The "Red Death"
had long devastated the country. No pestilence had ever been so fatal,
or so hideous. Blood was its Avatar and its seal --the redness
and the horror of blood. There were sharp pains, and sudden dizziness,
and then profuse bleeding at the pores, with dissolution. The scarlet stains
upon the body and especially upon the face of the victim, were the pest
ban which shut him out from the aid and from the sympathy of his fellow-men.
And the whole seizure, progress and termination of the disease, were the
incidents of half an hour.
But the Prince Prospero was happy and dauntless and sagacious. When his dominions were half depopulated, he summoned to his presence a thousand hale and light-hearted friends from among the knights and dames of his court, and with these retired to the deep seclusion of one of his castellated abbeys. This was an extensive and magnificent structure, the creation of the prince's own eccentric yet august taste. A strong and lofty wall girdled it in. This wall had gates of iron. The courtiers, having entered, brought furnaces and massy hammers and welded the bolts. They resolved to leave means either of ingress or egress to the sudden impulses of despair or of frenzy from within. The abbey was amply provisioned. With such precautions the courtiers might bid defiance to contagion. The external world could take care of itself. In the meantime it was folly to grieve, or to think.
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