Impia tortorum longas hic turba furores Sanguinis
innocui non satiata, aluit. Sospite nunc patria, fracto nunc funeris
antro, Mors ubi dira fuit
vita salusque patent.
[Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to be erected upon the
site of the Jacobin Club House in Paris.]
I WAS sick, sick unto death, with that long agony, and
when they at length unbound me, and I was permitted to sit, I felt that my
senses were leaving me. The sentence, the dread sentence of death, was the
last of distinct accentuation which reached my ears.
After that, the sound of the inquisitorial voices
seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul the
idea of REVOLUTION, perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of
a mill-wheel. This only for a brief period, for presently I heard no more.
Yet, for a while, I saw, but with how terrible an
I saw the lips of the black-robed judges. They
appeared to me white -- whiter than the sheet upon which I trace these
words -- and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with the intensity of their
expression of firmness, of immovable resolution, of stern
contempt of human torture.
that the decrees of what to me was fate were still issuing from those
lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. I saw them fashion the
syllables of my name, and I shuddered, because no sound succeeded. I saw,
too, for a few moments of delirious horror, the soft and nearly
imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls of
the apartment; and then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon the table.
At first they wore the aspect
of charity, and seemed white slender angels who would save me: but then
all at once there came a most deadly nausea over my spirit, and I felt
every fibre in my frame thrill, as if I had touched the wire of a galvanic
battery, while the angel forms became meaningless spectres, with heads of
flame, and I saw that from them there would be no help.
And then there stole into my fancy, like a
rich musical note, the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the
grave. The thought came gently and stealthily, and it seemed long before
it attained full appreciation; but just as my spirit came at length
properly to feel and entertain it, the figures of the judges vanished, as
if magically, from before me;
candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out utterly; the
blackness of darkness superened; all sensations appeared swallowed up in a
mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades. Then silence, and
stillness, and night were the universe.
swooned; but still will not say that all of consciousness was lost. What
of it there remained I will not attempt to define, or even to describe;
yet all was not lost. In the deepest slumber -- no! In delirium -- no! In
a swoon -- no! In death -- no! Even in the grave all was not lost. Else
there is no immortality for man.
the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some dream.
Yet in a second afterwards (so frail may that web have been) we remember
not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from the swoon there are
two stages; first, that of the sense of mental or spiritual; secondly,
that of the sense of physical existence.
It seems probable that if, upon reaching the second
stage, we could recall the impressions of the first, we should find these
impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. And that gulf is,
what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of the tomb?
But if the impressions of what I
have termed the first stage are not at will recalled, yet, after long
interval, do they not come unbidden, while we marvel whence they come? He
who has never swooned is not he who finds strange palaces and wildly
familiar faces in coals that glow;
is not he who
beholds floating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is
not he who ponders over the perfume of some novel flower; is not he whose
brain grows bewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has
never before arrested his attention.
frequent and thoughtful endeavours to remember, amid earnest struggles to
regather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul
had lapsed, there have been moments when I have dreamed of success; there
have been brief, very brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances
which the lucid reason of a later epoch assures me could have had
reference only to that condition of seeming unconsciousness.
These shadows of memory tell indistinctly of tall
figures that lifted and bore me in silence down -- down -- still down --
till a hideous dizziness oppressed me at the mere idea of the
interminableness of the descent. They tell also of a vague horror at my
heart on account of that heart's unnatural stillness.
Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessness
throughout all things; as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had
outrun, in their descent, the limits of the limitless, and paused from the
wearisomeness of their toil. After this I call to mind flatness and
dampness; and then all is MADNESS -- the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things.
there came back to my soul motion and sound -- the tumultuous motion of
the heart, and in my ears the sound of its beating. Then a pause in which
all is blank. Then again sound, and motion, and touch, a tingling
sensation pervading my frame.
Then the mere
consciousness of existence, without thought, a condition which lasted
long. Then, very suddenly, THOUGHT, and shuddering terror, and earnest
endeavour to comprehend my true state. Then a strong desire to lapse into
insensibility. Then a rushing revival of soul and a successful effort to move.
And now a full memory of the
trial, of the judges, of the sable draperies, of the sentence, of the
sickness, of the swoon. Then entire forgetfulness of all that followed; of
all that a later day and much earnestness of endeavour have enabled me vaguely to recall.
