THE TITLE MARKET
By Emily Post
Author of "The Flight of a Moth," "Woven in the Tapestry," etc.
With Illustrations by J. H. Gardner Soper
New York Dodd, Mead and Company 1909
Copyright, 1909, by THE RIDGWAY COMPANY
Copyright, 1909, by DODD, MEAD AND COMPANY
Published, September, 1909
As though you did not know each page, each paragraph, each word; as though for months and months the Sanseveros, Nina, John, and all the rest, had not been your daily companions— MADRE MIA, this book is dedicated to you.
I PRINCE SANSEVERO DIMINISHES THE FORTUNES OF HIS HOUSE 1
II THE PRINCESS PLANS TO RECEIVE THE AMERICAN HEIRESS 14
III NINA 25
IV THE DUKE SCORPA MAKES A DEAL 42
V DON GIOVANNI ARRIVES 48
VI LOVE, AND A GARDEN 64
VII ROME 72
VIII OPENING DAY AT THE TITLE MARKET 86
IX A DOOR IS OPENED THAT GIOVANNI PREFERS TO KEEP CLOSED 97
X MR. RANDOLPH SENDS FOR JOHN DERBY 107
XI ROME GOES TO THE OPERA 116
XII A BALL AT COURT 136
XIII CORONETS FOR SALE 142
XIV APPLES OF SODOM 157
XV AN OPPOSITION BOOTH IS SET UP IN THE MARKET PLACE 163
XVI A MENACE 173
XVII NINA DUSTS BEHIND THE COUNTER 192
XVIII FAVORITA DRIVES A BARGAIN 214
XIX A CHALLENGE, AND AN ANSWER 221
XX HIS EMINENCE, THE ARCHBISHOP OF VENCATA 236
XXI THE SULPHUR MINES 246
XXII BEFORE DAYLIGHT 257
XXIII THE SPIDER'S WEB 269
XXIV WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE 289
XXV "THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE—" 308
"'WE OF ITALY,' HE WAS SAYING, 'LIVE, ENDURE, DIE, IF NEED BE—ALWAYS FOR THE SAME REASON—WOMEN AND LOVE!'" Page 65 Frontispiece
"AS SHE SPOKE, A DOOR OPENED OPPOSITE, AND THE PRINCE CAME IN" Facing page 4
"FOR THE SPACE OF A SECOND SHE FACED THE AUDIENCE, STANDING STILL AND RIGID" 134
"NINA LOOKED AT HIM—'I WONDER IF YOU WOULD BE AMUSED IF YOU KNEW WHY I LAUGHED'" 184
"HIS LIPS FRAMED 'GOOD-BY' AND HERS ANSWERED, BOTH SMILED BRIGHTLY—AND THAT WAS THE PARTING" 232
"'YOU ARE AMERICANO, ARE YOU NOT? YOUR LAND HAS DONE MUCH FOR MY PEOPLE!'" 239
PRINCE SANSEVERO DIMINISHES THE FORTUNES OF HIS HOUSE
Her excellency the Princess Sansevero sat up in bed. Reaching quickly across the great width of mattress, she pulled the bell-rope twice, then, shivering, slid back under the warmth of the covers. She drew them close up over her shoulders, so far that only a heavy mass of golden hair remained visible above the old crimson brocade of which the counterpane was made. The room was still darkened so that the objects in it were barely discernible, but presently one of the high, carved doors opened and a maid entered, carrying a breakfast tray. Setting the tray down, she crossed quickly to the windows and drew back the curtains.
Sunlight flooded the black and white marble of the floor, and brought out in sharp detail the splendor of the apartment. The rich colors of the frescoed walls, the mellow crimson damask upholstering, might have suggested warmth and comfort, had not a little cloud of white vapor floating before the maid's lips proclaimed the temperature.
She was a stocky peasant woman, this maid, with good red color in her cheeks, but she wore a dress of heavy woolen material and a cardigan jacket over that. Her thick felt slippers pattered briskly over the stone floor as she went to a clothes-press, carved and beautifully inlaid, took out a drab-colored woolen wrapper trimmed with common red fox fur, and, picking up the tray again, mounted the dais of the huge carved bed.
"If Excellency will make haste, the coffee is good and very hot."
The covers were pushed down just a little, and the princess peered out.
"What sort of a day have we, Marie? Isn't it very cold?"
"Oh, no! It is a beautiful day. But Excellency will say that the coffee is cold unless it is soon taken."
So again the Princess Sansevero sat up in bed. Her maid placed the coffee tray before her, and wrapped her quickly in the dressing-gown. The plain woolen wrapper had looked ugly enough in the maid's hands, but its drab color and fox fur so toned in with the red-gold hair and creamy skin of its wearer that an artist, could he have beheld the picture, would have been filled with delight. It would not in the least have mattered to him that there was a chip in the cup into which she poured her coffee, nor that the linen napkin was darned in three places. The silver breakfast service belonged to a time when such things were chiseled only for great personages and by master craftsmen. That it was battered through several centuries of constant handling rather enhanced than diminished its value. Of the same antiquity was the bed—seven feet wide, its four posts elaborately carved with fruits and flowers, and with cupids grouped in the corners of the framework supporting a dome of crimson damask that matched the hangings. What difference could it make to the artist that the springless mattress was as hard as a rock, and lumpy as a ploughed field? With painted walls and vaulted ceilings that were the apotheosis of luxury, what did it matter that the raw chill from their stone surface penetrated to the very marrow of her Exalted Excellency's bones? Unfortunately, however, it was she who had to occupy the apartment and to her it did matter very much, for her American blood never had grown used to the chill of unheated rooms.
"I think I can heat the bathroom sufficiently for Excellency's bath," ventured the maid.
The princess shivered at the mere suggestion. She knew only too well the feeling of the water in a room that was like an unheated cellar in the rainy season of late autumn. "No, no!" she exclaimed, "fill me the little tub, in my sitting-room."
As she spoke, a door opened opposite the one through which the maid had entered, and the prince came in. A fresh color glowed under his olive skin, his hair was brushed until it was as polished as his nails; also he was shaved, but here his toilet for the day ended. The open "V" of his dressing-gown (his was made of a costly material, quite in contrast to the one his wife wore) showed his throat; bare ankles were visible above his slippers. With the raillery of a boy he cried:
"Can it really be possible that you are cold! No wonder they call yours the nation of ice water! I know that is what you have in your veins!" With a spring he threw himself full length across the bed.
"Sandro, be careful! See what you are doing! You have spilled the coffee."
"Oh, that's nothing!" he said gaily; "it will wash out."
"On the contrary, it is a great deal. It makes unnecessary laundry and uses up the linen—we can't get any more, you know."
At once his gay humor changed to sulkiness. "Va bene, va bene! let us drop that subject."
Immediately the princess softened, as though she had unthinkingly hurt him, "I did not mean it as a complaint; but you know, dear, we do have to be careful."
But the prince stared moodily at his finger-nails.
She began a new topic cheerfully. "I hope to get a letter from Nina to-day; there has been time for an answer."
Sansevero had been quite interested in the idea of a possible visit from Nina Randolph, his wife's niece, a much exploited American heiress. But now he paid no attention. He still stared at his nails. The princess scrutinized his face as though in the habit of reading its expression, and at last she said gently:
"What have you in mind, dear? Tell me—come, out with it, I see quite well there is something."
For answer he sat up, took a cigarette from his pocket, put it between his lips, searched in both pockets for a match, and, failing to find one, sat with the unlighted cigarette between his lips, sulkier than ever.
He felt her looking at him, and swayed his shoulders exactly as though some one were trying to hold him. "Really, Leonora," he burst out, "this question of money all the time is far from pleasant!"
A helpless, frightened look came into her face. It grew suddenly pinched; instinctively she put her hand over her heart.
"I have not mentioned money." She made an effort to speak lightly, but there was a vibration in the tone. Then, as though gathering her strength together, she made a direct demand:
"Alessandro, tell me at once, what have you done?"
For a moment he looked defiant, then shrugged his shoulders. "Well, since you will know——" he sprang from the bed, pulled a letter out of his pocket, and, quite as a small boy hands over the note that his teacher has caught him passing in school, he tossed her the envelope, and left the room.
Her fingers trembled a little in unfolding the paper; and she breathed quickly as she read. For some time she sat staring at the few lines of writing before her. Then suddenly thrusting her feet into fur slippers, she ran into the next room. "Sandro," she said, "come into my sitting-room; I must speak with you."
He followed her through her bedroom into an apartment much smaller and, unlike the other two rooms, quite warm. Just now, all the articles of a woman's toilet were spread out on a table upon which a dressing-mirror had been placed; and close beside a brazier of glowing coals was a portable English tub; the water for the bath was heating in the kitchen.
Seeing that there was no means of avoiding the inevitable, he said doggedly: "I thought to make, of course, or I would not have gone into the scheme." Then something in her face held him, and at the same time his impulsive boyishness—a little dramatic, perhaps, but only so much as is consistent with his race—carried him into a new mood.
"Leonora, I suppose I am in the wrong—indeed I am sure I am utterly at fault; but help me. Don't you see, carissima, this time I did not wager—it was a business venture!"
In the midst of her distress she could not help but smile at the absurdity.
