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The Project Gutenberg EBook of The King in Yellow, by Robert W. Chambers
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This eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere at no cost and with
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almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or
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re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg License included
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with this eBook or online at www.gutenberg.org
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Title: The King in Yellow
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Author: Robert W. Chambers
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Posting Date: September 10, 2012 [EBook #8492]
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Release Date: July, 2005
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First Posted: July 16, 2003
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Language: English
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*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE KING IN YELLOW ***
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Produced by Suzanne Shell, Beth Trapaga, Charles Franks,
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and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team
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THE KING IN YELLOW
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BY
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ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
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Original publication date: 1895
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THE KING IN YELLOW
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IS DEDICATED
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TO
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MY BROTHER
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Along the shore the cloud waves break,
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The twin suns sink behind the lake,
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The shadows lengthen
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In Carcosa.
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Strange is the night where black stars rise,
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And strange moons circle through the skies
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But stranger still is
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Lost Carcosa.
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Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
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Where flap the tatters of the King,
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Must die unheard in
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Dim Carcosa.
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Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
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Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
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Shall dry and die in
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Lost Carcosa.
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Cassilda's Song in "The King in Yellow," Act i, Scene 2.
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THE REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS
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I
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"Ne raillons pas les fous; leur folie dure plus longtemps que
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la nôtre.... Voila toute la différence."
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Toward the end of the year 1920 the Government of the United States had
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practically completed the programme, adopted during the last months of
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President Winthrop's administration. The country was apparently tranquil.
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Everybody knows how the Tariff and Labour questions were settled. The war
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with Germany, incident on that country's seizure of the Samoan Islands,
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had left no visible scars upon the republic, and the temporary occupation
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of Norfolk by the invading army had been forgotten in the joy over
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repeated naval victories, and the subsequent ridiculous plight of General
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Von Gartenlaube's forces in the State of New Jersey. The Cuban and
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Hawaiian investments had paid one hundred per cent and the territory of
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Samoa was well worth its cost as a coaling station. The country was in a
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superb state of defence. Every coast city had been well supplied with land
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fortifications; the army under the parental eye of the General Staff,
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organized according to the Prussian system, had been increased to 300,000
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men, with a territorial reserve of a million; and six magnificent
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squadrons of cruisers and battle-ships patrolled the six stations of the
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navigable seas, leaving a steam reserve amply fitted to control home
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waters. The gentlemen from the West had at last been constrained to
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acknowledge that a college for the training of diplomats was as necessary
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as law schools are for the training of barristers; consequently we were no
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longer represented abroad by incompetent patriots. The nation was
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prosperous; Chicago, for a moment paralyzed after a second great fire, had
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risen from its ruins, white and imperial, and more beautiful than the white
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city which had been built for its plaything in 1893. Everywhere good
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architecture was replacing bad, and even in New York, a sudden craving for
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decency had swept away a great portion of the existing horrors. Streets
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had been widened, properly paved and lighted, trees had been planted,
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squares laid out, elevated structures demolished and underground roads
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built to replace them. The new government buildings and barracks were fine
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bits of architecture, and the long system of stone quays which completely
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surrounded the island had been turned into parks which proved a god-send
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to the population. The subsidizing of the state theatre and state opera
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brought its own reward. The United States National Academy of Design was
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much like European institutions of the same kind. Nobody envied the
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Secretary of Fine Arts, either his cabinet position or his portfolio. The
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Secretary of Forestry and Game Preservation had a much easier time, thanks
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to the new system of National Mounted Police. We had profited well by the
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latest treaties with France and England; the exclusion of foreign-born
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Jews as a measure of self-preservation, the settlement of the new
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independent negro state of Suanee, the checking of immigration, the new
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laws concerning naturalization, and the gradual centralization of power in
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the executive all contributed to national calm and prosperity. When the
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Government solved the Indian problem and squadrons of Indian cavalry
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scouts in native costume were substituted for the pitiable organizations
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tacked on to the tail of skeletonized regiments by a former Secretary of
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War, the nation drew a long sigh of relief. When, after the colossal
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Congress of Religions, bigotry and intolerance were laid in their graves
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and kindness and charity began to draw warring sects together, many
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thought the millennium had arrived, at least in the new world which after
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all is a world by itself.
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But self-preservation is the first law, and the United States had to look
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on in helpless sorrow as Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium writhed in the
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throes of Anarchy, while Russia, watching from the Caucasus, stooped and
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bound them one by one.
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In the city of New York the summer of 1899 was signalized by the
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dismantling of the Elevated Railroads. The summer of 1900 will live in
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the memories of New York people for many a cycle; the Dodge Statue was
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removed in that year. In the following winter began that agitation for
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the repeal of the laws prohibiting suicide which bore its final fruit in
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the month of April, 1920, when the first Government Lethal Chamber was
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opened on Washington Square.
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I had walked down that day from Dr. Archer's house on Madison Avenue,
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where I had been as a mere formality. Ever since that fall from my horse,
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four years before, I had been troubled at times with pains in the back of
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my head and neck, but now for months they had been absent, and the doctor
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sent me away that day saying there was nothing more to be cured in me. It
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was hardly worth his fee to be told that; I knew it myself. Still I did
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not grudge him the money. What I minded was the mistake which he made at
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first. When they picked me up from the pavement where I lay unconscious,
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and somebody had mercifully sent a bullet through my horse's head, I was
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carried to Dr. Archer, and he, pronouncing my brain affected, placed me
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in his private asylum where I was obliged to endure treatment for
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insanity. At last he decided that I was well, and I, knowing that my mind
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had always been as sound as his, if not sounder, "paid my tuition" as he
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jokingly called it, and left. I told him, smiling, that I would get even
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with him for his mistake, and he laughed heartily, and asked me to call
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once in a while. I did so, hoping for a chance to even up accounts, but
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he gave me none, and I told him I would wait.
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The fall from my horse had fortunately left no evil results; on the
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contrary it had changed my whole character for the better. From a lazy
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young man about town, I had become active, energetic, temperate, and
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above all--oh, above all else--ambitious. There was only one thing which
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troubled me, I laughed at my own uneasiness, and yet it troubled me.
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During my convalescence I had bought and read for the first time, _The
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King in Yellow_. I remember after finishing the first act that it
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occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book
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into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on
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the hearth in the firelight. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening
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words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped
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to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of
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terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every
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nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept shaking to my
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bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled
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with a horror which at times assails me yet. This is the thing that
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troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the
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heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon,
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when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for
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ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as
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the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation,
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terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth--a world which now
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trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French Government seized the
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translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course,
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became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an
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infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent,
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barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit,
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censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite
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principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine
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promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known
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standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art
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had been struck in _The King in Yellow_, all felt that human nature
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could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of
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purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act
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only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.
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It was, I remember, the 13th day of April, 1920, that the first
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Government Lethal Chamber was established on the south side of Washington
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Square, between Wooster Street and South Fifth Avenue. The block which
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had formerly consisted of a lot of shabby old buildings, used as cafés
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and restaurants for foreigners, had been acquired by the Government in
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the winter of 1898. The French and Italian cafés and restaurants were
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torn down; the whole block was enclosed by a gilded iron railing, and
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converted into a lovely garden with lawns, flowers and fountains. In the
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centre of the garden stood a small, white building, severely classical in
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architecture, and surrounded by thickets of flowers. Six Ionic columns
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supported the roof, and the single door was of bronze. A splendid marble
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group of the "Fates" stood before the door, the work of a young American
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sculptor, Boris Yvain, who had died in Paris when only twenty-three years
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old.
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The inauguration ceremonies were in progress as I crossed University
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Place and entered the square. I threaded my way through the silent throng
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of spectators, but was stopped at Fourth Street by a cordon of police. A
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regiment of United States lancers were drawn up in a hollow square round
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the Lethal Chamber. On a raised tribune facing Washington Park stood the
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Governor of New York, and behind him were grouped the Mayor of New
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York and Brooklyn, the Inspector-General of Police, the Commandant of
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the state troops, Colonel Livingston, military aid to the President of the
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United States, General Blount, commanding at Governor's Island,
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Major-General Hamilton, commanding the garrison of New York and Brooklyn,
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Admiral Buffby of the fleet in the North River, Surgeon-General
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Lanceford, the staff of the National Free Hospital, Senators Wyse and
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Franklin of New York, and the Commissioner of Public Works. The tribune
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was surrounded by a squadron of hussars of the National Guard.
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The Governor was finishing his reply to the short speech of the
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Surgeon-General. I heard him say: "The laws prohibiting suicide and
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providing punishment for any attempt at self-destruction have been
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repealed. The Government has seen fit to acknowledge the right of man to
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end an existence which may have become intolerable to him, through
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physical suffering or mental despair. It is believed that the community
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will be benefited by the removal of such people from their midst. Since
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the passage of this law, the number of suicides in the United States has
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not increased. Now the Government has determined to establish a Lethal
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Chamber in every city, town and village in the country, it remains to be
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seen whether or not that class of human creatures from whose desponding
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ranks new victims of self-destruction fall daily will accept the relief
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thus provided." He paused, and turned to the white Lethal Chamber. The
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silence in the street was absolute. "There a painless death awaits him
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who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life. If death is welcome let
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him seek it there." Then quickly turning to the military aid of the
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President's household, he said, "I declare the Lethal Chamber open," and
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again facing the vast crowd he cried in a clear voice: "Citizens of New
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York and of the United States of America, through me the Government
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declares the Lethal Chamber to be open."
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The solemn hush was broken by a sharp cry of command, the squadron of
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hussars filed after the Governor's carriage, the lancers wheeled and
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formed along Fifth Avenue to wait for the commandant of the garrison, and
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the mounted police followed them. I left the crowd to gape and stare at
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the white marble Death Chamber, and, crossing South Fifth Avenue, walked
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along the western side of that thoroughfare to Bleecker Street. Then I
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turned to the right and stopped before a dingy shop which bore the sign:
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HAWBERK, ARMOURER.
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I glanced in at the doorway and saw Hawberk busy in his little shop at
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the end of the hall. He looked up, and catching sight of me cried in his
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deep, hearty voice, "Come in, Mr. Castaigne!" Constance, his daughter,
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rose to meet me as I crossed the threshold, and held out her pretty
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hand, but I saw the blush of disappointment on her cheeks, and knew
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that it was another Castaigne she had expected, my cousin Louis. I
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smiled at her confusion and complimented her on the banner she was
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embroidering from a coloured plate. Old Hawberk sat riveting the worn
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greaves of some ancient suit of armour, and the ting! ting! ting! of his
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little hammer sounded pleasantly in the quaint shop. Presently he
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dropped his hammer, and fussed about for a moment with a tiny wrench.
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The soft clash of the mail sent a thrill of pleasure through me. I
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loved to hear the music of steel brushing against steel, the mellow
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shock of the mallet on thigh pieces, and the jingle of chain armour.
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That was the only reason I went to see Hawberk. He had never interested
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me personally, nor did Constance, except for the fact of her being in
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love with Louis. This did occupy my attention, and sometimes even kept
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me awake at night. But I knew in my heart that all would come right,
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and that I should arrange their future as I expected to arrange that of
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my kind doctor, John Archer. However, I should never have troubled
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myself about visiting them just then, had it not been, as I say, that
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the music of the tinkling hammer had for me this strong fascination. I
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would sit for hours, listening and listening, and when a stray sunbeam
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struck the inlaid steel, the sensation it gave me was almost too keen
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to endure. My eyes would become fixed, dilating with a pleasure that
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stretched every nerve almost to breaking, until some movement of the
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old armourer cut off the ray of sunlight, then, still thrilling
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secretly, I leaned back and listened again to the sound of the
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polishing rag, swish! swish! rubbing rust from the rivets.
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Constance worked with the embroidery over her knees, now and then pausing
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to examine more closely the pattern in the coloured plate from the
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Metropolitan Museum.
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"Who is this for?" I asked.
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Hawberk explained, that in addition to the treasures of armour in the
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Metropolitan Museum of which he had been appointed armourer, he also
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had charge of several collections belonging to rich amateurs. This was the
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missing greave of a famous suit which a client of his had traced to a
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little shop in Paris on the Quai d'Orsay. He, Hawberk, had negotiated for
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and secured the greave, and now the suit was complete. He laid down his
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hammer and read me the history of the suit, traced since 1450 from owner
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to owner until it was acquired by Thomas Stainbridge. When his superb
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collection was sold, this client of Hawberk's bought the suit, and since
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then the search for the missing greave had been pushed until it was,
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almost by accident, located in Paris.
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"Did you continue the search so persistently without any certainty of the
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greave being still in existence?" I demanded.
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"Of course," he replied coolly.
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Then for the first time I took a personal interest in Hawberk.
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"It was worth something to you," I ventured.
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"No," he replied, laughing, "my pleasure in finding it was my reward."
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"Have you no ambition to be rich?" I asked, smiling.
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"My one ambition is to be the best armourer in the world," he answered
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gravely.
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Constance asked me if I had seen the ceremonies at the Lethal Chamber.
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She herself had noticed cavalry passing up Broadway that morning, and had
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wished to see the inauguration, but her father wanted the banner
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finished, and she had stayed at his request.
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"Did you see your cousin, Mr. Castaigne, there?" she asked, with the
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slightest tremor of her soft eyelashes.
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"No," I replied carelessly. "Louis' regiment is manoeuvring out in
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Westchester County." I rose and picked up my hat and cane.
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"Are you going upstairs to see the lunatic again?" laughed old Hawberk.
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If Hawberk knew how I loathe that word "lunatic," he would never use it
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in my presence. It rouses certain feelings within me which I do not care
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to explain. However, I answered him quietly: "I think I shall drop in and
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see Mr. Wilde for a moment or two."
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"Poor fellow," said Constance, with a shake of the head, "it must be hard
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to live alone year after year poor, crippled and almost demented. It is
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very good of you, Mr. Castaigne, to visit him as often as you do."
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"I think he is vicious," observed Hawberk, beginning again with his
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hammer. I listened to the golden tinkle on the greave plates; when he had
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finished I replied:
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"No, he is not vicious, nor is he in the least demented. His mind is a
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wonder chamber, from which he can extract treasures that you and I would
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give years of our life to acquire."'
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Hawberk laughed.
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I continued a little impatiently: "He knows history as no one else could
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know it. Nothing, however trivial, escapes his search, and his memory is
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so absolute, so precise in details, that were it known in New York that
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such a man existed, the people could not honour him enough."
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"Nonsense," muttered Hawberk, searching on the floor for a fallen rivet.
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"Is it nonsense," I asked, managing to suppress what I felt, "is it
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nonsense when he says that the tassets and cuissards of the enamelled
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suit of armour commonly known as the 'Prince's Emblazoned' can be found
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among a mass of rusty theatrical properties, broken stoves and
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ragpicker's refuse in a garret in Pell Street?"
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Hawberk's hammer fell to the ground, but he picked it up and asked, with
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a great deal of calm, how I knew that the tassets and left cuissard were
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missing from the "Prince's Emblazoned."
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"I did not know until Mr. Wilde mentioned it to me the other day. He said
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they were in the garret of 998 Pell Street."
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"Nonsense," he cried, but I noticed his hand trembling under his leathern
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apron.
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"Is this nonsense too?" I asked pleasantly, "is it nonsense when Mr.
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Wilde continually speaks of you as the Marquis of Avonshire and of Miss
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Constance--"
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I did not finish, for Constance had started to her feet with terror
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written on every feature. Hawberk looked at me and slowly smoothed his
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leathern apron.
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"That is impossible," he observed, "Mr. Wilde may know a great many
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things--"
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"About armour, for instance, and the 'Prince's Emblazoned,'" I
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interposed, smiling.
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"Yes," he continued, slowly, "about armour also--may be--but he is wrong
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in regard to the Marquis of Avonshire, who, as you know, killed his
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wife's traducer years ago, and went to Australia where he did not long
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survive his wife."
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"Mr. Wilde is wrong," murmured Constance. Her lips were blanched, but her
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voice was sweet and calm.
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"Let us agree, if you please, that in this one circumstance Mr. Wilde is
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wrong," I said.
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II
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I climbed the three dilapidated flights of stairs, which I had so often
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climbed before, and knocked at a small door at the end of the corridor.
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Mr. Wilde opened the door and I walked in.
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When he had double-locked the door and pushed a heavy chest against it,
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he came and sat down beside me, peering up into my face with his little
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light-coloured eyes. Half a dozen new scratches covered his nose and
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cheeks, and the silver wires which supported his artificial ears had
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become displaced. I thought I had never seen him so hideously
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fascinating. He had no ears. The artificial ones, which now stood out at
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an angle from the fine wire, were his one weakness. They were made of wax
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and painted a shell pink, but the rest of his face was yellow. He might
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better have revelled in the luxury of some artificial fingers for his
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left hand, which was absolutely fingerless, but it seemed to cause him no
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inconvenience, and he was satisfied with his wax ears. He was very small,
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scarcely higher than a child of ten, but his arms were magnificently
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developed, and his thighs as thick as any athlete's. Still, the most
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remarkable thing about Mr. Wilde was that a man of his marvellous
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intelligence and knowledge should have such a head. It was flat and
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pointed, like the heads of many of those unfortunates whom people
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imprison in asylums for the weak-minded. Many called him insane, but I
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knew him to be as sane as I was.
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I do not deny that he was eccentric; the mania he had for keeping that
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cat and teasing her until she flew at his face like a demon, was
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certainly eccentric. I never could understand why he kept the creature,
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nor what pleasure he found in shutting himself up in his room with this
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surly, vicious beast. I remember once, glancing up from the manuscript I
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was studying by the light of some tallow dips, and seeing Mr. Wilde
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squatting motionless on his high chair, his eyes fairly blazing with
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excitement, while the cat, which had risen from her place before the
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stove, came creeping across the floor right at him. Before I could move
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she flattened her belly to the ground, crouched, trembled, and sprang
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into his face. Howling and foaming they rolled over and over on the
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floor, scratching and clawing, until the cat screamed and fled under the
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cabinet, and Mr. Wilde turned over on his back, his limbs contracting and
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curling up like the legs of a dying spider. He _was_ eccentric.
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Mr. Wilde had climbed into his high chair, and, after studying my face,
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picked up a dog's-eared ledger and opened it.
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"Henry B. Matthews," he read, "book-keeper with Whysot Whysot and
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Company, dealers in church ornaments. Called April 3rd. Reputation
461
damaged on the race-track. Known as a welcher. Reputation to be repaired
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by August 1st. Retainer Five Dollars." He turned the page and ran his
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fingerless knuckles down the closely-written columns.
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"P. Greene Dusenberry, Minister of the Gospel, Fairbeach, New Jersey.
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Reputation damaged in the Bowery. To be repaired as soon as possible.
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Retainer $100."
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He coughed and added, "Called, April 6th."
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"Then you are not in need of money, Mr. Wilde," I inquired.
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"Listen," he coughed again.
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"Mrs. C. Hamilton Chester, of Chester Park, New York City. Called April
476
7th. Reputation damaged at Dieppe, France. To be repaired by October 1st
477
Retainer $500.
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"Note.--C. Hamilton Chester, Captain U.S.S. 'Avalanche', ordered home
480
from South Sea Squadron October 1st."
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"Well," I said, "the profession of a Repairer of Reputations is
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lucrative."
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His colourless eyes sought mine, "I only wanted to demonstrate that I
486
was correct. You said it was impossible to succeed as a Repairer of
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Reputations; that even if I did succeed in certain cases it would cost
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me more than I would gain by it. To-day I have five hundred men in my
489
employ, who are poorly paid, but who pursue the work with an enthusiasm
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which possibly may be born of fear. These men enter every shade and grade
491
of society; some even are pillars of the most exclusive social temples;
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others are the prop and pride of the financial world; still others, hold
493
undisputed sway among the 'Fancy and the Talent.' I choose them at my
494
leisure from those who reply to my advertisements. It is easy enough,
495
they are all cowards. I could treble the number in twenty days if I
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wished. So you see, those who have in their keeping the reputations of
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their fellow-citizens, I have in my pay."
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"They may turn on you," I suggested.
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He rubbed his thumb over his cropped ears, and adjusted the wax
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substitutes. "I think not," he murmured thoughtfully, "I seldom have to
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apply the whip, and then only once. Besides they like their wages."
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"How do you apply the whip?" I demanded.
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His face for a moment was awful to look upon. His eyes dwindled to a pair
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of green sparks.
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"I invite them to come and have a little chat with me," he said in a soft
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voice.
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A knock at the door interrupted him, and his face resumed its amiable
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expression.
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"Who is it?" he inquired.
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"Mr. Steylette," was the answer.
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"Come to-morrow," replied Mr. Wilde.
521
522
"Impossible," began the other, but was silenced by a sort of bark from
523
Mr. Wilde.
524
525
"Come to-morrow," he repeated.
526
527
We heard somebody move away from the door and turn the corner by the
528
stairway.
529
530
"Who is that?" I asked.
531
532
"Arnold Steylette, Owner and Editor in Chief of the great New York
533
daily."
534
535
He drummed on the ledger with his fingerless hand adding: "I pay him very
536
badly, but he thinks it a good bargain."
537
538
"Arnold Steylette!" I repeated amazed.
539
540
"Yes," said Mr. Wilde, with a self-satisfied cough.
541
542
The cat, which had entered the room as he spoke, hesitated, looked up at
543
him and snarled. He climbed down from the chair and squatting on the
544
floor, took the creature into his arms and caressed her. The cat ceased
545
snarling and presently began a loud purring which seemed to increase in
546
timbre as he stroked her. "Where are the notes?" I asked. He pointed to
547
the table, and for the hundredth time I picked up the bundle of
548
manuscript entitled--
549
550
"THE IMPERIAL DYNASTY OF AMERICA."
551
552
One by one I studied the well-worn pages, worn only by my own handling,
553
and although I knew all by heart, from the beginning, "When from Carcosa,
554
the Hyades, Hastur, and Aldebaran," to "Castaigne, Louis de Calvados,
555
born December 19th, 1877," I read it with an eager, rapt attention,
556
pausing to repeat parts of it aloud, and dwelling especially on "Hildred
557
de Calvados, only son of Hildred Castaigne and Edythe Landes Castaigne,
558
first in succession," etc., etc.
559
560
When I finished, Mr. Wilde nodded and coughed.
561
562
"Speaking of your legitimate ambition," he said, "how do Constance and
563
Louis get along?"
564
565
"She loves him," I replied simply.
566
567
The cat on his knee suddenly turned and struck at his eyes, and he flung
568
her off and climbed on to the chair opposite me.
569
570
"And Dr. Archer! But that's a matter you can settle any time you wish,"
571
he added.
572
573
"Yes," I replied, "Dr. Archer can wait, but it is time I saw my cousin
574
Louis."
575
576
"It is time," he repeated. Then he took another ledger from the table and
577
ran over the leaves rapidly. "We are now in communication with ten
578
thousand men," he muttered. "We can count on one hundred thousand within
579
the first twenty-eight hours, and in forty-eight hours the state will
580
rise _en masse_. The country follows the state, and the portion that
581
will not, I mean California and the Northwest, might better never have
582
been inhabited. I shall not send them the Yellow Sign."
583
584
The blood rushed to my head, but I only answered, "A new broom sweeps
585
clean."
586
587
"The ambition of Caesar and of Napoleon pales before that which could not
588
rest until it had seized the minds of men and controlled even their
589
unborn thoughts," said Mr. Wilde.
590
591
"You are speaking of the King in Yellow," I groaned, with a shudder.
592
593
"He is a king whom emperors have served."
594
595
"I am content to serve him," I replied.
596
597
Mr. Wilde sat rubbing his ears with his crippled hand. "Perhaps Constance
598
does not love him," he suggested.
599
600
I started to reply, but a sudden burst of military music from the street
601
below drowned my voice. The twentieth dragoon regiment, formerly in
602
garrison at Mount St. Vincent, was returning from the manoeuvres in
603
Westchester County, to its new barracks on East Washington Square. It was
604
my cousin's regiment. They were a fine lot of fellows, in their pale
605
blue, tight-fitting jackets, jaunty busbys and white riding breeches with
606
the double yellow stripe, into which their limbs seemed moulded. Every
607
other squadron was armed with lances, from the metal points of which
608
fluttered yellow and white pennons. The band passed, playing the
609
regimental march, then came the colonel and staff, the horses crowding
610
and trampling, while their heads bobbed in unison, and the pennons
611
fluttered from their lance points. The troopers, who rode with the
612
beautiful English seat, looked brown as berries from their bloodless
613
campaign among the farms of Westchester, and the music of their sabres
614
against the stirrups, and the jingle of spurs and carbines was delightful
615
to me. I saw Louis riding with his squadron. He was as handsome an
616
officer as I have ever seen. Mr. Wilde, who had mounted a chair by the
617
window, saw him too, but said nothing. Louis turned and looked straight
618
at Hawberk's shop as he passed, and I could see the flush on his brown
619
cheeks. I think Constance must have been at the window. When the last
620
troopers had clattered by, and the last pennons vanished into South Fifth
621
Avenue, Mr. Wilde clambered out of his chair and dragged the chest away
622
from the door.
623
624
"Yes," he said, "it is time that you saw your cousin Louis."
625
626
He unlocked the door and I picked up my hat and stick and stepped into
627
the corridor. The stairs were dark. Groping about, I set my foot on
628
something soft, which snarled and spit, and I aimed a murderous blow at
629
the cat, but my cane shivered to splinters against the balustrade, and
630
the beast scurried back into Mr. Wilde's room.
631
632
Passing Hawberk's door again I saw him still at work on the armour, but
633
I did not stop, and stepping out into Bleecker Street, I followed it to
634
Wooster, skirted the grounds of the Lethal Chamber, and crossing
635
Washington Park went straight to my rooms in the Benedick. Here I lunched
636
comfortably, read the _Herald_ and the _Meteor_, and finally went
637
to the steel safe in my bedroom and set the time combination. The
638
three and three-quarter minutes which it is necessary to wait, while the
639
time lock is opening, are to me golden moments. From the instant I set
640
the combination to the moment when I grasp the knobs and swing back
641
the solid steel doors, I live in an ecstasy of expectation. Those moments
642
must be like moments passed in Paradise. I know what I am to find at
643
the end of the time limit. I know what the massive safe holds secure for
644
me, for me alone, and the exquisite pleasure of waiting is hardly enhanced
645
when the safe opens and I lift, from its velvet crown, a diadem of purest
646
gold, blazing with diamonds. I do this every day, and yet the joy of
647
waiting and at last touching again the diadem, only seems to increase as
648
the days pass. It is a diadem fit for a King among kings, an Emperor
649
among emperors. The King in Yellow might scorn it, but it shall be worn
650
by his royal servant.
651
652
I held it in my arms until the alarm in the safe rang harshly, and then
653
tenderly, proudly, I replaced it and shut the steel doors. I walked
654
slowly back into my study, which faces Washington Square, and leaned on
655
the window sill. The afternoon sun poured into my windows, and a gentle
656
breeze stirred the branches of the elms and maples in the park, now
657
covered with buds and tender foliage. A flock of pigeons circled about
658
the tower of the Memorial Church; sometimes alighting on the purple tiled
659
roof, sometimes wheeling downward to the lotos fountain in front of the
660
marble arch. The gardeners were busy with the flower beds around the
661
fountain, and the freshly turned earth smelled sweet and spicy. A lawn
662
mower, drawn by a fat white horse, clinked across the green sward, and
663
watering-carts poured showers of spray over the asphalt drives. Around
664
the statue of Peter Stuyvesant, which in 1897 had replaced the
665
monstrosity supposed to represent Garibaldi, children played in the
666
spring sunshine, and nurse girls wheeled elaborate baby carriages with a
667
reckless disregard for the pasty-faced occupants, which could probably be
668
explained by the presence of half a dozen trim dragoon troopers languidly
669
lolling on the benches. Through the trees, the Washington Memorial Arch
670
glistened like silver in the sunshine, and beyond, on the eastern
671
extremity of the square the grey stone barracks of the dragoons, and the
672
white granite artillery stables were alive with colour and motion.
