The "Red Death" raged through the country for a long time. No plague was ever so deadly or so hideous. Blood was his mark - the red color and horror of blood. Those who were caught by the disease experienced sharp pains, sudden dizziness, and then gushing bleeding in the pores, with dissolution. Crimson spots on the body, and especially on the victim's face, were the ban of the pest, which excluded the sick from the help and sympathy of his relatives. And the whole illness, progress, and end of the disease were incidents of half an hour.
But Prince Prospero was happy, fearless, and wise. When his kingdom was already half empty, he called a thousand good friends among the knights and ladies of his court and exited with them into the deep isolation of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and majestic building, the product of the prince's own eccentric yet superb taste. It was surrounded by a strong and high wall with an iron gate.
The courtiers, entering, brought stoves and huge hammers and welded the bolts. They were determined to neither go in nor go out if the impulses of despair or rage come within.
The abbey was abundantly supplied. With such precautions, the courtiers could defy the plague. In order not to worry or think, the prince provided all the instruments for their pleasure. There were dancers, comics, musicians, beauties, and wine. All the fun was inside the high wall leaving the "Red Death" outside of it.
It was by the end of the fifth or sixth month of his isolation, and even though the plague raged most violently, Prince Prospero decided to entertain a thousand of his friends by organizing a masquerade ball.
It was a voluptuous scene, that masquerade ball. There were seven rooms in the suite. In many palaces, such suites formed a long and flat scenery, while folding doors slid back almost to the walls on either side so that the view of the whole space was barely blocked. Here the case was quite different, as might be expected given the prince's love of the bizarre. The apartments were so irregularly arranged that the vision contained a bit more than one room at a time. Every twenty or thirty yards there was a sharp turn and at every turn a new room.
In the middle of each wall, there was a tall and narrow Gothic window looking out on a closed corridor that followed the turns of the rooms. These windows were made of colored glass, the color of which varied according to the prevailing color of the decoration in the room. The one at the east end was, for example, in blue - and its windows were bright blue. The second room was purple in its decorations and tapestries, and here the panes were purple. The third was green as was the glass. The fourth was equipped and lit with orange - the fifth with white - the sixth with violet. The seventh room was wrapped in black velvet tapestries that hung all over the ceiling and down the walls, falling in heavy folds to a carpet of the same material and color. But only in this room, the window color did not match the decorations.
The glasses here were crimson - a deep blood color. There was no lamp or a candlestick in any of the seven rooms, amidst the abundance of gold ornaments that lay spread here and there or hung from the roof. There was no light of any kind. But in the corridors which followed the rooms, opposite each window, stood a heavy tripod with the embers of a fire, which cast its rays through the tinted glass, and therefore brilliantly illuminated the room.
But in the black room, the effect of the firelight streaming on the dark curtains through the blood-stained panes stood extremely gruesome and produced such a wild look on the faces of those who entered, that there were few of them brave enough to enter the room at all.
"But in the western or black chamber the effect of the fire-light that streamed upon the dark hangings through the blood-tinted panes, was ghastly in the extreme, and produced so wild a look upon the countenances of those who entered, that there were few of the company bold enough to set foot within its precincts at all."
In that room, too, there was a huge ebony clock hung against the western wall. Its pendulum swung back and forth with a dull, heavy, tedious clang; and when the minute hand made a circle, and the hour was about to strike, from the insolent lungs of the clock came a sound that was clear, loud, deep, and extremely musical, but of such strange notes and emphasis that, after the lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were forced to pause briefly in their performance to listen to the sound.
But when the echo had entirely ended, a light laugh instantly pervaded; the musicians looked at each other and smiled as if at their nervousness and madness, and vowed in whispers, one to the other, that the next stroke of the clock should not provoke such emotion. And then, at the expiration of sixty minutes, there was another chime of the clock which followed the same mess and shaking as before.
"…a sound which was clear and loud and deep and exceedingly musical, but of so peculiar a note and emphasis that, at each lapse of an hour, the musicians of the orchestra were constrained to pause, momentarily, in their performance, to harken to the sound; and thus the waltzers perforce ceased their evolutions; and there was a brief disconcert of the whole gay company; and, while the chimes of the clock yet rang, it was observed that the giddiest grew pale, and the more aged and sedate passed their hands over their brows as if in confused reverie or meditation"
But, despite these things, it was a lively and glorious celebration. The prince’s taste was unusual. He had a keen eye for colors and effects. He ignored the decorum of every fashion. His plans were fierce and passionate, and his ideas were polished with barbaric intelligence. Some would consider him crazy, but his followers believed that he was not.
There were many flashes and sparkles, piquancy and ghostlike, arabesque figures with improper limbs and names, and delirious fantasies such as the fashion of madmen. It was beautiful, lustful, abnormal, terrible, and not a little of what could cause disgust. Many dreams crept through the seven rooms. And these dreams scrambled in and around taking color from the rooms and making the wild music of the orchestra seem like the echo of their footsteps.
The rooms were densely crowded and the heart of life beat feverishly in them. Only when the ebony clock ticked was everything, for a moment, stood still. Dreams were frozen, but when the echoes of the bell died away, the music swelled again, and dreams came alive.
It was a time when the clock again struck midnight. And the music stopped, and everything went silent, but this time, after it stopped with its noise many became aware of the presence of a masked figure which had not previously attracted the attention of any individual. Instead of continuing with the music and laughter all that could be sensed were terror, horror, and revulsion.
"In an assembly of phantasms such as I have painted, it may well be supposed that no ordinary appearance could have excited such sensation. In truth the masquerade licence of the night was nearly unlimited; but the figure in question had out-Heroded Herod, and gone beyond the bounds of even the prince’s indefinite decorum. There are chords in the hearts of the most reckless which cannot be touched without emotion. Even with the utterly lost, to whom life and death are equally jests, there are matters of which no jest can be made. The whole company, indeed, seemed now deeply to feel that in the costume and bearing of the stranger neither wit nor propriety existed."
The whole society now seemed to feel that there was no decency in the dress and bearing of a foreigner. The figure was tall and thin, covered from head to toe in grave clothes. The mask that hid the face was made to resemble the face of a frozen corpse And yet, all this could be tolerated. But his mummer went so far as to take the form of the Red Death. His dress was dressed with blood, and his broad forehead was spattered with crimson horror.
"His vesture was dabbled in blood - and his broad brow, with all the features of the face, was besprinkled with the scarlet horror."
When Prince Prospero, standing in the blue room saw this ghostly image, he cringed with a great terror, but, soon he was flushed with rage. He asked who dared to insult him with such an insult and ordered to seize the intruder, expose him and hang him on the walls.
At first, while he was speaking, there was a slight rushing movement of the society in the direction where the intruder stood, who was also near without anyone even noticing it. At that moment, the masked person made his way without interruption through the blue room to the purple, to the green, to the orange, and the white.
Then, however, Prince Prospero, maddened with rage and shame at his brief cowardice, hurried through the six rooms, while no one followed him because of the deadly terror that took them all. He carried a pulled dagger overhead and had approached within three or four feet, when he suddenly turned and faced her pursuer. There was a sharp cry - and the dagger fell brilliantly on the sable carpet, on which, immediately afterward, Prince Prospero fell dead.
Now, everyone became aware of the presence of the Red Death which came like a thief in the night. And he dropped the celebrants one by one in the bloody halls of their party. And the life of the ebony clock died out with the last man, the flames of the tripods vanished, and Darkness and Decay and Red Death had unlimited power over everything.