Summary

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In a long letter to a friend, Clara Wieland tells the story of the tragedy of her family. Her father was something of a religious fanatic, a strange man who feared some dreadful punishment because he did not answer a call to the mission field. He became more and more depressed and withdrawn until his life ended in a horrible fashion. One night, he visited a temple he built for solitary meditation. His wife, fearing the appearance and manner of her husband, followed him and saw his clothing suddenly go up in flames. She found him insensible, muttering incoherently about having been struck down by an unseen hand. Soon afterward, he died. Within a few months, the mother followed her husband to the grave, leaving Clara and her brother orphaned but wealthy. They were happily reared by an aunt who gave them love and comfort and a good education.

One of their companions was Catharine Pleyel, a rich and beautiful girl with whom Theodore Wieland fell in love when he reached young manhood. Catharine returned his love, and when Wieland came of age they were married. Wieland took possession of the family house and half of the fortune, Clara the other half of their inheritance. Since she and Catharine and Wieland were beloved friends as well as relatives, Clara took a house only a short distance from her brother and sister-in-law. The three spent much time together. Clara and Catharine were frank and cheerful, but Wieland was more somber and thoughtful in disposition. He was, however, always considerate of their happiness and nobly devoted his life to it. His melancholy was not morbid, only sober. The temple in which their father met his strange fate was used by the three as a setting for long and delightful conversations, although Wieland’s talk dwelt too often on death to suit Clara and Catharine. Their circle was soon augmented by the addition of Catharine’s beloved brother Henry, who was for some time in Europe. His boisterous mirth enlivened the little group. Henry and Wieland found one great difference in their beliefs: Wieland built his life on religious necessity, Henry, on intellectual liberty. Their fondness for each other, however, allowed them to differ without altering their mutual affection.

Wieland’s family was enlarged during the next six years by four natural children and a foster child whose mother died. About that time, another strange occurrence took place in the Wieland family. One day, Wieland went to the temple to pick up a letter that would settle a minor dispute. Before he reached the temple, he was stopped by his wife’s voice, telling him that danger lay in his path. Returning quickly to the house, he found his wife there. Clara and Henry verified her statement that she did not leave the room. Although the others soon dismissed the incident from their minds, it preyed on the already melancholy Wieland to the exclusion of everything else.

Not long after that incident, Henry learned that Wieland inherited some large estates in Europe, and he wanted Wieland to go abroad to claim them. Henry would accompany his friend because he had left his heart with a baroness, now widowed and willing to accept his suit. When Wieland seemed reluctant to make the journey, Henry, in an effort to persuade him, asked him one night to go for a walk. Their walk was interrupted by a voice telling them that the baroness was dead. Again, the voice was Catharine’s, but again Catharine was nowhere near the men when the voice was heard. More frightening was the verification of the...

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baroness’s death given to Henry a few days later. Some dread supernatural power, Wieland believed, spoke to them.

Shortly after these mysterious occurrences, a stranger appeared in the neighborhood. He was dressed like a clown or a pathetically humorous beggar, but his voice had the musical ring of an actor. Clara, who saw him before the others knew of his existence, was strangely drawn to him. She forgot him, however, because of another frightening incident. One night, alone in her room, she heard two voices in the closet planning her murder. One voice advised shooting, the other, choking. She fled to her brother’s house and fell at his door in a faint. Wieland and Henry came to her rescue in answer to a summons from an unknown source, a voice calling that a loved one lay dying at the door.

Henry insisted upon occupying a vacant apartment in Clara’s home to protect her from her unknown enemies. Clara was beset with nightmares, the mystifying voice warning her of danger from her brother. Soon after the affair of the voices in the closet, she met the stranger she had seen and to whom she was unaccountably drawn. His name was Carwin, and he had known Henry in Spain. His intelligent conversation and his wide travels made him welcome in the little group, and he joined them frequently. When they discussed the supernatural voices they all heard, Carwin dismissed the voices as fancy or pranks.

Clara, beginning to feel herself in love with Henry, believed that he returned her love but feared to tell her of it because he did not know her feelings. Then he confronted her with the accusation that she was a wanton. He said that he heard her and a lover, Carwin, talking and that her words made her a sinner and a fallen woman. Henry also learned that Carwin was wanted for murder, and he heaped abuses on the innocent Clara for consorting with such a man. All of her pleas of innocence went unheeded, and she was thrown into despair. Thinking that Carwin set out to ruin her, she was enraged when she received a note in which he asked for an interview. Reluctantly, she agreed to meet him and hear his story. He was to come to her home, but when she arrived there she found only a note warning her of a horrible sight awaiting her. In her room, she found Catharine on the bed, murdered.

Wieland entered her room, his manner strange and exulted, and begged that this sacrifice not be demanded of him. Before he reached Clara, however, others came into the house. From them she learned that her brother’s children were also dead, killed by the same hand that murdered their mother.

Clara was taken by friends to the city. There, after a time, she learned the tragic story. The murderer was Wieland, his hand guided, he said, by a voice from heaven demanding that he sacrifice his loved ones to God. He felt no guilt, only glory at having been the instrument through whom God worked. Twice Wieland broke out of prison, his belief being that he must also kill Clara and Henry. Clara suspected that Carwin somehow influenced Wieland to kill.

Carwin went to Clara and protested his innocence. He admitted that his was the other voices heard. He was a ventriloquist who used his tricks either to play some prank or to escape detection while prying into other people’s affairs. Clara refused to believe him. While they talked, Wieland entered the apartment. Prepared to kill Clara, he again broke out of prison to fulfill his bloody destiny. This time Carwin, using his skill to save Clara, called out to Wieland that no voice told him to kill, that only his own lunatic brain guided him. At his words, Wieland regained his sanity and seemed to understand for the first time what he did. Picking up a knife, he plunged it into his throat.

Three years passed before Clara knew peace. Her uncle cared for her and arranged a meeting between Carwin and Henry so that Carwin might confess his part in the defamation of Clara’s character. Carwin was jealous and thus tried to destroy Henry’s affection for her. Henry also learned that his baroness was not dead; the report was another of Carwin’s tricks. Henry married the baroness and settled down near Boston. Carwin, not a murderer but the victim of a plot, escaped to the country and became a farmer. Henry’s wife died soon after their marriage, and he and Clara renewed their love. Their later happiness was marred only by sad and tragic memories.

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