Text - The Fall of the House of Usher

 The Fall of the House of Usher
Edgar Allan Poe
DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the
autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in
the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through
a singularly dreary tract of country ; and at length found
myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the
melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was - but, with
the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom
pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable ; for the feeling was
unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic,
sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the
sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked
upon the scene before me - upon the mere house, and the
simple landscape features of the domain - upon the bleak walls
- upon the vacant eye-like windows - upon a few rank sedges and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees - with an utter
depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation
more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon
opium - the bitter lapse into everyday life - the hideous
dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a
sickening of the heart - an unredeemed dreariness of thought
which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of
the sublime. What was it - I paused to think - what was it that
so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of Usher ? It
was a mystery all insoluble ; nor could I grapple with the
shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was
forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that
while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple
natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still
the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond
our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different
arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of
the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to
annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression ; and, acting
upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a
black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the
dwelling, and gazed down - but with a shudder even more
thrilling than before - upon the remodelled and inverted images
of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant
and eye-like windows.
Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed to
myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick Usher,
had been one of my boon companions in boyhood ; but many
years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter, however,
had lately reached me in a distant part of the country - a letter
from him - which, in its wildly importunate nature, had
admitted of no other than a personal reply. The MS. gave
evidence of nervous agitation. The writer spoke of acute bodily
illness - of a mental disorder which oppressed him - and of an
earnest desire to see me, as his best, and indeed his only
personal friend, with a view of attempting, by the cheerfulness
of my society, some alleviation of his malady. It was the
manner in which all this, and much more, was said - it was the
apparent heart that went with his request - which allowed me
no room for hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith
what I still considered a very singular summons.
Although, as boys, we had been even intimate associates, yet I
really knew little of my friend. His reserve had been always
excessive and habitual. I was aware, however, that his very
ancient family had been noted, time out of mind, for a peculiar
sensibility of temperament, displaying itself, through long ages,
in many works of exalted art, and manifested, of late, in
repeated deeds of munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well
as in a passionate devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even
more than to the orthodox and easily recognisable beauties, of
musical science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact,
that the stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had
put forth, at no period, any enduring branch ; in other words,
that the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had
always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so lain.
It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over in
1 thought the perfect keeping of the character of the premises
with the accredited character of the people, and while
speculating upon the possible influence which the one, in the
long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the other it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue, and the
consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to son, of the
patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so identified
the two as to merge the original title of the estate in the quaint
and equivocal appellation of the "House of Usher" - an
appellation which seemed to include, in the minds of the
peasantry who used it, both the family and the family mansion.
fallen ; and there appeared to be a wild inconsistency between
its still perfect adaptation of parts, and the crumbling
condition of the individual stones. In this there was much that
reminded me of the specious totality of old wood-work which
has rotted for long years in some neglected vault, with no
disturbance from the breath of the external air. Beyond this
indication of extensive decay, however, the fabric gave little
token of instability. Perhaps the eye of a scrutinizing observer
might have discovered a barely perceptible fissure, which,
extending from the roof of the building in front, made its way
down the wall in a zigzag direction, until it became lost in the
sullen waters of the tarn.
I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment - that of looking down within the tarn - had been to
deepen the first singular impression. There can be no doubt
that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my superstition
- for why should I not so term it ? - served mainly to accelerate
the increase itself. Such, I have long known, is the paradoxical
law of all sentiments having terror as a basis. And it might
have been for this reason only, that, when I again uplifted my
eyes to the house itself, from its image in the pool, there grew
in my mind a strange fancy - a fancy so ridiculous, indeed,
that I but mention it to show the vivid force of the sensations
which oppressed me. I had so worked upon my imagination as
really to believe that about the whole mansion and domain
there hung an atmosphere peculiar to themselves and their
immediate vicinity - an atmosphere which had no affinity with
the air of heaven, but which had reeked up from the decayed
trees, and the gray wall, and the silent tarn - a pestilent and
mystic vapor, dull, sluggish, faintly discernible, and leadenhued.
Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to the
house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered the
Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step, thence
conducted me, in silence, through many dark and intricate
passages in my progress to the studio of his master. Much that
I encountered on the way contributed, I know not how, to
heighten the vague sentiments of which I have already spoken.
