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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesLorraine: A Romance - Chapter 4. The Farandole
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Lorraine: A Romance - Chapter 4. The Farandole Post by :lfsanek Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1700

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Lorraine: A Romance - Chapter 4. The Farandole

CHAPTER IV. THE FARANDOLE

That evening Dorothy Marche stood on the terrace in the moonlight waving her plumed fan and listening to the orchestra from the hamlet of Saint-Lys. The orchestra--two violins, a reed-pipe, a biniou, and a harp--were playing away with might and main. Through the bay-window she could see the crystal chandeliers glittering with prismatic light, the slender gilded chairs, the cabinets and canapes, golden, backed with tapestry; and everywhere massed banks of ferns and lilies. They were dancing in there; she saw Lady Hesketh floating in the determined grip of Cecil Page, she saw Sir Thorald proudly prancing to the air of the farandole; Betty Castlemaine, Jack, Alixe, Barbara Lisle passed the window only to re-pass and pass again in a whirl of gauze and filmy colour; and the swish! swish! swish! of silken petticoats, and the rub of little feet on the polished floor grew into a rhythmic, monotonous cadence, beating, beating the measure of the farandole.

Dorothy waved her fan and looked at Rickerl, standing in the moonlight beside her.

"Why won't you dance, Ricky?" she asked; "it is your last evening, if you are determined to leave to-morrow." He turned to her with an abrupt gesture; she thought he was going to speak, but he did not, and after a moment she said: "Do you know what that despatch from the New York _Herald to my brother means?"

"Yes," he said. His voice was dull, almost indifferent.

"Will you tell me?"

"Yes, to-morrow."

"Is--is it anything dangerous that they want him to do?"

"Yes."

"Ricky--tell me, then! You frighten me."

"To-morrow--perhaps to-night."

"Perhaps to-night?"

"If I receive another telegram. I expect to."

"Then, if you receive another despatch, we shall all know?"

Rickerl von Elster bent his head and laid a gloved hand lightly on her own.

"I am very unhappy," he said, simply. "May we not speak of other things?"

"Yes, Ricky," she said, faintly. He looked almost handsome there in the moonlight, but under his evening dress the square build of the Prussian trooper, the rigid back, and sturdy limbs were perhaps too apparent for ideal civilian elegance. Dorothy looked into his serious young face. He touched his blond mustache, felt unconsciously for the sabre that was not dangling from his left hip, remembered, coloured, and stood up even straighter.

"We are thinking of the same thing," said Dorothy; "I was trying to recall that last time we met--do you remember? In Paris?"

He nodded; eyes fixed on hers.

"At the Diplomatic Ball?"

"Yes."

"And you were in uniform, and your sabre was very beautiful, but--do you remember how it clashed and banged on the marble stairway, and how the other attaches teased you until you tucked it under your left arm? Dear me! I was fascinated by your patent-leather sabre-tache, and your little spurs, that rang like tiny chimes when you walked. What sentimental creatures young girls are! Ne c'est pas, Ricky?"

"I have never forgotten that evening," he said, in a voice so low that she leaned involuntarily nearer.

"We were very young then," she said, waving her fan.

"It was not a year ago."

"We were young," she repeated, coldly.

"Yet I shall never forget, Dorothy."

She closed her fan and began to examine the fluffy plumes. Her cheeks were red, and she bit her lips continually.

"Do you particularly admire Molly Hesketh's hand?" she asked, indifferently.

He turned crimson. How could she know of the episode in the orangery? Know? There was no mystery in that; Molly Hesketh had told her. But Rickerl von Elster, loyal in little things, saw but one explanation--Dorothy must have seen him.

"Yes--I kissed her hand," he said. He did not add that Molly had dared him.

Dorothy raised her head with an icy smile.

"Is it honourable to confess such a thing?" she asked, in steady tones.

"But--but you knew it, for you saw me--" he stammered.

"I did not!" she flashed out, and walked straight into the house.

"Dorrie!" cried her brother as she swept by him, "what do you think? Lorraine de Nesville is coming this evening!"

"Lorraine?" said his sister--"dear me, I am dying to see her."

"Then turn around," whispered Betty Castlemaine, leaning across from Cecil's arm. "Oh, Dorrie! what a beauty!"

At the same moment the old vicomte rose from his gilded chair and stepped forward to the threshold, saying, "Lorraine! Lorraine! Then you have come at last, little bad one?" And he kissed her white hands and led her to his wife, murmuring, "Helen, what shall we do with the little bad one who never comes to bid two old people good-day?"

"Ah, Lorraine!" said Madame de Morteyn; "kiss me, my child."

There she stood, her cheeks faintly touched with colour, her splendid eyes shining like azure stars, the candle-light setting her heavy hair aglow till it glistened and burned as molten ore flashes in a crucible. They pressed around her; she saw, through the flare of yellow light, a sea of rosy faces; a vague mist of lace set with jewels; and she smiled at them while the colour deepened in her cheeks. There was music in her ears and music in her heart, and she was dancing now--dancing with a tall, bronzed young fellow who held her strong and safe, and whose eyes continually sought her own.

"You see," she said, demurely, "that my gowns came to-day from Paris."

"It is a dream--this one," he said, smiling back into her eyes, "but I shall never forget the scarlet skirt and little bodice of velvet, and the silver chains, and your hair--"

"My hair? It is still on my head."

