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Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein 23
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Chapter 23

It was eight o'clock when we landed; we walked for a short time on the
shore, enjoying the transitory light, and then retired to the inn and
contemplated the lovely scene of waters, woods, and mountains, obscured
in darkness, yet still displaying their black outlines.

The wind, which had fallen in the south, now rose with great violence
in the west. The moon had reached her summit in the heavens and was
beginning to descend; the clouds swept across it swifter than the
flight of the vulture and dimmed her rays, while the lake reflected the
scene of the busy heavens, rendered still busier by the restless waves
that were beginning to rise. Suddenly a heavy storm of rain descended.

I had been calm during the day, but so soon as night obscured the
shapes of objects, a thousand fears arose in my mind. I was anxious
and watchful, while my right hand grasped a pistol which was hidden in
my bosom; every sound terrified me, but I resolved that I would sell my
life dearly and not shrink from the conflict until my own life or that
of my adversary was extinguished. Elizabeth observed my agitation for
some time in timid and fearful silence, but there was something in my
glance which communicated terror to her, and trembling, she asked,
"What is it that agitates you, my dear Victor? What is it you fear?"

"Oh! Peace, peace, my love," replied I; "this night, and all will be
safe; but this night is dreadful, very dreadful."

I passed an hour in this state of mind, when suddenly I reflected how
fearful the combat which I momentarily expected would be to my wife,
and I earnestly entreated her to retire, resolving not to join her
until I had obtained some knowledge as to the situation of my enemy.

She left me, and I continued some time walking up and down the passages
of the house and inspecting every corner that might afford a retreat to
my adversary. But I discovered no trace of him and was beginning to
conjecture that some fortunate chance had intervened to prevent the
execution of his menaces when suddenly I heard a shrill and dreadful
scream. It came from the room into which Elizabeth had retired. As I
heard it, the whole truth rushed into my mind, my arms dropped, the
motion of every muscle and fibre was suspended; I could feel the blood
trickling in my veins and tingling in the extremities of my limbs. This
state lasted but for an instant; the scream was repeated, and I rushed
into the room. Great God! Why did I not then expire! Why am I here
to relate the destruction of the best hope and the purest creature on
earth? She was there, lifeless and inanimate, thrown across the bed,
her head hanging down and her pale and distorted features half covered
by her hair. Everywhere I turn I see the same figure--her bloodless
arms and relaxed form flung by the murderer on its bridal bier. Could
I behold this and live? Alas! Life is obstinate and clings closest
where it is most hated. For a moment only did I lose recollection; I
fell senseless on the ground.

When I recovered I found myself surrounded by the people of the inn;
their countenances expressed a breathless terror, but the horror of
others appeared only as a mockery, a shadow of the feelings that
oppressed me. I escaped from them to the room where lay the body of
Elizabeth, my love, my wife, so lately living, so dear, so worthy. She
had been moved from the posture in which I had first beheld her, and
now, as she lay, her head upon her arm and a handkerchief thrown across
her face and neck, I might have supposed her asleep. I rushed towards
her and embraced her with ardour, but the deadly languor and coldness
of the limbs told me that what I now held in my arms had ceased to be
the Elizabeth whom I had loved and cherished. The murderous mark of
the fiend's grasp was on her neck, and the breath had ceased to issue
from her lips. While I still hung over her in the agony of despair, I
happened to look up. The windows of the room had before been darkened,
and I felt a kind of panic on seeing the pale yellow light of the moon
illuminate the chamber. The shutters had been thrown back, and with a
sensation of horror not to be described, I saw at the open window a
figure the most hideous and abhorred. A grin was on the face of the
monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish finger he pointed
towards the corpse of my wife. I rushed towards the window, and
drawing a pistol from my bosom, fired; but he eluded me, leaped from
his station, and running with the swiftness of lightning, plunged into
the lake.

The report of the pistol brought a crowd into the room. I pointed to
the spot where he had disappeared, and we followed the track with
boats; nets were cast, but in vain. After passing several hours, we
returned hopeless, most of my companions believing it to have been a
form conjured up by my fancy. After having landed, they proceeded to
search the country, parties going in different directions among the
woods and vines.

I attempted to accompany them and proceeded a short distance from the
house, but my head whirled round, my steps were like those of a drunken
man, I fell at last in a state of utter exhaustion; a film covered my
eyes, and my skin was parched with the heat of fever. In this state I
was carried back and placed on a bed, hardly conscious of what had
happened; my eyes wandered round the room as if to seek something that
I had lost.

After an interval I arose, and as if by instinct, crawled into the room
where the corpse of my beloved lay. There were women weeping around; I
hung over it and joined my sad tears to theirs; all this time no
distinct idea presented itself to my mind, but my thoughts rambled to
various subjects, reflecting confusedly on my misfortunes and their
cause. I was bewildered, in a cloud of wonder and horror. The death
of William, the execution of Justine, the murder of Clerval, and lastly
of my wife; even at that moment I knew not that my only remaining
friends were safe from the malignity of the fiend; my father even now
might be writhing under his grasp, and Ernest might be dead at his
feet. This idea made me shudder and recalled me to action. I started
up and resolved to return to Geneva with all possible speed.