While the objects around me - while the carvings of the
ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls, the ebon blackness
of the floors, and the phantasmagoric armorial trophies which
rattled as I strode, were but matters to which, or to such as
which, I had been accustomed from my infancy - while I
hesitated not to acknowledge how familiar was all this - I still
wondered to find how unfamiliar were the fancies which
ordinary images were stirring up. On one of the staircases, I
met the physician of the family. His countenance, I thought,
wore a mingled expression of low cunning and perplexity. He
accosted me with trepidation and passed on. The valet now
threw open a door and ushered me into the presence of his
Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a dream, I
scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the building. Its
principal feature seemed to be that of an excessive antiquity.
The discoloration of ages had been great. Minute fungi
overspread the whole exterior, hanging in a fine tangled webwork from the eaves. Yet all this was apart from any
extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the masonry had
The room in which I found myself was very large and lofty. The
windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at so vast a
distance from the black oaken floor as to be altogether
inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of encrimsoned light
made their way through the trellissed panes, and served to
2 render sufficiently distinct the more prominent objects around
; the eye, however, struggled in vain to reach the remoter
angles of the chamber, or the recesses of the vaulted and
fretted ceiling. Dark draperies hung upon the walls. The
general furniture was profuse, comfortless, antique, and
tattered. Many books and musical instruments lay scattered
about, but failed to give any vitality to the scene. I felt that I
breathed an atmosphere of sorrow. An air of stern, deep, and
irredeemable gloom hung over and pervaded all.
connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of simple
In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an
incoherence - an inconsistency ; and I soon found this to arise
from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome an
habitual trepidancy - an excessive nervous agitation. For
something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less
by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits,
and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical
conformation and temperament. His action was alternately
vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a tremulous
indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly in
abeyance) to that species of energetic concision - that abrupt,
weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding enunciation - that
leaden, self-balanced and perfectly modulated guttural
utterance, which may be observed in the lost drunkard, or the
irreclaimable eater of opium, during the periods of his most
intense excitement.
Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he had
been lying at full length, and greeted me with a vivacious
warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of an
overdone cordiality - of the constrained effort of the ennuyé ;
man of the world. A glance, however, at his countenance,
convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat down ; and for
some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed upon him with a
feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man had never before so
terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher ! It
was with difficulty that I could bring myself to admit the
identity of the wan being before me with the companion of my
early boyhood. Yet the character of his face had been at all
times remarkable. A cadaverousness of complexion ; an eye
large, liquid, and luminous beyond comparison ; lips somewhat
thin and very pallid, but of a surpassingly beautiful curve ; a
nose of a delicate Hebrew model, but with a breadth of nostril
unusual in similar formations ; a finely moulded chin,
speaking, in its want of prominence, of a want of moral energy;
hair of a more than web-like softness and tenuity ; these
features, with an inordinate expansion above the regions of the
temple, made up altogether a countenance not easily to be
forgotten. And now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing
character of these features, and of the expression they were
wont to convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom
I spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now
miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and even
awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to grow all
unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it floated
rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with effort,
It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his
earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to
afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he conceived
to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a constitutional
and a family evil, and one for which he despaired to find a
remedy - a mere nervous affection, he immediately added,
which would undoubtedly soon pass off. It displayed itself in a
host of unnatural sensations. Some of these, as he detailed
them, interested and bewildered me ; although, perhaps, the
terms, and the general manner of the narration had their
weight. He suffered much from a morbid acuteness of the
senses ; the most insipid food was alone endurable; he could
wear only garments of certain texture ; the odors of all flowers
were oppressive ; his eyes were tortured by even a faint light ;
and there were but peculiar sounds, and these from stringed
instruments, which did not inspire him with horror.
To an anomalous species of terror I found him a bounden
slave. "I shall perish," said he, "I must perish in this deplorable
3 folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be lost. I dread the
events of the future, not in themselves, but in their results. I
shudder at the thought of any, even the most trivial, incident,
which may operate upon this intolerable agitation of soul. I
have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger, except in its absolute
effect - in terror. In this unnerved - in this pitiable condition - I
feel that the period will sooner or later arrive when I must
abandon life and reason together, in some struggle with the
grim phantasm, FEAR."
length, closed upon her, my glance sought instinctively and
eagerly the countenance of the brother - but he had buried his
face in his hands, and I could only perceive that a far more
than ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers
through which trickled many passionate tears.
