Charles Brockden Brown (17711810). Edgar Huntley; or, Memoirs of a Sleep-Walker. 1857.
To the Same.
I WILL now relate the particulars which I yesterday promised to send you. You heard through your niece of my arrival at Inglefields, in Solesbury: my inquiries, you may readily suppose, would turn upon the fate of my friends servant Clithero, whose last disappearance was so strange and abrupt, and of whom, since that time, I had heard nothing. You are indifferent to his fate, and are anxious only that his existence and misfortunes may be speedily forgotten. I confess that it is somewhat otherwise with me. I pity him; I wish to relieve him, and cannot admit the belief that his misery is without a cure. I want to find him out. I want to know his condition, and, if possible, to afford him comfort and inspire him with courage and hope.
Inglefield replied to my questions:Oh yes! He has appeared. The strange being is again upon the stage. Shortly after he left his sick-bed, I heard from Philip Beddington, of Chetasco, that Debs hut had found a new tenant. At first I imagined that the Scotsman who built it had returned; but, making closer inquiries, I found that the new tenant was my servant. I had no inclination to visit him myself, but frequently inquired respecting him of those who lived or passed that way, and find that he still lives there.
Debs hut, replied my friend, is his lodging and his place of retirement, but food and clothing he procures by labouring on a neighbouring farm. This farm is next to that of Beddington, who consequently knows something of his present situation. I find little or no difference in his present deportment and those appearances which he assumed while living with me, except that he retires every night to his hut, and holds as little intercourse as possible with the rest of mankind. He dines at his employers table; but his supper, which is nothing but rye-bread, he carries home with him, and, at all those times when disengaged from employment, he secludes himself in his hut, or wanders nobody knows whither.
This was the substance of Inglefields intelligence. I gleaned from it some satisfaction. It proved the condition of Clithero to be less deplorable and desperate than I had previously imagined. His fatal and gloomy thoughts seemed to have somewhat yielded to tranquillity.
In the course of my reflections, however, I could not but perceive that his condition, though eligible when compared with what it once was, was likewise disastrous and humiliating, compared with his youthful hopes and his actual merits. For such a one to mope away his life in this unsocial and savage state was deeply to be deplored. It was my duty, if possible, to prevail on him to relinquish his scheme. And what would be requisite, for that end, but to inform him of the truth?
The source of his dejection was the groundless belief that he had occasioned the death of his benefactress. It was this alone that could justly produce remorse or grief. It was a distempered imagination both in him and in me that had given birth to this opinion, since the terms of his narrative, impartially considered, were far from implying that catastrophe. To him, however, the evidence which he possessed was incontestable. No deductions from probability could overthrow his belief. This could only be effected by similar and counter evidence. To apprize him that she was now alive, in possession of some degree of happiness, the wife of Sarsefield, and an actual resident on this shore, would dissipate the sanguinary apparition that haunted him, cure his diseased intellects, and restore him to those vocations for which his talents, and that rank in society for which his education, had qualified him. Influenced by these thoughts, I determined to visit his retreat. Being obliged to leave Solesbury the next day, I resolved to set out the same afternoon, and, stopping in Chetasco for the night, seek his habitation at the hour when he had probably retired to it.
This was done. I arrived at Beddingtons at nightfall. My inquiries respecting Clithero obtained for me the same intelligence from him which I had received from Inglefield. Debs hut was three miles from this habitation, and thither, when the evening had somewhat advanced, I repaired. This was the spot which had witnessed so many perils during the last year; and my emotions, on approaching it, were awful. With palpitating heart and quick steps I traversed the road, skirted on each side by thickets, and the area before the house. The dwelling was by no means in so ruinous a state as when I last visited it. The crannies between the logs had been filled up, and the light within was perceivable only at a crevice in the door.
Looking through this crevice, I perceived a fire in the chimney, but the object of my visit was nowhere to be seen. I knocked and requested admission, but no answer was made. At length I lifted the latch and entered. Nobody was there.
It was obvious to suppose that Clithero had gone abroad for a short time, and would speedily return; or perhaps some engagement had detained him at his labour later than usual. I therefore seated myself on some straw near the fire, which, with a woollen rug, appeared to constitute his only bed. The rude bedstead which I formerly met was gone. The slender furniture, likewise, which had then engaged my attention, had disappeared. There was nothing capable of human use but a heap of fagots in the corner, which seemed intended for fuel. How slender is the accommodation which nature has provided for man, and how scanty is the portion which our physical necessities require!
While ruminating upon this scene, and comparing past events with the objects before me, the dull whistling of the gale without gave place to the sound of footsteps. Presently the door opened, and Clithero entered the apartment. His aspect and guise were not essentially different from those which he wore when an inhabitant of Solesbury.
To find his hearth occupied by another appeared to create the deepest surprise. He looked at me without any tokens of remembrance. His features assumed a more austere expression, and, after scowling on my person for a moment, he withdrew his eyes, and, placing in a corner a bundle which he bore in his hand, he turned and seemed preparing to withdraw.
