List Of Contents | Contents of The Golden House, by Charles Dudley Warner
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The Golden House

by Charles Dudley Warner



It was near midnight: The company gathered in a famous city studio were
under the impression, diligently diffused in the world, that the end of
the century is a time of license if not of decadence.  The situation had
its own piquancy, partly in the surprise of some of those assembled at
finding themselves in bohemia, partly in a flutter of expectation of
seeing something on the border-line of propriety.  The hour, the place,
the anticipation of the lifting of the veil from an Oriental and ancient
art, gave them a titillating feeling of adventure, of a moral hazard
bravely incurred in the duty of knowing life, penetrating to its core.
Opportunity for this sort of fruitful experience being rare outside the
metropolis, students of good and evil had made the pilgrimage to this
midnight occasion from less-favored cities.  Recondite scholars in the
physical beauty of the Greeks, from Boston, were there; fair women from
Washington, whose charms make the reputation of many a newspaper
correspondent; spirited stars of official and diplomatic life, who have
moments of longing to shine in some more languorous material paradise,
had made a hasty flitting to be present at the ceremony, sustained by a
slight feeling of bravado in making this exceptional descent.  But the
favored hundred spectators were mainly from the city-groups of late
diners, who fluttered in under that pleasurable glow which the red
Jacqueminot always gets from contiguity with the pale yellow Clicquot;
theatre parties, a little jaded, and quite ready for something real and
stimulating; men from the clubs and men from studios--representatives of
society and of art graciously mingled, since it is discovered that it is
easier to make art fashionable than to make fashion artistic.

The vast, dimly lighted apartment was itself mysterious, a temple of
luxury quite as much as of art.  Shadows lurked in the corners, the ribs
of the roof were faintly outlined; on the sombre walls gleams of color,
faces of loveliness and faces of pain, studies all of a mood or a
passion, bits of shining brass, reflections from lustred ware struggling
out of obscurity; hangings from Fez or Tetuan, bits of embroidery,
costumes in silk and in velvet, still having the aroma of balls a hundred
years ago, the faint perfume of a scented society of ladies and gallants;
a skeleton scarcely less fantastic than the draped wooden model near it;
heavy rugs of Daghestan and Persia, making the footfalls soundless on the
floor; a fountain tinkling in a thicket of japonicas and azaleas; the
stems of palmettoes, with their branches waving in the obscurity
overhead; points of light here and there where a shaded lamp shone on a
single red rose in a blue Granada vase on a toppling stand, or on a mass
of jonquils in a barbarous pot of Chanak-Kallessi; tacked here and there
on walls and hangings, colored memoranda of Capri and of the North Woods,
the armor of knights, trophies of small-arms, crossed swords of the Union
and the Confederacy, easels, paints, and palettes, and rows of canvases
leaning against the wall-the studied litter, in short, of a successful
artist, whose surroundings contribute to the popular conception of his

On the wall at one end of the apartment was stretched a white canvas; in
front of it was left a small cleared space, on the edge of which, in the
shadow, squatting on the floor, were four swarthy musicians in Oriental
garments, with a mandolin, a guitar, a ney, and a darabooka drum.  About
this cleared space, in a crescent, knelt or sat upon the rugs a couple of
rows of men in evening dress; behind them, seated in chairs, a group of
ladies, whose white shoulders and arms and animated faces flashed out in
the semi-obscurity; and in their rear stood a crowd of spectators--
beautiful young gentlemen with vacant faces and the elevated Oxford
shoulders, rosy youth already blase to all this world can offer, and
gray-headed men young again in the prospect of a new sensation.  So they
kneel or stand, worshipers before the shrine, expecting the advent of the
Goddess of AEsthetic Culture.

The moment has come.  There is a tap on the drum, a tuning of the
strings, a flash of light from the rear of the room inundates the white
canvas, and suddenly a figure is poised in the space, her shadow cast
upon the glowing background.

It is the Spanish dancer!

