DEATH DANCED WITH THE NIKOVA
JULES PAPINEAU, though a mere sergeant of detectives, had that flair for beauty so characteristic of his race. On more than one occasion his friend, Kent Power, had remarked, “We Anglo-Saxons will be the go-getters of Canada, you French the lamp-tenders of the arts.’ It was, therefore, on Pap’s tickets that the two men occupied stalls at His Majesty’s; were watching with characteristic absorption the Nikova in that loveliest of ballets, Les Sylphides.
Power had seen the great Russian dancer in London under Beecham years before and had not expected much from this company she had gathered around her for her American tour. He was surprised. From the long-haired little man in the conductor’s box to the last member of the ensemble they were artistes. The enchantments of Greek forests were re-created before his eyes in beauty of movement and thrill of rhythm that held him fascinated.
The ballet moved to its end. From the wings Tamara Nikova pirouetted out for the final pas seul. And, for the third time that evening, Kent Power became aware of regret. Perhaps it was because he had been young then, but it seemed that fifteen years ago there had been a quality so much more vital in the witchery of her movement. The lithe body and pale oval face had spoken to him then with a vivid enchantment. Something of this had gone with her youth. She was still a great dancer, a great artist; but there were missing that careless rapture, that bacchantic abandon
that belong only to nonage. She must, he calculated, be over forty.
He sighed. Alas that spring should vanish with the rose ! Poor, brave Nikova ! She had lost a fortune to Red Russia and must go dancing on, while time danced against her with discordant rhythm.
She came forward on her toes, like a slim tree in the wind, and suddenly she seemed to falter. It was a momentary' thing. Probably not fifty people in the huge audience saw the quick spasm that twisted her lips. She swept on again, slowly; the ensemble gathered in about her like the closing petals of a flower; the music began to die.
But again Power saw pain and surprise in her eyes. She must have hurt herself, strained some ligament that was causing her agony. But still she danced, drooping like a falling flower to her knees. And then, as the last note hung vibrant, as the curtain started its last dip, her body bent forward, her eyes seemed to fix themselves imploringly on the great dark audience, and just as the curtain reached her she slumped sharply forward.
“Sacre!" gasped Pap, completely carried away. “Quelle artiste!"
Power said nothing. It would not have been heard anyway in the wild burst of applause that broke around them. A moment later the curtain went up again, displaying the ensemble. Like a queen, the Nikova disdained the first clamor. Hands beat on hands. The Gallic bravos re-echoed.
But the Nikova came not. Instead, her manager, a tall, florid man, appeared on the stage and held up his hand.
“I am sorry'.” he said as the clamor died, “that madame cannot come. She is indisposed. Thank you; merci."
Exclamations of regret and sympathy broke everywhere as the curtain fell again. The theatre began slowly to empty.
Five minutes later young Dr. Emil Coquin, whose office was just along Guy Street, was turning up the alley to the stage door of the theatre when a hand fell on his shoulder and a voice cried :
' Bo' soir, Emil!"
It was Kent Power.
“Comment ca va?” cried Emil.
, Since when have you taken to hanging around stage doors? Power rallied him.
, * am sen* ^or ^ a hurrY because someone inside has
had a heart attack.”
Wouldn t need an assistant, by any chance?” “Comment?”
Myself, and Power jerked a thumb over his shoulder at rap— our male nurse.”
... would be well, Pap added solemnly, “that you permit this t mg, docteur."
The young physician shrugged: “Very well.” They
followed him in.
Tamara Nikova had been laid on her dressing-room couch, but she would never know the agitation that seethed around her, the hysteria and tears, the beaten breasts of those men and women who had known so intimately her fury and her love. The furore died as Dr. Coquin and his following entered. The dancers, grotesque at first sight in their paint and motley, backed away like a closing fan. Dr. Coquin bent above the prostrate figure, let out a startled exclamation, snatched the stethoscope from his bag and listened over a pallid breast.
