site logo


Scary Books: The Haunters & The Haunted

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.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this ballad, led us into a

n 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[1]

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 inorganisation. 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 grey

stones of the home of his forefathers. The 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'Indagine, and of De la Chambre; the _Journey into the Blue

Distance_ of Tieck; and the _City of the Sun_ of Campanella. One

favourite volume was a small octavo edition of the _Directorium

Inquisitorum_, by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and there were

passages in _Pomponius Mela_, about the old African Satyrs and AEgipans,

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 Chorum Ecclesiae Maguntinae_.

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 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 burial-ground 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.

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 purpose 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


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 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 characterised his

utterance. There were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly

agitated mind was labouring 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.

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 endeavoured 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 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,

hearkened--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 endeavoured to arouse myself from the pitiable condition

into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through the


I had taken but a 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 demeanour. 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.

"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 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 lifelike 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 vapour, 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 favourite

romances. I will read, and you shall listen;--and so we will pass away

this terrible night together."

The antique volume which I had taken up was the _Mad Trist_ of Sir

Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favourite 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 hearkened, or apparently

hearkened, to the words of the tale, I might well have congratulated

myself upon the success of my design.

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:

"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 alarmed and reverberated throughout the forest."

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


"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 demeanour, 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--

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."

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.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of the 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

demeanour. 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:

"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."

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 on 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.

"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 clangour 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 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