I was anxiously attentive to his demeanour, and, as soon as I perceived his purpose to depart, leaped on my feet to prevent it. I took his hand, and, affectionately pressing it, said, Do you not know me? Have you so soon forgotten me, who is truly your friend?
My mind was full of the purpose that brought me hither, but I knew not in what manner to communicate my purpose. Several times I opened my lips to speak, but my perplexity continued, and suitable words refused to suggest themselves. At length I said, in a confused tone,
I came hither with a view to benefit a man with whose misfortunes his own lips have made me acquainted, and who has awakened in my breast the deepest sympathy. I know the cause and extent of his dejection. I know the event which has given birth to horror and remorse in his heart. He believes that, by his means, his patroness and benefactress has found an untimely death.
This unhappy lady was cursed with a wicked and unnatural brother. She conceived a disproportionate affection for this brother, and erroneously imagined that her fate was blended with his, that their lives would necessarily terminate at the same period, and that, therefore, whoever was the contriver of his death was likewise, by a fatal and invincible necessity, the author of her own.
Clithero was her servant, but was raised by her bounty to the station of her son and the rank of her friend. Clithero, in self-defence, took away the life of that unnatural brother, and, in that deed, falsely but cogently believed that he had perpetrated the destruction of his benefactress.
At these words Clithero started from the ground, and cast upon me looks of furious indignation. And come you hither, he muttered, for this end?to recount my offences and drive me again to despair?
I perceive, resumed I, that my words are disregarded. Would to Heaven I were able to conquer your incredulity, could show you not only the truth but the probability of my tale! Can you not confide in me? that Euphemia Lorimer is now alive, is happy, is the wife of Sarsefield? that her brother is forgotten and his murderer regarded without enmity or vengeance?
He looked at me with a strange expression of contempt. Come, said he, at length; make out thy assertion to be true. Fall on thy knees, and invoke the thunder of Heaven to light on thy head if thy words be false. Swear that Euphemia Lorimer is alive; happy; forgetful of Wiatte and compassionate of me. Swear that thou hast seen her; talked with her; received from her own lips the confession of her pity for him who aimed a dagger at her bosom. Swear that she is Sarsefields wife.
I put my hands together, and, lifting my eyes to heaven, exclaimed, I comply with your conditions. I call the omniscient God to witness that Euphemia Lorimer is alive; that I have seen her with these eyes; have talked with her; have inhabited the same house for months.
These asseverations were listened to with shuddering. He laid not aside, however, an air of incredulity and contempt. Perhaps, said he, thou canst point out the place of her abode?canst guide me to the city, the street, the very door of her habitation?
Tis well! exclaimed my companion, in a tone loud, abrupt, and in the utmost degree vehement. Tis well! Rash and infatuated youth, thou hast ratified, beyond appeal or forgiveness, thy own doom. Thou hast once more let loose my steps, and sent me on a fearful journey. Thou hast furnished the means of detecting thy imposture. I will fly to the spot which thou describest. I will ascertain thy falsehood with my own eyes. If she be alive, then am I reserved for the performance of a new crime. My evil destiny will have it so. If she be dead, I shall make thee expiate.
So saying, he darted through the door, and was gone in a moment beyond my sight and my reach. I ran to the road, looked on every side, and called; but my calls were repeated in vain. He had fled with the swiftness of a deer.
My own embarrassment, confusion, and terror were inexpressible. His last words were incoherent. They denoted the tumult and vehemence of frenzy. They intimated his resolution to seek the presence of your wife. I had furnished a clue which could not fail to conduct him to her presence. What might not be dreaded from the interview? Clithero is a maniac. This truth cannot be concealed. Your wife can with difficulty preserve her tranquillity when his image occurs to her remembrance. What must it be when he starts up before her in his neglected and ferocious guise, and armed with purposes perhaps as terrible as those which had formerly led him to her secret chamber and her bedside?
His meaning was obscurely conveyed. He talked of a deed for the performance of which his malignant fate had reserved him, which was to ensue their meeting, and which was to afford disastrous testimony of the infatuation which had led me hither.
Heaven grant that some means may suggest themselves to you of intercepting his approach! Yet I know not what means can be conceived. Some miraculous chance may befriend you; yet this is scarcely to be hoped. It is a visionary and fantastic base on which to rest our security.
I cannot forget that my unfortunate temerity has created this evil. Yet who could foresee this consequence of my intelligence? I imagined that Clithero was merely a victim of erroneous gratitude, a slave of the errors of his education and the prejudices of his rank; that his understanding was deluded by phantoms in the mask of virtue and duty, and not, as you have strenuously maintained, utterly subverted.
I shall not escape your censure, but I shall, likewise, gain your compassion. I have erred, not through sinister or malignant intentions, but from the impulse of misguided, indeed, but powerful, benevolence.