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Title: The Title Market
Author: Post, Emily, 1873-1960
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Title Market" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



    _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

[Illustration:

          "'WE OF ITALY,' HE WAS SAYING, 'LIVE, ENDURE, DIE,
                  IF NEED BE--ALWAYS FOR THE SAME
                      REASON--WOMAN AND LOVE!'"

(Page 65)]


               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.



CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                   PAGE

    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



ILLUSTRATIONS


"'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



CHAPTER I

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."

[Illustration: "AS SHE SPOKE, A DOOR OPENED OPPOSITE THE ONE THROUGH
WHICH THE MAID HAD ENTERED, AND THE PRINCE CAME IN"]

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.



CHAPTER II

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."



CHAPTER III

NINA


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'Opéra 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?"

"Yes, Mademoiselle."

"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.



CHAPTER IV

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."



CHAPTER V

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."

"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."



CHAPTER VI

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 _allée_ 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."

"Oh, any number. Once there was a small house in the valley--a lodge it
would be called now. A very pretty girl lived there. This time it was
the son of our house, a young, hot-headed fellow like all of us."
Giovanni let just enough fire gleam in his eyes to give Nina a glimpse
of another phase of him. "Well, this son--whose name was the same as
mine, Giovanni, a Prince Sansevero--he was mad about this girl. He
would marry her or he would take his life. She was the star of his
destiny, the crown of his life, and all the rest of it. They were going
to send her away--she was to go into a cloister; he was locked up in the
castle. But the old custodian, who adored the boy, let him escape by the
underground passage. He came out in the church. She had gone there to
pray, knowing nothing of the underground way--it was kept a profound
secret in those days. As the girl knelt, Giovanni appeared suddenly
beside the altar. Her duenna thought him an apparition, and the two fled
up to the monastery--that one you see from here."

"And then----?" said Nina breathlessly.

"The Father Abbot relented and married them."

Nina tried to discern the path to the monastery; in her imagination she
saw them hurrying along on the night of their escape.

"And then? In the end what became of them?"

"She bore him fifteen children; thirteen of them were girls."

Giovanni's manner was so casual as he said this that Nina laughed long
and deliciously. He swung himself lightly over the balustrade and
gathered her a long-stemmed rose from the bush whose early branches were
supposed to have known the touch of Beatrice. Perhaps the legend was
untrue, but his action, like the afternoon, held much that was alluring.
Something of this allure lay in Giovanni's having the same name as the
people he told about. Something, too, in the carelessness, and yet the
pride, of his telling, made his tales enchanting, and seemed in some way
to include his own personality in the chain of romance as its final
link. The garden was spread before her. The underground passage she
knew, and it wound directly beneath her feet. The chapel, the statue,
the ruins of the little temple, the monastery encircling like a low
crown the summit of the distant mountain, all were before her; and
beside her was a son of the same race, of the same blood. She wondered
vaguely why it was so much more apparent in Don Giovanni than in her
uncle the prince. Prince Sansevero seemed quite modern; the Marchese di
Valdo, though more modern actually than his brother, still seemed to
keep his touch on the age that was past.

"Do these old legends please you, Mademoiselle? Or are you too restless?
Too progressive? Americans, like the horse Pegasus, leap into the air
without any need of foundation to stand on. We, over here, build, like
the coral reefs, slowly perhaps, but always from the foundation up."

"I think," said Nina slowly; "it is the mystery of the past that makes
it so wonderful. We never can know quite enough about it. All legends
are like pictures seen through a fog; it lifts and shows a glimpse, then
as quickly closes in again. I always want to know what happened next."

As she said this, she realized that she was more or less making an
allegorical description of Giovanni himself. He was like his country and
its traditions, revealing himself only in glimpses. He attracted her
immensely through his subtle impersonality underlying all that was
seemingly personal. She could not fathom his depth, nor determine his
shallowness--she did not even guess which it might be. She was
irresistibly drawn to him; yet she was on her guard, as one who, looking
down from a great height, in fear of vertigo clings to the parapet over
which he leans. The parapet she clung to was her own good American
common sense. Yet she feared she did not know what. A little gleam in
Giovanni's dark eyes, a curious, deliberate, intentionally produced
expression of his smiling lips, swept over her sensibilities with a
feeling that was as terrifying as it was delicious--and both perhaps
because it was strange.

A little look--like triumph--flickered in his face; he laughed joyously.
"Mademoiselle, you are--adorable!" he said.



CHAPTER VII

ROME


Christmas and New Year's passed, and the Sansevero household moved to
Rome. The princess was impatient to have Nina meet people, but from the
first glimpse of the domed City its immortal charm claimed the American
girl, and for a little while she had neither time nor inclination for
anything but sight-seeing. She fairly hungered for history and
tradition, and she soon made the discovery that if Don Giovanni _did_
nothing, he at least _knew_ a great deal.

She marveled at his memory. He seemed to have every name and date in the
history of Rome and Italian art at the tip of his tongue. One afternoon
they were going through the apartments of the Borgias; the princess,
tired out with sight-seeing, was sitting at the edge of the room, and
Giovanni was following Nina and pointing out the story illustrated in
the frescoes.

"I have found at least one thing you could do!" she laughed. "You'd make
a wonderful guide for Cook's."

But he was not at all amused by this sally; in fact, he let her see that
he was annoyed. This same sort of unexpected response had baffled her
several times before. Any American youth would have fallen into the
manner of a guide at once. She remembered that John Derby on one
occasion, at a County fair, had insisted upon climbing on the stand of a
barker and was the success of the show. On the other hand, this Italian
prince appreciated things which John Derby would have brushed aside. He
was a delightful companion, the most delightful she had ever known, but
every now and then he became suddenly and inexplicably offended--and
always over some stupid trifle, like this suggestion of hers about
Cook's.

"I only meant," she ventured appeasingly, "that you hold all of Rome's
history in the palm of your hand. Is there anything that you don't
know?"

His gesture was expressive. He raised his eyebrows and opened both hands
palms upward. "I am Roman--since a thousand years."

Nina changed the subject. "I wish," she said, "that they had wheeling
chairs with head rests. I have a crick in my neck and my eyes are going
crossed from looking so much at ceilings."

Giovanni's ill temper had been for a moment only. He smiled now and
whimsically suggested that they write to the director of the Vatican
asking that litters be provided. Why not? He grew quite enthusiastic
over his description of how charming she would look between tall negro
bearers, with a little black boy trotting beside her, carrying a long
fan--no, in place of the fan he should carry a little stove.

"My idea was not half so picturesque," she laughed in answer. "I think I
had a dentist's chair in mind--a red fuzzy plush one on wheels."

"And with me to push it?" He said it eagerly enough. Here was a
contradiction of his late irritation! She did not dare, as a matter of
fact, to answer; his melodies and his discords were too easily
transposed.

She turned her attention to the fresco before her; it was one with the
portrait of the kneeling Borgia.

"He looks like a burglar!" she exclaimed with a shudder. Then she
hesitated, but Giovanni's mood being too uncertain to take into
consideration she finished her sentence, "Do you know who he looks
like--? The Duke Scorpa."

Again he was angry. "Please, Miss Randolph, do not say anything of that
sort."

"But why shouldn't I?" She colored under his reproof, but held to her
point.

"Because you are of the household of the Sansevero. A little
remark--even so little as a tenth of that, might be imprudent. Rome is
to-day almost what it was. There still is a very frail bridge uniting
the Scorpas and the Sanseveros; the ravine is always there; a torrent
from the glacier may descend at any time."

"Then I shall say it in a whisper! He looks like a burglar, and like a
cut-throat and--like Scorpa!"

Giovanni scowled. "I warn you, Mademoiselle, be prudent!" A note of
tension in his voice brought Nina to a sudden halt.

"There is no one here but Aunt Eleanor--I doubt if even she can hear."

"In Rome it would not be the first time if walls had ears."

"I am sorry," she said so simply, so candidly, that Giovanni was
charmed. He became light and amusing. He elaborated the legends of the
frescoes with the lives of the painters' until she felt as though they
were yet living. Finally they reached the side of the room where the
princess was waiting. There was no impatience in her voice, but she
looked tired, and Nina cried penitently:

"Ah, Aunt Eleanor! Why did you not call me sooner? I get so carried away
by all the things I see, and the tales Don Giovanni tells me, that I
have no sense of time."

They descended the stairs to the inner court of the Vatican, where they
found their carriage, an old-fashioned C-spring landeau, all very
dignified and perfectly appointed, and in striking contrast to the
pony-cart in which the princess was trundled about at Torre Sansevero.

By the time they crossed the Ponte S. Angelo the color had come back a
little into the princess's face. Nina, with no sign of fatigue, sat
brightly alert, while Giovanni opposite, prattled ceaselessly, except
for the interruption necessitated by his constantly taking off his hat
as his sister-in-law bowed to passing acquaintances.

They had not far to go along the Corso Vittorio Emanuele before they
came to the dingy pile of yellow stone that for centuries had borne the
name of Palazzo Sansevero. The landeau turned under one of its three
broad archways, and entered the courtyard. A plain stone stairway, worn
and dingy like the rest of the façade, led into a vestibule of
unpromising darkness. The _portiere_, however, was very gorgeous and
imposing in his knee breeches, white silk stockings, gold-trimmed coat,
and his three-cornered hat with the prince's cockade at the side. He
moved majestically down the steps, carrying a silver-headed mace, like a
drum-major's, and saluted as the "nobilities" entered the palace. They
ascended to a vast stone hall with a grand stairway at its further end,
that quickly effaced the impression of the entrance. From an
antechamber, they passed through five or six rooms hung with tapestries
and paintings, and adorned with sculptures, until they arrived at the
one where the princess really lived. This last was a huge, dignified,
mellow, and splendid apartment, in every way worthy of the palace in
which it stood, and of the great lady who occupied it now, no less than
of all the great ladies who had occupied it in the past. In its present
furnishings there were deep sofas with light and table arrangement, so
that one might lounge and read and at the same time be near the great
open fire. Many bibelots of silver and porcelain made a contrast to the
other rooms, that were more like museum galleries; and everywhere--here
as in the country--were flowers and the army of autographed photographs
marching across tables and banked high against the walls.

As soon as the family had entered, the tea-tray was brought in and
placed near the fire. Following the Roman custom, according to which the
daughter of the house pours the tea, the princess motioned Nina to fill
the office, and she herself sat at her desk and began rapidly writing on
a pad of paper. Giovanni carried tea and muffins to her, while Nina
poured out her own cup and helped herself to a third cake.

"Are these really so good?" she asked half wistfully. "Or are even these
little cakes seemingly delicious only because they are in Rome? I am
sure the cook at home made plenty that were every bit as good!" She said
this last as though to convince herself.

"They are wonderful little cakes--they are very celebrated!" Giovanni
said it with an aggrieved air that made Nina laugh. As though wilfully
misunderstanding her, he turned to his sister-in-law.

"Such curious ideas Miss Randolph has about Rome! One would suppose, to
hear her, that it was a land of witchcraft--even our food is to be
taken with suspicion."

"Not at all," retorted Nina, with a turn of manner that would have done
credit to an Italian, "a land of enchantment, which makes ordinary
cakes--very ordinary little cakes, I tell you!--seem small squares and
rounds of ambrosia. And, furthermore--I can assure you it is much more
comfortable here than in the country."

If Giovanni thought she was going to stay sentimental very long, he did
not know the American temperament. For she now went into a long
dissertation upon the discomfort of Torre Sansevero, where she nearly
froze to death. Candle light she had not minded, though she much
preferred electricity.

"Have you entirely obliterated the gardens from your memory,
Mademoiselle?" Giovanni asked in an undertone, and with a romantic
inflection. But Nina's mood was not, at that moment, attuned to gardens.

"Ah, I love Rome--just Rome itself! There is no other such place in all
the world! I thought I loved Paris. Paris is gay and beautiful. But Rome
is glorious--splendid!"

Giovanni's chagrin at her apparent indifference to the gardens was
changed to enthusiasm at her appreciation of his beloved city, for to
have her love Rome was like having her love the greater portion of
himself--who was but part of Rome.

"The only detriment is," continued Nina, "that at night I dream of
marble statues parading against backgrounds of cobalt blue under groined
arches of gold--like the ceilings in the rooms of the Borgias and--this
one! Why this is exactly like them! There is the same face as the St.
Catherine----" then suddenly she sat up, leaning eagerly
forward--"Auntie Princess, I don't want to have a party at all! I don't
want to meet people! I like to think of Rome as inhabited with those of
long ago." Then with one of her sudden checks upon a tendency to become
over sentimental, she added gaily, "The little cakes of to-day, are good
at all events! Give me another, please!"

Giovanni slid out of the corner of the sofa like smooth steel springs
unfolding; neither hastily, nor with effort. She watched him; fascinated
by his grace and litheness. Suddenly, though, she felt uncomfortably
certain that he knew what was passing in her mind, and this conviction
immediately put her out of humor. For the space of a few minutes she
disliked him. He seemed to know that too, for his next sentence was:

"Are all young girls in America so unreasonably capricious, so
whimsically balanced mentally as--a young girl I once met?"

"How was she?" Nina's curiosity was aroused in spite of her.

"Very inexperienced, and therefore uncertain. Like the person who in
dancing counts one, two, three--one, two, three, for fear of losing
time--or like the inexperienced swimmer who measures constantly the
distance to shore."

"Children, you are chattering nonsense," the princess interfered. "Here,
you lazy ones, help me to write the invitations!"

Nina arose and went to look over her aunt's shoulder. "Oh, but it is for
day after to-morrow!" she exclaimed. "Do you mean to say that any one
will come at such short notice?" That the invitations were merely
visiting cards with "Informal Dance" written in the corner, and a date
not forty-eight hours ahead, astonished her. She asked about the
details. How could they arrange for the decorations, favors, supper? But
the princess smiled complacently. Candles were all the decoration
necessary! the favors would be trifles that could be bought in half an
hour; and as for supper--what could young people want more than lemonade
or tea, sandwiches, and cakes? The only question was where they should
dance.

The princess turned to Giovanni. "I think it is best in the picture
gallery, don't you?"

"The floor is not so smooth as in the Room of the Aenead, but come, let
us go and decide." He led the way, and they followed. The Room of the
Aenead was next that in which they were sitting. The portrait gallery,
filled with treasures from the days of Italy's grandeur, was still
beyond. It was this apartment of all others that most appealed to Nina.
For a moment she forgot why they had come into the gallery, and her
attention remained fixed upon the canvases. With the ever-vigilant
Giovanni at her side, she seemed to be walking in a day that was past,
to be enveloped in a fairy mantle! She put her hand on a group said to
be the work of Michelangelo, running her fingers over the face of one of
the figures with awe in her touch.

"To think," she said very softly, the wonder breaking through the low
tone of her voice, "to think that Michelangelo's own living hand has
been where mine is now--still more, he has been in this very room! Not
alone he, but Raphael, Correggio, and Pinturicchio! And all this is
called home by my own aunt. _Mine!_" A little quiver had come into her
throat. "It is too wonderful! Yet it gives me the strangest sensation--I
can't exactly explain it, but it is as though I were not born at all. Do
you know," she had turned to Giovanni wistfully, "I think I can
understand just a little of the way you feel--it is as though you were
securely planted like a tree. In the beginning, long ago, you were put
into the earth with the first things sown. I am merely a leaf, blown
from what branch I do not even know--belonging nowhere, coming from
nothing. I think I see for the first time what you mean, over here, but
just _being_ and not caring to do more than survive from the
gloriousness of all this." She spread her arms out as though
bewildered.

"Now you see," Giovanni answered her, as though there were a new and
strong bond of sympathy between them, "why decorations are unnecessary.
Can you imagine these walls, which for centuries have looked down upon
every great personage of Rome, being decked up like a Christmas tree
because a number of people whose achievements are in no way illustrious
are coming for an hour or two?"

"I think," said Nina, "that I shall dance like a wraith. It seems almost
a sacrilege to bob around and prattle in such surroundings. How silly
their sainted ghosts might think us!"

"I never thought of the old masters as saints exactly. But come,
Mademoiselle--let us pretend--in each of those chandeliers are burning a
hundred wax candles. It is the night of the ball--we open it so--will
you dance?"

Again there appeared a Giovanni that she had never seen before, his lazy
arrogance vanished, as, whisking a handkerchief out of his pocket to
wave in his hand, he became a sprite--a dancing faun, a reincarnation of
the spirit of Donatello.

Twice he traversed the length of the gallery, and then, with a vigor
added to his grace, he caught Nina and swung her with him into his
whirling dance. It had been perfectly done; even in his _abandon_ there
was no lack of ceremony. There was none of the "come along" spirit of
youth in America. He was in this, just as he was in everything else, a
remnant of a past age; he had merely been transformed into a Bacchant!
He was in no way a mere young man who had grabbed a young girl around
the waist and made her dance.

But as the princess watched them, her feelings were strongly at
variance. Admiration played the greater part. Even a much less biased
mind than hers could not have failed to appreciate the wonderful grace
of the man and the girl, for Nina was as graceful as he. Yet the
princess looked vaguely troubled, too, at the thought that Giovanni was
perhaps overstepping his privilege.

"Giovanni! Nina!" she called, but she might as well have appealed to the
wind that blew through the courtyard below, and instead of their heeding
she felt her own waist encircled as Sansevero, who had entered by the
door behind her, swept her into the dance with him. "But, Sandro!" she
exclaimed, resisting, "it is . . . not seemly! What if . . . the servants
. . . should . . . see us?" But, joining Giovanni in the tune he was
whistling, Sansevero seemed to have caught some of his brother's humor.
If Giovanni had become the spirit of grace, Alessandro had become the
spirit of recklessness, and Eleanor was whirled, breathless, not as one
dances usually, but madly, so that her feet barely touched the floor. To
add to the revelry of the scene, the Great Dane, who was never far from
Giovanni's side, now joined the general whirl and leaped round and round
as though he had but newly come from a bath, his deep bark punctuating
the valse the two men were whistling. The princess felt an apprehensive
dread of a servant's intrusion, and again a breathless "Sandro, stop!"
escaped her lips just as----

The portière was lifted and the footman announced, "_Suo Eccellenza il
Duca di Scorpa!_"

"Ah, I hope I do not intrude upon the family gaiety!" The duke's face
was insinuatingly bland and his manner smooth as an eel.

The dancers stopped instantly. The princess flushed, but otherwise only
one who knew her intimately might have guessed that she was conscious of
having been put in the position of a careless and undignified chaperon.
But she winced inwardly, and felt no reassurance in the knowledge that
the duke's tongue was known to be more skillful in the art of
embroidering than the fingers of the most expert needlewoman. Sansevero
followed his wife's cue, but without feeling her dismay, for he, it must
be remembered, liked Scorpa. He had the naïve manner of a child caught
doing something foolish, but that was all. Giovanni welcomed the duke
suavely, yet, as the princess led Scorpa into the living rooms, Nina had
an exhibition of a real side of Giovanni that she was destined to
remember ever after.

She never in her life had imagined that such fury could be depicted in
the human countenance. His nostrils dilated, and his jaw was squared.

"I'll kill that viper yet!" he muttered between his teeth, and, reaching
out for the first thing to hand, his long smooth fingers locked around
the neck of the Great Dane--so tight that the dog, half strangled and
snarling, lunged at his tormenter. Nina cried out in horror, but
instantly Giovanni's temper vanished as it had come. He relaxed his
fingers with a caress; and the animal fawned on him.

"Forgive me, Mademoiselle." He said it as lightly as though there had
been only some trivial inattention to overlook.

The whole scene had taken place in a moment--so quickly, in fact, that
as Nina and he followed the princess through the adjoining rooms, she
half wondered if her senses had deceived her. What manner of man was
this indolent, graceful descendant of a feudal race? As he approached
the duke, Nina unconsciously held her breath. Half expecting to see them
draw daggers then and there, she glanced fearfully from one to the
other; but Giovanni, smiling his sleepy-eyed smile, talked as though he
thought the duke the most charming man in the world.



CHAPTER VIII

OPENING DAY AT THE TITLE MARKET


On the evening of the dance the Princess Malio, stiff, thin, and sour,
and the old Duchess Scorpa, stolid, ugly, and squat, sat together in a
corner of the ballroom--that is to say, the picture gallery--of the
Palazzo Sansevero.

"So that is the new American heiress!" said the duchess. "Very
presentable, I call her. My Todo might do worse than marry her--but of
course"--her face drew itself into the grimace that did duty for a
smile--"my Todo would have little chance for her favor in competition
with your nephew."

The princess bowed in acknowledgment and strongly protested against the
idea of any one's being able to compete with a Duke Scorpa.

The conversation between these two old women was always forced into just
such channels of conscious politeness. It was rarely that they disclosed
the antagonism that formed the chief spice of their lives. But the
princess could not control an impulse to destroy, if possible, the
satisfaction of her rival.

"My dear Duchess," she insinuated dulcetly, "do you really credit her
fabulous fortune?" Her manner expressed her pity for the other's
credulity. "Such a sum as five hundred thousand _lire_ a year too much
oversteps the mark of probability."

But the complacency of the duchess was not so easily disturbed. "Oh, no,
that is not right!" she broke in. "I have been assured that she has five
hundred thousand _dollars_ a year. Dollars! And there are five _lire_ in
every dollar, remember."

"Dollars!" echoed the princess--and her voice rose several notes above
normal pitch; in fact, she nearly screamed. "I am very certain you are
misinformed." But her skepticism barely covered her real chagrin because
her nephew was a cadaverous nonentity, with little to recommend him to a
title hunter. As she looked at the girl in question, however, there was
a decided relish in her next remark:

"I think Giovanni Sansevero will carry off that prize! See the way she
is smiling up at him. Ah! and now they are dancing together. Certainly
they make a suitable looking couple."

The duchess straightened her dumpy figure to its greatest possible
height. For once she forgot herself. "Would any one marry a Sansevero
when there is a Scorpa to choose!"

"It has happened," chuckled the princess.

The threatening break in their habitual politeness was averted by the
arrival of a third old lady, the Marchesa Valdeste. As her husband was
the receiver of the "_Gran Collare de l'Anunziata_," a distinction that
gave him the rank of cousin to the king, the duchess and the princess
both rose for a moment in deference. The "collaress" seated herself with
them. In contrast to theirs, her face was sweet and fresh, with an
expression almost like that of a young girl. Her whole personality was
gentle, and she punctuated what she said by a curious little swaying
motion, a bending of the body from the waist, very suggestive of the way
a flower bends on its stalk to the breeze.

The marchesa was also much interested in the new heiress, and although a
certain finish of demeanor now modified their remarks, none of them
attempted to conceal her ambition to secure Nina's money for her own
family.

The Princess Malio was more eager than skeptical as she asked the
marchesa, "Have you heard the story of her half a million dollar income?
Do you believe it possible!"

The marchesa turned her little hands over, palms up. "She has something
incredible, but I cannot say how much. Maria Potensi asked the American
ambassador if the celebrated James Randolph was as rich as reputed, and
he said----"

The duchess became almost apoplectic in her eagerness. "He said----"

The marchesa looked for all the world like a young girl telling a fairy
tale. "He said"--she breathed it in wonder--"that Mr. Randolph's wealth
was so fabulous that it was beyond computing! And _this_ is his _only
child_!"

An awed stillness fell upon the group, each old lady looking and longing
according to her own nature. It was the marchesa who at last broke the
silence. "I cannot deny that I should like my Cesare to be so fortunate
as to win her, but I must confess she and Giovanni Sansevero make a
charming couple!"

"Dancing, yes," snapped the duchess, "but for my taste they dance too
fast!"

"She is doubtless thinking of her tub of a son, who moves with about the
grace of an elephant," whispered the Princess Malio behind her fan.

"I can imagine nothing more graceful than the picture they make at this
moment," the marchesa answered, wistfully regarding the two slim figures
whirling down the length of the room, dancing, dancing on! as though it
were the first, and not the tenth, time they had traversed the great
gallery; the elastic poise of each the same, the gold-colored gauze of
Nina's dress exactly matching the rippling waves of glorious hair only a
shade below the sleek black head of her partner.

Yet the marchesa was perhaps no more anxious than either of the others
to have Giovanni bear off the American prize. "My Cesare does not return
from England for another month," she added only half audibly, and then
she sighed.

Suddenly the old princess pounced like a lean cat upon a new thought.
"Ah, ha! There is some trouble brewing! Maria Potensi has found your
picture of dancing grace a bit too charming. Di Valdo is biting his
mustache, and she is giving herself away! I always thought the wind sat
in that quarter. Now--she is losing her temper--and with it her
discretion!"

"Maria Potensi is above suspicion," interrupted the marchesa. "I do not
believe there is a word of truth in what you imply."

"But how do you account for her jewels? I am interested to hear. There
were none in the Potensi family, nor in her own!"

"She says quite frankly that they were given her by an old Russian who
is her god-father."

"Every one knows," rejoined the princess, "that di Valdo has made heavy
debts, yet he is not a gambler like his brother Sansevero, and he has no
personal extravagances that account for the sums borrowed."

The "collaress" answered nothing, and the fat duchess, who had so far
been only a listener, drew her head in like a snapping turtle as she
made the satisfactory observation that her "Todo" was now the partner of
the heiress.

The Duke Scorpa and Nina, standing for the commencement of a quadrille,
suggested rather a brigand and a princess than a duke and a titleless
daughter of the democracy. Nina was holding her head very high, yet
easily and unconsciously, because it was her natural way of standing.
The dancing had brought color to her cheeks, and her eyes were
sparkling; but it was at the evening in general, not at the man who at
that moment was trying to please her. She could not bear the duke's
sharp little black eyes, his brutal square jaw, his unctuous manners;
and as he took her hand to lead her down a figure of the quadrille, its
thickness felt to her imagination like a paw.

Dancing vis-à-vis were Giovanni and the Contessa Potensi. Nina did not
know her name or anything about her, but she felt at first sight a
subtle antagonism, and, following an instinct that she would have found
difficult to account for, she turned her attention away toward a second
personality, which fascinated her in as great a degree as that of the
Potensi had repelled.

"Who is that over there?" she asked of the duke. "I mean the slender
girl in black."

"The Contessa Olisco. She was a Russian princess. Her name was Zoya
Kromitskoff. I thought the name of Zoya pretty once--that is, until I
heard the name of N-i-n-a!"

As he said her name they were just turning around the last figure, and
she might not, without attracting attention, snatch her hand from his;
but his familiarity in using her Christian name made her cheeks burn. In
the final courtesy she barely inclined her head, and at the close of the
dance went in quest of her aunt without noticing his proffered arm. At
this unheard-of behavior, the duke hurried after her, biting his
mustache.

"Ah, ha!" ejaculated the old princess in the ear of the Marchesa
Valdeste, "that cuttlefish of a Scorpa has thrown his tentacles out too
far, and the goldfish is scurrying away in alarm." She fanned herself in
agitated satisfaction at her triumph over the duchess--who was
pretending that she had noticed no coolness in the American's treatment
of her son.

The next moment the Princess Sansevero brought Nina to present her to
the marchesa. Nina had been dancing at the time of the arrival of the
"collaress" and must therefore be presented at the first opportunity.
The marchesa, with a few kindly remarks about her dancing, would have
let her return to her partners, but the duchess moved ponderously aside
on the sofa, making a place for Nina. Without prelude she began, "Is it
true that you have five hundred thousand dollars a year? Or is rumor
mistaken--is it only five hundred thousand _lire_?"

The baldness of the question left Nina for the moment speechless; then
presently, "I have what father gives me," she answered evasively.

"But you are the only child of the American multimillionaire, 'Jemmes
Ronadolf,' yes?"

Nina nodded in affirmative.

"The Duke Scorpa, with whom you danced just now, is my son!" Her manner
clearly demanded that the American girl recognize the great favor that
she had received. "He is my only son," she reiterated, "and the head of
the family of the Scorpa. You must come to tea to-morrow. I especially
invite you, though we are regularly at home."

The condescension of her demeanor can hardly be described. Nina turned
helplessly toward the Princess Malio, but found in her a new inquisitor:
"American fathers are proverbially generous"--her ingratiating smile so
ill suited her features that it seemed almost not to belong to her--"of
course your dot will be colossal?"

Again Nina gasped, but before she was obliged to answer the Marchesa
Valdeste laid her hand upon her arm. "Come, my dear," she said, with her
soft Sicilian accent, "it is a pity to miss so much dancing. It is not
right for a young girl to sit with old ladies at a ball," and, holding
Nina's hand in hers, she led her away. They had taken only half a dozen
steps when she tapped a young officer lightly with her fan.

He wheeled quickly. "Ah, Marchesa!" He bowed ceremoniously.

"Count Tornik," said the marchesa, "will you take Miss Randolph to the
Princess Sansevero, or where her numerous partners may find her?"

Count Tornik bowed again, this time to Nina. "Will you dance? I don't
dance as well as di Valdo." Nina looked up at him, suspicious and
displeased, but there was no conscious deprecation in his manner, which
indeed proclaimed that whether he danced well or badly was a matter
unlike unimportant to him.

"Yes, let us dance," she said.

As he put his arm around her it seemed to her that "an animated tin
soldier" expressed him perfectly. He held her stiffly, and so closely
that her nose was crushed against the gold braiding of his uniform. He
was so tall, and his shoulders were so square, that she could not see
over them, and to add to her discomfort, he danced, not as did the
Italians, but round and round like a whirling dervish. Before they had
gone ten yards she was so dizzy and uncomfortable that she stopped.

Again Tornik bowed, offered his arm, and without addressing a further
remark to her, led her to the Princess Sansevero. As he took leave of
her his expression showed a glimpse of understanding, a momentary
illumination. She felt for an instant a possibility of his
attractiveness, but just as she became curious he was gone.

The men she met after this were a mere succession of dancing figures,
and at the end of the evening, when her aunt came into her room to kiss
her good night, she could sleepily distinguish only one or two people
out of the kaleidoscope of confused impressions. And even these few
melted off into shadows as she danced on and on through dreamland with
Giovanni, amid gardens and marble statues, to the magic rhythm of
wonder-world music.

But while Nina slept with a happy little smile still lying in the
corners of her mouth, the princess in her own room was having an
animated conversation with her husband.

"Leonora, my treasure!" he exclaimed joyously, "things go well for
Giovanni with _la bella_ Nina? _Hein?_ With her fortune! And to have
such an air and grace, too--it is really Giovanni that is a lucky one!"
Before his wife could interrupt he went on, "Five hundred thousand
dollars income--that is to be her dot, isn't it? Why, we can have all
the rooms at Torre Sansevero opened, and you, my beautiful one, shall
have again the comfort that your wretch of a husband has deprived you
of!"

His excited appropriation of Nina's fortune for the general family
coffers jarred; and the princess at once checked his rapidly soaring
imaginings.

"Not so fast! Not so fast! Remember the American girl is used to
arranging her own marriage, and besides . . . for nothing in the world
would I try to influence her. Should it turn out unhappily I could never
forgive myself . . . never!"

Sansevero looked at his wife in open-eyed amazement. "What has come over
you, my dear! I am not proposing to sell your Miss Millions to a rag
gatherer. She has no amount of beauty--yes (as he followed Eleanor's
expression), she has a charming countenance--_molto simpatica_--also a
distinction that is really rarer in your country of beautiful women.
Giovanni, on his side, certainly has all that one could ask in the way
of good looks and intelligence. He is young, and he is the sole heir to
my titles and estates--She would be getting a very good exchange for her
dollars, I am thinking. There is no use to make a face like that; I am
not trying to sell her to an ogre. Why, he does not even gamble----"

"No--but do you think Giovanni can be true to a woman?"

Sansevero laughed. "What would you have? Are you becoming a Puritan
miss, Leonora _mia_?" He shrugged his shoulders. "He is young and he has
heart! Would you have for a nephew-in-law a St. Anthony?"

As the princess still looked worried, he seemed afraid that he had hurt
his project. "Giovanni is of a type that women like," he said
reassuringly, "and probably he has had his successes--that is all I
meant. Don't be so suspicious! I want merely to further the interests of
two young people who are in every way suited to each other. Giovanni may
be an anchorite, for all I know."

Eleanor stood turning her wedding ring round and round on her finger.
Then she looked anxiously into her husband's face. He was puffing at a
cigarette that he had lighted, and his eyes looked back into hers with
the perfectly innocent expression of a child's.



CHAPTER IX

A DOOR IS OPENED THAT GIOVANNI PREFERS TO KEEP CLOSED


The eyes of La Favorita boded good to no one! As a hostess her
deportment left much to be desired, but since her visitors were limited
to her very intimate friends it mattered, perhaps, little. At all
events, as guest after guest arrived in her over-decorated salon, she
looked up expectantly, and then resumed her expression of ugly
indifference.

"_Per Bacco!_" she muttered quite audibly enough for one to overhear,
"this crowd seems to think I have asked all Rome to supper!"

She attacked two young men of fashion as they entered. Fortunately, her
manner somewhat modified the rudeness of her words--and the ill humor of
her tone carried no conviction. "You cannot come in. I did not invite
you! I have no room!"

Instead of being angry, one, the Count Rosso, answered her in a voice
that was half jesting, half conciliatory, in the familiar second person
singular: "But thou art quite mad, my dear! We were all asked at Zizi's
supper. I, for one, call it very ungracious of you to try to dispense
with our agreeable society."

La Favorita lapsed once more into indifference. "Oh well, I don't
care"--she shrugged her shoulders--"I don't care whether you all go or
stay!"

A moment later a group that had formed at the end of the room made a
great noise, and the hostess, suddenly rousing again, swept toward them
with the floating motion of the professional dancer. "I wish you to
understand," she said in a fury, "that you are to comport yourselves in
my house as you would in the palaces of the nobility!"

The group fell into a half-sympathetic hush as she moved back again to
the door of the entrance. A little woman--a _café_ singer--broke into a
snatch of song:

          "The moon has two sides, a black and a white,
           When the heart is dark there can be no light."

Laughing, she snapped her fingers. "Fava has been in a bad temper ever
since that American heiress came to Rome. She fears that Miss America
will cut the leading strings of Giovanni."

"Why pout at that? Giovanni will then be rich--a rich lover is better
than a poor one any day!" laughed another soubrette.

"What is the matter with Fava, anyway?" put in a third. "She was quite
delighted with the American's arrival at first. Now she might draw a
stiletto at any time."

"The matter is that she has heard the millionairess is pretty, and she
fears she will take Giovanni's heart as well as his name!"

"Fava jealous! A delicious thought that! Yet I am not sure that I should
care to be in Giovanni's shoes if he wants to get away from her,"
observed Rigolo, the actor.

Favorita again swept toward the group, her voice strident: "_Per Dio!_
Do you suppose I can't imagine what you are all talking about, with your
long ears together like so many donkeys chewing in a cabbage patch? You
need not imagine to yourselves that I am jealous. No novice could hold
Giovanni long. It is I who can tell you that, for I know such men and
their ways fairly well--I have had experience! Me!"

The others took it up in chorus: "Favorita has had some experience,
_hein_! A race between the countries! Italy and America at the barrier.
Holla, zip! they are off! La Favorita in the lead--America second,
coming strong." And so it went on. Favorita had returned to her position
by the door. She was more quiet, and in repose it might be seen that her
face looked drawn--her eyes, if one observed closely, beneath the black
penciling showed traces of recent weeping. "Tell me something," she said
to Count Rosso. "What is she like, this Miss Randolph? Is it true"--her
breath came short--"that Giovanni is trailing after her?"

"Say after her millions, rather! I hope he gets them for your sake,
Fava. Then you can have the house in the country that you have always
wanted."

"I'd rather he got his money some other way. It does not please me that
he should marry!"

"Aren't you unreasonable? Can't you give him up for a few weeks?"

"If you call marriage a few weeks."

Rosso, laughing, threw his hand up. "How long does a honeymoon last? A
few weeks and he will be back."

But the dancer's eyes filled, and she set her sharp little teeth
together. "I cannot bear it! _Ah Dio!_ I cannot! She is young--and
surely she loves him."

"Every woman thinks the man she prefers is alike beloved by every other
woman he meets! I have not heard that she loves him!"

"Be quiet about what you have heard--what I want to know is, does he
return it? I am told she is attractive; if she is--I shall----"

Count Rosso chanced upon the right remark in answering, "Could a man, do
you, think, who has had your favor, be satisfied with a cold American
girl? Do not be stupid!"

Favorita was slightly pacified. "Is she at all like me? Paint me her
portrait!"

"Her eyes are--m--m--rather nice; her skin--yes, good; her
features--imperfect; she holds herself haughtily--chin out, and her back
very straight, and"--as a last assurance, he added, "she speaks broken
Italian."

La Favorita's coal-black eyes lit with a new light, and her whole body
seemed to flutter. Her carmine lips parted as, with an expression of
quick joy, she clapped her hands together and exclaimed, "American
accent! _Per Dio!_ She has an American accent!"

In her delight she threw her arms about the count's neck and kissed him
on the lips. With perfect impartiality she turned to two other men
standing near and kissed them also, repeating to herself the while, "An
American accent!"