“Elle est morte!"
“Jesu!" choked the woman at the head of the couch—and then a quick, wild wail rose in that narrow space.
Coquin turned to Power.
“Her heart,” he said sharply, "it beats no more.”
T)OWER was staring at the dead woman; at clay that so short a time ago had been animated with the magic of illusion. As he stared, silence fell slowly around him. I lis tall figure came finally to dominate the room. 'Hie company gleanings of Latin and Russian Kurojx* drew a sharp breath as he step|x*d closer and bent above the dead dancer. She was wearing the short Creek chiton that fell just above her knees. It had got caught up on the right a little and he stared hard at the slim, silk-stockinged thigh. Finally he turned to the ensemble.
“Who's in charge of your company?” The same tall, florid, blonde man who had announced the indisposition from the stage stepped forward. “Paul van Riyn!” There was that clicking of the heels, that bending at the waist, so characteristic of Teutonic Europe. A man about forty-five, strong-faced, lean, dominating; the grey eyes slightly bkxxishot and not without antagonism.
“No one must leave the theatre,” Power said, “until the coroner has viewed the body.”
“The coroner?” the Dutch manager asked sharply. “Why?”
"For the reason,” Sergeant Papineau said bluntly, “that it is the custom of this country. I am” he flashed a badge -"Jules Papineau, sergeant of detectives. I go now to telephone the coroner.” On which announcement he stumped from the dressing-room.
Van Riyn was palpably angry. With all the glare of six-feet-two of outraged floridity he stepped toward Power: “But these people!” He swept the dancers in with his hand. “ Herrgott, have they not suffered enough for one night?”
“I’m sorry,” Power replied gently.
“Perhaps we can get it over quicker if everyone will say just where he or she was when madame fell. Most of the company were on the stage, dancing. Where were you, van Riyn?”
The Dutchman’s eyes became cold slits.
“Are we in a court on trial?” he demanded. "Madame is dead —with her heart as the doctor has said. Is it not so?” He swung on young Coquin angrily.
The latter laid a hand on Power’s sleeve.
“It is her heart. Quite obvious. These poor devils ~” But Power was still facing the Dutchman.
“Unless,” he said coldly, “you have some reason for
silence I’d suggest that you answer my
*‘I have no reason for silence,” van Riyn growled sharply. “When madame fell I was in the wings directing the lights.”
“You saw nothing unusual?”
“I was entirely occupied with my affairs.” “Very well. Who else was not dancing?” Van Riyn turned very unwillingly to the company.
“Herr Reidich, our director!" he snapped. The shaggy little man, in evening clothes a thought too large for his frail body, stepj)ed forward. Almost a smile formed itself on Power’s lips. Herr Reidich could be nothing else than an artiste unless he could be a sprite. 'Hiere was about him that suggestion of laughter and tears that so often grips one. His bush y-browed big eyes looked out at one with a naive and trustful friendliness. His hair was long, grey and benignant. And he had the slightly mottled skin, purplish lips, and the slight breathlessness of the chronic cardiac.
“Herr Reidich was in the conductor’s box,” said van Riyn. "He has charge of madame ’s music.”
Power faced the little man.
“Did you see anything unusual in madame ’s behavior during the last movement of her dance?”
Herr Reidich shook a slightly bewildered head.
“Nein. I see noddings ontil der end, ven she—” He choked suddenly, and with astonishment Power saw two big tears gather and drop from the .shaggy eyes. Snatching a huge handkerchief from his tail-pocket, the little conductor blew a blast on his nose. “Ach, meine liebe Taska!" he muttered.
And then the young girl behind stepped forward, put a protecting arm on his frail shoulders and whispered: “Bitte, Onkel
Anton." She had a husky contralto voice, and suddenly Power realized her beauty. She was a dark young Russian with the brown eyes and wide cheekbones of the dark Slavs. She was formed like a nymph ; young, slender, vital.
