"Oh Thou who burn'st in heart for those
In Hell, whose fires thyself shall
feed in turn;
How long be crying,'Mercy on them,
Why, who are thou to teach and He to
In the Church of St. Barnabé
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,
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. Barnabé highly interesting. Learned and scientific, it was
too much 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 randomly 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 as St. Barnabé,
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 the works
Then I remembered that St. Barnabé
was not much more than a hundred years old, and smiled at the incongruous
association of mediæval superstitions with a cheerful little piece
of eighteenth century rococo.
But now vespers were over, and there
should have followed a few quiet chords, fit to accompany meditations,
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 toward
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.
Barnabé 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 favorite 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 the 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
"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 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. Barnabé
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 clere-story, which have not even colored 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 the 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 harbor 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 lost, 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 though very amusing, and sat and chaffed myself and everything else,
for 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 anæmic complexion):
from that grim old dame, to, yes, alas! to 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 not use to sit there any
longer: I must get out of doors and shake myself free form this hateful
mood. I knew the rudeness I was committing, but still I rose and left the
A spring sun was shining on the
rue St. Honoré, 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 along way backa 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
in 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 gray 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 Elysées 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 t the accomplishment of his purpose and my fate. And still I tried
to save myself.
The last rays of the 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 Elysées, and yet he came in with
a stream of people who were returning for the Bois de Boulogne. He came
so close that he brushed me. His slender frame felt iron inside its loose
black covering. He showed not signs of haste, nor of fatigue, nor of any
human feeling. His whole being expressed but 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 itI 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 café. 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 more 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 of 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 unsavory 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 clinks of hammers, and the clang of metal bars.
Unsavory 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 awhile 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 had been at the mercy of Sunday fête makers.
There had been time 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 about among
them with their black poodle, keeping order; some couples were waltzing
on the side-walk. I returned their greetings and hurried on.
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 the
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 shadows 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 neighbor, 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 mediæval 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 hope to keep it.
For I knew him now. Death and the awful abode of lost souls, whither my
weakness long ago had sent himthey 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 that 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 Hail 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!"