One morning early in May I stood
before the steel safe in my bedroom, trying on the golden jewelled crown.
The diamonds flashed fire as I turned to the mirror, and the heavy beaten
gold burned like a halo about my head. I remembered Camilla's agonized
scream and the awful words echoing through the dim streets of Carcosa.
They were the last in the first act, and I dared not think of what followeddared
not, even in the spring sunshine, there in my own room, surrounded with
familiar objects, reassured by the bustle from the street and the voices
of the servants in the hallway outside. For those poisoned words had dropped
slowly into my head, as death-sweat drops upon a bed-sheet and is absorbed.
Trembling, I put the diadem from my head and wiped my forehead, but I thought
of Hastur and of my own rightful ambition, and I remembered Mr. Wilde as
I had last left him, his face all torn and bloody from the claws of that
devil's creature, and what he saidah, what he said! The alarm bell in the
safe began to whirr harshly, and I knew my time was up; but I would not
heed it, and replacing the flashing circlet upon my head I turned defiantly
to the mirror. I stood for a long time absorbed in the changing expression
of my own eyes. The mirror reflected a face which was like my own, but
whiter, and so thin that I hardly recognized it. And all the time I kept
repeating between clenched teeth, "The day has come! the day has come!"
while the alarm in the safe whirred and clamored, and the diamonds sparkled
and flamed above my brow. I heard a door open but did not heed it. It was
only when I saw two faces in the mirror;it was only when another face rose
over my shoulder, and two other eyes me mine. I wheeled like a flash and
seized a long knife from my dressing-table, and my cousin sprang back very
pale, crying" Hildred! for God's sake!' then as my hand fell, he said:
"It is I, Louis, don't you know me?" I stood silent. I could not have spoken
for my life. He walked up to me and took the knife from my hand.
"What is all this?" he inquired,
in a gentle voice. "Are you ill?"
"No, " I replied. But I doubt if
he heard me.
"Come, come, old fellow," he cried,
"take off that brass crown and toddle into the study. Are you going to
a masquerade? What's all this theatrical tinsel anyway?"
I was glad he thought the crown
was made of brass and paste, yet I didn't like him any better for thinking
so. I let him take it from my hand, knowing it was best to humor him. He
tossed the splendid diadem in the air, and catching it, turned to me smiling.
"It's dear at fifty cents," he said.
"What's it for?"
I did not answer, but took the circlet
from his hands, and placing it in the safe shut the massive steel door..
The alarm ceased its infernal din at once. He watched me curiously, but
did not seem to notice the sudden ceasing of the alarm. He did, however,
speak of the safe as a biscuit box. Fearing lest he might examine the combination
I led the way into my study. Louis threw himself on the sofa and flicked
at flies with his eternal riding-whip. He wore his fatigue uniform with
the braided jacket and jaunty cap, and I noticed that his riding-boots
were all were all splashed with red mud.
"Where have you been?" I inquired.
"Jumping mud creeks in Jersey,"
he said. "I haven't had time to change yet; I was rather in a hurry to
see you. Haven't you got a glass of something? I'm dead tired; been in
the saddle twenty-four hours."
I gave him some brandy from my medicinal
store, which he drank with a grimace.
"Damned bad stuff," he observed.
"I'll give you an address where they sell brandy that is brandy."
"It's good enough for my needs,"
I said indifferently. "I use it to rub my chest with." He stared and flicked
at another fly.
"See here, old fellow," he began,
"I've got something to suggest to you. It's four years now that you've
shut yourself up here like an owl, never going anywhere, never taking any
healthy exercise, never doing a damn thing but poring over those books
up there on the mantelpiece."
He glanced along the row of shelves.
"Napoleon, Napoleon, Napoleon!" he read. "For heaven's sake, have you nothing
but Napoleans here?"
"I wish they were bound in gold,"
I said. "But wait, yes, there is another book, The King in Yellow."
I looked him steadily in the eye.
"Have you ever read it?" I asked.
