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A Chandu Party
From the restaurant at which she had had supper with Sir Lucien, Rita proceeded
to Duke Street. Alighting from Pyne's car at the door, they went up to the flat of the
organizer of the opium party--Mr. Cyrus Kilfane. One other guest was already
present--a slender, fair woman, who was introduced by the American as Mollie
Gretna, but whose weakly pretty face Rita recognized as that of a notorious society
divorcee, foremost in the van of every new craze, a past-mistress of the smartest
Kilfane had sallow, expressionless features and drooping, light- colored eyes. His
straw-hued hair, brushed back from a sloping brow, hung lankly down upon his
coat-collar. Long familiarity with China's ruling vice and contact with those who
practiced it had brought about that mysterious physical alteration--apparently
reflecting a mental change--so often to be seen in one who has consorted with
Chinamen. Even the light eyes seemed to have grown slightly oblique; the voice,
the unimpassioned greeting, were those of a son of Cathay. He carried himself
with a stoop and had a queer, shuffling gait.
"Ah, my dear daughter," he murmured in a solemnly facetious manner, "how glad I
am to welcome you to our poppy circle."
He slowly turned his half-closed eyes in Pyne's direction, and slowly turned them
back again.
"Do you seek forgetfulness of old joys?" he asked. "This is my own case and
Pyne's. Or do you, as Mollie does, seek new joys--youth's eternal quest?"
Rita laughed with a careless abandon which belonged to that part of her character
veiled from the outer world.
"I think I agree with Miss Gretna," she said lightly. "There is not so much happiness
in life that I want to forget the little I have had."
"Happiness," murmured Kilfane. "There is no real happiness. Happiness is smoke.
Let us smoke."
"I am curious, but half afraid," declared Rita. "I have heard that opium sometimes
has no other effect than to make one frightfully ill."
"Oh, my dear!" cried Miss Gretna, with a foolish giggling laugh, "you will love it!
Such fascinating dreams! Such delightful adventures!"
"Other drugs," drawled Sir Lucien, "merely stimulate one's normal mental activities.
Chandu is a key to another life. Cocaine, for instance enhances our capacity for
work. It is only a heretic like De Quincey who prostitutes the magic gum to such
base purposes. Chandu is misunderstood in Europe; in Asia it is the companion of
the aesthete's leisure."
"But surely," said Rita, "one pipe of opium will not produce all these wonders."
"Some people never experience them at all," interrupted Miss Gretna. "The great
idea is to get into a comfortable position, and just resign yourself--let yourself go.
Oh, it's heavenly!"
Cyrus Kilfane turned his dull eyes in Rita's direction.