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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 15. The Sheath Of The Dagger
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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 15. The Sheath Of The Dagger Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :3515

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The Ghost: A Modern Fantasy - Chapter 15. The Sheath Of The Dagger

CHAPTER XV. THE SHEATH OF THE DAGGER

That was one of those supremely trying moments which occur, I suppose, once or twice in the lives of most men, when events demand to be fully explained while time will on no account permit of the explanation. I felt that I must know at once the reason and purpose of Sir Cyril's presence with me in the underground chamber, and that I could do nothing further until I had such knowledge. And yet I also felt that explanations must inevitably wait until the scene enacting above us was over. I stood for a second silent, irresolute. The match went out.

"Are you here to protect her?" whispered Sir Cyril.

"Yes, if she is in danger. I will tell you afterwards about things. And you?"

"I was passing through Paris, and I heard that Deschamps was threatening Rosa. Everyone is talking of it, and I heard of the scene at the rehearsal, and I began to guess.... I know Deschamps well. I was afraid for Rosa. Then this morning I met Yvette, Rosa's maid--she's an old acquaintance of mine--and she told me everything. I have many friends in Paris, and I learnt to-night that Deschamps had sent for Rosa. So I have come up to interfere. They are up-stairs, are they not? Let us watch."

"You know the house, then?"

"I have been here before, to one of Deschamps' celebrated suppers. She showed me all over it then. It is one of the strangest houses round about Paris--and that's saying something. The inside was rebuilt by a Russian count who wanted to do the Louis Quinze revelry business over again. He died, and Deschamps bought the place. She often stays here quite alone."

I was putting all the questions. Sir Cyril seemed not to be very curious concerning the origin of my presence.

"What is Rosa to you?" I queried with emphasis.

"What is she to you?" he returned quickly.

"To me she is everything," I said.

"And to me, my young friend!"

I could not, of course, see Sir Cyril's face, but the tone of his reply impressed and silenced me. I was mystified--and yet I felt glad that he was there. Both of us forgot to be surprised at the peculiarity of the scene. It appeared quite natural that he should have supervened so dramatically at precisely the correct moment, and I asked him for no more information. He evidently did know the place, for he crept immediately to the ledge, and looked into the room above. I followed, and stood by his side. The two women were still talking.

"Can't we get into the room, or do something?" I murmured.

"Not yet. How do we know that Deschamps means harm? Let us wait. Have you a weapon?"

Sir Cyril spoke as one in command, and I accepted the assumption of authority.

"Yes," I said; "I've got a revolver, and a little dagger."

"Who knows what may happen? Give me one of them--give me the dagger, if you like."

I passed it to him in the darkness. Astounding as it may seem, I am prepared solemnly to assert that at that moment I had forgotten the history of the dagger, and Sir Cyril's connection with it.

I was just going to ask of what use weapons could be, situated as we were, when I saw Deschamps with a sudden movement jump up from her bed, her eyes blazing. With an involuntary cry in my throat I hammered the glass in front of us with the butt of my revolver, but it was at least an inch thick, and did not even splinter. Sir Cyril sprang from the ledge instantly. Meanwhile Rosa, the change of whose features showed that she divined the shameful trick played upon her, stood up, half-indignant, half-terrified. Deschamps was no more dying than I was; her eyes burned with the lust of homicide, and with uplifted twitching hands she advanced like a tiger, and Rosa retreated before her to the middle of the room.

Then there was the click of a spring, and a square of the centre of the floor, with Rosa standing upon it, swiftly descended into the room where we were. The thing was as startling as a stage illusion; yes, a thousand-fold more startling than any trick I ever saw. I may state here, what I learnt afterwards, that the room above was originally a dining-room, and the arrangement of the trap had been designed to cause a table to disappear and reappear as tables were wont to do at the notorious banquets of King Louis in the Petit Trianon. The glass observatory enabled the kitchen attendants to watch the progress of the meals. Sir Cyril knew of the contrivance, and, rushing to the upright pillar, had worked it most opportunely.

The kitchen, as I may now call it, was illuminated with light from the room above. I hastened to Rosa, who on seeing Sir Cyril and myself gave a little cry, and fell forward fainting. She was a brave girl, but one may have too many astonishments. I caught her, and laid her gently on the floor. Meanwhile Deschamps (the dying Deschamps!) stood on the edge of the upper floor, stamping and shouting in a high fever of foiled revenge. She was mad. When I say that she was mad, I mean that she was merely and simply insane. I could perceive it instantly, and I foresaw that we should have trouble with her.

Without the slightest warning, she jumped down into the midst of us. The distance was a good ten feet, but with a lunatic's luck she did not hurt herself. She faced Sir Cyril, shaking in every limb with passion, and he, calm, determined, unhurried, raised his dagger to defend himself against this terrible lioness should the need arise.

