Mosses from an Old Manse and other stories
Egotism; Or, The Bosom Serpent
[From the Unpublished "Allegories of the Heart."]
 The physical fact, to which it is here attempted to give a moral signification, has been
known to occur in more than one instance.
"Here he comes!" shouted the boys along the street. "Here comes the man with a snake in
This outcry, saluting Herkimer's ears as he was about to enter the iron gate of the Elliston
mansion, made him pause. It was not without a shudder that he found himself on the
point of meeting his former acquaintance, whom he had known in the glory of youth, and
whom now after an interval of five years, he was to find the victim either of a diseased
fancy or a horrible physical misfortune.
"A snake in his bosom!" repeated the young sculptor to himself. "It must be he. No
second man on earth has such a bosom friend. And now, my poor Rosina, Heaven grant
me wisdom to discharge my errand aright! Woman's faith must be strong indeed since
thine has not yet failed."
Thus musing, he took his stand at the entrance of the gate and waited until the personage
so singularly announced should make his appearance. After an instant or two he beheld
the figure of a lean man, of unwholesome look, with glittering eyes and long black hair,
who seemed to imitate the motion of a snake; for, instead of walking straight forward
with open front, he undulated along the pavement in a curved line. It may be too fanciful
to say that something, either in his moral or material aspect, suggested the idea that a
miracle had been wrought by transforming a serpent into a man, but so imperfectly that
the snaky nature was yet hidden, and scarcely hidden, under the mere outward guise of
humanity. Herkimer remarked that his complexion had a greenish tinge over its sickly
white, reminding him of a species of marble out of which he had once wrought a head of
Envy, with her snaky locks.
The wretched being approached the gate, but, instead of entering, stopped short and fixed
the glitter of his eye full upon the compassionate yet steady countenance of the sculptor.
"It gnaws me! It gnaws me!" he exclaimed.
And then there was an audible hiss, but whether it came from the apparent lunatic's own
lips, or was the real hiss of a serpent, might admit of a discussion. At all events, it made
Herkimer shudder to his heart's core.
"Do you know me, George Herkimer?" asked the snake-possessed.