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myself free; but, being large and heavy as I am, this was wholly impossible. Indeed, the chair
seemed to hold me as though it had been fitted to my body, and I filled my bonds without an inch of room to spare.
Of course my first impulse, after the whole horror of the situation had forced itself upon me, was to struggle to release myself. I prolonged my efforts with frantic persistence until the perspiration streamed from every pore-cold as the weather was-and until I was thoroughly exhausted, but without relieving my position in the smallest degree. After every conceivable endeavour, after exercising my strength and ingenuity to the utmost, I still remained as at first, helplessly bound, hopelessly gagged.
I had been primarily excited to try and release myself by the desire of assisting that poor little man, who had been struck down before my eyes so suddenly, so strangely, and so awfully; but I soon began almost to forget him in alarm for my own case. Clearly I must remain where I was until somebody came to the rescue, nor could I shout to summon aid, or make any noise sufficient to attract attention.
I remembered that Mr. Masseter had told me he was alone in the house. His servants had gone away to make holiday with their friends, and he himself had just been going off somewhere when I arrived. Yet, surely, I thought somebody would come to the house before long; some servant would return, some tradesman or messenger at least would call presently, and I should be relieved. Surely, I argued with myself, here, in the very heart of London, I could not remain undiscovered.
Much as I pitied the unfortunate object before me, the outlines
of whose figure I could just perceive through the gathering gloom -for by this time the light had waned very much-deeply though I deplored his sudden and fearful fate, my mind was now fully occupied with my own personal con
I thought of the party that was expecting me, whose members would shortly be commencing their Christmas-eve festivities, probably with much wonder at my non-appearance, and, likely enough, with plenty of jests at the expense of the laggard. When-O, when !might I expect to join them? There was a disagreeable apprehension stealing into my head that was momentarily increasing into a terrifying certainty. The morrow was Christmas day, and the day following was Sunday. Doubtless the dentist's servants had received leave of absence until Monday, or perhaps till Tuesday. These were days on which there would be no likelihood of tradesmen, patients, or other callers coming to the house, and consequently but small chance of any one discovering my situation. My prospect of liberty, therefore, depended on myself, or on my succeeding in attracting the attention of some passer-by in the street. It was a horrible conclusion to arrive at, just as I was panting with the futile efforts I had already made to release myself.
Again, and yet again, I strove and fought for liberty; struggling until my wrists were swelled and raw, until my arms were strained as if they had been drawn out upon the rack, until every muscle of my body and limbs seemed wrenched and torn. The muscles of my cheeks and throat were cramped and painful; my lips and tongue became swollen, tense, and bled with the strenuous efforts I made to eject that infernal spoonful of
plaster from my mouth. And when exhaustion and torture precluded all further attempts, I found all had been to no purpose-I had not gained an inch. Weakened and racked with pain, I lay in my bondage; and I am not ashamed to say that tears of despair and mortification welled from my eyes as, half choked and panting, I lay there in the darkness.
Now commenced a time in which my suffering was so acute that the living reality of it seems present with me still. That period of horrible anguish has left an ineffaceable brand upon my memory that will remain with me always. I may as well tell you at this point of my tale that I remained a prisoner until late on the Monday following-only some seventy short hours in all, but, O God, hours that to me seemed unending years!
I cannot describe to you separately each hour as it passed, each night or each day; that first night was, perhaps, the easiest of all. Gagged and bound to that fearful chair, I reclined a tortured prisoner. Prostrated by unusual exertion, my body and limbs were alternately numbed with cold or seized with cramps that would have caused me to scream if I had had the power to do so. By and by I was assailed with intensest thirst, and anon with hunger also; and these, added to the pain I suffered from the immovable constraint of my position, the aching sores and bruises my struggles had left me, and the horrid cramps that griped my limbs, effectually banished all chance of sleep.
But the wretchedness of my physical condition was intensified by the mental misery I endured. Realise my position to yourselves if you can, and you may form some idea of my state of mind. As the slow hours passed on and on, bringing no relief with them,
and my torments grew worse and worse, I began to lose hope, and to harbour apprehensions that I might not be found until too late. Imagine the thinking and thinking I continued to endure all that horrible time, the growing despondency, the utter depression, the sense of isolation there, close to the Strand and Charing Cross, the very centre of London.
And, worst of all, I am a nervous man; and my situation was such as might have wrought upon the courage of the strongest nerved. For do not forget the silent watcher who all the time crouched opposite to me. I could not see him by night, yet I knew he was there; and with the first streaks of daylight came the gradual growing shape, joining itself among the shadows until the dead glassy eyes sprang suddenly out of the gloom and fixed themselves on mine. Though dull and cold, their immovable stare had a weirdly awful expression that fearfully excited my imagination. If I closed my eyes I still seemed to see the ghastly form through the lids; and the unquenchable fixity of that horrible gaze impelled me to turn my eyes to it.
