The Fall of the House of Usher

By Edgar Poe

Son cœur est un luth suspendu;
Sitôt qu’on le touche il résonne.

– De Béranger

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the
autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low
in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback,
through a singularly dreary tract of country, and at length
found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within
view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it
was—but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of
insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for
the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable,
because poetic, sentiment with which the mind usually
receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or
terrible. I looked upon the scene before me—upon the mere
house, and the simple landscape features of the domain—
upon the bleak walls—upon the vacant eye-like windows—
upon a few rank sedges—and upon a few white trunks of
decayed trees—with an utter depression of soul which I can
compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the
after-dream of the reveller upon opium—the bitter lapse into
every-day life—the hideous dropping off of the veil. There
was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart—an
unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the
imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What
was it—I paused to think—what was it that so unnerved me
in the contemplation of the House of Usher? It was a mystery
all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies
that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall
back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond
doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects
which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis
of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It
was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement
of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture,
would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its
capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea,
I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and
lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and
gazed down—but with a shudder even more thrilling than
before—upon the remodelled and inverted images of the
gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and
eye-like windows.

Nevertheless, in this mansion of gloom I now proposed
to myself a sojourn of some weeks. Its proprietor, Roderick
Usher, had been one of my boon companions in boyhood;
but many years had elapsed since our last meeting. A letter,
however, had lately reached me in a distant part of the
country—a letter from him—which, in its wildly
importunate nature, had admitted of no other than a personal
reply. The MS. gave evidence of nervous agitation. The
writer spoke of acute bodily illness—of a mental disorder
which oppressed him—and of an earnest desire to see me, as
his best and indeed his only personal friend, with a view of
attempting, by the cheerfulness of my society, some
alleviation of his malady. It was the manner in which all this,
and much more, was said—it was the apparent heart that
went with his request—which allowed me no room for
hesitation; and I accordingly obeyed forthwith what I still
considered a very singular summons.

Although, as boys, we had been even intimate
associates, yet I really knew little of my friend. His reserve
had been always excessive and habitual. I was aware,
however, that his very ancient family had been noted, time
out of mind, for a peculiar sensibility of temperament,
displaying itself, through long ages, in many works of
exalted art, and manifested, of late, in repeated deeds of
munificent yet unobtrusive charity, as well as in a passionate
devotion to the intricacies, perhaps even more than to the
orthodox and easily recognizable beauties, of musical
science. I had learned, too, the very remarkable fact, that the
stem of the Usher race, all time-honored as it was, had put
forth, at no period, any enduring branch; in other words, that
the entire family lay in the direct line of descent, and had
always, with very trifling and very temporary variation, so
lain. It was this deficiency, I considered, while running over
in thought the perfect keeping of the character of the
premises with the accredited character of the people, and
while speculating upon the possible influence which the one,
in the long lapse of centuries, might have exercised upon the
other—it was this deficiency, perhaps, of collateral issue,
and the consequent undeviating transmission, from sire to
son, of the patrimony with the name, which had, at length, so
identified the two as to merge the original title of the estate
in the quaint and equivocal appellation of the “House of
Usher”—an appellation which seemed to include, in the
minds of the peasantry who used it, both the family and the
family mansion.

I have said that the sole effect of my somewhat childish
experiment—that of looking down within the tarn—had been
to deepen the first singular impression. There can be no
doubt that the consciousness of the rapid increase of my
superstition—for why should I not so term it?—served
mainly to accelerate the increase itself. Such, I have long
known, is the paradoxical law of all sentiments having terror
as a basis. And it might have been for this reason only, that,
when I again uplifted my eyes to the house itself, from its
image in the pool, there grew in my mind a strange fancy—a
fancy so ridiculous, indeed, that I but mention it to show the
vivid force of the sensations which oppressed me. I had so
worked upon my imagination as really to believe that about
the whole mansion and domain there hung an atmosphere
peculiar to themselves and their immediate vicinity—an
atmosphere which had no affinity with the air of heaven, but
which had reeked up from the decayed trees, and the gray
wall, and the silent tarn—a pestilent and mystic vapor, dull,
sluggish, faintly discernible, and leaden-hued.