673
674
I looked at the Lethal Chamber on the corner of the square opposite. A
675
few curious people still lingered about the gilded iron railing, but
676
inside the grounds the paths were deserted. I watched the fountains
677
ripple and sparkle; the sparrows had already found this new bathing nook,
678
and the basins were covered with the dusty-feathered little things. Two
679
or three white peacocks picked their way across the lawns, and a drab
680
coloured pigeon sat so motionless on the arm of one of the "Fates," that
681
it seemed to be a part of the sculptured stone.
682
683
As I was turning carelessly away, a slight commotion in the group of
684
curious loiterers around the gates attracted my attention. A young man
685
had entered, and was advancing with nervous strides along the gravel path
686
which leads to the bronze doors of the Lethal Chamber. He paused a moment
687
before the "Fates," and as he raised his head to those three mysterious
688
faces, the pigeon rose from its sculptured perch, circled about for a
689
moment and wheeled to the east. The young man pressed his hand to his
690
face, and then with an undefinable gesture sprang up the marble steps,
691
the bronze doors closed behind him, and half an hour later the loiterers
692
slouched away, and the frightened pigeon returned to its perch in the
693
arms of Fate.
694
695
I put on my hat and went out into the park for a little walk before
696
dinner. As I crossed the central driveway a group of officers passed, and
697
one of them called out, "Hello, Hildred," and came back to shake hands
698
with me. It was my cousin Louis, who stood smiling and tapping his
699
spurred heels with his riding-whip.
700
701
"Just back from Westchester," he said; "been doing the bucolic; milk and
702
curds, you know, dairy-maids in sunbonnets, who say 'haeow' and 'I don't
703
think' when you tell them they are pretty. I'm nearly dead for a square
704
meal at Delmonico's. What's the news?"
705
706
"There is none," I replied pleasantly. "I saw your regiment coming in this
707
morning."
708
709
"Did you? I didn't see you. Where were you?"
710
711
"In Mr. Wilde's window."
712
713
"Oh, hell!" he began impatiently, "that man is stark mad! I don't
714
understand why you--"
715
716
He saw how annoyed I felt by this outburst, and begged my pardon.
717
718
"Really, old chap," he said, "I don't mean to run down a man you like,
719
but for the life of me I can't see what the deuce you find in common with
720
Mr. Wilde. He's not well bred, to put it generously; he is hideously
721
deformed; his head is the head of a criminally insane person. You know
722
yourself he's been in an asylum--"
723
724
"So have I," I interrupted calmly.
725
726
Louis looked startled and confused for a moment, but recovered and
727
slapped me heartily on the shoulder. "You were completely cured," he
728
began; but I stopped him again.
729
730
"I suppose you mean that I was simply acknowledged never to have been
731
insane."
732
733
"Of course that--that's what I meant," he laughed.
734
735
I disliked his laugh because I knew it was forced, but I nodded gaily and
736
asked him where he was going. Louis looked after his brother officers who
737
had now almost reached Broadway.
738
739
"We had intended to sample a Brunswick cocktail, but to tell you the
740
truth I was anxious for an excuse to go and see Hawberk instead. Come
741
along, I'll make you my excuse."
742
743
We found old Hawberk, neatly attired in a fresh spring suit, standing at
744
the door of his shop and sniffing the air.
745
746
"I had just decided to take Constance for a little stroll before dinner,"
747
he replied to the impetuous volley of questions from Louis. "We thought
748
of walking on the park terrace along the North River."
749
750
At that moment Constance appeared and grew pale and rosy by turns as
751
Louis bent over her small gloved fingers. I tried to excuse myself,
752
alleging an engagement uptown, but Louis and Constance would not listen,
753
and I saw I was expected to remain and engage old Hawberk's attention.
754
After all it would be just as well if I kept my eye on Louis, I thought,
755
and when they hailed a Spring Street horse-car, I got in after them and
756
took my seat beside the armourer.
757
758
The beautiful line of parks and granite terraces overlooking the wharves
759
along the North River, which were built in 1910 and finished in the
760
autumn of 1917, had become one of the most popular promenades in the
761
metropolis. They extended from the battery to 190th Street, overlooking
762
the noble river and affording a fine view of the Jersey shore and the
763
Highlands opposite. Cafés and restaurants were scattered here and there
764
among the trees, and twice a week military bands from the garrison played
765
in the kiosques on the parapets.
766
767
We sat down in the sunshine on the bench at the foot of the equestrian
768
statue of General Sheridan. Constance tipped her sunshade to shield her
769
eyes, and she and Louis began a murmuring conversation which was
770
impossible to catch. Old Hawberk, leaning on his ivory headed cane,
771
lighted an excellent cigar, the mate to which I politely refused, and
772
smiled at vacancy. The sun hung low above the Staten Island woods, and
773
the bay was dyed with golden hues reflected from the sun-warmed sails of
774
the shipping in the harbour.
775
776
Brigs, schooners, yachts, clumsy ferry-boats, their decks swarming with
777
people, railroad transports carrying lines of brown, blue and white
778
freight cars, stately sound steamers, déclassé tramp steamers, coasters,
779
dredgers, scows, and everywhere pervading the entire bay impudent little
780
tugs puffing and whistling officiously;--these were the craft which
781
churned the sunlight waters as far as the eye could reach. In calm
782
contrast to the hurry of sailing vessel and steamer a silent fleet of
783
white warships lay motionless in midstream.
784
785
Constance's merry laugh aroused me from my reverie.
786
787
"What _are_ you staring at?" she inquired.
788
789
"Nothing--the fleet," I smiled.
790
791
Then Louis told us what the vessels were, pointing out each by its
792
relative position to the old Red Fort on Governor's Island.
793
794
"That little cigar shaped thing is a torpedo boat," he explained; "there
795
are four more lying close together. They are the _Tarpon_, the _Falcon_,
796
the _Sea Fox_, and the _Octopus_. The gun-boats just above are the
797
_Princeton_, the _Champlain_, the _Still Water_ and the _Erie_. Next to
798
them lie the cruisers _Faragut_ and _Los Angeles_, and above them the
799
battle ships _California_, and _Dakota_, and the _Washington_ which is
800
the flag ship. Those two squatty looking chunks of metal which are
801
anchored there off Castle William are the double turreted monitors
802
_Terrible_ and _Magnificent_; behind them lies the ram, _Osceola_."
803
804
Constance looked at him with deep approval in her beautiful eyes. "What
805
loads of things you know for a soldier," she said, and we all joined in
806
the laugh which followed.
807
808
Presently Louis rose with a nod to us and offered his arm to Constance,
809
and they strolled away along the river wall. Hawberk watched them for a
810
moment and then turned to me.
811
812
"Mr. Wilde was right," he said. "I have found the missing tassets and
813
left cuissard of the 'Prince's Emblazoned,' in a vile old junk garret in
814
Pell Street."
815
816
"998?" I inquired, with a smile.
817
818
"Yes."
819
820
"Mr. Wilde is a very intelligent man," I observed.
821
822
"I want to give him the credit of this most important discovery,"
823
continued Hawberk. "And I intend it shall be known that he is entitled
824
to the fame of it."
825
826
"He won't thank you for that," I answered sharply; "please say nothing
827
about it."
828
829
"Do you know what it is worth?" said Hawberk.
830
831
"No, fifty dollars, perhaps."
832
833
"It is valued at five hundred, but the owner of the 'Prince's Emblazoned'
834
will give two thousand dollars to the person who completes his suit; that
835
reward also belongs to Mr. Wilde."
836
837
"He doesn't want it! He refuses it!" I answered angrily. "What do you
838
know about Mr. Wilde? He doesn't need the money. He is rich--or will
839
be--richer than any living man except myself. What will we care for money
840
then--what will we care, he and I, when--when--"
841
842
"When what?" demanded Hawberk, astonished.
843
844
"You will see," I replied, on my guard again.
845
846
He looked at me narrowly, much as Doctor Archer used to, and I knew he
847
thought I was mentally unsound. Perhaps it was fortunate for him that he
848
did not use the word lunatic just then.
849
850
"No," I replied to his unspoken thought, "I am not mentally weak; my mind
851
is as healthy as Mr. Wilde's. I do not care to explain just yet what I
852
have on hand, but it is an investment which will pay more than mere gold,
853
silver and precious stones. It will secure the happiness and prosperity
854
of a continent--yes, a hemisphere!"
855
856
"Oh," said Hawberk.
857
858
"And eventually," I continued more quietly, "it will secure the happiness
859
of the whole world."
860
861
"And incidentally your own happiness and prosperity as well as Mr.
862
Wilde's?"
863
864
"Exactly," I smiled. But I could have throttled him for taking that tone.
865
866
He looked at me in silence for a while and then said very gently, "Why
867
don't you give up your books and studies, Mr. Castaigne, and take a tramp
868
among the mountains somewhere or other? You used to be fond of fishing.
869
Take a cast or two at the trout in the Rangelys."
870
871
"I don't care for fishing any more," I answered, without a shade of
872
annoyance in my voice.
873
874
"You used to be fond of everything," he continued; "athletics, yachting,
875
shooting, riding--"
876
877
"I have never cared to ride since my fall," I said quietly.
878
879
"Ah, yes, your fall," he repeated, looking away from me.
880
881
I thought this nonsense had gone far enough, so I brought the
882
conversation back to Mr. Wilde; but he was scanning my face again in a
883
manner highly offensive to me.
884
885
"Mr. Wilde," he repeated, "do you know what he did this afternoon? He
886
came downstairs and nailed a sign over the hall door next to mine; it
887
read:
888
889
"MR. WILDE,
890
REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
891
Third Bell.
892
893
"Do you know what a Repairer of Reputations can be?"
894
895
"I do," I replied, suppressing the rage within.
896
897
"Oh," he said again.
898
899
Louis and Constance came strolling by and stopped to ask if we would join
900
them. Hawberk looked at his watch. At the same moment a puff of smoke
901
shot from the casemates of Castle William, and the boom of the sunset gun
902
rolled across the water and was re-echoed from the Highlands opposite.
903
The flag came running down from the flag-pole, the bugles sounded on the
904
white decks of the warships, and the first electric light sparkled out
905
from the Jersey shore.
906
907
As I turned into the city with Hawberk I heard Constance murmur something
908
to Louis which I did not understand; but Louis whispered "My darling," in
909
reply; and again, walking ahead with Hawberk through the square I heard a
910
murmur of "sweetheart," and "my own Constance," and I knew the time had
911
nearly arrived when I should speak of important matters with my cousin
912
Louis.
913
914
915
916
917
III
918
919
One morning early in May I stood before the steel safe in my bedroom,
920
trying on the golden jewelled crown. The diamonds flashed fire as I
921
turned to the mirror, and the heavy beaten gold burned like a halo about
922
my head. I remembered Camilla's agonized scream and the awful words
923
echoing through the dim streets of Carcosa. They were the last lines in
924
the first act, and I dared not think of what followed--dared not, even
925
in the spring sunshine, there in my own room, surrounded with familiar
926
objects, reassured by the bustle from the street and the voices of the
927
servants in the hallway outside. For those poisoned words had dropped
928
slowly into my heart, as death-sweat drops upon a bed-sheet and is
929
absorbed. Trembling, I put the diadem from my head and wiped my forehead,
930
but I thought of Hastur and of my own rightful ambition, and I remembered
931
Mr. Wilde as I had last left him, his face all torn and bloody from the
932
claws of that devil's creature, and what he said--ah, what he said. The
933
alarm bell in the safe began to whirr harshly, and I knew my time was up;
934
but I would not heed it, and replacing the flashing circlet upon my head
935
I turned defiantly to the mirror. I stood for a long time absorbed in the
936
changing expression of my own eyes. The mirror reflected a face which was
937
like my own, but whiter, and so thin that I hardly recognized it And all
938
the time I kept repeating between my clenched teeth, "The day has come!
939
the day has come!" while the alarm in the safe whirred and clamoured, and
940
the diamonds sparkled and flamed above my brow. I heard a door open but
941
did not heed it. It was only when I saw two faces in the mirror:--it was
942
only when another face rose over my shoulder, and two other eyes met
943
mine. I wheeled like a flash and seized a long knife from my
944
dressing-table, and my cousin sprang back very pale, crying: "Hildred!
945
for God's sake!" then as my hand fell, he said: "It is I, Louis, don't
946
you know me?" I stood silent. I could not have spoken for my life. He
947
walked up to me and took the knife from my hand.
948
949
"What is all this?" he inquired, in a gentle voice. "Are you ill?"
950
951
"No," I replied. But I doubt if he heard me.
952
953
"Come, come, old fellow," he cried, "take off that brass crown and toddle
954
into the study. Are you going to a masquerade? What's all this theatrical
955
tinsel anyway?"
956
957
I was glad he thought the crown was made of brass and paste, yet I didn't
958
like him any the better for thinking so. I let him take it from my hand,
959
knowing it was best to humour him. He tossed the splendid diadem in the
960
air, and catching it, turned to me smiling.
961
962
"It's dear at fifty cents," he said. "What's it for?"
963
964
I did not answer, but took the circlet from his hands, and placing it in
965
the safe shut the massive steel door. The alarm ceased its infernal din
966
at once. He watched me curiously, but did not seem to notice the sudden
967
ceasing of the alarm. He did, however, speak of the safe as a biscuit
968
box. Fearing lest he might examine the combination I led the way into my
969
study. Louis threw himself on the sofa and flicked at flies with his
970
eternal riding-whip. He wore his fatigue uniform with the braided jacket
971
and jaunty cap, and I noticed that his riding-boots were all splashed
972
with red mud.
973
974
"Where have you been?" I inquired.
975
976
"Jumping mud creeks in Jersey," he said. "I haven't had time to change
977
yet; I was rather in a hurry to see you. Haven't you got a glass of
978
something? I'm dead tired; been in the saddle twenty-four hours."
979
980
I gave him some brandy from my medicinal store, which he drank with a
981
grimace.
982
983
"Damned bad stuff," he observed. "I'll give you an address where they
984
sell brandy that is brandy."
985
986
"It's good enough for my needs," I said indifferently. "I use it to rub
987
my chest with." He stared and flicked at another fly.
988
989
"See here, old fellow," he began, "I've got something to suggest to you.
990
It's four years now that you've shut yourself up here like an owl, never
991
going anywhere, never taking any healthy exercise, never doing a damn
992
thing but poring over those books up there on the mantelpiece."
993
994
He glanced along the row of shelves. "Napoleon, Napoleon, Napoleon!" he
995
read. "For heaven's sake, have you nothing but Napoleons there?"
996
997
"I wish they were bound in gold," I said. "But wait, yes, there is
998
another book, _The King in Yellow_." I looked him steadily in the
999
eye.
1000
1001
"Have you never read it?" I asked.
1002
1003
"I? No, thank God! I don't want to be driven crazy."
1004
1005
I saw he regretted his speech as soon as he had uttered it. There is only
1006
one word which I loathe more than I do lunatic and that word is crazy.
1007
But I controlled myself and asked him why he thought _The King in
1008
Yellow_ dangerous.
1009
1010
"Oh, I don't know," he said, hastily. "I only remember the excitement it
1011
created and the denunciations from pulpit and Press. I believe the author
1012
shot himself after bringing forth this monstrosity, didn't he?"
1013
1014
"I understand he is still alive," I answered.
1015
1016
"That's probably true," he muttered; "bullets couldn't kill a fiend like
1017
that."
1018
1019
"It is a book of great truths," I said.
1020
1021
"Yes," he replied, "of 'truths' which send men frantic and blast their
1022
lives. I don't care if the thing is, as they say, the very supreme
1023
essence of art. It's a crime to have written it, and I for one shall
1024
never open its pages."
1025
1026
"Is that what you have come to tell me?" I asked.
1027
1028
"No," he said, "I came to tell you that I am going to be married."
1029
1030
I believe for a moment my heart ceased to beat, but I kept my eyes on his
1031
face.
1032
1033
"Yes," he continued, smiling happily, "married to the sweetest girl on
1034
earth."
1035
1036
"Constance Hawberk," I said mechanically.
1037
1038
"How did you know?" he cried, astonished. "I didn't know it myself until
1039
that evening last April, when we strolled down to the embankment before
1040
dinner."
1041
1042
"When is it to be?" I asked.
1043
1044
"It was to have been next September, but an hour ago a despatch came
1045
ordering our regiment to the Presidio, San Francisco. We leave at noon
1046
to-morrow. To-morrow," he repeated. "Just think, Hildred, to-morrow I
1047
shall be the happiest fellow that ever drew breath in this jolly world,
1048
for Constance will go with me."
1049
1050
I offered him my hand in congratulation, and he seized and shook it like
1051
the good-natured fool he was--or pretended to be.
1052
1053
"I am going to get my squadron as a wedding present," he rattled on.
1054
"Captain and Mrs. Louis Castaigne, eh, Hildred?"
1055
1056
Then he told me where it was to be and who were to be there, and made me
1057
promise to come and be best man. I set my teeth and listened to his
1058
boyish chatter without showing what I felt, but--
1059
1060
I was getting to the limit of my endurance, and when he jumped up, and,
1061
switching his spurs till they jingled, said he must go, I did not detain
1062
him.
1063
1064
"There's one thing I want to ask of you," I said quietly.
1065
1066
"Out with it, it's promised," he laughed.
1067
1068
"I want you to meet me for a quarter of an hour's talk to-night."
1069
1070
"Of course, if you wish," he said, somewhat puzzled. "Where?"
1071
1072
"Anywhere, in the park there."
1073
1074
"What time, Hildred?"
1075
1076
"Midnight."
1077
1078
"What in the name of--" he began, but checked himself and laughingly
1079
assented. I watched him go down the stairs and hurry away, his sabre
1080
banging at every stride. He turned into Bleecker Street, and I knew he
1081
was going to see Constance. I gave him ten minutes to disappear and then
1082
followed in his footsteps, taking with me the jewelled crown and the
1083
silken robe embroidered with the Yellow Sign. When I turned into Bleecker
1084
Street, and entered the doorway which bore the sign--
1085
1086
MR. WILDE,
1087
REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
1088
Third Bell.
1089
1090
I saw old Hawberk moving about in his shop, and imagined I heard
1091
Constance's voice in the parlour; but I avoided them both and hurried up
1092
the trembling stairways to Mr. Wilde's apartment. I knocked and entered
1093
without ceremony. Mr. Wilde lay groaning on the floor, his face covered
1094
with blood, his clothes torn to shreds. Drops of blood were scattered
1095
about over the carpet, which had also been ripped and frayed in the
1096
evidently recent struggle.
1097
1098
"It's that cursed cat," he said, ceasing his groans, and turning his
1099
colourless eyes to me; "she attacked me while I was asleep. I believe she
1100
will kill me yet."
1101
1102
This was too much, so I went into the kitchen, and, seizing a hatchet
1103
from the pantry, started to find the infernal beast and settle her then
1104
and there. My search was fruitless, and after a while I gave it up and
1105
came back to find Mr. Wilde squatting on his high chair by the table. He
1106
had washed his face and changed his clothes. The great furrows which the
1107
cat's claws had ploughed up in his face he had filled with collodion, and
1108
a rag hid the wound in his throat. I told him I should kill the cat when
1109
I came across her, but he only shook his head and turned to the open
1110
ledger before him. He read name after name of the people who had come to
1111
him in regard to their reputation, and the sums he had amassed were
1112
startling.
1113
1114
"I put on the screws now and then," he explained.
1115
1116
"One day or other some of these people will assassinate you," I insisted.
1117
1118
"Do you think so?" he said, rubbing his mutilated ears.
1119
1120
It was useless to argue with him, so I took down the manuscript entitled
1121
Imperial Dynasty of America, for the last time I should ever take it down
1122
in Mr. Wilde's study. I read it through, thrilling and trembling with
1123
pleasure. When I had finished Mr. Wilde took the manuscript and, turning
1124
to the dark passage which leads from his study to his bed-chamber,
1125
called out in a loud voice, "Vance." Then for the first time, I noticed a
1126
man crouching there in the shadow. How I had overlooked him during my
1127
search for the cat, I cannot imagine.
1128
1129
"Vance, come in," cried Mr. Wilde.
1130
1131
The figure rose and crept towards us, and I shall never forget the face
1132
that he raised to mine, as the light from the window illuminated it.
1133
1134
"Vance, this is Mr. Castaigne," said Mr. Wilde. Before he had finished
1135
speaking, the man threw himself on the ground before the table, crying
1136
and grasping, "Oh, God! Oh, my God! Help me! Forgive me! Oh, Mr.
1137
Castaigne, keep that man away. You cannot, you cannot mean it! You are
1138
different--save me! I am broken down--I was in a madhouse and now--when
1139
all was coming right--when I had forgotten the King--the King in Yellow
1140
and--but I shall go mad again--I shall go mad--"
1141
1142
His voice died into a choking rattle, for Mr. Wilde had leapt on him and
1143
his right hand encircled the man's throat. When Vance fell in a heap on
1144
the floor, Mr. Wilde clambered nimbly into his chair again, and rubbing
1145
his mangled ears with the stump of his hand, turned to me and asked me
1146
for the ledger. I reached it down from the shelf and he opened it. After
1147
a moment's searching among the beautifully written pages, he coughed
1148
complacently, and pointed to the name Vance.
1149
1150
"Vance," he read aloud, "Osgood Oswald Vance." At the sound of his name,
1151
the man on the floor raised his head and turned a convulsed face to Mr.
1152
Wilde. His eyes were injected with blood, his lips tumefied. "Called
1153
April 28th," continued Mr. Wilde. "Occupation, cashier in the Seaforth
1154
National Bank; has served a term of forgery at Sing Sing, from whence he
1155
was transferred to the Asylum for the Criminal Insane. Pardoned by the
1156
Governor of New York, and discharged from the Asylum, January 19, 1918.
1157
Reputation damaged at Sheepshead Bay. Rumours that he lives beyond his
1158
income. Reputation to be repaired at once. Retainer $1,500.
1159
1160
"Note.--Has embezzled sums amounting to $30,000 since March 20, 1919,
1161
excellent family, and secured present position through uncle's influence.
1162
Father, President of Seaforth Bank."
1163
1164
I looked at the man on the floor.
1165
1166
"Get up, Vance," said Mr. Wilde in a gentle voice. Vance rose as if
1167
hypnotized. "He will do as we suggest now," observed Mr. Wilde, and
1168
opening the manuscript, he read the entire history of the Imperial
1169
Dynasty of America. Then in a kind and soothing murmur he ran over the
1170
important points with Vance, who stood like one stunned. His eyes were so
1171
blank and vacant that I imagined he had become half-witted, and remarked
1172
it to Mr. Wilde who replied that it was of no consequence anyway. Very
1173
patiently we pointed out to Vance what his share in the affair would be,
1174
and he seemed to understand after a while. Mr. Wilde explained the
1175
manuscript, using several volumes on Heraldry, to substantiate the result
1176
of his researches. He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in
1177
Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of
1178
the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy
1179
depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. "The scolloped tatters of the King
1180
in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever," he muttered, but I do not believe
1181
Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of
1182
the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of
1183
Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he
1184
began the wonderful story of the Last King. Fascinated and thrilled I
1185
watched him. He threw up his head, his long arms were stretched out in a
1186
magnificent gesture of pride and power, and his eyes blazed deep in their
1187
sockets like two emeralds. Vance listened stupefied. As for me, when at
1188
last Mr. Wilde had finished, and pointing to me, cried, "The cousin of
1189
the King!" my head swam with excitement.
1190
1191
Controlling myself with a superhuman effort, I explained to Vance why I
1192
alone was worthy of the crown and why my cousin must be exiled or die.
1193
I made him understand that my cousin must never marry, even after
1194
renouncing all his claims, and how that least of all he should marry the
1195
daughter of the Marquis of Avonshire and bring England into the question.
1196
I showed him a list of thousands of names which Mr. Wilde had drawn up;
1197
every man whose name was there had received the Yellow Sign which no
1198
living human being dared disregard. The city, the state, the whole land,
1199
were ready to rise and tremble before the Pallid Mask.
1200
1201
The time had come, the people should know the son of Hastur, and the
1202
whole world bow to the black stars which hang in the sky over Carcosa.
1203
1204
Vance leaned on the table, his head buried in his hands. Mr. Wilde drew
1205
a rough sketch on the margin of yesterday's _Herald_ with a bit of
1206
lead pencil. It was a plan of Hawberk's rooms. Then he wrote out the
1207
order and affixed the seal, and shaking like a palsied man I signed my
1208
first writ of execution with my name Hildred-Rex.
1209
1210
Mr. Wilde clambered to the floor and unlocking the cabinet, took a long
1211
square box from the first shelf. This he brought to the table and opened.
1212
A new knife lay in the tissue paper inside and I picked it up and handed
1213
it to Vance, along with the order and the plan of Hawberk's apartment.
1214
Then Mr. Wilde told Vance he could go; and he went, shambling like an
1215
outcast of the slums.
1216
1217
I sat for a while watching the daylight fade behind the square tower of
1218
the Judson Memorial Church, and finally, gathering up the manuscript and
1219
notes, took my hat and started for the door.
1220
1221
Mr. Wilde watched me in silence. When I had stepped into the hall I
1222
looked back. Mr. Wilde's small eyes were still fixed on me. Behind him,
1223
the shadows gathered in the fading light. Then I closed the door behind
1224
me and went out into the darkening streets.
1225
1226
I had eaten nothing since breakfast, but I was not hungry. A wretched,
1227
half-starved creature, who stood looking across the street at the Lethal
1228
Chamber, noticed me and came up to tell me a tale of misery. I gave him
1229
money, I don't know why, and he went away without thanking me. An
1230
hour later another outcast approached and whined his story. I had a blank
1231
bit of paper in my pocket, on which was traced the Yellow Sign, and I
1232
handed it to him. He looked at it stupidly for a moment, and then with an
1233
uncertain glance at me, folded it with what seemed to me exaggerated care
1234
and placed it in his bosom.
1235
1236
The electric lights were sparkling among the trees, and the new moon
1237
shone in the sky above the Lethal Chamber. It was tiresome waiting in the
1238
square; I wandered from the Marble Arch to the artillery stables and back
1239
again to the lotos fountain. The flowers and grass exhaled a fragrance
1240
which troubled me. The jet of the fountain played in the moonlight, and
1241
the musical splash of falling drops reminded me of the tinkle of chained
1242
mail in Hawberk's shop. But it was not so fascinating, and the dull
1243
sparkle of the moonlight on the water brought no such sensations of
1244
exquisite pleasure, as when the sunshine played over the polished steel
1245
of a corselet on Hawberk's knee. I watched the bats darting and turning
1246
above the water plants in the fountain basin, but their rapid, jerky
1247
flight set my nerves on edge, and I went away again to walk aimlessly to
1248
and fro among the trees.
1249
1250
The artillery stables were dark, but in the cavalry barracks the
1251
officers' windows were brilliantly lighted, and the sallyport was
1252
constantly filled with troopers in fatigue, carrying straw and harness
1253
and baskets filled with tin dishes.
1254
1255
Twice the mounted sentry at the gates was changed while I wandered up and
1256
down the asphalt walk. I looked at my watch. It was nearly time. The
1257
lights in the barracks went out one by one, the barred gate was closed,
1258
and every minute or two an officer passed in through the side wicket,
1259
leaving a rattle of accoutrements and a jingle of spurs on the night air.
1260
The square had become very silent. The last homeless loiterer had been
1261
driven away by the grey-coated park policeman, the car tracks along
1262
Wooster Street were deserted, and the only sound which broke the
1263
stillness was the stamping of the sentry's horse and the ring of his
1264
sabre against the saddle pommel. In the barracks, the officers' quarters
1265
were still lighted, and military servants passed and repassed before the
1266
bay windows. Twelve o'clock sounded from the new spire of St. Francis
1267
Xavier, and at the last stroke of the sad-toned bell a figure passed
1268
through the wicket beside the portcullis, returned the salute of the
1269
sentry, and crossing the street entered the square and advanced toward
1270
the Benedick apartment house.
1271
1272
"Louis," I called.
1273
1274
The man pivoted on his spurred heels and came straight toward me.
1275
1276
"Is that you, Hildred?"
1277
1278
"Yes, you are on time."
1279
1280
I took his offered hand, and we strolled toward the Lethal Chamber.