So far I had not opened my eyes.
I felt that I lay upon my back unbound. I reached out my hand, and it fell
heavily upon something damp and hard. There I suffered it to remain for
many minutes, while I strove to imagine where and what I
I longed, yet dared not, to employ my vision. I
dreaded the first glance at objects around me. It was not that I feared to
look upon things horrible, but that I grew aghast lest there should be
NOTHING to see. At length, with a wild desperation at heart, I quickly unclosed my eyes.
My worst thoughts, then, were
confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggled for
breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. The
atmosphere was intolerably close. I still lay quietly, and made effort to
ex ercise my reason. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedings, and
attempted from that point to deduce my real condition.
The sentence had passed, and it appeared to me that a
very long interval of time had since elapsed. Yet not for a moment did I
suppose myself actually dead. Such a supposition, notwithstanding what we
read in fiction, is altogether inconsistent with real
existence; -- but where and in what state was I?
The condemned to death, I knew, perished usually at the auto-da-fes, and one of these had been held on the very night of the
day of my trial. Had I been remanded to my dungeon, to await the next
sacrifice, which would not take place for many months?
This I at
once saw could not be. Victims had been in immediate demand. Moreover my
dungeon, as well as all the condemned cells at Toledo, had stone floors,
and light was not altogether excluded.
idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heart, and for a
brief period I once more relapsed into insensibility. Upon recovering, I
at once started to my feet, trembling convulsively in every fibre. I
thrust my arms wildly above and around me in all
I felt nothing; yet dreaded to move a step,
lest I should be impeded by the walls of a TOMB. Perspiration burst from
every pore, and stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. The agony of
suspense grew at length intolerable, and I cautiously moved forward, with
my arms extended, and my eyes straining from their sockets, in the hope of
catching some faint ray of light.
for many paces, but still all was blackness and vacancy. I breathed more
freely. It seemed evident that mine was not, at least, the most hideous of fates.
And now, as I still continued to
step cautiously onward, there came thronging upon my recollection a
thousand vague rumours of the horrors of Toledo. Of the dungeons there had
been strange things narrated -- fables I had always deemed them -- but yet
strange, and too ghastly to repeat, save in a whisper.
Was I left to perish of starvation in this
subterranean world of darkness; or what fate perhaps even more fearful
awaited me? That the result would be death, and a death of more than
customary bitterness, I knew too well the character of my judges to doubt.
The mode and the hour were all that occupied or distracted
My outstretched hands at length encountered some
solid obstruction. It was a wall, seemingly of stone masonry -- very
smooth, slimy, and cold. I followed it up; stepping with all the careful
distrust with which certain antique narratives had inspired
This process, however, afforded me no means of
ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon; as I might make its circuit,
and return to the point whence I set out, without being aware of the fact,
so perfectly uniform seemed the wall.
therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocket when led into the
inquisitorial chamber, but it was gone; my clothes had been exchanged for
a wrapper of coarse serge. I had thought of forcing the blade in some
minute crevice of the masonry, so as
to identify my point of departure. The difficulty, nevertheless, was but
trivial, although, in the disorder of my fancy, it seemed at
I tore a part of the hem from the
robe, and placed the fragment at full length, and at right angles to the
wall. In groping my way around the prison, I could not fail to encounter
this rag upon completing the circuit. So, at least, I thought, but I had
not counted upon the extent of the dungeon, or upon my own
The ground was moist and slippery. I staggered
onward for some time, when I stumbled and fell. My excessive fatigue
induced me to remain prostrate, and sleep soon overtook me
as I lay.
Upon awaking, and stretching forth an arm, I found
beside me a loaf and a pitcher with water. I was too much exhausted to
reflect upon this circumstance, but ate and drank with
Shortly afterwards I resumed my tour around the
prison, and with much toil came at last upon the fragment of the serge. Up
to the period when I fell I had counted fifty-two paces, and upon resuming
my walk I had counted forty-eight more, when I arrived at
There were in all, then, a hundred paces; and,
admitting two paces to the yard, I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards
in circuit. I had met, however, with many angles in the wall, and thus I
could form no guess at the shape of the vault, for vault I could not help
supposing it to be.
