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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 3

by Edgar Allan Poe

THE thought instantly occurred to me that the paper was a note

from Augustus, and that some unaccountable accident having happened
to prevent his relieving me from my dungeon, he had devised this
method of acquainting me with the true state of affairs. Trembling
with eagerness, I now commenced another search for my phosphorus
matches and tapers. I had a confused recollection of having put them
carefully away just before falling asleep; and, indeed, previously to
my last journey to the trap, I had been able to remember the exact
spot where I had deposited them. But now I endeavored in vain to call
it to mind, and busied myself for a full hour in a fruitless and
vexatious search for the missing articles; never, surely, was there a
more tantalizing state of anxiety and suspense. At length, while
groping about, with my head close to the ballast, near the opening of
the box, and outside of it, I perceived a faint glimmering of light
in the direction of the steerage. Greatly surprised, I endeavored to
make my way toward it, as it appeared to be but a few feet from my
position. Scarcely had I moved with this intention, when I lost sight
of the glimmer entirely, and, before I could bring it into view
again, was obliged to feel along by the box until I had exactly
resumed my original situation. Now, moving my head with caution to
and fro, I found that, by proceeding slowly, with great care, in an
opposite direction to that in which I had at first started, I was
enabled to draw near the light, still keeping it in view. Presently I
came directly upon it (having squeezed my way through innumerable
narrow windings), and found that it proceeded from some fragments of
my matches lying in an empty barrel turned upon its side. I was
wondering how they came in such a place, when my hand fell upon two
or three pieces of taper wax, which had been evidently mumbled by the
dog. I concluded at once that he had devoured the whole of my supply
of candles, and I felt hopeless of being ever able to read the note
of Augustus. The small remnants of the wax were so mashed up among
other rubbish in the barrel, that I despaired of deriving any service
from them, and left them as they were. The phosphorus, of which there
was only a speck or two, I gathered up as well as I could, and
returned with it, after much difficulty, to my box, where Tiger had
all the while remained.

What to do next I could not tell. The hold was so intensely dark

that I could not see my hand, however close I would hold it to my
face. The white slip of paper could barely be discerned, and not even
that when I looked at it directly; by turning the exterior portions
of the retina toward it- that is to say, by surveying it slightly
askance, I found that it became in some measure perceptible. Thus the
gloom of my prison may be imagined, and the note of my friend, if
indeed it were a note from him, seemed only likely to throw me into
further trouble, by disquieting to no purpose my already enfeebled
and agitated mind. In vain I revolved in my brain a multitude of
absurd expedients for procuring light- such expedients precisely as a
man in the perturbed sleep occasioned by opium would be apt to fall
upon for a similar purpose- each and all of which appear by turns to
the dreamer the most reasonable and the most preposterous of
conceptions, just as the reasoning or imaginative faculties flicker,
alternately, one above the other. At last an idea occurred to me
which seemed rational, and which gave me cause to wonder, very
justly, that I had not entertained it before. I placed the slip of
paper on the back of a book, and, collecting the fragments of the
phosphorus matches which I had brought from the barrel, laid them
together upon the paper. I then, with the palm of my hand, rubbed the
whole over quickly, yet steadily. A clear light diffused itself
immediately throughout the whole surface; and had there been any
writing upon it, I should not have experienced the least difficulty,
I am sure, in reading it. Not a syllable was there, however- nothing
but a dreary and unsatisfactory blank; the illumination died away in
a few seconds, and my heart died away within me as it went.

I have before stated more than once that my intellect, for some

period prior to this, had been in a condition nearly bordering on
idiocy. There were, to be sure, momentary intervals of perfect
sanity, and, now and then, even of energy; but these were few. It
must be remembered that I had been, for many days certainly, inhaling
the almost pestilential atmosphere of a close hold in a whaling
vessel, and for a long portion of that time but scantily supplied
with water. For the last fourteen or fifteen hours I had none- nor
had I slept during that time. Salt provisions of the most exciting
kind had been my chief, and, indeed, since the loss of the mutton, my
only supply of food, with the exception of the sea-biscuit; and these
latter were utterly useless to me, as they were too dry and hard to
be swallowed in the swollen and parched condition of my throat. I was
now in a high state of fever, and in every respect exceedingly ill.
This will account for the fact that many miserable hours of
despondency elapsed after my last adventure with the phosphorus,
before the thought suggested itself that I had examined only one side
of the paper. I shall not attempt to describe my feelings of rage
(for I believe I was more angry than any thing else) when the
egregious oversight I had committed flashed suddenly upon my
perception. The blunder itself would have been unimportant, had not
my own folly and impetuosity rendered it otherwise- in my
disappointment at not finding some words upon the slip, I had
childishly torn it in pieces and thrown it away, it was impossible to
say where.

