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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 21
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Chapter 21

I was soon introduced into the presence of the magistrate, an old
benevolent man with calm and mild manners. He looked upon me, however,
with some degree of severity, and then, turning towards my conductors,
he asked who appeared as witnesses on this occasion.

About half a dozen men came forward; and, one being selected by the
magistrate, he deposed that he had been out fishing the night before
with his son and brother-in-law, Daniel Nugent, when, about ten
o'clock, they observed a strong northerly blast rising, and they
accordingly put in for port. It was a very dark night, as the moon had
not yet risen; they did not land at the harbour, but, as they had been
accustomed, at a creek about two miles below. He walked on first,
carrying a part of the fishing tackle, and his companions followed him
at some distance.

As he was proceeding along the sands, he struck his foot against
something and fell at his length on the ground. His companions came up
to assist him, and by the light of their lantern they found that he had
fallen on the body of a man, who was to all appearance dead. Their
first supposition was that it was the corpse of some person who had
been drowned and was thrown on shore by the waves, but on examination
they found that the clothes were not wet and even that the body was not
then cold. They instantly carried it to the cottage of an old woman
near the spot and endeavoured, but in vain, to restore it to life. It
appeared to be a handsome young man, about five and twenty years of
age. He had apparently been strangled, for there was no sign of any
violence except the black mark of fingers on his neck.

The first part of this deposition did not in the least interest me, but
when the mark of the fingers was mentioned I remembered the murder of
my brother and felt myself extremely agitated; my limbs trembled, and a
mist came over my eyes, which obliged me to lean on a chair for
support. The magistrate observed me with a keen eye and of course drew
an unfavourable augury from my manner.

The son confirmed his father's account, but when Daniel Nugent was
called he swore positively that just before the fall of his companion,
he saw a boat, with a single man in it, at a short distance from the
shore; and as far as he could judge by the light of a few stars, it was
the same boat in which I had just landed. A woman deposed that she
lived near the beach and was standing at the door of her cottage,
waiting for the return of the fishermen, about an hour before she heard
of the discovery of the body, when she saw a boat with only one man in
it push off from that part of the shore where the corpse was afterwards

Another woman confirmed the account of the fishermen having brought the
body into her house; it was not cold. They put it into a bed and
rubbed it, and Daniel went to the town for an apothecary, but life was
quite gone.

Several other men were examined concerning my landing, and they agreed
that, with the strong north wind that had arisen during the night, it
was very probable that I had beaten about for many hours and had been
obliged to return nearly to the same spot from which I had departed.
Besides, they observed that it appeared that I had brought the body
from another place, and it was likely that as I did not appear to know
the shore, I might have put into the harbour ignorant of the distance
of the town of ---- from the place where I had deposited the corpse.

Mr. Kirwin, on hearing this evidence, desired that I should be taken
into the room where the body lay for interment, that it might be
observed what effect the sight of it would produce upon me. This idea
was probably suggested by the extreme agitation I had exhibited when
the mode of the murder had been described. I was accordingly
conducted, by the magistrate and several other persons, to the inn. I
could not help being struck by the strange coincidences that had taken
place during this eventful night; but, knowing that I had been
conversing with several persons in the island I had inhabited about the
time that the body had been found, I was perfectly tranquil as to the
consequences of the affair. I entered the room where the corpse lay
and was led up to the coffin. How can I describe my sensations on
beholding it? I feel yet parched with horror, nor can I reflect on
that terrible moment without shuddering and agony. The examination,
the presence of the magistrate and witnesses, passed like a dream from
my memory when I saw the lifeless form of Henry Clerval stretched
before me. I gasped for breath, and throwing myself on the body, I
exclaimed, "Have my murderous machinations deprived you also, my
dearest Henry, of life? Two I have already destroyed; other victims
await their destiny; but you, Clerval, my friend, my benefactor--"