Shaking off from my spirit what must have been a
dream, I scanned more narrowly the real aspect of the
building. Its principal feature seemed to be that of an
excessive antiquity. The discoloration of ages had been
great. Minute fungi overspread the whole exterior, hanging
in a fine tangled web-work from the eaves. Yet all this was
apart from any extraordinary dilapidation. No portion of the
masonry had fallen; and there appeared to be a wild
inconsistency between its still perfect adaptation of parts,
and the crumbling condition of the individual stones. In this
there was much that reminded me of the specious totality of
old wood-work which has rotted for long years in some
neglected vault, with no disturbance from the breath of the
external air. Beyond this indication of extensive decay,
however, the fabric gave little token of instability. Perhaps
the eye of a scrutinizing observer might have discovered a
barely perceptible fissure, which, extending from the roof of
the building in front, made its way down the wall in a zigzag
direction, until it became lost in the sullen waters of the tarn.

Noticing these things, I rode over a short causeway to
the house. A servant in waiting took my horse, and I entered
the Gothic archway of the hall. A valet, of stealthy step,
thence conducted me, in silence, through many dark and
intricate passages in my progress to the studio of his master.
Much that I encountered on the way contributed, I know not
how, to heighten the vague sentiments of which I have
already spoken. While the objects around me—while the
carvings of the ceilings, the sombre tapestries of the walls,
the ebon blackness of the floors, and the phantasmagoric
armorial trophies which rattled as I strode, were but matters
to which, or to such as which, I had been accustomed from
my infancy—while I hesitated not to acknowledge how
familiar was all this—I still wondered to find how unfamiliar
were the fancies which ordinary images were stirring up. On
one of the staircases, I met the physician of the family. His
countenance, I thought, wore a mingled expression of low
cunning and perplexity. He accosted me with trepidation and
passed on. The valet now threw open a door and ushered me
into the presence of his master.

The room in which I found myself was very large and
lofty. The windows were long, narrow, and pointed, and at
so vast a distance from the black oaken floor as to be
altogether inaccessible from within. Feeble gleams of
encrimsoned light made their way through the trellised
panes, and served to render sufficiently distinct the more
prominent objects around; the eye, however, struggled in
vain to reach the remoter angles of the chamber, or the
recesses of the vaulted and fretted ceiling. Dark draperies
hung upon the walls. The general furniture was profuse,
comfortless, antique, and tattered. Many books and musical
instruments lay scattered about, but failed to give any vitality
to the scene. I felt that I breathed an atmosphere of sorrow.
An air of stern, deep, and irredeemable gloom hung over and
pervaded all.

Upon my entrance, Usher arose from a sofa on which he
had been lying at full length, and greeted me with a
vivacious warmth which had much in it, I at first thought, of
an overdone cordiality—of the constrained effort of the
ennuyé man of the world. A glance, however, at his
countenance convinced me of his perfect sincerity. We sat
down; and for some moments, while he spoke not, I gazed
upon him with a feeling half of pity, half of awe. Surely, man
had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as
had Roderick Usher! It was with difficulty that I could bring
myself to admit the identity of the wan being before me with
the companion of my early boyhood. Yet the character of his
face had been at all times remarkable. A cadaverousness of
complexion; an eye large, liquid, and luminous beyond
comparison; lips somewhat thin and very pallid but of a
surpassingly beautiful curve; a nose of a delicate Hebrew
model, but with a breadth of nostril unusual in similar
formations; a finely moulded chin, speaking, in its want of
prominence, of a want of moral energy; hair of a more than
web-like softness and tenuity;—these features, with an
inordinate expansion above the regions of the temple, made
up altogether a countenance not easily to be forgotten. And
now in the mere exaggeration of the prevailing character of
these features, and of the expression they were wont to
convey, lay so much of change that I doubted to whom I
spoke. The now ghastly pallor of the skin, and the now
miraculous lustre of the eye, above all things startled and
even awed me. The silken hair, too, had been suffered to
grow all unheeded, and as, in its wild gossamer texture, it
floated rather than fell about the face, I could not, even with
effort, connect its Arabesque expression with any idea of
simple humanity.

