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or, the Modern Prometheus
by Mary Shelley

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Chapter 13

"I now hasten to the more moving part of my story. I shall relate

events that impressed me with feelings which, from what I had been,

have made me what I am.

"Spring advanced rapidly; the weather became fine and the skies cloudless.

It surprised me that what before was desert and gloomy should now bloom

with the most beautiful flowers and verdure. My senses were gratified

and refreshed by a thousand scents of delight

and a thousand sights of beauty.

"It was on one of these days, when my cottagers periodically

rested from labour--the old man played on his guitar, and the children

listened to him--that I observed the countenance of Felix

was melancholy beyond expression; he sighed frequently, and once

his father paused in his music, and I conjectured by his manner

that he inquired the cause of his son's sorrow. Felix replied

in a cheerful accent, and the old man was recommencing his music

when someone tapped at the door.

"It was a lady on horseback, accompanied by a country-man as a guide.

The lady was dressed in a dark suit and covered with a thick black veil.

Agatha asked a question, to which the stranger only replied

by pronouncing, in a sweet accent, the name of Felix. Her voice

was musical but unlike that of either of my friends.

On hearing this word, Felix came up hastily to the lady, who,

when she saw him, threw up her veil, and I beheld a countenance

of angelic beauty and expression. Her hair of a shining raven black,

and curiously braided; her eyes were dark, but gentle, although animated;

her features of a regular proportion, and her complexion wondrously fair,

each cheek tinged with a lovely pink.

"Felix seemed ravished with delight when he saw her, every

trait of sorrow vanished from his face, and it instantly expressed

a degree of ecstatic joy, of which I could hardly have

believed it capable; his eyes sparkled, as his cheek flushed

with pleasure; and at that moment I thought him as beautiful

as the stranger. She appeared affected by different feelings;

wiping a few tears from her lovely eyes, she held out her hand

to Felix, who kissed it rapturously and called her, as well

as I could distinguish, his sweet Arabian. She did not appear

to understand him, but smiled. He assisted her to dismount,

and dismissing her guide, conducted her into the cottage.

Some conversation took place between him and his father,

and the young stranger knelt at the old man's feet and would have kissed

his hand, but he raised her and embraced her affectionately.

"I soon perceived that although the stranger uttered articulate sounds

and appeared to have a language of her own, she was neither understood by

nor herself understood the cottagers. They made many signs

which I did not comprehend, but I saw that her presence

diffused gladness through the cottage, dispelling their sorrow

as the sun dissipates the morning mists. Felix seemed peculiarly happy

and with smiles of delight welcomed his Arabian. Agatha,

the ever-gentle Agatha, kissed the hands of the lovely stranger,

and pointing to her brother, made signs which appeared to me to mean

that he had been sorrowful until she came. Some hours passed thus,

while they, by their countenances, expressed joy, the cause of which

I did not comprehend. Presently I found, by the frequent recurrence

of some sound which the stranger repeated after them,

that she was endeavouring to learn their language; and the idea

instantly occurred to me that I should make use of the same instructions

to the same end. The stranger learned about twenty words

at the first lesson; most of them, indeed, were those which I had

before understood, but I profited by the others.

"As night came on, Agatha and the Arabian retired early.

When they separated Felix kissed the hand of the stranger and said,

'Good night sweet Safie.' He sat up much longer, conversing with

his father, and by the frequent repetition of her name I conjectured

that their lovely guest was the subject of their conversation.

I ardently desired to understand them, and bent every faculty

towards that purpose, but found it utterly impossible.

"The next morning Felix went out to his work, and after

the usual occupations of Agatha were finished, the Arabian sat

at the feet of the old man, and taking his guitar, played some airs

so entrancingly beautiful that they at once drew tears of sorrow

and delight from my eyes. She sang, and her voice flowed

in a rich cadence, swelling or dying away like a nightingale of the woods.

"When she had finished, she gave the guitar to Agatha,

who at first declined it. She played a simple air, and her voice

accompanied it in sweet accents, but unlike the wondrous strain

of the stranger. The old man appeared enraptured and said some words

which Agatha endeavoured to explain to Safie, and by which he appeared

to wish to express that she bestowed on him the greatest delight

by her music.

"The days now passed as peaceably as before, with the sole alteration

that joy had taken place of sadness in the countenances of my friends.

Safie was always gay and happy; she and I improved rapidly

in the knowledge of language, so that in two months I began to comprehend

most of the words uttered by my protectors.

"In the meanwhile also the black ground was covered with herbage,

and the green banks interspersed with innumerable flowers,

sweet to the scent and the eyes, stars of pale radiance

among the moonlight woods; the sun became warmer, the nights

clear and balmy; and my nocturnal rambles were an extreme pleasure to me,

although they were considerably shortened by the late setting

and early rising of the sun, for I never ventured abroad during daylight,

fearful of meeting with the same treatment I had formerly endured

in the first village which I entered.