"I? No, thank God! I don't want
to be driven crazy."
I saw he regretted his speech as
soon as he had uttered it. There is only one word which I loathe more than
I do lunatic and that word is crazy. But I controlled myself and asked
him why he thought "The King in Yellow" dangerous.
"Oh, I don't know," he said, hastily,
"I only remember the excitement it created and the denunciations from pulpit
and press. I believe the author shot himself after bringing forth this
monstrosity, didn't he?"
"I understand he's still alive,"
"That's probably true," he muttered;
"bullets couldn't kill a fiend like that."
"It is a book of great truths,"
"Yes," he replied, "of 'truths'
which send men frantic and blast their lives. I don't care if the thing
is, as they say, the very supreme essence of art. It's a crime to have
written it, and I for one shall never open its pages."
"Is that what you have come to tell
me?" I asked.
"No," he said, "I came to tell that
I am going to be married."
I believe for a moment my heart
ceased to beat, but I kept my eyes on his face.
"Yes," he continued, smiling happily,
"married to the sweetest girl on earth."
"Constance Hawberk," I said mechanically.
"How did you know?" he cried, astonished.
"I didn't know it myself until that evening last April, when we strolled
down to the embankment before dinner."
"When is it to be?" I asked.
"It was to have been next September,
but an hour ago a dispatch came ordering our regiment to the Presidio,
San Francisco. We leave at noon to-morrow. To-morrow," he repeated. "Just
think, Hildred, to-morrow I shall be the happiest fellow that ever drew
breath in this jolly world, for Constance will go with me."
I offered him my hand in congratulation,
and he seized and shook it like the good-natured fool he wasor pretended
"I am going to get my squadron as
a wedding present," he rattled on. "Captain and Mrs. Louis Castaigne, eh,
Then he told me where it was to
be and who were to be there, and made me promise to come and be best man.
I set my teeth and listened to his boyish chatter without showing what
I felt, but
I was getting to the limit of my
endurance, and when he jumped up, and, switching his spurs till they jingled,
said he must go, I did not detain him.
"There's one thing I want to ask
of you," I said quietly.
"Out with it, it's promised," he
"I want you to meet me for a quarter
of an hour's talk to-night."
"Of course, if you wish," he said,
somewhat puzzled. "Where?"
"Anywhere, in the park there."
"What time, Hildred?"
"What in the name of" he began,
but checked himself and laughingly assented. I watched him go down the
stairs and hurry away, his sabre banging at every stride. He turned into
Bleecker Street, and I knew he was going to see Constance. I gave him ten
minutes to disappear and then followed in his footsteps, taking with me
the jewelled crown and the silken robe embroidered with the Yellow Sign.
When I turned into Bleecker Street, and entered the doorway which bore
REPAIRER OF REPUTATIONS.
I saw old Hawberk moving about in
his shop and imagined I heard Constance's voice in the parlor; but I avoided
them both and hurried up the trembling stairways to Mr. Wilde's apartment.
I knocked, and entered without ceremony. Mr. Wilde lay groaning on the
floor, his face covered with blood, his clothes torn to shreds. Drops of
blood were scattered about over the carpet, which had also been ripped
and frayed in the evidently recent struggle.
"It's the cursed cat," he said,
ceasing his groans, and turning his colorless eyes to me; "she attacked
me while I was asleep. I believe she will kill me yet."
This was too much, so I went into
the kitchen and seizing a hatchet from the pantry, started to find the
infernal beast and settle her then and there. My search was fruitless,
and after a while I gave it up and came back to find Mr. Wilde squatting
on his high chair by the table. He had washed his face and changed his
clothes. The great furrows which the cat's claws had ploughed up in his
face he had filled with collodion, and a rag hid the wound on his throat.
I told him I should kill the cat when I came across her, but he only shook
his head and turned to the open ledger before him. He read name after name
of the people who had come to him in regard to their reputation, and the
sums he had amassed were startling.