In the manner of my friend I was at once struck with an
incoherence—an inconsistency; and I soon found this to
arise from a series of feeble and futile struggles to overcome
an habitual trepidancy—an excessive nervous agitation. For
something of this nature I had indeed been prepared, no less
by his letter, than by reminiscences of certain boyish traits,
and by conclusions deduced from his peculiar physical
conformation and temperament. His action was alternately
vivacious and sullen. His voice varied rapidly from a
tremulous indecision (when the animal spirits seemed utterly
in abeyance) to that species of energetic concision—that
abrupt, weighty, unhurried, and hollow-sounding
enunciation—that leaden, self-balanced and perfectly
modulated guttural utterance, which may be observed in the
lost drunkard, or the irreclaimable eater of opium, during the
periods of his most intense excitement.

It was thus that he spoke of the object of my visit, of his
earnest desire to see me, and of the solace he expected me to
afford him. He entered, at some length, into what he
conceived to be the nature of his malady. It was, he said, a
constitutional and a family evil, and one for which he
despaired to find a remedy—a mere nervous affection, he
immediately added, which would undoubtedly soon pass off.
It displayed itself in a host of unnatural sensations. Some of
these, as he detailed them, interested and bewildered me;
although, perhaps, the terms and the general manner of their
narration had their weight. He suffered much from a morbid
acuteness of the senses; the most insipid food was alone
endurable; he could wear only garments of certain texture;
the odors of all flowers were oppressive; his eyes were
tortured by even a faint light; and there were but peculiar
sounds, and these from stringed instruments, which did not
inspire him with horror.

To an anomalous species of terror I found him a
bounden slave. “I shall perish,” said he, “I must perish in this
deplorable folly. Thus, thus, and not otherwise, shall I be
lost. I dread the events of the future, not in themselves, but in
their results. I shudder at the thought of any, even the most
trivial, incident, which may operate upon this intolerable
agitation of soul. I have, indeed, no abhorrence of danger,
except in its absolute effect—in terror. In this unnerved, in
this pitiable, condition I feel that the period will sooner or
later arrive when I must abandon life and reason together, in
some struggle with the grim phantasm, FEAR.”

I learned, moreover, at intervals, and through broken
and equivocal hints, another singular feature of his mental
condition. He was enchained by certain superstitious
impressions in regard to the dwelling which he tenanted, and
whence, for many years, he had never ventured forth—in
regard to an influence whose supposititious force was
conveyed in terms too shadowy here to be re-stated—an
influence which some peculiarities in the mere form and
substance of his family mansion had, by dint of long
sufferance, he said, obtained over his spirit—an effect which
the physique of the gray walls and turrets, and of the dim tarn
into which they all looked down, had, at length, brought
about upon the morale of his existence.

He admitted, however, although with hesitation, that
much of the peculiar gloom which thus afflicted him could
be traced to a more natural and far more palpable origin—to
the severe and long-continued illness—indeed to the
evidently approaching dissolution—of a tenderly beloved
sister, his sole companion for long years, his last and only
relative on earth. “Her decease,” he said, with a bitterness
which I can never forget, “would leave him (him the
hopeless and the frail) the last of the ancient race of the
Ushers.” While he spoke, the lady Madeline (for so was she
called) passed through a remote portion of the apartment,
and, without having noticed my presence, disappeared. I
regarded her with an utter astonishment not unmingled with
dread; and yet I found it impossible to account for such
feelings. A sensation of stupor oppressed me as my eyes
followed her retreating steps. When a door, at length, closed
upon her, my glance sought instinctively and eagerly the
countenance of the brother; but he had buried his face in his
hands, and I could only perceive that a far more than
ordinary wanness had overspread the emaciated fingers
through which trickled many passionate tears.

The disease of the lady Madeline had long baffled the
skill of her physicians. A settled apathy, a gradual wasting
away of the person, and frequent although transient
affections of a partially cataleptical character were the
unusual diagnosis. Hitherto she had steadily borne up against
the pressure of her malady, and had not betaken herself
finally to bed; but on the closing in of the evening of my
arrival at the house, she succumbed (as her brother told me at
night with inexpressible agitation) to the prostrating power
of the destroyer; and I learned that the glimpse I had
obtained of her person would thus probably be the last I
should obtain—that the lady, at least while living, would be
seen by me no more.