"Scorpa is doing it all," he continued—"not I. You know what a clever business man he is! He assured me that it was a rare chance—the opportunity of a lifetime. It was because I wanted so to restore to you what my gambling had cost, that I agreed. I did not think it possible to lose. But help me this once; believe me, I do know, and with shame, that were it not for my accursed ill luck we should be living in luxury now. But just this once—you will help me, won't you?"
His wife seated herself in a big armchair, and looked at him wearily, running her fingers through the heavy waves of her hair. She had beautiful hands—beautiful because they seemed part of her expression; capable hands with nothing helpless in her use of them; the kind that a sick person dreams of as belonging to an ideal nurse; gentle and smooth, but quick and firm.
"It is not a question of willingness, Sandro." Her voice was as smooth and strong, as flexible, as her hands. "You know everything we have just as well as I. I never kept anything from you, and what we have is ours jointly—as much yours as mine. I have, as you know, only two jewels of value left, and they would not bring half the amount of this debt."
"Leonora, no! you have sold too many already; I cannot ask such a thing again."
His wife's smile was more sad than tears; it was not that she was making up her mind for some one necessary sacrifice—it was a smile of absolute helplessness. "If only I might believe you! We now have nothing but what is held in trust for me. I am not reproaching you—what is gone is gone. But Sandro! where will it end?"
The maid knocked and entered with two pails of hot water, which she poured into the tub. She spread a bath towel over a chair, moved another chair near, put out various articles of clothing, and left the room again.
The princess threw off her slippers, and tried the temperature of the water with her toes.
"I think, Sandro, we had better give up Rome," she said. "The money saved for that will pay the greater part of the debt. It is the only way I can see. But go now; I want to take my bath. We can talk more by and by." She smiled quite brightly, and the prince, emboldened by her cheerfulness, would have taken her in his arms. But she turned away, her hand involuntarily put up as a barrier between herself and the kiss that at the moment she shrank from. He took the hand instead and pressed it to his lips.
When he had gone, she bathed quickly, partially dressed herself, and called her maid to do her hair. Sitting before the improvised dressing-table, she glanced in the mirror, and her reflection caught and held her attention a long moment. A curious, half-wistful, half-pathetic expression crept into her eyes as the realization came to her sharply that she was fading. There were lines and shadows and pallor that ought not to be in the face of a woman of thirty-five. She smoothed the vertical lines in her forehead, and then let her hands remain over her face, while behind their cool smoothness her mind resumed its troublesome thoughts.
It was not like meeting some new difficulty for which the strength is fresh; it was struggling again with emotions that have repeatedly exhausted one's endurance. Just as she had every hope that her husband was cured of the gambler's fever, here he was down again with an even more dangerous form of it. The man who knowingly risks is bad enough; but the man who cannot see that he risks, and cannot understand how he has lost is the hardest victim to cure. All of her capital was gone except a small property which her brother-in-law, J. B. Randolph, held for her in trust and on the income of which they now lived. Ten years before she had had considerable money, enough for them to live not only in comfort but in luxury. A large amount had been sunk in a Sicilian sulphur mine, and to this investment she had given her consent, not yet realizing her husband's lack of judgment. But aside from this, cards and horse races and trips to Monaco had limited their living in luxury to a periodic pleasure of three or four months. Now in order to open the palace in Rome, they had to practise the most rigid economics the other eight or nine months in their villa in the country.
Yet in spite of all, her compassion went out to Sandro. He was so gay, so boy-like, that he acquired ascendancy over her sympathies in spite of her judgment. And by the time her maid had coiled her great golden waves of hair and helped her into a short, heavy skirt, a pair of stout boots, a plain shirt-waist, and a rough, short coat and cap, her feeling of resentment against him had passed. She drew on a pair of dogskin gloves, and went out.
In the stables she found the prince helping to harness a pony.
"Are you going to drive to the village?" she asked as cheerfully as though there had been no topic of distress.
"Yes; will you come with me?" he returned eagerly. She nodded her assent and as they started down the road they talked easily of various things. It was the prince who finally came back to the topic that was uppermost in their minds. He looked at her tenderly as he said:
"You do believe, my darling, don't you, that to have brought this additional trouble to you breaks my heart? I have taken everything from you—given you nothing in return. Yet—I do love you."
"Oh, va bene, va bene, caro mio; we will talk no more about it. Do you really agree to stay in the country all winter and give up Rome?"
"Of course," he said, with the best grace in the world. "It is all far too easy for me—but for you!—Ah, Leonora, no admiration, no new interest! no amusement! a year of your beauty wasted on only me."
"Be still; you know very well that I care nothing for all that. It is always this horrible fear of your leaping before you look. Sandro, Sandro! can you really see that one more plunge—and we are done? Now we can give up our savings, and the jewels; another time—don't let there ever be another time!"
He looked up the road and down; there was not even a peasant in sight. He put his arm about her and drew her to him. "Look at me, Leonora! On the name of my family and on that which I hold most sacred in the world I swear it: you will never again have to suffer from such a cause."
She inclined toward his kiss, and love dominated the sadness in her eyes. Who could be angry with him—impulsive, affectionate, warm-hearted child of the Sun, or Italy—since both are the same.
A turn in the road, around a high wall topped with orange trees, brought them into the little town and the village life. A couple of ragged urchins sitting before the door of one of the cave-like structures that are called dwellings, grinned as the princess looked at them. An older girl bobbed a courtesy and pulled one of the children to her feet, bidding her do the same. The men uncovered their heads, as the noble padrones passed.
Before one house the little trap stopped. Immediately the door opened and a woman came out. She was young and handsome though the shadow of maternity was blue-stenciled under her eyes. She courtesied, then looked anxiously at the prince.
"Excellency would speak with me?" she asked, "has Excellency decided?"
"Yes," the prince answered, "Pedro will wed thee at the house of the good father—to-night at eight." At his first words she clasped her hands in thanksgiving, but when he continued that she was to wear no veil or wreath, her joy gave way to a wail.
"Excellency would shame me," she sobbed, "I am a good girl and Pedro my husband by promise."
Sansevero looked helpless for a moment and then seemed wavering. The woman caught at the opportunity and repeated her cry, this time to the princess, but there was no indecision in the latter's manner as she spoke now in her husband's stead.
"Thou knowest, Marcella, that the veil and the wreath are only for such as are maidens! Say no more, I speak not of goodness, Pedro comes to the house of the padre—at eight. Be a faithful wife and mother, and so shalt thou have honor—better than by the wearing of a wreath."
She put her hand on the girl's head, with a kindness that took away all sting from her words. And Marcella made no further protest, although as the pony-cart drove on, she remained weeping before the door.
Sansevero himself looked dejected. "Don't you think, dear one," he protested, "that you were rather severe! What difference can it make after all, whether the poor girl wears a few leaves in her hair or a bit of tulle?"
But the princess was inflexible. "It would not be just to the others," she answered, "since we made this rule there has been a great difference in the village. It is almost rare now that the family arrives before the wedding. The question of irregularity never used trouble the girls at all. The only disgrace they seem able to feel is that they may not dress as brides; and that being the case, I think we have to be strict."
"All right, wise one," said the prince as he drew up at the post-office, "I am sure you know best." He looked at her with such obvious satisfaction that two urchins standing by the road-side grinned. The post-master hurried out with the mail, and the princess looked through the letters. One with an American stamp held her attention. As she read, her cheeks flushed with pleasure, her eyes grew bright, a sweet and tender expression came into her face.
"Nina is coming!" she cried. Gladness rang in her voice. "Coming for the whole winter—let me see, the letter is dated the fifteenth—she will sail this week. Oh, Sandro, I am so happy!"
For a moment it would have been hard to say which looked more pleased, the prince or the princess. But then, as though by thought transference, in blank consternation each stared at the other, and exclaimed in the same breath, "But how about Rome?"
In silence the prince turned the pony about and slowly they drove back up the hills.
THE PRINCESS PLANS TO RECEIVE THE AMERICAN HEIRESS
When the pony-cart arrived at the castle the princess alighted, too preoccupied with her own thoughts to notice that her husband drove off in the opposite direction from the stables. Her forehead was wrinkled and her head bent as she walked between the high hedges of ilex toward the south wing of the building. Her worry over their inability to pay the debt was increased by the fact that their creditor was the Duke Scorpa.
There had been a feud between the Sanseveros and the Scorpas for over a century, and while the present generation tried to ignore it, the princess felt instinctively that like the people of Alsace Lorraine, who never really forgave the government that changed their nationality, the Scorpas never forgave the Sanseveros for lands which they claimed were unjustly lost in 1803, when a daughter of the house married a Sansevero and took a portion of the Scorpa property as her dowry. That these same lands were distant from either county seat, and of comparatively small value, in no way mitigated the Scorpa resentment, and every time they looked at the map and saw the triangular piece painted over from the Scorpa red to the Sansevero blue, there was bad feeling.
When the old Prince Sansevero was alive, he and the present Duke, who was then a violent tempered youth, had several unfriendly encounters about the boundary line of this same property. All this had seemed very trivial to Alessandro, the present Prince, who looked upon the Duke as one of his best friends—but Alessandro had no perspicacity. He believed others to be as free from guile as himself.
Reaching a small postern gate at the end of the path, the princess opened it by pressing a hidden spring. This led directly into the apartments at the end of the south wing next to the kitchen offices—the only ones at present in use. She went directly to her own sitting-room, from which the evidences of her toilet had meantime been removed.
