A Predicament by Edgar Allan Poe
What chance, good lady, hath bereft you thus?

--COMUS.

IT was a quiet and still afternoon when I strolled forth in the
goodly city of Edina. The confusion and bustle in the streets were
terrible. Men were talking. Women were screaming. Children were
choking. Pigs were whistling. Carts they rattled. Bulls they
bellowed. Cows they lowed. Horses they neighed. Cats they
caterwauled. Dogs they danced. Danced! Could it then be possible?
Danced! Alas, thought I, my dancing days are over! Thus it is ever.
What a host of gloomy recollections will ever and anon be awakened in
the mind of genius and imaginative contemplation, especially of a
genius doomed to the everlasting and eternal, and continual, and, as
one might say, the -- continued -- yes, the continued and continuous,
bitter, harassing, disturbing, and, if I may be allowed the
expression, the very disturbing influence of the serene, and godlike,
and heavenly, and exalted, and elevated, and purifying effect of what
may be rightly termed the most enviable, the most truly enviable --
nay! the most benignly beautiful, the most deliciously ethereal, and,
as it were, the most pretty (if I may use so bold an expression)
thing (pardon me, gentle reader!) in the world -- but I am always led
away by my feelings. In such a mind, I repeat, what a host of
recollections are stirred up by a trifle! The dogs danced! I -- I
could not! They frisked -- I wept. They capered -- I sobbed aloud.
Touching circumstances! which cannot fail to bring to the
recollection of the classical reader that exquisite passage in
relation to the fitness of things, which is to be found in the
commencement of the third volume of that admirable and venerable
Chinese novel the Jo-Go-Slow.

In my solitary walk through, the city I had two humble but faithful
companions. Diana, my poodle! sweetest of creatures! She had a
quantity of hair over her one eye, and a blue ribband tied
fashionably around her neck. Diana was not more than five inches in
height, but her head was somewhat bigger than her body, and her tail
being cut off exceedingly close, gave an air of injured innocence to
the interesting animal which rendered her a favorite with all.

And Pompey, my negro! -- sweet Pompey! how shall I ever forget thee?
I had taken Pompey's arm. He was three feet in height (I like to be
particular) and about seventy, or perhaps eighty, years of age. He
had bow-legs and was corpulent. His mouth should not be called small,
nor his ears short. His teeth, however, were like pearl, and his
large full eyes were deliciously white. Nature had endowed him with
no neck, and had placed his ankles (as usual with that race) in the
middle of the upper portion of the feet. He was clad with a striking
simplicity. His sole garments were a stock of nine inches in height,
and a nearly -- new drab overcoat which had formerly been in the
service of the tall, stately, and illustrious Dr. Moneypenny. It was
a good overcoat. It was well cut. It was well made. The coat was
nearly new. Pompey held it up out of the dirt with both hands.

There were three persons in our party, and two of them have already
been the subject of remark. There was a third -- that person was
myself. I am the Signora Psyche Zenobia. I am not Suky Snobbs. My
appearance is commanding. On the memorable occasion of which I speak
I was habited in a crimson satin dress, with a sky-blue Arabian
mantelet. And the dress had trimmings of green agraffas, and seven
graceful flounces of the orange-colored auricula. I thus formed the
third of the party. There was the poodle. There was Pompey. There was
myself. We were three. Thus it is said there were originally but
three Furies -- Melty, Nimmy, and Hetty -- Meditation, Memory, and
Fiddling.

Leaning upon the arm of the gallant Pompey, and attended at a
respectable distance by Diana, I proceeded down one of the populous
and very pleasant streets of the now deserted Edina. On a sudden,
there presented itself to view a church -- a Gothic cathedral --
vast, venerable, and with a tall steeple, which towered into the sky.
What madness now possessed me? Why did I rush upon my fate? I was
seized with an uncontrollable desire to ascend the giddy pinnacle,
and then survey the immense extent of the city. The door of the
cathedral stood invitingly open. My destiny prevailed. I entered the
ominous archway. Where then was my guardian angel? -- if indeed such
angels there be. If! Distressing monosyllable! what world of mystery,
and meaning, and doubt, and uncertainty is there involved in thy two
letters! I entered the ominous archway! I entered; and, without
injury to my orange-colored auriculas, I passed beneath the portal,
and emerged within the vestibule. Thus it is said the immense river
Alfred passed, unscathed, and unwetted, beneath the sea.

