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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Dark Star - Chapter 35. The First Day
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The Dark Star - Chapter 35. The First Day Post by :Kingly5 Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :3721

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The Dark Star - Chapter 35. The First Day


Neeland had undressed, bathed his somewhat battered body, and had then thrown himself on the bed, fully intending to rise in a few moments and await breakfast.

But it was a very weary young man who stretched himself out for ten minutes' repose. And, when again he unclosed his eyes, the austere clock on the mantel informed him that it was five--not five in the morning either.

He had slept through the first day of general mobilisation.

Across the lowered latticed blinds late afternoon sunshine struck red. The crests of the chestnut trees in the rue Soleil d'Or had turned rosy; and a delicate mauve sky, so characteristic of Paris in early autumn, already stretched above the city like a frail tent of silk from which fragile cobweb clouds hung, tinted with saffron and palest rose.

Hoisting the latteen shades, he looked out through lace curtains into the most silent city he had ever beheld. Not that the streets and avenues were deserted: they swarmed with hurrying, silent people and with taxicabs.

Never had he seen so many taxicabs; they streamed by everywhere, rushing at high speed. They passed through the rue Soleil d'Or; the rue de la Lune fairly whizzed with them; the splendid avenue was merely a vista of flying taxis; and in every one of them there was a soldier.

Otherwise, except for cyclists, there seemed to be very few soldiers in Paris--an odd fact immediately noticeable.

Also there were no omnibuses to be seen, no private automobiles, no electric vehicles of any sort except great grey army trucks trundling by with a sapper at the wheel.

And, except for the whiz and rush of the motors and the melancholy siren blasts from their horns, an immense silence reigned in the streets.

There was no laughter to be heard, no loud calling, no gay and animated badinage. People who met and stopped conversed in undertones; gestures were sober and rare.

And everywhere, in the intense stillness, Red Cross flags hung motionless in the late afternoon sunshine; everywhere were posted notices warning the Republic of general mobilisation--on dead walls, on tree-boxes, on kiosques, on bulletin boards, on the facades of public and ecclesiastical buildings.

Another ordinance which Neeland could read from where he stood at the window warned all citizens from the streets after eight o'clock in the evening; and on the closed iron shutters of every shop in sight of his window were pasted white strips of paper bearing, in black letters, the same explanation:

"Ferme a cause de la mobilisation."

Nowhere could he see the word "war" printed or otherwise displayed. The conspiracy of silence concerning it seemed the more ominous.

Nor, listening, could he hear the sinister voices of men and boys calling extra editions of the papers. There seemed to be no need for the raising of hoarse and threatening voices in the soundless capital. Men and youths of all ages traversed the avenues and streets with sheafs of fresh, damp newspapers over their ragged arms, but it was the populace who crowded after and importuned them, not they the people; and no sooner did a paper-seller appear than he was stripped of his wares and was counting his coppers under the trees before hurrying away for a fresh supply.

Neeland dressed himself in sections, always returning to the window to look out; and in this manner he achieved his toilet.

Marotte, the old butler, was on the floor below, carrying a tea tray into the wide, sunny sitting-room as Neeland descended.

"I overslept," explained the young American, "and I'm nearly starved. Is Mademoiselle Carew having tea?"

"Mademoiselle requested tea for two, sir, in case you should awake," said the old man solemnly.

Neeland watched him fussing about with cloth and table and silver.

"Have you any news?" he asked after a moment.

"Very little, Monsieur Neeland. The police have ordered all Germans into detention camps--men, women, and children. It is said that there are to be twelve great camps for these unfortunates who are to assemble in the Lycee Condorcet for immediate transportation."

Neeland thought of Ilse Dumont. Presently he asked whether any message had been received from the Princess Mistchenka.

"Madame the Princess telephoned from Havre at four o'clock this afternoon. Mademoiselle Carew has the message."

Neeland, reassured, nodded:

"No other news, Marotte?"