For several days ensuing, her name was unmentioned
by either Usher or myself; and during this period I was
busied in earnest endeavors to alleviate the melancholy of
my friend. We painted and read together, or I listened, as if
in a dream, to the wild improvisations of his speaking guitar.
And thus, as a closer and still closer intimacy admitted me
more unreservedly into the recesses of his spirit, the more
bitterly did I perceive the futility of all attempt at cheering a
mind from which darkness, as if an inherent positive quality,
poured forth upon all objects of the moral and physical
universe in one unceasing radiation of gloom.

I shall ever bear about me a memory of the many
solemn hours I thus spent alone with the master of the House
of Usher. Yet I should fail in any attempt to convey an idea
of the exact character of the studies, or of the occupations, in
which he involved me, or led me the way. An excited and
highly distempered ideality threw a sulphureous lustre over
all. His long improvised dirges will ring forever in my ears.
Among other things, I hold painfully in mind a certain
singular perversion and amplification of the wild air of the
last waltz of Von Weber. From the paintings over which his
elaborate fancy brooded, and which grew, touch by touch,
into vagueness at which I shuddered the more thrillingly,
because I shuddered knowing not why—from these paintings
(vivid as their images now are before me) I would in vain
endeavor to educe more than a small portion which should
lie within the compass of merely written words. By the utter
simplicity, by the nakedness of his designs, he arrested and
overawed attention. If ever mortal painted an idea, that
mortal was Roderick Usher. For me at least, in the
circumstances then surrounding me, there arose out of the
pure abstractions which the hypochondriac contrived to
throw upon his canvas, an intensity of intolerable awe, no
shadow of which felt I ever yet in the contemplation of the
certainly glowing yet too concrete reveries of Fuseli.

One of the phantasmagoric conceptions of my friend,
partaking not so rigidly of the spirit of abstraction, may be
shadowed forth, although feebly, in words. A small picture
presented the interior of an immensely long and rectangular
vault or tunnel, with low walls, smooth, white, and without
interruption or device. Certain accessory points of the design
served well to convey the idea that this excavation lay at an
exceeding depth below the surface of the earth. No outlet
was observed in any portion of its vast extent, and no torch
or other artificial source of light was discernible; yet a flood
of intense rays rolled throughout, and bathed the whole in a
ghastly and inappropriate splendor.

I have just spoken of that morbid condition of the
auditory nerve which rendered all music intolerable to the
sufferer, with the exception of certain effects of stringed
instruments. It was, perhaps, the narrow limits to which he
thus confined himself upon the guitar which gave birth, in
great measure, to the fantastic character of his performances.
But the fervid facility of his impromptus could not be so
accounted for. They must have been, and were, in the notes,
as well as in the words of his wild fantasias (for he not
unfrequently accompanied himself with rhymed verbal
improvisations), the result of that intense mental
collectedness and concentration to which I have previously
alluded as observable only in particular moments of the
highest artificial excitement. The words of one of these
rhapsodies I have easily remembered. I was, perhaps, the
more forcibly impressed with it as he gave it, because, in the
under or mystic current of its meaning, I fancied that I
perceived, and for the first time, a full consciousness on the
part of Usher of the tottering of his lofty reason upon her
throne. The verses, which were entitled “The Haunted
Palace,” ran very nearly, if not accurately, thus:—

In the greenest of our valleys,
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace—
Radiant palace—reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion—
It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow
(This—all this—was in the olden
Time long ago);
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
Through two luminous windows saw
Spirits moving musically
To a lute’s well-tunèd law;
Round about a throne, where sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch’s high estate;
(Ah, let us mourn, for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him, desolate!)
And, round about his home, the glory
That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers now within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
To a discordant melody;
While, like a rapid ghastly river,
Through the pale door,
A hideous throng rush out forever,
And laugh—but smile no more.

I well remember that suggestions arising from this
ballad led us into a train of thought wherein there became
manifest an opinion of Usher’s which I mention not so much
on account of its novelty (for other men have thought thus),
as on account of the pertinacity with which he maintained it.
This opinion, in its general form, was that of the sentience of
all vegetable things. But, in his disordered fancy, the idea
had assumed a more daring character, and trespassed, under
certain conditions, upon the kingdom of inorganization. I
lack words to express the full extent, or the earnest abandon
of his persuasion. The belief, however, was connected (as I
have previously hinted) with the gray stones of the home of
his forefathers. The conditions of the sentience had been
here, he imagined, fulfilled in the method of collocation of
these stones—in the order of their arrangement, as well as in
that of the many fungi which overspread them, and of the
decayed trees which stood around—above all, in the long
undisturbed endurance of this arrangement, and in it
reduplication in the still waters of the tarn. Its evidence—the
evidence of the sentience—was to be seen, he said, (and I
here started as he spoke), in the gradual yet certain
condensation of an atmosphere of their own about the waters
and the walls. The result was discoverable, he added, in that
silent yet importunate and terrible influence which for
centuries had moulded the destinies of his family, and which
made him what I now saw him—what he was. Such opinions
need no comment, and I will make none.

Our books—the books which, for years, had formed no
small portion of the mental existence of the invalid—were,
as might be supposed, in strict keeping with this character of
phantasm. We pored together over such works as the
“Ververt et Chartreuse” of Gresset; the “Belphegor” of
Machiavelli; the “Heaven and Hell” of Swedenborg; the
“Subterranean Voyage of Nicholas Klimm” by Holberg; the
“Chiromancy” of Robert Flud, of Jean D’Indaginé, and of De
la Chambre; the “Journey into the Blue Distance” of Tieck;
and the “City of the Sun” of Campanella. One favorite
volume was a small octavo edition of the “Directorium
Inquisitorium,” by the Dominican Eymeric de Gironne; and
there were passages in Pomponius Mela, about the old
African Satyrs and Œgipans, over which Usher would sit
dreaming for hours. His chief delight, however, was found in
the perusal of an exceedingly rare and curious book in quarto
Gothic—the manual of a forgotten church—the Vigiliæ
Mortuorum Secundum Chorum Ecclesiæ Maguntinæ

I could not help thinking of the wild ritual of this work,
and of its probable influence upon the hypochondriac, when,
one evening, having informed me abruptly that the lady
Madeline was no more, he stated his intention of preserving
her corpse for a fortnight (previously to its final interment),
in one of the numerous vaults within the main walls of the
building. The worldly reason, however, assigned for this
singular proceeding, was one which I did not feel at liberty
to dispute. The brother had been led to his resolution (so he
told me) by consideration of the unusual character of the
malady of the deceased, of certain obtrusive and eager
inquiries on the part of her medical men, and of the remote
and exposed situation of the burial-ground of the family. I
will not deny that when I called to mind the sinister
countenance of the person whom I met upon the staircase, on
the day of my arrival at the house, I had no desire to oppose
what I regarded as at best but a harmless, and by no means
an unnatural precaution.

At the request of Usher, I personally aided him in the
arrangements for the temporary entombment. The body
having been encoffined, we two alone bore it to its rest. The
vault in which we placed it (and which had been so long
unopened that our torches, half smothered in its oppressive
atmosphere, gave us little opportunity for investigation) was
small, damp, and entirely without means of admission for
light; lying, at great depth, immediately beneath that portion
of the building in which was my own sleeping apartment. It
had been used, apparently, in remote feudal times, for the
worst purposes of a donjon-keep, and, in later days, as a
place of deposit for powder, or some other highly
combustible substance, as a portion of its floor, and the
whole interior of a long archway through which we reached
it, were carefully sheathed with copper. The door, of massive
iron, had been, also, similarly protected. Its immense weight
caused an unusually sharp, grating sound, as it moved upon
its hinges.

Having deposited our mournful burden upon tressels
within this region of horror, we partially turned aside the yet
unscrewed lid of the coffin, and looked upon the face of the
tenant. A striking similitude between the brother and sister
now first arrested my attention; and Usher, divining, perhaps,
my thoughts, murmured out some few words from which I
learned that the deceased and himself had been twins, and
that sympathies of a scarcely intelligible nature had always
existed between them. Our glances, however, rested not long
upon the dead—for we could not regard her unawed. The
disease which had thus entombed the lady in the maturity of
youth, had left, as usual in all maladies of a strictly
cataleptical character, the mockery of a faint blush upon the
bosom and the face, and that suspiciously lingering smile
upon the lip which is so terrible in death. We replaced and
screwed down the lid, and, having secured the door of iron,
made our way, with toil, into the scarcely less gloomy
apartments of the upper portion of the house.

