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   Chapter 29 No.29

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8915

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Lewis went to the Ruttle-Marter ball determined to be gay. He searched for Vi, but did not find her. By twelve o'clock he had to admit that he was more than bored, and said so to a neighbor.

"That's impossible," said the neighbor, yawning. "Boredom is an ultimate. There's nothing beyond it; consequently, you can't be more than bored."

"You're wrong," said Lady Derl from behind them. "For a man there's always something beyond boredom: there's going home."

"Touché," cried Lewis and then suddenly straightened. While they had been chatting, the curtain of the improvised stage at one end of the ball-room had gone up. In the center of the stage stood a figure that Lewis would have recognized at once even if he had not been a participant in the secret.

The figure was that of a tall woman. Her dark hair-and there was plenty of it-was done in the Greek style. So were her clothes, if such filmy draperies could be justly termed clothes. They were caught up under her breasts, and hung in airy loops to a little below her knees. They were worn so skilfully that art did not appear. They fluttered about her softly moving limbs, but never flew. The woman was apparently blindfolded-with chiffon. The foamy bandage proved an efficient mask. Chiffon and draperies were of that color known to connoisseurs as cuisse de nymphe.

A buzz of interested questioning swept over the company. Mrs. Ruttle-Marter, who had been quite abandoned for over an hour, suddenly found herself the center of a curious and eager group.

"Who is she?" "What is she?" "Where did you get her?"

The trembling hostess, flushed by the first successful moment in many dreary seasons, was almost too gulpy to speak. But words came at last.

"Really, my dear Duchess, I don't know who she is. I don't know where she comes from or what she is. I only know her price and the name of her dance. If I told the price, well, there wouldn't be any rush in this crowd to engage her." So early did power lead the long-suffering Mrs. Ruttle-Marter to lap at revenge!

"Well, tell us the name of her dance, anyway," said a tall, soldierly gray-head that was feeling something for the first time in twenty years. "Do hurry! She's going to begin."

"I can do that," said Mrs. Ruttle-Marter. "Her dance is called 'Love is blind.'"

"Love is blind," repeated Lewis to Lady Derl. "Let's see what she makes of it."

People did not note just when the music began. They suddenly realized it. It was so with Vi's dance. So gradually did her body sway into motion that somebody who had been staring at her from the moment she appeared whispered, "Why, she's dancing!" only when the first movement was nearing its close.

The music was doubly masked. It was masked behind the wings and behind the dance. It did not seem interwoven with movement, but appeared more as a soft background of sound to motion. So it remained through all the first part of the dance which followed unerringly all the traditions of Greek classicism, depending for expression entirely on swaying arms and body.

"Who would have thought it!" whispered Lewis. "To do something well at a range of two thousand years! That's more than art; it's genius."

"It's not genius," whispered back Lady Derl; "it's just body. What's more, I think I recognize the body."

"Well," said Lewis, "what if you do? Play the game."

"So I'm right, eh? Oh, I'll play the game, and hate her less into the bargain."

So suddenly that it startled, came a crashing chord. The dancer quivered from head to foot, became very still, as though she listened to a call, and then swirled into the rhythm of the music. The watchers caught their breath and held it. The new movement was alien to anything the marbled halls of Greece are supposed to have seen; yet it held a haunting reminder, as though classicism had suddenly given birth to youth.

The music swelled and mounted. So did the dance. Wave followed on ripple, sea on wave, and on the sea the foaming, far-flung billow. Limb after limb, the whole supple body of the blind dancer came into play; yet there was no visible tension. Never dead, never hard, but limp,-as limp as flowing, rushing water,-she whirled and swayed through all the emotions until, at the highest pitch of the mounting music, she fell prone, riven by a single, throbbing sob. Down came the curtain. The music faded away in a long, descending sweep.

Men shouted hoarsely, unaware of what they

were crying out, and women for once clapped to make a noise, and split their gloves. A youth, his hair disordered and a hectic flush in his cheeks, rushed straight for the stage, crying, "Who is she?"