This room better than anything else proclaimed the manner of woman who occupied it. It had been arranged by one to whom comfort was of paramount importance, and, in spite of a certain incongruity, the whole effect was pleasing and harmonious. The frescoes on the walls were almost obliterated by age, and were partially covered by dull red stuff. Against this latter hung three pictures from the famous Sansevero collection: a Holy Family by Leonardo da Vinci, a triptych by Perugino, and a Madonna by Correggio. Hardly less celebrated, but sharply at odds with the ecclesiastical subjects of the paintings, was the mantle, carved in a bacchanalian procession of satyrs and nymphs—a model said to have been made by Niccola Pisano.
The floor, of the inevitable black and white marble, was strewn with rugs; and in front of desk and sofa bear skins had been added as a double protection against the cold. The furniture was modern upholstery, with gay chintz slip-covers. Frilled muslin curtains were crossed over and draped high under outer ones of chintz. And everywhere there were flowers—roses, orange blossoms, and camellias; in tall jars and short, on every available piece of furniture. Scarcely less in evidence were photographs, propped against walls, ornaments, and flower jars; long, narrow, highly glazed European photographs with white backgrounds, uniformed officers, sentimentally posed engaged couples, young mothers in full evening dress reading to barefooted babies out of gingerly held picture books. There were photographs of all varieties; big ones and little ones, framed and unframed—the king and the queen with crown-surmounted settings and boldly written first names, and "A la cara Eleanor" inscribed above that of her majesty. In the other photographs the signatures grew in complication and length as their aristocratic importance diminished. Books and magazines littered the tables; French, Italian, and English in indiscriminate association. A workbasket of plain sewing lay open among the pillows on the sofa. An American magazine, with a paper-knife inserted between its leaves, was tossed beside a tooled morocco edition of Tacitus. A crucifix hung beneath the Correggio; a plaster model of the Discobolus stood between the windows.
And in the midst of old and new, religious and pagan, priceless and insignificant, sat her Excellency, the ex-American beauty and present chatelaine of the great family of the princes of the Sansevero, in a golf skirt and walking boots, a plain starched shirtwaist and stock tie, adding to the wrinkles in her forehead and in the corners of her eyes by trying to figure out how, with forty thousand lire, she was going to pay a debt of sixty thousand lire and have enough left over to open the great palace in Rome, and realize a dream that had always been in her heart—to take Nina out in Roman society, to give herself the delight of showing Rome to Nina, and the greater delight of showing Nina to Rome.
She glanced up at two photographs, the only ones on her desk. The first was of her husband, taken in the fancy costume of a troubadour, with the signature "Sandro" across the lower half, in characters symbolical of the song he might have sung, so gay and ascending was the handwriting. The other picture was of a young woman in evening dress. The face was bright and winning rather than pretty; the personality really chic, and this in spite of the fact that the girl's clothes were over-elaborate. Her dress was a mass of embroidery, and around her throat she wore a diamond collar. Diamond hairpins held the loops of waving fair hair—very like the princess's own—and two handsome rings were on the fingers of one hand. It in no way suggested the Italian idea of a young girl; yet there was a youthful freshness in the expression of the face, a girlish slimness of the figure that could not have been produced by touching up the negative. Under the picture was written in a clear and modernly square handwriting, "To my own Auntie Princess with love from Nina."
The name "Auntie Princess" carried as much of Nina's personality to the mind of her aunt as the picture itself. It was the one her childish lips had spoken when she was told that her aunt was to marry a prince. Most distinct of all Eleanor Sansevero's memories of home was one of Nina being held up high above the crowd at the end of the pier to blow good-by kisses to the bride of a foreign nobleman, being carried out into the river whose widening water was making actual the separation between herself and all that till then had been her life.
It was only for a little while, she had thought at the time. She would go back once a year or so, surely; and Nina should come over often. But in the intervening fifteen years, though the Randolphs had been in Europe many times, they had always chosen midsummer for their trip, and the princess had joined her sister at some northern city or watering-place. This visit, therefore, was to be Nina's first glimpse of her aunt's home, and the princess was determined that she should not spend the time desolately in the country! She might come here for a little while—for reasons that the princess would have found hard to explain to herself, she did not want Nina to get a false impression. Yet for nothing would she have exposed her husband's failing—even to her own family. With the weakness of a true wife, she never dreamed that all her world suspected, if it did not actually know, of the great inroads on her fortune that his gambling had made.
The princess went back to her accounts, but no amount of auditing made the sum they had saved any larger. A large pearl pendant that had been the Randolphs' wedding present to her, and a ruby that had been her mother's, were her only remaining possessions that could bring anything like the sum needed; with them and perhaps notes on her next year's income, they might make up the full amount. But how to sell the jewels was the problem. There is little demand for really fine stones in Italy, and besides, they might be recognized. Long before, she had sold her emerald earrings and had false ones put in their places. She had hated wearing the imitations, but she had worn the real ones constantly, she feared their sudden absence might be noticed.
Indeed, as it was, one day out in the garden, when Scorpa was sitting near her, she thought she saw a knowing gleam in his eyes. Afterwards she tried to assure herself that it was a trick of her own consciousness; but she had not worn the earrings again in the daytime—nor ever if she knew that Scorpa was to be present.
She threw down her pencil. The first thing at all events was to find out how much she could realize on her stones, and to do that she would have to go to Paris. Taking a railroad gazette out of a drawer, she looked up trains. Eight-thirty mornings, arriving at—— The door burst open. The prince, exuberant, his face wreathed in smiles, skipped, rather than walked, into the room. In pure joyousness he pinched her cheek.
"What do you think, my dear one? It is all arranged. We can have la bella Nina; we shall go to Rome as usual. And you, you more than generous, shall not sell any jewels!"
His wife did not at once echo his gladness; in fact she seemed frightened.
"What has happened? You have not made a wager and won?"
He looked reproachful, almost sulky. "Leonora, unjust you are. Have I not promised? But I will tell you. I have arranged it all with Scorpa. I have let him have the Raphael—as security, practically—that is, I have sold it to him for a hundred thousand lire—a loan merely—and he has given me the privilege of buying it back at any time, with added interest, of course. There will be no need of paying for years. He is enchanted, as he has always wanted the picture, and says he only hopes I may never wish to take it back."
"No, don't let us do that," the princess broke in, then hesitated, "I can't tell you how I feel about it, but—I don't trust Scorpa. It is a hard thing to say, but I have always believed he persuaded you into buying the 'Little Devil' mine, knowing it could not be worked. Of course, dear, that heavy loss may not have been his fault, but I'd so much rather never have any dealings with him. Besides, the very thing I wish to avoid is letting people know we must get money."
"But, cara mia, listen: It is all so well thought out, no one will know. You see, we go to Rome; this picture hangs in an empty house, which through the winter is very damp, and bad, therefore, for the painting. Scorpa keeps his house open and heated; he takes care of it on that account. Is that not a wonderful reason?"
"Whose reason was that?"
"Scorpa's own!" He danced a few steps in his excess of delight.
His wife arose and put her hand on his arm. "To please me, do not send the picture. I can sell the jewels and have false stones put in their places. We need not have any one know. But I don't want to remain in the duke's debt!"
"The picture is already in his possession."
"In his possession? But how?"
"He drove over here just now, followed me in his motor-car, and took it back with him."
The princess was evidently frightened. "What are his reasons?" she said to herself, yet audibly.
Her husband looked at her, his head a little on one side, then he said banteringly: "My dear, you Americans are too analytical. You always look for a motive. Life is not of motive over here. Have you not learned that in all these years? We act from impulse, as the mood takes us—we have not the hidden thought that you are always looking for."
"You speak for yourself, Sandro mio, but all are not like you. However, since the picture is gone—and since you have made that arrangement—let it be. I may do Scorpa injustice; he has always professed friendship for you—as indeed who has not?" She looked at him with the softened glance that one sees in a mother's face.
Sansevero seated himself at the desk and took up the photograph of Nina. "When will she arrive?" he asked buoyantly; then with sudden inspiration, "Write to Giovanni and ask him to hurry home. If Nina should fancy him, what a prize!"
The princess frowned. "On account of her money, you mean?"
"Ah, but one must think of that! We have no children; all this goes to Giovanni—with Nina's immense fortune it would be very well. We could all live as it used to be; there are the apartments on the second floor in Rome, and the west wing here. I can think of nothing more fitting or delightful. Has she grown pretty?"
"I don't know that you would call her pretty," mused the princess.
"Besides you, my dearest, a beauty might seem plain!" His wife tried to look indifferent, but she was pleased, nevertheless.
"Tell me, Sandro, you flatterer, but tell me honestly, am I still pretty? No, really? Will Nina think me the same, or will her thought be 'How my Aunt has gone off'?"
Melodramatically he seized her wrists and drew her to the window; placing her in the full light of the sun, he peered with mock tragedy into her face. "Let me see. Your hair—no, not a gray one! The gold of your hair at least I have not squandered—yet."
"Don't, dear." She would have moved away, but he held her.
"Your face is thinner, but that only shows better its beautiful bones. Ah, now your smile is just as delicious—but don't wrinkle your forehead like that; it is full of lines. So—that is better. You make the eyes sad sometimes; eyes should be the windows that let light into the soul; they should be glad and admit only sunshine." Then with one of his lightning transitions of mood, he added, not without a ring of emotion, "Mia povera bella."
