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The King In Yellow
Robert W. Chambers
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Title: The King In Yellow
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THE KING IN YELLOW
BY
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ROBERT W. CHAMBERS
Original publication date: 1895
THE KING IN YELLOW
IS DEDICATED
TO
MY BROTHER
Along the shore the cloud waves break,
The twin suns sink beneath the lake,
The shadows lengthen
In Carcosa.
Strange is the night where black stars rise,
And strange moons circle through the skies
But stranger still is
Lost Carcosa.
Songs that the Hyades shall sing,
Where flap the tatters of the King,
Must die unheard in
Dim Carcosa.
Song of my soul, my voice is dead;
Die thou, unsung, as tears unshed
Shall dry and die in
Lost Carcosa.
Cassilda's Song in "The King in Yellow," Act i, Scene 2.
THE REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS
I
"Ne raillons pas les fous; leur folie dure plus longtemps que
la notre.... Voila toute la difference."
Toward the end of the year 1920 the Government of the United States had
practically completed the programme, adopted during the last months of
President Winthrop's administration. The country was apparently tranquil.
Everybody knows how the Tariff and Labour questions were settled. The war
with Germany, incident on that country's seizure of the Samoan Islands,
had left no visible scars upon the republic, and the temporary occupation
of Norfolk by the invading army had been forgotten in the joy over
repeated naval victories, and the subsequent ridiculous plight of General
Von Gartenlaube's forces in the State of New Jersey. The Cuban and
Hawaiian investments had paid one hundred per cent and the territory of
Samoa was well worth its cost as a coaling station. The country was in a
ads:
superb state of defence. Every coast city had been well supplied with land
fortifications; the army under the parental eye of the General Staff,
organized according to the Prussian system, had been increased to 300,000
men, with a territorial reserve of a million; and six magnificent
squadrons of cruisers and battle-ships patrolled the six stations of the
navigable seas, leaving a steam reserve amply fitted to control home
waters. The gentlemen from the West had at last been constrained to
acknowledge that a college for the training of diplomats was as necessary
as law schools are for the training of barristers; consequently we were no
longer represented abroad by incompetent patriots. The nation was
prosperous; Chicago, for a moment paralyzed after a second great fire, had
risen from its ruins, white and imperial, and more beautiful than the white
city which had been built for its plaything in 1893. Everywhere good
architecture was replacing bad, and even in New York, a sudden craving for
decency had swept away a great portion of the existing horrors. Streets
had been widened, properly paved and lighted, trees had been planted,
squares laid out, elevated structures demolished and underground roads
built to replace them. The new government buildings and barracks were fine
bits of architecture, and the long system of stone quays which completely
surrounded the island had been turned into parks which proved a god-send
to the population. The subsidizing of the state theatre and state opera
brought its own reward. The United States National Academy of Design was
much like European institutions of the same kind. Nobody envied the
Secretary of Fine Arts, either his cabinet position or his portfolio. The
Secretary of Forestry and Game Preservation had a much easier time, thanks
to the new system of National Mounted Police. We had profited well by the
latest treaties with France and England; the exclusion of foreign-born
Jews as a measure of self-preservation, the settlement of the new
independent negro state of Suanee, the checking of immigration, the new
laws concerning naturalization, and the gradual centralization of power in
the executive all contributed to national calm and prosperity. When the
Government solved the Indian problem and squadrons of Indian cavalry
scouts in native costume were substituted for the pitiable organizations
tacked on to the tail of skeletonized regiments by a former Secretary of
War, the nation drew a long sigh of relief. When, after the colossal
Congress of Religions, bigotry and intolerance were laid in their graves
and kindness and charity began to draw warring sects together, many
thought the millennium had arrived, at least in the new world which after
all is a world by itself.
But self-preservation is the first law, and the United States had to look
on in helpless sorrow as Germany, Italy, Spain and Belgium writhed in the
throes of Anarchy, while Russia, watching from the Caucasus, stooped and
bound them one by one.
In the city of New York the summer of 1899 was signalized by the
dismantling of the Elevated Railroads. The summer of 1900 will live in
the memories of New York people for many a cycle; the Dodge Statue was
removed in that year. In the following winter began that agitation for
the repeal of the laws prohibiting suicide which bore its final fruit in
the month of April, 1920, when the first Government Lethal Chamber was
opened on Washington Square.
I had walked down that day from Dr. Archer's house on Madison Avenue,
where I had been as a mere formality. Ever since that fall from my horse,
four years before, I had been troubled at times with pains in the back of
my head and neck, but now for months they had been absent, and the doctor
sent me away that day saying there was nothing more to be cured in me. It
was hardly worth his fee to be told that; I knew it myself. Still I did
not grudge him the money. What I minded was the mistake which he made at
first. When they picked me up from the pavement where I lay unconscious,
and somebody had mercifully sent a bullet through my horse's head, I was
carried to Dr. Archer, and he, pronouncing my brain affected, placed me
in his private asylum where I was obliged to endure treatment for
insanity. At last he decided that I was well, and I, knowing that my mind
had always been as sound as his, if not sounder, "paid my tuition" as he
jokingly called it, and left. I told him, smiling, that I would get even
with him for his mistake, and he laughed heartily, and asked me to call
once in a while. I did so, hoping for a chance to even up accounts, but
he gave me none, and I told him I would wait.
The fall from my horse had fortunately left no evil results; on the
contrary it had changed my whole character for the better. From a lazy
young man about town, I had become active, energetic, temperate, and
above all--oh, above all else--ambitious. There was only one thing which
troubled me, I laughed at my own uneasiness, and yet it troubled me.
During my convalescence I had bought and read for the first time, _The
King in Yellow_. I remember after finishing the first act that it
occurred to me that I had better stop. I started up and flung the book
into the fireplace; the volume struck the barred grate and fell open on
the hearth in the firelight. If I had not caught a glimpse of the opening
words in the second act I should never have finished it, but as I stooped
to pick it up, my eyes became riveted to the open page, and with a cry of
terror, or perhaps it was of joy so poignant that I suffered in every
nerve, I snatched the thing out of the coals and crept shaking to my
bedroom, where I read it and reread it, and wept and laughed and trembled
with a horror which at times assails me yet. This is the thing that
troubles me, for I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the
heavens; where the shadows of men's thoughts lengthen in the afternoon,
when the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for
ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as
the writer has cursed the world with this beautiful, stupendous creation,
terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth--a world which now
trembles before the King in Yellow. When the French Government seized the
translated copies which had just arrived in Paris, London, of course,
became eager to read it. It is well known how the book spread like an
infectious disease, from city to city, from continent to continent,
barred out here, confiscated there, denounced by Press and pulpit,
censured even by the most advanced of literary anarchists. No definite
principles had been violated in those wicked pages, no doctrine
promulgated, no convictions outraged. It could not be judged by any known
standard, yet, although it was acknowledged that the supreme note of art
had been struck in _The King in Yellow_, all felt that human nature
could not bear the strain, nor thrive on words in which the essence of
purest poison lurked. The very banality and innocence of the first act
only allowed the blow to fall afterward with more awful effect.
It was, I remember, the 13th day of April, 1920, that the first
Government Lethal Chamber was established on the south side of Washington
Square, between Wooster Street and South Fifth Avenue. The block which
had formerly consisted of a lot of shabby old buildings, used as cafes
and restaurants for foreigners, had been acquired by the Government in
the winter of 1898. The French and Italian cafes and restaurants were
torn down; the whole block was enclosed by a gilded iron railing, and
converted into a lovely garden with lawns, flowers and fountains. In the
centre of the garden stood a small, white building, severely classical in
architecture, and surrounded by thickets of flowers. Six Ionic columns
supported the roof, and the single door was of bronze. A splendid marble
group of the "Fates" stood before the door, the work of a young American
sculptor, Boris Yvain, who had died in Paris when only twenty-three years
old.
The inauguration ceremonies were in progress as I crossed University
Place and entered the square. I threaded my way through the silent throng
of spectators, but was stopped at Fourth Street by a cordon of police. A
regiment of United States lancers were drawn up in a hollow square round
the Lethal Chamber. On a raised tribune facing Washington Park stood the
Governor of New York, and behind him were grouped the Mayor of New
York and Brooklyn, the Inspector-General of Police, the Commandant of
the state troops, Colonel Livingston, military aid to the President of the
United States, General Blount, commanding at Governor's Island,
Major-General Hamilton, commanding the garrison of New York and Brooklyn,
Admiral Buffby of the fleet in the North River, Surgeon-General
Lanceford, the staff of the National Free Hospital, Senators Wyse and
Franklin of New York, and the Commissioner of Public Works. The tribune
was surrounded by a squadron of hussars of the National Guard.
The Governor was finishing his reply to the short speech of the
Surgeon-General. I heard him say: "The laws prohibiting suicide and
providing punishment for any attempt at self-destruction have been
repealed. The Government has seen fit to acknowledge the right of man to
end an existence which may have become intolerable to him, through
physical suffering or mental despair. It is believed that the community
will be benefited by the removal of such people from their midst. Since
the passage of this law, the number of suicides in the United States has
not increased. Now the Government has determined to establish a Lethal
Chamber in every city, town and village in the country, it remains to be
seen whether or not that class of human creatures from whose desponding
ranks new victims of self-destruction fall daily will accept the relief
thus provided." He paused, and turned to the white Lethal Chamber. The
silence in the street was absolute. "There a painless death awaits him
who can no longer bear the sorrows of this life. If death is welcome let
him seek it there." Then quickly turning to the military aid of the
President's household, he said, "I declare the Lethal Chamber open," and
again facing the vast crowd he cried in a clear voice: "Citizens of New
York and of the United States of America, through me the Government
declares the Lethal Chamber to be open."
The solemn hush was broken by a sharp cry of command, the squadron of
hussars filed after the Governor's carriage, the lancers wheeled and
formed along Fifth Avenue to wait for the commandant of the garrison, and
the mounted police followed them. I left the crowd to gape and stare at
the white marble Death Chamber, and, crossing South Fifth Avenue, walked
along the western side of that thoroughfare to Bleecker Street. Then I
turned to the right and stopped before a dingy shop which bore the sign:
HAWBERK, ARMOURER.
I glanced in at the doorway and saw Hawberk busy in his little shop at
the end of the hall. He looked up, and catching sight of me cried in his
deep, hearty voice, "Come in, Mr. Castaigne!" Constance, his daughter,
rose to meet me as I crossed the threshold, and held out her pretty
hand, but I saw the blush of disappointment on her cheeks, and knew
that it was another Castaigne she had expected, my cousin Louis. I
smiled at her confusion and complimented her on the banner she was
embroidering from a coloured plate. Old Hawberk sat riveting the worn
greaves of some ancient suit of armour, and the ting! ting! ting! of his
little hammer sounded pleasantly in the quaint shop. Presently he
dropped his hammer, and fussed about for a moment with a tiny wrench.
The soft clash of the mail sent a thrill of pleasure through me. I
loved to hear the music of steel brushing against steel, the mellow
shock of the mallet on thigh pieces, and the jingle of chain armour.
That was the only reason I went to see Hawberk. He had never interested
me personally, nor did Constance, except for the fact of her being in
love with Louis. This did occupy my attention, and sometimes even kept
me awake at night. But I knew in my heart that all would come right,
and that I should arrange their future as I expected to arrange that of
my kind doctor, John Archer. However, I should never have troubled
myself about visiting them just then, had it not been, as I say, that
the music of the tinkling hammer had for me this strong fascination. I
would sit for hours, listening and listening, and when a stray sunbeam
struck the inlaid steel, the sensation it gave me was almost too keen
to endure. My eyes would become fixed, dilating with a pleasure that
stretched every nerve almost to breaking, until some movement of the
old armourer cut off the ray of sunlight, then, still thrilling
secretly, I leaned back and listened again to the sound of the
polishing rag, swish! swish! rubbing rust from the rivets.
Constance worked with the embroidery over her knees, now and then pausing
to examine more closely the pattern in the coloured plate from the
Metropolitan Museum.
"Who is this for?" I asked.
Hawberk explained, that in addition to the treasures of armour in the
Metropolitan Museum of which he had been appointed armourer, he also
had charge of several collections belonging to rich amateurs. This was the
missing greave of a famous suit which a client of his had traced to a
little shop in Paris on the Quai d'Orsay. He, Hawberk, had negotiated for
and secured the greave, and now the suit was complete. He laid down his
hammer and read me the history of the suit, traced since 1450 from owner
to owner until it was acquired by Thomas Stainbridge. When his superb
collection was sold, this client of Hawberk's bought the suit, and since
then the search for the missing greave had been pushed until it was,
almost by accident, located in Paris.
"Did you continue the search so persistently without any certainty of the
greave being still in existence?" I demanded.
"Of course," he replied coolly.
Then for the first time I took a personal interest in Hawberk.
"It was worth something to you," I ventured.
"No," he replied, laughing, "my pleasure in finding it was my reward."
"Have you no ambition to be rich?" I asked, smiling.
"My one ambition is to be the best armourer in the world," he answered
gravely.
Constance asked me if I had seen the ceremonies at the Lethal Chamber.
She herself had noticed cavalry passing up Broadway that morning, and had
wished to see the inauguration, but her father wanted the banner
finished, and she had stayed at his request.
"Did you see your cousin, Mr. Castaigne, there?" she asked, with the
slightest tremor of her soft eyelashes.
"No," I replied carelessly. "Louis' regiment is manoeuvring out in
Westchester County." I rose and picked up my hat and cane.
"Are you going upstairs to see the lunatic again?" laughed old Hawberk.
If Hawberk knew how I loathe that word "lunatic," he would never use it
in my presence. It rouses certain feelings within me which I do not care
to explain. However, I answered him quietly: "I think I shall drop in and
see Mr. Wilde for a moment or two."
"Poor fellow," said Constance, with a shake of the head, "it must be hard
to live alone year after year poor, crippled and almost demented. It is
very good of you, Mr. Castaigne, to visit him as often as you do."
"I think he is vicious," observed Hawberk, beginning again with his
hammer. I listened to the golden tinkle on the greave plates; when he had
finished I replied:
"No, he is not vicious, nor is he in the least demented. His mind is a
wonder chamber, from which he can extract treasures that you and I would
give years of our life to acquire."'
Hawberk laughed.
I continued a little impatiently: "He knows history as no one else could
know it. Nothing, however trivial, escapes his search, and his memory is
so absolute, so precise in details, that were it known in New York that
such a man existed, the people could not honour him enough."
"Nonsense," muttered Hawberk, searching on the floor for a fallen rivet.
"Is it nonsense," I asked, managing to suppress what I felt, "is it
nonsense when he says that the tassets and cuissards of the enamelled
suit of armour commonly known as the 'Prince's Emblazoned' can be found
among a mass of rusty theatrical properties, broken stoves and
ragpicker's refuse in a garret in Pell Street?"
Hawberk's hammer fell to the ground, but he picked it up and asked, with
a great deal of calm, how I knew that the tassets and left cuissard were
missing from the "Prince's Emblazoned."
"I did not know until Mr. Wilde mentioned it to me the other day. He said
they were in the garret of 998 Pell Street."
"Nonsense," he cried, but I noticed his hand trembling under his leathern
apron.
"Is this nonsense too?" I asked pleasantly, "is it nonsense when Mr.
Wilde continually speaks of you as the Marquis of Avonshire and of Miss
Constance--"
I did not finish, for Constance had started to her feet with terror
written on every feature. Hawberk looked at me and slowly smoothed his
leathern apron.
"That is impossible," he observed, "Mr. Wilde may know a great many
things--"
"About armour, for instance, and the 'Prince's Emblazoned,'" I
interposed, smiling.
"Yes," he continued, slowly, "about armour also--may be--but he is wrong
in regard to the Marquis of Avonshire, who, as you know, killed his
wife's traducer years ago, and went to Australia where he did not long
survive his wife."
"Mr. Wilde is wrong," murmured Constance. Her lips were blanched, but her
voice was sweet and calm.
"Let us agree, if you please, that in this one circumstance Mr. Wilde is
wrong," I said.
II
I climbed the three dilapidated flights of stairs, which I had so often
climbed before, and knocked at a small door at the end of the corridor.
Mr. Wilde opened the door and I walked in.