"The military have taken our automobiles from the garage, and have requisitioned the car which Madame la Princess is now using, ordering us to place it at their disposal as soon as it returns from Havre. Also, Monsieur le Capitaine Sengoun has telephoned from the Russian Embassy, but Mademoiselle Carew would not permit Monsieur to be awakened."

"What did Captain Sengoun say?"

"Mademoiselle Carew received the message."

"And did anyone else call me up?" asked Neeland, smiling.

"_Il y avait une fe--une espece de dame_," replied the old man doubtfully, "--who named herself Fifi la Tzigane. I permitted myself to observe to her," added the butler with dignity, "that she had the liberty of writing to you what she thought necessary to communicate."

He had arranged the tea-table. Now he retired, but returned almost immediately to decorate the table with Cloth of Gold roses.

Fussing and pottering about until the mass of lovely blossoms suited him, he finally presented himself to Neeland for further orders, and, learning that there were none, started to retire with a self-respecting dignity that was not at all impaired by the tears which kept welling up in his aged eyes, and which he always winked away with a _demi-tour and a discreet cough correctly stifled by his dry and wrinkled hand.

As he passed out the door Neeland said:

"Are you in trouble, Marotte?"

The old man straightened up, and a fierce pride blazed for a moment from his faded eyes:

"Not trouble, monsieur; but--when one has three sons departing for the front--_dame!_--that makes one reflect a little----"

He bowed with the unconscious dignity of a wider liberty, a subtler equality which, for a moment, left such as he indifferent to circumstances of station.

Neeland stepped forward extending his hand:

"_Bonne chance! God be with France--and with us all who love our liberty. Luck to your three sons!"

"I thank monsieur----" He steadied his voice, bowed in the faultless garments which were his badge of service, and went his way through the silence in the house.

Neeland had walked to the long windows giving on the pretty balcony with its delicate, wrought-iron rails and its brilliant masses of geraniums.

Outside, along the Avenue, in absolute silence, a regiment of cuirassiers was passing, the level sun blazing like sheets of crimson fire across their helmets and breastplates. And now, listening, the far clatter of their horses came to his ears in an immense, unbroken, rattling resonance.

Their gold-fringed standard passed, and the sunlight on the naked sabres ran from point to hilt like liquid blood. Sons of the Cuirassiers of Morsbronn, grandsons of the Cuirassiers of Waterloo--what was their magnificent fate to be?--For splendid it could not fail to be, whether tragic or fortunate.

The American's heart began to hammer in his breast and throb in his throat, closing it with a sudden spasm that seemed to confuse his vision for a moment and turn the distant passing regiment to a glittering stream of steel and flame.

Then it had passed; the darkly speeding torrent of motor cars alone possessed the Avenue; and Neeland turned away into the room again.

And there, before him, stood Rue Carew.

A confused sense of unreasoning, immeasurable happiness rushed over him, and, in that sudden, astounding instant of self-revelation, self-amazement left him dumb.

She had given him both her slim white hands, and he held to them as though to find his bearings. Both were a trifle irrelevant and fragmentary.

"Do you c-care for tea, Jim?... What a night! What a fright you gave us.... There are _croissants_, too, and caviar.... I would not permit anybody to awaken you; and I was dying to see you----"

"I am so sorry you were anxious about me. And I'm tremendously hungry.... You see, Sengoun and I did not mean to remain out all night.... I'll help you with that tea; shall I?..."

He still retained her hands in his; she smiled and flushed in a breathless sort of way, and looked sometimes at the tea-kettle as though she never before had seen such an object; and looked up at him as though she had never until that moment beheld any man like him.

"The Princess Naia has left us quite alone," she said, "so I must give you some tea." She was nervous and smiling and a little frightened and confused with the sense of their contact.

"So--I shall give you your tea, now," she repeated.