From the worst part of this dilemma I was relieved by the

sagacity of Tiger. Having got, after a long search, a small piece of
the note, I put it to the dog's nose, and endeavored to make him
understand that he must bring me the rest of it. To my astonishment,
(for I had taught him none of the usual tricks for which his breed
are famous,) he seemed to enter at once into my meaning, and,
rummaging about for a few moments, soon found another considerable
portion. Bringing me this, he paused awhile, and, rubbing his nose
against my hand, appeared to be waiting for my approval of what he
had done. I patted him on the head, when he immediately made off
again. It was now some minutes before he came back- but when he did
come, he brought with him a large slip, which proved to be all the
paper missing- it having been torn, it seems, only into three pieces.
Luckily, I had no trouble in finding what few fragments of the
phosphorus were left- being guided by the indistinct glow one or two
of the particles still emitted. My difficulties had taught me the
necessity of caution, and I now took time to reflect upon what I was
about to do. It was very probable, I considered, that some words were
written upon that side of the paper which had not been examined- but
which side was that? Fitting the pieces together gave me no clew in
this respect, although it assured me that the words (if there were
any) would be found all on one side, and connected in a proper
manner, as written. There was the greater necessity of ascertaining
the point in question beyond a doubt, as the phosphorus remaining
would be altogether insufficient for a third attempt, should I fail
in the one I was now about to make. I placed the paper on a book as
before, and sat for some minutes thoughtfully revolving the matter
over in my mind. At last I thought it barely possible that the
written side might have some unevenness on its surface, which a
delicate sense of feeling might enable me to detect. I determined to
make the experiment and passed my finger very carefully over the side
which first presented itself. Nothing, however, was perceptible, and
I turned the paper, adjusting it on the book. I now again carried my
forefinger cautiously along, when I was aware of an exceedingly
slight, but still discernable glow, which followed as it proceeded.
This, I knew, must arise from some very minute remaining particles of
the phosphorus with which I had covered the paper in my previous
attempt. The other, or under side, then, was that on which lay the
writing, if writing there should finally prove to be. Again I turned
the note, and went to work as I had previously done. Having rubbed in
the phosphorus, a brilliancy ensued as before- but this time several
lines of MS. in a large hand, and apparently in red ink, became
distinctly visible. The glimmer, although sufficiently bright, was
but momentary. Still, had I not been too greatly excited, there would
have been ample time enough for me to peruse the whole three
sentences before me- for I saw there were three. In my anxiety,
however, to read all at once, I succeeded only in reading the seven
concluding words, which thus appeared- "blood- your life depends upon
lying close."

Had I been able to ascertain the entire contents of the note-the

full meaning of the admonition which my friend had thus attempted to
convey, that admonition, even although it should have revealed a
story of disaster the most unspeakable, could not, I am firmly
convinced, have imbued my mind with one tithe of the harrowing and
yet indefinable horror with which I was inspired by the fragmentary
warning thus received. And "blood," too, that word of all words- so
rife at all times with mystery, and suffering, and terror- how trebly
full of import did it now appear- how chilly and heavily (disjointed,
as it thus was, from any foregoing words to qualify or render it
distinct) did its vague syllables fall, amid the deep gloom of my
prison, into the innermost recesses of my soul!

Augustus had, undoubtedly, good reasons for wishing me to remain

concealed, and I formed a thousand surmises as to what they could be-
but I could think of nothing affording a satisfactory solution of the
mystery. Just after returning from my last journey to the trap, and
before my attention had been otherwise directed by the singular
conduct of Tiger, I had come to the resolution of making myself heard
at all events by those on board, or, if I could not succeed in this
directly, of trying to cut my way through the orlop deck. The half
certainty which I felt of being able to accomplish one of these two
purposes in the last emergency, had given me courage (which I should
not otherwise have had) to endure the evils of my situation. The few
words I had been able to read, however, had cut me off from these
final resources, and I now, for the first time, felt all the misery
of my fate. In a paroxysm of despair I threw myself again upon the
mattress, where, for about the period of a day and night, I lay in a
kind of stupor, relieved only by momentary intervals of reason and
recollection.

At length I once more arose, and busied myself in reflection

upon the horrors which encompassed me. For another twenty-four hours
it was barely possible that I might exist without water- for a longer
time I could not do so. During the first portion of my imprisonment I
had made free use of the cordials with which Augustus had supplied
me, but they only served to excite fever, without in the least degree
assuaging thirst. I had now only about a gill left, and this was of a
species of strong peach liqueur at which my stomach revolted. The
sausages were entirely consumed; of the ham nothing remained but a
small piece of the skin; and all the biscuit, except a few fragments
of one, had been eaten by Tiger. To add to my troubles, I found that
my headache was increasing momentarily, and with it the species of
delirium which had distressed me more or less since my first falling
asleep. For some hours past it had been with the greatest difficulty
I could breathe at all, and now each attempt at so doing was attended
with the most depressing spasmodic action of the chest. But there was
still another and very different source of disquietude, and one,
indeed, whose harassing terrors had been the chief means of arousing
me to exertion from my stupor on the mattress. It arose from the
demeanor of the dog.

