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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 12. The Ogre's Castle
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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 12. The Ogre's Castle Post by :zamrony Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2495

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Charles Rex - Part 2 - Chapter 12. The Ogre's Castle

PART II CHAPTER XII. THE OGRE'S CASTLE

"Let's go out into the garden!" said Bunny urgently.

Dinner was over, and Maud and Saltash were at the piano at the far end of the great room. Jake and Larpent were smoking in silent companionship at a comfortable distance. Toby, who had been very quiet the whole evening, sat silently apart in a low chair with her hands clasped about her knees. Bunny alone was restless.

She lifted her eyes to him as he prowled near her, and they held a hint of mischief. At his murmured words she rose.

"You'd like to?" he questioned.

She nodded. "Of course; love it. You know the way. You lead!"

Bunny needed no second bidding. He went straight to the tall door and held it open for her. Toby, very slim and girlish in her white raiment, cocked her chin and walked out in state. But the moment they were alone she turned upon him a face brimful of laughter.

"Oh, now we can enjoy ourselves! I've been feeling so proper all the evening. Quick! Where shall we go?"

"Into the garden," said Bunny. "Or wait! Come up on to the battlements! It's ripping up there."

She thrust her hand eagerly into his. "I shall love that. Which way do we go?"

"Through the music-room," said Bunny.

He caught and held her hand. They ran up one of the wide stairways that branched north and south to the Gallery. Saltash's music followed them from the drawing-room as they went. He was playing a haunting Spanish love-song, and Toby shivered and quickened her pace.

They reached another oak door which Bunny opened, drawing her impetuously forward. "This is Charlie's own particular sanctum. Rather a ripping place, isn't it? He's got a secret den that leads somewhere out of it, but no one knows how to get in."

He led her over a polished oak floor into a long, almost empty apartment with turreted windows at each end, and a grand piano near one of them that shone darkly in the shaded lamplight. Underfoot were Persian rugs, exquisite of tint and rich of texture. Two or three deep divans completed the furniture of the room giving it a look of Eastern magnificence that strangely lured the senses.

"Rather like a harem I always think," said Bunny, pausing to look round. "There's an Arabian Nights sort of flavour about it that rather gets hold of one. Why? You're shivering! Surely you're not cold!"

"No, I'm not cold," said Toby. "But I don't like this place. It's creepy. Let's go!"

But Bunny lingered. "What's the matter with it? It's luxurious enough. I've always rather liked coming in here."

Toby made a small but vehement gesture of protest. "Then you like horrid things," she said. "There's no air in here;--only--only--scent."

Bunny sniffed. "Well, it's quite subtle anyhow; not enough to upset anybody. Rather a seductive perfume, what?"

She surprised him by stamping in sudden fury upon the bare floor. "It's beastly! It's hateful! How can you like it? It--it--it's bad! It's--damnable!"

Bunny stared at her. "Well, Charlie designed it anyway. It's the one corner in the whole Castle that is individually his. What on earth is there that you don't like about it?"

"Everything--everything!" declared Toby passionately. "I don't want to stay here another minute. Show me the way out!"

She spoke with such imperiousness that Bunny judged it best to comply. He showed her a door in the eastern wall that was draped by a heavy red curtain.

"You can get up on to the ramparts that way. But wait a minute while I find the switch! What are you running away from? There isn't a bogey-man anywhere."

Toby drew in her breath sharply with a nervous glance over her shoulder. "I think it's a dreadful place," she said. "I want to get out into the air."

Bunny opened the door, and a dark passage gaped before them. "This looks much more eerie," he observed, feeling about for a switch. "Do you really like this better?"

"Much better," said Toby, going boldly into the darkness.

"Don't believe there is a switch," said Bunny, striking a match. "No, there isn't! How beastly medieval! Look here! Wait while I go and get an electric torch!"

"No, no! Let's feel our way! I'm sure we can," urged Toby. "Come on! It'll be fun. Shut the door!"