She did not mention her manual inability to perform her promise, but presently it occurred to him to release her hands, and she slid gracefully into her chair and took hold of the silver kettle with fingers that trembled.

He ate everything offered him, and then took the initiative. And he talked--Oh, heaven! How he talked! Everything that had happened to him and to Sengoun from the moment they left the rue Soleil d'Or the night before, this garrulous young man detailed with a relish for humorous circumstance and a disregard for anything approaching the tragic, which left her with an impression that it had all been a tremendous lark--indiscreet, certainly, and probably reprehensible--but a lark, for all that.

Fireworks, shooting, noise, and architectural destruction he admitted, but casualties he skimmed over, and of death he never said a word. Why should he? The dead were dead. None concerned this young girl now--and, save one, no death that any man had died there in the shambles of the Cafe des Bulgars could ever mean anything to Rue Carew.

Some day, perhaps, he might tell her that Brandes was dead--not where or how he had died--but merely the dry detail. And she might docket it, if she cared to, and lay it away among the old, scarcely remembered, painful things that had been lived, and now were to be forgotten forever.

The silence of intensest interest, shy or excited questions, and the grey eyes never leaving his--this was her tribute.

Grey eyes tinged with golden lights, now clear with suspense, now brilliant at a crisis, now gentle, wondering, troubled, as he spoke of Ilse Dumont and the Russian girl, now charmingly vague as her mind outstripped his tongue and she divined something of the sturdy part he had played--golden-grey eyes that grew exquisite with her pride in him, tender with solicitude for him in dangers already passed away--this was her tribute

Engaging grey eyes of a girl with the splendour and mystery of womanhood possessing her--attracting him, too, fascinating him, threatening, conquering, possessing him--this, the Greek gift of Rue Carew, her tribute.

And he took all, forgetting that the Greeks bore gifts; or, perhaps, remembering, rejoicing, happy in his servitude, he took into his heart and soul the tribute this young girl offered, a grateful, thankful captive.

The terrible cataclysm impending, menacing the world, they seemed powerless, yet, to grasp and comprehend and understand.

Outside, the street rippled and roared with the interminable clatter of passing cavalry: the girl looked into the eyes of the boy across the tea-table, and her young eyes, half fearful yet enchanted, scarce dared divine what his eyes were telling her while his hurrying tongue chattered irrelevancies.

Three empires, two kingdoms, and a great republic resounded with the hellish din of arming twenty million men. Her soft lips were touched with the smile of youth that learns for the first time it is beloved; her eyes of a child, exquisite, brooding, rested with a little more courage now on his--were learning, little by little, to sustain his gaze, endure the ardour that no careless, laughing speech of his could hide or dim or quench.

In the twilight of the streets there was silence, save for the rush of motors and the recurrent trample of armed men. But the heart of Rue Carew was afire with song--and every delicate vein in her ran singing to her heart.

There was war in the Eastern world; and palace and chancellery were ablaze. But they spoke of the West--of humble places and lowly homes; of still woodlands where mosses edged the brooks; of peaceful villages they both had known, where long, tree-shaded streets slept in the dappled shadow under the sun of noon.

* * * * *

Marotte came, silent, self-respecting, very grey and tranquil in his hour of trial.

There were two letters for Neeland, left by hand. And, when the old man had gone away bearing his silver tray among his heavier burdens:

"Read them," nodded Rue Carew.

He read them both aloud to her: the first amused them a little--not without troubling them a little, too:

* * * * *

Monsieur Neeland:

It is the Tzigane, Fifi, who permits herself the honour of addressing you.

Breslau escaped. With him went the plans, it seems. You behaved admirably in the Cafe des Bulgars. A Russian comrade has you and Prince Erlik to remember in her prayers.

You have done well, monsieur. Now, your task is ended. Go back to the Western World and leave us to end this battle between ourselves.

It is written and confirmed by the stars that what the Eastern World has sown it shall now reap all alone.

