Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 11: No 2) >> An Early Novel of Detection, Marie de Berniere >> Page 12

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Scholarship | 2003
Transcription "blood gushing from [her] mouth and nostrils" (68). Awaking weeks later, she
learns that she had delivered a dead child. Grasped by .
[a] dark desire for revenge for escape from my thraldom .... I thought
to seize upon a knife and stab him .... I secreted a knife for this purpose. I
was haunted by ... that fierce and cruel woman in Scripture, who drove
the nail into the head of the man who sought the hospitality of her dwelling.
... I secreted a nail, intending to emulate her crime. . . . I remembered,
finally, that there w a s a deadly poison in the house, ... employed to rid the
garden of the cats which infested it.... a few grains only would prove fatal
to any life.... At length, I absolutely mixed it in a bottle of the wine which
I that day expected him to drink. . . . In that closet did I mix the fatal
potion.... But God be praised, .... I flung the poisoned liquid from my
hands almost as soon as I had mixed it. (70-72)
Subsequently Colonel de Berniere (much Marie's senior) died, and two years later
his supposed apparition requires that she should break off her engagement with
Brandon and "rather shroud myself in a convent, devoted to God, than to think of
any other human love!" (73) The terror suffered by Marie from frightening sounds,
damp breezes, and imagined visions tests her sanity. The purpose of these
visitations instigated by unknown but jealous and corrupt lover is to effect the
disintegration of Marie's engagement, apparently in the hope that the unrequited
lover will assume enhanced status.
Having mourned for two years, the twenty-year old widow Marie gives a
lavish masquerade ball. An intruder, disguised as an Egyptian identical with her
suitor Brandon, seeks an interview with Marie: "The door was instantly closed
behind them, and locked; the key being taken into [the narrator's] hands. In a
moment after, however, a tapping from within caused me to open it, and Brandon
came out; the [intruder] having positively refused to unmask as long as he was
present" (47). Some extended murmuring, a shriek, and then a dull thud are heard.
The whole thing was over in a moment, and, in the next, not waiting for me
to open the door, Frederick Brandon drove it from its fastenings with a
single application of his foot. We rushed in . . . But the Egyptian was
nowhere to be seen! How had he escaped? The windows were all closed;
he had not passed by us.... There was but one other door to the chamber;
and that led into the ball-room, and was locked, with the key withdrawn.
There was some strange and terrible mystery! (48)
The mystery's resolution involves identifying and exposing the source of the
maddening visitations. The rest of the tale is about Marie's descent into near-
madness and the intent to break up the engagement she has made that very night
with Brandon. Presumably the intruder hopes to keep her in insane dependence on
himself, but Brandon, of course, unravels the mystery and saves Marie's sanity an
his own betrothal.