THE MIDNIGHT GROAN (1808)
The excerpt reproduces one-third of a chapbook, which like many examples of the form, was marketed on the basis of its title The Midnight Groan; or The Spectre of the Chapel: involving An Exposure of the Horrible Secrets of the Nocturnal Assembly. A Gothic Romance and its illustration, a frontispiece showing a knight facing a skeleton spectre.
(Copyright 2000, 2013 Rictor Norton)
‘Farewell, my young friend! when next we meet it will, I hope, be in happier circumstances: time will wipe away that sorrow which now overspreads your brow, and restore tranquillity to your breast.’ Such were the last words of the Lord Manfredoni to the young Horatio, as the latter mounted his horse, to depart from that castle, in which his earliest infancy had been passed, and which was rendered dear to him, by a thousand tender considerations; but in particular, by its being the residence of the young and beautiful Miranda. Some singular events now called the youthful lover away from the place where his soul’s affections were deposited, which will, in due time, be unfolded to the reader. As Horatio turned from the castle, his eye involuntarily sought for the figure of Miranda. She appeared at the window of her apartment; for a few moments their eyes were immoveably fixed on each other: no words were uttered, but their looks transfused into each other’s heart, the substance of a thousand volumes. Every moment that Horatio gazed, increased his reluctance to depart; but go he must, and at length, after a severe internal struggle, he desperately applied the spurs to his horse, and was, in a few moments, beyond the utmost stretch of vision. ‘He is gone!’ cried Miranda, bursting into an involuntary flood of tears, ‘he is gone, perhaps for ever!’ She threw herself on a sofa, and gave full scope to the sorrow which weighed on her heart. Nearly eighteen summers had shed their ripening bloom over Miranda’s countenance; she had, from her infancy, been the companion of Horatio; she had never formed a wish to roam beyond the precincts of the castle, nor did she ever indulge an idea, from which Horatio was detached. Her mind was the seat of innocence and feminine rectitude; attractive grace: her figure was tall, and slight; her face admirably proportioned; her eyes, black as jet, were replete with fire and intelligence, her disposition singularly amiable, little heightened by a redundancy of bright chesnut [sic] hair, which meandered down her shoulders, and wantoned in amorous curls round the clear convexity of her forehead. As was observed before, Miranda and Horatio had been companions of each other from their earliest years, and as they both grew up, their juvenile intimacy had been consolidated, by a similarity of tastes and sentiments, into a mutual, and deep-rooted passion. Lord Manfredoni had long suspected their attachment, and at length received ocular demonstration that his suspicions were not unfounded: he discovered the lovers one evening exchanging their mutual vows, in one of the romantic retreats surrounding the castle. That same night, he summoned Horatio to a private conference in one of the most retired chambers of the ancient edifice; he chose this remote place, that the subject of their discourse should not possibly be overheard. The place where Horatio was conducted by Lord Manfredoni, surprised him not a little, such a gloomy desolation reigned round the awful spot: the lamp they carried with them faintly illuminated the apartment, and afforded partial glimpses of half-decayed furniture; but the chief part of the room was involved in shadow. ‘I have for some time,’ began Manfredoni, ‘suspected that there existed a partiality between you and Miranda, but before I proceed any further, I require you to give me your solemn oath you will not divulge the substance of our discourse to her.’ This introduction astonished Horatio; he however gave the required security, and crossing his sword with that of his patron, he swore everlasting secrecy. ‘Now then I will unfold the whole business,’ said my lord, ‘the whole of the business!’ repeated a voice, the hollow sepulchral tone of which struck a transient horror into the hearts of its hearers: starting suddenly, they both fixed their eyes on each other in awful astonishment: ‘The circular form of this spacious chamber, returns the sound,’ said my lord; but his pale countenance showed that the reason he had assigned did not satisfy himself. ‘I will now briefly,’ said he, ‘tell you what I wished to communicate: I totally disapprove of the nature of your attachment to Miranda; I will go farther, it shocks my soul to think of it; for - (mark me, and remember your oath) she is your sister!’ Astonishment and horror were painted on the countenance of Horatio on hearing these fatal words; they included a mystery, which his soul trembled to have unravelled! he staggered back at the shocking sound, and faintly echoed the word ‘Sister!’ ‘I see this information has struck you with an horrible surprise; but nothing is more true, though I shall not enter into a developement [sic] of the mysteries connected with your and her birth: I once more repeat that Miranda is your sister: to tell you how to act on this occasion would be an insult to your own integrity.’ It was some moments before Horatio could overcome the astonishment and emotion which these disagreeable tidings inspired. At length, ‘Alas!’ cried he, ‘my lord, you have rendered me completely miserable.’ That night, the pillow of Horatio was planted with the sharpest thorns: if his eyes caught a moment’s slumber, the most horrible visions haunted his fancy; and when the shackles of Morpheus were completely dissolved, he only awoke to the more fatal realities of existing events. The sight of Miranda now tormented him; for as he could not behold her with eyes of indifference, he severely reproached himself for indulging an affection little short of incestuous. What increased his anguish, was the necessary silence which his oath imposed on him, which would occasion Miranda to view his altered behaviour, as the effect of fickleness and inconstancy. This was in some measure actually the case. Miranda soon became sensible of an alteration in his conduct, the cause of which she, in vain, endeavoured to investigate: that delicate affection, which he had formerly showed her, was now exchanged for the most frigid politeness: he always appeared embarrassed in her company, and took the earliest opportunity to quit it; yet in spite of these symptoms of alienated affection, she still observed an expression of amorous sorrow lingering in his eye; which at length induced her to think that some mysterious secret was lodged at his heart. Lord Manfredoni observing the struggle of love and virtue in the breast of Horatio, and that the daily sight of Miranda added fuel to his passion, advised him to depart from the castle, for a time, and endeavour to forget his unhappy attachment on the various scenes he should meet with in his travels. This was the state of affairs when we opened this history, and such was the cause of Miranda’s sorrow. Horatio soon got out of sight of the castle, and entered upon a gloomy forest, which seemed of immeasurable extent. The dull uniformity of the scene was ill calculated to divert his mind from dwelling on its own miseries: for hours he travelled without discerning a human habitation, and the shades of night deepened upon the earth, while yet he seemed in the very bosom of the forest; the wind arose, sweeping in hollow gusts through the trees; a large, heavy mass of clouds began to gather in the air, sweating with their liquid load; the vivid lightning, in expansive sheets, seemed to set the heavens in a transient blaze, while the bursting thunder was rendered more horrid by the responsive echoes of the shaggy monsters of the shades. Horatio, during this ethereal war, was obliged to call into practice a great part of his skill in horsemanship; for the steed on which he rode, waked by the noise of the thunder, as by the trumpet’s sound, exhibited all the fiery energies peculiar to his breed: he pranced, champed the bit, erected his main, dilated his nostrils, and emitted flashes of martial fire from his terrific eye. As Horatio proceeded cautiously through the perilous obscurities of the place, a dreadful flash of lightning shot from the angry gloom, and discovered the battlements of a castle, rising over the heads of the trees. This was a welcome sight to our harassed traveller; he soon came up to the building: but the indistinct view which the night afforded of it, rendered it, to appearance, an heterogeneous mass of confused materials: the draw bridge was up, and the moat almost chocked [sic] up with rubbish, composed partly of the materials of the fallen battlements, so that all approach to the interior of the castle, seemed impossible without encountering danger. However the violence of the storm obliged him to make an effort to get within the castle, and therefore, hazardous as the attempt was, he began to explore his way over the moat, and at length arrived unhurt, on the other side. He now found himself within an enormous archway, which issuing in an open area, he discerned right before him, by the lightning’s glare, a ponderous marble stair-case; this he began to ascend with caution; its vast height and spiral form, rendered it a considerable time before he could reach the top, and when he did, so thoroughly fatigued was he, that he laid down on the landing-place, and resigned himself to sleep; but it is truly said by Young, that the downy god ‘flies from woe, and lights on lids unsullied with a tear.’ Horatio, weary as he was courted in vain the influence of the somnific deity: his thoughts flew to Miranda and fancy gave him all her charms; then would he start in distraction on reflecting on the fatal information which Manfredoni gave him concerning her. In the midst of his reverie, he imagined he heard a deep groan and turning his head, he saw, to his inexpressible astonishment, a figure clothed in white, round which was diffused a fiery radiance, rendering it awfully conspicuous even in the depth of midnight gloom; a transparent veil, through which appeared features of the most exquisite beauty, fell from her forehead to waist. The phantom approached Horatio. ‘Gracious heaven!’ exclaimed he, ‘what do I see?’ at the same time a torpor spread over all his powers, and he lay, for some moments, quite insensible. From this state he was roused by a sensation so peculiar and uncommon, that all his nerves were instantly awakened: it was occasioned by the cold icy touch of the spectre. It beckoned Horatio with the hand; and mustering all his resolution, he drew his sword, and followed it along the dark and gloomy gallery; when the phantom arrived at the end of the gallery, it halted a moment, and by this means, Horatio discovered that it stood on the brink of a flight of steps. It suddenly disappeared from there, and became visible about half-way down the dark descent. Horatio hesitated, the figure beckoned, and he began cautiously to descend, still pointing his sword before him; quick as lightning, the appearance vanished from its station, and stood conspicuous at the bottom of the steps. Horatio still followed, and had nearly reached the bottom, when the ghost again moved onward. The adventrous youth hesitated again, he appeared to be in a dungeon, and the gloomy horror of the spot roused the energies of human fear; on the other hand a dreadful curiosity impelled him to see the issue of this extraordinary affair; the spectre still retreated farther into the dungeon, till it came to an obscure recess; here again it became stationary. Horatio gazed in dreadful expectation on its beauteous face; a deep groan burst from its bosom, and in a hollow, sepulchral voice, it uttered these words: ‘Remember the desolate chamber!’ Instantly the veil dropped from its face, and as Horatio gazed, the beauteous features vanished, and a ghastly death’s head appeared in its stead! the clothing in like manner suddenly flew off, and presented to view a perfect human skeleton!! The horrible transition was too much for mortal sight to encounter, and the youth, overcome with terror and astonishment, fell prostrate on the earth, and remained there for some time, destitute of sense or reflection. . . .
[SOURCE: The Midnight Groan; or The Spectre of the Chapel: involving An Exposure of the Horrible Secrets of the Nocturnal Assembly. A Gothic Romance (London: T. and R. Hughes, 1808), pp. 18]
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