"I put on the screws now and then,"
"One day or other some of these
people will assassinate you," I insisted.
"Do you think so?" he said, rubbing
his mutilated ears.
It was useless to argue with him,
so I took down the manuscript entitled Imperial Dynasty of America, for
the last time I should ever take it down in Mr. Wilde's study. I read through,
thrilling and trembling with pleasure. When I finished Mr. Wilde took the
manuscript and, turning to the dark passage which leads from his study
to his bed-chamber, called out in a loud voice, "Vance." Then for the first
time, I noticed a man crouching there in the shadow. How I had overlooked
him during my search for the cat, I cannot imagine.
"Vance, come in," cried Mr. Wilde.
The figure rose and crept toward
us, and I shall never forget the face that he raised to mine, as the light
from the window illuminated it.
"Vance, this is Mr. Castaigne,"
said Mr. Wilde. Before he had finished speaking, the man threw himself
on the ground before the table, crying and gasping, "Oh, God! Oh, my God!
Help me! Forgive meOh, Mr. Castaigne, keep that man away. You cannot, you
cannot mean it! You are differentsave me! I am broken downI was in a madhouse
and nowwhen all was coming rightwhen I had forgotten the Kingthe King in
Yellow andbut I shall go mad againI shall go mad"
His voice died in a choking rattle,
for Mr. Wilde had leapt on his and his right hand encircled the man's throat.
When Vance fell in a heap on the floor, Mr. Wilde clambered nimbly into
his chair again, and rubbing his mangled ears with the stump of his hand,
turned to me and asked me for the ledger. I reached it down from the shelf
and he opened it. After a moment's searching among the beautifully written
pages, he coughed complacently, and pointed to the name Vance.
"Vance," he read aloud, "Osgood
Oswald Vance." At the sound of his voice, the man on the floor raised his
head and turned a convulsed face to Mr. Wilde. His eyes were injected with
blood, his lips tumefied. "Called April 28th," continued Mr. Wilde. "Occupation,
cashier in the Seaforth National Bank; has served a term of forgery at
Sing Sing, from whence he was transferred to the Asylum for the Criminal
Insane. Pardoned by the Governor of New York, and discharged from the Asylum,
January 19, 1918. Reputation damaged at Sheepshead Bay. Rumors that he
lives beyond his income. Reputation to be repaired at once. Retainer $1,500.
"NoteHas embezzled sums amounting
to $30,000 since March 20th, 1919, excellent family, and secured present
position through uncle's influence. Father President of Seaforth Bank."
I looked at the man on the floor.
"Get up, Vance," said Mr. Wilde
in a gentle voice. Vance rose as if hypnotized. "He will do as we suggest
now," observed Mr. Wilde, and opening the manuscript, he read the entire
history of the Imperial Dynasty of America. Then in a kind and soothing
murmur he ran over the important points with Vance, who stood like one
stunned. His eyes were so blank and vacant that I imagined he had become
half-witted, and remarked it to Mr. Wilde who replied that it was of no
consequence anyway. Very patiently we pointed out to Vance what his share
in the affair would be, and he seemed to understand after a while. Mr.
Wilde explained the manuscript, using several volumes on Heraldry, to substantiate
the result of his researches. He mentioned the establishment of the Dynasty
in Carcosa, the lakes which connected Hastur, Aldebaran and the mystery
of the Hyades. He spoke of Cassilda and Camilla, and sounded the cloudy
depths of Demhe, and the Lake of Hali. "The scolloped tatters of the King
in Yellow must hide Yhtill forever," he muttered, but I do not believe
Vance heard him. Then by degrees he led Vance along the ramifications of
the Imperial family, to Uoht and Thale, from Naotalba and Phantom of Truth,
to Aldones, and then tossing aside his manuscripts and notes, he began
the wonderful story of the Last King. Fascinated and thrilled I watched
him. He threw up his head, his long arms were stretched out in a magnificent
gesture of pride and power, and his eyes blazed deep in their sockets like
two emeralds. Vance listened stupefied. As for me, when at last Mr. Wilde
had finished, and pointing to me, cried, "The cousin of the King!" my head
swam with excitement.
