Still he sped on, fearing the tremendous outburst at the close, where Chopin throws overboard his soul, and with blood-red sails signals the hellish Willis, the Lamias of the lake, to his side. Ah, if Pobloff could but thus portion his soul as hostage to the infernal host that now hemmed him in on all sides! Riding over the black and white rocks of his keyboard, he felt as if in the clutches of an unknown force. He discerned death in the distance—death and the unknown horror—and was powerless to resist. Still the galloping of unseen feet, horrible, naked flesh, that clattered and scraped the earth; the panting, hoarse and subdued, of a mighty pack, whose thirst for destruction, for revenge, was unslaked. And always the same trampling of human feet! Were they human? Did not resilient bones tell the tale of brutes viler than men? The glimmering lights seemed cowed, as they sobbed in vacuity and slowly expired.
Pobloff no longer asked himself what it meant; he was become a maniac, pursued by deathless devils. He could have flown to the end of the universe in this Ballade; but, at last, his heart cracking, head bursting, face livid, overtaken by the Footsteps of the Missing, he smashed both fists upon the keys and fell forward despairingly....
* * * * *
... The gigantic, noseless negro, the grand vizier himself, sternly regarded the prince, who stood, torch in hand, near the shattered pianoforte. The dumb spoke:—
“Let us hope, Exalted Highness, that your masquerades and mystifications are over forever. To-day’s prankish sport may put us to trouble for a satisfactory explanation.” He waved his hand vaguely in the direction of the prostrate composer. “And hasheesh sometimes maddens for a lifetime!” He lightly touched the drugged Pobloff with his enormous foot.
The youthful runaway ashamedly lowered his head—in reality he adored music with all the fulness of his cruel, faunlike nature.
THE CURSORY LIGHT
To this day Pinton could never explain why he looked out of that pantry window. He had reached his home in a hungry condition. He was tired and dead broke, so he had resolved to forage. He had listened for two or three, perhaps five, minutes in the hall of his boarding-house; then he went, soft-footed, to Mrs. Hallam’s pantry on the second floor. He was sure that it was open, he was equally sure that it contained something edible on its hospitable shelves. Ah! who has not his bread at midnight stolen, ye heavenly powers, ye know him not!
Pinton, however, knew one thing, and that was a ravenous desire to sink his teeth into pie, custard, or even bread. He felt with large, eager hands along the wall on the pantry side. With feverish joy he touched the knob—a friendly knob, despite its cold, distant glaze—of the door he sought.