The House of the Vampire
By George Sylvester Viereck
ERNEST conducted Ethel Brandenbourg to his room and helped her to remove her cloak.
While he was placing the garment upon the back of a chair, she slipped a little key into her hand-bag. He looked at her with a question in his eyes.
"Yes," she replied, "I kept the key; but I had not dreamed that I would ever again cross this threshold."
Meanwhile it had grown quite dark. The reflection of the street lanterns without dimly lit the room, and through the twilight fantastic shadows seemed to dance.
The perfume of her hair pervaded the room and filled the boy's heart with romance. Ten- derness long suppressed called with a thousand voices. The hour, the strangeness and unexpectedness of her visit, perhaps even a boy's pardonable vanity, roused passion from its slumbers and once again wrought in Ernest's soul the miracle of love. His arm encircled her neck and his lips stammered blind, sweet, crazy and caressing things.
"Turn on the light," she pleaded.
"You were not always so cruel."
"No matter, I have not come to speak of love."
"Why, then, have you come?"
Ernest felt a little awkward, disappointed, as he uttered these words.
What could have induced her to come to his rooms? He loosened his hold on her and did as she asked.
How pale she looked in the light, how beautiful! Surely, she had sorrowed for him; but why had she not answered his letter? Yes, why?
"Your letter?" She smiled a little sadly. "Surely you did not expect me to answer that?"
"Why not?" He had again approached her and his lips were close to hers. "Why not? I have yearned for you. I love you."
His breath intoxicated her; it was like a subtle perfume. Still she did not yield.
"You love me now--you did not love me then. The music of your words was cold--machine-made, strained and superficial. I shall not answer, I told myself: in his heart he has forgotten you. I did not then realise that a dangerous force had possessed your life and crushed in your mind every image but its own.
"I don't understand."
"Do you think I would have come here if it were a light matter? No, I tell you, it is a matter of life and death to you, at least as an artist."
"What do you mean by that?"
"Have you done a stroke of work since I last saw you?"
"Yes, let me see, surely, magazine articles and a poem."
"That is not what I want to know. Have you accomplished anything big? Have you grown since this summer? How about your novel?"
"I--I have almost finished it in my mind, but I have found no chance to begin with the actual writing. I was sick of late, very sick."
No doubt of it! His face was pinched and pale, and the lines about the mouth were curiously contorted, like those of a man suffering from a painful internal disease.
"Tell me," she ventured, "do you ever miss anything?"
"Do you mean--are there thieves?"
"Thieves! Against thieves one can protect oneself."
He stared at her wildly, half-frightened, in anticipation of some dreadful revelation. His dream! His dream! That hand! Could it be more than a dream? God! His lips quivered.
Ethel observed his agitation and continued more quietly, but with the same insistence: "Have you ever had ideas, plans that you began without having strength to complete them? Have you had glimpses of vocal visions that seemed to vanish no sooner than seen? Did it ever seem to you as if some mysterious and superior will brutally interfered with the workings of your brain?"
Did it seem so to him! He himself could not have stated more plainly the experience of the last few months. Each word fell from her lips like the blow of a hammer. Shivering, he put his arm around her, seeking solace, not love. This time she did not repulse him and, trustingly, as a child confides to his mother, he depicted to her the suffering that harrowed his life and made it a hell.
As she listened, indignation clouded her forehead, while rising tears of anger and of love weighed down her lashes. She could bear the pitiful sight no longer.
"Child," she cried, "do you know who your tormentor is?"
And like a flash the truth passed from her to him. A sudden intimation told him what her words had still concealed.
"Don't! For Christ's sake, do not pronounce his name!" he sobbed. "Do not breathe it. I could not endure it. I should go mad."