Controlling myself with a superhuman
effort, I explained to Vance why I alone was worthy of the crown and why
my cousin must be exiled or die. I made him understand that my cousin must
never marry, even after renouncing all his claims, and how that least of
all he should marry the daughter of the Marquis of Avonshire and bring
England into the question. I showed him a list of thousands of names which
Mr. Wilde had drawn up; every man whose name was there had received the
Yellow Sign which no living human dared disregard. The city, the state,
the whole land, were ready to rise and tremble before the Pallid Mask.
The time had come, the people should
know the son of Hastur, and the whole world bow to the Black Stars which
hand in the sky over Carcosa.
Vance leaned on the table, his head
buried in his hands. Mr. Wilde drew a rough sketch on the margin of yesterday's
with a bit of lead pencil. It was a plan of Hawberk's rooms. Then he wrote
out the order and affixed the seal, and shaking like a palsied man I signed
my first writ of execution with my name Hildred-Rex.
Mr. Wilde clambered to the floor
and unlocking the cabinet, took a long square box from the first shelf.
This he brought to the table and opened. A new knife lay in the tissue
paper inside and I picked it up and handed it to Vance, along with the
order and the plan of Hawberk's apartment. Then Mr. Wilde told Vance he
could go; and he went, shambling like an outcast of the slums.
I sat for a while watching the daylight
fade behind the square tower of the Judson Memorial Church, and finally,
gathering up the manuscript and notes, took my hat and started for the
Mr. Wilde watched me in silence.
When I had stepped into the hall I looked back. Mr. Wilde's small eyes
were still fixed on me. Behind him, the shadows gathered in the fading
light. Then I closed to door behind me and went out into the darkening
I had eaten nothing since breakfast,
but I was not hungry. A wretched half-starved creature, who stood looking
across the street at the Lethal Chamber, noticed me and came up to tell
me a tale of misery. I gave him money, I don't know why, and he went away
without thanking me. An hour later another outcast approached and whined
his story. I had a blank bit of paper in my pocket, on which was traced
the Yellow Sign and I handed it to him. He looked at it stupidly for a
moment, and then with an uncertain glance at me, folded it with what seemed
to me exaggerated care and placed it in his bosom.
The electric lights were sparkling
among the trees, and the new moon shone in the sky above the Lethal Chamber.
It was tiresome waiting in the square; I wandered from the Marble Arch
to the artillery stables, and back again to the lotos fountain. The flowers
and grass exhaled a fragrance which troubled me. The jet of the fountain
played in the moonlight, and the musical splash of falling drops reminded
me of the tinkle of chained mail in Hawberk's shop. But it was not so fascinating,
and the dull sparkle of the moonlight on the water brought no such sensations
of exquisite pleasure, as when the sunshine played over the polished steel
of a corselet on Hawberk's knee. I watched the bats darting and turning
above the water plants in the fountain basin, but their rapid, jerky flight
set my nerves on edge, and I went away again to walk aimlessly to and fro
among the trees.
The artillery stables were dark,
but in the cavalry barracks the officer's windows were brilliantly lighted,
and the sallyport was constantly filled with troopers in fatigues, carrying
straw and harness and baskets filled with tin dishes.
Twice the mounted sentry at the
gates was changed, while I wandered up and down the asphalt walk. I looked
at my watch. It was nearly time. The lights in the barracks went out one
by one, the barred gate was closed, and every minute or two an officer
passed in through the side wicket, leaving a rattle of accoutrements and
a jungle of spurs on the night air. The square had become very silent.