Sounds of life were around me in plenty; and perhaps that may have kept me from going actually mad. It was a quiet street, with little or no traffic through it; but the nervous tension of my faculties made me alive to noises that one would scarcely notice in general. Moreover, after a bit, I began to link the sounds I heard to strange effects of imagination; they became living things to me, and part of the dismal nightmare through which I was passing.
By night I heard the constant chiming of Big Ben and other clocks, the occasional distant rattle of a cab, the solemn tramp of the policeman on his beat, the
voice or song of some returning reveller. Then the jangle of the milkman's cans would usher in the dawn, and gradually life would awake into abundant noise. Then, too, I would be aroused to consciousness of the ghastly sentinel who watched over me; and under the dead fascination of his motionless eyes I would hear the noises of the day. The voices and laughter, the noise of people moving in the street or in the neighbouring houses, seemed unnatural and weird; the jarring and incessant clang of a hundred different church - bells filled me with gloomy thoughts, and powerfully increased the nervous terrors of my fevered mind. There was no cheerful sunshine to exhilarate my senses, but that dim murky fog that London knows so well in winter. And when through it there arose the discordant iteration of street-sellers' cries, it seemed to my imagination, circumstanced as I was, that these were the howls of tormenting fiends.
You see that my mind was becoming distraught as the anguish of my body and the still constraint of my position affected it.
sorts of horrible ideas kept thronging into my brain; and as the hours crept slowly on, and still my odious captor held his basilisk gaze upon me, and fed on my mental life, was it any wonder that my reason became enthralled like that of one in delirium tremens?
So, what seemed interminable ages wore on, and weaker, with faculties fast becoming more and more estranged under the torture of body and misery of mind, my stay in purgatory drew to a close. It was the Monday afternoon, though I knew it not.
A wild terrifying notion seized me that the body before me had been entered by a demon, whose special mission it was to subject me to greater and yet inconceiv
able torture. Through an endless time I watched the shapeless form, the detestable face, the horrorstriking eyes-watched and waited in all the anguish of prolonged suspense for the awful climax of my doom.
At length came the supreme moment. I saw the dreadful eyes rapidly flicker and move; I saw a red flush spring to the dead man's cheeks, a movement to the lips, a stealthy twitching to the limbs and body. It seemed to me that the moment was come I had been expecting through a lifetime. Without astonishment, but with immense, unutterable, overwhelming horror, I saw the dead man spring lightly to his feet, and, with outstretched arms, move towards me. He spoke the tones were Masseter's, the voice was the demon's. What the words were I know not; they brought to my mind the last tremendous shock of awful fear, under whose appalling terror I happily sank into unconsciousness.
Yes, it was a case of catalepsy, so they told me at the hospital weeks afterwards, when they judged me able to hear of it; for I was long ill with brain-fever as a sequel to my adventure. Mr. Masseter had been subject to fits of this kind formerly, but had supposed his liability to them to have ceased. He told the hospital physicians that he had felt no premonitory symptoms whatever, and that on awakening to consciousness he merely thought he had fallen, neither knowing he had had a fit, nor being sensible of the lapse of time. Finding me ill and in a swoon, he at once released me, and, not succeeding in his efforts to bring me round, feared he knew not what, and bore me off to the nearest hospital. There he discovered the real date of the day, and so became alive to what
had actually occurred. The physicians were much interested in his case, so prolonged a trance being rare, though the usual symptoms of catalepsy were well known to them. The affair made some noise at the time, owing to the singular coincidence of my captivity; and, in consequence of that, and of his own morbid sensibility, poor little Masseter shortly afterwards left Lewis-street. I have not seen him since, nor do I wish to do so; not that I bear him any ill-will -God forbid, poor little man !—
but simply because a sight of his face would too vividly renew my remembrance of an event that, be sides having such a terrible effect upon me at the time, has left its fatal impress upon me for the rest of my life, and has burdened my memory with an ineffaceable nightmare load of horror that I suppose I must carry to my grave.
So ends my tale. If its details appear commonplace to you, at least reflect how terrible and all-absorbing the endurance and memory of them must be to me.
Behind the scenes! Ah, what a change
The monarch's throne a prompter screens ;
Friend Bardolph casts away his nose;
To blithe Burlesque her bowl and dagger.
Fat Falstaff flings his stuffings off;
The supers strut like embryo Keans;
Folks change their moods behind the scenes.
Upon the stage and off 'tis so;
This fabled tale de te narratur.
The Truth's full revelation's later.