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21. The Cigarettes From Buenos Ayres
Sir Lucien's intervention proved successful. Kazmah's charges became more
modest, and Rita no longer found it necessary to deprive herself of hats and
dresses in order to obtain drugs. But, nevertheless, these were not the halcyon
days of old. She was now surrounded by spies. It was necessary to resort to all
kinds of subterfuge in order to cover her expenditures at the establishment in old
Bond Street. Her husband never questioned her outlay, but on the other hand it
was expedient to be armed against the possibility of his doing so, and Rita's debts
were accumulating formidably.
Then there was Margaret Halley to consider. Rita had never hitherto given her
confidence to anyone who was not addicted to the same practices as herself, and
she frequently experienced embarrassment beneath the grave scrutiny of
Margaret's watchful eyes. In another this attitude of gentle disapproval would have
been irritating, but Rita loved and admired Margaret, and suffered accordingly.
As for Sir Lucien, she had ceased to understand him. An impalpable barrier
seemed to have arisen between them. The inner man had became inaccessible.
Her mind was not subtle enough to grasp the real explanation of this change in her
old lover. Being based upon wrong premises, her inferences were necessarily wide
of the truth, and she believed that Sir Lucien was jealous of Margaret's cousin,
Quentin Gray.
Gray met Rita at Margaret Halley's flat shortly after he had returned home from
service in the East, and he immediately conceived a violent infatuation for this
pretty friend of his cousin's. In this respect his conduct was in no way peculiar. Few
men were proof against the seductive Mrs. Monte Irvin, not because she
designedly encouraged admiration, but because she was one of those fortunately
rare characters who inspire it without conscious effort. Her appeal to men was
sweetly feminine and quite lacking in that self-assertive and masculine "take me or
leave me" attitude which characterizes some of the beauties of today. There was
nothing abstract about her delicate loveliness, yet her charm was not wholly
physical. Many women disliked her.
At dance, theatre, and concert Quentin Gray played the doting cavalier; and Rita,
who was used to at least one such adoring attendant, accepted his homage
without demur. Monte Irvin returned to civil life, but Rita showed no disposition to
dispense with her new admirer. Both Gray and Sir Lucien had become frequent
visitors at Prince's Gate, and Irvin, who understood his wife's character up to a
point, made them his friends.
Shortly after Monte Irvin's return Sir Lucien taxed Rita again with her increasing
subjection to drugs. She was in a particularly gay humor, as the supplies from
Kazmah had been regular, and she laughingly fenced with him when he reminded
her of her declared intention to reform when her husband should return.
"You are really as bad as Margaret," she declared. "There is nothing the matter
with me. You talk of 'curing' me as though I were ill. Physician, heal thyself."
The sardonic smile momentarily showed upon Pyne's face, and: