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    Chapter 7

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    Chapter 7
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    I was so comfortable there, I did not care what happened. I closed my eyes for a while; then I opened them and gazed lazily about the place. I noted that all the birds of paradise were watching Carpenter. With one accord their heads had turned, and their eyes were riveted upon him. I found myself thinking. "This man will make a hit with the ladies!" Like the swamis, with their soft brown skins, and their large, dark, cow-like eyes!

    There had been silence in the place. But suddenly we all heard a moan; I felt Carpenter start, and his hand left my head. A dozen doors gave into this big parlor--all of them closed. We perceived that the sound came through the door nearest to us. "What is it?" I asked, of Rosythe.

    "God knows," said he; "you never can tell, in this place of torment."

    I was about to ask, "What sort of place is it?" But the moan came again, louder, more long drawn out: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" It ended in a sort of explosion, as if the maker of it had burst.

    Carpenter turned, and took two steps towards the door; then he stopped, hesitating. My eyes followed him, and then turned to the critic, who was watching Carpenter, with a broad grin on his face. Evidently Rosythe was going to have some fun, and get his revenge!

    The sound came again--louder, more harrowing. It came at regular intervals, and each time with the explosion at the end. I watched Carpenter, and he was like a high-spirited horse that hears the cracking of a whip over his head. The creature becomes more restless, he starts more quickly and jumps farther at each sound. But he is puzzled; he does not know what these lashes mean, or which way he ought to run.

    Carpenter looked from one to another of us, searching our faces. He looked at the birds of paradise in the lounging chairs. Not one of them moved a muscle--save only those muscles which caused their eyes to follow him. It was no concern of theirs, this agony, whatever it was. Yet, plainly, it was the sound of a woman in torment: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!"

    Carpenter wanted to open that door. His hand would start towards it; then he would turn away. Between the two impulses he was presently pacing the room; and since there was no one who appeared to have any interest in what he might say, he began muttering to himself. I would catch a phrase: "The fate of woman!" And again: "The price of life!" I would hear the terrible, explosive wail: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" And it would wring a cry out of the depths of Carpenter's soul: "Oh, have mercy!"

    In the beginning, the moving picture critic of the Western City "Times" had made some effort to restrain his amusement. But as this performance went on, his face became one enormous, wide-spreading grin; and you can understand, that made him seem quite devilish. I saw that Carpenter was more and more goaded by it. He would look at Rosythe, and then he would turn away in aversion. But at last he made an effort to conquer his feelings, and went up to the critic, and said, gently: "My friend: for every man who lives on earth, some woman has paid the price of life."

    "The price of life?" repeated the critic, puzzled.

    Carpenter waved his hand towards the door. "We confront this everlasting mystery, this everlasting terror; and it is not becoming that you should mock."

    The grin faded from the other's face. His brows wrinkled, and he said: "I don't get you, friend. What can a man do?"

    "At least he can bow his heart; he can pay his tribute to womanhood."

    "You're too much for me," responded Rosythe. "The imbeciles choose to go through with it; it's their own choice."

    Said Carpenter: "You have never thought of it as the choice of God?"

    "Holy smoke!" exclaimed the critic. "I sure never did!"

    At that moment one of the doors was opened. Rosythe turned his eyes. "Ah, Madame Planchet!" he cried. "Come tell us about it!"
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