"Giselle Karin, madame’s understudy,” van Riyn spoke. “She did not dance tonight; was in the wings.”
“No,” the girl replied, and her eyes found Power’s with a cold disdain, “on the other side.”
“You saw nothing?”
She started to shake her head, stopped suddenly and stared hard at Power. She seemed to lxweighing his ultimate purposes. In the end she said:
“Why did you hesitate?”
"Vot?” It was old Reidich, swelling like an angry little terrier. "You agguse my Giselle of lying?”
With a weary shrug the girl said:
“1 saw madame waver a minute or two before the end of the pas seul. 1 thought she had strained a ligament. It was probably nothing.”
Someone else had seen that momentary spasm! Then, as if to clinch the testimony, one of the male dancers said:
"1 also saw.”
“M'sieu Derzhinski," muttered van Riyn. M. Derzhinski was also a Slav, but the Tartar bkxxl ran strong. Not a tall man. his body was beautifully proportioned, although there was that bunchiness of the muscles which is the bane of older dancers. I le would be about the age of the dead woman. His face was txi Oriental, his eyes tix> slanting and ferrety, his hair sprung too far down the (bt low forehead, to lend him beauty of visage. But Power had seen him dance, knew that he was almost as consummate an artist as the dead woman.
“You saw her hesitate?” Power asked him.
"Yes, m’sieu.” The dancer’s voice was unexpectedly soft and lisping, like spring wind over the steppes. "But eet happen before; tvice I see eet. Demuskel -cr-r-ramp! I also know eet.”
"And you saw’ nothing else?”
The dressing-room door opened. Followed
Maclean's Magazine, April 15, 1934
by Dr. Morin, the coroner, Sergeant Papineau strode in. Power turned to van Riyn.
“You can take your people to another dressing-room for the time being. But please don’t leave the theatre until you hear from me.”
The Dutchman glowered at him, but shepherded his flock out.
“Well,” demanded the little coroner, as the door closed behind them, “w’hat now?”
Power explained the circumstances. Then, as all three men bent over the dead woman, he put his forefinger on the right thigh where, about four inches above the knee, the silk of the stocking was stained by a tiny reddish-brown spot. Dr. Morin drew the stocking down and took a small hand lens from his pocket. Suddenly he hissed, “Voilà!” and thrust the lens at Power.
In the clear white skin there was a tiny break, so small it could barely have been seen by the naked eye, such as a pin might have made.
“Sacre!” exclaimed Pap. "We ’ave somet’ing ’ere for sure !”
HTHEY WERE watching a frog. The morning sun streamed into Kent Power’s small laboratory and Montreal’s mountain rose in fiery October beauty against a cobalt sky, but Kent Power, Dr. Théophile Morin and Jules Papineau saw only the frog.
For some seconds the animal had been twitching all over. Now suddenly its hind legs began to curl up over its back in slow and grotesque acrobatique until the toes were at the nape of the reptile’s neck; where, as the twitching finally ceased, they remained.
"Nicotine,” Power said laconically.
"Nicotine?” the other two exclaimed in astonishment.
“One of the deadliest of the poisons. A couple of drops of the pure stuff’ll kill a horse—and it acts with amazing quickness. There’s enough in that cigar of yours, Pap, to kill three men if you knew how to concentrate it.”
“Don’t tell him that,” Dr. Morin laughed sardonically. “He has no love for me. Someday he might ...”
Power had picked up the small gramophone needle from the blotter on his desk. All three men stared at it. Its blunt end had been bored hollow, and from that hollow end had come the drug which so characteristically had killed Mr. Frog.
“Somebody,” he said, holding it thoughtfully between a thumb and forefinger, “shot this needle into the Nikova’s leg while she danced that last pas seul. Three people saw her wince, hesitate—the Karin girl, Derzhinski and myself. I think we can take it the needle entered her leg when she winced. After that she danced at the outside two minutes—time enough. What we want is a man with a blowpipe.”