The human frame could no longer support the agonies that I endured, and
I was carried out of the room in strong convulsions. A fever succeeded
to this. I lay for two months on the point of death; my ravings, as I
afterwards heard, were frightful; I called myself the murderer of
William, of Justine, and of Clerval. Sometimes I entreated my
attendants to assist me in the destruction of the fiend by whom I was
tormented; and at others I felt the fingers of the monster already
grasping my neck, and screamed aloud with agony and terror.
Fortunately, as I spoke my native language, Mr. Kirwin alone understood
me; but my gestures and bitter cries were sufficient to affright the
other witnesses. Why did I not die? More miserable than man ever was
before, why did I not sink into forgetfulness and rest? Death snatches
away many blooming children, the only hopes of their doting parents;
how many brides and youthful lovers have been one day in the bloom of
health and hope, and the next a prey for worms and the decay of the
tomb! Of what materials was I made that I could thus resist so many
shocks, which, like the turning of the wheel, continually renewed the

But I was doomed to live and in two months found myself as awaking from
a dream, in a prison, stretched on a wretched bed, surrounded by
jailers, turnkeys, bolts, and all the miserable apparatus of a
dungeon. It was morning, I remember, when I thus awoke to
understanding; I had forgotten the particulars of what had happened and
only felt as if some great misfortune had suddenly overwhelmed me; but
when I looked around and saw the barred windows and the squalidness of
the room in which I was, all flashed across my memory and I groaned

This sound disturbed an old woman who was sleeping in a chair beside
me. She was a hired nurse, the wife of one of the turnkeys, and her
countenance expressed all those bad qualities which often characterize
that class. The lines of her face were hard and rude, like that of
persons accustomed to see without sympathizing in sights of misery. Her
tone expressed her entire indifference; she addressed me in English,
and the voice struck me as one that I had heard during my sufferings.
"Are you better now, sir?" said she.

I replied in the same language, with a feeble voice, "I believe I am;
but if it be all true, if indeed I did not dream, I am sorry that I am
still alive to feel this misery and horror."

"For that matter," replied the old woman, "if you mean about the
gentleman you murdered, I believe that it were better for you if you
were dead, for I fancy it will go hard with you! However, that's none
of my business; I am sent to nurse you and get you well; I do my duty
with a safe conscience; it were well if everybody did the same."

I turned with loathing from the woman who could utter so unfeeling a
speech to a person just saved, on the very edge of death; but I felt
languid and unable to reflect on all that had passed. The whole series
of my life appeared to me as a dream; I sometimes doubted if indeed it
were all true, for it never presented itself to my mind with the force
of reality.

As the images that floated before me became more distinct, I grew
feverish; a darkness pressed around me; no one was near me who soothed
me with the gentle voice of love; no dear hand supported me. The
physician came and prescribed medicines, and the old woman prepared
them for me; but utter carelessness was visible in the first, and the
expression of brutality was strongly marked in the visage of the
second. Who could be interested in the fate of a murderer but the
hangman who would gain his fee?

These were my first reflections, but I soon learned that Mr. Kirwin had
shown me extreme kindness. He had caused the best room in the prison
to be prepared for me (wretched indeed was the best); and it was he who
had provided a physician and a nurse. It is true, he seldom came to
see me, for although he ardently desired to relieve the sufferings of
every human creature, he did not wish to be present at the agonies and
miserable ravings of a murderer. He came, therefore, sometimes to see
that I was not neglected, but his visits were short and with long
intervals. One day, while I was gradually recovering, I was seated in
a chair, my eyes half open and my cheeks livid like those in death. I
was overcome by gloom and misery and often reflected I had better seek
death than desire to remain in a world which to me was replete with
wretchedness. At one time I considered whether I should not declare
myself guilty and suffer the penalty of the law, less innocent than
poor Justine had been. Such were my thoughts when the door of my
apartment was opened and Mr. Kirwin entered. His countenance expressed
sympathy and compassion; he drew a chair close to mine and addressed me
in French, "I fear that this place is very shocking to you; can I do
anything to make you more comfortable?"

"I thank you, but all that you mention is nothing to me; on the whole
earth there is no comfort which I am capable of receiving."

"I know that the sympathy of a stranger can be but of little relief to
one borne down as you are by so strange a misfortune. But you will, I
hope, soon quit this melancholy abode, for doubtless evidence can
easily be brought to free you from the criminal charge."

"That is my least concern; I am, by a course of strange events, become
the most miserable of mortals. Persecuted and tortured as I am and
have been, can death be any evil to me?"

