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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesCharles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 6. The New Lover
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Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 6. The New Lover Post by :Allan_Lyon Category :Long Stories Author :Ethel May Dell Date :May 2012 Read :2160

Click below to download : Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 6. The New Lover (Format : PDF)

Charles Rex - Part 4 - Chapter 6. The New Lover

PART IV CHAPTER VI. THE NEW LOVER

Very late that night when all the crowds who had assembled to watch Rozelle Daubeni had dispersed with awe-struck whisperings, two men came down the great staircase into the empty vestibule and paused at the foot.

"You are leaving Paris again?" said Saltash.

The other nodded, his face perfectly emotionless, his eyes the eyes of a sailor who searches the far horizon. "There is nothing to keep me here," he said, and absently accepted a cigarette from the case that Saltash proffered. "I have always hated towns. I only came--" He stopped, considered a moment, and said no more.

Saltash's eyes were upon him, alert, speculative, but wholly without malice. "You came--because you were sent for," he said.

Larpent nodded twice thoughtfully, more as if in answer to some mental suggestion than as if the words had been actually uttered. He struck a match and held it for Saltash. Then, as he deliberately lighted his own cigarette, between slow puffs he spoke: "There was only--one reason on earth--that would have brought me."

"Yes?" said Saltash. He dropped into a chair with the air of a man who has limitless leisure at his disposal, but his tone was casual. He did not ask for confidence.

Larpent stood still gazing before him through the smoke with keen, unwavering eyes.

"Only one reason," he said again, and still he seemed to speak as one who communes with his inner soul. "She was dying--and she wanted me." He paused a moment, and an odd tremor went through him. "After twenty years," he said, as if in wonder at himself.

Saltash's look came swiftly upwards. "I've heard that before," he said. "Those she caught she kept--always. No other woman was ever worth while after Rozelle."

Larpent's hand clenched instinctively, but he said nothing.

Saltash went on in the same casual tone. "She never caught me, _mon ami_. I met her too late in life--when I was beginning to get fastidious." His monkey-like grin showed for a moment. "I appreciated her charm, but--it left me cold."

"You never saw her in her first youth," said Larpent, and into his fixed eyes there came a curious glow--the look of a man who sees a vision.

"What was she like then?" said Saltash.

Slowly the sailor answered him, word by word as one spelling out a strange language. "She was like a butterfly that plays among the flowers in the early morning. She had the look of a boy--the wide-open eyes, the fearless way, the freedom, the daring. Her innocence--her loveliness--" Something rose unexpectedly in his throat. He stopped and swallowed hard. "My God! How lovely she was!" he said, in a strangled voice.

Saltash got up in his sudden, elastic fashion. "Look here! You want a drink. Sit down while I get you one!"

He was gone with the words, not waiting for the half-uttered remonstrance that the other man sent after him.

Larpent stood staring heavily before him for a space, then turned with a mechanical movement and dropped into a chair. He was sitting so, bent forward, his hands clasped in front of him when Saltash returned. He had the worn, grey look of a man tired out with hard travel.

Saltash poured out a drink and held it down to him. "Here's the stuff! Drink, man! It'll put new life into you."

Larpent drank, still in that slow, mechanical fashion. But as he drained the glass his eyes met Saltash's alert look and a faint, grim smile crossed his haggard features.

"Don't let me spoil your holiday, my lord!" he said.

"Don't be a damn' fool!" said Saltash.

Larpent sat in silence for several seconds. Then in a more normal tone he spoke again. "I had to come to her. God knows what made her want me after all these years. But I couldn't refuse to come. I had her message two days ago. She said she was alone--dying. So I came." He paused and wiped his forehead. "I thought she had tricked me. You saw her as she was to-night. She was like that--full of life, superb. But--I had come to her, and I found I couldn't leave her. She wanted me--she wanted me--to take her back." He got up, but not with any agitation, and began to pace to and fro as though he paced a deck. "You will think me mad of course. You never came under the spell. But I, I was first with her; and perhaps it was fitting that I should be the last. Had she lived--after to-night--I would have taken her away. She would never have danced again. I would have taken her out of this damnable world that had dragged her down. I'd have saved her somehow."

"You wouldn't," said Saltash. "It's like a recurrent fever. You'd never have held her."

"I say I would." Larpent spoke deeply, but still without emotion. "I could have done it--and no one else on earth. I tell you I was first with her, and a woman doesn't forget the first. I had a power that no other man ever possessed, or ever could possess. I was--her husband."

"What?" said Saltash.

Larpent paced on with bent head. "I was her husband. But I was at sea and she was on shore. And so I lost her. She was not made to stand against temptation. It came to her when I was on the other side of the world. When I got back, she was gone. And I--I never followed her. The thing was hopeless. She was that sort, you understand. It was first one and then another with her. I dropped her out of my life, and let her go. I didn't realize then--what I know now--that the power to rescue and to hold her was mine. If I had, I might have gone after her. I can't say. But I was too bitter at the time to feel it was worth while. I went back to the sea and left her to work out her own damnation."

