The Masque of the Red Death

    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 siezure, 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 lighthearted 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 prince's 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 nor 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 improvisators,
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

    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 duke's 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 vivid 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 
materials 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 suspended 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 projected 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 firelight 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 revery 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 luster. 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 movable 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 were 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 manytinted 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
bloodcolored panes; and the blackness of the sable drapery appalls; 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 the~r 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 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 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

    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 prince's 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 difflculty 
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 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 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 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 flgure, 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 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 tall figure stood erect and motionless within the shadow of the 
ebony clock, gasped in unutterable horror at finding the grave cerement 
and corpselike 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 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 
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.