"Nothing indeed could be more unfortunate and agonizing than the
strange chances that have lately occurred. You were thrown, by some
surprising accident, on this shore, renowned for its hospitality,
seized immediately, and charged with murder. The first sight that was
presented to your eyes was the body of your friend, murdered in so
unaccountable a manner and placed, as it were, by some fiend across
your path."

As Mr. Kirwin said this, notwithstanding the agitation I endured on
this retrospect of my sufferings, I also felt considerable surprise at
the knowledge he seemed to possess concerning me. I suppose some
astonishment was exhibited in my countenance, for Mr. Kirwin hastened
to say, "Immediately upon your being taken ill, all the papers that
were on your person were brought me, and I examined them that I might
discover some trace by which I could send to your relations an account
of your misfortune and illness. I found several letters, and, among
others, one which I discovered from its commencement to be from your
father. I instantly wrote to Geneva; nearly two months have elapsed
since the departure of my letter. But you are ill; even now you
tremble; you are unfit for agitation of any kind."

"This suspense is a thousand times worse than the most horrible event;
tell me what new scene of death has been acted, and whose murder I am
now to lament?"

"Your family is perfectly well," said Mr. Kirwin with gentleness; "and
someone, a friend, is come to visit you."

I know not by what chain of thought the idea presented itself, but it
instantly darted into my mind that the murderer had come to mock at my
misery and taunt me with the death of Clerval, as a new incitement for
me to comply with his hellish desires. I put my hand before my eyes,
and cried out in agony, "Oh! Take him away! I cannot see him; for
God's sake, do not let him enter!"

Mr. Kirwin regarded me with a troubled countenance. He could not help
regarding my exclamation as a presumption of my guilt and said in
rather a severe tone, "I should have thought, young man, that the
presence of your father would have been welcome instead of inspiring
such violent repugnance."

"My father!" cried I, while every feature and every muscle was relaxed
from anguish to pleasure. "Is my father indeed come? How kind, how
very kind! But where is he, why does he not hasten to me?"

My change of manner surprised and pleased the magistrate; perhaps he
thought that my former exclamation was a momentary return of delirium,
and now he instantly resumed his former benevolence. He rose and
quitted the room with my nurse, and in a moment my father entered it.

Nothing, at this moment, could have given me greater pleasure than the
arrival of my father. I stretched out my hand to him and cried, "Are
you, then, safe--and Elizabeth--and Ernest?" My father calmed me with
assurances of their welfare and endeavoured, by dwelling on these
subjects so interesting to my heart, to raise my desponding spirits;
but he soon felt that a prison cannot be the abode of cheerfulness.

"What a place is this that you inhabit, my son!" said he, looking
mournfully at the barred windows and wretched appearance of the room.
"You travelled to seek happiness, but a fatality seems to pursue you.
And poor Clerval--"

The name of my unfortunate and murdered friend was an agitation too
great to be endured in my weak state; I shed tears. "Alas! Yes, my
father," replied I; "some destiny of the most horrible kind hangs over
me, and I must live to fulfil it, or surely I should have died on the
coffin of Henry."

We were not allowed to converse for any length of time, for the
precarious state of my health rendered every precaution necessary that
could ensure tranquillity. Mr. Kirwin came in and insisted that my
strength should not be exhausted by too much exertion. But the
appearance of my father was to me like that of my good angel, and I
gradually recovered my health.

As my sickness quitted me, I was absorbed by a gloomy and black
melancholy that nothing could dissipate. The image of Clerval was
forever before me, ghastly and murdered. More than once the agitation
into which these reflections threw me made my friends dread a dangerous
relapse. Alas! Why did they preserve so miserable and detested a
life? It was surely that I might fulfil my destiny, which is now
drawing to a close. Soon, oh, very soon, will death extinguish these
throbbings and relieve me from the mighty weight of anguish that bears
me to the dust; and, in executing the award of justice, I shall also
sink to rest. Then the appearance of death was distant, although the
wish was ever present to my thoughts; and I often sat for hours
motionless and speechless, wishing for some mighty revolution that
might bury me and my destroyer in its ruins.

The season of the assizes approached. I had already been three months
in prison, and although I was still weak and in continual danger of a
relapse, I was obliged to travel nearly a hundred miles to the country
town where the court was held. Mr. Kirwin charged himself with every
care of collecting witnesses and arranging my defence. I was spared
the disgrace of appearing publicly as a criminal, as the case was not
brought before the court that decides on life and death. The grand
jury rejected the bill, on its being proved that I was on the Orkney
Islands at the hour the body of my friend was found; and a fortnight
after my removal I was liberated from prison.

