Melmoth the Wanderer

Melmoth the Wanderer
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  Melmoth the Wanderer Charles Robert Maturin  Table of Contents Melmoth the Wanderer............................................................................................................................................1 Charles Robert Maturin..................................................................................................................................1 Melmoth the Wandereri  Melmoth the Wanderer Charles Robert Maturin This page copyright © 2001 Blackmask Online.http://www.blackmask.comJohn Melmoth, student at Trinity College, Dublin, having journeyed to County Wicklow for attendance at thedeathbed of his miserly uncle, finds the old man, even in his last moments, tortured by avarice, and by suspicionof all around him. He whispers to John:"I want a glass of wine, it would keep me alive for some hours, but there is not one I can trust to get it forme,−−they'd steal a bottle, and ruin me." John was greatly shocked. "Sir, for God's sake, let ME get a glass of wine for you." "Do you know where?" said the old man, with an expression in his face John could not understand."No, Sir; you know I have been rather a stranger here, Sir." "Take this key," said old Melmoth, after a violentspasm; "take this key, there is wine in that closet,−−Madeira. I always told them there was nothing there, but theydid not believe me, or I should not have been robbed as I have been. At one time I said it was whisky, and then Ifared worse than ever, for they drank twice as much of it."John took the key from his uncle's hand; the dying man pressed it as he did so, and John, interpreting this as amark of kindness, returned the pressure. He was undeceived by the whisper that followed,−−"John, my lad, don'tdrink any of that wine while you are there." "Good God!" said John, indignantly throwing the key on the bed;then, recollecting that the miserable being before him was no object of resentment, he gave the promise required,and entered the closet, which no foot but that of old Melmoth had entered for nearly sixty years. He had somedifficulty in finding out the wine, and indeed stayed long enough to justify his uncle's suspicions,−−but his mindwas agitated, and his hand unsteady. He could not but remark his uncle's extraordinary look, that had theghastliness of fear superadded to that of death, as he gave him permission to enter his closet. He could not but seethe looks of horror which the women exchanged as he approached it. And, finally, when he was in it, his memorywas malicious enough to suggest some faint traces of a story, too horrible for imagination, connected with it. Heremembered in one moment most distinctly, that no one but his uncle had ever been known to enter it for manyyears.Before he quitted it, he held up the dim light, and looked around him with a mixture of terror and curiosity. Therewas a great deal of decayed and useless lumber, such as might be supposed to be heaped up to rot in a miser'scloset; but John's eyes were in a moment, and as if by magic, riveted on a portrait that hung on the wall, andappeared, even to his untaught eye, far superior to the tribe of family pictures that are left to molder on the wallsof a family mansion. It represented a man of middle age. There was nothing remarkable in the costume, or in thecountenance, but THE EYES, John felt, were such as one feels they wish they had never seen, and feels they cannever forget. Had he been acquainted with the poetry of Southey, he might have often exclaimed in his after− life,  "Only the eyes had life, They gleamed with demon light."−−THALABA. From an impulse equally resistless and painful, he approached the portrait, held the candle toward it, and coulddistinguish the words on the border of the painting,−−Jno. Melmoth, anno 1646. John was neither timid by nature,nor nervous by constitution, nor superstitious from habit, yet he continued to gaze in stupid horror on this singularpicture, till, aroused by his uncle's cough, he hurried into his room. The old man swallowed the wine. He appeareda little revived; it was long since he had tasted such a cordial,−−his heart appeared to expand to a momentary Melmoth the Wanderer1  confidence. "John, what did you see in that room?" "Nothing, Sir." "That's a lie; everyone wants to cheat or to robme." "Sir, I don't want to do either." "Well, what did you see that you−−you took notice of?" "Only a picture, Sir.""A picture, Sir!−−the srcinal is still alive." John, though under the impression of his recent feelings, could notbut look incredulous. "John," whispered his uncle;−− "John, they say I am dying of this and that; and one says it isfor want of nourishment, and one says it is for want of medicine,−−but, John," and his face looked hideouslyghastly, "I am dying of a fright. That man," and he extended his meager arm toward the closet, as if he waspointing to a living being; "that man, I have good reason to know, is alive still." "How is that possible, Sir?" saidJohn involuntarily, "the date on the picture is 1646." "You have seen it,−−you have noticed it," said his uncle."Well,"−−he rocked and nodded on his bolster for a moment, then, grasping John's hand with an unutterable look,he exclaimed, "You will see him again, he is alive." Then, sinking back on his bolster, he fell into a kind of sleepor stupor, his eyes still open, and fixed on John.The house was now perfectly silent, and John had time and space for reflection. More thoughts came crowding onhim than he wished to welcome, but they would not be repulsed. He thought of his uncle's habits and character,turned the matter over and over again in his mind, and he said to himself, "The last man on earth to besuperstitious. He never thought of anything but the price of stocks, and the rate of exchange, and my collegeexpenses, that hung heavier at his heart than all; and such a man to die of a fright,−−a ridiculous fright, that a manliving 150 years ago is alive still, and yet−−he is dying." John paused, for facts will confute the most stubbornlogician. "With all his hardness of mind, and of heart, he is dying of a fright. I heard it in the kitchen, I have heardit from himself,−−he could not be deceived. If I had ever heard he was nervous, or fanciful, or superstitious, but acharacter so contrary to all these impressions;−−a man that, as poor Butler says, in his 'Remains of theAntiquarian,' would have 'sold Christ over again for the numerical piece of silver which Judas got for him,'−−sucha man to die of fear! Yet he IS dying," said John, glancing his fearful eye on the contracted nostril, the glazed eye,the drooping jaw, the whole horrible