The next arrivals she received as though they were both expected and
welcome; greeting them with the unintelligible exclamation, "Imagine
speaking the only language in the world worth speaking with an American
accent!"

"But why do we not go into the dining-room?" asked her stage manager, a
heavy puff of a man. "I have a void within."

"May the void always stay, great beef!" she laughed. Then, with a shrug
and a wave of her arms, as though to sweep every one out of the room,
she cried petulantly, "Go! and eat, all of you. I am glad, if only you
go!"

The company, for the most part, laughed and went into the dining-room,
whence the sound of revelry gradually grew louder. The Count Rosso alone
remained with the hostess. "Come, Fava, don't be so headstrong--you're
spoiling the party."

"Spoiling the party! Do you hear the noise they are making? Is that the
way to conduct one's self in a lady's house--I said a lady's house! Why
do you look at me like that? Am I not a lady just as much as that
daughter of an Indian squaw from over the Atlantic? Those in there"--she
pointed with her thumb toward the dining-room--"they would not behave so
in the Palazzo Sansevero!" Then, without another word, she followed
where she had pointed, so fast that her thin draperies fluttered behind
the lithe lines of her figure like butterfly wings. On the threshold of
the dining-room she paused, like the bad fairy at the christening.

"Why should you think you can behave in my house as you would not behave
in the house of a princess?"

The count, who had followed her, seemed relieved that she mentioned no
specific name. Her remark seemed to touch a chord of sympathy in the
company, for the women, especially, became very quiet. Favorita sat down
at the end of the table between the manager and an empty place.

"Eat something, my girl!" he said to her. "It will be the best thing you
can do!"

"My need is not the same as yours--I have emptiness of heart."

Her alert hearing caught a footfall, and she was looking eagerly at the
door when Giovanni Sansevero entered. At once her face became
transfigured. "Ah, there thou art, my mouse!" she said, pulling out the
chair beside her for him.

He smiled and nodded familiarly to all at the table.

"At least it is good for the rest of us that you come, Prince!" said the
manager. "Fava is in a frightful mood." But there was that in Giovanni's
expression that made the manager's speech turn quickly from any too
personal allusion, and a qualifying clause was trailed at the end of his
sentence, "She may show you more politeness."

Giovanni looked annoyed. The dancer, to appease him, said gently: "You
know I am nervous from overwork. The rehearsals have been doubled
lately. If you don't come when I expect you, I imagine horrors!" The
manager was about to put his fork into a grilled quail, when she whisked
it away and put it on Giovanni's plate. The former was obliged to vent
his indignation against her obstinately turned back and deaf ears. She
was conscious of nothing and of no one but Giovanni, whom she was
feeding with her own fork. His appetite, however, paying small
compliment to her attention, she arose, and he followed her into the
other room. Whereupon her guests, less constrained without her, drank
and were merry.

In the salon Giovanni's musical, caressing voice was saying, "You look
bewitching to-night, Fava _mia_!" He covered her with his glance, so
that she preened herself. He laughed lightly at her vanity, and, leaning
over, kissed her lovely shoulder. Quickly, with both hands she held him
close, her cheek against his.

"_Carissimo_," she said tensely, "if you ever love any other woman----"

"I love you," he said, against her lips; "let there be no doubt of
that." And there was a long silence between them.

Giovanni was not one of those who can withstand a woman of beauty. He
loved La Favorita passionately; she perhaps more than any one else could
hold him--a Griselda one day, a fury the next, but always alive and
always beautiful.

Yet he might have indulged his curiosity as to what she would do if
seriously aroused to jealousy, had it not been for his innate hatred of
all exhibitions of feeling, which seemed to him _bourgeois_. He knew
that if the dancer had an idea that he might be falling in love with
Nina, she would be capable of any scandal. On the other hand, he could
not imagine Favorita's being jealous of the American girl. He had often
congratulated himself that she was not jealous of her only real rival,
the Contessa Potensi, his devotion to whom, however, he had managed to
keep so quiet that very few persons in Rome had a suspicion of it.

The contessa, on the other hand, looked upon Giovanni's attention to the
dancer as an artifice practised solely on her account, so that the world
would the less suspect his attachment to herself. Neither woman had
until now felt any jealousy of Nina. To their Italian temperament she
had seemed too cold a type, too antipathetic, to be a danger. The
contessa was quite willing to have Giovanni marry the heiress, for she
never doubted that the end of the honeymoon would find him tied more
securely than ever to her own footstool.

Giovanni, at present, with his arms about the dancer, was raining a
succession of kisses upon her lips, her eyes, her hair. He could feel
that she was all on edge about something, but, man-like, he preferred to
keep things on the surface and not stir depths that might be turbulent.
His efforts, however, were of small avail.

"Swear to me by the Madonna, and by your ancestors, that you will not
marry!"

With sudden coldness Giovanni drew away from her. He let both arms hang
limp at his sides. "Why let this thought come always between us!" Then,
exasperated into taking up the discussion, he crossed his arms and faced
her: "We might as well have this out. I am not engaged--I swear that;
but whether I ever shall be or not, you have no cause for jealousy.
Marriage in my world, you know very well, is not a matter of
inclination, but of advantageous arrangement. There is every reason why
I ought to marry, and if that is the case why not one as well as
another? My brother has no children; I am the last of my name."

With a cry she flung her arms around his neck and broke into a storm of
weeping. "You shan't marry her! You shan't. She shall not have your
children for you!"

But Giovanni grew impatient. He unclasped her hands and pushed her away.
"If you make these scenes all the time, I won't come near you! Please,
once for all, let us have this ended. If there is one thing I can't
endure, it is a woman who cries. Here, take my handkerchief. Come
now--that is right, be reasonable." His tone modified, and he lightly
and more affectionately laid his hand upon her shoulder. "Come here a
minute, I want to show you a picture." He led her, as he spoke, before a
long mirror.

"Now, _cara mia_, tell me, do you think that a man who possessed the
love of such a woman as that would be apt to run seeking elsewhere?"

La Favorita looked at her own reflection, at the slender yet full
perfection of southern beauty, and she saw also the returning ardor in
the face of her lover as he, too, looked at her image. Her black eyes
grew soft, her lips parted slightly--with a sudden exuberance he caught
her to him, and this time he held her so tensely that, although her
plaint was the same, her tone was altogether different. "But I don't
want you to marry--even without love, I don't want you to," she pouted
softly.

"You are an idiot, Fava!" But the words were whispered caressingly. "It
would be much better for you if I did."



CHAPTER X

MR. RANDOLPH SENDS FOR JOHN DERBY


Meanwhile, one morning in New York, the express elevator of the American
Trust Building shot skyward without stop to the twentieth story, at
which John Derby alighted. He emerged upon a broad space of marble
corridor, leading to the offices of J. B. Randolph & Co. Derby, being
known--and, moreover, on the list of those expected--escaped the
catechism to which visitors usually were subjected, and was shown into
the waiting room without question. When, some minutes later, he was
admitted to Mr. Randolph's private office, he caught the sign of battle
in the ruffled effect of the great financier's hair, for he had a habit,
when excited, of running his fingers up over his right temple until his
iron gray locks bristled. But, whatever the cause of his annoyance, it
was put aside as he held out his hand in unmistakable welcome to Derby.
"Hello, John, good work! You have got here nearly a day ahead of the
time I expected you. What is the latest news? Did you have any trouble
in the swamp district?"

"None at all. We find the quick sands average only about thirty feet,
and the tubes go easily below. Everything is going along splendidly.
Better than I had ever dared to hope."

Mr. Randolph nodded his satisfaction. "And now," he said, "I'll tell you
why I wired for you. The Volcano Sulphur Company is buying every
available mine, and it is time for us to look into the Sicilian
possibility. How soon can you leave for Italy?"

"As soon as you say, sir."

"Have you secured your assistant engineers?"

"Jenkins came on with me, for one, and I am pretty sure I can get a man
named Tiggs--a good mechanic, who was with me at Copper Rock."

"And how soon can you get your machinery? You'll have to take everything
in that line with you. Otherwise, you might get off by--to-morrow? The
_Lusitania_ sails in the afternoon." He added this last with impatient
regret.

Derby pondered a moment, and then answered briskly: "I can make it.
Jenkins can follow with the machinery on a Mediterranean boat. There
will be no delay over there, as I'll have time to make my arrangements."

"Good!" Mr. Randolph seemed pleased, then asked abruptly, "How well do
you speak Italian?"

"Fluently, very; grammatically, not at all."

Mr. Randolph smiled. "Fluently will be good enough. Especially if you
pick up an assortment of expletives in the Sicilian vernacular. Go to
Rome first. Look about and get information on the Sicilian mines,
especially those that are unproductive by the present mining system.
Lease one and try your process. If it works--we have the biggest thing
in the way of a sulphur control imaginable. You'd better get an option
on every sulphur mine you can, to lease on a royalty basis. Our Italian
correspondent will be notified to honor your drafts. You will have to
use your own discretion as to necessary expenses--of course, you are to
send a weekly statement to the office. The royalty to you on your
inventions will be ten per cent. on the net, not the gross, earnings.
Still, if it all turns out well, you ought to make a nice thing out of
it."

A swift gleam of eagerness leaped into the young man's face. Mr.
Randolph looked at him sharply. "I did not know that you were so
mercenary, John."

"In my place any man would want millions, or else that----" He broke off
abruptly, leaving his meaning unexpressed. But his eyes had something
wistful in their direct appeal, which perhaps the older man understood,
for his expression was unusually kind as he asked with apparent
irrelevancy, "Have you heard from Nina?"

Derby flushed even under his tan, but he answered frankly: "Yes, I have
had letters regularly--bully ones--full of Italy and the high nobility.
Isn't it just like her to remember her friends at home!" Then he added
ardently, "There was never any one like Nina--never! Of course, every
man in Italy is in love with her by now."

"Humph!" was Mr. Randolph's answer, as his hand went up through his hair
until it stood straight on end. "Had she the disposition of Xantippe and
the ugliness of Medusa she would be called a goddess divine by the
titled sellers. But what can I do? I can't keep her locked up at
home--for the matter of that, she is run after about as badly over
here----" and he added gently in an altered tone, "My poor little girl!
Sometimes I think how much better off she would have been as the
daughter of a man without money. At present, of course, she is beset
with every possible danger. I don't think Nina will lose her heart
easily, mind you, but there is an underlying excitement in her letters
that gives me some uneasiness as to the state of her emotions. I do not
relish the possibility of her marrying one of those ingratiating,
cold-hearted, and seemingly ardent noblemen." Then, as though to qualify
his general statement, he continued, "My sister-in-law married a decent
sort of a man, and I imagine they are happy--but she'd have done much
better if she had married your uncle. He never cared for any one else,
and I hoped it would be a match. But Alessandro Sansevero came along and
swept her off her feet. She was a great beauty, and I believe he married
her for love--which is more than I can hope in Nina's case."

Into Derby's face there came a look like that of the small boy who gazes
hungrily into a bakery shop window as he protested. "No one could know
Nina well and not love her. She is the squarest, the truest, just as she
is the most beautiful, girl in the world."

"No,"--Mr. Randolph spoke quite slowly, for him--"Nina is not
beautiful--sweet, and unspoiled, and lovable, yes; but she is not a
beauty."

Derby's face kindled with indignation, and he retorted unguardedly,
"I grant you she hasn't one of those pleased-with-itself,
don't-disturb-the-placidity-of-my-peerless-perfection sort of faces; the
valentine sort that strikes a man at first sight, but that at the end of
a week he would do anything for the sake of varying its monotony. But
Nina--the more you look at her the more lovely she becomes, _unless_ she
gets the notion that some man wants to marry her money--and then it is
time for me to take to the prairies! Her eyes get hard, her mouth goes
up on one side and her features seem to set and freeze. She has only one
hard side, but that is adamant! Poor girl, I can hardly blame her. As
she says herself, there are proposals on her breakfast tray every
morning--with all the other advertisements."

Mr. Randolph looked directly into the blue eyes before him, as though to
probe their depths. "I want my girl to marry a man whom she can look up
to because he is trying to accomplish something himself," he said
emphatically, "and not one who will lay his hat down in the front hall
of my house instead of at his own office. And," he added grimly, "a
coronet in place of the hat is still less to my liking."

A curiously restrained, almost diffident, expression, which in no way
suited his personality, came into Derby's face, and he abruptly rose to
take leave.

Mr. Randolph rose also, but, instead of terminating the interview,
crossed the room, saying, "Before you go, John, I want to show you a
prize I have found." He turned a canvas that stood face to the wall, and
lifted it to a sofa for a better view.

It was a marvelous picture: a Madonna and child; and on the shoulder of
the Madonna was a dove.

"It is supposed to be a Raphael," said Randolph, "and I am convinced
that it is. The story is rather interesting. Raphael painted two
pictures that were almost identical. One is in the Sansevero family.
Their collection in Rome I have seen, but this picture has always hung
at Torre Sansevero, their country estate, and I have never been there.
However, as I said, Raphael painted two. The second belonged to the
Belluno family and was sold long ago into France. There it became the
property of a Duc du Richeur, and during the Revolution it was
supposedly destroyed. Some time ago Christopher Shayne, the dealer,
bought among other things at an auction a nearly black canvas. On having
it cleaned, this was the result--without doubt the lost Raphael!"

"Jove, that's interesting!" exclaimed Derby. "I'd like to see the
other. Perhaps I'll have the chance, although Nina wrote that they were
leaving for Rome, and that was several weeks ago. But now good-by, sir.
Tiggs and Jenkins are to meet me at the Engineers' Club at noon. I am
sure I can get off to-morrow."

Mr. Randolph held the younger man's hand in a long clasp as he said,
"Good-by, my boy, and--luck to you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

As Derby left the office, the sudden prospect of seeing Nina so soon set
his thoughts in a turmoil unusual to the condition in which he managed
pretty steadily to keep them. Of all the things that this young man had
accomplished, none had been more difficult than preserving the attitude
toward Nina that he had after careful deliberation determined upon. To
his chagrin the task became more, instead of less, difficult, as time
went on. In the long ago, it had been she who adored and he who accepted
the adoration--in the way common with the big boy and the little girl.
He had taught her to swim, and to ride, and to shoot. And--though he did
not realize it--from his own precepts she had acquired a directness of
outlook and a sense of truth that embodied justice as well as candor,
and that was in quality much more like that of a boy than a girl.

Then came the time when he was no longer a boy. He went out West, and
work made him serious, and absence made him realize that he loved her as
that rare type of man loves who loves but one woman in his life. But
she, never dreaming of any change in his feelings, went on thinking of
him always as of a brother. Often, when he returned from a long absence,
and she ran to meet him with both hands outstretched, he looked for some
sign from her--some fleeting gleam such as he had caught in other
women's eyes. But always Nina's glance had met his own affectionately,
but squarely and tranquilly. His coming, or his going, brought smiles or
gravity to her lips, but her eyes showed no sudden veiling of feeling,
no new consciousness of meaning unexpressed. When she laughed, they
danced as though the sunlight were caught under their hazel surface.
When she was serious, they were velvety soft. To John hers was the
sweetest, brightest, and assuredly the most expressive face in the
world. But he knew the distrust and coldness that would undoubtedly be
his portion should he ever forget the rôle that up to the present he had
played to perfection--that of her brotherly, affectionate friend. Her
very expression, "Dear old John"--generally she said "Jack"--her entire
lack of reserve or self-consciousness in his presence, put him where he
belonged.

And the other women--undoubtedly there were lots of the every-day kind,
waiting all along the stream, just as there always are when a man is
young and fairly good to look upon. And there were the different, and
far more dangerous, "other women," who wait at the whirlpools for a man
who has that elusive but distinctly felt magnetism which some
personalities exert, seemingly with indifference, and quite apart from
any effort or intent. But John Derby lashed his heart to the mast of
hard work and resolutely turned his eyes and ears from the sirens. And
so he saw the years stretching on, always crammed with tasks that he was
to accomplish, but without hope of ever winning the girl he loved,
because of the barrier of her money.

Only a short time before, when a letter from her had come to
Breakstone--a long letter full of the beauty and charm of Italy and the
Italians--Derby had gone to the edge of the forest and--for no reason
that any one could see, save the apparent joy of swinging an
axe--chopped a tree into fire-wood.

"D--n it all," he muttered as the chips flew, "I could support a
wife--if she wasn't so all-fired rich." Later he carried a load of his
wood across the clearing to the camp and slammed it down. "Oh, h----, I
hate money!" he exclaimed vehemently to Jenkins.

Jenkins, a Southerner, took the statement placidly. "Looks like you're
workin' powerful hard to get what you don't care for. Some of that
kindlin' 'd go good under this soup pot."

Derby laughed and fed the fire. But "Shut up, Jenkins, you ass!" was all
the latter got for a retort courteous.



CHAPTER XI

ROME GOES TO THE OPERA


On the evening of the first court ball, the Sanseveros gave a small
dinner, after which they went to the opera. The guests were the Count
and Countess Olisco, Count Tornik, Don Cesare Carpazzi, and Prince
Minotti. Don Cesare Carpazzi, a thin swarthy youth, sat just across the
corner of the table from Nina. Although his appearance was one of great
neatness, it was all too evident, if one observed with good eyes, that
the edges of his shirt had been trimmed with the scissors until the hem
narrowed close to the line of stitching; and his evening clothes in a
strong light would have revealed not only the fatal gloss of long use,
but also careful darning. The old saying that "Clothes make the man" was
refuted in his case, however, as his arrogance was proclaimed in every
gesture.

Sitting next to him was the Countess Olisco, the Russian whom Nina had
noted and admired at her aunt's ball. As there were but nine at dinner,
and the conversation was general, Nina had time to observe closely her
appearance. She had the broad Russian brow, the Egyptian eyes and
unbroken bridge of the nose. She was the most slender woman imaginable,
and her slenderness was exaggerated by the fashion of wearing her hair
piled up so high and so far forward that at a distance it might be taken
for a small black fur toque tipped over her nose. She rarely wore
colors, but to-night, because of the etiquette against wearing black at
court, her long-trained dress was of sapphire blue velvet, as severe and
as clinging as possible.

Nina divined better than she knew, when she put the little Russian and
Carpazzi in the same category. Fundamentally they were much the same,
but whereas he was always bursting into flame, the contessa suggested a
well banked fire that burned continually, but within destroyed itself
rather than others. Thin, white, and self-consuming, she was like the
small Russian cigarettes that were never out of her lips. Fragile as she
looked, she had a will that brooked no obstacle, an energy that knew no
fatigue.

Aside from her appearance, the story that Giovanni had related of the
contessa's marriage was in itself enough to arouse the interest of any
girl alive to romance. According to him, she was the daughter of a
Russian nobleman of great family and wealth. The Count Olisco (a
mild-eyed Italian boy, he looked) had been attached to the legation at
St. Petersburg. Zoya was only sixteen years old when she announced her
intention of marrying him. Her father, furious that the Italian had
dared approach his daughter, demanded his recall, whereupon she told him
the astonishing news that Olisco had never, to her knowledge, even seen
her. But she declared that if her father did not marry her to him, she
would kill herself.

She did take poison but, being saved by the doctors, who discovered it
through her maid, she sent the same maid to tell the Count Olisco the
whole story. The romance of her act, coupled with her beauty and her
birth, naturally so flattered the young Italian that he offered himself
as a suitor, and, her father relenting, they were married.

Nina was left for some time to her own thoughts, as her Italian (not
particularly fluent at best) was altogether lacking in idiom, and she
missed the point of most that was said. In the first lull, the Count
Olisco asked her the usual question put to every stranger, "How do you
like Rome?"

The Countess Olisco, like an echo, caught and repeated her husband's
inquiry, "Ah, and do you like Rome?"

And then Carpazzi hoped she liked Rome--and this very harmless subject
was tossed gently back and forth, until Prince Minotti gave it an
unexpectedly violent fling by remarking, "I suppose Signorina, that you
have been impressed"--he held the pause with evident satisfaction--"with
the great history of the Carpazzi, without which there would be no
Rome!"

All at once the young man in the threadbare coat became like a live
wire! His hair, which already was _en brosse_, seemed to rise still
higher on his head, his thin lips quivered, and his hands worked in a
complete language of their own. He put up an immediate barrier with his
palms held rigidly outward. All the table stopped to look, and to
listen.

"Does a Principe Minotti"--he pronounced the word "_Principe_" with a
sneering curl of the lips--"dare to criticize a Carpazzi?" He threw back
his head with a jerk.

"What is he?" whispered Nina to Tornik, who was sitting next her. "Is he
a duke?"

"A Don, that is all, I believe."

Softly as the question was put and answered, Carpazzi heard. Showing
none of the fury of a moment before he spoke suavely, though still with
arrogance.

"Signorina is a stranger in Rome; the Count Tornik also is a foreigner,
which excuses an ignorance that would be unpardonable in an Italian."

Tornik at that moment pulled his mustache, looking at it down the length
of his nose. It was impossible to tell whether the movement hid
annoyance or amusement. Nina was keen with curiosity.

"Of course," Nina said sweetly, eager to soothe his over-sensitive
pride, "I have heard of the Carpazzi, but I do not know what is the
title of your house. I asked Count Tornik whether you were a duke."

"I am Cesare di Carpazzi!" He said it as though he had announced that he
was the Emperor of China.

"The Carpazzi are of the oldest nobility," Giovanni interposed. "Such a
name is in itself higher than a title."

Don Cesare bowed to Don Giovanni as though to say, "You see! thus it
is!"

The subject would have simmered down, had not Tornik at this point set
it boiling, by saying in an undertone to Nina, "Why all this fuss? It is
stupid, don't you think?"

He spoke in French, carelessly articulated, but the sharp ears of
Carpazzi overheard.

"Why all this fuss!" he repeated. "It is insupportable that an upstart
of 'nobility' styled p-r-ince"--he snarled the word--"a title that was
_bought_ with a tumbledown estate, _dares_ to speak lightly the great
name of the Carpazzi, a name that is higher than that of the reigning
family."

His flexible fingers flashed and grew stiff by turns. Nina had seen a
good deal of gesticulating since she had come to Rome; she had even been
told that the different expressions of the hand had meanings quite as
distinct as smiles or frowns or spoken words, and Carpazzi's fingers
certainly looked insulting, as with each snap he also snapped his lips.

"You know whereof I speak, Alessandro and Giovanni--not even the
Sansevero have the lineage of the Carpazzi!"

"Certainly, certainly, my friend," answered Giovanni. "No one is
disputing the fact with you."

"But I should think," ventured Nina, her velvety eyes looking
wonderingly into his flashing black ones, "that you would accept a
title, it would make it so much simpler--especially among strangers who
do not know the family history. A duke is a duke and a prince for
instance----"

Up went his hand, rigid, palm outward, and at right angles to his wrist,
"There you are wrong. A duke or a prince may be a parvenu. For me to
accept a title--Non! It would mean that the name of _Carpazzi_,"--he
lingered on the pronunciation--"could be improved! The name of Minotti,
for instance, what does it say? Nothing! It is the name of a peasant. It
may be dressed up to masquerade as noble, if it has 'Principe' pushed
along before it. But it could not deceive a Roman. It is not the
'Principe' before Sansevero that gives it renown. Don Giovanni Sansevero
is a greater title than the Marchese Di Valdo, by which Giovanni is
generally known. Yet Di Valdo is a good name, too, let me tell you."

The Princess Sansevero kept Minotti's attention as much as possible, so
that it might appear that Carpazzi's arraignment had not been heard. All
that Carpazzi said was perfectly true. There was little therefore that
Minotti could have answered. He was a man of plebeian origin. His
father, a rich speculator, had bought a piece of property and assumed
the title that went with it. To a Roman the name Carpazzi was a great
deal higher than that of any number of dukes and princes.

The question of "Good Taste," however, was another matter and the
princess changed the subject by asking:

"Does any one know what the opera is to-night?"

The Contessa Olisco announced: "La Traviata." "They are to have a
special scene in the third act," she said, "to introduce a new dance of
Favorita's." She did not look at Giovanni, and yet she seemed to be
aiming her remarks at him. To Nina it all meant nothing. Once or twice
she had heard the name of the celebrated dancer, but it merely brushed
through her perceptions like other fleeting suggestions; nothing ever
had brought it to a full stop.

The talk turned on other topics, and as the meal was very short, only
five courses, the princess, the contessa, and Nina soon withdrew to
another room. The conversation there, as it happened, came back to the
subject of Carpazzi.

Zoya Olisco lit her cigarette and spoke with it pasted on her lower lip.
She smoked like this continually, and never touched the cigarette except
to light it and put a new one in its place.

"Though I see what he means," she said, "I should, were I in his place,
claim a title! They need not take a new one. My husband told me that the
Carpazzi were of the genuine optimates of the Roman Duchy."

"I think Cesare regrets in his heart," said the Princess Sansevero,
"that his ancestors did not accept one, but I agree with him now."

She stirred her coffee slowly and then added, "I am fond of the boy, but
I do not think I shall have him to dinner soon again. He is too
uncontrolled."

The contessa agreed. And then, with her eyes half shut to avoid the
smoke of her cigarette, she stared with fixed curiosity at Nina.

"Do you find people here like those in America?" she asked.

"Yes, some are quite like Americans," Nina answered, and added frankly,
"but you at least are altogether different from any one I have ever
seen!"

"Really, am I?" The contessa raised her eyebrows and laughed. "I know of
what you are thinking!" She said it with a deliciously impulsive candor.
"You are thinking of my marriage. Yes, it is true! The instant my father
said 'no,' I took poison. It was the only way. Had fate willed it, I
would have died. But fate willed that I should be--just married." She
laughed again.

Nina glanced at her aunt, whose answering smile said clearly, "I told
you she was like this."

The contessa lit another cigarette--everything she said and did seemed
incongruous with her appearance, she was so fragile and so young. Nina
became more and more fascinated as she watched her.

"But supposing that, after meeting him, you had not liked him?" she
asked.

"That is impossible. I know always if I like people. I like people at
sight--or I detest them! For instance, I detest Donna Francesca Dobini.
She is a beauty, I know. She has charming manners; so has a cat. She is
all soft sweetness. Ugh! I hate her!--But I like you."

Nina was delighted, but she could not help being amused. "You don't know
me in the least," she laughed. "I may be a perfectly horrid person."

The contessa shrugged her shoulders. "That is nothing to me. No doubt I
adore some very horrid persons!" Then impetuously she ran her arm
through Nina's as they walked through the long row of rooms to the one
where their wraps were. "I _like_ you!" she repeated; "that is all there
is to it!"

In the hall they were joined by the men, and started for the opera.

Here, Nina had an unusual opportunity to see Roman Society, as the house
that night was brilliant with the people who were going afterwards to
the Court Ball. Donna Francesca Dobini, a celebrated beauty, was rather
affectedly draped in a tulle arrangement around her shoulders. The
Contessa Olisco, who for the time being was forced to do without her
cigarette, said to Nina:

"Look at her, there she is! She is 'going off,' so that she has to wrap
tulle about her old neck to hide the wrinkles."

She moved the column of her young throat with conscious triumph as she
spoke. A moment later, as though Nina would understand, she whispered:
"There is the Potensi! No! In the box opposite. She has on a dress of
purple velvet. Sitting very straight, and quantities of diamonds."

Nina put up her opera glass and encountered an insolent stare, as
though the Contessa Potensi were purposely disdainful of the American
girl.

"She is the same one with whom Don Giovanni danced opposite in the
quadrille! Heavens! but she is a disagreeable person!"

"She has reason for looking disagreeable," announced the Contessa Zoya
with a meaning laugh; but more she would not say.

Giovanni leaned over Nina's chair. "Do you find the Romans attractive?
How does our opera compare with that of New York?"

"The house seems made of cardboard," Nina answered. "I never thought our
opera houses especially wonderful----"

"No?" Giovanni rallied her. "Is it possible that you have anything in
America that is not the most wonderful in the world! I am sure you will
say your opera house is bigger! And richer! and more comfortable! Yes?
Of course it is!" He laughed. "My apple is bigger than your apple. My
doll is bigger than your doll! What children you are, you Americans!"

"If we are children," retorted Nina, piqued by his laughter, "we must be
granted the advantages of youth!"

With a sudden gravity, but none the less mockingly, Giovanni besought
her for enlightenment.

"We gain in enthusiasm, energy, and honesty," she announced
sententiously. "A country and a people never attain perfection of finish
until they have begun to grow decadent. I'd rather have my doll and my
big apple than sit, like an old cynic, in the corner, watching the
children play!"

She was immensely pleased with this speech,--mentally she quite preened
herself. Giovanni looked amused, but the Contessa Potensi caught his
glance from across the house, and his smile faded as he bowed. Nina, who
had good eyes, saw a complete change in her face as she returned his
salutation.

"Do you like that woman?"

"She is one of the beauties of Rome," he said evasively.

"No, but do you like her?" Nina could not herself have told why she was
so insistent.

"She is an old friend of mine," he said lightly; then changed the
subject. "Do you follow the hounds, Miss Randolph?"

"At home, yes." But she came back to the former topic. "Does she ride
very well, the Contessa Potensi?"

"Wonderfully." This time he answered her easily. "But I am sure you ride
well, too. Any one who dances as you do, must also be a horsewoman."

There was something in Giovanni's manner that excited suspicion, but she
did not know of what. She half wondered if there had been a love affair
between him and the Contessa. Maybe he had wanted to marry her and she
had accepted Potensi instead. She wondered if Giovanni still cared; and
for a while her sympathy was quite aroused.

The curtain went up and every one stopped talking. At the beginning of
the _entr'acte_ Giovanni left the box, and Count Tornik took his chair.
He was a strange man, but Nina was beginning to like him.
Notwithstanding his brusque indifference, he had a charm that he could
exert when he chose. Giovanni's speeches were no more flattering than
Tornik's lapses from boredom.

As a matter of fact, in spite of his assumed bad manners, the social
instinct was so strong in him that, just as a vulgar person shows his
origin in every unguarded moment or unexpected situation, Tornik's good
breeding was constantly revealed. And in appearance, he was an
attractive contrast to the Italians, tall, broad-shouldered, very blond,
and high cheekboned; he might have been taken for an Englishman.

Presently her Majesty, the Dowager Queen, appeared in the royal box, and
every one in the audience arose.

"Shall we see both queens to-night at the ball?" Nina asked the Princess
Sansevero.

"No; only Queen Elena. The Queen Mother has never been present at a ball
since King Umberto's tragic death."

"I wish this evening were over," said Nina, with a half-frightened sigh.

The Contessa Olisco, who had caught the remark and the sigh, asked
sympathetically, "But why?"

"I was nervous enough over going alone to the presentation the other
afternoon, but to go to a ball is much worse."

"But you won't be alone. We shall be there! You may have your endurance
put to the test, though. Are you very strong?"

Nina laughed. "You mean, have I the strength to stand indefinitely
without dropping to the floor?"

"Ah! you know, then, how it is. Still--if it is hard for us, think what
it must be for their Majesties. To-night, for instance, the King does
not once sit down!"

Nina opened her eyes wide. "I thought the King and Queen sat on their
throne. But then--I had an idea the presentation would be like that,
too--and that I should have to courtesy all across a room, and back out
again."

The Contessa Zoya seemed to be occupied with a reminiscence that amused
her. "If you have a special audience, you do, or if you go to take tea.
We had a private audience yesterday with Queen Margherita and--I had on
a long train--and clinging. Of course, entering the room is not hard--I
made my three reverences very nicely, very gracefully, I thought,--one
at the door, one half-way across the room, and one directly before the
Queen, as I kissed her hand. But when the audience was over, the
distance between where her Majesty sat and the door of exit--my dear, it
seemed leagues! One must back all the way and make three deep
courtesies! The first was simple, the second, half-way across the room,
was difficult. I was already standing on nearly a meter of train, and
when I got to the door--well, I just walked all the way up the back of
my dress, lost my balance and _fell out_!"

Nina laughed at the picture, but was glad the presentation had not been
like that.

"When you go to take tea with the Queen it is difficult, too," Zoya,
having begun to explain, went on with all the details that came to mind.
"Since two years Queen Elena has given 'tea parties' of about thirty or
forty people. Her Majesty talks to every one separately, or in very
small groups, while tea and cake and chocolate and iced drinks are
served by the ladies in waiting--there are never any servants present.
It is of course charming, and the Queen puts every one at ease, but
there is always a feeling that you may do something dreadful--such as
drop a spoon or have your mouth full just at the moment when her Majesty
addresses a remark to you. At the Queen Mother's Court things are more
formal--more ceremonious. I always feel timid before I go. And yet no
sovereign could be more gracious, and her memory is extraordinary. She
forgets nothing. Yesterday she asked me how the baby was. She knew his
age, even his name and all about him. She asked me if he had recovered
from the bronchitis he was subject to. Think of it!"

Nina looked long at the royal box, and could well believe the contessa's
account. Her Majesty was talking to the Marchesa Valdeste.

Of all the older ladies to whom she had been presented, Nina liked the
marchesa best. Her face had the sweet expression that can come only from
genuine kindness and innate dignity. At a short distance from the royal
box Don Cesare Carpazzi was talking to a young girl. Don Cesare's
expression was for the moment transfigured; instead of arrogance, it
suggested rather humility; both he and the young girl seemed deeply
engrossed.

Tornik told Nina that she was Donna Cecilia Potensi, the little
sister-in-law of the contessa in the box opposite. He also added that
Carpazzi was supposed to be in love with her, and she with him, but they
had not a lira to marry on. There were no poorer families in Italy than
the Carpazzis and the Potensis.

Certainly there was nothing in the appearance of the young girl to
indicate wealth, but her plain white dress with a bunch of flowers at
her belt, and her hair as simply arranged as possible, only increased
her Madonna-like beauty.

Nina was enchanted with her, and instinctively compared her appearance
with that of the sister-in-law, glittering with diamonds. "The Contessa
Potensi was a rich girl in her own right, I suppose," Nina remarked
aloud.

With a suspicion of awkwardness Tornik glanced at Giovanni, who had
returned to the box. The latter began to screw up his mustache as he
replied in Tornik's stead. "The Contessa Potensi inherited some very
good jewels from her mother's family, I am told."

"Her mother was an Austrian, a cousin of mine," Tornik drawled. "I never
heard of that branch of the family's having anything but stubble lands
and debts. However, it is evident she has got the jewels! I felicitate
her on her valuable possessions. _Elle a de la chance!_" He shrugged his
shoulders. Tornik's detached and impersonal manner gave no effect of
insult, and Giovanni, beyond looking annoyed, made no further remark.
But the Princess Sansevero interposed:

"Maria Potensi has a passion for jewels, as a child might have for toys,
and she accepts them in the same way. She tells every one about it quite
frankly; in that lies the proof of her innocence."

But the Contessa Zoya showed neither sympathy nor credulity, and there
was no misinterpreting her meaning as she said:

"It is true, Princess, you know the Potensi well, and I only
slightly--but if my husband offered a diamond ornament----"

"He would never give her another! Is that it?" put in Tornik.

"No--nor any one!" The intensity of her tone alarmed Nina, who was
beginning to feel confused by the succession of violent impressions.
Scorpa, Giovanni, Carpazzi, Zoya Olisco, all struck such strident notes
that their vibrations jangled.

Another act and _entr'acte_ passed. Nina saw Giovanni enter the box of
the Contessa Potensi. In contrast to her greeting across the house, she
seemed now scarcely to speak to him. He talked to her companion, the
Princess Malio, who bobbed her head and prattled at a great rate; but as
he left the box Nina saw him lean toward the Contessa Potensi as though
saying something in an undertone. She answered rapidly, behind her fan.
Giovanni inclined his head and left.

This small incident made a greater impression on Nina than its
importance warranted. And the Contessa Potensi occupied her thoughts far
more than the various men who had come into the box, and who seemed
little more than so many varieties of faces and shirt-fronts. She
noticed that many of the older men wore Father Abraham beards and
clothes several sizes too big. On account of the Court Ball those who
had orders wore them, frequently so carelessly pinned to their coats
that the decorations seemed likely to fall off. The Marchese Valdeste--a
really imposing man--had two huge ones dangling from the flapping lapel
of his coat, and a sash with a bow on the hip that would put any man's
dignity to a supreme test.

"The ballet is very important to-night," Nina heard the marchese saying
to the Princess Sansevero. "La Favorita is to appear in the Birth of
Venus. She does another dance first--a Spanish one, I think."

As he spoke, the ballet music had already begun, and the Spanish
_coryphées_ were twisting and bowing, and straightening their spines as
they danced to the beat of their castanettes. Then they moved aside for
the _ballerina_.