My father was enraptured on finding me freed from the vexations of a
criminal charge, that I was again allowed to breathe the fresh
atmosphere and permitted to return to my native country. I did not
participate in these feelings, for to me the walls of a dungeon or a
palace were alike hateful. The cup of life was poisoned forever, and
although the sun shone upon me, as upon the happy and gay of heart, I
saw around me nothing but a dense and frightful darkness, penetrated by
no light but the glimmer of two eyes that glared upon me. Sometimes
they were the expressive eyes of Henry, languishing in death, the dark
orbs nearly covered by the lids and the long black lashes that fringed
them; sometimes it was the watery, clouded eyes of the monster, as I
first saw them in my chamber at Ingolstadt.

My father tried to awaken in me the feelings of affection. He talked
of Geneva, which I should soon visit, of Elizabeth and Ernest; but
these words only drew deep groans from me. Sometimes, indeed, I felt a
wish for happiness and thought with melancholy delight of my beloved
cousin or longed, with a devouring maladie du pays, to see once more
the blue lake and rapid Rhone, that had been so dear to me in early
childhood; but my general state of feeling was a torpor in which a
prison was as welcome a residence as the divinest scene in nature; and
these fits were seldom interrupted but by paroxysms of anguish and
despair. At these moments I often endeavoured to put an end to the
existence I loathed, and it required unceasing attendance and vigilance
to restrain me from committing some dreadful act of violence.

Yet one duty remained to me, the recollection of which finally
triumphed over my selfish despair. It was necessary that I should
return without delay to Geneva, there to watch over the lives of those
I so fondly loved and to lie in wait for the murderer, that if any
chance led me to the place of his concealment, or if he dared again to
blast me by his presence, I might, with unfailing aim, put an end to
the existence of the monstrous image which I had endued with the
mockery of a soul still more monstrous. My father still desired to
delay our departure, fearful that I could not sustain the fatigues of a
journey, for I was a shattered wreck--the shadow of a human being. My
strength was gone. I was a mere skeleton, and fever night and day
preyed upon my wasted frame. Still, as I urged our leaving Ireland
with such inquietude and impatience, my father thought it best to
yield. We took our passage on board a vessel bound for Havre-de-Grace
and sailed with a fair wind from the Irish shores. It was midnight. I
lay on the deck looking at the stars and listening to the dashing of
the waves. I hailed the darkness that shut Ireland from my sight, and
my pulse beat with a feverish joy when I reflected that I should soon
see Geneva. The past appeared to me in the light of a frightful dream;
yet the vessel in which I was, the wind that blew me from the detested
shore of Ireland, and the sea which surrounded me told me too forcibly
that I was deceived by no vision and that Clerval, my friend and
dearest companion, had fallen a victim to me and the monster of my
creation. I repassed, in my memory, my whole life--my quiet happiness
while residing with my family in Geneva, the death of my mother, and my
departure for Ingolstadt. I remembered, shuddering, the mad enthusiasm
that hurried me on to the creation of my hideous enemy, and I called to
mind the night in which he first lived. I was unable to pursue the
train of thought; a thousand feelings pressed upon me, and I wept
bitterly. Ever since my recovery from the fever I had been in the
custom of taking every night a small quantity of laudanum, for it was
by means of this drug only that I was enabled to gain the rest
necessary for the preservation of life. Oppressed by the recollection
of my various misfortunes, I now swallowed double my usual quantity and
soon slept profoundly. But sleep did not afford me respite from
thought and misery; my dreams presented a thousand objects that scared
me. Towards morning I was possessed by a kind of nightmare; I felt the
fiend's grasp in my neck and could not free myself from it; groans and
cries rang in my ears. My father, who was watching over me, perceiving
my restlessness, awoke me; the dashing waves were around, the cloudy
sky above, the fiend was not here: a sense of security, a feeling that
a truce was established between the present hour and the irresistible,
disastrous future imparted to me a kind of calm forgetfulness, of which
the human mind is by its structure peculiarly susceptible.


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