I thought the staircase would never have an end. Round! Yes, they
went round and up, and round and up and round and up, until I could
not help surmising, with the sagacious Pompey, upon whose supporting
arm I leaned in all the confidence of early affection -- I could not
help surmising that the upper end of the continuous spiral ladder had
been accidentally, or perhaps designedly, removed. I paused for
breath; and, in the meantime, an accident occurred of too momentous a
nature in a moral, and also in a metaphysical point of view, to be
passed over without notice. It appeared to me -- indeed I was quite
confident of the fact -- I could not be mistaken -- no! I had, for
some moments, carefully and anxiously observed the motions of my
Diana -- I say that I could not be mistaken -- Diana smelt a rat! At
once I called Pompey's attention to the subject, and he -- he agreed
with me. There was then no longer any reasonable room for doubt. The
rat had been smelled -- and by Diana. Heavens! shall I ever forget
the intense excitement of the moment? Alas! what is the boasted
intellect of man? The rat! -- it was there -- that is to say, it was
somewhere. Diana smelled the rat. I -- I could not! Thus it is said
the Prussian Isis has, for some persons, a sweet and very powerful
perfume, while to others it is perfectly scentless.

The staircase had been surmounted, and there were now only three or
four more upward steps intervening between us and the summit. We
still ascended, and now only one step remained. One step! One little,
little step! Upon one such little step in the great staircase of
human life how vast a sum of human happiness or misery depends! I
thought of myself, then of Pompey, and then of the mysterious and
inexplicable destiny which surrounded us. I thought of Pompey! --
alas, I thought of love! I thought of my many false steps which have
been taken, and may be taken again. I resolved to be more cautious,
more reserved. I abandoned the arm of Pompey, and, without his
assistance, surmounted the one remaining step, and gained the chamber
of the belfry. I was followed immediately afterward by my poodle.
Pompey alone remained behind. I stood at the head of the staircase,
and encouraged him to ascend. He stretched forth to me his hand, and
unfortunately in so doing was forced to abandon his firm hold upon
the overcoat. Will the gods never cease their persecution? The
overcoat is dropped, and, with one of his feet, Pompey stepped upon
the long and trailing skirt of the overcoat. He stumbled and fell --
this consequence was inevitable. He fell forward, and, with his
accursed head, striking me full in the -- in the breast, precipitated
me headlong, together with himself, upon the hard, filthy, and
detestable floor of the belfry. But my revenge was sure, sudden, and
complete. Seizing him furiously by the wool with both hands, I tore
out a vast quantity of black, and crisp, and curling material, and
tossed it from me with every manifestation of disdain. It fell among
the ropes of the belfry and remained. Pompey arose, and said no word.
But he regarded me piteously with his large eyes and -- sighed. Ye
Gods -- that sigh! It sunk into my heart. And the hair -- the wool!
Could I have reached that wool I would have bathed it with my tears,
in testimony of regret. But alas! it was now far beyond my grasp. As
it dangled among the cordage of the bell, I fancied it alive. I
fancied that it stood on end with indignation. Thus the happy-dandy
Flos Aeris of Java bears, it is said, a beautiful flower, which will
live when pulled up by the roots. The natives suspend it by a cord
from the ceiling and enjoy its fragrance for years.

Our quarrel was now made up, and we looked about the room for an
aperture through which to survey the city of Edina. Windows there
were none. The sole light admitted into the gloomy chamber proceeded
from a square opening, about a foot in diameter, at a height of about
seven feet from the floor. Yet what will the energy of true genius
not effect? I resolved to clamber up to this hole. A vast quantity of
wheels, pinions, and other cabalistic -- looking machinery stood
opposite the hole, close to it; and through the hole there passed an
iron rod from the machinery. Between the wheels and the wall where
the hole lay there was barely room for my body -- yet I was
desperate, and determined to persevere. I called Pompey to my side.

"You perceive that aperture, Pompey. I wish to look through it. You
will stand here just beneath the hole -- so. Now, hold out one of
your hands, Pompey, and let me step upon it -- thus. Now, the other
hand, Pompey, and with its aid I will get upon your shoulders."

He did every thing I wished, and I found, upon getting up, that I
could easily pass my head and neck through the aperture. The prospect
was sublime. Nothing could be more magnificent. I merely paused a
moment to bid Diana behave herself, and assure Pompey that I would be
considerate and bear as lightly as possible upon his shoulders. I
told him I would be tender of his feelings -- ossi tender que
beefsteak. Having done this justice to my faithful friend, I gave
myself up with great zest and enthusiasm to the enjoyment of the
scene which so obligingly spread itself out before my eyes.

