[Quatrain composed for the gates of a market to he erected upon the siteof the Jacobin Club House at Paris.]
I WAS sick -- sick unto death with that long agony; and when they at lengthunbound meand I was permitted to sitI felt that my senses were leaving me.The sentence -- the dread sentence of death -- was the last of distinctaccentuation which reached my ears. After thatthe sound of the inquisitorialvoices seemed merged in one dreamy indeterminate hum. It conveyed to my soul theidea of revolution -- perhaps from its association in fancy with the burr of amill wheel. This only for a brief period; for presently I heard no more. Yetfor a whileI saw; but with how terrible an exaggeration! I saw the lips of theblack-robed judges. They appeared to me white -- whiter than the sheet uponwhich I trace these words -- and thin even to grotesqueness; thin with theintensity of their expression of firmness -- of immoveable resolution -- ofstern contempt of human torture. I saw that the decrees of what to me was Fatewere still issuing from those lips. I saw them writhe with a deadly locution. Isaw them fashion the syllables of my name; and I shuddered because no soundsucceeded. I sawtoofor a few moments of delirious horrorthe soft andnearly imperceptible waving of the sable draperies which enwrapped the walls ofthe apartment. And then my vision fell upon the seven tall candles upon thetable. At first they wore the aspect of charityand seemed white and slenderangels who would save me; but thenall at oncethere came a most deadly nauseaover my spiritand I felt every fibre in my frame thrill as if I had touchedthe wire of a galvanic batterywhile the angel forms became meaninglessspectreswith heads of flameand I saw that from them there would be no help.And then there stole into my fancylike a rich musical notethe thought ofwhat sweet rest there must be in the grave. The thought came gently andstealthilyand it seemed long before it attained full appreciation; but just asmy spirit came at length properly to feel and entertain itthe figures of thejudges vanishedas if magicallyfrom before me; the tall candles sank intonothingness; their flames went out utterly; the blackness of darkness supervened;all sensations appeared swallowed up in a mad rushing descent as of the soulinto Hades. Then silenceand stillnessnight 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 defineor even to describe; yetall 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 noimmortality for man. Arousing from the most profound of slumberswe break thegossamer web of some dream. Yet in a second afterward(so frail may that webhave been) we remember not that we have dreamed. In the return to life from theswoon there are two stages; firstthat of the sense of mental or spiritual;secondlythat of the sense of physicalexistence. It seems probable that ifupon reaching the second stagewe could recall the impressions of the firstweshould find these impressions eloquent in memories of the gulf beyond. And thatgulf is -- what? How at least shall we distinguish its shadows from those of thetomb? But if the impressions of what I have termed the first stageare notatwillrecalledyetafter long intervaldo they not come unbiddenwhile wemarvel whence they come? He who has never swoonedis not he who finds strangepalaces and wildly familiar faces in coals that glow; is not he who beholdsfloating in mid-air the sad visions that the many may not view; is not he whoponders over the perfume of some novel flower -- is not he whose brain growsbewildered with the meaning of some musical cadence which has never beforearrested his attention.
Amid frequent and thoughtful endeavors to remember; amid earnest struggles toregather some token of the state of seeming nothingness into which my soul hadlapsedthere have been moments when I have dreamed of success; there have beenbriefvery brief periods when I have conjured up remembrances which the lucidreason of a later epoch assures me could have had reference only to thatcondition of seeming unconsciousness. These shadows of memory tellindistinctlyof 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 interminablenessof the descent. They tell also of a vague horror at my hearton account of thatheart's unnatural stillness. Then comes a sense of sudden motionlessnessthroughout all things; as if those who bore me (a ghastly train!) had outrunintheir descentthe limits of the limitlessand paused from the wearisomeness oftheir toil. After this I call to mind flatness and dampness; and then all ismadness -- the madness of a memory which busies itself among forbidden things.
Very suddenly there came back to my soul motion and sound -- the tumultuousmotion of the heartandin my earsthe sound of its beating. Then a pause inwhich all is blank. Then again soundand motionand touch -- a tinglingsensation pervading my frame. Then the mere consciousness of existencewithoutthought -- a condition which lasted long. Thenvery suddenlythoughtandshuddering terrorand earnest endeavor to comprehend my true state. Then astrong desire to lapse into insensibility. Then a rushing revival of soul and asuccessful effort to move. And now a full memory of the trialof the judgesofthe sable draperiesof the sentenceof the sicknessof the swoon. Then entireforgetfulness of all that followed; of all that a later day and much earnestnessof endeavor have enabled me vaguely to recall.
