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   Chapter 4 No.4

The Golden Silence By A. M. Williamson Characters: 17273

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The Shadow Dance was even more beautiful than the Dance of the Statue, but Stephen had lost pleasure in it. He was supersensitive in these days, and he felt as if the girl had deliberately made game of him, in order that he should make a fool of himself. Of course it was a pose of hers to travel without chaperon or maid, and dress like a school girl from a provincial town, in cheap serge, a sailor hat, and a plait of hair looped up with ribbon. She was no doubt five or six years older than she looked or admitted, and probably her manager shrewdly prescribed the "line" she had taken up. Young women on the stage-actresses, dancers, or singers, it didn't matter which-must do something unusual, in order to be talked about, and get a good free advertisement. Nowadays, when professionals vied with each other in the expensiveness of their jewels, the size of their hats, or the smallness of their waists, and the eccentricity of their costumes, it was perhaps rather a new note to wear no jewels at all, and appear in ready-made frocks bought in bargain-sales; while, as for the young woman's air of childlike innocence and inexperience, it might be a tribute to her cleverness as an actress, but it was not a tribute to his intelligence as a man, that he should have been taken in by it. Always, he told himself, he was being taken in by some woman. After the lesson he had had, he ought to have learned wisdom, but it seemed that he was as gullible as ever. And it was this romantic folly of his which vexed him now; not the fact that a simple child over whose fate he had sentimentalized, was a rich and popular stage-dancer. Miss Ray was probably a good enough young woman according to her lights, and it was not she who need be shamed by the success of the Channel boat comedy.

He had another day and night in Paris, where he did more sightseeing than he had ever accomplished before in a dozen visits, and then travelled on to Marseilles. The slight damage to the Charles Quex had been repaired, and at noon the ship was to sail. Stephen went on board early, as he could think of nothing else which he preferred to do, and he was repaid for his promptness. By the time he had seen his luggage deposited in the cabin he had secured for himself alone, engaged a deck chair, and taken a look over the ship-which was new, and as handsome as much oak, fragrant cedar-wood, gilding, and green brocade could make her-many other passengers were coming on board. Travelling first class were several slim French officers, and stout Frenchmen of the commercial class; a merry theatrical company going to act in Algiers and Tunis; an English clergyman of grave aspect; invalids with their nurses, and two or three dignified Arabs, evidently of good birth as well as fortune. Arab merchants were returning from the Riviera, and a party of German students were going second class.

Stephen was interested in the lively scene of embarkation, and glad to be a part of it, though still more glad that there seemed to be nobody on board whom he had ever met. He admired the harbour, and the shipping, and felt pleasantly exhilarated. "I feel very young, or very old, I'm not sure which," he said to himself as a faint thrill ran through his nerves at the grinding groan of the anchor, slowly hauled out of the deep green water.

It was as if he heard the creaking of a gate which opened into an unknown garden, a garden where life would be new and changed. Nevill Caird had once said that there was no sharp, dividing line between phases of existence, except one's own moods, and Stephen had thought this true; but now it seemed as if the sea which silvered the distance was the dividing line for him, while all that lay beyond the horizon was mysterious as a desert mirage.

He was not conscious of any joy at starting, yet he was excited, as if something tremendous were about to happen to him. England, that he knew so well, seemed suddenly less real than Africa, which he knew not at all, and his senses were keenly alert for the first time in many days. He saw Marseilles from a new point of view, and wondered why he had never read anything fine written in praise of the ancient Phoenician city. Though he had not been in the East, he imagined that the old part of the town, seen from the sea, looked Eastern, as if the traffic between east and west, going on for thousands of years, had imported an Eastern taste in architecture.

The huge, mosque-like cathedral bubbled with domes, where fierce gleams of gold were hammered out by strokes of the noonday sun. A background of wild mountain ranges, whose tortured peaks shone opaline through long rents in mist veils, lent an air of romance to the scene, and Notre Dame de la Garde loomed nobly on her bleached and arid height. "Have no fear: I keep watch and ward over land and sea," seemed to say the majestic figure of gold on the tall tower, and Stephen half wished he were of the Catholic faith, that he might take comfort from the assurance.

As the Charles Quex steamed farther and farther away, the church on the mountainous hill appeared to change in shape. Notre Dame de la Garde looked no longer like a building made by man, but like a great sacred swan crowned with gold, and nested on a mountain-top. There she sat, with shining head erect on a long neck, seated on her nest, protecting her young, and gazing far across the sea in search of danger. The sun touched her golden crown, and dusky cloud-shadows grouped far beneath her eyrie, like mourners kneeling below the height to pray. The rock-shapes and island rocks that cut the blue glitter of the sea, suggested splendid tales of Phoenician mariners and Saracenic pirates, tales lost forever in the dim mists of time; and so Stephen wandered on to thoughts of Dumas, wishing he had brought "Monte Cristo," dearly loved when he was twelve. Probably not a soul on board had the book; people were so stupid and prosaic nowadays. He turned from the rail on which he had leaned to watch the fading land, and as he did so, his eyes fell upon a bright red copy of the book for which he had been wishing. There was the name in large gold lettering on a scarlet cover, very conspicuous on the dark blue serge lap of a girl. It was the girl of the Channel boat, and she wore the same dress, the same sailor hat tied on with a blue veil, which she had worn that night crossing from England to France.

