The studio was immense and gloomy, the sole light within it proceeding from a stove, around which the three were seated. Although they were bold, and of the age when men are most jovial, the conversation had taken, in spite of their efforts to the contrary, a reflection from the dull weather without, and their jokes and frivolity were soon exhausted.
In addition to the light which issued from the crannies in the stove, there was another emitted from a bowl of spirits, which was ceaselessly stirred by one of the young men, as he poured from an antique silver ladle some of the flaming spirit into the quaint old glasses from which the students drank. The blue flame of the spirit lighted up in a wild and fantastic manner the surrounding objects in the room, so that the heads of old prophets, of satyrs, or Madonnas, clothed in the same ghastly hue, seemed to move and to dance along the walls like a fantastic procession of the dead; and the vast room, which in the day time sparkled with the creations of genius, seemed now, in its alternate darkness and sulphuric light, to be peopled with its dreams.
Each time also that the silver spoon agitated the liquid, strange shadows traced themselves along the walls, hideous and of fantastic form. Unearthly tints spread also upon the hangings of the studio, from the old bearded prophet of Michael Angelo to those eccentric caricatures which the artist had scrawled upon his walls, and which resembled an army of demons that one sees in a dream, or such as Goya has painted; whilst the lull and rise of the tempest without but added to the fantastic and nervous feeling which pervaded those within.
Besides this, to add to the terror which was creeping over the three occupants of the room, each time that they looked at each other they appeared with faces of a blue tone, with eyes fixed and glittering like live embers, and with pale lips and sunken cheeks; but the most fearful object of all was that of a plaster mask taken from the face of an intimate friend but lately dead, which, hanging near the window, let the light from the spirit fall upon its face, turned three parts towards them, which gave it a strange, vivid, and mocking expression.
All people have felt the influence of large and dark rooms, such as Hoffmann has portrayed and Rembrandt has painted; and all the world has experienced those wild and unaccountable terrors - panics without a cause - which seize on one like a spontaneous fever, at the sight of objects to which a stray glimpse of the moon or a feeble ray from a lamp gives a mysterious form; nay, all, we should imagine, have at some period of their lives found themselves by the side of a friend, in a dark and dismal chamber, listening to some wild story, which so enchains them, that although the mere lighting of a candle could put an end to their terror, they would not do so; so much need has the human heart of emotions, whether they be true or false.
So it was upon the evening mentioned. The conversation of the three companions never took a direct line, but followed all the phases of their thoughts; sometimes it was light as the smoke which curled from their cigars, then for a moment fantastic as the flame of the burning spirit, and then again dark, lurid, and sombre as the smile which lit up the mask from their dead friend's face.
At last the conversation ceased altogether, and the respiration of the smokers was the only sound heard; and their cigars glowed in the dark, like Will-of-the-wisps brooding o'er a stagnant pool.
It was evident to them all, that the first who should break the silence, even if he spoke in jest, would cause in the hearts of the others a start and tremor, for each felt that he had almost unwittingly plunged into a ghastly reverie. ("The Dead Man's Story")