The City of Fire (Chapter 8, page 2 of 8)


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Chapter 8

But her smile was like the mixing of all smiles, a baby's, a woman-of-
the-world, a grieved child's, and a spirit who had put aside all moral
purpose. Perhaps, like mixed drinks it was for that reason but the more
intoxicating. And because she did not hide her charms and was lavish
with her smiles, there were more poor victims about her little feet
than about any other woman at the shore that summer. Men talked about
her in the smoking rooms and billiard rooms and compared her to vamps
of other seasons, and decided she had left them all in the shade. She
was a perfect production of the modern age, more perfect than others
because she knew how to do the boldest things with that cherubic air
that bereft sin of its natural ugliness and made it beautiful and
delicious, as if degradation had suddenly become an exalted thing, like
some of the old rites in a Pagan Temple, and she a lovely priestess.
And when each new folly was over there was she with her innocent baby
air, and her pure childlike face that looked dreamily out from its
frame of little girl hair, and seemed not to have been soiled at all.
And so men who played her games lost their sense of sin and fell that
much lower than those who sin and know it and are afraid to look
themselves in the face. When a man loses his sense of shame, of being
among the pigs, he is in a far country indeed.

But Opal Verrons sauntering forth to the Hotel piazza in company with
three of her quondam admirers suddenly lost her luxurious air of
nestling content. The hotel clerk handed her two telegrams as she
passed the desk. She tore them open carelessly, but her eyes grew wide
with horror as she read.

Percy Emerson had been arrested. He had run over a woman and a baby and
both were in a hospital in a critical condition. He would be held
without bail until it was seen whether they lived.

She drew in her breath with a frightened gasp and bit at her red lip
with her little sharp teeth. A pretty child with floating curls and
dainty apparel ran laughing across her way, its hand outstretched to a
tiny white dog that was dancing after her, and Opal gave a sharp cry
and tore the telegram into small bits. But when she opened the second
message her face paled under its delicate rouge as she read: "Mortimer
McMarter killed in an accident when his car collided with a truck. His
body lies at Saybrook Inn. We find your address on his person, with a
request to let you know if anything happens to him. What do you wish
done with the body?"

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