The day following was a disastrous
one for me. While moving a framed canvas from one easel to another my foot
slipped on the polished floor and I fell heavily on both wrists. They were
so badly sprained that it was useless to attempt to hold a brush, and I
was obliged to wander about the studio, glaring at unfinished drawings
and sketches until despair seized me and I sat down to smoke and twiddle
my thumbs with rage. The rain blew against the windows and rattled on the
roof of the church, driving me into a nervous fit with its interminable
patter. Tessie sat sewing by the window, and every now and then raised
her head and looked at me with such innocent compassion that I began to
feel ashamed of my irritation and looked about for something to occupy
me. I had read all the papers and all the books in the library, but for
the sake of something to do I went to the bookcases and shoved them open
with my elbow. I knew every volume by its color and examined them all,
passing slowly around the library and whistling to keep up my spirits.
I was turning to go into the dining-room when my eye fell upon a book bound
in yellow, standing in a corner of the top shelf of the last bookcase.
I did not remember it and from the floor could not decipher the pale lettering
on the back, so I went to the smoking-room and called Tessie. She came
in from the studio and climbed up to reach the book.
"What is it?" I asked.
"'The King in Yellow.'"
I was dumfounded. Who had placed
it there? How came it in my rooms? I had long ago decided that I should
never open that book, and nothing on earth could have persuaded me to buy
it. Fearful lest curiosity might tempt me to open it, I had never even
looked at it in book-stores. If I ever had any curiosity to read it, the
awful tragedy of young Castaigne, who I knew, prevented me from exploring
its wicked pages. I had refused to listen to any description of it, and
indeed, nobody ever ventured to discuss the second part aloud, so I had
absolutely no knowledge of what those leaves might reveal. I stared at
the poisonous yellow binding as I would at a snake.
"Don't touch it, Tessie," I said;
Of course my admonition was enough
to around her curiosity, and before I could prevent it she took the book
and, laughing, danced away into the studio with it. I called to her, but
she slipped away with a tormenting smile at my helpless hands, and I followed
her with some impatience.
"Tessie!" I cried, entering the
library, "listen, I am serious. Put that book away. I do not wish you to
open it!" The library was empty. I went into both drawing-rooms, then into
the bedrooms, laundry, kitchen, and finally returned to the library and
began a systematic search. She had hidden herself so well that it was half
an hour later when I discovered her crouching white and silent by the latticed
window in the store-room above. At the first glance I saw she had been
punished for her foolishness. "The King in Yellow" lay at her feet, but
the book was open at the second part. I looked at Tessie and saw it was
too late. She had opened "The King in Yellow." Then I took her by the hand
and led her into the studio. She seemed dazed, and when I told her to lie
down on the sofa she obeyed me without a word. After a while she closed
her eyes and her breathing became regular and deep, but I could not determine
whether or not she slept. For a long while I sat silently beside her, but
she neither stirred nor spoke, and at last I rose and entering the unused
store-room took the yellow book in my least injured hand. It seemed heavy
as lead, but I carried it into the studio again, and sitting down on the
rug beside the sofa, opened it and read it through from beginning to end.
When, faint with the excess of my
emotions, I dropped the volume and leaned wearily back against the sofa,
Tessie opened her eyes and looked at me.
We had been speaking for some time
in a dull monotonous strain before I realized that we were discussing "The
King in Yellow." Oh the sin of writing such words, words which are clear
as crystal, limpid and musical as bubbling springs, words which sparkle
and glow like the poisoned diamonds of the Medicis! Oh the wickedness,
the hopeless damnation of a soul who could fascinate and paralyze human
creatures with such words, words understood by the ignorant and wise alike,
words which are more precious than jewels, more soothing than Heavenly
music, more awful than death itself.
We talked on, unmindful of the gathering
shadows, and she was begging me to throw away the clasp of black onyx quaintly
inlaid with what we now knew to be the Yellow Sign. I never shall know
why I refused, though even at this hour, here in my bedroom as I write
this confession, I should be glad to know what it was that prevented me
from tearing the Yellow Sign from my breast and casting it into the fire.
I am sure I wished to do so, but Tessie pleaded with me in vain. Night
fell and the hours dragged on, but still we murmured to each other of the
King and the Pallid Mask, and midnight sounded from the misty spires in
the fog-wrapped city. We spoke of Hastur and of Cassilda, while outside
the fog rolled against the blank window-panes as the cloud waves roll and
break on the shores of Hali.
The house was very silent and not
a sound from the misty streets broke the silence. Tessie lay among the
cushions, her face a gray blot in the gloom, but her hands were clasped
in mine and I knew that she knew and read my thoughts as I read hers, for
we had understood the mystery of the Hyades and the Phantom of the Truth
was laid. Then as we answered each other, swiftly, silently, thought on
thought, the shadows stirred in the gloom about us, and far in the distant
streets we heard a sound. Nearer and nearer it came, the dull crunching
of wheels, nearer and yet nearer, and now, outside before the door it ceased,
and I dragged myself to the window and saw a black-plumed hearse. The gate
below opened and shut, and I crept shaking to my door and bolted it, but
I knew not bolts, no locks, could keep that creature out who was coming
for the Yellow Sign. And now I heard him moving very softly along the hall.
Now he was at the door, and the bolts rotted at his touch. Now he entered.
With eyes staring from my head I peered into the darkness, but when he
came into the room I did not see him. It was only when I felt him envelop
me in his cold soft grasp that I cried out and struggled with deadly fury,
but my hands were useless and he tore the onyx clasp from my coat and struck
me full in the face. Then, as I fell, I heard Tessie's soft cry and her
spirit fled to God, and even while falling I longed to follow her, for
I knew that the King in Yellow had opened his tattered mantle and there
was only Christ to cry to now. *
I could tell more, but I cannot
see what help it will be to the world. As for me I am past human help or
hope. As I lie here, writing, careless even whether or not I die before
I finish, I can see the doctor gathering up his powders and phials with
a vague gesture to the good priest beside me, which I understand.
They will be very curious to know
the tragedy they of the outside world who write books and print millions
of newspapers, but I shall write no more, and the father confessor will
seal my last words with the seal of sanctity when his holy office is done.
They of the outside world may send their creatures into wrecked homes and
death-smitten firesides, and their newspapers will batten on blood and
tears, but with me their spies must halt before the confessional. They
know that Tessie is dead and that I am dying. They know how the people
of the house, aroused by an infernal scream, rushed into my rooms and found
one living and two dead, but they do not know what I shall tell them now;
they do not know that the doctor said as he pointed to a horrible decomposed
heap on the floor the livid corpse of the watchman from the church: "I
have no theory, no explanation. That man must have been dead for months!"
I think I am dying. I wish the priest
* See Edition