The apparition evokes a flutter of applause.  It is a superb figure, clad
in a high tight bodice and long skirts simply draped so as to show every
motion of the athletic limbs.  She seems, in this pose and light,
supernaturally tall.  Through her parted lips white teeth gleam, and she
smiles.  Is it a smile of anticipated, triumph, or of contempt?  Is it
the smile of the daughter of Herodias, or the invitation of a
'ghazeeyeh'?  She pauses.  Shall she surprise, or shock, or only please?
What shall the art that is older than the pyramids do for these kneeling
Christians?  The drum taps, the ney pipes, the mandolin twangs, her arms
are extended--the castanets clink, a foot is thrust out, the bosom
heaves, the waist trembles.  What shall it be--the old serpent dance of
the Nile, or the posturing of decorous courtship when the olives are
purple in the time of the grape harvest?  Her head, wreathed with coils
of black hair, a red rose behind the left ear, is thrown back.  The eyes
flash, there is a snakelike movement of the limbs, the music hastens
slowly in unison with the quickening pulse, the body palpitates, seems to
flash invitation like the eyes, it turns, it twists, the neck is thrust
forward, it is drawn in, while the limbs move still slowly, tentatively;
suddenly the body from the waist up seems to twist round, with the waist
as a pivot, in a flash of athletic vigor, the music quickens, the arms
move more rapidly to the click of the heated castenets, the steps are
more pronounced, the whole woman is agitated, bounding, pulsing with
physical excitement.  It is a Maenad in an access of gymnastic energy.
Yes, it is gymnastics; it is not grace; it is scarcely alluring.  Yet it
is a physical triumph.  While the spectators are breathless, the fury
ceases, the music dies, and the Spaniard sinks into a chair, panting with
triumph, and inclines her dark head to the clapping of hands and the
bravos.  The kneelers rise; the spectators break into chattering groups;
the ladies look at the dancer with curious eyes; a young gentleman with
the elevated Oxford shoulders leans upon the arm of her chair and fans
her.  The pose is correct; it is the somewhat awkward tribute of culture
to physical beauty.

To be on speaking terms with the phenomenon was for the moment a
distinction.  The young ladies wondered if it would be proper to go
forward and talk with her.

"Why not?" said a wit.  "The Duke of Donnycastle always shakes hands with
the pugilists at a mill."

"It is not so bad"--the speaker was a Washington beauty in an evening
dress that she would have condemned as indecorous for the dancer it is
not so bad as I--"

"Expected?" asked her companion, a sedate man of thirty-five, with the
cynical air of a student of life.

"As I feared," she added, quickly.  "I have always had a curiosity to
know what these Oriental dances mean."

"Oh, nothing in particular, now.  This was an exhibition dance.  Of
course its origin, like all dancing, was religious.  The fault I find
with it is that it lacks seriousness, like the modern exhibition of the
dancing dervishes for money."

"Do you think, Mr. Mavick, that the decay of dancing is the reason our
religion lacks seriousness?  We are in Lent now, you know.  Does this
seem to you a Lenten performance?"

"Why, yes, to a degree.  Anything that keeps you up till three o'clock in
the morning has some penitential quality."

"You give me a new view, Mr. Mavick.  I confess that I did not expect to
assist at what New Englanders call an 'evening meeting.'  I thought Eros
was the deity of the dance."

"That, Mrs. Lamon, is a vulgar error.  It is an ancient form of worship.
Virtue and beauty are the same thing--the two graces."

"What a nice apothegm!  It makes religion so easy and agreeable."

"As easy as gravitation."

"Dear me, Mr. Mavick, I thought this was a question of levitation.  You
are upsetting all my ideas.  I shall not have the comfort of repenting of
this episode in Lent."

"Oh yes; you can be sorry that the dancing was not more alluring."

Meantime there was heard the popping of corks.  Venetian glasses filled
with champagne were quaffed under the blessing of sparkling eyes, young
girls, almond-eyed for the occasion, in the costume of Tokyo, handed
round ices, and the hum of accelerated conversation filled the studio.

"And your wife didn't come?"

"Wouldn't," replied Jack Delancy, with a little bow, before he raised his
glass.  And then added, "Her taste isn't for this sort of thing."

The girl, already flushed with the wine, blushed a little--Jack thought
he had never seen her look so dazzlingly handsome --as she said, "And you
think mine is?"

"Bless me, no, I didn't mean that; that is, you know"--Jack didn't
exactly see his way out of the dilemma--"Edith is a little old-fashioned;
but what's the harm in this, anyway?"

"I did not say there was any," she replied, with a smile at his
embarrassment.  "Only I think there are half a dozen women in the room
who could do it better, with a little practice.  It isn't as Oriental as
I thought it would be."

"I cannot say as to that.  I know Edith thinks I've gone into the depths
of the Orient.  But, on the whole, I'm glad--" Jack stopped on the verge
of speaking out of his better nature.

"Now don't be rude again.  I quite understand that she is not here."

The dialogue was cut short by a clapping of hands.  The spectators took
their places again, the lights were lowered, the illumination was turned
on the white canvas, and the dancer, warmed with wine and adulation, took
a bolder pose, and, as her limbs began to move, sang a wild Moorish

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