But Eleanor reached up and took his face between her hands. "As for you," she said, "you are always just a boy. Sometimes it is impossible to believe you are older than I—I think I should have been your mother."
A ponderous, glossy, red Limousine turned in under the wrought bronze portico of one of the palatial houses of upper Fifth Avenue. As the car stopped, the face of a woman of about forty appeared at its window. Her expression was one of fretful annoyance, as though the footman who had sprung off the box and hurried up the steps to ring the front doorbell had, in his haste, stumbled purposely. The look she gave him, as he held the door open for her to alight, rebuked plainly his awkward stupidity.
Yet, in spite of Mrs. Randolph's petulant expression, it was evident that she had distinct claims to prettiness, though of the carefully prolonged variety. The art of the masseuse was visible in that curious swollen smoothness of the skin which gives an effect of spilled candle-wax—its lack of wrinkles never to be mistaken for the freshness of youth. Much also might be said of the skill with which the "original color" of her hair had been preserved. She was very well "done," indeed; every detail proclaimed expenditure of time—other people's—and money—her own. She trotted, rather than walked, as though bored beyond the measure of endurance and yet in a hurry. Following her was a slim, fair-haired young girl, who, leaving the footman to gather up a number of parcels, turned to the chauffeur. Even in giving an order, there was a winning grace in her lack of self-consciousness, and her voice was fresh in its timbre, enthusiastic in its inflection.
"Henri," she said, "you had better be here at three. The steamer sails at four, and an hour will not give me any too much time. Have William come for Celeste and the steamer things at two. The Panhard will be best, as there is plenty of room in the tonneau." Then she ran lightly up the steps and into the house.
The first impression of a visitor upon entering the hall might have been of emptiness. In contrast to the over-elaborateness characteristic of all too many American homes and hotels, obtruding their highly colored, gold-laden ornament, the Randolph house rather inclined toward an austerity of decoration. But after the first general impression, more careful observation revealed the extreme luxury of appointments and details. The one flaw—if one might call it such—was that every article in the entire house was spotlessly, perfectly brand-new. The Persian rugs, pinkish red in coloring and made expressly to tone in with the gray white marble of the hall, were direct from the looms. The banister, of beautiful simplicity, was as newly wrought as the stainless velvet with which the hand-rail was covered. From the hall opened faultlessly executed rooms, each correctly adhering to the "period" that had been selected. The library was possibly more furnished than the rest of the house; but even here the touch of a magician's wand might have produced the bookcases of Circassian walnut ready filled with evenly matched, leather bound, finely tooled volumes. It would have been a relief to see a few shabby, old-calf folios, a few more common and every-day, in cloth or buckram!
On the mind of a carping critic the universal newness might have forced the question, "Where did the family live before they came here? Did all their accumulation of personal belongings burn with an old homestead? Or did they start fresh with their new house, coming from nowhere?" One could imagine their having superintended the moving-in of crates and boxes innumerable, but the idea of vans piled with heterogeneous personal effects that had accumulated through years—— Impossible!
As Mrs. Randolph and her daughter entered, a servant opened the doors leading into the dining-room, and Mrs. Randolph turned at once in that direction.
"You don't want to go upstairs before luncheon, do you, Nina?"
"Yes, for a moment, Mamma. I want to speak to Celeste about the things for my steamer trunk." Her mother suggested sending a servant, but Nina had already gone. She entered an elevator that in contrast to the severity of the hall looked like a gilt bird cage with mirrors set between the bars, pushed a button, and mounted two flights.
On emerging, she went into her own bedroom, which, from the Aubusson carpet to the Dresden and ormolu appliques, might have arrived in a bonbon box direct from the avenue de l'Opera in Paris. At the present moment two steamer trunks stood gaping in the middle of the floor, tissue paper was scattered about on various chairs, the dressing-table was bare of silver, and a traveling bag displayed a row of gold bottle and brush tops. Nina threw her packages on a couch already littered with empty boxes, wrapping-paper, new books and various other articles.
"Have the other trunks gone, Celeste?"
"Any messages for me?"
"Mr. Derby telephoned that he would be here soon after lunch. Miss Lee also telephoned. And Mr. Travers."
Nina listened, half absently, except possibly for a flickering interest at the mention of Mr. Derby. She went into an adjoining room that had a deep plunge bath of white marble, and a white bear rug on the floor. A sliding panel in the wall disclosed a safe, from which she gathered together several velvet boxes, and carried them to her maid.
"Are these all that Mademoiselle will take?"
"Yes, that is enough—I don't know, though, the emerald pendant looks well on gray dresses." She got another velvet box and threw it on the floor. "I ordered the Panhard to be here for you at two o'clock. They can put the trunks in the tonneau. My stateroom is 'B,' yours is 107."
Quickly as she had entered, she was gone again, into the elevator and down to join her mother.
"Really, Nina," Mrs. Randolph said as soon as her daughter was seated, "I can't see what you want to go to Rome for. I am sure it's more comfortable here. I hate visiting, myself." As she spoke she set straight a piece of silver that to her critical eye seemed an eighth of an inch out of line.
"But, Mamma, you know how keen I have always been to see Aunt Eleanor's home. Being with her can hardly seem visiting; and Uncle Sandro——"
"What your aunt ever saw in Sandro Sansevero," interrupted her mother, "I'm sure I can't imagine. He's always bobbing and bowing and gesticulating, and he talks broken English. He makes me nervous! I'd infinitely rather be without a title than have it at that price."
"You have always told me that theirs was a love match, that Aunt Eleanor did not marry him for his title."
"That is just the senseless part of it!" Mrs. Randolph retorted with a fine disregard for consistency. "If she had married him for his name—which, after all, is a good one, although princes are as common in Italy as 'misters' are here—that would have been one thing. But she was actually in love with him! She is yet, so far as I can see!"
Nina burst out laughing, and, as though catching the infection, Mrs. Randolph laughed too. They were interrupted by the butler's announcing "Mr. Derby!"
John Derby was a young man of twenty-five, broad shouldered and well over six feet. His features were a little too rugged to be strictly handsome, but his spare frame was as muscular as that of a young gladiator. So much at least our colleges do for the sons we send to them. John Derby had made both the 'Varsity eight and the eleven; he had been a young god at the end of June when, captain of the victorious boat, his classmates had borne him on their shoulders to their club-house. That night there had been toasting and speeches and what not—he was a very "big man" of a very big university; and perhaps nothing that life might ever give him in the future could overshadow this experience.
All hail to the victor—and glorious be his remembrances. Exit our Greek god at the end of June, to be replaced by a young American citizen about the first of July—one small atom who thinks to make the same sized mark on the great plain of life that he made on the college campus. All the same, there were good clean ideals back of John Derby's blue eyes, and fresh, healthy young blood surged through his veins. What is the world for, if not for such as he to conquer?
Thousands had called "Derby! Derby! Go it, Derby!" when he made his famous sixty-yard run down the gridiron. Yet it is well to remember that the victory came at the end of ten years' training at school and college, after many bruises, some dislocations, and not a few breaks. With such discipline, there was after all no reason to wonder that he donned overalls and went to a desolate settlement of brick chimneys, smelters, and shack dwellings, set on the sides of hills, which, because of sulphurous fumes, were bleak as sandhills in Sahara.
He had taken up his work at Copper Rock exactly as he had taken up his practice under the athletic coaches. He gave all the best of him, from the earliest to the latest possible hours; and night saw him stretched on a bunk which would have made his mother wince, but upon which he slept the sleep of healthy, tired youth.
Three years he had spent in this place. Twice in that time furnace explosions had sent him home to be nursed. But he suppressed the horrors and related only enthusiastic tales of metallurgical possibilities. In the main, however, he was strong enough to stand it. It did him a vast amount of good; and the end of three years saw him saying good-by with something akin to regret to the bleak shacks on the bleaker hills, and to the men he had grown to know and appreciate.
An improved form of blast furnace that he had patented, eased his first strenuous need of money. And the present moment found him vice-president of a mining and smelting company, temporarily back among his old friends, and somewhat in his old life again. He was too busy and too interested in his work to spend any effort outside of it; but there were one or two houses where he went, and one of them was the Randolphs'. The Randolph and Derby country places adjoined, and since early boyhood he had been as much at home in one house as in the other.
Mrs. Randolph had taken his college achievements complacently as a tribute to her discernments in having nurtured an eagle in her own swan's nest. But his work at Copper Rock seemed to her a fanatical whim. She no more appreciated the benefit of the experience than she understood the persevering grit that was the real reason for her liking him. Nina, having adored him as a Greek god, continued her allegiance to the workman at Copper Rock. She had written him letters regularly; she had even sent him provision baskets. To herself she questioned whether the end he was striving for might not be reached by smoother roads; but if any one else suggested that he was doing an irrational thing, she flew up in arms. And now as he came into the dining-room his "Hello, Nina!" was much as a brother's might have been, and he kissed Mrs. Randolph's cheek.
"Will you have lunch, John?" she smiled up at him. "It is all cold by now, I dare say!"
"No, thanks, I lunched downtown; but I'll sit here if I may." He picked up a knife from the table and cut the string of a package he held in his hand. "I brought you these, Nina. Have you read all of them?"