Upon this subject, however, I shall forbear to dilate. I will not
describe the city of Edinburgh. Every one has been to the city of
Edinburgh. Every one has been to Edinburgh -- the classic Edina. I
will confine myself to the momentous details of my own lamentable
adventure. Having, in some measure, satisfied my curiosity in regard
to the extent, situation, and general appearance of the city, I had
leisure to survey the church in which I was, and the delicate
architecture of the steeple. I observed that the aperture through
which I had thrust my head was an opening in the dial-plate of a
gigantic clock, and must have appeared, from the street, as a large
key-hole, such as we see in the face of the French watches. No doubt
the true object was to admit the arm of an attendant, to adjust, when
necessary, the hands of the clock from within. I observed also, with
surprise, the immense size of these hands, the longest of which could
not have been less than ten feet in length, and, where broadest,
eight or nine inches in breadth. They were of solid steel apparently,
and their edges appeared to be sharp. Having noticed these
particulars, and some others, I again turned my eyes upon the
glorious prospect below, and soon became absorbed in contemplation.

From this, after some minutes, I was aroused by the voice of Pompey,
who declared that he could stand it no longer, and requested that I
would be so kind as to come down. This was unreasonable, and I told
him so in a speech of some length. He replied, but with an evident
misunderstanding of my ideas upon the subject. I accordingly grew
angry, and told him in plain words, that he was a fool, that he had
committed an ignoramus e-clench-eye, that his notions were mere
insommary Bovis, and his words little better than an
ennemywerrybor'em. With this he appeared satisfied, and I resumed my
contemplations.

It might have been half an hour after this altercation when, as I was
deeply absorbed in the heavenly scenery beneath me, I was startled by
something very cold which pressed with a gentle pressure on the back
of my neck. It is needless to say that I felt inexpressibly alarmed.
I knew that Pompey was beneath my feet, and that Diana was sitting,
according to my explicit directions, upon her hind legs, in the
farthest corner of the room. What could it be? Alas! I but too soon
discovered. Turning my head gently to one side, I perceived, to my
extreme horror, that the huge, glittering, scimetar-like minute-hand
of the clock had, in the course of its hourly revolution, descended
upon my neck. There was, I knew, not a second to be lost. I pulled
back at once -- but it was too late. There was no chance of forcing
my head through the mouth of that terrible trap in which it was so
fairly caught, and which grew narrower and narrower with a rapidity
too horrible to be conceived. The agony of that moment is not to be
imagined. I threw up my hands and endeavored, with all my strength,
to force upward the ponderous iron bar. I might as well have tried to
lift the cathedral itself. Down, down, down it came, closer and yet
closer. I screamed to Pompey for aid; but he said that I had hurt his
feelings by calling him 'an ignorant old squint-eye:' I yelled to
Diana; but she only said 'bow-wow-wow,' and that I had told her 'on
no account to stir from the corner.' Thus I had no relief to expect
from my associates.

Meantime the ponderous and terrific Scythe of Time (for I now
discovered the literal import of that classical phrase) had not
stopped, nor was it likely to stop, in its career. Down and still
down, it came. It had already buried its sharp edge a full inch in my
flesh, and my sensations grew indistinct and confused. At one time I
fancied myself in Philadelphia with the stately Dr. Moneypenny, at
another in the back parlor of Mr. Blackwood receiving his invaluable
instructions. And then again the sweet recollection of better and
earlier times came over me, and I thought of that happy period when
the world was not all a desert, and Pompey not altogether cruel.

The ticking of the machinery amused me. Amused me, I say, for my
sensations now bordered upon perfect happiness, and the most trifling
circumstances afforded me pleasure. The eternal click-clak,
click-clak, click-clak of the clock was the most melodious of music
in my ears, and occasionally even put me in mind of the graceful
sermonic harangues of Dr. Ollapod. Then there were the great figures
upon the dial-plate -- how intelligent how intellectual, they all
looked! And presently they took to dancing the Mazurka, and I think
it was the figure V. who performed the most to my satisfaction. She
was evidently a lady of breeding. None of your swaggerers, and
nothing at all indelicate in her motions. She did the pirouette to
admiration -- whirling round upon her apex. I made an endeavor to
hand her a chair, for I saw that she appeared fatigued with her
exertions -- and it was not until then that I fully perceived my
lamentable situation. Lamentable indeed! The bar had buried itself
two inches in my neck. I was aroused to a sense of exquisite pain. I
prayed for death, and, in the agony of the moment, could not help
repeating those exquisite verses of the poet Miguel De Cervantes:

Vanny Buren, tan escondida

Query no te senty venny

Pork and pleasure, delly morry

Nommy, torny, darry, widdy!