The spirit of adventure seized upon Bunny. He let the door swing closed and caught her hand again.

Toby's delighted chuckle told him that she had fully recovered her equilibrium. Her fingers twined closely about his own.

"Now we shall have some fun!" she said.

They went forward together for a few yards in total darkness. Then, from somewhere high above them a faint light filtered through.

"That's on the stairs," said Bunny. "One of those window-slits through which in the old hospitable days all comers were potted at. Look out how you go!"

The words were scarcely uttered when they both kicked against the lowest stair and blundered forward. A squeal of laughter came from Toby. Bunny said "Damn!" with much heartiness and then laughed also.

"I knew it would be fun," said Toby. "Are you hurt?"

He raised her with a strong young arm. "No, I'm all right. Are you?"

"Yes. I'm loving it. What happens next? Do the stairs wind round and round till we get to the top?"

"Yes. There are about six hundred of 'em. Feel equal to it?"

"Equal to anything," said Toby promptly. "Let me go first!"

"Why don't I go and get a light?" said Bunny.

"Because you're not to. Because it's heaps more fun without. Besides, there's lots of light up there. Now then? Are you ready? Come on! Let's go!"

Indomitable resolution sounded in Toby's voice. She drew herself free from Bunny's hold, and began to mount.

"You know it's haunted, don't you?" said Bunny cheerily. "A beautiful lady was once captured and imprisoned in this turret in the dear old days when everyone did those things. She had to choose between throwing herself from the battlements and marrying her wicked captor--an ancestor of Charlie's, by the way. She did the latter and then died of a broken heart. They always did, you know. Her poor little ghost has wandered up and down this stair ever since."

"Idiot!" said Toby tersely.

"Who?" said Bunny. "And why?"

"The woman. Why didn't she throw herself over? It would have been much easier."

"Perhaps she didn't find it so," said Bunny. "And she'd doubtless have done the haunting stunt even if she had."

"Well, then, why didn't she marry the brute and--and--give him hell?" said Toby tensely.

Bunny uttered a shout of laughter that echoed and re-echoed up and down the winding stair.

"Is that what you would have done?"

"I'd have done one or the other," said Toby.

"By Jove, how bloodthirsty you sound!" ejaculated Bunny. "Are you in earnest by any chance?"

"Yes, I am in earnest." There was a note of bitter challenge in Toby's reply. "If a woman hasn't the spunk to defend herself, she's better dead."

"I agree with you there," said Bunny with decision. "But I don't know how you come to know it."

"Oh, I know a lot of things," said Toby's voice in the darkness, and this time it sounded oddly cold and desolate as if the stone walls around them had somehow deadened it.

He put out a hand and touched her, for she seemed in some fashion to have withdrawn from him, to have become remote as the echoes about them. "There are heaps of things you don't know anyway," he said. "You're only a kid after all."

"Think so?" said Toby.

She evaded his hand, flitting up before him towards that grim slit in the wall through which the dim half-light of the summer night vaguely entered. Her light figure became visible to him as she reached it. There came to him a swift memory of the butterfly-beauty that had so astounded him earlier in the evening.

"No, I don't," he said. "You're past that stage. What on earth has Maud been doing to you? Do you know when you first came into the drawing-room tonight I hardly knew you?"

Toby's light laugh came back to him. She was like a white butterfly flitting before him in the twilight. "I wondered what you'd say. I've given up jumping rosebushes, and I'm learning to be respectable. It's rather fun sometimes. Maud is very good to me--and I love Jake, don't you?"

"Yes, he's a brick; always was," said Bunny enthusiastically. "I'd back him every time. But, I say. Don't get too respectable, will you? Somehow it doesn't suit you."

Again he heard her laugh in the darkness--a quick, rather breathless laugh. "I don't think I'll ever be that," she said. "Do you?"

