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The Masque of the Red DeathThe Masque of the Red DeathbyEdgarar Allan PoeoeThe “Red Death” had long devastated the country. No pestilencehad ever been so fatal, or so hideous. Blood was its Avatarand its seal—the redness and the horror of blood. Therewere sharp pains, and sudden dizziness, and then profuse bleedingat the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains upon thebody and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pestban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy ofhis fellow-men. And the whole seizure, progress and terminationof 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 summonedto his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends fromamong the knights and dames of his court, and with these retiredto the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys.This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation ofthe prince’s own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and loftywall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers,having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers andwelded the bolts. They resolved to leave means neither of ingressnor egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzyfrom within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautionsthe courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The externalworld could take care of itself. In the meantime it was follyto grieve, or to think. The prince had provided all the appliancesof pleasure. There were buffoons, there were improvisatori, therewere ballet-dancers, there were musicians, there was Beauty,there was wine. All these and security were within. Without wasthe “Red Death.”It was towards the close of the fifth or sixth month of hisseclusion, and while the pestilence raged most furiously abroad,that the Prince Prospero entertained his thousand friends at amasked ball of the most unusual magnificence.It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade. But first let metell of the rooms in which it was held. These were seven—animperial suite. In many palaces, however, such suites form a long3
The Masque of the Red Deathand straight vista, while the folding doors slide back nearly tothe walls on either hand, so that the view of the whole extent isscarcely impeded. Here the case was very different, as mighthave been expected from the duke’s love of the bizarre. Theapartments were so irregularly disposed that the vision embracedbut little more than one at a time. There was a sharp turn atevery twenty or thirty yards, and at each turn a novel effect. Tothe right and left, in the middle of each wall, a tall and narrowGothic window looked out upon a closed corridor which pursuedthe windings of the suite. These windows were of stained glasswhose colour varied in accordance with the prevailing hue ofthe decorations of the chamber into which it opened. That at theeastern extremity was hung, for example in blue—and vividlyblue were its windows. The second chamber was purple in itsornaments and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. Thethird was green throughout, and so were the casements. Thefourth was furnished and lighted with orange—the fifth withwhite—the sixth with violet. The seventh apartment was closelyshrouded in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceilingand down the walls, falling in heavy folds upon a carpet of thesame material and hue. But in this chamber only, the colour ofthe windows failed to correspond with the decorations. The paneshere were scarlet—a deep blood colour. Now in no one of theseven apartments was there any lamp or candelabrum, amidthe profusion of golden ornaments that lay scattered to and froor depended from the roof. There was no light of any kind emanatingfrom lamp or candle within the suite of chambers. But inthe corridors that followed the suite, there stood, opposite toeach window, a heavy tripod, bearing a brazier of fire, that projectedits rays through the tinted glass and so glaringly illuminedthe room. And thus were produced a multitude of gaudyand fantastic appearances. But in the western or black chamberthe effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangingsthrough the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme,and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of thosewho entered, that there were few of the company bold enoughto set foot within its precincts at all.It was in this apartment, also, that there stood against thewestern wall, a gigantic clock of ebony. Its pendulum swung toand fro with a dull, heavy, monotonous clang; and when theminute-hand made the circuit of the face, and the hour was tobe stricken, there came from the brazen lungs of the clock a4
The Masque of the Red Deathsound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical,but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapseof an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained topause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound;and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and therewas a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while thechimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiestgrew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their handsover their brows as if in confused revery or meditation. But whenthe echoes had fully ceased, a light laughter at once pervadedthe assembly; the musicians looked at each other and smiled asif at their own nervousness and folly, and made whispering vows,each to the other, that the next chiming of the clock should producein them no similar emotion; and then, after the lapse ofsixty minutes, (which embrace three thousand and six hundredseconds of the Time that flies,) there came yet another chimingof the clock, and then were the same disconcert and tremulousnessand meditation as before.But, in spite of these things, it was a gay and magnificentrevel. The tastes of the duke were peculiar. He had a fine eye forcolours and effects. He disregarded the decora of mere fashion.His plans were bold and fiery, and his conceptions glowedwith barbaric lustre. There are some who would have thoughthim mad. His followers felt that he was not. It was necessary tohear and see and touch him to be sure that he was not.He had directed, in great part, the movable embellishmentsof the seven chambers, upon occasion of this great fete; and itwas his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders.Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glareand glitter and piquancy and phantasm—much of what has beensince seen in “Hernani.” There were arabesque figures withunsuited limbs and appointments. There were delirious fanciessuch as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful,much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of theterrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.To and fro in the seven chambers there stalked, in fact, a multitudeof dreams. And these—the dreams—writhed in and abouttaking hue from the rooms, and causing the wild music of theorchestra to seem as the echo of their steps. And, anon, therestrikes 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 voiceof the clock. The dreams are stiff-frozen as they stand. But the5
