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Title: The Clock and the Key
Author: Vesey, Arthur Henry
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.

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          Transcriber’s Note:

This version of the text cannot represent certain typographical effects.
Italics are delimited with the ‘_’ character as _italic_.

Footnotes have been moved to follow the paragraphs in which they are
referenced.

A few minor errors, attributable to the printer, have been corrected.
Please see the transcriber’s note at the end of this text for details
regarding the handling of any textual issues encountered during its
preparation.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE CLOCK AND THE KEY

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                             THE CLOCK AND
                                THE KEY



                                   BY

                           ARTHUR HENRY VESEY

                AUTHOR OF “A CHEQUE FOR THREE THOUSAND”
                       “A PEDIGREE IN PAWN,” ETC.



[Illustration: colophon]



                                NEW YORK
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
                                  1905

------------------------------------------------------------------------


                          COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY
                        D. APPLETON AND COMPANY

    _Published February, 1905_

------------------------------------------------------------------------



                                   TO
                           =M. B. L.=



------------------------------------------------------------------------



                         THE CLOCK AND THE KEY


                                -------



                               CHAPTER I


Our gondola, far out on the lagoon, hardly moved. But neither Jacqueline
nor I, under the red and white striped awning, cared much, and Pietro
even dared to light a cigarette.

Silver-gray dome, campanile, and spire gleamed through the golden haze
that hung over the enchanted city. A great stillness was over all–only
the ripple of Pietro’s lazy oar, and faintly, very faintly, bells
chiming.

“I have dreamed of it,” said Jacqueline. “Only the dreams were such
futile things compared with the reality. I close my eyes. I open them
quickly. I am afraid it will all be blown away, vanish in a single
moment. But there it is, your dear, dear Venice–the green garden away up
there; the white Riva, basking in the sunlight; the rosy palace; and the
red and orange sails, drifting slowly along. We shall return to the
Piazza presently, and St. Mark’s will be there, and the pigeons, and the
white palaces. Oh, there is not a false note to destroy the perfect
charm of Venice, not one.”

I aroused myself. While Jacqueline had been intoxicated with the beauty
of Venice, I had been intoxicated with the beauty of Jacqueline. I must
say something, and something prosaic, or I should be forgetting myself.

“Oh, favored of the gods,” I murmured, “to be dead to unpleasant sights
and sounds. And yet, not in Paradise, not even in this Paradise, are
they quite shut out. Look, there is a penny steamer making its blatant
way from the Molo to the Giudecca. And that far-off rumble is the
express crossing the long bridge from Mestre. And, whew, that’s the
twelve-o’clock whistle at the Arsenal. There you have three notes of
progress and civilization in this city of dead dreams and dead hopes.”

Jacqueline turned in her seat and looked at me curiously.

“My dear Richard, will you answer me one question?”

“Gladly, if it is not too difficult. But don’t forget, Jacqueline,
Venice is not exactly an intellectual center.”

“Then tell me, please, why it is that when you were in New York, hardly
two months ago, you talked so charmingly of your Venetian skies and
still lagoons that you quite made me long for them. But now, when I am
at last under one of your wonderful skies and on your wonderful lagoon,
instead of helping me to love it all, and sympathizing with me, you
insist on the horrible things that clash–things I would so gladly forget
for the happy moment.”

“Because,” I answered gravely, “I must not allow myself to forget that
one happy moment is not a lifetime.”

“Really, I don’t understand you.“

She looked at me frankly–too frankly–that was the trouble. I hesitated.
In spite of the flimsy excuses her aunt had suspiciously erected, I had
brought Jacqueline alone with me here to tell her why I must not allow
myself to love her; and, I may add, to hear her laugh to delicious scorn
my reasons. And yet I hesitated. Sometimes I felt she cared for me. But
if I answered her question truthfully, I risked a cruel awakening.

“Do you know how long I have been living in Venice?” I asked presently,
with apparent irrelevance.

“Three years, is it not?”

“That is a long time to be dreaming and loafing, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Her eyes looked gravely out on the lagoon.

“And it seems to you hardly a manly, strenuous life for a man of–shall
we say–thirty years of age, to spend three years rocking himself to
sleep, as it were, in a gondola?”

“No,” she laughed nervously; “hardly a strenuous life.”

“Such a life as that,” I persisted, “must contrast rather unfavorably
with the lives of men you know in New York, for example?”

“I suppose one may spend one’s life well even here in Venice.”

I laughed rather bitterly.

“One gets up at ten,” I murmured. “One has coffee in bed, and dawdles
over the papers. A gentle, gentle walk till twelve–to the garden,
perhaps–oh, you can walk miles in Venice, though most tourists think
not. At twelve, breakfast at Florian’s on the Piazza. A long smoke,
perhaps a row to the Lido and a swim, if it is summer. At five another
long smoke and incidentally a long drink on the Piazza again, and the
band. At seven, dinner at the Grundewald, a momentous affair, when one
hesitates ten minutes over the menu. Then another long smoke out in the
lagoon, under the stars, with the lights of Venice in the distance, and
in the distance, too, the herd of tourists, splitting their gloves in
ecstasy over the efforts of the tenor robusto under the balconies of the
Grand Hotel. And then, wicked, dreamless slumber. The next morning, the
same thing over again.”

Jacqueline gasped. She looked at me with a curious intentness, and I was
uneasy under her gaze. I knew she was noting quite ruthlessly that I was
getting fat.

“It is difficult to keep quite fit in Venice,” I pleaded.

“And you really have done that for three years,” she said at last,
almost in admiration. It was as if I were a strange animal doing clever
tricks.

“For three years, barring flights to New York and London in January and
February, and a few weeks in the Tyrol during July and August,” I
answered steadily.

“And you really like it?” she asked, still wonderingly.

“I can never imagine myself liking it again. I have despised myself
since last Tuesday.”

“Since last Tuesday!” she echoed, and then blushed. It was on Tuesday
that Jacqueline and her aunt had arrived in Venice. “But you are not
answering my first question.”

“I am answering it in a roundabout way,” I replied dreamily. Then quite
abruptly, “You didn’t know me until I was at Oxford, did you?”

“No.”

“I was sent to Eton when I was a sickly, timid little chap of fourteen.
I had had a lonely life of it in New York. My mother was so afraid I
should have a good time like other boys, and shout and play and talk
with an American accent, that she chained me to a priggish English
tutor, who took me for solemn walks in the park for recreation. I was
hardly any better off than the pale-faced little idiots you see marching
about Rome and Palermo two by two, dressed up in ridiculous uniforms of
broadcloth, and carrying canes–not so well off, for there are many of
them, and only one slovenly priest. But my keeper had me all to himself.
Think of it, I never held a baseball in my little fist. Imagine that
kind of a youngster set down in the midst of half a thousand lusty young
English schoolboys, and an American at that.”

“Poor little homesick boy,” she murmured. “And then?”

“Just five years of being shunned and moping and long solitary rows on
the river, and dreams bad for a boy of my years–just a long stretch of
that sort of thing, that was my life at the public school.

“At Oxford it was pretty much the same. I pulled through in a listless
sort of fashion and got my degree. But the habits of boyhood told now. I
found it harder than ever to get into things. I found myself more and
more the mere spectator of life–not a happy existence, nor a good
foundation for an American to begin the duties of life with.”

“I should think not,” said Jacqueline severely. If she had pity for the
lonely little boy, she had no mercy for the man. “And so because you
idled through college and liked it, you came here to Venice to idle away
the rest of your life?” she asked with some scorn.

“Well, it was hardly so deliberate as that,” I said patiently. “No, I
went back to America, and for the first time came face to face with my
father. At least it was the first time that he had taken the trouble to
speak to me in a heart-to-heart sort of way. You know my father well, so
I needn’t expatiate on his virtues.”

Jacqueline smiled. But no malice hovered on her lips as on mine.
American women are supposed to demand much of their husbands and
fathers. But at least they respect the husbands and fathers who toil
that they may play. So she answered primly:

“I have always found your father a most interesting man, I know he loves
you in his way. That you have so little ambition is the bitter
disappointment of his life. He has often spoken of you to me.”

“Yes, yes,” I said hurriedly, “no doubt he loves me in his own fashion.
But we hardly understand each other. The morning after I landed from
England, after I had taken my degree, he called me into his office and
asked me without any preliminaries what I thought I was fit for. I told
him that I really hadn’t any idea. He thumped his great fist on his desk
and roared: ‘So far, young man, your mother has had her turn. She’s
mammied you, and made a fool of you with your English education and
English accent. Now it’s my turn. Go back to Germany. Stay there two
years and come back a chemist. I want you to help me in the factory.’

“I never dreamed of opposing him. I was rather relieved to get out of
his presence. So I took the check that he handed to me, and shook him
dutifully by the hand. ‘Good-by,’ he said, ‘and when I say a chemist, I
mean a good chemist. If you aren’t that, you needn’t bother to come back
at all.’ The next morning I engaged passage for Bremen.”

“The rest I know about,” said Jacqueline looking at her watch.

“I dare say, only I should like you to understand it from my point of
view. I went to Berlin. My name was entered on the roll of students of
the university. I drank a lot of beer, but I studied very little
chemistry. At the end of my two years’ probation, I began to think with
apprehension of my father’s parting words: ‘And a good chemist, or you
needn’t trouble to come back.’

“And then, one day, when I was quite at a loss what to do, I received
word that my mother had died suddenly. She left me a small fortune.

“I dreaded more than ever to return to my father. Why should I? I began
to ask myself. Why should I? echoed my one friend.

“This friend was a wizened, eccentric, boastful little man, but with an
undying enthusiasm for the rare and the beautiful. He spoke cunning
words to entice me: ‘Your father’s idea of a successful life is one of
work and yet more work–of tasks and habits that bind one more and more
inexorably as the years go on. This is not success at all, but the
direst failure. A life made up of habits and tasks that safely steer one
through one’s existence, minute by minute, is a life with all the
excitement and keen delight and ecstasy left out. To live such a life is
to be a machine and no man.

“‘Come,’ he said, ‘with me to Venice. I will show you how to live. Why
should you go back to America and the hideous? There are millions of
fools to labor doggedly–to keep the world a-going–why should you be
dragged into the ranks of the slaves to the lash? There are thousands to
agonize and strive, to create the beautiful–and to fail, terribly. Why
should you be dragged into the ranks of those slaves to an ideal? There
are hundreds to make the world better. Why should you be a slave to
conscience? But there are so few to make a fine art of living. Be one of
them. Enjoy perfectly. Enjoy wisely. Life may be for you something so
rare and beautiful that the horrible and the vulgar shall not exist for
you.’ I listened to him. I came to Venice. Here I am.”

“There is something rather fine about it all,” said Jacqueline
wistfully. “But there’s sophistry somewhere. And it seems brutally
selfish.”

“Sophistry! Selfish! How subtle the sophistry and selfishness I alone
can tell. Dear Jacqueline, I had left one thing out of my calculations
in building this fool’s paradise.”

“And that?” Jacqueline looked troubled. I know she pitied me.

“I had forgotten that one may love.”

I leaned over toward her. Regardless of Pietro, who, I knew, was
squinting through the red and white striped awning, I took her hand.
“Dear Jacqueline, do you think that it is too late for me to begin
again?”

Jacqueline was silent. She withdrew her hand gently. I had felt it
tremble in mine.

“Do you see now that I am answering your question?” I asked. “When I was
in New York, and knew at last that I should always love you, I had to
keep reminding myself that _this_ was my world. I had set before myself
an ideal. I must be faithful to it. So, now, when you are in Venice, I
have tried to remind myself just as strongly that you come from the
world of the penny steamboat and factory–a workaday world–a relentless
world. In that world men tear and rend one another for a name, for a
position. Each one is for himself, ruthless of others, unscrupulous
often. Each one strives madly for something that is just out of his
reach. That is the world you come from. I have reminded myself of it
over and over. But it’s no use. I can’t keep silent. I must speak.
Jacqueline, I love you.”

She sat motionless. Her eyes looked out on the lagoon. Then she clasped
her knees, and looked at me with a curious intentness. When she did
speak, it was so slowly, so decisively that her words sounded like an
inexorable fate.

“My dear Richard, you are an extraordinary man. You are one of the rare
specimens who hold a perfectly impossible ideal. When you fail to attain
that ideal, you frankly abandon yourself to materialism–a materialism
that smothers you. You have not even attempted to play the man. It is
incredible that you should deliberately lay yourself down to loll on a
flowery bed of ease for three years. Your very last words about my poor
world show how great a gulf is fixed between you and me. Yes, I am of
that world. I glory in it. But you sneer at the very qualities you lack.
That is so easy, and, forgive me, so weak. You call my poor world
ruthless. But often ruthlessness, yes, and unscrupulousness even, go
with strength. The man I love must have a touch of this relentlessness
you despise. Better that he be unscrupulous than weak. And as for
patience, surely to be greatly patient is to be greatly strong. But you,
my dear Dick, you area piece of bric-à-brac, you and your ideals. You
should be under a glass case. You are too _précieux_ for the struggle in
the world you shrink from. Return your love? Impossible. You have done
nothing to deserve it.”

I could not speak. She had told me the truth. Presently she looked at
me. Then she touched my arm lightly.

“I have hurt you,” she pleaded.

“Well, why not?” I answered roughly. “It is the truth. But, Jacqueline,
is your answer quite final? If I plunge into this struggle–if I show you
that I too can strive and achieve things for the woman I love, if not
for myself, will you let me tell you again that I love you?”

“Can the leopard change his spots?” she asked lightly.

“That remains to be seen. Let me prove to you that I am not merely the
dilettante that you see on the surface. If I have not cared to succeed
before, perhaps it was because there was nothing or no one to work for.
If I show you that I really have those qualities that you demand and
think I lack, will you let me tell you again that I love you?”

“What could you do to show that?” asked Jacqueline softly.

“I could go back to New York to-morrow. I could join my father in
business.”

“To New York to-morrow!” she said in dismay.

“Yes,” I cried joyously. I had caught the note of dismay.

“But I dare not advise you to do that. I could not take that
responsibility unless I loved you. I do not love you. But if you are not
fitted for business, you would surely fail.”

“Would you discourage me in the attempt to do what you have condemned me
for not doing?” I asked with impatience.

“It may be that here in Venice is a task.”

“In Venice? Impossible.”

“You told me the other day that you had once thought of writing up the
legends of Venice. You said they had really never been done well. Why
not attempt that?”

“Oh, that!” I exclaimed discontentedly.

“And why not?”

“It must be an entire change of life–of habits and ambition and tastes.
Why not attempt something big while I am about it?”

“My dear Richard,” insisted Jacqueline gently, “it makes no difference
how obscure one’s task is. It may be even a useless task, only one must
show patience and strength in the performance of it.”

“Jacqueline, you are giving me hope.”

She held up her gloved hand, smiling.

“No, I give you no hope. Nor do I give you reason to despair. I do not
love you, now. I could not love such a one as you. Whether I could love
you if you were different–if you had ambition and stamina–I can not
tell.”

“I shall yet make you love me, Jacqueline.”

Our eyes met for one instant, then hers fell before my steady gaze.

“Will you please tell the gondolier to row faster? I shall be late for
luncheon, and I have an appointment at three.”

“Then I sha’n’t see you this afternoon?”

“Perhaps. If you care to accompany my aunt and myself on a little
expedition.”

“I shall be delighted. And where?”

“To an old Venetian palace on the Grand Canal. We are to inspect it from
garret to basement. A dealer in antiquities is to take us there. He is
to buy the contents of the palace as they stand. You know my aunt, Mrs.
Gordon, is never so happy as when buying some useless piece of
bric-à-brac.”

“Beware of the dealer in bric-à-brac here in Venice. He is a Jew, your
dealer–be sure of that.”

“Oh, no, he is not. Aunt and I know him well. He is an American.”

“His name?”

“St. Hilary. He has an immense shop on Fifth Avenue.”

“St. Hilary!” I exclaimed, “and he is here in Venice!”

“Do you know him?”

“Why, this St. Hilary is the man I told you of,” I answered slowly, “who
first charmed me into coming to Venice. He is responsible for my wasting
these past three years. I feel a grudge against him for that. He owes me
some reparation. Yes; I shall be interested in seeing your palace with
St. Hilary as guide. When shall I meet you?”

“Outside Florian’s, on the Piazza at three. But you have not yet aroused
your gondolier.”

I poked Pietro with my walking-stick. Pietro flung away his cigarette
and bent to his oar. The gondola, like a thing of life, leaped joyously
toward the Molo.



                               CHAPTER II


My rooms were in a wonderful old palace in the unfashionable quarter of
the Giudecca. From the windows, precisely opposite the Salute, I had the
finest view in Venice. That made them worth while. But the principal
charm of the location for me lay in the fact that here the ubiquitous
tripper rarely puts foot.

At a quarter to three I boarded a penny steamer from the Fondamenta
della Croce, the broad sunny quay in front of my palace, and crossed
over to the Molo. It was the first time in three years that I had used
this humble craft. The penny steamer, be it understood, was a part of
the new _régime_. It stood for hustle and democratic haste, the
qualities in which dear Jacqueline had found me so sadly lacking.

It gave me an immense satisfaction–this little voyage. I paid my soldo
to the shabby, uniformed conductor; I watched him uncurl the rope from
the post; I heard the steersman shout down his hollow tube the
directions to the engineer in his cubby-hole below; I seated myself
between an unshaven priest and a frowsy old woman with a basket of eels;
and it all appealed to me as fresh and interesting.

The world was very bright that afternoon. The sky had never seemed so
blue. There was something for me to do–what, I did not know precisely
(for I had not taken Jacqueline’s suggestion very seriously), but
somewhere I should find my task, and so win Jacqueline’s complete love
and regard. In the meanwhile I was to see her.

I leaped ashore, the first of the passengers, and walked briskly across
the Piazzetta. I saw them immediately at one of the little black tables
outside of Florian’s–St. Hilary in the center, and Mrs. Gordon and
Jacqueline on either side. St. Hilary was talking–as usual.

He evinced no surprise at seeing me. That was not his way. He did not
even shake hands. He merely saluted me with his rattan cane, and
continued to talk–as usual.

“Then it is the beauty of Venice that impresses you both?” he was
saying. “The beauty! I am weary of the cry. Let me tell you that there
is something infinitely more appealing to one than beauty in Venice, if
one knows precisely how to look for it and where.”

“And what is that?” asked Mrs. Gordon, as St. Hilary paused.

“It is its mystery,” he said impressively.

“Its mystery!” repeated vaguely Jacqueline’s aunt. “And why its
mystery?”

“Listen. I wish you to understand. It is night. You are quite alone–you
and your gondolier. And it is late–very late. All Venice is asleep. You
drift slowly down the Grand Canal. You hear nothing but the weird cry,
‘_stai-li oh_,’ as a gondolier approaches a corner. Above are the stars,
and in the dark waters about you are stars–a thousand of them–reflected
in a thousand rivulets. On this side and on that–dumb as the dead–are
the despoiled palaces. They suffer in silence. They are desecrated.
Their glory is departed. Some of them are lodging-houses, a
glass-factory, a post-office, a shop of cheap and false antiquities. But
Pesaro and Contarini once dwelt in them. Titian and Giorgione adorned
their walls. Within was the splendor of the Renaissance–cloth of
gold–priceless tapestries–bronzes–pictures–treasures of the East–of
Constantinople, of far-off Tartary. Everything of beauty in the whole
world found its way at some time within those barred gates.

“But where is it now–all that treasure, that beauty? Has every temple
been ravaged? Has the vandal prowled in the very holy of holies? Are
only the bare walls left? Only the very skeletons of all that pride of
the flesh? Or, somewhere, hidden perhaps centuries ago–in some dark
cranny–in some secret chamber–is there some forgotten masterpiece–some
beauty of cunning hand, some jewel patiently waiting for one to pluck it
from its obscurity? There must be. I know there is. Do you hear? I say I
_know_. There, madame, you have for me the mystery of Venice.”

“For you,” placidly replied Mrs. Gordon, “simply because you are a
dealer in antiquities. But why is Venice in that regard more mysterious
than other great cities?”

I thought Mrs. Gordon right. St. Hilary’s enthusiasm was far-fetched.
The dapper little man, with his black, snapping eyes, his face the color
of parchment, and lined as the palm of one’s hand, agile as a puppet on
strings, neat as a tailor’s model, was in earnest, absurdly in earnest,
in this idle, quaint fancy of his.

“Perhaps so,” he sighed. “Say that it is the passion of the collector
that talks and not the sober judgment of the dealer. And yet, and yet,
it is this hope that sends me to impossible places in Persia, to Burma.
Yes; it has brought me now to Venice.”

“To Venice!” I cried, astonished. “You allow yourself to be mastered by
a whim, as vague, as visionary as this?”

“My dear Hume, perhaps this whim, as you call it, is not vague or
visionary to me,” he replied quietly.

“But,” I expostulated, “you have no proofs of your treasure. Why is it
not behind the glass cases in St. Mark’s yonder? Why are not your
canvases in the museums? Why are not your antiquities in the shops?”

He looked at me with a strangely thoughtful expression.

“What we have never had we do not miss,” he mused. “No one missed the
Venus de Milo, or the Frieze of the Parthenon, or the Kohinoor. Yet we
call them to-day three of the wonders of the world.”

“Because there are but three of them,” I said impatiently. “I am afraid
you must look far and wide before you find the lucky fourth.”

“No doubt,” he said indifferently, “no doubt.” And then with apparent
irrelevance, “Now one would not think that crowns were so easily lost.”

“And have they been?” I asked curiously.

“Only the other day eight were found at one digging, not far from
Toledo. They had been lost for a thousand years. There was a find for
you. Then the crown of the Emperor of Austria, the holy crown, the
_szenta korona_, has been lost and found no less than three times. The
last time (not half a century ago) it disappeared after the defeat of
Kossuth. Some said it had been taken to London; some, that it was broken
up and the jewels sold in Constantinople. But for a few florins a
peasant returned it as mysteriously as it had disappeared. Foolish
peasant!”

“Mr. St. Hilary,” expostulated Mrs. Gordon severely, “you would not have
had him do otherwise?”

“I suppose not. But upon my word, sometimes I think that one might as
well go in for big things as for little. There is the _Gnaga Boh_, the
Dragon Lord, the most perfect ruby in the world. A half-witted creature,
the widow of King Theebaw, wears it. We are great friends, that old hag
and I, and I could have stolen it from her a thousand times. Some day
perhaps she will give it to me. And that notorious Indian prince,
Gwaikor of Baroda, has half a dozen stones of price. He, too, is a crony
of mine. Nothing would be easier than to steal one of them.”

“My dear Mr. St. Hilary,” again interrupted Mrs. Gordon, “surely you do
not contemplate burglary?”

“That is precisely the trouble,” he complained mournfully, “I have a
conscience. But findings are certainly keepings.”

“Ah, but it must be so difficult to find one’s findings,” said
Jacqueline quaintly.

“Not always. Have you never heard how the Hermes of Praxiteles was
discovered?”

She shook her head.

“Pausanias, an old Greek historian, wrote of that statue about a
thousand years ago–how he had seen it at Olympia. There was the passage
for all the world to read. He wrote precisely what there was to dig
for–precisely where one was to dig. But did any one believe him? Not for
a thousand years. But when, after a thousand years, a party of Germans
made up their minds that perhaps there was something in the story, and
dug in Olympia as he told them, there was their Hermes waiting for them.
You see one may have information as to where lies one’s treasure
sometimes. But so few of us have faith.”

“And have you your information as well as your abundant faith, St.
Hilary?” I inquired with mock solicitude.

At this idle question, his heavily lidded eyes opened wide. The pupils
dilated. A challenge flashed from their blue depths. I stared at him.
But almost immediately the heavy lids drooped again.

“All this is extremely interesting, Mr. St. Hilary,” said Jacqueline.
“But is it not rather wide from our Venetian palace? Why do we wait?”

“Simply, my dear young lady, because the owner happens to be of a
religious turn of mind; and at this moment, I believe, is confessing his
sins in San Marco’s yonder.”

“Who is the owner of the palace?” inquired Mrs. Gordon. “And why does he
wish to sell its contents?”

“The owner is a duke, the Duca da Sestos, and he wishes to sell because
he is as impecunious as the rest of his tribe.”

“A duke!” cried Mrs. Gordon. “How interesting! And what kind of a duke
is this gentleman?”

“Of the very flower of the Italian nobility. He is a prince of good
fellows, a dashing cavalier, handsome as a young god, and twenty-six.”

“How _very_ interesting,” repeated Mrs. Gordon, and looked at
Jacqueline.

The look troubled me. Jacqueline herself seemed annoyed at it. She
turned to St. Hilary.

“And have you any other treasures up your sleeve, Mr. St. Hilary?”

“My dear young lady, shall I give you an inventory of one collection I
know about? I promise to make all your mouths water.

“To begin with, there is a balas-ruby, known as El Spigo, or the ear of
corn. In the fifteenth century it was valued at the enormous sum of two
hundred and fifty thousand ducats. Then there is the jewel, El Lupo, the
wolf. It is one large diamond and three pearls. These two stones would
take the eye of the vulgar. But imagine a beryl, twice as big as your
thumb-nail, and on it the portrait of the pope, Clement VII, carved by
none other than the great Cellini.”

“I will buy it at any price,” cried Jacqueline.

“Then,” continued St. Hilary, touching his forefinger lightly, “there is
a pale-red ruby. The stone is indifferent. But it is a cameo, and the
likeness carved on it is that of Ludovico Il Moro, the Duke of Milan.
Domenico de’ Camei is the artist, and they called him de’ Camei because
he was the greatest carver of cameos in the world.”

“That is mine,” said Mrs. Gordon, her eyes on San Marco.

“To continue, there is a turquoise cameo, half as large as the palm of
your hand, and on it is carved the Triumph of Augustus. Thirty figures
are on that stone. There is an Isis head in malachite. The only other to
compare with it is in the Hermitage collection at St. Petersburg. Few
portraits of Beatrice d’Este exist. One of them is carved on one of my
stones, and is known as a diamond portrait. Imagine a thin plate of
diamonds, evenly polished on both sides with little facets on the edges.
The diamonds make, as it were, the glass frame of the portrait itself,
which is carved on lapis lazuli by the great Ambrosius Caradossa.”

