It was eight o'clock when we landed; we walked for a short time on the shore,
enjoying the transitory light, and then retired to the inn and contemplated
the lovely scene of waters, woods, and mountains, obscured in darkness, yet
still displaying their black outlines.
The wind, which had fallen in the south, now rose with great violence in the
west. The moon had reached her summit in the heavens and was beginning to
descend; the clouds swept across it swifter than the flight of the vulture and
dimmed her rays, while the lake reflected the scene of the busy heavens,
rendered still busier by the restless waves that were beginning to rise.
Suddenly a heavy storm of rain descended.
I had been calm during the day, but so soon as night obscured the shapes of
objects, a thousand fears arose in my mind. I was anxious and watchful, while
my right hand grasped a pistol which was hidden in my bosom; every sound
terrified me, but I resolved that I would sell my life dearly and not shrink
from the conflict until my own life or that of my adversary was extinguished.
Elizabeth observed my agitation for some time in timid and fearful silence,
but there was something in my glance which communicated terror to her, and
trembling, she asked, "What is it that agitates you, my dear Victor? What is
it you fear?"
"Oh! Peace, peace, my love," replied I; "this night, and all will be safe; but
this night is dreadful, very dreadful."
I passed an hour in this state of mind, when suddenly I reflected how fearful
the combat which I momentarily expected would be to my wife, and I earnestly
entreated her to retire, resolving not to join her until I had obtained some
knowledge as to the situation of my enemy.
She left me, and I continued some time walking up and down the passages of the
house and inspecting every corner that might afford a retreat to my adversary.
But I discovered no trace of him and was beginning to conjecture that some
fortunate chance had intervened to prevent the execution of his menaces when
suddenly I heard a shrill and dreadful scream. It came from the room into
which Elizabeth had retired. As I heard it, the whole truth rushed into my
mind, my arms dropped, the motion of every muscle and fibre was suspended; I
could feel the blood trickling in my veins and tingling in the extremities of
my limbs. This state lasted but for an instant; the scream was repeated, and I
rushed into the room.
Great God! Why did I not then expire! Why am I here to relate the destruction
of the best hope and the purest creature on earth? She was there, lifeless and
inanimate, thrown across the bed, her head hanging down and her pale and
distorted features half covered by her hair. Everywhere I turn I see the same
figure--her bloodless arms and relaxed form flung by the murderer on its
bridal bier. Could I behold this and live? Alas! Life is obstinate and clings
closest where it is most hated. For a moment only did I lose recollection; I
fell senseless on the ground.
When I recovered I found myself surrounded by the people of the inn; their
countenances expressed a breathless terror, but the horror of others appeared
only as a mockery, a shadow of the feelings that oppressed me. I escaped from
them to the room where lay the body of Elizabeth, my love, my wife, so lately
living, so dear, so worthy. She had been moved from the posture in which I had
first beheld her, and now, as she lay, her head upon her arm and a
handkerchief thrown across her face and neck, I might have supposed her
asleep. I rushed towards her and embraced her with ardour, but the deadly
languor and coldness of the limbs told me that what I now held in my arms had
ceased to be the Elizabeth whom I had loved and cherished. The murderous mark
of the fiend's grasp was on her neck, and the breath had ceased to issue from
While I still hung over her in the agony of despair, I happened to look up.
The windows of the room had before been darkened, and I felt a kind of panic
on seeing the pale yellow light of the moon illuminate the chamber. The
shutters had been thrown back, and with a sensation of horror not to be
described, I saw at the open window a figure the most hideous and abhorred. A
grin was on the face of the monster; he seemed to jeer, as with his fiendish
finger he pointed towards the corpse of my wife. I rushed towards the window,
and drawing a pistol from my bosom, fired; but he eluded me, leaped from his
station, and running with the swiftness of lightning, plunged into the lake.
The report of the pistol brought a crowd into the room. I pointed to the spot
where he had disappeared, and we followed the track with boats; nets were
cast, but in vain. After passing several hours, we returned hopeless, most of
my companions believing it to have been a form conjured up by my fancy. After
having landed, they proceeded to search the country, parties going in
different directions among the woods and vines.
I attempted to accompany them and proceeded a short distance from the house,
but my head whirled round, my steps were like those of a drunken man, I fell
at last in a state of utter exhaustion; a film covered my eyes, and my skin
was parched with the heat of fever. In this state I was carried back and
placed on a bed, hardly conscious of what had happened; my eyes wandered round
the room as if to seek something that I had lost.
After an interval I arose, and as if by instinct, crawled into the room where
the corpse of my beloved lay. There were women weeping around; I hung over it
and joined my sad tears to theirs; all this time no distinct idea presented
itself to my mind, but my thoughts rambled to various subjects, reflecting
confusedly on my misfortunes and their cause. I was bewildered, in a cloud of
wonder and horror. The death of William, the execution of Justine, the murder
of Clerval, and lastly of my wife; even at that moment I knew not that my only
remaining friends were safe from the malignity of the fiend; my father even
now might be writhing under his grasp, and Ernest might be dead at his feet.
This idea made me shudder and recalled me to action. I started up and resolved
to return to Geneva with all possible speed.
There were no horses to be procured, and I must return by the lake; but the
wind was unfavourable, and the rain fell in torrents. However, it was hardly
morning, and I might reasonably hope to arrive by night. I hired men to row
and took an oar myself, for I had always experienced relief from mental
torment in bodily exercise. But the overflowing misery I now felt, and the
excess of agitation that I endured rendered me incapable of any exertion. I
threw down the oar, and leaning my head upon my hands, gave way to every
gloomy idea that arose. If I looked up, I saw scenes which were familiar to me
in my happier time and which I had contemplated but the day before in the
company of her who was now but a shadow and a recollection. Tears streamed
from my eyes. The rain had ceased for a moment, and I saw the fish play in the
waters as they had done a few hours before; they had then been observed by
Elizabeth. Nothing is so painful to the human mind as a great and sudden
change. The sun might shine or the clouds might lower, but nothing could
appear to me as it had done the day before. A fiend had snatched from me every
hope of future happiness; no creature had ever been so miserable as I was; so
frightful an event is single in the history of man.
