A bus plunges down a cliffside, leaving a nameless female prisoner from Coastal State Prison free to start her life again. Swimming across a bay to an unnamed city she finds it looks like it hasn't been developed since the turn of the century. Escaping an unknown, and apparently deformed, assailant, she finds shelter with Mrs Castaigne and her maid Camilla, adopting the name of 'Cassilda Archer' (in part after her therapist, Doctor Archer), as a cover. A daughter, Miss Constance Castaigne is mentioned but is not present, it later being revealed she'd been sent to a hospital with brain fever. Cassilda is engaged as a companion to Mrs Castaigne and is asked to read to her from The King In Yellow, from a copy of the play that used to belong to her daughter Constance. which she finds sinful but compelling. As the lines blur between dream, delirium, memory and reality, she is finally forced to make her escape. A final scene with Doctor Archer at the hospital, finding a copy of the King In Yellow, reveals the patient's body has not been found. In the book is written the name 'Constance Castaigne'.
A lot of the names from this story are taken from The Repairer of Reputations. Two of the most prominent characters, including the narrator, are members of the Castaigne family, and there is a Constance Hawberk that would have taken on the name Castaigne upon marrying her fiance Louis.
Cassilda and Camilla are, of course, characters from the play. The characters in this story have no other connection with their namesakes... although given the vague details of the second act of the play, maybe they do.
Although published in 1981, the final page of the story suggests it takes place shortly after one of the world wars, when the ward superintendent admits: "I've been working here at Coastal State Prison since back before the War." Presumably this means the Second World War, as the protagonist of the story earlier refers to the First, which was known simply as the Great War before there was a second. The 'old-timers' used to talk about a scandal around the turn of the century, suggesting that the date cannot be much later than the mid-1900s, whilst 'Cassilda' suggests that the Mrs Castaigne must be one or, more likely, two generations from the original owners from the Victorian house in which she resides.
There are, of course, two apparent eras the story takes part in. The 'present', apparently in the mid twentieth century, and the 'past', in the 1890s. The 1890s setting may be completely delusional, but it does seem to relate to an event that genuinely occurred in the history of the present.
The central character in this story has escaped from Coastal State Prison, having been exposed to a copy of The King In Yellow, giving her certain similarities with Hildred Castaigne - being a story in the third person rather than the first however she may be more an 'unreliable observer' than unreliable narrator. Does the copy of the play marked with Constance Castaigne's name lead her to reimagine a world where Constance's mother still waits for her? Or does she genuinely discover the old woman by some weird twist of fate?
In a world in which the events of The Repairer of Reputations never took place, the recycling of names can be seen as a wink towards those readers familiar with the original story, a clever in-joke.
However, if seen as a piece of a jigsaw, if set in the world in which the characters of The Repairer of Reputations existed, be it a delusion or an alternate timeline, a book that contains the name Constance Castaigne suggests that Louis and Constance did marry. The fact that the Constance Castaigne mentioned by Mrs Castaigne is her daughter implies one of three things:
- It is all a delusion, based upon the assumption by the central character that 'Castaigne' was a maiden name, although potentially it is a delusion that manifests in the real world
- Mrs Castaigne is mother to Louis, and in the wake of something happening to her son has taken to referring to her daughter-in-law in more familiar terms
- It is a coincidence, much in the same way as the shared names of two Doctor Archers - the Castaigne family is a large family and this Constance is a new character
In both the latter two cases it would appear that the Constance in question is the one who left the copy of the play at the private hospital, since it is unlikely two unconnected Constance Castaignes exist in the space of a short story. Of the above ideas it would seem most likely to fall between the first and last suggestions; the second makes too many assumptions to fit easily.