"I don't know," said Bunny. "But you looked scared to death when you came in--as if you were mounted on a horse that was much too high for you. I believe you were afraid of that old daddy of yours."

"I am rather," said Toby. "You see, I don't know him very well. And I'm not sure he likes me."

"Of course he likes you," said Bunny.

"Why? I don't know why he should."

"Everyone does," said Bunny, with assurance.

"Don't be silly!" said Toby.

They were past the slit in the wall, and were winding upwards now towards another. Bunny postponed argument, finding he needed all his breath for the climb. The steps had become narrower and more steeply spiral than before. His companion mounted so swiftly that he found it difficult to keep close to her. The ascent seemed endless.

Again they passed a window-slit, and Bunny suddenly awoke to the fact that the flying figure in front was trying to out-distance him. It came to him in a flash of intuition. She was daring him, she was fooling him. Some imp of mischief had entered into her. She was luring him to pursuit; and like the whirling of a torch in a dark place, the knowledge first dazzled, and then drew him. All his pulses beat in a swift crescendo. There was a considerable mixture of Irish deviltry in Bunny Brian's veins, and anything in the nature of a challenge fired him. He uttered a wild whoop that filled the eerie place with fearful echoes, and gave chase.

It was the maddest race he had ever run. Toby fled before him like the wind, up and up, round and round the winding stair, fleet-footed, almost as though on wings, leaving him behind. He followed, fiercely determined, putting forth his utmost strength, sometimes stumbling on the uneven stairs, yet always leaping onward, urged to wilder effort by the butterfly elusiveness of his quarry. Once he actually had her within his reach, and then he stumbled and she was gone. He heard her maddening laughter as she fled.

The ascent seemed endless. His heart was pumping, but he would not slacken. She should never triumph over him, this mocking imp, this butterfly-girl, who from the first had held him with a fascination he could not fathom. He would make her pay for her audacity. He would teach her that he was more than a mere butt for her drollery. He would show her--

A door suddenly banged high above him. He realized that she had reached the top of the turret and burst out upon the ramparts. A very curious sensation went through him. It was almost a feeling of fear. She was such a wild little creature, and her mood was at its maddest. The chill of the place seemed to wrap him round. He felt as if icy fingers had clutched his heart.

It was all a joke of course--only a joke! But jokes sometimes ended disastrously, and Toby--Toby was not an ordinary person. She was either a featherbrain or a genius. He did not know which. Perhaps there was no very clear dividing line between the two. She was certainly extraordinary. He wished he had not accepted her challenge. If he had refused to follow, she would soon have abandoned her absurd flight through the darkness.

It was absurd. They had both been absurd to come to this eerie place without a light. Somehow her disappearance, the clanging of that door, had sobered him very effectually. He cursed himself for a fool as he groped his way upwards. The game had gone too far. He ought to have foreseen.

And then suddenly he blundered into an iron-clamped door and swore again. Yes, this thing was beyond a joke.

The door resisted him, and he wrestled with it furiously as though it had been a living thing obstructing his passage.

He had begun to think that she must have bolted it on the outside when abruptly it yielded to his very forcible persuasion, and he stumbled headlong forth into the open starlight. He was out upon the ramparts, and dim wooded park-lands stretched away to the sea before his dazzled eyes.

The first thing that struck him was the emptiness of the place. It seemed to catch him by the throat. There was something terrible about it.

Behind him the door clanged, and the sound seemed the only sound in all that wonderful June night. It had a fateful effect in the silence--like the tolling of a bell. Something echoed to it in his own heart, and he knew that he was afraid.

Desperately he flung his fear aside and moved forward to the parapet. The wall was thick, but between the battlements it was only the height of his knee. Below was depth--sheer depth--stark emptiness.

He looked over and saw the stone terrace dimly lit by the stars far below him. The gardens were a blur of darkness out of which he vaguely discerned the glimmer of the lake among its trees.

