Sir Brian Malpas hesitated for ten seconds or more; then, crossing the room and reclosing the window, he turned, facing his visitor across the large room.
“I was a member, myself, during the time that I lived in Paris,” he said, in a hurried manner which did not entirely serve to cover his confusion.
“My dear Sir Brian! We have at least one taste in common!”
Sir Brian Malpas passed his hand across his brow with a weary gesture well-known to fellow Members of Parliament, for it often presaged the abrupt termination of a promising speech.
“I curse the day that I was appointed to Pekin,” he said; “for it was in Pekin that I acquired the opium habit. I thought to make it my servant; it has made me"...
“What! you would give it up?”
Sir Brian surveyed the speaker with surprise again.
“Do you doubt it?”
“My dear Sir Brian!” cried the Frenchman, now completely restored, “my real life is lived in the land of the poppies; my other life is but a shadow! Morbleu! to be an outcast from that garden of bliss is to me torture excruciating. For the past three months I have regularly met in my trances."...
Sir Brian shuddered coldly.
“In my explorations of that wonderland,” continued the Frenchman, “a most fascinating Eastern girl. Ah! I cannot describe her; for when, at a time like this, I seek to conjure up her image,—nom d’un nom! do you know, I can think of nothing but a serpent!”
“A serpent, exactly. Yet, when I actually meet her in the land of the poppies, she is a dusky Cleopatra in whose arms I forget the world—even the world of the poppy. We float down the stream together, always in an Indian bark canoe, and this stream runs through orange groves. Numberless apes—millions of apes, inhabit these groves, and as we two float along, they hurl orange blossoms—orange blossoms, you understand—until the canoe is filled with them. I assure you, monsieur, that I perform these delightful journeys regularly, and to be deprived of the key which opens the gate of this wonderland, is to me like being exiled from a loved one. Pardieu! that grove of the apes! Morbleu! my witch of the dusky eyes! Yet, as I have told you, owing to some trick of my brain, whilst I can experience an intense longing for that companion of my dreams, my waking attempts to visualize her provide nothing but the image"...
“Of a serpent,” concluded Sir Brian, smiling pathetically. “You are indeed an enthusiast, M. Gaston, and to me a new type. I had supposed that every slave of the drug cursed his servitude and loathed and despised himself."...
“Ah, monsieur! to me those words sound almost like a sacrilege!”
“But,” continued Sir Brian, “your remarks interest me strangely; for two reasons. First, they confirm your assertion that you are, or were, an habitue of the Rue St. Claude, and secondly, they revive in my mind an old fancy—a superstition.”