He nodded and made a quick, insolent gesture. His eyes showed a gleam of wicked white.
"Then don't talk. Play!"
The two couples, with strained, altered faces, resumed. In silence—in absolute silence they played. Colonel Everett sat back smoking, his long legs crossed, one foot wagging in perpetual motion. Not a single word escaped from any of the players. They sat stiffly. They moved hands and arms only. Their eyes sought his—read in his evil, mocking glance what cards to put down. Colonel Everett played out a whole rubber thus, merely using the Marchmonts and Hore-Smiths as physical mediums. And they knew what was happening to them. Their wills impotently battled his.
The rubber finished, Colonel Everett stood up and waved a hand that seemed boneless at the wrist.
"It is not everyone who would respect your wishes so perfectly, Mrs. Marchmont. Well, we've had enough bridge now."
His sinister, sidelong glance collected eyes all over the room. Inexplicably to themselves, the players looked up simultaneously.
"We'll go and watch the dancing for a time. This game begins to pall."
He sat down, lighted a fresh cigarette, waited. Group after group rose from the tables. Well-fed, expensively attired sheep ready for the slaughter. They threaded a decorous way to the entrances and passed out of sight.
Colonel Everett rose to watch them go. Lucifer, Son of the Morning! So had he towered in dark lust to rule!
On the dancing-floor, color flashed like gorgeous birds among a forest of black coats. Musicians combined in assaulting every primitive urge possessed by man. Ordinary lights were turned off. The dancers swayed through shafts of green and purple, blue, red and yellow.
At Colonel Everett's entrance the shifting floodlights died. Brilliant white lights sprang to life from every bulb in the place. The dancers laughed. A buzz of talk reverberated. Dick Redlands glanced up in annoyance. The most beautiful girl on board was sitting out with him. He adored her. He was letting Wanda know about it and she seemed not uninterested. What fool had turned on the electric lights?
Wanda's grave, wistful, profoundly gray eyes turned to the doorway where Colonel Everett's evening clothes seemed to invest him with quite regal dignity. He bowed to her across the dance-floor and advanced.
"Look here, Wanda! You're not going to dance with that bounder." Dick lost his head in sudden, plunging, nameless fear. "It's impossible! He's... he's——"
"What is he?"
Dick was unable to say. The girl's black head with its narrow wreath of pearls was turned from him. Her fingers lay unresponsive in his clasp. Her quickened breath fluttered the gauzy petals of a flower at her breast.
"Wanda!" he urged. "No! Don't dance with him. There's something wrong—he's a rotter—a——"
The colonel was bowing low before Wanda now, drawing her to her feet, melting into the dance with the girl's supple figure held close. Dick stared after them. He was afraid—damnably afraid—and he didn't know at all what it was he feared. But his eyes followed the girl. Her face was turned to her partner's shoulder; his lips were close to her ear, moving, moving in ceaseless talk.
"...but it won't last. It can't last, your beauty! You are only a shell. A lovely, painted, fragile shell. After to-