It may have been intended as a Spanish dance, or Eastern, or gypsy--but
it was more likely a dance of La Favorita's own imagination. She
appeared clad in a thin slip of transparent and jetted gauze. Upon her
feet were socks and ballet slippers of black satin. A black mask covered
the upper part of her face, and her black hair was drawn high and held
with a diamond bracelet; she wore a diamond collar, long diamond
earrings, and the gauze of her upper garment--which could hardly be
called a bodice--was held on one shoulder with a band of diamonds. For
the space of a second she faced the audience, standing still and rigid;
then, with a quiver, the rigidity was shattered! A serpent's coiling was
not more swift than the movement of her dazzling, glittering form, which
twirled and turned and bent, while the twinkling rapidity of her steps
was faster than the eye could follow. A twirl, another twirl, a
flash--and she was gone.

[Illustration: "FOR THE SPACE OF A SECOND SHE FACED THE AUDIENCE,
STANDING STILL AND RIGID"]

The _coryphées_, who had seemingly danced well before, were now so
awkward by comparison that Nina and Tornik laughed aloud.

"They look like cows," commented Tornik.

"Or nailed to the ground," Nina rejoined. She leaned forward, eager for
Favorita's reappearance.

To make a background for the second dance, the stage hands had moved in
folding wings or screens of sea green. The calciums had gradually been
turning to the blue of moonlight, and now, at the back of the stage,
Venus arose, veiled in a mist of foam.

Seeming scarcely to touch her feet to the ground, the dancer was a puff
of the foam itself, a living fragment of green and white spray. She
caught her arms full of the sea-colored gauze, like a great billow above
her head, and then with a swirl she bent her body and drew the
diaphanous film out sideways, like a wave that had run up on the sands.
Drawing it together again, she seemed to produce another breaker.

So perfectly was the fabric handled that it seemed exactly like the
spray of the sea, which, in its freshness, clung to her, and at the
last, by a wonderful illusion, she gave the appearance of having gone
under the waves.

For several seconds the house remained absolutely hushed, and in that
moment Nina found herself vaguely groping through a confusion of
ecstatic, yet slightly shocked, sensations. She wondered whether La
Favorita had really nothing on except a number of yards of tulle which
she held in her hands.

But the verdict of the audience was voiced by a torrent of bravos and
handclappings that thundered until La Favorita, having thrown a long
mantle about her, came out into the glare of the footlights.

She bowed and kissed her hands, her smiles of acknowledgment sweeping
the house from left to right, but at the box of the Sanseveros her
smile faded, and she threw back her head with a movement of triumph.

Nina was startled into fancying that she looked long, directly, and
particularly at her.



CHAPTER XII

A BALL AT COURT


The Sansevero party left the opera shortly after ten o'clock, and a
little while later drove into the courtyard of the Quirinal. Entering a
side door, they ascended a long staircase, upon each step of which was
stationed a royal cuirassier, all resplendent in embroidered coats,
polished high boots, and veritable Greek helmets, which seemed to add
still further to their unusual height. Between their immovable ranks the
guests thronged up the stairway to the Cuirassiers' Hall. Here, at the
long benches provided for the purpose, they left their wraps in charge
of innumerable flunkies in the royal livery--which consists of a red
coat, embroidered either in gold or in silver, powdered hair, blue plush
breeches, and pink stockings.

Nina followed her aunt and uncle through an antechamber into the throne
room and beyond again into the vast yellow _sala di ballo_. Here also
the cuirassiers, who were stationed everywhere, added a martial dignity
to the splendor of the scene. The people were all massed against the
sides of the room; and although certain important personages had seats
upon the long red silk benches placed in set rows, the great majority of
those present stood, and stood, and stood. In contrast to her weary
waiting at the afternoon reception when, a few days before, she had been
presented at court, Nina found so much to interest her to-night that she
did not remark the time. One side of the room was quite empty save for
the big gilt chair reserved for the Queen, and the stools grouped around
it for ladies in waiting. Three especial stools were placed at the left
of the queen for the three "collaresses"--those whose husbands held the
highest order in Italy, the Grand Collar of the Annunciation.

It was the most brilliant gathering that Nina had ever seen, chiefly
made so by the gold-embroidered uniforms and court orders of the men.
The dresses and jewels of the women differed very little from those seen
at social functions elsewhere. With a rare exception, such as the
Duchessa Astarte and the Princess Vessano, whose toilettes were the most
_chic_ imaginable, the great ladies of Italy followed fashions very
little. Not that Nina found them dowdy--far from it: they had a
distinction of their own, which, like that of their ancient palaces,
seemed to remain superior to modern decrees of fashion. Nearly all of
them had lovely figures, which they did not strive to force into newly
prescribed outlines.

A remark that a foreigner in New York had made to Nina came back to her,
and she now realized its truth. It was that the one great difference
between the women of Europe and those of America was that in Europe one
noticed the women, while in America too often one noticed merely the
clothes. The Roman ladies wore plain princesse dresses, the majority of
velvet or brocade, and with little or no trimming save enormous jewels
often clumsily set, but barbarically magnificent.

Here and there, to Nina's intense interest, she found, strangely mingled
with the others, people of the provinces, who, because of distinguished
names, had the right to appear at court, yet who looked as though they
were wearing evening dress for the first time in their lives. Near by,
for instance, was a lady whose rotund person was buttoned into a
tight-fitting red velvet basque of ancient cut, above a skirt of pink
satin. A court train, evidently constructed out of curtain material, was
suspended from her shoulders. Broad gold bracelets clasped her plump
wrists at the point where her gloves terminated, and a high comb of
Etruscan gold ornamented the hard knob into which her hair was screwed.

Princess Vessano represented the other extreme--that of fashion. She was
in an Empire "creation" of green liberty satin with an over-tunic of
silver-embroidered gauze. Her hair was arranged in a fillet of diamonds,
which joined a small banded coronet, also of diamonds, set with three
enormous emeralds. Around her throat she had a narrow band of green
velvet bordered with diamonds and with a pendant emerald in the center
that matched pear-shaped earrings nearly an inch long. Yet in a crowd
of three thousand persons neither the grotesque lady nor the princess
was remarkable.

The crush of people became greater and greater until it seemed
impossible to admit another person without filling the center of the
ballroom and the royal space. As there was no music, the chatter of
voices made an insistent humming din. At last! the Prefetto di Palazzo
sounded three loud strokes, with the ferule of his mace, upon the floor,
the sound of voices ceased, the doors into the royal apartments were
thrown open, the band struck up the royal march, and their Majesties
entered, followed by the members of their suite. Every one made a deep
reverence, and the Queen seated herself upon the gold chair. The King
stood at her left. As soon as the Queen had taken her place, the dancing
commenced, led by the Prefetto di Palazzo and the French ambassadress.
But as a wide space before the Queen's chair was reserved out of
deference to their Majesties, the rest of the ballroom was so crowded
that dancing was next to impossible. Presently the King made a tour of
the room--followed always by two gentlemen of his suite, with whom he
stopped continually to ask who this person or that might be, sometimes
speaking to special guests.

The Queen likewise singled out certain strangers of distinction. In this
way she sent for a United States senator, who was making a short visit
in Rome, and kept him talking with her for a considerable time. Her
Majesty sat through the first waltz and quadrille. Then she and the
King promenaded slowly through the assemblage, speaking to many people
as they passed. Some careless foot went through Nina's dress, tearing a
great rent, just as she made her reverence to their Majesties, who were
approaching. The Queen smiled sympathetically and held out her hand for
Nina to kiss, at the same time exclaiming her sympathy, then, quite at
length, her admiration for the lovely dress. Nina flushed with pleasure,
feeling that the damage to her prettiest frock had been more than
repaid.

Giovanni was standing with Nina at the time, and after their Majesties
had passed, he looked quizzically at the torn hem that Nina held in her
hand. "Is it altogether spoiled?"

Nina laughed. "If I were sentimental, I should keep it always in tatters
in memory of the Queen!"

"But as you are not sentimental--I hope it can be mended. May I tell you
that her Majesty's admiration was well deserved? It is a most charming
costume and not too elaborate. The touch of silver in the dress is just
enough to go with the silver fillet over your hair. White is seldom
becoming to blondes, but it suits you admirably."

She looked up, frankly pleased. "It is nice, really? I am so glad!" She
was perfectly happy, and her smile showed it. The whole evening had been
delightful. The disagreeable impressions made by the Contessa Potensi
and Favorita were forgotten as she danced with Giovanni, who performed a
feat of rare ability in finding a passage through the crush.

Presently he said to her, "When their Majesties have gone into an
adjoining room, then the rest of us can go to supper."

As he spoke, Nina saw them disappear through the doorway. "Are they not
coming back?" she asked.

"No. They have gone."

"But do they never dance?"

"Never! Queen Margherita and King Humbert always opened the ball by the
_quadrille d'honneur_, with the ambassadors and important court ladies
and gentlemen. But the present King abolished all that."

At the end of the waltz Tornik managed to find Nina and announced
supper. In the stampede for food there was such a crush that people
stepped on her slippers and literally swept up the floor with her train.
Tornik, being a giant, and able to reach over any number of smaller
persons, finally secured a _pâté_ and an ice. Standing near her, two
young men were stuffing cakes and sandwiches into their pockets. Amazed,
she drew Tornik's attention. He shrugged his shoulders. "Who are they?"
she whispered. "Princes, for all I know," was his rejoinder. "Poor
devils, many of them never get such a feast as this."



CHAPTER XIII

CORONETS FOR SALE


According to Italian etiquette, strangers must leave cards within
twenty-four hours upon every person to whom they have been introduced.
Therefore the afternoon of the day following the ball was necessarily
spent by Nina in three hours of steady driving from house to house.
Finally, as she and the princess were alighting at the Palazzo
Sansevero, Count Tornik drove into the courtyard, and together they
mounted to the apartments used by the family.

Nina settled herself in the corner of a sofa, pulling off her gloves.
Tornik dropped into a loose-jointed heap in a big chair opposite.
Suddenly he sat up straight, his eyebrows lifted.

"I did not know!" he said. "May I felicitate you, mademoiselle?"

"On what?" she asked, puzzled.

"Since you wear a ring, it is evident that your engagement is to be
announced. Will you tell me who is the fortunate man?"

She saw that he was gazing at the emerald she wore on her little finger.
"Is there reason to think I am engaged--because of _this_?"

"Certainly, what else? A young girl's wearing a ring can mean but one
thing."

"On my little finger? How ridiculous! My father gave it to me.
Sometimes, at home, I wear several rings. Does that mean I am engaged to
several men?"

"Then you are still free?"

He hesitated as though under an impulse to say something sentimental,
then apparently changed his mind, and relapsed into his habitually
detached indifference of manner.

"They have curious customs in your country," he said casually. "A friend
of mine was in America last year. He told me many things!"

"Did he? What, for instance?"

"He said that the women sat in chairs that balanced back and forth----"

"Chairs that----" she interrupted. "Oh, you mean rocking-chairs! That's
true, you don't have them over here, do you? I did not mean to
interrupt. You said we rock----"

"Not you, it's the older women who balance all day on verandas, and let
their daughters do whatever they please! In an American family, I am
told, the young girl is supreme ruler. Is that true?"

Nina, laughing, shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know--I never thought
about it! But over here I suppose a girl does not count at all? Tell me,
according to your ideas, what her place should be."

"Oh, I do not say _should_. I merely state the fact: over here, a young
girl plays a very small rôle. But then, for the matter of that, most
people belong naturally in the background, and very few, whether they
are women or men, have their names on the program."

"And you? What part do you play?"

For a moment his eyes gleamed. "That depends upon whether fate shall
cast me to support a _diva_ or to occupy an empty stage."

"And if fate allowed you to choose, I could easily imagine that you
would prefer a part with very little action and as few lines as
possible."

"You are quite wrong. I do not object to saying all that a part calls
for, and, above all, I like action."

"That's true; I had forgotten! You are a soldier! I wonder why you went
into the army?"

"It is the only career open to me."

Nina was thinking of Giovanni and his point of view as she asked, "Why
are you not content to be merely Count Tornik?"

"You mean that I, like Carpazzi, should live on the illustriousness of
my name? If I were very poor, perhaps I should."

"How curious!" Nina exclaimed. "Does not a career mean making money?"

"On the contrary, it means spending it! One must have a great deal of
money to go to any height in diplomacy."

"Then you are rich?" Nina already had acquired a brutal frankness of
direct interrogation through her Italian sojourn.

"Not exactly." He looked bored again. "But I have a little--though
perhaps not enough for my ambition. If only there were a serious war,
I'd have a good chance." Then he added simply, "I am a good soldier!"

The princess, who had been summoned to the telephone, now returned and
seated herself beside Nina on the sofa. "I have just been talking with
the Marchesa Valdeste, and she told me that the Queen said most gracious
things of you, dear; called you the 'charming little American.'" The
prince entered while the princess was speaking. He kissed his wife's
hand and began, at great length, to tell her exactly where and how he
had spent the afternoon. After a while, however, as one or two other
friends dropped in, Sansevero talked aside with Tornik.

"You were not at Savini's last night, were you?" he asked.

Tornik looked interested. "No," he said, "but I hear they had a very
high game."

"Yes. Young Allegro was practically cleaned out."

"Who won?"

"Who, indeed, but Scorpa! He has the luck, that man!"

"Were you there? I thought you never played any more; have you taken it
up again?"

Sansevero, glancing apprehensively at his wife, answered quickly, "I
never play." Fortunately, just then the dangerous conversation was ended
by the arrival of the Contessa Potensi. She smiled graciously upon the
prince as he pressed her hand to his lips, and bestowed the left-over
remnant of the same smile, upon Tornik. She also kissed the air on
either side of the princess with much affection, and shook hands
cordially with two other ladies who were present, but she directed
toward Nina the barest glance.

She and Nina, by the way, furnished at the moment a typical illustration
of the difference in appearance between European and American women.

The contessa was wearing an untrimmed, black tailor-made costume with a
very long train, a little fur toque to match a small neck piece, and a
little sausage-shaped muff. Her diamond earrings were enormous, but not
very good stones. Nina's dress was of raspberry cloth, cut in the latest
exaggeration of fashion--her skirt was short and skimp as her hat was
huge. Her muff of sables as big and soft as a pillow--she could easily
have buried her arms in it to the shoulder. The elaborateness of Nina's
clothes filled the contessa with satisfaction, for she thought them
barbarously inappropriate, and she knew that Giovanni was a martinet so
far as "fitness" went.

Presently, in spite of her more than rude greeting, she coolly sat down
beside Nina. "Will you make me a cup of tea? I like it without sugar
and with very little cream." She did not smile, and she did not say
"please." Her bearing was a fair example of the cold, impersonal
insolence of which Italian women of fashion are capable when
antagonistic.

After a time she leaned over and scrutinized Nina's watch, as though it
were in a show case. "Do many young girls in America wear jewels?"

Nina found herself congealing; instead of answering, she handed the
contessa her tea, and expressed a hope that she had not put in too much
cream.

Taking no notice of Nina's evasion, the contessa, talking
indiscriminately about people, arrived finally at the subject of
Giovanni. In her opinion, the Marchese di Valdo ought to marry money!
Unfortunately, however, she feared he had loved too many women to be
capable now of caring for one alone. From this she went to generalities.
A man had but one grand passion in a lifetime, didn't Nina think so?

Nina's thoughts were very hazy, indeed, about grand passions, which were
associated dimly in her mind with the seven deadly sins--in the category
of things one didn't speak of. So she answered vaguely, feeling like a
stupid child being cross-examined by the school commissioner.

"Still, he is very attractive, don't you find? Of course, he says the
same things to all of us--but then no one understands how to make love
as well as he, so what does it matter whether he means it or not? It
takes a woman of great experience," insinuated the contessa, "to parry
Giovanni's fencing with the foils of love."

Nina was goaded into answering. "You seem to know a great deal about his
love-making," she said at last, with the breathy calm of controlled
temper.

Half shutting her eyes, the contessa replied: "It is common hearsay. One
has only to follow the list of his conquests to know that he must be a
past master in the art of making women care for him. That he is fickle
is evident; he is constantly changing his attentions from one woman to
another, and leaving with a crisis of the heart her whom he has lately
adored. I am sorry for the woman he marries--still, perhaps she would
not know the difference! He might even be devoted, from force of habit."

Nina, furious, told herself that she did not believe one word that this
spiteful woman was saying, but it made an impression all the same, which
was, of course, exactly what the contessa wanted.

"Tornik, too, needs a fortune badly," Maria Potensi went on piercing
neatly. "It is hard, over here with us, that men acquire fortunes only
by marriage. In America, it must be better, for there they can earn
their money, and marry for love."

Nina felt her cheeks burn as she listened, but there was nothing she
could say. She knew only too well how hard it would be to believe
herself loved.

But not all of the women were like the Contessa Potensi, and by the time
Nina had been a month in Rome, she had, with the responsiveness of
youth, formed several friendships that were rapidly drifting into
intimacies, though she chose as her associates, for the most part, young
married women rather than girls. Her particular friend was Zoya Olisco,
really six months younger than herself, but of a precocious worldly
experience that gave her at least ten years' advantage.

The young girls were to Nina quite incomprehensible. Their curiously
negative behavior in public, their self-conscious diffidence, seemed to
her stupid; but their education filled her with envy and shame. Nearly
all spoke several languages, not in her own fashion of broken French,
broken German, and baby-talk Italian, but with perfect facility and
correctness of grammar. Nearly all were thoroughly grounded in
mathematics, history, literature, and science. And yet their whole
attitude toward life seemed out of balance; they were like pedagogues
never out of the schoolroom--one moment discoursing learnedly, the next
prattling like little children. The end and aim of life to them was
marriage. Each talked of her dot and of what it might buy her in the way
of a husband, very much as girls in America might plan the spending of
their Christmas money.

In spite of the unusual liberty allowed Nina, as an American, it seemed
to her that she was very restricted. She had, for instance, suggested
that they ask Carpazzi to dine with them alone and go to the opera. But
the princess had said, "Impossible. Carpazzi, finding no one but the
family, would naturally suppose we wish to arrange a marriage between
you."

Marry Carpazzi! It was ridiculous; she never had heard of such customs!
"Well, then, why not ask Tornik?" she suggested. "He is not an Italian."
The princess demurred. It might be possible to ask Tornik--still it was
better not. Unless Nina wanted to marry Tornik? Apparently there was
little use in pursuing this subject further, so she laughed and gave it
up.

They were in the princess's room, at the time, and Nina, dressed for the
street, was pulling on new gloves of fawn-colored _suède_. Her brown
velvet and fox furs, her big hat with a fox band fastened with an
osprey, were all that the modeste's art could achieve.

The princess fastened a little yellow mink collar around her throat over
her black cloth dress, selected the better of two pairs of cleaned white
kid gloves, picked up her hard, round, little yellow muff, and then went
over and sat on the sofa beside Nina. "By the way, darling, I have
something to say to you. The Marchese Valdeste has approached your
uncle in regard to a marriage between his son Carlo and you. Not being
an Italian, I suppose you want to give your answer yourself. What do you
say?"

"What do I say!" Nina's eyes and mouth opened together. "Why, I have
never seen the man!"

The princess smiled. "The offer is made in the same way in which it
would be if you were an Italian. Your parents not being here, I ask you
in their stead--or as I might ask you if you were a widow. To begin,
then,--no, I am perfectly in earnest--I am authorized to offer you a
young man of unquestionable birth. He has in his own right three
castles. Two will need a great deal of repair, but one is in excellent
condition and contains three hundred rooms, more than half of which are
furnished. He has an annual income of twenty thousand _lire_ and
no--debts! That he is fairly good-looking, medium-sized, has black hair
and brown eyes, and is said to have a very amiable disposition, are
details."

As the princess concluded, Nina added: "And he has also a most charming
mother. My answer is--my regret that I cannot marry her instead."

"You are sure you do not care to consider this offer?"

Nina looked steadily into her aunt's eyes. "I am sure you married Uncle
Sandro through no such courtship as this!"

"I did not think you would accept, my dear child; yet such marriages
often turn out for the best--at least it was my duty to ask for your
answer. You have given it--and now let us go out. The carriage has been
waiting some time."

Shortly afterward they were in the Pincio--for the custom still prevails
among Roman ladies and gentlemen of slowly driving up and down or
standing for a chat with friends. The dome of St. Peter's looked like a
globe of gold set in the center of the celebrated frame of the Pincio
trees, but as the sun went down it grew chilly, and the Sansevero landau
rolled briskly up the Corso. At Nina's suggestion they stopped at a tea
shop.

No sooner were they seated at a little table when they were joined by
the Duchess Astarte. The duchess had most graceful manners, but she
talked to the princess across Nina, and about her, as though she were an
article of furniture, or at least a small child who could not understand
what was said. She spoke frankly of Nina's suitors. Scorpa's was an
excellent title, but Scorpa was a widower and no longer young. Then she
begged the princess to consider her nephew, the young Prince Allegro.

It would be a brilliant match, for he was one of the mediatized princes
and ranked with royalty. But his properties took such an immense amount
of money to keep up that an added fortune would be a great relief to the
whole family. Her consummate naturalness did away with much of the
bluntness of her speech; but even so, this was too much for Nina's
calmness.

"But, Duchessa," she broke in, "have the Prince Allegro and I nothing to
do with the arranging of our own future?"

The duchess observed her in as much astonishment as though a baby of six
months had broken into the conversation. A moment or two elapsed before
she said smoothly: "Oh, the Prince is enchanted at the idea. He danced
with you at Court and finds you _molto simpatica_. It is a great name,
my dear, that he has to offer you----" and then with a condescension,
yet a courteousness that prevented offense: "We shall all be willing,
nay, delighted, to receive you with open arms. Your position will be in
every way as though you had been born into the nobility."

"Thank you," said Nina quietly, "but I don't think I am quite used to
the European marriage of arrangement."

"Ah, but it need not be a marriage of arrangement. If you will permit
Allegro to pay his addresses to you, he will consider himself the most
fortunate of men. May I tell him?"

"Please not!" said Nina. Quite at bay, she longed wildly for some means
of escape. To her relief, two Americans whom she knew, young Mrs. Davis
and her sister, entered the shop. Nina rose abruptly, apologizing to the
duchess, and ran to them. How long had they been in Rome? Where were
they stopping? What was the news from New York? They told her all they
could think of. The Tony Stuarts had a son--they thought it the only
baby that had ever been born; and as for old Mr. Stuart, he was nearly
insane with joy. Billy Rivers had lost every cent of his money; and
then--but, of course, Nina had heard about John Derby.

In her fear that some accident had happened to him, Nina's heart seemed
to miss two beats. But Mrs. Davis merely meant his success in mining. By
the way, she had seen him in New York, as she was driving to the
steamer. He was striding up Fifth Avenue, and was "too good-looking for
words."

The princess was leaving the shop and, as Nina followed her into the
carriage, her mind was full of Derby. It was very strange--she had had a
letter the day before from Arizona, in which John had said nothing about
going to New York. Then she remembered that her father had hinted at a
possibility that John might be sent to Italy later in the winter. Her
pulse quickened at the thought, but with no consciousness of sentiment
deepened or changed by absence.

Arrived at the palace, she found a note from Zoya Olisco, who was coming
to spend the next day with her. Nina handed the note to the princess. "I
thought we could go out in the car and lunch somewhere. Or is it not
allowed?" Her eyes twinkled as she questioned.

"That depends," the princess answered in the same spirit, "upon whether
you are counting upon including me. I am a very disagreeable tyrant when
it comes to being left out of a party."

The automobile in question was Nina's. She had wanted one, and with her
"to want" meant "to get." Nearly every one thought it belonged to the
princess, as it would not have occurred to many in Rome to suppose it
was owned by a young girl.

That night another extravagance of Nina's came to light. In the morning
they had been at an exhibition of furs brought to Rome by a Russian
dealer. Among them was a set of superb sables, and Nina, throwing the
collar around her aunt's shoulders, had exclaimed at their becomingness.

The princess unconsciously stroked the furs as she put them down. "I
have never seen anything more lovely," she said wistfully, and with no
idea that she had sighed. A sable collar and muff had been one of the
desired things of her life, but it was utterly impossible now to think
of so much as one skin, and in the piece and muff in question there were
more than thirty.

That evening, upon their return, the princess found the furs in her room
when she went to dress. At first she felt that they were too much to
accept, but when Nina's hazel eyes implored, and her lips begged her
aunt to take "just one present to remember her by," the princess for
once gave free reign to her emotions and was as wildly delighted as a
child.

The very next afternoon, however, Scorpa saw the sables, and on a slip
of paper made the following note:

          Sables                  80,000 lire
          60 H. P. motor car      30,000 lire

With a smile that would have done no discredit to his Satanic Majesty,
he put the paper in his pocket.



CHAPTER XIV

APPLES OF SODOM


"It amounts to this: do you take a fitting interest in the name you
bear, or do you not?" Sansevero was the speaker, and beneath his usual
volubility there was an unwonted eagerness. The two brothers were in
Giovanni's apartment on the second floor, which in Roman palaces usually
belongs to the eldest son, and Giovanni sat astride a chair, his arms
crossed over the back.

"I don't think you can ask such a question," he retorted hotly. "I am as
much a Sansevero as you! But I really see no reason why--just because
you have got a notion in your head that a pile of gold dollars would
look well in our strong box--I should tie myself up for life. I am well
enough as I am. My income is not regal, but it suffices."

Sansevero, like many talkative persons, was too busy thinking of what he
was going to say next himself, to listen attentively to his brother's
responses. He was merely aware that Giovanni's manner proclaimed
opposition, so, when the sound of his voice ceased, Sansevero continued:
"Nina is all the most fastidious could ask. _Noblesse oblige_--are you
going to keep our name among the greatest in Rome, or are you going to
let it fall like that of the Carpazzi? Shall they say of us in the near
future, as they say of them to-day: 'Ah, yes, the Sanseveros were a
great family once, but they are all dead or beggared now'?"

"_Per Dio!_ What an orator we are becoming!" mocked Giovanni, looking
out of half-shut eyes like a cat. But after a moment, also like a cat,
he opened them wide and stared coolly at his brother. "Out of the mouth
of babes----" he said impertinently. "My child, thou hast spoken much
wisdom! It is, after all, a proposition that has, possibly, sense in it.
_La Nina_ is a woman such as any man might be glad to make his wife, and
yet--this very fact that she is not an insignificant personality, is
what I object to! I doubt her developing into either a blinded saint or
a coquette with amiable complacence for others. We should lead a peppery
life, I fear. But don't you think, my brother, that we are a bit
hysterical over our family's extermination? After all, I am only
twenty-eight; and in my opinion thirty-five is a suitable age for a man
to marry. How old are you, Sandro--thirty-seven, is it not? And Leonora
is nearly three years less. Of a truth, you are young!"

He rested his cheek in the hollow of his hand, looking up sideways. "It
would be a great amusement if I should marry because I am the heir to
the estates, and then you should have a large family--so----" He made
steps with his unoccupied hand to indicate a succession of children.
Then he laughed, without seeming to consider the difference that the
birth of an heir to his brother would make to himself. He arose, lit a
cigarette, and, smoking, threw himself into an easy chair on the other
side of the room. The great Dane, which had been lying beside him as
usual, now slowly got up, crossed the room, and dropped down again at
his master's feet.

Meanwhile the prince, hands in pockets, had unaccountably become as
silent as he had before been talkative, and Giovanni, upon observing his
brother's sulky expression, leaned forward.

"Well?" he questioned, with a new ring in his voice, for Sansevero's
moodiness was never a good omen. "What are you thinking of? Come, say
it!"

Sansevero paced the length of the room and back; then he burst out:
"Very well, it is this--everything is as bad as can be--so bad that if
you don't marry money, and at once, the Sansevero burial will take place
before you and I are dead. _Nome di Dio!_ how are we to live with no
money?"

"Since you ask my opinion, I have long wondered why you do not live
better than you do," Giovanni answered. "Your income, added to Leonora's
money, must make a very handsome sum. But one of the faults of the
American women is that they are seldom good managers. Leonora is either
no exception to the rule--or else she is getting very miserly. Why, an
Italian on Leonora's income would live like a queen!"

"Be silent!" Sansevero, flushing darkly, flamed into speech. "Before
you dare to criticise the woman who adorns our house! Here is the truth
for you: I haven't one cent of private fortune--I gambled it all away
long ago! More than half of Leonora's money is lost--I lost it. Some of
it she paid out for my debts; the greater portion I put into the 'Little
Devil' mine. I might much better have shoveled it into the Tiber. Do you
know what she has done--the woman whom you criticise as a bad manager
and stigmatize as mean--I would not care what you said, if you had not
thought Leonora mean! _Dio mio_, MEAN! Know, then, that the very jewels
she wears are false; that the real ones have been sold--to pay the debts
of the man standing before you--the gambling debts of the head of one of
the noblest houses in Italy!"

Giovanni was deeply moved, for this was a wound in his one vulnerable
point, his pride of birth. The cigarette dropped to the floor unheeded.
He moistened his lips as Alessandro continued:

"They were Leonora's own jewels that were sold, mark you. The Sansevero
heirlooms will go to your son's wife intact, as they came to mine! But
that is not all: I have given my oath to Leonora never again to go into
a game of chance, and really I want to keep it! Yet you know--no, you
don't; no one can who hasn't the fever in his veins--if I see a game, it
is as though an unseen force had me in its grip, drawing me against my
will; I can't resist! At Savini's I was dining, and I did not know they
were going to play--I won a very little; enough to pay the interest on
what I owe Meyer. But it makes me cold all over to think--_if_ I had
lost! An enviable inheritance you will get, when it is known what a mess
of things the present holder of the title has made!" He dropped into a
chair opposite his brother, and buried his face in his hands; between
his slim fingers his forehead looked dark, and his temple veins swollen.
For a long time Giovanni sat immovable, staring fixedly, but when at
last he broke the silence, he spoke almost lightly:

"It is not a very charming history that you have given me--even though
it increases my admiration for the woman who has, it seems, been more
worthy of the name she bears than has the man who conferred his titles
upon her. I wish you had told me before." Then, with a queerly whimsical
smile, he said musingly: "To marry the girl with the golden hair--and
purse? Not such a terrible fate to look forward to, after all! She would
demand a great deal, and I should have to keep the brakes on.
Still--that would do me no harm! You look as though you had been down a
sulphur mine. Come, cheer up--all may yet be well." Suddenly he laughed
out loud. "Funny thing," he observed further--"you know, I am not so
sure that I am not rather in love."

He leaned to St. Anthony, and, putting his hand through the dog's collar
beneath the throat, lifted the head on the back of his wrist. "Tell me,
_padre_, am I in love? Do you advise the marriage?" The dog put his paw
up, fanned the air once in missing, and let it rest on his master's
knee.

Giovanni laughed aloud "_Ecco!_ Sandro, he consents!"



CHAPTER XV

AN OPPOSITION BOOTH IS SET UP IN THE MARKET PLACE


While Sansevero and Giovanni were in their imaginations refurbishing
their escutcheon, two other men, with the opposite intent, stood on the
front steps of the agency of "Thomas Cook and Sons." One was proclaimed
by the regulation "Cook's" badge on his cap to be a guide; the other, by
his military cloak, might have been recognized as an official of the
Italian government. Both had shown covert interest in the Princess
Sansevero, who, looking particularly lovely in her magnificent set of
sables, had crossed the sidewalk with the light, buoyant carriage
characteristic of her.

"There, you may see for yourself if it is I who speak the truth." This
was said by the guide.

The official looked at him askance as he drew his bushy brows together
and pulled at his beard. "I confess it looks serious--and strongly
favors your supposition."

"But what else? It is as plain as the nose on your face, I should say!
At Torre Sansevero they have been living on next to nothing--my cousin
is cook, and I know that every _soldo_ is counted. They come to Rome and
spend their savings. You will say they have done that for years; but
tell me this, should their savings in this year treble the savings of
other years?"

Triumphantly he looked at his companion and, throwing back his head, put
his hands on his hips. Then, with a return to his confidential manner,
he laid his finger against his nose. "I know it for a fact," he
continued--"Luigi heard it at the key-hole--that their excellencies
contemplated staying at Torre Sansevero all this winter! Her excellency
had the look--Maria, the maid, told the servants that much--that her
excellency always has when _signore_, the prince, has cut the strings
and left the purse empty."

"Furthermore?" The official twirled his mustache with an air of
incredulity.

"Furthermore, the great Raphael disappears! Her excellency's renovation
story was a little weak for my digestion, and, unless my eyes played me
false, she was well frightened. I'll take my oath she was at a loss what
to answer."

"You say you taxed her with it?"

"As I told you. She answered that the picture was being renovated. An
answer for an idiot--the picture is one of the best canvases extant; in
perfect repair."

"Did you tell her that?"

"Partially. I am sure she saw my suspicion."

"I should doubt her carrying out the sale after that. There is where
your story fails."

"Ah, but it had already gone! It was perhaps by then in the house of a
foreign millionaire. No, no, my story hangs together: The great picture
disappears! A month later--time exactly for its arrival in America and
the payment for it to be sent over here--her excellency of no money
comes out in such a motor-car as that! And sables! I have an eye for
furs. My father was in the business. The value of those she has on runs
easily into the seventy or eighty thousand _lire_. Here she comes now,
out of the banker's where American money is most often paid! Do you want
better evidence?"

He had been punctuating all he said with his fingers, and now, with a
final snap of arms and a shrug of shoulders, he looked up in keen
triumph at his companion.

The other--slower and less excited than the narrator (probably because
he was not the discoverer of the plot)--nevertheless showed lively
interest. "It is very grave," he admitted at last. "But the Sansevero
family is illustrious. We may not proceed against them without due
consideration. I shall report the case to the chief of our secret
service, and the prince must be----"

A tall, athletic young man who had been changing some foreign gold into
Italian, came into the open doorway of the office. A carriage, passing
at that moment close to the curb, had prevented the two men from hearing
the stranger's footfall, and as the latter stood on the top step,
searching in his pocket for matches, he happened to catch the name
"Sansevero." At once his attention was arrested, but as the conversation
was carried on in an undertone, he caught only vague, detached words.
Still, he was sure that he had heard "Raphael" after the name,
"Sansevero," "disappearance," and then something like "secret service."
But his presence evidently had become known, for as he passed on out
into the street the two in blue coats were talking loudly about the
excursion to Tivoli and the scenery _en route_.

Walking out into the middle of the square where the cabs stand, he
jumped into the first one, but he looked cautiously back toward the men
in front of Cook's, before telling the driver to take him to the Palazzo
Sansevero.

Here the _portiere_ in his morning clothes, very different from the
gorgeous apparel of afternoon, was sweeping out the courtyard. Holding
his broom handle with exactly the same dignity with which, later in the
day, he would hold his mace, he informed the stranger that his
excellency the prince was not at home--neither was her excellency the
princess. Upon being asked whether Miss Randolph were perhaps at home,
he altogether forgot his imperturbability. That a _signore_ should send
in his card to a _signorina_ was so far outside the range of his
experience that the man stood with his mouth open, unable even to think
what answer to give. As though he were a somnambulist, the man took the
card and slowly read the name on its face; then he looked the stranger
over from head to foot, read the name a second time, and finally entered
the palace.

The young man watched his retreating figure, and then, throwing back his
head, laughed long and heartily. After which he fell to studying the
details of the courtyard. He noted with keen interest the deep ruts worn
in the solid stone paving under the massive arches of the gateways, and
glanced up at the bas-reliefs between the windows. At the sound of
footsteps he turned and encountered Nina's maid, Celeste.

Mademoiselle had sent her to bid him mount to the _salon_. Through the
green baize doors--it was the shorter way--and then, if monsieur would
go straight on to the very last of the rooms-- His striding pace made
Celeste fairly trot along at his heels. He went through room after room.
Was there no end to them? At last Nina's slight, girlish figure was seen
silhouetted against a broad window at the end--the light at her back
hazing the gold of her hair, like a nimbus, about her face.

She ran toward him, both hands out. "Jack! Dear Jack! Is it you, really,
or am I dreaming? When did you come? Oh, I _am_ so glad to see you; but
what a surprise! Why did you not send word?"

For a moment a light leaped into Derby's eyes. It seemed as though Nina
was looking at him exactly as he, in his day dreams, had seen her. But
his prudence steadied his first impulse, and he put down her gladness as
merely the joy of a person who, far from home, sees suddenly a familiar
face in the midst of strangers; and they sat on the sofa just as they
had sat on the railing of the veranda in the country, ever since they
were children.

In Derby's account of himself, Nina could easily read the confidence
that had led her father to send him to Italy. But their talk had gone
little further than the barest outline of his mission when the prince
and princess returned. At the sight of Nina sitting alone with a man,
the princess came forward quickly with the question, "My child, what
does this mean?" as plainly asked in her eyes as it could have been by
spoken words. But at Nina's "John Derby, Aunt Eleanor!" the princess put
out her hand with all the grace in the world, and as she returned the
straight, frank look of his blue eyes, her whole expression became
youthful, as if reflecting some pleasant memory of her girlhood.

"I knew your uncle very, very well!" She smiled entrancingly. It was a
smile that irresistibly attracted to her all who ever saw it. "You are
like him." Then she added softly, dreamingly, as though half speaking to
herself, "You remind me of so many things--at home!"

The next minute she had turned to present Derby to her husband, and the
conversation became general. But, finally, in a pause, Nina said, "Jack,
tell Uncle Sandro what father sent you over to do. Or is it a secret?"

