The House of the Vampire
By George Sylvester Viereck
THE music of Reginald Clarke's intonation captivated every ear. Voluptuously, in measured cadence, it rose and fell; now full and strong like the sound of an organ, now soft and clear like the tinkling of bells. His voice detracted by its very tunefulness from what he said. The powerful spell charmed even Ernest's accustomed ear. The first page gracefully glided from Reginald's hand to the carpet before the boy dimly realised that he was intimately familiar with every word that fell from Reginald's lips. When the second page slipped with seeming carelessness from the reader's hand, a sudden shudder ran through the boy's frame. It was as if an icy hand had gripped his heart. There could be no doubt of it. This was more than mere coincidence. It was plagiarism. He wanted to cry out. But the room swam before his eyes. Surely he must be dreaming. It was a dream. The faces of the audience, the lights, Reginald, Jack--all phantasmagoria of a dream.
Perhaps he had been ill for a long time. Perhaps Clarke was reading the play for him. He did not remember having written it. But he probably had fallen sick after its completion. What strange pranks our memories will play us! But no! He was not dreaming, and he had not been ill.
He could endure the horrible uncertainty no longer. His overstrung nerves must find relaxation in some way or break with a twang. He turned to his friend who was listening with rapt attention.
"Jack, Jack!" he whispered.
"What is it?"
"That is my play!"
"You mean that you inspired it?"
"No, I have written it, or rather, was going to write it.
"Wake up, Ernest! You are mad!"
"No, in all seriousness. It is mine. I told you--don't you remember--when we returned from Coney Island--that I was writing a play."
"Ah, but not this play."
"Yes, this play. I conceived it, I practically wrote it."
"The more's the pity that Clarke had preconceived it."
"But it is mine !"
"Did you tell him a word about it?"
"No, to be sure."
"Did you leave the manuscript in your room?"
"I had, in fact, not written a line of it. No, I had not begun the actual writing."
"Why should a man of Clarke's reputation plagiarise your plays, written or unwritten?"
"I can see no reason. But--"
For already this whispered conversation had elicited a look like a stab from a lady before them.
Ernest held fast td the edge of a chair. He must cling to some reality, or else drift rudderless in a dim sea of vague apprehensions.
Or was Jack right?
Was his mind giving way? No! No! No! There must be a monstrous secret somewhere, but what matter? Did anything matter? He had called on his mate like a ship lost in the fog. For the first time he had not responded. He had not understood. The bitterness of tears rose to the boy's eyes.
Above it all, melodiously, ebbed and flowed the rich accents of Reginald Clarke.
Ernest listened to the words of his own play coming from the older man's mouth. The horrible fascination of the scene held him entranced. He saw the creations of his mind pass in review before him, as a man might look upon the face of his double grinning at him from behind a door in the hideous hours of night.
They were all there! The mad king. The subtle-witted courtiers. The sombre-hearted Prince. The Queen-Mother who had loved a jester better than her royal mate, and the fruit of their shameful alliance, the Princess Marigold, a creature woven of sunshine and sin.
Swiftly the action progressed. Shadows of impending death darkened the house of the King. In the horrible agony of the rack the old jester confessed. Stripped of his cap and bells, crowned with a wreath of blood, he looked so pathetically funny that the Princess Marigold could not help laughing between her tears.
The Queen stood there all trembling and pale. Without a complaint she saw her lover die. The executioner's sword smote the old man's head straight from the trunk. It rolled at the feet of the King, who tossed it to Marigold. The little Princess kissed it and covered the grinning horror with her yellow veil.
The last words died away.
There was no applause. Only silence. All were stricken with the dread that men feel in the house of God or His awful presence in genius.
But the boy lay back in his chair. The cold sweat had gathered on his brow and his temples throbbed. Nature had mercifully clogged his head with blood. The rush of it drowned the crying voice of the nerves, deadening for a while both consciousness and pain.