"And yet you loved her?" Saltash said, with a queer twist of the features that was not of mirth.

"I loved her, yes. If I hadn't loved her I would never have come to her when she called. That is love--the thing that doesn't die." A sudden throb sounded in Larpent's voice. He paused for a moment in his walk, then paced on. "You may laugh at it--call it what you will--but there is a power on the earth that is stronger than anything else, and when that power speaks we have got to obey. I didn't want to come. You think me a damn fool for coming. But I had to. That's all there is to it."

"I don't think you any sort of a fool," Saltash threw in briefly. "You did the only thing possible."

"Yes, the only thing. I came to her. If I hadn't come, she'd have died--alone. But that alone wasn't why she sent for me--it was the primary reason, but not the only one. There was another." Larpent ceased his pacing and deliberately faced the man who stood listening. "You know what happened to-night," he said. "That child--the scaramouch you picked out of the gutter at Valrosa--Toby--do you realize--have you grasped--the meaning of that yet?"

Saltash flung up his head with an arrogant gesture. "There is one thing about her you have not grasped," he said. "But go on! I may as well hear it."

Larpent went on steadily. "When I came to her yesterday she told me of a child that had been born to her--a child she had loved but had been unable to protect. It was a long story. Spentoli the Italian artist knows it from beginning to end. You know Spentoli?"

"I know him," said Saltash.

"Spentoli is a blackguard," Larpent said, "the sort that is born, not made afterwards. He has painted Rozelle over and over again. He raves about her. He may be a genius. He is certainly mad. He wanted the child for a model, and Rozelle could not prevent it. So she told me. I believe she was dependent upon him at the time. She had been ill. She has been ill for years with heart trouble. And so he had the child, but only for a time. The girl had a will of her own and broke away, joined a circus in California. He tracked her down, captured her again, tried to make a slave of her. But she was like a wild creature. She stabbed him one night and fled. That was Rozelle's trouble. She had never been able to hear of her again. She begged me to find--and save her. I promised to do my best. But--there was no need to search very far. To-night Spentoli pulled the wires again. It was he who switched on that light. It was he who killed Rozelle. The girl in the gallery with you--Toby--was her daughter--and mine. You heard Rozelle cry out when she saw her. She never spoke again."

Larpent ceased to speak. He was no longer looking at Saltash. The far vision seemed to have caught his gaze again. He stared beyond.

Saltash watched him with working brows. "Are you wanting to lay claim to the girl?" he asked abruptly.

Larpent's face was grim. "I make no claim, my lord," he said. "But I have sworn to do my best for her. I shall keep that oath of mine."

"Meaning?" said Saltash.

The sailor's look met his squarely. "You know what I mean," he said.

Saltash began to grin. "A fight to a finish, what? I'm sorry, _mon ami_. But I've got you beaten at the start. Shall I tell you how you can best keep that somewhat rash oath of yours?"

"Well?" The word fell brief and uncompromising. Larpent's face was as carved granite.

Saltash thrust forth a sudden hand and took him by the shoulder. "Just by effacing yourself, _mon vieux_," he said lightly. "Go back to _The Blue Moon_, take her to Fairharbour, and await my orders there!"

It was carelessly, even jestingly, spoken, but a certain authority lurked behind the words. Charles Rex knew how to assert his kingship upon occasion, knew also how to temper it with the touch of friendship.

Larpent's look did not waver, but some of the grimness went from it. Neither anger nor indignation had any place here. He continued to look Saltash straight in the face.

"And that would be keeping my oath?" he said.

"Even so," said Saltash.

"You mean," Larpent spoke with slow emphasis, "that to leave her where she now is, is to leave her in safe and honourable keeping?"

The old mocking smile gleamed in Saltash's eyes. "Yes, I mean that," he said. "Do you believe me, Larpent?"

"Believe you, my lord?" Larpent seemed to hesitate.

The hand that held him moved with a hint of impatience. "I am asking," said Saltash royally, "if you consider that my protection is adequate for--my wife."

"Your--wife!" Larpent started in sharp surprise. "Your wife, did you say?"

Saltash broke into a chuckle and dropped his hand from his captain's shoulder. "Yes, just that," he said. "You are behind the times, my friend. Are you going to congratulate me? We were married four days ago."

Larpent's hand came out to him abruptly. "It's the best thing you've ever done, my lord," he said. "And you will never regret it."

"What makes you say that?" said Saltash curiously.

Their hands gripped and fell apart. Larpent answered him in the brief fashion of the man whose words are few. "Mainly because you loved her enough to marry her when you could have had her without."

Saltash's laugh had the old derisive ring but there was no corresponding gleam of mockery in his eyes as he turned carelessly aside. "What is this thing called love?" he said.

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