Derby looked toward Sansevero as though measuring the man. "It is no
great secret--but I would rather it was not spoken of yet."

"My ears are deaf, and my tongue is dumb." Sansevero put his hand over
his ear, his mouth, and finally his heart.

"I have come over to buy, or to lease--at all events, to work--sulphur
mines."

As though an electric current had been turned on, Sansevero sat up
straight, and his levity vanished. "To work sulphur mines! Will you tell
me more? I have a particular reason for wanting to know."

Derby answered willingly. "I can give you a general idea. I was forced
into inventing a new method of mining on account of the quicksands,
which are found all through our mines at home. Taking a suggestion from
the oil wells, I bored just such a well down into the sulphur beds.
Ordinarily the sulphur is brought up in powder or rock form, and refined
in vats on the surface, so that not only do the miners have to go down
into the sulphurous heat, but the caldrons in which the sulphur is
refined give out gases that are unendurable to human throats and lungs.
In our mines, the sulphur is now refined sixty or a hundred feet below
the surface of the ground, and pours out in an already purified state,
at the top of the well."

Sansevero looked incredulous. "But sulphur is almost impossible to
liquefy. Unlike metals, it congeals again when it has been heated beyond
the proper temperature. Also it corrodes any metal it touches, so that a
pipe would be eaten away immediately."

"To get over those difficulties is exactly what I am trying to do by my
new process," Derby answered. "The sulphur is melted by hot water sent
down the pipes, followed by sand, and then sawdust--the sand to carry
the heat to the cooler edges, and the wet sawdust to check the heat at
the center."

Even the princess drew nearer and laid her hand on her husband's arm as
Derby made his explanation. Sansevero trembled with excitement. "But
according to that," he cried, turning to his wife; "our mine would be
practicable!" Then to Derby: "I ought to explain to you that we have a
sulphur mine in Sicily, near Vencata. So far as I know, the sulphur
does, as you say, lie in a bed some twenty meters down. Above it are
rock and alluvial soil. The volcanic neighborhood makes the temperature
below ground higher than can be borne, yet we know that the sulphur
deposit is immense."

"Give me more details. From what you say, it sounds as though this mine
of yours might be exactly what we are looking for. Does Mr. Randolph
know of it, or that you are the owner?"

"No; no one knows it excepting one small group of sulphur owners. I
unwisely went into it on the advice of--some one who is very good at
all these things; yet the best are liable to mistake. Other mines in the
neighborhood, owned by friends of mine, have brought in a fortune. Ours
has, so far, been a failure."

The talk lasted until luncheon was served. Giovanni put in an
appearance, and Derby was pressed to stay. As di Valdo and the American
met, there was a barely perceptible coldness under the Italian's good
manners, while Derby's greeting showed a momentary curiosity. Two more
sharply contrasted beings could hardly have been brought together. But
gradually Giovanni also became interested in the mining plans, and, as
the reason for the American's coming to Europe very evidently was
business and not the pursuit of the heiress, Giovanni's affability
became genuine.

The end of the matter was that Derby agreed to take up the Sansevero
mine, commonly known as the "Little Devil"; to be worked on a "royalty"
basis. Derby, representing his company, was to pay all expenses, take
all responsibility, and to return to Sansevero a percentage of the
market price on every ton of sulphur taken out of it.

Furthermore, Sansevero insisted upon giving him a letter to the
Archbishop of Vencata, who lived about eight hours on muleback from the
mining settlement. The Sicilians, he declared, were a dangerous people
for strangers who tried to interfere in their established order of
things.

"So then I am likely to have adventures! It sounds exciting!" The
American laughed light-heartedly at the sport of it. However, he
accepted the letter to the archbishop.



CHAPTER XVI

A MENACE


Derby did not realize until afterward that the entire conversation at
the Palazzo Sansevero had been about his projects, and that, aside from
a few generalities, he really knew nothing of Nina's winter or of her
Italian experiences. He returned to his hotel at about five o'clock, and
was striding directly toward the smoking-room without glancing to right
or left among the attractive groups that characterize the tea hour at
the Excelsior, when he was arrested by some one's calling, "Why, John
Derby!"

In the crowd of persons and tables he looked blankly for a familiar
face, but, as his name was repeated, he recognized Mrs. Bobby Davis and
her sister, Mildred Hoyt. As soon as Derby reached their table, Mrs.
Davis glibly rattled off the names of the four or five men who comprised
their party. They were all Europeans, who, in regular afternoon
attire--frock coats, and flower in buttonhole--were sipping tea and
eating cake. Derby was in tweeds, and afternoon tea was by no means part
of his daily program.

However, he made the best of it, and also of the remarks that followed,
for he was sooner seated than Mrs. Davis turned all her powers of
sprightly conversation upon the subject of Nina. Half of the nobility of
Italy, she averred, were sighing--or busily doing sums--at the feet of
the American heiress. There was a particularly fascinating Sansevero--he
was not called Sansevero, but di Valdo (curious custom of having half a
dozen names for one person!), who, it was rumored, was simply mad about
Nina! People said she was going to marry him--either him or Duke
something. And there were crowds of others. That was one of her suitors
now--she pointed out Tornik, who was taking tea with a group from the
Austrian Embassy. He was most attractive, didn't John think so? In
Nina's place, she would have her head turned!

This idea seemed to be a new one to Derby. "Should you?" The question
was asked so reflectively that Mrs. Davis almost stopped to think; but
the habit of prattling carried her on.

"To have men like that sighing for one--I should call it thrilling, to
say the least."

Derby's look questioned. "I wonder why the Europeans make such a hit
with you women," he said. "Why, for instance, do you find that man over
there attractive? What do you like about him?"

"Seriously?" Mrs. Davis patted her hair up the back with a little
smoothing movement of satisfaction. "I don't know how to put it--it is
very indefinable; but a man like that has a quality--a polish, I
suppose it is, really--that is quite irresistible."

Derby looked rather disgusted. "And you think that is why Nina likes
them?"

"Oh, there are other reasons--lots of them. In the first place, Nina has
a bad case of '_allure de noblesse_.' In her case I don't wonder! You
can't imagine anything so heavenly as her aunt's palace; it is every bit
as fine as any of the galleries or museums."

As though this remark added a new link to a chain of old impressions,
Derby found himself asking: "By the way--they have a famous picture
gallery out in the country somewhere, haven't they?"

Mrs. Davis turned for information to Prince Minotti, sitting next to
her; who, as he was not especially welcomed by the Romans, much affected
the society of Americans, since to them, as a rule, a prince is a
prince, and the name that follows of comparative unimportance.

"Torre Sansevero," he said pompously, "is one of the finest estates we
have in Italy. In fact, the gardens are hardly less celebrated than
those of the Villa d'Este, and there are a few excellent paintings. Do
you ask for any special reason?"

"No," replied Derby casually. "I heard they had a Raphael that was
especially beautiful; I should like to see it--that is all."

"Do you, by chance, know the Princess Sansevero's niece, from America,
who is captivating Rome this winter?"

"Miss Randolph? Yes."

"Ah, then it will be easy for you to get permission to see the painting.
The gallery is not open to the public, though Cook's, I believe, send a
party out once a week, to see the gardens."

To Derby the suspicion at once became a certainty that, in overhearing
the talk between the Cook's guide and the official, he had by accident
stumbled upon something of serious importance to the Sanseveros. He was
puzzling over it when, in the smoking-room, a few moments later, he
encountered Eliot Porter, an American writer who was making a study of
Roman life. At sight of Derby he called out heartily, "Hello, Jack, when
did you come over?"

Derby drew up a chair beside him, and briefly sketched the object of his
visit.

"Negotiating with Scorpa, I suppose?" asked Porter.

"The Sulphur King?" Derby shook his head. "No, I don't think I shall
need him. I have my hands on a property that promises to be what I am
looking for. The duke wants to work his mines himself and in his own
way. I am merely trying a scheme; if it turns out well, good! If not, I
shall have tested it."

"When do you begin operations? I suppose you realize, my friend, that it
is no joke to interfere with the Sicilians? They are as suspicious of a
new face as a tribe of savages. Savages is just about what they are,
too! And there is another element that you should not lose sight of: If
you are going to upset Scorpa's methods, it is not the Sicilians alone
that you will have to deal with, but also the duke himself."

"I am not going to try his property."

"No, but he controls the sulphur output. If you come into his
market--well, I'd not give a _soldo_ for your skin. Besides, that would
be the second grudge he'd have against you!"

"Second? I don't understand----"

"He wants to marry your best girl! Oh, hold on--no offense meant. She is
having a splendid time of it, if a string of satellites as long as the
Ponte San Angelo constitutes a woman's joy. All the same, my boy; put
this in your pipe and smoke it: 'Ware Scorpa, don't turn your back to
any one who might be in his employ, and bolt your door at night. Will
you have my Winchester?"

Derby smoked on, unperturbed. "It sounds as though it might be
interesting. I had expected a mere proposition of machinery; the human
element always adds. Wasn't it you who told me that?"

"In a book, decidedly!" and then with a sudden impulse, "By Jove, Jack,
I believe it would be a good thing for me to go along with you! I might
get new copy."

Derby laughed incredulously. "Well, if you mean it, come along! I wish
you would." Porter meant it enough to be interested in the project, at
any rate, for later the two men dined together, and they discussed
arrangements and expedients all the evening.

Derby went to the Palazzo Sansevero the next day, but again he had much
to talk over with the prince, and saw little of Nina. In some
unaccountable way she seemed changed; nothing definite happened to mark
the difference that he vaguely felt, but Mrs. Davis's remark came back
to him--"The Europeans are so finished," and he wondered whether Nina
found him unfinished; he even wondered whether he was or not--which was
a good deal of wondering for him.

At first, Sansevero's investment in the "Little Devil" had seemed to
Derby merely the unfortunate venture the prince thought it, but when, in
the course of their talk, it came out that Scorpa was the "friend" who
had sold him the mine, Derby was sure that the duke had deliberately
saddled him with a property which he knew to be useless. And yet every
word that Scorpa had urged as a reason for the mine's value, was--taken
literally--true. The mine was in close proximity to his own; the
surveys, furthermore, showed the "Little Devil" to be the richest in
sulphur deposit of any in the region. But if the mine was as valuable as
Scorpa declared, it was scarcely compatible with all that was known of
his character that out of purely disinterested friendship, he should put
such a prize in Sansevero's hands, while he bought up for himself less
valuable mines at higher prices. Derby kept his opinions to himself;
but his blood boiled with indignation and, mentally, he resolved to beat
Scorpa if it was humanly possible.

As Derby was leaving, Nina deliberately went from the room with him. "I
want to speak with John a few minutes," she said to her aunt. "We are
both Americans, you know," she added, laughing. In the adjoining room
she motioned him to sit beside her, but he stood instead, leaning
against the window frame. She looked up with something like apology. "Am
I keeping you?" she asked quickly. "Are you in a hurry?"

Almost with the manner of Mr. Randolph, he pulled out his watch. "Not
especially. I have an appointment with the Duke Scorpa--but not for half
an hour." She had not noticed before the nervously hurried manner of her
countrymen. There were many things she wanted to talk to John about--but
she might as well have tried to carry on a restful conversation at a
railroad station, when the train was coming in.

"With Scorpa?" She tried to hold his attention. "What are you going to
see _him_ about?"

Derby seemed preoccupied.

"I don't think I'm very sure myself--further than that he wants to buy
my patents, which I have no intention of selling, and I want to rent his
mines, which he has no intention of renting. Rather asinine, going to
see him! Still, as he insists----" There was an eagerness in Derby's
face inconsistent with the shrugging of his shoulders.

But Nina's thoughts were not on the processes of mining just then,
though they were on Scorpa. She looked at Derby appealingly.

"Jack!"

"Yes, Nina?"

"Do you know what I think?--Aunt Eleanor won't say a word; she hides it
all she can, but she must have lost almost her entire fortune. Jack, do
you think that Duke Scorpa could be at the bottom of it?"

Derby gave her a glance of keen interest, but he expressed no surprise
and asked her no questions. As a matter of fact, the gossip of the
Cook's guide had partly prepared him for Nina's revelation about her
aunt's fortune, and he had his own theories about Scorpa. "Quite
likely," he answered dryly, "but it is also quite likely that we shall
get the better of him----" Then, with a sudden change in his manner he
looked at her steadily. "But perhaps you don't want us to get the better
of him?"

"Do you mean----?"

"I hear he is very devoted--and he has not only the handle to his name
that you women seem to be keen about, but he is too rich to be after
your money." Derby had no sooner said the words than he regretted them.
But seeing Nina color, he misinterpreted her feelings, and spoke under a
sudden flash of jealousy. "And I suppose the title of duchess is
irresistible."

Nina was deeply hurt. "That is pretty blunt," she said, the pupils of
her eyes contracted as though the sun blinded them. "Have you ever seen
the man you speak of? No? Well, you would not say such a thing if you
had. I _hate_ him!"

Derby seemed fated to blunder. Again he made the wrong remark. "Hate,
they say, is next to love."

His lack of insight, so palpable in contrast with Giovanni's keenness of
perception, was too much for Nina's new sensitiveness. She suddenly
congealed, and stood up, very straight, with the little upward tilt of
the chin that indicated fast approaching temper.

Derby knew this symptom well enough, but he had not the slightest idea
that his own obtuseness was the cause. Without analyzing, he accepted
her starting up as a signal to leave, and promptly said good-by.
"Good-by, then!" Nina said frigidly; and, turning on her heel, she
abruptly left him.

Under the spur of her anger against him, the words framed themselves in
her mind--"How unfinished he is!" But down in her heart there was an
ache, deeper than could have been caused by mere irritation, or even
disappointment. Never before in her life had there been a breach between
John and her. She felt it was all the fault of his own density--or was
it lack of feeling?

She went to her room to put on her riding habit, for she was going to
the meet. Then, as she dressed, the thought came to her that John, a
foreigner, and the most venturesome person in the world, was going off
to Sicily, into the very center of one of the wildest districts. And
gradually fear for him made her forget her resentment.

Just as she was leaving her room a big cornucopia of roses was brought
in, to which was appended the following note:

          "If we weren't such old friends and you didn't
          know what a blundering fool I am, I wouldn't dare
          to apologize for this morning. Judge me by intent,
          though, won't you--and forgive me?

          "JACK."

Nina broke off a rose and fastened it to the lapel of her habit; but the
note she tucked in between the buttonholes. Suddenly humming a gay
little song, she ran through the rooms and corridors to join her aunt
and uncle, who were waiting for her to motor out to the hunt, the horses
having been sent ahead with the grooms. As they drove out of the
courtyard she noticed that the sun was brilliantly shining.

At the meet the scene was really animated, for the day was perfect, and
the Via Appia was a bright moving picture of carriages, large and small,
big motors and little runabouts, the road dotted here and there with the
brilliant scarlet coats of those who were to hunt and the bright colors
of women's dresses in the various conveyances.

There was apparently much lack of system: the huntsmen chatted aimlessly
with persons in the carriages; while the hounds scurried around
according to their own inclinations, paying little attention to the snap
of the whip. The Contessa Potensi, who had appeared in a pink hunting
coat, was the cynosure of all eyes. The innovation created quite a stir
and no little admiration. She bowed to Nina with unusual civility, and
made a formal acknowledgment of the pleasure of riding with her. Yet
shortly after, when she joined a group of friends a distance farther on,
she was laughing and glancing back as she spoke, in a way that left
little doubt that she was making disparaging remarks.

Sansevero and Giovanni had mounted their hunters, and now joined Nina,
but that gave her little pleasure, for the contessa immediately
returned. Nina was glad when Donna Francesca Dobini and the young Prince
Allegro cantered up. Donna Francesca was soon talking with Sansevero,
leaving Nina to Allegro--an attractive youth, but light as a bit of
fluff.

As for Giovanni, she felt that he was as unstable as the dead leaves
which the wind at that moment was blowing around and around. They were
graceful, too, those leaves, and Giovanni was fascinating, agile,
charming--but in case one counted upon him seriously, where would he be?
Smiling sweetly, no doubt, at some other woman, and telling her that
her eyes were twin lakes of heaven's blue, or forest pools in which his
heart was lost forever.

The contrasting image of John Derby came sharply to mind. John was going
to Sicily to do a man's work in a man's way. A little later she noticed
Tornik, who was cantering ahead of her: his figure was not unlike
John's--he was strong and masculine. She wondered aimlessly if they
might be in any other way alike. Supposing, in some unaccountable
situation she were to be thrown upon his chivalry for protection, what
would he do? Shrug his shoulders and look bored? Or detail a company
from his regiment to stand guard over her? The idea made her laugh.

"You are gay this morning," observed Giovanni, light-heartedly joining
in her laughter.

With a quizzical little expression Nina looked at him--"I wonder if you
would be amused if you knew why I laughed."

[Illustration: "NINA LOOKED AT HIM--'I WONDER IF YOU WOULD BE AMUSED IF
YOU KNEW WHY I LAUGHED'"]

"If it gives you pleasure--it is delicious, whatever it is!"

All the softness went out of the girl's brown eyes; they glittered
curiously. "Yes," she said, "that is just what I thought." After which
ambiguous remark she returned to her former gayety--"Come," she said,
"let's go fast; we shall be the last!" Urging her horse, she galloped
across the fields.

She would have been at a loss to understand her own vacillations of mood
that day: she seemed to feel an unaccountable revulsion against every
one. The gesticulations of the men around her, their airs and
blandishments, annoyed her. Not an hour earlier she had found John dull
and flat by comparison with Europeans. Now suddenly they were effeminate
dandies, and John alone was a real man.

But the exhilaration of jumping brought her to a more equable frame of
mind, and at the first check she and the Prince Allegro were in the
lead. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes bright from the long gallop.

They had stopped on a knoll out on the Campagna, and Nina remained apart
from the other hunters, walking her horse slowly, while Allegro went
over to the carriage to get a handkerchief for her from the Princess
Sansevero. She drew in deep breaths of the fresh air, as she gazed out
over the rolling hills to the snowclad tops of the Albanian mountains
glistening in the sunshine.

Then suddenly a deep, oily voice jarred through her wandering thoughts.
"You are very pensive!" exclaimed the Duke Scorpa, appearing beside her.

Nina started violently, for, besides his unexpected appearance, there
was something in this man's personality that always sent a shudder
through her.

"The Marchese di Valdo has been telling me that I am very gay," she
answered, not so much to give the duke the information as to contradict
him.

"Then I am doubly sad, since you are gay with others, and absent-minded
when I come." A lurking familiarity in his smile made Nina wince. He
ranged his horse so close that his boots brushed against hers, and she
pulled aside quickly; he did not move close again, but he checked her
attempt to pass him, keeping between her and the other riders.

"Why are you so cruel?" he murmured. "Diana never had so many votaries
as Venus."

"I am not interested in mythology," said Nina, her heart fluttering with
fright. "Please allow me to pass--I want to join my uncle."

"Sweet, pale little Diana,"--he leaned over in his saddle and purred the
words at her--"where mythology failed was in not marrying Diana to Mars.
Exactly as--you are going to marry me!"

"I will not! I told you before I would not! Let me pass!" She pulled the
reins so taut that her horse reared as she urged him forward, but again
the duke ranged his horse close beside her, heading off her attempt to
get past.

"A woman's 'won't' as often means she will," he answered deliberately.
"It is when she says she is not certain that her irrevocable decision is
made."

"I hate you, I utterly hate you!" cried Nina, her anger getting the
better of her fear.

The duke laughed maliciously. "I had scarcely hoped to make so deep a
mark on your emotions! If you hate me, then truly you will marry
me!--against your will, if need be," he added, reining back his horse at
last. "I will wait to make you love me afterward."

At this point Allegro returned with the handkerchief, and the duke let
Nina pass. Tornik, also, now joined her, the master of the hounds gave
the signal, and again the riders were off. Nina, between Tornik and
Allegro, was protected from the duke's approach, but she kept
apprehensively glancing back. She looked about for her uncle, but could
not see him.

As a matter of fact, Sansevero's horse had strained itself slightly in
one of the jumps, and he had thought it best to drop out of the hunt. He
had gone only a short distance on his way toward Rome when he was joined
by Scorpa, who said that he did not care to ride farther but would go
back with Sansevero. The prince was glad of his company until Scorpa
began:

"You have not yet given me a favorable answer to my proposal for Miss
Randolph's hand."

The abruptness with which the subject was introduced irritated
Sansevero, and he answered sulkily: "I told you, when you first spoke to
me, that it was a matter Miss Randolph would have to decide for herself.
An American girl never allows other people to arrange her marriage for
her, and I found my niece not at all disposed to reconsider her answer."

An ugly light shone in the duke's eyes. "I do not want to seem
importunate," he said, "but--I would do very much for the man who
furthered my marriage with Miss Randolph, and you would find the
alliance of our families of great advantage. I am a hot-blooded fellow,
but I'm not such a bad lot. I cannot help being wounded, though, by your
niece's indifference, and in jealousy of a rival I might do things that
otherwise would not enter my head. This is--eh--not a threat--but it is
a family trait--the Scorpas stop at nothing once their hearts are
aflame! Think it over, my friend, before you decide not to help me."

He sighed deeply and then, as though turning his attention to the first
trivial thought that came to mind, he said casually: "By the way, I have
been reading lately an extremely interesting book on celebrated criminal
cases, and I was particularly impressed by the way in which
circumstantial evidence can be built up out of harmless trifles. Since
reading it I have been rather amusing myself by constructing
hypothetical cases. For instance"--Scorpa pursed his lips and lowered
his eyes, as though trying to invent a fanciful story--"take a
transaction such as your letting me have that picture. One could build a
very stirring case upon that!"

"Yes?" encouraged the prince. "How do you mean?"

"Well, to begin, we would send word to the government that your Raphael
Madonna had been sold out of the country."

"I don't think that a good beginning, because it is easy enough to prove
it is in your palace."

"Ah, of course. But for the amusement of the argument we will say that I
_want_ to do you an injury and so smuggle it out of the country! Then
when I am questioned, I deny all knowledge of it. Yes, I would have you
there! It would be quite feasible, because no one saw the picture change
hands, and your notes to me--the only proof of the transfer--could
easily be destroyed. You see? This really grows interesting! Then comes
all the cumulative evidence of the type I was speaking about; for
instance: After the supposed sale of the picture, you indulge in
unwonted expenditures--of course, it is easy to say that they are those
of the American heiress stopping with you"--he paused, in apparent
thoughtfulness--"but when, in addition, an enemy buys in Paris a pair of
earrings, matchless emeralds, that are recognized as having been
worn----"

"_Dio mio!_ My wife's emeralds!" Sansevero was startled into exclaiming.
Then suddenly he blazed out: "What do you mean by your story? If you
have anything to say, say it so I can follow you."

From the gross lips of the duke his apology fell like drops of thickest
oil: "I regret you take my pleasantry so ill, and I ask your pardon as
many times as you require, my friend! It happened by chance that I saw a
pair of emeralds in Paris that were duplicates of the magnificent gems I
have often admired when the princess wore them, and the jeweler told me
that they had been sold at a sacrifice by a noble lady in urgent need of
money. The curious coincidence came to my mind in illustration of the
problems I was talking of. Further than that I meant nothing--except
that I was serious in what I said about repaying the man who should
bring about my marriage."

They had long since passed through the Porta San Giovanni and had
arrived at the Coliseum. Scorpa gave Sansevero little chance to answer,
but with a friendly good-by, he turned toward the Monte Quirinal.
Sansevero pursued his way along the foot of the Palatine. He was
disturbed; but he could not bring himself to read into the duke's words
a covert threat. His first impulse was to repeat the conversation to
Eleanor, but he knew how the mere suspicion that Scorpa had detected her
false stones had worried her. Curiously enough, in Sansevero's mind the
larger issue of the picture was quite overlooked in the more immediate
consideration of the jewels. By the time he reached home he had decided
to wait until further events should show Scorpa's intentions. And until
then he would say nothing to any one--least of all to Eleanor.

In the meantime Nina was galloping across the Campagna. For a while the
fear of Scorpa remained, but when she realized that he was no longer
with the hunt, she breathed more freely, and again began to enjoy the
day. It was almost as though she were riding through the country at
home. She might have been hunting in Westchester, or on Long Island,
for any actual difference that there was, and the finish, as at home,
was merely anise seed, and the hounds were fed raw meat.



CHAPTER XVII

NINA DUSTS BEHIND THE COUNTER


Kate Titherington, daughter of Alonzo K. Titherington, the Pittsburg
iron magnate, had some six years before married the Count Masco. After a
short experience of living in his ancestral palace, they had moved into
an apartment out in the new part of the city; very handsome, very
luxurious and modern in every way. "Deliver me from these musty old
dungeons!" she had exclaimed to her husband. "I will give a free deed of
gift to the rats, who are really, my dear, the only beings I can think
of to whom this tumbledown barracks of yours would be comfortable." Her
husband was a meek and inoffensive appendage, who had been well brought
up by an overbearing mother and turned over, perfectly trained, to the
strenuous requirements of the bonny Kate.

The vivid Countess Masco, _née_ Titherington, was looked upon with
disfavor by the more conservative Romans, and her position was rather,
one might say, on the outer edge of the inner circle. There were those
who liked her, and who found her amusing and lively; indeed, that was
the trouble--it was her liveliness that had banished her to the outer
edge, instead of making a place for her in the inmost circle, where
Eleanor Sansevero, for instance, was so securely established.

Nina had known Kate Titherington one summer at Bar Harbor, but her first
encounter with this flamboyant personality in Italy was at the Grand
Hotel a few days before the hunt. Nina was serving at one of the tables
of a charity tea, when she saw a very highly-colored, plump figure, with
draperies in full sail, bearing down upon her from the top of the wide
steps, at the back of the big red hall. The red of the hall paled beside
the cerise costume of the approaching lady. In a voice loud and
high-keyed, yet not unmusical, she cried:

"Well, I declare if it isn't little Nina Randolph!" And then with
exuberant good humor she called to her husband, who followed lamb-like
in her wake, "You see, Gio, it _is_ the little Randolph--I told you so!

"This is my husband." She presented him as though he were some inanimate
personal possession. "We have been in Paris and Monte Carlo all winter.
Got back yesterday. Nice old place, Rome, don't you think so? I dote on
it, but of course it gets provincial if you stay too long!" At the same
moment she caught sight of Zoya Olisco, and waved to her. To Nina's
surprise, the young Russian came forward with both hands outstretched.
"Ah, you are back? What was the news in Monte Carlo?"

"Nothing much. They still talk of the _coup_ that Tornik----" But before
Nina could hear the end of the sentence, the old Princess Malio handed
her a five-_lire_ note for tea, and Nina had to get change. Then the
whole family of the Rosenbaums, eight in number, demanded her services
for many cups of tea and as many plates of sandwiches and cakes, and
when their change was counted, the Countess Kate and her attendant
husband were leaving. The countess, however, called back over her
shoulder, "You are dining with me on Friday; the princess said yes for
you!"

And so it was that on the evening of the hunt Nina, alone with her
uncle--her aunt having stayed at home on account of a headache--found
herself entering a big new apartment house, and going up in an elevator,
quite as though she were at home in one of the most modern, instead of
one of the most ancient, cities in the world.

The Masco apartment was all brand-new--so new that there was still about
it an odor of fresh paint and plaster, and the pungency of raw textiles.
The Countess Kate, not to be outdone by her decorator, was as new as her
surroundings--in the latest style of sheath dress, of a brilliant blue,
which she wore triumphantly, regardless of the strain with which it
stretched across the amplitude of her bosom.

The company consisted of the Oliscos, Count Tornik, Prince Minotti,
Count Rosso, Prince Allegro, Eliot Porter, and John Derby. It gave Nina
a sudden feeling of satisfaction to see how attractive John was by
comparison with the others. He had a quiet reserve and a forcefulness
that Nina thought very effective in this foreign surrounding, and she
was ashamed of herself for having judged him by the shallow standard of
mere social grace.

The Countess Masco's parties were renowned for their gayety. She was one
of those hostesses whose vivacity never relaxes, and whose ready answers
pass for sparkling wit. According to her own standard, a party was a
success or a failure as it was noisy or quiet. Consequently she talked
and laughed continuously. Startling colors were her particular weakness,
and by the scent of extract of tuberose she could be traced for days.

Nina sat between Eliot Porter and the young Prince Allegro; but her
attention wandered across the table to John Derby so constantly that the
Prince Allegro remarked, "You seem to be entranced by that American!"

"Mr. Derby happens to be my oldest and my best friend!" Nina answered.
Then, realizing that she had made the statement sententiously, she
smiled brightly. "You Europeans so often say that American men are
unattractive," she said. "Over there you may behold one of 'our best!'"

Without rancor or jealousy, the young prince seemed entirely to agree
with her opinion. "Why is it we so seldom meet those Americans you call
'best'?" he asked, between spoonfuls of _purée d'écrevisse_.

"Because they are those who have to stay at home and work." And then she
added, "They are saints--don't you think?"

"They are very stupid, I should say."

Nina let her spoon rest on the rim of her plate. "That's not polite of
you."

"Why? Since it is true. Of course they are stupid! They let their women,
who are adorable, come over to us. Would I, do you think, if you were my
wife, allow you so much as to go out for an afternoon's drive without
me? Never! To prove further that your men are stupid--in no country are
there so many divorces as in America!"

"It is not because our men are stupid, at all events!"

"Then why is it?"

"Chiefly because our men have too little time to give us." And then she
spoke under sudden stress of feeling, without perhaps knowing the full
wisdom of what she said: "Do you suppose that if our men at home had
time for us, we _would_ come over here, to you?"

"Then all the more are the Americans fools!" He raised his champagne
glass. "Signorina," he said, "may you find the American who _has_ the
time."

Involuntarily her glance went toward John. Allegro saw it and laughed.
"Ah, ha! So that is why we have no chance? Still," he added on second
thought, "your choice does you credit."

"He is not my choice, he is my friend. You don't understand! At home a
girl has men friends exactly as she has girl friends. I wonder how I can
make it clear to you--we are all like a big family. They might as well
be my brothers, many of the men I know; there is not a bit of sentiment
in our liking for each other."

"There is no sentiment between you and the man over there?" Allegro
twisted the blond down on his upper lip, laughing at her out of the
corners of his eyes. "I may be little more than a boy, signorina, but
there is one thing that I know quite well when I see it, and that is a
person who is in love. Human nature is the same all over the world. Your
American men can, after all, have only the same emotions that we have
over here. It is as plain as the dome on St. Peter's--you may see it
from every direction. That man over there is in love with you! _Ecco!_"

"He is nothing of the sort! You Italians are mad on the subject. I told
you you could not understand. You are different, that is all."

Allegro shrugged his shoulders. "As you please! I tell you he is! And
what is more, you are in love with him. After all"--he put up his hand
to ward off interruption--"I had much rather think you declined my own
suit because your affections were already given before I was so unhappy
as to see you, than that, while your heart was still free, you would
not consider me."

Nina was so surprised that for a few minutes she was unable to answer.
Allegro had never said a word to her about the proposal which had been
made by his family. Up to that moment she had thought he did not himself
know of it.

"Heart?" she said, bewildered. "Did you put any heart into the offer
that was made? None has ever been shown to me."

"Is there a chance of your considering my suit?" He asked it very
seriously.

Nina shook her head, and Allegro sighed as though dejected; then, having
paid her this compliment, he became cheerful again and his candor was as
delicious as it was astonishing.

"Shall I tell you? Yes, I will! If you had said 'yes,' I should have
found it very easy to love you. As you won't accept my name,
however----"

"You don't love me, is that it?" Nina burst out laughing, and Allegro
joined light-heartedly, as he nodded his agreement. Their gayety
attracted the attention of their neighbors, and for a while the
conversation became general. It was suggestive of the Tower of Babel.
Nina had turned to Porter with a remark in English, but Allegro added to
it in Italian. Tornik, whose Italian was only slightly more villainous
than his English, chimed in across the corner of the table in French,
but he soon forgot himself and broke into German. Nina found herself
mixing her sentences like Neapolitan ice cream into four languages,
until finally she put her hands over her ears and exclaimed, "_Attendez,
aspetarre, warten sie nur_, oh, do let us decide on one tongue at a
time!" They all laughed, and then, as is usual among a group of various
nationalities, the conversation went on in French.

Finally, Tornik and Allegro got into a discussion about the Austrian
influence in Italy, and Nina was left _tête-à-tête_ with Eliot Porter.

She had not met him before coming to Rome. He was a Californian. A
Westerner, she put it, but he answered her, "Not at all! I am from the
Pacific coast!" He was an agreeable man, much liked in Rome, and he was
writing a book on Roman society, a fact that greatly amused the
Italians. There was some mild and good-naturedly satirical speculation
about what he was going to put in it, but beyond the fact that he
acknowledged his subject, nothing was known of either his plot or his
characters.

"_Do_ tell me what you are going to put in your book. Is it of to-day,
or long ago?"

"The story is to be laid in Rome, the theme society, the time the
present."

"How fascinating! Ah, please tell me from whom you have drawn your
heroine," Nina continued. "Is she rich or poor? Italian, I suppose, and
of course young and beautiful! Is the hero a noble duke or an American
on the Prisoner of Zenda or Graustark model?"

"Supposing I should tell you that they were yourself, for the one, and
our friend Jack over the way, for the other!"

The coupling of her name with Derby's for the second time in less than
half an hour struck Nina, and she became absent-minded; then she said
vaguely, "But we are not Italians, either of us."

"Neither are my characters! I will tell you," he said, admitting her to
his confidence, "I am going to write of the Expatriates--the people who,
to those at home, are always said to be 'abroad.' The story from this
side of the water is interesting to me. And the Excelsior is an ideal
field for observing them."

"I see!" Then ingenuously, "Are you really going to put Jack in your
book?"

Porter smiled, amused. "He hardly corresponds to my aimless nomad
wandering hither and yon, with neither ambition nor destination! By the
way," he added abruptly, "what do you _think_ of Jack? I am not asking
this, mind you, just to make conversation, but because I am interested
in him as a national type. I confess I was beginning to think that no
woman could care for the men at home as any woman might for the
Europeans, until he came along the other day." There was no doubting
Porter's enthusiasm as he added, "He gave me back my ideals of my own
country! He is _real_, I tell you. But this trip he is going to take
into Sicily----"

"There is no danger in this day, surely!" she interrupted.

"I am not so sure of it, they are pesky devils!" Then, appreciating her
uneasiness, he tried to reassure her. "Jack will be all right, he will
be well protected. In fact, to show you how little I really fear from
the adventure, I am thinking of going with him. My work is getting
stale, and a week or two of change of scene would set me up."

"I don't see that your going proves there is no danger. I should never
imagine you the type of a coward."

Porter laughed. "Thank you for your good opinion of my type. But I am
not at all certain about it myself. If I thought I was going to run any
risk of being stabbed in the ribs, or riddled with bullets, I assure you
I would preserve my skin very carefully by staying right here. But to go
back to John: Did you ever study physiognomy?" He glanced across at
Derby as he spoke.

Nina's lips broke into a smile, as she answered, "No. Did you?"

"Yes. I studied that, and palmistry, and graphology, too. Look at
John--he has a remarkably interesting head and hand. You are quite
wrong," he answered an interjection of Nina's, "his hands are far from
ugly! Spatulate fingers show invention and energy. Just look at his
thumb! Did you ever see such cool-headed logic or a better balanced
will? Why, all in all, I consider him the best-looking man I know! There
are plenty with better features, no doubt, but if I'd had my choice as
to looks, I should have been his twin."

Nina laughed joyously. "Do you mean it?" It sounded incredible to her,
yet she felt strangely pleased--she looked at John from a new point of
view. "I think he has a great many good points; there is something
strong and admirable about him, but good-looking--never! His features
are too uneven, too big-boned."

"Just like a woman!" exclaimed Porter testily. "I suppose you think that
apology on your other side a beau ideal!"

Nina glanced critically toward the small features and blond curls of
Allegro. "No," she said, "he is much too effeminate."

"Then who is your Adonis?"

"The best-looking man I have ever seen? Well--I think I'd choose the
Marchese di Valdo." The pink mounted over her cheeks into her hair, for
she thought Porter was going to deride. To her surprise he agreed with
her.

"Of his type, yes, he certainly is good; but I prefer John's. I can see
how di Valdo would appeal to a girl, though personally I should ask more
masculinity, more bone and sinew."

Nina remembered how Giovanni had nearly choked the Great Dane, and she
shuddered slightly. "Oh, but he is strong," she exclaimed; "he is strong
as a panther! He always makes me think of Bagheera in the Jungle Book."

"Bagheera was warm-blooded; there was truth and affection in him--for
Mowgli, at all events. Your friend di Valdo is as cold a proposition as
you could find."

Nina thought this last characterization absurd, and said so.