“That,” I interrupted, “must be mine.”

“I must not forget two curious poison-rings–one with a sliding panel;
the other, still more dangerous, a lion with sharp claws–the claws
hollowed and communicating with a small poison-receptacle. We must be
careful how we finger that ring when we take our treasure out of the
casket. Yes; and the casket itself is worth looking at. By an ingenious
system of clockwork, the cover could not be opened in less than twelve
hours.”

“And where, where are all these treasures?” demanded Mrs. Gordon, taking
her eyes from the cathedral for the moment.

“My dear lady, so far as I know, they are here in Venice.”

“In Venice!” I cried.

“But, unfortunately, they disappeared nearly five hundred years ago.”

There was a chorus of disappointment and reproaches. Mrs. Gordon again
impatiently turned her attention to San Marco.

“And there is absolutely no clue to them?” demanded Jacqueline.

“No clue, dear lady,” he murmured, spreading wide his hands.

“But at least tell us whose the gems were?” I asked.

“Ah, yes, that at least I can tell you. The gems belonged to Beatrice
d’Este, Duchess of Milan and wife of Ludovico Il Moro. She pawned them
to the Doge of Venice to raise money for her husband’s army.”

“And they have absolutely disappeared?” I insisted.

“As if they had never existed. But they do exist, and here in Venice.
Think of it! In Venice. And now, perhaps, my dear Hume, you can
understand the fascination of Venice for me.” He sighed deeply.

“But why are you reminded of them so particularly this afternoon?” I
persisted curiously.

“Because we are going to see the box that is said to have contained the
casket.”

“In the palace of our duke?” asked Jacqueline’s aunt.

St. Hilary bowed. “In the palace of our duke, madame.”

“And how did it come there?” I asked in my turn.

“It is said that the duke’s ancestor, a great goldsmith in Venice––”

He ended his sentence abruptly. “Here comes our duke,” he said.

I looked up. The dealer in antiquities had not exaggerated his charms.
He was tall. His figure was as noble as his carriage. His hand rested
lightly on his sword-hilt. His bold eyes, of a piercing blue, searched
Jacqueline’s lovely face. He had the all-conquering air of a young god.
His eyes wandered to mine. We looked steadily at each other. We measured
each other. Instinctively I distrusted him.

St. Hilary made the introductions. “I have asked my friends to go with
me. I have not taken too great a liberty?” he said in French.

“Not at all,” assured the duke. “I am only sorry I have kept the ladies
waiting. My launch is waiting at the Molo. Shall we go at once?”



                              CHAPTER III


The Palazzo da Sestos was for many years one of the sights of the Grand
Canal. It is not more beautiful than a score of others. Its sole
distinction lay in the fact that its faded green shutters had been
barred for something more than half a century. Other palaces are closed
for a year–for ten years. But for fifty years no butcher or baker boy
had pulled the rusty bell-rope at the little rear street–no gondola had
paused at its moss-grown steps. It had acquired something of mystery. It
was pointed out to the tourist as inevitably as the glass-factory of
Salviati.

But to-day the wide iron gates stood open. The steam-launch swept
between the palace steps and the huge spiles, still proud in their very
decrepitude, crowned with the corno and adorned with the da Sestos coat
of arms. A servant, shaking and bobbing his white old head, stood on the
marble steps that dipped down to the water.

We entered the echoing hall, and an indescribable odor of damp mortar
and dust made us cough. Something scurried across the red and white
marble flags. A bat, blinded by the sudden light, swirled about the hall
in circles. Mrs. Gordon shivered and clutched the duke’s arm. Jacqueline
gathered up her skirts carefully about her. There was something unclean
and uncanny about the place.

The lofty hall ran through the palace. Beyond was another iron gate,
opening on the garden, now a wild confusion of clambering grape-vines
and ivy and myrtle, that rioted up the crumbling walls and choked and
twined themselves about the broken statuary and the yellow-stained
well-curb. On either side of the hall were stone benches, and over each
long seat the da Sestos coat of arms again, the strange insignia of a
protruding hand clasping a huge key. Doors to the right and left led to
the Magazzini, or store-rooms, in which, years ago, when Venice was the
mistress of the world in commerce, the _nobili_ stored their
merchandise. St. Hilary, who had unconsciously taken the lead, cast a
disdainful eye on the bare walls, and hurried to the stairway.

At the landing we paused. Two massively carved doors faced us, the one
opening on the Sala Grande, the other to a long succession of small
reception-rooms, leading one out of the other. Luigi tremblingly
unlocked the doors of the Sala, and threw them back with ceremony,
holding high above his head a flickering candle.

We stood without, peering into the darkness, while the old man tottered
across the vast room and unbarred a shutter. The candle shone pale in
the light of day. He pushed open a window, and a faint breeze touched
our cheeks. One breathed again. The sun streamed on the shining floor of
colored cement, gaily embedded with little pieces of marble. I looked
about me.

Great yellow sheets shrouded everything–the tapestries, the pictures,
the furniture. St. Hilary tore the sheets down impatiently, Luigi
looking from master to dealer in troubled amazement and indignation. At
last the noble room stood revealed. The little frivolous company of
smartly dressed men and women in flannels and muslins seemed strangely
like intruders in this great apartment of faded magnificence and
mournful grandeur.

Flemish tapestries covered the vast expanse of the walls. Throne-chairs
in Genoese velvet and brocade and stamped leather, each with the
inevitable arms in gold appliqué, were ranged formally side by side.
There was a magnificent center-table, the heavy malachite top with its
mosaic center and Etruscan border, supported by four elaborately carved
winged goddesses. There were antique Spanish and Italian cabinets of
tortoise-shell and ivory and ebony. At either end of the room were two
cavernous fireplaces, the pilasters covered with exquisitely carved
cherubs and Raphaelesque scrolls. Vases of verde; trousseau-chests of
ebony; consol-tables of bronze and ormulu; jewel-boxes of jasper and
lapis lazuli; clocks of bronze and Sienna marble; marble busts;
portières of silk and velvet; Florentine mirrors; Venetian chandeliers
of pink and white and blue Venetian glass–all belonged to the Venice of
the Renaissance–to Venice in its splendor.

“I suppose,” said the duke, looking about, “this old room has had its
chairs and tables standing precisely as you see them for two hundred
years.”

“And, now,” said Mrs. Gordon reproachfully, “you dare to despoil it?
Were I you, it would sadden me to sell at a price these dumb things to
that terrible dealer, darting about with his note-book from treasure to
treasure.”

“_Per Baccho!_” laughed the duke. “Why should I have any sentiment for a
place and for things that are as strange to me as to you? They have only
recently become mine, and that by an accident. If Luigi, now, were
having his say, it might be different, eh, old man?”

Luigi had been dogging the footsteps of the dealer, replacing the
coverings. He looked up anxiously.

“What! his Excellency is to sell this palace?” he faltered.

“All,” said the duke lightly, and ignored him. “You must know, ladies,
that the uncle, by whose timely death I inherited the palace, was the
last Venetian of our name. He never set foot in this palace, I am told.
He lived abroad. The traditions of these Venetians were not his. Nor are
they mine. I prefer to make traditions of my own. I am from Turin.
There, one is at least in the world. There, one has ambitions for power
and glory.”

“With ambition you will arrive far,” said Mrs. Gordon adoringly.

“But these Venetians, bah, I know them!” he continued. “To gossip a
little, to dawdle over their silly newspapers at the Café Quadri–to eat,
to drink, to flirt–that is their dream of happiness. They are rocked to
sleep in their wonderful gondolas. They drift on the smooth surface of
their sluggish canals out to the great sea of oblivion. No. The silent
waterways of this melancholy, faded Venice are not exactly paths of
glory.”

“No,” said Jacqueline, and perhaps unconsciously she looked at me.

I deserved the reproachful glance, no doubt. I should have borne it
meekly enough had not the duke noticed it as well as myself. As he led
the way through the reception-rooms, he stared curiously at me, and then
at Jacqueline. He smiled. My vague dislike became more definite.

These reception-rooms were monotonously alike. Our interest began to
flag. But the indefatigable dealer of antiquities had seen enough to
awaken his enthusiasm. It was natural that he should peer and pry. It
was his business, I suppose, to finger brocades, to try the springs of
chairs. But there was not a trousseau-chest whose cover he did not lift,
an armoire or cabinet that he did not look within. I thought his
eagerness bordered almost on vulgarity, until I remembered the box that
held the da Sestos cabinet. He was looking for it, of course.

At last he gave a little cry of satisfaction. He turned to Mrs. Gordon.
We had reached the last of the _camerini_.

“You will remember, madame, I was telling you an extraordinary story of
the lost gems of the Beatrice d’Este. It is true that I can not show you
the jewels. Nor the casket that contained the jewels. But if it would
interest you to see the box that contained the casket, behold it!”

He touched lightly with his cane a steel chest that stood on a
consol-table.

“And how are you to prove this?” asked Mrs. Gordon, a little
skeptically.

St. Hilary pointed to the cover. On it was engraved: “_Giovanni da
Sestos fecit, 1525_.”

“A da Sestos made the casket for the jewels!” exclaimed Mrs. Gordon,
glancing at the duke.

“It is a matter of history,” replied St. Hilary.

“Jewels!” cried the duke. “What is this about a da Sestos making a
casket for jewels?”

“I was amusing the ladies this afternoon with the story of the
mysterious disappearance of the D’Este gems. As a matter of fact, they
did not merely disappear, Mrs. Gordon. They were stolen, and stolen, if
the legend be true, from one of his Grace’s ancestors.”

“An ancestor of mine?” cried the duke. “Impossible.”

“He was a marvelous artist and clock-maker,” returned St. Hilary coolly.
“He was the first Venetian of his name to become famous, though I
believe his end was rather tragic.”

“You seem to know a great deal about the affairs of my family, Mr. St.
Hilary. It is strange that I have never heard of this ancestor and his
casket.”

“Not so strange,” replied the dealer, “seeing that nearly five hundred
years have passed since then. As to the casket, it is a curiosity, and a
matter of history. There are few curiosities in the world that escape
the notice of us dealers in antiquities. It is our business to know
about them.”

“Perhaps you will enlighten me as to this strange story,” said the duke.

“Some day,” promised St. Hilary carelessly. “Any day, in fact, that you
have half an hour to smoke a cigar with me at Florian’s.” Then he turned
to old Luigi, who was nervously fumbling with his keys. “Have we seen
everything? All the rooms?”

The old man bowed. “Everything, signore.”

“That door, where does it lead?”

Luigi pressed down the handle and threw it open.

“Good heavens, Mr. St. Hilary!” cried the duke, “are you looking for the
gems you have been romancing about? Surely by this time you have seen
everything.”

The dealer paid little heed to the duke’s remonstrances. He was
fingering the tapestries. The duke turned to the ladies with a gesture
of annoyance.

“Shall we now leave this mad dealer to his own devices? It would please
me very much if both of you would choose some souvenir of our delightful
afternoon. I am reluctant to let the terrible American have everything.
Shall we go to the reception-rooms again? It is there that we shall find
the more interesting pieces of bric-à-brac.”

The duke and the ladies left the sala, old Luigi leading the way. Myself
his Grace had ignored completely.

I turned listlessly to join St. Hilary. To my astonishment he absolutely
disappeared. I walked the full length of the sala, quite mystified; for
I had observed only one exit.

As I stood in a dim corner of the vast apartment one of the tapestries
opposite shook. St. Hilary emerged from behind it. He glanced around the
room an instant, and then, thinking himself unseen, he walked rapidly
into the reception-room after the others.

My curiosity was thoroughly aroused. I lifted the tapestry in my turn
and felt along the wall behind it.

Suddenly this wall gave way to the pressure of my hand. I had pushed
open a door.

I found myself in a narrow chamber, hardly larger than a coat-closet. I
struck a match. But before I could explore the interior, the tapestry
was lifted once more, and Luigi appeared, the lighted candle still in
his hand.

“What is the signore doing in there?” he demanded with an anxiety that
seemed to me rather uncalled for.

“I thought that you had shown all the apartments, Luigi?”

“But his Excellency will be annoyed if he sees you here,” persisted the
old servant.

“Not at all,” said a cold voice, and the duke entered, followed by the
others.

“My dear Richard,” laughed Jacqueline, “this is deliciously mysterious.
So you have actually discovered a hidden chamber?”

“Quite what one might expect in an old Venetian palace,” added Mrs.
Gordon. “Now if you have found Mr. St. Hilary’s jewels, it will be
perfect.”

“I doubt if my friend Hume has wit enough to have made the discovery
that it is nothing but a bare chamber,” cried the dealer, darting at me
a look of intense annoyance.

“Oh, it is no discovery of mine,” I said calmly. “I have merely followed
where St. Hilary led.”

“As a dealer in antiquities I am naturally interested in curiosities,
even in curious chambers.”

“All the same, your knowledge of my palace is rather extraordinary–even
for a dealer in antiquities,” cried the duke.

St. Hilary took the lighted candle from the servant.

“If you were a better Venetian,” he retorted, “and were familiar with
the archives of the Frari, you would know that the Inquisition of Venice
had plans of every palace in the city. I happen to have examined them.
That is all.”

“But your Excellency will observe,” said old Luigi unconcernedly, “that
the room is quite empty.”

“Yes, yes,” agreed the dealer, pushing us gently without.

“No, not quite,” I said, looking at him keenly. “What is this on the
shelf here?”

“A clock!” exclaimed Jacqueline.



                               CHAPTER IV


It stood on a stone shelf built out from the wall as high as one could
reach.

“Tut, tut, a broken-down clock,” cried St. Hilary contemptuously.
“Nothing could be more useless and uninteresting,” and he blew out the
candle.

We trooped into the sala again.

“And now, Duke, having thoroughly explored your house beautiful, even to
the recesses of the hidden and mysterious chamber, I’m quite prepared to
make you an offer at your convenience.”

“There is all the time in the world for that, Mr. St. Hilary,” replied
the duke impatiently. “The ladies have not yet chosen their souvenirs.
What gift will you honor me by accepting?” He turned to Jacqueline.

She hesitated, and looked at Mrs. Gordon.

“My dear Jacqueline,” encouraged her aunt, “I am sure Mr. St. Hilary
will not make his offer much less for anything that you might choose.”

“No,” said the dealer, making figures in his note-book, “I have quite
decided on the sum. Let me recommend to your notice this faience
pitcher. I assure you it is rare. You can see for yourself that it is
beautiful.”

“If it is really of no value in itself,” said Jacqueline, disregarding
St. Hilary’s pitcher, “there is nothing that appeals to me more than
that steel box. Mr. St. Hilary’s story has quite touched my
imagination.”

“It is already yours. And now what will madame choose?”

“Could I examine that decrepit old clock in the hidden room again? I
happen to be making a collection of clocks.”

“Then you can make no mistake about this superb specimen in Sienna
marble,” urged the dealer.

“But, like Jacqueline,” smilingly protested Mrs. Gordon, “I prefer
something that has a touch of mystery about it. And that old clock, shut
up in the darkness there, one knows not how many years, ought to have a
history.”

“But it is so very, very old,” cried old Luigi deprecatingly. “It has
not gone for two hundred years.”

“That hardly makes it less interesting,” I said dryly. “Let us see the
clock by all means.” The reluctance of both St. Hilary and Luigi had
struck me as being rather strange.

“Your Excellency surely does not mean to give it away? It is an heirloom
of the family,” expostulated old Luigi obstinately.

“I have told you to bring it out,” commanded the duke.

Very reluctantly the old man entered the little chamber.

“It is too heavy,” he cried from within. “I can not lift it.”

Duke da Sestos and myself went to his assistance. Together we carried it
to the sala and placed it on the center-table. The slight jar set a
number of bells ringing in musical confusion.

Certainly it was unique–at least I had never seen anything like it.

Imagine an oblong box of bronze, about as long as one’s arm, and
three-quarters as high. Around three sides of this box ran a little
platform, heavily gilded. Immediately above this platform were twelve
doors, three at either end, and six at the face. It was almost bare of
ornament, except that on the top had been three figures. The heads and
arms of all three were now broken off.

“Its very simplicity and ugliness interest one,” cried Mrs. Gordon with
enthusiasm. “And those twelve doors certainly mean that it is an
automaton, do they not, Mr. St. Hilary? One can imagine the stiff little
figures that appear, each at its hour, and at their respective
doors–kings with their crowns of gold, ginger-bread Virgins, prelates
with their miters, and armored knights. Each figure in its hour does its
devoirs, I suppose, and disappears again.”

“At every shake of the table,” said Jacqueline, “its bells clang
angrily. You might think it was offended at being disturbed after its
long sleep of two hundred years.”

“Yes,” confessed the duke, looking at the clock thoughtfully, “it awakes
a fantastic note that will strike in the fancy of the most dull. Think
what stories of love and intrigue it has listened to! What deeds of
revenge and hate it has looked down upon! At what hours of agony and
ecstasy have those bells not chimed? What death-knells to hopes, what
peals of love and happiness!”

Jacqueline had been turning the clock slowly around. Suddenly she sank
on her knees to examine it more closely, and read aloud:

 Se mi guardi con cura,
 Se mi ascolti con attenzione,
 E se, nell’ intendermi, tu Sei cosi acorto com’ io lo sono nel dirti–
 T’ arridera la Fortuna.

“Will you translate it for me, please?”

“‘If you guard me carefully, if you listen to me diligently, if you are
as clever in understanding me as I am in telling you, Fortune will smile
on you,’” translated the duke.

“The delicious braggart!” cried Mrs. Gordon delightedly. “Now what do
you think that brave promise means, Mr. St. Hilary?”

“Pooh, pooh, madame! It promises too much to mean anything. ‘Early to
bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise.’ ‘Time
is money’–there are a score of proverbs as vague and as meaningless.”

“Oh, but you mustn’t cast any aspersions on my dear clock. Perhaps Luigi
can read the riddle more cleverly. Do you know if there is any legend
connected with the clock?”

The old man hesitated.

“Come, come, speak up,” said the duke roughly.

“Ah, yes, your Excellency,” replied the old man. “But I implore you not
to sell or give away the clock. You will always regret it. Good luck
goes with the clock, your Excellency.”

“But the motto,” urged Mrs. Gordon. “Has it any meaning?”

“Yes, yes, signora. It means that each hour brings its own gift, if one
can only understand. One may never suffer, not hunger nor cold, not
poverty nor disappointment, if one can only read the secret of each
hour. For at every hour something wonderful is told. And the clock is a
charm against the Evil One. My father told me, and his father told him.
Yes; we have guarded it carefully in that quiet room. It has stood there
as long as I can remember. And now your Excellency will give it away!
Misfortune will come; I know it.”

“Be still, imbecile. Madame, shall I have the clock taken to my launch
for you?”

“Oh, don’t deprive the old man of his charm against the evil eye, aunt,”
said Jacqueline lightly, half pitying, half mocking the old servant’s
distress.

“I would remind Miss Quintard that it is I who am deprived of the charm,
if there is any, and not Luigi,” laughed the duke.

“I would be the last one to bring you ill fortune,” jested Mrs. Gordon.
Then very slowly, “But I intend to bring you good fortune, not to take
it away from you.”

“I am hoping precisely for that,” said the duke gravely, and looked at
Jacqueline.

Jacqueline was still kneeling before the clock.

“How I should like to know what you really mean, foolish legend,” she
said wistfully.

I leaned on the table and stooped toward her.

“If one were to run down that legend, it would require patience and
perseverance enough to satisfy even you, would it not, Jacqueline?” I
asked lightly.

She smiled, but seeing that I was half in earnest, became serious.

“Yes,” she said slowly, “I believe it would.”

“Then, Jacqueline, when I begin my legends of Venice, shall I take up
first the legend of this old clock?”

“Do,” she said carelessly. “Aunt would thank you, I know.”

I walked over to the window, and looked gloomily without. I had hoped
Jacqueline was in earnest when she suggested that I should write a book
on the legends of Venice. But now that I wished to take her desire
seriously, she was evidently inclined to laugh at me.

“Will you clap your hands for the servant in my launch to come up?”
asked the duke. “I wish him to carry the clock down for Mrs. Gordon.”

“One moment, please,” said St. Hilary. “I am collector enough to
understand Mrs. Gordon’s enthusiasm. But being a dealer as well as a
collector, I cannot allow this enthusiasm to interfere with my
pocket-book. I know, Mrs. Gordon, you would never forgive me if I did
not say that my sneers at the value of the clock were the pretense of
the dealer who depreciates a thing that he may get it the cheaper. The
clock, madame, is a valuable antique. The value of the things in this
palace will be lowered considerably if it is not included in its
contents.”

There was an awkward pause. The duke reddened with anger.

“In that case,” said Mrs. Gordon, greatly embarrassed, “I could not
dream, of course––”

“Mr. St. Hilary,” said the duke coldly, “the clock is not for sale to
you at any price. Madame, you will not offend me by refusing?”

Mrs. Gordon gazed at her niece in perplexity.

“You would find it rather difficult to carry it about with you in
Europe,” said Jacqueline lamely.

“Yes, I am afraid I should,” declared Mrs. Gordon with alacrity.

“If you will entrust the task to me, I shall be charmed to have it
packed and sent to America for you,” volunteered St. Hilary. He seemed
eager to atone for his ill-timed remarks of a moment before.

“But Mr. Hume tells me he is going to write a book on the legends of
Venice,” interrupted Jacqueline. “A moment ago, aunt, he suggested that
he might be able to discover one about this very clock, and I encouraged
him to try. Why not let Mr. Hume take care of it during our travels?”

I professed my willingness joyfully, and though it was evident that
neither the duke nor St. Hilary welcomed Jacqueline’s suggestion, the
clock was soon placed in a gondola I summoned.

To its chimes the fortunes of da Sestos and myself were to dance
merrily.



                               CHAPTER V


The day following I was strangely depressed. I had run the gantlet of
hope and doubt. Jacqueline’s various moods had baffled me. And the
duke–frankly, I feared him. Jacqueline had so obviously admired him. He
stood for the very qualities that I lacked. The glamour of his name, the
luxurious environment he scorned so vigorously, his verve, and, above
all, his alliance with Mrs. Gordon, made him a formidable rival. For
that Mrs. Gordon, in some subtle way, had already come to a vague
understanding with him, I did not doubt.

Two letters were on the tray that brought in my morning coffee. One from
Jacqueline; the other from her brother. They called to me in quite
different directions. Jacqueline to her side; the brother to his
assistance in Rome. The young fool was in trouble–trouble serious enough
to demand the assistance of one who had influence with the authorities.
I happened to fill that position. I must go to his aid.

In Jacqueline’s letter I fancied I read a tenderness that was altogether
new and delightful. It was no longer the reserved Jacqueline that spoke.
There was a delightful shyness, but through the shyness spoke the woman
who dared to be bold for the man she loved.

She wished me to call at once. We would discuss the book together. And
she had invited St. Hilary and myself to dinner that evening. After I
had left them yesterday he had hinted at a wonderful story about the old
clock. She would make him talk. I should have copy for one of my legends
at least.

But I could not hesitate as to my destination. For, in assisting her
brother, I would be doing Jacqueline a favor. Unfortunately, I could not
tell her why I had to leave Venice so peremptorily. Neither she nor her
aunt must know that the youngster had made an ass of himself. I wrote
her merely that an affair of importance had called me to Rome. I caught
the first train south.

Ten days passed before I sniffed once more the pungent odor of the
lagoons. There had been complications and delays; and in his remorse the
boy had had a touch of Roman fever. I could not leave him like that.

A letter from Jacqueline awaited me. It had arrived only a day or two
before. Her annoyance at my sudden flight from Venice was obvious.

She regretted my absence at her dinner, but I had not missed much. St.
Hilary had refused to talk. Perhaps there was really no legend, after
all. And, indeed, when one came to think over the matter calmly, was it
worth while attempting to discover one? And was I really interested in
writing the book–that is, for its own sake? I ought to be well assured
of that. She was afraid she would not see me again for the present. They
were to leave almost immediately for Bellagio.

I walked over to my window. I was bitterly hurt and disappointed.

Venice was storm-swept. The Giudecca, deserted, was lashed by wind and
rain. The ships, moored near the Salute, tossed and swayed at their
anchors. The goddess over the customs-house spun about on her golden
ball and vainly tried to shield herself behind her flimsy veil.

The brightness and glory of Venice had vanished as in a dream. The
palaces, ivory and gold in the sunlight, looked sodden and decayed in
the gloom, like an old woman deprived of her rouge-pot and powder.
Venice, in short, was a painting, a masterpiece, if you wish, which the
mischievous fist of some mawkish infant had smeared and smudged. The
pigeons, the cafés, the gondolas–they are the creatures of the sun.
To-day the pigeons were huddled under the Dome of the Salute; the cafés
deserted; the gondolas covered with tarpaulin.

But as I looked, a gondola, rowed by two oarsmen, emerged from the rain
and fog. It was headed directly for the landing outside my windows. It
touched the steps. The old _gransieri_, shivering in an archway,
pattered across the quay with his hook. The passenger leaped ashore. It
was St. Hilary. And in this weather!

I drew the portière. I walked over to the mantel and felt for a match to
light the gas, for it was growing late. As I struck it, half a dozen
visiting-cards caught my eye–eight, to be quite precise. One of the
eight was that of the Duke da Sestos. What humble attraction had I for
the noble gentleman? The seven others bore the name of St. Hilary. Seven
calls in ten days! I looked at them thoughtfully. And then–why, I have
no idea–I thought of the mysterious clock that Mrs. Gordon had entrusted
to my care, and that I had left with a jeweler on the Piazza to see if
it was quite beyond repair. It would be just as well to say nothing of
that to the dealer. I was curious to know precisely the fascination that
the old timepiece had for him.

“I was longing for some one to talk to. Just returned from a little trip
to Rome. What’s the news?”

“Oh, I have just dropped in for a smoke. Where’s your whisky? I am
drenched through. The felsa of that confounded gondola leaked.”

I caught the swift glance that took in every detail of my room. I waved
my hand to the side-board.

“Help yourself. I’ll join you presently, when I have slipped into a
bath-robe. You’ll find the cigarettes by the whisky.”

I stepped into my room. I heard the fizz of the siphon. I caught the
fumes of his cigarette. I heard the creak of a wicker-chair as he threw
himself into it. Then there was silence. I was about to rejoin him, when
I happened to look into my mirror. St. Hilary was reflected in it, and
he was opening a coat-closet.

