Nothing is more painful to the human mind than, after the feelings have been
worked up by a quick succession of events, the dead calmness of inaction and
certainty which follows and deprives the soul both of hope and fear. Justine
died, she rested, and I was alive. The blood flowed freely in my veins, but a
weight of despair and remorse pressed on my heart which nothing could remove.
Sleep fled from my eyes; I wandered like an evil spirit, for I had committed
deeds of mischief beyond description horrible, and more, much more (I
persuaded myself) was yet behind. Yet my heart overflowed with kindness and
the love of virtue. I had begun life with benevolent intentions and thirsted
for the moment when I should put them in practice and make myself useful to my
fellow beings. Now all was blasted; instead of that serenity of conscience
which allowed me to look back upon the past with self-satisfaction, and from
thence to gather promise of new hopes, I was seized by remorse and the sense
of guilt, which hurried me away to a hell of intense tortures such as no
language can describe.
This state of mind preyed upon my health, which had perhaps never entirely
recovered from the first shock it had sustained. I shunned the face of man;
all sound of joy or complacency was torture to me; solitude was my only
consolation--deep, dark, deathlike solitude.
My father observed with pain the alteration perceptible in my disposition and
habits and endeavoured by arguments deduced from the feelings of his serene
conscience and guiltless life to inspire me with fortitude and awaken in me
the courage to dispel the dark cloud which brooded over me. "Do you think,
Victor," said he, "that I do not suffer also? No one could love a child more
than I loved your brother"--tears came into his eyes as he spoke--"but is it
not a duty to the survivors that we should refrain from augmenting their
unhappiness by an appearance of immoderate grief? It is also a duty owed to
yourself, for excessive sorrow prevents improvement or enjoyment, or even the
discharge of daily usefulness, without which no man is fit for society."
This advice, although good, was totally inapplicable to my case; I should have
been the first to hide my grief and console my friends if remorse had not
mingled its bitterness, and terror its alarm, with my other sensations. Now I
could only answer my father with a look of despair and endeavour to hide
myself from his view.
About this time we retired to our house at Belrive. This change was
particularly agreeable to me. The shutting of the gates regularly at ten
o'clock and the impossibility of remaining on the lake after that hour had
rendered our residence within the walls of Geneva very irksome to me. I was
now free. Often, after the rest of the family had retired for the night, I
took the boat and passed many hours upon the water. Sometimes, with my sails
set, I was carried by the wind; and sometimes, after rowing into the middle of
the lake, I left the boat to pursue its own course and gave way to my own
miserable reflections. I was often tempted, when all was at peace around me,
and I the only unquiet thing that wandered restless in a scene so beautiful
and heavenly--if I except some bat, or the frogs, whose harsh and interrupted
croaking was heard only when I approached the shore--often, I say, I was
tempted to plunge into the silent lake, that the waters might close over me
and my calamities for ever. But I was restrained, when I thought of the heroic
and suffering Elizabeth, whom I tenderly loved, and whose existence was bound
up in mine. I thought also of my father and surviving brother; should I by my
base desertion leave them exposed and unprotected to the malice of the fiend
whom I had let loose among them?
At these moments I wept bitterly and wished that peace would revisit my mind
only that I might afford them consolation and happiness. But that could not
be. Remorse extinguished every hope. I had been the author of unalterable
evils, and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should
perpetrate some new wickedness. I had an obscure feeling that all was not over
and that he would still commit some signal crime, which by its enormity should
almost efface the recollection of the past. There was always scope for fear so
long as anything I loved remained behind. My abhorrence of this fiend cannot
be conceived. When I thought of him I gnashed my teeth, my eyes became
inflamed, and I ardently wished to extinguish that life which I had so
thoughtlessly bestowed. When I reflected on his crimes and malice, my hatred
and revenge burst all bounds of moderation. I would have made a pilgrimage to
the highest peak of the Andes, could I, when there, have precipitated him to
their base. I wished to see him again, that I might wreak the utmost extent of
abhorrence on his head and avenge the deaths of William and Justine.
Our house was the house of mourning. My father's health was deeply shaken by
the horror of the recent events. Elizabeth was sad and desponding; she no
longer took delight in her ordinary occupations; all pleasure seemed to her
sacrilege toward the dead; eternal woe and tears she then thought was the just
tribute she should pay to innocence so blasted and destroyed. She was no
longer that happy creature who in earlier youth wandered with me on the banks
of the lake and talked with ecstasy of our future prospects. The first of
those sorrows which are sent to wean us from the earth had visited her, and
its dimming influence quenched her dearest smiles.
"When I reflect, my dear cousin," said she, "on the miserable death of Justine
Moritz, I no longer see the world and its works as they before appeared to me.