"All right!" Porter answered. "You mark my word. He is a man swayed by
the emotions of the moment. He has feeling, yes--but no heart; he has
certain inborn principles, but they are racial rather than ethical. His
is the code of _Noblesse oblige_, not of the Golden Rule. In a point of
honor he is irreproachable, but it is he, himself, who defines the
boundaries of his code."

He paused a moment and continued in a more personal tone: "I don't know
you very well, Miss Randolph, but you are a girl from home. And--excuse
my frankness--you are one of our great heiresses. I am a stranger to
you, and that is why I am going to say something--perhaps all the more
forcefully because I have only a racial and not a personal interest: but
between marrying Giovanni Sansevero--or that Austrian over yonder--or
the golden-headed ornament on your right, and such a man as John Derby,
no woman with an ounce of sense could for one minute hesitate. The
first, by the gift of kings, are noblemen, but John over there, by the
grace of God, is a _man_!"

Nina was so deeply stirred by his words that she sat for a little while
quite motionless, looking down at her hands, which were clasped in her
lap. Then, before she either looked up or answered, the women left the
table.

In the drawing-room, as the other women lighted their cigarettes, Nina
stood leaning her cheek on her hand as it rested against the mantel--and
for some time she gazed down into the fire, while Porter's words echoed
and reëchoed through her mind. When she turned away from the fire her
attention was caught by an Englishwoman who had thrown herself full
length on the sofa. Her person was a curious mixture of cleanliness and
untidiness, her face was even polished by soap and scrubbing, but her
frock, although probably quite clean, looked anything but fresh, and
lying down among the cushions had not improved her hair, which had been
frowzily frizzed anyway. Nina would have thought Lady Dorothy an
impossible person were it not for the "Lady" which, as Carpazzi put it,
"was pushed before the name."

In the meanwhile Lady Dorothy went off into a long disquisition upon the
advisability of having couches at formal banquets as in the old Roman
days. The illustration which she was at the moment affording was
scarcely, to Nina's mind, encouraging to her proposition. She smoked
rapidly and let the cigarette ashes spill all down the side of her
neck.

"Isn't it funny what a little place the world is?" babbled the late Miss
Titherington, cutting short Lady Dorothy's discourse. "Here we are, you
and I and John--just the same as though we were back in Bar Harbor! What
a lamb of a child you used to be! Only do you remember the day you
nearly drowned me? And he had to rescue us both!"

"Just fancy that!" said the Lady Dorothy from her corner of the sofa.
"However did it happen?"

"The water in Maine is so cold one dare hardly go in. Nina was a little
girl, she got a cramp, and clutched me around the neck."

"The water cold! How very odd! I had a friend in St. Augustine, who said
the water was positively hot. I am sure it must have been, as my friend
has rheumatism and could never have ventured into a cold bath."

Lady Dorothy lighted a fresh cigarette and waved the old one helplessly
around in her fingers. Nina, afraid that she would let it fall upon the
trail of ashes down the front of her dress, went to take it from her.

"Oh, thanks." She threw herself even further back into the cushions and
now addressed her remarks to the Countess Kate. She was glad to get away
from home. She declared London was overrun this season with enormously,
disgustingly, rich Americans. No offense to her hostess was meant, but
it was really quite shameful whom one got down to associating with, and
yet they were so overloaded with dollars that one might as well, she
supposed, gather in some of the surplus! Then she coolly asked Nina's
name, which she had not caught. Its announcement had the effect of an
electric battery. She raised herself on her elbows.

"The Earl of Eagon is looking for a wife," she announced, and then as
though the idea of Nina's wealth were still more felt, she continued
almost with enthusiasm, "And there is the Duke of Norchester--his
estates need a fortune to keep up, but there are none finer in England."

Nina's expression had a curious little note in it that made the Countess
Zoya cross the room and sit on the arm of her chair. Her slim fingers
ran lightly over Nina's hair, "You poor child!" she said. "Ah, I am glad
I was never so rich. If I were so rich I should be dreadful! I would
never believe in any one's caring for me. I should doubt even my Carlo!
I could not help it!"

"Don't," Nina said, as though in pain. Zoya impulsively put her arms
about her and quickly changed the subject.

"I want to tell you," she said, "I like your friend the engineer--is
that what he is? He is very clever, is he not? I am told he is going to
relieve the sufferings of the poor Sicilian miners--is he?"

"Suffering?" Nina repeated, wondering. "I don't know. But it is only a
business venture, his mining--not a philanthropic one. At least I have
not heard about any poor people who are to be relieved."

Zoya put her hands over her eyes and then her ears as though to shut out
both sight and sound. "Oh, it is horrible--horrible in the sulphur
mines! You have no idea! Nowhere in all the world is life so dreadful."
She shuddered, "But I feel sure, somehow, that your friend the American
will be able to do something."

They went on talking until their _tête-à-tête_ was interrupted by the
men coming in from the dining-room. The servants brought in a big card
table.

"Are you going to play bridge?" Nina asked, feeling that the answer was
obvious.

But the Contessa Masco, taking her cognac at a swallow, glanced at
Tornik with a laugh. "Oh, lord, no! Nothing so dull, I hope, in this
house!"

Derby joined Nina, and she looked up at him with pride. "I am glad you
are here to-night; I seem to be especially glad----" She broke off, but
her intonation conveyed unspoken thoughts.

Derby's eyes kindled. "Why especially? Have you a particular reason,
really?" His heart beat so hard, because of the sweetness in her
expression, that it seemed to him she must hear it pounding, that she
must look through the mask he wore, and read his love for her.

But his mask was impenetrable, and Nina answered lightly: "I wonder
which reason you would like me to give? I wonder if it would make any
real difference to you whether I said just _glad_--or glad because of
something?"

He forced himself to speak with a stolidity that walled in securely his
threatening emotions. "I am not a bit good at guessing the meaning of
sentences that have no direct statement in them. You see, they are not
the kind my grammar book taught me!"

Nina smiled. "You like a regular, straight-out, simple sentence with one
subject and one predicate, don't you?"

"That's it! And as few qualifying clauses as possible."

"And as your speech is, so are your actions. No time for trivialities.
Big, serious things!" To her surprise she felt a sharp pain in her
throat.

"What an old bear I must seem to you----" His sentence broke off as the
Countess Masco interrupted them.

"Come along, John--you'll play, won't you? We are waiting!" Count Rosso
had already deserted Zoya for the green table.

"Do you need me?" Derby asked.

"Of course we do! The more the jollier; it is dreadfully dull without a
lot."

Nina and the Countess Zoya sat apart talking together until nearly
midnight. Finally, with a yawn, Zoya suggested that they try to break up
the party. For a little while they looked on. Not understanding the
game of baccarat, Nina watched the faces of the players.

Suddenly she felt uneasy about her uncle, who had taken a place at the
table. Knowing no reason why he should not play, she had thought nothing
of that. But now he was flushed, and seemed very excited. Unconsciously
taking a leaf out of her aunt's book, she laid her hand on his shoulder.
Her touch was, in fact, so like that of his wife that the prince started
violently, and a short while later relinquished his place.

After the prince dropped out of the game Nina still stood watching. The
Countess Kate played as placidly as though she were dealing cards for
"old maid," while her husband reminded Nina of a squirrel sitting up and
nibbling at a nut. Carlo Olisco was excited but not unnatural. Porter
looked gloomy and taciturn. Minotti and Allegro were both tense and
keen, the former arrogant, the latter flushed and excited. John Derby,
like the Countess Kate, played exactly as he used to play Jack Straws or
_besique_, on rainy days in the country.

From where she had been standing Nina could see only the top of Tornik's
head and, obeying an idle impulse of curiosity, she crossed to the
opposite side of the table. But no sooner had she caught sight of his
face than she started as though some one had dashed cold water over her.
Tornik! It was unbelievable! His eyes glowed like coals; his lips, half
opened, looked dry and burnt, as with that drawing-in motion of the
confirmed gambler he stretched out his trembling fingers to grasp the
last of the evening's winnings.

Nina was not in love with him--she had never even for a moment fancied
that she was. But nevertheless the revelation of his greed struck at her
pride, and she seemed to see herself, or rather her own fortune, being
grasped with precisely that avidity by those same long, eager fingers.
"He, too!" were the words that framed themselves in her thoughts.
Tornik, at least, had seemed disinterested, but it was only her gold
that he was after--like all the rest.

She turned away abruptly. The Count Olisco left the table and, as her
uncle was already waiting, Zoya and she said good-night to the Mascos
and left.

On the way home, Sansevero was decidedly nervous. Something was wrong,
that was certain--he was as transparent as crystal; a child could not
have shown trouble more plainly. They drove the Oliscos home, but after
they had left them, Nina put her hand on her uncle's coat sleeve.

"Can't you--tell me?" she asked him.

Sansevero started, then shook his head. "It is nothing!" he said. But he
changed his mind almost immediately, took his breath as though to speak,
and stopped again. Nina's manner had been very sweet, very sympathetic.
The thought of confiding in the girl beside him had not entered his
head; but he might as well have tried to dam up a spring, as to keep
his confidence from overflowing at the first words of kindness. He
seized her hand, and his fingers during a moment of nervous indecision
beat a tattoo upon her glove--then he let her hand drop again.

"I am in the most difficult situation."

"Yes----?" Nina encouraged. "Can't I help?--Oh, I wish I _could_!"

"No!" He threw himself into the farthest possible corner of the
carriage. "No, no! I could not let you do that!"

Quickly a suspicion of the difficulty crossed her mind. "Uncle Sandro, I
want you to tell me! You know that I love Aunt Eleanor better than
almost any one in the world. If to help you is to help her--and it is in
my power--I really think you ought to tell me."

He weakened, hesitated. "Give me your promise you will not tell
Leonora----?"

"You have it!" She put her hand back into his.

"It is this, then: I am the weakest man imaginable. To-night I had no
idea of playing; I held out for some time, but the temptation was too
strong at the end. Also what I lost was very little, but the money was a
sum we had put aside to pay household expenses. If I do not pay them,
Leonora must know of it."

Between the lines Nina divined a good deal of the whole story. Other
vague suspicions that had come to her here and there helped somewhat to
the conclusion.

Already they had driven into the courtyard and the footman was holding
open the door. Nina jumped out quickly and entered the palace. In the
antechamber she stopped for her uncle to catch up with her. "Just wait a
moment," she said; "we can finish our conversation quickly." She spoke
rapidly and in English.

"How much is it?"

"Five hundred _lire_."

She caught her breath. "Do you mean to say that _you_--the Prince
Sansevero, the owner of this palace, are in need of a hundred dollars,
and don't know where to get it? You shall have it to-morrow, the first
thing."

Then suddenly she added: "Uncle Sandro--I want you to tell me something!
Will you swear on your honor to answer the truth? If you deceive me, I
will never forgive you to my dying day!"

He looked at her, puzzled. There was no doubt as to the gravity of her
tone. "I will answer if I can." He said it not without alarm.

"Does your brother gamble? Is he also like Tornik and you?" She had no
thought for the stigma of her words, and Sansevero was not so small that
he resented them.

"No. I can answer that easily enough. Giovanni has not one drop of the
gambling blood. That I can swear to you by the name of my mother!" He
made the sign of the cross.

Nina sighed with relief. "I'll send Celeste to you with the money in the
morning, and you can trust me--I will never let Aunt Eleanor know!" She
said it sympathetically and kindly enough, but her tone was a little
constrained. "Good-night!"

And then quickly she left him. She felt sure that her uncle had spoken
the truth, and that Giovanni was not a gambler; but as she went down the
long corridors she felt a sharp contraction in her throat.
"Dear--poor--precious Auntie Princess!" she whispered to herself.



CHAPTER XVIII

FAVORITA DRIVES A BARGAIN


As the winter progressed, Favorita's temper showed so little improvement
that those whose duty brought them in contact with her at the theatre
were on the verge of resigning their posts. Her dresser had a thoroughly
cowed expression; her manager consumed more black cigars than were good
for him; the _corps de ballet_ had hysterics singly and indignation
councils _en masse_. In fact, the call-boy, who seemed to enjoy
tormenting her, was the only member of the company who took her rages
cheerfully.

Finally even Giovanni became uneasy; a well-bred woman could be counted
on in given circumstances to do thus and so, but Favorita was of lowest
peasant birth: her people were of the mountain districts, so primitive
in thought and habit that her early training had taught her obedience to
nothing higher than impulse. Superficially, she submitted to the
dictates of civilization, just as a half-wild animal submits to the
control of his trainer. And in a very real sense Giovanni occupied, in
relation to her, the trainer's position. He was the force that held her
in check; but though to the audience of the world he appeared perfectly
at ease, a definite apprehensiveness underlay his seeming composure.

Matters at last came to a crisis. Giovanni was about to leave the palace
one morning a day or two after the Masco dinner, when a neatly dressed
woman passed him on the grand stairway. She was wearing a thick veil,
but he had an eye for outline and he knew that there was only one woman
in Rome with just that half-floating lightness of movement. At once he
blocked her way.

She was forced to halt; but her feet did not stand quite still, and
there was an effect of briefly suspended motion in her attitude, as
though she sought a chance to dart past him.

"Good-morning, signorina!" Giovanni's urbanity was for the benefit of
the footmen. For a few seconds there was a straightening of her figure;
poised for flight, she held her head a little to one side as she swiftly
scanned his face.

Giovanni dropped his voice. "I was just on my way to see you. Come,
_cara mia_," he said persuasively. "I have something I want to talk over
with you--it is impossible here with lackeys listening to everything we
may say. Come, dear."

She looked at him a moment, wavering, then shrugged her shoulders. "Very
well," she said, and descended the stairs at his side. They crossed the
wide hall, and she stopped to gaze about it in wonder and curiosity,
even though she did not appreciate the splendor of its proportions. The
great _baldachino_, of blue and silver, surmounting the Sansevero arms,
held her attention.

"Do the broken silver chains in your coat of arms represent mercy or
weakness?" she asked.

"Both, probably," he answered grimly, as he caught the sound of an
automobile chugging in the courtyard. Feeling sure that it was Nina's
car, he slipped his arm through Favorita's to urge her forward,
whereupon she grew suspicious and lagged purposely. She looked
deliberately about, as though she were a tourist intent upon finding
every object starred in Baedeker. To his inward rage and chagrin,
Giovanni realized his mistake in having attempted to hurry her, and now
changed his tactics. Although his every nerve was strained to catch the
sound of Nina's approaching footfall, he went into a long, prosy
dissertation upon the history of the ceiling, dwelling purposely upon
the dullest facts he could think of, until his tormentor was glad enough
to leave.

Once outside the building, Giovanni breathed more freely, although the
sight of the automobile confirmed his apprehension. Hailing a cab, he
put Favorita into it and got in after her. They had not gone more than
five hundred yards when Nina, alone in the car, passed them. Giovanni
had stooped over quickly so that she might not recognize him; but
Favorita took no notice of this, or anything else, and they drove on in
a silence broken only by occasional and casual remarks. It was not
until they were safely within her apartment that he demanded:

"And now, Fava, perhaps you will have the goodness to explain to me what
you were doing at the Palazzo Sansevero when I saw you, and how you got
past the _portiere_?"

"At least it shows you that what I try to do I accomplish," she retorted
with an air of bravado. She leaned her elbows on a little table, looking
across at Giovanni, her lips parted, her eyes dancing. "Do you wish to
hear? Very well. I have a friend who gives the American heiress lessons
in Italian. She says it is easy--one has only to talk Italian and make
her talk, and tell her when she makes mistakes. My friend is sick. She
sent a letter, which I intercepted, and I went in her place. Why not?"
Then suddenly her little teeth locked tightly, and she spoke between
them savagely--"I'd be a teacher worth employing. I could talk Italian
to her that she would never forget! Nor would she forget _me_, either!"

Giovanni's teeth locked quite as tightly as hers. "Will you hush? You
must be insane! I told you from the beginning that I would not advertise
myself with you. I told you also that if you made a scene, or if you
ever tried to interfere with my family or my private life, at that
moment all would end between us." As he spoke, Favorita looked
frightened, but in a flash her manner changed completely. Long
association with him had not been without its lessons, and she answered
as sweetly as though no disagreement had ever come between them; as
though there were no incongruity between their suspended discussion and
her interrupting sentence. "Giovannino," she cooed, "I have had a great
offer, an astounding offer from Vienna."

He saw his opportunity. His manner therefore, changed as rapidly as hers
had done, and with every appearance of sympathy and interest he asked
for her news. She told him with triumph the details of her offer from
the manager of a Viennese theatre for a ten weeks' engagement at a
stupendous salary.

"You must accept--by all means!" Not a trace of the relief he felt crept
into his expression; he looked sad, but thoroughly resigned. "It is
time," he added cleverly, "that you should make a name for yourself that
is cosmopolitan and not alone of Italy."

So far they had been sitting on either side of a small table, but now
Favorita arose and went around to him. Pushing the table away, she sat
on his knee, and, with one arm about his neck, held up his chin with her
other hand. Then, deliberately, she looked into his eyes with that
level, determined steadiness which makes no compromise. She spoke very
quietly, so quietly that he was more than ever uneasy. Her turbulence
was annoying, but this calmness was ominous.

"I shall accept the offer on one condition:--you go to Vienna with me!"

Giovanni looked quite as though the gates of Paradise were opening
before him. Even Favorita believed his enthusiasm genuine as he
exclaimed, "Ah, that would be charming!" Then he seemed to be
considering the matter eagerly. "That I _want_ to go with you--of that
there can be no doubt! I am merely wondering how it can be managed."

Now that she seemed to be getting her own way, and her jealousy was
allayed, Favorita was soft, and sweet, and affectionate as a little
black cat. "Rosso is going to Hungary," she purred. "You can easily say
you are going with him on his trip, whereas you can really be in
Vienna!"

"That sounds perfect!" he returned gayly; "at least you can accept the
manager's offer!"

"Do you promise to go with me? You must swear it!" He hesitated as he
rapidly turned the situation over in his mind. Now that he had
determined to marry Nina, the main thing was to keep Favorita away, for,
should she have an opportunity to unburden her heart to the heiress,
that would be the end of his matrimonial chances. But if he could get
the dancer to Vienna, and keep her there, then find an excuse for at
least a short absence from her, he could come back to Rome, win Nina, be
married at once--and then let come what would! An independent American
girl would throw him over, he knew that; but a wife would be different!
A wife would have to forgive.

"Will you promise?" repeated Favorita.

"Yes, I promise," he said. "Come, we will fill in the contract!"



CHAPTER XIX

A CHALLENGE, AND AN ANSWER


Nina had intended taking her Italian teacher out with her in the
automobile. She did this quite often, as it was as easy to practice
Italian conversation in a motor-car as anywhere else. But after half an
hour--Favorita was nearly that late--she had given up waiting and
telephoned Zoya Olisco suggesting that they two spend the day at Tivoli.
Zoya agreed, and Nina was on her way to fetch her when she passed
Giovanni and Favorita. But she neither saw the former nor recognized the
latter.

It was after six o'clock when Nina returned from Tivoli, and she had to
hurry to dress for an early dinner, as it was the Sanseveros' regular
Lenten evening at home.

Nina particularly liked these informal receptions, where the company was
composed, for the most part, of really interesting, agreeable people.
There was always music, generally by amateur performers; occasionally
there was some other form of impromptu entertainment, an impersonation
or a recitation. Throughout the evening there was the simplest sort of
buffet supper: tea, bouillon--a claret cup, perhaps, and possibly
chocolate, little cakes, and sandwiches; never more. But the princess
was one of those hostesses whose personality thoroughly pervades a
house; a type which is becoming rare with every change in our modern
civilization, and without which people might as well congregate in a
hotel parlor. Each guest at the Palazzo Sansevero carried away the
impression that not only had he been welcome himself, but that his
presence had added materially to the enjoyment of others.

Early in the evening Nina was standing with Giovanni a little apart.
Giovanni was unusually quiet, and both had fallen into reverie, from
which Nina was aroused by the sudden announcement of a jarring name.
Like the ceaseless beating of the waves upon a beach, she had heard the
long rolling titles, "Sua Excellenza la principessa di Malio," "Il Conte
e la Contessa Casabella," "Donna Francesca Dobini," "Sua Excellenza il
Duca e la Duchessa Astarte," and then--"Messa Smeet!"

Nina felt a swift pity for the beautiful woman who was forced to suffer
the ignominy of being thus announced. She had herself been daily
conscious of that same flatness when, after the long announcement of her
aunt's and uncle's names, came the blankness of "Messa Randolf."

And in that moment, divining the impression made upon her mind, Giovanni
seized his opportunity. His eyes looked ardently into hers, his smile
was transporting as, with all the warmth of which his voice was
capable, he said, "Donna Nina Sansevero, Marchesa di Valdo!"

Nina's heart fluttered strangely, her will was swayed by the moment's
thrill, as she heard him continuing: "It can surely not surprise you to
hear in spoken words what has long been in my heart to----" But his
sentence was broken off abruptly, for a sudden thinning of the crush
revealed the Contessa Potensi close beside them. Heedless of Nina, the
contessa demanded that Giovanni take her into the supper room for a cup
of tea, and Nina was left with Carpazzi, who had at that moment also
joined them. He took no notice of her absent-mindedness and kept the
conversation going briskly without much help from her, until gradually
she became able to focus her attention upon him.

He talked of many things and finally of Cecelia Potenzi. That he should
have spoken the name of the girl he loved was quite foreign to his, or
in fact to any, Italian nature. But by now Nina had become thoroughly
interested in what he was telling her and her sympathetic eyes had a way
of urging confidences, and besides, as Carpazzi knew, she was very fond
of Cecelia. He spoke quite frankly therefore of his hopes and plans. He
was desperately interested in Derby's mining project because he owned a
piece of property within a few miles of Vencata and if the Sansevero
sulphur mines turned out well probably all the land in the neighborhood
would also be leased by Derby's company, and it might be that he and
Cecelia could be married.

Nina had already observed the young girl in question and she and
Carpazzi made their way toward her. Gradually other young people joined
them until a merry group was formed at that side of the room.

The music at that moment was by a young violinist, a _protégé_ of the
Princess Sansevero's (a brother, by the way, of the peasant Marcella,
whose marriage to Pedro the princess had arranged). The boy had real
talent, and the princess had denied herself not a few things in order to
help him complete his education.

At the close of his second selection the young violinist came over to
her, with that look of devoted allegiance which cannot be imitated, and
the princess held out her hand for him to kiss. "I am so pleased with
your success," she said to him. "Come, I want to present you to the
Duchessa Astarte, who was much delighted with your playing." Smiling,
she led him away.

The young man traversed the rooms with perfect ease and
unconsciousness--this peasant boy who four years previously had run
ragged and barefooted, begging for soldos from the tourists who were
driving out to Torre Sansevero! From one of the doorways Sansevero
watched them. "_Per Dio_, she is wonderful, my Leonora!" he exclaimed to
the Countess Masco, whom he had taken to the supper room. "Look what
she has made of that ragamuffin! You Americans are an extraordinary
people." The countess, as she watched the prince's open admiration of
his wife, showed the finest, the most generous side of her cheerful
nature. Her expression was scarcely less admiring than his own.

"I'd like well enough to take all the credit for my country," she
returned, with her usual good humor, "but in Eleanor's case it is the
woman and not the nationality that is wonderful----" Then she added
brusquely, "I'm glad you appreciate her." The next moment she tossed the
topic aside and discoursed noisily of the latest Roman gossip.

About this time the Count and Countess Olisco were announced. Seeing
Derby, who had arrived just ahead of them, Zoya walked up to him without
hesitation or manoeuvre. "I should like to talk to you," she said; "will
you take me to a seat? There is one over there."

He gave her his arm and led her to a sofa at the far end of the room.
"Have you been out to Torre Sansevero?" she asked when they had sat
down.

"No. We had planned to motor out next week, but I must go to Sicily
to-morrow, so the motor trip is postponed until I come back. You asked
as though you had something special in mind. Had you?"

"Yes. I might as well tell you--though maybe you know--there is a rumor
that a Sansevero painting--the Raphael Madonna--has been sold out of the
country. The way I know is secret; but through somebody connected with
the Government I have learned that there are grave suspicions against
the prince."

Derby gave her his full attention, but said nothing. "Everybody knows,"
continued the contessa, "that he has spent all his wife's money in
gambling, and that they have sold everything that is not covered by the
family entail." Her listener did not know it, but his face betrayed no
surprise. "This picture, they say, has been smuggled out of the country
to a rich American." Her face grew troubled and she spoke lower and more
distinctly. "I do not find it possible to think that Sansevero did such
a thing. He is weak, if you like; he would fall into temptation; he
might gamble or make love to a pretty woman"--she shrugged her
shoulders--"but that he would do anything really against the law, I
don't believe. Yet--I have never seen such furs as the princess wears
this winter. Can't you find out about the picture? Everybody believes it
is in America. Think what it would be if Sansevero were put in prison!
But I am sure you will set everything straight."

"Your faith in me is flattering, to say the least," he laughed. "But you
seem to think that finding an object in America is as simple as though
it were mislaid in a fishing village. Do you realize the vastness of
the territory which I am to search in the twinkling of an eye?"

"No, no! You must not laugh. I am very serious. I know that America is a
land in which everything may be accomplished, even though I may have a
false idea of its size. And in you, as an American, my faith is
unbounded. You see, I feel convinced that it all depends on you!" Then,
under the impulsion of her enthusiasm she clapped her hands together as
she exclaimed: "Oh, I am sure you will clear the prince! And then, like
the hero in all good story books, win the reward."

"And the reward?" he queried. "What is it to be? Unfortunately, you are
asking me to save a prince--a poor prince at that, with no favors to
bestow. In the good story books it is always a beautiful princess. To be
sure," he added, "the princess is as beautiful as one could wish, but
alas! she is married."

"I do not find you at all amiable," the contessa pouted. "I am
serious--very serious, and you make fun."

"Not at all. I am very serious, and you talk of fairy tales. Still, if
you are my fairy godmother, there is no knowing what stroke of fortune
may await me in Sicily." Then, changing his tone, he said earnestly: "I
am really sorry, but I am afraid I shall have to leave the picture
question until I come back."

"You are going straight off to Sicily?"

"Yes."

"To be gone how long?"

"I don't know; I have no idea. Weeks, perhaps. Months, very likely; why
do you ask?"

"May I say something--something very frank to you?" Zoya leaned forward
with a sudden direct impulse.

"Say what you please, by all means!" Derby braced himself for her
remark, but even so he colored as she said: "Are you in love with Nina?
Please, don't be angry; I don't ask you to answer. But if you are, I
can't see why you go away to work mines and such things. I should have
married her long ago had I been you."

Derby's eyes blazed. "Do you mean I should try to marry her and live on
her money?"

"Why not? Since she has enough for two--enough for twenty! There is no
need to be so furious. _Per l'amore di Dio!_ You Americans have always
the ears up, listening for a sound that you can fly at!" Languorously
she leaned back among the cushions of the sofa. "It is all so
silly--your idea of life." And then she stopped and looked at him
curiously. "What _is_ your idea of life?"

"Life? One might put it in three words: One must work!"

Zoya shook her head--she did it charmingly. "No, no," she said softly;
"you are altogether wrong--though I also can put it in three words.
Life lies in this: One must love. That's all there is!"

The conversation ended there, for the Duke Scorpa and Count Masco came
up to speak to the contessa. Derby arose and was about to leave when the
duke stopped him. Masco sat down to talk with Zoya, and Scorpa spoke to
Derby in an undertone. "I hear you are going to Sicily to-morrow?"

"Yes, I leave early in the morning."

"Take my advice"--his glance was sinister--"and stay away."

Derby smiled frankly. "May I ask why?"

"Because your process will not work."

"That might be taken in two ways," Derby rejoined: "either that you
believe my patents useless, or else that some means will be taken to
prevent my trying them. I rather wonder--after our conversation on the
subject--if you intend a threat?" He spoke without stress of feeling,
quite simply, in fact.

The duke's unctuous smile was not wholly pleasant to see. "That is for
you to decide. To-morrow morning you intend to go. That is not far off;
but you have until then to reconsider your refusal to sell me your
patents. I made you a fair offer, which I should in your place accept.
However, if you go to Sicily"--he spread out his hands with a shrug--"I
shall have warned you, and whatever comes will be off my conscience."

For answer Derby spoke quietly, but with clear, level distinctness. "I
go to-morrow to Vencata, to work a piece of land which is the property
of the Prince and Princess Sansevero. As their representative, I am
vested with every legal right to apply my invention to the mine known as
the 'Little Devil.' And I may add"--he put it casually--"that back of me
is the full strength and protection of the United States Government." He
looked straight into the small rat-like eyes nearly a foot below his
own. Then with a smile he bowed to the Contessa Zoya and went in search
of the Princess Sansevero, to say good-by.

He found her in the adjoining room, absorbed in the music; and luckily
there was an empty chair beside her, into which he quietly dropped. She
smiled her welcome as he sat down beside her, but she had accepted her
young countryman into too good a friendship to make either of them feel
the need of rushing into speech. After a little she turned to him; even
then her sentence seemed to complete a conversation interrupted rather
than a new one begun, "Above all, do not forget to present Sandro's
letter to the Archbishop! I know you will be drawn to him. His Eminence
is one of those rare persons who have not waited to die to become
angels." She smiled. "I am sure you will be safe under his protection."

"I wish you would tell me, Princess, why there is so much talk of
protection--it sounds as though I were going to explore the interior of
Africa! I shall be, at most, twenty-four hours away from Rome."

"There is no knowing what you are going to explore"--a shade of anxiety
had come into her face. "The Mafia is there, the people are ignorant,
and the lava wastes are as desolate and wild as any spot in Africa. I
hope there will be no danger, but it is well to take precautions before
going into such a country. You will promise me won't you?--to follow the
directions of his Eminence." Unconsciously she put her hand against her
heart.

Derby gave his promise easily, and she held out her hand. He kissed it
after the European custom; and as he did so he felt her fingers tighten
over his, as she whispered with a little underlying emotional vibration,
"God bless you, my dear boy!--and a safe return."

Vaguely, as he went through the rooms in search of Nina, the princess's
words echoed through his mind, and through some unknown train of
suggestion he remembered that Miller, the butler in New York, had wished
Nina a "safe return." The association of the two seemed ridiculous, yet
a thought held: Was it at all certain that she was going to return home?
Was he, perhaps, not going to return from Sicily? He put himself in the
category of idiots and banished the idea. But the echo of the blessing
that the princess had given him settled softly upon his sensibilities.
"God bless _her_!" he said almost aloud.

Presently he found Nina, unapproachably hemmed in, and too near the
music to talk. For a moment she hesitated, on the verge of extricating
herself or encouraging him to enter the circle despite the general
disturbance it must cause. But the moment passed. His lips framed
"Good-by" and hers answered, both smiled brightly--and that was the
parting.

[Illustration: "HIS LIPS FRAMED 'GOOD-BY' AND HERS ANSWERED, BOTH SMILED
BRIGHTLY--AND THAT WAS THE PARTING"]

Derby was in many ways a fatalist--not one of those who thought that by
sitting still the gifts from the horn of fortune would tumble into his
lap; but one of those who believe (to use his own expression), in
pegging away at the thing in hand; further than that, what was to be,
would be.

As Derby descended the stairs he encountered the Countess Masco. "Hello,
John!" she exclaimed, and then as she held him by the arm, her voice
came down to what for her was a low whisper; at twenty feet any one
could have overheard her, but fortunately the hall was deserted, save
for a couple of footmen standing at the green baize door that led to the
outer stairs of the courtyard. "Have you heard the news? Giovanni
Sansevero agreed to go on a cruise to Malta with Rosso, and Rosso won't
let him out of it! You may imagine he does not relish leaving Rome just
now, especially with you again out of the field!"

Derby was not given an opportunity either to accept or to resent her
intrusion into his affairs, for the dashing lady immediately fled, and
Derby went on. As he waited for his cab, he felt inclined to go back and
try to see Nina. He was letting her drift very, very far away. But while
he was hesitating, his cab drove up, and without more ado he jumped into
it and drove to his hotel. As soon as he reached his room, he began a
letter to Nina; but all the things he had vowed to himself not to say,
swarmed to the very tip of his pen. He threw it down, therefore, and
tore up the paper that showed, under "Dear Nina," an erased "Darl--"
After pacing the floor a while, he again picked up the pen, but this
time he wrote to Mr. Randolph. At the end of a letter of details
relating to the mines, he added:

          "There are rumors now agitating people over here
          and likely to become public property, that the
          Sansevero Madonna has been smuggled out of the
          country. I have reason to believe that the Raphael
          you showed me in New York is not the duplicate you
          were led to suppose, but the Sansevero picture.
          How it was sold, I have not yet discovered, though
          I do not believe the prince guilty of violating
          the laws. But I know the Government has its secret
          agents at work upon the case because of the
          seeming luxury of the princess, whose new furs and
          automobile are known to be far beyond her present
          income. I more than suspect that these luxuries
          are the result of Nina's generosity, but if the
          Sansevero picture _is_ the one you have, the
          affair will end badly for the prince. At all
          events, I consider it best to carry the matter
          direct to you."

While Derby was writing to Mr. Randolph, an animated conversation was
taking place in a little room on the ground floor of the gigantic palace
of the Scorpas. The doors were bolted, and the two inmates of the
apartment talked in whispers.

"You understand your instructions?"

"Yes, Excellency."

"Repeat them."

"I take the boat to-morrow--go to Vencata. Keep watch upon the
Americano--the one whose name I have here."

"John Derby, yes. But he is very big--a giant. Make no mistake, find the
one who is the _padrone_! And----? Continue!"

"I am to watch if it is true that he begins working the 'Little Devil,'
and if so--I know the rest. It is nothing! A pig's skin is thick--a
man's thin!" As he said this he glanced at the duke, and there was a
sinister gleam in the man's deep-set eyes, and beneath the sharp nose
the mouth was hard and straight, like a seam across the face.

The duke nodded as though satisfied. "It may be well for you to
remember," he observed impressively, "that the reward will make you and
yours easy for life."

The man saluted respectfully, but with a dogged surliness that revealed
no loyalty. Yet there was in his look a hint of fanatical intensity.
Outside in the passageway he smiled grimly. For once the errand on which
the duke had sent him fell in with his own inclinations. He opened a
window and looked out through the gratings into the night. In his heart
he bore no love for the duke, but he was by race and inheritance a
dependent of the house of Scorpa. It had always been so--the dukes had
been masters since time immemorial. The present duke had made the lives
of Sicilians terrible enough, but he, Luigi Calluci, would have no
stranger Americano forcing his people to work that hell-mine of the
"Little Devil"!



CHAPTER XX

HIS EMINENCE THE ARCHBISHOP OF VENCATA


Barely two days after the evening at the Palazzo Sansevero, Derby was
driving up the Sicilian hills towards the palace--courtesy gave it the
name--of the venerable Archbishop of Vencata. Porter, in company with
Tiggs and Jenkins--Derby's American assistants--had been left at the inn
in the town, but Derby was anxious to present his letter as soon as
possible, in order that there might be no delay in commencing work at
the mines.

The carriage in which Derby sat had at first sight seemed liable to
tumble apart, like so many separate pieces of mosaic puzzle, and he had
taken his place on the old cloth cushion rather dubiously. But the
driver gayly, and with every appearance of confidence in himself and his
equipage, had cracked his whip and shouted all the names in the calendar
to the horses, whose muscles gradually became sufficiently taut to impel
them onward. A few dozen yards having been made without mishap, Derby
felt that the special protection of Providence must be over them, and he
leaned back contentedly, puffing at his pipe and enjoying to the full
the witchery of a Sicilian sunset. The rickety conveyance clattered
slowly up a winding road that seemed like a white band tied about the
mountainside, holding here little terraced vineyards, there a huddling
group of houses that else would surely have slipped into the ravine. For
a short distance it hung out over the sea, then cut inward, as though
the band of white had been laced in and out among the silvery sprays of
the olive leaves.

Below it all, and beyond, lay the Mediterranean, its blue waters now
deepened to indigo, shading into wide lakes of purple, under the
reflection of the setting sun, which, like a great red lantern, seemed
sinking into the sea. A sharp turn inward and upward brought the
conveyance shambling into a little courtyard. It halted before the
doorway of a low, white-washed house smothered in semi-tropical vines,
which extended from the eaves over a pergola built along the wall at the
terrace edge. Beneath this arbor was a rustic seat, on the cushions of
which a big gray cat sat up slowly, and stared at the intruders with
insolent, unwinking eyes.

A woman's voice droned a dirgeful song that had a half Oriental, half
negro suggestion in its monotonous pitch, while from afar, like an echo
over the mountainside, came faintly the wailing cadence of the
_caramella_ of some shepherd boy, and the tinkle of goat bells,
interrupted by the hoot of little owls crying through the dusk.

The bells of the flapping harness settled into silence, the droning
sing-song ceased, and from the stone flagging within came the shuffle
of wooden shoes. An old woman, in the inevitable dark stuff dress of her
class, and the blue apron gay-bordered with red and white, stood in the
doorway. Her big hoop earrings fell to her shoulders, but were partly
hidden by the kerchief which she held over her head with one hand, as if
in fear of a draught, while with the other she still grasped the door
latch.