I whistled noisily, and put my eye to a crack in the door. He was
looking into a cabinet. Then he pulled aside the portière that hid the
deep recess of the window. Another puzzled glance about the room, and he
sank noiselessly into the chair. It was not difficult to put two and two
together. He was looking for Mrs. Gordon’s clock. Well, he should
satisfy himself thoroughly that it was not on my premises. Then I would
wait for his next move. I entered my sitting-room, still whistling.

“Just a word to my man, and I’m ready for our smoke,” I said, and went
into the sala. I banged the door after me, but took pains to leave it
carefully ajar.

It was as I thought. He promptly slipped into my bedroom. I waited
considerately for him to resume his seat before joining him.

“Well, indefatigable peerer and pryer for the rare and odd, what is the
news of the past ten days?” I asked, reaching for the Scotch.

I knew he was watching me closely. The nouns were a trifle suggestive.

“No news so far as I know. I have been buried in the palazzo of the
duke, making an inventory of things. Interesting old palace, eh?”

I nodded, and blew a cloud of cigarette-smoke into the air.

“Nice chap, the duke.”

I nodded again.

“Extremely gallant to the ladies.”

Again I nodded, but without much enthusiasm.

“Rather pretty compliment, his giving them those souvenirs.”

“No one but an Italian would have thought of it.”

“But I must say I was disgusted at the poor taste of the ladies.”

“Why so?”

“My dear fellow, did you observe that bowl of majolica? Or that superb
cloisonné Kioto vase? With carved ivories galore and a plaque of della
Robbia to choose from, and to pick out a silly timepiece.”

“Ah, yes,” I remarked dryly, “you had an eye on that clock yourself,
hadn’t you?”

“Tut, tut, I have an eye on everything that is useless and odd. By the
way, she asked you to keep it for her. I should like to have a look at
it. Trot it out, my boy.”

I gazed into St. Hilary’s innocent blue eyes, and laughed quietly. “The
other day, in Rome,” I said slowly, “I met on the street a certain
Captain Villari. He’s as poor as the proverbial mouse, and an
acquaintance. He asked me to go to the opera with him, I did not refuse,
though the invitation, coming from him, surprised me. And the inevitable
happened, of course. At the very box-office, he discovered with cries of
consternation that he had left all his money in his other uniform. Might
he dare, would I think it too presuming, if he asked me for the loan of
ten lire until to-morrow?

“I assured him with all the warmth in the world that it would be a
privilege, I put my hand in my pocket to oblige him. _Accidenti!_ Was
there ever such devilish luck! I had left my money in my morning
clothes!

“We looked at each other half a minute; then we embraced with laughter.
It was such an odd coincidence. And so we went our separate ways, quite
good-naturedly. He knew I was lying. I knew he had been lying. What do
you think of my story?”

“What has that story to do with an old timepiece?” he blustered.

I leaned forward and tapped him on the knee.

“Only this, my crafty dealer in antiquities. You, as well as my captain,
are too crafty by half. You know the timepiece is not in these rooms,
just as well as I do myself.”

“I don’t understand you,” he fumed.

“No? Then what were you looking for a minute or two ago? In that
cabinet, behind the portière there? By Jove, you had the impertinence to
lift the cover of my trunk in the bedroom.”

If I had expected him to show shame or confusion, I was much mistaken.
He stared at me a moment. Then he threw back his head and laughed.

“It wasn’t nice of me, I confess,” he said coolly. “I should have acted
with my customary frankness, and have asked to see it first.”

“I think it would have been the better way. As to this customary
frankness of yours, you guard that virtue so closely that I am a
stranger to it.”

“Very well, I’ll give you an instance of it. Now that my cards are on
the table, what have you done with the clock?”

“Is that what you call being frank? I fail to see those cards of yours
on the table even now. Play fair, St. Hilary.”

“I don’t understand you,” he said, and his neck took on a purple tinge.

“You understand me perfectly. Just as my captain did. And I have both
eyes and ears. Let me remind you, in the first place, you were perfectly
well aware that the clock was in the palace. You looked for it
deliberately, but slyly. When I was curious in my turn, you were hardly
pleased. You pooh-poohed the chamber. You made fun of the clock. You
blew out the candle promptly that no one might examine it. When Mrs.
Gordon insisted on doing so, you vainly attempted to divert her
interest. As a last resort, you tried to make it impossible for her to
accept it by asserting that it was an antique of great value. Don’t you
think that was in extremely bad taste?”

“My dear fellow, desperate cases require desperate remedies.”

“Ah, then you confess that you were even desperately anxious to have the
clock? Why should you deny it? There is nothing to be ashamed of. Your
eight calls have made me quite certain of that, and the fact that you
played the spy, looking into my trunk just now.”

St. Hilary laughed, a little too boisterously.

“Good, good!” he cried. “I confess I didn’t credit my dear dilettante
with quite so observing an eye. And if I were to confess that this old
clock interests me beyond belief, why should you not satisfy my
curiosity? Have you any interest in it? An interest that conflicts with
mine, for instance?” and he looked at me curiously.

“It is quite possible,” I answered calmly.

“And this interest really conflicts with mine?”

“Why not?” I answered, smiling at him.

“Then I see no reason why I should not go my way and you yours.” He
picked up his hat in high dudgeon and walked toward the door.

“Nor do I,” I answered, reaching for a cigar. “However, let me remind
you that I still have the clock.”

It may seem strange and unreasonable that I should have assumed so
cautious a tone with the dealer. My interest in the clock was simply
that I wished to write up the legend connected with it, if legend there
was. But I browbeat him to punish him. He had not come to me frankly and
openly. He had spied on me and he had lied to me. The penalty for that
must be a full confession as to why he attached such tremendous
importance to this clock.

He stood at the door. His eyes devoured my face with that same searching
glance that had so startled me on the Piazza a few days before.

“Trust me, St. Hilary,” I said very quietly. “I am not a man to betray a
confidence–certainly not the confidence of a friend like you. And it is
barely possible I may help you.”

“I have thought that, too,” he said, and hesitated.

“Then why not?”

“Because you are too much of the dilettante, the dreamer,” he said
angrily. “Bah, I need a man like the Duke da Sestos–a man that has grit
and resource–who can even be unscrupulous on occasion–yes, look into a
friend’s trunk and not feel too squeamish. I do need help; but could you
go to extreme ends with me patiently and relentlessly? You hardly fill
the bill, Hume.”

He had quoted almost Jacqueline’s words. He could have said nothing that
would have touched me so deeply. I answered him impetuously:

“St. Hilary, do you forget that it was you who made me a dreamer? It is
you who first preached to me impossible ideals of beauty and art. And
when I failed to reach those ideals, you laughed at me; you consoled me
with sneers. If I had not a soul to appreciate art and beauty, there was
still the sensuous Venice for me to enjoy. And so, month by month, I
have sunk into the slough of materialism, until, at last, it is almost
too late for me to shake myself free. First, the woman I love flaunts at
the dilettante, and then it is my friend.”

He stared at me; then, rising, he walked over to where I sat and put his
hand on my shoulder.

“What do you mean–that the woman you love has flaunted you?”

I told him quite simply. He passed his hand across his forehead.

“My dear, dear Hume,” he said affectionately, “forgive me. Love is a
thing dead and past for me. I am in the sere leaf and brown. I had
forgotten that love might come into your life. So your interest in the
clock, after all, is simply that you wish to write a legend about it?”

“Yes.”

“Listen to me. Hume. I have a quest that demands patience, courage,
faith, a will that is relentless. If I shared it with you, could you
bring to it these qualities?”

“Try me,” I said firmly. “If it is a task that demands action, and if it
concerns this clock, I am with you heart and soul.”

“It does concern the clock. But it is a hundred-to-one shot, with the
odds all against us. If you fail, at least you will have your legend. If
you succeed, you will share equally with myself. I have needed one for
this quest in whose honesty I could have absolute faith. I have thought
of you, but only to mistrust you. If I trust you now, will you follow
where I shall lead?”

“Try me,” I said again.



                               CHAPTER VI


He unbuttoned his frock-coat (I had never seen him wear any garment less
formal) and took out of it a slender little volume in vellum covers. He
passed it to me in silence. I opened it. It was a manuscript copy,
roughly stitched together. I recognized the handwriting as that of St.
Hilary.

“Well?” I asked curiously, returning it to him.

“This is a crude translation of certain passages in the Diary of Marius
Sanudo, a Venetian who lived about the beginning of the sixteenth
century. I made this translation in the Royal Library at Vienna the
other day. The Diary is one of the rarest books in the world. You are
wide enough awake to listen to it for an hour or two?”

“It concerns the clock?”

“It concerns the casket and the clock. You may imagine these extracts as
being divided into two chapters. Chapter I–concerning the jewels and the
casket; Chapter II–the clock. My remarks may be supposed to constitute a
third chapter. You have heard of Beatrice d’Este, the Duchess of Milan
and wife of Ludovico the Moor?”

“Practically only what you have told me about her. I know she lived
during the latter part of the fifteenth century.”

“Then I suppose you have never seen her portrait, attributed to Leonardo
da Vinci. It hangs in the Ambrosiana Library at Milan, the second room
to the left as you enter; and I assure you that it is well worth a
little pilgrimage to Milan to see. It is a profile of extraordinary
charm–a young girl of eighteen. It is difficult to imagine this adorable
child–for she was only twenty-two when she died–as an ambassadress to
the most powerful court in Europe.

“Her husband, Ludovico, toward the last part of his reign, was hard
pressed by his foes. After intrigues with two kings and a pope, he found
himself caught in the web of his own treachery. He needed money to pay
his allies. But his wonderful Sala del Tesoro, with its oak chest of
gold and plate, was empty. Only the jewels were left. I have already
told you that this collection has never since been equaled in artistic
value.

“Now, if you are familiar with the financial methods of these princes of
the Renaissance, you will know that in times of stress they resorted to
the rather vulgar expedient of simply putting their jewels in pawn.

“Beatrice had conducted these delicate little transactions at Venice for
her husband more than once. But now, before she had recourse to this
last desperate expedient, she was to plead before the Signory, as his
ambassadress, for help both of money and men. If the Signory refused to
help Ludovico, her husband, she was to appeal to the Doge; for the old
man had already shown the utmost regard for this high-spirited young
duchess. If, however, both Doge and Signory failed her, she was to pawn
the jewels with Albani, the richest goldsmith in Venice.

“With this introduction, I will read you the first extract from the
Diary of Messer Sanudo:

“‘Of all the cities of the world, Venice is the one where the greatest
honor is paid to strangers. But never was lord or lady received with
greater joy by the Signory in council. The Doge himself conducted her to
the seat of honor, and all eyes were turned to her in admiration at her
divine beauty. She wore a gold brocade embroidered with crimson doves,
with a jeweled feather in her cap, and a rope of pearls and diamonds
around her neck, to which the priceless ruby, the most glorious stone, I
think, man has ever seen, called El Spigo, is fastened as pendant.

“‘All were amazed at the words of wisdom and eloquence that fell from
her childish lips. She set forth her love for Venice, and piteously
implored our help against Milan’s foes. If it were not possible for us
to furnish men, at least let her not return quite empty of hand to her
dear lord; for she would rather die than cause him such grief and
despair.

“‘The Signory and Doge listened to her courteously. When she had ended,
the Doge rose and thanked her graciously for the words she had spoken.
He declared that nothing would give the Signory greater joy than to do
all she had asked. But he reminded her that at this time Venice was
herself at war with Genoa, her hereditary foe. Her own treasury was
empty. There was hardly to be found in all Venice a noble or plebeian
who had not loaned to the state money out of his private fortune. When
he had said this, he descended from his dais again, and gently taking
her by the hand, so led her without, the Signory being moved to
admiration at her dignity and grace.’”

“And of course they denied her petition, since they were Venetians?”

“That goes without saying. Have I not said that the jewels remain in
Venice to this day? At least the more glorious part of them.”

“I am impatient to hear of them.”

St. Hilary again read from the Diary of Sanudo:

“‘This day the duchess went in state to see the treasure of San Marco.
As the bucentaur, containing the Doge and one hundred and fifty of her
company, entered the Canale Grande, the duchess confessed that never
before had she beheld the like. From the windows and the balconies, hung
with the richest tapestries, noble ladies, glittering with gold chains
and gems, looked down on the sumptuous scene. It was the finest sight of
the whole world. And when they landed at the Molo, they could hardly
force their way through the press, though the Doge himself walked in
front of them. Every one turned to look at the magnificent jewels on the
duchess. On every side I heard, “This is the wife of Signor Ludovico.
Look what fine jewels she wears! What splendid diamonds and rubies!” And
indeed every part of her vest whereon was embroidered the two towers of
the port of Genoa was covered with them.

“‘And when they came out of the treasure-house, I myself heard the Doge
say, “It is but a poor sight for you, dear lady, seeing that the jewels
which adorn you are as many and beautiful as those we guard so
carefully.” (Words that had better have been left unsaid, for such light
words bring into discredit the glories of our Venice.)

“‘The duchess answered boastingly (and who indeed could blame her,
seeing that the Doge should not have said what he did?), “Do these poor
stones please your Excellency? To-morrow I shall show you some gems that
are indeed wonderful.”

“‘And the Doge said sorrowfully, “I shall await to-morrow with the
greatest eagerness in the world.”’”

St. Hilary laid the book face downward on his knees.

“Now, it is a matter of record, Hume, that she did show the stones to
the Doge. Whether he fell under the glamour of their beauty, or the
charm and witchery of the lovely ambassadress, does not concern us. What
does concern us is the fact that the jewels were not locked up in the
strong-box of Albani the Jew, but of the Doge.”

“And the gems were never redeemed?” I interrupted.

“Never. Beatrice returned from her mission only to die a few months
later. Ludovico was taken captive by Louis of France, who dragged him to
Lyons, where, like a wild beast, he perished miserably in an iron cage.

“The next extract that I shall read from the Diary of Sanudo is two
years later. During these two years his pages are full of the troubles
Venice was caused by her enemy Genoa, and the straits to which she was
put to raise funds. Every citizen, we read, contributed his dole,
however humble. Except the Doge. Sanudo refers again and again to the
increasing distrust at this strange negligence on the part of the chief
officer of the state. But we know that his fortune was completely tied
up in the jewels.”

“But why did he not pawn the jewels?” I interrupted. “He must have known
that Beatrice was dead. They could never be redeemed.”

“Ah, that’s a pertinent question. Let our Diarist answer it for you.
This answer, I assure you, will be of interest:

“‘This day, the fourteenth of November, in the year of our blessed Lord
fourteen hundred and ninety-nine, I have heard that which is more
incredible than the travels of Messer Marco Polo to the great Mogul of
Tartary. Scarce an hour has passed that I was told it by one of the
Signory himself; and I hasten to write it down, lest any of its wonders
escape me.

“‘All Venice knows that though our Doge is the richest in the state, yet
he alone hath contributed to the treasury no proportion of the greatness
of his fortune. So that to-day, when one after another in the Signory
bemoaned the lack of money, and the Doge sat silent and neither made
excuse nor offered aid, murmurs of discontent and suspicion arose louder
than any that have yet been heard. At first the Doge smiled bravely and
affected to listen as heretofore. But there were those who saw him
tremble for very fear. And presently, one bolder than the rest, charged
the Doge to his face with treachery, in thus hiding his wealth in the
time of the state’s direst need. Still the Doge kept silence, until
murmurs and shouts arose on all sides. Then he arose, half dead for
fear, and declared that he would explain all. And this is the manner of
his speaking:

“‘“My lords of the Signory, I beseech you to have patience and listen to
me; for that I am indeed the most unfortunate of men you will see when I
have done speaking. The whole of my wealth did I loan to Ludovico the
Moor, at the entreaty of his wife, when last she visited this state two
years ago. She promised that she would redeem the gems before a year was
passed. But you, lords, know how she hath died and her husband Ludovico
lies imprisoned.

“‘“My lords, I had for the duchess the tenderness of a father for a
beloved daughter, and thinking that I would give her pleasure, when she
should come again to redeem her jewels, I hired Giovanni da Sestos, the
goldsmith, whose renown as an artist you all know, to make a casket for
the gems that should be as beautiful as the very gems themselves.

“‘“It was to be so small that it could be carried about. Yet it was to
be so strong that the most skilful thief would be baffled to break it
open. For when it was once closed, certain springs ingeniously contrived
by clockwork made it impossible even for the man who possessed the
casket to open it till a day of twelve hours should have passed.

“‘“I had made promise to Messer Giovanni that he should receive three
payments for his task. Two payments I made to him; one, when he
undertook the work; another, that he might buy the gems with which the
cover was to be richly adorned. The third payment I promised to make
when the casket should be given into my hands.

“‘“But hardly had Giovanni finished his task when Beatrice died. And, my
lords of the Signory, knowing now that the jewels could never be
redeemed, seeing that Ludovico is in prison and his wife dead, I vowed
that I would now pawn them to Albani the Jew, that I might at last help
the state in her need.

“‘“But when Giovanni wrote to me to say that the casket, which he had at
last completed, was more beautiful than anything like it since the
beginning of the world, I longed greatly to see the jewels in the
glorious box before they should be out of my possession forever. And now
see how the heavy hand of God hath punished me for my weakness.

“‘“For I had written to Giovanni to bring to me the casket alone and at
night. (For I did not wish that any should know that I possessed the
gems till I had pawned them and until the money should be paid into the
treasury of the state.) I bade him come at the hour of twelve to my
bed-chamber. I told him I should receive him alone. I would let him in
by a secret stairway.

“‘“And so, when all Venice slept, I admitted him to my room, where there
was none other than myself, except the guard.

“‘“My lords of the Signory, never did I dream of anything so rare and
beautiful as that casket. It seemed to me that I should die for very
desire of it. And at last I thought of a cunning plan. Giovanni himself
fell guilelessly in with this plan. For he was eager to see whether the
gems would fit the little pockets that he had made for each of the more
costly. And so we placed the gems in the pocket of the casket, and then,
as if by chance, I closed the cover, which could not be opened for a
whole day of twelve hours. And now, I thought, Giovanni must leave both
casket and gems; for I had intended to put him off with smooth promises,
saying that it was late, and that on the morrow he should have his third
payment of money.

“‘“But Giovanni clasped the casket in both his hands and swore he would
not leave it with me until I should have paid him every ducat I owed
him. But the man’s anger was without reason, for he knew I could not pay
him the money that he asked until I had first pawned the jewels. And
presently, when I attempted to soothe him, he became as violent as a
wild beast. (And indeed the goldsmith da Sestos, though a great artist,
was always, I verily believe, half mad.) The guard at last became afraid
for my life. For Giovanni swore that I had entrapped him, and
obstinately refused to leave the palace until I should have paid him
all.

“‘“Seeing now that nothing would move him to reason, I made pretense
that I could fetch from the treasury the money he demanded; and leaving
the guard in my bed-chamber to keep watch on the treasure, I left my
room. But I was careful to draw the bolts after me, so that it was
impossible that he should escape with the casket.

“‘“And indeed it was my purpose to call the soldiers of the guard who
kept watch at the foot of the secret stairway, so that the insolent
fellow might be thrust without the palace, for he had angered me
greatly. I was without the chamber but a few moments, but when I
returned with the guard and the doors were unbolted, a scene of horror
met my eyes.

“‘“The guard lay dead with a dagger in his breast. Giovanni writhed on
the floor in an agony of pain, grievously wounded, though not unto
death. And the casket was gone.

“‘“My lords of the Signory, you will ask how the casket was gone, seeing
that the door had been locked and the two men were both in my
bed-chamber. But the window, looking out on the court of the Ducal
Palace, was open. From the balcony hung a rope strong enough to bear the
weight of a man.

“‘“It was many days before Giovanni came to his senses. Then he told how
two men had been hid in the balcony. No sooner had I gone from the
chamber than they had set on him and the guard. He accused me of hiding
the men in the balcony. (I much wonder that I did not think of it. But,
to my cost, I did not, and it is a man deprived of wealth and honor that
speaks to you this day.)”

“‘The Signory heard the confession of the Doge for the most part in
silence (though some there were that jeered). When he had finished, he
who had first accused the Doge of treachery demanded what proof the
senate might have of this fable, seeing that no doubt the Doge had
caused the death of Giovanni. (And, indeed, it had been a great mystery,
his disappearance.)

“‘At that the Doge made a sign, and one fetched Giovanni from the leads
where he had been languishing since the stealing of the gems. But
Giovanni protested with tears that far from being guilty himself, it was
the Doge who had caused the gems to be taken, and nothing could shake
him from this belief. So that at last there were many of the Signory who
inclined to it. And presently, when they had questioned him closely,
they decreed, partly because certain ones believed him innocent of all
evil-doing, and partly because he was so incomparable an artist, that he
should no longer be held a prisoner under the _piombi_ of the Ducal
Palace, but should return to his own house. But lest by any chance he
had been guilty of the loss of the gems, he was there to be held a
prisoner; and guards were appointed to have charge over him day and
night.

“‘This is the truly miraculous story of the jewels of the Doge; but few
in Venice believe it. For what goldsmith could not be bribed to swear to
such a story? And as for the Doge, it would seem that the state could
find one better fitted to wear the cap and ermine robe.’”

“And that is chapter one?” I asked, taking a long breath.

“That is chapter one,” echoed St. Hilary.



                              CHAPTER VII


“Shall we now proceed to chapter two?” he asked presently. “May I assume
that I have awakened your interest?”

“You may certainly assume that.” I smiled at his smug assurance.

“The next extract, then, from our Diarist is two years later, December,
1501, to be precise. In the meanwhile, it seems the Doge had regained
the confidence of the republic. At any rate he had evidently not been
removed from office.

“‘This day was erected a tablet in the Frari to Giovanni da Sestos, who
died some six weeks since. He was an incomparable artist in gold and
precious stones, the greatest that Venice has known, but famous even
beyond his just merits as an artist by reason of the mystery of the
wonderful casket and the more wonderful gems. And people are saying
(though I myself have not seen it) that he hath left a clock that is a
greater marvel than the lost casket itself, which only the jeweler and
his son (beside the Doge) set eyes on before it was stolen. And certain
ones who have seen this clock (before it was broken) declare that the
clock of our Piazza, though infinitely larger, is but a puerile thing
compared to it.

“‘When first imprisoned in his own house, Giovanni utterly despaired,
for he was watched by spies day and night, and none might converse with
him without their being present. For days he did not move, but sat moody
and sullen, gazing at nothing with his terrible, burning eyes.

“‘So he lived for many weeks. Then one day he leaped to his feet and
shouted aloud for his tools. Though his adored casket had been stolen
from him, he swore he would make something more marvelous than that
before death came on him. And because he was so great an artist, not
even the Doge dared to deprive Venice of any wonder that he might make,
though he had sworn that Giovanni should never again breathe the fresh
air of the Piazza. So they gave to him his tools, and for certain hours
during the day his son was permitted to aid him, since he suffered no
other to enter his workshop. Two years the father and son labored at
this clock until it was quite finished.

“‘And when it was finished, Giovanni sent his son to that Doge who had
caused him to make the casket and had since imprisoned him, beseeching
him to come to him with all haste, for he had somewhat to say to him,
and to show him. The Doge went straightway to his house. For he thought
he was to hear some confession as to the missing casket, since he
believed steadfastly that it was the goldsmith who had caused it to be
stolen, and no other.

“‘Giovanni met him with all ceremony, and, taking him courteously by the
hand, led him to his workshop, where stood the wonderful clock.

“‘When the Doge saw this clock he was filled with anger, for the three
bronze figures reclining about the face of the clock were hideous images
of Giovanni’s most bitter foes. Two of them were a rival goldsmith and
the jailer who had fed him when he was a prisoner in the _piombi_. But
the third and most hideous of all was the Doge himself, such a miracle
of ugliness and horror that to look on it would make a man shudder. But
because he wished to hear what Giovanni had to say, the Doge spoke
Giovanni fair, and declared himself delighted with his ingenuity. For
they say (though, as I have written before, neither have I seen the
clock nor have I known any that have) that at every hour a door opened,
and some story out of the history of Venice was acted.

“‘And as each hour went by the Doge became wearied of watching the
antics of the clock as the hours struck. But Giovanni compelled him to
be patient and besought him to see the antics of the figures of all of
the twelve hours. Between each hour the Doge kept inquiring of the
goldsmith if he had anything to tell him. And each time that the
question was asked the goldsmith laughed boisterously, and said, “Though
I did tell thee, thou hast not ears to hear.” This answer he made
several times, till at last the Doge, seeing at last that he was being
ridiculed, arose in anger and cried: “For the last time, Messer
Giovanni, hast thou anything to say to me?” And still the goldsmith
answered with jeers, “Though I told thee, thou hast not ears to hear,”
and would say no more.

“‘Then, because he had been answered in this rude fashion many times,
the Doge could no longer restrain his passion. He lifted his staff, and
furiously smote off the three figures of the clock, and in doing so the
clock fell violently to the earth, and it was broken in its insides, and
never more will it strike hour, so at least I am told.

“‘When Giovanni saw that his marvelous clock was broken, he raved like a
madman, and spat on the Doge, and belabored him with his fists so that
he was compelled to take flight from the house. And as he fled, the
goldsmith called after him very bitterly: “Did I not say thou wert a
fool? For, though the casket were lost, did I not make a greater marvel?
But thou canst not understand its divine beauty and wonder. And now, by
my oath, though I knew the secret place of the casket, yet shouldst thou
never know, seeing that thou hast broken my clock.”

“‘As soon as the Doge reached the Ducal Palace, he bade the captain of
the inquisitorial guard fetch Giovanni. He determined that he would once
more put him to extremest tortures, for he remembered the words: “And
now, by my oath, though I knew the secret place of the casket, yet
shouldst thou never know.” But when they reached the house of Giovanni
they found both his son and himself lying dead, side by side, and by the
look of their faces they saw that they had taken poison. And now the
mystery of the casket will never be known. As for the clock, it is said
that it had an evil spirit, and no man cares whether the Inquisition
hath destroyed it or hidden it.’”