So farI had not opened my eyes. I felt that I lay upon my backunbound. Ireached out my handand it fell heavily upon something damp and hard. There Isuffered it to remain for many minuteswhile I strove to imagine where and whatI could be. I longedyet dared not to employ my vision. I dreaded the firstglance at objects around me. It was not that I feared to look upon thingshorriblebut that I grew aghast lest there should be nothing to see. At lengthwith a wild desperation at heartI quickly unclosed my eyes. My worst thoughtsthenwere confirmed. The blackness of eternal night encompassed me. I struggledfor breath. The intensity of the darkness seemed to oppress and stifle me. Theatmosphere was intolerably close. I still lay quietlyand made effort toexercise my reason. I brought to mind the inquisitorial proceedingsandattempted 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. Yetnot for a moment did I suppose myself actually dead. Such a suppositionnotwithstanding what we read in fictionis altogether inconsistent with realexistence; -- but where and in what state was I? The condemned to deathI knewperished usually at the autos-da-feand one of these had been held on the verynight of the day of my trial. Had I been remanded to my dungeonto await thenext sacrificewhich would not take place for many months? This I at once sawcould not be. Victims had been in immediate demand. Moreovermy dungeonaswell as all the condemned cells at Toledohad stone floorsand light was notaltogether excluded.
A fearful idea now suddenly drove the blood in torrents upon my heartandfor a brief periodI once more relapsed into insensibility. Upon recoveringIat once started to my feettrembling convulsively in every fibre. I thrust myarms wildly above and around me in all directions. I felt nothing; yet dreadedto move a steplest I should be impeded by the walls of a tomb. Perspirationburst from every poreand stood in cold big beads upon my forehead. The agonyof suspense grew at length intolerableand I cautiously moved forwardwith myarms extendedand my eyes straining from their socketsin the hope of catchingsome faint ray of light. I proceeded for many paces; but still all was blacknessand vacancy. I breathed more freely. It seemed evident that mine was notatleastthe most hideous of fates.
And nowas I still continued to step cautiously onwardthere came throngingupon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of Toledo. Of thedungeons there had been strange things narrated -- fables I had always deemedthem -- but yet strangeand too ghastly to repeatsave in a whisper. Was Ileft to perish of starvation in this subterranean world of darkness; or whatfateperhaps even more fearfulawaited me? That the result would be deathanda death of more than customary bitternessI knew too well the character of myjudges 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 awallseemingly of stone masonry -- very smoothslimyand cold. I followed itup; stepping with all the careful distrust with which certain antique narrativeshad inspired me. This processhoweverafforded me no means of ascertaining thedimensions of my dungeon; as I might make its circuitand return to the pointwhence I set outwithout being aware of the fact; so perfectly uniform seemedthe wall. I therefore sought the knife which had been in my pocketwhen ledinto the inquisitorial chamber; but it was gone; my clothes had been exchangedfor a wrapper of coarse serge. I had thought of forcing the blade in some minutecrevice of the masonryso as to identify my point of departure. The difficultyneverthelesswas but trivial; althoughin the disorder of my fancyit seemedat first insuperable. I tore a part of the hem from the robe and placed thefragment at full lengthand at right angles to the wall. In groping my wayaround the prisonI could not fail to encounter this rag upon completing thecircuit. Soat least I thought: but I had not counted upon the extent of thedungeonor upon my own weakness. The ground was moist and slippery. I staggeredonward for some timewhen I stumbled and fell. My excessive fatigue induced meto remain prostrate; and sleep soon overtook me as I lay.
Upon awakingand stretching forth an armI found beside me a loaf and apitcher with water. I was too much exhausted to reflect upon this circumstancebut ate and drank with avidity. Shortly afterwardI resumed my tour around theprisonand with much toil came at last upon the fragment of the serge. Up tothe period when I fell I had counted fifty-two pacesand upon resuming my walkI had counted forty-eight more; -- when I arrived at the rag. There were in allthena hundred paces; andadmitting two paces to the yardI presumed thedungeon to be fifty yards in circuit. I had methoweverwith many angles inthe walland thus I could form no guess at the shape of the vault; for vault Icould not help supposing it to be.
