Text: Benedict, “The Doom,” Southern Literary Messenger, January 1835, 1:235-240


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[page 235:]

For the Southern Literary Messenger.

THE DOOM.

Mr. WHITE, — I am about to do a very foolish thing, no less than to write a tale of a mournful love affaire. What has afflicted me with the propensity, in truth I cannot determine; but though I am conscious of the folly, I console myself by the unanswerable question, Why shall not I write as well as other fools?

What I am about to write is the authentic history of a most melting love affaire, which took place in this goodly city within the last five years, and with the persons concerned in it, many of the fair and fashionable here are, or rather were, acquainted. It was related to me by the young gentleman himself; of him I will give a short account. Ten years ago George B——, and myself were schoolfellows, but associated little together except in school hours. He was a light — hearted and joyous fellow enough, but at times as moody as the —— himself, and he always delighted, to an immoderate degree, in the little misfortunes and calamities that befall schoolboys If a poor fellow in climbing over a paling encountered any little point or nail, whereby his nether garment was lacerated, he it was that first made the discovery, and raised the war whoop. Consequently he was half feared, and, when absent wholly hated by all of us, though in his company we all strove to be on good terms with him. After he left school I saw no more of [column 2:] him for some years, and when he again came to Richmond, we met on the civil and polite footing of passing acquaintance, until an accident brought us together and originated a friendship between us.

One evening in June, 1832, when the thermometer stood at 94°, I had managed to convey myself about a mile up the river bank for the purpose of bathing, and going into the water I splashed about with great vigor, thinking about Leander’s remarkable feat in crossing the Hellespont, until I felt a great desire to try whether I might not aspire to equal him, or at least E—— P——, who swam from Mayo’s Bridge to Warwick wharf some years ago. Accordingly after screwing up my courage grievously, I approached slowly a furious and turbulent stream, which tumbled over a ledge of rocks, producing some appalling waves and eddying whirls, commonly known as “sucks.” I stood on a rock near and contemplated it for some moments, until perceiving that my ambition had very sensibly diminished and was rapidly taking French leave, I was about to retire without attempting the crossing, when I unfortunately dis covered a head on the opposite side, very quietly watching my proceedings, — whilst its owner was luxuriously rocking himself about in the calm element. Ashamed to retreat, while one who had accomplished what I shrank from, was perhaps chuckling at my fears, I sprang forward, and ere I was well aware what was the matter, found myself lifted up, dashed down, whirled around, my limbs pulled and jerked hither and yon by the infernal waters, whilst the waters above were foaming over my head and plashing into my face. Finally, I was wearily and faintly struggling, almost bursting with suppressed respiration; and with a horrible distinctness, memory was holding up to my mind’s eye every sin wherewith she could charge me, — when my arm was seized and myself dragged along by a powerful hand. When I recovered consciousness, I was seated on a rock near shore, and the person to whom I owed my life was standing by — it was my old schoolfellow, George B——. I muttered something about gratitude, when he cut me short by telling me he would have saved the life of a drowning dog with as much alacrity as he had saved me, and that he would, he thought, deserve my gratitude more for advising me not again to be fool enough to venture into deep water until I could swim. This, I thought, was rather taking a liberty; but he had just saved my life, and I said nothing more while we were dressing ourselves. Then slowly walking towards the city, we chatted about schooldays and schoolfellows. From that day we gradually became better acquainted, until in a few weeks we were intimate associates. It was but natural that I should be attached to a person who had rescued me from a watery grave, yet I could not but see that with many very admirable qualities of heart and mind, there were some glaring defects and vices about him. He was generous and liberal to excess, and to the necessities of the indigent his hand was never closed; he was a true friend, but a bitter, unrelenting enemy; he cherished revenge as food fit for gods, and therefore the more delightful to men; no Indian was ever more unforgiving. In person he was tall and spare; his face was not remarkable for comeliness, though the features were good; but his eyes gave the charm and power to his dark pale face; they could fascinate and charm as well as threaten and command. [page 236:] With a fine and highly cultivated taste, and a strong well — informed mind; simple in his habits and addicted to no species of intemperance or dissipation; and with a fortune which placed him out of the reach of want, yet not enough to dissuade him from exertion, George B—— seemed destined to play with honor and success the part of a man among his fellows.

