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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 8. The Magician's Wand
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Charles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 8. The Magician's Wand Post by :neiltown Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2681

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Charles Rex - Part 3 - Chapter 8. The Magician's Wand


"I can't think where I have seen that girl before," said Sheila thoughtfully, drumming her fingers on the white rail, her soft eyes fixed upon the jewelled bay. "She has an arresting face."

"You have never seen her," said Saltash carelessly, flicking cigarette-ash overboard. "She has the sort of face that the old Italians worshipped and some of the moderns too. You have seen it in their pictures."

Sheila's brows were drawn. "I have seen her--somehow--dressed as a boy," she said. "Could it have been a picture?"

"Yes. One of Spentoli's. I've got a print somewhere. It's called, 'The Victim'--a lad with a face like Larpent's daughter, fighting a leopard."

Saltash spoke with easy conviction, his restless eyes flashing to and fro, often glancing but never resting upon the girl beside him. "That's what you're thinking of. It's an unsatisfactory sort of picture. One wonders which is 'The Victim.' But that is Spentoli all over. He always leaves one wondering."

"I know the thing you mean." Sheila nodded meditatively. "Yes, she is--rather like that. The boy was 'The Victim' of course." She turned towards him suddenly with the words. "You can't possibly doubt that. The brute's teeth are almost in his throat. I think it's a horrible picture myself."

Saltash laughed. "A deliverer arrives sometimes," he remarked, "even in the last, most awful moment of all. Have you never said to yourself how seldom the thing we really expect comes to pass?"

Sheila's lips parted with a touch of scorn. "Perhaps it is safer not to expect," she said.

"Perhaps," agreed Saltash, with his quick grimace. "I learnt that lesson a long time ago. There are so many slips--especially when the cup is full." He added inconsequently, "And even if it gets there, the wine is sour as often as not when you come to drink."

"I can quite believe it," said the girl, and looked out once more over the wreathing flowers to the rippling waters of the bay.

Her mouth took a firm line, and Saltash, glancing at her, began to laugh. "Do you know, Miss Melrose, it's rather curious, but you remind me of Spentoli too in some ways? I don't know if you and Miss Larpent possess the same characteristics, but I imagine you might develop them, given the same conditions."

Sheila stiffened at the words. "I am sure you are quite wrong," she said coldly. "Captain Larpent's daughter is quite obviously a child of impulse. I--am not."

"I think you would be impulsive enough to fight the leopard if he came your way," contended Saltash with idle insistence. "Or perhaps you would charm him. I imagine that might be more in your line."

Again the girl's lip curled. She said nothing for a moment, then deliberately, for the first time in her life, she snubbed him. "No, I should never try to charm--a beast, Lord Saltash."

"You prefer them savage?" countered Saltash.

She made a careless gesture with one hand, without replying. She did not even look towards him. "I think Miss Larpent might be quite clever in that respect," she said. "She is--a born charmer."

"By Jove!" he said. "What a cruel compliment!"

Sheila said nothing. She was watching a small boat rowing steadily towards them through the dark water, with eyes that were grave and fixed.

Saltash's look followed hers, and he grimaced to himself, oddly, wryly, as a man who accomplishes a task for which he has no liking. Then in a moment he turned the conversation. "Did you ever meet Rozelle Daubeni, the enchantress?"

Sheila's soft eyes came to him at the sudden question. "No. I have heard of her. I have never met her. I don't want to meet her. Why?"

He threw her a daring glance. "It would do you good to meet her. She is a born charmer if you like. She charms women as well as men--and beasts."

"An adventuress!" said Sheila.

"Yes, an adventuress. One of the most wonderful, I should say, who ever lived. She is in Paris just now. When she comes to England--" again his look dared her--"I will take you to see her. It will be--an education for you."

"Thank you," Sheila said.

He laughed aloud, and suddenly stretched his hand to her with a movement of good fellowship. "I'm only teasing. Don't be cross! I wouldn't take you to see her for all the gold of Ophir. She is rotten--too rotten even for me, which is saying much."

Sheila hesitated momentarily before she gave her hand.

"Why did you speak of her? What brought her to your mind?"

He glanced again towards the little boat now drawing near to the yacht, but he did not answer her question till her hand met his.

"I have--a somewhat elastic mind," he said then, and smiled his most baffling smile. "It was your talk of charmers that did it. I was trying to think of all I had met."

"All the Rozelles and the Tobies!" said Sheila, with a hard little laugh.

He gripped her hand and released it. "I have never met more than one of each," he said. "Which may be the secret of their charm. Don't class them together in your mind for a moment! Larpent's daughter may be a born charmer. Young Bunny Brian seems to think so at any rate. But she is not--and never will be--an adventuress."

"Is Bunny Brian fond of her--really fond of her?" asked Sheila.