To Derby's inquiry as to whether His Eminence were at home, she
responded suspiciously--almost contemptuously, as she looked him over
from head to toe. Certainly, His Exaltedness was at home. What should
one of his venerability be doing abroad at such an hour!

Derby's bow was apologetic. Would Signora have the kindness to deliver
the letter which he tendered her?

She turned the envelope over in her hands, looked again at the stranger,
and at last stood aside so that he might enter.

Derby waited in the dim, low-ceilinged passageway, which suggested
anything but the antechamber of an archbishop's palace. Presently a door
opened, a feeble yellow haze filtered into the corridor, and the old
woman reappeared and led Derby into a small, stone-paved apartment
illumined by a single flickering lamp of the most primitive design, by
the light of which the archbishop had evidently been reading. As soon as
Derby entered, the venerable prelate arose. In his long _sottana_ of
violet he looked strangely diminutive and feminine; his pale skin and
mild eyes, and the soft white hair like a fringe beneath his velvet
cap--all gave an impression of great gentleness, an impression
heightened by contrast with the bare, white-washed walls and rigorously
meager furnishing of the cell-like room. With the courteous manner of
all southern countries, the archbishop placed the best chair for his
guest, and said smilingly:

"Do you speak Italian? Ah--I am glad you understand that language! My
French is very failing, and as for Inglese--_non lo conosco_. It is too
difficult at my age. If I were younger I should like to learn your
tongue." He said this with inimitable grace, and added with a gentle
inclination: "You are Americano, are you not? Your land has done much
for my people! But tell me, Signore, in what way may I serve you? Sua
Eccellenza il Principe Sansevero places you under our protection, but he
does not tell us what it is that has brought you to us." The archbishop,
leaning back in his chair, might so have sat for his portrait--his white
hands folded one over the other, and the great amethyst ring on the
third finger of his right hand seeming to reflect the paler shadings in
the folds of his gown.

[Illustration: "'YOU ARE AMERICANO, ARE YOU NOT? YOUR LAND HAS DONE MUCH
FOR MY PEOPLE!'"]

"I have come, your Eminence," said Derby, going to the point at once,
"to work the 'Little Devil' mine." Before the archbishop could utter a
protest, he continued very quickly and distinctly: "I know just such
mines as that which are being operated now without danger or suffering
to the miners."

Then, briefly as possible, he went on to outline his system of mining.
There was no necessity, he said, for miners to descend below the surface
of the earth, and he would need only a dozen men--instead of the many
workers, including women and children, that were now employed. To
Derby's surprise, the old man seemed troubled.

"I grow old, Signore; one does not easily take in new ideas! By your
method--am I right?--you will employ a dozen men in place of a hundred.
That troubles me, though your plan seems good. If there are but a small
handful needed, it must put the others out of work. The mines are hard.
A harder existence cannot well be imagined--but the good God must know
it is for the best, since he allows it to continue. To be sure," he
interrupted himself sadly, "he calls them to him soon!"

"You mean they die young in the mines? That is what I have been told."

"Yes, Signore, in their twenty-eighth year the people are at the end of
life; at the age of twelve they are already stooped and wrinkled old men
and women. For the children it is most terrible; it is they who climb up
the high ladders out of the pits in the earth--it gives one a foretaste
of inferno to see such things. _Cosi Dio, m' ajuti_, it is true! Yet so
they live--otherwise they must die. What can we do? Since the Santa
Maria does not intervene, the poor must work or starve. They have not
the money to go away to the country beyond the sea, to America, the land
of plenty! If some of the rich abundance might be brought to my
people----" He shook his head, looking, it seemed, beyond the white
walls of the room, as though he saw a vision.

Then slowly, carefully, Derby explained. It was to bring some of the
customs of the land of plenty that he had come. He would pay the
men--the father, the brother, the big son--more money than had been
earned hitherto by the whole family. No, His Eminence did not
understand--the work was not to be harder, but easier! And for the
reason that he had already explained: Machinery would take the place of
children's hands; steel pipes, and not human beings, would descend into
the stifling fumes. He wanted to get a few intelligent men to go with
their families to the deserted village clustered about the "Little
Devil."

Still the old man sat, looking straight before him.

"All that you tell me, Signore," he said at last, his voice echoing a
sweetness, a cheerful patience that was doubtless the keynote to his
nature--"it all sounds very beautiful; but, indeed, it cannot be! The
great Duke Scorpa has given the matter much thought. The mine owners
cannot pay the people more--there is scarcely any profit as it is. The
duke has often told me this himself, so I know it to be true."

Derby thereupon said that the great Duke Scorpa had doubtless done
everything possible, and that under the old method there had been no
help for the conditions, but--and again he expressed himself as clearly
as possible--with the new method and with machinery, one man could do
the work of many. So the wages might be trebled and yet the mines be
made to pay.

As Derby talked, a faint color mounted in the cheeks of the
archbishop--his eyes grew eagerly wistful, and at last he leaned forward
in his chair, his voice almost breathless as he asked, "Can such a thing
be true--that in your country the father can earn sufficient that the
little children need not work? Ah, Signore--who knows?--who knows?--may
be at last the cry of the _bambinos_ has reached the throne of the Santa
Vergine!" He sat again silent, but this time with a smile on his lips.
Then the old woman appeared in the doorway and the archbishop arose.

"It is the hour for my supper," he said. "I shall esteem it an honor if
you will break bread with me." Derby was about to decline, thinking it
better to return later, but the manner of the old man left no doubt as
to the genuineness of his invitation, and Derby accepted. In the
adjoining room a small table was set with very few utensils. Two plates,
two forks, two spoons, a cup, and a wine glass apiece--that was all.
After the blessing, they were served a frugal meal of bread and goats'
milk, a pudding of macaroni, and a plate of figs; there was also wine,
acid and thin, which the good Marianna--for so the housekeeper was
called--had doubtless pressed herself.

Her son Teobaldo, who waited at table, was dressed in some semblance of
a livery--black broadcloth and a white tie. The archbishop ate
sparingly--he drank a little of the milk, and tasted a piece of fruit,
but his conversation with his guest seemed to satisfy him far more than
food could do.

Full of the hope of relief for his people, he now turned to plans for
the Signore Americano's protection. Throughout the mountains, the hard
life had made a hard people, he said, and unfriendly to foreigners. What
could they expect from the hands of strangers when their own nobility,
even their priests, were powerless to help! But the Signore should be
put under the guidance of Padre Filippo--and also there should be two
_carabinieri_ for protection. Besides, Padre Filippo would recommend
carpenters and mechanics of Vencata Minore--the village nearest the
"Little Devil"--good men and honest, who would help in the work.

The meal ended, they returned to the living room. The old woman fussed
at the wick of the lamp and then placed a book close to the light and
opened it at the page marked by a bit of paper. The archbishop smiled.
"She takes good care of me, my Marianna. Once she lost my place, but
she is very careful."

Derby looked at the page beneath the flickering dimness. "Does Your
Eminence read by this light?"

"Oh, yes, a little. By day I can see nearly as well as ever, but in the
evening I can read only the books that have large print--and only for a
little time. But what would you have, Signore? My eyesight may not any
longer be like that of a boy." Then he added: "The good sun brings now
each day a longer time to read, and perhaps by the time another winter
makes the days again grow short, I shall be near the Great Light that
knows no setting."

"You might have a good lamp and see very well," suggested Derby.

"A lamp? But in this I burn olive oil. It is very good oil, Signore--no
one makes it better than Marianna! The reading at night is only for
young eyes." Again he smiled.

With difficulty he wrote a letter of direction to Padre Filippo and
affixed his seal. Also he promised that two _carabinieri_ should be at
the inn at eight o'clock on the following morning, to accompany the
expedition to the mines. And they should carry a letter to Donna
Marcella--in her house the Americans had better lodge. From there they
could with ease go each day on muleback to the "Little Devil."

At last Derby arose to leave. And then, although he was not of the Roman
faith, he swiftly bent and kissed the ring on the thin, white hand that
had been placed in his own. Into the archbishop's eyes came a look of
tenderness that yet seemed tinged by a vague fear, as he laid his free
hand on the bent head and gave his blessing, "_Deus te benedicet, meum
filium._ May you fulfil your hopes for my people in safety!" Very
slightly the old man's voice broke.

Derby stood at his full height, towering by head and shoulders over the
archbishop as he again thanked him for his hospitality and his
protection. He walked back to the inn, his mind full of many things. At
the _ufficio della posta_ he glanced up, hesitated, and then, with a
smile, went in and wrote out the following telegram:

          "MISS NINA RANDOLPH,
                 "Palazzo Sansevero,
                             "Rome.

          "Send immediately by express one good Rochester
          burner lamp and barrel of kerosene to

               "Sua Eminenza,
                       "L'Arcivescovo di Vencata,
                                             "JOHN."



CHAPTER XXI

THE SULPHUR MINES


It was nearly nine o'clock the next morning before Derby's party was
ready to start. The pack mules, with a bulging load on either side,
looked like great bales on legs. Long steel pieces needed for the drills
were strapped lengthwise between two mules. The saddled animals, which
were to carry the members of the party were held at a short distance
while the men were seeing to the final preparations. Four horses had
been procured for Derby, Porter, Tiggs, and Jenkins; the _carabinieri_
had their own horses, and Padre Filippo his mule.

As it happened, the priest had come to Vencata the evening before, so
that the archbishop had been able to turn over at once to his especial
guidance the Americanos who had been sent by the Blessed Virgin to
rescue the _bambinos_ from the inferno of the mines. Padre Filippo was
short, rotund, with a ruddy complexion and a cheerful crop of
carrot-colored hair. The two _carabinieri_ were splendid specimens of
men, but after all, to say _carabinieri_ is enough: for the Italian
cavalry must stand not only a physical, but also a moral examination
that goes back three generations. It is not sufficient for a candidate
to be above suspicion himself; his father and his father's father must
have been so as well. These two men were both over six feet, lean and
dark-skinned, with that trace of the Arab which one sees all through the
people of Sicily; and they were silent and serious, in great contrast to
another type of Sicilians who smile much. They wore the _carabiniere_
uniform for the mountain districts--a double-breasted coat with two rows
of silver buttons, coat tails bordered with red, two strips of red down
the trouser seams, a visored cap, and high black boots. They were
mounted on magnificent black horses, with rifles hung across their
saddles.

Finally, as the procession started and the hoofs clattered on the hard
road leading up over the mountain, people crowded out on the little iron
balconies, heads appeared at the windows--heads that seemed gigantic by
comparison with the miniature houses, which were painted brilliant pink
and blue, mauve and Naples yellow.

As the road ascended, it turned inward away from the sea, and after a
short distance narrowed into a rocky mountain path that looked like the
dry bed of a stream, winding through the wilderness. After an hour's
ride the character of the landscape changed. The semi-tropical
vegetation grew gradually sparse, and after a while in the distance,
seemingly in the midst of the path, a great rock loomed gigantic and
gaunt, cutting in two the blue dome of the sky. Still farther on, they
came upon stretches of straggling wild peach, olive, and lemon trees.
Beyond again, tangles of hawthorn were interspersed with patches of
dried weeds and grass. But as they neared the mining district the soil
was bleak and barren. The mountain rivers were dry, and their beds made
yawning gaps as though the earth had violently shuddered at her own
desolation.

At last, about noon, they came to the village of Vencata Minore, which
stood in a little plain of green. The house of Donna Marcella was set on
a slight eminence and, compared with the surrounding habitations, was
quite pretentious. It was kalsomined white, had a courtyard of its own,
and back of it was a little fruit and flower garden. Donna Marcella was
a buxom, thrifty, and dominating woman. Had she been a man she would
assuredly have migrated to America and become a captain of industry;
however, circumstances having placed her under heavier responsibilities,
she came smiling to the door, followed by a troop of brown-skinned and
curly-haired babies. She courtesied and beamed and gesticulated her
delighted welcome of the strangers and, upon being shown the
archbishop's missive, kissed the red seal. A few words were intelligible
to her, but the reading of a whole letter was beyond the measure of her
accomplishments, and she looked to Padre Filippo to explain. She could
write the few nouns and do sums quite well enough, though, to make out
the bills for her occasional guests,--if in doubt she added another
figure.

Sometimes she had guests--ah, but illustrious! The Gran Signore, Sua
Eccellenza il Duca di Scorpa--that name to be whispered, and yet to be
dwelt upon--no less a personage than such an exaltedness had come to
sleep a night under her humble roof! The distinguished _forestieri_
should have the very room His _Eccellentissimo_ had occupied! She seemed
to choose among the Americans by instinct, assigning to Derby and Porter
this apartment in which she took such evident pride.

It was, in fact, airy and good sized, scantily furnished, but
scrupulously clean, and with two great beds heaped high with the red and
yellow flowered quilts which in Sicilian houses serve the double purpose
of warmth and decoration: not alone do they lend supreme elegance to the
bedrooms, but suspended from the windows, they most gayly embellish the
house front on days of _festa_.

As soon as his belongings were unpacked, Porter, with an eye for beauty
as well as a view to making himself popular, began to draw a pencil
sketch of the little Marcella, a witch of five and beautiful as a doll.
Tiggs and Jenkins saw to the unloading of the mules. But Derby and the
_carabinieri_, with Padre Filippo, after a hasty luncheon of bread,
figs, and goats' milk, pushed on to the mines. Beyond the outskirts of
the little village the land soon grew dead again--not a bird fluttered,
not a living thing was heard. A few patches of green had sprouted here
and there in the lava blackness of the soil, but otherwise the country
seemed under a curse.

A new bend in the road brought them close to a small abandoned
settlement whose windowless houses gaped, staring like lidless eyes, at
the pits which had been dug and left like caverns of the dead--as, in
truth, they were. Yet nature had softened the graveyard with straggling
spots of new green. A vapor rose from one of the pits as though a
monster lay in wait below to destroy his victims with the poison of his
breath. This was "Little Devil," the priest told Derby. Through the jaws
of that yawning hole many had entered the gates of paradise! His lips
muttered a fragment of the prayer for the dead; he crossed himself, and
Derby noticed that the _carabinieri_ did the same.

During the day Derby had been slowly unfolding to Padre Filippo his
plans, and now the priest looked anxiously into the American's
face--could he still be hopeful of such a cemetery as this? Derby rode
slowly, making a cursory survey of the conditions. It was much as he had
expected to find it, he told the priest; he was not disheartened.

They did not stop, as Derby was anxious to go to the Scorpa mines, where
he expected to secure his men. He had heard enough to know what lay
before him; and even in anticipation he felt oppressed. Another sudden
turn in the road gave them a near view of the settlement. Over the arid
earth spread a dense haze of smoke and yellow vapor, and down in it--in
this vapor whose metallic fumes gripped lungs and throat and burned like
fire--crawled human beings! Close to the earth they crept, so that the
rising smoke might spend its worst above them.

Derby had thought himself prepared, but with the horrors actually before
him, he shuddered uncontrollably; unconsciously, he gripped the pommel
of the saddle so tensely that his knuckles whitened. The mine of "Golden
Plenty!" From the horrible mockery of the name, the devil might well
have taken notes in planning hell! Copper Rock was paradise indeed,
compared to this inferno.

Little forms passed by him with faces wizened and wrinkled--were they
gnomes?--or what? Surely not children! Small, narrow, stooped shoulders,
backs bent under loads buckled to tottering legs. Ragged the creatures
were to the point of nakedness, and on their arms and legs were scars
fresh and scarlet from the torches of the overseers. Women and men
crawled near the caldrons, and down the ladders into the hell pits went
the children--up with the heavy loads past the torch and lash of the
devil servers, whose duty it was to see that no panting being loitered.
Day in, day out, these miserable wretches stumbled under the stinging
pain of burning flesh--and once in a while a child's faltering feet
slipped from the ladder rungs, his weak hands lost hold--a cry, a fall,
and the "Golden Plenty" had swallowed one more victim.

As Derby's party drew near, a straggling group gathered around the
strangers. They stared dully and without intelligence, and yet like
animals in whom savagery is ever ready to burst restraints. The stronger
men among them glowered at the intruders, turning against a strange face
with the snarl they dared not show to one grown familiar. Beyond the
mines, ranged at different heights on the barren mountain slope, were
huts much like the abandoned ones at "Little Devil"--black caverns,
smoke-stained and gaping, where stooping human beings moved in and out,
maimed and broken like insects whose wings some brutal boy has pulled.

And yet the priest affirmed that to get half a dozen families to leave
this place and go to the new settlement would be no easy task. They were
too dull to grasp the promise of betterment, and the very mention of
"Little Devil" filled them with alarm. It would need many days and much
patient handling to convince them that the _forestieri_ meant them good
instead of harm.

Padre Filippo was the one who most persuaded them--he and a Sicilian
workman, a native of Vencata who had lately returned from America.
Between these two the miners' fears were partly allayed, and in less
than a week's time Derby received a small company of men, women, and
children into his new settlement. They came like prisoners, under the
guard of the _carabinieri_, and so feeble and debilitated were the
wretched creatures that, for a few weeks after their arrival, Derby
turned his settlement into a hospital.

Yet suspicion surrounded him on every side. It was one of the
_carabinieri_--the taller one--who ventured his opinions one day:
"Signore does not know these people! Signore is letting them grow strong
that they may the better use their fangs. They cannot believe that
Signore is not the devil in paying such wages--in pretending to give
them a life of ease. The great Duke Scorpa is their friend--he has been
able to do nothing. The good and honorable His Eminence the Archbishop,
not even he may help--none in this world; not even the Holy Virgin on
her throne in heaven. If any one comes to interfere it must be the
devil--since none but the devil comes to such a land."

"That's all right, my friend," Derby answered. "Just you wait and see.
Animals never resent kindness, and that's all these poor creatures
are--just animals."

In the meantime he and the engineers and the carpenters from Vencata
Minore had worked day and night getting up the scaffolding for the first
well. The first boiler was set up in a shanty, and pens were hammered
together to hold the molten sulphur.

From the moment of Derby's arrival in the Vencata mines, the
_carabinieri_ kept him under the closest guard and accompanied him
wherever he went. But in spite of this there were a few mild outbreaks.
One day a stone was hurled at him. Another time some half-crazed wretch
tried to stab him; and once a pit was dug across the road, in which his
horse broke a leg, so that it had to be shot. This last nearly brought
Derby to the point of meting out punishment to the offenders. Yet when
he realized again the sufferings of these people, his anger gradually
subsided.

However, these disturbances had all taken place within the week after
his arrival in Sicily, and at the end of the second week he strongly
objected to being guarded. Each day he knew he gained in the confidence
of the people, and each day he knew also that they must be improving. He
felt sure that as their bodies were put in something like human
condition, their intellects must follow. The _carabinieri_ protested
that he would be making a needless target of himself should he attempt
to ride alone in the early dawn from the village of Vencata Minore to
the mines. The road led between rocks and underbrush where a man might
hide with perfect safety. But the apprehension of the _carabinieri_ did
not trouble Derby in the least. "Nonsense," he said. "Why, the miners
are all beginning to like me--I can see it in their faces."

What he said was true, and under the new treatment the people were
beginning to look and act like human beings. Even two weeks were enough
to show a settlement beyond Padre Filippo's highest hopes. No child was
employed in the mines, neither were the women allowed to work outside
their huts and plots of ground. They might dig and plant the soil, but
they were barred out of the mines. With the elimination of the refining
vats and the reduction of the scorching heat, and with the presence of
moisture from the steam and water required in the new mining, conditions
became favorable for luxuriant vegetation.

Besides, Derby had received by cable approval of certain quixotic
measures: Each family was given a milk goat. The houses were furnished
with cook stoves, beds, chairs, and tables. And although it would be
some time before "Little Devil" would seem inappropriate as a name, less
than three weeks had passed when Derby, sitting in the tent which served
as his office, felt a real thrill as he footed up assets and
liabilities. One well had been sunk, and the boilers and engines needed
to operate it were going full blast. The scaffoldings for two more were
nearly up.

In the doorway near him Porter lounged, drawing a picture of Padre
Filippo, who, in turn, was writing on his knees, his fine penmanship
covering page after page--all about the miracles of the Americano, and
addressed to the archbishop.

But his Eminence needed no letters from Padre Filippo to announce
miracles, since a miracle had happened in his own house--a marvel that
had made Marianna cross her hands in speechless wonder. The new lamp
burned on the table, the green reading shade reflected almost as much
light on the page as the sun itself, and His Eminence might now read any
book he pleased. The archbishop thoughtfully stroked the cat that lay
curled on his lap.

"It is not in this world," he mused, "that we shall journey, thou and I,
to the land of the Americanos, the miracle workers; but assuredly the
Santa Vergine sent the young Signore Americano to bless our people with
his miracles--even as he has sent this one to thee and me."

But beyond the bright radius of the good archbishop's lamp a figure
waited and watched in the darkness--the figure of a man with a sinister
face and across it a mouth that looked like a seam.



CHAPTER XXII

BEFORE DAYLIGHT


In the purple dawn of a morning two or three days later, Derby emerged
from the house of Donna Marcella, saddled his horse and for the first
time without his attendant _carabinieri_, started for the mines. The
faint light showed him only a blurred and indistinct landscape; and in
the crisp stillness the leather of his saddle creaked a monotonous
accompaniment to the horse's hoofs, which struck the road with clean-cut
staccato sharpness.

Meanwhile, in the big best room on the ground floor of Donna Marcella's
house, Porter slept. A man's step outside and the fingering of a
shutter-latch disturbed him not at all; even when there came a nervous
tap on the window frame, Porter slept on. A moment of silence followed,
and then a voice breathed stridently, "_Signore!_" Porter stirred in his
sleep. A man's head and shoulders appeared over the sill of the open
window. "_Signore! Signore l'Americano!_" The tone was louder and very
urgent. Porter awoke with a start and seized his revolver. "_Pax, pax!_"
came the voice as the man dropped out of sight.

"_Signore, Signore._ It is a friend who would speak to the _Signore
l'Americano_!" The syllables were whispered with ringing distinctness.
Porter jumped out of bed, revolver in hand. Close to the window, he
demanded who was there.

"It is a matter of life and death! May I show myself?"

"Certainly!" said Porter. "For heaven's sake, stand up and let me have a
look at you! And give an account of why you are getting a Christian out
of his bed at this unearthly hour!" In the glimmering dawn he could see
the outline of the man's figure, but he could not recognize him.

"_Signore_, I would speak with the big _Americano_, the one who sent the
daylight miracle to the palace of the archbishop. I am sent by His
Eminence the Archbishop. I am Teobaldo his servant. See, I carry the
archbishop's holy ring to show I speak the truth."

Porter saw the ring distinctly, held between the man's fingers--"Yes! I
believe you. Be quick!"

"I have ridden through the night, but I arrive late because I lost my
path in the blackness. Last night by chance it became known to the
archbishop that there is a plot to assassinate the Americano. I am come
secretly to warn him. The assassin is waiting along the road to the
mine; it is to be there, and the hour is now!"

Porter sprang back into the room. "Jack, Jack! For God's sake, are you
there?" He tore back the covers of Derby's bed, but it was empty. He
remembered with horror that the _carabinieri_ were not to accompany
Derby that morning. He had insisted that they were no longer necessary.
Scrambling into his clothes any fashion--his trousers over his pajamas,
his shoes over stocking less feet--he strapped on his revolvers, and
took the window ledge at a bound.

He jumped astride his horse without stopping for a saddle, and beat and
kicked the poor beast along the road as though the very fiends were
after him. The horse rocked on his legs and breathed hard, but Porter
had no consideration for that. The pale dawn revealed an empty road,
along which he sped at breakneck pace, while beads of perspiration
gathered on his forehead in his impatience at the seeming slowness of
his progress. At last the road cut through a tangled bit of forest with
a sharp bend at the end. Just as he reached the turn two shots rang out
in quick succession. With his heart almost frozen, he dashed around the
corner in time to see Derby plunging into the underbrush. Like a wild
man Porter shouted, "I'm coming, Jack, I'm coming!"--impelling his
already spent horse to the spot where Derby had disappeared into the
thicket.

Derby, like all men who live much in the woods, had almost an animal's
instinct for danger, and his ears, supersensitive to wood sounds, had
caught a moving in the bushes. To get his revolver in hand and drop
forward behind his horse's shoulders had been the act of a second, and
the bullet whistled over his head. But the immediate effect of the
attack had been to enrage him out of all prudence. Firing point-blank at
the smudge of smoke, he jumped from his horse and rushed in pursuit of
his assailant.

A second shot Derby thought had grazed his coat; he emptied two barrels
of his revolver in the direction from which it came. Another bullet
whistled close to his ear, then two shots went entirely wide of him, and
the next moment he reached a man lying prone--with blood gushing from
his head. Derby knocked the rifle out of his hands, but there was no
further danger of its being fired, for the man had fainted.

In a second Porter dashed up, in a frenzy of terror. When he found Derby
safe, his fright turned to rage, and he was impatient to put the
prisoner into the hands of the _carabinieri_. "Our friend Basso will
make short work of him, I'm thinking!" he said grimly.

But Derby had no intention of making such a disposition of his prisoner.
"Not at all," he said deliberately; "we will hand him over to Padre
Filippo. Priests are better for such creatures than police. Come, help
me tie up his head--my shirt will do!" Suiting the action to his words,
he pulled off his coat. His shirt was scarlet!

"Great Heavens, man, why didn't you say you were hit?" Porter gasped.

Derby looked down at his shirt and then quizzically at Porter. "Funny,"
he remarked indifferently; "I thought the bullet had only grazed my
coat. It can't be much, as I didn't even feel it; however, you might tie
me up, too." He pulled off his shirt. Porter tore it up and bound
Derby's shoulder. Then together they made a bandage for the bandit's
head.

"He's got an ugly mug!" said Porter, as he wiped the man's face. "By
Jove--it's the brigand I noticed coming down on the boat! I told you he
looked like a cutthroat."

"Your natural intuition for character?" Derby smiled, but the next
minute added soberly enough: "If he came from the mainland we must be up
against a good deal more than the poor devils here! Who the deuce can he
be? He's no miner, that's certain!"

They had dragged their prisoner out to the side of the road and laid him
down. And as Derby insisted, Porter rode off for the priest. Derby sat
near his charge, who showed no signs of returning consciousness. His own
shoulder ached now, and he gradually became aware of slight weakness. He
felt in his pockets for a flask, but found he had forgotten to carry
one, so he lit his pipe instead, and fell to scrutinizing the man before
him. He was of small stature, but there was great endurance in the long,
pointed nose, the strong, lantern jaw; and the face, sinister though it
was, retained, even in unconsciousness, an expression of grim
fortitude. The more Derby studied the man, the more certain he became
that he was no mere skulking coward.

At last Porter and the _padre_ appeared over the hill. No sooner had the
priest caught sight of the prisoner than he exclaimed, "_Per l'amor di
Dio!_ It is Luigi Calluci!" There was added horror in his tone as he
whispered, "Signore, Signore, he is the body servant of the Duca di
Scorpa!"

At this even Derby started, but he said quite calmly, "Poor devil! The
question is, what will you do with him?"

"He must be put under the arrest----"

"Well, naturally," chimed in Porter.

But Derby interposed: "He shall be put under nothing of the kind until
he can give an account of himself. There is no knowing what fancied
grievance he may have against me. Wait until he has been heard. The
question of punishment can be considered then. But in the meantime he
must be nursed!"

"You have his brother in the settlement--Salvatore Calluci, the man to
whom you have given special duty in the night shaft." The priest's red
head wagged mournfully: "It was to the wife of Salvatore you gave an
extra goat because of her children!" But then he added, brightening a
little at the thought, "I am sure--of a truth I am sure, Signore, that
the brother had no hand in this!"

"Very well, then; we will take him to the house of Salvatore. We will
say merely that an accident has happened--do you hear? I do not want the
story of an attempted assassination to get about." Derby's voice had
grown quite weak as he spoke, and the priest and Porter were both too
concerned for him to think of opposing any wish he might express in
regard to the prisoner. So they laid the man across the saddle of Padre
Filippo's horse, and Porter and the _padre_ walked on either side of him
into camp. Derby rode his own horse, but by the time he reached the
mine, he had lost so much blood that he was pretty fit for the doctor
himself. Tiggs, a lean, wiry Yankee, sandy-haired and resourceful, was a
tolerable surgeon, and he plastered Derby up, pronouncing the injury
nothing more serious than a flesh wound.

Luigi Calluci meanwhile was carried into the hut of his brother and put
to bed. If Salvatore and his wife had any idea of the cause of his
"accident," they said nothing. They were among the most intelligent of
the miners, and their gratitude to Derby for the change in their
condition, was proportionate.

But it was not alone the Callucis who had made fast strides. The whole
settlement had undergone a change that was nothing short of
transformation. One reason for the rapid improvement was doubtless the
influence exerted by the Sicilian carpenter who had been to America and
who had returned a "great man" and rich. Through him as interpreter,
all things the American did were good; and the "land of plenty" lost
nothing in the telling. The people began to look upon the new mining
process as a miracle, and the American as sent by the Blessed Virgin.
The wages were stupendous--as much as sixty cents a day! But best of
all, they were wages for work that a human being could do. Around the
miners' houses were the beginnings of gardens, and several families had,
in addition to the goat, a few chickens.

Every day Derby went to the hut of the Calluci. Gradually consciousness
came back to Luigi. Slowly, as reason returned, the events of the past
weeks formed themselves in distinct sequence. He knew where he was
now--at the "Little Devil." Had he not himself descended its ladders
into the mine's burning pits? Was not that why he was undersized and
weak of lungs? He bore scars that had seared even deeper than through
the flesh. He knew the huts, too: caves in which men lived like beasts.
It was all clear except the surroundings in which he found himself. The
haggard faces of his brother and his sister-in-law were familiar, yet
not as he remembered them. The withered bodies of the children seemed
not nearly so pathetic! Then, full of bewilderment, he heard his
sister-in-law singing. Singing! Could it be possible that a voice could
sing in the "Little Devil" settlement! Distinctly he heard another
sound, the voices of children at play.

Thinking all this must be merely the creation of his brain, he raised
himself on his elbow and made a careful survey of the room. There was no
doubt that he was in a good bed, covered by a thick new quilt, and the
walls were cleanly white-washed. The air held none of the foul and
strangling odors which never had been, and never could be, forgotten.
That his brother had moved and had become a well-to-do peasant of the
mountain slopes and vineyards was the only explanation possible. He
tried to get out of bed, but fell back dizzy, and his mind wandered off
again to the semi-conscious vagaries of illness.

In this state of mind, he had become used to a new presence--a very big,
very kind personality that hauntingly resembled the Americano--it was,
of course, one of those phantoms that appear before fevered
imaginations. He realized that, and now he made an effort to detach the
dream from the reality.

But even as he was trying to put his thoughts in order, the door
opened--and he vividly saw the figure of his vision followed by his
sister-in-law. Thinking that his mind was wandering, he lay quite still.
Then he heard a kindly voice saying, "I have brought soup for him with
me--in this jar. You have only to heat it."

Luigi felt a strong hand clasp his wrist and feel for his pulse. Then
came the full belief that this was no dream, but reality, and that it
was the Tyrant, the Americano himself, who laid hands on him. With a
frantic effort he sprang up and tried to close his fingers around his
enemy's throat! But firm, powerful hands gripped his shoulders and
forced him quietly down in his bed. Then he lost consciousness.

When he came to, he thought he had dreamed the whole occurrence. His
brother and Padre Filippo were sitting beside him, and they would not
let him talk. But gradually, as his strength returned, he took in the
story. From his brother, from the neighbors, from the priest most of
all, he heard, bit by bit, of the work that the Americano had
accomplished--the Americano whom he, Luigi, had nearly slain. Slowly,
slowly, he understood that the "Little Devil" mine had been
re-christened "The Paradise"--not by the nobles who owned it, but by the
people who worked in it. And then little by little the resentment, the
bitterness, the grievances of his long, hard life turned him against the
Duke Scorpa just as his realization of what Derby was doing won him over
to the American.

That Scorpa should have sent a man to stab him was, curiously enough, a
fact that did not seem to trouble Derby in the least. It was, after all,
no more than he might have expected. Before he had left Rome, Scorpa had
warned him. He rather admired him for that.

Derby was heart and soul interested in his settlement. In the short
space of time since he had arrived in Sicily, the incredible had
already come to pass--and to Derby, as he looked forward, there was
every reason to feel assured that the settlement would develop as he had
planned. The output of the mines promised to be up to the most sanguine
expectation. The whole scheme was organized and started--there was
nothing to do now but to keep it going.

In the meantime he received a cable which, when deciphered, ran:

          "Telegraph _Celtic_ at Gibraltar, giving Hobson
          instructions where to find you. Put package he
          carries in safe keeping. In case of serious
          development use own judgment."

Hobson was one of J. B. Randolph's secretaries. Derby at once wired to
Hobson to await him in Naples. Then, leaving Tiggs and Jenkins in
charge, he and Porter embarked.

As they leaned over the deck rail watching the blue shallows where the
waters of the Mediterranean curled away from the ship's prow, Porter
said:

"It must be good to be going back to Rome with the feeling that you have
carried out what you started to do. It's a big feather in your cap, and
now there is only one thing needed to make the whole episode a romance
from start to finish!"

Derby interrogated good-humoredly, "And that is----?"

"You will probably go up in the air if I tell you."

Derby looked up from the water. "Go ahead--say what you like----"

"You ought to marry Miss Randolph!" Porter declared abruptly, and before
Derby could protest he hurried on: "Yes, I know what you would say--she
is too rich and she is scheduled to marry a title. But I don't think she
is the sort of girl that really puts as much stock in titles as it would
seem; and as for money, by the time you have two or three mines like the
'Little Devil' going, you will be pretty rich yourself. Even with your
present prospects, no one could accuse you of marrying her for her
fortune."

"Prospects are very different from actual money, and compared to her I'm
a pauper," Derby answered. "I don't care what people accuse me of, but
to marry a girl like Nina Randolph--even assuming the unlikelihood that
she'd have me--would be a fatal mistake, unless I had a fortune to match
her own. Every changing hour of the day would bring fresh doubt; she
would never believe in a poor man's love. How could she!"

Derby stood up straight, thrust his hands into the pockets of his
ulster, and as Porter tried to protest, he withdrew from the discussion
by declaring that there was nothing to discuss. For himself--he was but
a human machine that God had set upon the earth to bore holes in it, and
to set swarms of human ants working.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE SPIDER'S WEB


In Rome, after Easter, society blossomed out afresh. Giovanni Sansevero
had returned, and to Nina the commencement of the spring season promised
a repetition of the winter.

Nina's antipathy to the Duke Scorpa remained unchanged, and to her
annoyance it had happened frequently, when dining out, that he had taken
her in to dinner. Each time his unctuous, "It is my pleasure, Signorina,
to conduct you," gave her so strong a feeling of resentment that she had
to exert a real effort to put her finger tips on his coat sleeve. She
always kept the distance between them as wide as possible by the angle
at which her arm was bent.

On looking back, however, she had to acknowledge that his manner had
undergone a radical change. He no longer alarmed her by aggressive
pursuit, nor sought to lead the conversation to those personal topics
which she had found so repellent. Furthermore, he never alluded to the
threat he had made to her that day at the hunt, nor even mentioned his
rejected suit. And yet she felt apprehensively that he had not given up
his original determination.

In the meantime he was untiring in his efforts to interest her, and
evinced an ability to keep the conversation going with great skill--even
more skill than Giovanni, whose natural attractiveness could afford to
do without the effort that Scorpa found necessary. He flattered her by
his assumption that she was a woman of the world, and he disguised the
exaggeration of his expressions in such a way that she thought he was
speaking but the barest truth. For instance, he dilated upon the
particular qualities for which Nina herself adored the princess, until
it became apparent to her that, after all, Scorpa must be a man of
sensitive perceptions.

Nevertheless, the underlying feeling of terror with which he filled her
at the first moment of each encounter was far worse than mere dislike.
Intuitively, she regarded him as a menace, and, through his unvarying
politeness, she found herself trying to fathom his real intentions. What
object could he have had in ranging himself with the suitors for her
hand? He was very rich himself. Aside from his own fortune, "poor
Jane"--as every one called his first wife--had left a handsome amount,
which, according to European custom, was entirely in his control.
Perhaps he wanted still more money, and thought that he could find in
her another source of supply to be exhausted and practically thrust
aside. Many tales that Nina had heard, many things that she had observed
were not good for the girl's all too ready cynicism--and the hard little
lines around her mouth that the princess so disliked to see, were
growing deeper.

The question of international marriage was one on which Nina found
herself becoming quite skeptical. She admitted that there were happy
examples. Her aunt, for instance. Surely no wife was ever more loved and
appreciated than the princess, even though her husband had one serious
failing. But then, did not some American husbands also gamble?