1281
1282
He rattled on about his wedding and the graces of Constance, and their
1283
future prospects, calling my attention to his captain's shoulder-straps,
1284
and the triple gold arabesque on his sleeve and fatigue cap. I believe I
1285
listened as much to the music of his spurs and sabre as I did to his
1286
boyish babble, and at last we stood under the elms on the Fourth Street
1287
corner of the square opposite the Lethal Chamber. Then he laughed and
1288
asked me what I wanted with him. I motioned him to a seat on a bench
1289
under the electric light, and sat down beside him. He looked at me
1290
curiously, with that same searching glance which I hate and fear so in
1291
doctors. I felt the insult of his look, but he did not know it, and I
1292
carefully concealed my feelings.
1293
1294
"Well, old chap," he inquired, "what can I do for you?"
1295
1296
I drew from my pocket the manuscript and notes of the Imperial Dynasty
1297
of America, and looking him in the eye said:
1298
1299
"I will tell you. On your word as a soldier, promise me to read this
1300
manuscript from beginning to end, without asking me a question. Promise
1301
me to read these notes in the same way, and promise me to listen to what
1302
I have to tell later."
1303
1304
"I promise, if you wish it," he said pleasantly. "Give me the paper,
1305
Hildred."
1306
1307
He began to read, raising his eyebrows with a puzzled, whimsical air,
1308
which made me tremble with suppressed anger. As he advanced his, eyebrows
1309
contracted, and his lips seemed to form the word "rubbish."
1310
1311
Then he looked slightly bored, but apparently for my sake read, with an
1312
attempt at interest, which presently ceased to be an effort He started
1313
when in the closely written pages he came to his own name, and when he
1314
came to mine he lowered the paper, and looked sharply at me for a moment
1315
But he kept his word, and resumed his reading, and I let the half-formed
1316
question die on his lips unanswered. When he came to the end and read the
1317
signature of Mr. Wilde, he folded the paper carefully and returned it to
1318
me. I handed him the notes, and he settled back, pushing his fatigue cap
1319
up to his forehead, with a boyish gesture, which I remembered so well in
1320
school. I watched his face as he read, and when he finished I took the
1321
notes with the manuscript, and placed them in my pocket. Then I unfolded
1322
a scroll marked with the Yellow Sign. He saw the sign, but he did not
1323
seem to recognize it, and I called his attention to it somewhat sharply.
1324
1325
"Well," he said, "I see it. What is it?"
1326
1327
"It is the Yellow Sign," I said angrily.
1328
1329
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Louis, in that flattering voice, which
1330
Doctor Archer used to employ with me, and would probably have employed
1331
again, had I not settled his affair for him.
1332
1333
I kept my rage down and answered as steadily as possible, "Listen, you
1334
have engaged your word?"
1335
1336
"I am listening, old chap," he replied soothingly.
1337
1338
I began to speak very calmly.
1339
1340
"Dr. Archer, having by some means become possessed of the secret of the
1341
Imperial Succession, attempted to deprive me of my right, alleging that
1342
because of a fall from my horse four years ago, I had become mentally
1343
deficient. He presumed to place me under restraint in his own house in
1344
hopes of either driving me insane or poisoning me. I have not forgotten
1345
it. I visited him last night and the interview was final."
1346
1347
Louis turned quite pale, but did not move. I resumed triumphantly, "There
1348
are yet three people to be interviewed in the interests of Mr. Wilde and
1349
myself. They are my cousin Louis, Mr. Hawberk, and his daughter
1350
Constance."
1351
1352
Louis sprang to his feet and I arose also, and flung the paper marked
1353
with the Yellow Sign to the ground.
1354
1355
"Oh, I don't need that to tell you what I have to say," I cried, with a
1356
laugh of triumph. "You must renounce the crown to me, do you hear, to
1357
_me_."
1358
1359
Louis looked at me with a startled air, but recovering himself said
1360
kindly, "Of course I renounce the--what is it I must renounce?"
1361
1362
"The crown," I said angrily.
1363
1364
"Of course," he answered, "I renounce it. Come, old chap, I'll walk back
1365
to your rooms with you."
1366
1367
"Don't try any of your doctor's tricks on me," I cried, trembling with
1368
fury. "Don't act as if you think I am insane."
1369
1370
"What nonsense," he replied. "Come, it's getting late, Hildred."
1371
1372
"No," I shouted, "you must listen. You cannot marry, I forbid it. Do you
1373
hear? I forbid it. You shall renounce the crown, and in reward I grant
1374
you exile, but if you refuse you shall die."
1375
1376
He tried to calm me, but I was roused at last, and drawing my long knife
1377
barred his way.
1378
1379
Then I told him how they would find Dr. Archer in the cellar with his
1380
throat open, and I laughed in his face when I thought of Vance and his
1381
knife, and the order signed by me.
1382
1383
"Ah, you are the King," I cried, "but I shall be King. Who are you to
1384
keep me from Empire over all the habitable earth! I was born the cousin
1385
of a king, but I shall be King!"
1386
1387
Louis stood white and rigid before me. Suddenly a man came running up
1388
Fourth Street, entered the gate of the Lethal Temple, traversed the path
1389
to the bronze doors at full speed, and plunged into the death chamber
1390
with the cry of one demented, and I laughed until I wept tears, for I had
1391
recognized Vance, and knew that Hawberk and his daughter were no longer
1392
in my way.
1393
1394
"Go," I cried to Louis, "you have ceased to be a menace. You will never
1395
marry Constance now, and if you marry any one else in your exile, I will
1396
visit you as I did my doctor last night. Mr. Wilde takes charge of you
1397
to-morrow." Then I turned and darted into South Fifth Avenue, and with a
1398
cry of terror Louis dropped his belt and sabre and followed me like the
1399
wind. I heard him close behind me at the corner of Bleecker Street, and I
1400
dashed into the doorway under Hawberk's sign. He cried, "Halt, or I
1401
fire!" but when he saw that I flew up the stairs leaving Hawberk's shop
1402
below, he left me, and I heard him hammering and shouting at their door
1403
as though it were possible to arouse the dead.
1404
1405
Mr. Wilde's door was open, and I entered crying, "It is done, it is done!
1406
Let the nations rise and look upon their King!" but I could not find Mr.
1407
Wilde, so I went to the cabinet and took the splendid diadem from its
1408
case. Then I drew on the white silk robe, embroidered with the Yellow
1409
Sign, and placed the crown upon my head. At last I was King, King by my
1410
right in Hastur, King because I knew the mystery of the Hyades, and my
1411
mind had sounded the depths of the Lake of Hali. I was King! The first
1412
grey pencillings of dawn would raise a tempest which would shake two
1413
hemispheres. Then as I stood, my every nerve pitched to the highest
1414
tension, faint with the joy and splendour of my thought, without, in the
1415
dark passage, a man groaned.
1416
1417
I seized the tallow dip and sprang to the door. The cat passed me like a
1418
demon, and the tallow dip went out, but my long knife flew swifter than
1419
she, and I heard her screech, and I knew that my knife had found her. For
1420
a moment I listened to her tumbling and thumping about in the darkness,
1421
and then when her frenzy ceased, I lighted a lamp and raised it over my
1422
head. Mr. Wilde lay on the floor with his throat torn open. At first I
1423
thought he was dead, but as I looked, a green sparkle came into his
1424
sunken eyes, his mutilated hand trembled, and then a spasm stretched his
1425
mouth from ear to ear. For a moment my terror and despair gave place to
1426
hope, but as I bent over him his eyeballs rolled clean around in his
1427
head, and he died. Then while I stood, transfixed with rage and despair,
1428
seeing my crown, my empire, every hope and every ambition, my very life,
1429
lying prostrate there with the dead master, _they_ came, seized me
1430
from behind, and bound me until my veins stood out like cords, and my
1431
voice failed with the paroxysms of my frenzied screams. But I still
1432
raged, bleeding and infuriated among them, and more than one policeman
1433
felt my sharp teeth. Then when I could no longer move they came nearer; I
1434
saw old Hawberk, and behind him my cousin Louis' ghastly face, and
1435
farther away, in the corner, a woman, Constance, weeping softly.
1436
1437
"Ah! I see it now!" I shrieked. "You have seized the throne and the
1438
empire. Woe! woe to you who are crowned with the crown of the King in
1439
Yellow!"
1440
1441
1442
[EDITOR'S NOTE.--Mr. Castaigne died yesterday in the Asylum for Criminal
1443
Insane.]
1444
1445
1446
1447
1448
THE MASK
1449
1450
CAMILLA: You, sir, should unmask.
1451
1452
STRANGER: Indeed?
1453
1454
CASSILDA: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
1455
1456
STRANGER: I wear no mask.
1457
1458
CAMILLA: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
1459
1460
_The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 2_.
1461
1462
1463
I
1464
1465
Although I knew nothing of chemistry, I listened fascinated. He picked up
1466
an Easter lily which Geneviève had brought that morning from Notre Dame,
1467
and dropped it into the basin. Instantly the liquid lost its crystalline
1468
clearness. For a second the lily was enveloped in a milk-white foam,
1469
which disappeared, leaving the fluid opalescent. Changing tints of orange
1470
and crimson played over the surface, and then what seemed to be a ray of
1471
pure sunlight struck through from the bottom where the lily was resting.
1472
At the same instant he plunged his hand into the basin and drew out the
1473
flower. "There is no danger," he explained, "if you choose the right
1474
moment. That golden ray is the signal."
1475
1476
He held the lily toward me, and I took it in my hand. It had turned to
1477
stone, to the purest marble.
1478
1479
"You see," he said, "it is without a flaw. What sculptor could reproduce
1480
it?"
1481
1482
The marble was white as snow, but in its depths the veins of the lily
1483
were tinged with palest azure, and a faint flush lingered deep in its
1484
heart.
1485
1486
"Don't ask me the reason of that," he smiled, noticing my wonder. "I have
1487
no idea why the veins and heart are tinted, but they always are.
1488
Yesterday I tried one of Geneviève's gold-fish,--there it is."
1489
1490
The fish looked as if sculptured in marble. But if you held it to the
1491
light the stone was beautifully veined with a faint blue, and from
1492
somewhere within came a rosy light like the tint which slumbers in an
1493
opal. I looked into the basin. Once more it seemed filled with clearest
1494
crystal.
1495
1496
"If I should touch it now?" I demanded.
1497
1498
"I don't know," he replied, "but you had better not try."
1499
1500
"There is one thing I'm curious about," I said, "and that is where the
1501
ray of sunlight came from."
1502
1503
"It looked like a sunbeam true enough," he said. "I don't know, it always
1504
comes when I immerse any living thing. Perhaps," he continued, smiling,
1505
"perhaps it is the vital spark of the creature escaping to the source
1506
from whence it came."
1507
1508
I saw he was mocking, and threatened him with a mahl-stick, but he only
1509
laughed and changed the subject.
1510
1511
"Stay to lunch. Geneviève will be here directly."
1512
1513
"I saw her going to early mass," I said, "and she looked as fresh and
1514
sweet as that lily--before you destroyed it."
1515
1516
"Do you think I destroyed it?" said Boris gravely.
1517
1518
"Destroyed, preserved, how can we tell?"
1519
1520
We sat in the corner of a studio near his unfinished group of the
1521
"Fates." He leaned back on the sofa, twirling a sculptor's chisel and
1522
squinting at his work.
1523
1524
"By the way," he said, "I have finished pointing up that old academic
1525
Ariadne, and I suppose it will have to go to the Salon. It's all I have
1526
ready this year, but after the success the 'Madonna' brought me I feel
1527
ashamed to send a thing like that."
1528
1529
The "Madonna," an exquisite marble for which Geneviève had sat, had been
1530
the sensation of last year's Salon. I looked at the Ariadne. It was a
1531
magnificent piece of technical work, but I agreed with Boris that the
1532
world would expect something better of him than that. Still, it was
1533
impossible now to think of finishing in time for the Salon that splendid
1534
terrible group half shrouded in the marble behind me. The "Fates" would
1535
have to wait.
1536
1537
We were proud of Boris Yvain. We claimed him and he claimed us on the
1538
strength of his having been born in America, although his father was
1539
French and his mother was a Russian. Every one in the Beaux Arts called
1540
him Boris. And yet there were only two of us whom he addressed in the
1541
same familiar way--Jack Scott and myself.
1542
1543
Perhaps my being in love with Geneviève had something to do with his
1544
affection for me. Not that it had ever been acknowledged between us. But
1545
after all was settled, and she had told me with tears in her eyes that it
1546
was Boris whom she loved, I went over to his house and congratulated him.
1547
The perfect cordiality of that interview did not deceive either of us, I
1548
always believed, although to one at least it was a great comfort. I do
1549
not think he and Geneviève ever spoke of the matter together, but Boris
1550
knew.
1551
1552
Geneviève was lovely. The Madonna-like purity of her face might have been
1553
inspired by the Sanctus in Gounod's Mass. But I was always glad when she
1554
changed that mood for what we called her "April Manoeuvres." She was
1555
often as variable as an April day. In the morning grave, dignified and
1556
sweet, at noon laughing, capricious, at evening whatever one least
1557
expected. I preferred her so rather than in that Madonna-like
1558
tranquillity which stirred the depths of my heart. I was dreaming of
1559
Geneviève when he spoke again.
1560
1561
"What do you think of my discovery, Alec?"
1562
1563
"I think it wonderful."
1564
1565
"I shall make no use of it, you know, beyond satisfying my own curiosity
1566
so far as may be, and the secret will die with me."
1567
1568
"It would be rather a blow to sculpture, would it not? We painters lose
1569
more than we ever gain by photography."
1570
1571
Boris nodded, playing with the edge of the chisel.
1572
1573
"This new vicious discovery would corrupt the world of art. No, I shall
1574
never confide the secret to any one," he said slowly.
1575
1576
It would be hard to find any one less informed about such phenomena than
1577
myself; but of course I had heard of mineral springs so saturated with
1578
silica that the leaves and twigs which fell into them were turned to
1579
stone after a time. I dimly comprehended the process, how the silica
1580
replaced the vegetable matter, atom by atom, and the result was a
1581
duplicate of the object in stone. This, I confess, had never interested
1582
me greatly, and as for the ancient fossils thus produced, they disgusted
1583
me. Boris, it appeared, feeling curiosity instead of repugnance, had
1584
investigated the subject, and had accidentally stumbled on a solution
1585
which, attacking the immersed object with a ferocity unheard of, in a
1586
second did the work of years. This was all I could make out of the
1587
strange story he had just been telling me. He spoke again after a long
1588
silence.
1589
1590
"I am almost frightened when I think what I have found. Scientists would
1591
go mad over the discovery. It was so simple too; it discovered itself.
1592
When I think of that formula, and that new element precipitated in
1593
metallic scales--"
1594
1595
"What new element?"
1596
1597
"Oh, I haven't thought of naming it, and I don't believe I ever shall.
1598
There are enough precious metals now in the world to cut throats over."
1599
1600
I pricked up my ears. "Have you struck gold, Boris?"
1601
1602
"No, better;--but see here, Alec!" he laughed, starting up. "You and I
1603
have all we need in this world. Ah! how sinister and covetous you look
1604
already!" I laughed too, and told him I was devoured by the desire for
1605
gold, and we had better talk of something else; so when Geneviève came in
1606
shortly after, we had turned our backs on alchemy.
1607
1608
Geneviève was dressed in silvery grey from head to foot. The light
1609
glinted along the soft curves of her fair hair as she turned her cheek to
1610
Boris; then she saw me and returned my greeting. She had never before
1611
failed to blow me a kiss from the tips of her white fingers, and I
1612
promptly complained of the omission. She smiled and held out her hand,
1613
which dropped almost before it had touched mine; then she said, looking
1614
at Boris--
1615
1616
"You must ask Alec to stay for luncheon." This also was something new.
1617
She had always asked me herself until to-day.
1618
1619
"I did," said Boris shortly.
1620
1621
"And you said yes, I hope?" She turned to me with a charming conventional
1622
smile. I might have been an acquaintance of the day before yesterday. I
1623
made her a low bow. "J'avais bien l'honneur, madame," but refusing to
1624
take up our usual bantering tone, she murmured a hospitable commonplace
1625
and disappeared. Boris and I looked at one another.
1626
1627
"I had better go home, don't you think?" I asked.
1628
1629
"Hanged if I know," he replied frankly.
1630
1631
While we were discussing the advisability of my departure Geneviève
1632
reappeared in the doorway without her bonnet. She was wonderfully
1633
beautiful, but her colour was too deep and her lovely eyes were too
1634
bright. She came straight up to me and took my arm.
1635
1636
"Luncheon is ready. Was I cross, Alec? I thought I had a headache, but I
1637
haven't. Come here, Boris;" and she slipped her other arm through his.
1638
"Alec knows that after you there is no one in the world whom I like as
1639
well as I like him, so if he sometimes feels snubbed it won't hurt him."
1640
1641
"À la bonheur!" I cried, "who says there are no thunderstorms in April?"
1642
1643
"Are you ready?" chanted Boris. "Aye ready;" and arm-in-arm we raced into
1644
the dining-room, scandalizing the servants. After all we were not so much
1645
to blame; Geneviève was eighteen, Boris was twenty-three, and I not quite
1646
twenty-one.
1647
1648
1649
1650
1651
II
1652
1653
Some work that I was doing about this time on the decorations for
1654
Geneviève's boudoir kept me constantly at the quaint little hotel in the
1655
Rue Sainte-Cécile. Boris and I in those days laboured hard but as we
1656
pleased, which was fitfully, and we all three, with Jack Scott, idled a
1657
great deal together.
1658
1659
One quiet afternoon I had been wandering alone over the house examining
1660
curios, prying into odd corners, bringing out sweetmeats and cigars from
1661
strange hiding-places, and at last I stopped in the bathing-room. Boris,
1662
all over clay, stood there washing his hands.
1663
1664
The room was built of rose-coloured marble excepting the floor, which was
1665
tessellated in rose and grey. In the centre was a square pool sunken
1666
below the surface of the floor; steps led down into it, sculptured
1667
pillars supported a frescoed ceiling. A delicious marble Cupid appeared
1668
to have just alighted on his pedestal at the upper end of the room. The
1669
whole interior was Boris' work and mine. Boris, in his working-clothes of
1670
white canvas, scraped the traces of clay and red modelling wax from his
1671
handsome hands, and coquetted over his shoulder with the Cupid.
1672
1673
"I see you," he insisted, "don't try to look the other way and pretend
1674
not to see me. You know who made you, little humbug!"
1675
1676
It was always my rôle to interpret Cupid's sentiments in these
1677
conversations, and when my turn came I responded in such a manner, that
1678
Boris seized my arm and dragged me toward the pool, declaring he would
1679
duck me. Next instant he dropped my arm and turned pale. "Good God!" he
1680
said, "I forgot the pool is full of the solution!"
1681
1682
I shivered a little, and dryly advised him to remember better where he
1683
had stored the precious liquid.
1684
1685
"In Heaven's name, why do you keep a small lake of that gruesome stuff
1686
here of all places?" I asked.
1687
1688
"I want to experiment on something large," he replied.
1689
1690
"On me, for instance?"
1691
1692
"Ah! that came too close for jesting; but I do want to watch the action
1693
of that solution on a more highly organized living body; there is that
1694
big white rabbit," he said, following me into the studio.
1695
1696
Jack Scott, wearing a paint-stained jacket, came wandering in,
1697
appropriated all the Oriental sweetmeats he could lay his hands on,
1698
looted the cigarette case, and finally he and Boris disappeared together
1699
to visit the Luxembourg Gallery, where a new silver bronze by Rodin and a
1700
landscape of Monet's were claiming the exclusive attention of artistic
1701
France. I went back to the studio, and resumed my work. It was a
1702
Renaissance screen, which Boris wanted me to paint for Geneviève's
1703
boudoir. But the small boy who was unwillingly dawdling through a series
1704
of poses for it, to-day refused all bribes to be good. He never rested an
1705
instant in the same position, and inside of five minutes I had as many
1706
different outlines of the little beggar.
1707
1708
"Are you posing, or are you executing a song and dance, my friend?" I
1709
inquired.
1710
1711
"Whichever monsieur pleases," he replied, with an angelic smile.
1712
1713
Of course I dismissed him for the day, and of course I paid him for the
1714
full time, that being the way we spoil our models.
1715
1716
After the young imp had gone, I made a few perfunctory daubs at my work,
1717
but was so thoroughly out of humour, that it took me the rest of the
1718
afternoon to undo the damage I had done, so at last I scraped my palette,
1719
stuck my brushes in a bowl of black soap, and strolled into the
1720
smoking-room. I really believe that, excepting Geneviève's apartments, no
1721
room in the house was so free from the perfume of tobacco as this one. It
1722
was a queer chaos of odds and ends, hung with threadbare tapestry. A
1723
sweet-toned old spinet in good repair stood by the window. There were
1724
stands of weapons, some old and dull, others bright and modern, festoons
1725
of Indian and Turkish armour over the mantel, two or three good pictures,
1726
and a pipe-rack. It was here that we used to come for new sensations in
1727
smoking. I doubt if any type of pipe ever existed which was not
1728
represented in that rack. When we had selected one, we immediately
1729
carried it somewhere else and smoked it; for the place was, on the whole,
1730
more gloomy and less inviting than any in the house. But this afternoon,
1731
the twilight was very soothing, the rugs and skins on the floor looked
1732
brown and soft and drowsy; the big couch was piled with cushions--I found
1733
my pipe and curled up there for an unaccustomed smoke in the
1734
smoking-room. I had chosen one with a long flexible stem, and lighting it
1735
fell to dreaming. After a while it went out, but I did not stir. I
1736
dreamed on and presently fell asleep.
1737
1738
I awoke to the saddest music I had ever heard. The room was quite dark, I
1739
had no idea what time it was. A ray of moonlight silvered one edge of the
1740
old spinet, and the polished wood seemed to exhale the sounds as perfume
1741
floats above a box of sandalwood. Some one rose in the darkness, and came
1742
away weeping quietly, and I was fool enough to cry out "Geneviève!"
1743
1744
She dropped at my voice, and, I had time to curse myself while I made a
1745
light and tried to raise her from the floor. She shrank away with a
1746
murmur of pain. She was very quiet, and asked for Boris. I carried her to
1747
the divan, and went to look for him, but he was not in the house, and the
1748
servants were gone to bed. Perplexed and anxious, I hurried back to
1749
Geneviève. She lay where I had left her, looking very white.
1750
1751
"I can't find Boris nor any of the servants," I said.
1752
1753
"I know," she answered faintly, "Boris has gone to Ept with Mr. Scott. I
1754
did not remember when I sent you for him just now."
1755
1756
"But he can't get back in that case before to-morrow afternoon, and--are
1757
you hurt? Did I frighten you into falling? What an awful fool I am, but I
1758
was only half awake."
1759
1760
"Boris thought you had gone home before dinner. Do please excuse us for
1761
letting you stay here all this time."
1762
1763
"I have had a long nap," I laughed, "so sound that I did not know whether
1764
I was still asleep or not when I found myself staring at a figure that
1765
was moving toward me, and called out your name. Have you been trying the
1766
old spinet? You must have played very softly."
1767
1768
I would tell a thousand more lies worse than that one to see the look of
1769
relief that came into her face. She smiled adorably, and said in her
1770
natural voice: "Alec, I tripped on that wolf's head, and I think my ankle
1771
is sprained. Please call Marie, and then go home."
1772
1773
I did as she bade me, and left her there when the maid came in.
1774
1775
1776
1777
1778
III
1779
1780
At noon next day when I called, I found Boris walking restlessly about
1781
his studio.
1782
1783
"Geneviève is asleep just now," he told me, "the sprain is nothing, but
1784
why should she have such a high fever? The doctor can't account for it;
1785
or else he will not," he muttered.
1786
1787
"Geneviève has a fever?" I asked.
1788
1789
"I should say so, and has actually been a little light-headed at
1790
intervals all night. The idea! gay little Geneviève, without a care in
1791
the world,--and she keeps saying her heart's broken, and she wants to
1792
die!"
1793
1794
My own heart stood still.
1795
1796
Boris leaned against the door of his studio, looking down, his hands in
1797
his pockets, his kind, keen eyes clouded, a new line of trouble drawn
1798
"over the mouth's good mark, that made the smile." The maid had orders to
1799
summon him the instant Geneviève opened her eyes. We waited and waited,
1800
and Boris, growing restless, wandered about, fussing with modelling wax
1801
and red clay. Suddenly he started for the next room. "Come and see my
1802
rose-coloured bath full of death!" he cried.
1803
1804
"Is it death?" I asked, to humour his mood.
1805
1806
"You are not prepared to call it life, I suppose," he answered. As he
1807
spoke he plucked a solitary goldfish squirming and twisting out of its
1808
globe. "We'll send this one after the other--wherever that is," he said.
1809
There was feverish excitement in his voice. A dull weight of fever lay on
1810
my limbs and on my brain as I followed him to the fair crystal pool with
1811
its pink-tinted sides; and he dropped the creature in. Falling, its
1812
scales flashed with a hot orange gleam in its angry twistings and
1813
contortions; the moment it struck the liquid it became rigid and sank
1814
heavily to the bottom. Then came the milky foam, the splendid hues
1815
radiating on the surface and then the shaft of pure serene light broke
1816
through from seemingly infinite depths. Boris plunged in his hand and
1817
drew out an exquisite marble thing, blue-veined, rose-tinted, and
1818
glistening with opalescent drops.
1819
1820
"Child's play," he muttered, and looked wearily, longingly at me,--as if
1821
I could answer such questions! But Jack Scott came in and entered into
1822
the "game," as he called it, with ardour. Nothing would do but to try the
1823
experiment on the white rabbit then and there. I was willing that Boris
1824
should find distraction from his cares, but I hated to see the life go
1825
out of a warm, living creature and I declined to be present. Picking up a
1826
book at random, I sat down in the studio to read. Alas! I had found
1827
_The King in Yellow_. After a few moments, which seemed ages, I was
1828
putting it away with a nervous shudder, when Boris and Jack came in
1829
bringing their marble rabbit. At the same time the bell rang above, and a
1830
cry came from the sick-room. Boris was gone like a flash, and the next
1831
moment he called, "Jack, run for the doctor; bring him back with you.
1832
Alec, come here."
1833
1834
I went and stood at her door. A frightened maid came out in haste and ran
1835
away to fetch some remedy. Geneviève, sitting bolt upright, with crimson
1836
cheeks and glittering eyes, babbled incessantly and resisted Boris'
1837
gentle restraint. He called me to help. At my first touch she sighed and
1838
sank back, closing her eyes, and then--then--as we still bent above her,
1839
she opened them again, looked straight into Boris' face--poor
1840
fever-crazed girl!--and told her secret. At the same instant our three
1841
lives turned into new channels; the bond that held us so long together
1842
snapped for ever and a new bond was forged in its place, for she had
1843
spoken my name, and as the fever tortured her, her heart poured out its
1844
load of hidden sorrow. Amazed and dumb I bowed my head, while my face
1845
burned like a live coal, and the blood surged in my ears, stupefying me
1846
with its clamour. Incapable of movement, incapable of speech, I listened
1847
to her feverish words in an agony of shame and sorrow. I could not
1848
silence her, I could not look at Boris. Then I felt an arm upon my
1849
shoulder, and Boris turned a bloodless face to mine.
1850
1851
"It is not your fault, Alec; don't grieve so if she loves you--" but he
1852
could not finish; and as the doctor stepped swiftly into the room,
1853
saying--"Ah, the fever!" I seized Jack Scott and hurried him to the
1854
street, saying, "Boris would rather be alone." We crossed the street to
1855
our own apartments, and that night, seeing I was going to be ill too, he
1856
went for the doctor again. The last thing I recollect with any
1857
distinctness was hearing Jack say, "For Heaven's sake, doctor, what ails
1858
him, to wear a face like that?" and I thought of _The King in
1859
Yellow_ and the Pallid Mask.
1860
1861
I was very ill, for the strain of two years which I had endured since
1862
that fatal May morning when Geneviève murmured, "I love you, but I think
1863
I love Boris best," told on me at last. I had never imagined that it
1864
could become more than I could endure. Outwardly tranquil, I had deceived
1865
myself. Although the inward battle raged night after night, and I, lying
1866
alone in my room, cursed myself for rebellious thoughts unloyal to Boris
1867
and unworthy of Geneviève, the morning always brought relief, and I
1868
returned to Geneviève and to my dear Boris with a heart washed clean by
1869
the tempests of the night.
1870
1871
Never in word or deed or thought while with them had I betrayed my sorrow
1872
even to myself.
