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The Adventures of Ferdinand Count Fathom

Chapter 21
He Falls Upon Scylla, Seeking To Avoid Charybdis.
Fathom, whose own principles taught him to be suspicious, and ever upon his
guard against the treachery of his fellow-creatures, could have dispensed with
this instance of her care, in confining her guest to her chamber, and began to be
seized with strange fancies, when he observed that there was no bolt on the
inside of the door, by which he might secure himself from intrusion. In
consequence of these suggestions, he proposed to take an accurate survey of
every object in the apartment, and, in the course of his inquiry, had the
mortification to find the dead body of a man, still warm, who had been lately
stabbed, and concealed beneath several bundles of straw.
Such a discovery could not fail to fill the breast of our hero with unspeakable
horror; for he concluded that he himself would undergo the same fate before
morning, without the interposition of a miracle in his favour. In the first transports
of his dread, he ran to the window, with a view to escape by that outlet, and
found his flight effectually obstructed by divers strong bars of iron. Then his heart
began to palpitate, his hair to bristle up, and his knees to totter; his thoughts
teemed with presages of death and destruction; his conscience rose up in
judgment against him, and he underwent a severe paroxysm of dismay and
distraction. His spirits were agitated into a state of fermentation that produced a
species of resolution akin to that which is inspired by brandy or other strong
liquors, and, by an impulse that seemed supernatural, he was immediately
hurried into measures for his own preservation.
What upon a less interesting occasion his imagination durst not propose, he now
executed without scruple or remorse. He undressed the corpse that lay bleeding
among the straw, and, conveying it to the bed in his arms, deposited it in the
attitude of a person who sleeps at his ease; then he extinguished the light, took
possession of the place from whence the body had been removed, and, holding
a pistol ready cocked in each hand, waited for the sequel with that determined
purpose which is often the immediate production of despair. About midnight he
heard the sound of feet ascending the ladder; the door was softly opened; he
saw the shadow of two men stalking towards the bed, a dark lanthorn being
unshrouded, directed their aim to the supposed sleeper, and he that held it thrust
a poniard to his heart; the force of the blow made a compression on the chest,
and a sort of groan issued from the windpipe of the defunct; the stroke was
repeated, without producing a repetition of the note, so that the assassins
concluded the work was effectually done, and retired for the present with a
design to return and rifle the deceased at their leisure.
Never had our hero spent a moment in such agony as he felt during this
operation; the whole surface of his body was covered with a cold sweat, and his
nerves were relaxed with an universal palsy. In short, he remained in a trance
that, in all probability, contributed to his safety; for, had he retained the use of his
senses, he might have been discovered by the transports of his fear. The first
use he made of his retrieved recollection, was to perceive that the assassins had
left the door open in their retreat; and he would have instantly availed himself of