The Works of Edgar Allan Poe — Volume 2

By Edgar Allan Poe

Page 133

first I proceeded with extreme
caution, for the floor, although seemingly of solid material, was
treacherous with slime. At length, however, I took courage, and did not
hesitate to step firmly; endeavoring to cross in as direct a line as
possible. I had advanced some ten or twelve paces in this manner, when
the remnant of the torn hem of my robe became entangled between my legs.
I stepped on it, and fell violently on my face.

In the confusion attending my fall, I did not immediately apprehend a
somewhat startling circumstance, which yet, in a few seconds afterward,
and while I still lay prostrate, arrested my attention. It was this--my
chin rested upon the floor of the prison, but my lips and the upper
portion of my head, although seemingly at a less elevation than the
chin, touched nothing. At the same time my forehead seemed bathed in
a clammy vapor, and the peculiar smell of decayed fungus arose to my
nostrils. I put forward my arm, and shuddered to find that I had fallen
at the very brink of a circular pit, whose extent, of course, I had
no means of ascertaining at the moment. Groping about the masonry just
below the margin, I succeeded in dislodging a small fragment, and let it
fall into the abyss. For many seconds I hearkened to its reverberations
as it dashed against the sides of the chasm in its descent; at length
there was a sullen plunge into water, succeeded by loud echoes. At the
same moment there came a sound resembling the quick opening, and as
rapid closing of a door overhead, while a faint gleam of light flashed
suddenly through the gloom, and as suddenly faded away.

I saw clearly the doom which had been prepared for me, and congratulated
myself upon the timely accident by which I had escaped. Another step
before my fall, and the world had seen me no more. And the death just
avoided, was of that very character which I had regarded as fabulous and
frivolous in the tales respecting the Inquisition. To the victims of its
tyranny, there was the choice of death with its direst physical agonies,
or death with its most hideous moral horrors. I had been reserved for
the latter. By long suffering my nerves had been unstrung, until I
trembled at the sound of my own voice, and had become in every respect a
fitting subject for the species of torture which awaited me.

Shaking in every limb, I groped my way back to the wall; resolving
there to perish rather than risk the

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