1873
1874
The mask of self-deception was no longer a mask for me, it was a part of
1875
me. Night lifted it, laying bare the stifled truth below; but there was
1876
no one to see except myself, and when the day broke the mask fell back
1877
again of its own accord. These thoughts passed through my troubled mind
1878
as I lay sick, but they were hopelessly entangled with visions of white
1879
creatures, heavy as stone, crawling about in Boris' basin,--of the wolf's
1880
head on the rug, foaming and snapping at Geneviève, who lay smiling
1881
beside it. I thought, too, of the King in Yellow wrapped in the fantastic
1882
colours of his tattered mantle, and that bitter cry of Cassilda, "Not
1883
upon us, oh King, not upon us!" Feverishly I struggled to put it from me,
1884
but I saw the lake of Hali, thin and blank, without a ripple or wind to
1885
stir it, and I saw the towers of Carcosa behind the moon. Aldebaran, the
1886
Hyades, Alar, Hastur, glided through the cloud-rifts which fluttered and
1887
flapped as they passed like the scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow.
1888
Among all these, one sane thought persisted. It never wavered, no matter
1889
what else was going on in my disordered mind, that my chief reason for
1890
existing was to meet some requirement of Boris and Geneviève. What this
1891
obligation was, its nature, was never clear; sometimes it seemed to be
1892
protection, sometimes support, through a great crisis. Whatever it seemed
1893
to be for the time, its weight rested only on me, and I was never so ill
1894
or so weak that I did not respond with my whole soul. There were always
1895
crowds of faces about me, mostly strange, but a few I recognized, Boris
1896
among them. Afterward they told me that this could not have been, but I
1897
know that once at least he bent over me. It was only a touch, a faint
1898
echo of his voice, then the clouds settled back on my senses, and I lost
1899
him, but he _did_ stand there and bend over me _once_ at least.
1900
1901
At last, one morning I awoke to find the sunlight falling across my bed,
1902
and Jack Scott reading beside me. I had not strength enough to speak
1903
aloud, neither could I think, much less remember, but I could smile
1904
feebly, as Jack's eye met mine, and when he jumped up and asked eagerly
1905
if I wanted anything, I could whisper, "Yes--Boris." Jack moved to the
1906
head of my bed, and leaned down to arrange my pillow: I did not see his
1907
face, but he answered heartily, "You must wait, Alec; you are too weak to
1908
see even Boris."
1909
1910
I waited and I grew strong; in a few days I was able to see whom I would,
1911
but meanwhile I had thought and remembered. From the moment when all the
1912
past grew clear again in my mind, I never doubted what I should do when
1913
the time came, and I felt sure that Boris would have resolved upon the
1914
same course so far as he was concerned; as for what pertained to me
1915
alone, I knew he would see that also as I did. I no longer asked for any
1916
one. I never inquired why no message came from them; why during the week
1917
I lay there, waiting and growing stronger, I never heard their name
1918
spoken. Preoccupied with my own searchings for the right way, and with my
1919
feeble but determined fight against despair, I simply acquiesced in
1920
Jack's reticence, taking for granted that he was afraid to speak of them,
1921
lest I should turn unruly and insist on seeing them. Meanwhile I said
1922
over and over to myself, how would it be when life began again for us
1923
all? We would take up our relations exactly as they were before Geneviève
1924
fell ill. Boris and I would look into each other's eyes, and there would
1925
be neither rancour nor cowardice nor mistrust in that glance. I would be
1926
with them again for a little while in the dear intimacy of their home,
1927
and then, without pretext or explanation, I would disappear from their
1928
lives for ever. Boris would know; Geneviève--the only comfort was that
1929
she would never know. It seemed, as I thought it over, that I had found
1930
the meaning of that sense of obligation which had persisted all through
1931
my delirium, and the only possible answer to it. So, when I was quite
1932
ready, I beckoned Jack to me one day, and said--
1933
1934
"Jack, I want Boris at once; and take my dearest greeting to
1935
Geneviève...."
1936
1937
When at last he made me understand that they were both dead, I fell into
1938
a wild rage that tore all my little convalescent strength to atoms. I
1939
raved and cursed myself into a relapse, from which I crawled forth some
1940
weeks afterward a boy of twenty-one who believed that his youth was gone
1941
for ever. I seemed to be past the capability of further suffering, and
1942
one day when Jack handed me a letter and the keys to Boris' house, I took
1943
them without a tremor and asked him to tell me all. It was cruel of me to
1944
ask him, but there was no help for it, and he leaned wearily on his thin
1945
hands, to reopen the wound which could never entirely heal. He began very
1946
quietly--
1947
1948
"Alec, unless you have a clue that I know nothing about, you will not be
1949
able to explain any more than I what has happened. I suspect that you
1950
would rather not hear these details, but you must learn them, else I
1951
would spare you the relation. God knows I wish I could be spared the
1952
telling. I shall use few words.
1953
1954
"That day when I left you in the doctor's care and came back to Boris, I
1955
found him working on the 'Fates.' Geneviève, he said, was sleeping under
1956
the influence of drugs. She had been quite out of her mind, he said. He
1957
kept on working, not talking any more, and I watched him. Before long, I
1958
saw that the third figure of the group--the one looking straight ahead,
1959
out over the world--bore his face; not as you ever saw it, but as it
1960
looked then and to the end. This is one thing for which I should like to
1961
find an explanation, but I never shall.
1962
1963
"Well, he worked and I watched him in silence, and we went on that way
1964
until nearly midnight. Then we heard the door open and shut sharply, and
1965
a swift rush in the next room. Boris sprang through the doorway and I
1966
followed; but we were too late. She lay at the bottom of the pool, her
1967
hands across her breast. Then Boris shot himself through the heart." Jack
1968
stopped speaking, drops of sweat stood under his eyes, and his thin
1969
cheeks twitched. "I carried Boris to his room. Then I went back and let
1970
that hellish fluid out of the pool, and turning on all the water, washed
1971
the marble clean of every drop. When at length I dared descend the steps,
1972
I found her lying there as white as snow. At last, when I had decided
1973
what was best to do, I went into the laboratory, and first emptied the
1974
solution in the basin into the waste-pipe; then I poured the contents of
1975
every jar and bottle after it. There was wood in the fire-place, so I
1976
built a fire, and breaking the locks of Boris' cabinet I burnt every
1977
paper, notebook and letter that I found there. With a mallet from the
1978
studio I smashed to pieces all the empty bottles, then loading them into
1979
a coal-scuttle, I carried them to the cellar and threw them over the
1980
red-hot bed of the furnace. Six times I made the journey, and at last,
1981
not a vestige remained of anything which might again aid in seeking for
1982
the formula which Boris had found. Then at last I dared call the doctor.
1983
He is a good man, and together we struggled to keep it from the public.
1984
Without him I never could have succeeded. At last we got the servants
1985
paid and sent away into the country, where old Rosier keeps them quiet
1986
with stones of Boris' and Geneviève's travels in distant lands, from
1987
whence they will not return for years. We buried Boris in the little
1988
cemetery of Sèvres. The doctor is a good creature, and knows when to pity
1989
a man who can bear no more. He gave his certificate of heart disease and
1990
asked no questions of me."
1991
1992
Then, lifting his head from his hands, he said, "Open the letter, Alec;
1993
it is for us both."
1994
1995
I tore it open. It was Boris' will dated a year before. He left
1996
everything to Geneviève, and in case of her dying childless, I was to
1997
take control of the house in the Rue Sainte-Cécile, and Jack Scott the
1998
management at Ept. On our deaths the property reverted to his mother's
1999
family in Russia, with the exception of the sculptured marbles executed
2000
by himself. These he left to me.
2001
2002
The page blurred under our eyes, and Jack got up and walked to the
2003
window. Presently he returned and sat down again. I dreaded to hear what
2004
he was going to say, but he spoke with the same simplicity and
2005
gentleness.
2006
2007
"Geneviève lies before the Madonna in the marble room. The Madonna bends
2008
tenderly above her, and Geneviève smiles back into that calm face that
2009
never would have been except for her."
2010
2011
His voice broke, but he grasped my hand, saying, "Courage, Alec." Next
2012
morning he left for Ept to fulfil his trust.
2013
2014
2015
2016
2017
IV
2018
2019
The same evening I took the keys and went into the house I had known so
2020
well. Everything was in order, but the silence was terrible. Though I
2021
went twice to the door of the marble room, I could not force myself to
2022
enter. It was beyond my strength. I went into the smoking-room and sat
2023
down before the spinet. A small lace handkerchief lay on the keys, and I
2024
turned away, choking. It was plain I could not stay, so I locked every
2025
door, every window, and the three front and back gates, and went away.
2026
Next morning Alcide packed my valise, and leaving him in charge of my
2027
apartments I took the Orient express for Constantinople. During the two
2028
years that I wandered through the East, at first, in our letters, we
2029
never mentioned Geneviève and Boris, but gradually their names crept in.
2030
I recollect particularly a passage in one of Jack's letters replying to
2031
one of mine--
2032
2033
"What you tell me of seeing Boris bending over you while you lay ill, and
2034
feeling his touch on your face, and hearing his voice, of course troubles
2035
me. This that you describe must have happened a fortnight after he died.
2036
I say to myself that you were dreaming, that it was part of your
2037
delirium, but the explanation does not satisfy me, nor would it you."
2038
2039
Toward the end of the second year a letter came from Jack to me in India
2040
so unlike anything that I had ever known of him that I decided to return
2041
at once to Paris. He wrote: "I am well, and sell all my pictures as
2042
artists do who have no need of money. I have not a care of my own, but I
2043
am more restless than if I had. I am unable to shake off a strange
2044
anxiety about you. It is not apprehension, it is rather a breathless
2045
expectancy--of what, God knows! I can only say it is wearing me out.
2046
Nights I dream always of you and Boris. I can never recall anything
2047
afterward, but I wake in the morning with my heart beating, and all day
2048
the excitement increases until I fall asleep at night to recall the same
2049
experience. I am quite exhausted by it, and have determined to break up
2050
this morbid condition. I must see you. Shall I go to Bombay, or will you
2051
come to Paris?"
2052
2053
I telegraphed him to expect me by the next steamer.
2054
2055
When we met I thought he had changed very little; I, he insisted, looked
2056
in splendid health. It was good to hear his voice again, and as we sat
2057
and chatted about what life still held for us, we felt that it was
2058
pleasant to be alive in the bright spring weather.
2059
2060
We stayed in Paris together a week, and then I went for a week to Ept
2061
with him, but first of all we went to the cemetery at Sèvres, where Boris
2062
lay.
2063
2064
"Shall we place the 'Fates' in the little grove above him?" Jack asked,
2065
and I answered--
2066
2067
"I think only the 'Madonna' should watch over Boris' grave." But Jack was
2068
none the better for my home-coming. The dreams of which he could not
2069
retain even the least definite outline continued, and he said that at
2070
times the sense of breathless expectancy was suffocating.
2071
2072
"You see I do you harm and not good," I said. "Try a change without me."
2073
So he started alone for a ramble among the Channel Islands, and I went
2074
back to Paris. I had not yet entered Boris' house, now mine, since my
2075
return, but I knew it must be done. It had been kept in order by Jack;
2076
there were servants there, so I gave up my own apartment and went there
2077
to live. Instead of the agitation I had feared, I found myself able to
2078
paint there tranquilly. I visited all the rooms--all but one. I could not
2079
bring myself to enter the marble room where Geneviève lay, and yet I felt
2080
the longing growing daily to look upon her face, to kneel beside her.
2081
2082
One April afternoon, I lay dreaming in the smoking-room, just as I had
2083
lain two years before, and mechanically I looked among the tawny Eastern
2084
rugs for the wolf-skin. At last I distinguished the pointed ears and flat
2085
cruel head, and I thought of my dream where I saw Geneviève lying beside
2086
it. The helmets still hung against the threadbare tapestry, among them
2087
the old Spanish morion which I remembered Geneviève had once put on when
2088
we were amusing ourselves with the ancient bits of mail. I turned my eyes
2089
to the spinet; every yellow key seemed eloquent of her caressing hand,
2090
and I rose, drawn by the strength of my life's passion to the sealed door
2091
of the marble room. The heavy doors swung inward under my trembling
2092
hands. Sunlight poured through the window, tipping with gold the wings of
2093
Cupid, and lingered like a nimbus over the brows of the Madonna. Her
2094
tender face bent in compassion over a marble form so exquisitely pure
2095
that I knelt and signed myself. Geneviève lay in the shadow under the
2096
Madonna, and yet, through her white arms, I saw the pale azure vein, and
2097
beneath her softly clasped hands the folds of her dress were tinged with
2098
rose, as if from some faint warm light within her breast.
2099
2100
Bending, with a breaking heart, I touched the marble drapery with my
2101
lips, then crept back into the silent house.
2102
2103
A maid came and brought me a letter, and I sat down in the little
2104
conservatory to read it; but as I was about to break the seal, seeing the
2105
girl lingering, I asked her what she wanted.
2106
2107
She stammered something about a white rabbit that had been caught in the
2108
house, and asked what should be done with it I told her to let it loose
2109
in the walled garden behind the house, and opened my letter. It was from
2110
Jack, but so incoherent that I thought he must have lost his reason. It
2111
was nothing but a series of prayers to me not to leave the house until he
2112
could get back; he could not tell me why, there were the dreams, he
2113
said--he could explain nothing, but he was sure that I must not leave the
2114
house in the Rue Sainte-Cécile.
2115
2116
As I finished reading I raised my eyes and saw the same maid-servant
2117
standing in the doorway holding a glass dish in which two gold-fish were
2118
swimming: "Put them back into the tank and tell me what you mean by
2119
interrupting me," I said.
2120
2121
With a half-suppressed whimper she emptied water and fish into an
2122
aquarium at the end of the conservatory, and turning to me asked my
2123
permission to leave my service. She said people were playing tricks on
2124
her, evidently with a design of getting her into trouble; the marble
2125
rabbit had been stolen and a live one had been brought into the house;
2126
the two beautiful marble fish were gone, and she had just found those
2127
common live things flopping on the dining-room floor. I reassured her and
2128
sent her away, saying I would look about myself. I went into the studio;
2129
there was nothing there but my canvases and some casts, except the marble
2130
of the Easter lily. I saw it on a table across the room. Then I strode
2131
angrily over to it. But the flower I lifted from the table was fresh and
2132
fragile and filled the air with perfume.
2133
2134
Then suddenly I comprehended, and sprang through the hall-way to the
2135
marble room. The doors flew open, the sunlight streamed into my face, and
2136
through it, in a heavenly glory, the Madonna smiled, as Geneviève lifted
2137
her flushed face from her marble couch and opened her sleepy eyes.
2138
2139
2140
2141
2142
IN THE COURT OF THE DRAGON
2143
2144
2145
"Oh, thou who burn'st in heart for those who burn
2146
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall feed in turn;
2147
How long be crying--'Mercy on them.' God!
2148
Why, who art thou to teach and He to learn?"
2149
2150
In the Church of St. Barnabé vespers were over; the clergy left the
2151
altar; the little choir-boys flocked across the chancel and settled in
2152
the stalls. A Suisse in rich uniform marched down the south aisle,
2153
sounding his staff at every fourth step on the stone pavement; behind him
2154
came that eloquent preacher and good man, Monseigneur C----.
2155
2156
My chair was near the chancel rail, I now turned toward the west end of
2157
the church. The other people between the altar and the pulpit turned too.
2158
There was a little scraping and rustling while the congregation seated
2159
itself again; the preacher mounted the pulpit stairs, and the organ
2160
voluntary ceased.
2161
2162
I had always found the organ-playing at St. Barnabé highly interesting.
2163
Learned and scientific it was, too much so for my small knowledge, but
2164
expressing a vivid if cold intelligence. Moreover, it possessed the
2165
French quality of taste: taste reigned supreme, self-controlled,
2166
dignified and reticent.
2167
2168
To-day, however, from the first chord I had felt a change for the worse,
2169
a sinister change. During vespers it had been chiefly the chancel organ
2170
which supported the beautiful choir, but now and again, quite wantonly as
2171
it seemed, from the west gallery where the great organ stands, a heavy
2172
hand had struck across the church at the serene peace of those clear
2173
voices. It was something more than harsh and dissonant, and it betrayed
2174
no lack of skill. As it recurred again and again, it set me thinking of
2175
what my architect's books say about the custom in early times to
2176
consecrate the choir as soon as it was built, and that the nave, being
2177
finished sometimes half a century later, often did not get any blessing
2178
at all: I wondered idly if that had been the case at St. Barnabé, and
2179
whether something not usually supposed to be at home in a Christian
2180
church might have entered undetected and taken possession of the west
2181
gallery. I had read of such things happening, too, but not in works on
2182
architecture.
2183
2184
Then I remembered that St. Barnabé was not much more than a hundred years
2185
old, and smiled at the incongruous association of mediaeval superstitions
2186
with that cheerful little piece of eighteenth-century rococo.
2187
2188
But now vespers were over, and there should have followed a few quiet
2189
chords, fit to accompany meditation, while we waited for the sermon.
2190
Instead of that, the discord at the lower end of the church broke out
2191
with the departure of the clergy, as if now nothing could control it.
2192
2193
I belong to those children of an older and simpler generation who do not
2194
love to seek for psychological subtleties in art; and I have ever refused
2195
to find in music anything more than melody and harmony, but I felt that
2196
in the labyrinth of sounds now issuing from that instrument there was
2197
something being hunted. Up and down the pedals chased him, while the
2198
manuals blared approval. Poor devil! whoever he was, there seemed small
2199
hope of escape!
2200
2201
My nervous annoyance changed to anger. Who was doing this? How dare he
2202
play like that in the midst of divine service? I glanced at the people
2203
near me: not one appeared to be in the least disturbed. The placid brows
2204
of the kneeling nuns, still turned towards the altar, lost none of their
2205
devout abstraction under the pale shadow of their white head-dress. The
2206
fashionable lady beside me was looking expectantly at Monseigneur C----.
2207
For all her face betrayed, the organ might have been singing an Ave
2208
Maria.
2209
2210
But now, at last, the preacher had made the sign of the cross, and
2211
commanded silence. I turned to him gladly. Thus far I had not found the
2212
rest I had counted on when I entered St. Barnabé that afternoon.
2213
2214
I was worn out by three nights of physical suffering and mental trouble:
2215
the last had been the worst, and it was an exhausted body, and a mind
2216
benumbed and yet acutely sensitive, which I had brought to my favourite
2217
church for healing. For I had been reading _The King in Yellow_.
2218
2219
"The sun ariseth; they gather themselves together and lay them down in
2220
their dens." Monseigneur C---- delivered his text in a calm voice,
2221
glancing quietly over the congregation. My eyes turned, I knew not why,
2222
toward the lower end of the church. The organist was coming from behind
2223
his pipes, and passing along the gallery on his way out, I saw him
2224
disappear by a small door that leads to some stairs which descend
2225
directly to the street. He was a slender man, and his face was as white
2226
as his coat was black. "Good riddance!" I thought, "with your wicked
2227
music! I hope your assistant will play the closing voluntary."
2228
2229
With a feeling of relief--with a deep, calm feeling of relief, I turned
2230
back to the mild face in the pulpit and settled myself to listen. Here,
2231
at last, was the ease of mind I longed for.
2232
2233
"My children," said the preacher, "one truth the human soul finds hardest
2234
of all to learn: that it has nothing to fear. It can never be made to see
2235
that nothing can really harm it."
2236
2237
"Curious doctrine!" I thought, "for a Catholic priest. Let us see how he
2238
will reconcile that with the Fathers."
2239
2240
"Nothing can really harm the soul," he went on, in, his coolest, clearest
2241
tones, "because----"
2242
2243
But I never heard the rest; my eye left his face, I knew not for what
2244
reason, and sought the lower end of the church. The same man was coming
2245
out from behind the organ, and was passing along the gallery _the same
2246
way_. But there had not been time for him to return, and if he had
2247
returned, I must have seen him. I felt a faint chill, and my heart sank;
2248
and yet, his going and coming were no affair of mine. I looked at him: I
2249
could not look away from his black figure and his white face. When he was
2250
exactly opposite to me, he turned and sent across the church straight
2251
into my eyes, a look of hate, intense and deadly: I have never seen any
2252
other like it; would to God I might never see it again! Then he
2253
disappeared by the same door through which I had watched him depart less
2254
than sixty seconds before.
2255
2256
I sat and tried to collect my thoughts. My first sensation was like that
2257
of a very young child badly hurt, when it catches its breath before
2258
crying out.
2259
2260
To suddenly find myself the object of such hatred was exquisitely
2261
painful: and this man was an utter stranger. Why should he hate me
2262
so?--me, whom he had never seen before? For the moment all other
2263
sensation was merged in this one pang: even fear was subordinate to
2264
grief, and for that moment I never doubted; but in the next I began to
2265
reason, and a sense of the incongruous came to my aid.
2266
2267
As I have said, St. Barnabé is a modern church. It is small and well
2268
lighted; one sees all over it almost at a glance. The organ gallery gets
2269
a strong white light from a row of long windows in the clerestory, which
2270
have not even coloured glass.
2271
2272
The pulpit being in the middle of the church, it followed that, when I
2273
was turned toward it, whatever moved at the west end could not fail to
2274
attract my eye. When the organist passed it was no wonder that I saw him:
2275
I had simply miscalculated the interval between his first and his second
2276
passing. He had come in that last time by the other side-door. As for the
2277
look which had so upset me, there had been no such thing, and I was a
2278
nervous fool.
2279
2280
I looked about. This was a likely place to harbour supernatural horrors!
2281
That clear-cut, reasonable face of Monseigneur C----, his collected
2282
manner and easy, graceful gestures, were they not just a little
2283
discouraging to the notion of a gruesome mystery? I glanced above his
2284
head, and almost laughed. That flyaway lady supporting one corner of the
2285
pulpit canopy, which looked like a fringed damask table-cloth in a high
2286
wind, at the first attempt of a basilisk to pose up there in the organ
2287
loft, she would point her gold trumpet at him, and puff him out of
2288
existence! I laughed to myself over this conceit, which, at the time, I
2289
thought very amusing, and sat and chaffed myself and everything else,
2290
from the old harpy outside the railing, who had made me pay ten centimes
2291
for my chair, before she would let me in (she was more like a basilisk, I
2292
told myself, than was my organist with the anaemic complexion): from that
2293
grim old dame, to, yes, alas! Monseigneur C---- himself. For all
2294
devoutness had fled. I had never yet done such a thing in my life, but
2295
now I felt a desire to mock.
2296
2297
As for the sermon, I could not hear a word of it for the jingle in my
2298
ears of
2299
2300
"The skirts of St. Paul has reached.
2301
Having preached us those six Lent lectures,
2302
More unctuous than ever he preached,"
2303
2304
keeping time to the most fantastic and irreverent thoughts.
2305
2306
It was no use to sit there any longer: I must get out of doors and shake
2307
myself free from this hateful mood. I knew the rudeness I was committing,
2308
but still I rose and left the church.
2309
2310
A spring sun was shining on the Rue St. Honoré, as I ran down the church
2311
steps. On one corner stood a barrow full of yellow jonquils, pale violets
2312
from the Riviera, dark Russian violets, and white Roman hyacinths in a
2313
golden cloud of mimosa. The street was full of Sunday pleasure-seekers. I
2314
swung my cane and laughed with the rest. Some one overtook and passed me.
2315
He never turned, but there was the same deadly malignity in his white
2316
profile that there had been in his eyes. I watched him as long as I could
2317
see him. His lithe back expressed the same menace; every step that
2318
carried him away from me seemed to bear him on some errand connected with
2319
my destruction.
2320
2321
I was creeping along, my feet almost refusing to move. There began to
2322
dawn in me a sense of responsibility for something long forgotten. It
2323
began to seem as if I deserved that which he threatened: it reached a
2324
long way back--a long, long way back. It had lain dormant all these
2325
years: it was there, though, and presently it would rise and confront me.
2326
But I would try to escape; and I stumbled as best I could into the Rue de
2327
Rivoli, across the Place de la Concorde and on to the Quai. I looked with
2328
sick eyes upon the sun, shining through the white foam of the fountain,
2329
pouring over the backs of the dusky bronze river-gods, on the far-away
2330
Arc, a structure of amethyst mist, on the countless vistas of grey stems
2331
and bare branches faintly green. Then I saw him again coming down one of
2332
the chestnut alleys of the Cours la Reine.
2333
2334
I left the river-side, plunged blindly across to the Champs Elysées and
2335
turned toward the Arc. The setting sun was sending its rays along the
2336
green sward of the Rond-point: in the full glow he sat on a bench,
2337
children and young mothers all about him. He was nothing but a Sunday
2338
lounger, like the others, like myself. I said the words almost aloud, and
2339
all the while I gazed on the malignant hatred of his face. But he was not
2340
looking at me. I crept past and dragged my leaden feet up the Avenue. I
2341
knew that every time I met him brought him nearer to the accomplishment
2342
of his purpose and my fate. And still I tried to save myself.
2343
2344
The last rays of sunset were pouring through the great Arc. I passed
2345
under it, and met him face to face. I had left him far down the Champs
2346
Elysées, and yet he came in with a stream of people who were returning
2347
from the Bois de Boulogne. He came so close that he brushed me. His
2348
slender frame felt like iron inside its loose black covering. He showed
2349
no signs of haste, nor of fatigue, nor of any human feeling. His whole
2350
being expressed one thing: the will, and the power to work me evil.
2351
2352
In anguish I watched him where he went down the broad crowded Avenue,
2353
that was all flashing with wheels and the trappings of horses and the
2354
helmets of the Garde Republicaine.
2355
2356
He was soon lost to sight; then I turned and fled. Into the Bois, and far
2357
out beyond it--I know not where I went, but after a long while as it
2358
seemed to me, night had fallen, and I found myself sitting at a table
2359
before a small café. I had wandered back into the Bois. It was hours now
2360
since I had seen him. Physical fatigue and mental suffering had left me
2361
no power to think or feel. I was tired, so tired! I longed to hide away
2362
in my own den. I resolved to go home. But that was a long way off.
2363
2364
I live in the Court of the Dragon, a narrow passage that leads from the
2365
Rue de Rennes to the Rue du Dragon.
2366
2367
It is an "impasse"; traversable only for foot passengers. Over the
2368
entrance on the Rue de Rennes is a balcony, supported by an iron dragon.
2369
Within the court tall old houses rise on either side, and close the ends
2370
that give on the two streets. Huge gates, swung back during the day into
2371
the walls of the deep archways, close this court, after midnight, and one
2372
must enter then by ringing at certain small doors on the side. The sunken
2373
pavement collects unsavoury pools. Steep stairways pitch down to doors
2374
that open on the court. The ground floors are occupied by shops of
2375
second-hand dealers, and by iron workers. All day long the place rings
2376
with the clink of hammers and the clang of metal bars.
2377
2378
Unsavoury as it is below, there is cheerfulness, and comfort, and hard,
2379
honest work above.
2380
2381
Five flights up are the ateliers of architects and painters, and the
2382
hiding-places of middle-aged students like myself who want to live alone.
2383
When I first came here to live I was young, and not alone.
2384
2385
I had to walk a while before any conveyance appeared, but at last, when I
2386
had almost reached the Arc de Triomphe again, an empty cab came along and
2387
I took it.
2388
2389
From the Arc to the Rue de Rennes is a drive of more than half an hour,
2390
especially when one is conveyed by a tired cab horse that has been at the
2391
mercy of Sunday fete-makers.
2392
2393
There had been time before I passed under the Dragon's wings to meet my
2394
enemy over and over again, but I never saw him once, and now refuge was
2395
close at hand.
2396
2397
Before the wide gateway a small mob of children were playing. Our
2398
concierge and his wife walked among them, with their black poodle,
2399
keeping order; some couples were waltzing on the side-walk. I returned
2400
their greetings and hurried in.
2401
2402
All the inhabitants of the court had trooped out into the street. The
2403
place was quite deserted, lighted by a few lanterns hung high up, in
2404
which the gas burned dimly.
2405
2406
My apartment was at the top of a house, halfway down the court, reached
2407
by a staircase that descended almost into the street, with only a bit of
2408
passage-way intervening, I set my foot on the threshold of the open door,
2409
the friendly old ruinous stairs rose before me, leading up to rest and
2410
shelter. Looking back over my right shoulder, I saw _him,_ ten paces
2411
off. He must have entered the court with me.
