickly disengaged himself from my arms, and, withdrawing a few paces, gazed upon me as on one whom he had never before seen.
These repulses were ascribed to the loss of his affection. I was not mindful of the hideous guise in which I stood before him, and by which he might justly be misled to imagine me a ruffian or a lunatic. My tears flowed now on a new account, and I articulated, in a broken and faint voice, My master! my friend! Have you forgotten, have you ceased to love me?
He now withdrew his eyes from me and fixed them on the floor. After a pause he resumed, in emphatic accents:Well, I have lived to this age in unbelief. To credit or trust in miraculous agency was foreign to my nature, but now I am no longer skeptical. Call me to any bar, and exact from me an oath that you have twice been dead and twice recalled to life; that you move about invisibly, and change your place by the force, not of muscles, but of thought, and I will give it.
In seeking the spot once more to provide you a grave, you had vanished. Again I met you. You plunged into a rapid stream, from a height from which it was impossible to fall and to live; yet, as if to set the limits of nature at defiance, to sport with human penetration, you rose upon the surface; you floated; you swam; thirty bullets were aimed at your head, by marksmen celebrated for the exactness of their sight. I myself was of the number, and I never missed what I desired to hit.
My predictions were confirmed by the event. You ceased to struggle; you sunk to rise no more; and yet, after these accumulated deaths, you light upon this floor, so far distant from the scene of your catastrophe, over spaces only to be passed, in so short a time as has since elapsed, by those who have wings.
Every accent of this speech added to the confusion of my thoughts. The allusions that my friend had made were not unintelligible. I gained a glimpse of the complicated errors by which we had been mutually deceived. I had fainted on the area before Debs hut. I was found by Sarsefield in this condition, and imagined to be dead.
The man whom I had seen upon the promontory was not an Indian. He belonged to a numerous band of pursuers, whom my hostile and precipitate deportment caused to suspect me for an enemy. They that fired from the steep were friends. The interposition that screened me from so many bullets was indeed miraculous. No wonder that my voluntary sinking, in order to elude their shots, was mistaken for death, and that, having accomplished the destruction of this foe, they resumed their pursuit of others. But how was Sarsefield apprized that it was I who plunged into the river? No subsequent event was possible to impart to him the incredible truth.
A pause of mutual silence ensued. At length Sarsefield renewed his expressions of amazement at this interview, and besought me to explain why I had disappeared by night from my uncles house, and by what series of unheard-of events this interview was brought about. Was it indeed Huntly whom he examined and mourned over at the threshold of Debs hut. Whom he had sought in every thicket and cave in the ample circuit of Norwalk and Chetasco? Whom he had seen perish in the current of the Delaware?
Instead of noticing his questions, my soul was harrowed with anxiety respecting the fate of my uncle and sisters. Sarsefield could communicate the tidings which would decide on my future lot and set my portion in happiness or misery. Yet I had not breath to speak my inquiries. Hope tottered, and I felt as if a single word would be sufficient for its utter subversion. At length I articulated the name of my uncle.
My wishes were eager to assent to the truth of these tidings. The better part of me was, then, safe: but how did they escape the fate that overtook my uncle? How did they evade the destroying hatchet and the midnight conflagration? These doubts were imparted in a tumultuous and obscure manner to my friend. He no sooner fully comprehended them, than he looked at me with some inquietude and surprise.
Huntly, said he, are you mad? What has filled you with these hideous prepossessions? Much havoc has indeed been committed in Chetasco and the wilderness, and a log hut has been burnt, by design or by accident, in Solesbury; but that is all. Your house has not been assailed by either firebrand or tomahawk. Every thing is safe and in its ancient order. The master indeed is gone, but the old man fell a victim to his own temerity and hardihood. It is thirty years since he retired with three wounds from the field of Braddock; but time in no degree abated his adventurous and military spirit. On the first alarm, he summoned his neighbours, and led them in pursuit of the invaders. Alas! he was the first to attack them, and the only one who fell in the contest.
These words were uttered in a manner that left me no room to doubt of their truth. My uncle had already been lamented, and the discovery of the nature of his death, so contrary to my forebodings, and of the safety of my girls, made the state of my mind partake more of exultation and joy than of grief or regret.
But how was I deceived? Had not my fusil been found in the hands of an enemy? Whence could he have plundered it but from my own chamber? It hung against the wall of a closet, from which no stranger could have taken it except by violence. My perplexities and doubts were not at an end, but those which constituted my chief torment were removed. I listened to my friends entreaties to tell him the cause of my elopement, and the incidents that terminated in the present interview.
