A Tale of the Ragged Mountains by Edgar Allan Poe

(1850)



DURING the fall of the year 1827, while residing near
Charlottesville, Virginia, I casually made the acquaintance of Mr.
Augustus Bedloe. This young gentleman was remarkable in every
respect, and excited in me a profound interest and curiosity. I found
it impossible to comprehend him either in his moral or his physical
relations. Of his family I could obtain no satisfactory account.
Whence he came, I never ascertained. Even about his age -- although I
call him a young gentleman -- there was something which perplexed me
in no little degree. He certainly seemed young -- and he made a point
of speaking about his youth -- yet there were moments when I should
have had little trouble in imagining him a hundred years of age. But
in no regard was he more peculiar than in his personal appearance. He
was singularly tall and thin. He stooped much. His limbs were
exceedingly long and emaciated. His forehead was broad and low. His
complexion was absolutely bloodless. His mouth was large and
flexible, and his teeth were more wildly uneven, although sound, than
I had ever before seen teeth in a human head. The expression of his
smile, however, was by no means unpleasing, as might be supposed; but
it had no variation whatever. It was one of profound melancholy -- of
a phaseless and unceasing gloom. His eyes were abnormally large, and
round like those of a cat. The pupils, too, upon any accession or
diminution of light, underwent contraction or dilation, just such as
is observed in the feline tribe. In moments of excitement the orbs
grew bright to a degree almost inconceivable; seeming to emit
luminous rays, not of a reflected but of an intrinsic lustre, as does
a candle or the sun; yet their ordinary condition was so totally
vapid, filmy, and dull as to convey the idea of the eyes of a
long-interred corpse.

These peculiarities of person appeared to cause him much annoyance,
and he was continually alluding to them in a sort of half
explanatory, half apologetic strain, which, when I first heard it,
impressed me very painfully. I soon, however, grew accustomed to it,
and my uneasiness wore off. It seemed to be his design rather to
insinuate than directly to assert that, physically, he had not always
been what he was -- that a long series of neuralgic attacks had
reduced him from a condition of more than usual personal beauty, to
that which I saw. For many years past he had been attended by a
physician, named Templeton -- an old gentleman, perhaps seventy years
of age -- whom he had first encountered at Saratoga, and from whose
attention, while there, he either received, or fancied that he
received, great benefit. The result was that Bedloe, who was wealthy,
had made an arrangement with Dr. Templeton, by which the latter, in
consideration of a liberal annual allowance, had consented to devote
his time and medical experience exclusively to the care of the
invalid.

Doctor Templeton had been a traveller in his younger days, and at
Paris had become a convert, in great measure, to the doctrines of
Mesmer. It was altogether by means of magnetic remedies that he had
succeeded in alleviating the acute pains of his patient; and this
success had very naturally inspired the latter with a certain degree
of confidence in the opinions from which the remedies had been
educed. The Doctor, however, like all enthusiasts, had struggled hard
to make a thorough convert of his pupil, and finally so far gained
his point as to induce the sufferer to submit to numerous
experiments. By a frequent repetition of these, a result had arisen,
which of late days has become so common as to attract little or no
attention, but which, at the period of which I write, had very rarely
been known in America. I mean to say, that between Doctor Templeton
and Bedloe there had grown up, little by little, a very distinct and
strongly marked rapport, or magnetic relation. I am not prepared to
assert, however, that this rapport extended beyond the limits of the
simple sleep-producing power, but this power itself had attained
great intensity. At the first attempt to induce the magnetic
somnolency, the mesmerist entirely failed. In the fifth or sixth he
succeeded very partially, and after long continued effort. Only at
the twelfth was the triumph complete. After this the will of the
patient succumbed rapidly to that of the physician, so that, when I
first became acquainted with the two, sleep was brought about almost
instantaneously by the mere volition of the operator, even when the
invalid was unaware of his presence. It is only now, in the year
1845, when similar miracles are witnessed daily by thousands, that I
dare venture to record this apparent impossibility as a matter of
serious fact.

