“Go home?” she protested with a vivacity so forced it drew a curious stare even from the empty Le Brun. “So early! My dear! what are you thinking of?” “I’ve been on the go all day long,” Athenais explained sweetly; “and now I’ve got nothing left to keep up on.”
“Zut!” the Delorme insisted. “Have more champagne and—”
“Thank you, no, dearest. My head is swimming with it already. I really must go. Surely you don’t mind?”
But Liane did mind, and the wine she had drunk had left her only a remnant of sobriety, not enough for good control of her temper.
“Mind?” she echoed rudely. “Why should I mind whether you stay or go? It’s your affair, not mine.” She made a scornful mouth; and the look with which she coupled Lanyard and Athenais in innuendo was in itself almost actionable. “But me,” she pursued with shrill vivacity—“I shan’t go yet, I’m not drunk enough by half. Get more champagne, Fred”—this to Le Brun as she turned a gleaming shoulder to the others—“quantities of it—and tell Chu-chu to bring Angele over, and Constance and Victor, too. Thanks to the good God, they at least know they are still alive!”
Ever since the fall of evening, whose clear gloaming had seemed to promise a fair night of moonlight, the skies had been thickening slowly over Paris. While still at the Ambassadeurs Lanyard had noticed that the moon was being blotted out. By midnight its paling disk had become totally eclipsed, the clouds hung low over the city, a dense blanket imprisoning heat which was oppressive even in the open and stifling in the ill-ventilated restaurants.
Now from the shelter of the cafe canopy Lanyard and Athenais Reneaux looked out upon a pave like a river of jet ribboned with gently glowing lights and running between the low banks of sidewalks no less black: both deserted but for a few belated prowlers lurching homeward through the drizzle, and a rank of private cars waiting near the entrance.
The bedizened porter whistled fatuously at a passing taxicab, which though fareless held steadfast to its way, while the driver acknowledged the signal only with jeers and disgraceful gestures, after the manner of his kind. So that Lanyard, remembering how frequently similar experiences had befallen him in pre-War Paris, reflected sadly that the great conflict had, after all, worked little change in human hearts—charitably assuming the bosoms of French taxi-bandits to be so furnished.
Presently, however, the persistent whistle conjured from round a corner a rakish hansom that—like the creature between its shafts and the driver on its lofty box, with his face in full bloom and his bleary eyes, his double-breasted box-coat and high hat of oilcloth—had doubtless been brisk with young ambition in the golden time of the Nineteen-Naughties.
But unmistakably of the vintage of the Nineteen-Twenties was the avarice of the driver. For when he had been given the address of the Athenais’ apartment, he announced with vinous truculence that his whim inclined to precisely the opposite direction, gathered up the reins, clucked in peremptory fashion to the nag (which sagely paid no attention to him whatsoever) and consented only to change his mind when promised a fabulous fare.