I began with relating my return to consciousness in the bottom of the pit; my efforts to free myself from this abhorred prison; the acts of horror to which I was impelled by famine, and their excruciating consequences; my gaining the outlet of the cavern, the desperate expedient by which I removed the impediment to my escape, and the deliverance of the captive girl; the contest I maintained before Debs hut; my subsequent wanderings; the banquet which hospitality afforded me; my journey to the river-bank; my meditations on the means of reaching the road; my motives for hazarding my life by plunging into the stream; and my subsequent perils and fears till I reached the threshold of this habitation.
Thus, continued I, I have complied with your request. I have told all that I myself know. What were the incidents between my sinking to rest at my uncles and my awaking in the chambers of the hill; by what means and by whose contrivance, preternatural or human, this transition was effected, I am unable to explain; I cannot even guess.
What has eluded my sagacity may not be beyond the reach of another. Your own reflections on my tale, or some facts that have fallen under your notice, may enable you to furnish a solution. But, meanwhile, how am I to account for your appearance on this spot? This meeting was unexpected and abrupt to you, but it has not been less so to me. Of all mankind, Sarsefield was the furthest from my thoughts when I saw these tokens of a traveller and a stranger.
You were imperfectly acquainted with my wanderings. You saw me on the ground before Debs hut. You saw me plunge into the river. You endeavoured to destroy me while swimming; and you knew, before my narrative was heard, that Huntly was the object of your enmity. What was the motive of your search in the desert, and how were you apprized of my condition? These things are not less wonderful that any of those which I have already related.
During my tale the features of Sarsefield betokened the deepest attention. His eye strayed not a moment from my face. All my perils and forebodings were fresh in my remembrance: they had scarcely gone by; their skirts, so to speak, were still visible. No wonder that my eloquence was vivid and pathetic; that I portrayed the past as if it were the present scene; and that not my tongue only, but every muscle and limb, spoke.
When I had finished my relation, Sarsefield sank into thoughtfulness. From this, after a time, he recovered, and said, Your tale, Huntly, is true; yet, did I not see you before me, were I not acquainted with the artlessness and rectitude of your character, and, above all, had not my own experience, during the last three days, confirmed every incident, I should question its truth. You have amply gratified my curiosity, and deserve that your own should be gratified as fully. Listen to me.
Much has happened since we parted, which shall not be now mentioned. I promised to inform you of my welfare by letter, and did not fail to write; but whether my letters were received, or any were written by you in return, or if written were ever transmitted, I cannot tell: none were ever received.
Some days since, I arrived, in company with a lady who is my wife, in America. You have never been forgotten by me. I knew your situation to be little in agreement with your wishes, and one of the benefits which fortune has lately conferred upon me is the power of snatching you from a life of labour and obscurity, whose goods, scanty as they are, were transient and precarious, and affording you the suitable leisure and means of intellectual gratification and improvement.
Your silence made me entertain some doubts concerning your welfare, and even your existence. To solve these doubts, I hastened to Solesbury. Some delays upon the road hindered me from accomplishing my journey by daylight. It was night before I entered the Norwalk path; but my ancient rambles with you made me familiar with it, and I was not afraid of being obstructed or bewildered.
Just as I gained the southern outlet, I spied a passenger on foot, coming towards me with a quick pace. The incident was of no moment; and yet the time of night, the seeming expedition of the walker, recollection of the mazes and obstacles which he was going to encounter, and a vague conjecture that perhaps he was unacquainted with the difficulties that awaited him, made me eye him with attention as he passed.
He came near, and I thought I recognised a friend in this traveller. The form, the gesture, the stature, bore a powerful resemblance to those of Edgar Huntly. This resemblance was so strong, that I stopped, and, after he had gone by, called him by your name. That no notice was taken of my call proved that the person was mistaken; but, even though it were another, that he should not even hesitate or turn at a summons which he could not but perceive to be addressed, though erroneously, to him, was the source of some surprise. I did not repeat my call, but proceeded on my way.
All had retired to repose in your uncles dwelling. I did not scruple to rouse them, and was received with affectionate and joyous greetings. That you allowed your uncle to rise before you was a new topic of reflection. To my inquiries concerning you, answers were made that accorded with my wishes. I was told that you were in good health and were then in bed. That you had not heard and risen at my knocking was mentioned with surprise; but your uncle accounted for your indolence by saying that during the last week you had fatigued yourself by rambling, night and day, in search of some maniac or visionary who was supposed to have retreated into Norwalk.