“But who,” demanded Pap with reason, "will ’ave a blowpipe and not be seen?”
Dr. Morin laughed ironically, but Power’s face was grave as he stared at and beyond the fatal needle.
“No one in the audience. Everyone was sitting so tensely still in the stalls that neighbors would have noticed the least distracting movement. The orchestra’s out because all but the little conductor were below the level of the stage. It couldn’t have been one of the dancers; they were all in plain view of the audience. It could only have been someone back-stage. We want a man with a blowpipe.”
"If,” Pap declared suddenly, “it is a blowpipe it must be a veritable baby blowpipe. Any such t'ing that I ’ave seen is beeg comme ca.” He made the measure of his outstretched arms.
“Okay,” replied Power with a goodnatured shrug. “You name the weapon.”
But this the sergeant did not feel constrained to do.
"It’s some silently propelling instrument,” Dr. Morin agreed, "but I am not able to say what.”
Power glanced at his watch.
“Ten o’clock.” He began to take off his white laboratory coat. "I expect most of the company'll be at the theatre by this time. They’ll be bound to hold some sort of
Continued on page 59
Continued from page 16–Starts on page 14
conference about their future today. Shall we mosey along and give them a dekko, Pap?”
“Oui.” A grin broke the rotundity of the sergeant’s Gallic features. ‘‘And we will go ’unting there for a blowpipe, no?”
IN THE dressing-room of Sergei Derzhinski, Herr Reidich sat carving a small wooden object. Derzhinski and the rest of the company, he explained to his two visitors, were in conference with the others upstairs.
“I haf not go,” he smiled at them wistfully, “because I haf enough egscitement had, und it iss bad for me here.” He laid hand over his heart. “In der meantime make dis for my leedle GissyMademoiselle Karin. To cheer her up in her ...” The words ceased and for a moment his face went bleak. But only for a moment. “See! It iss a leedle house. Ven it iss finish dere will a bird gome out py dis door ven you press here. Unt perhaps I vill dat leedle bird make to say, ‘Peep-peep.’ ” He grinned whimsically at them over the steel-rimmed glasses that hung low on the bridge of his long, globulous nose. “Unt vot can I for you dis morgen do, blease, Herren Polit zei?”
The little man took up his carving again —and there could be no mistaking the mastery of his delicate hands.
“You might,” Power said gently, “tell us about madame’s company—how it started, how it came to be here in Montreal.”
“I vill,” the little conductor smiled at them in his childlike, naive way. “Seet down, blease, zhentlemen.”
It was eleven o’clock when the other two left him and went along to the private office of the theatre. Conference was over, and they found van Riyn frowning at a sheaf of papers on the flat-topped desk.
“So!” he exclaimed, eyeing them without pleasure. “You are again here.”
“Yes.” Power threw a leg across the comer of the desk. “A few more questions. I understand your relations with Madame Nikova were not happy of late?”
Van Riyn’s head went back with a jerk, his bloodshot eyes became slitted and aware.
“Who,” he demanded, “has told you that?”
“I asked the first question.”
“I do not answer.”
“Then I will. Your relations—your more than cordial relations with madame—underwent a cooling shortly after this tour began. The cooling was due to the fact that you tended to push Mademoiselle Karin more and more into the programmes; began, in fact, to groom her as a possible successor to—”
“You shall not say that.” Van Riyn had risen, his face distorted with anger. “It is infamous!”
"But it’s true. Do you deny it?”
The Dutchman started pacing the thickly carpeted floor. Finally, considerably calmer, he faced the two men again.
“I deny nothing,” he said, looking Power coldly in the eye. “Go back to your gossipmongers.”
"Very well,” Power said, slipping from the edge of the desk. “If you feel that way about—”
“Why do you ask these questions?” demanded van Riyn suddenly. “Why have you subjected me to this indignity?”
