The Locked Door: A Warning to the Curious

cloister

A Gothic Fragment

CALEB: Sir, you seem distracted tonight.

FALKLAND: My heart is vexed with anxieties; it would do me little good to brood on them, let alone give them voice.

CALEB: Sir, to translate thoughts into words is to turn them to breath and air, thereby to nothing – a most wonderful alchemy.

FALKLAND: What do you mean?

CALEB: I mean that it may do you good to tell me what it is that troubles you.

FALKLAND: Your speech is pretty, but as insubstantial as the air into which you would translate my thoughts. Nay, were I to speak as you urge, every word would fall like a stone and, I fear, crush not only my heart but you as well – innocent though you are.

CALEB: I do not understand.

FALKLAND: There are deeds of awful darkness that you cannot know and hidden acts commissioned before your very birth that still possess sleeping venom enough to annihilate you.

CALEB: I believe I can brave the knowledge.

FALKLAND: Do you know the tale of the girl and her suitor who had, emblazoned above his door the words: “Be bold, be bold, but not too bold, lest your heart’s blood run cold”? You are like that girl. I beat you away and you only fawn over my hand. Do my words not frighten you?

CALEB: (with a bow) Forgive my presumption.

(Falkland departs the chamber for his study. Caleb speaks then in wondering soliloquy.)

Sir, can you not see that all your words only make me long to know what could crush a mind like thine and torture with such pressing woe? Every warning that you lend me can only provoke my curiosity and prolong it. You know that you shall never sway me, while starry wonder goads me on. Your words do not freeze but dazzle – your cautions do not suppress but urge – urge me with a thousand dreams and fancies, so that my giddy imagination must leap and surge beneath your unwilling command. O Master, nothing beckons more, than a turned lock and fettered door!

He pauses before the carved, ornate door that leads to Falkland’s study, brushing his hand reflectively along its surface, before retiring to a different chamber.


Dedicated to William Godwin; this dramatic fragment is an homage to his Gothic novel Caleb Williams (1794).

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Door.”

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