The last homeless loiterer had been driven away by the gray-coated park
policemen, the car tracks along Wooster Street were deserted, and the only
sound which broke the stillness was the stamping of the sentry's horse
and the ring of his sabre against the saddle pommel. In the barracks, the
officer's quarters were still lighted, and military servants passed the
repassed before the bay windows. Twelve o'clock sounded from the new spire
of St. Francis Xavier, and at the last stroke of the sad-toned bell a figure
passed through the wicket beside the portcullis, returned the salute of
the sentry, and crossing the street entered the square and advanced toward
the Benedick apartment house.
"Louis," I called.
The man pivoted on his spurred heels
and came straight toward me.
"Is that you, Hildred?"
"Yes, you are on time."
I took his offered hand, and we
strolled toward the Lethal Chamber.
He rattled on about his wedding
and the graces of Constance, and their future prospects, calling my attention
to his captain's shoulder-straps, and the triple gold arabesque on his
sleeve and fatigue cap. I believe I listened as much to the music of his
spurs and sabre as I did to his boyish babble, and at last we stood under
the elms on the Fourth Street corner of the square opposite the Lethal
Chamber. They he laughed and asked me what I wanted with him. I motioned
him to a seat on a bench under the electric light, and sat down beside
him. He looked at me curiously, with that same searching glance which I
hate and fear so in doctors. I felt the insult of his look, but he did
not know it, and I carefully concealed my feelings.
"Well, old chap," he enquired, "what
can I do for you?"
I drew from my pocket the manuscript
and notes of the Imperial Dynasty of America, and looking him in the eye
"I will tell you. On your word as
a soldier, promise me to read this manuscript from beginning to end, without
asking me a question. Promise me to read these notes in the same way, and
promise me to listen to what I have to tell later."
"I promise, if you wish it," he
said pleasantly, "Give me the paper, Hildred."
He began to read, raising his eyebrows
with a puzzled whimsical air, which made me tremble with suppressed anger.
As he advanced his eyebrows contracted, and his lips seemed to form the
Then he looked slightly bored, but
apparently for my sake read, with an attempt at interest, which presently
ceased to be to be an effort. He started when in the closely written pages
he came to his own name, and when he came to mine he lowered the paper,
and looked sharply at me for a moment. But he kept his word, and resumed
his reading, and I let the half-formed question die on his lips unanswered.
When he came to the end and read the signature of Mr. Wilde, he folded
the paper carefully and returned it to me. I handed him the notes, and
he settled back, pushing his fatigue cap up to his forehead, with a boyish
gesture, which I remembered so well in school. I watched his face as he
read, and when he finished I took the notes with the manuscript, and placed
them in my pocket. Then I unfolded a scroll marked with the Yellow Sign.
He saw the sign, but he did not seem to recognize it, and I called his
attention to it somewhat sharply.
"Well," he said, "I see it. What
"It is the Yellow Sign," I said,
"Oh, that's it, is it?" said Louis,
in that flattering voice, which Doctor Archer used to employ with me, and
would probably have employed again, had I not settled his affair for him.
I kept my rage down and answered
as steadily as possible, "Listen, you have engaged your word?"
"I am listening, old chap," he replied
I began to speak very calmly.
"Dr. Archer, having by some means
become possessed of the secret of the Imperial Succession, attempted to
deprive me of my right, alleging that because of a fall from my horse four
years ago, I have become mentally deficient. He presumed to place me under
restraint in his own house in hopes of either driving me insane or poisoning
me. I have not forgotten it. I visited him last night and the interview
Louis turned quite pale, but did
not move. I resumed triumphantly, "There are yet three people to be interviewed
in the interests of Mr. Wilde and myself. They are my cousin Louis, Mr.
Hawberk, and his daughter Constance."
Louis sprang to his feet and I arose
also, and flung the paper marked with the Yellow Sign to the ground.
"Oh, I don't need that to tell you
what I have to say," I cried with a laugh of triumph. "You must renounce
the crown to me, do you hear, to me."
Louis looked at me with a startled
air, but recovering himself said kindly, "Of course I renounce thewhat
is it I must renounce?"
"The crown," I said angrily.
