The Cardinal Moth (Illustrated)by Fred M. White
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The purple darkness seemed to be filled with a nebulous suggestion of things beautiful; long trails and ropes of blossoms hung like stars reflected in a lake of blue. As the eye grew accustomed to the gloom these blooms seemed to expand and beautify. There was a great orange globe floating on a violet mist, a patch of pink swam against an opaque window-pane like a flight of butterflies. Outside the throaty roar of Piccadilly could be distinctly heard; inside was misty silence and the coaxed and pampered atmosphere of the Orient. Then a long, slim hand—a hand with jewels on it—was extended, and the whole vast dome was bathed in brilliant light.
For once the electric globes had lost their garish pertinacity. There were scores of lamps there, but every one of them was laced with dripping flowers and foliage till their softness was like that of a misty moon behind the tree-tops. And the blossoms hung everywhere—thousands upon thousands of them, red, blue, orange, creamy white, fantastic in shape and variegated in hue, with a diabolical suggestiveness about them that orchids alone possess. Up in the roof, out of a faint cloud of steam, other blossoms of purple and azure peeped.
Complimented upon the amazing beauty of his orchid-house, Sir Clement Frobisher cynically remarked that the folly had cost him from first to last over a hundred thousand pounds. He passed for a man with no single generous impulse or feeling of emotion; a love of flowers was the only weakness that Providence had vouchsafed to him, and he held it cheap at the money. You could rob Sir Clement Frobisher or cheat him or lie to him, and he would continue to ask you to dinner, if you were a sufficiently amusing or particularly rascally fellow, but if you casually picked one of his priceless Cypripediums——!
He sat there in his bath of brilliant blossoms, smoking a clay pipe and sipping some peculiarly thin and aggressive Rhine wine from a long, thin-stemmed Bohemian glass. He had a fancy for that atrocious grape juice and common ship's tobacco from a reeking clay. Otherwise he was immaculate, and his velvet dinner-jacket was probably the best-cut garment of its kind in London.
A small man, just over fifty, with a dome-like head absolutely devoid of hair, and shiny like a billiard-ball, a ridiculously small nose suggestive of the bill of a love-bird, a clean-shaven, humorous mouth with a certain hard cruelty about it, a figure slight, but enormously powerful. For the rest, Sir Clement was that rare bird amongst high-born species—a man, poor originally, who had become rich. He was popularly supposed to have been kicked out of the diplomatic service after a brilliant operation connected with certain Turkish Bonds. The scandal was an old one, and might have had no basis in fact, but the same Times that conveyed to an interested public the fact of Sir Clement Frobisher's retirement from the corps diplomatique, announced that the baronet in question had purchased the lease of 947, Piccadilly, for the sum of ninety-five thousand pounds. And for seven years Society refused to admit the existence of anybody called Sir Clement Frobisher.
But the man had his title, his family, and his million or so well invested. Also he had an amazing audacity, and a moral courage beyond belief. Also he married a lady whose social claims could not be contested. Clement Frobisher went back to the fold again at a great dinner given at Yorkshire House. There it was that Earl Beauregard, a one-time chief of Frobisher's, roundly declared that, take him all in all, Count Whyzed was the most finished and abandoned scoundrel in Europe. Did not Frobisher think so? To which Frobisher replied that he considered the decision to be a personal slight to himself, who had worked so hard for that same distinction. Beauregard laughed, and the rest of the party followed suit, and Frobisher did much as he liked, ever after.
He was looking just a little bored now, and was debating whether he should go to bed, though it was not long after eleven o'clock, and that in the creamy month of the London season. Down below somewhere an electric bell was purring impatiently. The butler, an Armenian with a fez on his black, sleek head, looked in and inquired if Sir Clement would see anybody.
""If it's a typical acquaintance, certainly not, Hafid,"" Frobisher said, sleepily. ""If it happens to be one of my picturesque rascals, send all the other servants to bed. But it's sure to be some commonplace, respectable caller.""
Hafid bowed and withdrew. Down below the bell was purring again. A door opened somewhere, letting in the strident roar of the streets like a dirge, then the din shut down again as if a lid had been clapped on it. From the dim shadow of the hall a figure emerged bearing a long white paper cone, handled with the care and attention one would bestow on a sick child.
""Paul Lopez to see you,"" Hafid said.
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