St. Hilary closed the slim little book and gently laid it on the table.
During the latter part of his recital I had risen from my seat and was
walking about the room. Now I sat at the table opposite him, my hands
stretched out limply before me. I stared at him as the Guest must have
stared at the Ancient Mariner. For the Mariner’s story was of things
that were past and done with. St. Hilary’s story was of things to come.

When I spoke, it was almost in a whisper, as if I were saying something
too extravagant to be spoken out loud.

“Then you believe, St. Hilary, that the clock holds the secret? You
believe that if you could discover the secret you would have a clue to
the D’Este jewels? I see. Da Sestos was the thief, and when he saw that
he was never to feast his eyes on the glorious fruit of his rascality,
when he knew he was being watched night and day, he sank into the apathy
of despair, until–until––”

I raised both my arms and stretched them out as if I were groping for
something.

“Until?” repeated St. Hilary mockingly.

“Before heaven, St. Hilary,” I cried, laughing loudly, “are you and I
the two maddest men in Venice this evening?”

“On the contrary,” he answered carelessly, flicking the ash of his
cigarette daintily, “I begin to think I have made no mistake in choosing
you for my companion. But the facts first. You are ready for chapter
three?”

“Your own theories about this extraordinary mystery? Yes, yes.”

The little man threw himself back in my armchair, a smirk of
satisfaction on his wizened face. There was something of the actor about
St. Hilary; he loved an appreciative audience, and he was determined to
make the most of the present one.



                              CHAPTER VIII


“Did you see the London Times of–let me see–I believe it was the day
before yesterday?” asked St. Hilary presently.

I shook my head. The question was apparently quite irrelevant, but I was
accustomed to his sudden and startling changes of front in the
discussion of any question.

“There was a remarkable robbery mentioned in that issue. A Bond Street
jeweler appealed to his creditors for an extension of time in which to
pay his debts. When he was denied that, he warned them that he should on
a certain day go into bankruptcy. The night before he was to declare
himself a bankrupt, however, when he was in his shop very late at night,
puzzling out his accounts, he was attacked by thieves, and after being
bound and gagged, his safe was blown open and rifled.”

“A very ordinary robbery,” I commented.

“Yes. But the thief was his confidential clerk.”

“Who else should know so well the combination of the safe?” I asked
indifferently.

“If you would only be a little more patient, Hume, you would not esteem
my words so lightly. There is generally some intention behind them. As I
was saying, he was robbed by his own clerk, but the extraordinary
feature of the case is that the confidential clerk robbed the master
with the master’s consent and at his instigation. Substitute the son for
the clerk, and you have a case of history repeating itself.”

“Then the Doge was right. Da Sestos was the thief?”

“Consider for a moment the character of this Messer Giovanni. He is an
artist, but an artist eccentric to the verge of madness. Sanudo again
and again refers to it. Granting, then, that he is mad, in what form
will this madness manifest itself? Essentially in the very traits and
qualities that make up the artistic temperament. These traits will be
developed abnormally. They will be pushed just over the narrow
borderland. How would you define the artistic temperament, Hume?”

“Answering at random, I suppose the distinguishing traits of Giovanni’s
mind would be love for his work, irrespective of reward or gain, pride
in it, patient thought, boldness in conceiving the idea, and skill in
the working out of detail.”

“Excellent. These are the traits of the sane artist. Now develop them,
exaggerate them, make them abnormal. To take our goldsmith:

“For nearly two years he had been working on this casket. It is a
masterpiece. It is his _chef d’œuvre_. He has never made anything
quite so wonderful. Any artist is reluctant to give up his handiwork.
But Giovanni has not merely the egotism of the artist; his is the
egotism of the madman. He can not bear the thought of giving up the
casket. He longs to keep it for himself. He at last decides to do so.
But without the jewels it is but a meaningless thing. It is a mere box.
With them, it is one of the wonders of the world. This longing for the
stones becomes at last insupportable. He must have them for himself, and
at any cost. For, remember, he is not a common thief. If the jewels were
simply precious jewels, however priceless, they might not have tempted
him. But a ring of Cellini’s, a cameo of Domenico’s, a carved gem of
Caradossa, they tortured him, they tempted him, as they tempt me, as
they torture me.”

“And when once he has determined to possess these jewels, his cunning,
his capacity for detail, his patience, all the qualities of the artist,
serve him now as the thief–is that the idea?” I interrupted.

St. Hilary nodded affirmatively and continued:

“The Doge unconsciously furthers his plans by his intense fear lest the
fact that he possesses the jewels be made known. Only da Sestos, his
son, and the Doge, indeed, knew the gems were in Venice. He has been
told the very room in which the Doge is to receive from him the
wonderful casket. He has thoroughly reconnoitered the ground. He knows
that this bed-chamber of the Doge looks out on a court, which, in the
dead of night, will surely be quite deserted. And so, with a coil of
rope about his waist and a dagger beneath his blouse, he keeps the
appointment.

“The guard, no doubt, was an unpleasant surprise. He did not count on
him. But, after all, he has the advantage, for the guard has no
suspicion of treachery.

“And so, in due time, he picks his quarrel. He has planned that
carefully long ago. The Doge had written him that he can not make the
last payment until he has disposed of some of the gems. Da Sestos had
professed himself quite willing to wait.

“But now, when once the jewels are in the box, when once the cover is
closed and it can not be opened for twelve hours, he quite unexpectedly
demands this last payment.

“The Doge indignantly reminds him that he had confessed himself willing
to wait indefinitely. But he is obstinate. He refuses to leave the Ducal
Palace without his just wage. If that is not forthcoming, he takes the
casket with him. The Doge at last (as da Sestos has foreseen) is
compelled to leave the room, under the pretense of getting the money.
But, as he himself confessed to the Signory, it is really to summon the
guard.

“Hardly has the cautious Doge drawn the bolts after him, before the
dagger of the mad goldsmith has done its dread work. The rope is
uncurled in the twinkling of an eye. It is lowered over the balcony, and
to it is attached the casket and its precious contents. Below waits the
confederate.”

“And this confederate?” I asked breathlessly.

“Again the dagger is lifted,” continued St. Hilary, ignoring my
question. “This time it is against himself. It is worth a little pain,
this glorious plunder.

“And so his plan succeeds. The jewels are his. After a few short weeks
he will enjoy the reward of his cunning.

“But, unfortunately, suspicion is aroused in the Doge’s breast. For the
old man, as we know, was not so guileless a fool as the jeweler thought
him. Thief or no thief, da Sestos is imprisoned–at first in a dungeon,
with tortures, then in his own house. He could stand the tortures. He
could endure the awful heat and thirst under the leads of the Ducal
Palace. But slowly came the knowledge, the certainty, that he was
imprisoned, not for a month, a year, but for a lifetime. The vengeance
of the Doge was implacable.

“Then if he must perish, was the secret of the casket to be sealed on
his lips forever? The egotism of the madman made that thought
intolerable. Then must he confess? Is his enemy to triumph at last? That
thought was equally impossible. But, before he dies, he will indeed tell
where the casket is hidden. Even after his death the secret shall be
told. It shall be told daily, hourly; but so cunningly that though all
the world listen, it shall not understand.”

“But the confederate?” I interrupted again.

“It was his son, of course. He knew. He had helped to make the casket.
He had helped to purloin it, and he it was who had hidden it. But not
even to his faithful son would the mad jeweler leave the jewels. His
cunning plan had become infinitely dear to him; and because this son
knew, he must be sacrificed. So that after he had worked side by side
with his father on the clock, and had returned from his last errand in
summoning the Doge, it was only to meet death at last. For we can not
doubt that the father poisoned his son as well as himself. And so the
hiding-place of the casket and the jewels is hidden in the clock for no
man to guess unless he be such a man as da Sestos–one who has something
of the very madness of desire and cunning that possessed the goldsmith.”

“Unless–unless that son played the father false! There, there is the
doubt on which your ingenious fabric totters!” I cried. I felt myself
grow pale at the thought.

“You fool,” he answered violently, “do you think I have not thought of
that? But one never has a certainty in this world. One must take
something on trust. And, by heaven, I am staking all on that son’s
loyalty to his mad father.”

He sat in my armchair, huddled up, his face very pale and haggard in the
dim candle-light. But his eyes were burning like those of the jeweler
Giovanni. Then he roused himself and began to walk slowly about the
room. At last, in the most commonplace tone in the world, he asked:

“Do you know anything of automaton clocks?”

“Nothing, except that they do extraordinary things.”

“Things most extraordinary. You have never heard perhaps of the clock
made by Le Denz?”

I shook my head.

“Really? That was a _chef d’œuvre_ of the bizarre and wonderful. An
automaton child wrote everything that was dictated to it–everything.”

“Impossible!”

“I am telling you facts, my dear fellow, that you may verify for
yourself in any cyclopedia. Then there was a man called Vancouver, who
amused himself making a clock whose figures at certain hours played on
the _tambour de flacque_–droll, very droll, that.”

“An affair like that I saw once at Maskelyne’s, I suppose,” I said with
assumed indifference. “I remember it was an automaton figure called
Psyche, a whist-player. I played a game with her myself one dull
afternoon.”

“Tut, tut,” exclaimed St. Hilary irritably, “I am not speaking of the
tricks of the music-halls. There’s the chess-player, for that matter,
but all the world knows that a human being is concealed inside of those
clumsy toys. I am speaking of veritable automatons, such as the clock
you are to show me presently. Then there was a crazy genius who made an
automaton that would lull him to sleep with an air as gentle as spring
zephyrs, and awaken him with a crashing march. There are automatons that
sing and dance and talk without number. And one clock-maker wrote a book
of instructions for keeping the mechanism of his clock in order after
his death.”

“All this, I take it,” I said, lighting my cigar, which had repeatedly
gone out, “is apropos of our clock. At every hour, as old Luigi said, it
tells its secret.”

“That is it,” replied St. Hilary. “And when you and I, Hume, shall have
mastered those twelve secrets, we shall know where our jewels are
hidden. And now, have you still curiosity to know whether this is a
legend or a fact?”

“Yes.”

“Then you will help me to look for it?”

“Yes.”

“Good. We may fail.” He looked at me keenly.

“Of course.”

“I like your monosyllables. I believe you are really in earnest.”

“Yes; I am in earnest.”

“Good again. Then we pool our interests. If we are successful, we share
alike. Is that fair?”

“It is more than fair.”

“That’s settled then. And now let us have a look at your clock.”

“Marruchi, the clock-maker on the Piazza, has it. I left it with him to
see if it could be repaired.”

He settled himself in the armchair, and pulled a rug over his knees.

“Marruchi, my boy, will be able to do nothing with it. It is a job above
his caliber. And now to sleep, to sleep. You and I have a long journey
ahead of us to-morrow.”

“A journey? Where?”

“I shall be off to Amsterdam; you, to St. Petersburg. Good night.”

“St. Petersburg?” I demanded stormily. “St. Petersburg! Why the devil
St. Petersburg?”

But St. Hilary was already asleep–or pretended to be.



                               CHAPTER IX


The sun was just tipping the dome of the Salute as I fell asleep in my
chair. My compact with St. Hilary promised great things. It meant
action–a fascinating clue to follow, whether it led us to the jewels of
the Doge or not. And if this dry chronicle of the past should prove to
be no colorless legend, but a living fact, palpitating with human
interest, I should have material for a book indeed. A legend of the
Renaissance reincarnated in the twentieth century–that must appeal to
Jacqueline no less than to me. Besides, the solving of this mystery, if
solution there were, or the proving it to be but an empty fable, would
certainly demand those qualities she believed I lacked so sadly. In
everything this quest must be to my advantage.

It was eight o’clock before I could get St. Hilary into a gondola. As we
were rowed rapidly to the Molo, an indescribable elation of spirits
buoyed me up. Three years had slipped from my shoulders–three years of
inertia and weariness. I was happy, and I did not play the fool and
analyze too deeply my happiness.

Perhaps the warm, delicious breeze that came in puffs, laden with the
scent of oleanders and roses from the royal gardens, had its influence;
and the deep-blue sky, with the pearly clouds drifting slowly over San
Giorgios, and the glorious sun, flashing on every tip and spire, and
reflected silver-gray and rose-colored in the millions of little waves
that danced and sparkled in a very ecstasy of color. For the rain had
ceased. The sullen clouds were gone; the muddy streams; the discolored
damp stones. Venice was again the enchanted city of fairy architecture,
floating in the intangible air.

One would have thought it difficult to believe this wonderful story in
the full light of day, on the Piazza here, flooded with sun, with the
gondoliers smoking and breaking out into snatches of song, with the
tourists already astir, and the guides from San Marco’s already on the
alert for them. Last night in my chambers, with the curtains drawn and
the lights of Venice shining mystically in the distance, there might
have been an excuse for one’s imagination getting a little the better of
one. But with the morning should have come sober skepticism. I can only
say that there were two reasons that forbade that: one that I wished to
believe; the other, that St. Hilary did believe.

A dozen steps on the Piazzetta, and we saw that Marruchi was not yet
opened, so we strolled toward Florian’s for our morning coffee. As we
passed under the Arcade, St. Hilary paused at a bookseller’s shop
beneath the Libreria Vecchia. I noticed carelessly in passing that the
window was filled with copies of a book just published.

“Have you looked into that book yet?” asked St. Hilary, as he bowed to
the bookseller within.

“No,” I answered, taking my seat at one of the round tables. “I did not
even read its title.”

“It is called Annali dell’ Inquisizione in Venezia. It was published
about a month ago. Organia and Rosen have had it in their windows for a
fortnight at least.”

“I have no doubt that that fact has some pertinency,” I said irritably.
“But before you explain just in what way, suppose you answer a few
questions that naturally occurred to me while you were asleep in my
chair last night.”

“Well?”

“Why the deuce do you want me to go to St. Petersburg? Why do you intend
going to Amsterdam? How did you come to know about the Diary of Sanudo?
How did you guess that the clock was in the da Sestos palace? Or did you
not guess? Surely we are not the first to attempt to solve the secret of
the hours? And even if no one has yet attempted it (and that seems
incredible), is it not possible that the clock may be beyond repair, so
that we can not fathom the significance of the automata, if there be any
significance? And, lastly, how do you know that you have _the_ clock?”

“If you had read that book in the shop there, some of your questions
might have been answered,” retorted St. Hilary placidly.

I held the coffee-pot suspended in mid-air. “It mentions the clock?”

“It does.”

“Then it’s there for all the world to read–the duke, for instance!”

The thought was rather startling.

“I suppose so. Had I known before I saw you last night that you were to
be my criminal partner in pursuit of the casket and the gems, I should
have brought that book as well as the Diary which I happened to have in
my pocket. As it is, you might just step over to Rosen’s and buy a copy.
You will find it an amusing book during your long journey to St.
Petersburg.”

I looked at him with some annoyance.

“You take so much for granted,” I remonstrated. “I shall need some
persuasion. You know, I suppose, that it’s quite necessary for me to get
a passport to travel in Russia. And as to our criminal pursuit, I take
it that findings are keepings.”

“Very true,” he answered, looking at me cynically. “Beatrice, who wore
some of our gems when she went into that cathedral over there, is dust
these four hundred years and more. The line of the D’Estes and Sforzas
is extinct. There is not a man or woman in Venice or Italy who may boast
that a drop of the Doge’s blood runs in their veins. Legally, I suppose,
the state––”

“Oh, the state!” I sniffed contemptuously. “I don’t mind putting my
claims against the state!”

“Brave man! But let me remind you, my squeamish friend, that it may be
necessary for you and me to use the jimmy before we get possession of
those gems. Do you think we shall find them on the pavement? Hardly!
They are hidden in one of these hundreds of palaces, and they will not
be given up for the asking.”

“I suppose not,” I admitted reluctantly. “All the same, it has an ugly
sound, the word criminal.”

“I warned you that this was no task for the dilettante.”

“Yes, yes, I know,” I replied hastily. “But I am going to show you that
I can be a bit unscrupulous, as well as you, on occasions.”

“That’s better,” replied he, grinning at me. “Now about that book. As I
said, it mentions da Sestos and his clock. But the Inquisition of
Venice, I need not remind you, concerned itself not so much with the
religious conscience of the individual as with affairs of the state. It
is da Sestos, the criminal, who comes into this book; and only
incidentally, da Sestos, the atheist, who made a clock that was
inhabited by an evil spirit.”

“And the story of Sanudo is substantiated?”

“Fairly well. And in this book we learn what became of the clock after
his death. It was forfeited by the Inquisition as a thing unclean. It
was hidden away in the Ducal Palace for nearly two hundred years.”

“And afterward?”

“In a long foot-note the editor of the Annals tells us that at the entry
of Napoleon it was looted by a captain of artillery, who afterward sold
it to a dealer in Paris. It remained in the shop of the dealer for
nearly half a century, when a learned antiquarian, who was writing an
elaborate monograph on automaton clocks, came across it. This
antiquarian, our editor tells us, bought the clock and studied it. How
it came into the possession of the uncle of the present Duke da Sestos
is not known. This uncle, as the duke himself told us the other day,
lived in Paris. He recognized the timepiece as that made by his remote
ancestor nearly four hundred years ago.”

“Recognized it? But how?”

“Nothing could be easier. In the first place, the name of the maker is
on every clock. Then he may have been familiar with the monograph of the
antiquarian. Or the antiquarian may himself have brought the clock to
the attention of the duke. It is even possible that, as a Venetian, he
may have read the Diary of Sanudo. At any rate, he sent the clock back
to Venice.”

“Did he guess the significance of the automata, do you suppose?”

“It seems probable that he did,” replied St. Hilary thoughtfully.
“Otherwise, why should the clock have been hidden in the secret chamber?
It is likely that he told the father of old Luigi to guard it
carefully.”

“And does the editor himself hint at the automata’s having any
significance?” I asked, alarmed.

“Luckily not. He dismisses the whole subject as a myth, a mere
superstition of the middle ages.”

“All the same,” I said, “if we could get hold of a copy of that
monograph we might have a hint or two.”

“Very true,” quietly answered the dealer. “That is why you are going to
St. Petersburg. The monograph is in the Imperial Library. There is only
one copy known to be extant, our editor assures me. Useful man, our
editor.”

“Very,” and I laughed shortly. “But what if the duke gets wind of this
precious legend, and feels curious enough to try his hand at solving the
riddle? If, for instance, he asks Mrs. Gordon for his clock again, we
shall have a rival contestant for honors in mysteries.”

“That is why we have no time to lose. Ah, the shutters of the
clock-maker are down. At last we can examine your clock, and we shall be
lucky if he hasn’t ruined it,” grumbled St. Hilary. He lifted the awning
of the Arcade, and we stepped out into the glare of the Piazza.

Marruchi met me with apologies. No; he had not attempted to repair the
clock. He had not even taken it to pieces. The mechanism was too
intricate. In fact, he knew of but one clock-maker in the world to whom
it might safely be entrusted.

“And he lives at Amsterdam,” concluded St. Hilary complacently. “And
now, perhaps, you understand, Hume, why it is necessary for one of us to
go to Amsterdam?”

I hesitated. I remembered how he had attempted to obtain possession of
the clock by subterfuge. How could I be sure that his sending me off to
St. Petersburg was not a ruse to get me conveniently out of the way?
Meanwhile he would have the clock, and when he had mastered its secret,
he could return it to me with the assurance that it was but a myth after
all. “Why should I not go to Amsterdam, and you to St. Petersburg?” That
was the question that I might very pertinently have asked him. But I did
not. I had promised to trust him. I trusted him now.

“Can you catch the afternoon express, Hume? It leaves at three-thirty
and makes connections for St. Petersburg.”

“I suppose so,” I admitted reluctantly, “though I hardly relish our
rushing off to the ends of the earth in this way.”

“Oh, you of little faith,” he cried testily. “If you are really going
into this affair heart and soul with me, you will need a great deal more
patience than a journey to St. Petersburg involves. As to my going to
Amsterdam, you heard Marruchi say there is just one clock-maker in the
world clever enough to take our clock to pieces and put it together
again without bungling.”

“Very well,” I assented soberly, and led the way to the Bureau
Internationale des Wagon-lits to secure my sleeping-berth. But I must
say St. Hilary’s characterization of me was justified. I had faith
enough to be curious about the clock here in Venice. But long and
tedious journeys to Amsterdam and St. Petersburg–that was quite another
matter.



                               CHAPTER X


St. Hilary had given me a letter of introduction to the director of the
Imperial Library. Heaven knows where he had met him, but he seemed to
know half the celebrities in Europe. I presented it in person. I have
always found it useful to be referred–if one is to be referred at
all–downward, rather than upward. One is more apt to strike a higher
level of officialdom, and that means a more intelligent and enthusiastic
service. In this case I was not referred downward at all. The director
himself made inquiries for the precious volume. He returned in half an
hour with apologies. The book was in use. To-morrow, no doubt, it would
be at my disposal.

The mere fact that the volume was in use made me uneasy. Automaton
clocks are not a particularly popular subject. At once I thought of the
duke. Was it possible that already he had seen the book St. Hilary had
just been speaking to me about? That seemed unlikely. But the next
morning, when I was crossing the Dworzowy Bridge, once more on my way to
the library, I met him face to face.

It is difficult to say who was the more surprised. Though my curiosity
was unbounded to know if he were the person who had been studying up
automaton clocks yesterday, I should have passed without speaking. But
he advanced to me with open palm, and greeted me with unnecessary
cordiality in French.

“And what brings Mr. Hume to St. Petersburg?”

I murmured something about studies in the Imperial Library.

At that he looked even more startled than when he first saw me:

“I, too, have been in the Imperial Library,” he cried. “I have been
reading a rare book there–one of the rarest in the world.”

“Indeed! The book I wish to consult is also one of the rarest in the
world.”

It was a foolish hint, but I could not forbear the pleasure of giving
it. Already I suspected that the duke was on the trail of the casket.
Instead of being alarmed or annoyed, it gave me the keenest delight.
Brain against brain. Wit against wit. Courage against courage. I could
have asked nothing more to my liking. For instinctively I had felt the
mettle of my foe and measured the chances of my rival for Jacqueline’s
heart.

At this bold challenge–it was nothing less–he started perceptibly. It
was impossible to doubt further. But in an instant the mask had fallen
over his face. He bowed with mock respect.

“Ah, Mr. Hume is a scholar?” he asked mockingly. “For me, I find the
streets–its life and pleasures and peoples–more instructive than any
books. Especially here in this strange, frozen north. Is there not an
English poet who has said that the proper study of mankind is man? If he
had said woman, he would have spoken the absolute truth. Yes, a
beautiful woman is the apotheosis of fascination and interest for the
man of fashion and heart. Leave the dull books for the priests and the
dotards, my friend.”

I had nothing to say to this essentially Italian summing up of the
interests of life. We walked on a few steps in silence. We had crossed
the bridge now. He took my arm.

“Yes, yes,” he continued, “woman is the proper study of mankind. But
when one meets a woman as lovely as the exquisite Miss Quintard–ah,
knowing her, one knows all there is for one in life, is it not so?” and
he pinched my arm familiarly.

I withdrew my arm angrily. I resented his tone and his reference to
Jacqueline. But I said nothing, only walked faster toward the Library.

“I have met many beautiful women in my life, but now I know there are no
more worth seeing.”

“And did you fathom the lady’s charms so quickly–in the one short hour
at the Palazzo?” I asked, a little spitefully, I am afraid.

“Fathom? Certainly not. But the vivid impressions of the hour may be
deepened by the careful and delightful study of a week.”

I stood quite still.

“Of a week?” I stammered.

“Of a week, my friend,” he cried, enjoying his triumph. “For you must
know that I have seen much of the fascinating Mrs. Gordon and her
adorable niece at Bellagio. I happen to have a villa there.”

At Bellagio! I drew in a deep breath, and it seemed to stab me. I had
been wrapped up in the vain pursuit of a shadow, while that magnificent
brute at my side, twirling his mustache up into his eyes, had been in
the very presence of the goddess. I could not speak. I hope it was not
jealousy that gnawed at my heart. Indeed, it was not jealousy at all, I
think. It was rather fear–fear for my dear Jacqueline. Not simply that
she was to be won from me–had already been won from me, perhaps. If one
whom I respected had gained her love, I do not think I should have cried
out. But this Duke da Sestos! I trembled for her happiness. I knew that
Jacqueline’s aunt was the duke’s ally. And Jacqueline herself? Women are
at once so subtle and so dense. I have seen the noblest of them deceived
by a charming manner–the cleverest wedded to a villain or a fool.

We reached the Imperial Library. The clock on a neighboring tower was
striking ten when the doors of the Library opened and the director came
out. I raised my hat. He returned my greeting courteously, and informed
me that the book I wished was at last at my disposal. Unfortunately he
mentioned it by name.

“And what interest has Mr. Hume in automaton clocks?” demanded the duke,
when the director had turned his back.

I shrugged my shoulders, and bade him good afternoon.

“Mr. Hume, a moment, if you please.”

I turned.

“Your hotel is the de l’Europe, I believe?”

“But unfortunately I am rarely at home,” I said ungraciously.

“I am disappointed. We might have spent an agreeable hour together in
this barbarous capital. Au revoir.”

I bowed, and went swiftly up the steps. Again he called me.

“By the way, Mrs. Gordon tells me, Mr. Hume, that she has entrusted the
old clock to you.”

“That is quite true.”

He looked at me keenly.

“Ah, then, now I understand your interest in automaton clocks. Your
interest awakens mine. I myself am anxious to see the clock again. When
will you be in Venice?”

“In a month or two,” I answered airily.

“A month or two, my dear friend!” he expostulated. “I must see my clock
before that. I am thinking of having it repaired for Mrs. Gordon.”

He emphasized the “my.”

“I have thought of the same thing,” I said evasively.

“But, Mr. Hume, I beg you to understand that it is with Mrs. Gordon’s
permission that I do so. Have you asked it?”

“Not yet,” I replied coolly, going up a couple of steps.

His face darkened.

“Then, since I have Mrs. Gordon’s permission, will you kindly write an
order to your servant that he give it me on my return to Venice?”

“Unfortunately, that is impossible. You see, I have forestalled you. I
have sent it to be repaired.”

He stood a moment, twisting his mustache up into his eyes. Then, to my
astonishment, he leaped up the steps, two at a time.