Lewis stuck out his foot and tripped him. Great was his fall, and the commotion thereof switched the emotions of the throng back to sanity. Conventional, dogged clapping and shouts of "Bis! Bis!" were relied on to bring the curtain up again, and relied on in vain. Once more Mrs. Ruttle-Marter was surrounded and beseeched to use her best efforts. As she acceded, a servant handed Lewis a scribbled note. "Come and take me out of this. Vi," he read. He slipped out behind the servant.

In the cab they were silent for a long time. Lewis's eyes kept wandering over Vi, conventional once more, and lazing in her corner.

"Well," she drawled at last, "what did you think of it?"

"Think of it?" said Lewis. "There were three times when I wanted to shout, 'Hold that pose!' After that-well, after that my brain stopped working."

"Do you mean it?" asked Vi.

"Mean what?"

"About wanting me to hold a pose."

"Yes," said Lewis; "of course. What of it?"

"What of it? Why, I will. When?"

"Do you mean it?" asked Lewis.

Vi nodded.

"Name your own time."

"To-morrow," said Vi, "at ten."

The following morning Lewis was up early, putting his great, bare studio in fitting order, and trying to amplify and secure the screened-in corner which previous models had frequently damned as a purely tentative dressing-room. Promptly at ten Vi appeared.

"Where's your maid?" asked Lewis. "You've simply got to have a maid along for this sort of thing."

"You're wrong," said Vi. "It's just the sort of thing one doesn't have a maid for. It's easier to trust two to keep quiet than to keep a maid from vain imaginings. And-it's a lot less expensive."

"Well," said Lewis, "where's your costume?"

"Here," said Vi, "in my recticule."

They laughed. Ten minutes later Vi appeared in her filmy costume.

Lewis's face no longer smiled. He was sitting on a bench at the farther

end of the room, solemnly smoking a pipe. He did not seem to notice that

Vi's whole body was suffused, nervous.

"Dance," said Lewis.

Vi hesitated a moment and then danced, at first a little stiffly. But her mind gradually concentrated on her movements; she began to catch the impersonal working atmosphere of a model.

"Hold that!" cried Lewis, and, a second later: "No, that will never do.

You've stiffened. Try again."

Over and over Vi tried to catch the pose and keep it until, without a word, she crossed the room, threw herself on a couch, and began to cry from pure exhaustion. When she had partly recovered, she suddenly awoke to the fact that Lewis had not come to comfort her. She looked up. Lewis was still sitting on the bench. He was filling a fresh pipe.

"Blown over?" he asked casually. "Come on. At it again."

At the end of another half-hour Vi gave up the struggle. She had caught the pose twice, but she had been unable to hold it.

"I give it up," she wailed. "I'll simply never be able to stay that way."

"If you were a professional dancer," said Lewis, "I'd say 'nonsense' to that. But you're not. I'm afraid it would take you weeks, perhaps months, to get the stamina. Take it easy now while I make some tea."

"Tea in the morning!" said Vi. "I can't stand it. I'd rather have a glass of port or something like that."

"I've no doubt you would, but you're not going to get it," said Lewis, calmly, as he went about the business of brewing tea.

Vi finished her first cup, and asked for a second.

"It's quite a bracer, after all," she said. "I feel a lot better." She rose and went to the model's throne at one side of the room. "Is this where they stand?" she asked.

Lewis nodded.

Vi climbed the throne, and took a pose. Her face was turned from Lewis, her right arm half outstretched, her left at her side. She was in the act of stepping. Her long left thigh was salient, yet withdrawing. It was the pose of one who leads the way.

"This is the pose you will do me in," she said.

For a moment Lewis was silent, then he said gravely:

"No, you don't really want me to do you that way."

"I do, and you will," said Vi, without looking around.

For another long moment Lewis was silent.

"All right," he said at last. "Come down. Dress yourself. You've had enough for to-day."

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