And now, some days of bitter grief having elapsed, an
observable change came over the features of the mental
disorder of my friend. His ordinary manner had vanished.
His ordinary occupations were neglected or forgotten. He
roamed from chamber to chamber with hurried, unequal, and
objectless step. The pallor of his countenance had assumed,
if possible, a more ghastly hue—but the luminousness of his
eye had utterly gone out. The once occasional huskiness of
his tone was heard no more; and a tremulous quaver, as if of
extreme terror, habitually characterized his utterance. There
were times, indeed, when I thought his unceasingly agitated
mind was laboring with some oppressive secret, to divulge
which he struggled for the necessary courage. At times,
again, I was obliged to resolve all into the mere inexplicable
vagaries of madness, for I beheld him gazing upon vacancy
for long hours, in an attitude of the profoundest attention, as
if listening to some imaginary sound. It was no wonder that
his condition terrified—that it infected me. I felt creeping
upon me, by slow yet certain degrees, the wild influences of
his own fantastic yet impressive superstitions.

It was, especially, upon retiring to bed late in the night
of the seventh or eighth day after the placing of the lady
Madeline within the donjon, that I experienced the full
power of such feelings. Sleep came not near my couch—
while the hours waned and waned away. I struggled to
reason off the nervousness which had dominion over me. I
endeavored to believe that much, if not all of what I felt, was
due to the bewildering influence of the gloomy furniture of
the room—of the dark and tattered draperies, which, tortured
into motion by the breath of a rising tempest, swayed fitfully
to and fro upon the walls, and rustled uneasily about the
decorations of the bed. But my efforts were fruitless. An
irrepressible tremor gradually pervaded my frame; and, at
length, there sat upon my very heart an incubus of utterly
causeless alarm. Shaking this off with a gasp and a struggle,
I uplifted myself upon the pillows, and, peering earnestly
within the intense darkness of the chamber, hearkened—I
know not why, except that an instinctive spirit prompted
me—to certain low and indefinite sounds which came,
through the pauses of the storm, at long intervals, I knew not
whence. Overpowered by an intense sentiment of horror,
unaccountable yet unendurable, I threw on my clothes with
haste (for I felt that I should sleep no more during the night),
and endeavored to arouse myself from the pitiable condition
into which I had fallen, by pacing rapidly to and fro through
the apartment.

I had taken but few turns in this manner, when a light
step on an adjoining staircase arrested my attention. I
presently recognized it as that of Usher. In an instant
afterward he rapped, with a gentle touch, at my door, and
entered, bearing a lamp. His countenance was, as usual,
cadaverously wan—but, moreover, there was a species of
mad hilarity in his eyes—an evidently restrained hysteria in
his whole demeanor. His air appalled me—but any thing was
preferable to the solitude which I had so long endured, and I
even welcomed his presence as a relief.

“And you have not seen it?” he said abruptly, after
having stared about him for some moments in silence—“you
have not then seen it?—but, stay! you shall.” Thus speaking,
and having carefully shaded his lamp, he hurried to one of
the casements, and threw it freely open to the storm.

The impetuous fury of the entering gust nearly lifted us
from our feet. It was, indeed, a tempestuous yet sternly
beautiful night, and one wildly singular in its terror and its
beauty. A whirlwind had apparently collected its force in our
vicinity; for there were frequent and violent alterations in the
direction of the wind; and the exceeding density of the
clouds (which hung so low as to press upon the turrets of the
house) did not prevent our perceiving the life-like velocity
with which they flew careering from all points against each
other, without passing away into the distance. I say that even
their exceeding density did not prevent our perceiving this—
yet we had no glimpse of the moon or stars, nor was there
any flashing forth of the lightning. But the under surfaces of
the huge masses of agitated vapor, as well as all terrestrial
objects immediately around us, were glowing in the
unnatural light of a faintly luminous and distinctly visible
gaseous exhalation which hung about and enshrouded the

“You must not—you shall not behold this!” said I,
shuddering, to Usher, as I led him, with a gentle violence,
from the window to a seat. “These appearances, which
bewilder you, are merely electrical phenomena not
uncommon—or it may be that they have their ghastly origin
in the rank miasma of the tarn. Let us close this casement;—
the air is chilling and dangerous to your frame. Here is one
of your favorite romances. I will read, and you shall listen:—
and so we will pass away this terrible night together.”

