It was eight o'clock when we landed; we walked for a short time on the shore,
enjoying the transitory light, and then retired to the inn and contemplate_he lovely scene of waters, woods, and mountains, obscured in darkness, ye_till displaying their black outlines.
The wind, which had fallen in the south, now rose with great violence in th_est. The moon had reached her summit in the heavens and was beginning t_escend; the clouds swept across it swifter than the flight of the vulture an_immed her rays, while the lake reflected the scene of the busy heavens,
rendered still busier by the restless waves that were beginning to rise.
Suddenly a heavy storm of rain descended.
I had been calm during the day, but so soon as night obscured the shapes o_bjects, a thousand fears arose in my mind. I was anxious and watchful, whil_y right hand grasped a pistol which was hidden in my bosom; every soun_errified me, but I resolved that I would sell my life dearly and not shrin_rom the conflict until my own life or that of my adversary was extinguished.
Elizabeth observed my agitation for some time in timid and fearful silence,
but there was something in my glance which communicated terror to her, an_rembling, she asked, "What is it that agitates you, my dear Victor? What i_t you fear?"
"Oh! Peace, peace, my love," replied I; "this night, and all will be safe; bu_his night is dreadful, very dreadful."
I passed an hour in this state of mind, when suddenly I reflected how fearfu_he combat which I momentarily expected would be to my wife, and I earnestl_ntreated her to retire, resolving not to join her until I had obtained som_nowledge as to the situation of my enemy.
She left me, and I continued some time walking up and down the passages of th_ouse and inspecting every corner that might afford a retreat to my adversary.
But I discovered no trace of him and was beginning to conjecture that som_ortunate chance had intervened to prevent the execution of his menaces whe_uddenly I heard a shrill and dreadful scream. It came from the room int_hich Elizabeth had retired. As I heard it, the whole truth rushed into m_ind, my arms dropped, the motion of every muscle and fibre was suspended; _ould feel the blood trickling in my veins and tingling in the extremities o_y limbs. This state lasted but for an instant; the scream was repeated, and _ushed into the room. Great God! Why did I not then expire! Why am I here t_elate the destruction of the best hope and the purest creature on earth? Sh_as there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hangin_own and her pale and distorted features half covered by her hair. Everywher_ turn I see the same figure—her bloodless arms and relaxed form flung by th_urderer on its bridal bier. Could I behold this and live? Alas! Life i_bstinate and clings closest where it is most hated. For a moment only did _ose recollection; I fell senseless on the ground.
When I recovered I found myself surrounded by the people of the inn; thei_ountenances expressed a breathless terror, but the horror of others appeare_nly as a mockery, a shadow of the feelings that oppressed me. I escaped fro_hem to the room where lay the body of Elizabeth, my love, my wife, so latel_iving, so dear, so worthy. She had been moved from the posture in which I ha_irst beheld her, and now, as she lay, her head upon her arm and _andkerchief thrown across her face and neck, I might have supposed he_sleep. I rushed towards her and embraced her with ardour, but the deadl_anguor and coldness of the limbs told me that what I now held in my arms ha_eased to be the Elizabeth whom I had loved and cherished. The murderous mar_f the fiend's grasp was on her neck, and the breath had ceased to issue fro_er lips. While I still hung over her in the agony of despair, I happened t_ook up. The windows of the room had before been darkened, and I felt a kin_f panic on seeing the pale yellow light of the moon illuminate the chamber.
The shutters had been thrown back, and with a sensation of horror not to b_escribed, I saw at the open window a figure the most hideous and abhorred. _rin was on the face of the monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendis_inger he pointed towards the corpse of my wife. I rushed towards the window,
and drawing a pistol from my bosom, fired; but he eluded me, leaped from hi_tation, and running with the swiftness of lightning, plunged into the lake.
The report of the pistol brought a crowd into the room. I pointed to the spo_here he had disappeared, and we followed the track with boats; nets wer_ast, but in vain. After passing several hours, we returned hopeless, most o_y companions believing it to have been a form conjured up by my fancy. Afte_aving landed, they proceeded to search the country, parties going i_ifferent directions among the woods and vines.
I attempted to accompany them and proceeded a short distance from the house,
but my head whirled round, my steps were like those of a drunken man, I fel_t last in a state of utter exhaustion; a film covered my eyes, and my ski_as parched with the heat of fever. In this state I was carried back an_laced on a bed, hardly conscious of what had happened; my eyes wandered roun_he room as if to seek something that I had lost.
After an interval I arose, and as if by instinct, crawled into the room wher_he corpse of my beloved lay. There were women weeping around; I hung over i_nd joined my sad tears to theirs; all this time no distinct idea presente_tself to my mind, but my thoughts rambled to various subjects, reflectin_onfusedly on my misfortunes and their cause. I was bewildered, in a cloud o_onder and horror. The death of William, the execution of Justine, the murde_f Clerval, and lastly of my wife; even at that moment I knew not that my onl_emaining friends were safe from the malignity of the fiend; my father eve_ow might be writhing under his grasp, and Ernest might be dead at his feet.
This idea made me shudder and recalled me to action. I started up and resolve_o return to Geneva with all possible speed.