Before, I looked upon the accounts of vice and injustice that I read in books
or heard from others as tales of ancient days or imaginary evils; at least
they were remote and more familiar to reason than to the imagination; but now
misery has come home, and men appear to me as monsters thirsting for each
other's blood. Yet I am certainly unjust. Everybody believed that poor girl to
be guilty; and if she could have committed the crime for which she suffered,
assuredly she would have been the most depraved of human creatures. For the
sake of a few jewels, to have murdered the son of her benefactor and friend, a
child whom she had nursed from its birth, and appeared to love as if it had
been her own! I could not consent to the death of any human being, but
certainly I should have thought such a creature unfit to remain in the society
of men. But she was innocent. I know, I feel she was innocent; you are of the
same opinion, and that confirms me. Alas! Victor, when falsehood can look so
like the truth, who can assure themselves of certain happiness? I feel as if I
were walking on the edge of a precipice, towards which thousands are crowding
and endeavouring to plunge me into the abyss. William and Justine were
assassinated, and the murderer escapes; he walks about the world free, and
perhaps respected. But even if I were condemned to suffer on the scaffold for
the same crimes, I would not change places with such a wretch."
I listened to this discourse with the extremest agony. I, not in deed, but in
effect, was the true murderer. Elizabeth read my anguish in my countenance,
and kindly taking my hand, said, "My dearest friend, you must calm yourself.
These events have affected me, God knows how deeply; but I am not so wretched
as you are. There is an expression of despair, and sometimes of revenge, in
your countenance that makes me tremble. Dear Victor, banish these dark
passions. Remember the friends around you, who centre all their hopes in you.
Have we lost the power of rendering you happy? Ah! While we love, while we are
true to each other, here in this land of peace and beauty, your native
country, we may reap every tranquil blessing--what can disturb our peace?"
And could not such words from her whom I fondly prized before every other gift
of fortune suffice to chase away the fiend that lurked in my heart? Even as
she spoke I drew near to her, as if in terror, lest at that very moment the
destroyer had been near to rob me of her.
Thus not the tenderness of friendship, nor the beauty of earth, nor of heaven,
could redeem my soul from woe; the very accents of love were ineffectual. I
was encompassed by a cloud which no beneficial influence could penetrate. The
wounded deer dragging its fainting limbs to some untrodden brake, there to
gaze upon the arrow which had pierced it, and to die, was but a type of me.
Sometimes I could cope with the sullen despair that overwhelmed me, but
sometimes the whirlwind passions of my soul drove me to seek, by bodily
exercise and by change of place, some relief from my intolerable sensations.
It was during an access of this kind that I suddenly left my home, and bending
my steps towards the near Alpine valleys, sought in the magnificence, the
eternity of such scenes, to forget myself and my ephemeral, because human,
sorrows. My wanderings were directed towards the valley of Chamounix. I had
visited it frequently during my boyhood. Six years had passed since then: I
was a wreck, but nought had changed in those savage and enduring scenes.
I performed the first part of my journey on horseback. I afterwards hired a
mule, as the more sure-footed and least liable to receive injury on these
rugged roads. The weather was fine; it was about the middle of the month of
August, nearly two months after the death of Justine, that miserable epoch
from which I dated all my woe. The weight upon my spirit was sensibly
lightened as I plunged yet deeper in the ravine of Arve. The immense mountains
and precipices that overhung me on every side, the sound of the river raging
among the rocks, and the dashing of the waterfalls around spoke of a power
mighty as Omnipotence--and I ceased to fear or to bend before any being less
almighty than that which had created and ruled the elements, here displayed in
their most terrific guise. Still, as I ascended higher, the valley assumed a
more magnificent and astonishing character. Ruined castles hanging on the
precipices of piny mountains, the impetuous Arve, and cottages every here and
there peeping forth from among the trees formed a scene of singular beauty.
But it was augmented and rendered sublime by the mighty Alps, whose white and
shining pyramids and domes towered above all, as belonging to another earth,
the habitations of another race of beings.
I passed the bridge of Pelissier, where the ravine, which the river forms,
opened before me, and I began to ascend the mountain that overhangs it. Soon
after, I entered the valley of Chamounix. This valley is more wonderful and
sublime, but not so beautiful and picturesque as that of Servox, through which
I had just passed. The high and snowy mountains were its immediate boundaries,
but I saw no more ruined castles and fertile fields. Immense glaciers
approached the road; I heard the rumbling thunder of the falling avalanche and
marked the smoke of its passage. Mont Blanc, the supreme and magnificent Mont
Blanc, raised itself from the surrounding aiguilles, and its tremendous dome
overlooked the valley.
A tingling long-lost sense of pleasure often came across me during this
journey. Some turn in the road, some new object suddenly perceived and
recognised, reminded me of days gone by, and were associated with the
lighthearted gaiety of boyhood. The very winds whispered in soothing accents,
and maternal Nature bade me weep no more. Then again the kindly influence
ceased to act--I found myself fettered again to grief and indulging in all the
misery of reflection. Then I spurred on my animal, striving so to forget the
world, my fears, and more than all, myself--or, in a more desperate fashion, I
alighted and threw myself on the grass, weighed down by horror and despair.
At length I arrived at the village of Chamounix. Exhaustion succeeded to the
extreme fatigue both of body and of mind which I had endured. For a short
space of time I remained at the window watching the pallid lightnings that
played above Mont Blanc and listening to the rushing of the Arve, which
pursued its noisy way beneath. The same lulling sounds acted as a lullaby to
my too keen sensations; when I placed my head upon my pillow, sleep crept over
me; I felt it as it came and blessed the giver of oblivion.