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Edgar Allan Poe
The Fall of the House of Usher
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Son c?ur est un luth suspendu ;
Sit?t qu'on le touche il r?sonne..

De B?ranger.


DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn
of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I
had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary
tract of country ; and at length found myself, as the shades of the
evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I
know not how it was - but, with the first glimpse of the building, a
sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable ;
for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable,
because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even
the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked
upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the simple
landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls - upon the
vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges - and upon a few
white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter depression of soul
which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the
after-dream of the reveller upon opium - the bitter lapse into
everyday life - the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an
iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart - an unredeemed
dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could
torture into aught of the sublime. What was it - I paused to think -
what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of
Usher ? It was a mystery all insoluble ; nor could I grapple with
the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced
to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond
doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which
have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power
lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I
reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of
the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to
modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful
impression ; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the
precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled
lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more
thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images of
the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and
eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to myself a
sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher, had been one
of my boon companions in boyhood ; but many years had elapsed since
our last meeting. A letter, however, had lately reached me in a
distant part of the country - a letter from him - which, in its
wildly importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal
reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The writer
spoke of acute bodily illness - of a mental disorder which oppressed
him - and of an earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his
only personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness
of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in
which all this, and much more, was said - it was the apparent heart
that went with his request - which allowed me no room for hesitation;
and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still considered a very
singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I
really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always
excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very ancient
family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility
of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages, in many works
of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of
munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate
devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the orthodox
and easily recognisable beauties, of musical science. I had learned,
too, the very remarkable fact, that the stem of the Usher race, all
time-honored as it was, had put forth, at no period, any enduring
branch ; in other words, that the entire family lay in the direct
line of descent, and had always, with very trifling and very
temporary variation, so lain. It was this deficiency, I considered,
while running over in thought the perfect keeping of the character of
the premises with the accredited character of the people, and while
speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the long
lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other - it was this
deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the consequent
undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the patrimony with the
name, which had, at length, so identified the two as to merge the
original title of the estate in the quaint and equivocal appellation
of the "House of Usher" - an appellation which seemed to include, in
the minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the
family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment - that of looking down within the tarn - had been to
deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt that the
consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition - for why
should I not so term it ? - served mainly to accelerate the increase
itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical law of all
sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might have been for this
reason only, that, when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself,
from its image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy - a
fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the vivid
force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my
imagination as really to believe that about the whole mansion and
domain there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their
immediate vicinity - an atmosphere which had no affinity with the air
of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the
gray wall, and the silent tarn - a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull,
sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I
scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its principal
feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity. The
discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi overspread the
whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves.
Yet all this was apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No
portion of the masonry had fallen ; and there appeared to be a wild
inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the
crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this there was much
that reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which has
rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no disturbance
from the breath of the external air. Beyond this indication of
extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little token of
instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have
discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the
roof of the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag
direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the house.
A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the Gothic archway
of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence conducted me, in
silence, through many dark and intricate passages in my progress to
the studio of his master. Much that I encountered on the way
contributed, I know not how, to heighten the vague sentiments of
which I have already spoken. While the objects around me - while the
carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the
ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial
trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to
such as which, I had been accustomed from my infancy - while I
hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this - I still
wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which ordinary
images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I met the
physician of the family. His countenance, I thought, wore a mingled
expression of low cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with
trepidation and passed on. The valet now threw open a door and
ushered me into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The
windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a distance
from the black oaken floor as to be altogether inaccessible from
within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light made their way through the
trellissed panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more
prominent objects around ; the eye, however, struggled in vain to
reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the
vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls.
The general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and
tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered about,
but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I breathed
an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable
gloom hung over and pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had been
lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious warmth which
had much in it, I at first thought, of an overdone cordiality - of
the constrained effort of the ennuy?; man of the world. A glance,
however, at his countenance, convinced me of his perfect sincerity.
We sat down ; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon
him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never
before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick
Usher ! It was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit
the identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my
early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all times
remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion ; an eye large, liquid,
and luminous beyond comparison ; lips somewhat thin and very pallid,
but of a surpassingly beautiful curve ; a nose of a delicate Hebrew
model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar formations ;
a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want
of moral energy; hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity ;
these features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the
temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten.
And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of these
features, and of the expression they were wont to convey, lay so much
of change that I doubted to whom I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of
the skin, and the now miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things
startled and even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered
to grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it
floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with
effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple
humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an
incoherence - an inconsistency ; and I soon found this to arise from
a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an habitual
trepidancy - an excessive nervous agitation. For something of this
nature I had indeed been prepared, no less by his letter, than by
reminiscences of certain boyish traits, and by conclusions deduced
from his peculiar physical conformation and temperament. His action
was alternately vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from
a tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in
abeyance) to that species of energetic concision - that abrupt,
weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation - that leaden,
self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural utterance, which may
be observed in the lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of
opium, during the periods of his most intense excitement.

