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“Antonio. Get me a conjuror, I say! Inquireme out a man that lets out devils t” Old Play.
Such a night! It was like a festival of Dian,—a burst of a summer shower at sunset, with a clap or two of thunder, had purified the air to an intoxicating rareness, and the free breathing of the flowers, and the delicious perfume from the earth and grass, and the fresh foliage of the new spring, showed the delight and sympathy of inanimate Nature in the night’s beauty. There was no atmosphere—nothing between the eye and the pearly moon,_and she rode through the heavens without a veil, like a queen as she is, giving a glimpse of her nearer beauty for a festal favour to the worshipping stars. I was a student at the famed university of Connecticut, and the bewilderments of philosophy and poetry were strong upon me, in a place where exquisite natural beauty, and the absence of all other temptation, secure to the classic neophite an almost supernatural wakefulness of fancy. I contracted a taste for the horrible in those days, which still clings to me. I have travelled the world over, with no object but general observation, and have dwindled my hour at courts and operas with little interest, while the sacking and drowning of a woman in the Bosphorus, the impalement of a robber on the Nile, and the insane hospitals from Liverpool to Cathay, are described in my capricious journal with the vividness of the most stirring adventure. There is a kind of crystallization in the circumstances of one's life. A peculiar turn of mind draws to itself events fitted to its particular nucleus, and it is frequently a subject of wonder why one man meets with more remarkable things than another, when it is owing merely to a difference of natural character. I have been thus a singular adventurer in the strange and unnatural. As I intend making my observations in this way the subjects of several papers, I will introduce them at present with my slighter beginnings. It was, as I was saying, a night of wonderful beauty. I was watching a corpse. In that part of the United States the dead are never left alone till the earth is thrown upon them, and, as a friend of the family, I had been called upon for this melancholy service on the night preceding the interment. It was a death which had left a family of broken hearts; for, beneath the sheet which sank so appalingly to the outline of a human form, lay a wreck of beauty and sweetness whose loss seemed to the survivors to have darkened the face of the earth. The ethereal and touching loveliness of that dying girl, whom I had known only a hopeless victim of consumption, springs up in my memory even yet, and mingles with every conception of female beauty. Two ladies, friends of the deceased, were to share my vigils. I knew them but slightly, and, having read them to sleep an hour after midnight, I performed my half-hourly duty of entering the room where the corpse lay, to kook after the lights, and then strolled into the garden to enjoy the quiet of the summer night. The flowers were glittering in their pearl-drops, and the air was breathless.
The sight of the long, sheeted corpse, the sudden flare of lights as the long snuffs were removed from the candles, the stillness of the closeshuttered room, and my own predisposition to invest death with a supernatural interest, had raised my heart to my throat. I walked backwards and forwards in the garden-path; and the black shadows beneath the lilacs, and even the glittering of the glow-worms within them, seemed weird and fearful.
The clock struck, and I re-entered. My companions still slept, and I passed on to the inner chamber. I trimmed the lights, and stood and looked at the white heap lying so fearfully still within the shadow of the curtains; and my blood seemed to freeze. At the moment when I was turning away with a strong effort at a more composed feeling, a noise like a flutter of wings, followed by a rush and a sudden silence, struck on my startled ear. The street was as quiet as death, and the noise, which was far too audible to be a deception of the fancy, had come from the side toward an uninhabited wing of the house. My heart stood still. Another instant, and the fire-screen was dashed down, and a white cat rushed past me, and with the speed of light sprang like a hyena upon the corpse. The flight of a vampyre into the chamber would not have more curdled my veins. A convulsive shudder ran cold over me, but, recovering my self-command, I rushed to the animal (of whose horrible appetite for the flesh of the dead I had read incredulously), and attempted to tear her from the body. With her claws fixed in the breast, and a you'l like the wail of an infernal spirit, she crouched fearlessly upon it, and the stains already upon the sheet convinced me that it would be impossible to remove her without shockingly disfiguring the corpse. I seized her by the throat, in the hope of choking her, but, with the first pressure of my fingers, she flew into my face, and the infuriated animal seemed persuaded that it was a contest for life. Halfblinded by the fury of her attack, I loosed her for a moment, and she immediately leaped again upon the corpse, and had covered her feet and face with blood before I could recover my hold upon her. The body was no longer in a situation to be spared, and I seized her with a desperate grasp to draw her off; but to my horror, the half-covered and bloody corpse rose upright in her fangs, and, while I paused in fear, sat with drooping arms, and head fallen with ghastly helplessness over the shoulder. Years have not removed that fearful spectacle from my eyes.