"It was tangled across your face--then."

"Taisez-vous, Monsieur Marche!"

"And you seem to have grown taller--"

"It is my ball-gown."

"And you do not cast down your eyes and say, 'Oui, monsieur,' 'Non, monsieur'--"

"Non, monsieur."

Again they laughed, looking into each other's eyes, and there was music in the room and music in their hearts.

Presently the candle-light gave place to moonlight, and they found themselves on the terrace, seated, listening to the voice of the wind in the forest; and they heard the little river Lisse among the rushes and the murmur of leaves on the eaves.

When they became aware of their own silence they turned to each other with the gentle haste born of confusion, for each feared that the other might not understand. Then, smiling, half fearful, they reassured each other with their silence.

She was the first to break the stillness, hesitating as one who breaks the seal of a letter long expected, half dreaded: "I came late because my father was restless, and I thought he might need me. Did you hear cannon along the Rhine?"

"Yes. Some German fete. I thought at first it might be thunder. Give me your fan."

"You do not hold it right--there--"

"Do you feel the breeze? Your fan is perfumed--or is it the lilies on the terrace? They are dancing again; must we go back?"

She looked out into the dazzling moonlight of Lorraine; a nightingale began singing far away in the distant swamp; a bat darted by, turned, rose, dipped, and vanished.

"They are dancing," she repeated.

"Must we go?"

"No."

In the stillness the nightingale grew bolder; the woods seemed saturated with song.

"My father is restless; I must return soon," she said, with a little sigh. "I shall go in presently and make my adieux. I wish you might know my father. Will you? He would like you. He speaks to few people except me. I know all that he thinks, all that he dreams of. I know also all that he has done, all that he is doing, all that he will do--God willing. Why is it I tell you this? Ma foi, I do not know. And I am going to tell you more. Have you heard that my father has made a balloon?"

"Yes--everybody speaks of it," he answered, gravely.

"But--ah, this is the wonderful part!--he has made a balloon that can be inflated in five seconds! Think! All other balloons require a long, long while, and many tubes; and one must take them to a usine de gaz. My father's balloon needs no gas--that is, it needs no common illuminating gas."

"A montgolfier?" asked Marche, curiously.

"Oh, pooh! The idea! No, it is like other balloons, except that--well--there is needed merely a handful of silvery dust--to which you touch a drop of water--piff! puff! c'est fini! The balloon is filled."

"And what is this silvery dust?" he asked, laughing.

"Voila! Do you not wish you knew? I--Lorraine de Nesville--I know! It is a secret. If the time ever should come--in case of war, for instance--my father will give the secret to France--freely--without recompense--a secret that all the nations of Europe could not buy! Now, don't you wish you knew, monsieur?"

"And you know?"

"Yes," she said, with a tantalizing toss of her head.

"Then you'd better look out," he laughed; "if European nations get wind of this they might kidnap you."

"They know it already," she said, seriously. "Austria, Spain, Portugal, and Russia have sent agents to my father--as though he bought and sold the welfare of his country!"

"And that map-making fellow this morning--do you suppose he might have been hanging about after that sort of thing--trying to pry and pick up some scrap of information?"

"I don't know," she said, quietly; "I only saw him making maps. Listen! there are two secrets that my father possesses, and they are both in writing. I do not know where he keeps them, but I know what they are. Shall I tell you? Then listen--I shall whisper. One is the chemical formula for the silvery dust, the gas of which can fill a balloon in five seconds. The other is--you will be astonished--the plan for a navigable balloon!"

"Has he tried it?"

"A dozen times. I went up twice. It steers like a ship."

"Do people know this, too?"

"Germany does. Once we sailed, papa and I, up over our forest and across the country to the German frontier. We were not very high; we could see the soldiers at the custom-house, and they saw us, and--would you believe it?--they fired their horrid guns at us--pop! pop! pop! But we were too quick; we simply sailed back again against the very air-currents that brought us. One bullet made a hole in the silk, but we didn't come down. Papa says a dozen bullets cannot bring a balloon down, even when they pierce the silk, because the air-pressure is great enough to keep the gas in. But he says that if they fire a shell, that is what is to be dreaded, for the gas, once aflame!--that ends all. Dear me! we talk a great deal of war--you and I. It is time for me to go."

They rose in the moonlight; he gave her back her fan. For a full minute they stood silent, facing each other. She broke a lily from its stem, and drew it out of the cluster at her breast. She did not offer it, but he knew it was his, and he took it.

"Symbol of France," she whispered.

"Symbol of Lorraine," he said, aloud.

A deep boom, sullen as summer thunder, shook the echoes awake among the shrouded hills, rolling, reverberating, resounding, until the echoes carried it on from valley to valley, off into the world of shadows.

The utter silence that followed was broken by a call, a gallop of hoofs on the gravel drive, the clink of stirrups, the snorting of hard-run horses.

Somebody cried, "A telegram for you, Ricky!" There was a patter of feet on the terrace, a chorus of voices: "What is it, Ricky?" "Must you go at once?" "Whatever is the matter?"

The young German soldier, very pale, turned to the circle of lamp-lit faces.

"France and Germany--I--I--"

"What?" cried Sir Thorald, violently.

"War was declared at noon to-day!"

Lorraine gave a gasp and reached out one hand. Jack Marche took it in both of his.

Inside the ballroom the orchestra was still playing the farandole.

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