Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe

 
       THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM
        by Edgar Allen Poe

          Impia tortorum longos 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 he erected upon
    the site of the Jacobin Club House at 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
exaggeration! 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 immoveable resolution
--of stern contempt of human torture. I saw 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 and 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; the tall candles sank into nothingness; their flames went out
utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened; all sensations appeared
swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soul into Hades.
Then silence, and stillness, night were the universe.
 
 I had 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 is not lost. Else there is no immortality for man. Arousing from
the most profound of slumbers, we break the gossamer web of some
dream. Yet in a second afterward, (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.
  Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavors 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.
  Very suddenly 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 endeavor 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 endeavor
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 could be. 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 exercise 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 autos-da-fe, 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.
  A fearful 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 directions. 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. I
proceeded 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 rumors 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 me.
  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
me. 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. I 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 first insuperable. 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 weakness. 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 avidity. Shortly
afterward, 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 the rag. 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 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 slime. At length, however, I took
courage, and did not hesitate to step firmly; endeavoring 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
attention. 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 vapor, 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. Groping 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 faded away.
  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
had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the tales respecting the
Inquisition. To the 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 awaited me.
  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. Neither 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 draught. 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 prison.
  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, then the mere dimensions of my dungeon? But my soul took
a wild interest in trifles, and I busied myself in endeavors 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 colors 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 surcingle. 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.
  Looking 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 clocks. 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.
  A slight 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 away.
  It might have been half an hour, perhaps even an hour, (for in
cast my 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 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 razor. 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 cognizance 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 rumor as the Ultima Thule of all their punishments. The
plunge into this pit I had avoided by the merest of accidents, 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 vibrations 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. The odor 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 rare bauble.
  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. Upon my 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
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 terrifically wide
sweep (some thirty feet or more) and the its hissing vigor 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 shrunk convulsively at its every 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 a relief, oh! how
unspeakable! Still I 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 razorlike 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
steel! 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! Was it probable that the bandage
crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum? Dreading to find my
faint, and, as it seemed, in 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 in the
path of the destroying crescent.
  Scarcely 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 prey. "To what food," I
thought, "have they 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. The
measured movement of the pendulum disturbed them not at all.
Avoiding its strokes they busied themselves with the anointed 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 a 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 still.
  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 tumultuously 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. My every 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 eves 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 endeavored, but of course in vain, to look through
the aperture.
  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 colors seemed blurred and indefinite.
These colors had now assumed, and were momentarily assuming, a
startling and most intense brilliancy, that gave 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. --Oh! 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.
  The heat rapidly increased, and once again I looked up, shuddering
as with a fit of the ague. There had been a second change in the
cell --and now the change was obviously in the form. As before, 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 square. 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
peace. "Death," I said, "any death but that of the pit!" Fool! might I
have not 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.

                                   -THE END-
.

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