The corpse sank back, and I succeeded in throttling the insane monster, and threw her at last lifeless from the window. I then composed the disturbed limbs, laid the hair away once more smoothly on the forehead, and, crossing the hands over the bosom, covered the violated remains, and left them again to their repose. My companions, strangely enough, slept on, and I paced the garden-walk alone, till the day, to my inexpressible relief, dawned over the mountains.
I was called upon in my senior year to watch with an insane student. He was a man who had attracted a great deal of attention in College; he appeared in an extraordinary costume at the beginning of our Freshman Term, and wrote himself down as Washington Greyling, of * an unheard-of settlement somewhere beyond the Mississippi. His coat and other gear might have been the work of a Chickasaw tailor, aided by the superintending taste of some white huntsman, who remembered faintly the outline of habiliments he had not seen for half a century; it was a body of green cloth, eked out with wanpum and otter-skin, and would have been ridiculous if it had not encased one of the finest models of a manly frame that ever trod the carth. With close-curling black hair, a fine weather-browned complexion, Spanish features (from his mother—a frequent physiognomy in the countries bordering on Spanish America), and the port and lithe motion of a lion, he was a figure to look upon in any disguise with warm admiration. He was soon put into the hands of a tailor-proper, and, with the facility which belongs to his countrymen, became in a month the best-dressed man in College. His manners were of a gentleman-like mildness, energetic, but courteous and chivalresque, and, unlike most savages and all coins, he polished without “losing his mark.” At the end of his first term, o would have been called a high-bred gentleman at any Court in urope. †. opening of his mind was almost as rapid and extraordinary. He seized everything with an ardour and freshness that habit and difficulty never deadened. He was like a man who had tumbled into a new star, and was collecting knowledge for a world to which he was to return. The first in all games, the wildest in all adventure, the most distinguished even in the elegant society for which the town is remarkable, and unfailingly brilliant in his recitations and college performances, he was looked upon as a sort of admirable phenomenon, and neither envied nor opposed in anything. I have often thought, in looking on him, that his sensations at coming fresh from a wild, western prairie, and at the first measure of his capacities with men of better advantages, finding himself so uniformly superior, must have been stirringly delightful. It is a wonder he never became arrogant; but it was the last foible of which he could have been accused. We were reading hard for the honours in the senior year, when Greyling suddenly lost his reason. He had not been otherwise ill, and had, apparently in the midst of high health, gone mad at a moment's warning. The physicians scarce knew how to treat him. The confinement to which he was at first subjected, however, was thought inexpedient, and he seemed to justify their lenity by the gentlest behaviour when at liberty. He seemed oppressed by a heart-breaking melancholy. We took our turns in guarding and watching with him, and it was upon my first night of duty that the incident happened which I have thus endeavoured to introduce. It was scarce like a vigil with a sick man, for our patient went regularly to bed, and usually slept well. I took my “Lucretius” and the “Book of the Martyrs,” which was just then my favourite reading, and with hot punch, a cold chicken, books and a fire, I looked forward to it as merely a studious night; and, as the wintry wind of January rattled in at the old college windows, I thrust my feet into slippers, drew my dressing-gown about me, and congratulated myself on the excessive comfortableness of my position. The Sybarite's bed of roses would have been no temptation. It had snowed all day, but the sun had set with ared rift in the clouds, and the face of the sky was swept in an hour to the clearness of I want a comparison—your own blue eye, dear Mary ! The all-glorious arch of heaven was a mass of sparkling stars. Greyling slept, and I, wearied of the cold philosophy of the Latin poet, took to my “Book of Martyrs.” I read on, and read on. The college clock struck, it seemed to me, the quarters rather than the hours, Time flew : it was three. “Horrible most horrible!” I