The Masque of the Red Deathechoes of the chime die away—they have endured but an instant—anda light, half-subdued laughter floats after them asthey depart. And now again the music swells, and the dreamslive, and writhe to and fro more merrily than ever, taking huefrom the many tinted windows through which stream the raysfrom the tripods. But to the chamber which lies most westwardlyof the seven, there are now none of the maskers who venture;for the night is waning away; and there flows a ruddier lightthrough the blood-coloured panes; and the blackness of thesable drapery appals; and to him whose foot falls upon the sablecarpet, there comes from the near clock of ebony a muffledpeal more solemnly emphatic than any which reaches their earswho indulged in the more remote gaieties of the other apartments.But these other apartments were densely crowded, and in thembeat feverishly the heart of life. And the revel went whirlinglyon, until at length there commenced the sounding of midnightupon the clock. And then the music ceased, as I have told; andthe evolutions of the waltzers were quieted; and there was anuneasy cessation of all things as before. But now there weretwelve strokes to be sounded by the bell of the clock; and thusit happened, perhaps, that more of thought crept, with more oftime, into the meditations of the thoughtful among those whorevelled. And thus too, it happened, perhaps, that before thelast echoes of the last chime had utterly sunk into silence, therewere many individuals in the crowd who had found leisure tobecome aware of the presence of a masked figure which hadarrested the attention of no single individual before. And therumour of this new presence having spread itself whisperinglyaround, 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 maywell be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excitedsuch sensation. In truth the masquerade licence of thenight was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even theprince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts ofthe most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion.Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equallyjests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The wholecompany, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the cos-6
The Masque of the Red Deathtume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed.The figure was tall and gaunt, and shrouded from head tofoot in the habiliments of the grave. The mask which concealedthe visage was made so nearly to resemble the countenance ofa stiffened corpse that the closest scrutiny must have had difficultyin detecting the cheat. And yet all this might have beenendured, if not approved, by the mad revellers around. But themummer had gone so far as to assume the type of the RedDeath. His vesture was dabbled in blood—and his broad brow,with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlethorror.When the eyes of the Prince Prospero fell upon this spectralimage (which, with a slow and solemnmovement, as if more fullyto sustain its role, stalked to and fro among the waltzers) hewas seen to be convulsed, in the first moment with a strongshudder either of terror or distaste; but, in the next, his browreddened with rage.“Who dares,”—he demanded hoarsely of the courtiers whostood near him—”who dares insult us with this blasphemousmockery? Seize him and unmask him—that we may know whomwe have to hang, at sunrise, from the battlements!”It was in the eastern or blue chamber in which stood the PrinceProspero as he uttered these words. They rang throughout theseven rooms loudly and clearly, for the prince was a bold androbust man, and the music had become hushed at the waving ofhis hand.It was in the blue room where stood the prince, with a groupof pale courtiers by his side. At first, as he spoke, there was aslight rushing movement of this group in the direction of theintruder, who at the moment was also near at hand, and now,with deliberate and stately step, made closer approach to thespeaker. But from a certain nameless awe with which the madassumptions of the mummer had inspired the whole party, therewere 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 thecentres of the rooms to the walls, he made his way uninterruptedly,but with the same solemn and measured step which haddistinguished him from the first, through the blue chamber tothe purple—through the purple to the green—through the greento the orange—through this again to the white—and even thenceto the violet, ere a decided movement had been made to arrest7
The Masque of the Red Deathhim. It was then, however, that the Prince Prospero, maddeningwith rage and the shame of his own momentary cowardice, rushedhurriedly through the six chambers, while none followed him onaccount of a deadly terror that had seized upon all. He borealoft a drawn dagger, and had approached, in rapid impetuosity,to within three or four feet of the retreating figure, when thelatter, having attained the extremity of the velvet apartment,turned suddenly and confronted his pursuer. There was a sharpcry—and the dagger dropped gleaming upon the sable carpet,upon which, instantly afterwards, fell prostrate in death the PrinceProspero. Then, summoning the wild courage of despair, a throngof the revellers at once threw themselves into the black apartment,and, seizing the mummer, whose tall figure stood erectand motionless within the shadow of the ebony clock, gasped inunutterable horror at finding the grave cerements and corpselikemask, which they handled with so violent a rudeness, untenantedby 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 droppedthe revellers in the blood-bedewed halls of their revel, and diedeach in the despairing posture of his fall. And the life of theebony clock went out with that of the last of the gay. And theflames of the tripods expired. And Darkness and Decay and theRed Death held illimitable dominion over all.If you enjoyed The Raven, please returnto our Poe site for more:http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/poe.htm.If you would like to receive more ElectronicClassics, return to our ElectornicClassics Series site:http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/jimspdf.htm.8