I first observed an alteration in his conduct while rubbing in

the phosphorus on the paper in my last attempt. As I rubbed, he ran
his nose against my hand with a slight snarl; but I was too greatly
excited at the time to pay much attention to the circumstance. Soon
afterward, it will be remembered, I threw myself on the mattress, and
fell into a species of lethargy. Presently I became aware of a
singular hissing sound close at my ears, and discovered it to proceed
from Tiger, who was panting and wheezing in a state of the greatest
apparent excitement, his eyeballs flashing fiercely through the
gloom. I spoke to him, when he replied with a low growl, and then
remained quiet. Presently I relapsed into my stupor, from which I was
again awakened in a similar manner. This was repeated three or four
times, until finally his behaviour inspired me with so great a degree
of fear, that I became fully aroused. He was now lying close by the
door of the box, snarling fearfully, although in a kind of undertone,
and grinding his teeth as if strongly convulsed. I had no doubt
whatever that the want of water or the confined atmosphere of the
hold had driven him mad, and I was at a loss what course to pursue. I
could not endure the thought of killing him, yet it seemed absolutely
necessary for my own safety. I could distinctly perceive his eyes
fastened upon me with an expression of the most deadly animosity, and
I expected every instant that he would attack me. At last I could
endure my terrible situation no longer, and determined to make my way
from the box at all hazards, and dispatch him, if his opposition
should render it necessary for me to do so. To get out, I had to pass
directly over his body, and he already seemed to anticipate my
design--missing himself upon his fore-legs (as I perceived by the
altered position of his eyes), and displayed the whole of his white
fangs, which were easily discernible. I took the remains of the
ham-skin, and the bottle containing the liqueur, and secured them
about my person, together with a large carving-knife which Augustus
had left me- then, folding my cloak around me as closely as possible,
I made a movement toward the mouth of the box. No sooner did I do
this, than the dog sprang with a loud growl toward my throat. The
whole weight of his body struck me on the right shoulder, and I fell
violently to the left, while the enraged animal passed entirely over
me. I had fallen upon my knees, with my head buried among the
blankets, and these protected me from a second furious assault,
during which I felt the sharp teeth pressing vigorously upon the
woollen which enveloped my neck- yet, luckily, without being able to
penetrate all the folds. I was now beneath the dog, and a few moments
would place me completely in his power. Despair gave me strength, and
I rose boldly up, shaking him from me by main force, and dragging
with me the blankets from the mattress. These I now threw over him,
and before he could extricate himself, I had got through the door and
closed it effectually against his pursuit. In this struggle, however,
I had been forced to drop the morsel of ham-skin, and I now found my
whole stock of provisions reduced to a single gill of liqueur. As
this reflection crossed my mind, I felt myself actuated by one of
those fits of perverseness which might be supposed to influence a
spoiled child in similar circumstances, and, raising the bottle to my
lips, I drained it to the last drop, and dashed it furiously upon the
floor.

Scarcely had the echo of the crash died away, when I heard my

name pronounced in an eager but subdued voice, issuing from the
direction of the steerage. So unexpected was anything of the kind,
and so intense was the emotion excited within me by the sound, that I
endeavoured in vain to reply. My powers of speech totally failed, and
in an agony of terror lest my friend should conclude me dead, and
return without attempting to reach me, I stood up between the crates
near the door of the box, trembling convulsively, and gasping and
struggling for utterance. Had a thousand words depended upon a
syllable, I could not have spoken it. There was a slight movement now
audible among the lumber somewhere forward of my station. The sound
presently grew less distinct, then again less so, and still less.
Shall I ever forget my feelings at this moment? He was going- my
friend, my companion, from whom I had a right to expect so much- he
was going- he would abandon me- he was gone! He would leave me to
perish miserably, to expire in the most horrible and loathesome of
dungeons- and one word, one little syllable, would save me- yet that
single syllable I could not utter! I felt, I am sure, more than ten
thousand times the agonies of death itself. My brain reeled, and I
fell, deadly sick, against the end of the box.

As I fell the carving-knife was shaken out from the waist-band

of my pantaloons, and dropped with a rattling sound to the floor.
Never did any strain of the richest melody come so sweetly to my
ears! With the intensest anxiety I listened to ascertain the effect
of the noise upon Augustus- for I knew that the person who called my
name could be no one but himself. All was silent for some moments. At
length I again heard the word "Arthur!" repeated in a low tone, and
one full of hesitation. Reviving hope loosened at once my powers of
speech, and I now screamed at the top of my voice, "Augustus! oh,
Augustus!" "Hush! for God's sake be silent!" he replied, in a voice
trembling with agitation; "I will be with you immediately- as soon as
I can make my way through the hold." For a long time I heard him
moving among the lumber, and every moment seemed to me an age. At
length I felt his hand upon my shoulder, and he placed, at the same
moment, a bottle of water to my lips. Those only who have been
suddenly redeemed from the jaws of the tomb, or who have known the
insufferable torments of thirst under circumstances as aggravated as
those which encompassed me in my dreary prison, can form any idea of
the unutterable transports which that one long draught of the richest
of all physical luxuries afforded.

When I had in some degree satisfied my thirst, Augustus produced

from his pocket three or four boiled potatoes, which I devoured with
the greatest avidity. He had brought with him a light in a dark
lantern, and the grateful rays afforded me scarcely less comfort than
the food and drink. But I was impatient to learn the cause of his
protracted absence, and he proceeded to recount what had happened on
board during my incarceration.



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