Saltash nodded. "Sure thing--as Jake would say! And he's a sound chap too. I hope he'll get her."

"She is not very likely to refuse," said Sheila, turning from the rail.

The little boat had passed out of sight under the lee of the yacht. A great rocket whistled skywards, and broke in a violet flare that lighted sea and shore. The _fete was over, and people were crowding on board. The band was playing a selection from a comic opera, and a few voices were singing the careless, sentimental words.

Saltash turned with his companion. "And now we are going to supper at The Anchor. I must get Mrs. Bolton to lead the way. Poor Jake is bored to the soul, but he's facing it like a man. Fine fellow--Jake."

"Oh, is he a friend of yours?" Sheila asked. "A very particular friend, I mean?"

Saltash grimaced to the stars. "No, I don't think so. Ask Jake! He knows me better than some, that's all. And I know him."

They left the yacht's rail and joined the on-coming throng. It was like a scene out of a fairy tale--the gaudy Chinese lanterns bobbing to and fro, the gaily-coloured crowd, the shining white yacht rocking gently on the noiseless swell. Everyone was laughing. Some were singing. There was not a serious face to be seen in all the crowd that poured over the red-carpeted gangway from the quay.

"Where is Toby?" said Maud.

She was standing with Jake in the many-hued glow of the lanterns, and she asked the question with a momentary anxiety, for she had looked in vain for Toby for some time.

"She's with Bunny. She's safe enough," said Jake.

"But they haven't come on board yet, and they've been gone so long," Maud said. "It's curious how little Captain Larpent seems to interest himself in her doings."

"Mighty curious," agreed Jake.

For Larpent had kept to the bridge morosely, almost throughout the evening. He was standing there now, looking down upon the shifting, chattering crowd. He had no idea how long it would be before Saltash tired of the game and gave orders to set sail. He waited in dumb endurance--as he would wait from day to day until the longed-for moment arrived. It had happened often before, Saltash's caprice had sometimes driven him to the verge of rebellion, but no one--not even Saltash himself--ever suspected it. Silent, phlegmatic, inexpressive, Larpent held on his undeviating course.

Maud's attention did not linger upon him. No one--save perhaps Saltash--ever paid much attention to Larpent. She turned back to watch the now empty gangway, and in a moment she gave an exclamation of relief.

"Ah! Here they come at last!"

A laughing voice spoke behind her. "Enter Cinderella and the Prince!"

She started and saw Saltash's swarthy face close to her. His odd eyes looked into hers with a flash of mischief.

"See how all my plans bear fruit!" he said. "I wave my wand, and you behold the result."

She turned from him to look again upon the advancing couple. They were crossing the gangway alone. Toby, slim, girlish, her wide blue eyes shining like the eyes of an awakened child, Bunny close behind her, touching her, his hand actually on her shoulder, possession and protection in every line of him. He was murmuring into her ear as they came, and his face was alight with the glory which no earthly lamp can kindle.

"Behold!" Saltash said again, and moved forward in his sudden fashion to receive them.

He met them as they stepped on board, and in a moment they were the centre of observation. The buzz of talk died down as the general attention focussed upon them. Maud was aware of Jake standing squarely behind her, and she put out a hand to him which he grasped and held.

Saltash was laughing, but they could not hear what he said. Only in a moment he had taken a hand of Bunny's and a hand of Toby's and joined them together. Toby's eyes were lifted to his face. She was smiling with lips that trembled, and Maud's heart gave a great throb of pity, she could not have said wherefore. She had a deep longing to go and gather the child into her arms and comfort her.

Then Toby too was laughing, and she heard Saltash's voice. "These things only happen properly once in a blue moon, _ma chere_. I give you both my blessing for the second time to-day. I wish you better luck than has ever come my way."

He threw a gay malicious glance towards the bridge, where Larpent stood like a grim Viking looking down upon the scene.

"Come!" he said. "We had better go and tell your daddy next!"

He led them lightly forward, and the crowd opened out with jests and laughter to let them pass.

Toby walked between the two men, very pale but still smiling--a smile that was curiously like the smile of a child that is trying not to cry.

"Oh, poor little thing!" Maud whispered suddenly and drew back beside Jake as if she could not bear to look.

"She'll be all right," said Jake stoutly. "Don't you fret any! Bunny's sound."

"Oh, yes, I know--I know! But she's so young." All the yearning of motherhood was in Maud's voice. "Does she love him? Does she?"

Jake's hand gripped hers more closely. He looked into her face with a smile in his red-brown eyes. "Maybe not as we know love," he said. "It doesn't come all at once--that sort."

She smiled back at him, for she could not help it, even as she shook her head in misgiving. "Sometimes--it doesn't come at all!" she said.

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