I had little object -- certainly
no hope -- in these researches, but a vague curiosity prompted me to
continue them. Quitting the wall, I resolved to cross the area of the
enclosure. At first I proceeded with extreme caution, for the floor
although seemingly of solid material was treacherous with
At length, however, I took courage and did not
hesitate to step firmly -- endeavouring to cross in as direct a line as
possible. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner, when the
remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs. I
stepped on it, and fell violently on my face.
In the confusion attending my fall, I did not
immediately apprehend a somewhat startling circumstance, which yet, in a
few seconds afterward, and while I still lay prostrate, arrested my
It was this: my chin rested upon the floor of the
prison, but my lips, and the upper portion of my head, although seemingly
at a less elevation than the chin, touched nothing.
At the same time, my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vapour, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my
nostrils. I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen at
the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent of course I had no means of
ascertaining at the moment.
about the masonry just below the margin, I succeeded in dislodging a small
fragment, and let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to
its reverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its
descent; at length there was a sullen plunge into water, succeeded by loud
echoes. At the same moment there came a sound resembling the quick
opening, and as rapid closing of a door overhead, while a faint gleam of
light flashed suddenly through the gloom, and as suddenly
I saw clearly the doom which had been
prepared for me, and congratulated myself upon the timely accident by
which I had escaped. Another step before my fall, and the world had seen
me no more and the death just avoided was of that very character which I h
ad regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition.
victims of its tyranny, there was the choice of death with its direst
physical agonies, or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been
reserved for the latter. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung,
until I trembled at the sound of my own voice, and had become in every
respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which
Shaking in every limb, I groped my way back to
the wall -- resolving there to perish rather than risk the terrors of the
wells, of which my imagination now pictured many in various positions
about the dungeon. In other conditions of mind I might have had courage to
end my misery at once by a plunge into one of these abysses; but now I was
the veriest of cowards.
could I forget what I had read of these pits -- that the SUDDEN extinction
of life formed no part of their most horrible plan. Agitation of spirit
kept me awake for many long hours; but at length I again slumbered. Upon
arousing, I found by my side, as before, a loaf and a pitcher of water. A
burning thirst consumed me, and I emptied the vessel at a
It must have been drugged, for scarcely had I
drunk before I became irresistibly drowsy. A deep sleep fell upon me -- a
sleep like that of death. How long it lasted of course I know not; but
when once again I unclosed my eyes the objects around me were visible. By
a wild sulphurous lustre, the origin of which I could not at first
determine, I was enabled to see the extent and aspect of the
In its size I had been greatly mistaken.
The whole circuit of its walls did not exceed twenty-five yards. For some
minutes this fact occasioned me a world of vain trouble; vain indeed --
for what could be of less importance, under the terrible circumstances
which environed me than the mere dimensions of my dungeon?
But my soul took a wild interest in trifles, and I
busied myself in endeavours to account for the error I had committed in my
measurement. The truth at length flashed upon me. In my first attempt at
exploration I had counted fifty-two paces up to the period when I fell; I
must then have been within a pace or two of the fragment of serge; in fact
I had nearly performed the circuit of the vault.
I then slept, and upon awaking, I must have
returned upon my steps, thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it
actually was. My confusion of mind prevented me from observing that I
began my tour with the wall to the left, and ended it with the wall to the right.
I had been deceived too in
respect to the shape of the enclosure. In feeling my way I had found many
angles, and thus deduced an idea of great irregularity, so potent is the
effect of total darkness upon one arousing from lethargy or sleep! The
angles were simply those of a few slight depressions or niches at odd intervals.
The general shape of the prison
was square. What I had taken for masonry seemed now to be iron, or some
other metal in huge plates, whose sutures or joints occasioned the
depression. The entire surface of this metallic enclosure was rudely
daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices to which the charnel
superstition of the monks has given rise.
The figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with
skeleton forms and other more really fearful images, overspread and
disfigured the walls. I observed that the outlines of these monstrosities
were sufficiently distinct, but that the colours seemed faded and blurred,
as if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. I now noticed the floor, too,
which was of stone. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whose jaws
I had escaped; but it was the only one in the dungeon.
All this I saw indistinctly and by much effort, for
my personal condition had been greatly changed during slumber. I now lay
upon my back, and at full length, on a species of low framework of wood.