The temperature of Bedloe was, in the highest degree sensitive,
excitable, enthusiastic. His imagination was singularly vigorous and
creative; and no doubt it derived additional force from the habitual
use of morphine, which he swallowed in great quantity, and without
which he would have found it impossible to exist. It was his practice
to take a very large dose of it immediately after breakfast each
morning -- or, rather, immediately after a cup of strong coffee, for
he ate nothing in the forenoon -- and then set forth alone, or
attended only by a dog, upon a long ramble among the chain of wild
and dreary hills that lie westward and southward of Charlottesville,
and are there dignified by the title of the Ragged Mountains.

Upon a dim, warm, misty day, toward the close of November, and during
the strange interregnum of the seasons which in America is termed the
Indian Summer, Mr. Bedloe departed as usual for the hills. The day
passed, and still he did not return.

About eight o'clock at night, having become seriously alarmed at his
protracted absence, we were about setting out in search of him, when
he unexpectedly made his appearance, in health no worse than usual,
and in rather more than ordinary spirits. The account which he gave
of his expedition, and of the events which had detained him, was a
singular one indeed.

"You will remember," said he, "that it was about nine in the morning
when I left Charlottesville. I bent my steps immediately to the
mountains, and, about ten, entered a gorge which was entirely new to
me. I followed the windings of this pass with much interest. The
scenery which presented itself on all sides, although scarcely
entitled to be called grand, had about it an indescribable and to me
a delicious aspect of dreary desolation. The solitude seemed
absolutely virgin. I could not help believing that the green sods and
the gray rocks upon which I trod had been trodden never before by the
foot of a human being. So entirely secluded, and in fact
inaccessible, except through a series of accidents, is the entrance
of the ravine, that it is by no means impossible that I was indeed
the first adventurer -- the very first and sole adventurer who had
ever penetrated its recesses.

"The thick and peculiar mist, or smoke, which distinguishes the
Indian Summer, and which now hung heavily over all objects, served,
no doubt, to deepen the vague impressions which these objects
created. So dense was this pleasant fog that I could at no time see
more than a dozen yards of the path before me. This path was
excessively sinuous, and as the sun could not be seen, I soon lost
all idea of the direction in which I journeyed. In the meantime the
morphine had its customary effect -- that of enduing all the external
world with an intensity of interest. In the quivering of a leaf -- in
the hue of a blade of grass -- in the shape of a trefoil -- in the
humming of a bee -- in the gleaming of a dew-drop -- in the breathing
of the wind -- in the faint odors that came from the forest -- there
came a whole universe of suggestion -- a gay and motley train of
rhapsodical and immethodical thought.

"Busied in this, I walked on for several hours, during which the mist
deepened around me to so great an extent that at length I was reduced
to an absolute groping of the way. And now an indescribable
uneasiness possessed me -- a species of nervous hesitation and
tremor. I feared to tread, lest I should be precipitated into some
abyss. I remembered, too, strange stories told about these Ragged
Hills, and of the uncouth and fierce races of men who tenanted their
groves and caverns. A thousand vague fancies oppressed and
disconcerted me- fancies the more distressing because vague. Very
suddenly my attention was arrested by the loud beating of a drum.

"My amazement was, of course, extreme. A drum in these hills was a
thing unknown. I could not have been more surprised at the sound of
the trump of the Archangel. But a new and still more astounding
source of interest and perplexity arose. There came a wild rattling
or jingling sound, as if of a bunch of large keys, and upon the
instant a dusky-visaged and half-naked man rushed past me with a
shriek. He came so close to my person that I felt his hot breath upon
my face. He bore in one hand an instrument composed of an assemblage
of steel rings, and shook them vigorously as he ran. Scarcely had he
disappeared in the mist before, panting after him, with open mouth
and glaring eyes, there darted a huge beast. I could not be mistaken
in its character. It was a hyena.