started from my chair with the exclamation, and felt as if my scalp were self-lifted from my head. It was a description in the harrowing faithfulness of the language of olden time, painting almost the articulate groans of an impaled Christian. I clasped the old iron-bound book, and rushed to the window as if my heart was stifling for fresh air. Again at the fire. The large walnut faggots had burnt to a bed of bright coals, and I sat gazing into it, totally unable to shake off the fearful incubus from my breast. The martyr was there, on the very hearth, with the stakes scornfully crossed in his body; and as the large coals cracked asunder and revealed the brightness within, I seemed to follow the nerve-rending instrument from hip to shoulder, and suffer with him pang for pang, as if the burning redness were the pools of his fevered blood. “Aha!” It struck on my ear like the cry of an exulting fiend. “Aha I’” I shrunk into the chair as the awful cry was repeated, and looked slowly and with difficult courage over my shoulder. A single fierce eye was fixed upon me from the mass of bed-clothes, and, for a moment, the relief from the fear of some supernatural presence was like water to a parched tongue. I sank back relieved into the chair. There was a rustling immediately in the bed, and, starting again, I found the wild eyes of my patient fixed still steadfastly upon me. He was creeping stealthily out of bed. His bare foot touched the floor, and his toes worked upon it as if he was feeling its strength, and in a moment he stood upright on his feet, and, with his head forward and his pale face livid with rage, stepped towards me. I looked to the door. He observed the glance, and in the next instant he sprang clear over the bed, turned the key, and dashed it furiously through the window. “Now !” said he. “Greyling!” I said. I had heard that a calm and fixed gaze would control a madman, and with the most difficult exertion of nerve, I met his lowering eye, and we stood looking at each other for a full minute, like men of marble. “Why have you left your bed ” I mildly asked. “To kill you!” was the appalling answer; and in another moment the light-stand was swept from between us, and he struck me down with a blow that would have felled a giant. Naked as he was, I had no hold upon him, even if in muscular strength I had been his match; and with a minute's struggle I yielded, for resistance was vain. His knee was now upon my breast and his left hand in my hair, and he seemed by the tremulousness of his clutch to be hesitating whether he should dash my brains out on the hearth. I could scarce breathe with his weight upon my chest, but I tried, with the broken words I could command, to move his pity. He laughed, as only maniacs can, and placed his hand on my throat. Oh, God! shall I ever forget the fiendish deliberation with which he closed those feverish fingers? “Greyling! for God’s sake! Greyling!” “Die! curse you!” In the agonies of suffocation I struck out my arm, and almost buried it in the fire upon the hearth. With an expiring thought, I grasped a handful of the red-hot coals, and had just strength sufficient to press them hard against his side. “Thank God!” I exclaimed with my first breath, as my eyes recovered from their sickness, and I looked upon the familiar objects of my chamber once more. The madman sat crouched liked a whipped dog in the farthest corner of the room, gibbering and moaning, with his hands upon his burnt side. I felt that I had escaped death by a miracle. The door was locked, and, in dread of another attack, I threw up the broken window, and to my unutterable joy the figure of a man was visible upon the snow near the out-buildings of the college. It was a charity-student, risen before day to labour in the wood-yard. I shouted to him, and Greyling leapt to his feet. “There is time yet!” said the madman; but as he came towards me again, with the same panther-like caution as before, I seized a heavy stone pitcher standing in the window-seat, and, hurling it at him with a fortunate force and aim, he fell stunned and bleeding on the floor. The door was burst open at the next moment, and, calling for assistance, we tied the wild Missourian into his bed, bound up his head and side, and committed him to fresh watchers. . . . . We have killed bears together at a Missouri Salt Lick since then; but I never see Wash. Greyling with the smile off his face, without a disposition to look around for the door. H.
Pan's comrade, she who dwells amongst the rocks,—
* The friend of Cicero.