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The Street of Seven Stars

Chapter 1
The old stucco house sat back in a garden, or what must once have been a garden, when
that part of the Austrian city had been a royal game preserve. Tradition had it that the
Empress Maria Theresa had used the building as a hunting-lodge, and undoubtedly there
was something royal in the proportions of the salon. With all the candles lighted in the
great glass chandelier, and no sidelights, so that the broken paneling was mercifully
obscured by gloom, it was easy to believe that the great empress herself had sat in one of
the tall old chairs and listened to anecdotes of questionable character; even, if tradition
may be believed, related not a few herself.
The chandelier was not lighted on this rainy November night. Outside in the garden the
trees creaked and bent before the wind, and the heavy barred gate, left open by the last
comer, a piano student named Scatchett and dubbed "Scatch"--the gate slammed to and
fro monotonously, giving now and then just enough pause for a hope that it had latched
itself, a hope that was always destroyed by the next gust.
One candle burned in the salon. Originally lighted for the purpose of enabling Miss
Scatchett to locate the score of a Tschaikowsky concerto, it had been moved to the small
center table, and had served to give light if not festivity to the afternoon coffee and cakes.
It still burned, a gnarled and stubby fragment, in its china holder; round it the disorder of
the recent refreshment, three empty cups, a half of a small cake, a crumpled napkin or
two,--there were never enough to go round,--and on the floor the score of the concerto,
clearly abandoned for the things of the flesh.
The room was cold. The long casement windows creaked in time with the slamming of
the gate and the candle flickered in response to a draft under the doors. The concerto
flapped and slid along the uneven old floor. At the sound a girl in a black dress, who had
been huddled near the tile stove, rose impatiently and picked it up. There was no
impatience, however, in the way she handled the loose sheets. She put them together
carefully, almost tenderly, and placed them on the top of the grand piano, anchoring them
against the draft with a china dog from the stand.
The room was very bare--a long mirror between two of the windows, half a dozen chairs,
a stand or two, and in a corner the grand piano. There were no rugs--the bare floor
stretched bleakly into dim corners and was lost. The crystal pendants of the great
chandelier looked like stalactites in a cave. The girl touched the piano keys; they were ice
under her fingers.
In a sort of desperation she drew a chair underneath the chandelier, and armed with a
handful of matches proceeded to the unheard-of extravagance of lighting it, not here and
there, but throughout as high as she could reach, standing perilously on her tiptoes on the
chair.
 
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