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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 5. The Dance Of Death
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Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 5. The Dance Of Death Post by :Allan_Lyon Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :1540

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Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 5. The Dance Of Death


"We will watch from the gallery," said Saltash.

Toby looked up at him with quick gratitude. "There won't be so many people there," she said.

He frowned at her, but his look was quizzical. "But everyone will know that Lady Saltash is present--with her husband," he said.

She slipped a persuasive hand on to his arm. "King Charles," she said, "let us leave Paris!"

"Bored?" said Saltash.

Her face was slightly drawn. "No--no! Only--" she paused; then suddenly flashed him her swift smile--"let it be as you wish!" she said.

He flicked her cheek in his careless, caressing way. "Shall I tell you something, _mignonne_? We are going--very soon."

Her eyes shone, more blue than the frock she wore She stooped impulsively and touched his hand with her lips, then, as though she feared to anger him, drew quickly away.

"Shall we go on the yacht?" she asked, eagerness half-suppressed in her voice.

"Yes," said Saltash, and he spoke with finality, even with a certain grimness.

Toby's face lighted up for a second, and then clouded again. She glanced at him doubtfully. "If Paris amuses you--" she ventured.

"Paris does not amuse me," said Saltash emphatically. "Have a cigarette, _ma chere_, while I go and dress."

"Can I help you dress?" said Toby, with a touch of wistfulness. "I have put everything ready."

His odd eyes flashed her a smile. "Not here, _cherie_, not now. Perhaps--when we get on a yacht again--"

He was gone, leaving the sentence unfinished, leaving Toby looking after him with the wide eyes of one who sees at last a vision long desired. She stretched out both her arms as the door closed upon him and her lips repeated very softly the words that he had last uttered.

"Perhaps--when we got on a yacht again--"

When they went down to the great _salle-a-manger a little later, her face was flushed and her smile ready, though she glanced about her in a shy, half-furtive fashion as they entered. They found a secluded table reserved for them in a corner, and her eyes expressed relief. She shrank into it as if she would make herself as small as possible. Again no one accosted them though a good many looked in their direction. Saltash was far too well known a figure to pass unnoticed in any fashionable crowd. But the general attention did not centre upon them. That was absorbed by a far greater attraction that night.

She sat at the end of the room like a queen holding her court, and beside her sat the Viking, stern-faced and remote of mien, as supremely isolated as though he sat with her on a desert island. He spoke but seldom, and then to her exclusively. But when he spoke, she turned to him the radiant face of the woman who holds within her grasp her heart's desire.

She was superbly dressed in many-shaded blue, and jewels sparkled with every breath she drew. Above her forehead, there nestled in the gold of her hair a single splendid diamond that burned like a multi-coloured flame. She was at the acme of her triumph that night. Of all who knew her, there was not one who had seen her thus. They watched her almost with bated breath. She was like a being from another world. She transcended every expectation of her.

The band played only dance-music, by her desire, it was said; but such music as wrought irresistibly upon the senses and emotions. She was preparing her audience for what should follow. Throughout the meal, excitement was steadily rising. There was almost a feeling of delirium in the air.

Before the bulk of diners had finished, she rose to go. Her cavalier rose with her, flinging her gauzy wrap of blue and gold over his arm. It was the signal for a demonstration. In a moment a youth with eyes ablaze with adoration sprang on to a table in the centre of the vast room with a glass of red wine held high.

"A Rozelle! A Rozelle!"

The cry went up to the domed roof in a great crescendo of sound, and instantly the place was a pandemonium of shouting, excited figures. They crowded towards the table at which the _danseuse still stood. And just for a second--one fleeting second--her eyes showed a curious fear. She stood almost as one at a loss. Then in a flash her irresolution was gone. Her beautiful face smiled its own inimitable smile. The music of her laughter rang silvery through the tumult. She made a dainty gesture of acceptance, of acknowledgment, of friendly appreciation; then lightly she turned to go.

Her companion made a path for her. He looked as if he could have hewn his way through a wall of rock at that moment, and his uncompromising bearing gained him respect. No one attempted to gainsay him.

They were gone almost before they realized that their idol had not spoken a word to them. The moment was past, and the excitement died down to a buzz of talk.