“If you,” Power replied on his way to the door, “won’t be frank with me, why should I spill my soul to you?” And followed by Papineau, he left the room.
“He does not like it, eh?” exclaimed the eager Pap as they moved along a corridor toward the stage. “He does not take it on the chin.”
They found Giselle Karin in the wings performing those exercises with which dancers limber themselves. Others of the company, clad like her in practice costume, were scattered about the stage. A rehearsal was evidently in the offing; they intended carrying on without the dead woman. Even in this dim back-stage light, Power felt the same thing in the girl that had gripped him last night. It was in her wide-set eyes as she looked up at him; the quality that makes a great actress different from all others. Perhaps it was more marked this morning because of a subtle increase of self-consciousness that had come over her, as though already she realized the destiny which Tamara Nikova’s death had opened out to her.
“Mam’selle,” Power began disarmingly, “when I asked you a question last night, you 1 hesitated. Why?”
Again antagonism flared disturbingly in her lovely eyes. For a moment she stood there taut, challengingly, and then she answered simply:
“I saw nothing but what I have told you, m’sieu. When I watch madame dance I am lost to everything else.”
She stared away from him into a vague, yearning distance.
“Always it has been like that,” she went on in the grave, throaty contralto that stirred one so profoundly. “Even when others say that she is not as she was, that she is too old.”
“Who could say that?” Power asked softly.
She shrugged ; did not answer.
The absurd suggestion brought a laugh of incredulity to her lovely lips.
“Onkel Anton? Never could he have said such a thing.” And then suddenly, with suspicion: “Why do you ask all this?”
“Because,” Power replied in the same gentle, reassuring way, “I am wondering why madame could have died of a broken heart.”
With that he left her; not waiting to see the startled, tragic look that swept into those young eyes, or the quick, instinctive hand that went to her breast.
On the way down the winding metal stairs Pap said, sighing:
‘‘Mo’ dieu, she is so beautiful—and so ; unwilling we should know anyt’ing!”
“You,” Power grunted curtly, “are a sentimentalist,” and he knocked on a dressing-room door.
A VOICE cried “Entrez!” and they stepped again into M. Derzhinski’s dressing-room.
Old Reidich had gone and the dancer was there alone. His Tartar features contracted slightly as he recognized his visitors, but, adjusting the practice trunks into which he was stepping when they entered, he drew himself up and faced them with a feline smile. It was in the manner of one girding on armor; antagonism gleamed in his dark little eyes.
“Good momeeng, zhentlemen,” he said in his soft lisping voice.
“Sorry to disturb you,” Power began, seating himself on the couch, “but there are one or two questions I want to ask you.”
“Last night you said that you saw madame hesitate a few minutes before she fell. Just where were you standing at the time?”
The dancer’s little eyes picked up a j distant scene reminiscently. j
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“I ’ave feenish dancing; I am not in ze finale. Yess, I remembair. I am coming zis way—to ze exit. I see zen.”
“She was some distance from you; almost diagonally across the stage?”
“You saw Mademoiselle Karin beyond her in the far wings?”
The dancer hesitated the merest moment.
"Perhapsees joost what you call glimpse.” "And. of course, the ensemble would be partly between you and her?”
I “Thanks very much.” Power rose, lighting a cigarette. “That was all I wanted to know.”
Followed by Pap, he stepped from the dressing-room. They passed out through the stage door, and in the alley Power halted, leaned against the brick wall of the building and stared into distance. Presently he mused, half aloud: “Van Riyn was tired of her and wanted to play prince consort to a new queen. There was a throne waiting for the girl—she could have done it. How do we know what might not go on behind those wide, lovely Slav eyes—or any eyes for that matter? Derzhinski’s been sulking in his tent ever since Nikova slapped his face two weeks ago on the Metropolitan stage in New Y'ork. YVhen an outraged Russian takes to brooding, anything can happen.”
“But he cannot ’ave do this t’ing, Kent Power,” grunted Pap.
