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The Kingmakers

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
SELDEN, entering from the dining-room, saw that the lounge was crowded, and he paused for a moment to look about him. It was the half-hour between dinner and the Sporting Club, and he was pleasantly aware of the odours of good coffee and super-excellent tobacco, mingled with the delicate and very expensive perfumes rising from the clothes, the hair, the shoulders of the women lying indolently back in the deep chairs. It was the women who dominated the scene. There were men present, to be sure, but they were as unobtrusive to the eye, as strictly utilitarian, as the donor kneeling humbly in the corner of the picture before the madonna he had paid to have painted. These men were donors, too, of many things besides paint—but the resemblance ended there. For there was nothing madonna-like about the women. They differed in being blonde or brune, of various contours, and of all ages, but some subtle quality of spirit bound them together in a common sisterhood. Their gowns ran the gamut of the rainbow and were of every material and degree of eccentricity, but a common purpose underlay them all. Every neck bore its rope of pearls, every hand its clustered diamonds. Tributes to beauty, one might suppose—but not at all. The treasures of the Rue de la Paix, the choicest creations of Cartier, had been showered upon beauty and ugliness alike—if there was any difference, beauty had the worst of it. Indeed most of these women were anything but beautiful. There were some who were still slim, who still had youth and a certain charm; there were two or three of an incredible seductiveness, more dazzling than the brilliants on their fingers; but for the most part they were fat, raddled, unspeakably vulgar, gazing out at the world from between darkened lashes with eyes unutterably weary and disillusioned. They were not all courtesans. The trophies so lavishly displayed were, in part at least, the spoils of marriage; but, virtuous or vicious, their worlds moved in the same orbit, with the same purpose, toward the same end. Was it one of these women, Selden wondered, who had summoned him to a rendezvous? He told himself that he was foolish to have come, that he should have known better, and he had an impulse to pass on without stopping. Yet something about the note which had been handed in to him as he was dressing for dinner had piqued his curiosity, and piqued it still: If Mr. Selden will be in the lounge at 9:45 this evening, he will not only give one of his debtors an opportunity to express her gratitude, but will learn something that may prove of interest. The writing was unusually firm and characteristic. He was quite sure that he had never seen it before. And it was not in the least sentimental, but decidedly of the world. It was this which persuaded him to come. It is pleasant to have one’s services acknowledged, and he was always willing to be interested. More than once he had been started on a profitable trail in some such unusual fashion. On the other hand, should it prove merely an attempt at intrigue, an advance on the part of some impecunious lady who had secured his name from the chasseur, it would be easy enough to withdraw—he had only to explain the state of his finances! So here he was.