گودال و پاندول

مجموعه: کتاب های پیشرفته / کتاب: داستانهایی از راز و تخیل / درس 7

گودال و پاندول

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The Pit and the Pendulum

After long hours of suffering, the ropes that held me were loosened, and I was allowed to sit. I felt that my senses were leaving me. I heard the judges say that I would die; these were the last sounds to reach my ears, and then the voices disappeared. I saw the black clothes of the officials, and the black curtains of the hall. The white lips of the judges moved — they were of course ordering the details of my death — and I trembled because I could hear nothing. A sudden feeling of sickness filled my body, and mist seemed to cover my eyes. Then a thought came to my mind, like a rich musical note - the thought of what sweet rest there must be in the grave. For a moment my eyes cleared, and I saw the judges stand up and leave the room; and then all was silence and stillness and night.

I had fainted; but I was not completely unconscious. In the deepest sleep, in fever, even in a dead faint, some part of consciousness remains. Long afterwards, I remembered, though not clearly, that I was lifted up from my seat in the court — that tall figures carried me in silence down — down — and still further down. At last the movement stopped, as if those who carried me could go no further. After this I remembered the cold, and my misery and great fear.

Very suddenly a sense of movement and of sound came back to me — the racing of my heart, and the sound of its beating in my ears. Then consciousness returned, and later, the power of thought. A trembling fear shook my body, and I felt a strong desire to understand my true state. I made a successful effort to move. I remembered what had happened in court — the judges, the curtains, the sentence, the sickness, my faint.

So far, I had not opened my eyes. I lay on my back, but I was not tied up. I reached out my hand, and it fell on something wet and hard. I wanted to look around, but I dared not; for I was afraid that there would be nothing to see. After many minutes of increasing misery, I quickly opened my eyes. The blackness of night surrounded me. I struggled for breath. The darkness seemed like a weight on me. Where and in what state was I? This was the question that troubled me. Many prisoners, I knew, were put to death in public, and such a ceremony had been held on the day that I was in court. Was I being kept until the next ceremony, which might not happen for many months?

A fearful idea now suddenly sent the blood rushing to my heart, and I trembled all over. I stood up and stretched my arms wildly above and around me in all directions. I felt nothing; but I dared not move a single step, for fear that I would be stopped by the walls of a grave. Taking courage at last, I moved slowly forward, with my arms in front of me. I took many steps but felt nothing. I breathed more freely; if I had been buried alive, the grave would have been smaller than this.

I went on very slowly, until my hands touched a wall; it was smooth, cold and slightly wet. I followed it, but soon realized that, without a fixed starting point, I would be unable to judge the size of the room. I now tore off a piece from the bottom of my prison clothes and placed this piece of cloth on the floor at ninety degrees to the wall. I now began to circle the room again.

The ground was wet and slippery, and I had only taken a few steps when I fell forward on my face. I lay there for some minutes, and felt a great desire for sleep.

I must have slept; when I woke up, and stretched out an arm, I found beside me a loaf and a bottle of water. I ate and drank eagerly. Shortly afterwards, I continued my walk around the room, and after I had gone about fifty steps I reached the piece of cloth again. My prison, then, was about thirty yards around, if two of my steps equalled a yard.

There was little purpose — certainly no hope - in having this information; but I wanted to walk across the room now to get an idea of its shape. I went carefully, since the floor was very slippery. I had covered six yards, perhaps, when I fell again. Almost immediately, I noticed that although my body was resting on the floor of the prison, there seemed to be nothing under my head. At the same time a strange smell, like dead leaves, rose to my nose. I put out my arm, and trembled to find that I had fallen right at the edge of a circular pit. I found a small piece of loose stone, and let it fall into the hole. I listened as it struck against the sides; at last, after many seconds, it hit water. A faint beam of light flashed suddenly in the roof above me, and there was a sound like the quick opening and closing of a door. And then all was darkness again.

I now knew what had been prepared for me. If I had taken one more step before my fall, the world would never have seen me again. The death that I had avoided was just the kind of death which I had heard of in stories about the Inquisition. I had laughed at those stories; I had thought of them as wild and imaginary. But I now knew that they were true. The Inquisition offered a choice of death: one could die in great physical pain or by the most terrible mental suffering. And death in the pit would come to me slowly, through the destruction of my mind.