But as he lifted the weapon his eye fell on it; he saw what it was; he had not observed it before, since we had been in darkness. And as he looked his composure seemed to desert him. He paled, and his hand trembled and hung loosely. The mad woman, seizing her chance, snatched the dagger from him, and like a flash of lightning drove it into his left breast. Sir Cyril sank down, the dagger sticking out from his light overcoat.

The deed was over before I could move. I sprang forward. Deschamps laughed, and turned to me. I closed with her. She scratched and bit, and she was by no means a weak woman. At first I feared that in her fury she would overpower me. At length, however, I managed to master her; but her strength was far from exhausted, and she would not yield. She was mad; time was passing. I could not afford to be nice in my methods, so I contrived to stun her, and proceeded to tie her hands with my handkerchief. Then, panting, I stood up to survey the floor.

I may be forgiven, perhaps, if at that frightful crisis I was not perfectly cool, and could not decide on the instant upon the wisest course of action to pursue. Sir Cyril was insensible, and a little circle of blood was forming round the dagger; Deschamps was insensible, with a dark bruise on her forehead, inflicted during our struggle; Rosa was insensible--I presumed from excess of emotion at the sudden fright.

I gazed at the three prone forms, pondering over my handiwork and that of Chance. What should be the next step? Save for my own breathing, there was a deathlike silence. The light from the empty room above rained down upon us through the trap, illuminating the still faces with its yellow glare. Was any other person in the house? From what Sir Cyril had said, and from my own surmises, I thought not. Whatever people Deschamps might have employed to carry messages, she had doubtless dismissed them. She and Rosa had been alone in the building. I can understand now that there was something peculiarly attractive to the diseased imagination of Deschamps in the prospect of inviting her victim to the snare, and working vengeance upon a rival unaided, unseen, solitary in that echoing and deserted mansion. I was horribly perplexed. It struck me that I ought to be gloomily sorrowful, but I was not. At the bottom of my soul I felt happy, for Rosa was saved.

It was Rosa who first recovered consciousness, and her movement in sitting up recalled me to my duty. I ran to Sir Cyril, and, kneeling down so as to screen his body from her sight, I drew the dagger from its sheath, and began hastily, with such implements as I could contrive on the spur of the moment, to attend to his wound.

"What has happened?" Rosa inquired feebly.

I considered my reply, and then, without turning towards her, I spoke in a slow, matter-of-fact voice.

"Listen carefully to what I say. There has been a plot to--to do you injury. But you are not hurt. You are, in fact, quite well--don't imagine anything else. Sir Cyril Smart is here; he's hurt; Deschamps has wounded him. Deschamps is harmless for the moment, but she may recover and break out again. So I can't leave to get help. You must go. You have fainted, but I am sure you can walk quite well. Go up the stairs here, and walk along the hall till you come to the front door; it is not fastened. Go out into the street, and bring back two gendarmes--two, mind--and a cab, if you can. Do you understand?"

"Yes, but how--"

"Now, please go at once!" I insisted grimly and coldly. "We can talk afterwards. Just do as you're told."

Cowed by the roughness of my tone, she rose and went. I heard her light, hesitating step pass through the hall, and so out of the house.

In a few minutes I had done all that could be done for Sir Cyril, as he lay there. The wound was deep, having regard to the small size of the dagger, and I could only partially stop the extravasation of blood, which was profuse. I doubted if he would recover. It was not long, however, before he regained his senses. He spoke, and I remember vividly now how pathetic to me was the wagging of his short gray beard as his jaw moved.

"Foster," he said--"your name is Foster, isn't it? Where did you find that dagger?"

"You must keep quiet," I said. "I have sent for assistance."

"Don't be a fool, man. You know I'm done for. Tell me how you got the dagger."

So I told him.

"Ah!" he murmured. "It's my luck!" he sighed. Then in little detached sentences, with many pauses, he began to relate a history of what happened after Rosa and I had left him on the night of Sullivan's reception. Much of it was incomprehensible to me; sometimes I could not make out the words. But it seemed that he had followed us in his carriage, had somehow met Rosa again, and then, in a sudden frenzy of remorse, had attempted to kill himself with the dagger in the street. His reason for this I did not gather. His coachman and footman had taken him home, and the affair had been kept quiet.

Remorse for what? I burned to ask a hundred questions, but, fearing to excite him, I shut my lips.

"You are in love with her?" he asked.

I nodded. It was a reply as abrupt as his demand. At that moment Deschamps laughed quietly behind me. I turned round quickly, but she lay still; though she had come to, the fire in her eyes was quenched, and I anticipated no immediate difficulty with her.

"I knew that night that you were in love with her," Sir Cyril continued. "Has she told you about--about me?"

"No," I said.

"I have done her a wrong, Foster--her and another. But she will tell you. I can't talk now. I'm going--going. Tell her that I died in trying to protect her; say that--Foster--say--" He relapsed into unconsciousness.

I heard firm, rapid steps in the hall, and in another instant the representatives of French law had taken charge of the house. Rosa followed them in. She looked wistfully at Sir Cyril, and then, flinging herself down by his side, burst into wild tears.

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