When he had double-locked the door and pushed a heavy chest against it,
he came and sat down beside me, peering up into my face with his little
light-coloured eyes. Half a dozen new scratches covered his nose and
cheeks, and the silver wires which supported his artificial ears had
become displaced. I thought I had never seen him so hideously
fascinating. He had no ears. The artificial ones, which now stood out at
an angle from the fine wire, were his one weakness. They were made of wax
and painted a shell pink, but the rest of his face was yellow. He might
better have revelled in the luxury of some artificial fingers for his
left hand, which was absolutely fingerless, but it seemed to cause him no
inconvenience, and he was satisfied with his wax ears. He was very small,
scarcely higher than a child of ten, but his arms were magnificently
developed, and his thighs as thick as any athlete's. Still, the most
remarkable thing about Mr. Wilde was that a man of his marvellous
intelligence and knowledge should have such a head. It was flat and
pointed, like the heads of many of those unfortunates whom people
imprison in asylums for the weak-minded. Many called him insane, but I
knew him to be as sane as I was.
I do not deny that he was eccentric; the mania he had for keeping that
cat and teasing her until she flew at his face like a demon, was
certainly eccentric. I never could understand why he kept the creature,
nor what pleasure he found in shutting himself up in his room with this
surly, vicious beast. I remember once, glancing up from the manuscript I
was studying by the light of some tallow dips, and seeing Mr. Wilde
squatting motionless on his high chair, his eyes fairly blazing with
excitement, while the cat, which had risen from her place before the
stove, came creeping across the floor right at him. Before I could move
she flattened her belly to the ground, crouched, trembled, and sprang
into his face. Howling and foaming they rolled over and over on the
floor, scratching and clawing, until the cat screamed and fled under the
cabinet, and Mr. Wilde turned over on his back, his limbs contracting and
curling up like the legs of a dying spider. He _was_ eccentric.
Mr. Wilde had climbed into his high chair, and, after studying my face,
picked up a dog's-eared ledger and opened it.
"Henry B. Matthews," he read, "book-keeper with Whysot Whysot and
Company, dealers in church ornaments. Called April 3rd. Reputation
damaged on the race-track. Known as a welcher. Reputation to be repaired
by August 1st. Retainer Five Dollars." He turned the page and ran his
fingerless knuckles down the closely-written columns.
"P. Greene Dusenberry, Minister of the Gospel, Fairbeach, New Jersey.
Reputation damaged in the Bowery. To be repaired as soon as possible.
Retainer $100."
He coughed and added, "Called, April 6th."
"Then you are not in need of money, Mr. Wilde," I inquired.
"Listen," he coughed again.
"Mrs. C. Hamilton Chester, of Chester Park, New York City. Called April
7th. Reputation damaged at Dieppe, France. To be repaired by October 1st
Retainer $500.
"Note.--C. Hamilton Chester, Captain U.S.S. 'Avalanche', ordered home
from South Sea Squadron October 1st."
"Well," I said, "the profession of a Repairer of Reputations is
lucrative."
His colourless eyes sought mine, "I only wanted to demonstrate that I
was correct. You said it was impossible to succeed as a Repairer of
Reputations; that even if I did succeed in certain cases it would cost
me more than I would gain by it. To-day I have five hundred men in my
employ, who are poorly paid, but who pursue the work with an enthusiasm
which possibly may be born of fear. These men enter every shade and grade
of society; some even are pillars of the most exclusive social temples;
others are the prop and pride of the financial world; still others, hold
undisputed sway among the 'Fancy and the Talent.' I choose them at my
leisure from those who reply to my advertisements. It is easy enough,
they are all cowards. I could treble the number in twenty days if I
wished. So you see, those who have in their keeping the reputations of
their fellow-citizens, I have in my pay."
"They may turn on you," I suggested.
He rubbed his thumb over his cropped ears, and adjusted the wax
substitutes. "I think not," he murmured thoughtfully, "I seldom have to
apply the whip, and then only once. Besides they like their wages."
"How do you apply the whip?" I demanded.
His face for a moment was awful to look upon. His eyes dwindled to a pair
of green sparks.
"I invite them to come and have a little chat with me," he said in a soft
voice.
A knock at the door interrupted him, and his face resumed its amiable
expression.
"Who is it?" he inquired.
"Mr. Steylette," was the answer.
"Come to-morrow," replied Mr. Wilde.
"Impossible," began the other, but was silenced by a sort of bark from
Mr. Wilde.
"Come to-morrow," he repeated.
We heard somebody move away from the door and turn the corner by the
stairway.
"Who is that?" I asked.
"Arnold Steylette, Owner and Editor in Chief of the great New York
daily."
He drummed on the ledger with his fingerless hand adding: "I pay him very
badly, but he thinks it a good bargain."
"Arnold Steylette!" I repeated amazed.
"Yes," said Mr. Wilde, with a self-satisfied cough.
The cat, which had entered the room as he spoke, hesitated, looked up at
him and snarled. He climbed down from the chair and squatting on the
floor, took the creature into his arms and caressed her. The cat ceased
snarling and presently began a loud purring which seemed to increase in
timbre as he stroked her. "Where are the notes?" I asked. He pointed to
the table, and for the hundredth time I picked up the bundle of
manuscript entitled--
"THE IMPERIAL DYNASTY OF AMERICA."
One by one I studied the well-worn pages, worn only by my own handling,
and although I knew all by heart, from the beginning, "When from Carcosa,
the Hyades, Hastur, and Aldebaran," to "Castaigne, Louis de Calvados,
born December 19th, 1877," I read it with an eager, rapt attention,
pausing to repeat parts of it aloud, and dwelling especially on "Hildred
de Calvados, only son of Hildred Castaigne and Edythe Landes Castaigne,
first in succession," etc., etc.
When I finished, Mr. Wilde nodded and coughed.
"Speaking of your legitimate ambition," he said, "how do Constance and
Louis get along?"
"She loves him," I replied simply.
The cat on his knee suddenly turned and struck at his eyes, and he flung
her off and climbed on to the chair opposite me.
"And Dr. Archer! But that's a matter you can settle any time you wish,"
he added.
"Yes," I replied, "Dr. Archer can wait, but it is time I saw my cousin
Louis."
"It is time," he repeated. Then he took another ledger from the table and
ran over the leaves rapidly. "We are now in communication with ten
thousand men," he muttered. "We can count on one hundred thousand within
the first twenty-eight hours, and in forty-eight hours the state will
rise _en masse_. The country follows the state, and the portion that
will not, I mean California and the Northwest, might better never have
been inhabited. I shall not send them the Yellow Sign."
The blood rushed to my head, but I only answered, "A new broom sweeps
clean."
"The ambition of Caesar and of Napoleon pales before that which could not
rest until it had seized the minds of men and controlled even their
unborn thoughts," said Mr. Wilde.
"You are speaking of the King in Yellow," I groaned, with a shudder.
"He is a king whom emperors have served."
"I am content to serve him," I replied.
Mr. Wilde sat rubbing his ears with his crippled hand. "Perhaps Constance
does not love him," he suggested.
I started to reply, but a sudden burst of military music from the street
below drowned my voice. The twentieth dragoon regiment, formerly in
garrison at Mount St. Vincent, was returning from the manoeuvres in
Westchester County, to its new barracks on East Washington Square. It was
my cousin's regiment. They were a fine lot of fellows, in their pale
blue, tight-fitting jackets, jaunty busbys and white riding breeches with
the double yellow stripe, into which their limbs seemed moulded. Every
other squadron was armed with lances, from the metal points of which
fluttered yellow and white pennons. The band passed, playing the
regimental march, then came the colonel and staff, the horses crowding
and trampling, while their heads bobbed in unison, and the pennons
fluttered from their lance points. The troopers, who rode with the
beautiful English seat, looked brown as berries from their bloodless
campaign among the farms of Westchester, and the music of their sabres
against the stirrups, and the jingle of spurs and carbines was delightful
to me. I saw Louis riding with his squadron. He was as handsome an
officer as I have ever seen. Mr. Wilde, who had mounted a chair by the
window, saw him too, but said nothing. Louis turned and looked straight
at Hawberk's shop as he passed, and I could see the flush on his brown
cheeks. I think Constance must have been at the window. When the last
troopers had clattered by, and the last pennons vanished into South Fifth
Avenue, Mr. Wilde clambered out of his chair and dragged the chest away
from the door.
"Yes," he said, "it is time that you saw your cousin Louis."
He unlocked the door and I picked up my hat and stick and stepped into
the corridor. The stairs were dark. Groping about, I set my foot on
something soft, which snarled and spit, and I aimed a murderous blow at
the cat, but my cane shivered to splinters against the balustrade, and
the beast scurried back into Mr. Wilde's room.
Passing Hawberk's door again I saw him still at work on the armour, but
I did not stop, and stepping out into Bleecker Street, I followed it to
Wooster, skirted the grounds of the Lethal Chamber, and crossing
Washington Park went straight to my rooms in the Benedick. Here I lunched
comfortably, read the _Herald_ and the _Meteor_, and finally went
to the steel safe in my bedroom and set the time combination. The
three and three-quarter minutes which it is necessary to wait, while the
time lock is opening, are to me golden moments. From the instant I set
the combination to the moment when I grasp the knobs and swing back
the solid steel doors, I live in an ecstasy of expectation. Those moments
must be like moments passed in Paradise. I know what I am to find at
the end of the time limit. I know what the massive safe holds secure for
me, for me alone, and the exquisite pleasure of waiting is hardly enhanced
when the safe opens and I lift, from its velvet crown, a diadem of purest
gold, blazing with diamonds. I do this every day, and yet the joy of
waiting and at last touching again the diadem, only seems to increase as
the days pass. It is a diadem fit for a King among kings, an Emperor
among emperors. The King in Yellow might scorn it, but it shall be worn
by his royal servant.
I held it in my arms until the alarm in the safe rang harshly, and then
tenderly, proudly, I replaced it and shut the steel doors. I walked
slowly back into my study, which faces Washington Square, and leaned on
the window sill. The afternoon sun poured into my windows, and a gentle
breeze stirred the branches of the elms and maples in the park, now
covered with buds and tender foliage. A flock of pigeons circled about
the tower of the Memorial Church; sometimes alighting on the purple tiled
roof, sometimes wheeling downward to the lotos fountain in front of the
marble arch. The gardeners were busy with the flower beds around the
fountain, and the freshly turned earth smelled sweet and spicy. A lawn
mower, drawn by a fat white horse, clinked across the green sward, and
watering-carts poured showers of spray over the asphalt drives. Around
the statue of Peter Stuyvesant, which in 1897 had replaced the
monstrosity supposed to represent Garibaldi, children played in the
spring sunshine, and nurse girls wheeled elaborate baby carriages with a
reckless disregard for the pasty-faced occupants, which could probably be
explained by the presence of half a dozen trim dragoon troopers languidly
lolling on the benches. Through the trees, the Washington Memorial Arch
glistened like silver in the sunshine, and beyond, on the eastern
extremity of the square the grey stone barracks of the dragoons, and the
white granite artillery stables were alive with colour and motion.
I looked at the Lethal Chamber on the corner of the square opposite. A
few curious people still lingered about the gilded iron railing, but
inside the grounds the paths were deserted. I watched the fountains
ripple and sparkle; the sparrows had already found this new bathing nook,
and the basins were covered with the dusty-feathered little things. Two
or three white peacocks picked their way across the lawns, and a drab
coloured pigeon sat so motionless on the arm of one of the "Fates," that
it seemed to be a part of the sculptured stone.
As I was turning carelessly away, a slight commotion in the group of
curious loiterers around the gates attracted my attention. A young man
had entered, and was advancing with nervous strides along the gravel path
which leads to the bronze doors of the Lethal Chamber. He paused a moment
before the "Fates," and as he raised his head to those three mysterious
faces, the pigeon rose from its sculptured perch, circled about for a
moment and wheeled to the east. The young man pressed his hand to his
face, and then with an undefinable gesture sprang up the marble steps,
the bronze doors closed behind him, and half an hour later the loiterers
slouched away, and the frightened pigeon returned to its perch in the
arms of Fate.
I put on my hat and went out into the park for a little walk before
dinner. As I crossed the central driveway a group of officers passed, and
one of them called out, "Hello, Hildred," and came back to shake hands
with me. It was my cousin Louis, who stood smiling and tapping his
spurred heels with his riding-whip.
"Just back from Westchester," he said; "been doing the bucolic; milk and
curds, you know, dairy-maids in sunbonnets, who say 'haeow' and 'I don't
think' when you tell them they are pretty. I'm nearly dead for a square
meal at Delmonico's. What's the news?"
"There is none," I replied pleasantly. "I saw your regiment coming in this
morning."
"Did you? I didn't see you. Where were you?"
"In Mr. Wilde's window."
"Oh, hell!" he began impatiently, "that man is stark mad! I don't
understand why you--"
He saw how annoyed I felt by this outburst, and begged my pardon.
"Really, old chap," he said, "I don't mean to run down a man you like,
but for the life of me I can't see what the deuce you find in common with
Mr. Wilde. He's not well bred, to put it generously; he is hideously
deformed; his head is the head of a criminally insane person. You know
yourself he's been in an asylum--"
"So have I," I interrupted calmly.
Louis looked startled and confused for a moment, but recovered and
slapped me heartily on the shoulder. "You were completely cured," he
began; but I stopped him again.
"I suppose you mean that I was simply acknowledged never to have been
insane."
"Of course that--that's what I meant," he laughed.
I disliked his laugh because I knew it was forced, but I nodded gaily and
asked him where he was going. Louis looked after his brother officers who
had now almost reached Broadway.
"We had intended to sample a Brunswick cocktail, but to tell you the
truth I was anxious for an excuse to go and see Hawberk instead. Come
along, I'll make you my excuse."
We found old Hawberk, neatly attired in a fresh spring suit, standing at
the door of his shop and sniffing the air.
"I had just decided to take Constance for a little stroll before dinner,"
he replied to the impetuous volley of questions from Louis. "We thought
of walking on the park terrace along the North River."
At that moment Constance appeared and grew pale and rosy by turns as
Louis bent over her small gloved fingers. I tried to excuse myself,
alleging an engagement uptown, but Louis and Constance would not listen,
and I saw I was expected to remain and engage old Hawberk's attention.
After all it would be just as well if I kept my eye on Louis, I thought,
and when they hailed a Spring Street horse-car, I got in after them and
took my seat beside the armourer.
The beautiful line of parks and granite terraces overlooking the wharves
along the North River, which were built in 1910 and finished in the
autumn of 1917, had become one of the most popular promenades in the
metropolis. They extended from the battery to 190th Street, overlooking
the noble river and affording a fine view of the Jersey shore and the
Highlands opposite. Cafes and restaurants were scattered here and there
among the trees, and twice a week military bands from the garrison played
in the kiosques on the parapets.
We sat down in the sunshine on the bench at the foot of the equestrian
statue of General Sheridan. Constance tipped her sunshade to shield her
eyes, and she and Louis began a murmuring conversation which was
impossible to catch. Old Hawberk, leaning on his ivory headed cane,
lighted an excellent cigar, the mate to which I politely refused, and
smiled at vacancy. The sun hung low above the Staten Island woods, and
the bay was dyed with golden hues reflected from the sun-warmed sails of
the shipping in the harbour.
Brigs, schooners, yachts, clumsy ferry-boats, their decks swarming with
people, railroad transports carrying lines of brown, blue and white
freight cars, stately sound steamers, declasse tramp steamers, coasters,
dredgers, scows, and everywhere pervading the entire bay impudent little
tugs puffing and whistling officiously;--these were the craft which
churned the sunlight waters as far as the eye could reach. In calm
contrast to the hurry of sailing vessel and steamer a silent fleet of
white warships lay motionless in midstream.
Constance's merry laugh aroused me from my reverie.
"What _are_ you staring at?" she inquired.
"Nothing--the fleet," I smiled.
Then Louis told us what the vessels were, pointing out each by its
relative position to the old Red Fort on Governor's Island.
"That little cigar shaped thing is a torpedo boat," he explained; "there
are four more lying close together. They are the _Tarpon_, the _Falcon_,
the _Sea Fox_, and the _Octopus_. The gun-boats just above are the
_Princeton_, the _Champlain_, the _Still Water_ and the _Erie_. Next to
them lie the cruisers _Faragut_ and _Los Angeles_, and above them the
battle ships _California_, and _Dakota_, and the _Washington_ which is
the flag ship. Those two squatty looking chunks of metal which are
anchored there off Castle William are the double turreted monitors
_Terrible_ and _Magnificent_; behind them lies the ram, _Osceola_."
