“Alchemist, The“

   Juvenile story (3,700 words); written 1908. First published in the United Amateur(November 1916); first collected in SR; corrected text in D. Antoine, last of the Comtes de C——, tells the tale of his life and ancestry. This ancient aristocratic line has occupied a lofty castle in France surrounded by a dense forest, but a deadly curse seems to weigh upon it. Antoine finally learns the apparent cause when he comes of age and reads a manuscript passed down through the generations. In the thirteenth century an ancient man, Michel (“usually designated by the surname of Mauvais, the Evil, on account of his sinister reputation”), dwelt on the estate together with his son Charles, nicknamed Le Sorcier. These two practiced the black arts, and it was rumored they sought the elixir of life. Many disappearances of children were attributed to them. When Godfrey, the young son of Henri the Comte, is missing, Henri accosts Michel and kills him in a rage; just then Godfrey is found, and Charles, who learns of the deed, pronounces a curse:
   May ne’er a noble of thy murd’rous line
   Survive to reach a greater age than thine!
   He thrusts a vial in the face of Henri, who dies instantly. From that time on no comte of the line lives beyond the age of thirty-two, Henri’s age when he died. This curse continues for hundreds of years, and Antoine is compelled to believe that he will suffer a similar fate. Wandering in his deserted castle, he finds a hidden cellar and encounters a hideous looking man “clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour.” The man tells how Charles Le Sorcier killed Henri and also Godfrey when the latter reached Henri’s age; but Antoine wonders how the curse could have been continued thereafter, “when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of Nature have died.” As the man attacks Antoine, the latter hurls a torch at him, setting him afire. Just before he expires, however, he reveals the truth: he himself is Charles Le Sorcier, having lived for 600 years to continue his revenge against the family that killed his father.
   This is the first extant tale by HPL to be avowedly supernatural. It was first published at the urging of W.Paul Cook, who read it in manuscript and found it indicative of great promise; largely at Cook’s urging, HPL resumed the writing of fiction in 1917.

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