Our friendship had endured for nearly a twelvemonth, and the gay winter of 1832-3 had passed. B—— had been absent from town about a month, when one evening, near the end of May, I met him on the capitol square; he had arrived a few days before. An uncommon gloom was seated on his brow; but I was in no melancholic mood myself, and after a few minutes he seemed to regain his habitual carelessness of look and manner. We strolled off, jesting and telling anecdotes, until we arrived at the hill which overlooks the armory. It was a Sabbath evening; and, according to the commendable custom of the young gentlefolk of Richmond, frequent parties of six or eight ladies, with their attendant beaux, passed by the foot of the hill and proceeded up the bank of the canal. As the ringing laugh of some dashing belle reached us where we sat on two granite blocks on the top of the hill, B—— would amuse me by relating some ludicrous anecdote or odd circumstance connected with the fair laugher. What a quantity of scandal did he impart to me, which, had it been proclaimed from the house tops, would have procured him the honor of martyrdom — as surely as that the satire which is so delightful to female ears when pointed against their friends, seems too horrible when turned against themselves.

They passed from our sight, and in a few moments B—— became silent, and sat with his cheek leaning on his hands. I looked down at the beautiful river and the city spread out before me, built on the side of a sweeping hill, like a vast amphitheatre, so beautifully and faithfully delineated in Cooke’s picture, and very soberly speculated on the probabilities of our ever having such a city as New York or Philadelphia. I tired at length of such inconclusive speculation, and turning to my companion with intent to enliven him a little, said, “B—— you have never told me of any affaire du cœur in which you were a party; tell me who is or was the goddess of your profane idolatry.”

He started as if I had stabbed him, and gazed at me with a fixed stare. I have said that his eyes were remarkably piercing; and I looked away from his glance, fearing lest, inadvertently, I had awakened a painful recollection.

“Tell me,” said he, “are you superstitious! Do you think that beings superior to the laws of humanity have ever appeared to mortals or conversed with them?‘’ “Not in these latter days at all events,” replied I, “or else I should never have played the many mad pranks that I have done, on dark still nights, in grave yards and church porches, where the gentry you speak of would be met with, I imagine, if any where.” “Ah,” said he, as if swallowing down a groan, “you jest lightly; but I will tell you that which will somewhat shake your incredulity.” In spite of me, his manner made some impression on me, though I half suspected it to be a mere ruse — but my attention became strongly riveted, as he went on with his story.

“Five years ago,” said he, “I was entering my seventeenth [column 2:] year, and began to think myself a man, especially as I had been for one session to college. It was during the first vacation that I went down to —— county to see my guardian, and to wage war on every living winged creature, from a sparrow to a turkey buzzard; and during the continuance of fair weather, I never looked into any thing bearing the likeness of a book, unless it was to tear out the blank leaves for wadding. But one cold, raw, windy, drizzly day, after satisfying myself that there was no more likelihood that the rain would cease, than if it had been the commencement of the deluge, I desperately picked up a book, and going to my sleeping apartment, threw myself on my bed and fell to reading. I forget what it was, but I know it was some extravagant Italian or Sicilian romance, in which ghosts, angels and devils mixed themselves up with the human actors, with very little ceremony. It interested me though wonderfully, and I continued hard at it until late at night, when having finished it, I got into bed and lay half thinking, half dreaming, about what I had been reading. A while after, I heard my name called in a voice which seemed to be near me. I shivered with dread — but made no answer. Again my name was pronounced; and the voice continued — “Look! behold her who will blight and wither up thy happiness and life, and drive thee to an early tomb.” Unconsciously I sat up and looked around; the room was as dark as midnight, and the wind sighed mournfully as it swept through the trees in the yard. Suddenly a light glanced before my eyes; I looked and saw a room handsomely furnished, with a small round table in the centre, and near it a sofa. A young lady was standing, apparently just risen from the sofa, with one hand resting on the table, and the other extended pointing at me. Her eyes were fastened on my face, with a look of proud, bitter scorn. I was as one fascinated: she slowly turned her face from me and waved her hand — then all vanished. I sunk back on my pillow with a feeling of utter despair: it passed off, and I longed for revenge. I said aloud, “devil or angel, grant that I may inflict misery equal to what I shall suffer, and see her sink before me into the grave, and then I will not repine at my destiny.” With a perfect distinctness I heard the words, “Thy wish is granted.” A feeling of gratified revenge stole over me, and I sunk into a deep sleep.