There were no horses to be procured, and I must return by the lake; but
the wind was unfavourable, and the rain fell in torrents. However, it
was hardly morning, and I might reasonably hope to arrive by night. I
hired men to row and took an oar myself, for I had always experienced
relief from mental torment in bodily exercise. But the overflowing
misery I now felt, and the excess of agitation that I endured rendered
me incapable of any exertion. I threw down the oar, and leaning my
head upon my hands, gave way to every gloomy idea that arose. If I
looked up, I saw scenes which were familiar to me in my happier time
and which I had contemplated but the day before in the company of her
who was now but a shadow and a recollection. Tears streamed from my
eyes. The rain had ceased for a moment, and I saw the fish play in the
waters as they had done a few hours before; they had then been observed
by Elizabeth. Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and
sudden change. The sun might shine or the clouds might lower, but
nothing could appear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had
snatched from me every hope of future happiness; no creature had ever
been so miserable as I was; so frightful an event is single in the
history of man. But why should I dwell upon the incidents that followed
this last overwhelming event? Mine has been a tale of horrors; I have
reached their acme, and what I must now relate can but be tedious to
you. Know that, one by one, my friends were snatched away; I was left
desolate. My own strength is exhausted, and I must tell, in a few
words, what remains of my hideous narration. I arrived at Geneva. My
father and Ernest yet lived, but the former sunk under the tidings that
I bore. I see him now, excellent and venerable old man! His eyes
wandered in vacancy, for they had lost their charm and their
delight--his Elizabeth, his more than daughter, whom he doted on with
all that affection which a man feels, who in the decline of life,
having few affections, clings more earnestly to those that remain.
Cursed, cursed be the fiend that brought misery on his grey hairs and
doomed him to waste in wretchedness! He could not live under the
horrors that were accumulated around him; the springs of existence
suddenly gave way; he was unable to rise from his bed, and in a few
days he died in my arms.

What then became of me? I know not; I lost sensation, and chains and
darkness were the only objects that pressed upon me. Sometimes,
indeed, I dreamt that I wandered in flowery meadows and pleasant vales
with the friends of my youth, but I awoke and found myself in a
dungeon. Melancholy followed, but by degrees I gained a clear
conception of my miseries and situation and was then released from my
prison. For they had called me mad, and during many months, as I
understood, a solitary cell had been my habitation.

Liberty, however, had been a useless gift to me, had I not, as I
awakened to reason, at the same time awakened to revenge. As the
memory of past misfortunes pressed upon me, I began to reflect on their
cause--the monster whom I had created, the miserable daemon whom I had
sent abroad into the world for my destruction. I was possessed by a
maddening rage when I thought of him, and desired and ardently prayed
that I might have him within my grasp to wreak a great and signal
revenge on his cursed head.

Nor did my hate long confine itself to useless wishes; I began to
reflect on the best means of securing him; and for this purpose, about
a month after my release, I repaired to a criminal judge in the town
and told him that I had an accusation to make, that I knew the
destroyer of my family, and that I required him to exert his whole
authority for the apprehension of the murderer. The magistrate
listened to me with attention and kindness.

"Be assured, sir," said he, "no pains or exertions on my part shall be
spared to discover the villain."

"I thank you," replied I; "listen, therefore, to the deposition that I
have to make. It is indeed a tale so strange that I should fear you
would not credit it were there not something in truth which, however
wonderful, forces conviction. The story is too connected to be
mistaken for a dream, and I have no motive for falsehood." My manner as
I thus addressed him was impressive but calm; I had formed in my own
heart a resolution to pursue my destroyer to death, and this purpose
quieted my agony and for an interval reconciled me to life. I now
related my history briefly but with firmness and precision, marking the
dates with accuracy and never deviating into invective or exclamation.

The magistrate appeared at first perfectly incredulous, but as I
continued he became more attentive and interested; I saw him sometimes
shudder with horror; at others a lively surprise, unmingled with
disbelief, was painted on his countenance. When I had concluded my
narration I said, "This is the being whom I accuse and for whose
seizure and punishment I call upon you to exert your whole power. It
is your duty as a magistrate, and I believe and hope that your feelings
as a man will not revolt from the execution of those functions on this
occasion." This address caused a considerable change in the
physiognomy of my own auditor. He had heard my story with that half
kind of belief that is given to a tale of spirits and supernatural
events; but when he was called upon to act officially in consequence,
the whole tide of his incredulity returned. He, however, answered
mildly, "I would willingly afford you every aid in your pursuit, but
the creature of whom you speak appears to have powers which would put
all my exertions to defiance. Who can follow an animal which can
traverse the sea of ice and inhabit caves and dens where no man would
venture to intrude? Besides, some months have elapsed since the
commission of his crimes, and no one can conjecture to what place he
has wandered or what region he may now inhabit."

"I do not doubt that he hovers near the spot which I inhabit, and if he
has indeed taken refuge in the Alps, he may be hunted like the chamois
and destroyed as a beast of prey. But I perceive your thoughts; you do
not credit my narrative and do not intend to pursue my enemy with the
punishment which is his desert." As I spoke, rage sparkled in my eyes;
the magistrate was intimidated. "You are mistaken," said he. "I will
exert myself, and if it is in my power to seize the monster, be assured
that he shall suffer punishment proportionate to his crimes. But I
fear, from what you have yourself described to be his properties, that
this will prove impracticable; and thus, while every proper measure is
pursued, you should make up your mind to disappointment."

"That cannot be; but all that I can say will be of little avail. My
revenge is of no moment to you; yet, while I allow it to be a vice, I
confess that it is the devouring and only passion of my soul. My rage
is unspeakable when I reflect that the murderer, whom I have turned
loose upon society, still exists. You refuse my just demand; I have
but one resource, and I devote myself, either in my life or death, to
his destruction."

I trembled with excess of agitation as I said this; there was a frenzy
in my manner, and something, I doubt not, of that haughty fierceness
which the martyrs of old are said to have possessed. But to a Genevan
magistrate, whose mind was occupied by far other ideas than those of
devotion and heroism, this elevation of mind had much the appearance of
madness. He endeavoured to soothe me as a nurse does a child and
reverted to my tale as the effects of delirium.

"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom! Cease;
you know not what it is you say."

I broke from the house angry and disturbed and retired to meditate on
some other mode of action.


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