“That’s just like you,” cried Zora. “Why didn’t you ask the cabman for a light?”
She laughed at him with an odd sense of intimacy, though she had known him for scarcely an hour. He seemed rather a stray child than a man. She longed to befriend him—to do something for him, motherwise—she knew not what. Her adventure by now had failed to be adventurous. The spice of danger had vanished. She knew she could sit beside this helpless being till the day of doom without fear of molestation by word or act.
He obtained a light for his cigarette from the cabman and smoked in silence. Gradually the languor of the night again stole over her senses, and she forgot his existence. The carriage had turned homeward, and at a bend of the road, high up above the sea, Monte Carlo came into view, gleaming white far away below, like a group of fairy palaces lit by fairy lamps, sheltered by the great black promontory of Monaco. From the gorge on the left, the terraced rock on the right, came the smell of the wild thyme and rosemary and the perfume of pale flowers. The touch of the air on her cheek was a warm and scented kiss. The diamond stars drooped towards her like a Danae shower. Like Danae’s, her lips were parted. Her eyes strained far beyond the stars into an unknown glory, and her heart throbbed with a passionate desire for unknown things. Of what nature they might be she did not dream. Not love. Zora Middlemist had forsworn it. Not the worship of a man. She had vowed by all the saints in her hierarchy that no man should ever again enter her life. Her soul revolted against the unutterable sex.
As soon as one realizes the exquisite humbug of sublunary existence he must weep for the pity of it.
The warm and scented air was a kiss, too, on the cheek of Septimus Dix; and his senses, too, were enthralled by the witchery of the night. But for him stars and scented air and the magic beauty of the sea were incarnate in the woman by his side.
Zora, as I have said, had forgotten the poor devil’s existence.
When they drove up to the Hotel de Paris, she alighted and bade him a smiling farewell, and went to her room with the starlight in her eyes. The lift man asked if Madame had won. She dangled her empty purse and laughed. Then the lift man, who had seen that light in women’s eyes before, made certain that she was in love, and opened the lift door for her with the confidential air of the Latin who knows sweet secrets. But the lift man was wrong. No man had a part in her soul’s exultation. If Septimus Dix crossed her mind while she was undressing, it was as a grotesque, bearing the same relation to her emotional impression of the night as a gargoyle does to a cathedral. When she went to bed, she slept the sound sleep of youth.
Septimus, after dismissing the cab, wandered in his vague way over to the Cafe de Paris, instinct suggesting his belated breakfast, which, like his existence, Zora had forgotten. The waiter came.