But now a new horror presented itself, and one indeed sufficient to
startle the strongest nerves. My eyes, from the cruel pressure of the
machine, were absolutely starting from their sockets. While I was
thinking how I should possibly manage without them, one actually
tumbled out of my head, and, rolling down the steep side of the
steeple, lodged in the rain gutter which ran along the eaves of the
main building. The loss of the eye was not so much as the insolent
air of independence and contempt with which it regarded me after it
was out. There it lay in the gutter just under my nose, and the airs
it gave itself would have been ridiculous had they not been
disgusting. Such a winking and blinking were never before seen. This
behavior on the part of my eye in the gutter was not only irritating
on account of its manifest insolence and shameful ingratitude, but
was also exceedingly inconvenient on account of the sympathy which
always exists between two eyes of the same head, however far apart. I
was forced, in a manner, to wink and to blink, whether I would or
not, in exact concert with the scoundrelly thing that lay just under
my nose. I was presently relieved, however, by the dropping out of
the other eye. In falling it took the same direction (possibly a
concerted plot) as its fellow. Both rolled out of the gutter
together, and in truth I was very glad to get rid of them.

The bar was now four inches and a half deep in my neck, and there was
only a little bit of skin to cut through. My sensations were those of
entire happiness, for I felt that in a few minutes, at farthest, I
should be relieved from my disagreeable situation. And in this
expectation I was not at all deceived. At twenty-five minutes past
five in the afternoon, precisely, the huge minute-hand had proceeded
sufficiently far on its terrible revolution to sever the small
remainder of my neck. I was not sorry to see the head which had
occasioned me so much embarrassment at length make a final separation
from my body. It first rolled down the side of the steeple, then
lodge, for a few seconds, in the gutter, and then made its way, with
a plunge, into the middle of the street.

I will candidly confess that my feelings were now of the most
singular -- nay, of the most mysterious, the most perplexing and
incomprehensible character. My senses were here and there at one and
the same moment. With my head I imagined, at one time, that I, the
head, was the real Signora Psyche Zenobia -- at another I felt
convinced that myself, the body, was the proper identity. To clear my
ideas on this topic I felt in my pocket for my snuff-box, but, upon
getting it, and endeavoring to apply a pinch of its grateful contents
in the ordinary manner, I became immediately aware of my peculiar
deficiency, and threw the box at once down to my head. It took a
pinch with great satisfaction, and smiled me an acknowledgement in
return. Shortly afterward it made me a speech, which I could hear but
indistinctly without ears. I gathered enough, however, to know that
it was astonished at my wishing to remain alive under such
circumstances. In the concluding sentences it quoted the noble words
of Ariosto--

Il pover hommy che non sera corty

And have a combat tenty erry morty; thus comparing me to the hero
who, in the heat of the combat, not perceiving that he was dead,
continued to contest the battle with inextinguishable valor. There
was nothing now to prevent my getting down from my elevation, and I
did so. What it was that Pompey saw so very peculiar in my appearance
I have never yet been able to find out. The fellow opened his mouth
from ear to ear, and shut his two eyes as if he were endeavoring to
crack nuts between the lids. Finally, throwing off his overcoat, he
made one spring for the staircase and disappeared. I hurled after the
scoundrel these vehement words of Demosthenes-

Andrew O'Phlegethon, you really make haste to fly, and then turned to
the darling of my heart, to the one-eyed! the shaggy-haired Diana.
Alas! what a horrible vision affronted my eyes? Was that a rat I saw
skulking into his hole? Are these the picked bones of the little
angel who has been cruelly devoured by the monster? Ye gods! and what
do I behold -- is that the departed spirit, the shade, the ghost, of
my beloved puppy, which I perceive sitting with a grace so
melancholy, in the corner? Hearken! for she speaks, and, heavens! it
is in the German of Schiller-

"Unt stubby duk, so stubby dun
Duk she! duk she!"

Alas! and are not her words too true?

"And if I died, at least I died
For thee -- for thee."

Sweet creature! she too has sacrificed herself
in my behalf. Dogless, niggerless, headless, what now remains for the
unhappy Signora Psyche Zenobia? Alas -- nothing! I have done.
 
 
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