I had little object -- certainly no hope these researches; but a vaguecuriosity prompted me to continue them. Quitting the wallI resolved to crossthe area of the enclosure. At first I proceeded with extreme cautionfor theflooralthough seemingly of solid materialwas treacherous with slime. AtlengthhoweverI took courageand did not hesitate to step firmly;endeavoring to cross in as direct a line as possible. I had advanced some ten ortwelve paces in this mannerwhen the remnant of the torn hem of my robe becameentangled between my legs. I stepped on itand fell violently on my face.
In the confusion attending my fallI did not immediately apprehend asomewhat startling circumstancewhich yetin a few seconds afterwardandwhile I still lay prostratearrested my attention. It was this -- my chinrested upon the floor of the prisonbut my lips and the upper portion of myheadalthough seemingly at a less elevation than the chintouched nothing. Atthe same time my forehead seemed bathed in a clammy vaporand the peculiarsmell of decayed fungus arose to my nostrils. I put forward my armandshuddered to find that I had fallen at the very brink of a circular pitwhoseextentof courseI had no means of ascertaining at the moment. Groping aboutthe masonry just below the marginI succeeded in dislodging a small fragmentand let it fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to itsreverberations as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent; atlength there was a sullen plunge into watersucceeded by loud echoes. At thesame moment there came a sound resembling the quick openingand as rapidclosing of a door overheadwhile a faint gleam of light flashed suddenlythrough the gloomand as suddenly faded away.
I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for meand congratulatedmyself upon the timely accident by which I had escaped. Another step before myfalland the world had seen me no more. And the death just avoidedwas of thatvery character which I had regarded as fabulous and frivolous in the talesrespecting the Inquisition. To the victims of its tyrannythere was the choiceof death with its direst physical agoniesor death with its most hideous moralhorrors. I had been reserved for the latter. By long suffering my nerves hadbeen unstrunguntil I trembled at the sound of my own voiceand had become inevery respect a fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me.
Shaking in every limbI groped my way back to the wall; resolving there toperish rather than risk the terrors of the wellsof which my imagination nowpictured many in various positions about the dungeon. In other conditions ofmind I might have had courage to end my misery at once by a plunge into one ofthese abysses; but now I was the veriest of cowards. Neither could I forget whatI had read of these pits -- that the sudden extinction of life formed no part oftheir most horrible plan.
Agitation of spirit kept me awake for many long hours; but at length I againslumbered. Upon arousingI found by my sideas beforea loaf and a pitcher ofwater. A burning thirst consumed meand I emptied the vessel at a draught. Itmust have been drugged; for scarcely had I drunkbefore I became irresistiblydrowsy. A deep sleep fell upon me -- a sleep like that of death. How long itlasted of courseI know not; but whenonce againI unclosed my eyestheobjects around me were visible. By a wild sulphurous lustrethe origin of whichI could not at first determineI was enabled to see the extent and aspect ofthe prison.
In its size I had been greatly mistaken. The whole circuit of its walls didnot exceed twenty-five yards. For some minutes this fact occasioned me a worldof vain trouble; vain indeed! for what could be of less importanceunder theterrible circumstances which environed methen the mere dimensions of mydungeon? But my soul took a wild interest in triflesand I busied myself inendeavors to account for the error I had committed in my measurement. The truthat length flashed upon me. In my first attempt at exploration I had countedfifty-two pacesup to the period when I fell; I must then have been within apace or two of the fragment of serge; in factI had nearly performed thecircuit of the vault. I then sleptand upon awakingI must have returned uponmy steps -- thus supposing the circuit nearly double what it actually was. Myconfusion of mind prevented me from observing that I began my tour with the wallto the leftand ended it with the wall to the right.
I had been deceivedtooin respect to the shape of the enclosure. Infeeling my way I had found many anglesand thus deduced an idea of greatirregularity; so potent is the effect of total darkness upon one arousing fromlethargy or sleep! The angles were simply those of a few slight depressionsornichesat odd intervals. The general shape of the prison was square. What I hadtaken for masonry seemed now to be ironor some other metalin huge plateswhose sutures or joints occasioned the depression. The entire surface of thismetallic enclosure was rudely daubed in all the hideous and repulsive devices towhich the charnel superstition of the monks has given rise. The figures offiends in aspects of menacewith skeleton formsand other more really fearfulimagesoverspread and disfigured the walls. I observed that the outlines ofthese monstrosities were sufficiently distinctbut that the colors seemed fadedand blurredas if from the effects of a damp atmosphere. I now noticed thefloortoowhich was of stone. In the centre yawned the circular pit from whosejaws 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 hadbeen greatly changed during slumber. I now lay upon my backand at full lengthon a species of low framework of wood. To this I was securely bound by a longstrap resembling a surcingle. It passed in many convolutions about my limbs andbodyleaving at liberty only my headand my left arm to such extent that Icouldby dint of much exertionsupply myself with food from an earthen dishwhich lay by my side on the floor. I sawto my horrorthat the pitcher hadbeen 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 thefood in the dish was meat pungently seasoned.