Nina finished a mouthful of nectarine and picked up the books one by one.
No, she had not read any of them. So he went on to explain: he knew the cowboy story was a corker, and another, of Arizona, described an Indian fight in the Bad Lands that was capital. He did not know much about the others, but the man at the shop had told him two were very funny; he had bought the rest on account of their illustrations.
Nina laughed deliciously with real joy—she loved his selection, because it seemed to express him.
"It was awfully sweet of you, Jack. And I shall adore them! I am so glad you did not bring the regular selection of 'Walks in Rome.'"
"What I ought to have brought you," he answered, "was a big thick journal—one of those padlocked ones—to write up Italian court life as it really is. You mustn't miss such a chance! It could be published after everybody mentioned in it, is dead, including yourself. Wouldn't it be great!"
"You need not make fun of me. I don't think you half appreciate how wonderful it is going to be," Nina returned enthusiastically. "Think of it, I am going to live in a palace!"
Derby threw back his head and laughed.
"What do you call this house? It is a great deal more of a palace than the tumble-down, musty ones of Italy."
Mrs. Randolph seemed enchanted with this rejoinder, for she laughed rather exultantly as she exclaimed, "Nina will be ready enough to come home at the end of a week!"
Instead of answering Nina jumped up from the table, calling "There you are at last, Father darling!"
Her father, a man of distinguished presence, had come into the room looking at his watch from force of habit. And though his eyes rested upon his daughter with very evident pride and affection, the custom of quickly terminated interviews and the economy of precious time gave a sharp, decisive curtness to his manner. Every one who came in contact with him felt the impelling necessity of coming to the point as clearly and tersely as possible. Just now, with a "Hello, John, my boy," he held out his hand to Derby and shook his head negatively in answer to his wife's inquiry if he wanted luncheon.
"Well, are you ready to start?" he asked his daughter, smiling. And then to Derby he added, "Excuse Nina for a few moments, John; I want to speak with her. You are going down to the steamer with her, of course?" As Derby answered affirmatively, Nina picked up her books and followed her father.
In his own study he drew her to a sofa beside him, and from a number of papers in his pocket he handed her an envelope.
"Here is your letter of credit. I doubt if you will need the whole amount of it. If, on the contrary, you find you want more for anything special, write or cable to the office."
Out of another pocket he drew a white muslin bag, such as bankers use. It held a quantity of Italian gold and a roll of Italian bank notes. This was "change" to have with her when she should arrive. He talked with her for some time on various topics; on the beauty of Italy, the charm of the people; of his admiration for Eleanor Sansevero. "But dearest," he ended, "one word on the subject of European men: you will probably have a good deal of attention. I don't want to spoil your enjoyment, but you must remember the hard, cold fact that it will be chiefly because you are Miss Millionaire."
"I am sure they couldn't be any more after 'Miss Millionaire' over there than here." She began calmly enough, but grew vehement as she continued: "How many of the proposals that I have had from my own countrymen during the past two years have been for me, the girl, and not merely for your daughter?"
Her father, having stirred up her resentment, now tried to soothe it down again.
"You must not get cynical, little girl. Every advantage in this world must have its corresponding disadvantage. I merely want you to follow your extremely sensible and well-balanced head. Only, remember," he added with bantering good-humor, "I am not over keen about foreigners, so don't bring a little what-is-it back with you, and expect because it has a long string of titles dangling to it, that it will be welcomed with any enthusiasm by your doting father! So, away with you!" He again looked at his watch. "Better get your things together; you haven't any too much time."
As soon as Nina left him, instead of rejoining his wife and Derby he sat at his desk and was immediately absorbed in making figures with the stub of a pencil on the back of an envelope. He was still there when Nina, in coat and furs, came downstairs again to the library, where her mother and Derby were now waiting.
"Well, are you ready at last? Where is your father? What is he doing now?" her mother demanded with a pout, as if his absence were quite Nina's fault, and as if whatever his occupation might be it especially annoyed her. She fluttered to the doorway of his study and looked in.
"James, I really think you might give some thought to your family. Nina is going now." She spoke in a babyish, aggrieved tone. He did not look up, and Mrs. Randolph did not repeat her remark; she turned instead to her daughter. "Go in and tell your father that I think he might pay you some attention."
Nina went over behind his chair, and gently put her cheek down to his. She did not interrupt him, but let him finish the calculation he was doing; and he turned to her after about a minute.
"All right, sweetheart, come along."
Having put his envelope in his pocket, he dismissed whatever it meant completely from his mind, and Nina held his undivided attention as he went down the steps with her to the motor, into which Derby had already put Mrs. Randolph. As soon as they were all in and the machine started, Nina leaned forward and called to the butler, "Good-by, Dawson!" And for once the man's face lost its imperturbability, as he answered fervently, "Good-by, miss, and a safe return—home!"
"Safe return—home." For a moment the question entered her head—was there any doubt of her returning? With the apprehension came also a slight sense of excitement—but soon she had forgotten. While they sped toward the dock, Mrs. Randolph, possibly a little piqued that her daughter could want to spend the winter away from her, showed her authority by endless directions and counsels. As she completely monopolized the conversation as far as Nina was concerned, the two men talked together, and Nina's responses gradually drifted into a series of "Yes, Mamma's," to admonitions that were but half heard, until her wandering attention was brought up with a sharp turn by her mother's impatient exclamation:
"For goodness sake, Nina, try to be less monotonous!"
Nina roused herself quickly. "I am sorry, Mamma dear! I did not think there was anything for me to say. Please don't be put out with me, just now when I am going away!"
They had by this time arrived at the steamer, and went for a moment to see Nina's cabin, where they found Celeste trying to reduce to some semblance of order the innumerable baskets of fruit and boxes of flowers with which it was crowded.
Derby looked perhaps a trifle chagrined at the profusion, as Nina gave a cursory glance at the cards that Celeste had affixed to each opened box. But with a curious little smile—one that had real sweetness in it—Nina picked up a particular bunch of violets, and looked at Derby over their clustered fragrance as she lifted them to her face. She let the look thank him—and then she pinned the flowers on.
Mrs. Randolph did not see the wordless scene, as she was busy reading cards and making characteristic comments. Mr. Randolph had stopped to make sure that the luggage was attended to. He now appeared, and with him Mrs. Gray, with whom Nina was to make the crossing. Mrs. Gray shook hands with every one, called Nina a "precious child," told her where the steamer chairs had been placed, and disappeared. On the promenade deck Nina found a throng of young girls and men waiting for her. They all chattered together in a group and plied her with questions: Was she going to be presented at court? Was she going to live in an old castle? What was her uncle the prince like? How wonderful to spend a season in Rome? They wished they were going, too—and so they went on.
But at a moment when the others were all talking loudly, John Derby managed to draw Nina aside. He looked down at her with an expression half-quizzical, half-serious. "This is about the time we come to the 'great divide,'" he said. "Your trail lies to the palaces of the Old World; mine to dig holes in remote corners of the New. You'll write me, won't you? My letters will be pretty dull, I am afraid—same old story: a laborer's day, and occasionally a Sunday's ride to get the mail at the nearest ranch."
"Then I'll make mine doubly thick—so they will seem like packets. I may even write that famous journal and send it in instalments to you!" Then suddenly the banter died of her eyes and voice and she said half-sentimentally: "Dear old Jack! Most of every one I shall miss you. I hope things will go famously for you. You have my address?"
"Yes; and mine is Breakstone, Arizona, care of Burk Mining Company. Well," he smiled, "good hunting to both of us!"
There was still plenty of time before the ship sailed, but Mr. Randolph was leaving. He had been talking with another financier who was seeing his own family off, and now came up between his daughter and Derby.
"If you will go with me now," he said to the latter, "we can talk over the Louisiana sulphur proposition on the way to my office." Then he turned to Nina: "It is barely possible you may see John in Italy before the winter is over."
Nina raised her eyebrows as she looked at Derby. "You said you were going to Arizona!" she said accusingly.
But Derby's expression showed that he was as much in the dark as she. Mr. Randolph wagged his head as though altogether pleased with the situation. "Of course, he is going to Arizona, and very likely he'll stay there—on the other hand, maybe he won't. Now that's something for you to think about besides speculating on the length of name of each stranger you meet." He kissed her affectionately on both cheeks and, giving Derby barely a chance to shake hands with her, hurried him away.
People were beginning their final good-byes, and from where Nina and her friends stood by the deck rail, there was a clear view of the gang plank and the ship's departing visitors. It was from this vantage that several pairs of envious young masculine eyes, looking downward, saw the right hand of the great and only James B. Randolph affectionately laid on the broad shoulder of an ex-oarsman and football player. And for as long as the two were in sight it was the ex-oarsman who talked, and the great financier who listened.
THE DUKE SCORPA MAKES A DEAL
In the branch office of Shayne & Co., in the Via Condotti, Rome, Mr. Shayne arose from his desk, rearranged his diamond scarf-pin in his gray satin Ascot tie, flicked two imaginary particles of dust from his tight-fitting cutaway coat, whisked his silk handkerchief out of his breast pocket and in again, so that the lavender border was visible, cleared his throat, and stood in an attitude of agreeable expectancy.