apparatus of the facies Hippocraticae displayed, and soon to cease itsdisplay.Old Melmoth at this moment seemed to be in a deep stupor; his eyes lost that little expression they had before,and his hands, that had convulsively been catching at the blankets, let go their short and quivering grasp, and layextended on the bed like the claws of some bird that had died of hunger,−−so meager, so yellow, so spread. John,unaccustomed to the sight of death, believed this to be only a sign that he was going to sleep; and, urged by animpulse for which he did not attempt to account to himself, caught up the miserable light, and once more venturedinto the forbidden room,−− the BLUE CHAMBER of the dwelling. The motion roused the dying man;−−he satbolt upright in his bed. This John could not see, for he was now in the closet; but he heard the groan, or rather thechoked and gurgling rattle of the throat, that announces the horrible conflict between muscular and mentalconvulsion. He started, turned away; but, as he turned away, he thought he saw the eyes of the portrait, on whichhis own was fixed, MOVE, and hurried back to his uncle's bedside.Old Melmoth died in the course of that night, and died as he had lived, in a kind of avaricious delirium. Johncould not have imagined a scene so horrible as his last hours presented. He cursed and blasphemed about threehalfpence, missing, as he said, some weeks before, in an account of change with his groom, about hay to a starvedhorse that he kept. Then he grasped John's hand, and asked him to give him the sacrament. "If I send to theclergyman, he will charge me something for it, which I cannot pay,−− I cannot. They say I am rich,−−look at thisblanket;−−but I would not mind that, if I could save my soul." And, raving, he added, "Indeed, Doctor, I am avery poor man. I never troubled a clergyman before, and all I want is, that you will grant me two trifling requests,very little matters in your way,−−save my soul, and (whispering) make interest to get me a parish coffin,−−I havenot enough left to bury me. I always told everyone I was poor, but the more I told them so, the less they believedme."John, greatly shocked, retired from the bedside, and sat down in a distant corner of the room. The women wereagain in the room, which was very dark. Melmoth was silent from exhaustion, and there was a deathlike pause forsome time. At this moment John saw the door open, and a figure appear at it, who looked round the room, and Melmoth the WandererMelmoth the Wanderer2  then quietly and deliberately retired, but not before John had discovered in his face the living srcinal of theportrait. His first impulse was to utter an exclamation of terror, but his breath felt stopped. He was then rising topursue the figure, but a moment's reflection checked him. What could be more absurd, than to be alarmed oramazed at a resemblance between a living man and the portrait of a dead one! The likeness was doubtless strongenough to strike him even in that darkened room, but it was doubtless only a likeness; and though it might beimposing enough to terrify an old man of gloomy and retired habits, and with a broken constitution, John resolvedit should not produce the same effect on him.But while he was applauding himself for this resolution, the door opened, and the figure appeared at it, beckoningand nodding to him, with a familiarity somewhat terrifying. John now started up, determined to pursue it; but thepursuit was stopped by the weak but shrill cries of his uncle, who was struggling at once with the agonies of deathand his housekeeper. The poor woman, anxious for her master's reputation and her own, was trying to put on hima clean shirt and nightcap, and Melmoth, who had just sensation enough to perceive they were taking somethingfrom him, continued exclaiming feebly, "They are robbing me,−−robbing me in my last moments,−−robbing adying man. John, won't you assist me,−−I shall die a beggar; they are taking my last shirt,−−I shall die abeggar."−−And the miser died.. . . . .A few days after the funeral, the will was opened before proper witnesses, and John was found to be left sole heirto his uncle's property, which, though srcinally moderate, had, by his grasping habits, and parsimonious life,become very considerable.As the attorney who read the will concluded, he added, "There are some words here, at the corner of theparchment, which do not appear to be part of the will, as they are neither in the form of a codicil, nor is thesignature of the testator affixed to them; but, to the best of my belief, they are in the handwriting of the deceased."As he spoke he showed the lines to Melmoth, who immediately recognized his uncle's hand (that perpendicularand penurious hand, that seems determined to make the most of the very paper, thriftily abridging every word, andleaving scarce an atom of margin), and read, not without some emotion, the following words: "I enjoin mynephew and heir, John Melmoth, to remove, destroy, or cause to be destroyed, the portrait inscribed J. Melmoth,1646, hanging in my closet. I also enjoin him to search for a manuscript, which I think he will find in the third andlowest left−hand drawer of the mahogany chest standing under that portrait,−−it is among some papers of novalue, such as manuscript sermons, and pamphlets on the improvement of Ireland, and such stuff; he willdistinguish it by its being tied round with a black tape, and the paper being very moldy and discolored. He mayread it if he will;−−I think he had better not. At all events, I adjure him, if there be any power in the adjuration of a dying man, to burn it."After reading this singular memorandum, the business of the meeting was again resumed; and as old Melmoth'swill was very clear and legally worded, all was soon settled, the party dispersed, and John Melmoth was leftalone.. . . . .He resolutely entered the closet, shut the door, and proceeded to search for the manuscript. It was soon found, forthe directions of old Melmoth were forcibly written, and strongly remembered. The manuscript, old, tattered, anddiscolored, was taken from the very drawer in which it was mentioned to be laid. Melmoth's hands felt as cold asthose of his dead uncle, when he drew the blotted pages from their nook. He sat down to read,−−there was a deadsilence through the house. Melmoth looked wistfully at the candles, snuffed them, and still thought they lookeddim, (perchance he thought they burned blue, but such thought he kept to himself). Certain it is, he often changedhis posture, and would have changed his chair, had there been more than one in the apartment. Melmoth the WandererMelmoth the Wanderer3
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