“Since, Mr. Hume,” again he took my arm and almost forced me down the
steps, “you question my word, I will telegraph to Mrs. Gordon and show
you her answer. When I receive that answer, I shall come to your hotel
and insist that you give me both the name of the maker to whom you have
sent the clock and a written order to him that he deliver it to me. If
you refuse, I shall be compelled to call in the police, and I am not
unknown here in St. Petersburg.”

“I am afraid I shall find a means to evade your police, Duke da Sestos,”
I said, laughing.

A moment he looked at me, puzzled, then, seeing my contempt for his
threat, laughed also.

“La, la, it is true. I am a great fool. I might know that to threaten
Mr. Hume is not the way to gain one’s ends. Look, I threaten, I demand
no longer. I beg. I throw myself on Mr. Hume’s mercy. I confess I am
most anxious to see the clock. I take it for granted that Mr. Hume has
had reasons for my not seeing it. But come, we will play fair. You have
the clock, it is true. But, after all, I have the right to it. Let us
grant, then, that we stand on even ground. Our rights to it are
equal–your right, that of possession; mine, the moral and legal right.
We will go together to the telegraph bureau. We will each of us
telegraph to Mrs. Gordon for permission. She shall decide. Come, is that
not sportsmanlike?”

“Hardly,” I replied, laughing again. “The result would be too much a
matter of certainty–for you.”

“Ah, you are determined to be unfair,” he cried angrily.

I hesitated a moment. Then I seized his arm.

“Come along, then,” I said, still laughing, “we will go to your
telegraph bureau.”

It seemed the only way to get rid of him; but, I may say, I had no
intention of abiding by the decision of Mrs. Gordon.

We entered the bureau. We stood at the desk, and each seized pen and
paper. But before the duke had written a line, he had recognized an
acquaintance in the street. I must excuse him one moment, and would I
await his return so that we might compare our telegrams and avoid any
misunderstanding?

I waited ten minutes. Then, my telegram in my hand, I stepped outside
the bureau and looked up and down the street. He was not in sight. I
waited ten minutes more. Still the duke did not return. My patience was
exhausted. I went back to the Library. But when I called for my book, to
my extreme astonishment, it was again in use. It had, declared the
attendant ungraciously, been reserved for me, but they could not hold it
all the morning.

So this Italian duke had tricked me. The telegram was simply a ruse, a
clumsy and senseless ruse, if you will, but I had been guileless enough
to let it work. But it would not avail him long. Granted that he had
delayed my seeing the book, all I had to do was to return in the
afternoon. I walked back to my hotel for breakfast.

There the second surprise of the day awaited me. A telegram from
Jacqueline had been sent to me to Venice, and retelegraphed to me at St.
Petersburg by my housekeeper. It was sufficiently puzzling:

“_Please be sure to accept aunt’s invitation for Friday. I am anxious to
see you–most anxious. I shall expect you Friday–absolutely._”

I held it in my hand, astonished and perplexed. An invitation had been
sent to me by Mrs. Gordon to visit her at Bellagio; I was to come on
Friday; Jacqueline especially wished to see me. But why? Why should she
expect me “absolutely”? Was it possible she had told Mrs. Gordon of my
love for her? Dare I put the most favorable meaning into the message? At
any rate, if I were to arrive at Bellagio on Friday, I must leave that
afternoon. Well, after my breakfast, I could return to the Library, have
a look at the monograph on clocks, and still catch the train.

But even as I was hurrying to the restaurant, I paused. Was this another
of the duke’s tricks, a more elaborate one? A moment’s thought showed
that this was most unlikely. I hurried through my meal, and taking a
drosky returned to the Library, determined to wait there until I had
seen my book.

This time, at any rate, the book was not in use, and in five minutes I
had it in my hands.

I turned to consult the index. Apparently there was no index. I went
through the volume carefully to find mention of the da Sestos clock, and
presently I discovered that fourteen pages of the volume had been
completely torn out.

I stared down at the mutilated book. So at last the duke’s game was
revealed in its beautiful and simple entirety. He must have hurried back
to the Library when he left me in the telegraph office. He, of course,
had torn out the leaves. Score two for the duke. The game was becoming
interesting.

When I called the attention of the librarian to the torn pages, he
summoned the assistant who had given out the book. Did the assistant
know that these fourteen pages were missing? The young man replied that
he had noticed that yesterday. He had intended to speak to his chief
about it. When asked if he could describe the reader, he replied that he
could not. Pressed still further, however, he thought he remembered that
the reader of the book had been an old man and had brown eyes. It was
useless to say any more. It was evident that the assistant had been
bribed and was lying. I might have given the librarian a hint or two as
to what had become of those fourteen pages, but I wished to keep the
police out of our game. Before long, perhaps, I might have to trust to
the duke’s generosity. In the meanwhile, I would go to Bellagio to learn
why Jacqueline wished to see me so urgently.



                               CHAPTER XI


I saw no reason why I should inform either Mrs. Gordon or Jacqueline of
my little trip to St. Petersburg. I greeted them both as if I had just
come from Venice, and had duly received Mrs. Gordon’s invitation. It may
be readily imagined that I was curious to know why Jacqueline had added
her urgent telegram in addition to her aunt’s note.

But Jacqueline was never a primer to be spelled out with simplicity and
accuracy. She met my anxious and significant glance–and I took care not
to ask questions–with smiling and open-eyed composure. She was evidently
relieved to see me, but she made no effort to see me alone. Rather, she
seemed to avoid me; at least, until my visit drew to a close. That close
was sudden and startling. My departure from the Hotel Grande Bretagne
was nothing less than a dismissal.

It was not until after dinner that Mrs. Gordon gave me any clue as to
why she had asked me to spend a few days with Jacqueline and herself at
Lake Como. Just how long my visit was to last I was in dubious
ignorance. I was smoking my postprandial cigar on the terrace, wondering
how I might tactfully sound the formidable Mrs. Gordon for this
information, when she appeared with her niece. Jacqueline was reading a
letter from home. Mrs. Gordon held up a jeweled hand impressively, and
waved it significantly toward her.

“My dear, will you fetch me my shawl? Pray do not throw away your cigar,
Mr. Hume. Be seated. I am anxious to have a talk with you.”

My heart thumped ridiculously. Had Jacqueline confessed to her aunt her
love for me?

I professed myself properly at her disposal. She cleared her throat and
folded her arms across her ample person. Unconsciously she was assuming
the airs of one of the Council of Ten. But that was Mrs. Gordon’s way,
and I waited expectantly.

“It is a great pleasure to have you with us, Mr. Hume,” she began with
ponderous cordiality.

I hastened to assure her that there was no place more beautiful than
Como in April, and looked wistfully after Jacqueline, who had brought
the shawl, and was now strolling about the shrubbery.

“You are the only person to whom I can turn in perplexity, that is,
while we are here in Italy. It so happens that I am sadly in need of
advice and information.”

I assured her that I would do all in my power to help her.

“It is with regard to Jacqueline.”

I was careful to show nothing more than a friendly interest. One needed
to be wary with the worldly Mrs. Gordon.

“Or, rather, it is with regard to Duke da Sestos.”

“The Duke da Sestos!” I exclaimed, startled. “I can not see, Mrs.
Gordon, how a matter touching the Duke da Sestos can affect your niece,”
I said after a pause.

“No?” She looked after her niece thoughtfully. “But if I tell you that
the duke is in love with her, Mr. Hume?”

“And–and, her feeling toward the duke?”

“I have reason to believe that Jacqueline’s wishes will coincide with
mine,” she answered complacently.

Jacqueline’s wishes would coincide with hers! There was little doubt as
to what her wishes were. So the worst had really come. I looked out
toward the lake, hardly trusting myself to speak. The tender blue of the
still waters; the purple mountains; the song of birds; the cries of
children; the toll of a church-bell; and Jacqueline, in white, slipping
through the green trees–everything had charmed me only a moment ago. But
now I saw only Jacqueline–not the laughing Jacqueline, my Jacqueline,
who waved her hand back at me smiling, but the Duchess da Sestos,
neglected wife, scorning her husband, and hating him, doomed to a slow
and wretched death in life, sacrificed by this miserable old worldling.

“I could imagine nothing more unfortunate than that she should feel any
interest in Duke da Sestos,” I said with feeling.

She looked at me anxiously.

“Do you know anything derogatory to him, Mr. Hume?”

“No,” I answered bluntly, “I know nothing of him.”

She sighed out her relief.

A large person, with an English accent carefully modulated, Mrs. Gordon
was not easily moved to anxiety. Her nerves were padded in leather. One
could not prick them with anything less formidable than a pitchfork. But
my remarks had ruffled her complacency for the moment, that colossal
complacency as immense as her wardrobe, and silly and moveless as her
pride. But even she would hesitate to encourage the duke’s suit if I
could show her it was quite impossible. Could I do that? At least, I
intended to try.

She pondered a moment. “So you know nothing. But it would not be
difficult for you to make inquiries. Understanding Italian life, as you
do, living in Venice so long––”

“Make inquiries, Mrs. Gordon?” I interrupted coldly. I should have
thought my cool stare would have disconcerted her somewhat.

“And,” she continued frostily (evidently the stare had been wholly in
vain, then), “it seems to me that my appeal to you should be received in
the light of a duty. You are one of our oldest friends. You ought to
have Jacqueline’s interests at heart.”

“God knows I have her interests at heart,” I cried bitterly. “But I fail
to see––”

“Of his rank and station,” she continued, waving my protest aside, “I
can judge for myself. I am told he is a personal friend of the king. His
family antedates the very founding of Venice. I know not how many
quarterings his coat of arms may boast. As to his finances, that,
naturally, is a serious question. I could not, as a matter of duty,
permit myself to ignore that important phase of the case. Still,
Jacqueline’s _dot_, if she has due regard to my wishes, will not make
his lack of means an insurmountable obstacle. But, Mr. Hume, his
character, that is of importance.”

“Yes,” I said significantly, “it is.”

“I do not mean,” she hastened to add, “that–er–he–er–may not have been
guilty of some of the indiscretions of youth. That is to be expected of
a nobleman of his rank.”

“Then, Mrs. Gordon, may I ask just what you do mean?” I inquired
suavely.

“That at least there must have been no scandal, Mr. Hume, no open
scandal. I could not permit dear Jacqueline’s position to be in any way
equivocal.”

“Your concern as to that is most sensible,” I said sarcastically.
“Still, I am in ignorance as to just how I may help you.”

“Really, Mr. Hume, you are strangely heedless of my words. Did I not say
a moment ago that I looked to you to make certain inquiries for me?”

“In other words, Mrs. Gordon,” I said coldly, “you are asking me to be
your private detective, are you not?”

She held up her hands in horror.

“An office that I can not undertake, even for you or your niece. I can
think of no marriage for Jacqueline that could possibly be more
distasteful or more disastrous.”

“If you know nothing about Duke da Sestos, how can you say that his
possible marriage with my niece could be a misfortune? I may be very
dense, but I fail to follow your reasoning, Mr. Hume.”

“But, Mrs. Gordon,” I said earnestly, “can you not guess something of a
man’s character without knowing all about him?”

“If I could,” she answered slowly, “I should say that you do not appear
to me to be quite disinterested in your statements.”

“And if that is true, Mrs. Gordon?” I flung away my cigar and my
caution. “If I confess that I am not disinterested, as you call it? What
then? Say that I love your niece, and I suppose it is right that you
should know that. My love for Jacqueline is great enough not to grudge
her happiness, even if that happiness is to be with another man. But to
see her persuaded into a marriage that every instinct tells me is wrong,
that I know must prove unhappy–I can not allow that to be done without a
protest, though in making that protest I have betrayed my own love for
her. Mrs. Gordon, if I know nothing of Duke da Sestos, I do know
something of his class. Can I say nothing that will influence you?”

She gathered her shawl about her, and looked at me with stony
indifference. I might as well have appealed to the little waves that
lapped the shore. But I continued desperately:

“I can not help it that you misjudge me. I must speak. I must plead
Jacqueline’s cause for her, even though she should resent my doing that,
for I am pleading for her happiness. You lay emphasis on the rank of
this Duke da Sestos. He is a duke. But, Mrs. Gordon, there are seventy
ducal houses in Sicily alone. There is no law of primogeniture in Italy.
Titles carry no distinction with them. Princes, dukes, marquises,
counts, they are infinitely more numerous in Italy than decent men.

“As to the character of this aristocracy–you ask me of the duke’s, I
will tell you the characteristics of most. He is an officer in the
cavalry, therefore he lives beyond his pay. He is a gambler, a
spendthrift. His property is mortgaged to the hilt. A rich marriage is
his only hope. He hunts, shoots, wears English clothes, and that is as
far as he approximates the manly habits of the Englishman. The Italian’s
idea of a sportsman is to ride to the meet in a dog-cart with a fat
poodle at his side. The smaller the pony, the fatter the poodle, the
more of a sportsman he is. Cards, gossip, his mistress–they make up his
life, his real life.”

“And supposing that all this is true, I do not forget that you are
speaking of a class and not of an individual, Mr. Hume.”

“I am only imploring you to be very careful.”

“After you have refused to make inquiries? You are inconsistent.”

She rose and confronted me with a placidity as obstinate as if I had not
spoken.

“All that you have said I will try to put to the best of motives, but
you have not shown a generous spirit. In my turn I must appear
ungenerous, I fear. I must protect Jacqueline, and unfortunately, in my
opinion, her marriage with you would be quite as disastrous as you
pretend hers would be with the duke.”

“I did not mean to speak ungenerously, Mrs. Gordon,” I said humbly.

“And, as I was about to say, though it may appear ungracious, I am
compelled to withdraw my invitation that you remain our guest here.
Unless, of course, you will give me your promise that in no way––”

“I understand,” I said stiffly. “I should not feel happy to stay under
those circumstances. I shall leave to-night.”

I bowed. Then I turned to her for a last appeal.

“Mrs. Gordon, it is natural that you should listen to me with suspicion,
but try to believe that I speak disinterestedly. Do all you can to
discourage Jacqueline. She is very young. She is romantic, like so many
girls. It is so easy for her to make a mistake, if there is no one to
guide, to advise. Take her away from Italy, at least for the present.
Will you?” I held out my hand.

“Mr. Hume,” she retorted spitefully, “in these affairs of the heart each
must decide for oneself.”

“Yes, yes,” I cried eagerly. Then something in her strange smile made
the words die on my lips, and I faltered, “Jacqueline has already
decided that–that she loves the duke?”

“I have reason to believe so. The duke himself assures me that she has
given him encouragement. More than that, Jacqueline herself does not
deny it.”

“Thank you,” I said miserably, and went into the hotel to pack my
things. The worst had come, then, for, much as I disliked Mrs. Gordon, I
did not do her the injustice to suppose that she was lying.

Perhaps I ought to have trusted Jacqueline more. I should have known
that no good woman listens lightly to a man’s declaration of love; and
she had listened to mine. But, again, Jacqueline had given me no
assurance whatever that she returned my love. She had found it difficult
to make up her mind, not only as to whether she really loved me, but
whether I were really in earnest in declaring my love for her. And so
that evening I walked very soberly toward the steamboat-landing,
followed by the porter with my bag.

The little steamer had given its warning toot, my bag was aboard, I was
about to follow, when I turned, hoping for one last glimpse of
Jacqueline. To my surprise, she was running toward me. She was in
distress. In an instant I was at her side.

“What, what does it mean, you going away like this?” she panted.

“I am going back to Venice, Jacqueline,” I answered her gravely.

“To Venice!” she cried, dismayed. “To Venice this evening, and without
saying good-by to me? Why?”

“I have had a tiff, dear Jacqueline, with your aunt, and she has ordered
me off. I leave the field,” I added a little bitterly, “to a handsomer,
and I wish I could say to a better, man.”

She withdrew the hand she had given me, and flushed angrily. Then her
face became very pale.

“Forgive me, Jacqueline, I did not mean to hurt you.”

“And what has my aunt told you?” she almost whispered.

“She has told me, Jacqueline, that Duke da Sestos has asked you to be
his wife. She wishes you to consent. She believes that you have not
refused him.”

Her color came and went. She drew in a little breath, and her brown eyes
looked over at the mountains beyond Cadenabbia. Tears gathered in them
and began to fall slowly down her cheeks.

“But it is not true,” I cried, and seized her hand. “It is impossible
that you should have done that.”

“It is quite true,” she said almost impassively. “He has asked me to be
his wife. I have encouraged him.”

“Then there is nothing more to be said. Good-by, dear Jacqueline.”

She caught my coat in her eagerness.

“Listen, Dick. It is because of that I telegraphed you. You must help
me. I need you. Would you do something for me that was quite
useless–that would give you infinite trouble–that would bring you no
reward except my thanks?”

“I think it quite possible,” I said, smiling. “What is it?”

“It is so difficult to make you understand,” she cried, distressed.

“I will wait till to-morrow.”

“No, no; if you are to help me in this, you can not do it too quickly.”

We began to walk toward the boat, which had emitted another piercing
wail.

“I told you that Duke da Sestos has asked me to marry him, and that I
encouraged him. I did. But, oh, so unconsciously.”

“You encouraged him unconsciously? Impossible!”

“It is true, Dick,” she insisted tearfully. “I wished to show him how
impossible it was that I could ever care for him–that nothing but a
miracle could make me love him. It happened that the steel chest he gave
me from the Palazzo stood on the drawing-room table. Quite impulsively I
said: ‘When you bring me the casket that fitted into that steel box, I
will listen to you.’ I said it lightly, Dick, as a bitter jest. I
thought I was asking him to do something quite impossible. To my
surprise, to my dismay, instead of being indignant or angry, he took my
words quite seriously. He refused to see that I had asked him to
accomplish an impossibility. In that intense foreign way of his, he
kissed my hand, bidding me good-by for the present, but he promised me
that, sooner or later, he would return with the casket. I was so
astonished I could say nothing. Before I could recover myself he had
gone. And if he should find it! Oh, Dick, if he should!”

I laughed joyously–happily. “He shall not,” I cried, “because I am going
to find it myself. And if I do find it, Jacqueline?”

“I shall be so glad,” she said shyly.

“But my book of legends,” I said with affected seriousness. “Am I to
give up writing the legend of the clock? I thought I was to persist in
my task. Nothing was to turn me from it.”

“But I am giving you this new task, Dick,” she said, laughing happily.

“Yes, yes,” I said, as I leapt aboard at the last moment. “I think I may
find time to do this new task for you, and my legend of the clock as
well.”

Not until the boat touched the farther shores of Lake Como did it occur
to me that Jacqueline would think this promise but a half-hearted one.
That there was any connection between the clock and the casket she had,
of course, no idea.



                              CHAPTER XII


I reached Venice by the midnight express. St. Hilary was waiting for me
on the platform.

“St. Hilary!” I cried with affected gaiety, “what brings you here at two
o’clock in the morning?”

“Ah, what!” he grumbled. “Have you no imagination? But wait till we are
in my gondola. You are going to your rooms, I suppose?”

We were scarcely seated when he turned eagerly toward me. His yellow
face was haggard for want of sleep and lined like an old carved ivory,
but in the pale light of the lamps of the landing I saw his eyes gleam.

“You are in good enough spirits to have good news. Come, no one can hear
us now. Tell me of your little trip to Russia.”

I recounted to him the story of my fruitless journey. He listened to me
in silence. When I had finished, he drew aside the curtains of the
gondola and looked out.

“I might have known that you would have just such ill luck,” he said
bitterly, and did not again speak until we had reached the Giudecca.

We entered the Grand Canal. One thinks of the Grand Canal as a _mise en
scène_ for endless processions of tourists. Your true _flaneur_ shuns
it. He keeps, as far as possible, to the cool blue shadows of the little
canals.

But to-night this majestic waterway laid a fresh spell on me. It awed
me. This silent stream, black as death, was full of mystery. A menace
lurked in the deep shadows of the great palaces, pallid and ghostlike in
the darkness. The steel prow of our gondola, curving upward proudly,
dipped and glided through the inky waters. Is there in the whole world
anything inanimate so graceful, so almost alive, so light and so cruelly
sharp and strong as the prow of a gondola? It is the very incarnation of
the spirit of the Venetians of the Renaissance.

To-night, as we penetrated the gloom that was absolute, except for the
light of a tiny lantern on the deck forward, I could put myself back in
the middle ages. I could see the black barge of the _Fante_, the captain
of the inquisitorial guard, swiftly rowed with muffled oars to the
palazzo of the unhappy wretch who had offended against the laws of
Venice. The barge stops at his door; the bolts are slipped by a spy
within; the messenger of torture and imprisonment, somber as the night,
makes his way to the bedside of the doomed man. He starts from his deep
sleep; he is beckoned silently down the echoing stairs; he seats himself
in the black barge; and so, shivering, he goes to his end.

We shot into one of the narrow, crooked little canals. And now our
gondola scraped the very walls of the window-barred store-houses that
once overflowed with the wealth of the Orient. It was impossible to
think of myself as a simple gentleman with a letter of credit at my
bankers. St. Hilary and I were marauders, adventurers, brawlers, and
this prosaic umbrella between my knees was a long, keen blade, ready for
a lively bout with the watch.

We were in the Giudecca now, dodging this chain and that of the shipping
moored along the Fondamenta della Zattere. As we made for the shore
opposite, the rain, which had been coming down in a gentle drizzle, fell
smartly, and St. Hilary shouted to the gondolier to row faster.

Giudecca quarter is anything but fashionable. Gondoliers repeat the word
twice with scorn when the tourist expresses a wish to go there. Steamers
from Greece and America, laden with corn, are anchored along its quay.
From early dawn to night, hundreds of barefooted stevedores, each with
his sack on his shoulder, patter up the narrow plank that spans ship and
shore. An instant they poise their burden on the scale that stands at
the doorway of the magazines, while an official from the customs-house
jealously notes that it is full weight. Then shouldering it again, they
are swallowed up in the cavernous interiors.

Most of the old palaces of the Giudecca have degenerated into these
store-houses. But here and there, as a thing so insignificant that it is
overlooked, one finds a low-ceiled _trattoria_, where at the noon hour
the stevedores drink the strong wines of Chioggia and shout out their
lusty songs; or it may be an infinitesimal shop, where sharp-faced old
women sell fish and cheese and cherries.

All day long children sprawl and quarrel and play on the sun-baked
pavement; and artists paint endless pictures of the red and orange sails
drifting slowly by, with the Salute and Ducal Palace for a background.
Yes, the Giudecca quarter is the quarter of the people. But to me the
stevedores, the children, and the haggling old women have a charm all
their own. And here, at the Casa Frollo where I lived, no red-booked
tourist sets foot.

Our gondolier, winded with his long pull against wind and tide, steered
for some steps a hundred feet this side the Casa Frollo. I called to him
to row farther up the quay, but St. Hilary irritably declared it easier
for us to walk the distance than for him to row.

“But why walk in the rain?” I expostulated. “And how are you going to
return to your hotel on the Riva if you dismiss your gondolier?
Gondoliers hereabouts at two o’clock in the morning are as rare as
horses on the Piazza.”

“It happens that I don’t intend to return to-night to my hotel. As a
matter of fact there will be no bed for you, my dear Hume.”

“No bed? It is not possible that you have already brought back our
clock?”

“It is not only possible, it is true. I returned this evening in time to
get your telegram and to meet you.”

“You have had it repaired in a week?”

“Yes; so far as it could be repaired.”

“Then there could not have been much the matter with it.”

“As it happened, there was not.”

“Then it seems to me that your trip to Amsterdam was not so very
remarkable after all?” I grumbled.

“Sometimes,” quietly replied St. Hilary, “one has to go to a great deal
of trouble and expense to get a merely negative result. Sometimes it is
necessary to find out simply what a thing is not.”

“And have you found out that it is not, after all, an automaton clock?”

“My dear fellow, be reasonable. In the first place, this clock had to be
set going. It was too intricate a piece of mechanism to entrust to any
blundering workman. Are you going to find fault because it has been set
going without any trouble or delay? Every wheel of its works had to be
taken apart.”

“And the object of that?”

“It was absolutely necessary that we should be certain that the secret
of the clock, provided it has a secret, is told by the automata, and
that this secret was not hidden in its works. Now, at least, we know
what _not_ to look for.”

“The automata themselves, then, hold the secret?”

“So far as we can tell at present. The fact is, I have heard only two of
the hours strike.”

“And were the automata of the hours that you saw in working order?”

“One of them at least was, though, I confess, the result was slightly
disappointing. However, I certainly did not expect the secret of the
clock to be on the surface.”

We walked up the quay in silence. Suddenly, as we were crossing a
bridge, St. Hilary seized my arm, his familiar gesture always for
silence and caution. He looked over the parapet. Half a dozen black
gondolas, swaying in the wind, were tied to rings in the wall. In one of
them sat a man. A piece of tarpaulin protected him from the rain. As we
looked at him he struck a match to light his pipe, and I saw his face.

“Did you ever happen to see that gondolier before?” demanded St. Hilary
as we walked on.

“Never, so far as I know,” I answered idly, peering through the rain for
the landmark of Palazzo Frollo, two ridiculously small marble lions on
the rail of the balcony of the second story.

“Hum, then perhaps I was mistaken. By the way, I met the duke on the
Riva as I was going to the station to meet you.”

“Indeed?” I said indifferently. I was fumbling for my night-key. I had
insisted on that essentially Anglo-Saxon convenience, and the door had
been fitted with a lock at my expense. I glanced up carelessly at the
windows of my sitting-room, after the manner of one who has been away
from home for a few days. A light was shining through the chink of the
shutters. I pointed it out to St. Hilary.

“I remember you told me that you had brought the clock to my rooms. You
left the lamp burning, I see.”

“I? No.”

“Then who can have been in my rooms?”

I heard St. Hilary chuckle in the darkness.

“Rather, say, who is in your room? _Pianissimo, mio caro._ It will be
amusing to surprise this midnight guest. No, no; not a light, and
silence.”

My rooms were on the second floor. We had to pass through the sala, a
huge apartment, at least forty feet long, a T-square in shape, and it
extended from the canal to the garden at the rear, the smaller part of
the T-square running along the side of the canal. The ceiling of immense
beams stretched from wall to wall. Once these beams had been gaily
decorated with geometrical designs; now they were dingy with a faded
coat of whitewash. The room was lighted by the feeble rays of a
night-lamp in a niche of the wall.