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his
earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to afford
him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived to be the
nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional and a family
evil, and one for which he despaired to find a remedy - a mere
nervous affection, he immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon
pass off. It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations.
Some of these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me ;
although, perhaps, the terms, and the general manner of the narration
had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the
senses ; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could wear
only garments of certain texture ; the odors of all flowers were
oppressive ; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light ; and
there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed instruments,
which did not inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden slave.
"I shall perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable folly.
Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the events
of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I shudder at
the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident, which may
operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no
abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute effect - in terror. In
this unnerved - in this pitiable condition - I feel that the period
will sooner or later arrive when I must abandon life and reason
together, in some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR."

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and
equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental condition. He
was enchained by certain superstitious impressions in regard to the
dwelling which he tenanted, and whence, for many years, he had never
ventured forth - in regard to an influence whose supposititious force
was conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated - an influence
which some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his family
mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said, obtained over his
spirit - an effect which the physique of the gray walls and
turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all looked down, had, at
length, brought about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of the
peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to a more
natural and far more palpable origin - to the severe and
long-continued illness - indeed to the evidently approaching
dissolution - of a tenderly beloved sister - his sole companion for
long years - his last and only relative on earth. "Her decease," he
said, with a bitterness which I can never forget, "would leave him
(him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the
Ushers." While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she called)
passed slowly through a remote portion of the apartment, and, without
having noticed my presence, disappeared. I regarded her with an
utter astonishment not unmingled with dread - and yet I found it
impossible to account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor
oppressed me, as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door,
at length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and
eagerly the countenance of the brother - but he had buried his face
in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than ordinary
wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers through which trickled
many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of
her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the
person, and frequent although transient affections of a partially
cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had
steadily borne up against the pressure of her malady, and had not
betaken herself finally to bed ; but, on the closing in of the
evening of my arrival at the house, she succumbed (as her brother
told me at night with inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating
power of the destroyer ; and I learned that the glimpse I had
obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I should
obtain - that the lady, at least while living, would be seen by me no
more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either
Usher or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest
endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted and
read together ; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer and
still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into the recesses
of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the futility of all
attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness, as if an inherent
positive quality, poured forth upon all objects of the moral and
physical universe, in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours I
thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I should
fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact character of the
studies, or of the occupations, in which he involved me, or led me
the way. An excited and highly distempered ideality threw a
sulphureous lustre over all. His long improvised dirges will ring
forever in my ears. Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a
certain singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the
last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate
fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at
which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered knowing
not why ; - from these paintings (vivid as their images now are
before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more than a small
portion which should lie within the compass of merely written words.
By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested
and overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that mortal
was Roderick Usher. For me at least - in the circumstances then
surrounding me - there arose out of the pure abstractions which the
hypochondriac contrived to throw upon his canvass, an intensity of
intolerable awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the
contemplation of the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of
Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking not
so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed forth,
although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the interior of
an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel, with low walls,
smooth, white, and without interruption or device. Certain accessory
points of the design served well to convey the idea that this
excavation lay at an exceeding depth below the surface of the earth.
No outlet was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no
torch, or other artificial source of light was discernible ; yet a
flood of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a
ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory nerve
which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with the
exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was,
perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself upon the
guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the fantastic
character of his performances. But the fervid facility of his
impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must have been, and
were, in the notes, as well as in the words of his wild fantasias
(for he not unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal
improvisations), the result of that intense mental collectedness and
concentration to which I have previously alluded as observable only
in particular moments of the highest artificial excitement. The words
of one of these rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps,
the more forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the
under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived,
and for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of
the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses, which
were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very nearly, if not
accurately, thus:

I.
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace -
Radiant palace - reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion -
It stood there !
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.
II.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This - all this - was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
III.
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute's well-tun?d law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene !)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
IV.
And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
V.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate ;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate !)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
VI.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody ;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh - but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us
into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an opinion of
Usher's which I mention not so much on account of its novelty, (for
other men have thought thus,) as on account of the pertinacity with
which he maintained it. This opinion, in its general form, was that
of the sentience of all vegetable things. But, in his disordered
fancy, the idea had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed,
under certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack
words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his
persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I have previously
hinted) with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The
conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined, fulfilled in
the method of collocation of these stones - in the order of their
arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi which overspread
them, and of the decayed trees which stood around - above all, in the
long undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in its
reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence - the
evidence of the sentience - was to be seen, he said, (and I here
started as he spoke,) in the gradual yet certain condensation of an
atmosphere of their own about the waters and the walls. The result
was discoverable, he added, in that silent, yet importunate and
terrible influence which for centuries had moulded the destinies of
his family, and which made him what I now saw him - what he was.
Such opinions need no comment, and I will make none.