“I awoke in the morning, and having peeped from my window and found the weather as bad as ever, I again pressed my pillow with design to woo a morning nap. All at once I recollected the extraordinary vision or dream of the past night — every circumstance clearly presenting itself to my mind — every look and gesture of the figure, and every word uttered, seemed engraved on my memory — I tried to convince myself that it was a dream; I argued with myself and resolved that it was a dream — but something within me said, “it is no dream.” For several days I thought of nothing else; but at sixteen we are not fond of a long continued musing about any thing, good or bad; and in the excitement of hunting, fishing, and going to meetings on Sundays, the impression wore off by degrees.

“I returned to college, studied hard, frolicked harder, and was indefatigable in every piece of mischief which could be devised by the collective wisdom and ingenuity of eighty boys; and having several times narrowly [page 237:] escaped suspension and once been threatened with dismission absolute, I finished the course, and came to Richmond to amuse myself in every way I could find out; and for want of other matter to engage me, to dip a little into the sublime study of the law. The winter of 1831-2 was commencing. The redoubtable cholera had not yet arrived in America; but all were dreading it. Folks here seemed determined to take time by the forelock and live merrily while they could. 1 made acquaintances; and received invitations to parties, of which I attended many, where I cannot aver that even my small stock of ideas was much augmented, though on the score of creature comforts they were very pleasant; and by dutifully and honestly paying the expected visit after, acquired the repute of an honest, polite and agreeable young man. Some unthinking youths are so shortsighted as to care very little about paying a visit after a party, though they are very particular in paying it before one is to take place. That was not my plan: I was always addicted to the calculation of chances, and argued that as one party had been given at a particular house, possibly, nay probably, (bating accidents) another might be in the course of time. Upon this principle I acted, and do not think that I ever lost by it. The winter passed and summer came on. — I went to the White Sulphur Springs, and by eating huge dinners and suppers, and drinking the dreadful waters; galloping about the mountains in Miss ’s train, and occasionally walking five or six miles to fish, I got into prodigious health — my limbs grew firm and hard as iron, and I felt strong enough to brain a wild bull, or hug a bear to death. But I grew tired of this life, and early in the fall came back to Richmond to see what in the deuce the people were doing with the cholera. The newspapers said the city was as silent and gloomy as a charnel house.

“Every thing, however, must end; and the cholera’s day passed; — by the middle of November every dead person was forgotten, and every one living seemed to forget what it was to die. The fashionables came back in throngs about the time the Legislature commenced its very necessary and exceedingly laborious annual session; and no one who had not seen, as I had, piles of coffins six feet deep, waiting for the graves which were to receive them, could have believed that death and desolation had so lately hovered over the city.