Looking upwardI surveyed the ceiling of my prison. It was some thirty orforty feet overheadand constructed much as the side walls. In one of itspanels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the paintedfigure of Time as he is commonly representedsave thatin lieu of a scytheheheld whatat a casual glanceI supposed to be the pictured image of a hugependulum such as we see on antique clocks. There was somethinghoweverin theappearance of this machine which caused me to regard it more attentively. WhileI gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) Ifancied that I saw it in motion. In an instant afterward the fancy wasconfirmed. Its sweep was briefand of course slow. I watched it for someminutessomewhat in fearbut more in wonder. Wearied at length with observingits dull movementI turned my eyes upon the other objects in the cell.
A slight noise attracted my noticeandlooking to the floorI saw severalenormous rats traversing it. They had issued from the wellwhich lay justwithin view to my right. Even thenwhile I gazedthey came up in troopshurriedlywith ravenous eyesallured by the scent of the meat. From this itrequired much effort and attention to scare them away.
It might have been half an hourperhaps even an hour(for in cast my Icould take but imperfect note of time) before I again cast my eyes upward. WhatI then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased inextent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequenceits velocity was also muchgreater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that had perceptiblydescended. I now observed -- with what horror it is needless to say -- that itsnether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steelabout a foot inlength from horn to horn; the horns upwardand the under edge evidently as keenas that of a razor. Like a razor alsoit seemed massy and heavytapering fromthe edge into a solid and broad structure above. It was appended to a weightyrod of brassand the whole hissed as it swung through the air.
I could no longer doubt the doom prepared for me by monkish ingenuity intorture. 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 pittypical of helland regarded by rumor as the Ultima Thule of all theirpunishments. The plunge into this pit I had avoided by the merest of accidentsI knew that surpriseor entrapment into tormentformed an important portion ofall the grotesquerie of these dungeon deaths. Having failed to fallit was nopart of the demon plan to hurl me into the abyss; and thus (there being noalternative) a different and a milder destruction awaited me. Milder! I halfsmiled in my agony as I thought of such application of such a term.
What boots it to tell of the longlong hours of horror more than mortalduring which I counted the rushing vibrations of the steel! Inch by inch -- lineby line -- with a descent only appreciable at intervals that seemed ages -- downand 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 odorof the sharp steel forced itself into my nostrils. I prayed -- I wearied heavenwith my prayer for its more speedy descent. I grew frantically madandstruggled to force myself upward against the sweep of the fearful scimitar. Andthen I fell suddenly calmand lay smiling at the glittering deathas a childat some rare bauble.
There was another interval of utter insensibility; it was brief; foruponagain 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 myswoonand who could have arrested the vibration at pleasure. Upon my recoverytooI felt very -- ohinexpressibly sick and weakas if through longinanition. Even amid the agonies of that periodthe human nature craved food.With painful effort I outstretched my left arm as far as my bonds permittedandtook possession of the small remnant which had been spared me by the rats. As Iput a portion of it within my lipsthere rushed to my mind a half formedthought of joy -- of hope. Yet what business had I with hope? It wasas I saya half formed thought -- man has many such which are never completed. I feltthat it was of joy -- of hope; but felt also that it had perished in itsformation. In vain I struggled to perfect -- to regain it. Long suffering hadnearly annihilated all my ordinary powers of mind. I was an imbecile -- anidiot.
The vibration of the pendulum was at right angles to my length. I saw thatthe crescent was designed to cross the region of the heart. It would fray theserge of my robe -- it would return and repeat its operations -- again -- andagain. Notwithstanding terrifically wide sweep (some thirty feet or more) andthe its hissing vigor of its descentsufficient to sunder these very walls ofironstill the fraying of my robe would be all thatfor several minutesitwould accomplish. And at this thought I paused. I dared not go farther than thisreflection. I dwelt upon it with a pertinacity of attention -- as ifin sodwellingI could arrest here the descent of the steel. I forced myself toponder upon the sound of the crescent as it should pass across the garment --upon the peculiar thrilling sensation which the friction of cloth produces onthe 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 itsdownward 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 thetiger! I alternately laughed and howled as the one or the other idea grewpredominant.