Our books - the books which, for years, had formed no small
portion of the mental existence of the invalid - were, as might be
supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm. We
pored together over such works as the Ververt et Chartreuse of
Gresset ; the Belphegor of Machiavelli ; the Heaven and Hell of
Swedenborg ; the Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm by Holberg ;
the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of Jean D'Indagin?, and of De la
Chambre ; the Journey into the Blue Distance of Tieck ; and the
City of the Sun of Campanella. One favorite volume was a small
octavo edition of the Directorium Inquisitorium, by the Dominican
Eymeric de Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about
the old African Satyrs and ?gipans, over which Usher would sit
dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in the
perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto Gothic -
the manual of a forgotten church - the Vigiliae Mortuorum secundum
Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae.

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of
its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one evening,
having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline was no more, he
stated his intention of preserving her corpse for a fortnight,
(previously to its final interment,) in one of the numerous vaults
within the main walls of the building. The worldly reason, however,
assigned for this singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel
at liberty to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution
(so he told me) by consideration of the unusual character of the
malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on
the part of her medical men, and of the remote and exposed situation
of the burial-ground of the family. I will not deny that when I
called to mind the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon
the staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire
to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means
an unnatural, precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the
arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having been
encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in which we
placed it (and which had been so long unopened that our torches, half
smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave us little opportunity
for investigation) was small, damp, and entirely without means of
admission for light ; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath
that portion of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment.
It had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst
purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit
for powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a portion
of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway through which
we reached it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of
massive iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight
caused an unusually sharp grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within this
region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet unscrewed lid of
the coffin, and looked upon the face of the tenant. A striking
similitude between the brother and sister now first arrested my
attention ; and Usher, divining, perhaps, my thoughts, murmured out
some few words from which I learned that the deceased and himself had
been twins, and that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had
always existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long
upon the dead - for we could not regard her unawed. The disease
which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of youth, had left,
as usual in all maladies of a strictly cataleptical character, the
mockery of a faint blush upon the bosom and the face, and that
suspiciously lingering smile upon the lip which is so terrible in
death. We replaced and screwed down the lid, and, having secured the
door of iron, made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy
apartments of the upper portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an observable
change came over the features of the mental disorder of my friend.
His ordinary manner had vanished. His ordinary occupations were
neglected or forgotten. He roamed from chamber to chamber with
hurried, unequal, and objectless step. The pallor of his countenance
had assumed, if possible, a more ghastly hue - but the luminousness
of his eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of
his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of extreme
terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There were times,
indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated mind was laboring
with some oppressive secret, to divulge which he struggled for the
necessary courage. At times, again, I was obliged to resolve all
into the mere inexplicable vagaries of madness, for I beheld him
gazing upon vacancy for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest
attention, as if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder
that his condition terrified - that it infected me. I felt creeping
upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own
fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the
seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline within
the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such feelings. Sleep
came not near my couch - while the hours waned and waned away. I
struggled to reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me.
I endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due
to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room - of
the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by the
breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon the
walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the bed. But my
efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded
my frame ; and, at length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus
of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a
struggle, I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly
within the intense darkness of the chamber, harkened - I know not
why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted me - to certain low
and indefinite sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at
long intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense
sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my
clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the
night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition
into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the
apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on an
adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently recognised it
as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he rapped, with a gentle
touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was,
as usual, cadaverously wan - but, moreover, there was a species of
mad hilarity in his eyes - an evidently restrained hysteria in his
whole demeanor. His air appalled me - but anything was preferable to
the solitude which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his
presence as a relief.

"And you have not seen it ?" he said abruptly, after having
stared about him for some moments in silence - "you have not then
seen it ? - but, stay ! you shall." Thus speaking, and having
carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the casements, and
threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from our
feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful night, and
one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A whirlwind had
apparently collected its force in our vicinity ; for there were
frequent and violent alterations in the direction of the wind ; and
the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung so low as to press
upon the turrets of the house) did not prevent our perceiving the
life-like velocity with which they flew careering from all points
against each other, without passing away into the distance. I say
that even their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this
- yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars - nor was there any
flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge
masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects
immediately around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a
faintly luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung
about and enshrouded the mansion.

"You must not - you shall not behold this !" said I,
shudderingly, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence, from
the window to a seat. "These appearances, which bewilder you, are
merely electrical phenomena not uncommon - or it may be that they
have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us
close this casement ; - the air is chilling and dangerous to your
frame. Here is one of your favorite romances. I will read, and you
shall listen ; - and so we will pass away this terrible night
together."