We tiptoed across the cold floor. Softly, very softly, I pushed down the
straight handle of the door leading into my room. I drew this door
cautiously toward me. A second door still hid us from the intruder, if
intruder there was. Cautiously I pushed it ajar, and looked through the
crack, St. Hilary squinting over my shoulder.

Duke da Sestos was seated in my room, and on a table immediately in
front of him ticked the clock. A lighted candle stood on either side of
it. He sat huddled in the deep armchair, his head sunk on his breast.
But he was not asleep. His elbows rested on the arms of the chair; his
legs were comfortably crossed. A box of cigarettes was at his elbow, and
at his elbow, too, a decanter of brandy–my brandy.

I closed the door, and at that moment we heard very faintly from within
an exquisite chime of silver bells. Then the hour of one was struck.

“By Jove, St. Hilary,” I said savagely, “is that brute to amuse himself
all night, drinking my liquors, listening to the chimes of our clock,
unmolested?”

“Not unmolested,” chuckled St. Hilary softly.

“Ah, then, we stop his little game!”

“With all the pleasure in the world.”

He took off his cloak. It was very thick and dripping with moisture. He
nodded at me, smiling.

“Yes, yes, you get the idea? Could a troublesome guest cry out
indignantly if this fine cloak kept his head warm, do you think?”

He spread out the cloak on one outstretched arm, and tiptoed to the door
again. I followed at his heels.

“But is this necessary?” I expostulated. “Why not throw him out without
any ado?”

St. Hilary looked at me with contempt.

“Do you forget the fourteen pages? We must see them. The chances are
they are in his pocket. We are to be burglars for the nonce, dear Hume,
and this cloak is to go over his head so that he won’t be too noisy.”

I nodded. “And the program?”

“It is very simple. His back is toward the door. When the next quarter
chimes, I push open the door softly. I give a twist to my good cloak,
and, _voila_, we shall have caught our prey. Blow out the candles, then
help me. We shall wrap the cloak comfortably about his head, so that he
can not see or hear. Then I go through his pockets. If the stolen pages
are there, very good. If not, his keys may be useful. Have you a rope?
We must fasten his arms and legs.”

“Yes, a trunk-strap.”

“Good. _En garde_, then. I am extremely thirsty. My poor lips ache for a
smack of that good liqueur.”

The clock chimed the half-hour sweetly. St. Hilary, holding the dripping
cloak before him like a shield, pushed open the door.



                              CHAPTER XIII


St. Hilary did not bungle; and the cloak served admirably. The duke was
no mean antagonist. As I placed my knee on his spine and twisted his
arms back, while St. Hilary adjusted the bonds and the gag, I made up my
mind that I should have to train down a little.

“And now?” I whispered, when we had trussed him up, for all the world
like a fat fowl. It seemed to me rather useless and silly, all this
fuss, and yet, I confess, I found it exciting.

St. Hilary shook his head for silence. One of the duke’s cigarettes
drooping at the corner of his mouth, he deliberately went through da
Sestos’s pockets. As I watched him, I shook with silent laughter. St.
Hilary played his part with such boyish gusto. They made a picture,
those two: the duke straining frantically at his bonds; St. Hilary, deft
and cool, quite to the manner born, tapping this pocket and that, and
emptying the contents of each in a little heap on the table–money, keys,
letters. When he had glanced through the last, he conscientiously
returned each article to its respective pocket. Except the keys and the
copy of a telegram. The keys he calmly transferred to his own pocket;
the telegram he handed to me. I read it curiously:

“Please tell Mr. Hume that he is by all means to give you the clock at
once.”

It was signed by Mrs. Gordon, and was directed to the duke. I looked at
it thoughtfully.

“Supposing, St. Hilary, that while reading this telegram the candle’s
flame happened to catch it. Naturally, I should let it go–like this,” I
whispered, and stamped on the burning paper.

“Wise young man,” commented St. Hilary. “And now I am going to return
the call of the duke. We are going to play our little game of tit for
tat.”

He put on his cloak, then, drawing its folds about him, he beckoned me
out into the sala.

“Yes, I am off to our comedian’s apartment. We must have those fourteen
pages, if possible. Do you keep your eye on the duke there until four
o’clock. Then let yourself down-stairs softly, very softly. Return
noisily, very noisily. Imagine you have been dining, as the poet says,
not wisely but too well. You will then be horrified to discover that our
lord duke is blindfolded, strapped, and gagged. You release him with
cries of concern. You are all sympathy. We have done our work skilfully
enough so that he can not know we are the aggressors. It is true, he may
guess. I shall return here to-morrow morning, probably not before noon.
We shall need a few hours’ sleep. I hope I shall bring those fourteen
pages with me, then we can amuse ourselves with our clock.”

“But our beast of prey in there. Though he can not see or move, don’t
forget he can hear. Keeping still until four o’clock in the morning does
not appeal to me in the least. Why not shut him up in my coat-closet
until it is time to release him?”

“Excellent.”

We entered my room again, and, in spite of his struggles, stood the duke
upright in the narrow closet. Then, leaving him standing there like a
mummy, we turned the key on him and left him to his reflections.

“Now I’m off,” whispered St. Hilary.

When he had closed the door behind him, I took the seat in front of the
clock. I waited for the clock to strike the hour of two.

The silver bell struck the three-quarter-hour. The minutes dragged on.
As I sat there, staring at the clock, my eyes on its face, it seemed a
thing sinister, half alive. Its yellow face took on a look that was half
human. It made faces at me. It mocked me.

And then at last a spring whirred. The little silver bells, sweet as an
elfin chime in fairyland, shocked me into rigid attention. It was two
o’clock. I watched the doors eagerly.

At first I thought none of the twelve doors had opened. I forgot for the
moment that the door of the second hour was at the side of the clock. I
moved the candle to the side. Yes, the door was wide open. I thrust the
rays of the candle at the little doorway, and I saw–what?

A circular platform was being pushed slowly forward. On this platform
was a tiny throne in silver. At the foot of this throne a bronze figure
crouched abjectly. Another figure stood upright at the base of the
throne. In his two hands the upright figure clutched a sword. As the
clock struck twice, the sword was raised high above his head, with a
droll, mechanical jerk. It descended twice on the neck of the crouching
figure. Then, very slowly, the platform retreated into the doorway. The
door closed.

That was all. A dollar cuckoo clock is hardly less impressive or more
ridiculous. A figure hacks with a sword at a figure complacently
kneeling to receive the blow–that was all! But was it all? Was there
not, behind the little figure, a background of bronze, a drop-curtain,
so to speak? And on the background was there not something in
bas-relief? I felt quite sure that there was, though the two automata
must be the principal actors in the foolish scene. I jotted down as much
as I could remember, and waited for three o’clock to strike.

But if the previous hour was disappointing, this was maddeningly so.
This time I had the two lighted candles standing at the third door, that
not a fraction of a second might be wasted.

Again the whirr of the spring and the chime of bells. The third door
opened slowly. The circular platform was pushed out again. A single
figure this time. I watched it, breathless, and it did–nothing. It stood
there motionless. But at the second glance I saw that it was designedly
motionless. It was not an automaton. It was simply a piece of bronze
cast in the shape of an old man in a flowing robe. The Doge’s cap was on
his head. His right arm was lifted as if gesticulating. And as the hours
struck, there appeared from the rear of the platform, in quick
succession, tiny round disks. They sprang into line from within one
after the other. Before the door closed I counted ten of them. They
stood in a row, facing the immovable figure. There was again a bronze
plate at the back. At first I thought it was ornamented with a
geometrical design. But as I looked at it more closely, I saw that it
was a gate. This scene was more tantalizing than the last. When the
clock had been in perfect repair the ten disks must have been the basis
for ten automata, much after the fashion of the Noah’s Ark men of our
childhood. Naturally, the ten figures suggested the Council of Ten, and
the single figure the Doge. But one would need some imagination to guess
their significance. The clock might have a wonderful secret to tell, but
it would take a genius or extraordinary luck to puzzle it out.

The clock ticked complacently. It seemed to jeer at me with its clacking
rhythm. I lighted one of the duke’s excellent cigarettes. My nerves had
been spurred to an ecstasy of excitement. I had expected wonderful
things to happen. Nothing had happened. Nothing, I said to myself, was
going to happen. I was very sleepy. The irritating tick-tock sounded far
away. I nodded in my chair.

The whirr of the spring and the silver chime aroused me. I leaned
forward languidly, cynically, rubbing my eyes. The first of the six
doors in front opened. This time no automaton appeared. In the
background I made out some monster, a well-curb, and a tree. The door
closed slowly. I laughed aloud. St. Hilary and myself had been mad to
dream that after almost five centuries the clock could tell its secret,
if indeed it had a secret to tell.

I yawned, blew out the candles, put on my overcoat and hat, and slipped
down-stairs. It was time to let the duke out of his box.



                              CHAPTER XIV


I walked a few rods from the house, hugging the wall. Returning noisily,
I pulled the bell half a dozen times. True, I had my key in my pocket,
but just now it would have been as well to have left it at home. All the
world must know I had just returned from my journey.

I had to wait five minutes before the frowsy head of my housekeeper
peered over the balcony. In the meanwhile, I discovered another head
looking at me from over the edge of the quay. By the rays of the lantern
at my door I recognized the face staring at me intently as that of the
man whom we had seen smoking under the bridge. He was the duke’s
gondolier. He was waiting for his master.

Then he knew the duke was in my rooms. That was awkward. Had he seen me
come out of the house? Nothing was more likely. What if his master
should question him, presently, if he had seen any suspicious characters
about? What if the man told his master that he had seen me come sneaking
out of the house one minute, to return noisily the next? When he
described me, what would the duke naturally infer? And if, still later,
the duke discovered that St. Hilary had paid this midnight visit to his
room? Well, at any rate, he would be assured that we were really in
earnest. He would know that if the casket was to be found, he was not
the only one who was looking for it.

I stepped into the hall and banged the door after me. I stumbled up the
stairs. I clattered across the sala. I sang. I lurched into a table. I
fell with a crash against the closet-door in which the duke was
imprisoned. There was no doubt about my having come home this time. Even
the duke in his narrow box must have heard me. I lighted a candle, and
taking off my coat and waistcoat, I held them in front of me with one
hand and flung open the closet-door with the other. I was prepared to
express surprise. I had an exclamation conveniently on my lips. It so
happened that my surprise was genuine. As I opened the door the duke
toppled over limply into my arms. He had fainted.

I let him slip to the floor. I unbound his wrists and legs. I tore off
the gag. I chafed his hands. I poured water over his face. Upon my word,
between us we had well-nigh smothered the chap.

He opened his eyes presently. Sitting up, he blinked at me. Slowly the
pallor left his face. He glanced about the room; he shook himself
together, rose to his feet, laughed lightly, and, walking over to the
table where his cigarettes lay, he lighted one, and inhaled it deeply.

“Ah, my friend Hume, that was not a pleasant half-hour. I must thank
you, my deliverer.”

I shook hands rather guiltily. I noticed that he was curiously examining
his cigarettes.

“The thief has been helping himself,” he said carelessly.

“Thief?” I cried, alarmed, and rushed to my bedroom. I threw out the
contents of a drawer or two, and came back into the sitting-room, the
picture of despair.

“Yes, thieves,” I said feebly, as I sank into a chair. “A diamond
scarf-pin, a watch, a few hundred lire–all stolen.”

“_Mio caro_,” he cried hypocritically, seizing my hands.

“But how did you get into my closet?” I demanded.

“My dear Mr. Hume, do you think I walked in there?”

“I suppose not,” I answered dryly; “but I suppose you walked into my
sitting-room?”

He was voluble in his excuses. He had come on a little errand. He must
have fallen asleep. He remembered nothing till he was seized and bound
and robbed.

“So they have robbed you, these thieves?” I asked indiscreetly.

“Yes; they have taken my keys,” and he looked at me keenly.

“Your keys!” I expostulated. “What would they do with your keys? You
must have left them at home.”

“Perhaps. _Eh bien_, Mr. Hume, I must bid you good night. I must walk, I
suppose, to the Tragetto Ponte del Piccolo for a gondolier. Why, my
friend, do you dwell in this barbarous Giudecca?” Then his eyes fell on
the table, where the clock ticked loudly. “Ah ha, my old clock, and it
goes. Capital! I had quite forgotten my errand.”

“And that is?”

“To deprive you of my clock, my friend. Do you forget that we were to
telegraph Madame Gordon in St. Petersburg? Oh, la, la, you did not wait
for me at the bureau, I remember. That was not the act of a sportsman.”
He shook his head reproachfully.

“I thought it was you who did not wait for me,” I said dryly. “And have
you yet received an answer to your telegram?”

“But yes. Behold!” He fumbled in his breast-pocket, and sorted rapidly a
package of letters and papers. “_Accidenti!_” he cried, “it is not
here.”

“No doubt you left it at home with the keys,” I said coolly.

“Eh? At home with the keys?” He looked at me with half-shut eyes.

“Why not?” I asked, yawning, and casting a longing eye toward my
bedroom.

He began to laugh boisterously. “It is a matter to laugh over that
thieves should rob one of a telegram and one’s keys, _hein?_”

“Decidedly,” I said uneasily.

“But it will be the simplest thing in the world for me to get another
telegram,” he cried mockingly. “The thieves will not inconvenience me in
the slightest. And as to their going to my rooms, bah, I am not so big a
fool as to leave anything of interest there for an intruder to gaze at.
No, Mr. Hume, not so big a fool as that. By the way, did you find your
bibelot, that rare bibelot in the Imperial Library, interesting?”

“I did not take the trouble to go back for it,” I lied carelessly. “A
telegram from Miss Quintard recalled me to Bellagio.”

I startled him as I had intended to. His face darkened. He looked at the
clock again.

He had heard the spring whirr metallically. The bells began to strike.
Instinctively we both turned, and watched the fourth door open slowly.
Again the figure on the platform had been broken off. What the
background was I could not see. I dared not show too great curiosity
before the duke.

The door closed. The duke and I looked at each other.

“It is interesting, all the same, my droll old clock.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“I see that you have had it repaired.”

“I was wondering if that fact would dawn on you,” I said.

“Am I to understand that because you have had the clock repaired, my
right to it is the less real?” he inquired, an ugly gleam in his blue
eyes.

“You are to understand precisely that,” I replied. “And permit me to
remind you, first of all, that this clock is not yours. It is now Mrs.
Gordon’s. She has asked me to keep it for her. I shall take whatever
steps I may think necessary for its safe keeping. I am beginning to
think that it is valuable when people break into my rooms to observe
it.”

“Break into your rooms?” He looked at me angrily.

“I beg your pardon,” I said suavely. “I was thinking, of course, of the
thieves.”

He bowed. “A very natural mistake. _Felice noce._”

“Good night, duke.” We pressed each other’s hands warmly.

But at the door he turned.

“Mr. Hume, do you not think that when people resort to the extreme
measures of binding one and shutting one up in closets they must be
decidedly anxious that one shall not see things?”

“Without a doubt,” I retorted airily. “As, for instance, when they tear
leaves out of library-books.”

Again we bowed. So we understood each other.

I threw open my shutters and looked out. The duke was stepping into his
gondola. Evidently he saw it was useless to sail longer under false
colors. He waved to me familiarly.

It was a superb morning. The rain had been blown away. Venice had robed
herself in glory, and proudly enthroned herself as the great
enchantress, the magician of the seas.

I threw myself wearily on my bed for a few hours’ sleep. The clock might
strike as it would. I was disgusted with its antics.



                               CHAPTER XV


It was long past noon when I was awakened by St. Hilary.

“Well,” I asked sleepily, “have you had any luck?”

“None whatever. The duke’s belongings were packed. His rooms were
dismantled. If you remember, he has been living at Bellagio the past few
days. He has a villa there.”

“So you have no trace of the missing papers?”

“No trace,” he replied gloomily. “But tell me of your own adventures
with the duke.”

“It appears,” he said ruefully, when I had finished, “that the duke has
had the advantage of us after all. But at least we have the clock.”

“Yes,” I echoed sarcastically, “we have the clock. But it seems to me
that the childish contrivances one sees sold on the boulevards of Paris
for ten sous are as ingenious. I have heard it strike four of the hours,
and each hour’s results were more disappointing than the last.”

“Did you expect to find its secret on the surface, like the pebbles on
the sea-shore? There are pebbles on the shore, yes. But, my friend, a
poet has said we must dive for the pearls.”

“The automata are all more or less broken,” I grumbled. “We gained
precious little by our trips to Holland and Russia, I think.”

“I don’t call my trip a failure.”

“But your Dutch clock-maker didn’t repair the automata,” I insisted.

“Very true. But he was able to assure me what I had already guessed and
hoped might be true–that the antics of the automata, even when the clock
was in perfect order, could never have amounted to much. Their various
movements, however droll and amusing, were too simple to have much
significance.”

“The automata have no significance!” I repeated testily. “Why, I thought
the fact that the clock as an automaton clock was precisely the
significant point. If the automata amount to no more than a row of pins,
how the devil is the clock to tell its secret?”

“My dear Hume,” returned St. Hilary quietly, “they may amount in the end
to a row of diamonds. I did not say that the automata have no
significance whatever. On the contrary, they are perhaps the principal
actors of each scene. But the chorus of each scene is to be found in the
bas-reliefs that appear on the bronze plates forming the backgrounds. If
we grant that, the office of the automaton figures is chiefly to
identify the twelve scenes in the bas-relief.”

“But if that is true, shall we be able to identify the scenes in the
backgrounds when the automatic figures are missing?”

“It will be difficult to do so, certainly. But I believe these automata
have a purpose more subtle than that. If my theory is correct, the mad
goldsmith would not tell his secret by the uncertain means of a lot of
dancing and gesticulating figures. The mechanism would be too intricate
and delicate to stand the test of wear and time. It is most probable
that the automatic figures, while serving the subsidiary purpose of
identifying the various scenes in the backgrounds, are really a bluff.
They are a blind to rob the backgrounds of their significance. They are
designed to catch the attention of the unwary. The unthinking man, held
by the movements of the figures themselves, would look no farther.”

“That is a really ingenious theory, St. Hilary,” I said admiringly.

“Be sure of this,” replied the dealer complacently, “the riddle that man
has been ingenious enough to devise, man is ingenious enough to solve.”

“Granting always that it is a consistent riddle.”

“And I have enough faith in my goldsmith to believe that,” said St.
Hilary obstinately. “But it is three minutes to one. The clock is about
to strike.”

We watched the first of the doors open, the circular platform pushed
out. A headless figure stood motionless, its right hand resting on a
lion’s head. At the stroke of the hour, the beast lifted its paw and
dropped it again. The headless figure wiggled its left hand. Then the
platform solemnly retreated, and the door was noiselessly shut.

“Doesn’t that simply cap the climax for exquisite inanity?” I cried.

“It is silly enough to bear out my theory. The raising of that lion’s
paw, the ludicrous wiggling of the solemn figure’s hand, can not
possibly have any meaning.”

“Why are you so sure of that?”

“Because the gestures were made but once. But you observed the
background?”

“It was simply the Ducal Palace,” I said indifferently, “which of itself
may mean much or nothing.”

“Precisely. It is the figure and the lion that give the scene its vital
touch. Any schoolboy could have recognized them. They stand, of course,
for San Marco, the patron saint of Venice, and his lion. And now, let us
get to work. Our first step must be to make ourselves familiar with
every detail of each scene of the hours.”

“Since the automata are useless, and, in most of the hours, are missing
entirely, why should we not take flashlight snap-shots of the twelve
backgrounds? We could then study them at our leisure.”

“Excellent. But the camera?”

“I have a very good one with an admirable lens. I can take the pictures
myself. These photos we can always carry about with us on our person.
There will be no danger of the duke’s stealing those. But the clock, we
can’t keep guard over it all the time. The duke will surely insist on
its being given up to him sooner or later. If necessary, he will call in
the police.”

“Hume, you are an inspiration. What’s your idea for getting rid of it?”

“If I shipped it to America for Mrs. Gordon, ought she not to be
grateful to me for saving her that bother!”

“But the duke could readily prevail on her to cable to America to have
it sent back to her. The ruse would give us a month’s start, it is true;
but what if we shouldn’t find the casket in a month?”

“I have thought of that. If it were sent to a wrong address, by mistake,
or to your shop, for example? And if you sent instructions that the box
was to be put carefully away until your return?”

“My dear fellow, you are a jewel of thoughtfulness. Take your
flash-lights immediately; and when you have made twelve perfect
pictures, we will pack the clock, and see ourselves that it is safely
started on its long journey to America. Until then, one or the other of
us must guard it day and night.”

I took the twelve flash-lights. They were a perfect success. Two days
later the clock was boxed, labeled “Glass, with care,” and on its way to
Genoa, whence it was to be shipped to New York.

On the same steamer was a letter from the dealer to his partner,
advising him that a box containing an article of value had been shipped
that day, and instructing him to have it stored away carefully until
further orders. All information concerning it was to be absolutely
withheld.

We acted not a day too soon. Our duke appeared again; this time armed
with legal authority. I expressed the profoundest regret, but how could
I dare to keep so valuable an antique longer in my possession, since I
had reason to know that thieves had already forced their way into my
rooms to steal it? The duke stormed and threatened. I smiled at him
blandly. When he asked me where I had sent it, I informed him that I had
despatched it to New York, in the care of St. Hilary’s partner. As to
the instructions St. Hilary had given his partner, the dealer in
antiques would doubtless tell him what they were, since he had written
them. St. Hilary lied, cheerfully and absolutely, asserting that he had
sent orders to his partner promptly to surrender the clock to any person
bearing a signed note from Mrs. Gordon.



                              CHAPTER XVI


For a week St. Hilary scarcely left my room. He ate little; he smoked
boxes of cigarettes; he consumed pots of black coffee. Such sleep as he
had he snatched for an hour at a time in my armchair. And always in
front of him were the photographs of the backgrounds of the twelve
hours.

As for me, I waited on him hand and foot. I was a hewer of wood and a
drawer of water. Now I went to Rosen’s to buy some volume, now to
Organia’s to borrow a collection of rare prints, now to the Museo Civico
to consult the director. The archives of the Frari, the Academy of Arts,
each of them saw me often. In the morning, perhaps I looked at a picture
of Carpaccio or Bellini; in the afternoon I explored an obscure
_canaletto_.

I was content to take the humbler position. St. Hilary had a right to
command. His had been the discovery that made the search possible.
Again, it seemed fit that his quicker brain should catch the fire, the
inspiration. I did not doubt but that sooner or later from the mass of
lifeless evidence, which he was heaping about him, he would surely draw
forth the secret.

But now, after a week of fruitless searching, his chin a reproach, his
hands trembling, and his temper a thing to be respected, he leaned back
in the chair and despaired.

“It is useless,” he sighed. “The thing is not to be done in a day or a
week. I have not the art of divination. Sometimes I feel that I am on
the right track. I grope; I touch something; I clutch at it, but it
eludes me, always. There stands the ticking, mocking braggart. It laughs
at us with its brazen wheels; it mocks us with its silver tongue. I
believe that the spirit of the mad goldsmith actually dwells in its
hollow sides.”

And yet, in spite of St. Hilary’s despair, we had accomplished
something.

Of the original automata of the twelve hours we had found four only to
be in actual working order. In three of the hours, some of the figures
were intact, and some were broken. In the five remaining hours, the
figures were completely lacking.

To consider the four hours with the figures intact, namely, 1, 2, 6, 7:

1.–A robed figure and a lion. The lion nods once.

2.–A figure standing over a kneeling slave in an attitude of menace,
twice strikes the neck of the slave with a sword.

6.–A dancing figure advances ten steps forward and retreats ten steps.

7.–A dove appears at the window of a tower.

In hours 3, 8, 9, some of the figures were intact, some broken:

3.–A robed figure seated in a chair. Before this figure, designedly
motionless, ten disks appear in succession, and are ranged in a row. The
figures are broken off the disks.

8.–A crowned figure standing on a dais before a throne. A second figure
at the foot of the throne is broken off.

9.–A seated figure with a scepter.

In hours 4, 5, 10, 11, 12 there was not the slightest fragment of the
figures remaining.

So much for the automata.

The scenes of the bas-reliefs of the backgrounds were as follows:

1.–A palace, plainly the Doge’s palace. Seven arches of the palace are
seen. Beneath six of these arches groups of men are standing–ten figures
in each group, or sixty in all.

2.–A hanging.

3.–A gate.

4.–Three trees; a beast of burden, probably a camel; a well.

5.–Badly mutilated.

6.–Two figures seated on the balcony over the doorway of San Marco. One
figure wears the Doge’s cap; the other is crowned with a wreath of
laurel.

7.–A barge on a stormy sea.

8.–An empty room in a palace. The door is open; no figures are seen.

9.–Thirteen kneeling figures with outstretched hands.

10.–Six gondolas in procession; tritons spouting.

11.–Mutilated.

12.–Three figures holding out bags.

Such were the automata and the bas-reliefs in the backgrounds of the
twelve hours.

As to the scenes they represented, St. Hilary had made a rough guess at
most of them. Four or five of the scenes he thought he had identified
unmistakably. All twelve of them were scenes out of Venetian history.
When I urged him for the results he had gained so far, he declared at
first that they were too meager to be suggestive. But I was not to be
balked.

“I have been running your errands for a week, St. Hilary,” I reminded
him. “I have been your obedient messenger–an intelligent messenger, if
you will–and I have left you to do the piecing together of the different
parts of the puzzle. Now I want to know what you have accomplished.”

“There is very little to tell,” he said sulkily. “Scene one represents
St. Mark and his lion, the tutelary saint of Venice. As to the second
scene, the story is in every guide-book. The artist Gentile Bellini
visited the Sultan of Turkey, and painted for him a picture of the
daughter of Herodias bringing in the head of St. John the Baptist on a
charger. The Sultan objected that the neck was not rightly drawn–that
when a man was beheaded, no neck appeared at all, in fact. The artist
disputed the point. To prove himself in the right, the Sultan struck off
a slave’s head.”

“And the third hour–the ten disks arranged in a row?”

“The Council of Ten, I suppose.”

“Well, well, the fourth, St. Hilary?” I cried sharply.

“Perhaps you know its significance. I don’t. The camel doesn’t figure in
Venetian history, so far as I know. It is true, Marco Polo traveled to
the Great Khan of Cathay. The scene might have been a chapter out of his
life. But after wading through his travels I have failed to find it.”

