The House of the Vampire/X
That night a brilliant crowd had gathered in Reginald Clarke's house. From the studio and the adjoining salon arose a continual murmur of well-tuned voices. On bare white throats jewels shone as if in each a soul were imprisoned, and voluptuously rustled the silk that clung to the fair slim forms of its bearers in an undulating caress. Subtle perfumes emanated from the hair and the hands of syren women, commingling with the soft plump scent of their flesh. Fragrant tapers, burning in precious crystal globules stained with exquisite colours, sprinkled their shimmering
light over the fashionable assemblage and lent a false radiance to the faces of the men, while in the hair and the jewels of the women each ray seemed to dance like an imp with its mate.
A seat like a throne, covered with furs of tropic beasts of prey, stood in one corner of the room in the full glare of the light, waiting for the monarch to come. Above were arranged with artistic raffinement weird oriental draperies, resembling a crimson canopy in the total effect. Chattering visitors were standing in groups, or had seated themselves on the divans and curiously-fashioned chairs that were scattered in seeming disorder throughout the salon. There were critics and writers and men of the world. Everybody who was anybody and a little bigger than somebody else was holding court in his own small circle of enthusiastic admirers. The Bohemian element was subdued, but not entirely lacking. The magic of Reginald Clarke's name made stately dames blind to the presence of some individuals whom they would have passed on the street without recognition.
Ernest surveyed this gorgeous assembly with the absent look of a sleep-walker. Not that his sensuous soul was unsusceptible to the atmosphere of culture and corruption that permeated the whole, nor to the dazzling colour effects that tantalised while they delighted the eye. But to-night they shrivelled into insignificance before the splendour of his inner vision. A radiant dreamland palace, his play, had risen from the night of inchoate thought. It was wonderful, it was real, and needed for its completion only the detail of actual construction. And now the characters were hovering in the recesses of his brain, were yearning to leave that many-winded labyrinth to become real beings of paper and ink. He would probably have tarried overlong in this fanciful mansion, had not the reappearance of an unexpected guest broken his reverie.
“Jack!” he exclaimed in surprise, “I thought you a hundred miles away from here.”
“That shows that you no longer care for me,” Jack playfully answered. “When our friendship was young, you always had a presentiment of my presence.”
“Ah, perhaps I had. But tell me, where do you hail from?”
“Clarke called me up on the telephone—long-distance, you know. I suppose it was meant as a surprise for you. And you certainly looked surprised—not even pleasantly. I am really head- over-heels at work. But you know how it is. Sometimes a little imp whispers into my ears daring me to do a thing which I know is foolish. But what of it? My legs are strong enough not to permit my follies to overtake me.”
“It was certainly good of you to come. In fact, you make me very glad. I feel that I need you to-night—I don't know why. The feeling came suddenly—suddenly as you. I only know I need you. How long can you stay?”
“I must leave you to-morrow morning. I have to hustle somewhat. You know my examinations are taking place in a day or two and I've got to cram up a lot of things.”
“Still,” remarked Ernest, “your visit will repay you for the loss of time. Clarke will read to us to-night his masterpiece.”
“What is it?”
“I don't know. I only know it's the real thing. It's worth all the wisdom bald-headed professors may administer to you in concentrated doses at five thousand a year.”
“Come now,” Jack could not help saying, “is your memory giving way? Don't you remember your own days in college—especially the mathematical examinations? You know that your marks came always pretty near the absolute zero.”
“Jack,” cried Ernest in honest indignation, “not the last time. The last time I didn't flunk.”
“No, because your sonnet on Cartesian geometry roused even the math-fiend to compassion. And don't you remember Professor Squeeler, whose heart seemed to leap with delight whenever
he could tell you that, in spite of incessant toil on your part, he had again flunked you in physics with fifty-nine and a half per cent.?”
“And he wouldn't raise the mark to sixty I God forgive him,—I cannot.” Here their exchange of reminiscences was interrupted. There was a stir. The little potentates of conversation hastened to their seats, before their minions had wholly deserted them.
The king was moving to his throne!
Assuredly Reginald Clarke had the bearing of a king. Leisurely he took his seat under the canopy.
A hush fell on the audience; not a fan stirred as he slowly unfolded his manuscript.