There was a new crescent moon in the west which, with the star above it, made an agreeable oriental combination. In the haze over bay and river enough rose and purple remained to veil the awakening glitter of the monstrous city sprawling supine between river, sound, and sea. And its incessant monotone pulsated, groaning, dying, ceaseless, interminable in the light-shot depths of its darkening streets. The sky-drawing-room windows of the Countess Athalie were all wide open, but the only light in the room came from a crystal sphere poised on a tripod. It had the quality and lustre of moon-light, and we had never been able to find out its source, for no electric wires were visible, and one could move the tripod about the room. The crystal sphere itself appeared to be luminous, yet it remained perfectly transparent, whatever the source of its silvery phosphorescence. At any rate, it was the only light in the room except the dulled glimmer of our cigarettes, and its mild, mysterious light enabled us to see one another as through a glass darkly. There were a number of men there that evening. I don't remember, now, who they all were. Some had dined early; others, during the evening, strolled away into the city to dine somewhere or other, drifting back afterward for coffee and sweetmeats and cigarettes in the sky-drawing-room of the Countess Athalie. As usual the girl was curled up by the open window among her silken cushions, one smooth little gem-laden hand playing with the green jade god, her still dark eyes, which slanted a little, fixed dreamily upon infinite distance—or so it always seemed to us. Through the rusty and corrugated arabesques of the iron balcony she could see, if she chose, the yellow flare where Sixth Avenue crossed the shabby street to the eastward. Beyond that, and parallel, a brighter glow marked Broadway. Further east street lamps stretched away into converging perspective, which vanished to a point in the faint nebular radiance above the East River. All this the Countess Athalie could see if she chose. Perhaps she did see it. We never seemed to know just what she was looking at even when she turned her dark eyes on us or on her crystal sphere cradled upon its slender tripod. But the sphere seemed to understand, for sometimes, under her still gaze, it clouded magnificently like a black opal—another thing we never understood, and therefore made light of.
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by Robert William Chambers
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by on October 23, 2016
- Library of Alexandria, March 2015
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