"My days were spent in close attention, that I might more speedily

master the language; and I may boast that I improved more rapidly

than the Arabian, who understood very little and conversed

in broken accents, whilst I comprehended and could imitate

almost every word that was spoken.

"While I improved in speech, I also learned the science of letters

as it was taught to the stranger, and this opened before me

a wide field for wonder and delight.

"The book from which Felix instructed Safie was Volney's Ruins of Empires.

I should not have understood the purport of this book had not Felix,

in reading it, given very minute explanations. He had chosen this work,

he said, because the declamatory style was framed in imitation

of the Eastern authors. Through this work I obtained

a cursory knowledge of history and a view of the several empires

at present existing in the world; it gave me an insight into the manners,

governments, and religions of the different nations of the earth.

I heard of the slothful Asiatics, of the stupendous genius

and mental activity of the Grecians, of the wars and wonderful virtue

of the early Romans--of their subsequent degenerating--of the decline

of that mighty empire, of chivalry, Christianity, and kings. I heard

of the discovery of the American hemisphere and wept with Safie

over the hapless fate of its original inhabitants.

"These wonderful narrations inspired me with strange feelings.

Was man, indeed, at once so powerful, so virtuous and magnificent,

yet so vicious and base? He appeared at one time a mere scion

of the evil principle and at another as all that can be conceived

of noble and godlike. To be a great and virtuous man

appeared the highest honour that can befall a sensitive being;

to be base and vicious, as many on record have been, appeared

the lowest degradation, a condition more abject than that

of the blind mole or harmless worm. For a long time

I could not conceive how one man could go forth to murder his fellow,

or even why there were laws and governments; but when I heard details

of vice and bloodshed, my wonder ceased and I turned away

with disgust and loathing.

"Every conversation of the cottagers now opened new wonders to me.

While I listened to the instructions which Felix bestowed upon the Arabian,

the strange system of human society was explained to me. I heard

of the division of property, of immense wealth and squalid poverty,

of rank, descent, and noble blood.

"The words induced me to turn towards myself. I learned

that the possessions most esteemed by your fellow creatures

were high and unsullied descent united with riches. A man

might be respected with only one of these advantages,

but without either he was considered, except in very rare instances,

as a vagabond and a slave, doomed to waste his powers for the profits

of the chosen few! And what was I? Of my creation and creator

I was absolutely ignorant, but I knew that I possessed no money,

no friends, no kind of property. I was, besides, endued with a figure

hideously deformed and loathsome; I was not even of the same nature as man.

I was more agile than they and could subsist upon coarser diet;

I bore the extremes of heat and cold with less injury to my frame;

my stature far exceeded theirs. When I looked around I saw

and heard of none like me. Was I, then, a monster, a blot

upon the earth, from which all men fled and whom all men disowned?

"I cannot describe to you the agony that these reflections

inflicted upon me; I tried to dispel them, but sorrow only increased

with knowledge. Oh, that I had forever remained in my native wood,

nor known nor felt beyond the sensations of hunger, thirst, and heat!

"Of what a strange nature is knowledge! It clings to the mind

when it has once seized on it like a lichen on the rock.

I wished sometimes to shake off all thought and feeling,

but I learned that there was but one means to overcome

the sensation of pain, and that was death--a state which I feared

yet did not understand. I admired virtue and good feelings

and loved the gentle manners and amiable qualities of my cottagers,

but I was shut out from intercourse with them, except through means

which I obtained by stealth, when I was unseen and unknown,

and which rather increased than satisfied the desire I had

of becoming one among my fellows. The gentle words of Agatha

and the animated smiles of the charming Arabian were not for me.

The mild exhortations of the old man and the lively conversation

of the loved Felix were not for me. Miserable, unhappy wretch!

"Other lessons were impressed upon me even more deeply. I heard

of the difference of sexes, and the birth and growth of children,

how the father doted on the smiles of the infant, and the lively sallies

of the older child, how all the life and cares of the mother

were wrapped up in the precious charge, how the mind of youth

expanded and gained knowledge, of brother, sister, and all

the various relationships which bind one human being

to another in mutual bonds.

"But where were my friends and relations? No father had watched

my infant days, no mother had blessed me with smiles and caresses;

or if they had, all my past life was now a blot, a blind vacancy

in which I distinguished nothing. From my earliest remembrance

I had been as I then was in height and proportion. I had never yet

seen a being resembling me or who claimed any intercourse with me.

What was I? The question again recurred, to be answered only with groans.

"I will soon explain to what these feelings tended, but allow me now

to return to the cottagers, whose story excited in me

such various feelings of indignation, delight, and wonder,

but which all terminated in additional love and reverence

for my protectors (for so I loved, in an innocent, half-painful

self-deceit, to call them)."



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