"An amazing woman!" said Saltash.

Toby glanced at him, and said nothing. She had watched the whole episode from her corner with eyes that missed nothing; but she had not spoken a word.

He bent suddenly towards her. "Drink some wine, _cherie_! You are pale."

She started a little at the quick peremptoriness of his speech. She lifted her glass to drink, and splashed some of the wine over. He leaned farther forward, screening her from observation.

"Go on! Drink!" he said, with insistence, and in a moment his hand closed upon hers, guiding the wine to her lips.

She drank obediently, not meeting his look, and he took the glass from her, and set it down.

"Now we will go. Are you ready?"

She rose, and he stood aside for her. As she passed him, his hand closed for an instant upon her bare arm in a grasp that was close and vital. She threw him a quick, upward glance; but still she said no word.

They passed out through the throng of diners almost unobserved, but in the corridor Spentoli leaned against a pillar smoking a long, black cigar. He made no movement to intercept them, but his eyes with their restless fire dwelt upon the girl in a fashion that drew her own irresistibly. She saw him and slightly paused.

It was the pause of the hunted animal that sees its retreat cut off, but in an instant Saltash's voice, very cool, arrogantly self-assured, checked the impulse to panic.

"Straight on to the lift, _ma chere_! See! It is there in front of you. There will be no one in the gallery. Go straight on!"

She obeyed him instinctively as her habit was, but in the lift she trembled so much that he made her sit down. He stood beside her in silence, but once lightly his hand touched her cheek. She moved then swiftly, convulsively, and caught it in both her own. But the next moment he had gently drawn it free.

The gallery that ran round three sides of the great _salon was deserted. There was only one point at the far end whence a view of the stage that had been erected for the dancer could be obtained. Towards this Saltash turned.

"We shall see her from here," he said.

The place was but dimly illumined by the flare of the many lights below--two great crystal candelabra that hung at each end being left unlighted. Under one of these was a settee which Saltash drew forward to the balcony.

"No one will disturb us here," he said. "We can smoke in peace."

He offered her his cigarette-case, but she refused it nervously, sitting down in a corner of the settee in the crouched attitude of a frightened creature seeking cover. The band was playing in the _salon now, and people were beginning to crowd in.

Saltash leaned back in his corner and smoked. His eyes went to and fro ceaselessly, yet the girl beside him was aware of a scrutiny as persistent as if they never left her. She sat in silence, clasping and unclasping her hands, staring downwards at the shining stage.

Very soon the _salon was full of people, and the lights were lowered there while on the stage only a single shaft of blinding violet light remained, shooting downwards from the centre. Toby's eyes became fixed upon that shaft of light. She seemed to have forgotten to breathe.

The band had ceased to play. There fell a potent silence. The multitude below sat motionless, as if beneath a spell. And then she came.

No one saw her coming. She arrived quite suddenly as though she had slid down that shaft of light. And she was there before them dancing, dancing, like a winged thing in the violet radiance. Not a sound broke the stillness save a single, wandering thread of melody that might have come from the throat of a bird, soft, fitful, but half-awake in the dawning.

The violet light was merging imperceptibly into rose--the unutterable rose of the early morning. It caught the dancing figure, and she lifted her beautiful face to it and laughed. The gauzy scarf streamed out from her shoulders like a flame, curving, mounting, sinking, now enveloping the white arms, now flung wide in a circle of glittering splendour.

A vast breath went up from the audience. She held them as by magic--all save one who leaned back in his corner with no quickening of the pulses and watched the girl beside him sitting motionless with her blue eyes wide and fixed as though they gazed upon some horror from which there was no escape.

The rose light deepened to crimson. She was dancing now in giddy circles like a many-coloured moth dazzled by the dawn. The melody was growing. Other bird-voices were swelling into sound--a wild and flute-like music of cadences that came and went--elusive as the laughter of wood-nymphs in an enchanted glade. And every one of that silent crowd of watchers saw the red light of dawn breaking through the trees of a dream-forest that no human foot had ever trod.