2412
2413
He was coming straight on, neither slowly, nor swiftly, but straight on
2414
to me. And now he was looking at me. For the first time since our eyes
2415
encountered across the church they met now again, and I knew that the
2416
time had come.
2417
2418
Retreating backward, down the court, I faced him. I meant to escape by
2419
the entrance on the Rue du Dragon. His eyes told me that I never should
2420
escape.
2421
2422
It seemed ages while we were going, I retreating, he advancing, down the
2423
court in perfect silence; but at last I felt the shadow of the archway,
2424
and the next step brought me within it. I had meant to turn here and
2425
spring through into the street. But the shadow was not that of an
2426
archway; it was that of a vault. The great doors on the Rue du Dragon
2427
were closed. I felt this by the blackness which surrounded me, and at the
2428
same instant I read it in his face. How his face gleamed in the darkness,
2429
drawing swiftly nearer! The deep vaults, the huge closed doors, their
2430
cold iron clamps were all on his side. The thing which he had threatened
2431
had arrived: it gathered and bore down on me from the fathomless shadows;
2432
the point from which it would strike was his infernal eyes. Hopeless, I
2433
set my back against the barred doors and defied him.
2434
2435
2436
There was a scraping of chairs on the stone floor, and a rustling as the
2437
congregation rose. I could hear the Suisse's staff in the south aisle,
2438
preceding Monseigneur C---- to the sacristy.
2439
2440
The kneeling nuns, roused from their devout abstraction, made their
2441
reverence and went away. The fashionable lady, my neighbour, rose also,
2442
with graceful reserve. As she departed her glance just flitted over my
2443
face in disapproval.
2444
2445
Half dead, or so it seemed to me, yet intensely alive to every trifle, I
2446
sat among the leisurely moving crowd, then rose too and went toward the
2447
door.
2448
2449
I had slept through the sermon. Had I slept through the sermon? I looked
2450
up and saw him passing along the gallery to his place. Only his side I
2451
saw; the thin bent arm in its black covering looked like one of those
2452
devilish, nameless instruments which lie in the disused torture-chambers
2453
of mediaeval castles.
2454
2455
But I had escaped him, though his eyes had said I should not. _Had_
2456
I escaped him? That which gave him the power over me came back out of
2457
oblivion, where I had hoped to keep it. For I knew him now. Death and the
2458
awful abode of lost souls, whither my weakness long ago had sent
2459
him--they had changed him for every other eye, but not for mine. I had
2460
recognized him almost from the first; I had never doubted what he was
2461
come to do; and now I knew while my body sat safe in the cheerful little
2462
church, he had been hunting my soul in the Court of the Dragon.
2463
2464
I crept to the door: the organ broke out overhead with a blare. A
2465
dazzling light filled the church, blotting the altar from my eyes. The
2466
people faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my
2467
seared eyes to the fathomless glare, and I saw the black stars hanging in
2468
the heavens: and the wet winds from the lake of Hali chilled my face.
2469
2470
And now, far away, over leagues of tossing cloud-waves, I saw the moon
2471
dripping with spray; and beyond, the towers of Carcosa rose behind the
2472
moon.
2473
2474
Death and the awful abode of lost souls, whither my weakness long ago had
2475
sent him, had changed him for every other eye but mine. And now I heard
2476
_his voice_, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light,
2477
and as I fell, the radiance increasing, increasing, poured over me in
2478
waves of flame. Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the King in
2479
Yellow whispering to my soul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the
2480
hands of the living God!"
2481
2482
2483
2484
2485
THE YELLOW SIGN
2486
2487
"Let the red dawn surmise
2488
What we shall do,
2489
When this blue starlight dies
2490
And all is through."
2491
2492
2493
I
2494
2495
There are so many things which are impossible to explain! Why should
2496
certain chords in music make me think of the brown and golden tints of
2497
autumn foliage? Why should the Mass of Sainte Cécile bend my thoughts
2498
wandering among caverns whose walls blaze with ragged masses of virgin
2499
silver? What was it in the roar and turmoil of Broadway at six o'clock
2500
that flashed before my eyes the picture of a still Breton forest where
2501
sunlight filtered through spring foliage and Sylvia bent, half curiously,
2502
half tenderly, over a small green lizard, murmuring: "To think that this
2503
also is a little ward of God!"
2504
2505
When I first saw the watchman his back was toward me. I looked at him
2506
indifferently until he went into the church. I paid no more attention to
2507
him than I had to any other man who lounged through Washington Square
2508
that morning, and when I shut my window and turned back into my studio I
2509
had forgotten him. Late in the afternoon, the day being warm, I raised
2510
the window again and leaned out to get a sniff of air. A man was standing
2511
in the courtyard of the church, and I noticed him again with as little
2512
interest as I had that morning. I looked across the square to where the
2513
fountain was playing and then, with my mind filled with vague impressions
2514
of trees, asphalt drives, and the moving groups of nursemaids and
2515
holiday-makers, I started to walk back to my easel. As I turned, my
2516
listless glance included the man below in the churchyard. His face was
2517
toward me now, and with a perfectly involuntary movement I bent to see
2518
it. At the same moment he raised his head and looked at me. Instantly I
2519
thought of a coffin-worm. Whatever it was about the man that repelled me
2520
I did not know, but the impression of a plump white grave-worm was so
2521
intense and nauseating that I must have shown it in my expression, for he
2522
turned his puffy face away with a movement which made me think of a
2523
disturbed grub in a chestnut.
2524
2525
I went back to my easel and motioned the model to resume her pose. After
2526
working a while I was satisfied that I was spoiling what I had done as
2527
rapidly as possible, and I took up a palette knife and scraped the colour
2528
out again. The flesh tones were sallow and unhealthy, and I did not
2529
understand how I could have painted such sickly colour into a study which
2530
before that had glowed with healthy tones.
2531
2532
I looked at Tessie. She had not changed, and the clear flush of health
2533
dyed her neck and cheeks as I frowned.
2534
2535
"Is it something I've done?" she said.
2536
2537
"No,--I've made a mess of this arm, and for the life of me I can't see
2538
how I came to paint such mud as that into the canvas," I replied.
2539
2540
"Don't I pose well?" she insisted.
2541
2542
"Of course, perfectly."
2543
2544
"Then it's not my fault?"
2545
2546
"No. It's my own."
2547
2548
"I am very sorry," she said.
2549
2550
I told her she could rest while I applied rag and turpentine to the
2551
plague spot on my canvas, and she went off to smoke a cigarette and look
2552
over the illustrations in the _Courrier Français_.
2553
2554
I did not know whether it was something in the turpentine or a defect in
2555
the canvas, but the more I scrubbed the more that gangrene seemed to
2556
spread. I worked like a beaver to get it out, and yet the disease
2557
appeared to creep from limb to limb of the study before me. Alarmed, I
2558
strove to arrest it, but now the colour on the breast changed and the
2559
whole figure seemed to absorb the infection as a sponge soaks up water.
2560
Vigorously I plied palette-knife, turpentine, and scraper, thinking all
2561
the time what a _séance_ I should hold with Duval who had sold me
2562
the canvas; but soon I noticed that it was not the canvas which was
2563
defective nor yet the colours of Edward. "It must be the turpentine," I
2564
thought angrily, "or else my eyes have become so blurred and confused by
2565
the afternoon light that I can't see straight." I called Tessie, the
2566
model. She came and leaned over my chair blowing rings of smoke into the
2567
air.
2568
2569
"What _have_ you been doing to it?" she exclaimed
2570
2571
"Nothing," I growled, "it must be this turpentine!"
2572
2573
"What a horrible colour it is now," she continued. "Do you think my flesh
2574
resembles green cheese?"
2575
2576
"No, I don't," I said angrily; "did you ever know me to paint like that
2577
before?"
2578
2579
"No, indeed!"
2580
2581
"Well, then!"
2582
2583
"It must be the turpentine, or something," she admitted.
2584
2585
She slipped on a Japanese robe and walked to the window. I scraped and
2586
rubbed until I was tired, and finally picked up my brushes and hurled
2587
them through the canvas with a forcible expression, the tone alone of
2588
which reached Tessie's ears.
2589
2590
Nevertheless she promptly began: "That's it! Swear and act silly and ruin
2591
your brushes! You have been three weeks on that study, and now look!
2592
What's the good of ripping the canvas? What creatures artists are!"
2593
2594
I felt about as much ashamed as I usually did after such an outbreak, and
2595
I turned the ruined canvas to the wall. Tessie helped me clean my
2596
brushes, and then danced away to dress. From the screen she regaled me
2597
with bits of advice concerning whole or partial loss of temper, until,
2598
thinking, perhaps, I had been tormented sufficiently, she came out to
2599
implore me to button her waist where she could not reach it on the
2600
shoulder.
2601
2602
"Everything went wrong from the time you came back from the window and
2603
talked about that horrid-looking man you saw in the churchyard," she
2604
announced.
2605
2606
"Yes, he probably bewitched the picture," I said, yawning. I looked at my
2607
watch.
2608
2609
"It's after six, I know," said Tessie, adjusting her hat before the
2610
mirror.
2611
2612
"Yes," I replied, "I didn't mean to keep you so long." I leaned out of
2613
the window but recoiled with disgust, for the young man with the pasty
2614
face stood below in the churchyard. Tessie saw my gesture of disapproval
2615
and leaned from the window.
2616
2617
"Is that the man you don't like?" she whispered.
2618
2619
I nodded.
2620
2621
"I can't see his face, but he does look fat and soft. Someway or other,"
2622
she continued, turning to look at me, "he reminds me of a dream,--an
2623
awful dream I once had. Or," she mused, looking down at her shapely
2624
shoes, "was it a dream after all?"
2625
2626
"How should I know?" I smiled.
2627
2628
Tessie smiled in reply.
2629
2630
"You were in it," she said, "so perhaps you might know something about
2631
it."
2632
2633
"Tessie! Tessie!" I protested, "don't you dare flatter by saying that you
2634
dream about me!"
2635
2636
"But I did," she insisted; "shall I tell you about it?"
2637
2638
"Go ahead," I replied, lighting a cigarette.
2639
2640
Tessie leaned back on the open window-sill and began very seriously.
2641
2642
"One night last winter I was lying in bed thinking about nothing at all
2643
in particular. I had been posing for you and I was tired out, yet it
2644
seemed impossible for me to sleep. I heard the bells in the city ring
2645
ten, eleven, and midnight. I must have fallen asleep about midnight
2646
because I don't remember hearing the bells after that. It seemed to me
2647
that I had scarcely closed my eyes when I dreamed that something impelled
2648
me to go to the window. I rose, and raising the sash leaned out.
2649
Twenty-fifth Street was deserted as far as I could see. I began to be
2650
afraid; everything outside seemed so--so black and uncomfortable. Then
2651
the sound of wheels in the distance came to my ears, and it seemed to me
2652
as though that was what I must wait for. Very slowly the wheels
2653
approached, and, finally, I could make out a vehicle moving along the
2654
street. It came nearer and nearer, and when it passed beneath my window I
2655
saw it was a hearse. Then, as I trembled with fear, the driver turned and
2656
looked straight at me. When I awoke I was standing by the open window
2657
shivering with cold, but the black-plumed hearse and the driver were
2658
gone. I dreamed this dream again in March last, and again awoke beside
2659
the open window. Last night the dream came again. You remember how it was
2660
raining; when I awoke, standing at the open window, my night-dress was
2661
soaked."
2662
2663
"But where did I come into the dream?" I asked.
2664
2665
"You--you were in the coffin; but you were not dead."
2666
2667
"In the coffin?"
2668
2669
"Yes."
2670
2671
"How did you know? Could you see me?"
2672
2673
"No; I only knew you were there."
2674
2675
"Had you been eating Welsh rarebits, or lobster salad?" I began,
2676
laughing, but the girl interrupted me with a frightened cry.
2677
2678
"Hello! What's up?" I said, as she shrank into the embrasure by the
2679
window.
2680
2681
"The--the man below in the churchyard;--he drove the hearse."
2682
2683
"Nonsense," I said, but Tessie's eyes were wide with terror. I went to
2684
the window and looked out. The man was gone. "Come, Tessie," I urged,
2685
"don't be foolish. You have posed too long; you are nervous."
2686
2687
"Do you think I could forget that face?" she murmured. "Three times I saw
2688
the hearse pass below my window, and every time the driver turned and
2689
looked up at me. Oh, his face was so white and--and soft? It looked
2690
dead--it looked as if it had been dead a long time."
2691
2692
I induced the girl to sit down and swallow a glass of Marsala. Then I sat
2693
down beside her, and tried to give her some advice.
2694
2695
"Look here, Tessie," I said, "you go to the country for a week or two,
2696
and you'll have no more dreams about hearses. You pose all day, and when
2697
night comes your nerves are upset. You can't keep this up. Then again,
2698
instead of going to bed when your day's work is done, you run off to
2699
picnics at Sulzer's Park, or go to the Eldorado or Coney Island, and when
2700
you come down here next morning you are fagged out. There was no real
2701
hearse. There was a soft-shell crab dream."
2702
2703
She smiled faintly.
2704
2705
"What about the man in the churchyard?"
2706
2707
"Oh, he's only an ordinary unhealthy, everyday creature."
2708
2709
"As true as my name is Tessie Reardon, I swear to you, Mr. Scott, that
2710
the face of the man below in the churchyard is the face of the man who
2711
drove the hearse!"
2712
2713
"What of it?" I said. "It's an honest trade."
2714
2715
"Then you think I _did_ see the hearse?"
2716
2717
"Oh," I said diplomatically, "if you really did, it might not be unlikely
2718
that the man below drove it. There is nothing in that."
2719
2720
Tessie rose, unrolled her scented handkerchief, and taking a bit of gum
2721
from a knot in the hem, placed it in her mouth. Then drawing on her
2722
gloves she offered me her hand, with a frank, "Good-night, Mr. Scott,"
2723
and walked out.
2724
2725
2726
2727
2728
II
2729
2730
The next morning, Thomas, the bell-boy, brought me the _Herald_ and
2731
a bit of news. The church next door had been sold. I thanked Heaven for
2732
it, not that being a Catholic I had any repugnance for the congregation
2733
next door, but because my nerves were shattered by a blatant exhorter,
2734
whose every word echoed through the aisle of the church as if it had been
2735
my own rooms, and who insisted on his r's with a nasal persistence which
2736
revolted my every instinct. Then, too, there was a fiend in human shape,
2737
an organist, who reeled off some of the grand old hymns with an
2738
interpretation of his own, and I longed for the blood of a creature who
2739
could play the doxology with an amendment of minor chords which one hears
2740
only in a quartet of very young undergraduates. I believe the minister
2741
was a good man, but when he bellowed: "And the Lorrrrd said unto Moses,
2742
the Lorrrd is a man of war; the Lorrrd is his name. My wrath shall wax
2743
hot and I will kill you with the sworrrrd!" I wondered how many centuries
2744
of purgatory it would take to atone for such a sin.
2745
2746
"Who bought the property?" I asked Thomas.
2747
2748
"Nobody that I knows, sir. They do say the gent wot owns this 'ere
2749
'Amilton flats was lookin' at it. 'E might be a bildin' more studios."
2750
2751
I walked to the window. The young man with the unhealthy face stood by
2752
the churchyard gate, and at the mere sight of him the same overwhelming
2753
repugnance took possession of me.
2754
2755
"By the way, Thomas," I said, "who is that fellow down there?"
2756
2757
Thomas sniffed. "That there worm, sir? 'Es night-watchman of the church,
2758
sir. 'E maikes me tired a-sittin' out all night on them steps and lookin'
2759
at you insultin' like. I'd a punched 'is 'ed, sir--beg pardon, sir--"
2760
2761
"Go on, Thomas."
2762
2763
"One night a comin' 'ome with Arry, the other English boy, I sees 'im a
2764
sittin' there on them steps. We 'ad Molly and Jen with us, sir, the two
2765
girls on the tray service, an' 'e looks so insultin' at us that I up and
2766
sez: 'Wat you looking hat, you fat slug?'--beg pardon, sir, but that's
2767
'ow I sez, sir. Then 'e don't say nothin' and I sez: 'Come out and I'll
2768
punch that puddin' 'ed.' Then I hopens the gate an' goes in, but 'e don't
2769
say nothin', only looks insultin' like. Then I 'its 'im one, but, ugh!
2770
'is 'ed was that cold and mushy it ud sicken you to touch 'im."
2771
2772
"What did he do then?" I asked curiously.
2773
2774
"'Im? Nawthin'."
2775
2776
"And you, Thomas?"
2777
2778
The young fellow flushed with embarrassment and smiled uneasily.
2779
2780
"Mr. Scott, sir, I ain't no coward, an' I can't make it out at all why I
2781
run. I was in the 5th Lawncers, sir, bugler at Tel-el-Kebir, an' was shot
2782
by the wells."
2783
2784
"You don't mean to say you ran away?"
2785
2786
"Yes, sir; I run."
2787
2788
"Why?"
2789
2790
"That's just what I want to know, sir. I grabbed Molly an' run, an' the
2791
rest was as frightened as I."
2792
2793
"But what were they frightened at?"
2794
2795
Thomas refused to answer for a while, but now my curiosity was aroused
2796
about the repulsive young man below and I pressed him. Three years'
2797
sojourn in America had not only modified Thomas' cockney dialect but had
2798
given him the American's fear of ridicule.
2799
2800
"You won't believe me, Mr. Scott, sir?"
2801
2802
"Yes, I will."
2803
2804
"You will lawf at me, sir?"
2805
2806
"Nonsense!"
2807
2808
He hesitated. "Well, sir, it's Gawd's truth that when I 'it 'im 'e
2809
grabbed me wrists, sir, and when I twisted 'is soft, mushy fist one of
2810
'is fingers come off in me 'and."
2811
2812
The utter loathing and horror of Thomas' face must have been reflected in
2813
my own, for he added:
2814
2815
"It's orful, an' now when I see 'im I just go away. 'E maikes me hill."
2816
2817
When Thomas had gone I went to the window. The man stood beside the
2818
church-railing with both hands on the gate, but I hastily retreated to my
2819
easel again, sickened and horrified, for I saw that the middle finger of
2820
his right hand was missing.
2821
2822
At nine o'clock Tessie appeared and vanished behind the screen with a
2823
merry "Good morning, Mr. Scott." When she had reappeared and taken her
2824
pose upon the model-stand I started a new canvas, much to her delight.
2825
She remained silent as long as I was on the drawing, but as soon as the
2826
scrape of the charcoal ceased and I took up my fixative she began to
2827
chatter.
2828
2829
"Oh, I had such a lovely time last night. We went to Tony Pastor's."
2830
2831
"Who are 'we'?" I demanded.
2832
2833
"Oh, Maggie, you know, Mr. Whyte's model, and Pinkie McCormick--we call
2834
her Pinkie because she's got that beautiful red hair you artists like so
2835
much--and Lizzie Burke."
2836
2837
I sent a shower of spray from the fixative over the canvas, and said:
2838
"Well, go on."
2839
2840
"We saw Kelly and Baby Barnes the skirt-dancer and--and all the rest. I
2841
made a mash."
2842
2843
"Then you have gone back on me, Tessie?"
2844
2845
She laughed and shook her head.
2846
2847
"He's Lizzie Burke's brother, Ed. He's a perfect gen'l'man."
2848
2849
I felt constrained to give her some parental advice concerning mashing,
2850
which she took with a bright smile.
2851
2852
"Oh, I can take care of a strange mash," she said, examining her chewing
2853
gum, "but Ed is different. Lizzie is my best friend."
2854
2855
Then she related how Ed had come back from the stocking mill in Lowell,
2856
Massachusetts, to find her and Lizzie grown up, and what an accomplished
2857
young man he was, and how he thought nothing of squandering half-a-dollar
2858
for ice-cream and oysters to celebrate his entry as clerk into the
2859
woollen department of Macy's. Before she finished I began to paint, and
2860
she resumed the pose, smiling and chattering like a sparrow. By noon I
2861
had the study fairly well rubbed in and Tessie came to look at it.
2862
2863
"That's better," she said.
2864
2865
I thought so too, and ate my lunch with a satisfied feeling that all was
2866
going well. Tessie spread her lunch on a drawing table opposite me and we
2867
drank our claret from the same bottle and lighted our cigarettes from the
2868
same match. I was very much attached to Tessie. I had watched her shoot
2869
up into a slender but exquisitely formed woman from a frail, awkward
2870
child. She had posed for me during the last three years, and among all my
2871
models she was my favourite. It would have troubled me very much indeed
2872
had she become "tough" or "fly," as the phrase goes, but I never noticed
2873
any deterioration of her manner, and felt at heart that she was all
2874
right. She and I never discussed morals at all, and I had no intention of
2875
doing so, partly because I had none myself, and partly because I knew she
2876
would do what she liked in spite of me. Still I did hope she would steer
2877
clear of complications, because I wished her well, and then also I had a
2878
selfish desire to retain the best model I had. I knew that mashing, as
2879
she termed it, had no significance with girls like Tessie, and that such
2880
things in America did not resemble in the least the same things in Paris.
2881
Yet, having lived with my eyes open, I also knew that somebody would take
2882
Tessie away some day, in one manner or another, and though I professed to
2883
myself that marriage was nonsense, I sincerely hoped that, in this case,
2884
there would be a priest at the end of the vista. I am a Catholic. When I
2885
listen to high mass, when I sign myself, I feel that everything,
2886
including myself, is more cheerful, and when I confess, it does me good.
2887
A man who lives as much alone as I do, must confess to somebody. Then,
2888
again, Sylvia was Catholic, and it was reason enough for me. But I was
2889
speaking of Tessie, which is very different. Tessie also was Catholic and
2890
much more devout than I, so, taking it all in all, I had little fear for
2891
my pretty model until she should fall in love. But _then_ I knew
2892
that fate alone would decide her future for her, and I prayed inwardly
2893
that fate would keep her away from men like me and throw into her path
2894
nothing but Ed Burkes and Jimmy McCormicks, bless her sweet face!
2895
2896
Tessie sat blowing rings of smoke up to the ceiling and tinkling the ice
2897
in her tumbler.
2898
2899
"Do you know that I also had a dream last night?" I observed.
2900
2901
"Not about that man," she laughed.
2902
2903
"Exactly. A dream similar to yours, only much worse."
2904
2905
It was foolish and thoughtless of me to say this, but you know how little
2906
tact the average painter has. "I must have fallen asleep about ten
2907
o'clock," I continued, "and after a while I dreamt that I awoke. So
2908
plainly did I hear the midnight bells, the wind in the tree-branches, and
2909
the whistle of steamers from the bay, that even now I can scarcely
2910
believe I was not awake. I seemed to be lying in a box which had a glass
2911
cover. Dimly I saw the street lamps as I passed, for I must tell you,
2912
Tessie, the box in which I reclined appeared to lie in a cushioned wagon
2913
which jolted me over a stony pavement. After a while I became impatient
2914
and tried to move, but the box was too narrow. My hands were crossed on
2915
my breast, so I could not raise them to help myself. I listened and then
2916
tried to call. My voice was gone. I could hear the trample of the horses
2917
attached to the wagon, and even the breathing of the driver. Then another
2918
sound broke upon my ears like the raising of a window sash. I managed to
2919
turn my head a little, and found I could look, not only through the glass
2920
cover of my box, but also through the glass panes in the side of the
2921
covered vehicle. I saw houses, empty and silent, with neither light nor
2922
life about any of them excepting one. In that house a window was open on
2923
the first floor, and a figure all in white stood looking down into the
2924
street. It was you."
2925
2926
Tessie had turned her face away from me and leaned on the table with her
2927
elbow.
2928
2929
"I could see your face," I resumed, "and it seemed to me to be very
2930
sorrowful. Then we passed on and turned into a narrow black lane.
2931
Presently the horses stopped. I waited and waited, closing my eyes with
2932
ear and impatience, but all was silent as the grave. After what seemed to
2933
me hours, I began to feel uncomfortable. A sense that somebody was close
2934
to me made me unclose my eyes. Then I saw the white face of the
2935
hearse-driver looking at me through the coffin-lid----"
2936
2937
A sob from Tessie interrupted me. She was trembling like a leaf. I saw I
2938
had made an ass of myself and attempted to repair the damage.
2939
2940
"Why, Tess," I said, "I only told you this to show you what influence
2941
your story might have on another person's dreams. You don't suppose I
2942
really lay in a coffin, do you? What are you trembling for? Don't you see
2943
that your dream and my unreasonable dislike for that inoffensive watchman
2944
of the church simply set my brain working as soon as I fell asleep?"
2945
2946
She laid her head between her arms, and sobbed as if her heart would
2947
break. What a precious triple donkey I had made of myself! But I was
2948
about to break my record. I went over and put my arm about her.
2949
2950
"Tessie dear, forgive me," I said; "I had no business to frighten you
2951
with such nonsense. You are too sensible a girl, too good a Catholic to
2952
believe in dreams."
2953
2954
Her hand tightened on mine and her head fell back upon my shoulder, but
2955
she still trembled and I petted her and comforted her.
2956
2957
"Come, Tess, open your eyes and smile."
2958
2959
Her eyes opened with a slow languid movement and met mine, but their
2960
expression was so queer that I hastened to reassure her again.
2961
2962
"It's all humbug, Tessie; you surely are not afraid that any harm will
2963
come to you because of that."
2964
2965
"No," she said, but her scarlet lips quivered.
2966
2967
"Then, what's the matter? Are you afraid?"
2968
2969
"Yes. Not for myself."
2970
2971
"For me, then?" I demanded gaily.
2972
2973
"For you," she murmured in a voice almost inaudible. "I--I care for you."
2974
2975
At first I started to laugh, but when I understood her, a shock passed
2976
through me, and I sat like one turned to stone. This was the crowning bit
2977
of idiocy I had committed. During the moment which elapsed between her
2978
reply and my answer I thought of a thousand responses to that innocent
2979
confession. I could pass it by with a laugh, I could misunderstand her
2980
and assure her as to my health, I could simply point out that it was
2981
impossible she could love me. But my reply was quicker than my thoughts,
2982
and I might think and think now when it was too late, for I had kissed
2983
her on the mouth.
2984
2985
That evening I took my usual walk in Washington Park, pondering over the
2986
occurrences of the day. I was thoroughly committed. There was no back out
2987
now, and I stared the future straight in the face. I was not good, not
2988
even scrupulous, but I had no idea of deceiving either myself or Tessie.
2989
The one passion of my life lay buried in the sunlit forests of Brittany.
2990
Was it buried for ever? Hope cried "No!" For three years I had been
2991
listening to the voice of Hope, and for three years I had waited for a
2992
footstep on my threshold. Had Sylvia forgotten? "No!" cried Hope.
2993
2994
I said that I was no good. That is true, but still I was not exactly a
2995
comic opera villain. I had led an easy-going reckless life, taking what
2996
invited me of pleasure, deploring and sometimes bitterly regretting
2997
consequences. In one thing alone, except my painting, was I serious, and
2998
that was something which lay hidden if not lost in the Breton forests.
2999
3000
It was too late for me to regret what had occurred during the day.
3001
Whatever it had been, pity, a sudden tenderness for sorrow, or the more
3002
brutal instinct of gratified vanity, it was all the same now, and unless
3003
I wished to bruise an innocent heart, my path lay marked before me. The
3004
fire and strength, the depth of passion of a love which I had never even
3005
suspected, with all my imagined experience in the world, left me no
3006
alternative but to respond or send her away. Whether because I am so
3007
cowardly about giving pain to others, or whether it was that I have
3008
little of the gloomy Puritan in me, I do not know, but I shrank from
3009
disclaiming responsibility for that thoughtless kiss, and in fact had no
3010
time to do so before the gates of her heart opened and the flood poured
3011
forth. Others who habitually do their duty and find a sullen satisfaction
3012
in making themselves and everybody else unhappy, might have withstood it.
