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Chapter VII 


Nothing further happened to me till I reached Yellowsands, except an exciting ride on the mail-coach, which connected it with the nearest railway-station some twenty miles away. For the last three or four miles the road ran along the extreme precipitous verge of cliffs that sloped, a giant's wall of grassy mountain, right away down to a dreamy amethystine floor of sea, miles and miles, as it seemed, below. To ride on that coach, as it gallantly staggered betwixt earth and heaven, was to know all the ecstasy of flying, with an added touch of danger, which birds and angels, and others accustomed to fly, can never experience. And then at length the glorious mad descent down three plunging cataracts of rocky road, the exciting rattling of the harness, the grinding of the strong brakes, the driver's soothing calls to his horses, and the long burnished horn trailing wild music behind us, like invisible banners of aerial brass,--oh, it stirred the dullest blood amongst us thus as it were to tear down the sky towards the white roofs of Yellowsands, glittering here and there among the clouds of trees which filled the little valley almost to the sea's edge, while floating up to us came soft strains of music, silken and caressing, as though the sea itself sang us a welcome. Had you heard it from aboard the Argo, you would have declared it to be the sirens singing, and it would have been found necessary to lash you to the mast. But there were no masts to lash you to in Yellowsands--and of the sirens it is not yet time to speak.

It was the golden end of afternoon as the coach stopped in front of the main hotel, The Golden Fortune; and for the benefit of any with not too long purses who shall hereafter light on Yellowsands, and be alarmed at the name and the marble magnificence of that delightful hotel, I may say that the charges there were surprisingly "reasonable," owing to one other wise provision of the young lord and master of that happy place, who had had the wit to realise that the nicest and brightest and prettiest people were often the poorest. Yellowsands, therefore, was carried on much like a club, to which you had only to be the right sort of person to belong. I was relieved to find that the hotel people evidently considered me the right sort of person, and didn't take me for a Sunday-school treat,--for presently I found myself in a charming little corner bedroom, whence I could survey the whole extent of the little colony of pleasure. The Golden Fortune was curiously situated, perched at the extreme sea-end of a little horse-shoe bay hollowed out between two headlands, the points of which approached each other so closely that the river Sly had but a few yards of rocky channel through which to pour itself into the sea. The Golden Fortune, therefore, backed by towering woodlands, looked out to sea at one side, across to the breakwater headland on another, and on its land side commanded a complete view of the gay little haven, with its white houses built terrace on terrace upon its wooded slopes, connected by flights of zigzag steps, by which the apparently inaccessible shelves and platforms circulated their gay life down to the gay heart of the place,--the circular boulevard, exquisitely leafy and cool, where one found the great casino and the open-air theatre, the exquisite orchestra, into which only the mellowest brass and the subtlest strings were admitted, and the Cafe du Ciel, charmingly situated among the trees, where the boulevard became a bridge, for a moment, at the mouth of the river Sly. Here one might gaze up the green rocky defile through which the Sly made pebbly music, and through which wound romantic walks and natural galleries, where far inland you might wander

"From dewy dawn to dewy night, And have one with you wandering,"

or where you might turn and look across the still lapping harbour, out through the little neck of light between the headlands to the shimmering sea beyond,--your ears filled with a melting tide of sweet sounds, the murmur of the streams and the gentle surging of the sea, the rippling of leaves, the soft restless whisper of women's gowns, and the music of their vowelled voices. It was here I found myself sitting at sunset, alone, but so completely under the spell of the place that I needed no companion. The place itself was companion enough. The electric fairy lamps had popped alight; and as the sun sank lower, Yellowsands seemed like a glowing crown of light floating upon the water.

I had as yet failed to catch any sight of Rosalind; so I sat alone, and so far as I had any thoughts or feelings, beyond a consciousness of heavenly harmony with my surroundings, they were for that haunting unknown face with the violet eyes and the heavy chestnut hair.

Presently, close by, the notes of a guitar came like little gold butterflies out of the twilight, and then a woman's voice rose like a silver bird on the air. It was a gay wooing measure to which she sang. I listened with ears and heart. "All ye," it went,--

All ye who seek for pleasure, Here find it without measure-- No one to say A body nay, And naught but love and leisure.

All ye who seek forgetting, Leave frowns and fears and fretting, Here by the sea Are fair and free To give you peace and petting.

All ye whose hearts are breaking For somebody forsaking, We'll count you dear, And heal you here, And send you home love-making."

"Bravo!" I cried involuntarily, as the song ended amid multitudinous applause; and I thus attracted the attention of another who sat near me as lonely as myself, but evidently quite at home in the place.

"You haven't heard our sirens sing before?" he said, turning to me with a pleasant smile, and thus we fell into talk of the place and its pleasures.

"There's one feature of the place I might introduce you to if you care for a stroll," he said presently. "Have you heard of The Twelve Golden-Haired Bar-maids?" I hadn't, but the fantastic name struck my fancy. It was, he explained, the name given to a favourite buffet at the Hotel Aphrodite, which was served by twelve wonderful girls, not one under six feet in height, and all with the most glorious golden hair. It was a whim of the management, he said.

So, of course, we went.

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