To this I was securely bound by a long strap resembling a
It passed in many convolutions about my limbs and body, leaving at liberty only my head, and
my left arm to such extent that I could by dint of much exertion supply
myself with food from an earthen dish which lay by my side on the floor. I
saw to my horror that the pitcher had been removed. I say to my horror,
for I was consumed with intolerable thirst. This thirst it appeared to be
the design of my persecutors to stimulate, for the food in the dish was meat pungently seasoned.
upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty or forty
feet overhead, and constructed much as the side walls. In one of its
panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the
painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that in lieu
of a scythe he held what at a casual glance I supposed to be the pictured
image of a huge pendulum, such as we see on antique
There was something, however, in the appearance of
this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. While I gazed
directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own), I
fancied that I saw it in motion.
In an instant
afterward the fancy was confirmed. Its sweep was brief, and of course
slow. I watched it for some minutes, somewhat in fear but more in wonder.
Wearied at length with observing its dull movement, I turned my eyes upon
the other objects in the cell.
noise attracted my notice, and looking to the floor, I saw several
enormous rats traversing it. They had issued from the well which lay just
within view to my right. Even then while I gazed, they came up in troops
hurriedly, with ravenous eyes, allured by the scent of the meat. From this
it required much effort and attention to scare them
It might have been half-an-hour, perhaps even an
hour (for I could take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my
eyes upward. What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the
pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard.
As a natural consequence, its velocity was also
much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that it had perceptibly DESCENDED.
I now observed, with what horror
it is needless to say, that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent
of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns
upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a
Like a razor also it seemed massy and heavy,
tapering from the edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was
appended to a weighty rod of brass, and the whole HISSED as it swung through the air.
I could no longer doubt the doom
prepared for me by monkish ingenuity in torture. My cognisance of the pit
had become known to the inquisitorial agents -- THE PIT, whose horrors had
been destined for so bold a recusant as myself, THE PIT, typical of hell,
and regarded by rumour as the Ultima Thule of all their
The plunge into this pit I had
avoided by the merest of accidents, and I knew that surprise or entrapment
into torment formed an important portion of all the grotesquerie of these
dungeon deaths. Having failed to fall, it was no part of the demon plan to
hurl me into the abyss, and thus (there being no alternative) a different
and a milder destruction awaited me. Milder! I half smiled in my agony as
I thought of such application of such a term.
What boots it to tell of the long, long hours
of horror more than mortal, during which I counted the rushing
oscillations of the steel! Inch by inch -- line by line -- with a
descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages -- down and
still down it came! Days passed -- it might have been that many days
passed -- ere it swept so closely over me as to fan me with its acrid breath.
he odour of the sharp steel forced itself into my
nostrils. I prayed -- I wearied heaven with my prayer for its more speedy
descent. I grew frantically mad, and struggled to force myself upward
against the sweep of the fearful scimitar. And then I fell suddenly calm
and lay smiling at the glittering death as a child at some
There was another interval of utter insensibility;
it was brief, for upon again lapsing into life there had been no
perceptible descent in the pendulum. But it might have been long -- for I
knew there were demons who took note of my swoon, and who could have
arrested the vibration at pleasure.
recovery, too, I felt very -- oh! inexpressibly -- sick and weak, as if
through long inanition. Even amid the agonies of that period the human
nature craved food. With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far
as my bonds permitted, and took possession of the small remnant which had
been spared me by the rats.
As I put
a portion of it within my lips there rushed to my mind a half-formed
thought of joy -- of hope. Yet what business had I with hope? It was, as I
say, a half-formed thought -- man has many such, which are never
completed. I felt that it was of joy -- of hope; but I felt also that it
had perished in its formation. In vain I struggled
to perfect -- to regain it. Long suffering had nearly annihilated all my
ordinary powers of mind. I was an imbecile -- an idiot.
The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles
to my length. I saw that the crescent was designed to cross the region of
the heart. It would fray the serge of my robe; it would return and repeat
its operations -- again -- and again.
Notwithstanding its terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) and
the hissing vigour of its descent, sufficient to sunder these very walls
of iron, still the fraying of my robe would be all that, for several
minutes, it would accomplish; and at this thought I paused. I dared not go
farther than this reflection.
