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Suddenly he felt an overwhelming desire to let himself go to the
devil--not to go violently as a gentleman should, but to sink safely
and sensuously out of sight. He pictured himself in an adobe house in
Mexico, half-reclining on a rug-covered couch, his slender, artistic
fingers closed on a cigarette while he listened to guitars strumming
melancholy undertones to an age-old dirge of Castile and an
olive-skinned, carmine-lipped girl caressed his hair. Here he might live
a strange litany, delivered from right and wrong and from the hound of
heaven and from every God (except the exotic Mexican one who was pretty
slack himself and rather addicted to Oriental scents)--delivered from
success and hope and poverty into that long chute of indulgence which
led, after all, only to the artificial lake of death.
There were so many places where one might deteriorate pleasantly: Port
Said, Shanghai, parts of Turkestan, Constantinople, the South Seas--all
lands of sad, haunting music and many odors, where lust could be a mode
and expression of life, where the shades of night skies and sunsets
would seem to reflect only moods of passion: the colors of lips and
Once he had been miraculously able to scent evil as a horse detects a
broken bridge at night, but the man with the queer feet in Phoebe's
room had diminished to the aura over Jill. His instinct perceived the
fetidness of poverty, but no longer ferreted out the deeper evils in
pride and sensuality.
There were no more wise men; there were no more heroes; Burne Holiday
was sunk from sight as though he had never lived; Monsignor was dead.
Amory had grown up to a thousand books, a thousand lies; he had listened
eagerly to people who pretended to know, who knew nothing. The mystical
reveries of saints that had once filled him with awe in the still hours
of night, now vaguely repelled him. The Byrons and Brookes who had
defied life from mountain tops were in the end but flaneurs and poseurs,
at best mistaking the shadow of courage for the substance of wisdom.
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