“Why?” Power broke suddenly from his reverie.
“That needle has go in through the front of her leg. Where he is standing when she hesitate’ is behind her,” explained the sergeant.
Suddenly Power swung on him, slapped him on the back.
“You old son of a gun !” he cried. “That was just the prod I needed. Listen ! I want you to stay here and shoo anyone back who tries to leave the theatre before I return. I’ll only be a jiff.”
And without gainsaying the astonished Pap a further ray of light, he started running down the alley toward Guy Street. Twenty minutes later he was descending to the dark recesses of the Radiological Department of the Montreal Vic, where finally he closeted himself with Dr. Jimmy MacBrien, assistant radiologist.
“James,” he said, bringing out some films from the folder under his arm, “I want you to try these over on your piano and tell me which way the gramophone needle is headed.”
“More crime?” enquired the stocky little X-ray man as he began to adjust the celluloid plates to his stereoscopic viewer. Presently, eyes glued to the triangular mirror he remarked: “There are certain elements of error, of course, but I’d say it went in at a perfect right angle to the skin surface—and from the front.”
Power himself glanced at the mirrors.
“At a perfect right angle, eh? That means parallel to the ground and directly in the way she was travelling.”
“Who was travelling, dearie?” MacBrien asked innocently.
“An old aunt of mine,” Power replied as he removed the films from the projector and returned them to their folder.
“What’s she doing in jail? Aren’t those police headquarters’ films?”
They were, in fact, the films that Power and Dr. Morin had taken of the dead dancer’s leg in order to locate exactly the position of the gramophone needle. But Power didn't tell his X-ray friend that. Instead he replied:
“The dear aunt was charged with creating a disturbance. Tried to beat the gramophone record and got the needle in the leg. Thanks for the doings. Be seeing you.”
ALLO!” Pap tipped forward in his chair ■**. inside the stage door and tried not to look like a man caught snatching forty winks. “You findsomet’ing—no?”
“And how !”
They hurried along the corridor, and music came faintly from the theatre above. But they did not ascend at once. It was indeed ten minutes later when, unseen by the dancers on the half-lighted stage, they made their way into the stalls of the darkened theatre.
It was Les Sylphides that was being rehearsed, and Power saw that the girl, Giselle Karin, was being groomed as première danseuse. He watched the performance with interest, as did Pap. She could dance; and she had, to make up for a lack of perfect precision, that lithe, impetuous sweep of youth. Her limbs were flames leaping from the fire of life. Her face, rapt and glowing, spoke of a spirit completely lost in the whirl of movement.
The ballet moved to its close. As the girl began to dance the final pas seul Power leaned even more intently forward, his body rigid, every sense alert. She came sweeping down the stage toward him, a cloud floating in a summer wind.
She came nearer . . . nearer . .
Suddenly he sprang out into the centre aisle.
“Stop!” he cried.
Choregraphy froze itself suddenly into tableau. He sprang forward, his long legs flying, toward the orchestra pit.
“Hold it, everybody!” he shouted, as a faint uneasy movement succeeded the temporary arrest.
Van Riyn, who had been sitting in the centre of the front row of stalls, came lumbering angrily toward him.
“What is this?” he growled. “Do I direct, or you?”
But Power was staring at the gaping dancers whom, for the third time, he had cautioned to hold their positions. He continued to stare—at Giselle Karin now— while the ensemble waited bewildered, while little Herr Reidich in the conductor’s box watched with wide comic eyes, while van Riyn fumed. Then again the latter repeated: “Do I direct, or you?”
Power swung on him:
“I don’t care who directs; what I wanted was direction. I’ve got it.” He put a foot up on the orchestra rail, leaped on to the stage, came face to face with the danseuse. “Last night you were in the wings—where?” he asked her.
For only a moment did she resist the grim force of his mind.
“There.” She walked straight ahead and stood in front of the first fly. “Here.”
