Зображення сторінки

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 5 the thoughtful among those who reveled. 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 10 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 disappro

bation and surprise—then, finally, of terror, of horror, 15 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 mas

querade license of the night was nearly unlimited; but the 20 figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone be

yond the bounds of even the prince's indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the ut

terly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there 25 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 30 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 revelers around. But the mummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the Red Death. His vesture was dabbled in bloodand 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 spec- 5 tral image (which, with a slow and solemn movement, as if more fully to sustain its rôle, 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. 10

“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!"

15 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 25 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 30 prince's person; and, while the vast assembly, as if with one impulse, shrank from the centers 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 purplethrough 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 5 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 10 aloft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid im

petuosity, 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

— 15 dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet, upon

which, instantly afterward, fell prostrate in death the Prince Prospero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throng of the revelers at once threw themselves

into the black apartment, and, seizing the mummer, whose 20 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. 25 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 revelers 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 30 of the last of the gay. And the flames of the tripods ex

pired. And Darkness and Decay and the Red Death held illimitable dominion over all.



What ho! what ho! this fellow is dancing mad!
He hath been bitten by the Tarantula.

-All in the Wrong.

[ocr errors]

Many years ago, I contracted an intimacy with a Mr. William Legrand. He was of an ancient Huguenot 5 family, and had once been wealthy; but a series of misfortunes had reduced him to want. To avoid the mortification consequent upon his disasters, he left New Orleans, the city of his forefathers, and took up his residence at Sullivan's Island, near Charleston, South Carolina.

This island is a very singular one. It consists of little else than the sea sand, and is about three miles long. Its breadth at no point exceeds a quarter of a mile. It is separated from the mainland by a scarcely perceptible creek, oozing its way through a wilderness of reeds and 15 slime, a favorite resort of the marsh-hen. The vegetation, as might be supposed, is scant, or at least dwarfish. No trees of any magnitude are to be seen. Near the western extremity, where Fort Moultrie stands, and where are some miserable frame buildings, tenanted dur- 20 ing summer by the fugitives from Charleston dust and fever, may be found, indeed, the bristly palmetto; but the

The Gold-Bug

* See note to The Masque of the Red Death. was first published in 1843.

whole island, with the exception of this western point, and a line of hard white beach on the seacoast, is covered with a dense undergrowth of the sweet myrtle, so much

prized by the horticulturists of England. The shrub 5 here often attains the height of fifteen or twenty feet,

and forms an almost impenetrable coppice, burdening the air with its fragrance.

In the utmost recesses of this coppice, not far from the eastern or more remote end of the island, Legrand 10 had built himself a small hut, which he occupied when I

first, by mere accident, made his acquaintance. This soon ripened into friendship—for there was much in the recluse to excite interest and esteem. I found him well educated,

with unusual powers of mind, but infected with misan15 thropy, and subject to perverse moods of alternate en

thusiasm and melancholy. He had with him many books, but rarely employed them. His chief amusements were gunning and fishing, or sauntering along the beach and

through the myrtles, in quest of shells or entomological 20 specimens;—his collection of the latter might have been

envied by a Swammerdamm. In these excursions he was usually accompanied by an old negro, called Jupiter, who had been manumitted before the reverses of the family,

but who could be induced, neither by threats nor by 25 promises, to abandon what he considered his right of

attendance upon the footsteps of his young “Massa Will." It is not improbable that the relatives of Legrand, conceiving him to be somewhat unsettled in intellect, had

contrived to instil this obstinacy into Jupiter, with a view 30 to the supervision and guardianship of the wanderer.

The winters in the latitude of Sullivan's Island are seldom very severe, and in the fall of the year it is a rare event indeed when a fire is considered necessary. About the middle of October, 18%, there occurred, how

« НазадПродовжити »