Story 13 - the Masque of the Red De by Spitoufs
Story 13 - the Masque of the Red De by Spitoufs
The Red Death had long devastated the country.
No pestilence had ever been so fatal, or so hideous.
Blood was its Avatar and its seal - the redness and the
horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness,
and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution.
The scarlet stains upon the body and especially upon the
face of the victim, were the pest ban which shut him out
from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men.
And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the
disease, were the incidents of half an hour.
But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious.
When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his
presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among
the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to
the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was
an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the
princes own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty
wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers,
having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded
the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingress or
egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from
within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions
the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external
world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly
to grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the
appliances of pleasure. There were buffoons, there were
improvisatori, there were ballet-dancers, there were musicians,
there was Beauty, there was wine. All these and security were
within. Without was the Red Death.
It was toward the close of the fifth or sixth month of his
seclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad,
that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at a
masked ball of the most unusual magnificence.
It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let me
tell of the rooms in which it was held. There were seven
-an imperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form
a long and straight vista, while the folding doors slide back
nearly to the walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole
extent is scarcely impeded. Here the case was very different as
might have been expected from the dukes love of the bizarre.
The apartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision
embraced but little more than one at a time.
There was a sharp turn at every twenty or thirty yards, and
at each turn a novel effect. To the right and left, in the
middle of each wall, a tall and narrow Gothic window looked
out upon a closed corridor which pursued the windings of the
suite. These windows were of stained glass whose color varied
in accordance with the prevailing hue of the decorations of the
chamber into which it opened. That at the eastern extremity was
hung, for example, in blue - and vividly blue were its windows.
The second chamber was purple in its ornaments and tapestries,
and here the panes were purple. The third was green throughout,
and so were the casements. The fourth was furnished and lighted
with orange -the fifth with white - the sixth with violet.
The seventh apartment was closely shrouded in black velvet
tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls,
falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of the same material and hue.
But in this chamber only, the color of the windows failed to
correspond with the decorations. The panes here were scarlet
-a deep blood color. Now in no one of the seven apartments was
there any lamp or candelabrum, amid the profusion of golden
ornaments that lay scattered to and fro or depended from the roof.
There was no light of any kind emanating from lamp or candle
within the suite of chambers. But in the corridors that followed
the suite, there stood, opposite to each window, a heavy tripod,
bearing a brazier of fire that protected its rays through the
tinted glass and so glaringly illumined the room. And thus were
produced a multitude of gaudy and fantastic appearances.
But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light
that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted
panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look
upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few
of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all.
It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against the
western wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung to
and fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang and when the
minute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was to be
stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a sound
which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but
of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour,
the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause,
momentarily, in their performance, to hearken to the sound
and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions and there
was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company and, while the
chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest
grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over
their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation.
But when the echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once
pervaded the assembly the musicians looked at each other and
smiled as if at their own nervousness and folly, and made
whispering vows, each to the other, that the next chiming of the
clock should produce in them no similar emotion and then,
after the lapse of sixty minutes, which embrace three thousand
and six hundred seconds of the Time that flies, there came yet
another chiming of the clock, and then were the same disconcert
and tremulousness and meditation as before.
But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificent revel.
The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye for colors
and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion.
His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowed with
barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thought him mad.
His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary to hear and
see and touch him to be sure that he was not.
He had directed, in great part, the moveable embellishments of the
seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete and it was his
own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders.
Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and
piquancy and phantasm - much of what has been since seen
in Hernani.
There were arabesque figures with unsuited limbs and appointments.
There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions.
There was much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of
the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that
which might have excited disgust. To and fro in the seven
chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitude of dreams.
And these - the dreams - writhed in and about, taking hue from
the rooms, and causing the wild music of the orchestra to seem as
the echo of their steps. And, anon, there strikes the ebony
clock which stands in the hall of the velvet.
And then, for a moment, all is still, and all is silent save the
voice of the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand.
But the echoes of the chime die away - they have endured but
an instant - and a light, half-subdued laughter floats after
them as they depart. And now again the music swells, and the
dreams live, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever,
taking hue from the many-tinted windows through which stream the
rays from the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most
westwardly of the seven, there are now none of the maskers who
venture for the night is waning away and there flows a
ruddier light through the blood-colored panes and the blackness
of the sable drapery appals and to him whose foot falls upon
the sable carpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a
muffled peal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their
ears who indulge in the more remote gaieties of the other
But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in them beat
feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlingly on,
until at length there commenced the sounding of midnight upon the
clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told and the
evolutions of the waltzers were quieted and there was an
uneasy cessation of all things as before.
But now there were twelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of
the clock and thus it happened, perhaps, that more of thought
crept, with more of time, into the meditations of the thoughtful
among those who revelled. And thus, too, it happened, perhaps,
that before the last echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk
into silence, there were many individuals in the crowd who had
found leisure to become aware of the presence of a masked figure
which had arrested the attention of no single individual before.
And the rumor of this new presence having spread itself
whisperingly around, there arose at length from the whole
company a buzz, or murmur, expressive of disapprobation and
surprise - then, finally, of terror, of horror, and of disgust.
In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be
supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such
sensation. In truth the masquerade license of the night was nearly
unlimited but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and
gone beyond the bounds of even the princes indefinite decorum.
There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot
be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom
life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no
jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to
feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit
nor propriety existed. The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded
from head to foot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which
concealed the visage was made so nearly to resemble the
countenance of a stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny
must have had difficulty in detecting the cheat.
And yet all this might have been endured, if not approved, by
the mad revellers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to
assume the type of the Red Death.
His vesture was dabbled in blood - and his broad brow, with all
the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror.
When the eyes of Prince Prospero fell upon this spectral image
which with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to
sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers he was
seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strong shudder
either of terror or distaste but, in the next, his brow reddened
with rage.
Who dares? he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers who stood near
him - who dares insult us with this blasphemous mockery?
Seize him and unmask him - that we may know whom we have to hang
at sunrise, from the battlements!
It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the
Prince Prospero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout
the seven rooms loudly and clearly - for the prince was a bold
and robust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving
of his hand.
It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a group of
pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was a
slight rushing movement of this group in the direction of the
intruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now, with
deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to the speaker.
But from a certain nameless awe with which the mad assumptions of
the mummer had inspired the whole party, there were found none who
put forth hand to seize him so that, unimpeded, he passed within
a yard of the princes person and, while the vast assembly, as
if with one impulse, shrank from the centres of the rooms to the
walls, he made his way uninterruptedly, but with the same solemn
and measured step which had distinguished him from the first,
through the blue chamber to the purple - through the purple to
the green - through the green to the orange - through this again
to the white - and even thence to the violet, ere a decided
movement had been made to arrest him. It was then, however, that
the Prince Prospero, maddening with rage and the shame of his
own momentary cowardice, rushed hurriedly through the six chambers,
while none followed him on account of a deadly terror that had
seized upon all. He bore aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached,
in rapid impetuosity, to within three or four feet of the
retreating figure, when the latter, having attained the extremity
of the velvet apartment, turned suddenly and confronted his
pursuer. There was a sharp cry - and the dagger dropped gleaming
upon the sable carpet, upon which, instantly afterwards, fell
prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild
courage of despair, a throng of the revellers at once threw
themselves into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer,
whose tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow
of the ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the
grave-cerements and corpse-like mask which they handled with so
violent a rudeness, untenanted by any tangible form.
And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death.
He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped
the revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and died
each in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of the
ebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And the
flames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and the
Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.