I dwelt upon
it with a pertinacity of attention -- as if, in so dwelling, I could
arrest HERE the descent of the steel. I forced myself to ponder upon the
sound of the crescent as it should pass across the garment -- upon the
peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces on the
nerves. I pondered upon all this frivolity until my teeth were on edge.
Down -- steadily down it crept. I
took a frenzied pleasure in contrasting its downward with its lateral
velocity. To the right -- to the left -- far and wide -- with the shriek
of a damned spirit! to my heart with the stealthy pace of the tiger! I
alternately laughed and howled, as the one or the other idea grew predominant.
Down -- certainly, relentlessly
down! It vibrated within three inches of my bosom! I struggled violently
-- furiously -- to free my left arm. This was free only from the elbow to
the hand. I could reach the latter, from the platter beside me to my mouth
with great effort, but no farther.
Could I have
broken the fastenings above the elbow, I would have seized and attempted
to arrest the pendulum. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche!
Down -- still unceasingly --
still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled at each vibration. I
convulsively at its very sweep. My eyes followed its outward or upward
whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair; they closed
themselves spasmodically at the descent, although death would have been
relief, O, how unspeakable!
quivered in every nerve to think how slight a sinking of the machinery
would precipitate that keen glistening axe upon my bosom. It was hope that
prompted the nerve to quiver -- the frame to shrink. It was HOPE -- the
hope that triumphs on the rack -- that whispers to the death-condemned
even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would
bring the steel in actual contact with my robe, and with this observation
there suddenly came over my spirit all the keen, collected calmness of
despair. For the first time during many hours, or perhaps days, I THOUGHT.
It now occurred to me
that the bandage or surcingle which enveloped me was UNIQUE. I was tied by
no separate cord. The first stroke of the razor-like crescent athwart any
portion of the band would so detach it that it might be unwound from my
person by means of my left hand. But how fearful, in that case, the
proximity of the st eel! The result of the slightest struggle, how deadly!
Was it likely, moreover, that the minions of the torturer had not foreseen
and provided for this possibility!
probable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum?
Dreading to find my faint, and, as it seemed, my last hope frustrated, I
so far elevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. The
surcingle enveloped my limbs and body close in all directions save SAVE IN
THE PATH OF THE DESTROYING CRESCENT.
had I dropped my head back into its original position when there flashed
upon my mind what I cannot better describe than as the unformed half of
that idea of deliverance to which I have previously alluded, and of which
a moiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when I raised food
to my burning lips. The whole thought was now present -- feeble, scarcely
sane, scarcely definite, but still entire. I proceeded at once, with the
nervous energy of despair, to attempt its execution.
For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low
framework upon which I lay had been literally swarming with rats. They
were wild, bold, ravenous, their red eyes glaring upon me as if they
waited but for motionlessness on my part to make me their
been accustomed in the well?"
They had devoured, in spite of all my efforts to prevent them, all but a
small remnant of the contents of the dish. I had fallen into an habitual
see-saw or wave of the hand about the platter; and at length the
unconscious uniformity of the movement deprived it of effect.
In their voracity the vermin frequently fastened
their sharp fangs in my fingers. With the particles of the oily and spicy
viand which now remained, I thoroughly rubbed the bandage wherever I could
reach it; then, raising my hand from the floor, I lay breathlessly still.
At first the ravenous animals
were startled and terrified at the change -- at the cessation of movement.
They shrank alarmedly back; many sought the well. But this was only for a
moment. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity.
Observing that I remained without motion, one or
two of the boldest leaped upon the frame-work and smelt at the surcingle.
This seemed the signal for a general rush. Forth from the well they
hurried in fresh troops. They clung to the wood, they overran it, and
leaped in hundreds upon my person.
measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all. Avoiding its
strokes, they busied themselves with the annointed bandage. They pressed,
they swarmed upon me in ever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my
throat; their cold lips sought my
own; I was half stifled by their thronging pressure; disgust, for which
the world has no name, swelled my bosom, and chilled with heavy clamminess my heart.
Yet one minute and I felt that the struggle
would be over. Plainly I perceived the loosening of the bandage. I knew
that in more than one place it must be already severed. With a more
than human resolution I lay STI
Nor had I erred in my calculations, nor had I
endured in vain. I at length felt that I was FREE. The surcingle hung in
ribands from my body. But the stroke of the pendulum already pressed upon
my bosom. It had divided the serge of the robe.