But why should I dwell upon the incidents that followed this last overwhelming
event? Mine has been a tale of horrors; I have reached their acme, and what I
must now relate can but be tedious to you. Know that, one by one, my friends
were snatched away; I was left desolate. My own strength is exhausted, and I
must tell, in a few words, what remains of my hideous narration.
I arrived at Geneva. My father and Ernest yet lived, but the former sunk under
the tidings that I bore. I see him now, excellent and venerable old man! His
eyes wandered in vacancy, for they had lost their charm and their delight--his
Elizabeth, his more than daughter, whom he doted on with all that affection
which a man feels, who in the decline of life, having few affections, clings
more earnestly to those that remain. Cursed, cursed be the fiend that brought
misery on his grey hairs and doomed him to waste in wretchedness! He could not
live under the horrors that were accumulated around him; the springs of
existence suddenly gave way; he was unable to rise from his bed, and in a few
days he died in my arms.
What then became of me? I know not; I lost sensation, and chains and darkness
were the only objects that pressed upon me. Sometimes, indeed, I dreamt that I
wandered in flowery meadows and pleasant vales with the friends of my youth,
but I awoke and found myself in a dungeon. Melancholy followed, but by degrees
I gained a clear conception of my miseries and situation and was then released
from my prison. For they had called me mad, and during many months, as I
understood, a solitary cell had been my habitation.
Liberty, however, had been a useless gift to me, had I not, as I awakened to
reason, at the same time awakened to revenge. As the memory of past
misfortunes pressed upon me, I began to reflect on their cause--the monster
whom I had created, the miserable daemon whom I had sent abroad into the world
for my destruction. I was possessed by a maddening rage when I thought of him,
and desired and ardently prayed that I might have him within my grasp to wreak
a great and signal revenge on his cursed head.
Nor did my hate long confine itself to useless wishes; I began to reflect on
the best means of securing him; and for this purpose, about a month after my
release, I repaired to a criminal judge in the town and told him that I had an
accusation to make, that I knew the destroyer of my family, and that I
required him to exert his whole authority for the apprehension of the
The magistrate listened to me with attention and kindness. "Be assured, sir,"
said he, "no pains or exertions on my part shall be spared to discover the
"I thank you," replied I; "listen, therefore, to the deposition that I have to
make. It is indeed a tale so strange that I should fear you would not credit
it were there not something in truth which, however wonderful, forces
conviction. The story is too connected to be mistaken for a dream, and I have
no motive for falsehood." My manner as I thus addressed him was impressive but
calm; I had formed in my own heart a resolution to pursue my destroyer to
death, and this purpose quieted my agony and for an interval reconciled me to
life. I now related my history briefly but with firmness and precision,
marking the dates with accuracy and never deviating into invective or
The magistrate appeared at first perfectly incredulous, but as I continued he
became more attentive and interested; I saw him sometimes shudder with horror;
at others a lively surprise, unmingled with disbelief, was painted on his
When I had concluded my narration, I said, "This is the being whom I accuse
and for whose seizure and punishment I call upon you to exert your whole
power. It is your duty as a magistrate, and I believe and hope that your
feelings as a man will not revolt from the execution of those functions on
This address caused a considerable change in the physiognomy of my own
auditor. He had heard my story with that half kind of belief that is given to
a tale of spirits and supernatural events; but when he was called upon to act
officially in consequence, the whole tide of his incredulity returned. He,
however, answered mildly, "I would willingly afford you every aid in your
pursuit, but the creature of whom you speak appears to have powers which would
put all my exertions to defiance. Who can follow an animal which can traverse
the sea of ice and inhabit caves and dens where no man would venture to
intrude? Besides, some months have elapsed since the commission of his crimes,
and no one can conjecture to what place he has wandered or what region he may
"I do not doubt that he hovers near the spot which I inhabit, and if he has
indeed taken refuge in the Alps, he may be hunted like the chamois and
destroyed as a beast of prey. But I perceive your thoughts; you do not credit
my narrative and do not intend to pursue my enemy with the punishment which is
As I spoke, rage sparkled in my eyes; the magistrate was intimidated. "You are
mistaken," said he. "I will exert myself, and if it is in my power to seize
the monster, be assured that he shall suffer punishment proportionate to his
crimes. But I fear, from what you have yourself described to be his
properties, that this will prove impracticable; and thus, while every proper
measure is pursued, you should make up your mind to disappointment."
"That cannot be; but all that I can say will be of little avail. My revenge is
of no moment to you; yet, while I allow it to be a vice, I confess that it is
the devouring and only passion of my soul. My rage is unspeakable when I
reflect that the murderer, whom I have turned loose upon society, still
exists. You refuse my just demand; I have but one resource, and I devote
myself, either in my life or death, to his destruction."
I trembled with excess of agitation as I said this; there was a frenzy in my
manner, and something, I doubt not, of that haughty fierceness which the
martyrs of old are said to have possessed. But to a Genevan magistrate, whose
mind was occupied by far other ideas than those of devotion and heroism, this
elevation of mind had much the appearance of madness. He endeavoured to soothe
me as a nurse does a child and reverted to my tale as the effects of delirium.
"Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom! Cease; you know
not what it is you say."
I broke from the house angry and disturbed and retired to meditate on some
other mode of action.