We Tziganes know. You should not mock at our knowledge. For there is a dark star, Erlik, named from the Prince of Hell. And last night it was in conjunction with the red star, Mars. None saw it; none has ever beheld the dark star, Erlik.

But we Tziganes know. We have known for five thousand years that Erlik hung aloft, followed by ten black moons. Ask your astronomers. But we Tziganes knew this before there ever were astronomers!

Therefore, go home to your own land, monsieur. The Prince of Hell is in the heavens. The Yellow Devil shall see the Golden Horn again. Empires shall totter and fall. Little American, stand from under.

Adieu! We Tziganes wish you well--Fifi and Nini of the Jardin Russe.

"Adieu, _beau jeune homme_! And--_to her whom you shall take with you_--homage, good wishes, good augury, and adieux!"

* * * * *

"'To her whom you shall take with you,'" he repeated, looking at Rue Carew.

The girl blushed furiously and bent her head, and her slender fingers grew desperately busy with her handkerchief.

Neeland, as nervous as she, fumbled with the seal of the remaining letter, managed finally to break it, glanced at the writing, then laughed and read:

* * * * *

My dear Comrade Neeland:

I get my thousand lances! Congratulate me! Were you much battered by that _canaille last night? I laugh until I nearly burst when I think of that absurd _bousculade_!

That girl I took with me is all right. I'm going to Petrograd! I'm going on the first opportunity by way of Switzerland.

What happiness, Neeland! No more towns for me, except those I take. No more politics, no more diplomacy! I shall have a thousand lances to do my talking for me. Hurrah!

Neeland, I love you as a brother. Come to the East with me. You shall make a splendid trooper! Not, of course, a Terek Cossack. A Cossack is God's work. A Terek Cossack is born, not made.

But, good heavens! There is other most excellent cavalry in the world, I hope! Come with me to Russia. Say that you will come, my dear comrade Neeland, and I promise you we shall amuse ourselves when the world's dance begins----

* * * * *

"Oh!" breathed the girl, exasperated. "Sengoun is a fool!"

Neeland looked up quickly from his letter; then his face altered, and he rose; but Rue Carew was already on her feet; and she had lost most of her colour--and her presence of mind, too, it seemed, for Neeland's arms were half around her, and her hands were against his shoulders.

Neither of them spoke; and he was already amazed and rather scared at his own incredible daring--already terribly afraid of this slender, fragrant creature who stood rigid and silent within the circle of his arm, her head lowered, her little, resisting hands pressed convulsively against his breast.

And after a long time the pressure against his breast slowly relaxed; her restless fingers moved nervously against his shoulders, picked at the lapels of his coat, clung there as he drew her head against his breast.

The absurd beating of his heart choked him as he stammered her name; he dropped his head beside her hot and half hidden cheek. And, after a long, long time, her face stirred on his breast, turned a very little toward him, and her young lips melted against his.

So they stood through the throbbing silence in the slowly darkening room, while the street outside echoed with the interminable trample of passing cavalry, and the dim capital lay like a phantom city under the ghostly lances of the searchlights as though probing all Heaven to the very feet of God in search of reasons for the hellish crime now launched against the guiltless Motherland.

And high among the planets sped the dark star, Erlik, unseen by men, rushing through viewless interstellar space, hurled out of nothing by the Prince of Hell into the nothing toward which all Hell is speeding, too; and whither it shall one day fade and disappear and pass away forever.

* * * * *

"My darling----"

"Oh, Jim--I have loved you all my life," she whispered. And her young arms crept up and clung around his neck.

"My darling Rue--my little Rue Carew----"

Outside the window an officer also spoke through the unbroken clatter of passing horsemen which filled the whole house with a hollow roar. But she heard her lover's voice alone as in a hushed and magic world; and in her girl's enchanted ears his words were the only sounds that stirred a heavenly quiet that reigned between the earth and stars.

Robert W. Chambers's Novel: Dark Star

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