Directly the door of his private room was discreetly opened, admitting a square-jawed, beetle-browed man, heavy and ugly—a coarse type, yet not without distinction. The two men did not shake hands. Mr. Christopher Shayne bowed blandly, deferentially, yet not servilely, and again he cleared his throat. The visitor nodded as though there upon an affair of business that he was anxious to have terminated as speedily as possible.
"Will you be seated?—I think you will find this chair comfortable." Mr. Shayne indicated a chair with a wave of his hand. "The letter which I have from your Excellency is a trifle indefinite. But I take it that you have something of more than ordinary importance to communicate." He finished his sentence by giving his mustache a thoughtful twirl upward, first on one side and then on the other.
The Duke Scorpa let his rat-like eyes rest a moment upon the alert face of Mr. Shayne before he answered: "You said once in my presence that you had long wanted to acquire a Raphael. I am in a position at present to offer you one."
"A Raphael!" Shayne showed genuine surprise. "I do not remember one in your collection."
"It is not in my own collection. Before giving you further details, however, I must be assured that you are still anxious to purchase, and also that you will observe strict secrecy with regard to it."
"In answer to the first, such an opportunity is beyond question of interest to me; in answer to the second, my reputation should be a guarantee of my discretion. I hope the picture you have in view is not the Asanai one—for there is much doubt as to its being genuine."
"No, the one I speak of is the Sansevero Madonna."
In spite of himself Mr. Shayne blew a long whistle. "The Sansevero Madonna with the doves!" he reiterated. "That is a prize! I am astonished, though——" It was on his tongue to say that he had thought the Prince Sansevero beyond the suspicion of illegal sale of treasures; but, checking himself in time, he finished his sentence—"that he should be willing to part with it. Besides, it is a dangerous thing for him to sell, on account of its celebrity."
"So I told him." The Duke Scorpa lied perfectly. "But it is better, after all, to sell one thing that will bring in a good price than to sell a number of things that bring in little, and yet incur the same amount of risk in getting them out of the country." Here the duke's manner became almost confidential. "As I told you, I am of course acting merely in the interest of my friend the Prince Sansevero. Selling against the law of my country would be abhorrent to me personally. But my friend, poor fellow, is hard pressed for money. And, as he argues, the picture is his, and has been in his family since long before our government ever made such laws. He considers he has a right—or should have—to dispose of property that is his own. The government would pay not more than half what you will give me, I am sure."
"Of course, of course. I have long coveted that Raphael. On the other hand, as I said, the picture is so very well known and so excellent that it could hardly be palmed off as a copy. Also the canvas is large, which will make it very difficult to conceal. It is still at Torre Sansevero, I suppose?"
"No, it is here in Rome. It is removed from the frame and is at present in my palace. I suppose the offer that you once told me you would make still holds good?"
The American looked shrewd. "Did I name a sum? I do not remember. Ah, yes. But that was for a very rich man who has since bought a Velasquez. I doubt if he will buy any more."
Scorpa rose as though to leave. "My friend wants five hundred thousand lire."
Mr. Shayne laughed scornfully. "Preposterous!" he said, and from that they argued for nearly half an hour; but in the end it was settled that the picture should change hands, and the price agreed upon was two hundred and fifty thousand lire.
In the matter of payment the duke was punctilious about protecting his friend the Prince Sansevero from the consequences of his transgression of the law. Shayne agreed to make his payments in cash, so that Sansevero's name should not appear on the checks.
But Christopher Shayne was more than skeptical about the duke's disinterestedness. "There is a rake-off for this one somewhere," he thought. He also thought that for once he had been mistaken in his judgment of character. Sansevero had been, in his opinion, a man who would sooner starve than defraud the government. So strongly did he believe this that although he had, as the duke knew, long coveted the Raphael, he would never have dared to approach Sansevero.
After the duke had gone Shayne went out and personally sent a code cable announcing his purchase.
"Well," he said to himself, "it's no business of mine. But duke or no duke, he is a slick one. I don't like him. I can tell, though, whether it is the Sansevero picture as soon as I lay my eyes on it—but what gets me is that the prince chose such a go-between. Why didn't he come to me direct?" He didn't puzzle over that long, however; planning to get the picture out of Italy occupied his attention. An excellent idea presented itself: some furniture ordered by his firm should carry it in a sofa, and his partner should be advised by cipher letter to remove the picture. J. B. Randolph would buy it, without doubt—no need to tell him how it came into Shayne & Co.'s hands. They could swear they bought it in London. Plausible stories of masterpieces discovered in out of the way corners were easily enough manufactured. So these thoughts all being to his utmost satisfaction, he went whistling down the street.
The Duke Scorpa at the same time was being driven cheerfully homeward. That had been a stroke, that idea of pretending he was merely the intermediary. He had got the picture for a loan of one hundred thousand, and had one hundred and fifty thousand clear profit. There was nothing to show his transaction with Sansevero. No money had passed between them, not even a scrap of paper. He had torn up the prince's I. O. U., and that was all the evidence there had been. Christopher Shayne, besides, was a shrewd man and reliable, and one who never had been caught in a questionable transaction. To be sure, Scorpa had given Sansevero his word (but again there was no proof), that he would let him retrieve the picture at an advanced price that should be merely the accrued compound interest on the money lent. In case of his being able to reclaim it, Scorpa would pretend that the picture was burnt or stolen—time enough to cross bridges when he came to them. But that chance was beyond all probability. There was no way for Sansevero ever to secure enough money to get back the picture—unless, indeed, his younger brother Giovanni should marry the great American heiress who was on her way to Italy for the winter.
"I hardly think that likely," said the Duke Scorpa to himself, as he stroked his heavy chin with his fat hand, "for I intend to annex that little fortune myself."
DON GIOVANNI ARRIVES
It was a few days after Nina's arrival in Italy; one of the glorious mornings when the famous Sansevero gardens were full of golden light, bringing into high relief the creamy marble of statues that in other centuries had been white. Against the deep waxy green of shrubs and hedges, the fountains seemed to be tossing liquid diamonds; and beyond the marble balustrades of the descending terraces, the hills rolled away in soft gray billows of young olive leaves and powdered slopes of blossoming orange branches. In contrast with this background of green and marble and roses and flowers and fountains stood Nina reaching up to pick a pink camellia. In front of her, the princess was looking vaguely into the finder of a camera.
"Now what shall I do? Just press the bulb and let go?"
"W-w-ait a moment until my teeth stop chattering!"
Nina had taken off her coat and was wearing a dress as summery in appearance as the garden. "All right, Auntie. This ought to be lovely—I hope gooseflesh and a blue nose won't show."
The picture taken, she lost no time in getting back into her long fur coat again and wrapping it tightly around her, still shivering.
"I do hope the pictures will be good—I am going to write under them 'In a rose garden at Christmas Time.' I shall not tell that I never was so cold in my life as at this minute. What I can't understand is how the flowers are hypnotized into believing it warm weather. It is every bit as cold as New York, yet if we were to ask these same shrubs to live in our gardens, they would hang their heads and die at the mere suggestion." Nina wanted to take snap shots of the princess, but the latter refused to remove her coat, and the incongruity of furs dispelled the midsummer illusion. Slipping her hand through her aunt's arm she drew her into a brisk walk. The temperature of Italy is low only by comparison with its summery appearance, and by the time they reached the terrace end she was in a glow.
She looked up at the irregular stone pile of the old castle, against which semi-tropical vines climbed so high as partially to cover even the great square tower; and involuntarily she exclaimed, "It is so beautiful, so beautiful—it almost hurts; even the color of the sunshine—the brilliancy, yet the softness—and then to be with you!" Enthusiastically she pressed her aunt's arm.
"But tell me," she went on, "what rooms are these along here? Do I know them? Let me see—mine is far around on that side over there, isn't it?"
"That is your room in the corner, the one by the fountain of the dolphins."
Just then there was the sound of tramping on the gravel walk. Nina turned, and the next instant her curiosity was aroused. "Who in the world were all these people?" As her aunt paid no attention, she repeated her question, and the princess casually glanced in their direction. It was probably a party of Cook's tourists. Yes, she recognized the conductor.
Nina watched the party with increasing interest. "Look how funny that little woman is. When the guide tells her anything, she follows his directions as though he had a string tied to her nose." Nina began to laugh, and the princess turned to see two of the tourists, who, like rodents, seemed to be judging a statue of Hermes entirely by the sense of smell. The party came nearer, and the princess turned away. But Nina, alert, exclaimed, "The guide is pointing you out to them."
"Very likely; one gets used to that. Come, let us go on; they will be all over here in a few minutes." The crowd craned after her as she went down the terrace, followed by Nina.
"Do you mean to say you give up your own home like this to strangers?" the girl asked. "It must be a perfect nuisance!"
"It is all a matter of custom," the princess answered. "Besides, the people don't annoy us. They go usually on the lower terraces; at most they come up to the old courtyard galleries, perhaps mount the tower to see the view, or go into the catacombs."
At the bare mention of catacombs Nina was greatly excited, and looked eagerly toward the tourists who were going under the archway where the drawbridge once had been, but the Princess showed very little interest. They were merely underground passageways that were probably used by slaves, although there was one that undoubtedly was built as a means of escape. It ran many kilometers and ended in a cave in the forest. "Oh, come! Please come!" Nina fairly dragged her aunt after the party to the steep dark entrance leading from an old stone dungeon that was falling in ruins. The tourists were descending in an awed silence in which nothing could be heard but the groping shuffle of cautious feet, broken by the hollow echo of the guide's voice reciting his sing-song jargon of what he supposed to be English. He held a lantern that revealed a long alleyway of crumbling, mud-colored stone. Nina tried to make out something of his glib discourse, but soon gave it up.