"The sight of this monster rather relieved than heightened my terrors
-- for I now made sure that I dreamed, and endeavored to arouse
myself to waking consciousness. I stepped boldly and briskly forward.
I rubbed my eyes. I called aloud. I pinched my limbs. A small spring
of water presented itself to my view, and here, stooping, I bathed my
hands and my head and neck. This seemed to dissipate the equivocal
sensations which had hitherto annoyed me. I arose, as I thought, a
new man, and proceeded steadily and complacently on my unknown way.

"At length, quite overcome by exertion, and by a certain oppressive
closeness of the atmosphere, I seated myself beneath a tree.
Presently there came a feeble gleam of sunshine, and the shadow of
the leaves of the tree fell faintly but definitely upon the grass. At
this shadow I gazed wonderingly for many minutes. Its character
stupefied me with astonishment. I looked upward. The tree was a palm.

"I now arose hurriedly, and in a state of fearful agitation -- for
the fancy that I dreamed would serve me no longer. I saw -- I felt
that I had perfect command of my senses -- and these senses now
brought to my soul a world of novel and singular sensation. The heat
became all at once intolerable. A strange odor loaded the breeze. A
low, continuous murmur, like that arising from a full, but gently
flowing river, came to my ears, intermingled with the peculiar hum of
multitudinous human voices.

"While I listened in an extremity of astonishment which I need not
attempt to describe, a strong and brief gust of wind bore off the
incumbent fog as if by the wand of an enchanter.

"I found myself at the foot of a high mountain, and looking down into
a vast plain, through which wound a majestic river. On the margin of
this river stood an Eastern-looking city, such as we read of in the
Arabian Tales, but of a character even more singular than any there
described. From my position, which was far above the level of the
town, I could perceive its every nook and corner, as if delineated on
a map. The streets seemed innumerable, and crossed each other
irregularly in all directions, but were rather long winding alleys
than streets, and absolutely swarmed with inhabitants. The houses
were wildly picturesque. On every hand was a wilderness of balconies,
of verandas, of minarets, of shrines, and fantastically carved
oriels. Bazaars abounded; and in these were displayed rich wares in
infinite variety and profusion -- silks, muslins, the most dazzling
cutlery, the most magnificent jewels and gems. Besides these things,
were seen, on all sides, banners and palanquins, litters with stately
dames close veiled, elephants gorgeously caparisoned, idols
grotesquely hewn, drums, banners, and gongs, spears, silver and
gilded maces. And amid the crowd, and the clamor, and the general
intricacy and confusion- amid the million of black and yellow men,
turbaned and robed, and of flowing beard, there roamed a countless
multitude of holy filleted bulls, while vast legions of the filthy
but sacred ape clambered, chattering and shrieking, about the
cornices of the mosques, or clung to the minarets and oriels. From
the swarming streets to the banks of the river, there descended
innumerable flights of steps leading to bathing places, while the
river itself seemed to force a passage with difficulty through the
vast fleets of deeply -- burthened ships that far and wide
encountered its surface. Beyond the limits of the city arose, in
frequent majestic groups, the palm and the cocoa, with other gigantic
and weird trees of vast age, and here and there might be seen a field
of rice, the thatched hut of a peasant, a tank, a stray temple, a
gypsy camp, or a solitary graceful maiden taking her way, with a
pitcher upon her head, to the banks of the magnificent river.

"You will say now, of course, that I dreamed; but not so. What I saw
-- what I heard -- what I felt -- what I thought -- had about it
nothing of the unmistakable idiosyncrasy of the dream. All was
rigorously self-consistent. At first, doubting that I was really
awake, I entered into a series of tests, which soon convinced me that
I really was. Now, when one dreams, and, in the dream, suspects that
he dreams, the suspicion never fails to confirm itself, and the
sleeper is almost immediately aroused. Thus Novalis errs not in
saying that 'we are near waking when we dream that we dream.' Had the
vision occurred to me as I describe it, without my suspecting it as a
dream, then a dream it might absolutely have been, but, occurring as
it did, and suspected and tested as it was, I am forced to class it
among other phenomena."

"In this I am not sure that you are wrong," observed Dr. Templeton,
"but proceed. You arose and descended into the city."