The antique volume which I had taken up was the “Mad
Trist” of Sir Launcelot Canning; but I had called it a favorite
of Usher’s more in sad jest than in earnest; for, in truth, there
is little in its uncouth and unimaginative prolixity which
could have had interest for the lofty and spiritual ideality of
my friend. It was, however, the only book immediately at
hand; and I indulged a vague hope that the excitement which
now agitated the hypochondriac, might find relief (for the
history of mental disorder is full of similar anomalies) even
in the extremeness of the folly which I should read. Could I
have judged, indeed, by the wild overstrained air of vivacity
with which he hearkened, or apparently hearkened, to the
words of the tale, I might well have congratulated myself
upon the success of my design.

I had arrived at that well-known portion of the story
where Ethelred, the hero of the Trist, having sought in vain
for peaceable admission into the dwelling of the hermit,
proceeds to make good an entrance by force. Here, it will be
remembered, the words of the narrative run thus:

“And Ethelred, who was by nature of a doughty heart,
and who was now mighty withal, on account of the
powerfulness of the wine which he had drunken, waited no
longer to hold parley with the hermit, who, in sooth, was of
an obstinate and maliceful turn, but, feeling the rain upon his
shoulders, and fearing the rising of the tempest, uplifted his
mace outright, and, with blows, made quickly room in the
plankings of the door for his gauntleted hand; and now
pulling therewith sturdily, he so cracked, and ripped, and
tore all asunder, that the noise of the dry and hollowsounding wood alarumed and reverberated throughout the forest.”

At the termination of this sentence I started and, for a
moment, paused; for it appeared to me (although I at once
concluded that my excited fancy had deceived me)—it
appeared to me that, from some very remote portion of the
mansion, there came, indistinctly to my ears, what might
have been, in its exact similarity of character, the echo (but a
stifled and dull one certainly) of the very cracking and
ripping sound which Sir Launcelot had so particularly
described. It was, beyond doubt, the coincidence alone which
had arrested my attention; for, amid the rattling of the sashes
of the casements, and the ordinary commingled noises of the
still increasing storm, the sound, in itself, had nothing,
surely, which should have interested or disturbed me. I
continued the story:

“But the good champion Ethelred, now entering within
the door, was sore enraged and amazed to perceive no signal
of the maliceful hermit; but, in the stead thereof, a dragon of
a scaly and prodigious demeanor, and of a fiery tongue,
which sate in guard before a palace of gold, with a floor of
silver; and upon the wall there hung a shield of shining brass
with this legend enwritten—

Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win.

And Ethelred uplifted his mace, and struck upon the head of
the dragon, which fell before him, and gave up his pesty
breath, with a shriek so horrid and harsh, and withal so
piercing, that Ethelred had fain to close his ears with his
hands against the dreadful noise of it, the like whereof was
never before heard.”

Here again I paused abruptly, and now with a feeling of
wild amazement—for there could be no doubt whatever that,
in this instance, I did actually hear (although from what
direction it proceeded I found it impossible to say) a low and
apparently distant, but harsh, protracted, and most unusual
screaming or grating sound—the exact counterpart of what
my fancy had already conjured up for the dragon’s unnatural
shriek as described by the romancer.

Oppressed, as I certainly was, upon the occurrence of
this second and most extraordinary coincidence, by a
thousand conflicting sensations, in which wonder and
extreme terror were predominant, I still retained sufficient
presence of mind to avoid exciting, by any observation, the
sensitive nervousness of my companion. I was by no means
certain that he had noticed the sounds in question; although,
assuredly, a strange alteration had, during the last few
minutes, taken place in his demeanor. From a position
fronting my own, he had gradually brought round his chair,
so as to sit with his face to the door of the chamber; and thus
I could but partially perceive his features, although I saw that
his lips trembled as if he were murmuring inaudibly. His
head had dropped upon his breast—yet I knew that he was
not asleep, from the wide and rigid opening of the eye as I
caught a glance of it in profile. The motion of his body, too,
was at variance with this idea—for he rocked from side to
side with a gentle yet constant and uniform sway. Having
rapidly taken notice of all this, I resumed the narrative of Sir
Launcelot, which thus proceeded:

“And now, the champion, having escaped from the
terrible fury of the dragon, bethinking himself of the brazen
shield, and of the breaking up of the enchantment which was
upon it, removed the carcass from out of the way before him,
and approached valorously over the silver pavement of the
castle to where the shield was upon the wall; which in sooth
tarried not for his full coming, but fell down at his feet upon
the silver floor, with a mighty great and terrible ringing

No sooner had these syllables passed my lips, than—as
if a shield of brass had indeed, at the moment, fallen heavily
upon a floor of silver—I became aware of a distinct, hollow,
metallic, and clangorous, yet apparently muffled,
reverberation. Completely unnerved, I leaped to my feet; but
the measured rocking movement of Usher was undisturbed. I
rushed to the chair in which he sat. His eyes were bent
fixedly before him, and throughout his whole countenance
there reigned a stony rigidity. But, as I placed my hand upon
his shoulder, there came a strong shudder over his whole
person; a sickly smile quivered about his lips; and I saw that
he spoke in a low, hurried, and gibbering murmur, as if
unconscious of my presence. Bending closely over him, I at
length drank in the hideous import of his words.

“Not hear it?—yes, I hear it, and have heard it. Long—
long—long—many minutes, many hours, many days, have I
heard it—yet I dared not—oh, pity me, miserable wretch that
I am!—I dared not—I dared not speak! We have put her
living in the tomb!
Said I not that my senses were acute? I
now tell you that I heard her first feeble movements in the
hollow coffin. I heard them—many, many days ago—yet I
dared not—I dared not speak! And now—to-night—
Ethelred—ha! ha!—the breaking of the hermit’s door, and
the death-cry of the dragon, and the clangor of the shield—
say, rather, the rending of her coffin, and the grating of the
iron hinges of her prison, and her struggles within the
coppered archway of the vault! Oh! whither shall I fly? Will
she not be here anon? Is she not hurrying to upbraid me for
my haste? Have I not heard her footstep on the stair? Do I
not distinguish that heavy and horrible beating of her heart?
Madman!”—here he sprang furiously to his feet, and
shrieked out his syllables, as if in the effort he were giving
up his soul—“Madman! I tell you that she now stands
without the door!

As if in the superhuman energy of his utterance there
had been found the potency of a spell, the huge antique
panels to which the speaker pointed threw slowly back, upon
the instant, their ponderous and ebony jaws. It was the work
of the rushing gust—but then without those doors there did
stand the lofty and enshrouded figure of the lady Madeline of
Usher. There was blood upon her white robes, and the
evidence of some bitter struggle upon every portion of her
emaciated frame. For a moment she remained trembling and
reeling to and fro upon the threshold—then, with a low
moaning cry, fell heavily inward upon the person of her
brother, and in her violent and now final death-agonies, bore
him to the floor a corpse, and a victim to the terrors he had

From that chamber, and from that mansion, I fled
aghast. The storm was still abroad in all its wrath as I found
myself crossing the old causeway. Suddenly there shot along
the path a wild light, and I turned to see whence a gleam so
unusual could have issued; for the vast house and its
shadows were alone behind me. The radiance was that of the
full, setting, and blood-red moon which now shone vividly
through that once barely-discernible fissure of which I have
before spoken as extending from the roof of the building, in
a zigzag direction, to the base. While I gazed, this fissure
rapidly widened—there came a fierce breath of the
whirlwind—the entire orb of the satellite burst at once upon
my sight—my brain reeled as I saw the mighty walls rushing
asunder—there was a long tumultuous shouting sound like
the voice of a thousand waters—and the deep and dank tarn
at my feet closed sullenly and silently over the fragments of
the “House of Usher.”