While Stephen had been absorbed in admiration of Marseilles harbour, she had come up on deck, and settled herself in a canvas chair. This time she had a rug of her own, a thin navy blue rug which, like her frock, might have been chosen for its cheapness. Although she held a volume of "Monte Cristo," she was not reading, and as Stephen turned towards her, their eyes met.

Hers lit up with a pleased smile, and the pink that sprang to her cheeks was the colour of surprise, not of self-consciousness.

"I thought your back looked like you, but I didn't suppose it would turn out to be you," she said.

Stephen's slight, unreasonable irritation could not stand against the azure of such eyes, and the youth in her friendly smile. Since the girl seemed glad to see him, why shouldn't he be glad to see her? At least she was not a link with England.

"I thought your statue looked like you," he retorted, standing near her chair, "but I didn't suppose it would turn out to be you until your shadow followed."

"Oh, you saw me dance! Did you like it?" She asked the question eagerly, like a child who hangs upon grown-up judgment of its work.

"I thought both dances extremely beautiful and artistic," replied Stephen, a little stiffly.

She looked at him questioningly, as if puzzled. "No, I don't think you did like them, really," she said. "I oughtn't to have asked in that blunt way, because of course you would hate to hurt my feelings by saying no!"

Her manner was so unlike that of a spoiled stage darling, that Stephen had to remind himself sharply of her "innocent pose," and his own soft-hearted lack of discrimination where pretty women were concerned. By doing this he kept himself armed against the clever little actress laughing at him behind the blue eyes of a child. "You must know that there can't be two opinions of your dancing," said he coolly. "You have had years and years of flattery, of course; enough to make you sick of it, if a woman ever--" He stopped, smiling.

"Why, I've been dancing professionally for only a few months!" she exclaimed. "Didn't you know?"

"I'm ashamed to say I was ignorant," Stephen confessed. "But before the dancing, there must have been som

ething else equally clever. Floating-or flying-or--"

She laughed. "Why don't you suggest fainting in coils? I'm certain you would, if you'd ever read 'Alice.'"

"As a matter of fact, I was brought up on 'Alice,'" said Stephen. "Do children of the present day still go down the rabbit hole?"

"I'm not sure about children of the present day. Children of my day went down," she replied with dignity. "I loved Alice dearly. I don't know much about other children, though, for I never had a chance to make friends as a child. But then I had my sister when I was a little girl, so nothing else mattered."

"If you don't think me rude to say so," ventured Stephen, "you would seem to me a little girl now, if I hadn't found out that you're an accomplished star of the theatres, admired all over Europe."

"Now you're making fun of me," said the dancer. "Paris was only my third engagement; and it's going to be my last, anyway for ever so long, I hope."

This time Stephen was really surprised, and all his early interest in the young creature woke again; the personal sort of interest which he had partly lost on finding that she was of the theatrical world.

"Oh, I see!" he ejaculated, before stopping to reflect that he had no right to put into words the idea which jumped into his mind.

"You see?" she echoed. "But how can you see, unless you know something about me already?"

"I beg your pardon," he apologized. "It was only a thought. I--"

"A thought about my dancing?"

"Not exactly that. About your not dancing again."

"Then please tell me the thought."

"You may be angry. I rather think you'd have a right to be angry-not at the thought, but the telling of it."

"I promise."

"Why," explained Stephen, "when a young and successful actress makes up her mind to leave the stage, what is the usual reason?"

"I'm not an actress, so I can't imagine what you mean-unless you suppose I've made a great fortune in a few months?"

"That too, perhaps-but I don't think a fortune would induce you to leave the stage yet a while. You'd want to go on, not for the money perhaps, but for the fun."

"I haven't been dancing for fun."

"Haven't you?"

"No. I began with a purpose. I'm leaving the stage for a purpose. And you say you can guess what that is. If you know, you must have been told."

"Since you insist, it occurred to me that you might be going to marry. I thought maybe you were travelling to Africa to--"

She laughed. "Oh, you are wrong! I don't believe there ever was a girl who thinks less about marrying. I've never had time to think of such things. I've always-ever since I was nine years old-looked to the one goal, and aimed for it, studied for it, lived for it-at last, danced towards it."