3013
I did not. I dared not. After the storm had abated I did tell her that
3014
she might better have loved Ed Burke and worn a plain gold ring, but she
3015
would not hear of it, and I thought perhaps as long as she had decided to
3016
love somebody she could not marry, it had better be me. I, at least,
3017
could treat her with an intelligent affection, and whenever she became
3018
tired of her infatuation she could go none the worse for it. For I was
3019
decided on that point although I knew how hard it would be. I remembered
3020
the usual termination of Platonic liaisons, and thought how disgusted I
3021
had been whenever I heard of one. I knew I was undertaking a great deal
3022
for so unscrupulous a man as I was, and I dreamed the future, but never
3023
for one moment did I doubt that she was safe with me. Had it been anybody
3024
but Tessie I should not have bothered my head about scruples. For it did
3025
not occur to me to sacrifice Tessie as I would have sacrificed a woman of
3026
the world. I looked the future squarely in the face and saw the several
3027
probable endings to the affair. She would either tire of the whole thing,
3028
or become so unhappy that I should have either to marry her or go away.
3029
If I married her we would be unhappy. I with a wife unsuited to me, and
3030
she with a husband unsuitable for any woman. For my past life could
3031
scarcely entitle me to marry. If I went away she might either fall ill,
3032
recover, and marry some Eddie Burke, or she might recklessly or
3033
deliberately go and do something foolish. On the other hand, if she tired
3034
of me, then her whole life would be before her with beautiful vistas of
3035
Eddie Burkes and marriage rings and twins and Harlem flats and Heaven
3036
knows what. As I strolled along through the trees by the Washington Arch,
3037
I decided that she should find a substantial friend in me, anyway, and
3038
the future could take care of itself. Then I went into the house and put
3039
on my evening dress, for the little faintly-perfumed note on my dresser
3040
said, "Have a cab at the stage door at eleven," and the note was signed
3041
"Edith Carmichel, Metropolitan Theatre."
3042
3043
I took supper that night, or rather we took supper, Miss Carmichel and I,
3044
at Solari's, and the dawn was just beginning to gild the cross on the
3045
Memorial Church as I entered Washington Square after leaving Edith at the
3046
Brunswick. There was not a soul in the park as I passed along the trees
3047
and took the walk which leads from the Garibaldi statue to the Hamilton
3048
Apartment House, but as I passed the churchyard I saw a figure sitting on
3049
the stone steps. In spite of myself a chill crept over me at the sight of
3050
the white puffy face, and I hastened to pass. Then he said something
3051
which might have been addressed to me or might merely have been a mutter
3052
to himself, but a sudden furious anger flamed up within me that such a
3053
creature should address me. For an instant I felt like wheeling about and
3054
smashing my stick over his head, but I walked on, and entering the
3055
Hamilton went to my apartment. For some time I tossed about the bed
3056
trying to get the sound of his voice out of my ears, but could not. It
3057
filled my head, that muttering sound, like thick oily smoke from a
3058
fat-rendering vat or an odour of noisome decay. And as I lay and tossed
3059
about, the voice in my ears seemed more distinct, and I began to
3060
understand the words he had muttered. They came to me slowly as if I had
3061
forgotten them, and at last I could make some sense out of the sounds. It
3062
was this:
3063
3064
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
3065
3066
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
3067
3068
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
3069
3070
I was furious. What did he mean by that? Then with a curse upon him and
3071
his I rolled over and went to sleep, but when I awoke later I looked pale
3072
and haggard, for I had dreamed the dream of the night before, and it
3073
troubled me more than I cared to think.
3074
3075
I dressed and went down into my studio. Tessie sat by the window, but as
3076
I came in she rose and put both arms around my neck for an innocent kiss.
3077
She looked so sweet and dainty that I kissed her again and then sat down
3078
before the easel.
3079
3080
"Hello! Where's the study I began yesterday?" I asked.
3081
3082
Tessie looked conscious, but did not answer. I began to hunt among the
3083
piles of canvases, saying, "Hurry up, Tess, and get ready; we must take
3084
advantage of the morning light."
3085
3086
When at last I gave up the search among the other canvases and turned to
3087
look around the room for the missing study I noticed Tessie standing by
3088
the screen with her clothes still on.
3089
3090
"What's the matter," I asked, "don't you feel well?"
3091
3092
"Yes."
3093
3094
"Then hurry."
3095
3096
"Do you want me to pose as--as I have always posed?"
3097
3098
Then I understood. Here was a new complication. I had lost, of course,
3099
the best nude model I had ever seen. I looked at Tessie. Her face was
3100
scarlet. Alas! Alas! We had eaten of the tree of knowledge, and Eden and
3101
native innocence were dreams of the past--I mean for her.
3102
3103
I suppose she noticed the disappointment on my face, for she said: "I
3104
will pose if you wish. The study is behind the screen here where I put
3105
it."
3106
3107
"No," I said, "we will begin something new;" and I went into my wardrobe
3108
and picked out a Moorish costume which fairly blazed with tinsel. It was
3109
a genuine costume, and Tessie retired to the screen with it enchanted.
3110
When she came forth again I was astonished. Her long black hair was bound
3111
above her forehead with a circlet of turquoises, and the ends, curled
3112
about her glittering girdle. Her feet were encased in the embroidered
3113
pointed slippers and the skirt of her costume, curiously wrought with
3114
arabesques in silver, fell to her ankles. The deep metallic blue vest
3115
embroidered with silver and the short Mauresque jacket spangled and sewn
3116
with turquoises became her wonderfully. She came up to me and held up her
3117
face smiling. I slipped my hand into my pocket, and drawing out a gold
3118
chain with a cross attached, dropped it over her head.
3119
3120
"It's yours, Tessie."
3121
3122
"Mine?" she faltered.
3123
3124
"Yours. Now go and pose," Then with a radiant smile she ran behind the
3125
screen and presently reappeared with a little box on which was written my
3126
name.
3127
3128
"I had intended to give it to you when I went home to-night," she said,
3129
"but I can't wait now."
3130
3131
I opened the box. On the pink cotton inside lay a clasp of black onyx, on
3132
which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold. It was neither
3133
Arabic nor Chinese, nor, as I found afterwards, did it belong to any
3134
human script.
3135
3136
"It's all I had to give you for a keepsake," she said timidly.
3137
3138
I was annoyed, but I told her how much I should prize it, and promised to
3139
wear it always. She fastened it on my coat beneath the lapel.
3140
3141
"How foolish, Tess, to go and buy me such a beautiful thing as this," I
3142
said.
3143
3144
"I did not buy it," she laughed.
3145
3146
"Where did you get it?"
3147
3148
Then she told me how she had found it one day while coming from the
3149
Aquarium in the Battery, how she had advertised it and watched the
3150
papers, but at last gave up all hopes of finding the owner.
3151
3152
"That was last winter," she said, "the very day I had the first horrid
3153
dream about the hearse."
3154
3155
I remembered my dream of the previous night but said nothing, and
3156
presently my charcoal was flying over a new canvas, and Tessie stood
3157
motionless on the model-stand.
3158
3159
3160
3161
3162
III
3163
3164
The day following was a disastrous one for me. While moving a framed
3165
canvas from one easel to another my foot slipped on the polished floor,
3166
and I fell heavily on both wrists. They were so badly sprained that it
3167
was useless to attempt to hold a brush, and I was obliged to wander about
3168
the studio, glaring at unfinished drawings and sketches, until despair
3169
seized me and I sat down to smoke and twiddle my thumbs with rage. The
3170
rain blew against the windows and rattled on the roof of the church,
3171
driving me into a nervous fit with its interminable patter. Tessie sat
3172
sewing by the window, and every now and then raised her head and looked
3173
at me with such innocent compassion that I began to feel ashamed of my
3174
irritation and looked about for something to occupy me. I had read all
3175
the papers and all the books in the library, but for the sake of
3176
something to do I went to the bookcases and shoved them open with my
3177
elbow. I knew every volume by its colour and examined them all, passing
3178
slowly around the library and whistling to keep up my spirits. I was
3179
turning to go into the dining-room when my eye fell upon a book bound in
3180
serpent skin, standing in a corner of the top shelf of the last bookcase.
3181
I did not remember it, and from the floor could not decipher the pale
3182
lettering on the back, so I went to the smoking-room and called Tessie.
3183
She came in from the studio and climbed up to reach the book.
3184
3185
"What is it?" I asked.
3186
3187
"_The King in Yellow._"
3188
3189
I was dumfounded. Who had placed it there? How came it in my rooms? I had
3190
long ago decided that I should never open that book, and nothing on earth
3191
could have persuaded me to buy it. Fearful lest curiosity might tempt me
3192
to open it, I had never even looked at it in book-stores. If I ever had
3193
had any curiosity to read it, the awful tragedy of young Castaigne, whom
3194
I knew, prevented me from exploring its wicked pages. I had always
3195
refused to listen to any description of it, and indeed, nobody ever
3196
ventured to discuss the second part aloud, so I had absolutely no
3197
knowledge of what those leaves might reveal. I stared at the poisonous
3198
mottled binding as I would at a snake.
3199
3200
"Don't touch it, Tessie," I said; "come down."
3201
3202
Of course my admonition was enough to arouse her curiosity, and before I
3203
could prevent it she took the book and, laughing, danced off into the
3204
studio with it. I called to her, but she slipped away with a tormenting
3205
smile at my helpless hands, and I followed her with some impatience.
3206
3207
"Tessie!" I cried, entering the library, "listen, I am serious. Put that
3208
book away. I do not wish you to open it!" The library was empty. I went
3209
into both drawing-rooms, then into the bedrooms, laundry, kitchen, and
3210
finally returned to the library and began a systematic search. She had
3211
hidden herself so well that it was half-an-hour later when I discovered
3212
her crouching white and silent by the latticed window in the store-room
3213
above. At the first glance I saw she had been punished for her
3214
foolishness. _The King in Yellow_ lay at her feet, but the book was
3215
open at the second part. I looked at Tessie and saw it was too late. She
3216
had opened _The King in Yellow_. Then I took her by the hand and led
3217
her into the studio. She seemed dazed, and when I told her to lie down on
3218
the sofa she obeyed me without a word. After a while she closed her eyes
3219
and her breathing became regular and deep, but I could not determine
3220
whether or not she slept. For a long while I sat silently beside her, but
3221
she neither stirred nor spoke, and at last I rose, and, entering the
3222
unused store-room, took the book in my least injured hand. It seemed
3223
heavy as lead, but I carried it into the studio again, and sitting down
3224
on the rug beside the sofa, opened it and read it through from beginning
3225
to end.
3226
3227
When, faint with excess of my emotions, I dropped the volume and leaned
3228
wearily back against the sofa, Tessie opened her eyes and looked at
3229
me....
3230
3231
We had been speaking for some time in a dull monotonous strain before I
3232
realized that we were discussing _The King in Yellow_. Oh the sin of
3233
writing such words,--words which are clear as crystal, limpid and musical
3234
as bubbling springs, words which sparkle and glow like the poisoned
3235
diamonds of the Medicis! Oh the wickedness, the hopeless damnation of a
3236
soul who could fascinate and paralyze human creatures with such
3237
words,--words understood by the ignorant and wise alike, words which are
3238
more precious than jewels, more soothing than music, more awful than
3239
death!
3240
3241
We talked on, unmindful of the gathering shadows, and she was begging me
3242
to throw away the clasp of black onyx quaintly inlaid with what we now
3243
knew to be the Yellow Sign. I never shall know why I refused, though even
3244
at this hour, here in my bedroom as I write this confession, I should be
3245
glad to know _what_ it was that prevented me from tearing the Yellow
3246
Sign from my breast and casting it into the fire. I am sure I wished to
3247
do so, and yet Tessie pleaded with me in vain. Night fell and the hours
3248
dragged on, but still we murmured to each other of the King and the
3249
Pallid Mask, and midnight sounded from the misty spires in the
3250
fog-wrapped city. We spoke of Hastur and of Cassilda, while outside the
3251
fog rolled against the blank window-panes as the cloud waves roll and
3252
break on the shores of Hali.
3253
3254
The house was very silent now, and not a sound came up from the misty
3255
streets. Tessie lay among the cushions, her face a grey blot in the
3256
gloom, but her hands were clasped in mine, and I knew that she knew and
3257
read my thoughts as I read hers, for we had understood the mystery of the
3258
Hyades and the Phantom of Truth was laid. Then as we answered each other,
3259
swiftly, silently, thought on thought, the shadows stirred in the gloom
3260
about us, and far in the distant streets we heard a sound. Nearer and
3261
nearer it came, the dull crunching of wheels, nearer and yet nearer, and
3262
now, outside before the door it ceased, and I dragged myself to the
3263
window and saw a black-plumed hearse. The gate below opened and shut, and
3264
I crept shaking to my door and bolted it, but I knew no bolts, no locks,
3265
could keep that creature out who was coming for the Yellow Sign. And now
3266
I heard him moving very softly along the hall. Now he was at the door,
3267
and the bolts rotted at his touch. Now he had entered. With eyes starting
3268
from my head I peered into the darkness, but when he came into the room I
3269
did not see him. It was only when I felt him envelope me in his cold soft
3270
grasp that I cried out and struggled with deadly fury, but my hands were
3271
useless and he tore the onyx clasp from my coat and struck me full in the
3272
face. Then, as I fell, I heard Tessie's soft cry and her spirit fled: and
3273
even while falling I longed to follow her, for I knew that the King in
3274
Yellow had opened his tattered mantle and there was only God to cry to
3275
now.
3276
3277
I could tell more, but I cannot see what help it will be to the world. As
3278
for me, I am past human help or hope. As I lie here, writing, careless
3279
even whether or not I die before I finish, I can see the doctor gathering
3280
up his powders and phials with a vague gesture to the good priest beside
3281
me, which I understand.
3282
3283
They will be very curious to know the tragedy--they of the outside world
3284
who write books and print millions of newspapers, but I shall write no
3285
more, and the father confessor will seal my last words with the seal of
3286
sanctity when his holy office is done. They of the outside world may send
3287
their creatures into wrecked homes and death-smitten firesides, and their
3288
newspapers will batten on blood and tears, but with me their spies must
3289
halt before the confessional. They know that Tessie is dead and that I am
3290
dying. They know how the people in the house, aroused by an infernal
3291
scream, rushed into my room and found one living and two dead, but they
3292
do not know what I shall tell them now; they do not know that the doctor
3293
said as he pointed to a horrible decomposed heap on the floor--the livid
3294
corpse of the watchman from the church: "I have no theory, no explanation.
3295
That man must have been dead for months!"
3296
3297
3298
I think I am dying. I wish the priest would--
3299
3300
3301
3302
3303
THE DEMOISELLE D'YS
3304
3305
"Mais je croy que je
3306
Suis descendu on puiz
3307
Ténébreux onquel disoit
3308
Heraclytus estre Vereté cachée."
3309
3310
"There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I
3311
know not:
3312
3313
"The way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the
3314
way of a ship in the midst of the sea; and the way of a man with a maid."
3315
3316
3317
I
3318
3319
The utter desolation of the scene began to have its effect; I sat down to
3320
face the situation and, if possible, recall to mind some landmark which
3321
might aid me in extricating myself from my present position. If I could
3322
only find the ocean again all would be clear, for I knew one could see
3323
the island of Groix from the cliffs.
3324
3325
I laid down my gun, and kneeling behind a rock lighted a pipe. Then I
3326
looked at my watch. It was nearly four o'clock. I might have wandered far
3327
from Kerselec since daybreak.
3328
3329
Standing the day before on the cliffs below Kerselec with Goulven,
3330
looking out over the sombre moors among which I had now lost my way,
3331
these downs had appeared to me level as a meadow, stretching to the
3332
horizon, and although I knew how deceptive is distance, I could not
3333
realize that what from Kerselec seemed to be mere grassy hollows were
3334
great valleys covered with gorse and heather, and what looked like
3335
scattered boulders were in reality enormous cliffs of granite.
3336
3337
"It's a bad place for a stranger," old Goulven had said: "you'd better
3338
take a guide;" and I had replied, "I shall not lose myself." Now I knew
3339
that I had lost myself, as I sat there smoking, with the sea-wind blowing
3340
in my face. On every side stretched the moorland, covered with flowering
3341
gorse and heath and granite boulders. There was not a tree in sight, much
3342
less a house. After a while, I picked up the gun, and turning my back on
3343
the sun tramped on again.
3344
3345
There was little use in following any of the brawling streams which every
3346
now and then crossed my path, for, instead of flowing into the sea, they
3347
ran inland to reedy pools in the hollows of the moors. I had followed
3348
several, but they all led me to swamps or silent little ponds from which
3349
the snipe rose peeping and wheeled away in an ecstasy of fright I began
3350
to feel fatigued, and the gun galled my shoulder in spite of the double
3351
pads. The sun sank lower and lower, shining level across yellow gorse and
3352
the moorland pools.
3353
3354
As I walked my own gigantic shadow led me on, seeming to lengthen at
3355
every step. The gorse scraped against my leggings, crackled beneath my
3356
feet, showering the brown earth with blossoms, and the brake bowed and
3357
billowed along my path. From tufts of heath rabbits scurried away through
3358
the bracken, and among the swamp grass I heard the wild duck's drowsy
3359
quack. Once a fox stole across my path, and again, as I stooped to drink
3360
at a hurrying rill, a heron flapped heavily from the reeds beside me. I
3361
turned to look at the sun. It seemed to touch the edges of the plain.
3362
When at last I decided that it was useless to go on, and that I must make
3363
up my mind to spend at least one night on the moors, I threw myself down
3364
thoroughly fagged out. The evening sunlight slanted warm across my body,
3365
but the sea-winds began to rise, and I felt a chill strike through me
3366
from my wet shooting-boots. High overhead gulls were wheeling and tossing
3367
like bits of white paper; from some distant marsh a solitary curlew
3368
called. Little by little the sun sank into the plain, and the zenith
3369
flushed with the after-glow. I watched the sky change from palest gold to
3370
pink and then to smouldering fire. Clouds of midges danced above me, and
3371
high in the calm air a bat dipped and soared. My eyelids began to droop.
3372
Then as I shook off the drowsiness a sudden crash among the bracken
3373
roused me. I raised my eyes. A great bird hung quivering in the air above
3374
my face. For an instant I stared, incapable of motion; then something
3375
leaped past me in the ferns and the bird rose, wheeled, and pitched
3376
headlong into the brake.
3377
3378
I was on my feet in an instant peering through the gorse. There came the
3379
sound of a struggle from a bunch of heather close by, and then all was
3380
quiet. I stepped forward, my gun poised, but when I came to the heather
3381
the gun fell under my arm again, and I stood motionless in silent
3382
astonishment A dead hare lay on the ground, and on the hare stood a
3383
magnificent falcon, one talon buried in the creature's neck, the other
3384
planted firmly on its limp flank. But what astonished me, was not the
3385
mere sight of a falcon sitting upon its prey. I had seen that more than
3386
once. It was that the falcon was fitted with a sort of leash about both
3387
talons, and from the leash hung a round bit of metal like a sleigh-bell.
3388
The bird turned its fierce yellow eyes on me, and then stooped and struck
3389
its curved beak into the quarry. At the same instant hurried steps
3390
sounded among the heather, and a girl sprang into the covert in front.
3391
Without a glance at me she walked up to the falcon, and passing her
3392
gloved hand under its breast, raised it from the quarry. Then she deftly
3393
slipped a small hood over the bird's head, and holding it out on her
3394
gauntlet, stooped and picked up the hare.
3395
3396
She passed a cord about the animal's legs and fastened the end of the
3397
thong to her girdle. Then she started to retrace her steps through the
3398
covert As she passed me I raised my cap and she acknowledged my presence
3399
with a scarcely perceptible inclination. I had been so astonished, so
3400
lost in admiration of the scene before my eyes, that it had not occurred
3401
to me that here was my salvation. But as she moved away I recollected
3402
that unless I wanted to sleep on a windy moor that night I had better
3403
recover my speech without delay. At my first word she hesitated, and as I
3404
stepped before her I thought a look of fear came into her beautiful eyes.
3405
But as I humbly explained my unpleasant plight, her face flushed and she
3406
looked at me in wonder.
3407
3408
"Surely you did not come from Kerselec!" she repeated.
3409
3410
Her sweet voice had no trace of the Breton accent nor of any accent which
3411
I knew, and yet there was something in it I seemed to have heard before,
3412
something quaint and indefinable, like the theme of an old song.
3413
3414
I explained that I was an American, unacquainted with Finistère, shooting
3415
there for my own amusement.
3416
3417
"An American," she repeated in the same quaint musical tones. "I have
3418
never before seen an American."
3419
3420
For a moment she stood silent, then looking at me she said. "If you
3421
should walk all night you could not reach Kerselec now, even if you had a
3422
guide."
3423
3424
This was pleasant news.
3425
3426
"But," I began, "if I could only find a peasant's hut where I might get
3427
something to eat, and shelter."
3428
3429
The falcon on her wrist fluttered and shook its head. The girl smoothed
3430
its glossy back and glanced at me.
3431
3432
"Look around," she said gently. "Can you see the end of these moors?
3433
Look, north, south, east, west. Can you see anything but moorland and
3434
bracken?"
3435
3436
"No," I said.
3437
3438
"The moor is wild and desolate. It is easy to enter, but sometimes they
3439
who enter never leave it. There are no peasants' huts here."
3440
3441
"Well," I said, "if you will tell me in which direction Kerselec lies,
3442
to-morrow it will take me no longer to go back than it has to come."
3443
3444
She looked at me again with an expression almost like pity.
3445
3446
"Ah," she said, "to come is easy and takes hours; to go is different--and
3447
may take centuries."
3448
3449
I stared at her in amazement but decided that I had misunderstood her.
3450
Then before I had time to speak she drew a whistle from her belt and
3451
sounded it.
3452
3453
"Sit down and rest," she said to me; "you have come a long distance and
3454
are tired."
3455
3456
She gathered up her pleated skirts and motioning me to follow picked her
3457
dainty way through the gorse to a flat rock among the ferns.
3458
3459
"They will be here directly," she said, and taking a seat at one end of
3460
the rock invited me to sit down on the other edge. The after-glow was
3461
beginning to fade in the sky and a single star twinkled faintly through
3462
the rosy haze. A long wavering triangle of water-fowl drifted southward
3463
over our heads, and from the swamps around plover were calling.
3464
3465
"They are very beautiful--these moors," she said quietly.
3466
3467
"Beautiful, but cruel to strangers," I answered.
3468
3469
"Beautiful and cruel," she repeated dreamily, "beautiful and cruel."
3470
3471
"Like a woman," I said stupidly.
3472
3473
"Oh," she cried with a little catch in her breath, and looked at me. Her
3474
dark eyes met mine, and I thought she seemed angry or frightened.
3475
3476
"Like a woman," she repeated under her breath, "How cruel to say so!"
3477
Then after a pause, as though speaking aloud to herself, "How cruel for
3478
him to say that!"
3479
3480
I don't know what sort of an apology I offered for my inane, though
3481
harmless speech, but I know that she seemed so troubled about it that I
3482
began to think I had said something very dreadful without knowing it, and
3483
remembered with horror the pitfalls and snares which the French language
3484
sets for foreigners. While I was trying to imagine what I might have
3485
said, a sound of voices came across the moor, and the girl rose to her
3486
feet.
3487
3488
"No," she said, with a trace of a smile on her pale face, "I will not
3489
accept your apologies, monsieur, but I must prove you wrong, and that
3490
shall be my revenge. Look. Here come Hastur and Raoul."
3491
3492
Two men loomed up in the twilight. One had a sack across his shoulders
3493
and the other carried a hoop before him as a waiter carries a tray. The
3494
hoop was fastened with straps to his shoulders, and around the edge of
3495
the circlet sat three hooded falcons fitted with tinkling bells. The girl
3496
stepped up to the falconer, and with a quick turn of her wrist
3497
transferred her falcon to the hoop, where it quickly sidled off and
3498
nestled among its mates, who shook their hooded heads and ruffled their
3499
feathers till the belled jesses tinkled again. The other man stepped
3500
forward and bowing respectfully took up the hare and dropped it into the
3501
game-sack.
3502
3503
"These are my piqueurs," said the girl, turning to me with a gentle
3504
dignity. "Raoul is a good fauconnier, and I shall some day make him grand
3505
veneur. Hastur is incomparable."
3506
3507
The two silent men saluted me respectfully.
3508
3509
"Did I not tell you, monsieur, that I should prove you wrong?" she
3510
continued. "This, then, is my revenge, that you do me the courtesy of
3511
accepting food and shelter at my own house."
3512
3513
Before I could answer she spoke to the falconers, who started instantly
3514
across the heath, and with a gracious gesture to me she followed. I don't
3515
know whether I made her understand how profoundly grateful I felt, but
3516
she seemed pleased to listen, as we walked over the dewy heather.
3517
3518
"Are you not very tired?" she asked.
3519
3520
I had clean forgotten my fatigue in her presence, and I told her so.
3521
3522
"Don't you think your gallantry is a little old-fashioned?" she said; and
3523
when I looked confused and humbled, she added quietly, "Oh, I like it, I
3524
like everything old-fashioned, and it is delightful to hear you say such
3525
pretty things."
3526
3527
The moorland around us was very still now under its ghostly sheet of
3528
mist. The plovers had ceased their calling; the crickets and all the
3529
little creatures of the fields were silent as we passed, yet it seemed to
3530
me as if I could hear them beginning again far behind us. Well in
3531
advance, the two tall falconers strode across the heather, and the faint
3532
jingling of the hawks' bells came to our ears in distant murmuring
3533
chimes.
3534
3535
Suddenly a splendid hound dashed out of the mist in front, followed by
3536
another and another until half-a-dozen or more were bounding and leaping
3537
around the girl beside me. She caressed and quieted them with her gloved
3538
hand, speaking to them in quaint terms which I remembered to have seen in
3539
old French manuscripts.
3540
3541
Then the falcons on the circlet borne by the falconer ahead began to beat
3542
their wings and scream, and from somewhere out of sight the notes of a
3543
hunting-horn floated across the moor. The hounds sprang away before us
3544
and vanished in the twilight, the falcons flapped and squealed upon their
3545
perch, and the girl, taking up the song of the horn, began to hum. Clear
3546
and mellow her voice sounded in the night air.
3547
3548
"Chasseur, chasseur, chassez encore,
3549
Quittez Rosette et Jeanneton,
3550
Tonton, tonton, tontaine, tonton,
3551
Ou, pour, rabattre, dès l'aurore,
3552
Que les Amours soient de planton,
3553
Tonton, tontaine, tonton."
3554
3555
As I listened to her lovely voice a grey mass which rapidly grew more
3556
distinct loomed up in front, and the horn rang out joyously through the
3557
tumult of the hounds and falcons. A torch glimmered at a gate, a light
3558
streamed through an opening door, and we stepped upon a wooden bridge
3559
which trembled under our feet and rose creaking and straining behind us
3560
as we passed over the moat and into a small stone court, walled on every
3561
side. From an open doorway a man came and, bending in salutation,
3562
presented a cup to the girl beside me. She took the cup and touched it
3563
with her lips, then lowering it turned to me and said in a low voice, "I
3564
bid you welcome."
3565
3566
At that moment one of the falconers came with another cup, but before
3567
handing it to me, presented it to the girl, who tasted it. The falconer
3568
made a gesture to receive it, but she hesitated a moment, and then,
3569
stepping forward, offered me the cup with her own hands. I felt this to
3570
be an act of extraordinary graciousness, but hardly knew what was
3571
expected of me, and did not raise it to my lips at once. The girl flushed
3572
crimson. I saw that I must act quickly.
3573
3574
"Mademoiselle," I faltered, "a stranger whom you have saved from dangers
3575
he may never realize empties this cup to the gentlest and loveliest
3576
hostess of France."
3577
3578
"In His name," she murmured, crossing herself as I drained the cup. Then
3579
stepping into the doorway she turned to me with a pretty gesture and,
3580
taking my hand in hers, led me into the house, saying again and again:
3581
"You are very welcome, indeed you are welcome to the Château d'Ys."
3582
3583
3584
3585
3586
II
3587
3588
I awoke next morning with the music of the horn in my ears, and leaping
3589
out of the ancient bed, went to a curtained window where the sunlight
3590
filtered through little deep-set panes. The horn ceased as I looked into
3591
the court below.
3592
3593
A man who might have been brother to the two falconers of the night
3594
before stood in the midst of a pack of hounds. A curved horn was strapped
3595
over his back, and in his hand he held a long-lashed whip. The dogs
3596
whined and yelped, dancing around him in anticipation; there was the
3597
stamp of horses, too, in the walled yard.