“Several parties had been given, and the regular routine had commenced. On the evening preceding Christmas day, I went to a large party at Mr. ———’s. I was idly engaged — now in managing a jelly, now in munching a devilled biscuit, when among the new faces shewing themselves about the room, I discovered one which drew my attention forcibly. It was not a very beautiful face certainly — but there was about it — a nameless something which convinced me that she was an uncommon character. On her pure white high forehead, was stamped the seal of bright intelligence, and her mouth, which was rather large, indicated a world of humor. I thought 1 had seen the face somewhere — but where and when I could not tell. I inquired her name; Miss ———, staying with her aunt Mrs. ———, I was told. Now I certainly had never seen Miss ———, though I had heard of her; for her father lived within a few miles of my guardian’s farm — but her face haunted me as that of one I had known in days gone by. I [column 2:] was standing with my arms folded, looking the picture of gravity, when the beautiful young mistress of the merriment making came to me, and desiring me not to get asleep, with an applauding laugh at her own wit, said, come, I will introduce you to a lady who has eyes as expressive as your own, and whose vivacity will rouse you, if any thing can.” I languidly inquired who the lady was to whom she was so very complimentary — she pointed out Miss ———, and I consented at once. The introduction was duly gone through with, the plea sure of the lady’s hand for a dance asked and granted, the four cotillons which constitute the regular allowance performed, and we seated ourselves on a charming sofa that it really was a delight to repose on. She danced no more that night, nor did I — but we talked about every thing and about nothing. I listened to her musical voice and looked at her dark lustrous eyes, until I determined with myself that I ad mired her very hugely, and when I attended her to her carriage at one o‘clock, and heard her say that she would be glad to see me again, I felt as grateful as though she had done me a kindness.

“For a fortnight, I was assiduous in cultivating her good graces, until I flattered myself that I was looked on as by no means an ordinary acquaintance. About this time morning rides were all the rage. Among all the young ladies in the city, residents or visiters, Miss ——— was the only one who could at all manage a steed — but what of that? Young men talked constantly oF———; how deucedly well she sat a horse; trotting, galloping, at full speed, ‘twas all one to her; indeed in all, save perhaps one particular, she was a perfect Diana Vernon — and no wonder that fashion and the desire of notoriety should induce many young ladies, who knew as little about riding as they did about the Bible, to try to rival her. Miss ——— was no exception. I was riding one morning with a party of ladies and gentlemen, when the horse of one of the gentlemen took fright at something, and off he started. We rode rapidly after him to see what would be the result. The horse was dashing down the road like the wind — suddenly he stopped short, and his un lucky rider darted from his saddle like a bull — frog in full leap, and plunged head foremost into a pile of brush wood, where his legs alone remained visible, gesticulating vigorously. Up we rode in great horror, thinking the poor fellow’s neck was broken to a certainty; but no such thing — his time was not yet come. We hauled him forth, and found, that with the exception of a few digs and scratches about his face, he was a whole, though a miserably crest — fallen man. That evening I related the adventure of our morning ride to Miss ———, and instead of operating as a damper to her desire of riding, she became more resolutely bent on it nothing would do but I must ride with her next day. Accordingly, next morning we started; she riding a quiet looking pacing nag, and I on that large fiery grey horse f that broke my barouche to pieces, the day you rode with me to Fairfield and nearly broke our necks into the bargain.

“I felt uncommonly dull and sleepy that morning, , and was so absent that at length I fairly wore out my companion’s patience, which, by the way, was not equal to Grissel’s, and in order to rouse me from my dreaming fit, endeavored to give me a smart cut with [page 238:] her switch, which missed me — but took effect on my horse’s flank. He sprang forward, and kicking violently, pitched me from the saddle, and down I came luckily on a soft sandy place. I jumped up and saw Miss ———’s nag rearing and plunging furiously, and her rider clinging to the saddle with one hand and the mane with the other. In an instant I was at the animal’s head, and seizing her nose with a powerful grasp held her quiet, while I lifted Miss ——— from her saddle. Her face was pale, her lip quivered with terror, and she trembled so violently that I was obliged to put my arm round her waist to support her. I congratulated her on her escape from the danger, and proposed that we should continue our ride, as my horse had stopped near us and was attentively looking on, promising her at the same time to be very attentive during the ride, and not compel her to lash my horse in order to draw my notice. “No,” she said, “she could not, she would never attempt to ride again.” I became uneasy and earnestly besought her to permit me to lift her to her saddle, adding, that should our mishap be known, we should be rallied to death about it. At length she consented to ride slowly home. Neither said any thing to any one about our ride — but I could not forget that my arm had encircled ———’s slender waist. I became absorbingly devoted to her; and one day when 1 found her alone, with her cheek resting pensively on her little hand, I was foolish enough to tell her that I believed I loved her, and said a deal of nonsense besides, to which she listened with quiet resignation, and when I had finished, she tendered her hand to kiss.