"You excite my curiosity immensely," said Stephen. And it was true. The girl had begun to take him out of himself.

"There is lunch," she announced, as a bugle sounded.

Stephen longed to say, "Don't go yet. Stop and tell me all about the 'goal' you're working for." But he dared not. She was very frank, and evidently willing, for some reason, to talk of her aims, even to a comparative stranger; yet he knew that it would be impertinent to suggest her sitting out on deck to chat with him, while the other passengers lunched.

He asked if she were hungry, and she said she was. So was he, now that he came to think of it; nevertheless he let her go in alone, and waited deliberately for several minutes before following. He would have liked to sit by Miss Ray at the table, but wished her to see that he did not mean to presume upon any small right of acquaintanceship. As she was on the stage, and extremely attractive, no doubt men often tried to take such advantage, and he didn't intend to be one of them; therefore he supposed that he had lost the chance of placing himself near her in the dining-room. To his surprise, however, as he was about to slip into a far-away chair, she beckoned from her table. "I kept this seat for you," she said. "I hoped you wouldn't mind."

"Mind!" He was on the point of repaying her kindness with a conventional little compliment, but thought better of it, and expressed his meaning in a smile.

The oak-panelled saloon was provided with a number of small tables, and at the one where Victoria Ray sat, were places for four. Three were already occupied when Stephen came; one by Victoria, the others by a German bride and groom.

At the next table were two French officers of the Chasseurs d'Afrique, the English clergyman Stephen had noticed on deck, and a remarkably handsome Arab, elaborately dressed. He sat facing Victoria Ray and Stephen Knight, and Stephen found it difficult not to stare at the superb, pale brown person whose very high white turban, bound with light grey cord, gave him a dignity beyond his years, and whose pale grey burnous, over a gold-embroidered vest of dark rose-colour, added picturesqueness which appeared theatrical in eyes unaccustomed to the East.

Stephen had never seen an Arab of the aristocratic class until to-day; and before, only a few such specimens as parade the Galerie Charles Trois at Monte Carlo, selling prayer-rugs and draperies from Algeria. This man's high birth and breeding were clear at first glance. He was certainly a personage aware of his own attractions, though not offensively self-conscious, and was unmistakably interested in the beauty of the girl at the next table. He was too well-bred to make a show of his admiration, but talked in almost perfect, slightly guttural French, with the English clergyman, speaking occasionally also to the officers in answer to some question. He glanced seldom at Miss Ray, but when he did look across, in a guarded way, at her, there was a light of ardent pleasure in his eyes, such as no eyes save those of East or South ever betray. The look was respectful, despite its underlying passion. Nevertheless, because the handsome face was some shades darker than his own, it offended Stephen, who felt a sharp bite of dislike for the Arab. He was glad the man was not at the same table with Miss Ray, and knew that it would have vexed him intensely to see the girl drawn into conversation. He wondered that the French officers should talk with the Arab as with an equal, yet knew in his heart that such prejudice was narrow-minded, especially at the moment when he was travelling to the Arab's own country. He tried, though not very strenuously, to override his conviction of superiority to the Eastern man, but triumphed only far enough to admit that the fellow was handsome in a way. His skin was hardly darker than old ivory: the aquiline nose delicate as a woman's, with sensitive nostrils; and the black velvet eyes under arched brows, that met in a thin, pencilled line, were long, and either dreamy or calmly calculating. A prominent chin and a full mouth, so determined as to suggest cruelty, certainly selfishness, preserved the face from effeminacy at the sacrifice of artistic perfection. Stephen noticed with mingled curiosity and disapproval that the Arab appeared to be vain of his hands, on which he wore two or three rings that might have been bought in Paris, or even given him by European women-for they looked like a woman's rings. The brown fingers were slender, tapering to the ends, and their reddened nails glittered. They played, as the man talked, with a piece of bread, and often he glanced down at them, with the long eyes which had a blue shadow underneath, like a faint smear of kohl.

Stephen wondered what Victoria Ray thought of her vis-à-vis; but in the presence of the staring bride and groom he could ask no questions, and the expression of her face, as once she quietly regarded the Arab, told nothing. It was even puzzling, as an expression for a young girl's face to wear in looking at a handsome man so supremely conscious of sex and of his own attraction. She was evidently thinking about him with considerable interest, and it annoyed Stephen that she should look at him at all. An Arab might misunderstand, not realizing that he was a legitimate object of curiosity for eyes unused to Eastern men.

After luncheon Victoria went to her cabin. This was disappointing. Stephen, hoping that she might come on deck again soon, and resume their talk where it had broken off in the morning, paced up and down until he felt drowsy, not having slept in the train the night before. To his surprise and disgust, it was after five when he waked from a long nap, in his stateroom; and going on deck he found Miss Ray in her chair once more, this time apparently deep in "Monte Cristo."

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