The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the skill of
her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting away of the
person, and frequent although transient affections of a
partially cataleptical character, were the unusual diagnosis.
Hitherto she had steadily borne up against the pressure of her
malady, and had not betaken herself finally to bed ; but, on the
closing in of the evening of my arrival at the house, she
succumbed (as her brother told me at night with inexpressible
agitation) to the prostrating power of the destroyer ; and I
learned that the glimpse I had obtained of her person would
thus probably be the last I should obtain - that the lady, at
least while living, would be seen by me no more.
I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken and
equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental
condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious
impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and
whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth - in
regard to an influence whose supposititious force was conveyed
in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated - an influence which
some peculiarities in the mere form and substance of his
family mansion, had, by dint of long sufferance, he said,
obtained over his spirit - an effect which the physique of the
gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn into which they all
looked down, had, at length, brought about upon the morale of
his existence.
For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned by either
Usher or myself: and during this period I was busied in earnest
endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of my friend. We painted
and read together ; or I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar. And thus, as a closer
and still closer intimacy admitted me more unreservedly into
the recesses of his spirit, the more bitterly did I perceive the
futility of all attempt at cheering a mind from which darkness,
as if an inherent positive quality, poured forth upon all objects
of the moral and physical universe, in one unceasing radiation
of gloom.
He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that much of
the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could be traced to
a more natural and far more palpable origin - to the severe and
long-continued illness - indeed to the evidently approaching
dissolution - of a tenderly beloved sister - his sole companion
for long years - his last and only relative on earth. "Her
decease," he said, with a bitterness which I can never forget,
"would leave him (him the hopeless and the frail) the last of the
ancient race of the Ushers." While he spoke, the lady Madeline
(for so was she called) passed slowly through a remote portion
of the apartment, and, without having noticed my presence,
disappeared. I regarded her with an utter astonishment not
unmingled with dread - and yet I found it impossible to
account for such feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me,
as my eyes followed her retreating steps. When a door, at
I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many solemn hours
I thus spent alone with the master of the House of Usher. Yet I
should fail in any attempt to convey an idea of the exact
character of the studies, or of the occupations, in which he
involved me, or led me the way. An excited and highly
distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over all. His
long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears. Among
other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain singular
4 perversion and amplification of the wild air of the last waltz of
Von Weber. From the paintings over which his elaborate fancy
brooded, and which grew, touch by touch, into vaguenesses at
which I shuddered the more thrillingly, because I shuddered
knowing not why ; - from these paintings (vivid as their images
now are before me) I would in vain endeavor to educe more
than a small portion which should lie within the compass of
merely written words. By the utter simplicity, by the nakedness
of his designs, he arrested and overawed attention. If ever
mortal painted an idea, that mortal was Roderick Usher. For
me at least - in the circumstances then surrounding me - there
arose out of the pure abstractions which the hypochondriac
contrived to throw upon his canvass, an intensity of intolerable
awe, no shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of
the certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.
intense mental collectedness and concentration to which I have
previously alluded as observable only in particular moments of
the highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these
rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the more
forcibly impressed with it, as he gave it, because, in the under
or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I perceived, and
for the first time, a full consciousness on the part of Usher, of
the tottering of his lofty reason upon her throne. The verses,
which were entitled "The Haunted Palace," ran very nearly, if
not accurately, thus:
In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace Radiant palace - reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion It stood there !
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow;
(This - all this - was in the olden
Time long ago)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.
Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute's well-tunéd law,
Round about a throne, where sitting
(Porphyrogene !)
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.
One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend, partaking
not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be shadowed
forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture presented the
interior of an immensely long and rectangular vault or tunnel,
with low walls, smooth, white, and without interruption or
device. Certain accessory points of the design served well to
convey the idea that this excavation lay at an exceeding depth
below the surface of the earth. No outlet was observed in any
portion of its vast extent, and no torch, or other artificial
source of light was discernible ; yet a flood of intense rays
rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a ghastly and
inappropriate splendor.
I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the auditory
nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the sufferer, with
the exception of certain effects of stringed instruments. It was,
perhaps, the narrow limits to which he thus confined himself
upon the guitar, which gave birth, in great measure, to the
fantastic character of his performances. But the fervid facility
of his impromptus could not be so accounted for. They must
have been, and were, in the notes, as well as in the words of
his wild fantasias (for he not unfrequently accompanied
himself with rhymed verbal improvisations), the result of that
5 And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.
But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate ;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate !)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.