Constance looked at him with deep approval in her beautiful eyes. "What
loads of things you know for a soldier," she said, and we all joined in
the laugh which followed.
Presently Louis rose with a nod to us and offered his arm to Constance,
and they strolled away along the river wall. Hawberk watched them for a
moment and then turned to me.
"Mr. Wilde was right," he said. "I have found the missing tassets and
left cuissard of the 'Prince's Emblazoned,' in a vile old junk garret in
Pell Street."
"998?" I inquired, with a smile.
"Yes."
"Mr. Wilde is a very intelligent man," I observed.
"I want to give him the credit of this most important discovery,"
continued Hawberk. "And I intend it shall be known that he is entitled
to the fame of it."
"He won't thank you for that," I answered sharply; "please say nothing
about it."
"Do you know what it is worth?" said Hawberk.
"No, fifty dollars, perhaps."
"It is valued at five hundred, but the owner of the 'Prince's Emblazoned'
will give two thousand dollars to the person who completes his suit; that
reward also belongs to Mr. Wilde."
"He doesn't want it! He refuses it!" I answered angrily. "What do you
know about Mr. Wilde? He doesn't need the money. He is rich--or will
be--richer than any living man except myself. What will we care for money
then--what will we care, he and I, when--when--"
"When what?" demanded Hawberk, astonished.
"You will see," I replied, on my guard again.
He looked at me narrowly, much as Doctor Archer used to, and I knew he
thought I was mentally unsound. Perhaps it was fortunate for him that he
did not use the word lunatic just then.
"No," I replied to his unspoken thought, "I am not mentally weak; my mind
is as healthy as Mr. Wilde's. I do not care to explain just yet what I
have on hand, but it is an investment which will pay more than mere gold,
silver and precious stones. It will secure the happiness and prosperity
of a continent--yes, a hemisphere!"
"Oh," said Hawberk.
"And eventually," I continued more quietly, "it will secure the happiness
of the whole world."
"And incidentally your own happiness and prosperity as well as Mr.
Wilde's?"
"Exactly," I smiled. But I could have throttled him for taking that tone.
He looked at me in silence for a while and then said very gently, "Why
don't you give up your books and studies, Mr. Castaigne, and take a tramp
among the mountains somewhere or other? You used to be fond of fishing.
Take a cast or two at the trout in the Rangelys."
"I don't care for fishing any more," I answered, without a shade of
annoyance in my voice.
"You used to be fond of everything," he continued; "athletics, yachting,
shooting, riding--"
"I have never cared to ride since my fall," I said quietly.
"Ah, yes, your fall," he repeated, looking away from me.
I thought this nonsense had gone far enough, so I brought the
conversation back to Mr. Wilde; but he was scanning my face again in a
manner highly offensive to me.
"Mr. Wilde," he repeated, "do you know what he did this afternoon? He
came downstairs and nailed a sign over the hall door next to mine; it
read:
"MR. WILDE,
REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
Third Bell.
"Do you know what a Repairer of Reputations can be?"
"I do," I replied, suppressing the rage within.
"Oh," he said again.
Louis and Constance came strolling by and stopped to ask if we would join
them. Hawberk looked at his watch. At the same moment a puff of smoke
shot from the casemates of Castle William, and the boom of the sunset gun
rolled across the water and was re-echoed from the Highlands opposite.
The flag came running down from the flag-pole, the bugles sounded on the
white decks of the warships, and the first electric light sparkled out
from the Jersey shore.
As I turned into the city with Hawberk I heard Constance murmur something
to Louis which I did not understand; but Louis whispered "My darling," in
reply; and again, walking ahead with Hawberk through the square I heard a
murmur of "sweetheart," and "my own Constance," and I knew the time had
nearly arrived when I should speak of important matters with my cousin
Louis.
III
One morning early in May I stood before the steel safe in my bedroom,
trying on the golden jewelled crown. The diamonds flashed fire as I
turned to the mirror, and the heavy beaten gold burned like a halo about
my head. I remembered Camilla's agonized scream and the awful words
echoing through the dim streets of Carcosa. They were the last lines in
the first act, and I dared not think of what followed--dared not, even
in the spring sunshine, there in my own room, surrounded with familiar
objects, reassured by the bustle from the street and the voices of the
servants in the hallway outside. For those poisoned words had dropped
slowly into my heart, as death-sweat drops upon a bed-sheet and is
absorbed. Trembling, I put the diadem from my head and wiped my forehead,
but I thought of Hastur and of my own rightful ambition, and I remembered
Mr. Wilde as I had last left him, his face all torn and bloody from the
claws of that devil's creature, and what he said--ah, what he said. The
alarm bell in the safe began to whirr harshly, and I knew my time was up;
but I would not heed it, and replacing the flashing circlet upon my head
I turned defiantly to the mirror. I stood for a long time absorbed in the
changing expression of my own eyes. The mirror reflected a face which was
like my own, but whiter, and so thin that I hardly recognized it And all
the time I kept repeating between my clenched teeth, "The day has come!
the day has come!" while the alarm in the safe whirred and clamoured, and
the diamonds sparkled and flamed above my brow. I heard a door open but
did not heed it. It was only when I saw two faces in the mirror:--it was
only when another face rose over my shoulder, and two other eyes met
mine. I wheeled like a flash and seized a long knife from my
dressing-table, and my cousin sprang back very pale, crying: "Hildred!
for God's sake!" then as my hand fell, he said: "It is I, Louis, don't
you know me?" I stood silent. I could not have spoken for my life. He
walked up to me and took the knife from my hand.
"What is all this?" he inquired, in a gentle voice. "Are you ill?"
"No," I replied. But I doubt if he heard me.
"Come, come, old fellow," he cried, "take off that brass crown and toddle
into the study. Are you going to a masquerade? What's all this theatrical
tinsel anyway?"
I was glad he thought the crown was made of brass and paste, yet I didn't
like him any the better for thinking so. I let him take it from my hand,
knowing it was best to humour him. He tossed the splendid diadem in the
air, and catching it, turned to me smiling.
"It's dear at fifty cents," he said. "What's it for?"
I did not answer, but took the circlet from his hands, and placing it in
the safe shut the massive steel door. The alarm ceased its infernal din
at once. He watched me curiously, but did not seem to notice the sudden
ceasing of the alarm. He did, however, speak of the safe as a biscuit
box. Fearing lest he might examine the combination I led the way into my
study. Louis threw himself on the sofa and flicked at flies with his
eternal riding-whip. He wore his fatigue uniform with the braided jacket
and jaunty cap, and I noticed that his riding-boots were all splashed
with red mud.
"Where have you been?" I inquired.
"Jumping mud creeks in Jersey," he said. "I haven't had time to change
yet; I was rather in a hurry to see you. Haven't you got a glass of
something? I'm dead tired; been in the saddle twenty-four hours."
I gave him some brandy from my medicinal store, which he drank with a
grimace.
"Damned bad stuff," he observed. "I'll give you an address where they
sell brandy that is brandy."
"It's good enough for my needs," I said indifferently. "I use it to rub
my chest with." He stared and flicked at another fly.
"See here, old fellow," he began, "I've got something to suggest to you.
It's four years now that you've shut yourself up here like an owl, never
going anywhere, never taking any healthy exercise, never doing a damn
thing but poring over those books up there on the mantelpiece."
He glanced along the row of shelves. "Napoleon, Napoleon, Napoleon!" he
read. "For heaven's sake, have you nothing but Napoleons there?"
"I wish they were bound in gold," I said. "But wait, yes, there is
another book, _The King in Yellow_." I looked him steadily in the
eye.
"Have you never read it?" I asked.
"I? No, thank God! I don't want to be driven crazy."
I saw he regretted his speech as soon as he had uttered it. There is only
one word which I loathe more than I do lunatic and that word is crazy.
But I controlled myself and asked him why he thought _The King in
Yellow_ dangerous.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, hastily. "I only remember the excitement it
created and the denunciations from pulpit and Press. I believe the author
shot himself after bringing forth this monstrosity, didn't he?"
"I understand he is still alive," I answered.
"That's probably true," he muttered; "bullets couldn't kill a fiend like
that."
"It is a book of great truths," I said.
"Yes," he replied, "of 'truths' which send men frantic and blast their
lives. I don't care if the thing is, as they say, the very supreme
essence of art. It's a crime to have written it, and I for one shall
never open its pages."
"Is that what you have come to tell me?" I asked.
"No," he said, "I came to tell you that I am going to be married."
I believe for a moment my heart ceased to beat, but I kept my eyes on his
face.
"Yes," he continued, smiling happily, "married to the sweetest girl on
earth."
"Constance Hawberk," I said mechanically.
"How did you know?" he cried, astonished. "I didn't know it myself until
that evening last April, when we strolled down to the embankment before
dinner."
"When is it to be?" I asked.
"It was to have been next September, but an hour ago a despatch came
ordering our regiment to the Presidio, San Francisco. We leave at noon
to-morrow. To-morrow," he repeated. "Just think, Hildred, to-morrow I
shall be the happiest fellow that ever drew breath in this jolly world,
for Constance will go with me."
I offered him my hand in congratulation, and he seized and shook it like
the good-natured fool he was--or pretended to be.
"I am going to get my squadron as a wedding present," he rattled on.
"Captain and Mrs. Louis Castaigne, eh, Hildred?"
Then he told me where it was to be and who were to be there, and made me
promise to come and be best man. I set my teeth and listened to his
boyish chatter without showing what I felt, but--
I was getting to the limit of my endurance, and when he jumped up, and,
switching his spurs till they jingled, said he must go, I did not detain
him.
"There's one thing I want to ask of you," I said quietly.
"Out with it, it's promised," he laughed.
"I want you to meet me for a quarter of an hour's talk to-night."
"Of course, if you wish," he said, somewhat puzzled. "Where?"
"Anywhere, in the park there."
"What time, Hildred?"
"Midnight."
"What in the name of--" he began, but checked himself and laughingly
assented. I watched him go down the stairs and hurry away, his sabre
banging at every stride. He turned into Bleecker Street, and I knew he
was going to see Constance. I gave him ten minutes to disappear and then
followed in his footsteps, taking with me the jewelled crown and the
silken robe embroidered with the Yellow Sign. When I turned into Bleecker
Street, and entered the doorway which bore the sign--
MR. WILDE,
REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
Third Bell.
I saw old Hawberk moving about in his shop, and imagined I heard
Constance's voice in the parlour; but I avoided them both and hurried up
the trembling stairways to Mr. Wilde's apartment. I knocked and entered
without ceremony. Mr. Wilde lay groaning on the floor, his face covered
with blood, his clothes torn to shreds. Drops of blood were scattered
about over the carpet, which had also been ripped and frayed in the
evidently recent struggle.
"It's that cursed cat," he said, ceasing his groans, and turning his
colourless eyes to me; "she attacked me while I was asleep. I believe she
will kill me yet."
This was too much, so I went into the kitchen, and, seizing a hatchet
from the pantry, started to find the infernal beast and settle her then
and there. My search was fruitless, and after a while I gave it up and
came back to find Mr. Wilde squatting on his high chair by the table. He
had washed his face and changed his clothes. The great furrows which the
cat's claws had ploughed up in his face he had filled with collodion, and
a rag hid the wound in his throat. I told him I should kill the cat when
I came across her, but he only shook his head and turned to the open
ledger before him. He read name after name of the people who had come to
him in regard to their reputation, and the sums he had amassed were
startling.
"I put on the screws now and then," he explained.
"One day or other some of these people will assassinate you," I insisted.
"Do you think so?" he said, rubbing his mutilated ears.
It was useless to argue with him, so I took down the manuscript entitled
Imperial Dynasty of America, for the last time I should ever take it down
in Mr. Wilde's study. I read it through, thrilling and trembling with
pleasure. When I had finished Mr. Wilde took the manuscript and, turning
to the dark passage which leads from his study to his bed-chamber,
called out in a loud voice, "Vance." Then for the first time, I noticed a
man crouching there in the shadow. How I had overlooked him during my
search for the cat, I cannot imagine.
"Vance, come in," cried Mr. Wilde.
The figure rose and crept towards us, and I shall never forget the face
that he raised to mine, as the light from the window illuminated it.
"Vance, this is Mr. Castaigne," said Mr. Wilde. Before he had finished
speaking, the man threw himself on the ground before the table, crying
and grasping, "Oh, God! Oh, my God! Help me! Forgive me! Oh, Mr.
Castaigne, keep that man away. You cannot, you cannot mean it! You are
different--save me! I am broken down--I was in a madhouse and now--when
all was coming right--when I had forgotten the King--the King in Yellow
and--but I shall go mad again--I shall go mad--"
His voice died into a choking rattle, for Mr. Wilde had leapt on him and
his right hand encircled the man's throat. When Vance fell in a heap on
the floor, Mr. Wilde clambered nimbly into his chair again, and rubbing
his mangled ears with the stump of his hand, turned to me and asked me
for the ledger. I reached it down from the shelf and he opened it. After
a moment's searching among the beautifully written pages, he coughed
complacently, and pointed to the name Vance.
"Vance," he read aloud, "Osgood Oswald Vance." At the sound of his name,
the man on the floor raised his head and turned a convulsed face to Mr.
Wilde. His eyes were injected with blood, his lips tumefied. "Called
April 28th," continued Mr. Wilde. "Occupation, cashier in the Seaforth
National Bank; has served a term of forgery at Sing Sing, from whence he
was transferred to the Asylum for the Criminal Insane. Pardoned by the
Governor of New York, and discharged from the Asylum, January 19, 1918.
Reputation damaged at Sheepshead Bay. Rumours that he lives beyond his
income. Reputation to be repaired at once. Retainer $1,500.
"Note.--Has embezzled sums amounting to $30,000 since March 20, 1919,
excellent family, and secured present position through uncle's influence.
Father, President of Seaforth Bank."
I looked at the man on the floor.
"Get up, Vance," said Mr. Wilde in a gentle voice. Vance rose as if
hypnotized. "He will do as we suggest now," observed Mr. Wilde, and
opening the manuscript, he read the entire history of the Imperial
Dynasty of America. Then in a kind and soothing murmur he ran over the
important points with Vance, who stood like one stunned. His eyes were so
blank and vacant that I imagined he had become half-witted, and remarked
it to Mr. Wilde who replied that it was of no consequence anyway. Very
patiently we pointed out to Vance what his share in the affair would be,
and he seemed to understand after a while. Mr. Wilde explained the
manuscript, using several volumes on Heraldry, to substantiate the result
of his researches. He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty in
Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery of
the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy
depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. "The scolloped tatters of the King
in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever," he muttered, but I do not believe
Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of
the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of
Truth, to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscript and notes, he
began the wonderful story of the Last King. Fascinated and thrilled I
watched him. He threw up his head, his long arms were stretched out in a
magnificent gesture of pride and power, and his eyes blazed deep in their
sockets like two emeralds. Vance listened stupefied. As for me, when at
last Mr. Wilde had finished, and pointing to me, cried, "The cousin of
the King!" my head swam with excitement.
Controlling myself with a superhuman effort, I explained to Vance why I
alone was worthy of the crown and why my cousin must be exiled or die.
I made him understand that my cousin must never marry, even after
renouncing all his claims, and how that least of all he should marry the
daughter of the Marquis of Avonshire and bring England into the question.
I showed him a list of thousands of names which Mr. Wilde had drawn up;
every man whose name was there had received the Yellow Sign which no
living human being dared disregard. The city, the state, the whole land,
were ready to rise and tremble before the Pallid Mask.
The time had come, the people should know the son of Hastur, and the
whole world bow to the black stars which hang in the sky over Carcosa.
Vance leaned on the table, his head buried in his hands. Mr. Wilde drew
a rough sketch on the margin of yesterday's _Herald_ with a bit of
lead pencil. It was a plan of Hawberk's rooms. Then he wrote out the
order and affixed the seal, and shaking like a palsied man I signed my
first writ of execution with my name Hildred-Rex.
Mr. Wilde clambered to the floor and unlocking the cabinet, took a long
square box from the first shelf. This he brought to the table and opened.
A new knife lay in the tissue paper inside and I picked it up and handed
it to Vance, along with the order and the plan of Hawberk's apartment.
Then Mr. Wilde told Vance he could go; and he went, shambling like an
outcast of the slums.