His heart was beating suffocatingly; he struggled to subdue his panting breath. She was somewhere close to him of course--of course. But the zest of the chase had left him. He felt dizzy, frightened, sick. He tried to raise his voice to call her, and then realized with a start of self-ridicule that it had failed him. He leaned against the parapet and resolutely pulled himself together.

Then he went forward and found himself in a stone passage, actually on the castle wall, between two parapets; the one on his left towering above the inner portion of the castle with its odd, uneven roofs of stone, the one on his right still sheer above the terrace--a drop of a hundred feet or more.

The emptiness and the silence seemed to strike at him with a nebulous hostility as he went. He had a vague sense of intrusion, of being in a forbidden place. The blood was no longer hot in his veins. He even shivered in the warmth of the summer night as he followed the winding walk between the battlements.

But he was his own master now, and as he moved forward through the glimmering starlight he called to her:

"Toby! Toby, I say! Come out! I'm not playing."

He felt as if the silence mocked him, and again that icy construction about the heart made him catch his breath. He put up a hand to his brow and found it wet.

"Toby!" he cried again, and this time he did not attempt to keep the urgency out of his voice. "The game's up. Come back!"

She did not answer him, neither did she come; but he had a strong conviction that she heard. A throb of anger went through him. He strode forward with decision. He knew that the battlement walk ended on the north side of the Castle in a blank wall, built centuries before as a final defence from an invading enemy. Only by scaling this wall could the eastern portion be approached. He would find her here. She could not possibly escape. Something of confidence came back to him as he remembered this. She could not elude him much longer.

He quickened his stride. His face was grim. She had carried the thing too far, and he would let her know it. He rounded the curve of the castle wall. He must be close to her now. And then suddenly he stopped dead. For he heard her mocking laughter, and it came from behind him, from the turret through which he had gained the ramparts.

He wheeled round with something like violence and began to retrace his steps. He had never been so baffled before, and he was angry,--hotly angry.

He rounded the curve once more, and approached the turret. His eyes were accustomed to the dim half-light, but still he could not see her. Fuming, he went back the whole distance along the ramparts till he came to the iron-clamped door that had banged behind him. He put forth an impatient hand to open it, for it was obvious that she must have eluded him by hiding behind it, and now she was probably on the stair. And then, very suddenly, from far behind him, in the direction of the northern wall, he heard her laugh again.

He swung about in a fury, almost too incensed to be amazed. She had the wings of a Mercury, it was evident; but he would catch her--he would catch her now, or perish in the attempt. Once more he traversed the stony promenade between the double line of battlements, searching each embrasure as he went.

All the way back to the wall on the north side he pursued his way with fierce intention, inwardly raging, outwardly calm. He reached the obstructing wall, and found nothing. The emptiness came all about him again. The ghostly quiet of the place clung like a tangible veil. She had evaded him again. He was powerless.

But at that point his wrath suddenly burst into flame, the hotter and the fiercer for its long restraint. He wheeled in his tracks with furious finality and abandoned his quest.

His intention was to go straight down by the way he had come and leave her to play her will-o'-the-wisp game in solitude. It would soon pall upon her, he was assured; but in any case he would no longer dance to her piping. She had fooled him to the verge of frenzy.

Again he rounded the curve of the wall and came to the door of the turret. A great bastion of stone rose beside this, and as he reached it a small white figure darted forward from its shadow with dainty, butterfly movements, pulled at the heavy oak door and held it open with an elaborate gesture for him to pass.

It was a piece of exquisite daring, and with an older man it would have taken effect. Saltash would have laughed his quizzing, cynical laugh and accepted his defeat with royal grace. But Bunny was young and vehement of impulse, and the flame of his anger still scorched his soul with a heat intolerable. She had baffled him, astounded him, humiliated him, and his was not a nature to endure such treatment tamely.

He hung on his stride for a single moment, then hotly he turned and snatched her into his arms.

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