"I arose," continued Bedloe, regarding the Doctor with an air of
profound astonishment "I arose, as you say, and descended into the
city. On my way I fell in with an immense populace, crowding through
every avenue, all in the same direction, and exhibiting in every
action the wildest excitement. Very suddenly, and by some
inconceivable impulse, I became intensely imbued with personal
interest in what was going on. I seemed to feel that I had an
important part to play, without exactly understanding what it was.
Against the crowd which environed me, however, I experienced a deep
sentiment of animosity. I shrank from amid them, and, swiftly, by a
circuitous path, reached and entered the city. Here all was the
wildest tumult and contention. A small party of men, clad in garments
half-Indian, half-European, and officered by gentlemen in a uniform
partly British, were engaged, at great odds, with the swarming rabble
of the alleys. I joined the weaker party, arming myself with the
weapons of a fallen officer, and fighting I knew not whom with the
nervous ferocity of despair. We were soon overpowered by numbers, and
driven to seek refuge in a species of kiosk. Here we barricaded
ourselves, and, for the present were secure. From a loop-hole near
the summit of the kiosk, I perceived a vast crowd, in furious
agitation, surrounding and assaulting a gay palace that overhung the
river. Presently, from an upper window of this place, there descended
an effeminate-looking person, by means of a string made of the
turbans of his attendants. A boat was at hand, in which he escaped to
the opposite bank of the river.

"And now a new object took possession of my soul. I spoke a few
hurried but energetic words to my companions, and, having succeeded
in gaining over a few of them to my purpose made a frantic sally from
the kiosk. We rushed amid the crowd that surrounded it. They
retreated, at first, before us. They rallied, fought madly, and
retreated again. In the mean time we were borne far from the kiosk,
and became bewildered and entangled among the narrow streets of tall,
overhanging houses, into the recesses of which the sun had never been
able to shine. The rabble pressed impetuously upon us, harrassing us
with their spears, and overwhelming us with flights of arrows. These
latter were very remarkable, and resembled in some respects the
writhing creese of the Malay. They were made to imitate the body of a
creeping serpent, and were long and black, with a poisoned barb. One
of them struck me upon the right temple. I reeled and fell. An
instantaneous and dreadful sickness seized me. I struggled -- I
gasped -- I died." "You will hardly persist now," said I smiling,
"that the whole of your adventure was not a dream. You are not
prepared to maintain that you are dead?"

When I said these words, I of course expected some lively sally from
Bedloe in reply, but, to my astonishment, he hesitated, trembled,
became fearfully pallid, and remained silent. I looked toward
Templeton. He sat erect and rigid in his chair -- his teeth
chattered, and his eyes were starting from their sockets. "Proceed!"
he at length said hoarsely to Bedloe.

"For many minutes," continued the latter, "my sole sentiment -- my
sole feeling -- was that of darkness and nonentity, with the
consciousness of death. At length there seemed to pass a violent and
sudden shock through my soul, as if of electricity. With it came the
sense of elasticity and of light. This latter I felt -- not saw. In
an instant I seemed to rise from the ground. But I had no bodily, no
visible, audible, or palpable presence. The crowd had departed. The
tumult had ceased. The city was in comparative repose. Beneath me lay
my corpse, with the arrow in my temple, the whole head greatly
swollen and disfigured. But all these things I felt -- not saw. I
took interest in nothing. Even the corpse seemed a matter in which I
had no concern. Volition I had none, but appeared to be impelled into
motion, and flitted buoyantly out of the city, retracing the
circuitous path by which I had entered it. When I had attained that
point of the ravine in the mountains at which I had encountered the
hyena, I again experienced a shock as of a galvanic battery, the
sense of weight, of volition, of substance, returned. I became my
original self, and bent my steps eagerly homeward -- but the past had
not lost the vividness of the real -- and not now, even for an
instant, can I compel my understanding to regard it as a dream."