He turned about. Derzhinski had stepped on to the stage from the other side, from where apparently he had been watching the end of the number.
“And you,” Power addressed him brusquely, '\vere back there, over by that door.” He pointed almost directly behind the dancer.
“Y-yes.” Derzhinski swallowed uneasily before answering.
“Funny, mighty funny.” Power grunted. “You couldn’t have seen madame from there. The ensemble shut her off from you entirely. So you didn’t see her hesitate, when you were on your way downstairs. You saw her hesitate from over there. ” He sw^ung and pointed to the far side of the fly beyond which Giselle Karin was standing. “In other words you weren’t three feet from mademoiselle. Isn’t that true? The stage foreman just told me—”
“Pleasse! I wall tell!” cried the terrified dancer, his eyes haunted like a cornered animal’s. “I ’ave lied—becausse I am afraid !”
Van Riyn, followed by Pap and little Reidich, had climbed to the stage. The Dutchman thrust himself between Power and the trembling dancer.
“I demand to know why you do all this, why you ride roughshod over us.”
“I’ll tell you,” Power snapped back. “I’m trying to discover madame's murderer.” They gasped, stared at him; incredulous, horror-struck.
“Her murderer?” grunted van Riyn.
“She didn’t die of heart failure. She was poisoned -here -on this stage.”
THE GIRL in the wings put her hand over her heart and moaned. A shudder passed through the taut, wiry figure of Derzhinski. The little conductor, Herr Reidich, let out a guttural, “Du lieber Gott!” and the baton clattered to the floor from his nerveless fingers.
Sergeant Papineau retrieved it, was handing it back to the little man when Power suddenly snatched it. Holding it close, he stared at the little metal plate that was fastened to the side of its blunter end. It had caught his eye just as Pap picked it up, and he thought it queer that such a plate should be on a baton. And then he read the scrolled words on the gold plate.
A Anion—de Tasha.
To Anton from Tasha! To signify the dead woman’s tribute of gratitude to the little musician. That was all. But suddenly, caught as it was between Power’s hands, the baton snapped in two.
A wild anguished cry broke from the little German :
“Nein! Nein! Aí eine Staff e!”
But Power was studying the fragments. He saw a slender tunnel, running the length of the wood, that could only have been bored so cleverly by one used to carving. Suddenly he had his pocket knife out. He split the blunter fragment with the long grain.
“Look!” He held it out to Pap. The slender rifling led to a'larger, empty chamber. And then from his coat pocket he brought a little spring that he had taken downstairs from a tiny wooden house in a dressing-room ; a wooden house out of which a bird flew and
said, “Peep-peep.” He put the spring into the chamber of the baton. It fitted perfectly.
He turned to little Reidich who stood, like a child that has lost its way, staring into a bleak and wistful distance. He laid a not unkindly hand on the frail, bent shoulders.
“Why did you do that—to her?” he asked in a gentle voice.
For a moment there was no sound on the stage. And then something like a sob shook the little musician. But he pulled himself together at once, drew himself up with a pathetic bravery and looked Power straightly in the eye,
“It was—my presumption.” He spoke with difficulty, gasping as he breathed between the words. “For veeks—for months —I haf seen my Tasha, whom I lofe so dearly, grow old. I haf see dat she no longer catch hold of der audience. Dat iss ein tragedy. I cannot tolerate it . . . Some day, I tell myself, it vill—break her heart. So I safe her—from dat.”
It was a painful, a terrible moment. Power felt the brutal implications of it, and wished that fate had not dragged him to this last dénouement. He turned away. And as he did so, suddenly little Reidich’s hand went to his heart in a queer way and he crumpled to the ground.
Pap bent down.
“He ’as done it ! For himself !”
But Power knew it was no poison that had ended Anton Reidich’s days. The brave little heart that had tried to save Tamara Nikova from bitterness, and a world which loved her from disillusionment, had broken at last.