I sat for a while watching the daylight fade behind the square tower of
the Judson Memorial Church, and finally, gathering up the manuscript and
notes, took my hat and started for the door.
Mr. Wilde watched me in silence. When I had stepped into the hall I
looked back. Mr. Wilde's small eyes were still fixed on me. Behind him,
the shadows gathered in the fading light. Then I closed the door behind
me and went out into the darkening streets.
I had eaten nothing since breakfast, but I was not hungry. A wretched,
half-starved creature, who stood looking across the street at the Lethal
Chamber, noticed me and came up to tell me a tale of misery. I gave him
money, I don't know why, and he went away without thanking me. An
hour later another outcast approached and whined his story. I had a blank
bit of paper in my pocket, on which was traced the Yellow Sign, and I
handed it to him. He looked at it stupidly for a moment, and then with an
uncertain glance at me, folded it with what seemed to me exaggerated care
and placed it in his bosom.
The electric lights were sparkling among the trees, and the new moon
shone in the sky above the Lethal Chamber. It was tiresome waiting in the
square; I wandered from the Marble Arch to the artillery stables and back
again to the lotos fountain. The flowers and grass exhaled a fragrance
which troubled me. The jet of the fountain played in the moonlight, and
the musical splash of falling drops reminded me of the tinkle of chained
mail in Hawberk's shop. But it was not so fascinating, and the dull
sparkle of the moonlight on the water brought no such sensations of
exquisite pleasure, as when the sunshine played over the polished steel
of a corselet on Hawberk's knee. I watched the bats darting and turning
above the water plants in the fountain basin, but their rapid, jerky
flight set my nerves on edge, and I went away again to walk aimlessly to
and fro among the trees.
The artillery stables were dark, but in the cavalry barracks the
officers' windows were brilliantly lighted, and the sallyport was
constantly filled with troopers in fatigue, carrying straw and harness
and baskets filled with tin dishes.
Twice the mounted sentry at the gates was changed while I wandered up and
down the asphalt walk. I looked at my watch. It was nearly time. The
lights in the barracks went out one by one, the barred gate was closed,
and every minute or two an officer passed in through the side wicket,
leaving a rattle of accoutrements and a jingle of spurs on the night air.
The square had become very silent. The last homeless loiterer had been
driven away by the grey-coated park policeman, the car tracks along
Wooster Street were deserted, and the only sound which broke the
stillness was the stamping of the sentry's horse and the ring of his
sabre against the saddle pommel. In the barracks, the officers' quarters
were still lighted, and military servants passed and repassed before the
bay windows. Twelve o'clock sounded from the new spire of St. Francis
Xavier, and at the last stroke of the sad-toned bell a figure passed
through the wicket beside the portcullis, returned the salute of the
sentry, and crossing the street entered the square and advanced toward
the Benedick apartment house.
"Louis," I called.
The man pivoted on his spurred heels and came straight toward me.
"Is that you, Hildred?"
"Yes, you are on time."
I took his offered hand, and we strolled toward the Lethal Chamber.
He rattled on about his wedding and the graces of Constance, and their
future prospects, calling my attention to his captain's shoulder-straps,
and the triple gold arabesque on his sleeve and fatigue cap. I believe I
listened as much to the music of his spurs and sabre as I did to his
boyish babble, and at last we stood under the elms on the Fourth Street
corner of the square opposite the Lethal Chamber. Then he laughed and
asked me what I wanted with him. I motioned him to a seat on a bench
under the electric light, and sat down beside him. He looked at me
curiously, with that same searching glance which I hate and fear so in
doctors. I felt the insult of his look, but he did not know it, and I
carefully concealed my feelings.
"Well, old chap," he inquired, "what can I do for you?"
I drew from my pocket the manuscript and notes of the Imperial Dynasty
of America, and looking him in the eye said:
"I will tell you. On your word as a soldier, promise me to read this
manuscript from beginning to end, without asking me a question. Promise
me to read these notes in the same way, and promise me to listen to what
I have to tell later."
"I promise, if you wish it," he said pleasantly. "Give me the paper,
Hildred."
He began to read, raising his eyebrows with a puzzled, whimsical air,
which made me tremble with suppressed anger. As he advanced his, eyebrows
contracted, and his lips seemed to form the word "rubbish."
Then he looked slightly bored, but apparently for my sake read, with an
attempt at interest, which presently ceased to be an effort He started
when in the closely written pages he came to his own name, and when he
came to mine he lowered the paper, and looked sharply at me for a moment
But he kept his word, and resumed his reading, and I let the half-formed
question die on his lips unanswered. When he came to the end and read the
signature of Mr. Wilde, he folded the paper carefully and returned it to
me. I handed him the notes, and he settled back, pushing his fatigue cap
up to his forehead, with a boyish gesture, which I remembered so well in
school. I watched his face as he read, and when he finished I took the
notes with the manuscript, and placed them in my pocket. Then I unfolded
a scroll marked with the Yellow Sign. He saw the sign, but he did not
seem to recognize it, and I called his attention to it somewhat sharply.
"Well," he said, "I see it. What is it?"
"It is the Yellow Sign," I said angrily.
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Louis, in that flattering voice, which
Doctor Archer used to employ with me, and would probably have employed
again, had I not settled his affair for him.
I kept my rage down and answered as steadily as possible, "Listen, you
have engaged your word?"
"I am listening, old chap," he replied soothingly.
I began to speak very calmly.
"Dr. Archer, having by some means become possessed of the secret of the
Imperial Succession, attempted to deprive me of my right, alleging that
because of a fall from my horse four years ago, I had become mentally
deficient. He presumed to place me under restraint in his own house in
hopes of either driving me insane or poisoning me. I have not forgotten
it. I visited him last night and the interview was final."
Louis turned quite pale, but did not move. I resumed triumphantly, "There
are yet three people to be interviewed in the interests of Mr. Wilde and
myself. They are my cousin Louis, Mr. Hawberk, and his daughter
Constance."
Louis sprang to his feet and I arose also, and flung the paper marked
with the Yellow Sign to the ground.
"Oh, I don't need that to tell you what I have to say," I cried, with a
laugh of triumph. "You must renounce the crown to me, do you hear, to
_me_."
Louis looked at me with a startled air, but recovering himself said
kindly, "Of course I renounce the--what is it I must renounce?"
"The crown," I said angrily.
"Of course," he answered, "I renounce it. Come, old chap, I'll walk back
to your rooms with you."
"Don't try any of your doctor's tricks on me," I cried, trembling with
fury. "Don't act as if you think I am insane."
"What nonsense," he replied. "Come, it's getting late, Hildred."
"No," I shouted, "you must listen. You cannot marry, I forbid it. Do you
hear? I forbid it. You shall renounce the crown, and in reward I grant
you exile, but if you refuse you shall die."
He tried to calm me, but I was roused at last, and drawing my long knife
barred his way.
Then I told him how they would find Dr. Archer in the cellar with his
throat open, and I laughed in his face when I thought of Vance and his
knife, and the order signed by me.
"Ah, you are the King," I cried, "but I shall be King. Who are you to
keep me from Empire over all the habitable earth! I was born the cousin
of a king, but I shall be King!"
Louis stood white and rigid before me. Suddenly a man came running up
Fourth Street, entered the gate of the Lethal Temple, traversed the path
to the bronze doors at full speed, and plunged into the death chamber
with the cry of one demented, and I laughed until I wept tears, for I had
recognized Vance, and knew that Hawberk and his daughter were no longer
in my way.
"Go," I cried to Louis, "you have ceased to be a menace. You will never
marry Constance now, and if you marry any one else in your exile, I will
visit you as I did my doctor last night. Mr. Wilde takes charge of you
to-morrow." Then I turned and darted into South Fifth Avenue, and with a
cry of terror Louis dropped his belt and sabre and followed me like the
wind. I heard him close behind me at the corner of Bleecker Street, and I
dashed into the doorway under Hawberk's sign. He cried, "Halt, or I
fire!" but when he saw that I flew up the stairs leaving Hawberk's shop
below, he left me, and I heard him hammering and shouting at their door
as though it were possible to arouse the dead.
Mr. Wilde's door was open, and I entered crying, "It is done, it is done!
Let the nations rise and look upon their King!" but I could not find Mr.
Wilde, so I went to the cabinet and took the splendid diadem from its
case. Then I drew on the white silk robe, embroidered with the Yellow
Sign, and placed the crown upon my head. At last I was King, King by my
right in Hastur, King because I knew the mystery of the Hyades, and my
mind had sounded the depths of the Lake of Hali. I was King! The first
grey pencillings of dawn would raise a tempest which would shake two
hemispheres. Then as I stood, my every nerve pitched to the highest
tension, faint with the joy and splendour of my thought, without, in the
dark passage, a man groaned.
I seized the tallow dip and sprang to the door. The cat passed me like a
demon, and the tallow dip went out, but my long knife flew swifter than
she, and I heard her screech, and I knew that my knife had found her. For
a moment I listened to her tumbling and thumping about in the darkness,
and then when her frenzy ceased, I lighted a lamp and raised it over my
head. Mr. Wilde lay on the floor with his throat torn open. At first I
thought he was dead, but as I looked, a green sparkle came into his
sunken eyes, his mutilated hand trembled, and then a spasm stretched his
mouth from ear to ear. For a moment my terror and despair gave place to
hope, but as I bent over him his eyeballs rolled clean around in his
head, and he died. Then while I stood, transfixed with rage and despair,
seeing my crown, my empire, every hope and every ambition, my very life,
lying prostrate there with the dead master, _they_ came, seized me
from behind, and bound me until my veins stood out like cords, and my
voice failed with the paroxysms of my frenzied screams. But I still
raged, bleeding and infuriated among them, and more than one policeman
felt my sharp teeth. Then when I could no longer move they came nearer; I
saw old Hawberk, and behind him my cousin Louis' ghastly face, and
farther away, in the corner, a woman, Constance, weeping softly.
"Ah! I see it now!" I shrieked. "You have seized the throne and the
empire. Woe! woe to you who are crowned with the crown of the King in
Yellow!"
[EDITOR'S NOTE.--Mr. Castaigne died yesterday in the Asylum for Criminal
Insane.]
THE MASK
CAMILLA: You, sir, should unmask.
STRANGER: Indeed?
CASSILDA: Indeed it's time. We all have laid aside disguise but you.
STRANGER: I wear no mask.
CAMILLA: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.) No mask? No mask!
_The King in Yellow, Act I, Scene 2_.
I
Although I knew nothing of chemistry, I listened fascinated. He picked up
an Easter lily which Genevieve had brought that morning from Notre Dame,
and dropped it into the basin. Instantly the liquid lost its crystalline
clearness. For a second the lily was enveloped in a milk-white foam,
which disappeared, leaving the fluid opalescent. Changing tints of orange
and crimson played over the surface, and then what seemed to be a ray of
pure sunlight struck through from the bottom where the lily was resting.
At the same instant he plunged his hand into the basin and drew out the
flower. "There is no danger," he explained, "if you choose the right
moment. That golden ray is the signal."
He held the lily toward me, and I took it in my hand. It had turned to
stone, to the purest marble.
"You see," he said, "it is without a flaw. What sculptor could reproduce
it?"
The marble was white as snow, but in its depths the veins of the lily
were tinged with palest azure, and a faint flush lingered deep in its
heart.
"Don't ask me the reason of that," he smiled, noticing my wonder. "I have
no idea why the veins and heart are tinted, but they always are.
Yesterday I tried one of Genevieve's gold-fish,--there it is."
The fish looked as if sculptured in marble. But if you held it to the
light the stone was beautifully veined with a faint blue, and from
somewhere within came a rosy light like the tint which slumbers in an
opal. I looked into the basin. Once more it seemed filled with clearest
crystal.
"If I should touch it now?" I demanded.
"I don't know," he replied, "but you had better not try."
"There is one thing I'm curious about," I said, "and that is where the
ray of sunlight came from."
"It looked like a sunbeam true enough," he said. "I don't know, it always
comes when I immerse any living thing. Perhaps," he continued, smiling,
"perhaps it is the vital spark of the creature escaping to the source
from whence it came."
I saw he was mocking, and threatened him with a mahl-stick, but he only
laughed and changed the subject.
"Stay to lunch. Genevieve will be here directly."
"I saw her going to early mass," I said, "and she looked as fresh and
sweet as that lily--before you destroyed it."
"Do you think I destroyed it?" said Boris gravely.
"Destroyed, preserved, how can we tell?"
We sat in the corner of a studio near his unfinished group of the
"Fates." He leaned back on the sofa, twirling a sculptor's chisel and
squinting at his work.
"By the way," he said, "I have finished pointing up that old academic
Ariadne, and I suppose it will have to go to the Salon. It's all I have
ready this year, but after the success the 'Madonna' brought me I feel
ashamed to send a thing like that."
The "Madonna," an exquisite marble for which Genevieve had sat, had been
the sensation of last year's Salon. I looked at the Ariadne. It was a
magnificent piece of technical work, but I agreed with Boris that the
world would expect something better of him than that. Still, it was
impossible now to think of finishing in time for the Salon that splendid
terrible group half shrouded in the marble behind me. The "Fates" would
have to wait.
We were proud of Boris Yvain. We claimed him and he claimed us on the
strength of his having been born in America, although his father was
French and his mother was a Russian. Every one in the Beaux Arts called
him Boris. And yet there were only two of us whom he addressed in the
same familiar way--Jack Scott and myself.
Perhaps my being in love with Genevieve had something to do with his
affection for me. Not that it had ever been acknowledged between us. But
after all was settled, and she had told me with tears in her eyes that it
was Boris whom she loved, I went over to his house and congratulated him.
The perfect cordiality of that interview did not deceive either of us, I
always believed, although to one at least it was a great comfort. I do
not think he and Genevieve ever spoke of the matter together, but Boris
knew.
Genevieve was lovely. The Madonna-like purity of her face might have been
inspired by the Sanctus in Gounod's Mass. But I was always glad when she
changed that mood for what we called her "April Manoeuvres." She was
often as variable as an April day. In the morning grave, dignified and
sweet, at noon laughing, capricious, at evening whatever one least
expected. I preferred her so rather than in that Madonna-like
tranquillity which stirred the depths of my heart. I was dreaming of
Genevieve when he spoke again.
"What do you think of my discovery, Alec?"
"I think it wonderful."
"I shall make no use of it, you know, beyond satisfying my own curiosity
so far as may be, and the secret will die with me."
"It would be rather a blow to sculpture, would it not? We painters lose
more than we ever gain by photography."
Boris nodded, playing with the edge of the chisel.
"This new vicious discovery would corrupt the world of art. No, I shall
never confide the secret to any one," he said slowly.
It would be hard to find any one less informed about such phenomena than
myself; but of course I had heard of mineral springs so saturated with
silica that the leaves and twigs which fell into them were turned to
stone after a time. I dimly comprehended the process, how the silica
replaced the vegetable matter, atom by atom, and the result was a
duplicate of the object in stone. This, I confess, had never interested
me greatly, and as for the ancient fossils thus produced, they disgusted
me. Boris, it appeared, feeling curiosity instead of repugnance, had
investigated the subject, and had accidentally stumbled on a solution
which, attacking the immersed object with a ferocity unheard of, in a
second did the work of years. This was all I could make out of the
strange story he had just been telling me. He spoke again after a long
silence.
"I am almost frightened when I think what I have found. Scientists would
go mad over the discovery. It was so simple too; it discovered itself.
When I think of that formula, and that new element precipitated in
metallic scales--"
"What new element?"
"Oh, I haven't thought of naming it, and I don't believe I ever shall.
There are enough precious metals now in the world to cut throats over."
I pricked up my ears. "Have you struck gold, Boris?"
"No, better;--but see here, Alec!" he laughed, starting up. "You and I
have all we need in this world. Ah! how sinister and covetous you look
already!" I laughed too, and told him I was devoured by the desire for
gold, and we had better talk of something else; so when Genevieve came in
shortly after, we had turned our backs on alchemy.
Genevieve was dressed in silvery grey from head to foot. The light
glinted along the soft curves of her fair hair as she turned her cheek to
Boris; then she saw me and returned my greeting. She had never before
failed to blow me a kiss from the tips of her white fingers, and I
promptly complained of the omission. She smiled and held out her hand,
which dropped almost before it had touched mine; then she said, looking
at Boris--
"You must ask Alec to stay for luncheon." This also was something new.
She had always asked me herself until to-day.
