The scene was utterly different from what she had expected. She had imagined a gay, crowded room, wild gamblers shouting in their excitement, a band playing delirious waltz music, champagne corks popping merrily, painted women laughing, jesting loudly, all kinds of revelry and devilry and Bacchic things undreamed of. This was silly of her, no doubt, but the silliness of inexperienced young women is a matter for the pity, not the reprobation, of the judicious. If they take the world for their oyster and think, when they open it, they are going to find pearl necklaces ready-made, we must not blame them. Rather let hoary-headed sinners envy them their imaginings.
The corners of Zora Middlemist’s ripe lips drooped with a child’s pathos of disillusionment. Her nose delicately marked disgust at the heavy air and the discord of scents around her. Having lost her money she could afford to survey with scorn the decorous yet sordid greed of the crowded table. There was not a gleam of gaiety about it. The people behaved with the correct impassiveness of an Anglican congregation. She had heard of more jocular funerals.
She forgot the intoxication of her first gold and turquoise day at Monte Carlo. A sense of loneliness—such as a solitary dove might feel in a wilderness of evil bats—oppressed her. Had she not been aware that she was a remarkably attractive woman and the object of innumerable glances, she would have cried. And twenty louis pitched into unprofitable space! Yet she stood half fascinated by the rattle of the marble on the revolving disc, the glitter of the gold, the soft pat of the coins on the green cloth as they were thrown by the croupier. She began to make imaginary stakes. For five coups in succession she would have won. It was exasperating. There she stood, having pierced the innermost mystery of chance, without even a five-franc piece in her purse.
A man’s black sleeve pushed past her shoulder, and she saw a hand in front of her holding a louis. Instinctively she took it.
“Thanks,” said a tired voice. “I can’t reach the table. She threw it, en plein, on Number Seventeen; and then with a start, realizing what she had done, she turned with burning cheeks.
“I am so sorry.”
Her glance met a pair of unspeculative blue eyes, belonging to the owner of the tired voice. She noted that he had a sallow face, a little brown mustache, and a shock of brown hair, curiously upstanding, like Struwel Peter’s.
“I am so sorry,” she repeated. “Please ask for it back. What did you want me to play?”
“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter, so long as you’ve put it somewhere.”
“But I’ve put it en plein on Seventeen,” she urged. “I ought to have thought what I was doing.”
“Why think?” he murmured.
Mrs. Middlemist turned square to the table and fixed her eyes on the staked louis. In spite of the blue-eyed man’s implied acquiescence she felt qualms of responsibility. Why had she not played on an even chance, or one of the dozens, or even a transversale? To add to her discomfort no one else played the full seventeen. The whole table seemed silently jeering at her inexperience.