The antique volume which I had taken up was the "Mad Trist" of
Sir Launcelot Canning ; but I had called it a favorite of Usher's
more in sad jest than in earnest ; for, in truth, there is little in
its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could have had interest
for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my friend. It was, however,
the only book immediately at hand ; and I indulged a vague hope that
the excitement which now agitated the hypochondriac, might find
relief (for the history of mental disorder is full of similar
anomalies) even in the extremeness of the folly which I should read.
Could I have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity
with which he harkened, or apparently harkened, to the words of the
tale, I might well have congratulated myself upon the success of my
design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where
Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for peaceable
admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds to make good an
entrance by force. Here, it will be remembered, the words of the
narrative run thus:

"And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who was
now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the wine which
he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley with the hermit, who,
in sooth, was of an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the
rain upon his shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest,
uplifted his mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the
plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand ; and now pulling
therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder,
that the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarummed and
reverberated throughout the forest."

At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment,
paused ; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded that my
excited fancy had deceived me) - it appeared to me that, from some
very remote portion of the mansion, there came, indistinctly, to my
ears, what might have been, in its exact similarity of character, the
echo (but a stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and
ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly described. It
was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which had arrested my
attention ; for, amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements,
and the ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the
sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have interested
or disturbed me. I continued the story:

"But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the door,
was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the maliceful
hermit ; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly and
prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in guard
before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver ; and upon the wall
there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend enwritten -

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin ;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of the
dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty breath, with a
shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so piercing, that Ethelred had
fain to close his ears with his hands against the dreadful noise of
it, the like whereof was never before heard."

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild
amazement - for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this
instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it
proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently distant,
but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or grating sound -
the exact counterpart of what my fancy had already conjured up for
the dragon's unnatural shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this second
and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand conflicting
sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror were predominant, I
still retained sufficient presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any
observation, the sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no
means certain that he had noticed the sounds in question ; although,
assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few minutes,
taken place in his demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had
gradually brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the
door of the chamber ; and thus I could but partially perceive his
features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were
murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast - yet I
knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the
eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body,
too, was at variance with this idea - for he rocked from side to side
with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having rapidly taken
notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir Launcelot, which
thus proceeded:

"And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury of
the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of the
breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it, removed the carcass
from out of the way before him, and approached valorously over the
silver pavement of the castle to where the shield was upon the wall ;
which in sooth tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his
feet upon the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing
sound."

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than - as if a
shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon a
floor of silver - I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic, and
clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation. Completely
unnerved, I leaped to my feet ; but the measured rocking movement of
Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the chair in which he sat. His
eyes were bent fixedly before him, and throughout his whole
countenance there reigned a stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand
upon his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole person
; a sickly smile quivered about his lips ; and I saw that he spoke
in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my
presence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the hideous
import of his words.

"Not hear it ? - yes, I hear it, and _have_ heard it. Long -
long - long - many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it -
yet I dared not - oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am ! - I
dared not - I _dared_ not speak ! _We have put her living in the
tomb !_ Said I not that my senses were acute ? I _now_ tell you
that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I
heard them - many, many days ago - yet I dared not - _I dared not
speak !_ And now - to-night - Ethelred - ha ! ha ! - the breaking
of the hermit's door, and the death-cry of the dragon, and the
clangor of the shield ! - say, rather, the rending of her coffin,
and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles
within the coppered archway of the vault ! Oh whither shall I fly ?
Will she not be here anon ? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for
my haste ? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair ? Do I not
distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart ? Madman !"
- here he sprang furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his
syllables, as if in the effort he were giving up his soul - "Madman!
I tell you that she now stands without the door !"

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had been
found the potency of a spell - the huge antique pannels to which the
speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the instant, their ponderous
and ebony jaws. It was the work of the rushing gust - but then
without those doors there did stand the lofty and enshrouded figure
of the lady Madeline of Usher. There was blood upon her white robes,
and the evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her
emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to
and fro upon the threshold - then, with a low moaning cry, fell
heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her violent and
now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a corpse, and a victim
to the terrors he had anticipated.

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The
storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself crossing
the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path a wild light,
and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual could have issued ;
for the vast house and its shadows were alone behind me. The
radiance was that of the full, setting, and blood-red moon, which now
shone vividly through that once barely-discernible fissure, of which
I have before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in a
zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly
widened - there came a fierce breath of the whirlwind - the entire
orb of the satellite burst at once upon my sight - my brain reeled as
I saw the mighty walls rushing asunder - there was a long tumultuous
shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters - and the deep and
dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments
of the "House of Usher."


-----------------------------------THE END-----------------------------------------
 

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