And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows, see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody ;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh - but smile no more.
conditions of the sentience had been here, he imagined,
fulfilled in the method of collocation of these stones - in the
order of their arrangement, as well as in that of the many fungi
which overspread them, and of the decayed trees which stood
around - above all, in the long undisturbed endurance of this
arrangement, and in its reduplication in the still waters of the
tarn. Its evidence - the evidence of the sentience - was to be
seen, he said, (and I here started as he spoke,) in the gradual
yet certain condensation of an atmosphere of their own about
the waters and the walls. The result was discoverable, he
added, in that silent, yet importunate and terrible influence
which for centuries had moulded the destinies of his family,
and which made him what I now saw him - what he was. Such
opinions need no comment, and I will make none.
Our books - the books which, for years, had formed no small
portion of the mental existence of the invalid - were, as might
be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of phantasm.
We pored together over such works as the Ververt et
Chartreuse of Gresset ; the Belphegor of Machiavelli ; the
Heaven and Hell of Swedenborg ; the Subterranean Voyage of
Nicholas Klimm by Holberg ; the Chiromancy of Robert Flud, of
Jean D'Indaginé, and of De la Chambre ; the Journey into the
Blue Distance of Tieck ; and the City of the Sun of Campanella.
One favorite volume was a small octavo edition of the
Directorium Inquisitorium , by the Dominican Eymeric de
Gironne; and there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about
the old African Satyrs and Oegipans, over which Usher would
sit dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in
the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto
Gothic - the manual of a forgotten church - the Vigiliae
Mortuorum secundum Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae .
I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led
us into a train of thought wherein there became manifest an
opinion of Usher's which I mention not so much on account of
its novelty, (for other men have thought thus,) as on account of
the pertinacity with which he maintained it. This opinion, in its
general form, was that of the sentience of all vegetable things.
But, in his disordered fancy, the idea had assumed a more
daring character, and trespassed, under certain conditions,
upon the kingdom of inorganization. I lack words to express
the full extent, or the earnest abandon of his persuasion. The
belief, however, was connected (as I have previously hinted)
with the gray stones of the home of his forefathers. The
I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work, and of
its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when, one
evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady Madeline
was no more, he stated his intention of preserving her corpse
for a fortnight, (previously to its final interment,) in one of the
numerous vaults within the main walls of the building. The
6 worldly reason, however, assigned for this singular proceeding,
was one which I did not feel at liberty to dispute. The brother
had been led to his resolution (so he told me) by consideration
of the unusual character of the malady of the deceased, of
certain obtrusive and eager inquiries on the part of her medical
men, and of the remote and exposed situation of the burialground of the family. I will not deny that when I called to mind
the sinister countenance of the person whom I met upon the
staircase, on the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire
to oppose what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no
means an unnatural, precaution.
upon the dead - for we could not regard her unawed. The
disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of
youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly
cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the
bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile upon
the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and screwed
down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron, made our
way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy apartments of the
upper portion of the house.
And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an
observable change came over the features of the mental
disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished. His
ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He roamed
from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and
objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed, if
possible, a more ghastly hue - but the luminousness of his eye
had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of his
tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of
extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There
were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated
mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge
which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times, again, I
was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable vagaries of
madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy for long hours,
in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as if listening to
some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that his condition
terrified - that it infected me. I felt creeping upon me, by slow
yet certain degrees, the wild influences of his own fantastic yet
impressive superstitions.
At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the
arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body having
been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The vault in
which we placed it (and which had been so long unopened that
our torches, half smothered in its oppressive atmosphere, gave
us little opportunity for investigation) was small, damp, and
entirely without means of admission for light ; lying, at great
depth, immediately beneath that portion of the building in
which was my own sleeping apartment. It had been used,
apparently, in remote feudal times, for the worst purposes of a
donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a place of deposit for
powder, or some other highly combustible substance, as a
portion of its floor, and the whole interior of a long archway
through which we reached it, were carefully sheathed with
copper. The door, of massive iron, had been, also, similarly
protected. Its immense weight caused an unusually sharp
grating sound, as it moved upon its hinges.
Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels within
this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet
unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the
tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister
now first arrested my attention ; and Usher, divining, perhaps,
my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I
learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and
that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always
existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long
It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night of the
seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady Madeline
within the donjon, that I experienced the full power of such
feelings. Sleep came not near my couch - while the hours
waned and waned away. I struggled to reason off the
nervousness which had dominion over me. I endeavored to
believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was due to the
bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of the room - of
7 the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured into motion by
the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully to and fro upon
the walls, and rustled uneasily about the decorations of the
bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An irrepressible tremor
gradually pervaded my frame ; and, at length, there sat upon
my very heart an incubus of utterly causeless alarm. Shaking
this off with a gasp and a struggle, I uplifted myself upon the
pillows, and, peering earnestly within the intense darkness of
the chamber, harkened - I know not why, except that an
instinctive spirit prompted me - to certain low and indefinite
sounds which came, through the pauses of the storm, at long
intervals, I knew not whence. Overpowered by an intense
sentiment of horror, unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw
on my clothes with haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more
during the night), and endeavored to arouse myself from the
pitiable condition into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to
and fro through the apartment.
there were frequent and violent alterations in the direction of
the wind ; and the exceeding density of the clouds (which hung
so low as to press upon the turrets of the house) did not
prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity with which they flew
careering from all points against each other, without passing
away into the distance. I say that even their exceeding density
did not prevent our perceiving this - yet we had no glimpse of
the moon or stars - nor was there any flashing forth of the
lightning. But the under surfaces of the huge masses of
agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial objects immediately
around us, were glowing in the unnatural light of a faintly
luminous and distinctly visible gaseous exhalation which hung
about and enshrouded the mansion.
"You must not - you shall not behold this !" said I,
shudderingly, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence,
from the window to a seat. "These appearances, which bewilder
you, are merely electrical phenomena not uncommon - or it
may be that they have their ghastly origin in the rank miasma
of the tarn. Let us close this casement ; - the air is chilling and
dangerous to your frame. Here is one of your favorite
romances. I will read, and you shall listen ; - and so we will
pass away this terrible night together."
I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light step on
an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I presently
recognised it as that of Usher. In an instant afterward he
rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and entered, bearing a
lamp. His countenance was, as usual, cadaverously wan - but,
moreover, there was a species of mad hilarity in his eyes - an
evidently restrained hysteria in his whole demeanor. His air
appalled me - but anything was preferable to the solitude
which I had so long endured, and I even welcomed his
presence as a relief.
The antique volume which I had taken up was the "Mad Trist"
of Sir Launcelot Canning ; but I had called it a favorite of
Usher's more in sad jest than in earnest ; for, in truth, there is
little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which could
have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of my
friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at hand ;
and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which now
agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the history of
mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even in the
extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I have
judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity with
which he harkened, or apparently harkened, to the words of
the tale, I might well have congratulated myself upon the
success of my design.
"And you have not seen it ?" he said abruptly, after having
stared about him for some moments in silence - "you have not
then seen it ? - but, stay ! you shall." Thus speaking, and
having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of the
casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.
The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us from
our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly beautiful
night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its beauty. A
whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our vicinity ; for
8 I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story where
Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain for
peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit, proceeds
to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be
remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:
Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin ;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win;
And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of
the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty
breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so
piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his
hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was
never before heard."
"And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart, and who
was now mighty withal, on account of the powerfulness of the
wine which he had drunken, waited no longer to hold parley
with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of an obstinate and
maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his shoulders, and
fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his mace outright,
and, with blows, made quickly room in the plankings of the
door for his gauntleted hand ; and now pulling therewith
sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and tore all asunder, that
the noise of the dry and hollow-sounding wood alarummed and
reverberated throughout the forest."
Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of wild
amazement - for there could be no doubt whatever that, in this
instance, I did actually hear (although from what direction it
proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and apparently
distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual screaming or
grating sound - the exact counterpart of what my fancy had
already conjured up for the dragon's unnatural shriek as
described by the romancer.