3598
3599
"Mount!" cried a voice in Breton, and with a clatter of hoofs the two
3600
falconers, with falcons upon their wrists, rode into the courtyard among
3601
the hounds. Then I heard another voice which sent the blood throbbing
3602
through my heart: "Piriou Louis, hunt the hounds well and spare neither
3603
spur nor whip. Thou Raoul and thou Gaston, see that the _epervier_
3604
does not prove himself _niais_, and if it be best in your judgment,
3605
_faites courtoisie à l'oiseau. Jardiner un oiseau_, like the
3606
_mué_ there on Hastur's wrist, is not difficult, but thou, Raoul,
3607
mayest not find it so simple to govern that _hagard_. Twice last
3608
week he foamed _au vif_ and lost the _beccade_ although he is
3609
used to the _leurre_. The bird acts like a stupid _branchier.
3610
Paître un hagard n'est pas si facile."_
3611
3612
Was I dreaming? The old language of falconry which I had read in yellow
3613
manuscripts--the old forgotten French of the middle ages was sounding in
3614
my ears while the hounds bayed and the hawks' bells tinkled accompaniment
3615
to the stamping horses. She spoke again in the sweet forgotten language:
3616
3617
"If you would rather attach the _longe_ and leave thy _hagard au
3618
bloc_, Raoul, I shall say nothing; for it were a pity to spoil so fair
3619
a day's sport with an ill-trained _sors_. _Essimer abaisser_,--it is
3620
possibly the best way. _Ça lui donnera des reins._ I was perhaps hasty
3621
with the bird. It takes time to pass _à la filière_ and the exercises
3622
_d'escap_."
3623
3624
Then the falconer Raoul bowed in his stirrups and replied: "If it be the
3625
pleasure of Mademoiselle, I shall keep the hawk."
3626
3627
"It is my wish," she answered. "Falconry I know, but you have yet to give
3628
me many a lesson in _Autourserie_, my poor Raoul. Sieur Piriou Louis
3629
mount!"
3630
3631
The huntsman sprang into an archway and in an instant returned, mounted
3632
upon a strong black horse, followed by a piqueur also mounted.
3633
3634
"Ah!" she cried joyously, "speed Glemarec René! speed! speed all! Sound
3635
thy horn, Sieur Piriou!"
3636
3637
The silvery music of the hunting-horn filled the courtyard, the hounds
3638
sprang through the gateway and galloping hoof-beats plunged out of the
3639
paved court; loud on the drawbridge, suddenly muffled, then lost in the
3640
heather and bracken of the moors. Distant and more distant sounded the
3641
horn, until it became so faint that the sudden carol of a soaring lark
3642
drowned it in my ears. I heard the voice below responding to some call
3643
from within the house.
3644
3645
"I do not regret the chase, I will go another time Courtesy to the
3646
stranger, Pelagie, remember!"
3647
3648
And a feeble voice came quavering from within the house,
3649
"_Courtoisie_."
3650
3651
I stripped, and rubbed myself from head to foot in the huge earthen basin
3652
of icy water which stood upon the stone floor at the foot of my bed. Then
3653
I looked about for my clothes. They were gone, but on a settle near the
3654
door lay a heap of garments which I inspected with astonishment. As my
3655
clothes had vanished, I was compelled to attire myself in the costume
3656
which had evidently been placed there for me to wear while my own clothes
3657
dried. Everything was there, cap, shoes, and hunting doublet of silvery
3658
grey homespun; but the close-fitting costume and seamless shoes belonged
3659
to another century, and I remembered the strange costumes of the three
3660
falconers in the court-yard. I was sure that it was not the modern dress
3661
of any portion of France or Brittany; but not until I was dressed and
3662
stood before a mirror between the windows did I realize that I was
3663
clothed much more like a young huntsman of the middle ages than like a
3664
Breton of that day. I hesitated and picked up the cap. Should I go down
3665
and present myself in that strange guise? There seemed to be no help for
3666
it, my own clothes were gone and there was no bell in the ancient chamber
3667
to call a servant; so I contented myself with removing a short hawk's
3668
feather from the cap, and, opening the door, went downstairs.
3669
3670
By the fireplace in the large room at the foot of the stairs an old
3671
Breton woman sat spinning with a distaff. She looked up at me when I
3672
appeared, and, smiling frankly, wished me health in the Breton language,
3673
to which I laughingly replied in French. At the same moment my hostess
3674
appeared and returned my salutation with a grace and dignity that sent a
3675
thrill to my heart. Her lovely head with its dark curly hair was crowned
3676
with a head-dress which set all doubts as to the epoch of my own costume
3677
at rest. Her slender figure was exquisitely set off in the homespun
3678
hunting-gown edged with silver, and on her gauntlet-covered wrist she
3679
bore one of her petted hawks. With perfect simplicity she took my hand
3680
and led me into the garden in the court, and seating herself before a
3681
table invited me very sweetly to sit beside her. Then she asked me in her
3682
soft quaint accent how I had passed the night, and whether I was very
3683
much inconvenienced by wearing the clothes which old Pelagie had put
3684
there for me while I slept. I looked at my own clothes and shoes, drying
3685
in the sun by the garden-wall, and hated them. What horrors they were
3686
compared with the graceful costume which I now wore! I told her this
3687
laughing, but she agreed with me very seriously.
3688
3689
"We will throw them away," she said in a quiet voice. In my astonishment
3690
I attempted to explain that I not only could not think of accepting
3691
clothes from anybody, although for all I knew it might be the custom of
3692
hospitality in that part of the country, but that I should cut an
3693
impossible figure if I returned to France clothed as I was then.
3694
3695
She laughed and tossed her pretty head, saying something in old French
3696
which I did not understand, and then Pelagie trotted out with a tray on
3697
which stood two bowls of milk, a loaf of white bread, fruit, a platter of
3698
honey-comb, and a flagon of deep red wine. "You see I have not yet broken
3699
my fast because I wished you to eat with me. But I am very hungry," she
3700
smiled.
3701
3702
"I would rather die than forget one word of what you have said!" I
3703
blurted out, while my cheeks burned. "She will think me mad," I added to
3704
myself, but she turned to me with sparkling eyes.
3705
3706
"Ah!" she murmured. "Then Monsieur knows all that there is of chivalry--"
3707
3708
She crossed herself and broke bread. I sat and watched her white hands,
3709
not daring to raise my eyes to hers.
3710
3711
"Will you not eat?" she asked. "Why do you look so troubled?"
3712
3713
Ah, why? I knew it now. I knew I would give my life to touch with my lips
3714
those rosy palms--I understood now that from the moment when I looked
3715
into her dark eyes there on the moor last night I had loved her. My great
3716
and sudden passion held me speechless.
3717
3718
"Are you ill at ease?" she asked again.
3719
3720
Then, like a man who pronounces his own doom, I answered in a low voice:
3721
"Yes, I am ill at ease for love of you." And as she did not stir nor
3722
answer, the same power moved my lips in spite of me and I said, "I, who
3723
am unworthy of the lightest of your thoughts, I who abuse hospitality and
3724
repay your gentle courtesy with bold presumption, I love you."
3725
3726
She leaned her head upon her hands, and answered softly, "I love you.
3727
Your words are very dear to me. I love you."
3728
3729
"Then I shall win you."
3730
3731
"Win me," she replied.
3732
3733
But all the time I had been sitting silent, my face turned toward her.
3734
She, also silent, her sweet face resting on her upturned palm, sat facing
3735
me, and as her eyes looked into mine I knew that neither she nor I had
3736
spoken human speech; but I knew that her soul had answered mine, and I
3737
drew myself up feeling youth and joyous love coursing through every vein.
3738
She, with a bright colour in her lovely face, seemed as one awakened from
3739
a dream, and her eyes sought mine with a questioning glance which made me
3740
tremble with delight. We broke our fast, speaking of ourselves. I told
3741
her my name and she told me hers, the Demoiselle Jeanne d'Ys.
3742
3743
She spoke of her father and mother's death, and how the nineteen of her
3744
years had been passed in the little fortified farm alone with her nurse
3745
Pelagie, Glemarec René the piqueur, and the four falconers, Raoul,
3746
Gaston, Hastur, and the Sieur Piriou Louis, who had served her father.
3747
She had never been outside the moorland--never even had seen a human soul
3748
before, except the falconers and Pelagie. She did not know how she had
3749
heard of Kerselec; perhaps the falconers had spoken of it. She knew the
3750
legends of Loup Garou and Jeanne la Flamme from her nurse Pelagie. She
3751
embroidered and spun flax. Her hawks and hounds were her only
3752
distraction. When she had met me there on the moor she had been so
3753
frightened that she almost dropped at the sound of my voice. She had, it
3754
was true, seen ships at sea from the cliffs, but as far as the eye could
3755
reach the moors over which she galloped were destitute of any sign of
3756
human life. There was a legend which old Pelagie told, how anybody once
3757
lost in the unexplored moorland might never return, because the moors
3758
were enchanted. She did not know whether it was true, she never had
3759
thought about it until she met me. She did not know whether the falconers
3760
had even been outside, or whether they could go if they would. The books
3761
in the house which Pelagie, the nurse, had taught her to read were
3762
hundreds of years old.
3763
3764
All this she told me with a sweet seriousness seldom seen in any one but
3765
children. My own name she found easy to pronounce, and insisted, because
3766
my first name was Philip, I must have French blood in me. She did not
3767
seem curious to learn anything about the outside world, and I thought
3768
perhaps she considered it had forfeited her interest and respect from the
3769
stories of her nurse.
3770
3771
We were still sitting at the table, and she was throwing grapes to the
3772
small field birds which came fearlessly to our very feet.
3773
3774
I began to speak in a vague way of going, but she would not hear of it,
3775
and before I knew it I had promised to stay a week and hunt with hawk and
3776
hound in their company. I also obtained permission to come again from
3777
Kerselec and visit her after my return.
3778
3779
"Why," she said innocently, "I do not know what I should do if you never
3780
came back;" and I, knowing that I had no right to awaken her with the
3781
sudden shock which the avowal of my own love would bring to her, sat
3782
silent, hardly daring to breathe.
3783
3784
"You will come very often?" she asked.
3785
3786
"Very often," I said.
3787
3788
"Every day?"
3789
3790
"Every day."
3791
3792
"Oh," she sighed, "I am very happy. Come and see my hawks."
3793
3794
She rose and took my hand again with a childlike innocence of possession,
3795
and we walked through the garden and fruit trees to a grassy lawn which
3796
was bordered by a brook. Over the lawn were scattered fifteen or twenty
3797
stumps of trees--partially imbedded in the grass--and upon all of these
3798
except two sat falcons. They were attached to the stumps by thongs which
3799
were in turn fastened with steel rivets to their legs just above the
3800
talons. A little stream of pure spring water flowed in a winding course
3801
within easy distance of each perch.
3802
3803
The birds set up a clamour when the girl appeared, but she went from one
3804
to another, caressing some, taking others for an instant upon her wrist,
3805
or stooping to adjust their jesses.
3806
3807
"Are they not pretty?" she said. "See, here is a falcon-gentil. We call
3808
it 'ignoble,' because it takes the quarry in direct chase. This is a blue
3809
falcon. In falconry we call it 'noble' because it rises over the quarry,
3810
and wheeling, drops upon it from above. This white bird is a gerfalcon
3811
from the north. It is also 'noble!' Here is a merlin, and this tiercelet
3812
is a falcon-heroner."
3813
3814
I asked her how she had learned the old language of falconry. She did not
3815
remember, but thought her father must have taught it to her when she was
3816
very young.
3817
3818
Then she led me away and showed me the young falcons still in the nest.
3819
"They are termed _niais_ in falconry," she explained. "A
3820
_branchier_ is the young bird which is just able to leave the nest
3821
and hop from branch to branch. A young bird which has not yet moulted is
3822
called a _sors_, and a _mué_ is a hawk which has moulted in
3823
captivity. When we catch a wild falcon which has changed its plumage we
3824
term it a _hagard_. Raoul first taught me to dress a falcon. Shall I
3825
teach you how it is done?"
3826
3827
She seated herself on the bank of the stream among the falcons and I
3828
threw myself at her feet to listen.
3829
3830
Then the Demoiselle d'Ys held up one rosy-tipped finger and began very
3831
gravely.
3832
3833
"First one must catch the falcon."
3834
3835
"I am caught," I answered.
3836
3837
She laughed very prettily and told me my _dressage_ would perhaps be
3838
difficult, as I was noble.
3839
3840
"I am already tamed," I replied; "jessed and belled."
3841
3842
She laughed, delighted. "Oh, my brave falcon; then you will return at my
3843
call?"
3844
3845
"I am yours," I answered gravely.
3846
3847
She sat silent for a moment. Then the colour heightened in her cheeks and
3848
she held up her finger again, saying, "Listen; I wish to speak of
3849
falconry--"
3850
3851
"I listen, Countess Jeanne d'Ys."
3852
3853
But again she fell into the reverie, and her eyes seemed fixed on
3854
something beyond the summer clouds.
3855
3856
"Philip," she said at last.
3857
3858
"Jeanne," I whispered.
3859
3860
"That is all,--that is what I wished," she sighed,--"Philip and Jeanne."
3861
3862
She held her hand toward me and I touched it with my lips.
3863
3864
"Win me," she said, but this time it was the body and soul which spoke in
3865
unison.
3866
3867
After a while she began again: "Let us speak of falconry."
3868
3869
"Begin," I replied; "we have caught the falcon."
3870
3871
Then Jeanne d'Ys took my hand in both of hers and told me how with
3872
infinite patience the young falcon was taught to perch upon the wrist,
3873
how little by little it became used to the belled jesses and the
3874
_chaperon à cornette_.
3875
3876
"They must first have a good appetite," she said; "then little by little
3877
I reduce their nourishment; which in falconry we call _pât_. When,
3878
after many nights passed _au bloc_ as these birds are now, I prevail
3879
upon the _hagard_ to stay quietly on the wrist, then the bird is
3880
ready to be taught to come for its food. I fix the _pât_ to the end
3881
of a thong, or _leurre_, and teach the bird to come to me as soon as
3882
I begin to whirl the cord in circles about my head. At first I drop the
3883
_pât_ when the falcon comes, and he eats the food on the ground.
3884
After a little he will learn to seize the _leurre_ in motion as I
3885
whirl it around my head or drag it over the ground. After this it is easy
3886
to teach the falcon to strike at game, always remembering to _'faire
3887
courtoisie á l'oiseau'_, that is, to allow the bird to taste the
3888
quarry."
3889
3890
A squeal from one of the falcons interrupted her, and she arose to adjust
3891
the _longe_ which had become whipped about the _bloc_, but the
3892
bird still flapped its wings and screamed.
3893
3894
"What _is_ the matter?" she said. "Philip, can you see?"
3895
3896
I looked around and at first saw nothing to cause the commotion, which
3897
was now heightened by the screams and flapping of all the birds. Then my
3898
eye fell upon the flat rock beside the stream from which the girl had
3899
risen. A grey serpent was moving slowly across the surface of the
3900
boulder, and the eyes in its flat triangular head sparkled like jet.
3901
3902
"A couleuvre," she said quietly.
3903
3904
"It is harmless, is it not?" I asked.
3905
3906
She pointed to the black V-shaped figure on the neck.
3907
3908
"It is certain death," she said; "it is a viper."
3909
3910
We watched the reptile moving slowly over the smooth rock to where the
3911
sunlight fell in a broad warm patch.
3912
3913
I started forward to examine it, but she clung to my arm crying, "Don't,
3914
Philip, I am afraid."
3915
3916
"For me?"
3917
3918
"For you, Philip,--I love you."
3919
3920
Then I took her in my arms and kissed her on the lips, but all I could
3921
say was: "Jeanne, Jeanne, Jeanne." And as she lay trembling on my breast,
3922
something struck my foot in the grass below, but I did not heed it. Then
3923
again something struck my ankle, and a sharp pain shot through me. I
3924
looked into the sweet face of Jeanne d'Ys and kissed her, and with all my
3925
strength lifted her in my arms and flung her from me. Then bending, I
3926
tore the viper from my ankle and set my heel upon its head. I remember
3927
feeling weak and numb,--I remember falling to the ground. Through my
3928
slowly glazing eyes I saw Jeanne's white face bending close to mine, and
3929
when the light in my eyes went out I still felt her arms about my neck,
3930
and her soft cheek against my drawn lips.
3931
3932
3933
When I opened my eyes, I looked around in terror. Jeanne was gone. I saw
3934
the stream and the flat rock; I saw the crushed viper in the grass beside
3935
me, but the hawks and _blocs_ had disappeared. I sprang to my feet.
3936
The garden, the fruit trees, the drawbridge and the walled court were
3937
gone. I stared stupidly at a heap of crumbling ruins, ivy-covered and
3938
grey, through which great trees had pushed their way. I crept forward,
3939
dragging my numbed foot, and as I moved, a falcon sailed from the
3940
tree-tops among the ruins, and soaring, mounting in narrowing circles,
3941
faded and vanished in the clouds above.
3942
3943
"Jeanne, Jeanne," I cried, but my voice died on my lips, and I fell on my
3944
knees among the weeds. And as God willed it, I, not knowing, had fallen
3945
kneeling before a crumbling shrine carved in stone for our Mother of
3946
Sorrows. I saw the sad face of the Virgin wrought in the cold stone. I
3947
saw the cross and thorns at her feet, and beneath it I read:
3948
3949
"PRAY FOR THE SOUL OF THE
3950
DEMOISELLE JEANNE D'Ys,
3951
WHO DIED
3952
IN HER YOUTH FOR LOVE OF
3953
PHILIP, A STRANGER.
3954
A.D. 1573."
3955
3956
But upon the icy slab lay a woman's glove still warm and fragrant.
3957
3958
3959
3960
3961
THE PROPHETS' PARADISE
3962
3963
"If but the Vine and Love Abjuring Band
3964
Are in the Prophets' Paradise to stand,
3965
Alack, I doubt the Prophets' Paradise,
3966
Were empty as the hollow of one's hand."
3967
3968
3969
3970
3971
THE STUDIO
3972
3973
He smiled, saying, "Seek her throughout the world."
3974
3975
I said, "Why tell me of the world? My world is here, between these walls
3976
and the sheet of glass above; here among gilded flagons and dull jewelled
3977
arms, tarnished frames and canvasses, black chests and high-backed
3978
chairs, quaintly carved and stained in blue and gold."
3979
3980
"For whom do you wait?" he said, and I answered, "When she comes I shall
3981
know her."
3982
3983
On my hearth a tongue of flame whispered secrets to the whitening ashes.
3984
In the street below I heard footsteps, a voice, and a song.
3985
3986
"For whom then do you wait?" he said, and I answered, "I shall know her."
3987
3988
Footsteps, a voice, and a song in the street below, and I knew the song
3989
but neither the steps nor the voice.
3990
3991
"Fool!" he cried, "the song is the same, the voice and steps have but
3992
changed with years!"
3993
3994
On the hearth a tongue of flame whispered above the whitening ashes:
3995
"Wait no more; they have passed, the steps and the voice in the street
3996
below."
3997
3998
Then he smiled, saying, "For whom do you wait? Seek her throughout the
3999
world!"
4000
4001
I answered, "My world is here, between these walls and the sheet of glass
4002
above; here among gilded flagons and dull jewelled arms, tarnished frames
4003
and canvasses, black chests and high-backed chairs, quaintly carved and
4004
stained in blue and gold."
4005
4006
4007
4008
4009
THE PHANTOM
4010
4011
The Phantom of the Past would go no further.
4012
4013
"If it is true," she sighed, "that you find in me a friend, let us turn
4014
back together. You will forget, here, under the summer sky."
4015
4016
I held her close, pleading, caressing; I seized her, white with anger,
4017
but she resisted.
4018
4019
"If it is true," she sighed, "that you find in me a friend, let us turn
4020
back together."
4021
4022
The Phantom of the Past would go no further.
4023
4024
4025
4026
4027
THE SACRIFICE
4028
4029
I went into a field of flowers, whose petals are whiter than snow and
4030
whose hearts are pure gold.
4031
4032
Far afield a woman cried, "I have killed him I loved!" and from a jar she
4033
poured blood upon the flowers whose petals are whiter than snow and whose
4034
hearts are pure gold.
4035
4036
Far afield I followed, and on the jar I read a thousand names, while from
4037
within the fresh blood bubbled to the brim.
4038
4039
"I have killed him I loved!" she cried. "The world's athirst; now let it
4040
drink!" She passed, and far afield I watched her pouring blood upon the
4041
flowers whose petals are whiter than snow and whose hearts are pure gold.
4042
4043
4044
4045
4046
DESTINY
4047
4048
I came to the bridge which few may pass.
4049
4050
"Pass!" cried the keeper, but I laughed, saying, "There is time;" and he
4051
smiled and shut the gates.
4052
4053
To the bridge which few may pass came young and old. All were refused.
4054
Idly I stood and counted them, until, wearied of their noise and
4055
lamentations, I came again to the bridge which few may pass.
4056
4057
Those in the throng about the gates shrieked out, "He comes too late!"
4058
But I laughed, saying, "There is time."
4059
4060
"Pass!" cried the keeper as I entered; then smiled and shut the gates.
4061
4062
4063
4064
4065
THE THRONG
4066
4067
There, where the throng was thickest in the street, I stood with Pierrot.
4068
All eyes were turned on me.
4069
4070
"What are they laughing at?" I asked, but he grinned, dusting the chalk
4071
from my black cloak. "I cannot see; it must be something droll, perhaps
4072
an honest thief!"
4073
4074
All eyes were turned on me.
4075
4076
"He has robbed you of your purse!" they laughed.
4077
4078
"My purse!" I cried; "Pierrot--help! it is a thief!"
4079
4080
They laughed: "He has robbed you of your purse!"
4081
4082
Then Truth stepped out, holding a mirror. "If he is an honest thief,"
4083
cried Truth, "Pierrot shall find him with this mirror!" but he only
4084
grinned, dusting the chalk from my black cloak.
4085
4086
"You see," he said, "Truth is an honest thief, she brings you back your
4087
mirror."
4088
4089
All eyes were turned on me.
4090
4091
"Arrest Truth!" I cried, forgetting it was not a mirror but a purse I
4092
lost, standing with Pierrot, there, where the throng was thickest in the
4093
street.
4094
4095
4096
4097
4098
THE JESTER
4099
4100
"Was she fair?" I asked, but he only chuckled, listening to the bells
4101
jingling on his cap.
4102
4103
"Stabbed," he tittered. "Think of the long journey, the days of peril,
4104
the dreadful nights! Think how he wandered, for her sake, year after
4105
year, through hostile lands, yearning for kith and kin, yearning for
4106
her!"
4107
4108
"Stabbed," he tittered, listening to the bells jingling on his cap.
4109
4110
"Was she fair?" I asked, but he only snarled, muttering to the bells
4111
jingling on his cap.
4112
4113
"She kissed him at the gate," he tittered, "but in the hall his brother's
4114
welcome touched his heart."
4115
4116
"Was she fair?" I asked.
4117
4118
"Stabbed," he chuckled. "Think of the long journey, the days of peril,
4119
the dreadful nights! Think how he wandered, for her sake, year after year
4120
through hostile lands, yearning for kith and kin, yearning for her!"
4121
4122
"She kissed him at the gate, but in the hall his brother's welcome
4123
touched his heart."
4124
4125
"Was she fair?" I asked; but he only snarled, listening to the bells
4126
jingling in his cap.
4127
4128
4129
4130
4131
THE GREEN ROOM
4132
4133
The Clown turned his powdered face to the mirror.
4134
4135
"If to be fair is to be beautiful," he said, "who can compare with me in
4136
my white mask?"
4137
4138
"Who can compare with him in his white mask?" I asked of Death beside me.
4139
4140
"Who can compare with me?" said Death, "for I am paler still."
4141
4142
"You are very beautiful," sighed the Clown, turning his powdered face
4143
from the mirror.
4144
4145
4146
4147
4148
THE LOVE TEST
4149
4150
"If it is true that you love," said Love, "then wait no longer. Give her
4151
these jewels which would dishonour her and so dishonour you in loving
4152
one dishonoured. If it is true that you love," said Love, "then wait no
4153
longer."
4154
4155
I took the jewels and went to her, but she trod upon them, sobbing:
4156
"Teach me to wait--I love you!"
4157
4158
"Then wait, if it is true," said Love.
4159
4160
4161
4162
4163
THE STREET OF THE FOUR WINDS
4164
4165
"Ferme tes yeux à demi,
4166
Croise tes bras sur ton sein,
4167
Et de ton coeur endormi
4168
Chasse à jamais tout dessein."
4169
4170
"Je chante la nature,
4171
Les étoiles du soir, les larmes du matin,
4172
Les couchers de soleil à l'horizon lointain,
4173
Le ciel qui parle au coeur d'existence future!"
4174
4175
4176
I
4177
4178
The animal paused on the threshold, interrogative alert, ready for flight
4179
if necessary. Severn laid down his palette, and held out a hand of
4180
welcome. The cat remained motionless, her yellow eyes fastened upon
4181
Severn.
4182
4183
"Puss," he said, in his low, pleasant voice, "come in."
4184
4185
The tip of her thin tail twitched uncertainly.
4186
4187
"Come in," he said again.
4188
4189
Apparently she found his voice reassuring, for she slowly settled upon all
4190
fours, her eyes still fastened upon him, her tail tucked under her gaunt
4191
flanks.
4192
4193
He rose from his easel smiling. She eyed him quietly, and when he walked
4194
toward her she watched him bend above her without a wince; her eyes
4195
followed his hand until it touched her head. Then she uttered a ragged
4196
mew.
4197
4198
It had long been Severn's custom to converse with animals, probably
4199
because he lived so much alone; and now he said, "What's the matter,
4200
puss?"
4201
4202
Her timid eyes sought his.
4203
4204
"I understand," he said gently, "you shall have it at once."
4205
4206
Then moving quietly about he busied himself with the duties of a host,
4207
rinsed a saucer, filled it with the rest of the milk from the bottle on
4208
the window-sill, and kneeling down, crumbled a roll into the hollow of his
4209
hand.
4210
4211
The creature rose and crept toward the saucer.
4212
4213
With the handle of a palette-knife he stirred the crumbs and milk together
4214
and stepped back as she thrust her nose into the mess. He watched her in
4215
silence. From time to time the saucer clinked upon the tiled floor as she
4216
reached for a morsel on the rim; and at last the bread was all gone, and
4217
her purple tongue travelled over every unlicked spot until the saucer
4218
shone like polished marble. Then she sat up, and coolly turning her back
4219
to him, began her ablutions.
4220
4221
"Keep it up," said Severn, much interested, "you need it."
4222
4223
She flattened one ear, but neither turned nor interrupted her toilet. As
4224
the grime was slowly removed Severn observed that nature had intended her
4225
for a white cat. Her fur had disappeared in patches, from disease or the
4226
chances of war, her tail was bony and her spine sharp. But what charms she
4227
had were becoming apparent under vigorous licking, and he waited until she
4228
had finished before re-opening the conversation. When at last she closed
4229
her eyes and folded her forepaws under her breast, he began again very
4230
gently: "Puss, tell me your troubles."
4231
4232
At the sound of his voice she broke into a harsh rumbling which he
4233
recognized as an attempt to purr. He bent over to rub her cheek and she
4234
mewed again, an amiable inquiring little mew, to which he replied,
4235
"Certainly, you are greatly improved, and when you recover your plumage
4236
you will be a gorgeous bird." Much flattered, she stood up and marched
4237
around and around his legs, pushing her head between them and making
4238
pleased remarks, to which he responded with grave politeness.
4239
4240
"Now, what sent you here," he said--"here into the Street of the Four
4241
Winds, and up five flights to the very door where you would be welcome?
4242
What was it that prevented your meditated flight when I turned from my
4243
canvas to encounter your yellow eyes? Are you a Latin Quarter cat as I am
4244
a Latin Quarter man? And why do you wear a rose-coloured flowered garter
4245
buckled about your neck?" The cat had climbed into his lap, and now sat
4246
purring as he passed his hand over her thin coat.