"I did," said Boris shortly.
"And you said yes, I hope?" She turned to me with a charming conventional
smile. I might have been an acquaintance of the day before yesterday. I
made her a low bow. "J'avais bien l'honneur, madame," but refusing to
take up our usual bantering tone, she murmured a hospitable commonplace
and disappeared. Boris and I looked at one another.
"I had better go home, don't you think?" I asked.
"Hanged if I know," he replied frankly.
While we were discussing the advisability of my departure Genevieve
reappeared in the doorway without her bonnet. She was wonderfully
beautiful, but her colour was too deep and her lovely eyes were too
bright. She came straight up to me and took my arm.
"Luncheon is ready. Was I cross, Alec? I thought I had a headache, but I
haven't. Come here, Boris;" and she slipped her other arm through his.
"Alec knows that after you there is no one in the world whom I like as
well as I like him, so if he sometimes feels snubbed it won't hurt him."
"A la bonheur!" I cried, "who says there are no thunderstorms in April?"
"Are you ready?" chanted Boris. "Aye ready;" and arm-in-arm we raced into
the dining-room, scandalizing the servants. After all we were not so much
to blame; Genevieve was eighteen, Boris was twenty-three, and I not quite
twenty-one.
II
Some work that I was doing about this time on the decorations for
Genevieve's boudoir kept me constantly at the quaint little hotel in the
Rue Sainte-Cecile. Boris and I in those days laboured hard but as we
pleased, which was fitfully, and we all three, with Jack Scott, idled a
great deal together.
One quiet afternoon I had been wandering alone over the house examining
curios, prying into odd corners, bringing out sweetmeats and cigars from
strange hiding-places, and at last I stopped in the bathing-room. Boris,
all over clay, stood there washing his hands.
The room was built of rose-coloured marble excepting the floor, which was
tessellated in rose and grey. In the centre was a square pool sunken
below the surface of the floor; steps led down into it, sculptured
pillars supported a frescoed ceiling. A delicious marble Cupid appeared
to have just alighted on his pedestal at the upper end of the room. The
whole interior was Boris' work and mine. Boris, in his working-clothes of
white canvas, scraped the traces of clay and red modelling wax from his
handsome hands, and coquetted over his shoulder with the Cupid.
"I see you," he insisted, "don't try to look the other way and pretend
not to see me. You know who made you, little humbug!"
It was always my role to interpret Cupid's sentiments in these
conversations, and when my turn came I responded in such a manner, that
Boris seized my arm and dragged me toward the pool, declaring he would
duck me. Next instant he dropped my arm and turned pale. "Good God!" he
said, "I forgot the pool is full of the solution!"
I shivered a little, and dryly advised him to remember better where he
had stored the precious liquid.
"In Heaven's name, why do you keep a small lake of that gruesome stuff
here of all places?" I asked.
"I want to experiment on something large," he replied.
"On me, for instance?"
"Ah! that came too close for jesting; but I do want to watch the action
of that solution on a more highly organized living body; there is that
big white rabbit," he said, following me into the studio.
Jack Scott, wearing a paint-stained jacket, came wandering in,
appropriated all the Oriental sweetmeats he could lay his hands on,
looted the cigarette case, and finally he and Boris disappeared together
to visit the Luxembourg Gallery, where a new silver bronze by Rodin and a
landscape of Monet's were claiming the exclusive attention of artistic
France. I went back to the studio, and resumed my work. It was a
Renaissance screen, which Boris wanted me to paint for Genevieve's
boudoir. But the small boy who was unwillingly dawdling through a series
of poses for it, to-day refused all bribes to be good. He never rested an
instant in the same position, and inside of five minutes I had as many
different outlines of the little beggar.
"Are you posing, or are you executing a song and dance, my friend?" I
inquired.
"Whichever monsieur pleases," he replied, with an angelic smile.
Of course I dismissed him for the day, and of course I paid him for the
full time, that being the way we spoil our models.
After the young imp had gone, I made a few perfunctory daubs at my work,
but was so thoroughly out of humour, that it took me the rest of the
afternoon to undo the damage I had done, so at last I scraped my palette,
stuck my brushes in a bowl of black soap, and strolled into the
smoking-room. I really believe that, excepting Genevieve's apartments, no
room in the house was so free from the perfume of tobacco as this one. It
was a queer chaos of odds and ends, hung with threadbare tapestry. A
sweet-toned old spinet in good repair stood by the window. There were
stands of weapons, some old and dull, others bright and modern, festoons
of Indian and Turkish armour over the mantel, two or three good pictures,
and a pipe-rack. It was here that we used to come for new sensations in
smoking. I doubt if any type of pipe ever existed which was not
represented in that rack. When we had selected one, we immediately
carried it somewhere else and smoked it; for the place was, on the whole,
more gloomy and less inviting than any in the house. But this afternoon,
the twilight was very soothing, the rugs and skins on the floor looked
brown and soft and drowsy; the big couch was piled with cushions--I found
my pipe and curled up there for an unaccustomed smoke in the
smoking-room. I had chosen one with a long flexible stem, and lighting it
fell to dreaming. After a while it went out, but I did not stir. I
dreamed on and presently fell asleep.
I awoke to the saddest music I had ever heard. The room was quite dark, I
had no idea what time it was. A ray of moonlight silvered one edge of the
old spinet, and the polished wood seemed to exhale the sounds as perfume
floats above a box of sandalwood. Some one rose in the darkness, and came
away weeping quietly, and I was fool enough to cry out "Genevieve!"
She dropped at my voice, and, I had time to curse myself while I made a
light and tried to raise her from the floor. She shrank away with a
murmur of pain. She was very quiet, and asked for Boris. I carried her to
the divan, and went to look for him, but he was not in the house, and the
servants were gone to bed. Perplexed and anxious, I hurried back to
Genevieve. She lay where I had left her, looking very white.
"I can't find Boris nor any of the servants," I said.
"I know," she answered faintly, "Boris has gone to Ept with Mr. Scott. I
did not remember when I sent you for him just now."
"But he can't get back in that case before to-morrow afternoon, and--are
you hurt? Did I frighten you into falling? What an awful fool I am, but I
was only half awake."
"Boris thought you had gone home before dinner. Do please excuse us for
letting you stay here all this time."
"I have had a long nap," I laughed, "so sound that I did not know whether
I was still asleep or not when I found myself staring at a figure that
was moving toward me, and called out your name. Have you been trying the
old spinet? You must have played very softly."
I would tell a thousand more lies worse than that one to see the look of
relief that came into her face. She smiled adorably, and said in her
natural voice: "Alec, I tripped on that wolf's head, and I think my ankle
is sprained. Please call Marie, and then go home."
I did as she bade me, and left her there when the maid came in.
III
At noon next day when I called, I found Boris walking restlessly about
his studio.
"Genevieve is asleep just now," he told me, "the sprain is nothing, but
why should she have such a high fever? The doctor can't account for it;
or else he will not," he muttered.
"Genevieve has a fever?" I asked.
"I should say so, and has actually been a little light-headed at
intervals all night. The idea! gay little Genevieve, without a care in
the world,--and she keeps saying her heart's broken, and she wants to
die!"
My own heart stood still.
Boris leaned against the door of his studio, looking down, his hands in
his pockets, his kind, keen eyes clouded, a new line of trouble drawn
"over the mouth's good mark, that made the smile." The maid had orders to
summon him the instant Genevieve opened her eyes. We waited and waited,
and Boris, growing restless, wandered about, fussing with modelling wax
and red clay. Suddenly he started for the next room. "Come and see my
rose-coloured bath full of death!" he cried.
"Is it death?" I asked, to humour his mood.
"You are not prepared to call it life, I suppose," he answered. As he
spoke he plucked a solitary goldfish squirming and twisting out of its
globe. "We'll send this one after the other--wherever that is," he said.
There was feverish excitement in his voice. A dull weight of fever lay on
my limbs and on my brain as I followed him to the fair crystal pool with
its pink-tinted sides; and he dropped the creature in. Falling, its
scales flashed with a hot orange gleam in its angry twistings and
contortions; the moment it struck the liquid it became rigid and sank
heavily to the bottom. Then came the milky foam, the splendid hues
radiating on the surface and then the shaft of pure serene light broke
through from seemingly infinite depths. Boris plunged in his hand and
drew out an exquisite marble thing, blue-veined, rose-tinted, and
glistening with opalescent drops.
"Child's play," he muttered, and looked wearily, longingly at me,--as if
I could answer such questions! But Jack Scott came in and entered into
the "game," as he called it, with ardour. Nothing would do but to try the
experiment on the white rabbit then and there. I was willing that Boris
should find distraction from his cares, but I hated to see the life go
out of a warm, living creature and I declined to be present. Picking up a
book at random, I sat down in the studio to read. Alas! I had found
_The King in Yellow_. After a few moments, which seemed ages, I was
putting it away with a nervous shudder, when Boris and Jack came in
bringing their marble rabbit. At the same time the bell rang above, and a
cry came from the sick-room. Boris was gone like a flash, and the next
moment he called, "Jack, run for the doctor; bring him back with you.
Alec, come here."
I went and stood at her door. A frightened maid came out in haste and ran
away to fetch some remedy. Genevieve, sitting bolt upright, with crimson
cheeks and glittering eyes, babbled incessantly and resisted Boris'
gentle restraint. He called me to help. At my first touch she sighed and
sank back, closing her eyes, and then--then--as we still bent above her,
she opened them again, looked straight into Boris' face--poor
fever-crazed girl!--and told her secret. At the same instant our three
lives turned into new channels; the bond that held us so long together
snapped for ever and a new bond was forged in its place, for she had
spoken my name, and as the fever tortured her, her heart poured out its
load of hidden sorrow. Amazed and dumb I bowed my head, while my face
burned like a live coal, and the blood surged in my ears, stupefying me
with its clamour. Incapable of movement, incapable of speech, I listened
to her feverish words in an agony of shame and sorrow. I could not
silence her, I could not look at Boris. Then I felt an arm upon my
shoulder, and Boris turned a bloodless face to mine.
"It is not your fault, Alec; don't grieve so if she loves you--" but he
could not finish; and as the doctor stepped swiftly into the room,
saying--"Ah, the fever!" I seized Jack Scott and hurried him to the
street, saying, "Boris would rather be alone." We crossed the street to
our own apartments, and that night, seeing I was going to be ill too, he
went for the doctor again. The last thing I recollect with any
distinctness was hearing Jack say, "For Heaven's sake, doctor, what ails
him, to wear a face like that?" and I thought of _The King in
Yellow_ and the Pallid Mask.
I was very ill, for the strain of two years which I had endured since
that fatal May morning when Genevieve murmured, "I love you, but I think
I love Boris best," told on me at last. I had never imagined that it
could become more than I could endure. Outwardly tranquil, I had deceived
myself. Although the inward battle raged night after night, and I, lying
alone in my room, cursed myself for rebellious thoughts unloyal to Boris
and unworthy of Genevieve, the morning always brought relief, and I
returned to Genevieve and to my dear Boris with a heart washed clean by
the tempests of the night.
Never in word or deed or thought while with them had I betrayed my sorrow
even to myself.
The mask of self-deception was no longer a mask for me, it was a part of
me. Night lifted it, laying bare the stifled truth below; but there was
no one to see except myself, and when the day broke the mask fell back
again of its own accord. These thoughts passed through my troubled mind
as I lay sick, but they were hopelessly entangled with visions of white
creatures, heavy as stone, crawling about in Boris' basin,--of the wolf's
head on the rug, foaming and snapping at Genevieve, who lay smiling
beside it. I thought, too, of the King in Yellow wrapped in the fantastic
colours of his tattered mantle, and that bitter cry of Cassilda, "Not
upon us, oh King, not upon us!" Feverishly I struggled to put it from me,
but I saw the lake of Hali, thin and blank, without a ripple or wind to
stir it, and I saw the towers of Carcosa behind the moon. Aldebaran, the
Hyades, Alar, Hastur, glided through the cloud-rifts which fluttered and
flapped as they passed like the scolloped tatters of the King in Yellow.
Among all these, one sane thought persisted. It never wavered, no matter
what else was going on in my disordered mind, that my chief reason for
existing was to meet some requirement of Boris and Genevieve. What this
obligation was, its nature, was never clear; sometimes it seemed to be
protection, sometimes support, through a great crisis. Whatever it seemed
to be for the time, its weight rested only on me, and I was never so ill
or so weak that I did not respond with my whole soul. There were always
crowds of faces about me, mostly strange, but a few I recognized, Boris
among them. Afterward they told me that this could not have been, but I
know that once at least he bent over me. It was only a touch, a faint
echo of his voice, then the clouds settled back on my senses, and I lost
him, but he _did_ stand there and bend over me _once_ at least.
At last, one morning I awoke to find the sunlight falling across my bed,
and Jack Scott reading beside me. I had not strength enough to speak
aloud, neither could I think, much less remember, but I could smile
feebly, as Jack's eye met mine, and when he jumped up and asked eagerly
if I wanted anything, I could whisper, "Yes--Boris." Jack moved to the
head of my bed, and leaned down to arrange my pillow: I did not see his
face, but he answered heartily, "You must wait, Alec; you are too weak to
see even Boris."
I waited and I grew strong; in a few days I was able to see whom I would,
but meanwhile I had thought and remembered. From the moment when all the
past grew clear again in my mind, I never doubted what I should do when
the time came, and I felt sure that Boris would have resolved upon the
same course so far as he was concerned; as for what pertained to me
alone, I knew he would see that also as I did. I no longer asked for any
one. I never inquired why no message came from them; why during the week
I lay there, waiting and growing stronger, I never heard their name
spoken. Preoccupied with my own searchings for the right way, and with my
feeble but determined fight against despair, I simply acquiesced in
Jack's reticence, taking for granted that he was afraid to speak of them,
lest I should turn unruly and insist on seeing them. Meanwhile I said
over and over to myself, how would it be when life began again for us
all? We would take up our relations exactly as they were before Genevieve
fell ill. Boris and I would look into each other's eyes, and there would
be neither rancour nor cowardice nor mistrust in that glance. I would be
with them again for a little while in the dear intimacy of their home,
and then, without pretext or explanation, I would disappear from their
lives for ever. Boris would know; Genevieve--the only comfort was that
she would never know. It seemed, as I thought it over, that I had found
the meaning of that sense of obligation which had persisted all through
my delirium, and the only possible answer to it. So, when I was quite
ready, I beckoned Jack to me one day, and said--
"Jack, I want Boris at once; and take my dearest greeting to
Genevieve...."
When at last he made me understand that they were both dead, I fell into
a wild rage that tore all my little convalescent strength to atoms. I
raved and cursed myself into a relapse, from which I crawled forth some
weeks afterward a boy of twenty-one who believed that his youth was gone
for ever. I seemed to be past the capability of further suffering, and
one day when Jack handed me a letter and the keys to Boris' house, I took
them without a tremor and asked him to tell me all. It was cruel of me to
ask him, but there was no help for it, and he leaned wearily on his thin
hands, to reopen the wound which could never entirely heal. He began very
quietly--
"Alec, unless you have a clue that I know nothing about, you will not be
able to explain any more than I what has happened. I suspect that you
would rather not hear these details, but you must learn them, else I
would spare you the relation. God knows I wish I could be spared the
telling. I shall use few words.
"That day when I left you in the doctor's care and came back to Boris, I
found him working on the 'Fates.' Genevieve, he said, was sleeping under
the influence of drugs. She had been quite out of her mind, he said. He
kept on working, not talking any more, and I watched him. Before long, I
saw that the third figure of the group--the one looking straight ahead,
out over the world--bore his face; not as you ever saw it, but as it
looked then and to the end. This is one thing for which I should like to
find an explanation, but I never shall.
"Well, he worked and I watched him in silence, and we went on that way
until nearly midnight. Then we heard the door open and shut sharply, and
a swift rush in the next room. Boris sprang through the doorway and I
followed; but we were too late. She lay at the bottom of the pool, her
hands across her breast. Then Boris shot himself through the heart." Jack
stopped speaking, drops of sweat stood under his eyes, and his thin
cheeks twitched. "I carried Boris to his room. Then I went back and let
that hellish fluid out of the pool, and turning on all the water, washed
the marble clean of every drop. When at length I dared descend the steps,
I found her lying there as white as snow. At last, when I had decided
what was best to do, I went into the laboratory, and first emptied the
solution in the basin into the waste-pipe; then I poured the contents of
every jar and bottle after it. There was wood in the fire-place, so I
built a fire, and breaking the locks of Boris' cabinet I burnt every
paper, notebook and letter that I found there. With a mallet from the
studio I smashed to pieces all the empty bottles, then loading them into
a coal-scuttle, I carried them to the cellar and threw them over the
red-hot bed of the furnace. Six times I made the journey, and at last,
not a vestige remained of anything which might again aid in seeking for
the formula which Boris had found. Then at last I dared call the doctor.