“About ten days after this event, my guardian came to town, bringing with him his daughter, a beautiful little creature, with whom I had been brought up as a brother. The day after their arrival, there was a party, to which I was to attend Miss ———. My guardian was an elderly, staid gentleman, fond of his ease, and made it a point of conscience to go to his rest at ten o‘clock regularly, and I thought it was incumbent on me to go with his pretty daughter. I therefore wrote a short note to Miss ———, telling her how matters stood, and thought nothing more about it until we arrived at the party, where I looked in vain for her. “She will be here after a while,” thought I — and to pass off the time agreeably, I danced with my fair companion. The night wore away, and still the girl I wished most to see did not arrive, nor could I conjecture the cause of her absence. Next day I went with my guardian and my sweet cousin, as I called her, to see some paintings at the Museum, and other sights; and the day after, she insisted that I should accompany her in a shopping expedition. Now there is nothing in the shape of labor or suffering that I would not sooner undergo, than accompany a lady, and more especially a very fair young lady, shopping; they look at a thousand things, ask one’s opinion or advice about every thing, and as a matter of course, follow it in nothing — besides all that, I was very anxious to see Miss ——— that morning; but was obliged to submit.

“Next morning I paid her an early visit — she was sitting at the table writing as I entered. As she looked up at me I thought I noticed somewhat of displeasure in her eyes, and it occurred to me at once that perhaps she was not pleased at my failure to attend her to the party. If so, her pettishness was obviously unreasonable [column 2:] in the extreme, and I forthwith determined to anger her a little, if I discovered my surmise to be well founded.

“I talked to her for some time very courteously. Her brow began to clear up, and I feared lest she should become entirely good humored and leave me no opportunity to vex her; so I spoke of the party, mentioned some who were there, and how delightful the whole affair was: eatables, drinkables, music, ladies and all, charming; and amongst other things I dilated with great emphasis on my cousin, praised her beauty, her gracefulness, her wit; spoke of the admiration she excited, and concluded by declaring that she was by far the most interesting girl I had seen there — and 1 ran my fingers through my curling hair, and thrusting my right leg out before me, gazed complacently at the toe of my pump.

“Miss ——— looked at the fire and twisted the unfortunate pen she held in her hand, into many unnatural shapes — but said nothing.

“ ‘Well,’ resumed I,‘I could not imagine why you were not there; I looked for you once or twice during the evening, and was astonished when I heard that you had not come.’

“ ‘Oh, I received your note telling me that you would accompany another lady, and not wishing to go abegging for an escort, resolved to stay at home.’

“ ‘What a pity!” said I, ‘if you had been there I should have had nothing to wish for; as it was, the evening passed delightfully — I scarce left my little cousin’s side. Yesterday she carried me shopping with her all the morning, and the day before I went with her to see the Ariadne. She is very much like the picture, and has the same beautiful fair complexion, the same blue eyes and yellow hair, which I admire so much, you know.’

“I looked up at Miss ———; she was gazing fixedly at me. I noticed a tear in her eye, as she turned away and rested her cheek on her dear little hand. I began to think matters were becoming too serious.

“ ‘Sweet ———,’ I began, in an altered and earnest tone — She raised her head suddenly and I trembled at her glance.