4247
4248
"Excuse me," he continued in lazy soothing tones, harmonizing with her
4249
purring, "if I seem indelicate, but I cannot help musing on this
4250
rose-coloured garter, flowered so quaintly and fastened with a silver
4251
clasp. For the clasp is silver; I can see the mint mark on the edge, as is
4252
prescribed by the law of the French Republic. Now, why is this garter
4253
woven of rose silk and delicately embroidered,--why is this silken garter
4254
with its silver clasp about your famished throat? Am I indiscreet when I
4255
inquire if its owner is your owner? Is she some aged dame living in memory
4256
of youthful vanities, fond, doting on you, decorating you with her
4257
intimate personal attire? The circumference of the garter would suggest
4258
this, for your neck is thin, and the garter fits you. But then again I
4259
notice--I notice most things--that the garter is capable of being much
4260
enlarged. These small silver-rimmed eyelets, of which I count five, are
4261
proof of that. And now I observe that the fifth eyelet is worn out, as
4262
though the tongue of the clasp were accustomed to lie there. That seems to
4263
argue a well-rounded form."
4264
4265
The cat curled her toes in contentment. The street was very still outside.
4266
4267
He murmured on: "Why should your mistress decorate you with an article
4268
most necessary to her at all times? Anyway, at most times. How did she
4269
come to slip this bit of silk and silver about your neck? Was it the
4270
caprice of a moment,--when you, before you had lost your pristine
4271
plumpness, marched singing into her bedroom to bid her good-morning? Of
4272
course, and she sat up among the pillows, her coiled hair tumbling to her
4273
shoulders, as you sprang upon the bed purring: 'Good-day, my lady.' Oh, it
4274
is very easy to understand," he yawned, resting his head on the back of
4275
the chair. The cat still purred, tightening and relaxing her padded claws
4276
over his knee.
4277
4278
"Shall I tell you all about her, cat? She is very beautiful--your
4279
mistress," he murmured drowsily, "and her hair is heavy as burnished
4280
gold. I could paint her,--not on canvas--for I should need shades and
4281
tones and hues and dyes more splendid than the iris of a splendid rainbow.
4282
I could only paint her with closed eyes, for in dreams alone can such
4283
colours as I need be found. For her eyes, I must have azure from skies
4284
untroubled by a cloud--the skies of dreamland. For her lips, roses from
4285
the palaces of slumberland, and for her brow, snow-drifts from mountains
4286
which tower in fantastic pinnacles to the moons;--oh, much higher than our
4287
moon here,--the crystal moons of dreamland. She is--very--beautiful, your
4288
mistress."
4289
4290
The words died on his lips and his eyelids drooped.
4291
4292
The cat, too, was asleep, her cheek turned up upon her wasted flank, her
4293
paws relaxed and limp.
4294
4295
4296
4297
4298
II
4299
4300
"It is fortunate," said Severn, sitting up and stretching, "that we have
4301
tided over the dinner hour, for I have nothing to offer you for supper but
4302
what may be purchased with one silver franc."
4303
4304
The cat on his knee rose, arched her back, yawned, and looked up at him.
4305
4306
"What shall it be? A roast chicken with salad? No? Possibly you prefer
4307
beef? Of course,--and I shall try an egg and some white bread. Now for the
4308
wines. Milk for you? Good. I shall take a little water, fresh from the
4309
wood," with a motion toward the bucket in the sink.
4310
4311
He put on his hat and left the room. The cat followed to the door, and
4312
after he had closed it behind him, she settled down, smelling at the
4313
cracks, and cocking one ear at every creak from the crazy old building.
4314
4315
The door below opened and shut. The cat looked serious, for a moment
4316
doubtful, and her ears flattened in nervous expectation. Presently she
4317
rose with a jerk of her tail and started on a noiseless tour of the
4318
studio. She sneezed at a pot of turpentine, hastily retreating to the
4319
table, which she presently mounted, and having satisfied her curiosity
4320
concerning a roll of red modelling wax, returned to the door and sat down
4321
with her eyes on the crack over the threshold Then she lifted her voice in
4322
a thin plaint.
4323
4324
When Severn returned he looked grave, but the cat, joyous and
4325
demonstrative, marched around him, rubbing her gaunt body against his
4326
legs, driving her head enthusiastically into his hand, and purring until
4327
her voice mounted to a squeal.
4328
4329
He placed a bit of meat, wrapped in brown paper, upon the table, and with
4330
a penknife cut it into shreds. The milk he took from a bottle which had
4331
served for medicine, and poured it into the saucer on the hearth.
4332
4333
The cat crouched before it, purring and lapping at the same time.
4334
4335
He cooked his egg and ate it with a slice of bread, watching her busy with
4336
the shredded meat, and when he had finished, and had filled and emptied a
4337
cup of water from the bucket in the sink, he sat down, taking her into his
4338
lap, where she at once curled up and began her toilet. He began to speak
4339
again, touching her caressingly at times by way of emphasis.
4340
4341
"Cat, I have found out where your mistress lives. It is not very far
4342
away;--it is here, under this same leaky roof, but in the north wing which
4343
I had supposed was uninhabited. My janitor tells me this. By chance, he is
4344
almost sober this evening. The butcher on the rue de Seine, where I bought
4345
your meat, knows you, and old Cabane the baker identified you with
4346
needless sarcasm. They tell me hard tales of your mistress which I shall
4347
not believe. They say she is idle and vain and pleasure-loving; they say
4348
she is hare-brained and reckless. The little sculptor on the ground floor,
4349
who was buying rolls from old Cabane, spoke to me to-night for the first
4350
time, although we have always bowed to each other. He said she was very
4351
good and very beautiful. He has only seen her once, and does not know her
4352
name. I thanked him;--I don't know why I thanked him so warmly. Cabane
4353
said, 'Into this cursed Street of the Four Winds, the four winds blow all
4354
things evil.' The sculptor looked confused, but when he went out with his
4355
rolls, he said to me, 'I am sure, Monsieur, that she is as good as she is
4356
beautiful.'"
4357
4358
The cat had finished her toilet, and now, springing softly to the floor,
4359
went to the door and sniffed. He knelt beside her, and unclasping the
4360
garter held it for a moment in his hands. After a while he said: "There is
4361
a name engraved upon the silver clasp beneath the buckle. It is a pretty
4362
name, Sylvia Elven. Sylvia is a woman's name, Elven is the name of a town.
4363
In Paris, in this quarter, above all, in this Street of the Four Winds,
4364
names are worn and put away as the fashions change with the seasons. I
4365
know the little town of Elven, for there I met Fate face to face and Fate
4366
was unkind. But do you know that in Elven Fate had another name, and that
4367
name was Sylvia?"
4368
4369
He replaced the garter and stood up looking down at the cat crouched
4370
before the closed door.
4371
4372
"The name of Elven has a charm for me. It tells me of meadows and clear
4373
rivers. The name of Sylvia troubles me like perfume from dead flowers."
4374
4375
The cat mewed.
4376
4377
"Yes, yes," he said soothingly, "I will take you back. Your Sylvia is not
4378
my Sylvia; the world is wide and Elven is not unknown. Yet in the darkness
4379
and filth of poorer Paris, in the sad shadows of this ancient house, these
4380
names are very pleasant to me."
4381
4382
He lifted her in his arms and strode through the silent corridors to the
4383
stairs. Down five flights and into the moonlit court, past the little
4384
sculptor's den, and then again in at the gate of the north wing and up the
4385
worm-eaten stairs he passed, until he came to a closed door. When he had
4386
stood knocking for a long time, something moved behind the door; it opened
4387
and he went in. The room was dark. As he crossed the threshold, the cat
4388
sprang from his arms into the shadows. He listened but heard nothing. The
4389
silence was oppressive and he struck a match. At his elbow stood a table
4390
and on the table a candle in a gilded candlestick. This he lighted, then
4391
looked around. The chamber was vast, the hangings heavy with embroidery.
4392
Over the fireplace towered a carved mantel, grey with the ashes of dead
4393
fires. In a recess by the deep-set windows stood a bed, from which the
4394
bedclothes, soft and fine as lace, trailed to the polished floor. He
4395
lifted the candle above his head. A handkerchief lay at his feet. It was
4396
faintly perfumed. He turned toward the windows. In front of them was a
4397
_canapé_ and over it were flung, pell-mell, a gown of silk, a heap of
4398
lace-like garments, white and delicate as spiders' meshes, long, crumpled
4399
gloves, and, on the floor beneath, the stockings, the little pointed
4400
shoes, and one garter of rosy silk, quaintly flowered and fitted with a
4401
silver clasp. Wondering, he stepped forward and drew the heavy curtains
4402
from the bed. For a moment the candle flared in his hand; then his eyes
4403
met two other eyes, wide open, smiling, and the candle-flame flashed over
4404
hair heavy as gold.
4405
4406
She was pale, but not as white as he; her eyes were untroubled as a
4407
child's; but he stared, trembling from head to foot, while the candle
4408
flickered in his hand.
4409
4410
At last he whispered: "Sylvia, it is I."
4411
4412
Again he said, "It is I."
4413
4414
Then, knowing that she was dead, he kissed her on the mouth. And through
4415
the long watches of the night the cat purred on his knee, tightening and
4416
relaxing her padded claws, until the sky paled above the Street of the
4417
Four Winds.
4418
4419
4420
4421
4422
THE STREET OF THE FIRST SHELL
4423
4424
4425
"Be of Good Cheer, the Sullen Month will die,
4426
And a young Moon requite us by and by:
4427
Look how the Old one, meagre, bent, and wan
4428
With age and Fast, is fainting from the sky."
4429
4430
The room was already dark. The high roofs opposite cut off what little
4431
remained of the December daylight. The girl drew her chair nearer the
4432
window, and choosing a large needle, threaded it, knotting the thread over
4433
her fingers. Then she smoothed the baby garment across her knees, and
4434
bending, bit off the thread and drew the smaller needle from where it
4435
rested in the hem. When she had brushed away the stray threads and bits of
4436
lace, she laid it again over her knees caressingly. Then she slipped the
4437
threaded needle from her corsage and passed it through a button, but as
4438
the button spun down the thread, her hand faltered, the thread snapped,
4439
and the button rolled across the floor. She raised her head. Her eyes were
4440
fixed on a strip of waning light above the chimneys. From somewhere in the
4441
city came sounds like the distant beating of drums, and beyond, far
4442
beyond, a vague muttering, now growing, swelling, rumbling in the distance
4443
like the pounding of surf upon the rocks, now like the surf again,
4444
receding, growling, menacing. The cold had become intense, a bitter
4445
piercing cold which strained and snapped at joist and beam and turned the
4446
slush of yesterday to flint. From the street below every sound broke sharp
4447
and metallic--the clatter of sabots, the rattle of shutters or the rare
4448
sound of a human voice. The air was heavy, weighted with the black cold as
4449
with a pall. To breathe was painful, to move an effort.
4450
4451
In the desolate sky there was something that wearied, in the brooding
4452
clouds, something that saddened. It penetrated the freezing city cut by
4453
the freezing river, the splendid city with its towers and domes, its quays
4454
and bridges and its thousand spires. It entered the squares, it seized the
4455
avenues and the palaces, stole across bridges and crept among the narrow
4456
streets of the Latin Quarter, grey under the grey of the December sky.
4457
Sadness, utter sadness. A fine icy sleet was falling, powdering the
4458
pavement with a tiny crystalline dust. It sifted against the window-panes
4459
and drifted in heaps along the sill. The light at the window had nearly
4460
failed, and the girl bent low over her work. Presently she raised her
4461
head, brushing the curls from her eyes.
4462
4463
"Jack?"
4464
4465
"Dearest?"
4466
4467
"Don't forget to clean your palette."
4468
4469
He said, "All right," and picking up the palette, sat down upon the floor
4470
in front of the stove. His head and shoulders were in the shadow, but the
4471
firelight fell across his knees and glimmered red on the blade of the
4472
palette-knife. Full in the firelight beside him stood a colour-box. On the
4473
lid was carved,
4474
4475
J. TRENT.
4476
Ecole des Beaux Arts.
4477
1870.
4478
4479
This inscription was ornamented with an American and a French flag.
4480
4481
The sleet blew against the window-panes, covering them with stars and
4482
diamonds, then, melting from the warmer air within, ran down and froze
4483
again in fern-like traceries.
4484
4485
A dog whined and the patter of small paws sounded on the zinc behind the
4486
stove.
4487
4488
"Jack, dear, do you think Hercules is hungry?"
4489
4490
The patter of paws was redoubled behind the stove.
4491
4492
"He's whining," she continued nervously, "and if it isn't because he's
4493
hungry it is because--"
4494
4495
Her voice faltered. A loud humming filled the air, the windows vibrated.
4496
4497
"Oh, Jack," she cried, "another--" but her voice was drowned in the scream
4498
of a shell tearing through the clouds overhead.
4499
4500
"That is the nearest yet," she murmured.
4501
4502
"Oh, no," he answered cheerfully, "it probably fell way over by
4503
Montmartre," and as she did not answer, he said again with exaggerated
4504
unconcern, "They wouldn't take the trouble to fire at the Latin Quarter;
4505
anyway they haven't a battery that can hurt it."
4506
4507
After a while she spoke up brightly: "Jack, dear, when are you going to
4508
take me to see Monsieur West's statues?"
4509
4510
"I will bet," he said, throwing down his palette and walking over to the
4511
window beside her, "that Colette has been here to-day."
4512
4513
"Why?" she asked, opening her eyes very wide. Then, "Oh, it's too
4514
bad!--really, men are tiresome when they think they know everything! And I
4515
warn you that if Monsieur West is vain enough to imagine that Colette--"
4516
4517
From the north another shell came whistling and quavering through the sky,
4518
passing above them with long-drawn screech which left the windows singing.
4519
4520
"That," he blurted out, "was too near for comfort."
4521
4522
They were silent for a while, then he spoke again gaily: "Go on, Sylvia,
4523
and wither poor West;" but she only sighed, "Oh, dear, I can never seem to
4524
get used to the shells."
4525
4526
He sat down on the arm of the chair beside her.
4527
4528
Her scissors fell jingling to the floor; she tossed the unfinished frock
4529
after them, and putting both arms about his neck drew him down into her
4530
lap.
4531
4532
"Don't go out to-night, Jack."
4533
4534
He kissed her uplifted face; "You know I must; don't make it hard for me."
4535
4536
"But when I hear the shells and--and know you are out in the city--"
4537
4538
"But they all fall in Montmartre--"
4539
4540
"They may all fall in the Beaux Arts; you said yourself that two struck
4541
the Quai d'Orsay--"
4542
4543
"Mere accident--"
4544
4545
"Jack, have pity on me! Take me with you!"
4546
4547
"And who will there be to get dinner?"
4548
4549
She rose and flung herself on the bed.
4550
4551
"Oh, I can't get used to it, and I know you must go, but I beg you not to
4552
be late to dinner. If you knew what I suffer! I--I--cannot help it, and
4553
you must be patient with me, dear."
4554
4555
He said, "It is as safe there as it is in our own house."
4556
4557
She watched him fill for her the alcohol lamp, and when he had lighted it
4558
and had taken his hat to go, she jumped up and clung to him in silence.
4559
After a moment he said: "Now, Sylvia, remember my courage is sustained by
4560
yours. Come, I must go!" She did not move, and he repeated: "I must go."
4561
Then she stepped back and he thought she was going to speak and waited,
4562
but she only looked at him, and, a little impatiently, he kissed her
4563
again, saying: "Don't worry, dearest."
4564
4565
When he had reached the last flight of stairs on his way to the street a
4566
woman hobbled out of the house-keeper's lodge waving a letter and calling:
4567
"Monsieur Jack! Monsieur Jack! this was left by Monsieur Fallowby!"
4568
4569
He took the letter, and leaning on the threshold of the lodge, read it:
4570
4571
"Dear Jack,
4572
4573
"I believe Braith is dead broke and I'm sure Fallowby is. Braith swears he
4574
isn't, and Fallowby swears he is, so you can draw your own conclusions.
4575
I've got a scheme for a dinner, and if it works, I will let you fellows
4576
in.
4577
4578
"Yours faithfully,
4579
4580
"West.
4581
4582
"P.S.--Fallowby has shaken Hartman and his gang, thank the Lord! There is
4583
something rotten there,--or it may be he's only a miser.
4584
4585
"P.P.S.--I'm more desperately in love than ever, but I'm sure she does not
4586
care a straw for me."
4587
4588
"All right," said Trent, with a smile, to the concierge; "but tell me, how
4589
is Papa Cottard?"
4590
4591
The old woman shook her head and pointed to the curtained bed in the
4592
lodge.
4593
4594
"Père Cottard!" he cried cheerily, "how goes the wound to-day?"
4595
4596
He walked over to the bed and drew the curtains. An old man was lying
4597
among the tumbled sheets.
4598
4599
"Better?" smiled Trent.
4600
4601
"Better," repeated the man wearily; and, after a pause, "Have you any
4602
news, Monsieur Jack?"
4603
4604
"I haven't been out to-day. I will bring you any rumour I may hear, though
4605
goodness knows I've got enough of rumours," he muttered to himself. Then
4606
aloud: "Cheer up; you're looking better."
4607
4608
"And the sortie?"
4609
4610
"Oh, the sortie, that's for this week. General Trochu sent orders last
4611
night."
4612
4613
"It will be terrible."
4614
4615
"It will be sickening," thought Trent as he went not into the street and
4616
turned the corner toward the rue de Seine; "slaughter, slaughter, phew!
4617
I'm glad I'm not going."
4618
4619
The street was almost deserted. A few women muffled in tattered military
4620
capes crept along the frozen pavement, and a wretchedly clad gamin hovered
4621
over the sewer-hole on the corner of the Boulevard. A rope around his
4622
waist held his rags together. From the rope hung a rat, still warm and
4623
bleeding.
4624
4625
"There's another in there," he yelled at Trent; "I hit him but he got
4626
away."
4627
4628
Trent crossed the street and asked: "How much?"
4629
4630
"Two francs for a quarter of a fat one; that's what they give at the St.
4631
Germain Market."
4632
4633
A violent fit of coughing interrupted him, but he wiped his face with the
4634
palm of his hand and looked cunningly at Trent.
4635
4636
"Last week you could buy a rat for six francs, but," and here he swore
4637
vilely, "the rats have quit the rue de Seine and they kill them now over
4638
by the new hospital. I'll let you have this for seven francs; I can sell
4639
it for ten in the Isle St. Louis."
4640
4641
"You lie," said Trent, "and let me tell you that if you try to swindle
4642
anybody in this quarter the people will make short work of you and your
4643
rats."
4644
4645
He stood a moment eyeing the gamin, who pretended to snivel. Then he
4646
tossed him a franc, laughing. The child caught it, and thrusting it into
4647
his mouth wheeled about to the sewer-hole. For a second he crouched,
4648
motionless, alert, his eyes on the bars of the drain, then leaping forward
4649
he hurled a stone into the gutter, and Trent left him to finish a fierce
4650
grey rat that writhed squealing at the mouth of the sewer.
4651
4652
"Suppose Braith should come to that," he thought; "poor little chap;" and
4653
hurrying, he turned in the dirty passage des Beaux Arts and entered the
4654
third house to the left.
4655
4656
"Monsieur is at home," quavered the old concierge.
4657
4658
Home? A garret absolutely bare, save for the iron bedstead in the corner
4659
and the iron basin and pitcher on the floor.
4660
4661
West appeared at the door, winking with much mystery, and motioned Trent
4662
to enter. Braith, who was painting in bed to keep warm, looked up,
4663
laughed, and shook hands.
4664
4665
"Any news?"
4666
4667
The perfunctory question was answered as usual by: "Nothing but the
4668
cannon."
4669
4670
Trent sat down on the bed.
4671
4672
"Where on earth did you get that?" he demanded, pointing to a
4673
half-finished chicken nestling in a wash-basin.
4674
4675
West grinned.
4676
4677
"Are you millionaires, you two? Out with it."
4678
4679
Braith, looking a little ashamed, began, "Oh, it's one of West's
4680
exploits," but was cut short by West, who said he would tell the story
4681
himself.
4682
4683
"You see, before the siege, I had a letter of introduction to a '_type_'
4684
here, a fat banker, German-American variety. You know the species, I see.
4685
Well, of course I forgot to present the letter, but this morning, judging
4686
it to be a favourable opportunity, I called on him.
4687
4688
"The villain lives in comfort;--fires, my boy!--fires in the ante-rooms!
4689
The Buttons finally condescends to carry my letter and card up, leaving me
4690
standing in the hallway, which I did not like, so I entered the first room
4691
I saw and nearly fainted at the sight of a banquet on a table by the fire.
4692
Down comes Buttons, very insolent. No, oh, no, his master, 'is not at
4693
home, and in fact is too busy to receive letters of introduction just now;
4694
the siege, and many business difficulties--'
4695
4696
"I deliver a kick to Buttons, pick up this chicken from the table, toss my
4697
card on to the empty plate, and addressing Buttons as a species of
4698
Prussian pig, march out with the honours of war."
4699
4700
Trent shook his head.
4701
4702
"I forgot to say that Hartman often dines there, and I draw my own
4703
conclusions," continued West. "Now about this chicken, half of it is for
4704
Braith and myself, and half for Colette, but of course you will help me
4705
eat my part because I'm not hungry."
4706
4707
"Neither am I," began Braith, but Trent, with a smile at the pinched faces
4708
before him, shook his head saying, "What nonsense! You know I'm never
4709
hungry!"
4710
4711
West hesitated, reddened, and then slicing off Braith's portion, but not
4712
eating any himself, said good-night, and hurried away to number 470 rue
4713
Serpente, where lived a pretty girl named Colette, orphan after Sedan, and
4714
Heaven alone knew where she got the roses in her cheeks, for the siege
4715
came hard on the poor.
4716
4717
"That chicken will delight her, but I really believe she's in love with
4718
West," said Trent. Then walking over to the bed: "See here, old man, no
4719
dodging, you know, how much have you left?"
4720
4721
The other hesitated and flushed.
4722
4723
"Come, old chap," insisted Trent.
4724
4725
Braith drew a purse from beneath his bolster, and handed it to his friend
4726
with a simplicity that touched him.
4727
4728
"Seven sons," he counted; "you make me tired! Why on earth don't you come
4729
to me? I take it d----d ill, Braith! How many times must I go over the same
4730
thing and explain to you that because I have money it is my duty to share
4731
it, and your duty and the duty of every American to share it with me? You
4732
can't get a cent, the city's blockaded, and the American Minister has his
4733
hands full with all the German riff-raff and deuce knows what! Why don't
4734
you act sensibly?"
4735
4736
"I--I will, Trent, but it's an obligation that perhaps I can never even in
4737
part repay, I'm poor and--"
4738
4739
"Of course you'll pay me! If I were a usurer I would take your talent for
4740
security. When you are rich and famous--"
4741
4742
"Don't, Trent--"
4743
4744
"All right, only no more monkey business."
4745
4746
He slipped a dozen gold pieces into the purse, and tucking it again under
4747
the mattress smiled at Braith.
4748
4749
"How old are you?" he demanded.
4750
4751
"Sixteen."
4752
4753
Trent laid his hand lightly on his friend's shoulder. "I'm twenty-two, and
4754
I have the rights of a grandfather as far as you are concerned. You'll do
4755
as I say until you're twenty-one."
4756
4757
"The siège will be over then, I hope," said Braith, trying to laugh, but
4758
the prayer in their hearts: "How long, O Lord, how long!" was answered by
4759
the swift scream of a shell soaring among the storm-clouds of that
4760
December night.
4761
4762
4763
4764
4765
II
4766
4767
West, standing in the doorway of a house in the rue Serpentine, was
4768
speaking angrily. He said he didn't care whether Hartman liked it or not;
4769
he was telling him, not arguing with him.
4770
4771
"You call yourself an American!" he sneered; "Berlin and hell are full of
4772
that kind of American. You come loafing about Colette with your pockets
4773
stuffed with white bread and beef, and a bottle of wine at thirty francs
4774
and you can't really afford to give a dollar to the American Ambulance and
4775
Public Assistance, which Braith does, and he's half starved!"
4776
4777
Hartman retreated to the curbstone, but West followed him, his face like a
4778
thunder-cloud. "Don't you dare to call yourself a countryman of mine," he
4779
growled,--"no,--nor an artist either! Artists don't worm themselves into
4780
the service of the Public Defence where they do nothing but feed like rats
4781
on the people's food! And I'll tell you now," he continued dropping his
4782
voice, for Hartman had started as though stung, "you might better keep
4783
away from that Alsatian Brasserie and the smug-faced thieves who haunt it.
4784
You know what they do with suspects!"
4785
4786
"You lie, you hound!" screamed Hartman, and flung the bottle in his hand
4787
straight at West's face. West had him by the throat in a second, and
4788
forcing him against the dead wall shook him wickedly.
4789
4790
"Now you listen to me," he muttered, through his clenched teeth. "You are
4791
already a suspect and--I swear--I believe you are a paid spy! It isn't my
4792
business to detect such vermin, and I don't intend to denounce you, but
4793
understand this! Colette don't like you and I can't stand you, and if I
4794
catch you in this street again I'll make it somewhat unpleasant. Get out,
4795
you sleek Prussian!"
4796
4797
Hartman had managed to drag a knife from his pocket, but West tore it from
4798
him and hurled him into the gutter. A gamin who had seen this burst into a
4799
peal of laughter, which rattled harshly in the silent street. Then
4800
everywhere windows were raised and rows of haggard faces appeared
4801
demanding to know why people should laugh in the starving city.
4802
4803
"Is it a victory?" murmured one.
4804
4805
"Look at that," cried West as Hartman picked himself up from the pavement,
4806
"look! you miser! look at those faces!" But Hartman gave _him_ a look
4807
which he never forgot, and walked away without a word. Trent, who suddenly
4808
appeared at the corner, glanced curiously at West, who merely nodded
4809
toward his door saying, "Come in; Fallowby's upstairs."
4810
4811
"What are you doing with that knife?" demanded Fallowby, as he and Trent
4812
entered the studio.
4813
4814
West looked at his wounded hand, which still clutched the knife, but
4815
saying, "Cut myself by accident," tossed it into a corner and washed the
4816
blood from his fingers.
4817
4818
Fallowby, fat and lazy, watched him without comment, but Trent, half
4819
divining how things had turned, walked over to Fallowby smiling.
4820
4821
"I've a bone to pick with you!" he said.
4822
4823
"Where is it? I'm hungry," replied Fallowby with affected eagerness, but
4824
Trent, frowning, told him to listen.
4825
4826
"How much did I advance you a week ago?"
4827
4828
"Three hundred and eighty francs," replied the other, with a squirm of
4829
contrition.
4830
4831
"Where is it?"
4832
4833
Fallowby began a series of intricate explanations, which were soon cut
4834
short by Trent.
4835
4836
"I know; you blew it in;--you always blow it in. I don't care a rap what
4837
you did before the siege: I know you are rich and have a right to dispose
4838
of your money as you wish to, and I also know that, generally speaking, it
4839
is none of my business. But _now_ it is my business, as I have to supply
4840
the funds until you get some more, which you won't until the siege is
4841
ended one way or another. I wish to share what I have, but I won't see it
4842
thrown out of the window. Oh, yes, of course I know you will reimburse me,
4843
but that isn't the question; and, anyway, it's the opinion of your
4844
friends, old man, that you will not be worse off for a little abstinence
4845
from fleshly pleasures. You are positively a freak in this famine-cursed
4846
city of skeletons!"
4847
4848
"I _am_ rather stout," he admitted.
4849
4850
"Is it true you are out of money?" demanded Trent.
4851
4852
"Yes, I am," sighed the other.
4853
4854
"That roast sucking pig on the rue St. Honoré,--is it there yet?"
4855
continued Trent.
4856
4857
"Wh--at?" stammered the feeble one.
4858
4859
"Ah--I thought so! I caught you in ecstasy before that sucking pig at
4860
least a dozen times!"
4861
4862
Then laughing, he presented Fallowby with a roll of twenty franc pieces
4863
saying: "If these go for luxuries you must live on your own flesh," and
4864
went over to aid West, who sat beside the wash-basin binding up his hand.
4865
4866
West suffered him to tie the knot, and then said: "You remember,
4867
yesterday, when I left you and Braith to take the chicken to Colette."
4868
4869
"Chicken! Good heavens!" moaned Fallowby.
4870
4871
"Chicken," repeated West, enjoying Fallowby's grief;--"I--that is, I must
4872
explain that things are changed. Colette and I--are to be married--"
4873