He is a good man, and together we struggled to keep it from the public.
Without him I never could have succeeded. At last we got the servants
paid and sent away into the country, where old Rosier keeps them quiet
with stones of Boris' and Genevieve's travels in distant lands, from
whence they will not return for years. We buried Boris in the little
cemetery of Sevres. The doctor is a good creature, and knows when to pity
a man who can bear no more. He gave his certificate of heart disease and
asked no questions of me."
Then, lifting his head from his hands, he said, "Open the letter, Alec;
it is for us both."
I tore it open. It was Boris' will dated a year before. He left
everything to Genevieve, and in case of her dying childless, I was to
take control of the house in the Rue Sainte-Cecile, and Jack Scott the
management at Ept. On our deaths the property reverted to his mother's
family in Russia, with the exception of the sculptured marbles executed
by himself. These he left to me.
The page blurred under our eyes, and Jack got up and walked to the
window. Presently he returned and sat down again. I dreaded to hear what
he was going to say, but he spoke with the same simplicity and
gentleness.
"Genevieve lies before the Madonna in the marble room. The Madonna bends
tenderly above her, and Genevieve smiles back into that calm face that
never would have been except for her."
His voice broke, but he grasped my hand, saying, "Courage, Alec." Next
morning he left for Ept to fulfil his trust.
IV
The same evening I took the keys and went into the house I had known so
well. Everything was in order, but the silence was terrible. Though I
went twice to the door of the marble room, I could not force myself to
enter. It was beyond my strength. I went into the smoking-room and sat
down before the spinet. A small lace handkerchief lay on the keys, and I
turned away, choking. It was plain I could not stay, so I locked every
door, every window, and the three front and back gates, and went away.
Next morning Alcide packed my valise, and leaving him in charge of my
apartments I took the Orient express for Constantinople. During the two
years that I wandered through the East, at first, in our letters, we
never mentioned Genevieve and Boris, but gradually their names crept in.
I recollect particularly a passage in one of Jack's letters replying to
one of mine--
"What you tell me of seeing Boris bending over you while you lay ill, and
feeling his touch on your face, and hearing his voice, of course troubles
me. This that you describe must have happened a fortnight after he died.
I say to myself that you were dreaming, that it was part of your
delirium, but the explanation does not satisfy me, nor would it you."
Toward the end of the second year a letter came from Jack to me in India
so unlike anything that I had ever known of him that I decided to return
at once to Paris. He wrote: "I am well, and sell all my pictures as
artists do who have no need of money. I have not a care of my own, but I
am more restless than if I had. I am unable to shake off a strange
anxiety about you. It is not apprehension, it is rather a breathless
expectancy--of what, God knows! I can only say it is wearing me out.
Nights I dream always of you and Boris. I can never recall anything
afterward, but I wake in the morning with my heart beating, and all day
the excitement increases until I fall asleep at night to recall the same
experience. I am quite exhausted by it, and have determined to break up
this morbid condition. I must see you. Shall I go to Bombay, or will you
come to Paris?"
I telegraphed him to expect me by the next steamer.
When we met I thought he had changed very little; I, he insisted, looked
in splendid health. It was good to hear his voice again, and as we sat
and chatted about what life still held for us, we felt that it was
pleasant to be alive in the bright spring weather.
We stayed in Paris together a week, and then I went for a week to Ept
with him, but first of all we went to the cemetery at Sevres, where Boris
lay.
"Shall we place the 'Fates' in the little grove above him?" Jack asked,
and I answered--
"I think only the 'Madonna' should watch over Boris' grave." But Jack was
none the better for my home-coming. The dreams of which he could not
retain even the least definite outline continued, and he said that at
times the sense of breathless expectancy was suffocating.
"You see I do you harm and not good," I said. "Try a change without me."
So he started alone for a ramble among the Channel Islands, and I went
back to Paris. I had not yet entered Boris' house, now mine, since my
return, but I knew it must be done. It had been kept in order by Jack;
there were servants there, so I gave up my own apartment and went there
to live. Instead of the agitation I had feared, I found myself able to
paint there tranquilly. I visited all the rooms--all but one. I could not
bring myself to enter the marble room where Genevieve lay, and yet I felt
the longing growing daily to look upon her face, to kneel beside her.
One April afternoon, I lay dreaming in the smoking-room, just as I had
lain two years before, and mechanically I looked among the tawny Eastern
rugs for the wolf-skin. At last I distinguished the pointed ears and flat
cruel head, and I thought of my dream where I saw Genevieve lying beside
it. The helmets still hung against the threadbare tapestry, among them
the old Spanish morion which I remembered Genevieve had once put on when
we were amusing ourselves with the ancient bits of mail. I turned my eyes
to the spinet; every yellow key seemed eloquent of her caressing hand,
and I rose, drawn by the strength of my life's passion to the sealed door
of the marble room. The heavy doors swung inward under my trembling
hands. Sunlight poured through the window, tipping with gold the wings of
Cupid, and lingered like a nimbus over the brows of the Madonna. Her
tender face bent in compassion over a marble form so exquisitely pure
that I knelt and signed myself. Genevieve lay in the shadow under the
Madonna, and yet, through her white arms, I saw the pale azure vein, and
beneath her softly clasped hands the folds of her dress were tinged with
rose, as if from some faint warm light within her breast.
Bending, with a breaking heart, I touched the marble drapery with my
lips, then crept back into the silent house.
A maid came and brought me a letter, and I sat down in the little
conservatory to read it; but as I was about to break the seal, seeing the
girl lingering, I asked her what she wanted.
She stammered something about a white rabbit that had been caught in the
house, and asked what should be done with it I told her to let it loose
in the walled garden behind the house, and opened my letter. It was from
Jack, but so incoherent that I thought he must have lost his reason. It
was nothing but a series of prayers to me not to leave the house until he
could get back; he could not tell me why, there were the dreams, he
said--he could explain nothing, but he was sure that I must not leave the
house in the Rue Sainte-Cecile.
As I finished reading I raised my eyes and saw the same maid-servant
standing in the doorway holding a glass dish in which two gold-fish were
swimming: "Put them back into the tank and tell me what you mean by
interrupting me," I said.
With a half-suppressed whimper she emptied water and fish into an
aquarium at the end of the conservatory, and turning to me asked my
permission to leave my service. She said people were playing tricks on
her, evidently with a design of getting her into trouble; the marble
rabbit had been stolen and a live one had been brought into the house;
the two beautiful marble fish were gone, and she had just found those
common live things flopping on the dining-room floor. I reassured her and
sent her away, saying I would look about myself. I went into the studio;
there was nothing there but my canvases and some casts, except the marble
of the Easter lily. I saw it on a table across the room. Then I strode
angrily over to it. But the flower I lifted from the table was fresh and
fragile and filled the air with perfume.
Then suddenly I comprehended, and sprang through the hall-way to the
marble room. The doors flew open, the sunlight streamed into my face, and
through it, in a heavenly glory, the Madonna smiled, as Genevieve lifted
her flushed face from her marble couch and opened her sleepy eyes.
IN THE COURT OF THE DRAGON
"Oh, thou who burn'st in heart for those who burn
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall feed in turn;
How long be crying--'Mercy on them.' God!
Why, who art thou to teach and He to learn?"
In the Church of St. Barnabe vespers were over; the clergy left the
altar; the little choir-boys flocked across the chancel and settled in
the stalls. A Suisse in rich uniform marched down the south aisle,
sounding his staff at every fourth step on the stone pavement; behind him
came that eloquent preacher and good man, Monseigneur C----.
My chair was near the chancel rail, I now turned toward the west end of
the church. The other people between the altar and the pulpit turned too.
There was a little scraping and rustling while the congregation seated
itself again; the preacher mounted the pulpit stairs, and the organ
voluntary ceased.
I had always found the organ-playing at St. Barnabe highly interesting.
Learned and scientific it was, too much so for my small knowledge, but
expressing a vivid if cold intelligence. Moreover, it possessed the
French quality of taste: taste reigned supreme, self-controlled,
dignified and reticent.
To-day, however, from the first chord I had felt a change for the worse,
a sinister change. During vespers it had been chiefly the chancel organ
which supported the beautiful choir, but now and again, quite wantonly as
it seemed, from the west gallery where the great organ stands, a heavy
hand had struck across the church at the serene peace of those clear
voices. It was something more than harsh and dissonant, and it betrayed
no lack of skill. As it recurred again and again, it set me thinking of
what my architect's books say about the custom in early times to
consecrate the choir as soon as it was built, and that the nave, being
finished sometimes half a century later, often did not get any blessing
at all: I wondered idly if that had been the case at St. Barnabe, and
whether something not usually supposed to be at home in a Christian
church might have entered undetected and taken possession of the west
gallery. I had read of such things happening, too, but not in works on
architecture.
Then I remembered that St. Barnabe was not much more than a hundred years
old, and smiled at the incongruous association of mediaeval superstitions
with that cheerful little piece of eighteenth-century rococo.
But now vespers were over, and there should have followed a few quiet
chords, fit to accompany meditation, while we waited for the sermon.
Instead of that, the discord at the lower end of the church broke out
with the departure of the clergy, as if now nothing could control it.
I belong to those children of an older and simpler generation who do not
love to seek for psychological subtleties in art; and I have ever refused
to find in music anything more than melody and harmony, but I felt that
in the labyrinth of sounds now issuing from that instrument there was
something being hunted. Up and down the pedals chased him, while the
manuals blared approval. Poor devil! whoever he was, there seemed small
hope of escape!
My nervous annoyance changed to anger. Who was doing this? How dare he
play like that in the midst of divine service? I glanced at the people
near me: not one appeared to be in the least disturbed. The placid brows
of the kneeling nuns, still turned towards the altar, lost none of their
devout abstraction under the pale shadow of their white head-dress. The
fashionable lady beside me was looking expectantly at Monseigneur C----.
For all her face betrayed, the organ might have been singing an Ave
Maria.
But now, at last, the preacher had made the sign of the cross, and
commanded silence. I turned to him gladly. Thus far I had not found the
rest I had counted on when I entered St. Barnabe that afternoon.
I was worn out by three nights of physical suffering and mental trouble:
the last had been the worst, and it was an exhausted body, and a mind
benumbed and yet acutely sensitive, which I had brought to my favourite
church for healing. For I had been reading _The King in Yellow_.
"The sun ariseth; they gather themselves together and lay them down in
their dens." Monseigneur C---- delivered his text in a calm voice,
glancing quietly over the congregation. My eyes turned, I knew not why,
toward the lower end of the church. The organist was coming from behind
his pipes, and passing along the gallery on his way out, I saw him
disappear by a small door that leads to some stairs which descend
directly to the street. He was a slender man, and his face was as white
as his coat was black. "Good riddance!" I thought, "with your wicked
music! I hope your assistant will play the closing voluntary."
With a feeling of relief--with a deep, calm feeling of relief, I turned
back to the mild face in the pulpit and settled myself to listen. Here,
at last, was the ease of mind I longed for.
"My children," said the preacher, "one truth the human soul finds hardest
of all to learn: that it has nothing to fear. It can never be made to see
that nothing can really harm it."
"Curious doctrine!" I thought, "for a Catholic priest. Let us see how he
will reconcile that with the Fathers."
"Nothing can really harm the soul," he went on, in, his coolest, clearest
tones, "because----"
But I never heard the rest; my eye left his face, I knew not for what
reason, and sought the lower end of the church. The same man was coming
out from behind the organ, and was passing along the gallery _the same
way_. But there had not been time for him to return, and if he had
returned, I must have seen him. I felt a faint chill, and my heart sank;
and yet, his going and coming were no affair of mine. I looked at him: I
could not look away from his black figure and his white face. When he was
exactly opposite to me, he turned and sent across the church straight
into my eyes, a look of hate, intense and deadly: I have never seen any
other like it; would to God I might never see it again! Then he
disappeared by the same door through which I had watched him depart less
than sixty seconds before.
I sat and tried to collect my thoughts. My first sensation was like that
of a very young child badly hurt, when it catches its breath before
crying out.
To suddenly find myself the object of such hatred was exquisitely
painful: and this man was an utter stranger. Why should he hate me
so?--me, whom he had never seen before? For the moment all other
sensation was merged in this one pang: even fear was subordinate to
grief, and for that moment I never doubted; but in the next I began to
reason, and a sense of the incongruous came to my aid.
As I have said, St. Barnabe is a modern church. It is small and well
lighted; one sees all over it almost at a glance. The organ gallery gets
a strong white light from a row of long windows in the clerestory, which
have not even coloured glass.
The pulpit being in the middle of the church, it followed that, when I
was turned toward it, whatever moved at the west end could not fail to
attract my eye. When the organist passed it was no wonder that I saw him:
I had simply miscalculated the interval between his first and his second
passing. He had come in that last time by the other side-door. As for the
look which had so upset me, there had been no such thing, and I was a
nervous fool.
I looked about. This was a likely place to harbour supernatural horrors!
That clear-cut, reasonable face of Monseigneur C----, his collected
manner and easy, graceful gestures, were they not just a little
discouraging to the notion of a gruesome mystery? I glanced above his
head, and almost laughed. That flyaway lady supporting one corner of the
pulpit canopy, which looked like a fringed damask table-cloth in a high
wind, at the first attempt of a basilisk to pose up there in the organ
loft, she would point her gold trumpet at him, and puff him out of
existence! I laughed to myself over this conceit, which, at the time, I
thought very amusing, and sat and chaffed myself and everything else,
from the old harpy outside the railing, who had made me pay ten centimes
for my chair, before she would let me in (she was more like a basilisk, I
told myself, than was my organist with the anaemic complexion): from that
grim old dame, to, yes, alas! Monseigneur C---- himself. For all
devoutness had fled. I had never yet done such a thing in my life, but
now I felt a desire to mock.
As for the sermon, I could not hear a word of it for the jingle in my
ears of
"The skirts of St. Paul has reached.
Having preached us those six Lent lectures,
More unctuous than ever he preached,"
keeping time to the most fantastic and irreverent thoughts.
It was no use to sit there any longer: I must get out of doors and shake
myself free from this hateful mood. I knew the rudeness I was committing,
but still I rose and left the church.
A spring sun was shining on the Rue St. Honore, as I ran down the church
steps. On one corner stood a barrow full of yellow jonquils, pale violets
from the Riviera, dark Russian violets, and white Roman hyacinths in a
golden cloud of mimosa. The street was full of Sunday pleasure-seekers. I
swung my cane and laughed with the rest. Some one overtook and passed me.
He never turned, but there was the same deadly malignity in his white
profile that there had been in his eyes. I watched him as long as I could
see him. His lithe back expressed the same menace; every step that
carried him away from me seemed to bear him on some errand connected with
my destruction.
I was creeping along, my feet almost refusing to move. There began to
dawn in me a sense of responsibility for something long forgotten. It
began to seem as if I deserved that which he threatened: it reached a
long way back--a long, long way back. It had lain dormant all these
years: it was there, though, and presently it would rise and confront me.
But I would try to escape; and I stumbled as best I could into the Rue de
Rivoli, across the Place de la Concorde and on to the Quai. I looked with
sick eyes upon the sun, shining through the white foam of the fountain,
pouring over the backs of the dusky bronze river-gods, on the far-away
Arc, a structure of amethyst mist, on the countless vistas of grey stems
and bare branches faintly green. Then I saw him again coming down one of
the chestnut alleys of the Cours la Reine.
I left the river-side, plunged blindly across to the Champs Elysees and
turned toward the Arc. The setting sun was sending its rays along the
green sward of the Rond-point: in the full glow he sat on a bench,
children and young mothers all about him. He was nothing but a Sunday
lounger, like the others, like myself. I said the words almost aloud, and
all the while I gazed on the malignant hatred of his face. But he was not
looking at me. I crept past and dragged my leaden feet up the Avenue. I
knew that every time I met him brought him nearer to the accomplishment
of his purpose and my fate. And still I tried to save myself.