"What is he talking about?" she whispered.
The princess disentangled the tradition from the overburdening names and dates: those scratches he was pointing out on the walls were supposed to be a cryptic message from some refugees in need of provisions. It was not a very authentic story, though.
As the princess spoke in English, two tourists detached themselves from the huddled group around the guide and sidled up to her.
"Can you tell me," asked one, a wizened small person who, in the flickering light of the lantern, was strongly suggestive of a mouse, "are there many buried here? The guide has been explaining, and I am stupid, I know, but for the life of me I can't understand a word he says." Her voice was a little dejected, and altogether apologetic.
"We do not think there are any," the princess answered.
The little tourist blinked, hesitated, and then asked, confidentially, "Did the guide say you were the princess of this castle? We couldn't make out."
By this time two others, inquisitive and gaping, joined the spokeswoman, who, as the princess assented, exclaimed, "My!"
That ended the conversation for the time being; and the party trooped on in silence. But after a little the small mousy one's curiosity overcame her diffidence. "Land, it'd be queer to live in a place like this! Do you come down here much, Your Highness?"
Nina nearly giggled, but the princess replied, "I have been down only once or twice. There is no use to which we can put these passageways nowadays. There was a deep pit that descended from one of the upper rooms of the castle through a trap in the floor. The bottom of it was far below here, but it is all done away with and cemented over now."
"You know, Your Highness," returned the little tourist, now glibly at ease, "I think it'd be a good place for growing mushrooms."
The guide interrupted by mounting a pair of stairs and holding up his lantern with the order to "come this way." They all stumbled up the crumbling steps after him and suddenly found themselves behind the altar of a chapel that stood at the far end of the garden.
"For pity's sake!" cried the little tourist, her eyes again blinking—this time at the light. "I never was in such a wonderful place in all my life. My! It won't seem like anything at all to go down cellar at home after I get back! Is this the way you go to meeting? Oh, no—you said you hadn't been down often. Maybe this is the way to go when it rains! It don't rain much here, does it? My, but that's an idea—to go underground to church. I wonder how ever you get used to it." And then irrelevantly she added, "All these beautiful churches over here in Yurrup, not a pew in one of 'em."
"They bring out these kneeling chairs for service," the princess said, pointing to a number against one wall of the chapel.
Again all the tourist could say was her ever ready "My!"
"Would you like to see some of the castle?" the princess asked. "There is a picture gallery not usually opened to visitors, also some apartments with frescoes that are worth seeing." Then to the guide, "You may take them into the west wing." The tourists looked variously, according to their several dispositions; the little one beamed.
"Oh, that's real kind of Your Highness," she exclaimed, her small gray person fluttering, more than ever like a mouse. "I must say that's real kind. I just dote on pictures. Do you like crayons? Well, I like oils best myself, but there are some who have a taste for crayons. The photographer's son—out where I live—he is real talented. He did some beautiful portraits. Folks thought he ought to come over here right away and study art. But others thought there was just as good art right at home. Now, what'd you say?"
Her good intention quite won the princess, and her accent warmed her heart in a way that Nina would have been at a loss to understand.
They had reached the west door, and the Princess sent a gardener around to the main entrance for the porter to bring his keys. The old man came quickly enough, fumbling in the pocket of his greatcoat, but he did not look at all edified at the whim of Her Excellency which allowed a lot of strangers to track mud through the best rooms of the Castle. He preceded the party, however, with all signs of deference, unlocking doors as they went.
The little New Englander was meekly trailing after the guide, leaving Nina and her aunt for the moment alone.
"Oh, but these are beautiful rooms, Aunt Eleanor! Why don't you use them?"
"We do in summer sometimes, but one needs a staff of servants to keep them up. Besides in winter it is impossible to get them warm."
"Then why," Nina spoke as though she had discovered an obviously simple solution, "don't you have the proper heating put in? You won't mind if I ask you something, will you?"
"Ask what you like, dearest."
"Why don't you make yourself more comfortable? For instance, why don't you have modern plumbing put in? And don't you prefer electric light?"
The Princess smiled as though she had never felt the need of any of these things. "You have left the land of modern improvements and come over to the land of romance!" For a moment she kept the illusion, but the next she seemed to change her mind, for she said practically and with no veiling of the facts: "Quite apart from the difficulty of putting pipes and wires through these thick stone walls, even if every modern improvement were already installed, the cost would make it prohibitive to attempt either heating or lighting."
Nina gasped, "I don't understand! You don't have to think of such a thing as the expense of keeping warm, do you?"
"Indeed we do. Fuel is a very serious item."
"But, you have plenty of money, surely. I thought living abroad—especially in Italy—was cheap."
"I did have a bigger income than now—one does not get as good a rate of interest as one used." She colored a little at the false inference and dwelt with more emphasis on the next sentence.
"When we go to Rome we spend much more money; we have all the rooms open there, and we have a great number of servants—in short we live like princes." She smiled brightly. "But you see in order to do that we have to live quietly and save during the rest of the year."
Nina looked perplexed. "That sounds very queer," she said. "I should think you would even things up and be more comfortable all the time."
"Then we would have nothing. It would be additional expenditure on things that don't matter, and no money left for things that do. Opening these rooms, for instance, would not greatly add to our pleasure. After all, we can only sit in one room at a time. To have many guests and motors and horses for hunting, and to have big shooting parties—all that is an expense not to be thought of. It amuses us more to go to Rome, so we prefer to save for nine months in order to live well the other three."
Nina was trying to do a sum in mental arithmetic; she could not quite make the diminished interest account for her aunt's evident lack of income, but did not like to ask for more details. However, something else happened that diverted her attention. They went through innumerable rooms, always to the distant droning sing-song of the guide's explanations.
Finally they came to the picture gallery. It was not a notable collection, with one or two exceptions; and one of these exceptions was strikingly absent. The guide left the group and approached the princess, exclaiming, "Excellency! The Raphael!"
"It has been sent to be repaired." Her hesitation was scarcely perceptible. "The background was sinking a little."
The man quite forgot himself and in his excitement dared a retort—"It was one of the best preserved Raphaels extant." But the expression in the princess' straight-gazing eyes held his further speech in check, and though she said no word the man cringed.
"Pardon, Excellency," he said, and went back to explain to the waiting group that the great painting of the Sansevero collection at that moment was being carefully examined, by experts, as to its preservation. Nevertheless, there was a look in his face that caused Nina to turn to her aunt with an apprehension, that gave rise to a vague suspicion that the princess, who was walking slowly, her head very high and her beautiful shoulders well back, was struggling to hide some strong emotion. She thought later that she might have been mistaken, for a moment later her aunt asked with her usual composure, "Have you a watch on? What time is it?"
Nina consulted the diamond and enamel trinket hanging on a chain around her neck. "It is ten minutes to one. Is it lunch time?"
"Nearly. Are you hungry? We are not having lunch to-day until half after. I have a surprise for you."
"For me? What is it to be?"
"My young brother-in-law, Giovanni, comes home to-day. I expect him on the twelve-thirty train. Your uncle has gone to the station to fetch him—they ought to arrive at any moment."
Nina's face looked brightly expectant. "Tell me something about him! Is he half as good-looking as his pictures?"
"Ah? So she has been examining his photographs!"
"Of course!" Nina laughed. "Oh, please tell me something about him! Does he speak English? French? Or shall I have to struggle in broken Italian? Is he like Uncle Sandro?"
"Wait until you see him."
"At least tell me does he speak English?"
"He speaks beautiful French."
"Which means, I suppose, that he speaks monkey English!"
But the princess vouchsafed no reply.
"Well, but really, I do think you might tell me something! Is he attractive?"
The Princess assumed a tantalizing air—"That also I am going to leave you to find out when you see him. At all events he is young—that is compared to your uncle and me. It has been dull for you, darling, with no one your own age."
Nina interrupted her reproachfully. "Don't you dare! To hear you, one might suppose you were a hundred. I don't care a bit whether Don Giovanni is a Calaban or an Antinous—All the same," she laughed, "had I better tidy my hair—or does it not matter?"
The tourists were all filing out of the castle now, and as the porter locked the doors, the princess shook hands with the little American.
"Thank you, Your Highness," she said, "you have been real kind. We—I didn't think, when I left home that I was going to be talking this way to princesses. I never dreamed they were like you; and you talk beautiful English, too."
With a warm impulse the princess laid her left hand over the cotton-gloved one in her right.
"Ah, but I was an American myself," she said, "and it does me good to see a country-woman."
They parted. Again the guide made a deep reverence to "Her Excellency," but to Nina the look in his eyes seemed both sly and suspicious.
In the meantime, the pony-cart carrying the prince and his brother was jogging slowly up the hills from the station.
Don Giovanni Sansevero—by his own title the Marchese di Valdo—was still on the hither side of thirty, but if a reputation for being "irresistible to women" goes for anything, he must by this time have had some experience in their ways. At all events, his appearance so tallied with hearsay that, whether founded upon fact or not, the reputation remained.