I struggled back to the wall. Shaking violently, I imagined other holes in the ground in various positions in the room, and other hidden forms of punishment. Thoughts such as these kept me awake for many hours, but at last I slept again. When I awoke, I found another bottle of water and some bread beside me. I drank the water immediately, as I was very thirsty. It must have contained something to make me sleep, and I could not keep my eyes open. My state of unconsciousness must have lasted a long time; but when, once again, I awoke, I could see the objects around me. A bright yellow light shone into my prison, though I could not see where it came from.

The room was roughly square, and of about the size that I had calculated. But the walls, which I had thought were made of stone, seemed now to be iron or some other kind of metal, in very large plates. The whole surface of this metal room was painted with the figures of devils in the most terrible shapes.

Although their forms were clear enough, the colours seemed to have become paler, as if from the effects of the wet air. The floor was of stone, and in its centre was the circular pit into which I had so nearly fallen. It was the only pit.

I saw all this only by much effort — for my situation had changed greatly during my sleep. I now lay on my back, at full length, on a kind of low bed. I was tied to this tightly and was free to move only my head and the lower part of my left arm. I could just manage to reach the food which lay beside me on the floor. The water had gone — and I was more thirsty than ever.

Looking upwards, I examined the roof of my prison. It was thirty or forty feet above, and was also made of metal. Directly over my bed the figure of Father Time was painted on one of the plates. When I first looked at this picture, I thought that the figure held in his hand a large pendulum, such as we see on old clocks. But a moment later the pendulum moved, and I realized that it was not a part of the picture. The movement was short and slow — a slight swing from side to side. I watched it with interest for a few minutes, and then turned my attention to other parts of the room.

I heard noises, and saw several large rats crossing the floor towards me. They had come out of the pit which lay on my right side. As I watched, they came up in large numbers, hurrying, with hungry-looking eyes, towards my plate of food.

It required a great deal of effort and attention to frighten them away.

It might have been half an hour, perhaps even an hour, before I looked up to the roof again. What I saw there confused me.

The swing of the pendulum had increased to almost a yard. As a natural result of this, its speed was now much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the fact that it had come nearer. In great fear, I saw that the lower end of the pendulum was formed of a blade of shining steel, shaped like the new moon, and about a foot in length from point to point. The ends of the blade turned upwards; and the lower edge looked as sharp as a sword. It was fixed to a thick bar of iron, and the whole blade whistled as it swung through the air.

I could no longer doubt the death that had been prepared for me by the human devils of the Inquisition. I had avoided the pit by chance, and I knew that surprise was an important part of the cruelty of these prison deaths. As I had failed to fall, I was not simply to be thrown into the well. A different and a gentler destruction was made ready for me. Gentler! I trembled as I thought about the word.

What use is it to tell of the long, long hours of suffering that followed, during which I counted the swings of the steel? Slowly it fell — down and still down it came! The downward movement was extremely slow, and it was only after several hours that I noticed any increase in the length of the iron bar. Days passed — it might have been many days - before the blade swept so close that it seemed to blow me with its bitter breath. The smell of the sharp steel came to me in waves. I prayed for it to reach me quickly. I struggled to force myself upwards against the sharp edge, as it swung across my body. And then I grew suddenly calm, and lay smiling at the shining death, as a child smiles at a bright jewel.

For a short time I lost consciousness. When my senses

returned, I felt sick and weak; but in spite of my suffering, 1 wanted food. With painful effort I reached for the few pieces of meat beside me. As I put some of it to my lips, a half-formed thought of joy — of hope — rushed into my mind. I struggled to make it complete, but it escaped me. Long suffering had nearly killed all my ordinary powers of mind.

The swing of the pendulum was across my body - directly across my heart. It would first touch the cloth of my prison clothes; it would return and cut deeper — again — and again. In spite of its wide swing (which was now thirty feet or more), and its great force, it would not, for several minutes, cut into my flesh.

At this thought, I paused. I dared not think further. I watched the blade as it flew above me.

Down — steadily down it came. To the right — to the left - far and wide — with the terrible whistle of death! Down - certainly down just above my chest! I struggled violently to free my left arm. I shook and turned my head at every swing. I opened and closed my eyes as the bright blade flashed above me. Oh, if I could die!

Suddenly I felt the calmness of hopelessness flood through me.