At the termination of this sentence I started, and for a moment,
paused ; for it appeared to me (although I at once concluded
that my excited fancy had deceived me) - it appeared to me
that, from some very remote portion of the mansion, there
came, indistinctly, to my ears, what might have been, in its
exact similarity of character, the echo (but a stifled and dull
one certainly) of the very cracking and ripping sound which Sir
Launcelot had so particularly described. It was, beyond doubt,
the coincidence alone which had arrested my attention ; for,
amid the rattling of the sashes of the casements, and the
ordinary commingled noises of the still increasing storm, the
sound, in itself, had nothing, surely, which should have
interested or disturbed me. I continued the story:
Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of this
second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a thousand
conflicting sensations, in which wonder and extreme terror
were predominant, I still retained sufficient presence of mind to
avoid exciting, by any observation, the sensitive nervousness of
my companion. I was by no means certain that he had noticed
the sounds in question ; although, assuredly, a strange
alteration had, during the last few minutes, taken place in his
demeanor. From a position fronting my own, he had gradually
brought round his chair, so as to sit with his face to the door of
the chamber ; and thus I could but partially perceive his
features, although I saw that his lips trembled as if he were
murmuring inaudibly. His head had dropped upon his breast yet I knew that he was not asleep, from the wide and rigid
opening of the eye as I caught a glance of it in profile. The
motion of his body, too, was at variance with this idea - for he
rocked from side to side with a gentle yet constant and uniform
sway. Having rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the
narrative of Sir Launcelot, which thus proceeded:
"But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within the
door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal of the
maliceful hermit ; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of a scaly
and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue, which sate in
guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of silver ; and upon
the wall there hung a shield of shining brass with this legend
enwritten 9 "And now, the champion, having escaped from the terrible fury
of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen shield, and of
the breaking up of the enchantment which was upon it,
removed the carcass from out of the way before him, and
approached valorously over the silver pavement of the castle to
where the shield was upon the wall ; which in sooth tarried not
for his full coming, but fell down at his feet upon the silver
floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing sound."
hurrying to upbraid me for my haste ? Have I not heard her
footstep on the stair ? Do I not distinguish that heavy and
horrible beating of her heart ? Madman !" - here he sprang
furiously to his feet, and shrieked out his syllables, as if in the
effort he were giving up his soul - " Madman ! I tell you that
she now stands without the door ! "
As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there had
been found the potency of a spell - the huge antique pannels to
which the speaker pointed, threw slowly back, upon the
instant, their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work of the
rushing gust - but then without those doors there did stand
the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of Usher.
There was blood upon her white robes, and the evidence of
some bitter struggle upon every portion of her emaciated
frame. For a moment she remained trembling and reeling to
and fro upon the threshold - then, with a low moaning cry, fell
heavily inward upon the person of her brother, and in her
violent and now final death-agonies, bore him to the floor a
corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had anticipated.
No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than - as if a
shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily upon
a floor of silver - I became aware of a distinct, hollow, metallic,
and clangorous, yet apparently muffled reverberation.
Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet ; but the measured
rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I rushed to the
chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent fixedly before him,
and throughout his whole countenance there reigned a stony
rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon his shoulder, there
came a strong shudder over his whole person ; a sickly smile
quivered about his lips ; and I saw that he spoke in a low,
hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if unconscious of my
presence. Bending closely over him, I at length drank in the
hideous import of his words.
From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled aghast. The
storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found myself
crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along the path
a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so unusual
could have issued ; for the vast house and its shadows were
alone behind me. The radiance was that of the full, setting, and
blood-red moon, which now shone vividly through that once
barely-discernible fissure, of which I have before spoken as
extending from the roof of the building, in a zigzag direction, to
the base. While I gazed, this fissure rapidly widened - there
came a fierce breath of the whirlwind - the entire orb of the
satellite burst at once upon my sight - my brain reeled as I saw
the mighty walls rushing asunder - there was a long
tumultuous shouting sound like the voice of a thousand waters
- and the deep and dank tarn at my feet closed sullenly and
silently over the fragments of the "House of Usher."
"Not hear it ? - yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long - long long - many minutes, many hours, many days, have I heard it yet I dared not - oh, pity me, miserable wretch that I am ! - I
dared not - I dared not speak ! We have put her living in the
tomb ! Said I not that my senses were acute ? I now tell you
that I heard her first feeble movements in the hollow coffin. I
heard them - many, many days ago - yet I dared not - I dared
not speak ! And now - to-night - Ethelred - ha ! ha ! - the
breaking of the hermit's door, and the death-cry of the dragon,
and the clangor of the shield ! - say, rather, the rending of her
coffin, and the grating of the iron hinges of her prison, and her
struggles within the coppered archway of the vault ! Oh
whither shall I fly ? Will she not be here anon ? Is she not