For a time Mellin sat grimly observing this inexplicable merriment with a cold smile.
“Laugh on!” he commanded with bitter satire, some ten minutes after play had been resumed—and was instantly obeyed.
Whereupon his mood underwent another change, and he became convinced that the world was a warm and kindly place, where it was good to live. He forgot that he was jealous of Cooley and angry with the Countess; he liked everybody again, especially Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. “Won’t you sit farther forward?” he begged her earnestly; “so that I can see your beautiful golden hair?”
He heard but dimly the spasmodic uproar that followed. “Laugh on!” he repeated with a swoop of his arm. “I don’t care! Don’t you care either, Mrs. Mount-Rhyswicke. Please sit where I can see your beautiful golden hair. Don’t be afraid I’ll kiss you again. I wouldn’t do it for the whole world. You’re one of the noblest women I ever knew. I feel that’s true. I don’t know how I know it, but I know it. Let ’em laugh!”
After this everything grew more and more hazy to him. For a time there was, in the centre of the haze, a nimbus of light which revealed his cards to him and the towers of chips which he constantly called for and which as constantly disappeared—like the towers of a castle in Spain. Then the haze thickened, and the one thing clear to him was a phrase from an old-time novel he had read long ago:
“Debt of honor.”
The three words appeared to be written in flames against a background of dense fog. A debt of honor was as promissory note which had to be paid on Monday, and the appeal to the obdurate grandfather—a peer of England, the Earl of Mount-Rhyswicke, in fact—was made at midnight, Sunday. The fog grew still denser, lifted for a moment while he wrote his name many times on slips of blue paper; closed down once more, and again lifted—out-of-doors this time—to show him a lunatic ballet of moons dancing streakily upon the horizon.
He heard himself say quite clearly, “All right, old man, thank you; but don’t bother about me,” to a pallid but humorous Cooley in evening clothes; the fog thickened; oblivion closed upon him for a seeming second....
VII. The Next Morning
Suddenly he sat up in bed in his room at the Magnifique, gazing upon a disconsolate Cooley in gray tweeds who sat heaped in a chair at the foot of the bed with his head in his hands.
Mellin’s first sensation was of utter mystification; his second was more corporeal: the consciousness of physical misery, of consuming fever, of aches that ran over his whole body, converging to a dreadful climax in his head, of a throat so immoderately partched it seemed to crackle, and a thirst so avid it was a passion. His eye fell upon a carafe of water on a chair at his bedside; he seized upon it with a shaking hand and drank half its contents before he set it down. The action attracted his companion’s attention and he looked up, showing a pale and haggard countenance.