In the Masco household too, the bonny Kate was certainly in no need of
sympathy. That her position was not as good as her husband's name should
have given her was her own fault. She was not one of those gifted with
the chameleon faculty of harmonizing with her background. Among the
mellow pigments of the Roman canvas she was a glaring splotch of primary
color. But she was far from unhappy.

Indeed, so far as Nina's observation could penetrate, the general
impression of the average Americo-Italian marriage was of sympathetic
comradeship between husband and wife; in nearly every household she had
found the indescribably charming atmosphere of a harmonious home.

Yet proposals for the hand of the American heiress were so common that,
in spite of the delightful households of her countrywomen, Nina had long
since begun to think--first in fun and then more seriously--of the
palaces of Italy as so many spider webs waiting for the American gilded
fly. It was at the Palazzo Scorpa that her theory became actuality.

The princess had, very much against Nina's will, taken her to see the
duchess on the day after their own dance. But a serious indisposition
had prevented the duchess from receiving--not only on that particular
day, but for the rest of the winter. Toward the end of March, however,
in response to a note, Nina was finally obliged to enter the Palazzo
Scorpa.

It was a rugged gray stone fortress of a place, "like a monster," Nina
said, "of the dragon age, that sulkily remained asleep and hidden among
the narrow, twisted streets that had crept around it."

Through the yawning gateway they entered a sunless courtyard. Even the
porter at the door, notwithstanding his gold lace and crimson livery,
was austere and forbidding. Within, the palace had been refurnished in
the most lavish Florentine period, but the effect of the high-vaulted
rooms was that of a prison.

One room, however, through which they passed to reach the reception
apartments of the duchess, gave Nina a little thrill in spite of her
antipathy. The Scorpas had belonged to the "Blacks," that is to the
ecclesiasticals, and this room was not repaired in modern fashion, but
hung in tattered purple silk. On one side stood a solitary piece of
furniture--a great gilt throne upholstered in red velvet, and above it
hung a portrait of Pope Alexander VI, the whole surmounted by a canopy
of red velvet.

"Was he a relation of the duke?" Nina whispered, aghast at the
resemblance.

"Who, child?" asked the princess.

"Rodrigo Borgia."

"No one knows. Hush!"

"But why the throne? Were the Scorpas kings--or what?"

"Before the secular unification of Italy," the princess answered, "the
Holy Fathers used to visit the Scorpa cardinals. There has always been a
Scorpa among the cardinals. The one now is Monsignore Gamba del Sati.
Del Sati is one of the numerous names of the Scorpa family."

Nina cast another glance at the portrait of Alexander VI. The sinister
face was so like the present duke's that it made her shudder, and her
imagination at once pictured slaves and prisoners being dragged along
these same stone floors. At the end of ten or twelve rooms, each gloomy,
yet over-rich with architectural adornments and modern elaboration, two
lackeys lifted the hangings covering the last doorway, and announced:

"Sua Eccellenza la Principessa Sansevero!"

"Messa Randolph."

The Duchess Scorpa was very gracious to the American heiress. But,
unaccountably, Nina had a strangled feeling, as though she were a bird
and had been enticed into a cage. It was a ridiculous notion, for, even
following out the simile, the door was open, she knew; and, for that
matter, the bars were too far apart to hold her, as soon as she should
choose to slip through. But the feeling of the cage was oppressively
vivid, and she clung as closely to her aunt's side as she could. Friends
of the princess rather monopolized her, however, while the duchess
neglected her other guests to talk to Nina. To add to the girl's
distress, the duke, stroking his heavy chin with his fat hand, stood
beside her chair with what seemed a proprietary air, and a smile that
was intolerable. "Well, my guests," his manner seemed to say, "how do
you like my choice? She is not all that I might ask for, but she will
do--quite nicely."

Nina glanced appealingly at her aunt, but Eleanor's back was turned.
Involuntarily she looked toward the doorway--Giovanni was to meet them
there, and she longed to see his slender figure appear between the
_portières_, to hear the announcement of the well-known name which was
no less great than that of the odious man who was trying to compromise
her by his air of proprietorship.

Nina could stand it no longer, and sprang to her feet, in the very midst
of a long-winded story about--she had no idea what the duchess was
saying to her, but she realized that she had done an inexcusably
_gauche_ thing, not only interrupting, but in starting to go before her
chaperon made the move. And her discomfiture was increased by a quick
sense of the Potensi's derisive criticism. Recovering herself, she
exclaimed rapidly: "I am so much interested in sculpture; may I look at
that statue?"

The duchess, far from showing resentment at the interruption, was
apparently delighted with the opportunity of impressing upon her guest
the greatness of the palace and the family of the Scorpas. "Certainly,"
she cooed, as nearly as a snapping turtle can imitate a turtledove;
"that is a genuine Niccola Pisano. The original document is still intact
in which he agreed with the cardinal of our house to execute it himself.
The portrait of our ancestor who ordered the statue is in the gallery."

Before Nina could resist, she found herself being conducted between
mother and son through the numerous rooms which terminated finally in
the gallery. Unlike most of the collections of Italy, this included many
modern canvases.

Before the portrait of a thin, heavy-boned, frightened-looking English
girl, the duke assumed a deeply sentimental air, sighing as though out
of breath. "That is the portrait of my beloved Jane," he said. "It was
painted by Sargent while we were on our honeymoon." The artist, with his
consummate skill of characterization, had transferred a crushed,
fatalistic helplessness to the canvas. Nina found herself, partly in
pity, partly in contempt, scrutinizing the face of the woman who had
brought herself to marry such a man.

Suddenly an indescribable feeling of oppression seized her. She looked
away from the picture, and then, glancing around to speak to the
duchess, she saw the edge of her dress disappearing through the hangings
of the doorway, while between herself and her retreating hostess stood
the stolid figure of the duke, with the most odious smile imaginable
upon his horrid face.

With a flush of anger that made her temples throb, Nina realized that a
dastardly trap had been sprung upon her. To leave a young girl even for
a moment unchaperoned was against the strictest rule of Italian
propriety. The duchess had brought her all this distance on purpose to
leave her with the villainous duke--in a situation that, should it
become known, would so compromise an Italian girl that there would be no
place for her in the social system of her world afterward outside of a
convent. Her marriage with the duke would be almost inevitable.

Determined to give no evidence of the terror that gripped her, with the
most fearless air she could assume she attempted to pass the duke; but
he blocked her way so that her manoeuvres came down to the indignity of
a game of blind man's buff. Nina held her head very high and looked
straight at her tormentor. "Please allow me to pass." She tried hard to
speak quietly and to keep the tremulousness out of her voice.

For answer Scorpa quickly closed the intervening distance between them,
and the next thing she knew the grasp of his thick, hot hands burned
through the sleeve of her coat, and his face was thrust near to her
own. In a frenzy of fury she wrenched herself free, and without thought
or even consciousness of what she was doing, she struck him full in the
face.

Instead of recoiling, he caught and pinned her arms in a grip like a
vice. "Ah, ha, so that is the mettle you are made of, is it, you little
fiend! Don't think that I mind your fury--you will be a wife after my
own heart when I have tamed you! I am a man of my word--I said I would
marry you, and I will! Not many men would want to marry a woman of your
temper, but you suit me!"

In her horror Nina felt her throat grow dry. She stared at the thick,
red, cruel, animal lips of the man with a loathing that almost paralyzed
her power to move; while his hands pressed numbingly into the flesh of
her arms.

"Let me go! Do you hear"--her voice shook with fright and rage--"let me
go! At once! You coward! You beast!"

And like a beast he snarled his answer: "Scream all you please! You
could not be heard if you had a throat of brass!" Then mockingly he
sneered, "Come, won't you dance with me, as you did with the pretty
Giovanni? You had his arms around you lovingly enough! But, by Bacchus!
the way to win a woman is to seize her, after the good old customs of
our ancestors!" And with that he drew her close to him--so close that,
though she screamed and struggled like a fury, his lips drew
nearer--nearer----

Then a jar struck through her blinding rage; in a daze she felt herself
released, and realized that Giovanni had appeared; that he had gripped
Scorpa around the throat until his eyes started out of their sockets;
and then sent him sprawling to the floor.

With the relief and reaction, everything seemed to recede from Nina and
grow black. Dimly she felt that Giovanni had put his arm around her to
support her. "Come quickly, Mademoiselle, before there is a scene"--she
heard his voice as though it were far off. But she was perfectly
conscious. She knew that Scorpa still lay on the floor as Giovanni
hurried her through another set of rooms and led her down a staircase
that brought them to a second entrance door--one by which, as it
happened, Giovanni had come in. The footman on duty looked as though he
were going to bar their egress, but Giovanni ordered him to open the
door quickly. "The lady is fainting," he said, and a glance at Nina's
face too well confirmed it. Besides, the man would hardly have dared
disobey a Sansevero. Once in the open air, they lost no time in going
around to the main entrance. The Sansevero carriage was waiting, and
Giovanni put Nina in. "Wait here a moment--I will go up and tell
Eleanor."

Nina was shaking from head to foot. "No--no--don't leave me; take me
away!"

"It is not seemly to drive with you, Mademoiselle; I will return in a
moment."

But by this time Nina was hysterical. "No--no--please take me home,"
she begged. "The carriage can come back." And she began to sob.

Giovanni hesitated, then jumped in quickly, telling the coachman to
drive home as fast as possible.

"It must have been a frightful experience," he said, as they started.
"Thank God I came even when I did."

A shudder ran through Nina. Instinctively she drew away from Giovanni,
merely because he was a foreigner, and of the same race as Scorpa. She
could still see those thick, loathsome lips approaching her own, and the
recollection gave her a nauseating sense of pollution. Holding her hands
over her face, she sobbed and sobbed.

Giovanni let her cry it out. It was not a moment to play on her
feelings--they were too strained to stand any other emotion. Yet had he
considered nothing but his own advantage, he could not better have used
his opportunity than by doing exactly what he did.

"Listen, Mademoiselle"--his voice was soothing--as kind and
unimpassioned as though he were talking to a troubled little child.
"Promise me that you will try not to think about this afternoon. It will
do no good. Try to forget it, if you can. That man shall never again in
any way enter your life. At least I can promise you that! Here we are!
Now," he added in English, as the footman opened the door, "go upstairs
and lie down. I will go back immediately and tell Eleanor that you felt
suddenly ill and that the carriage took you home. It is not likely that
Scorpa has given any version of the affair."

But a new fear assailed Nina. "You cannot go back! The duke will kill
you! He would do anything, that man!"

There was pride in Giovanni's easy answer. "He is not very agile," he
laughed; "to stab he would have first to reach me!" Then seriously and
very gently he added, "You are overstrung and nervous, Mademoiselle. On
my honor I promise you need never fear him again."

"What do you mean by that?" Startled, she put the question.

"Nothing," he rejoined lightly, "only that a man never repeats a
performance like that of the duke. The Italian custom prevents!" he
added, with a curious expression of whimsicality over which Nina puzzled
as she mounted the stairs to her room. Even in her shaken state, she
marveled at the contrast between Giovanni's finely chiseled features and
the elastic strength that must have been necessary to overpower the bull
force of the duke. She thought gratefully of the sympathy in his gentle
voice, as well as in his whole manner during the ten minutes which were
all that had elapsed since the duchess left her. She realized with what
perfect tact and perception he had treated her on the way home. And
suddenly her heart went out to him. She felt now, as she went through
the long stone corridors and galleries toward her room, that instead of
drawing away from him, were he at that moment beside her, she might
easily sob her emotions all peacefully out in his arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the meantime Giovanni returned to the Palazzo Scorpa and, ascending
the main stairway, entered the antechamber of the reception room. The
old duchess was hovering anxiously at the entrance of the rooms leading
to the picture gallery, the closed _portières_ screening her from the
guests to whom she had not dared to return without Nina. The rugs laid
upon the marble floors dulled all sound of Giovanni's footfalls, so that
he appeared without warning, and with his own hand hastily lifted the
_portière_, disclosing her to her waiting guests. She had no choice but
to precede him, doubtless framing an excuse for Nina's absence. If so,
she need not have troubled, for Giovanni spoke in her stead, and with
such distinct enunciation that the whole roomful heard:

"Miss Randolph felt suddenly ill and asked to go home. I came just as
the carriage was disappearing, and found the duchess much disturbed over
it, though I assured her it was quite usual for young girls to go about
alone in America."

His look at the duchess demanded that she corroborate his account.

"It was too bad," she said, glibly enough. "I should have accompanied
her as I was, without hat or mantle even, but Miss Randolph was gone
before I really had time to think. It is, after all, but a step to the
Palazzo Sansevero."

Eleanor Sansevero arose. Through a perfect control and sweetness of
manner the most careless observer might have read displeasure. "Of
course," she said, enunciating each word with smoothly modulated
distinctness, "in America there could be no impropriety in a young
girl's driving alone, but I am sorry you did not send for me. Your son
left the room at the same time--he has not returned."

The American princess towered in slim height above the stolid dumpiness
of the duchess. From appearance one would never have guessed rightly
which of the two women could trace her lineage for over a thousand
years.

The mouth of the duchess went down hard in the corners, and her dull,
turtle eyes contracted, then her lips snapped open to answer, but
Giovanni again saved her the trouble. "I met Scorpa on the street about
ten minutes ago. He was going toward the Circolo d'Acacia."

"Ah yes, Todo was filled with regret, as he wanted to show Miss Randolph
the portraits," haltingly echoed the duchess, but she glanced uneasily
at the door. "I was glad he did not see her indisposition--he has a
heart as tender as a woman's, and it would have distressed him greatly!
I do hope, princess, that you will find her quite recovered on your
return. I think it must be the effect of sirocco."

The other guests supported her in chorus. "The sirocco is very
treacherous," ventured one. "She was perhaps not acclimatized to Rome,"
said a second. "I thought she looked pale," chimed a third.

The princess made her adieus at once and, followed by Giovanni, left the
palace. For a few minutes the various groups, disposed about the Scorpa
drawing-room, conversed in low whispers, but by the time the Sanseveros
were well out of earshot the duchess had turned to the whispering groups
with a hauteur of expression conveying quite plainly that it was not to
be endured that a Sansevero, born American, should imply a criticism of
a Duchess Scorpa, born Orsonna.

"A headstrong young barbarian from the United States is quite beyond my
control," she shrugged. "How can I help it if she chooses to run from
the palace, like Cinderella when the clock strikes twelve!"

One or two of those present who were friends of the Princess Sansevero
may have resented the implied slight to her democratic birth. But though
there was a vague appreciation of something beneath the surface in this
American girl's sudden departure, there was nothing to which any one
could take exception.

The Contessa Potensi, however, had long waited for just such an
opportunity, and seized it. "I felt sorry for Eleanor Sansevero," she
said sweetly. "It puts her in an unendurable position to have to defend
such a person. Naturally she _has_ to defend her, since she is her
niece. I am sure she did not want her for the winter--but her parents
would not keep her. It is no wonder they would be willing to give her a
big dot!"

There was general excitement. "What do you know?" the company cried in
chorus. "Tell us about it!"

But the Potensi at once became very discreet. For nothing would she take
away a young girl's character. Besides, Eleanor Sansevero was one of her
best friends--it would not be loyal to say anything further. More
definite information she would not disclose, but her manner left little
to the imagination.

"Surely you can tell us something of what is said," insinuated the old
Princess Malio, adjusting her false teeth securely in the roof of her
mouth as if the better to enjoy the delectable morsel of scandal that
she felt was about to be served. But the contessa, with a
"could-if-she-would" expression, refused to say anything more, and the
old princess turned instead to the duchess with, "Tell us the _truth_
about Miss Randolph's sudden illness!"

The truth, of course, was out of the question. Public sympathy must have
gone against her and her son, and she hedged to gain time, "It is not
all worth the thought needed to frame words."

The old Princess Malio made a swallowing motion, still waiting. "Yes?"
she encouraged eagerly.

"Any one could see what happened," said the duchess reluctantly, as
though she were loath to speak scandal. "The American girl, through
lack of training--it is, after all, not her fault, poor thing--knows no
better than to try to arrange matters for herself! She wanted, of
course, to have an opportunity of talking to my Todo alone. Her plan to
go into the picture gallery here, however, necessitated my chaperoning
her, and then--contrary to her expectations--Todo, who did not fall in
with her scheme, said he had an engagement and at once left. She could
not, of course, declare the picture gallery of no interest, so I took
her, but in her disappointment she quite lost her temper, so much so
that it made her ill. And then she took the matter in her own hands and
went home--I was never so astonished in my life! She ran off with
Giovanni Sansevero so fast I could not catch up with them. I _suppose_
he put her in the carriage, but for all I know he took her somewhere
else. I followed to the front door and waited, not knowing what to do.
Just as I returned to inform Princess Sansevero, for whom I have always
had the highest regard, Giovanni commenced with his own account. What
could I do except agree to his statement?"

She looked inquiringly from one to the other. "That is the whole story!
But I have made up my mind to one thing"--she spread her fat fingers
out--"not even her millions would induce me to countenance Todo's
marriage with such a self-willed girl as that!"

The old Princess Malio looked like a bird of prey whose prize morsel
had been stolen from it. "There is more in this than appears," she
whispered to a timid little countess sitting next to her.

The latter's half-hearted, "Do you think so, really?" voiced the
attitude of nearly all present. The Scorpas were, to use the old Roman
proverb, "sleeping dogs best let alone," and the Sanseveros, though not
as rich, were none the less too great a family to side against.

       *       *       *       *       *

While the voice of the duchess was still echoing in the drawing-room of
the Palazzo Scorpa, Nina had thrown herself into the corner of the sofa
in her own room. She had a perfectly normal constitution, but she had
been not only infuriated and horrified, but really frightened, and her
nerves were unstrung.

As she grew calmer, she thought more clearly; and she found that the
afternoon's experience, horrible as it was, held some leaven--Giovanni's
behavior stirred her deeply. She had realized the power of his muscles
under his slight build before--when he had held the Great Dane's throat
in his grip--and she had seen his flexibility, in turning
instantaneously from fury to suavity. Yet his masterful attack upon her
assailant, followed by his sympathy and comprehension on the way home,
thrilled her as with a revelation of unguessed capacities. John Derby
could not have come to her rescue better, nor could she have felt more
protected and calmed with her childhood's friend at her side in the
carriage, than with this alien of a foreign race.

She went into her dressing-room and bathed her eyes and cheeks in cold
water. Then, thinking the princess must surely have returned by this
time, she decided to go into the drawing-room. On her way she met her
aunt coming toward her, followed closely by Giovanni, who put his finger
on his lips, just as the princess exclaimed, "Nina, my child, what
happened to you? You did very wrong to run off home alone. I can't
understand your having done such a thing. It was not only ill-mannered,
but it put you in a very questionable light."

Over the princess's shoulder Giovanni was making an unmistakable demand
for silence. "I'm very sorry," Nina faltered--Giovanni was looking at
her intensely, pleadingly, his finger on his lips--"but I--never felt
like that before. I got terribly--nervous, and I felt that if I did not
get away from that house I should go mad." Even the recollection made
Nina look so distraught that her aunt's indignation turned to anxiety,
and she put her arm around the girl and led her into the drawing-room.

"It is not like you, dear, to lose control of yourself," she said
tenderly, and then, as she scrutinized Nina's face in the better light,
she added: "You do look white, darling. You had better lie down here on
the sofa. I think I will prepare you some tea of camomile," and then,
with a final touch of gentle admonition, she added, "We must not have
any more such scenes!" Nina hoped for a chance to ask Giovanni why she
might not tell the princess what had happened, but the latter did not
leave the room. Having sent for the camomile flowers, she made Nina a
cup of tea, and the subject of the afternoon's occurrence was dropped.



CHAPTER XXIV

WEIGHED IN THE BALANCE


All that evening Nina was tense and nervous, not only because of her
experience at the Palazzo Scorpa, but because of something portentous in
Giovanni's unexplained demand for silence. He was not at the same dinner
party with her, but she went on to a dance at the Marchese Valdeste's,
feeling sure that she would have a chance to speak with him there. He
always danced with her several times during a ball, and, as he was not
very much taller than she, she could easily talk to him without danger
of any one's overhearing.

Her partners undoubtedly found her _distraite_; her attention vacillated
from one side of the ballroom to the other, as she searched for a
well-known, graceful figure and a small, sleek black head. All the time,
too, she was fearful of seeing a square-jawed face that kept recurring
to her memory as she had last seen it that afternoon--distorted, with
mouth open, and eyes protruding from their sockets. Vivid pictures of
the terrible incident flashed before her as she tried to listen to her
partners; now she was swept with horror and revulsion, and again she
felt a strange thrill at thought of the steely strength of Giovanni's
arms, as he had half carried her down the stairway. But she looked in
vain for her protector--neither he nor the duke appeared.

"What is it, Signorina?" Prince Allegro's voice broke jarringly upon her
recollections. "I am afraid I dance too fast!"

Nina recovered herself with a start. "Oh, no! But I feel--a little
tired; I wish we might sit down."

"Let me conduct you into the next room--or shall I take you to the
princess? Perhaps it would be better for you to go home."

Nina smiled. "No," she said, "I am all right. The room is very warm,
I think."

The Contessa Potensi, walking for once with her husband, passed through
the adjoining room just as Nina had finally succeeded in focusing her
attention upon Allegro's sprightly chatter. As they passed, the contessa
stopped a moment to say to Nina, "I am so glad to see that you have
recovered from your sudden indisposition of this afternoon." But her
tone was neither solicitous nor sincere, and she hid her hands in such a
way that she might have been making with her fingers the little horns
that are supposed to be a protection against the evil eye.

"I am much better, thank you," Nina answered simply.

"Don't let me keep you standing. I merely wanted to be assured that you
are recovered. I would not interrupt a _tête-à-tête_!"

The contessa's manner suggested to Nina that it was perhaps questionable
taste for a young girl to sit out part of a dance. Instead, therefore, of
resuming her place on the sofa, she asked Allegro to take her to the
princess.

During the rest of the evening she had an uncomfortable conviction that
the Contessa Potensi was talking about her. She always had this impression
in some degree whenever the contessa was present, but to-night it was
strong and unmistakable. And after a while she became aware that other
people's eyes were upon her with a new expression, that was not idle
conjecture nor unmeaning curiosity. The old ladies against the wall
whispered together and glanced openly in her direction, as their gray
heads bobbed above their fans.

At the end of the evening, as she was descending the staircase with her
aunt and uncle, she was joined by Zoya Olisco, who whispered excitedly,
"Tell me, _cara mia_--what happened this afternoon?"

Nina started. "What have you heard?" She tried to look unconcerned, but
her face was troubled, and she drew Zoya out of her aunt's hearing.

"It is rumored that you lost your temper--oh, but entirely! and walked
yourself out of the Palazzo Scorpa without so much as saying good-by or
waiting for your chaperon."

Nina hesitated, then said in an undertone, "Yes, I am afraid it is true.
Was it a dreadful thing to do?"

The contessa laughed softly. "I told you that you were a girl after my
own heart. In your place I should have walked myself out of that house
as quickly as I had entered, but all the same--that would not be my
advice. However, this is not the serious part of the story." Even Zoya's
buoyancy became restrained as she concluded: "All Rome is asking what
you have done with the duke. He followed you out of the room and has not
been seen since. Giovanni is said to have spoken of seeing him at the
club--and that is known to be untrue. Carlo was at the Circolo d'Acacia
all the afternoon; so was that Ugo Potensi, as well as a dozen others--and
neither Scorpa nor Giovanni was there! So where is the duke? Come, tell
me!"

A look of terror came into Nina's eyes, and the young contessa darted
her a swift returning glance of comprehension. "Listen, _carissima_,"
she said, "I am your friend, therefore don't look so frightened--you are
a regular baby! The situation is not difficult to read. Obviously there
was a scene between you, the thick duke, and the agile Giovanni. Just
what it was all about, of course, I can only surmise; but I _do_ know
that Giovanni is deep in it, and, what is more important, I know also
that the result is likely to be troublesome for you. For men to quarrel
between themselves is one thing; but when a _woman_ comes into it, one
can never see the end."

"Woman? I know nothing of any woman." Nina shook her head.

"I told you that you were a baby! But we can't talk here. I shall come
to see you to-morrow, but not until late in the afternoon. I shall then
perhaps be useful, for in the meantime I am going about like the wolf in
the sheep's pelt, to see what news I can pick up. Till then--have
courage!"

Just then the Sansevero carriage was announced, and Nina was obliged to
hasten after her aunt. At the door she glanced back at Zoya with a
half-questioning look, which the contessa answered by blowing her a
kiss.

That night the little sleep Nina was able to get was fitful and broken
by dreams. The duke and his mother appeared to her as cuttlefish in a
cave under perpendicular cliffs that ran into the sea. Nina was out in a
little boat alone, and the waves dashed the tiny craft nearer and nearer
to the cave where the cuttlefish were waiting; finally she came so close
that one tentacle seized her. Terrified, she awoke. After hours of
half-waking, half-sleeping, formless confusion, she dreamed again. In
this dream she and Giovanni were on horseback. She was sitting in a most
precarious position on the horse's shoulder, but was held securely by
Giovanni's arm around her waist. Behind them she heard the pounding of
many horses in pursuit. The whole dream had the underlying terror of a
nightmare, and just as the distance diminished, and they were nearly
caught, the ground gave way and they pitched over a precipice. As they
were falling and about to be dashed on the rocks at the bottom of the
ravine, she heard a woman's laugh, and recognized it as that of the
Contessa Maria Potensi.

She awoke, trembling, and lit her lamp. It was nearly four o'clock, and
she had slept but half an hour. Near her bed was an American magazine;
she read the advertisements, to fill her mind with thoughts commonplace
and practical enough to banish dreams. The sun was rising when at last
she fell asleep, and she did not awake until nearly noon.

The morning's mail brought her a letter from John Derby--a good letter,
simple and frank, like himself, full of enthusiasm and of plans for
making the "Little Devil" a model settlement. He would arrive in Rome,
he told her, within a week. But even John's letter gave her only a few
moments' relief from her distressing memories.

Knowing that she had to pay visits with her aunt again that afternoon,
she put on her hat before lunch, in the hope of securing an opportunity
to speak with Giovanni while waiting for Eleanor, who always dressed
after luncheon. When she was nearly ready to go down, Celeste answered a
knock at the door, but, instead of delivering a package or message,
disappeared. After at least five minutes she returned, and, with a
noticeable air of mystery, locked the door, and then gave Nina a letter.
"I was told to give this into Mademoiselle's hands, without letting any
one know," she said.

Nina felt an undefined misgiving as she tore open the envelope. Though
she had never seen Giovanni's handwriting, she had no doubt that it was
his. It looked as though it might not be very legible at best; but on
the sheet before her the shaking, uneven letters trailed off into such
filiform indistinctness that she had to go through it several times
before she could decipher the following, written in French:

         "Mademoiselle, I understand you well enough to be
         sure that you will ask for the truth at all costs,
         but in giving it to you, I also depend upon your
         honor to divulge to no one, not even Eleanor, what
         I tell you: I fought Scorpa this morning and have
         sustained a bullet wound in the arm. Unfortunately,
         it was impossible to hide, as the bone is broken
         and it had to be put in plaster. Scorpa's condition
         is, I am told, serious. If it goes badly, I shall
         have to leave the country, though I doubt if he
         allows the real cause to be known. I rely upon your
         discretion as completely as you may rely upon my
         having avenged an insult offered to the purest and
         noblest of women.

          "I beg you to believe, Mademoiselle, in the
          respectful devotion of the humblest of your
          servants.

                                            "DI VALDO."


Nina folded the letter and locked it away in her jewel case, moving as
if in a daze. She felt faint and suffocated. Giovanni had risked his
life--for her sake! He was hurt--what if the wound should prove serious,
what if he should lose his arm! Oh, if only she might go to her aunt and
pour out the whole story! But she was in honor bound to say nothing
without Giovanni's permission, and she must master herself at once in
order to appear as usual at luncheon.

A little later, as she entered the dining-room, she heard the prince
saying--"Pretty serious accident." He turned at once to her:

"You have heard?" he said, and as she merely inclined her head, he
hastened to explain: "Giovanni, it seems, slipped this morning and broke
his arm. But, though the fracture is a very serious one, he is in no
danger."

Nina tried to speak, but her tongue seemed glued to the roof of her
mouth. Naturally enough, both Eleanor and Sansevero interpreted her
pallor and agitation as a sign of interest in Giovanni. "He broke the
elbow," the prince continued; "a 'T' break, it is called, which may
leave the joint stiff. There was a piece of bone splintered." Nina
gripped the under edge of the table--she knew what had splintered the
bone! She almost screamed aloud, but she set her lips, held tight to the
table, and tried to appear calm; while Sansevero, in spite of his
anxiety for his brother's condition, could not help feeling great
satisfaction in what looked so encouraging to Giovanni's suit.

"Giovanni went to the surgeon's," he continued. "Imagine--he walked
there! He should never have attempted such a thing. He had quite an
operation, for the splintered portions of the bone had to be cut away.
The arm is now in plaster, and they won't be able to tell for weeks
whether he ever can move his elbow again. They brought him home a couple
of hours ago. He is now a little feverish, but a sister has come to
nurse him, and we have left him to rest." Then Sansevero turned to his
wife: "It all sounds very queer to me, Leonora. What was the matter with
the boy, anyway? Why did he not send for me? And why did he not go to
bed like a sensible human being and stay there?"

Nina was on tenterhooks. She so wanted to ask her aunt and uncle what
they really thought! She wondered if they truly had no suspicions. Or
were they perhaps dissimulating as she herself was trying with poor
success to do? She could not understand how the princess, who was
usually quick of perception, could possibly be blind to the real facts
of the case. She felt choked--as if she herself had fired the shot that
might bring far more horrible consequences than her aunt and uncle knew.

The princess, seeing Nina's face grow whiter and whiter, asked anxiously
if she felt ill.

"No--not a bit!" Nina answered, looking as though she were about to
faint. After several unsuccessful attempts to turn the conversation into
happier channels, the princess met with some success in the topic of
John Derby and the miracles with which rumor credited him. Nina listened
with half-pathetic interest, but her hands trembled, and the few
mouthfuls she took almost refused to go down her throat. In her heart,
at that moment, everything gave way to Giovanni. She reproached herself
deeply for lack of belief in him. Always she had acknowledged that he
was charming, but the doubt of his sincerity had weighed against her
really caring for him. She had accepted John Derby's casual words, "The
Europeans do a lot of beautiful talking and picturesque posing, but when
it comes to real devotion you will find that one of your Uncle Samuel's
nephews will come out ahead."

All that was ended; there was no more question about what the Europeans
would do when it came to a test. Giovanni had done far more than say
beautiful, graceful things--he had proved to her that her honor was
dearer to him than his life, and she was stirred to the very depths of
her soul. In the midst of Eleanor's talk of John Derby, she tried to
imagine what John would have done in Giovanni's place. He would have
thrashed the man within an inch of his life--that she knew. But, manly
as that would have been, it could not compare with Giovanni's course in
silently waiting fourteen or fifteen hours and then deliberately going
out in the dull gray dawn and standing up at forty paces as a target for
Scorpa's bullet. She thought how, while she had been merely tossing in
her bed, unable to sleep, intent on herself, dwelling on her injured
dignity and the horror of that brute's touch, Giovanni had been sitting
up through the same long night, putting his affairs in order, and
looking death in the face! And she found herself forced to realize that
Giovanni--whose instability had been the strongest argument against
allowing herself to love him--had paid a price so high that his right to
her faith must henceforward be unquestioned.

She had only a vague idea when luncheon ended, or what visits she and
her uncle and aunt paid that afternoon. She went through the rest of the
day as though dazed. Fortunately, her agitation seemed natural to the
prince and princess, and her apparent interest in Giovanni was so near
to the truth that she did not mind. Late that afternoon she and Zoya
Olisco sat together behind the tea table, for most of the time alone.
Zoya had the story pretty straight, but Nina simply looked at her
dumbly--answering nothing. She was relieved, however, to hear that, so
far, people had evidently not ferreted out the facts.

They were not to find out through the papers. On the morning after the
duel, the _Tribunale_ had this paragraph:

          "Society of Rome will be sorry to learn that the
          Duke Scorpa is seriously ill at his Palazzo. The
          doctor's bulletins announce that their illustrious
          patient is suffering from a malignant case of
          fever which at the best will mean an illness of
          many weeks."

But it was not until the next day that there was a paragraph to the
effect that the Marchese di Valdo had met with an accident. A passer-by
had seen him slip in front of his club, the Circolo d'Acacia. It seems
the wind carried his hat off suddenly, and, as he put his hand out to
catch it, he fell and broke his arm. Following this came several other
social items, and then the second day's bulletin about the Duke Scorpa,
saying that the gravity of his condition remained unchanged.

Nina quite refused to be moved to pity by the news of Scorpa's critical
state. Her only anxiety in connection with him was, what would they do
to Giovanni, in case Scorpa should die? For _how_ was Giovanni to be got
out of the country, when he was said to be delirious in bed! By day she
thought, and by night she dreamed, that they were going to cut off his
arm.

As the excitement was dying down, John Derby returned from Sicily. He
noticed that Nina looked nervous and ill, but she tried to convince him
that it was the result of late hours and dancing. Besides, he had no
opportunity of talking to her alone, for in consequence of his success,
all who were interested in Sicily or mines flocked to the Palazzo
Sansevero as soon as it became known that Derby was there. The fuss made
over him pleased him, of course; for, after all, he was quite human and
quite young, and there was great exhilaration in being the bearer of
good news. He would not promise any definite amount to the holders of
the "Little Devil." There would be some money, but that was all he could
say. He did not yet know how much. To Nina's delight, he actually got
Carpazzi to accept the position of Tiggs, who had to return to America.
The plant, once started, no longer needed both engineers. And Carpazzi's
tumble-down castle not far from Vencata, enabled him to go without hurt
to his European ideas of dignity to "look after his own property."

In spite of her explanations, John was very much worried about Nina. She
certainly was not herself. Several times he caught a half-appealing look
in her eyes, as though she had something weighing on her mind. Yet she
gave him no chance to ask her confidence. Finally he had the good luck
to be left with her for a few moments alone, but there was a lack of
frankness in her face that he had never seen there before, and she had
an apprehensive, frightened manner that alarmed him.

The question he was almost ready to put, in spite of his resolution,
remained unasked, and he said instead: "Look here, Nina, I don't think
you are well! You're awfully jumpy. I never saw you like this at home.
Has anything happened?"

Nina shook her head.

"Honest and straight?"

She looked at him with a distracted expression that reminded him of a
child afraid of losing its way.

"Jack"--she hesitated; her voice sounded constrained--"please don't look
so--so serious. It is nothing--that I can tell you! Don't notice that I
am any different. Really, I am not. You are my best friend, and the
first I would go to if I needed help."

Yet, as she said the words, she felt with a sudden, poignant pain that
they were no longer true. Her mind was in a turmoil, and at that very
moment, had she followed her inclination, she would have screamed aloud.
She did not understand why she was so wretched; but one thing was
certain--it was Giovanni who filled her thoughts!

Perhaps Derby interpreted the change in her. He put a question suddenly,
"Nina, you couldn't really care for an Italian, could you?"

Nina flushed. "I don't know whether I could or not," she said. "I think
there may be just as wonderful men over here as at home. I know there
are some that are quite as brave."

Derby frowned. "Nina, Nina----"

But Nina did not even hear his interruption. "I wish you knew Don
Giovanni, Jack," she said. "You would like Italians better, I think!"

"It is not that I think ill of Italians--quite the contrary; but--I
should not like to think of your marrying Don Giovanni."

"And why shouldn't I?" The question came near to summing up the problem
of her own meditations, and his opposition--with its carefully
maintained impersonal quality--piqued her and made the smoldering
consideration of marrying Giovanni suddenly flame into a definite
intention.

"Well?" she repeated.

"Because I think American men make the best husbands."

Nina was brutal. "You say that because you are an American yourself!"

He let the injustice of her remark pass unnoticed. "I merely repeat," he
said calmly, "that, married to the Marchese di Valdo, you would be a
very unhappy woman. That is my straight opinion. If you don't like it,
I can't help it."

"Why should I be unhappy?"

"Don't let's discuss it."

"That is just like an American. Do you wonder women care for Europeans?
A man over here would sit down sensibly and tell you every sort of
reason."

"Yes, and one sort of reason as well as another. For, or against,
whichever way the wind might happen to be blowing!"

In spite of herself, Nina was disagreeably conscious of the truth of his
judgment. But she shut her mind to it, as she exclaimed, "And you say
you don't dislike Italian men!"

"No, I don't! You are altogether wrong. I have been over here often
enough to admire them tremendously, in a great many ways. But I don't
like to see the girl I--the girl I have known all her life, marry a man
that I feel sure will break her heart."

"Aunt Eleanor's heart is not broken!"

Derby walked up and down the floor, then stood still, stuffed his hands
into his pockets, and looked down at his shoes as though their varnish
were the only thing in life that interested him.

"Well? Is Aunt Eleanor's heart broken?"