“ ‘Sweet ———,’ she repeated, with scornful emphasis — ‘George, I owe you my life, and for that I shall always feel gratitude. I have loved you for yourself — for I thought you generous, sensible and sincere. Your present conduct shews how much I have been deceived in you, and the love I have been proud to feel is lost in contempt.’ She rose from her seat as she spoke. — Heaven and Earth! The figure seen in my almost forgotten vision stood before me. 1 was motionless with horror — a dagger of ice seemed slowly to pierce my breast — I covered my eyes with my hand and groaned: — Too fearfully were the words of doom fulfilled.

“I rose slowly from my chair, bowed low to and leaving the house, hurried to my room and threw myself on my bed. There I writhed in convulsive agony, and in the frenzy of unutterable despair cursed the hour in which I was born. The criminal who, in the confident hope of pardon, and indulging in dreams of long life and happiness, is suddenly dragged forth to the gallows, feels not a tythe of the utter desolation I then felt. By degrees my frenzy subsided, and a dull stupor was coming over me, — when the word ‘Revenge[page 239:] was muttered in my ear. I remembered the promise. ‘Revenge is mine, and I will wreak it to the uttermost.’ I became perfectly calm — it was the calm of despair. I had nothing to hope for but revenge, and then, come what might, I would be ready to meet it!’ Yes,’ said I aloud, ‘I will twine myself round her heartstrings — she shall love me devotedly, fatally, and I will requite her with a contempt colder than the snows on Cotapaxi, and a hate more intense than its fires.’

“In a few days my guardian left town with his daughter. I went about as usual and frequently met Miss ——, to whom I always spoke with an air of grave politeness — but never alluded to her displeasure. I soon saw that her anger was passed like a summer cloud, and that she was not at all indisposed to a renewal of our former intimacy. One evening at a party somewhere, I was engaged in a lively conversation with her, and was quietly offering her many little polite attentions, from which a casual observer would have inferred that we were excellent friends — but there was nothing of confiding, affectionate interest in my tone or looks: all was the calm, cold, habitual politeness of a thorough bred man of the world. After a silence of some minute or two, she said kindly,’ George, I am sorry for what I said in my hasty anger and would be delighted if you would forgive and forget it’ — and she offered me her hand. I would have spurned it from me — but the time was not yet come. So I took her hand in mine, and with a grateful pressure, thanked her for her condescending goodness.’ Now,’ said she, with one of her most endearing smiles, ‘we are good friends again.’

“For an instant my dire resolution seemed melting away — but I steeled myself relentlessly, and swore by my own head to pursue my revenge. From that day forth I was unremitting in my endeavor to gain her whole heart — every word and look was directed to that end. For hours have I sat with her, pouring out for her attentive ear whatever my more masculine studies had made me conversant with, but which to her had been as a sealed book.

“At length I saw that I had succeeded; her whole being seemed bound up in my love, and I felt that my victim was in my power. ‘Now for revenge,’ I muttered, as I walked slowly to the door and rang the bell. The room was empty as I entered; I sat down and pondered over the best and surest mode of attaining my wish. Presently I heard a light step hurrying down the staircase, and slackening in speed as it approached the door. I threw a slight expression of gloom over my features; the door opened, and Miss ——— entered and greeted me with a mingling of cordiality and bashfulness which at one time would have brought me on my knees before her: now it was of no avail She soon noticed the sadness of my looks, and inquired the cause. ‘I was thinking,’ I replied, ‘of a past and most painful event. It was here, in this room, that I heard, from lips that were dearest to me of all on earth, words which stunned me more than a thunderbolt would have done, and she who spoke them sate where you now sit.’