For the first time in many hours — or perhaps days — I began to think. The band which tied me was in one piece; but I saw immediately that no part of this lay across my chest. There was no hope, then, that the steel would cut the band, and set me free.

If, though, the band were broken at one point, I could quickly unwind it from the rest of my body, and slide off the bed. But how terribly close the blade would be! And how difficult the slightest movement would be, beneath that knife of destruction!

Suddenly the unformed half of that thought of hope (that I have already mentioned) came into my mind. The whole idea was now present - weak, unreasonable perhaps — but complete. I immediately began my attempt to escape death.

The rats, I hoped, would save me. For many hours they had surrounded my bed. They were wild and hungry, and they had, in the short time that I lay unconscious, eaten nearly all the meat on the plate. ‘Where do they usually get their food from,’ I wondered, ‘in this place?’

For a long time I had kept my left arm moving, to frighten them away, and many had bitten my fingers in their efforts to reach the plate. I knew that if I lay still they would rush on me. I now took the last pieces of the rich oily meat from the plate, and rubbed them thoroughly into the band wherever I could reach it.

Then, resting my hand on the bed, I lay perfectly still.

In a moment one or two of the biggest jumped on to the bed, and smelt at the band. This seemed the signal for a general rush.

Out of the pit they came in fresh numbers; they climbed on the bed, and I was soon covered by hundreds of rats. The movement of the pendulum did not disturb them at all. Avoiding its strokes, they tore the band into which I had rubbed the meat. They pressed over me. I felt their cold lips against mine; I could hardly breathe for their weight. A terrible sick feeling, for which there is no name, swelled my body, and brought a coldness to my heart.

One minute more, and I felt the struggle would be over. I noticed the loosening of the band. I knew that in more than one place it must already be broken. I lay still.

I had made no mistake - and I had not suffered for nothing. At last I felt that I was free. The band hung in pieces from my body But the pendulum had already cut through my clothes. Twice more it swung, and a sharp pain ran through my body. But now the moment of escape had arrived. At a wave of my hand, the rats hurried away. With a steady movement - careful, sideways, slow — I rolled from the bed and beyond the reach of the blade. For the moment, at least, I was free.

Free — but in the hands of the Inquisition! I had hardly moved from my bed of suffering on to the stone floor, when the movement of the terrible machine stopped, and it was pulled up, by some unseen force, through the roof. I now realized that every action of mine was being watched. I had only escaped death in one form to suffer it in another! I looked anxiously around the walls of my iron prison. Something unusual — a change, which, at first, I could not understand, had taken place. While I wondered about this, I saw the origin of the yellow light which filled the room. It came from a narrow space which ran around the whole room at the base of the walls. The walls were completely separated from the floor. I tried, but of course I failed, to look through this crack.

As I got up from the floor, the mystery of the change in the room suddenly became clear. The terrible figures on the walls the paintings whose colours, as I have said, seemed to have become less definite — now stood out as brightly as living creatures! Their wild eyes shone with fire — real fire; as I breathed, the smell of heated iron reached my senses. The walls grew hot and began to burn. I struggled for breath, and rushed to the centre of the room. I thought of the coldness of the pit, and I looked down into its depth. It was lit up by the fire of the burning roof. For a moment, though, I refused to believe what I saw in that well of death. Oh! for a voice to speak! - oh! the cruelty of it! Any death — but not the pit! With a cry, I turned from its edge and buried my face in my hands.

The heat rapidly increased. I was soon forced to look up again; and when I did so, it was to see that the iron walls were moving.

Two opposite corners of the room were growing slowly further apart — while the distance between the other pair got smaller.

The prison was now diamond-shaped and quickly becoming flatter and flatter. ‘Death,’ I said, ‘any death, but not the pit!’ Fool!

I should have guessed that it was the whole object of those moving walls of fire to force me into the pit. Could I bear their heat? Could I bear their pressure?

At last I knew that I could not. The closing walls pressed me to the side of the well. There was no longer any foothold for my burnt and twisting body on the firm floor of the prison. I struggled no more, but gave one long, loud and terrible shout of hopelessness. I felt that I trembled on the edge — I closed my eyes — there was a sound of human voices! There was the music of victory! The fiery walls rushed back! A strong arm caught my own as I fell, fainting, into the pit. It was that of General Lasalle.

The French army had entered the city of Toledo. The

Inquisition was in the hands of its enemies.

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