The last rays of sunset were pouring through the great Arc. I passed
under it, and met him face to face. I had left him far down the Champs
Elysees, and yet he came in with a stream of people who were returning
from the Bois de Boulogne. He came so close that he brushed me. His
slender frame felt like iron inside its loose black covering. He showed
no signs of haste, nor of fatigue, nor of any human feeling. His whole
being expressed one thing: the will, and the power to work me evil.
In anguish I watched him where he went down the broad crowded Avenue,
that was all flashing with wheels and the trappings of horses and the
helmets of the Garde Republicaine.
He was soon lost to sight; then I turned and fled. Into the Bois, and far
out beyond it--I know not where I went, but after a long while as it
seemed to me, night had fallen, and I found myself sitting at a table
before a small cafe. I had wandered back into the Bois. It was hours now
since I had seen him. Physical fatigue and mental suffering had left me
no power to think or feel. I was tired, so tired! I longed to hide away
in my own den. I resolved to go home. But that was a long way off.
I live in the Court of the Dragon, a narrow passage that leads from the
Rue de Rennes to the Rue du Dragon.
It is an "impasse"; traversable only for foot passengers. Over the
entrance on the Rue de Rennes is a balcony, supported by an iron dragon.
Within the court tall old houses rise on either side, and close the ends
that give on the two streets. Huge gates, swung back during the day into
the walls of the deep archways, close this court, after midnight, and one
must enter then by ringing at certain small doors on the side. The sunken
pavement collects unsavoury pools. Steep stairways pitch down to doors
that open on the court. The ground floors are occupied by shops of
second-hand dealers, and by iron workers. All day long the place rings
with the clink of hammers and the clang of metal bars.
Unsavoury as it is below, there is cheerfulness, and comfort, and hard,
honest work above.
Five flights up are the ateliers of architects and painters, and the
hiding-places of middle-aged students like myself who want to live alone.
When I first came here to live I was young, and not alone.
I had to walk a while before any conveyance appeared, but at last, when I
had almost reached the Arc de Triomphe again, an empty cab came along and
I took it.
From the Arc to the Rue de Rennes is a drive of more than half an hour,
especially when one is conveyed by a tired cab horse that has been at the
mercy of Sunday fete-makers.
There had been time before I passed under the Dragon's wings to meet my
enemy over and over again, but I never saw him once, and now refuge was
close at hand.
Before the wide gateway a small mob of children were playing. Our
concierge and his wife walked among them, with their black poodle,
keeping order; some couples were waltzing on the side-walk. I returned
their greetings and hurried in.
All the inhabitants of the court had trooped out into the street. The
place was quite deserted, lighted by a few lanterns hung high up, in
which the gas burned dimly.
My apartment was at the top of a house, halfway down the court, reached
by a staircase that descended almost into the street, with only a bit of
passage-way intervening, I set my foot on the threshold of the open door,
the friendly old ruinous stairs rose before me, leading up to rest and
shelter. Looking back over my right shoulder, I saw _him,_ ten paces
off. He must have entered the court with me.
He was coming straight on, neither slowly, nor swiftly, but straight on
to me. And now he was looking at me. For the first time since our eyes
encountered across the church they met now again, and I knew that the
time had come.
Retreating backward, down the court, I faced him. I meant to escape by
the entrance on the Rue du Dragon. His eyes told me that I never should
escape.
It seemed ages while we were going, I retreating, he advancing, down the
court in perfect silence; but at last I felt the shadow of the archway,
and the next step brought me within it. I had meant to turn here and
spring through into the street. But the shadow was not that of an
archway; it was that of a vault. The great doors on the Rue du Dragon
were closed. I felt this by the blackness which surrounded me, and at the
same instant I read it in his face. How his face gleamed in the darkness,
drawing swiftly nearer! The deep vaults, the huge closed doors, their
cold iron clamps were all on his side. The thing which he had threatened
had arrived: it gathered and bore down on me from the fathomless shadows;
the point from which it would strike was his infernal eyes. Hopeless, I
set my back against the barred doors and defied him.
There was a scraping of chairs on the stone floor, and a rustling as the
congregation rose. I could hear the Suisse's staff in the south aisle,
preceding Monseigneur C---- to the sacristy.
The kneeling nuns, roused from their devout abstraction, made their
reverence and went away. The fashionable lady, my neighbour, rose also,
with graceful reserve. As she departed her glance just flitted over my
face in disapproval.
Half dead, or so it seemed to me, yet intensely alive to every trifle, I
sat among the leisurely moving crowd, then rose too and went toward the
door.
I had slept through the sermon. Had I slept through the sermon? I looked
up and saw him passing along the gallery to his place. Only his side I
saw; the thin bent arm in its black covering looked like one of those
devilish, nameless instruments which lie in the disused torture-chambers
of mediaeval castles.
But I had escaped him, though his eyes had said I should not. _Had_
I escaped him? That which gave him the power over me came back out of
oblivion, where I had hoped to keep it. For I knew him now. Death and the
awful abode of lost souls, whither my weakness long ago had sent
him--they had changed him for every other eye, but not for mine. I had
recognized him almost from the first; I had never doubted what he was
come to do; and now I knew while my body sat safe in the cheerful little
church, he had been hunting my soul in the Court of the Dragon.
I crept to the door: the organ broke out overhead with a blare. A
dazzling light filled the church, blotting the altar from my eyes. The
people faded away, the arches, the vaulted roof vanished. I raised my
seared eyes to the fathomless glare, and I saw the black stars hanging in
the heavens: and the wet winds from the lake of Hali chilled my face.
And now, far away, over leagues of tossing cloud-waves, I saw the moon
dripping with spray; and beyond, the towers of Carcosa rose behind the
moon.
Death and the awful abode of lost souls, whither my weakness long ago had
sent him, had changed him for every other eye but mine. And now I heard
_his voice_, rising, swelling, thundering through the flaring light,
and as I fell, the radiance increasing, increasing, poured over me in
waves of flame. Then I sank into the depths, and I heard the King in
Yellow whispering to my soul: "It is a fearful thing to fall into the
hands of the living God!"
THE YELLOW SIGN
"Let the red dawn surmise
What we shall do,
When this blue starlight dies
And all is through."
I
There are so many things which are impossible to explain! Why should
certain chords in music make me think of the brown and golden tints of
autumn foliage? Why should the Mass of Sainte Cecile bend my thoughts
wandering among caverns whose walls blaze with ragged masses of virgin
silver? What was it in the roar and turmoil of Broadway at six o'clock
that flashed before my eyes the picture of a still Breton forest where
sunlight filtered through spring foliage and Sylvia bent, half curiously,
half tenderly, over a small green lizard, murmuring: "To think that this
also is a little ward of God!"
When I first saw the watchman his back was toward me. I looked at him
indifferently until he went into the church. I paid no more attention to
him than I had to any other man who lounged through Washington Square
that morning, and when I shut my window and turned back into my studio I
had forgotten him. Late in the afternoon, the day being warm, I raised
the window again and leaned out to get a sniff of air. A man was standing
in the courtyard of the church, and I noticed him again with as little
interest as I had that morning. I looked across the square to where the
fountain was playing and then, with my mind filled with vague impressions
of trees, asphalt drives, and the moving groups of nursemaids and
holiday-makers, I started to walk back to my easel. As I turned, my
listless glance included the man below in the churchyard. His face was
toward me now, and with a perfectly involuntary movement I bent to see
it. At the same moment he raised his head and looked at me. Instantly I
thought of a coffin-worm. Whatever it was about the man that repelled me
I did not know, but the impression of a plump white grave-worm was so
intense and nauseating that I must have shown it in my expression, for he
turned his puffy face away with a movement which made me think of a
disturbed grub in a chestnut.
I went back to my easel and motioned the model to resume her pose. After
working a while I was satisfied that I was spoiling what I had done as
rapidly as possible, and I took up a palette knife and scraped the colour
out again. The flesh tones were sallow and unhealthy, and I did not
understand how I could have painted such sickly colour into a study which
before that had glowed with healthy tones.
I looked at Tessie. She had not changed, and the clear flush of health
dyed her neck and cheeks as I frowned.
"Is it something I've done?" she said.
"No,--I've made a mess of this arm, and for the life of me I can't see
how I came to paint such mud as that into the canvas," I replied.
"Don't I pose well?" she insisted.
"Of course, perfectly."
"Then it's not my fault?"
"No. It's my own."
"I am very sorry," she said.
I told her she could rest while I applied rag and turpentine to the
plague spot on my canvas, and she went off to smoke a cigarette and look
over the illustrations in the _Courrier Francais_.
I did not know whether it was something in the turpentine or a defect in
the canvas, but the more I scrubbed the more that gangrene seemed to
spread. I worked like a beaver to get it out, and yet the disease
appeared to creep from limb to limb of the study before me. Alarmed, I
strove to arrest it, but now the colour on the breast changed and the
whole figure seemed to absorb the infection as a sponge soaks up water.
Vigorously I plied palette-knife, turpentine, and scraper, thinking all
the time what a _seance_ I should hold with Duval who had sold me
the canvas; but soon I noticed that it was not the canvas which was
defective nor yet the colours of Edward. "It must be the turpentine," I
thought angrily, "or else my eyes have become so blurred and confused by
the afternoon light that I can't see straight." I called Tessie, the
model. She came and leaned over my chair blowing rings of smoke into the
air.
"What _have_ you been doing to it?" she exclaimed
"Nothing," I growled, "it must be this turpentine!"
"What a horrible colour it is now," she continued. "Do you think my flesh
resembles green cheese?"
"No, I don't," I said angrily; "did you ever know me to paint like that
before?"
"No, indeed!"
"Well, then!"
"It must be the turpentine, or something," she admitted.
She slipped on a Japanese robe and walked to the window. I scraped and
rubbed until I was tired, and finally picked up my brushes and hurled
them through the canvas with a forcible expression, the tone alone of
which reached Tessie's ears.
Nevertheless she promptly began: "That's it! Swear and act silly and ruin
your brushes! You have been three weeks on that study, and now look!
What's the good of ripping the canvas? What creatures artists are!"
I felt about as much ashamed as I usually did after such an outbreak, and
I turned the ruined canvas to the wall. Tessie helped me clean my
brushes, and then danced away to dress. From the screen she regaled me
with bits of advice concerning whole or partial loss of temper, until,
thinking, perhaps, I had been tormented sufficiently, she came out to
implore me to button her waist where she could not reach it on the
shoulder.
"Everything went wrong from the time you came back from the window and
talked about that horrid-looking man you saw in the churchyard," she
announced.
"Yes, he probably bewitched the picture," I said, yawning. I looked at my
watch.
"It's after six, I know," said Tessie, adjusting her hat before the
mirror.
"Yes," I replied, "I didn't mean to keep you so long." I leaned out of
the window but recoiled with disgust, for the young man with the pasty
face stood below in the churchyard. Tessie saw my gesture of disapproval
and leaned from the window.
"Is that the man you don't like?" she whispered.
I nodded.
"I can't see his face, but he does look fat and soft. Someway or other,"
she continued, turning to look at me, "he reminds me of a dream,--an
awful dream I once had. Or," she mused, looking down at her shapely
shoes, "was it a dream after all?"
"How should I know?" I smiled.
Tessie smiled in reply.
"You were in it," she said, "so perhaps you might know something about
it."
"Tessie! Tessie!" I protested, "don't you dare flatter by saying that you
dream about me!"
"But I did," she insisted; "shall I tell you about it?"
"Go ahead," I replied, lighting a cigarette.
Tessie leaned back on the open window-sill and began very seriously.
"One night last winter I was lying in bed thinking about nothing at all
in particular. I had been posing for you and I was tired out, yet it
seemed impossible for me to sleep. I heard the bells in the city ring
ten, eleven, and midnight. I must have fallen asleep about midnight
because I don't remember hearing the bells after that. It seemed to me
that I had scarcely closed my eyes when I dreamed that something impelled
me to go to the window. I rose, and raising the sash leaned out.
Twenty-fifth Street was deserted as far as I could see. I began to be
afraid; everything outside seemed so--so black and uncomfortable. Then
the sound of wheels in the distance came to my ears, and it seemed to me
as though that was what I must wait for. Very slowly the wheels
approached, and, finally, I could make out a vehicle moving along the
street. It came nearer and nearer, and when it passed beneath my window I
saw it was a hearse. Then, as I trembled with fear, the driver turned and
looked straight at me. When I awoke I was standing by the open window
shivering with cold, but the black-plumed hearse and the driver were
gone. I dreamed this dream again in March last, and again awoke beside
the open window. Last night the dream came again. You remember how it was
raining; when I awoke, standing at the open window, my night-dress was
soaked."
"But where did I come into the dream?" I asked.
"You--you were in the coffin; but you were not dead."
"In the coffin?"
"Yes."
"How did you know? Could you see me?"
"No; I only knew you were there."
"Had you been eating Welsh rarebits, or lobster salad?" I began,
laughing, but the girl interrupted me with a frightened cry.
"Hello! What's up?" I said, as she shrank into the embrasure by the
window.
"The--the man below in the churchyard;--he drove the hearse."
"Nonsense," I said, but Tessie's eyes were wide with terror. I went to
the window and looked out. The man was gone. "Come, Tessie," I urged,
"don't be foolish. You have posed too long; you are nervous."
"Do you think I could forget that face?" she murmured. "Three times I saw
the hearse pass below my window, and every time the driver turned and
looked up at me. Oh, his face was so white and--and soft? It looked
dead--it looked as if it had been dead a long time."
I induced the girl to sit down and swallow a glass of Marsala. Then I sat
down beside her, and tried to give her some advice.
"Look here, Tessie," I said, "you go to the country for a week or two,
and you'll have no more dreams about hearses. You pose all day, and when
night comes your nerves are upset. You can't keep this up. Then again,
instead of going to bed when your day's work is done, you run off to
picnics at Sulzer's Park, or go to the Eldorado or Coney Island, and when
you come down here next morning you are fagged out. There was no real
hearse. There was a soft-shell crab dream."
She smiled faintly.
"What about the man in the churchyard?"
"Oh, he's only an ordinary unhealthy, everyday creature."
"As true as my name is Tessie Reardon, I swear to you, Mr. Scott, that
the face of the man below in the churchyard is the face of the man who
drove the hearse!"
"What of it?" I said. "It's an honest trade."
"Then you think I _did_ see the hearse?"
"Oh," I said diplomatically, "if you really did, it might not be unlikely
that the man below drove it. There is nothing in that."
Tessie rose, unrolled her scented handkerchief, and taking a bit of gum
from a knot in the hem, placed it in her mouth. Then drawing on her
gloves she offered me her hand, with a frank, "Good-night, Mr. Scott,"
and walked out.
II
The next morning, Thomas, the bell-boy, brought me the _Herald_ and
a bit of news. The church next door had been sold. I thanked Heaven for
it, not that being a Catholic I had any repugnance for the congregation
next door, but because my nerves were shattered by a blatant exhorter,
whose every word echoed through the aisle of the church as if it had been
my own rooms, and who insisted on his r's with a nasal persistence which
revolted my every instinct. Then, too, there was a fiend in human shape,
an organist, who reeled off some of the grand old hymns with an
interpretation of his own, and I longed for the blood of a creature who
could play the doxology with an amendment of minor chords which one hears
only in a quartet of very young undergraduates. I believe the minister
was a good man, but when he bellowed: "And the Lorrrrd said unto Moses,
the Lorrrd is a man of war; the Lorrrd is his name. My wrath shall wax
hot and I will kill you with the sworrrrd!" I wondered how many centuries
of purgatory it would take to atone for such a sin.
"Who bought the property?" I asked Thomas.
"Nobody that I knows, sir. They do say the gent wot owns this 'ere
'Amilton flats was lookin' at it. 'E might be a bildin' more studios."
I walked to the window. The young man with the unhealthy face stood by
the churchyard gate, and at the mere sight of him the same overwhelming
repugnance took possession of me.
"By the way, Thomas," I said, "who is that fellow down there?"
Thomas sniffed. "That there worm, sir? 'Es night-watchman of the church,
sir. 'E maikes me tired a-sittin' out all night on them steps and lookin'
at you insultin' like. I'd a punched 'is 'ed, sir--beg pardon, sir--"
"Go on, Thomas."