“ ‘Hush, sweet; hush,’ said she, playfully putting her hand on my mouth,’ and do not again allude to an occurrence which I regret so much. Indeed,’ she continued, while her eyes filled with tears,’ indeed, I would do any thing to convince you how much it has grieved me.’ [column 2:]

“I smiled fondly, and rising from my chair, seated myself by her side, and took her little hand in mine. “ ‘F———,’ said I, ‘you have told me that you loved me, and I believed you; I need not say how dearly I have loved you. Listen, dear girl, to what my love compels me to tell. Until this day I have been accustomed to think of myself as one beyond the reach of poverty, although not rich: this very day I have learned that I am well nigh pennyless. Our engagement is yet unknown to any save ourselves, and it remains with you to say whether it shall continue. I release you entirely from your promise, and never by word or deed will I reproach you, should you listen to the voice of prudence, and decline linking your fate to that of one who has nothing save the gushing tenderness and love of a passionate heart to offer you. If your generous mind reject the thought of discarding me for my poverty, think on all you will have to undergo; the loss of all that custom has rendered almost necessary;’ the proud man’s contumely — the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;’ perchance the bitings of absolute penury; — and tell me, can you leave family and friends, and your childhood’s home, and endure all for the sake of my love?’

“My arm had encircled her waist, and I gazed steadfastly on her face. The proud blood rose in her pale cheek as she answered, ‘George, I do love you more than I know how to express, and ever for yourself alone. I can now show you how completely I am yours, for my love can end but with my life.’

“Wildly, fearfully, did the fiery blood bound through my tingling veins. I drew her to me; her head lay on my shoulder, and I covered with kisses her forehead, her eyes, her cheek, her lips. Tears of passionate love burst from my eyes, and I pressed her to my heart in an agony of uncontrollable delight. Slowly my calmness returned, and again ‘revenge! revenge!’ sounded in my ear.

I withdrew my arm from her, but still retained her hand, and said in a quiet tone, “Listen again, and swear by your hopes of heaven that you will divulge to no mortal ear what I shall say.” She did so, and I continued: “Two months ago you told me that you scorned and despised me: I swore to requite it — and now I tell you, and I swear by the crown of the eternal king I tell you truly, that I abhor you; I scorn and hate you more than I do the wretch who has murdered her infant child.” I flung from me as I spoke the hand I held, and rising from my seat, stood with my arms folded, looking her full in the face.

“For a moment she gazed wildly at me, as if she did not comprehend what I had said; but as the dreadful truth forced itself on her mind her face became white as chalk, her eyelids quivered convulsively, and with almost a scream she fell back in a swoon. I raised her, and getting some water from a flower jar, I sprinkled it over her face, and supported her in my arms. In a few minutes she opened her eyes, and fixed them on me with a gaze of imperfect consciousness; my arm still supported her. ‘Oh George, George,’ she murmured, clasping my neck with her arms, and sobbing bitterly, ‘how could you jest so cruelly with me? I know you were not in earnest; you could not speak so in earnest to your own F———; but your dreadful look frightened me almost to death;’ and she hid her face in my [page 240:] bosom, and sobbed as if her heart would break. For a few moments her sobs continued, and then she gradually recovered herself. I quietly unclasped her hands from my neck, and again rising from the sofa, said in a bitter tone, ‘compose yourself Miss ———, and be assured that I am in earnest. Look on my face, and see a man marked for the grave — and you are my destroyer. You have blighted all my happiness in this world; and before the leaves which are new budding shall fall, I will be sleeping in my cold grave. But now vengeance is mine, and I have repaid you; your death blow has been stricken, and soon, very soon, will you wither in your early tomb, where I shall speedily follow. Remember your dreadful oath.’

