Part 2

And now,  as I still continued to step  cautiously onward, there  came thronging upon my recollection a thousand vague rumors of the horrors of     Toledo.       Of      the       dungeons      there                  had     been strange             things  nar- rated—fables  I  had   always  deemed  them—but  yet  strange,  and   too ghastly to repeat, save  in a whisper. Was I left to perish of starvation in this  subterranean world of darkness; or what  fate,  perhaps even  more fearful,  awaited me? That the result would be death, and  a death of more than  customary bitterness, I knew  too well the character of my judges  to doubt. The mode  and the hour  were all that occupied or distracted me.

My outstretched hands at length  encountered some  solid  obstruction. It  was  a  wall,  seemingly  of  stone  masonry—very smooth, slimy,  and cold.  I followed it up;  stepping with  all the  careful distrust with  which  certain antique narratives had  inspired me.  This  process,  however, afforded me no means of ascertaining the dimensions of my dungeon; as I might make  its circuit,  and  return to the point  whence I set out,  without being  aware of the fact; so perfectly uniform seemed the wall. I therefore sought the knife which  had  been in my pocket,  when led into the inquisitorial  chamber;  but  it was  gone;  my clothes  had  been  exchanged for a wrapper of  coarse  serge.  I had  thought  of  forcing  the  blade  in  some minute crevice  of the  masonry, so as to identify my  point  of departure. 

The difficulty, nevertheless, was  but  trivial;  although, in the  disorder of my fancy, it seemed at first insuperable. I tore a part  of the hem  from the robe  and  placed the  fragment at full length, and  at  right angles  to the wall. In groping my way  around the prison, I could  not fail to encounter this rag upon completing the circuit.  So, at least  I thought: but  I had  not counted upon the extent of the dungeon, or upon my own weakness. The ground was moist  and  slippery. I staggered onward for some time, when I stumbled and  fell. My excessive  fatigue induced me  to remain pros- trate; and sleep soon overtook me as I lay.

Upon  awaking, and  stretching forth  an  arm,  I found beside  me  a loaf and  a pitcher with water. I was  too much  exhausted to reflect  upon this circumstance, but  ate  and  drank with  avidity.  Shortly  afterward, I resumed my tour  around the prison, and  with  much  toil came at last upon the  fragment of the  serge.  Up  to the  period when I fell I had  counted fifty-two paces,  and  upon resuming my  walk,  I had  counted forty-eight more;—when I arrived at  the  rag.  There  were  in  all,  then,  a hundred paces;  and,  admitting two  paces  to the yard,  I presumed the dungeon to be fifty yards in circuit.  I had  met,  however, with  many  angles  in the wall, and  thus  I could  form no guess  at the shape  of the vault;  for vault  I could  not help supposing it to be.

I had  little  object—certainly no  hope  these  researches; but  a  vague curiosity prompted me to continue them.  Quitting the wall, I resolved to cross the area of the enclosure. At 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  ad- vanced 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 va- por,  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 ascer- taining at the  moment. Groping about  the  masonry just  below  the  mar- gin, 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 terrors of the wells, of which  my ima- gination now  pictured many  in various positions about the  dungeon. In other  conditions of mind I might have  had  courage to end  my misery  at once by a plunge into  one of these  abysses;  but  now  I was  the veriest  of cowards. Neither could  I forget what  I had  read  of these  pits—that the sudden extinction of life formed no part  of their most horrible plan.

Agitation of spirit  kept  me awake for many  long  hours;  but  at length  I again  slumbered. Upon  arousing, I found by my side,  as before,  a loaf and  a pitcher of water.  A burning thirst  consumed me, and  I emptied the vessel  at a draught. It must  have  been drugged; for scarcely  had  I drunk, before  I became  irresistibly drowsy. A deep  sleep  fell upon me—a  sleep like  that  of death. How  long  it lasted  of course,  I know  not;  but  when,  once again,  I unclosed my eyes, the objects around me were visible.  By a wild  sulphurous lustre,  the origin  of which  I could  not at first determine, I was enabled to see the extent and aspect  of the prison.

In its  size  I had  been  greatly mistaken. The  whole  circuit  of its  walls did  not exceed twenty-five yards. For some  minutes this  fact occasioned me a world of vain  trouble; vain  indeed!  for  what  could  be of less importance, under the terrible circumstances which  environed me, then the mere  dimensions of my  dungeon? But my  soul  took  a wild  interest in trifles,  and  I busied  myself  in endeavors to account for the error  I had committed in my measurement. The truth at length flashed upon me. In my  first  attempt at exploration I had  counted fifty-two paces,  up  to the period when I fell; I must  then  have  been  within a pace  or two  of the fragment of serge; in fact, I had nearly  performed the circuit  of the vault.  I  then   slept,   and   upon  awaking, I  must   have   returned  upon  my steps—thus supposing the circuit nearly  double what  it actually was. My confusion of mind prevented me from  observing that  I began  my  tour  with the wall to the left, and ended it with the wall to the right.

I had  been  deceived, too,  in  respect to  the  shape  of the  enclosure. In feeling  my  way  I had found many  angles,  and  thus  deduced an  idea  of great   irregularity; so  potent is  the  effect  of  total  darkness upon one arousing from  lethargy or sleep!  The angles  were  simply  those  of a few slight  depressions, or niches,  at  odd  intervals. The  general shape  of the prison was square. What I had taken  for masonry seemed now to be iron, or some  other  metal,  in huge  plates,  whose sutures or joints  occasioned the  depression. The  entire  surface  of this  metallic  enclosure was  rudely daubed in all the hideous and  repulsive devices  to which  the charnel superstition of the monks has given  rise. The figures of fiends  in aspects  of menace,  with  skeleton forms,  and  other  more  really  fearful  images,  over- spread and  disfigured  the  walls.  I observed that  the  outlines of these monstrosities were  sufficiently distinct, but  that  the colors  seemed faded and  blurred, as if from  the  effects of a damp atmosphere. I now  noticed the floor,  too,  which  was  of stone.  In the  centre  yawned the  circular pit from whose jaws I had escaped; but it was the only one in the dungeon.