"Of course," he answered, "I renounce
it. Come, old chap, I'll walk back to your rooms with you."
"Don't try any of your doctor's
tricks on me," I cried, trembling with fury. "Don't act as if you think
I am insane."
"What nonsense," he replied. "Come,
it's getting late, Hildred."
"No," I shouted, "you must listen.
You cannot marry, I forbid it. Do you hear? I forbid it. You shall renounce
the crown, and in reward I grant you exile, but if you refuse you shall
He tried to calm me but I was roused
at last, and drawing my long knife barred his way.
Then I told him how they would find
Dr. Archer in the cellar with his throat open, and I laughed in his face
when I thought of Vance and his knife, and the order signed by me.
"Ah, you are the King," I cried,
"but I shall be King. Who are you to keep me from Empire over all the habitable
earth. I was born the cousin of a king, but I shall be King!"
Louis stood white and rigid before
me. Suddenly a man came running up Fourth Street, entering the gate of
the Lethal Temple, traversed the path to the bronze doors at full speed,
and plunged into the death chamber with the cry of one demented, and I
laughed until I wept tears, for I had recognized Vance, and knew that Hawberk
and his daughter were no longer in my way.
"Go," I cried to Louis, "you have
ceased to be a menace. You will never marry Constance now, and if you marry
any one else in your exile, I will visit you as I did my doctor last night.
Mr. Wilde takes charge of you to-morrow." Then I turned and darted into
South Fifth Avenue, and with a cry of terror Louis dropped his belt and
sabre and followed me like the wind. I heard him close behind me at the
corner of Bleecker Street, and I dashed into the doorway under Hawberk's
sign. He cried, "Halt, or I fire!" but when he saw that I flew up the stairs
leaving Hawberk's shop below, he left me, and I heard him hammering and
shouting at their door as though it were possible to arouse the dead.
Mr. Wilde's door was open, and I
entered crying, "It is done, it is done! Let the nations rise and look
upon their King!" but I could not find Mr. Wilde, so I went to the cabinet
and took the splendid diadem from its case. Then I drew on the white silk
robe, embroidered with the yellow sign, and placed the crown upon my head.
At last I was King, King by my right in Hastur, King because I knew the
mystery of the Hyades, and my mind had sounded the depths of the Lake of
Hali. I was King! The first gray pencillings of dawn would raise a tempest
which would shake two hemispheres. Then as I stood, my every never pitched
to the highest tension, faint with the joy, and splendor of my thought,
without, in the dark passage, a man groaned.
I seized the tallow dip and sprang
to the door. The cat passed me like a demon, and the tallow dip went out,
but my long knife flew swifter then she, and I heard her screech, and I
knew my knife had found her. For a moment I listened to her tumbling and
thumping about in the darkness, and then when her frenzy ceased, I lighted
a lamp and raised it over my head. Mr. Wilde lay on the floor with his
throat torn open. At first I thought he was dead, but as I looked, a green
sparkle came into his sunken eyes, his mutilated hand trembled, and then
a spasm stretched his mouth from ear to ear. For a moment my terror and
despair gave place to hope, but as I bent over him his eyeballs rolled
clean around in his head, and he died. Then while I stood, transfixed with
rage and despair, seeing my crown, my empire, every hope and every ambition,
my very life, lying prostrate there with the dead master, they came,
seized me from behind, and bound me until my veins stood out like cords,
and my voice failed with the paroxysms of my frenzied screams. But I still
raged, bleeding and infuriated among them, and more than one policeman
felt my sharp teeth. Then when I could no longer move they came nearer;
I saw old Hawberk, and behind him my cousin Louis' ghastly face, and farther
away, in the corner, a woman, Constance, weeping softly.
"Ah! I see it now!" I shrieked.
"You have seized the throne and the empire. Woe! woe to you who are crowned
with the crown of the King in Yellow!"
[EDITOR'S NOTE.Mr. Castaigne died
yesterday in the Asylum for Criminal Insane.]