“She did not move nor weep, but her eyes were fixed on me with a fearful stare as the charmed bird regards the rattlesnake, and followed me as I moved from the room. Next day I heard that Miss — had been discovered in the room where I left her in a state of insensibility, and had with difficulty been aroused from it, but was alarmingly ill. Conjecture was at fault as to the cause of her illness; among the thousand and one suppositions none came near the truth, and nothing could be learned from her. She was obstinately silent, as the attending physician, a pragmatical, dogmatical fellow, chose to report. A week passed and she was thought somewhat better; and her father, who had hurried to town on hearing of her illness, insisted on carrying her to the country with him. Another week passed and I heard nothing of her. I became anxious; I wished to see her again; to mark the progress of death, and exult in the completion of my revenge. I went down to my guardian’s house. They were all speaking of poor F when I arrived; she was not expected to live forty — eight hours.

“Next day ray guardian, his daughter and myself rode over to Mr. ———’s to see F——— once more. Her mother was weeping and refusing to be comforted: she was her only child. I did not see her father; like Hagar, he had taken a last look at his child, and had gone into the woods to mourn unseen — he could not see his child die.

“My cousin and her father went into the dying girl’s room, while I remained conversing with some of the neighbors who were there. After some time had elapsed they came out; she came to me weeping bitterly, and said that Miss ——— desired to see me alone. I almost trembled, but hastened to the room; no one was there save the dying girl. There she lay, her dark hair loose over her pillow, her fine face attenuated and white as alabaster; one hand was exposed to view — it was shrunk almost to nothing — but the lustre of her eyes was yet undiminished. I moved to the bedside and gazed in silence on the yet living remains of the most angelic spirit that I have met with in my — intercourse with my fellow mortals. “George,” said she in a weak voice, “in a few minutes I shall breathe my last, yet I love you as fondly as ever, notwithstanding your cruel treatment of me. Oh speak to me, George! tell me that you love me, and I will forgive you and die contented.” My desire for revenge melted away; I felt almost choked with emotion, and throwing myself on my knees I kissed her emaciated hand and wept tears of bitter regret: inextinguishable love burned in my heart, and I moaned in her ear, “F———, my sweet, sweet [column 2:] F———, I do love you, and have ever loved you more than all the world holds beside, but it was fated that thus it should be!” A smile of delight spread over her face, her dying hand pressed mine — and in a whisper almost inaudible she said, “Farewell, we will meet hereafter.” Her breathing fluttered and ceased — she was dead. I imprinted a last kiss on her face, still lovely even in death, and left the room.

“I saw her body committed to the earth and her grave sprinkled with early violets; and when all was over, we left the bereaved family to their sorrows. — Since that day I have impatiently awaited the approach of death, but my sufferings have not terminated as soon as I wished. At times a dreadful feeling of remorse has seized me, and in agonies that cannot be described have I writhed during many sleepless nights — but I was a mere instrument in the hands of unalterable fate.

“A few days since I came to Richmond to arrange some business. To-morrow I shall leave this city for New York, where I shall stay for some weeks. After this day 1 shall never see you again.”

He ceased. I wished to say something, but his recital had made so strong an impression on me, and he seemed so fully fixed in the belief of his approaching death, that I was silent. The shades of evening began to deepen around us, and the full moon rose struggling through a bank of clouds. “Come,” said B———, “go with me to my room; I have something to give you as a memento of me.” We went to his room and he took from a desk a dirk of beautiful workmanship, the handle richly ornamented with gold, and giving it to me said, “take this and keep it. I have been strongly tempted to use it against myself, but have refrained, for it shall not be said that I feared to live. Farewell. I have something to do, and you will excuse me.” I wrung his hand and we parted. I never saw him again; but in the latter part of July I heard that he had returned from New York in a low state of health, having, as was said, wasted rapidly in a consumption. Early in August he died, making it his last request to be buried by the grave of Miss ———. It was complied with, and before he completed the twenty-second year of his age, he slept by the side of her he had loved. Peace to their ashes!

BENEDICT.


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Notes:

The “E—— P——” mentioned in the text is Edgar Poe, who did indeed execute the feat of swimming noted. The identity of “Benedict” is not known, but it is almost certainly not Poe.


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[S:0 - SLM, 1835] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Works - Rejected - The Doom