It had cut through the linen beneath. Twice again it
swung, and a sharp sense of pain shot through every nerve. But the moment
of escape had arrived. At a wave of my hand my deliverers hurried
tumultously away. With a steady movement, cautious, sidelong, shrinking,
and slow, I slid from the embrace of the bandage and beyond the reach of
the scimitar. For the moment, at least I WAS FREE.
Free! and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had
scarcely stepped from my wooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the
prison, when the motion of the hellish machine ceased and I beheld it
drawn up by some invisible force through the ceiling. This was a lesson
which I took desperately to heart.
motion was undoubtedly watched. Free! I had but escaped death in one form
of agony to be delivered unto worse than death in some other. With that
thought I rolled my eyes nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed me in.
Something unusual -- some
change which at first I could not appreciate distinctly -- it was obvious
had taken place in the apartment. For many minutes of a dreamy and
trembling abstraction I busied myself in vain, unconnected conjecture.
During this period I became aware, for the first time, of the origin of
the sulphurous light which illumined the cell.
It proceeded from a fissure about half-an-inch in
width extending entirely around the prison at the base of the walls which
thus appeared, and were completely separated from the floor. I
endeavoured, but of course in vain, to look through the
As I arose from the attempt, the mystery of the
alteration in the chamber broke at once upon my understanding. I have
observed that although the outlines of the figures upon the walls were
sufficiently distinct, yet the colours seemed blurred and indefinite.
These colours had now assumed, and were momentarily assuming, a startling
and most intense brilliancy, that give to the spectral and fiendish
portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves than my own.
Demon eyes, of a wild and ghastly
vivacity, glared upon me in a thousand directions where none had been
visible before, and gleamed with the lurid lustre of a fire that I could
not force my imagination to regard as unreal.
UNREAL! -- Even while I breathed there came to my
nostrils the breath of the vapour of heated iron! A suffocating odour
pervaded the prison! A deeper glow settled each moment in the eyes that
glared at my agonies! A richer tint of crimson diffused itself over the
pictured horrors of blood.
I panted! I
gasped for breath! There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors
-- oh most unrelenting! oh, most demoniac of men! I shrank from the
glowing metal to the centre of the cell. Amid the thought of the fiery
destruction that impended, the idea of the coolness of the well came over
my soul like balm. I rushed to its deadly brink.
I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindled roof illumined its inmost recesses. Yet, for a wild moment,
did my spirit refuse to comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it
forced -- it wrestled its way into my soul -- it burned itself in upon my
shuddering reason. O for a voice to speak! -- oh, horror! -- oh, any
horror but this! With a shriek I rushed from the margin and buried my face
in my hands -- weeping bitterly.
rapidly increased, and once again I looked up, shuddering as if with a fit
of the ague. There had been a second change in the cell -- and now the
change was obviously in the FORM.
it was in vain that I at first endeavoured to appreciate or understand
what was taking place. But not long was I left in doubt. The inquisitorial
vengeance had been hurried by my two-fold escape, and there was to be no
more dallying with the King of Terrors. The room had been
I saw that two of its iron angles were now
acute -- two consequently, obtuse. The fearful difference quickly
increased with a low rumbling or moaning sound. In an instant the
apartment had shifted its form into that of a lozenge. But the alteration
stopped not here -- I neither hoped nor desired it to stop. I could have
clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garment of eternal
"Death," I said
"any death but that of the
pit!"Fool! might I not have known that INTO THE PIT
it was the object of the burning iron to urge me?
Could I resist its glow? or if even that,
could I withstand its pressure? And now, flatter and flatter grew the
lozenge, with a rapidity that left me no time for contemplation. Its
centre, and of course, its greatest width, came just over the yawning gulf. I shrank back -- but the closing walls pressed me resistlessly onward.
At length for my seared and
writhing body there was no longer an inch of foothold on the firm floor of
the prison. I struggled no more, but the agony of my soul found vent in
one loud, long, and final scream of despair. I felt that I tottered upon
the brink -- I averted my eyes --
There was a discordant hum
of human voices!
There was a loud blast as of
many trumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The
fiery walls rushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fell
fainting into the abyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army
had entered Toledo. The Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.