Camilla: You, sir, should unmask.
Cassilda: Indeed it's time. We all
have laid aside disguise but you.
Stranger: I wear no mask.
Camilla: (Terrified, aside to Cassilda.)
No mask? No mask!
THE KING IN YELLOW: Act I Scene
Although I knew nothing of chemistry,
I listened fascinated. He picked up an Easter lily which Geneviève
had brought that morning from Notre Dame and dropped it into the basin.
Instantly the liquid lost its crystalline clearness. For a second the lily
was enveloped in a milk-white foam, which disappeared, leaving the fluid
opalescent. Changing tints of orange and crimson played over the surface,
and then what seemed to be a ray of pure sunlight struck through from the
bottom where the lily was resting. At the same instant he plunged his hand
into the basin and drew out the flower. "There is no danger," he explained,
"if you choose the right moment. That golden ray is the signal."
He held the lily toward me and I
took it in my hand. It had turned to stone, to the purest marble.
"You see," he said, "it is without
flaw. What sculptor could reproduce it?"
The marble was white as snow, but
in its depths the veins of the lily were tinged with palest azure, and
a faint flush lingered deep in its heart.
"Don't ask me the reason of that,"
he smiled, noticing my wonder. "I have no idea why the veins and heart
are tinted, but they always are. Yesterday I tried one of Geneviève's
gold fish,--there it is."
The fish looked as if sculptured
in marble. But if you held it to the light the stone was beautifully veined
with a faint blue, and from somewhere within came a rosy light like the
tint which slumbers in an opal. I looked into the basin. Once more it seemed
filled with clearest crystal.
"If I should touch it now?" I demanded.
"I don't know," he replied, "but
you had better not try."
"There is one thing I'm curious
about," I said, "and that is where the ray of sunlight comes from."
"It looked like a sunbeam true enough,"
he said. "I don't know, it always comes when I immerse any living thing.
Perhaps," he continued smiling, "perhaps it is the vital spark of the creature
escaping to the source from whence it came."
I saw he was mocking and threatened
him with a mahl-stick, but he only laughed and changed the subject.
"Stay to lunch. Geneviève
will be here directly."
"I saw her going to early mass,"
I said, "and she looked as fresh and sweet as that lily--before you destroyed
"Do you think I destroyed it?" said
"Destroyed, preserved, how can we
We sat in the corner of a studio
near his unfinished group of "The Fates." He leaned back on the sofa, twirling
a sculptor's chisel and squinting at his work.
"By the way," he said, "I have finished
pointing up that old academic Ariadne and I suppose it will have to go
to the Salon. It's all I have ready this year, but after the success the
'Madonna' brought me, I feel ashamed to send a thing like that."
The "Madonna," an exquisite marble
for which Geneviève had sat, had been the sensation of last year's
Salon. I looked at the Ariadne. It was a magnificent piece of technical
work, but I agreed with Boris that the world would expect something better
of him than that. Still it was impossible now to think of finishing in
time for the Salon, that splendid terrible group half shrouded in the marble
behind me. "The Fates" would have to wait.
We were proud of Boris Yvain. We
claimed him and he claimed us on the strength of his having been born in
America, although his father was French and his mother was Russian. Every
one in the Beaux Arts called him Boris. And yet there were only two of
us whom he addressed in the same familiar way: Jack Scott and myself.
Perhaps my being in love with Geneviève
had something to do with his affection for me. Not that it had ever been
acknowledged between us. But after all was settled, and she had told me
with tears in her eyes that it was Boris whom she loved, I went over to
his house and congratulated him. The perfect cordiality of that interview
did not deceive either of us, I always believed, although to one at least
it was a great comfort. I do not think he and Geneviève ever spoke
of the matter together, but Boris knew.
Geneviève was lovely. The
Madonna-like purity of her face might have been inspired by the Sanctus
in Gounod's Mass. But I was always glad when she changed that mood for
what we called her "April Manoeuvres." She was often as variable as an
April day. In the morning grave, dignified and sweet, at noon laughing,
capricious, at evening whatever one least expected. I preferred her so
rather than in that Madonna-like tranquility which stirred the depths of
my heart. I was dreaming of Geneviève when he spoke again.
"What do you think of my discovery,
"I think it wonderful."
"I shall make no use of it, you
know, beyond satisfying my own curiosity so far as may be and the secret
will die with me."
"It would be rather a blow to sculpture,
would it not? We painters lose more than we ever gain by photography."
Boris nodded, playing with the edge
of the chisel.
"This new vicious discovery would
corrupt the world of art. No, I shall never confide the secret to any one,"
he said slowly.
It would be hard to find any one
less informed about such phenomena than myself; but of course I had heard
of mineral springs so saturated with silica that the leaves and twigs which
fell into them were turned to stone after a time. I dimly comprehend the
process, how the silica replaced the vegetable matter, atom by atom, and
the result was a duplicate of the object in stone. This I confess had never
interested me greatly, and as for the ancient fossils thus produced, they
disgusted me. Boris, it appeared, feeling curiosity instead of repugnance,
had investigated the subject, and had accidentally stumbled on a solution
which, attacking the immersed object with a ferocity unheard of, in a second
did the work of years. This was all I could make of the strange story he
had just been telling me. He spoke again after a long silence.
"I am almost frightened when I think
what I have found. Scientists would go mad over the discovery. It was so
simple too; it discovered itself. When I think of that formula, and that
new element precipitated in metallic scales--"
"What new element?"
"Oh, I haven't thought of naming
it, and I don't believe I ever shall. There are enough precious metals
now in the world to cut throats over."
I pricked my ears. "Have you struck
"No, better;--but see here, Alec!"
he laughed, starting up. "You and I have all we need in this world. Ah!
how sinister and covetous you look already!" I laughed too, and told him
I was devoured by the desire for gold, and we had better talk of something
else; so when Geneviève came in shortly after, we had turned our
backs on alchemy.
Geneviève was dressed in
silvery gray from head to foot. The light glinted along the soft curve
of her fair hair as she turned her cheek to Boris; then she saw me and
returned my greeting. She had never before failed to blow me a kiss from
the tips of her white fingers, and I promptly complained of the omission.
She smiled and held out her hand which dropped almost before it had touched
mine; then she said, looking at Boris, "You must ask Alec to stay for luncheon."
This also was something new. She had always asked me herself until to-day.
"I did," said Boris shortly.
"And you said yes, I hope," she
turned to me with a charming conventional smile. I might have been an acquaintance
of the day before yesterday. I made her a low bow. "J'avais bien l'honneur,
madame," but refused to take up our usual bantering tone she murmured a
hospitable commonplace and disappeared. Boris and I looked at one another.
"I had better go home, don't you
think?" I asked.
"Hanged if I know!" he replied frankly.
While we were discussing the advisability
of my departure Geneviève reappeared in the doorway without her
bonnet. She was wonderfully beautiful, but her color was too deep and her
lovely eyes were too bright. She came straight up to me and took my arm.
"Luncheon is ready. Was I cross,
Alec? I thought I had a headache but I haven't. Come here, Boris"; and
she slipped her other arm through his. "Alec knows that after you there
is no one in the world whom I like as well as I like him, so if he sometimes
feels snubbed it won't hurt him."
"A la bonheur!" I cried, "who says
there are no thunderstorms in April?"
"Are you ready?" chanted Boris.
"Aye ready," and arm in arm we raced into the dining-room scandalizing
the servants. After all we were not so much to blame; Geneviève
was eighteen, Boris was twenty-three and I not quite twenty-one.
End of PART ONE..... GO TO PART