He was supple and beautifully built, his bones were small and finely jointed, his features chiseled with classic regularity—later on his lips might grow coarse, but as yet they were merely full. The chief characteristic of his expression was its mobility, but it was the mobility of an actor who knows every emotion that the muscles of a face can command. Sansevero's face, also changeable as an April day, was the spontaneous expression of unconscious mood. Giovanni was of a type to smile sweetly when most angry, or to assume an air of sulkiness when at heart he might be well content. Just now, with an assumption of extreme indifference, he turned to his brother.
"What is she like, this heiress of yours whom you are so anxious to have me marry?" he asked. "Plain, stupid, a nonentity?—So much the better—those make the easy wives to manage. Give me a woman with little real success—I mean, one who has seen only the imitation fire that is lighted when man pursues with reason and not with feeling. The American men make it easy for the rest of us—they are what you call curtain raisers in the play of love. They keep the gallery busy until the entrance of the hero. I hope she is not a beauty."
"Per Bacco, how you do talk!" interrupted the prince. "I have no chance to answer. Miss Randolph is not a beauty; but she is simpatica; she has an air, a chic."
"So much the better, so long as the chic is one of appearance and not of personality. I don't want my wife to be a siren." Suddenly he laughed and hit his brother's knee. "But what nonsense! Imagine a cold American miss having the power to make a man's pulses leap! Oh, don't make a face like that—I am not speaking of my honored sister-in-law; she is indeed of the true type of our mother." Mechanically both men indicated the sign of the cross at the word "mother."
"But," continued Giovanni, "I am not exactly worthy of a saint—it would not suit my disposition. It is bad enough associating always with good Brother Antonio as it is. By the way, where is he?"
He gave a shrill whistle and looked back down the road for the gray figure of his inseparable friend and companion: not a monk as the name indicated, but a Great Dane. A distant cloud of dust proclaimed that the whistle had been heard. "Poor Sant Antonio!" he called as soon as the dog had caught up, "Where have you been? I suppose you were meditating along life's highway. No," he continued, "it were best I did not pretend to be better than I am; my good monk would not absolve me else. Still, do you know, sometimes I seriously doubt even Brother Antonio's morals!" He shrugged his shoulders and laughed in great delight. Sansevero seemed undecided whether to be shocked or amused; ordinarily he would have laughed easily enough, but Giovanni in some way had seemed to involve Eleanor in his levity.
"Well," continued Giovanni, "I suppose at least Miss America, not being a Catholic, will make no objections to Sant Antonio's short-comings!"
At this Sansevero bristled, "Giovanni, I will ask you not to air your irreligious remarks about that dog with an unseemly name, in connection with the family of my wife."
For answer Giovanni blew a whistle into the air.
Sansevero grew sulky. "I warn you! Don't let Leonore hear you make remarks that she might think slighting about her darling! She is like her own child to her!"
For a few moments both men were silent. Giovanni's face was no longer mocking; he was watching the beautiful lope of his huge dog. Sansevero looked straight ahead, quite pensively for him. "Poor Leonore," he said at last. "It is often such as she who have no children!" Unconsciously he sighed.
Giovanni smiled, "I don't see what she wants of another child than you!"
"And you will inherit——"
"Please! I am not quite so bad as that. Believe me, I should rejoice for you if you had children. Leonore would have made a wonderful mother. Even I might be respectable if a woman such as she loved me as she loves you. But," he grew flippant again, "to marry one of those nose-in-the-air, soulless, school-teacher prudes—Never! And in any event, my dear, I am not so sure I want to marry your heiress. I am very well as I am!" He shrugged his shoulders. A moment later, though, he put a question. "What is her first name?—I have forgotten."
"Nina! Really a charming name, that! One that can be said without breaking consonants against the teeth. There was a girl once, very pretty, but she was called—I can never pronounce it—E-d-i-t-h—those are the letters. But Ni-na! It has a delicious sound." He let it slip over his tongue. Then he put his head on one side and asked quizzically, "How much has she?"
Sansevero looked up quickly; he hesitated a moment, then answered stiffly: "She has a great fortune, but she is also my niece."
Giovanni raised his eyebrows, and then burst into shouts of laughter.
"What has come over you? It was you who suggested the match! You know as well as I that my debts don't disturb me in the least. It is quite easy always to—borrow, if one must pay."
LOVE, AND A GARDEN
Don Giovanni arrived on Tuesday, and Saturday found him out on the terrace leaning over the balustrade beside Nina. His expression was unusually animated, for he was making the most of his first chance to talk to her without the presence of a third person. Not that they were alone—the Princess Sansevero was too much of an Italian to leave a young girl for a moment unchaperoned. But she was walking about with the head gardener, discussing the possibilities of saving a grove of cypress trees that showed signs of dying; and though she kept the young people well in sight, she could not overhear their conversation. Giovanni's big dog, St. Anthony, was lying outstretched in the sunshine.
In the full light, Nina had ample opportunity for observing that her companion was quite as good-looking in detail as in general effect; and the rhythmic inflection of his voice—he spoke in French—she thought truly attuned to his surroundings. He was one of those who, like Italy itself, give to strangers only the suggestion of their meaning, and he interested Nina chiefly as a new unsolved problem.
Gradually the habitual sleepy expression had returned to his eyes, and his voice grew dreamy. "We of Italy," he was saying, "live, endure, die, if need be—always for the same reason—woman and love! Your men in America"—his teeth glittered as he smiled—"tell me, Mademoiselle, do you believe they know what it is to love? Do they hide it, perhaps, from us Europeans?"
"I should think," answered Nina sagely, "that love means more to our men than to you." (A remark that John Derby had made came into her mind as she spoke: "You will find your own countrymen go in for the real thing, where the foreigner spends all his time talking about it.")
Don Giovanni was too thoroughly a European to become argumentative. "You see, I speak only from hearsay," he continued, with that air of agreeing with her which only the Latin possesses. "I have always been led to suppose that love plays a very small part in the lives of your countrymen." He held the thread of the conversation, but his manner said plainly that he only waited humbly to be enlightened. "I should have said," he went on, "an illustration of love in my country as contrasted with yours is shown in the gardens—just as our gardens bloom all the year, so love blooms always in our hearts; flowers and love, they go together; nowhere in the world are they so perfect as in Italy."
"So cultivated?" asked Nina.
He took no notice of the quip. "If to cultivate is to think of and to nurture, to strive always for greater perfection, then, yes, let us say cultivated."
There was a challenge; there was also a look of pity that annoyed her. It was this that she resented. She felt that she was being enmeshed in an invisible web, and she sought for a means of escape. Seeing none she might be sure of, she dropped the figurative speech and took refuge in platitudes.
"In America we admire a man for what he does—over here you do nothing. Each day for you is the same. You spend your time as a woman might, unless you go into the army, the church, or diplomacy. For instance, you, yourself, what is your ambition? Is there anything you are trying to do?"
Indolently he shrugged his shoulders, and with a half-lazy arrogance he answered, "Why should I try to create a personal and trivial future, when I can, without striving, merely survive from a far more glorious past? Listen, Mademoiselle, do you think as much can be accomplished by one short generation as by many? For instance, could a garden such as this be produced in the lifetime of one man?" He waved his arm in a circular motion. "It is not alone its plan and its fountains, and its green shrubbery that make it what it is, but the history of human lives that is planted in its every turn and corner. The gardens of America are but newly born from the minds of your landscape architects; in most of them the trees are but newly planted. This garden was already stately with ilex and cypress when the first white men of North America were sowing a little corn. How can you feel romance in a garden where there is no tradition save of the hours a few laborers have spent in digging?"
Suddenly a look of real ardor came into his face, an animation into his expression that gave a new charm to his words. "On this terrace where we now stand, leaning upon the marble of this very railing, countless men who were heroes, poets, philosophers, and fair women who were their sweethearts, have looked, as we do, over the hills laden with blossoming trees. Up that path yonder to the monastery have gone pilgrims, sinners, martyrs, and many lovers to have their vows blessed, or to find a haven for broken hearts. In the allee of cypress trees have walked many of the great lovers of Italy's romance. From this terrace end Beatrice herself is said to have thrown a rose of that very bush's parent stem to her immortal lover. Every corner of the garden holds its story of meetings that made of it a paradise, of partings that made of it an inferno. What is paradise, but love? Inferno, but the sorrow of love? Down before us, and even up here on this terrace, scenes have been enacted in feud and in peace, horrible scenes of bloodshed and cruelty, and again scenes of splendor—gatherings of church, ceremonials of state, but chiefly scenes of love—some beautiful and happy, others no less beautiful because they were tragic. Shall I tell you some of the stories?"
Nina nodded an eager assent; Giovanni's manner held her completely.
"Almost where you are standing, Cecilia Sansevero was stabbed by Guido Corlone before he killed himself, so that they might be together in the next world. Out of that window, the third from the end, another daughter of our house descended by a silk ladder. They—she and her lover—took the path directly below here; the guards saw them. This happened just beside the statue yonder. He drew his sword and stood before her, but the guards were too many, and he was killed. She had poison in a locket that she wore, and almost before they could drag her arms from about her lover's neck, she also was dead."
"Horrible!" cried Nina. Her face, mobile as Giovanni's own, had unconsciously reflected, in changing expressions, the progress of his narrative. "To think that in such a place as this such things really happened." She shuddered, then added, "But, Don Giovanni, are there no pleasant stories? Please think of some."