"Perhaps not; but, even so, you and she are very different women. From
her girlhood she was more or less trained for the life she leads. She
went from a convent school to the house of a brother-in-law--in other
words, from one dependence to another. She is the type of woman who
weathers change and storm by bending to the wind."

"Aunt Eleanor! Hers is the strongest character I know!"

"Of course it is! But it is exactly because she is apparently
unresisting and pliant to surrounding conditions that her spirit is
unassailable. You, on the contrary, would snap in the first tempest! Or,
to change the simile, have you ever seen a young bull calf tied to a
tree, and, in a frantic effort to get loose, wind itself up tighter,
until its head was pulled close to the tree? That is exactly what you
would be over here. No girl has ever had her own way all her life more
than you! Believe me, you have no idea what it would mean to be tied to
a rope of convention that would tighten like a noose at any struggle on
your part. As the wife of a man like di Valdo, you would be bound by
endless petty formalities. Another thing--which your aunt has made me
realize--as an American, you would have to excel the Italians in dignity
in order to be thought to equal them. Things perfectly pardonable for
them would finish you. You need only take your aunt and Kate Masco for
your examples. Kate's behavior is not any worse than that of plenty of
the born countesses, even. But that's just it--she _isn't_ a countess
born, and her ways won't do! Your aunt, on the other hand, is '_grande
dame_' in every fiber of her being. Hardly another woman in Rome has her
graciousness and dignity. These qualities were hers, doubtless, from
the beginning, but you needn't tell me even she found it as easy to be a
princess as it would seem!"

Nina looked up at Derby in open-eyed amazement. "Gracious, John! I never
dreamed you were so observing! In a way, I imagine you are right, too.
But at least, if a woman has to follow conventions to earn a position
over here, that position is real and worth while when she does get it.
And a woman like Aunt Eleanor is far more appreciated here than she
would be at home."

"Humph!" was Derby's retort. "You needn't think that all the
appreciating of women is done in Italy, though the men at home may not
put things so gracefully as these over here, who have nothing else to do
but learn to turn beautiful phrases. I don't think that I am flattering
myself in saying that if I were to give up my life to the one
accomplishment of artistic love-making, I might make good, too! However,
that is pretty far out of my line. I'm a blunt sort of person, but
I--well, I care a lot for you, Nina! I'd rather see you marry--Billy
Dalton, any day!"

As Derby brought in Billy Dalton's name, Nina had a sense of flatness
that she would have been at a loss to explain.

"Jack!" she cried suddenly, her surface vanity piqued, but before even
the sentence which crowded back of her exclamation could frame itself,
Giovanni's image flashed before her mind and pushed out every other
impression. She seemed to see him racked with suffering, and all for
her! She hated her own vacillation. She despised herself for a fickle
flirt. What else was she? Here she was imagining all sorts of vague
heartaches that were utterly unworthy of her loyalty either to
Giovanni's love or to Jack's friendship. Jack was her best friend,
almost her brother, and she had no right to feel so limp because--she
did not finish the sentence even to herself; yet she was swept into such
a turmoil of emotion--friendship, love, pique, doubt--that she could
restore nothing to order. She knew Derby thought Giovanni wanted her
money--instinctively her mouth hardened as she thought of it--but
then--every one wanted it except Jack! And at once, with an
unaccountable baffling ache, she was brought face to face with the fact
that Jack, as it happened, did not want her at all!

Then, hating herself because she had for a moment thought of Jack as a
possible suitor, and more especially because of the detestable and
unworthy chagrin that his not being a suitor had caused her, she became
hysterically erratic, aloof, and impossible, and began suddenly to talk
like a paid guide about the sculptures at the Vatican! At the end of
some minutes, during which Derby failed to get anything in the way of a
natural remark from her, he arose to go. He left with a strong desire to
send a doctor and a trained nurse to take Nina in hand.

Down at the entrance of the palace a very pretty woman was speaking with
the porter. She was talking vehemently and with much accompanying
gesticulation. As Derby passed out, she looked up into his face. He put
his hand to his hat, in a vague remembrance of her features, wondering
where he had met her, and what her name might be. As he went through the
archway into the street, the recognition came to him. She was the
celebrated dancer, La Favorita.



CHAPTER XXV

"THY PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE--"


The following morning, for the first time since his injury, Giovanni was
brought into the princess's sitting-room, and propped up on a sofa. As
occasionally happens in early spring, midsummer seemed to have arrived
in one day, and the windows stood wide open to the morning breeze.

Sitting in the full light of the windows, and close by Giovanni's couch,
Nina was making a necktie--a very smart one, of dull raspberry silk; but
she was knitting rather because the occupation steadied her nerves than
for any other reason, and the charmingly tranquil picture that she made
was very far from representing her feelings. She had never been less
happy or peaceful in her life.

The princess, within easy earshot, was busily writing at her desk. But
after a while, in answer to an appealing look from Giovanni, she left
the room. Nina felt no surprise either at Giovanni's appeal or at her
aunt's response. She knew very well what he would say, and she had long
been trying to make up her mind what her answer should be. Yet no sooner
had the _portières_ closed than an unaccountable dread took possession
of her, and she had an overwhelming desire to escape.

She knitted industriously, her head bent, her eyes intent upon her
needles. For a while Giovanni lay back against the pillows, idly
watching her progress; then he raised himself on his unbandaged elbow
and leaned forward. Even this exertion revealed his weakness: an
increasing pallor overspread his transparent features, and he spoke as
sick people do--with difficulty and as though out of breath:
"Mademoiselle, you know--what I have in my heart--to say----"

"Don't, ah--please----" Nina sprang up and put out her hand in protest.

But he paid no heed. "Donna Nina," he implored, "will you do me the
honor to be my wife? _Carissima mia_--" she heard his voice as though
from afar, as he fell back against the pillow--"I love you! Even a
portion of how much I love you would fill a life!" He took her hand as
she stood beside him, and pressed it to his lips.

She felt how thin his hand was, and how it trembled. Her conscience
smote her--it was all because of her! And for a moment the answer that
he sought hung on the very tip of her tongue--hung, faltered--and then
raced down her throat again. Her hand drew away from his clasp, and she
almost sobbed, "I can't, I can't. Oh, I would if I could--but I can't!"

Then she heard him say gently: "Give me an answer later--I am not such,
just now, that I can hold my own--I will wait till I am strong again.
Will you give me your answer then?" Half choking, she nodded her head in
assent and hurried from the room.

St. Anthony, the great Dane, who, since Giovanni's illness, had attached
himself to Nina, stalked after her. She went through the intervening
rooms into the picture gallery, and there dropped down upon a low marble
seat and took the big dog's head in her arms.

She believed in Giovanni's disinterestedness; he had given her every
reason to think he truly loved her. It seemed to her that she had seen
his real feeling grow gradually. If she could believe in any one _ever_,
she must believe in him. Even the astute little Zoya Olisco had
confirmed the impression by saying that all Rome knew that Giovanni
cared nothing for money. There had been a very rich girl--all the
fortune hunters were after her--and she was so strongly attracted to
Giovanni that she made no effort to disguise her preference for him. But
he showed no inclination to marry a rich wife.

These and many other things were enough to convince Nina that his love
was real, without the final proof when he had risked his life for her.
In mere gratitude she would have made the effort to care for him. And
yet the more she tried to encourage her sentiments, the more they
baffled her. From the first she had felt timid of something unknown in
Giovanni. She had thought herself in danger of being attracted too much,
but now she felt that, throughout, the fear had been of another sort, a
fear which she could not analyze.

"What is the matter with me?" she whispered brokenly to St. Anthony. "We
love Giovanni, don't we? We do! We do!" But her words were meaningless
sounds that echoed hollowly.

Then slowly she noted the great gallery filled with things flawless--the
mellow canvases of the old masters, the marvelous statuary, perfect even
in the brilliant light streaming through the eastern windows; and her
thoughts turned backwards to that day when the allure of antiquity had
most strongly held her--that day when she had first seen Giovanni dance.
As the recollection grew in vividness, she was again aware of the same
strange sensation that she had felt then. It was as though she were
living in a past age, with which she, as Nina Randolph, had nothing to
do. Her name might be Tullia or Claudia!

And then once again the memory of Giovanni's high-bred charm, no less
than of his great estate, which she was now asked to share, seemed to
hold a spell of enchantment. His words, "_Carissima_, I love you," swept
through her memory with a thrill that the spoken words themselves had
failed to carry. She laid her cheek down on the dog's great head, her
mouth close to a pointed ear. "We _do_ love him, thou and I," she
whispered in Italian, "and we will stay here always--always."

She unclasped her arms from about the dog's neck and sat up straight,
determined to hurry back through the rooms, before the queer fear should
seize her anew. She would not wait to analyze her feelings again; she
would go straight to the sofa and say to Giovanni's ardent, appealing
eyes--his beautiful Italian eyes--"Yes."

But even as the resolve was shaped, there followed swift upon it an
overwhelming wave of doubt that made her clasp her hands to still the
turmoil within her breast. It was as if an inner voice repeated, clearly
and insistently, "You don't love him! You don't love him!"

The dog lifted one huge paw and put it on her knee, his head went up, he
pushed his cold nose against her cheek, and as she lifted her chin, to
escape his over-affectionate caress, her glance fell by chance on a
picture of Ruth and Naomi. On the day when she had first come into the
gallery Giovanni had repeated, in French, the words of Ruth; and now, as
she gazed absently at the picture, she found that she was saying to
herself, not in French but in English, "Thy people shall be my
people----" Gradually an indescribable, comforted, soothed feeling crept
over her, as she looked into the true, steadfast eyes of the pictured
Ruth--hers were indeed the eyes of one who could follow faithfully to
the ends of the earth.

"'Whither thou goest, I will go,'" repeated Nina--yes, that was the
test. Giovanni away from his surroundings, and apart from his name--she
could not picture him. And should she put her hand in his, whither would
he lead her? Where did his path of life end? She could not with any
certainty guess. "Thy people shall be my people"--how could they ever
be? They were so widely different--so utterly different--she had never
realized it before--and then without warning, as a final move in a
puzzle snaps into place and makes the whole complete, with a little cry
she started up. For she now knew that the more she tried to focus her
thoughts upon Giovanni, the more they turned to another quite different
personality. Until at last, as in a burst of light, she awoke to the
consciousness that the words of Ruth were bringing a great longing for
the sight of a certain pair of eyes whose expression was like those in
the canvas! "'Whither thou goest, I will go----' Ah!"--exultantly and
with no fear of doubt; it was true! To the uttermost parts of the
earth! . . .

But she must tell Giovanni--she must tell him at once, decidedly and
finally, "No."

Sadly, regretfully, she crossed the room again, her hand slipped through
the great Dane's collar as though to gain encouragement from his
presence. In the antechamber of the room where Giovanni lay, she stopped
and kissed St. Anthony's head--as though the dog in turn might help
Giovanni to understand that she was not in truth as heartless as she
seemed.

The stone floors were covered with thick rugs, the hangings were heavy,
and her light footfall made no sound. Without warning she parted the
_portières_, took one step across the threshold, and halted,
stunned--the Contessa Potensi was kneeling beside Giovanni's couch, and
the sound of Giovanni's voice came distinctly, saying, "For her? But no!
But because she is of the household of the Sansevero." And then with an
ardor that made the tones which he had used to her sound flat and
shallow by comparison, she heard him say, "_Carissima_, I swear I shall
never love another as I love you."

The _portières_ fell together, and Nina fled. Two or three times she
lost her way in the endless turnings of the palace before she finally
reached her own room. Once there, she wrote the shortest note
imaginable, declining in terse and positive terms Giovanni's offer of
marriage. The pen nearly dug through the paper as she signed her name.
Besides giving Celeste this missive to deliver, she sent her upon a tour
of trivial shopping--anything to be left alone.

When the door was closed, Nina threw herself across the bed, still
hardly able to credit her senses. Giovanni had asked her, Nina, to be
his wife, not half an hour before--he still had the effrontery to hope
for a change in her answer. He had dared to tell her that he loved her,
he had dared to call her, too, "_Carissima!_"

With her head buried in the pillows, she did not hear the door open, and
the princess reached the bed and took Nina in her arms before the girl
knew that she had entered.

Nina poured out the whole story. The one clear idea that she had in mind
was to leave Rome at once. She wanted to go away! Above all, she wanted
to go away! She was by this time quite hysterical.

The princess's coolness gradually dominated as she said finally: "The
thing is incredible--you must have misunderstood. I don't know what the
explanation is, myself, but the worst blunder we can make is to judge
too hastily. I am sure it will come out differently than it seems, if
you will but have patience."

Savagely Nina turned on her. "Are you against me? _You_, auntie! Do you
side with him? And that Potensi?"

With an expression more troubled than angry, the princess answered
gently, "Of course, my child, I don't side against you--but I can't
believe that they were really as you thought they were."

A sudden violent knocking interrupted, and at the same moment Sansevero,
who had been looking for his wife everywhere, rushed in, quite beside
himself, with the announcement that Scorpa was dead. The Sanseveros had
for some days known the cause of his illness, and the doctor who had
been at the duel had kept them informed of his condition. Now there was
not a minute to lose! The news of the duke's death had not yet been
made public, but Giovanni must be got out of the country at once, or
there would be trouble! A train would go north in an hour, and the
prince and princess hurried off to complete the arrangements for
Giovanni's departure.

Left alone in her room and to her own thoughts, Nina's anger gradually
lessened. Giovanni's danger, and his having to be taken away so weak and
ill, appealed to her humanity and helped to soften her resentment.
Whether it had been for love of her or not, it was on her account that
he had been placed in his present unfortunate situation. He was going
out of her life--it was not likely that she would ever see him
again--but it took an hour or two's turning of the subject over in her
thoughts before she came to the conclusion that, instead of being
resentful, she ought to be thankful for her escape. She had finally
reached this frame of mind when there was a knock at the door.

"May I come in, my dear?" Zoya Olisco entered as she spoke. She stood a
second on the threshold, then, closing the door after her, crossed the
room quickly and, taking Nina's face between her hands, looked at her
with a half-quizzical grimace. "You silly little cat," she said softly,
"surely you have not been melting into tears over the duke's death--nor
yet for Giovanni's departure?"

"How do you know about it? Aunt Eleanor didn't tell you, did she? Is
the news of the duke's death out?"

Zoya's raised eyebrows expressed satisfaction, and she exclaimed
triumphantly: "I knew I was right! Really, it is extraordinary how
things come about! No one has told me a word. Yet the whole story
unrolled itself in front of me. Listen"--she interrupted herself long
enough to light a cigarette, then sat down tailor fashion on the foot of
the lounge--"I was but a moment ago at the station--my sister went back
to Russia this morning. As I was leaving, whom did I see but Giovanni
being piloted down the trainway! He looked really ill, and it would have
struck any one as strange that he should be traveling. Then all at once
I thought to myself, 'Hm, Hm! Signore il duca has descended into the
next world, and the one who sent him there is being banished into the
next country!' Thereupon I thought further, 'That child of a Nina will
be hiding her head under the pillows of her bed'--exactly as you have
been doing! How do I know? Look at your hair, and look at the
pillows--and here I am to scold you!"

Nina looked at her in amazement. "You have put it all together, you
wonderful Zoya! Compared to you, I never seem to see anything! Oh, but
this whole day has been full of horrible surprises. I never dreamed what
sort of man Giovanni is--and yet I can't help feeling sorry to think of
his being sent off ill and alone!"

"How _very_ pathetic!" exclaimed Zoya sarcastically. "It is the very
saddest thing I have ever heard of." Then her tone changed. "I would not
waste too much sympathy on him for his loneliness, however," she said
briskly, "as he has a very charming companion, who, if accounts are
true, is not only diverting but devoted. That spoils your sad picture
somewhat, does it not?"

"The Potensi!" escaped Nina's lips before she knew it.

Zoya blew rings of smoke unperturbed. "So you have found _that_ out,
have you?"

Nina colored with indignation. "Have you known that, too, and never told
me? Zoya, you call yourself my friend!"

But Zoya met Nina's glance squarely, as she asked in turn: "What
difference does it make? Though, for that matter, I've made it plain all
winter; any one but a baby would have understood long ago. But after
all, why such an excitement over such a commonplace fact?" Then, with
far more interest, she said: "You certainly are funny, you Americans.
What in the world do you think men are? And since Giovanni is not even
married? However, to finish my story: it was not the Potensi with your
hero, but Favorita."

"Favorita--the dancer? Zoya, what do you mean?"

"Exactly what I tell you." Zoya inhaled her cigarette deeply and then
shrugged her shoulders. "When I saw Giovanni, I did not believe it
possible, that, even on so short notice, he would go off as you said,
ill and alone. So I went back along the station and waited. In a moment,
I saw Favorita come out on the platform and pass hurriedly down the
train, peering into every carriage. When she came to Giovanni's she flew
in like a bird. I waited a moment longer, and saw the guards lock the
door and the train pull out!"

Though Nina understood only vaguely what it all meant, she was human and
feminine enough to find a certain grim satisfaction in the thought that
Giovanni was no more to be trusted by the Potensi than by herself.

A short time afterward Zoya got up to go. "I shall see you to-morrow,
_cara_, yes? Will you lunch with me? And--I shall like very much if you
bring the American."

"Do you mean John?"

Zoya burst out laughing and then mimicked Nina's tone. "Is it indeed
possible that I could mean him?" She leaned over and kissed Nina
affectionately, then hurried to the door. On the threshold she paused to
call back, "One o'clock to-morrow, and be sure of John!" She smiled,
blew another kiss, and was gone.

Nina looked after her, her thoughts in strange turbulence. A moment
later she ran a comb through her hair, pinned up one or two tumbled
locks, washed her face, polished her nails, took out a clean
handkerchief; after which, she felt quite made over, and went in search
of her aunt.

If she imagined that the day's emotions were ended, she was destined to
be mistaken, for just as she went into the princess's room, a messenger
came with a note from the prince, saying that he had been arrested. It
was a very cheerful note and sounded rather as though he considered the
whole situation a joke. He begged his wife not to be alarmed. The police
had evidently mistaken him for Giovanni, so he had given no explanation
and refused even to tell his name. When Giovanni should have time to
reach the frontier, he would prove his identity and return home.

The princess's chief anxiety was therefore directed toward Giovanni, and
she dreaded lest Sandro's identity be discovered before his brother
should be safe. As for Nina, she cared no longer what might happen to
Giovanni. She had had too many shocks and too little time for recovery.
All her sympathy was for her poor Uncle Sandro who, in the meantime, was
sitting in jail! Yet the thought of his situation in some way struck her
as ludicrous--almost like comic opera.

But following this there came a second letter, very different from the
first, written by the prince in great agitation, and saying that his
arrest was not for the death of the duke, but for the smuggling of a
Raphael out of the country.

At the shock of this news, the princess for once lost her self-control
and turned to Nina in frightened helplessness.

Nina's first thought was to send for Derby, and to her relief the
princess not only made no objection, but grasped eagerly at the
suggestion. Fortunately, she got him on the telephone just as he was
leaving his hotel, but in her agitation she did not stop to explain
further than that her uncle was under arrest somewhere because of
something to do with a picture. Derby answered that he would come at
once, and the reassurance that she felt from the mere sound of his voice
partly communicated itself through her to the princess, as they went
into the sitting-room to wait for him. A few minutes later the
_portières_ were lifted--but instead of Derby, it was the Marchese
Valdeste who entered.

Happily he had been at a meeting in the Tribunale Publico when the
prince was arrested, and, as an important official and a great personal
friend of Sansevero's, had hurried to inform the princess what had
happened, and to place himself at her service. The case was very serious
not only because of the evidence against the prince, but because of the
lofty way in which the latter had replied some weeks previously to an
inquiry from the Ministero. Sansevero said his Raphael was in the
possession of the Duke Scorpa, but the duke, who had been chiefly
instrumental in discovering the sale of the picture, was unable to
shield his friend. Sansevero was questioned again, and refused to say
anything more. He had answered once, and that, in his opinion, was
sufficient for a gentleman.

The government thereupon had sent a representative to the Scorpa palace,
where Sansevero averred the picture was. The duke's servants were
catechised, but none had ever seen it. To add to the complication, the
duke was far too ill to be questioned further, and Sansevero was at
present injuring the case by making every moment more and more confused
statements about his alleged transaction with Scorpa. First he said he
had loaned it--because Torre Sansevero was cold; then that he had sold
it for one hundred thousand _lire_; then that no money was received;
then that he had let the duke have it as security, and that there was an
agreement whereby he was to get his picture back. When he was asked to
show a receipt in writing, he went into a rage.

The princess, quick enough to see the treachery of Scorpa and the net of
circumstantial evidence that he had thrown about them, felt utterly
helpless. "It is true, even I did not actually see the duke take the
picture," she said, "and I am the only one who knew anything about it.
As Sandro's wife--my word will have no weight at all!"

Valdeste solemnly shook his head. "I fear it is graver than that--for
even Miss Randolph's word that she had made certain unusual expenditures
would not be believed. The picture might too easily have been sold and
paid for through her. Unless it can be produced _here in Italy_, the
end may be bad. Somehow we must find a way to do that."

Nina was getting every moment more and more nervous--she could not
understand Derby's delay. Why did he not come? Since she telephoned, he
could have covered the distance from the Excelsior half a dozen times.
Every second of glancing at the door seemed a minute, and the minutes
hours. After the disillusionments she had suffered she actually was
beginning to think that he, too, would fail her in the crucial moment,
when, at last, the _portières_ parted, and Derby entered carrying--the
celebrated Sansevero Madonna!

The princess and the marchese were so astonished that only Nina seemed
to notice Derby himself. With a cry of "_Jack!_ How _did_ you do it?"
she sprang up, staring at him in bewilderment.

The sound of Nina's voice drew the princess's attention to Derby, and
she, too, started toward him.

"John! What does it all mean?" she exclaimed, quite unconscious that she
had called him by his first name.

"It means a rotten plot--neither more nor less--to ruin Prince
Sansevero, concocted by a man whom the prince believed to be his friend!
The Duke Scorpa has just died, which ends the affair for him, but I have
the whole chain of evidence that clears the prince. The picture was
taken in exchange for a promissory note of the prince's, for one hundred
thousand _lire_. The duke tore the paper up and threw it into the
waste-paper basket. Luigi Callucci, who was his servant, gathered the
scraps out of the basket and pasted them together. This same Luigi also
wrapped up the picture and carried it to Shayne. That's all, officially.
Actually, there is a good deal more. The facts are that the duke sold it
with perfect knowledge that it was to be smuggled out of the country. I
have all the information necessary."

"It is incredible, incredible--the duke Scorpa!" exclaimed Valdeste.
"But that the Prince Sansevero is cleared is the main thing." Then,
turning to Derby, he continued, "I hope you will allow me to express to
you my admiration and congratulation for the way in which you have
brought it about."

Upon this the princess joined the marchese by holding her hand out to
Derby. "I never can thank you enough for what you have done! But for
you, we should be in a very bad way. I quite agree with the Archbishop
of Vencata that you must be a miracle worker!" Her voice was a little
tremulous as she broke off. Then, including the marchese also, she
added: "But now, my good, kind friends, go, please, and get Sandro out
of his situation. My poor boy must be in a terrible state of nerves.
And--thank you both again!"

The marchese and Derby hurried out, Derby carrying the picture. Nina
followed them out of the door and stood looking after them until they
had disappeared down the vista of rooms. Then she exclaimed: "Really,
John is wonderful, isn't he? Wasn't it just like him not to say a word
all the time! So many people talk, and do nothing!" Then Nina noticed
that the princess was holding her hands over her face. She hurried to
her anxiously. "Aunt Eleanor, what is it?"

The princess put her hands down. "I am just thankful--that is all. It
threatened to be so dreadful, I can scarcely realize the relief yet.
What a chain of circumstances! It is almost impossible to believe that
even Scorpa would plan them! But it is true I never trusted him. When
there is a race feud over here it seems never to die out." She paused a
few moments, and then continued as though half to herself, "Although, in
this case, I think it was chiefly on account of Giovanni. If you had
married him, and the duke had lived, I believe he would have spent the
rest of his life in scheming to injure you and everybody connected with
us."

At the suggestion of the marriage which might have taken place, all the
experiences of that varied day came rushing back to Nina--Giovanni's
proposal, the revelation of his falseness, and the conversation with
Zoya which had given her the true key to him who had until then been
something of a mystery.

With a strained intensity of tone, she suddenly demanded, "Aunt Eleanor,
tell me, supposing I had _wanted_ to marry Giovanni, would you have made
no protest?"

The princess answered thoughtfully: "I am glad you are not to marry
Giovanni--yes, I am glad. Yet even so, he might make a good husband."

Instantly the blood rushed to Nina's head, "Don't you love me more than
to let me risk a life of wretchedness?" she exclaimed, but the look in
her aunt's face brought from the girl an immediate apology, and
presently the princess said:

"I don't think I should want you to marry over here at all. At first I
hoped it might be possible--but I am afraid you would be unhappy. There
are plenty of girls who might be content, but not you!" The princess
took her sewing out of a near-by chest and began hemming a table cloth.

"You mean," said Nina, "that when one reads of the broken hearts and
lost illusions of Americans married to Europeans, the accounts _are_
true? Why did you not tell me before?"

"I don't know, dear. Probably because such accounts are, to me, purely
sensational writing--and yet at the bottom of them lies a certain amount
of truth. In the majority of such cases of wretchedness, if you sift out
the facts, you will wonder not so much at the outcome, as that such a
marriage could ever have taken place. When it happens that a nice,
sweet, wholesome girl marries a disreputable nobleman, who is despised
from one end of Europe to the other, American parents seem to feel no
horror until she has become a mental, moral, and physical wreck. To us
over here it was unbelievable that a decent girl could think of
marrying him; that her parents could be so dazzled by the mere title of
'Lady' or 'Marquise' or 'Grafin' or 'Principessa' that they were willing
to give her into the keeping of an unspeakable cad, brute, or rake. Do
you think that it is the fault of Europe if such girls know nothing but
wretchedness?"

The princess paused, then continued: "On the other hand, if a girl
marries in Europe as good a man, regardless of his title, as the
American she would probably have chosen at home; and, above all--for
this is most essential--if she is adaptable enough to change herself
into a European, rather than to expect Europe to pattern itself upon
her, she will have as good a chance of happiness as comes to any one.
Marriage is a lottery in any event. Of course, _if_ it turns out badly
abroad, it is worse for her than it would have been at home--much worse.
Everything over here is, in that case, against her: custom, language,
law, religion; she is literally thrown upon her husband's indulgence. In
a contest against him she would have no chance at all--there is no
divorce; there is no redress.

"Yet, so far as my personal observation goes, numberless international
marriages have been happy. The American wife of a European finds many
compensations--for although her husband does not allow her freedom to
follow her own whims, and may not even permit her to spend her own
money, he gives her a ceaseless attentiveness that never relaxes into
the careless indifference of the husbands across the sea.

"It is after all a question of choice--do you want the little things of
life very perfectly polished or do you prefer rough edges and heroic
sizes! European men know how to make themselves charming to their wives,
because with them to be charming is an aim in itself. They have
versatility, ease, and grace of intellect, where the American men are
bound up in their one or two absorbing ideas, outside of which they take
no interest. The Europeans are brilliant conversationalists, they make
an effort to be agreeable and to take an interest in whatever occupies
the person they are talking to--even though that person is a member of
their family.

"But, of course, as in everything, there is a price one has to pay. One
can't have rigidity and flexibility both in the same person. For the
pliancy of understanding, the easy sympathy, one has to relinquish a
certain moral steadfastness."

Suddenly the princess looked away and spoke very lightly, as though
merely brushing over the surface of the thoughts in her mind: "What
would you have, dear? Men are men--it is well not to question too far.
Even the best of them have to be forgiven sometimes." Under the light
tone, there was an unwonted vibration, and though the princess's face
was partly averted, Nina caught a shadow of pain in her eyes. But the
next moment she smiled. "I can tell you a story," she said, "about a
young bride whose husband was very fascinating to women. The young
wife, with suspicions of his devotion to another lady, went in tears to
her mother-in-law. But the old lady asked her, 'Is not Pietro an
admirable husband? And is he not a most devoted and attentive lover as
well?' And the bride sobbed, 'Oh, yes, that is the worst of it--it is
almost impossible to believe in his faithlessness, he is so adorable.'
And her mother-in-law answered: 'Then, my child, be glad that you have
in your husband one of the most accomplished lovers in the world, and do
not inquire too closely where he gets his practice.'"

"Do you mean to say that a woman can be happy under such circumstances?"
Nina demanded. "If that is a typical foreigner, then I am glad American
men are different! I'd rather my husband were less accomplished and more
entirely mine."

"Yes, dear, I am sure you would," the princess rejoined. "That is one of
the reasons why I told you. For you, I think a European marriage would
be--not best." She looked up quickly. "You ought to marry some one--I'll
describe him--some one quite strong, quite big, quite splendid. And his
name is easy to guess--of course it's John."

"John!" echoed Nina dolefully. "John is just the one person above all
others who does not want to marry me--or even my money!"

"Your money, no! But _you_, indeed yes."

Nina shook her head. "No--he is not in love with me. In nothing that he
has said or even looked, has he indicated it."

"You are a little mole, then," said the princess, smiling. "Every look
he gives you, even every expression of his face in speaking about you,
tells the story."

Like a whirlwind Nina threw herself at her aunt's knees, pulled her
sewing away, and claimed her whole attention. "Tell me everything you
know," she demanded hungrily. "Why haven't you told me before? Why do
you think so? What has he said to you? Dearest auntie princess, tell me
every word he has said. Quick! Every word----"

The princess, between tears and laughter, looked down at Nina. "Every
word? Oh, my very dear," she said tenderly, "his love is not of the
little sort that spends itself in words."

And then suddenly they heard the sound of two men's voices, and the next
moment the _portières_ parted, admitting Sansevero and Derby. Both the
princess and Nina sprang up; the princess in her joy ran straight to her
husband's arms. It was like a meeting after a long separation that had
been full of perils.

A little later she put out her hand to Derby. "I don't think I shall
ever be able to thank you enough; it was quite worth all the anxiety and
distress to have found such a friend." Her smile was entrancing. The
charm of her was always not so much in what she said, as in the way she
said it--in the way she gave her hand, in the way she looked at one, in
the varying inflection of her voice, in her sweetness, her calm, her
dignity, and, under all these attributes, always her heart. And never
had she shown them all more vividly than now as she put her hand into
Derby's.

Then they all four sat down--the princess in a big chair and her husband
on the arm of it leaning half back of her. And nothing could stop his
talk about his friend the American, and the effect upon the members of
the committee when the picture was produced and Derby presented his
chain of evidence. They had been more than polite and courteous to the
prince, that was true, but they _had_ detained him; him, a
Sansevero!--and in the telling he again grew indignant. And yet it had
been a terrible chain of evidence, and he had not seen how it was to be
broken.

Then he branched off from his own affair, and went into an account of
all that he had just heard of the experience of Derby himself with
Calluci; and the adventure, in spite of Derby's protests, certainly lost
nothing in the recital. The princess and Nina had not heard of this, and
Nina sat and gazed at the hero in mute rapture. In fact, the only one
whose feelings were at all uncertain was Derby. Not but that it was
pleasant to hear such praise of himself but it is very hard to be a hero
unless one has no sense of humor at all. When the prince had used up
half the adjectives of praise and admiration in the Italian language,
and was about to begin on the other half, Derby succeeded in
interrupting.

"By the way, princess," he said, "I have something I meant to show you
this morning, but the other matter put it out of my mind." He drew a
paper out of his pocket and handed it to her. She opened it, the prince
looking over her shoulder. It was a sheet of foolscap covered with fine
writing and many figures in groups and in columns.

"But what does it mean?" she asked.

"It is our first balance sheet at the mines. These are the tons of ore
taken out," he answered, pointing to various totals, "this is the
present market price paid for the first shipment, and this is the amount
we are turning out now per day. At the same rate, the year's payment, at
a conservative estimate, will be that amount. At all events I shall send
you a check the first of August for fifty thousand _lire_."

"Fifty thousand _lire_! Oh, Sandro!" The instinct of the woman showed,
in that her husband was her first thought; and her voice vibrated
joyously. "Fifty thousand _lire_!" they both repeated as though unable
to comprehend--and then, the full meaning of it dawning upon him, the
prince threw his arms about her in wild exuberance.

"Oh, my dear one!"--he punctuated each phrase with kisses--"now you
shall have everything . . . everything . . . your heart can wish! Stoves
you shall have . . . servants and dresses. . . . Yes, and your emeralds!
And your pearls! You shall have . . . emeralds set in a footstool! Every
_soldo_ is for you, _carissima_, it is all _yours_, YOURS!"

Gently she stopped him. "Sandro," she smiled, "Sandro _mio_, not the
mines of the Indies could supply your plans for spending!" Then her
voice broke, but she laughed through her tears and buried her face
against his throat.

After a moment the princess recovered herself. She looked up, blushing
like a girl--a little self-conscious that any one should have witnessed
the scene between herself and her husband. "We are very foolish," she
laughed. "But it is good to feel so joyous as that!" She got up and, as
she passed Nina, she put her hand caressingly under the girl's chin. "It
has not been a bad day, after all, has it?" she said. "And when fortune
begins to come, it always comes in waves--the difficulty is to make it
begin." Then she looked back at her husband, "Sandro, come with me, will
you? These children will not mind, I am sure, if we leave them for a
little while, and I want very much to talk to you." She smiled her
apology to Nina and Derby, who both stood up. Then she and the prince
went out of the door together, his arm about her waist.

When they had gone, Nina said softly: "They are dears, aren't they! Oh,
Jack, aren't you proud to think you are the cause of every bit of the
gladness they are feeling to-day?" She glanced up at him, her eyes
alight with a brilliant softness and tenderness. But he did not look at
her, and so answered merely her words: "I guess it would have worked out
all right, anyway." And then he seemed to study the pattern of the
carpet, and there was silence.

Nina stood leaning against a heavy table, and Derby stood near her with
his hands in his pockets and his attention engrossed on the floor. Both
seemed incapable of speaking or moving, as though a hypnotic spell had
fallen upon them. Twice, while her aunt and uncle were in the room,
Derby had looked at her with an expression that set Nina's heart
beating, but now they were alone it had entirely vanished and he kept
his head persistently turned away. She wondered how she could ever have
failed to find his profile splendid. But he seemed so detached, so
bafflingly absorbed, that all the old ache that she had felt that day
when he had advised her to marry Billy Dalton--and since--came
suffocatingly back. The old doubt suddenly gripped her--could her aunt
be mistaken?

Finally, it came to her, intuitively, that her whole future was hanging
on this moment, and the impulse was overwhelming to forget that she was
the woman. It seemed that she must herself force the issue and end the
doubt, at all hazards--this doubt which hammered at the door of her
intellect and yet which her heart refused stubbornly to accept.

"Jack"--she tried hard to carry out her resolve not to let the false
pride of a moment perhaps spoil her whole life; but the inborn reserve
of generations of womanhood rebelled. In her uncertainty and anguish
each moment of silence seemed weighted into leaden despair, but she was
utterly unable to say what she had intended. At last her lips parted
and, like the wail of a lost child, "Jack----" she cried. It was all she
could say before her eyes filled and a queer little gulp came into her
throat; then, with superhuman effort yet hardly articulate, came the
whisper, "H-ave you n-othing to say--to me?"

All at once he turned and looked at her--looked again and caught her by
the shoulders. The love and ardor of which the princess had spoken
flamed unmistakably in his expression now--she saw him swallow hard, and
it seemed to her as though her very soul were wandering lost in the blue
spaces of his eyes as they searched hers, and then through it all his
voice came huskily.

"Nina!"

For another long, intense moment he gazed at her earnestly, then "Nina!
Nina!" he cried again, the wonder breaking through his tone. "Do you
understand--do you _mean_ what you are looking? Do you love me
like--that?"

She tried to answer, but could not, though a little smile quivered in
the corner of her mouth, and the dimple in her cheek was softly
visible. Then she looked up again through her tears. A radiance
indescribable lit the man's face, making his rugged features
beautiful--then swiftly he stooped and gathered her to his heart.


THE END

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes:

Obvious punctuation errors corrected.

Page 18, "personailty" changed to "personality" (personality to the
mind).

Page 132, "acount" changed to "account" (On account of the).

Page 148, "flckle" changed to "fickle" (that he is fickle).

Page 154, "Suarts" changed to "Stuarts" (Stuarts had a son).

Page 158, "look" changed to "looked" (He looked bored).

Page 194, the word "bosom" was presumed. Text was obscurred. (amplitude
of her bosom)

Page 208, "trivalities" changed to "trivialities" (time for
trivialities).

Page 236, "himeslf" changed to "himself" (in himself and).

Page 240, "fortaste" changed to "foretaste" (a foretaste of inferno).

Page 302, "Giovvanni" changed to "Giovanni" (it was Giovanni).

Page 319, "exhileration" changed to "exhilaration" (great exhilaration
in).

Page 322, "that" changed to "than" (graver than that).





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