“And the next, I suppose, is too badly mutilated to be identified?”

“Absolutely,” he grumbled.

“And the background of the sixth hour?” I asked, studying the photograph
through a powerful magnifying-glass. “Have you been able to identify
either of the two figures seated on the balcony?”

“Both,” he replied with more animation. “The figure with the Doge’s cap
is Dandolo. The figure crowned with a wreath of laurel by his side
represents the poet Petrarch, who was his guest. The automatic figure
that dances the ten steps forward and backward symbolizes a festival
held on the Piazza after Venice had subdued her enemy Crete.”

“The seventh hour represents,” I ventured, “the legend of the Doge
receiving news of victory by a carrier-pigeon. Every child who feeds the
creatures on the Piazza knows that story. The tower must be the
Campanile.”

“Quite right. The scene of the eighth hour,” continued St. Hilary, “you
discovered for yourself in the Academy this morning. The room of the
palace in the background is an exact reproduction of the palace seen in
the painting of Carpaccio.”

“And the ninth?” I demanded, feeling that our information was meager
indeed.

“Here, again, we can only guess. The broken figure may be Carmagnola,
the soldier of fortune. The thirteen figures kneeling in the background
no doubt typify his conquered enemies. The procession of the gondolas
and the spouting tritons in the tenth probably represent the going of
the Doge in his bucentaur to wed the Adriatic.”

“And the eleventh hour must be quite hopeless. The automaton is missing
and the plate at the back is battered beyond all recognition,” I said
moodily.

“The twelfth is almost as obscure,” concluded St. Hilary. “The figures
holding out the bags are perhaps conquered Genoese offering ransom.”

“It is not very promising,” I confessed, “Have you any theory whatever
as to the meaning of these scenes?”

“I have a dozen. But they are all equally impossible.”

“Let me hear one of them, at least,” I urged.

“Well, then, if I repeat to you the numbers 10, 4, 7, 21, 1, 10, 3, 40,
of what do you at once think?”

“A cipher,” I cried eagerly.

“That is the theory that seems to me the most hopeful at present. The
numbers I have mentioned are the figures of the different successive
scenes. It is barely possible that these numbers, either alone or
combined with other numbers, might bring us to the hiding-place of the
casket. The trouble is that not every scene has figures in the
background. The eighth, for instance. And in hours five and eleven, the
backgrounds are so mutilated that, even if this theory were true, we
should lack those numbers to make our cipher complete.”

“And yet the existence of a cipher seems the only possible way by which
the riddle may be solved.”

“I believe that is true. There are twelve hours, that is, there are
twelve different steps–twelve different links to the whole chain.
Beginning at hour one, so many steps, paces, or what not, ought to bring
us to hour two. There, beginning afresh, so many steps, paces, and so
forth, again ought to bring us to hour three, and so on. Do you get the
idea?”

“It sounds reasonable,” I replied thoughtfully. “But since two or three
scenes are missing, I can not see much promise in this theory.”

“I told you that they were all impossible,” growled the dealer. “So far
we are quite at sea. To-morrow, perhaps–” he sighed wearily.

“To-morrow perhaps we shall have better luck,” I said cheerfully. “It is
always darkest before the dawn.”

“_Pas de banalités._ I am not a Sunday-school scholar to be preached at.
Come, let’s to dinner.”



                              CHAPTER XVII


Three weeks passed before we made any further progress. A clue, but
always an imaginary clue, would prick us into feverish activity, which
invariably led us nowhere.

But toward the end of the third week of our search, St. Hilary came to
my rooms one afternoon, triumphant. He had actually made a discovery.
And this discovery proved, beyond the peradventure of a doubt, not only
that the clock had a story to tell, not only that the twelve hours
actually did constitute twelve links of a chain, but that somewhere, in
the background of each hour, there was some mark corresponding to a like
mark in some part of Venice.

“It is only a little clue,” he said with affected modesty, “a very
little one. But who knows that it may not be the wedge that shall pry
open our treasure-box?”

“Produce this wedge by all means,” I said skeptically.

“This morning, about half past ten, I found myself in the Campo San
Salvatore–you know it, the little square with the house of the gaily
painted balcony and the roses on the north side. At the left of the
square, going toward San Marco, perhaps you remember, there is a boys’
school. You may have observed a respectable old servant who walks
solemnly up to the big bell on the left of the door, leading a little
boy by the hand. He always rings the bell at eight o’clock in the
morning. When the door is opened he hands the school-books to his
charge, shakes his finger at him, and toddles off to the seller of
sweetened water at the corner for a drink.”

“Has this respectable old man anything to do with your precious
discovery?” I asked impatiently.

“A great deal to do with it. This morning, as I was saying, I caught
sight of my old man and the young gentleman. My eyes dwelt on them
affectionately while the servant rang the big bell, and shook his
forefinger at the smiling boy. Now observe, my dear Hume; if I hadn’t
met my old man, I should have hurried through the square. In that case I
should have missed the boy with the fish.”

“Oh, there is a boy with a fish, is there?” I remarked.

“Yes,” he said severely, “there is a boy with a fish. While I stood
watching the old man, a stream of curses and abuse in the Venetian
dialect disturbed my pleasant reflections. I turned, and there, at the
open door of a large house, stood a barefooted boy with a flat basket of
fish. Two servants were shrieking at him like the very devil. The fish
was bad, perhaps, or the boy had given the wrong change. I do not know.
The point is that the old servant, the seller of sweetened water, who
left his stand, and the dark-eyed gipsies at the well, who left their
buckets, came to look on. The bad little boy with the fish didn’t like
this publicity. Especially when a majestic policeman with a long feather
in his round hat––”

I groaned. “Is the majestic policeman with the long feather in his round
hat absolutely essential?”

“The majestic policeman with the long feather in his round hat is
absolutely essential”, said St. Hilary with an amused drawl.

“Even the long feather in the round hat!” I could not resist asking.

“Especially the long feather in the round hat, as you will see if you
are patient For this majestic policeman came on the bad little boy quite
unawares, and, seizing his ear, he made him a prisoner. Then the
youngster wrenched himself free, only to run headlong into another
policeman who was coming from the Calle San Rosario. The _spighetti_,
compelled to double on his tracks, plunged recklessly into the first
opening that offered. This happened to be the gate leading into the
school garden, that chanced to be wide open. Now, we thought, the
youngster will surely be caught, and when the policeman with the long
feather in his hat languidly strolled after his prey, the rest of the
square pressed respectfully after to see the fun. But the young
ragamuffin had the policeman now quite at his mercy, for he lost himself
immediately among threescore of boys at play. So that presently, while
the policeman was vainly searching the garden for him, the bad little
boy regained the entrance. He cast one cautious eye into the square to
be sure that the second policeman had disappeared, and then, after the
manner of small boys the world over, he held his thumb and fingers
extended at the majestic policeman, and called him naughty names.”

“A beautiful little sketch of low life in Venice,” I said sarcastically.
“But I fail to see even yet the pertinency of the long feather in the
round hat.”

“Patience, my friend. When he had sufficiently insulted the majestic
policeman in this manner, he took one of his mullets, and hurling it
with precision–-–”

“Struck the round hat with the long feather.”

“–Missed the round hat with the long feather,” corrected St. Hilary with
calm precision, “but struck the long feather on the round hat. It hung
pitifully, a draggled and wobegone bit of finery; and those of us who
had followed him into the court naturally regarded it with respectful
sympathy. And then my heart came into my mouth. The broken feather was
pointing, as it were a human hand, straight to a round––”

“Not another round hat!” I cried in despair.

“–Straight to a round stone let into the wall. And on this round stone
was carved a camel’s head, the precise image of the camel’s head in this
photograph of the background of the fourth hour.”

St. Hilary looked at me in triumph, and, picking up the photograph,
thrust it into my hand.

“The precise image of the camel’s head in this photograph,” I repeated,
trying to grasp the significance of that statement. “But why should you
think that the clock-maker copied the head of that particular camel in
the background of the fourth hour? My dear St. Hilary, your introduction
was too elaborate for your news to be striking. I expected something
more startling.”

“But, idiot,” cried the dealer, exasperated, “look at the photograph. Do
you see nothing peculiar about that camel’s head?”

I took the magnifying-glass and studied the photograph carefully.

“Nothing–unless it be the eye. Perhaps it is a defect in the
workmanship. But it looks–yes, it certainly does look as if the camel
was blind.”

“The camel carved on the stone let into the wall of the house is blind
also.”

“This _is_ news, if it is not the merest chance,” I cried.

“And before the house was used as a school, it was called the House of
the Blind Camel.”

“The House of the Blind Camel!” I repeated excitedly. “By Jove, St.
Hilary, does that mean you have stumbled on one of the twelve
landmarks?”

“Patience. Look at your photograph again. What else do you see in the
background of the fourth hour?”

“A well,” I answered promptly. “If you have found the well, there can be
no doubt.”

“And I _have_ found the well. Look at the photograph. What is the design
of the beading round the curb?”

“A looped wreath with pomegranates between each loop.”

“The well in the school garden has a beading of the same design. But
study the photograph a moment–look carefully at the second and third
pomegranates from the left. Do you notice anything peculiar?”

“No, I see nothing peculiar about them.”

“The more we study the history of this clock, Hume, the more I am
impressed with the fact that the eye is a most unreliable organ. We
rarely see a thing as it actually is; we see it as we expect it to be.
Take the magnifying-glass and look at those second and third
pomegranates carefully.”

“I see now,” I cried. “They are not pomegranates; they are two
rosettes.”

“And there are two rosettes between two of the loops of the well in the
garden. You grasp the importance of the discovery, I hope. It means that
we have to study the photographs from quite a different point of view.
All we have to do now is to find in the various backgrounds some
significant mark that is paralleled in the various landmarks about
Venice that lead to the casket.”

“Are you not a little too sanguine, St. Hilary? These twelve marks are
often most obscure. In the fifth and the eleventh hours there are no
marks whatever.”

“That is true,” replied St. Hilary thoughtfully. “This discovery by
itself is quite useless. If we could have found the mark of the fifth
hour we could have begun at this fourth hour. But since that is
missing––”

“And I suppose it is useless for us to think of beginning with the
landmarks of the last hours, even if we could find them in the
background. The last of the landmarks would be almost certainly found
not in the open air, but in the interior of some palace.”

“There is another difficulty that has just occurred to me,” continued
St. Hilary. “We have been taking it for granted that we start from the
Pillar of San Marco in the Piazzetta. I still think that it is
reasonable that the search begins there. If that be true, we find
ourselves in the fourth hour at the Campo San Salvatore, but the
landmark of the sixth hour brings us back to the balcony of San Marco in
the Piazza again. In the next hour we simply stroll a few feet away to
the Campanile. In that case the mad clock-maker has been leading us
about in a senseless circle. He may have been mad, but he was not as mad
as that.”

“Then you think the wisest thing is for us to search for the second
landmark? It does not seem particularly promising. So far as I can see,
it is merely a curtain, with a conventional decoration of what appears
to be more like two husks of corn than anything else I can think of. One
of these husks is perpendicular; the other horizontal.”

“I see no reason why we should not begin with the sixth hour,” asserted
St. Hilary.

“I think we may begin at any one of them with an equal chance of
success,” I said hopelessly. “This search of ours is like nothing so
much as hunting for twelve needles in twenty thousand haystacks.”

And it turned out that I was right. For several days we made no farther
progress. We became so utterly fatigued and weary of looking for we knew
not what that we saw nothing. We took to wandering vaguely about the
canals and the streets. A restlessness urged us out at all hours in
search of these vague landmarks. Every morning after breakfast we set
out somewhere. Every evening we returned discouraged. And so a month
passed, and we were no nearer to the da Sestos casket.



                             CHAPTER XVIII


Jacqueline and I had not written to each other for nearly three weeks.

When I first returned from Bellagio I had intended to explain the
apparent flippancy of my last words to her–that I could write the legend
of the da Sestos clock, as well as search for the casket. For Jacqueline
was, as I have said, quite ignorant that the casket and the clock were
in any way connected.

But I had not done so. Partly because I wished to surprise her with that
fact, and partly because success had not crowned our efforts as soon as
I had hoped. I regretted that I had not told her everything; and yet
each day I put off doing so. And so three weeks passed, and still I had
not told her.

The fact is, this search for the casket had in some subtle way raised a
barrier between Jacqueline and myself. At first I had entered into the
quest with enthusiasm. Jacqueline’s entreaty had given the task a
dignity and a certain sacredness. But, gradually, my motive for finding
it was lost sight of. The madness of St. Hilary had also entered my
veins. I became more and more eager for success purely for its own sake,
and not for Jacqueline’s. The quest had become almost a mania–just such
a restless, haunting, cruel longing as tempts the miner to drag his
aching feet one more burning mile for the gold he covets. That
Jacqueline had asked me to find the casket for her redeemed the search
from folly. But as soon as I cared for the thing itself it became a
degrading passion.

It was Sunday morning. St. Hilary had insisted upon my going once more
to the Academy of Arts to compare the photograph of the eighth hour with
Carpaccio’s picture, the Dismissal of the Ambassadors, in the series of
paintings known as the Martyrdom of St. Ursula. I was still in search,
of course, of the ever-baffling landmark.

The bell of the English church was solemnly tolling in the Campo San
Agnese. The doors of the Academy were not yet open, and I began to watch
listlessly the well-dressed throng of English and American tourists
crossing the big iron bridge on their way to divine service. To my great
surprise I saw Jacqueline among them.

There was a pensive look on her lovely face that touched me. I realized,
now that I saw her, how great had been my folly. My eyes had been bent
on the mire, while the goddess herself was passing by. I sprang up the
steps of the bridge, and met her half-way across.

“Jacqueline,” I cried, “when did you come to Venice?”

She looked at me with a sort of gentle wonder. I put up my hand guiltily
to my chin. St. Hilary and myself had grown so absorbed in our search
that we had given little thought to what we ate or drank or what we wore
or how we looked. But Jacqueline, it seemed, was observing my face and
not my scrubby beard.

“We arrived last night. But you look a ghost, a shadow of yourself.”

“The hunt for the casket, Jacqueline, is an excellent preventive against
obesity,” I said lightly.

At this reference to the casket the color slowly left her cheeks, and
her eyes looked into mine wistfully.

“You–you are still searching for it?”

“Of course I am!” I answered almost gruffly.

“I did not know. You have not written,” she said quietly.

“If I have not written,” I answered, “it is because there was nothing to
write about.”

“Nothing to write about, Dick?” She smiled dreamily.

“Not worth mentioning, Jacqueline.”

“Then you are still in the dark?”

“Absolutely.”

“And–and you have little hope?”

“Almost no hope.”

Absorbed though I was in my own selfish feeling, I could not but notice
the disappointment of her tone. We were at the church door now. She held
out her hand. To see her pass thus out of my sight, to know that my own
obstinacy was raising this barrier between us, that I had wounded her–I
could not let her go like that, even for a few hours.

“Jacqueline,” I said firmly, “I wish to tell you about this search. I
know a half street, half campo near here, delightfully shaded with
mulberry trees. There are benches, and one may sit there and talk
quietly. Will you go with me? I will not keep you long.”

“Well, Dick, what is it?” she asked when she was seated.

Her hands were clasped loosely in her lap. Her gaze passed me by, and
dwelt on the cage of a thrush hanging on a nail in a doorway. The
feathered prisoner was singing in ecstasy.

“This mad quest that you have sent me on,” I broke out impetuously, “I
want you to release me from it.”

She was silent a moment, then drew herself up with a certain hauteur.

“I release you from it, of course, since you wish it,” she answered with
dignity.

“No, no, Jacqueline. Not in that way. Do not misunderstand me. I call it
a mad quest not because it seems a hopeless one. It is mad, because it
is useless. The most rigid sense of honor could not hold you to your
lightly spoken word. You love the duke, or you do not. You love me, or
you do not. Surely you do not pit us against each other. This is not a
test of love. And so, I say, this quest is mad. It is leading me surely
away from you. I am beginning to care for it for its own sake. I want
you to release me from it.”

“It is leading you from me?” she repeated wonderingly. “But you are
doing this for me. Does not that keep me in your thoughts? You say this
is not a test of love. Why should it not be? And if the lover is weary
already of his task–if–” Her lip trembled.

“Dear Jacqueline, how can I make you understand? I ask you to release me
from this search, not because I am tired, not merely because I think the
casket can not be found. It is the principle of the thing. Supposing
that the duke should bring you this casket, could that possibly alter
your feeling toward him? Could that make you love him more than you do
at present?”

“Why should it not?” she answered, a little defiantly. “In a sense he
has shown himself a truer lover than you. He is keeping up the search,
cheerfully and patiently. And yet every day he finds time to write me of
his failures and his successes. Apparently, I asked him to remove
mountains. He attempts the impossible gladly, and sometimes I think he
will accomplish it.”

“The duke has been searching for the casket? Here, in Venice?”

“Yes, and without a moment’s rest, so he assures me. More than that, he
declares he is on its track–that he will bring it to me soon.”

I was stupefied. Neither St. Hilary nor I had once seen the duke since
he left my rooms. It seemed incredible that he should have been in
Venice these past three weeks and that we should not know it.

“He will bring you the casket soon?” I repeated blankly. “And if he
brings it to you, you are going to listen to him? Because I have said
nothing, Jacqueline, have you thought me idle and indifferent? Do you
trust him more than you trust me? If he has the luck to stumble on this
casket, will that prove that he is more worthy of your regard than I?
Will you marry him for that?”

Jacqueline looked at me a moment in silence. She laid her hand gently on
my arm.

“Has this quest troubled you so much? I begin to think it a very
childish one. I begin to realize my folly, and yet––”

She rose from the bench, and shaking out her skirts daintily, opened her
parasol.

“You are going, Jacqueline? There is no more to be said?”

“I told my aunt that I was going to church. I think I had better go. But
afterward, if you will walk to the hotel with me, you may stay to
luncheon, and in the afternoon you may take me out on the lagoon again.
Then you shall tell me everything–just what you have done, and just what
you have failed to do. And perhaps–perhaps, I may recall you from the
task that you have undertaken for me.”

“Jacqueline,” I stammered with joy, “you mean–you mean that you may
marry me without regard to this foolish promise of yours to the duke?”

“I mean,” she answered slowly, “that I must know everything–everything.
Then I may be better able to judge just what I ought to do, what I wish
to do.”

“I shall wait for you at the church door. I must first go to my rooms to
make myself presentable. Heavens, Jacqueline, if you could know the
relief I feel at abandoning this mad search. It has been a nightmare;
but now we shall go out into the blessed sunshine again.”

“But, Dick,” she said wistfully, “you will need to plead very eloquently
this afternoon to convince me that I may withdraw my word to Duke da
Sestos. If only it had been possible to find that wretched casket! I
shall look for you after church.”

I watched her disappear within the doorway. In half an hour I had been
to my rooms and returned. I slipped into a pew at the rear of the
church. I wished to think–to dream. It seemed incredible that the search
was ended. What would St. Hilary say when he knew that I had abandoned
it? And, strange as it may seem, already I was vaguely sorry. Could I
watch St. Hilary steadily going on with the search and be quite
indifferent as to his success or failure? Should I never have regrets
that I had not kept at it a little longer? Then I looked at Jacqueline,
kneeling devoutly a few pews in front of me, and I smiled joyfully. No,
with Jacqueline as my wife, I had no need of the excitement of a fool’s
errand.

Out of the stillness of my thoughts, as if from afar off, the text of
the preacher fell on my ears, unheeding and yet strangely receptive. The
text was twice repeated. It was sufficiently fantastic in itself, but to
me it was the finger of fate.

_It was pointing to the hiding-place of the da Sestos casket._



                              CHAPTER XIX


This was the text:

_Moreover, the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid the arms
of it with fine gold._

_The throne had six steps, and the top of the throne was round behind,
and there were stays on either side of the place of the seat, and two
lions stood beside the stays._

At first, as I have said, the words fell quite idly on my ears. Then,
without any effort on my part, a throne made of ivory, its arms overlaid
with fine gold, seemed to flash before my eyes. I tried to resume the
thread of my thought again, but the vision of the throne of ivory with
the two lions at the side haunted my excited brain. All at once, with a
shock of surprise, I knew why it stood before me with such startling
distinctness. The throne of the automaton of the eighth hour was of
ivory, its arms were of gold, it had six steps, and two lions crouched
on either side.

At first I was merely astonished at the similarity of the throne of the
Bible and the throne of the da Sestos clock. But other scenes of the
hours sprang before my mind in review. I remembered the hour of St. Mark
and the lion; the Council of Ten before the Gate; the Sultan and the
kneeling slave. The scenes stopped abruptly there. In a flash, almost
without thought, certainly without deliberate reasoning, I had fathomed
the secret of the clock:

_The scenes of the twelve hours were not Venetian scenes. They were
Bible scenes disguised in an environment that was Venetian._

I could parallel each of the three hours that had occurred to me with
familiar stories of the Bible. The scene of the first hour, the figure
of St. Mark and the lion, as we had thought, was really Samson and the
lion; the Sultan and the kneeling slave were David and the prostrate
giant, Goliath. The Doge receiving the news of victory from the dove in
the Campanile became Noah and the dove. But the other scenes–would they
be equally clear?

I took the first scene that occurred to me, that in which the ten disks
appear in succession, with the gate in the background. I took a Bible
from the rack of the pew and opened it eagerly at the Book of Genesis.
My knowledge of the Old Testament was not profound. I turned the leaves
over quickly, scanning each page. I had to look simply for a passage in
which a gate and ten men figured. I became unconscious of the reverent
worshipers about me. I was heedless even of good form. For half an hour
I patiently turned page after page. I had reached the Book of Judges,
and began to despair. Was this theory that promised so well to be
discarded in its turn like a dozen others? No; I found the passage. It
proved my theory to be a fact beyond peradventure. The passage was in
the Book of Ruth:

_Then went Boaz to the gate and sat him there, and behold, the kinsman
of whom Boaz spoke, came by, unto whom he said, Ho, such a one, turn
aside, sit down here. And he turned aside and sat down._

_And he took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, Sit down here.
And they sat down._

Nothing could be more clear. The Doge became Boaz; the ten disks,
representing, as we had thought, the Council of Ten, were the elders of
the city.

I read the story of Samson and the lion. It was indisputably the scene
of the first hour. The very words were a challenge–a clear statement in
black and white–that he who should solve the riddle of the clock would
have his reward. And he who failed should have his penalty to pay–the
forfeiture of peace of mind and content–a bitter enough wage for
failure:

_And Samson said unto them, I will now put forth a riddle unto you: If
ye shall certainly solve it within seven days of the feast, and find it
out, then will I give you thirty sheets and thirty changes of raiment._

_But if ye solve it not within seven days, then shall ye give to me
thirty sheets and thirty changes of raiment._

“I will put forth a riddle unto you!” And a brave riddle it had been.
The mad goldsmith had taken these old Bible stories for his key–a key
that he knew was as imperishable as time itself, and yet a key that
would guard his secret well. To the Catholic of that day the Bible was a
sealed book.

But if this were true–if these stories were indeed the key–was the
riddle easier of solution? Would the Bible stories be more readily
understood than the Venetian stories?

The theory of St. Hilary flashed across my mind. The cipher–that was the
clue. In each of the scenes of the background a certain number had been
mentioned. Thirty changes of raiment. Seven days. Six steps to the
throne. Two lions. Thus was my second great discovery made.

_Each scene from the Bible involved certain numbers._

I read the story of David and Goliath:

_And there went a champion out of the camp of the Philistines named
Goliath, whose height was six cubits and a span._

There were the numbers again; six cubits and a span.

I could no longer doubt. And now, having wrested so much of the madman’s
secret, having surprised from him the key, I should, I felt confident,
solve the rest. I was to cut the last thread that bound this secret to
the grave.

Suddenly I became conscious of faces turned frowningly in my direction.
In my excitement I had, I suppose, rustled the leaves. It was an unusual
sight to see a man of discretion frantically turning over the leaves of
his Bible during a sermon.

To sit through the sermon was impossible. I must get a breath of fresh
air. I would wait for Jacqueline outside.

I walked to the quay of the Grand Canal. I scanned the sweep of the
palaces, from the Salute to the Rialto Bridge. To which of them would
these new clues lead?

I walked back to the church. The sermon was droning slumberously on. I
wandered restlessly down the Calle San Rio. I found myself at the
steamboat landing. The little steamer was discharging its quota of
passengers. I leaped aboard. My desire to look on the photographs was
intense. I wished to verify the other scenes. I wished to confound St.
Hilary with my discovery.

Not until the steamer was half-way across the Giudecca did I remember,
with a shock of dismay, my appointment with Jacqueline.

I persuaded myself that I had time to look at the photographs just once;
I could hurriedly recount my wonderful discovery to St. Hilary; I could
be rowed across to the Molo in three minutes, and be at the church in
another ten. If I failed Jacqueline, she would forgive me when she knew
the extraordinary circumstances under which I had deserted her. Had she
not regretted, with a hint of reproach in her words that still rankled,
that my search for the casket had been so fruitless of results? And had
she not said that the duke was hunting for it without a moment’s rest?
Then there was no time to be lost.

I did fail Jacqueline. St. Hilary was not in my rooms, and I waited for
him. The temptation to triumph over him proved too sweet. I was not the
first man to risk his precious birthright of love for a mess of pottage.



                               CHAPTER XX


Two hours had passed since I left the church. St. Hilary and I had spent
the time in a diligent study of the Bible. The result confirmed my
theory beyond a doubt. With the exception of the scenes of the fifth and
tenth hours, we had identified them all as Bible scenes. We had also
found that in each story certain numbers were mentioned.

“To tell which are the significant numbers, that is the question,” said
St. Hilary. “In two or three of the stories, at least, more than one set
are mentioned. How can we be sure which numbers count, and which do
not?”

“We can not be sure, I suppose,” I replied thoughtfully. “We can only
guess. But at least we may make a reasonable guess. The goldsmith had
some method in choosing them. What would be the most obvious?”

“That he should select the numbers that really counted in the various
stories,” replied St. Hilary.

