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The Safety Curtain, and Other Stories   By: (1881-1939)

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The Hundreth Chance Greatheart The Lamp in the Desert The Tidal Wave The Top of the World The Obstacle Race The Way of an Eagle The Knave of Diamonds The Rocks of Valpré The Swindler The Keeper of the Door Bars of Iron Rosa Mundi Etc.


Made in the United States of America

This edition is issued under arrangement with the publishers

G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York and London

Made in the United States of America

The Knickerbocker Press, New York


The Safety Curtain

The Experiment

Those Who Wait

The Eleventh Hour

The Place of Honour

The Safety Curtain



A great shout of applause went through the crowded hall as the Dragon Fly Dance came to an end, and the Dragon Fly, with quivering, iridescent wings, flashed away.

It was the third encore. The dance was a marvellous one, a piece of dazzling intricacy, of swift and unexpected subtleties, of almost superhuman grace. It must have proved utterly exhausting to any ordinary being; but to that creature of fire and magic it was no more than a glittering fantasy, a whirl too swift for the eye to follow or the brain to grasp.

"Is it a boy or a girl?" asked a man in the front row.

"It's a boy, of course," said his neighbour, shortly.

He was the only member of the audience who did not take part in that third encore. He sat squarely in his seat throughout the uproar, watching the stage with piercing grey eyes that never varied in their stern directness. His brows were drawn above them thick, straight brows that bespoke a formidable strength of purpose. He was plainly a man who was accustomed to hew his own way through life, despising the trodden paths, overcoming all obstacles by grim persistence.

Louder and louder swelled the tumult. It was evident that nothing but a repetition of the wonder dance would content the audience. They yelled themselves hoarse for it; and when, light as air, incredibly swift, the green Dragon Fly darted back, they outdid themselves in the madness of their welcome. The noise seemed to shake the building.

Only the man in the front row with the iron grey eyes and iron hard mouth made no movement or sound of any sort. He merely watched with unchanging intentness the face that gleamed, ashen white, above the shimmering metallic green tights that clothed the dancer's slim body.

The noise ceased as the wild tarantella proceeded. There fell a deep hush, broken only by the silver notes of a flute played somewhere behind the curtain. The dancer's movements were wholly without sound. The quivering, whirling feet scarcely seemed to touch the floor, it was a dance of inspiration, possessing a strange and irresistible fascination, a weird and meteoric rush, that held the onlookers with bated breath.

It lasted for perhaps two minutes, that intense and trancelike stillness; then, like, a stone flung into glassy depths, a woman's scream rudely shattered it, a piercing, terror stricken scream that brought the rapt audience back to earth with a shock as the liquid music of the flute suddenly ceased.

"Fire!" cried the voice. "Fire! Fire!"

There was an instant of horrified inaction, and in that instant a tongue of flame shot like a fiery serpent through the closed curtains behind the dancer. In a moment the cry was caught up and repeated in a dozen directions, and even as it went from mouth to mouth the safety curtain began to descend.

The dancer was forgotten, swept as it were from the minds of the audience as an insect whose life was of no account. From the back of the stage came a roar like the roar of an open furnace. A great wave of heat rushed into the hall, and people turned like terrified, stampeding animals and made for the exits.

The Dragon Fly still stood behind the footlights poised as if for flight, glancing this way and that, shimmering from head to foot in the awful glare that spread behind the descending curtain... Continue reading book >>

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