There were no horses to be procured, and I must return by the lake; but th_ind was unfavourable, and the rain fell in torrents. However, it was hardl_orning, and I might reasonably hope to arrive by night. I hired men to ro_nd took an oar myself, for I had always experienced relief from menta_orment in bodily exercise. But the overflowing misery I now felt, and th_xcess of agitation that I endured rendered me incapable of any exertion. _hrew down the oar, and leaning my head upon my hands, gave way to ever_loomy idea that arose. If I looked up, I saw scenes which were familiar to m_n my happier time and which I had contemplated but the day before in th_ompany of her who was now but a shadow and a recollection. Tears streame_rom my eyes. The rain had ceased for a moment, and I saw the fish play in th_aters as they had done a few hours before; they had then been observed b_lizabeth. Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudde_hange. The sun might shine or the clouds might lower, but nothing coul_ppear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had snatched from me ever_ope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; s_rightful an event is single in the history of man. But why should I dwel_pon the incidents that followed this last overwhelming event? Mine has been _ale of horrors; I have reached their acme, and what I must now relate can bu_e tedious to you. Know that, one by one, my friends were snatched away; I wa_eft desolate. My own strength is exhausted, and I must tell, in a few words,
what remains of my hideous narration. I arrived at Geneva. My father an_rnest yet lived, but the former sunk under the tidings that I bore. I see hi_ow, excellent and venerable old man! His eyes wandered in vacancy, for the_ad lost their charm and their delight—his Elizabeth, his more than daughter,
whom he doted on with all that affection which a man feels, who in the declin_f life, having few affections, clings more earnestly to those that remain.
Cursed, cursed be the fiend that brought misery on his grey hairs and doome_im to waste in wretchedness! He could not live under the horrors that wer_ccumulated around him; the springs of existence suddenly gave way; he wa_nable to rise from his bed, and in a few days he died in my arms.
What then became of me? I know not; I lost sensation, and chains and darknes_ere the only objects that pressed upon me. Sometimes, indeed, I dreamt that _andered in flowery meadows and pleasant vales with the friends of my youth,
but I awoke and found myself in a dungeon. Melancholy followed, but by degree_ gained a clear conception of my miseries and situation and was then release_rom my prison. For they had called me mad, and during many months, as _nderstood, a solitary cell had been my habitation.
Liberty, however, had been a useless gift to me, had I not, as I awakened t_eason, at the same time awakened to revenge. As the memory of pas_isfortunes pressed upon me, I began to reflect on their cause—the monste_hom I had created, the miserable daemon whom I had sent abroad into the worl_or my destruction. I was possessed by a maddening rage when I thought of him,
and desired and ardently prayed that I might have him within my grasp to wrea_ great and signal revenge on his cursed head.
Nor did my hate long confine itself to useless wishes; I began to reflect o_he best means of securing him; and for this purpose, about a month after m_elease, I repaired to a criminal judge in the town and told him that I had a_ccusation to make, that I knew the destroyer of my family, and that _equired him to exert his whole authority for the apprehension of th_urderer. The magistrate listened to me with attention and kindness.
"Be assured, sir," said he, "no pains or exertions on my part shall be spare_o discover the villain."
"I thank you," replied I; "listen, therefore, to the deposition that I have t_ake. It is indeed a tale so strange that I should fear you would not credi_t were there not something in truth which, however wonderful, force_onviction. The story is too connected to be mistaken for a dream, and I hav_o motive for falsehood." My manner as I thus addressed him was impressive bu_alm; I had formed in my own heart a resolution to pursue my destroyer t_eath, and this purpose quieted my agony and for an interval reconciled me t_ife. I now related my history briefly but with firmness and precision,
marking the dates with accuracy and never deviating into invective o_xclamation.
The magistrate appeared at first perfectly incredulous, but as I continued h_ecame more attentive and interested; I saw him sometimes shudder with horror;
at others a lively surprise, unmingled with disbelief, was painted on hi_ountenance. When I had concluded my narration I said, "This is the being who_ accuse and for whose seizure and punishment I call upon you to exert you_hole power. It is your duty as a magistrate, and I believe and hope that you_eelings as a man will not revolt from the execution of those functions o_his occasion." This address caused a considerable change in the physiognom_f my own auditor. He had heard my story with that half kind of belief that i_iven to a tale of spirits and supernatural events; but when he was calle_pon to act officially in consequence, the whole tide of his incredulit_eturned. He, however, answered mildly, "I would willingly afford you ever_id in your pursuit, but the creature of whom you speak appears to have power_hich would put all my exertions to defiance. Who can follow an animal whic_an traverse the sea of ice and inhabit caves and dens where no man woul_enture to intrude? Besides, some months have elapsed since the commission o_is crimes, and no one can conjecture to what place he has wandered or wha_egion he may now inhabit."
"I do not doubt that he hovers near the spot which I inhabit, and if he ha_ndeed taken refuge in the Alps, he may be hunted like the chamois an_estroyed as a beast of prey. But I perceive your thoughts; you do not credi_y narrative and do not intend to pursue my enemy with the punishment which i_is desert." As I spoke, rage sparkled in my eyes; the magistrate wa_ntimidated. "You are mistaken," said he. "I will exert myself, and if it i_n my power to seize the monster, be assured that he shall suffer punishmen_roportionate to his crimes. But I fear, from what you have yourself describe_o be his properties, that this will prove impracticable; and thus, whil_very proper measure is pursued, you should make up your mind t_isappointment."
"That cannot be; but all that I can say will be of little avail. My revenge i_f no moment to you; yet, while I allow it to be a vice, I confess that it i_he devouring and only passion of my soul. My rage is unspeakable when _eflect that the murderer, whom I have turned loose upon society, stil_xists. You refuse my just demand; I have but one resource, and I devot_yself, either in my life or death, to his destruction."
I trembled with excess of agitation as I said this; there was a frenzy in m_anner, and something, I doubt not, of that haughty fierceness which th_artyrs of old are said to have possessed. But to a Genevan magistrate, whos_ind was occupied by far other ideas than those of devotion and heroism, thi_levation of mind had much the appearance of madness. He endeavoured to sooth_e as a nurse does a child and reverted to my tale as the effects of delirium.
"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom! Cease; you kno_ot what it is you say."
I broke from the house angry and disturbed and retired to meditate on som_ther mode of action.