Down -- certainlyrelentlessly down! It vibrated within three inches of mybosom! I struggled violentlyfuriouslyto free my left arm. This was free onlyfrom the elbow to the hand. I could reach the latterfrom the platter besidemeto my mouthwith great effortbut no farther. Could I have broken thefastenings above the elbowI would have seized and attempted to arrest thependulum. I might as well have attempted to arrest an avalanche!
Down -- still unceasingly -- still inevitably down! I gasped and struggled ateach vibration. I shrunk convulsively at its every sweep. My eyes followed itsoutward or upward whirls with the eagerness of the most unmeaning despair; theyclosed themselves spasmodically at the descentalthough death would have been areliefoh! how unspeakable! Still I quivered in every nerve to think how slighta sinking of the machinery would precipitate that keenglistening axe upon mybosom. It was hope that prompted the nerve to quiver -- the frame to shrink. Itwas hope -- the hope that triumphs on the rack -- that whispers to thedeath-condemned even in the dungeons of the Inquisition.
I saw that some ten or twelve vibrations would bring the steel in actualcontact with my robeand with this observation there suddenly came over myspirit all the keencollected calmness of despair. For the first time duringmany hours -- or perhaps days -- I thought. It now occurred to me that thebandageor surcinglewhich enveloped mewas unique. I was tied by no separatecord. The first stroke of the razorlike crescent athwart any portion of thebandwould so detach it that it might be unwound from my person by means of myleft hand. But how fearfulin that casethe proximity of the steel! The resultof the slightest struggle how deadly! Was it likelymoreoverthat the minionsof the torturer had not foreseen and provided for this possibility! Was itprobable that the bandage crossed my bosom in the track of the pendulum?Dreading to find my faintandas it seemedin last hope frustratedI so farelevated my head as to obtain a distinct view of my breast. The surcingleenveloped my limbs and body close in all directions -- save in the path of thedestroying crescent.
Scarcely had I dropped my head back into its original positionwhen thereflashed upon my mind what I cannot better describe than as the unformed half ofthat idea of deliverance to which I have previously alludedand of which amoiety only floated indeterminately through my brain when I raised food to myburning lips. The whole thought was now present -- feeblescarcely sanescarcely definite-- but still entire. I proceeded at oncewith the nervousenergy of despairto attempt its execution.
For many hours the immediate vicinity of the low framework upon which I layhad been literally swarming with rats. They were wildboldravenous; their redeyes glaring upon me as if they waited but for motionlessness on my part to makeme their prey. "To what food" I thought"have they beenaccustomed in the well?"
They had devouredin spite of all my efforts to prevent themall but asmall remnant of the contents of the dish. I had fallen into an habitualsee-sawor wave of the hand about the platter: andat lengththe unconsciousuniformity of the movement deprived it of effect. In their voracity the verminfrequently fastened their sharp fangs in my fingers. With the particles of theoily and spicy viand which now remainedI thoroughly rubbed the bandagewherever I could reach it; thenraising my hand from the floorI laybreathlessly still.
At first the ravenous animals were startled and terrified at the change -- atthe cessation of movement. They shrank alarmedly back; many sought the well. Butthis was only for a moment. I had not counted in vain upon their voracity.Observing that I remained without motionone or two of the boldest leaped uponthe frame-workand smelt at the surcingle. This seemed the signal for a generalrush. Forth from the well they hurried in fresh troops. They clung to the wood-- they overran itand leaped in hundreds upon my person. The measured movementof the pendulum disturbed them not at all. Avoiding its strokes they busiedthemselves with the anointed bandage. They pressed -- they swarmed upon me inever accumulating heaps. They writhed upon my throat; their cold lips sought myown; I was half stifled by their thronging pressure; disgustfor which theworld has no nameswelled my bosomand chilledwith a heavy clamminessmyheart. Yet one minuteand I felt that the struggle would be over. Plainly Iperceived the loosening of the bandage. I knew that in more than one place itmust 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 lengthfelt that I was free. The surcingle hung in ribands from my body. But the strokeof the pendulum already pressed upon my bosom. It had divided the serge of therobe. It had cut through the linen beneath. Twice again it swungand a sharpsense of pain shot through every nerve. But the moment of escape had arrived. Ata wave of my hand my deliverers hurried tumultuously away. With a steadymovement -- cautioussidelongshrinkingand slow -- I slid from the embraceof the bandage and beyond the reach of the scimitar. For the momentat leastIwas free.