"Nor was it," said Templeton, with an air of deep solemnity, "yet it
would be difficult to say how otherwise it should be termed. Let us
suppose only, that the soul of the man of to-day is upon the verge of
some stupendous psychal discoveries. Let us content ourselves with
this supposition. For the rest I have some explanation to make. Here
is a watercolor drawing, which I should have shown you before, but
which an unaccountable sentiment of horror has hitherto prevented me
from showing."

We looked at the picture which he presented. I saw nothing in it of
an extraordinary character, but its effect upon Bedloe was
prodigious. He nearly fainted as he gazed. And yet it was but a
miniature portrait -- a miraculously accurate one, to be sure -- of
his own very remarkable features. At least this was my thought as I
regarded it.

"You will perceive," said Templeton, "the date of this picture -- it
is here, scarcely visible, in this corner -- 1780. In this year was
the portrait taken. It is the likeness of a dead friend -- a Mr.
Oldeb -- to whom I became much attached at Calcutta, during the
administration of Warren Hastings. I was then only twenty years old.
When I first saw you, Mr. Bedloe, at Saratoga, it was the miraculous
similarity which existed between yourself and the painting which
induced me to accost you, to seek your friendship, and to bring about
those arrangements which resulted in my becoming your constant
companion. In accomplishing this point, I was urged partly, and
perhaps principally, by a regretful memory of the deceased, but also,
in part, by an uneasy, and not altogether horrorless curiosity
respecting yourself.

"In your detail of the vision which presented itself to you amid the
hills, you have described, with the minutest accuracy, the Indian
city of Benares, upon the Holy River. The riots, the combat, the
massacre, were the actual events of the insurrection of Cheyte Sing,
which took place in 1780, when Hastings was put in imminent peril of
his life. The man escaping by the string of turbans was Cheyte Sing
himself. The party in the kiosk were sepoys and British officers,
headed by Hastings. Of this party I was one, and did all I could to
prevent the rash and fatal sally of the officer who fell, in the
crowded alleys, by the poisoned arrow of a Bengalee. That officer was
my dearest friend. It was Oldeb. You will perceive by these
manuscripts," (here the speaker produced a note-book in which several
pages appeared to have been freshly written,) "that at the very
period in which you fancied these things amid the hills, I was
engaged in detailing them upon paper here at home."

In about a week after this conversation, the following paragraphs
appeared in a Charlottesville paper:

"We have the painful duty of announcing the death of Mr. Augustus
Bedlo, a gentleman whose amiable manners and many virtues have long
endeared him to the citizens of Charlottesville.

"Mr. B., for some years past, has been subject to neuralgia, which
has often threatened to terminate fatally; but this can be regarded
only as the mediate cause of his decease. The proximate cause was one
of especial singularity. In an excursion to the Ragged Mountains, a
few days since, a slight cold and fever were contracted, attended
with great determination of blood to the head. To relieve this, Dr.
Templeton resorted to topical bleeding. Leeches were applied to the
temples. In a fearfully brief period the patient died, when it
appeared that in the jar containing the leeches, had been introduced,
by accident, one of the venomous vermicular sangsues which are now
and then found in the neighboring ponds. This creature fastened
itself upon a small artery in the right temple. Its close resemblance
to the medicinal leech caused the mistake to be overlooked until too
late.

"N. B. The poisonous sangsue of Charlottesville may always be
distinguished from the medicinal leech by its blackness, and
especially by its writhing or vermicular motions, which very nearly
resemble those of a snake."

I was speaking with the editor of the paper in question, upon the
topic of this remarkable accident, when it occurred to me to ask how
it happened that the name of the deceased had been given as Bedlo.

"I presume," I said, "you have authority for this spelling, but I
have always supposed the name to be written with an e at the end."

"Authority? -- no," he replied. "It is a mere typographical error.
The name is Bedlo with an e, all the world over, and I never knew it
to be spelt otherwise in my life."

"Then," said I mutteringly, as I turned upon my heel, "then indeed
has it come to pass that one truth is stranger than any fiction --
for Bedloe, without the e, what is it but Oldeb conversed! And this
man tells me that it is a typographical error."
 
 
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