"One night a comin' 'ome with Arry, the other English boy, I sees 'im a
sittin' there on them steps. We 'ad Molly and Jen with us, sir, the two
girls on the tray service, an' 'e looks so insultin' at us that I up and
sez: 'Wat you looking hat, you fat slug?'--beg pardon, sir, but that's
'ow I sez, sir. Then 'e don't say nothin' and I sez: 'Come out and I'll
punch that puddin' 'ed.' Then I hopens the gate an' goes in, but 'e don't
say nothin', only looks insultin' like. Then I 'its 'im one, but, ugh!
'is 'ed was that cold and mushy it ud sicken you to touch 'im."
"What did he do then?" I asked curiously.
"'Im? Nawthin'."
"And you, Thomas?"
The young fellow flushed with embarrassment and smiled uneasily.
"Mr. Scott, sir, I ain't no coward, an' I can't make it out at all why I
run. I was in the 5th Lawncers, sir, bugler at Tel-el-Kebir, an' was shot
by the wells."
"You don't mean to say you ran away?"
"Yes, sir; I run."
"Why?"
"That's just what I want to know, sir. I grabbed Molly an' run, an' the
rest was as frightened as I."
"But what were they frightened at?"
Thomas refused to answer for a while, but now my curiosity was aroused
about the repulsive young man below and I pressed him. Three years'
sojourn in America had not only modified Thomas' cockney dialect but had
given him the American's fear of ridicule.
"You won't believe me, Mr. Scott, sir?"
"Yes, I will."
"You will lawf at me, sir?"
"Nonsense!"
He hesitated. "Well, sir, it's Gawd's truth that when I 'it 'im 'e
grabbed me wrists, sir, and when I twisted 'is soft, mushy fist one of
'is fingers come off in me 'and."
The utter loathing and horror of Thomas' face must have been reflected in
my own, for he added:
"It's orful, an' now when I see 'im I just go away. 'E maikes me hill."
When Thomas had gone I went to the window. The man stood beside the
church-railing with both hands on the gate, but I hastily retreated to my
easel again, sickened and horrified, for I saw that the middle finger of
his right hand was missing.
At nine o'clock Tessie appeared and vanished behind the screen with a
merry "Good morning, Mr. Scott." When she had reappeared and taken her
pose upon the model-stand I started a new canvas, much to her delight.
She remained silent as long as I was on the drawing, but as soon as the
scrape of the charcoal ceased and I took up my fixative she began to
chatter.
"Oh, I had such a lovely time last night. We went to Tony Pastor's."
"Who are 'we'?" I demanded.
"Oh, Maggie, you know, Mr. Whyte's model, and Pinkie McCormick--we call
her Pinkie because she's got that beautiful red hair you artists like so
much--and Lizzie Burke."
I sent a shower of spray from the fixative over the canvas, and said:
"Well, go on."
"We saw Kelly and Baby Barnes the skirt-dancer and--and all the rest. I
made a mash."
"Then you have gone back on me, Tessie?"
She laughed and shook her head.
"He's Lizzie Burke's brother, Ed. He's a perfect gen'l'man."
I felt constrained to give her some parental advice concerning mashing,
which she took with a bright smile.
"Oh, I can take care of a strange mash," she said, examining her chewing
gum, "but Ed is different. Lizzie is my best friend."
Then she related how Ed had come back from the stocking mill in Lowell,
Massachusetts, to find her and Lizzie grown up, and what an accomplished
young man he was, and how he thought nothing of squandering half-a-dollar
for ice-cream and oysters to celebrate his entry as clerk into the
woollen department of Macy's. Before she finished I began to paint, and
she resumed the pose, smiling and chattering like a sparrow. By noon I
had the study fairly well rubbed in and Tessie came to look at it.
"That's better," she said.
I thought so too, and ate my lunch with a satisfied feeling that all was
going well. Tessie spread her lunch on a drawing table opposite me and we
drank our claret from the same bottle and lighted our cigarettes from the
same match. I was very much attached to Tessie. I had watched her shoot
up into a slender but exquisitely formed woman from a frail, awkward
child. She had posed for me during the last three years, and among all my
models she was my favourite. It would have troubled me very much indeed
had she become "tough" or "fly," as the phrase goes, but I never noticed
any deterioration of her manner, and felt at heart that she was all
right. She and I never discussed morals at all, and I had no intention of
doing so, partly because I had none myself, and partly because I knew she
would do what she liked in spite of me. Still I did hope she would steer
clear of complications, because I wished her well, and then also I had a
selfish desire to retain the best model I had. I knew that mashing, as
she termed it, had no significance with girls like Tessie, and that such
things in America did not resemble in the least the same things in Paris.
Yet, having lived with my eyes open, I also knew that somebody would take
Tessie away some day, in one manner or another, and though I professed to
myself that marriage was nonsense, I sincerely hoped that, in this case,
there would be a priest at the end of the vista. I am a Catholic. When I
listen to high mass, when I sign myself, I feel that everything,
including myself, is more cheerful, and when I confess, it does me good.
A man who lives as much alone as I do, must confess to somebody. Then,
again, Sylvia was Catholic, and it was reason enough for me. But I was
speaking of Tessie, which is very different. Tessie also was Catholic and
much more devout than I, so, taking it all in all, I had little fear for
my pretty model until she should fall in love. But _then_ I knew
that fate alone would decide her future for her, and I prayed inwardly
that fate would keep her away from men like me and throw into her path
nothing but Ed Burkes and Jimmy McCormicks, bless her sweet face!
Tessie sat blowing rings of smoke up to the ceiling and tinkling the ice
in her tumbler.
"Do you know that I also had a dream last night?" I observed.
"Not about that man," she laughed.
"Exactly. A dream similar to yours, only much worse."
It was foolish and thoughtless of me to say this, but you know how little
tact the average painter has. "I must have fallen asleep about ten
o'clock," I continued, "and after a while I dreamt that I awoke. So
plainly did I hear the midnight bells, the wind in the tree-branches, and
the whistle of steamers from the bay, that even now I can scarcely
believe I was not awake. I seemed to be lying in a box which had a glass
cover. Dimly I saw the street lamps as I passed, for I must tell you,
Tessie, the box in which I reclined appeared to lie in a cushioned wagon
which jolted me over a stony pavement. After a while I became impatient
and tried to move, but the box was too narrow. My hands were crossed on
my breast, so I could not raise them to help myself. I listened and then
tried to call. My voice was gone. I could hear the trample of the horses
attached to the wagon, and even the breathing of the driver. Then another
sound broke upon my ears like the raising of a window sash. I managed to
turn my head a little, and found I could look, not only through the glass
cover of my box, but also through the glass panes in the side of the
covered vehicle. I saw houses, empty and silent, with neither light nor
life about any of them excepting one. In that house a window was open on
the first floor, and a figure all in white stood looking down into the
street. It was you."
Tessie had turned her face away from me and leaned on the table with her
elbow.
"I could see your face," I resumed, "and it seemed to me to be very
sorrowful. Then we passed on and turned into a narrow black lane.
Presently the horses stopped. I waited and waited, closing my eyes with
ear and impatience, but all was silent as the grave. After what seemed to
me hours, I began to feel uncomfortable. A sense that somebody was close
to me made me unclose my eyes. Then I saw the white face of the
hearse-driver looking at me through the coffin-lid----"
A sob from Tessie interrupted me. She was trembling like a leaf. I saw I
had made an ass of myself and attempted to repair the damage.
"Why, Tess," I said, "I only told you this to show you what influence
your story might have on another person's dreams. You don't suppose I
really lay in a coffin, do you? What are you trembling for? Don't you see
that your dream and my unreasonable dislike for that inoffensive watchman
of the church simply set my brain working as soon as I fell asleep?"
She laid her head between her arms, and sobbed as if her heart would
break. What a precious triple donkey I had made of myself! But I was
about to break my record. I went over and put my arm about her.
"Tessie dear, forgive me," I said; "I had no business to frighten you
with such nonsense. You are too sensible a girl, too good a Catholic to
believe in dreams."
Her hand tightened on mine and her head fell back upon my shoulder, but
she still trembled and I petted her and comforted her.
"Come, Tess, open your eyes and smile."
Her eyes opened with a slow languid movement and met mine, but their
expression was so queer that I hastened to reassure her again.
"It's all humbug, Tessie; you surely are not afraid that any harm will
come to you because of that."
"No," she said, but her scarlet lips quivered.
"Then, what's the matter? Are you afraid?"
"Yes. Not for myself."
"For me, then?" I demanded gaily.
"For you," she murmured in a voice almost inaudible. "I--I care for you."
At first I started to laugh, but when I understood her, a shock passed
through me, and I sat like one turned to stone. This was the crowning bit
of idiocy I had committed. During the moment which elapsed between her
reply and my answer I thought of a thousand responses to that innocent
confession. I could pass it by with a laugh, I could misunderstand her
and assure her as to my health, I could simply point out that it was
impossible she could love me. But my reply was quicker than my thoughts,
and I might think and think now when it was too late, for I had kissed
her on the mouth.
That evening I took my usual walk in Washington Park, pondering over the
occurrences of the day. I was thoroughly committed. There was no back out
now, and I stared the future straight in the face. I was not good, not
even scrupulous, but I had no idea of deceiving either myself or Tessie.
The one passion of my life lay buried in the sunlit forests of Brittany.
Was it buried for ever? Hope cried "No!" For three years I had been
listening to the voice of Hope, and for three years I had waited for a
footstep on my threshold. Had Sylvia forgotten? "No!" cried Hope.
I said that I was no good. That is true, but still I was not exactly a
comic opera villain. I had led an easy-going reckless life, taking what
invited me of pleasure, deploring and sometimes bitterly regretting
consequences. In one thing alone, except my painting, was I serious, and
that was something which lay hidden if not lost in the Breton forests.
It was too late for me to regret what had occurred during the day.
Whatever it had been, pity, a sudden tenderness for sorrow, or the more
brutal instinct of gratified vanity, it was all the same now, and unless
I wished to bruise an innocent heart, my path lay marked before me. The
fire and strength, the depth of passion of a love which I had never even
suspected, with all my imagined experience in the world, left me no
alternative but to respond or send her away. Whether because I am so
cowardly about giving pain to others, or whether it was that I have
little of the gloomy Puritan in me, I do not know, but I shrank from
disclaiming responsibility for that thoughtless kiss, and in fact had no
time to do so before the gates of her heart opened and the flood poured
forth. Others who habitually do their duty and find a sullen satisfaction
in making themselves and everybody else unhappy, might have withstood it.
I did not. I dared not. After the storm had abated I did tell her that
she might better have loved Ed Burke and worn a plain gold ring, but she
would not hear of it, and I thought perhaps as long as she had decided to
love somebody she could not marry, it had better be me. I, at least,
could treat her with an intelligent affection, and whenever she became
tired of her infatuation she could go none the worse for it. For I was
decided on that point although I knew how hard it would be. I remembered
the usual termination of Platonic liaisons, and thought how disgusted I
had been whenever I heard of one. I knew I was undertaking a great deal
for so unscrupulous a man as I was, and I dreamed the future, but never
for one moment did I doubt that she was safe with me. Had it been anybody
but Tessie I should not have bothered my head about scruples. For it did
not occur to me to sacrifice Tessie as I would have sacrificed a woman of
the world. I looked the future squarely in the face and saw the several
probable endings to the affair. She would either tire of the whole thing,
or become so unhappy that I should have either to marry her or go away.
If I married her we would be unhappy. I with a wife unsuited to me, and
she with a husband unsuitable for any woman. For my past life could
scarcely entitle me to marry. If I went away she might either fall ill,
recover, and marry some Eddie Burke, or she might recklessly or
deliberately go and do something foolish. On the other hand, if she tired
of me, then her whole life would be before her with beautiful vistas of
Eddie Burkes and marriage rings and twins and Harlem flats and Heaven
knows what. As I strolled along through the trees by the Washington Arch,
I decided that she should find a substantial friend in me, anyway, and
the future could take care of itself. Then I went into the house and put
on my evening dress, for the little faintly-perfumed note on my dresser
said, "Have a cab at the stage door at eleven," and the note was signed
"Edith Carmichel, Metropolitan Theatre."
I took supper that night, or rather we took supper, Miss Carmichel and I,
at Solari's, and the dawn was just beginning to gild the cross on the
Memorial Church as I entered Washington Square after leaving Edith at the
Brunswick. There was not a soul in the park as I passed along the trees
and took the walk which leads from the Garibaldi statue to the Hamilton
Apartment House, but as I passed the churchyard I saw a figure sitting on
the stone steps. In spite of myself a chill crept over me at the sight of
the white puffy face, and I hastened to pass. Then he said something
which might have been addressed to me or might merely have been a mutter
to himself, but a sudden furious anger flamed up within me that such a
creature should address me. For an instant I felt like wheeling about and
smashing my stick over his head, but I walked on, and entering the
Hamilton went to my apartment. For some time I tossed about the bed
trying to get the sound of his voice out of my ears, but could not. It
filled my head, that muttering sound, like thick oily smoke from a
fat-rendering vat or an odour of noisome decay. And as I lay and tossed
about, the voice in my ears seemed more distinct, and I began to
understand the words he had muttered. They came to me slowly as if I had
forgotten them, and at last I could make some sense out of the sounds. It
was this:
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
"Have you found the Yellow Sign?"
I was furious. What did he mean by that? Then with a curse upon him and
his I rolled over and went to sleep, but when I awoke later I looked pale
and haggard, for I had dreamed the dream of the night before, and it
troubled me more than I cared to think.
I dressed and went down into my studio. Tessie sat by the window, but as
I came in she rose and put both arms around my neck for an innocent kiss.
She looked so sweet and dainty that I kissed her again and then sat down
before the easel.
"Hello! Where's the study I began yesterday?" I asked.
Tessie looked conscious, but did not answer. I began to hunt among the
piles of canvases, saying, "Hurry up, Tess, and get ready; we must take
advantage of the morning light."
When at last I gave up the search among the other canvases and turned to
look around the room for the missing study I noticed Tessie standing by
the screen with her clothes still on.
"What's the matter," I asked, "don't you feel well?"
"Yes."
"Then hurry."
"Do you want me to pose as--as I have always posed?"
Then I understood. Here was a new complication. I had lost, of course,
the best nude model I had ever seen. I looked at Tessie. Her face was
scarlet. Alas! Alas! We had eaten of the tree of knowledge, and Eden and
native innocence were dreams of the past--I mean for her.
I suppose she noticed the disappointment on my face, for she said: "I
will pose if you wish. The study is behind the screen here where I put
it."
"No," I said, "we will begin something new;" and I went into my wardrobe
and picked out a Moorish costume which fairly blazed with tinsel. It was
a genuine costume, and Tessie retired to the screen with it enchanted.
When she came forth again I was astonished. Her long black hair was bound
above her forehead with a circlet of turquoises, and the ends, curled
about her glittering girdle. Her feet were encased in the embroidered
pointed slippers and the skirt of her costume, curiously wrought with
arabesques in silver, fell to her ankles. The deep metallic blue vest
embroidered with silver and the short Mauresque jacket spangled and sewn
with turquoises became her wonderfully. She came up to me and held up her
face smiling. I slipped my hand into my pocket, and drawing out a gold
chain with a cross attached, dropped it over her head.
"It's yours, Tessie."
"Mine?" she faltered.
"Yours. Now go and pose," Then with a radiant smile she ran behind the
screen and presently reappeared with a little box on which was written my
name.
"I had intended to give it to you when I went home to-night," she said,
"but I can't wait now."
I opened the box. On the pink cotton inside lay a clasp of black onyx, on
which was inlaid a curious symbol or letter in gold. It was neither
Arabic nor Chinese, nor, as I found afterwards, did it belong to any
human script.
"It's all I had to give you for a keepsake," she said timidly.
I was annoyed, but I told her how much I should prize it, and promised to
wear it always. She fastened it on my coat beneath the lapel.
"How foolish, Tess, to go and buy me such a beautiful thing as this," I
said.
"I did not buy it," she laughed.
"Where did you get it?"
Then she told me how she had found it one day while coming from the
Aquarium in the Battery, how she had advertised it and watched the
papers, but at last gave up all hopes of finding the owner.
"That was last winter," she said, "the very day I had the first horrid
dream about the hearse."
I remembered my dream of the previous night but said nothing, and
presently my charcoal was flying over a new canvas, and Tessie stood
motionless on the model-stand.
III
The day following was a disastrous one for me. While moving a framed
canvas from o