Slowly the crimson lightened. The day was coming, and the silent-flitting moth of night was turning into a butterfly of purest gold. The scarf still floated about her like a gold-edged cloud. The giddy whirl was over. She came to rest, poised, quivering in the light of the newly-risen sun, every line of her exquisite body in the accord of a perfect symmetry. Yes, she was amazing; she was unique. Wherever she went, the spell still held. But to-night she was as one inspired. She did not see her spellbound audience. She was dancing for one alone. She was as a woman who waits for her lover.

In some fashion this fact communicated itself to her worshippers. They guessed that somewhere near that dazzling figure the stranger whom no one knew was watching. Insensibly, through the medium of the dancer, his presence made itself felt. When that wonderful dance of the dawn was over and the thunder of applause had died away, they looked around, asking who and where he was. But no one knew, and though curiosity was rife it seemed unlikely that it would be satisfied that night.

Up in the gallery Toby drew a deep breath as of one coming out of a trance, and turned towards the man beside her. The light had been turned on in the _salon below, and it struck upwards on her face, showing it white and weary.

"So she has found another victim!" she said.

"It seems so," said Saltash.

She looked at him in the dimness. "Did you know that--that Captain Larpent was with her?"

"No," said Saltash. He leaned forward abruptly, meeting her look with a sudden challenge. "Did you?"

She drew back sharply. "Of course not! Of course not! What--what should I know about her?"

He leaned back again without comment, and lighted another cigarette.

At the end of several seconds of silence, Toby spoke again, her locked fingers pulling against each other nervously.

"I wonder--do you mind--if I go soon? I--I am rather tired."

The lights went out as she spoke, and Saltash's face became invisible. He spoke quite kindly, but with decision, out of the darkness.

"After this dance, _ma chere_--if you desire it."

The music began--weird and mournful--and a murmur went round among the eager watchers. It was her most famous dance--the dance of Death, the most gruesome spectacle, so it was said, that any dancer had ever conceived. She came on to the stage like the flash of an arrow, dressed in black that glittered and scintillated with every amazing movement. And then it began--that most wonderful dance of hers that all the world was mad to see.

It was almost too rapid for the eye to follow in its first stages--a fever of movement--a delirium indescribable--a fantasy painful to watch, but from which no watcher could turn away. Even Saltash, who had taken small interest in the previous dance, leaned forward and gave his full attention to this, as it were in spite of himself. The very horror of it was magnetic. They seemed to look upon a death-struggle--the wild fight of a creature endowed with a fiery vitality against an enemy unseen but wholly ruthless and from the first invincible.

Those who saw that dance of Rozelle Daubeni never forgot it, and there was hardly a woman in the audience who was not destined to shudder whenever the memory of it arose. It was arresting, revolting, terrible; it must have compelled in any case. A good many began to sob with the sheer nervous horror of it, yearning for the end upon which they were forced to look, though with a dread that made the blood run cold.

But the end was such as no one in that assembly looked for. Just as the awful ecstasy of the dance was at its height, just as the dreaded crisis approached, and they saw with a gasping horror the inevitable final clutch of the unseen enemy upon his vanquished victim; just as she lifted her face in the last anguish of supplication, yielding the last hope, sinking in nerveless surrender before the implacable destroyer, there came a sudden flare of light in the _salon_, and the great crystal candelabra that hung over the end of the gallery where the man and the girl were seated watching became a dazzling sparkle of overwhelming light.

Everyone turned towards it instinctively, and Toby, hardly knowing what she did, but with the instinct to escape strong upon her, leapt to her feet.

In that moment--as she stood in the full light--the dancer's eyes also shot upwards and saw the sum young figure. It was only for a moment, but instantly a wild cry rang through the great _salon_--a cry of agony so piercing that women shrieked and trembled, hiding their faces from what they knew not what.

In the flash of a second the light was gone, the gallery again in darkness. But on the stage a woman's voice cried thrice: "Toinette! Toinette! Toinette!" in the anguished accents of a mother who cries for her dead child, and then fell into a tragic silence more poignant than any sound--a silence that was as the silence of Death.

And in that silence a man's figure, moving with the free, athletic swing of a sailor, crossed the stage to where the dancer lay huddled in the dimness like a broken thing, lifted her--bore her away.

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