Zanoni, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter 5

Doch wunderbar ergriff mich’s diese Nacht;

Die Glieder schienen schon in Todes Macht.

Uhland.

(This night it fearfully seized on me; my limbs appeared already in the power of death.)

A fever, attended with delirium, for several days deprived Glyndon of consciousness; and when, by Adela’s care more than the skill of the physicians, he was restored to life and reason, he was unutterably shocked by the change in his sister’s appearance; at first, he fondly imagined that her health, affected by her vigils, would recover with his own. But he soon saw, with an anguish which partook of remorse, that the malady was deep-seated — deep, deep, beyond the reach of Aesculapius and his drugs. Her imagination, little less lively than his own, was awfully impressed by the strange confessions she had heard — by the ravings of his delirium. Again and again had he shrieked forth, “It is there — there, by thy side, my sister!” He had transferred to her fancy the spectre, and the horror that cursed himself. He perceived this, not by her words, but her silence; by the eyes that strained into space; by the shiver that came over her frame; by the start of terror; by the look that did not dare to turn behind. Bitterly he repented his confession; bitterly he felt that between his sufferings and human sympathy there could be no gentle and holy commune; vainly he sought to retract — to undo what he had done, to declare all was but the chimera of an overheated brain!

And brave and generous was this denial of himself; for, often and often, as he thus spoke, he saw the Thing of Dread gliding to her side, and glaring at him as he disowned its being. But what chilled him, if possible, yet more than her wasting form and trembling nerves, was the change in her love for him; a natural terror had replaced it. She turned paler if he approached — she shuddered if he took her hand. Divided from the rest of earth, the gulf of the foul remembrance yawned now between his sister and himself. He could endure no more the presence of the one whose life HIS life had embittered. He made some excuses for departure, and writhed to see that they were greeted eagerly. The first gleam of joy he had detected since that fatal night, on Adela’s face, he beheld when he murmured “Farewell.” He travelled for some weeks through the wildest parts of Scotland; scenery which MAKES the artist, was loveless to his haggard eyes. A letter recalled him to London on the wings of new agony and fear; he arrived to find his sister in a condition both of mind and health which exceeded his worst apprehensions.

Her vacant look, her lifeless posture, appalled him; it was as one who gazed on the Medusa’s head, and felt, without a struggle, the human being gradually harden to the statue. It was not frenzy, it was not idiocy — it was an abstraction, an apathy, a sleep in waking. Only as the night advanced towards the eleventh hour — the hour in which Glyndon had concluded his tale — she grew visibly uneasy, anxious, and perturbed. Then her lips muttered; her hands writhed; she looked round with a look of unspeakable appeal for succour, for protection, and suddenly, as the clock struck, fell with a shriek to the ground, cold and lifeless. With difficulty, and not until after the most earnest prayers, did she answer the agonised questions of Glyndon; at last she owned that at that hour, and that hour alone, wherever she was placed, however occupied, she distinctly beheld the apparition of an old hag, who, after thrice knocking at the door, entered the room, and hobbling up to her with a countenance distorted by hideous rage and menace, laid its icy fingers on her forehead: from that moment she declared that sense forsook her; and when she woke again, it was only to wait, in suspense that froze up her blood, the repetition of the ghastly visitation.

The physician who had been summoned before Glyndon’s return, and whose letter had recalled him to London, was a commonplace practitioner, ignorant of the case, and honestly anxious that one more experienced should be employed. Clarence called in one of the most eminent of the faculty, and to him he recited the optical delusion of his sister. The physician listened attentively, and seemed sanguine in his hopes of cure. He came to the house two hours before the one so dreaded by the patient. He had quietly arranged that the clocks should be put forward half an hour, unknown to Adela, and even to her brother. He was a man of the most extraordinary powers of conversation, of surpassing wit, of all the faculties that interest and amuse. He first administered to the patient a harmless potion, which he pledged himself would dispel the delusion. His confident tone woke her own hopes — he continued to excite her attention, to rouse her lethargy; he jested, he laughed away the time. The hour struck. “Joy, my brother!” she exclaimed, throwing herself in his arms; “the time is past!” And then, like one released from a spell, she suddenly assumed more than her ancient cheerfulness. “Ah, Clarence!” she whispered, “forgive me for my former desertion — forgive me that I feared YOU. I shall live! — I shall live! in my turn to banish the spectre that haunts my brother!” And Clarence smiled and wiped the tears from his burning eyes. The physician renewed his stories, his jests. In the midst of a stream of rich humour that seemed to carry away both brother and sister, Glyndon suddenly saw over Adela’s face the same fearful change, the same anxious look, the same restless, straining eye, he had beheld the night before. He rose — he approached her. Adela started up, “look — look — look!” she exclaimed. “She comes! Save me — save me!” and she fell at his feet in strong convulsions as the clock, falsely and in vain put forward, struck the half-hour.

The physician lifted her in his arms. “My worst fears are confirmed,” he said gravely; “the disease is epilepsy.” (The most celebrated practitioner in Dublin related to the editor a story of optical delusion precisely similar in its circumstances and its physical cause to the one here narrated.)

The next night, at the same hour, Adela Glyndon died.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31