I insisted upon awakening you myself. I anticipated the effect of this sudden and unlooked-for meeting with some emotions of pride as well as of pleasure. To find, in opening your eyes, your old preceptor standing by your bedside and gazing in your face, would place you, I conceived, in an affecting situation.
Your chamber-door was open, but your bed was empty. Your uncle and sisters were made acquainted with this circumstance. Their surprise gave way to conjectures that your restless and romantic spirit had tempted you from your repose, that you had rambled abroad on some fantastic errand, and would probably return before the dawn. I willingly acquiesced in this opinion, and, my feelings being too thoroughly aroused to allow me to sleep, I took possession of your chamber and patiently awaited your return.
The morning returned, but Huntly made not his appearance. Your uncle became somewhat uneasy at this unseasonable absence. Much speculation and inquiry as to the possible reasons of your flight was made. In my survey of your chamber, I noted that only part of your clothing remained beside your bed. Coat, hat, stockings and shoes lay upon the spot where they had probably been thrown when you had disrobed yourself; but the pantaloons, which, according to Mr. Huntlys report, completed your dress, were nowhere to be found. That you should go forth on so cold a night so slenderly apparelled, was almost incredible. Your reason or your senses had deserted you, before so rash an action could be meditated.
I now remembered the person I had met in Norwalk. His resemblance to your figure, his garb, which wanted hat, coat, stockings and shoes, and your absence from your bed at that hour, were remarkable coincidences: but why did you disregard my call? Your name, uttered by a voice that could not be unknown, was surely sufficient to arrest your steps.
Each hour added to the impatience of your friends. To their recollections and conjectures I listened with a view to extract from them some solution of this mystery. At length a story was alluded to of some one who, on the preceding night, had been heard walking in the long room: to this was added the tale of your anxieties and wonders occasioned by the loss of certain manuscripts.
While ruminating upon these incidents, and endeavouring to extract from this intelligence a clue explanatory of your present situation, a single word, casually dropped by your uncle, instantly illuminated my darkness and dispelled my doubts.After all, said the old man, ten to one but Edgar himself was the man whom we heard walking, but the lad was asleep, and knew not what he was about.
Surely, said I, this inference is just. His manuscripts could not be removed by any hands but his own, since the rest of mankind were unacquainted not only with the place of their concealment, but with their existence. None but a man insane or asleep would wander forth so slightly dressed, and none but a sleeper would have disregarded my calls. This conclusion was generally adopted; but it gave birth in my mind to infinite inquietudes. You had roved into Norwalk, a scene of inequalities, of prominences and pits, among which, thus destitute of the guidance of your senses, you could scarcely fail to be destroyed, or, at least, irretrievably bewildered. I painted to myself the dangers to which you were subjected. Your careless feet would bear you into some whirlpool or to the edge of some precipice; some internal revolution or outward shock would recall you to consciousness at some perilous moment. Surprise and fear would disable you from taking seasonable or suitable precautions, and your destruction be made sure.
The lapse of every new hour, without bringing tidings of your state, enhanced these fears. At length the propriety of searching for you occurred; Mr. Huntly and I determined to set out upon this pursuit, as well as to commission others. A plan was laid by which every accessible part of Norwalk, the wilderness beyond the flats of Solesbury, and the valley of Chetasco, should be traversed and explored.
Scarcely had we equipped ourselves for this expedition, when a messenger arrived, who brought the disastrous news of Indians being seen within these precincts, and on the last night a farmer was shot in his fields, a dwelling in Chetasco was burnt to the ground, and its inhabitants murdered or made captives. Rumour and inquiry had been busy, and a plausible conjecture had been formed as to the course and number of the enemies. They were said to be divided into bands, and to amount in the whole to thirty or forty warriors. This messenger had come to warn us of danger which might impend, and to summon us to join in the pursuit and extirpation of these detestable foes.
Your uncle, whose alacrity and vigour age had not abated, eagerly engaged in this scheme. I was not averse to contribute my efforts to an end like this. The road which we had previously designed to take, in search of my fugitive pupil, was the same by which we must trace or intercept the retreat of the savages. Thus two purposes, equally momentous, would be answered by the same means.
Mr. Huntly armed himself with your fusil; Inglefield supplied me with a gun. During our absence the dwelling was closed and locked, and your sisters placed under the protection of Inglefield, whose age and pacific sentiments unfitted him for arduous and sanguinary enterprises. A troop of rustics was collected, half of whom remained to traverse Solesbury, and the other, whom Mr. Huntly and I accompanied, hastened to Chetasco.