Free! -- and in the grasp of the Inquisition! I had scarcely stepped from mywooden bed of horror upon the stone floor of the prisonwhen the motion of thehellish machine ceased and I beheld it drawn upby some invisible forcethrough the ceiling. This was a lesson which I took desperately to heart. Myevery motion was undoubtedly watched. Free! -- I had but escaped death in oneform of agonyto be delivered unto worse than death in some other. With thatthought I rolled my eves nervously around on the barriers of iron that hemmed mein. Something unusual -- some change whichat firstI could not appreciatedistinctly -- it was obvioushad taken place in the apartment. For many minutesof a dreamy and trembling abstractionI busied myself in vainunconnectedconjecture. During this periodI became awarefor the first timeof theorigin of the sulphurous light which illumined the cell. It proceeded from afissureabout half an inch in widthextending entirely around the prison atthe base of the wallswhich thus appearedand werecompletely separated fromthe floor. I endeavoredbut of course in vainto look through the aperture.
As I arose from the attemptthe mystery of the alteration in the chamberbroke at once upon my understanding. I have observed thatalthough the outlinesof the figures upon the walls were sufficiently distinctyet the colors seemedblurred and indefinite. These colors had now assumedand were momentarilyassuminga startling and most intense brilliancythat gave to the spectral andfiendish portraitures an aspect that might have thrilled even firmer nerves thanmy own. Demon eyesof a wild and ghastly vivacityglared upon me in a thousanddirectionswhere none had been visible beforeand gleamed with the luridlustre 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 thevapour of heated iron! A suffocating odour pervaded the prison! A deeper glowsettled each moment in the eyes that glared at my agonies! A richer tint ofcrimson diffused itself over the pictured horrors of blood. I panted! I gaspedfor breath! There could be no doubt of the design of my tormentors -- oh! mostunrelenting! oh! most demoniac of men! I shrank from the glowing metal to thecentre of the cell. Amid the thought of the fiery destruction that impendedtheidea of the coolness of the well came over my soul like balm. I rushed to itsdeadly brink. I threw my straining vision below. The glare from the enkindledroof illumined its inmost recesses. Yetfor a wild momentdid my spirit refuseto comprehend the meaning of what I saw. At length it forced -- it wrestled itsway into my soul -- it burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. -- Oh! for avoice to speak! -- oh! horror! -- oh! any horror but this! With a shriekIrushed from the marginand buried my face in my hands -- weeping bitterly.
The heat rapidly increasedand once again I looked upshuddering as with afit of the ague. There had been a second change in the cell -- and now thechange was obviously in the form. As beforeit was in vain that Iat firstendeavoured to appreciate or understand what was taking place. But not long wasI left in doubt. The Inquisitorial vengeance had been hurried by my two-foldescapeand there was to be no more dallying with the King of Terrors. The roomhad been square. I saw that two of its iron angles were now acute -- twoconsequentlyobtuse. The fearful difference quickly increased with a lowrumbling or moaning sound. In an instant the apartment had shifted its form intothat of a lozenge. But the alteration stopped not here-I neither hoped nordesired it to stop. I could have clasped the red walls to my bosom as a garmentof eternal peace. "Death" I said"any death but that of thepit!" Fool! might I have not known that into the pit it was the object ofthe burning iron to urge me? Could I resist its glow? orif even thatcould Iwithstand its pressure And nowflatter and flatter grew the lozengewith arapidity that left me no time for contemplation. Its centreand of courseitsgreatest widthcame just over the yawning gulf. I shrank back -- but theclosing walls pressed me resistlessly onward. At length for my seared andwrithing body there was no longer an inch of foothold on the firm floor of theprison. I struggled no morebut the agony of my soul found vent in one loudlongand final scream of despair. I felt that I tottered upon the brink -- Iaverted my eyes --
There was a discordant hum of human voices! There was a loud blast as of manytrumpets! There was a harsh grating as of a thousand thunders! The fiery wallsrushed back! An outstretched arm caught my own as I fellfaintinginto theabyss. It was that of General Lasalle. The French army had entered Toledo. TheInquisition was in the hands of its enemies.