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Chapter 23

  • 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.