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    A Tale of the Ragged Mountains

    by Edgar Allan Poe
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    (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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