Silver-sweet through the quiet house came the careless ripple of a flute, showering light and sensuous music. There was a dare-devil lilt and sway to the flippant strains and Aunt Agatha covered her face with her hands.
“Oh, Diane,” she whispered, shuddering, “when he plays like that he drinks and drinks and drinks until morning.”
“Poor Aunt Agatha!” said the girl pityingly. “What troublesome folk we Westfalls are! And I no less than Carl.”
“No, no, my dear!” murmured Aunt Agatha. “It’s only when Carl plays like that—that I grow afraid.”
Aunt Agatha went to bed to listen tremblingly while the dare-devil dance of the flute tripped ghostlike through the corridors. And falling asleep with the laughing demon of wind and melody cascading wildly through the mad scene from Lucia, she dreamt that Carl had captured an Esquimau with his flute and weaving a suit of basket armor for him, had dispatched him by aeroplane to lead Diane’s gypsy cart into the Everglades of Florida, the home-state of Norman Westfall until his ill-fated marriage.
THE PHANTOM THAT ROSE FROM THE BOTTLE
The demon of the flute laughed and fell silent. The house grew very quiet. A fresh log built its ragged shell of color within the library and Carl drank again and again, watching the play of firelight upon the amber liquor in his glass. It pleased him idly to build up a philosophy of whiskey, an impudent, fearless reverie of fact and fancy.
“So,” he finished carelessly, “every bottle is a crystal temple to the great god Bacchus and who may know what phantom lurks within, ready to rise and grow from the fumes of its fragrant incense into a nebulous wraith of gigantic proportions. Many a bottle such as this has made history and destroyed it. A sparkling essence of tears and jest, of romance and passion and war and grotesquerie, of treachery and irony and blood and death, whose temper no man may know until he tests it through the alchemy of his brain and soul!”
To Starrett it gave a heavy courtesy; to Payson a mad buffoonery; to Wherry pathos; to Carl himself—ah!—there was the rub! To Carl its message was as capricious as the wind—a moon-mad chameleon changing its color with the fickle light. And in the bottle to-night lay a fierce, unreasoning resentment against Diane.
“Fool!” said Carl. “One mad, eloquent lie of love and she would have softened. Women are all like that. Tell me,” Carl stared whimsically into his glass as if it were a magic crystal of revelation, “why is it that when I am scrupulously honest no one understands? . . . Why that mad stir of love-hunger to-night as Diane stood in the doorway? Why the swift black flash of hatred now? Are love and hatred then akin?”