“I have observed that the important numbers are invariably mentioned in
the first part of the story. We may go on that assumption to begin with,
at any rate. Our search for the landmark of the second hour ought to
begin from the Piazzetta, where the first landmark stands–that is, the
lion of San Marco. Now our first numbers are 7, 30, 30. If we interpret
those rightly, we shall find ourselves at the second landmark. Thence we
may start for the third.”

“But the meaning of those numbers,” grumbled St. Hilary, “is extremely
doubtful. They may be added to, or subtracted from, or divided or
multiplied by others, and the landmark of the second hour is veiled in
complete obscurity. If it were the landmark of the fourth hour, the
House of the Camel, we should know what to look for.”

“But it is not,” I said impatiently. “Your precious landmark is quite
useless by itself, because we have not been able to identify the Bible
story of the fifth hour, and so we are ignorant of the numbers that will
lead us to the landmark of the sixth. We are compelled to start at the
first hour. From that point we go on to the second, and from the second
to the third. As to the gap in the fifth hour, we won’t attempt to jump
that until we come to it.”

The little man yawned. His dogged skepticism was maddening. The fact is,
he resented my having been so fortunate as to make the great discovery.
Because he had not made it himself, or helped to make it, he sulked and
made endless objections.

“How do you propose to interpret the first numbers, 7, 30, 30?” he
asked.

“Well,” I answered patiently, “say that they represent blocks of
buildings. We go down the Grand Canal until seven blocks are passed. If
we took the seventh canal to our left, and continued up that canal until
thirty blocks had been passed––”

“We should find ourselves somewhere out in the lagoon,” sneered St.
Hilary.

“If we passed seven blocks on our right, then, proceeding up the seventh
canal until thirty blocks were passed, took the junction of the two
canals at this point for a new start until thirty more blocks were
passed, where should we find ourselves?”

St. Hilary consulted the map of Venice that lay before him.

“You are a little obscure, my dear Hume. But, so far as I can make it
out, after you had passed your sixty little canals, if you turned to the
left you would find yourself in the Jewish quarter. If you turned to the
right, in the fishermen’s quarter. You may be sure that da Sestos was
not quite so mad as to hide his casket in a part of the city that would
be subject to demolition. You will have to try again.”

“Thirty changes of raiment and thirty sheets,” I mused. “Thirty plus
thirty; why not the sixtieth palace down the Grand Canal, either left or
right?”

“Within seven days,” quoted St. Hilary, closing his eyes.

“I had forgotten the seven days,” I admitted. “Well, then, why not the
fifty-third palace?”

“Why the fifty-third?” demanded St. Hilary in a bored tone.

“Within seven of sixty ought to mean fifty-three,” I said quickly.

St. Hilary opened his eyes. A look of interest dawned in them. He drew
toward him an old map of Venice, La Nuova Pianta di Venezia, it was
called, and was published in 1689. It contained an interesting chart on
which were marked all the palaces of Venice existing at that time. He
began to count these palaces carefully, going down the Grand Canal
toward the Rialto Bridge.

“The fifty-third palace is the Palazzo Chettechi. Look in that French
monograph, Les Palais de Venise Moderne. See if it is mentioned there.”

I turned hurriedly to the index.

“Yes, it is mentioned. But, confound it, the palace was torn down and
rebuilt in 1805.”

“And down with it tumbles your cunning little house of cards,” commented
the dealer cynically.

“After all, that solution was too obvious to be reasonable,” I retorted
cheerfully, though I felt the disappointment keenly. “But look here, St.
Hilary”–I was consulting the Bible again–“there are four thirties
mentioned. Perhaps the second couple of thirties has some significance.
Does the fifty-third palace bring us to a corner of the Grand Canal, or
should we find ourselves in the middle of the block?”

“We should find ourselves at the junction of the Grand Canal and the Rio
di Lucca.”

“Good! And if you counted sixty palaces up the Rio di Lucca, will that
old chart tell the palace you would arrive at?”

“The Palazzo Giuliano.”

“The Palazzo Giuliano might contain our landmark on its wall just as
well as any other.”

“It might,” he cried, consulting the monograph on the palaces of modern
Venice again, “only it happens that the façade of that palace was
rebuilt in the eighteenth century. Again your little house of cards
crumbles about your ears, my dear Hume.”

I stared down at the table. In what other way might I read a meaning
into the numbers? I picked up an envelope and began to toy with it
unconsciously. It was addressed to St. Hilary. It was literally covered
with erasures and directions, and had followed him half around the
world. But it had found him at last, though some of the directions were
of the vaguest. We ought to be as clever as a postmaster. Aside from the
extraneous aids of the directory, what methods would a postmaster use?

Mechanically I began to trace the ordinary and palpable clues to the
destination of any letter. First of all, there is the state or country.
That is as vague as the earth itself. But the state is narrowed down to
the city in the state, and the city to the street––

“I believe I have found a solution that will hold water at last, St.
Hilary!” I cried.

He blinked at me skeptically.

“Let us hear it by all means.”

“Take the address on the envelope. It has suggested a possible solution
to the numbers. First of all, there is the country. The country is
narrowed down to the city of the country. Next comes the number of the
street in the city. After that the house in the street. In other words,
the direction of an envelope is narrowed to more and more defined
limits.”

“An extremely accurate but not a startlingly original presentation of
facts, dear boy. The connection between this envelope, for instance, and
the da Sestos casket?”

“Call Venice the state; the city, the Grand Canal. Your street will then
be the seventh canal; the number of the street will be the house of the
landmark.”

St. Hilary’s dark eyes snapped. He was thoroughly interested at last. He
drew toward him the map of Venice again. He pushed it away with an
exclamation of disgust.

“Ingenious again, but not conclusive. The seventh canal flowing into the
Grand Canal is a _cul-de-sac_. Its length is not a hundred yards, and it
leads merely to the Campo San Stefano.”

“You are mistaken,” I said calmly. “You are counting the ditch that
surrounds the Giardino Reale. The seventh canaletto is the Rio di Bocca.
And the sixtieth palace from the junction of the Rio di Bocca and the
Grand Canal will be the house of the landmark. What palace is that?
Don’t tell me that that is torn down.”

“No, this one exists. It is called the Palazzo Fortunato. Come, it is
time for us to do something more strenuous than talking. We will test
your theory, and I think it a fairly reasonable one at last. But first
of all, a bite at Florian’s. It is three o’clock. We may get no dinner.”

I had unconsciously taken the lead since my great discovery. Now I
hesitated. Though I had broken my tryst with Jacqueline, I had intended
seeing her this afternoon before we actually began our search. But I
could not let St. Hilary begin his explorations without me. A few hours
sooner or later, I persuaded myself, would not make much difference.

I know now how specious were my arguments. A woman’s love is not to be
treated lightly. It is the most sacred and precious thing in the world,
and she knows that it is. It does not come and go at one’s beck and
call. It burns brightly so long as the flame is fed; to quench that
flame is dangerous, and it is not always easy to revive it.

“I am quite ready to go with you,” I said soberly. “My gondolier is
waiting below. We will let him take us to the Molo and then dismiss him.
We want no witnesses or possible spies.”

“Excellent,” he murmured. “And bring along your Bible; that must be our
chart and compass in our voyage of discovery.”



                              CHAPTER XXI


Venetian Marco Polo himself, wide-eyed and eager, toiling across burning
wastes to the Great Khan of far-off Cathay, was not more imbued with the
very spirit of adventure than were St. Hilary and I that April
afternoon, as we set forth on our little voyage of discovery in a
prosaic gondola.

We had lunched at the Grundewald. We rose with a certain deliberation,
and walked toward the Molo. The band was thundering out a Strauss waltz.
The Piazza was filled with its usual laughing, chattering crowd, eating
and drinking at the hundreds of round little tables that overflowed a
quarter of the square.

I could not help thinking what a sensation I should cause if the great
throng was suddenly to be stilled, while from the balcony up there by
the four bronze horses I cried aloud for all the square to hear that we
two adventurers of the twentieth century were about to lay bare one of
the mysteries of Venice–that we were to bring forth to the light of day
a marvelous treasure that had been hid for nearly half a thousand years.
How they would howl me into a shamed silence with their jeers and
laughter! And supposing that I could tell them the very hiding-place,
would one of all those hundreds, even the poorest, take the trouble to
go and see? Would the hunchbacked bootblack in the Arcade there, gnarled
and twisted with the cold of winter and the heat of summer? Would the
Jewish shopkeepers, the antiquarian in the library, the tourists, who
had come three thousand miles to feast their eyes on wonders? Not the
most visionary would stir in his seat. Only St. Hilary and I, it
appeared, in the whole world were absolute fools this afternoon.

“_E dove?_” demanded the gondolier, after we had taken our seats.

“_Canalazzo_,” I cried, “_e presto, molto, molto presto._”

“_Si, si, signore_,” he cried with enthusiasm, scenting a generous tip.

The sun, just dipping behind the dome of the Salute, blazed fiercely,
but the awning of our gondola was thrown back. Swiftly we swept down the
sun-kissed stream, cleaving the lake of gold. The great palaces on
either side, ablaze with riotous color, seemed as unreal as a painted
picture. What had we to do with this mysterious Venice, this enchantress
of the seas, holding herself aloof in melancholy disdain? Like curious
savages, we were to prowl in her very holy of holies. We were to despoil
her of her last glorious treasure, that she had guarded so jealously
these hundreds of years.

The fantasy burst as a bubble in thin air. Behind us raced a boatful of
trippers, the two oarsmen exerting every effort to urge on their craft
to the railway station. There were the English _père de famille_; the
comfortable mamma with a chick on either side. And about them were piled
high bandboxes and shawls, portmanteaus and carryalls. It was the
twentieth century after all. It was quite fitting that we should be
seeking to reap where we had not sown.

We passed the Grand Hotel. Mrs. Gordon, Jacqueline, and the duke were
seated on the balcony. I raised my hat mechanically. The duke returned
the greeting with a flourish. Mrs. Gordon was suddenly interested in the
customs-house opposite. Jacqueline smiled, but her greeting would have
been as cordial to the concierge of her hotel. My face burned. I wished
to tell St. Hilary to continue the search without me, and yet I
hesitated. Even now, one nod to the gondolier and I could be landed at
the steps; but I hesitated, and in five seconds we had passed. Before I
had wholly recovered my presence of mind we were at the Rio di Bocca.

Our gondolier uttered his weird cry of warning. The gondola turned the
corner sharply. We were in cool depths. The smell of damp mortar, that
indefinable moist smell of the _canaletti_ of Venice smote our nostrils.
We skirted an old wall, bulging outward with decrepitude; a narrow quay,
bathed in sunlight; the barred windows of a palace, blackness and gloom
within. A barge of bricks was poled slowly past us, then a funeral
catafalque. A hotel omnibus just escaped collision. I saw it all, but I
saw it all unheeding. Three years of selfish ease and irresponsibility
had left me incapable of quick decision at this critical moment. And now
another opportunity to become reconciled to Jacqueline had passed. I had
raised one more barrier between us.

St. Hilary shouted sharply to the gondolier. We came to a sudden stop.

We were at the sixtieth palace, and its façade was as bare as the sheet
of an unsigned hotel register.

“So again we have come on a fool’s errand,” he groaned.

The gondolier leaned forward and touched my sleeve. He had observed our
perplexity. He pointed to a palace we had just passed.

“Ecco, Signori, the House of the Angel! It is not this one. It is the
third back.”

“The third back?” I repeated mechanically. I let my glance follow his
outstretched finger. With a twist of the oar he had turned the gondola
again toward the Grand Canal.

“Behold, Signore, the House of the Angel. Up there, in the niche over
the door.”

I raised my eyes dully. I had no idea what the man was talking about.
The palace at whose steps we had halted was a magnificent structure of
the fourteenth century, so beautiful that in any other city than Venice
it would have been worth a pilgrimage to see. Over the doorway was a
triangular niche, a kind of shrine. A half figure of an angel was carved
in the niche, and a kneeling child looked quaintly up into the angel’s
face. The gondolier pointed to the shrine reverently.

“The angel is to drive away the evil spirits, Signore. The evil spirit
of a pig once dwelt in this beautiful palace. I assure the Signore that
I am telling him the truth, though there are many hundreds of years
since the evil soul of the pig was conjured away by the angel and the
little child. The house is now sweet and clean of all evil, and is
called the House of the Angel. But look, Signore, you can see the
unclean pigs that were carved in the wall by the wicked builder. Before
they were broken, the house was called the House of the Pigs.”

We looked upward.

The house had a frieze made of a capriciously carved array of pigs. The
posture of each two of the creatures was the same: the one recumbent,
the other erect. The heads and the feet and most of the bodies had been
stricken off.

“It is very simple,” cried St. Hilary exultingly. “Our husks of corn
have simply become the bodies of pigs. We have found the second
landmark.”

He held the photograph of the background of the second hour before me.
That background, it will be remembered, was a hanging, and on this
hanging a decorative scheme that we had supposed to be husks of corn.

I forgot my folly in passing Jacqueline, and her cold greeting. Here was
proof indisputable that we were really on the track of the casket at
last.

“But why,” queried St. Hilary, knitting his forehead in perplexity,
“should it be the fifty-seventh palace, and not the sixtieth?”

I opened the Bible, and again read the story. I saw our mistake
immediately. In our haste to test this new theory of mine we had not
read the narrative with sufficient care.

“There is another verse that we have omitted to read. It follows
immediately after.” I read it aloud:

_And within three days they could not declare the riddle._

“You observe the expression ‘within.’ That is to say, we were not to
look for the sixtieth palace, but for the fifty-seventh, or the third
within sixty.”

“Ah, that is quite clear,” cried St. Hilary with a sigh of relief. “And
now for the next landmark. Read your passage of the second hour again.”

_And there went forth a champion out of the camp of the Philistines,
named Goliath, whose height was six cubits and a span._

“Six cubits and a span,” he mused. “What the deuce are the six cubits
and a span?”

“Let us look around.” I motioned to the gondolier to rest on his oars.

We drifted slowly past the House of the Angel. The next house was a
warehouse–an ugly four-story building, set some five paces back. The
upper stories projected over the lowest story, and were supported by
pillars.

“There are six of those pillars, and there is a door. Can that be your
cubits and a span?”

I shook my head. “Those pillars are of wood. This warehouse could not
have been built when the goldsmith made his casket.”

“True; and it would be a senseless proceeding to lead us past the
fifty-seventh palace, only to land us at the fifty-eighth.”

“But look, St. Hilary, we have been so close to the forest that we have
failed to see the trees. Do you observe those circular windows just over
our heads? There are just six of them. As for the span, isn’t a span
half a cubit? The top of that squat door let into the wall there is
semi-circular in shape; the semi-circle, the exact counterpart of the
upper part of the windows. Nothing could be more clear.”

“My only fear is that it is too clear to be true,” he said anxiously.

“We shall soon determine that.”

I stood upright on the seat of the gondola, and, reaching forward,
pulled a rusty bell that hung beside the low door. Our gondola, at a
sign from me, had been rowed up stream once more.

In response to my vigorous summons a servant appeared at the main door
of the House of the Angel.

“What may the Signori desire?” he inquired.

“We are architects,” lied St. Hilary glibly. “We are very desirous to
see your garden. We understand that it is a very curious old garden.”

The servant in the shabby livery shook his head.

“The Signori Inglesi are mistaken,” he answered politely. “The
interesting garden belongs to the House of the Camel just behind this
palazzina. Our garden has only artichokes and asparagus and beans and
things.”

“The House of the Camel!” I exclaimed involuntarily.

St. Hilary pinched my arm for silence. “But there is a passage through
your garden that leads to the garden of the other house, is there not?”

He jingled insinuatingly some loose coins in his pocket.

“Ah, yes, Signore, that is true. A long, long time ago, a great
nobleman, dwelt in this house, and his daughter lived in the house
behind. He had a gate made in the wall that divides the two gardens. The
gate is still there.”

“Excellent! And you will lead us into the garden of the House of the
Camel by that gate?”

Without further parley, St. Hilary leaped lightly ashore. I followed his
example, and tossed our fare to the gondolier.

“Thoughtful of you to send off that chap. We can’t be too careful,”
remarked St. Hilary as we followed the servant in the shabby livery into
the hall.

This hall, as in all Venetian palaces, ran through the house from front
to rear. At its end was a glass door. The door unlocked, we were in the
garden. A path turned to the right, joining a broad walk fringed with a
well-trimmed hedge of box. This walk led straight to the gate–our gate
of the third hour. There was no need to refer to the photograph. It was
unmistakable.

“The Signori are of course expected?” asked the servant hesitatingly, as
he unlocked this gate.

“Naturally,” replied St. Hilary, dropping a piece of silver in his palm.

The gate was locked behind us.

“How are we to find our way out?” I demanded.

St. Hilary was staring about him as one who knows his ground.

“My dear Hume,” he grinned, “I know my way out perfectly. Allow me to
point out to you the Well of the Pomegranates and the Loops, and
immediately over the doorway there the Sign of the Blind Camel. We are
at the landmark of the fourth hour.”

“And the ten figures on the disks of the third hour are represented by
these busts built in the wall–five in either wall. We are getting on.
But why, I wonder, did da Sestos lead us to this landmark by the way of
the House of the Angel? He might have brought us here directly by the
Campo San Salvatore.”

“Because,” commented St. Hilary, “the way by land would have
necessitated a dozen directions. By water we have come without undue
perplexity in three. But here, I am afraid, our voyage of discovery must
end for to-night. We shall have to puzzle out the fifth hour before we
can go farther.”

I had opened the Bible that I had brought with me from the gondola, and,
supported by the curb of the well, I rested it on my knee, turning to
the Book of Genesis. I read the verse of the fourth hour:

_And it came to pass, as the camels had done drinking at the well, that
the man took a golden earring of half a shekel weight, and two bracelets
for her hands of ten shekels’ weight of gold._

“This is obscure enough,” I said ruefully. “This jargon of a golden
earring and of half a shekel weight and two bracelets of ten shekels’
weight will take some time to reason out, especially as we have no idea
what to look for.”

“And I think.” St. Hilary remarked, “we are to be interrupted. Here
comes one of the priests of the seminary to see what business we have in
his garden.”

“Gentlemen,” asked the padre politely, as we bowed with an assurance
that belied my feelings at least, “you are looking for some one? I saw
you admitted a moment ago by the gate yonder.”

“Yes,” boldly lied St. Hilary once more. “We were about to ring your
bell. We went to the House of the Angel by mistake. We are architects,
and we have heard that you have a wonderful old dial. We are making a
study of the curious dials of Venice. Would you show us yours?”

St. Hilary’s question was not so idle as might appear. He was ignoring
the existence of the fifth landmark, and was asking for the sixth
landmark, which we had identified in this way. The Venetian scene of the
sixth hour, it will be remembered, was that of the Doge and the poet
Petrarch seated in the balcony of San Marco, overlooking the Piazza, and
watching the festivities below, symbolized by the dancing automaton
figure, that advanced ten steps to the front and ten to the rear. The
parallel story in the Bible we had found by a rather roundabout process.
Some days before I had accidentally made the discovery that the face of
the Doge bore a remarkable resemblance to the prophet Isaiah as depicted
in one of the mosaics of San Marco. Naturally, then, when we hunted up
the Biblical stories of the hour, after my return from church, we looked
for a story in which the prophet Isaiah figured as one of the
characters. The concordance at the back of my Oxford Bible referred us
to the story of the Jewish King Hezekiah, who, sick unto death, went to
the prophet Isaiah for a sign that he should recover his strength. And
this was the verse:

_And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, What shall be the sign? And Isaiah said,
Shall the shadow of the dial go back ten degrees or shall the shadow go
forward?_

The little automaton figure advancing and retreating ten steps
symbolized plainly the going forward and backward of the shadow. This
was significant in itself, and might have made us tolerably sure that a
dial was to be the landmark. But when, in the light of this story, we
looked carefully at the railing of the balcony as photographed in our
snap-shot, we noticed at once that the ironwork of the railing was of
intertwined circles, intersected by diameters drawn through each of
their centers. The circles, then, stood for the dial; the diameter, for
the needle of the dial. We might be reasonably certain that our search
would be narrowed to more and more defined limits. Even without the
landmark of the fifth hour, by which we should be able to discover the
locality of the dial for ourselves (provided always that we could
interpret the numbers aright), it was not an extravagant hope of St.
Hilary’s that the padre might direct us to the landmark of the sixth
hour. I waited breathlessly for his answer. Let the gods be propitious;
let fortune smile!

The gaunt but handsome face of the young priest was lighted up with a
charming smile.

“But it will be an honor,” he said, “to show our curious dial to the
American gentlemen.”

“English, pardon me,” corrected St. Hilary readily, and he pinched my
arm. “We leave Venice for London in an hour or so. This is the last and
most curious dial we expect to see.”

What a polished and delightful liar the dealer in antiquities was! But a
cautious one withal. For aught we knew, we might be prowling about these
premises with a jimmy and dark lantern before many more moons, and it
might be convenient to prove an alibi.

I had expected the priest to lead us to an obscure corner of the garden.
To my surprise and disappointment he took us directly to the house. Of
what use could a dial be under a roof? The good fathers of the seminary
had taken it from the garden, in all likelihood, and placed it within
doors as an interesting curiosity for their pupils to gape at.

“Perhaps you know, gentlemen,” said the priest, as he led the way up a
broad and dreary stairway, devoid of ornament, but scrupulously clean,
“that this was once the house of the Venetian astrologer, Jacopo Bembo.
Here, some two hundred years ago, came the flower of the Venetian
aristocracy. They came to consult him–one for a love philter; another
for a talisman against the plague; another, perhaps, for a deadly potion
to still the beating of a rival’s heart. Some strange and dark scenes, I
suspect, have taken place in the laboratory of Messer Bembo. And this is
it.”

We had ascended to the third story. He threw open the door of a large
room. There were some maps on the wall, desks, and chairs. It was
evidently used now as a school-room.

“But the dial?” I cried impatiently.

“Oh, the dial is on the roof. Have you ever heard of a dial being in so
strange a place before?”

“It is precisely that,” I cried joyously, “that makes it so unique in
interest for us.”

“And this dial on the roof will make our collection of curious dials
quite complete,” added St. Hilary gravely.

We walked a few steps down the echoing landing. The worthy padre opened
a door. A narrow wooden stairway led to the roof.

“If you will pardon me, I will precede you, gentlemen. There is a
trapdoor at the top.”

“And did the great astrologer Bembo have to climb out of that hole
whenever he wished to consult the hour of day?” I asked jocosely.

“You will see,” answered the priest smiling.

When first we stepped out on the roof, the glitter of the fierce sun on
the leads blinded us. We looked in vain for the dial. The priest walked
to the parapet where a stone bench stood and pointed to a large circle
cut deep in the leads at the foot of the bench.

“Ecco, Signori, your curious dial, and the Signs of the Zodiac also. The
needle of the dial is not the truly original one. That was broken long
ago. But the one we have replaced it with is precisely similar to the
antique.”

St. Hilary and I sank on our knees to observe it the more closely and to
whisper to each other without the good father overhearing us. The dealer
traced a line tremblingly with his forefinger.

“Here,” he whispered, “is where the shadow falls at twelve o’clock. Ten
degrees before that, it must point in this direction.”

He squinted along the imaginary line. It led him over the parapet, and
in either direction it directed us to nothing more definite than the
blue sky.

“But at ten degrees after twelve,” I whispered hoarsely, “it points with
absolute directness to that square tower, the tower of Noah and his
dove, depend upon it. We have found the seventh landmark.”

We stood upright and brushed the dust from our knees. St. Hilary
produced a note-book, and began to scribble notes and to sketch the dial
with every show of professional interest.

“Yes, it is a great curiosity, this dial,” purred the priest with
satisfaction. “Here, in the cool of summer nights, when the sirocco has
been blowing all day, I often come to sit and ponder the issues of life
and death, as, no doubt, the old astrologer did before me.”

“You have a splendid view,” I remarked carelessly. “What is that square
tower over there? It appears to be the tower of a palace.”

“Yes, signore, it is the tower of the Palazzo Cæsarini. If you are
architects, you ought to see that palace. It is full of interest.”

“The Cæsarini Palace, you said, I think?” inquired St. Hilary, still
scribbling.

“Exactly, and it is known popularly as the Palazzo degli Scrigni.”

“The Palace of the Iron Safes!” I cried, startled.

“The signori Inglesi must understand that, very long ago, when the house
of the Cæsarini was the most powerful in Venice, as it still is one of
the richest, the Prince Cæsarini had two great iron safes built in the
walls of his cellars to keep his treasure in. These safes were contrived
by a certain goldsmith called da Sestos. Yes, the palace is worth
seeing. But do not attempt to see it until after Wednesday, because a
grand _bal masqué_ is to be given on that evening, and they are busy
making great preparations.”

“Ah, yes, we must have a look at it some time,” said St. Hilary
carelessly. “A thousand thanks for your courtesy, father. _Buona sera._”

“_Buona sera, signori._”



                              CHAPTER XXII


A clock in the church of San Salvatore was striking the hour of seven as
St. Hilary and I, after bidding good night to our friendly priest,
crossed the Campo. Our search for that night was ended. I was free to
see Jacqueline at last. Promising to call for my friend early the next
morning, I hastened to the Grand Hotel.

It had been a wonderful day. After weeks of futile wandering, we were
going straight to the goal. But Jacqueline? Would she forgive me for
breaking my appointment, even though I was at last to bring her the
casket? I had well-nigh drawn from her the gentle confession of her
love. She had left the gate of Paradise ajar. She had looked at me in
such a way that the very look was an invitation to enter when I should
reappear. And I had failed her.

It was in vain that I tried to reassure myself. If I had not kept that
sacred tryst, was it not because in failing to do so I was really
serving her? When once she knew the circumstances she must forgive me.
She had asked me to find the casket for her. She had dreaded the
possibility of the duke’s finding it. Could she find fault, then,
because I had taken her at her word?

But because she had asked me to find it, I should have gone to her at
once to tell her that the forlorn hope had become an actual possibility.
Instead of doing that, I had thought of myself first–of my own petty
triumph. I had yielded to the cheap excitement of putting my theory to
actual test. I had seen her in the duke’s company on the balcony of the
hotel only a few hours ago. What if she had turned to him for the
sympathy and confidence that I had failed to give her? Could I complain
if she had done that? Only a few hours ago I had insisted upon the
uselessness of the search. I had begged her to bid me relinquish it. I
had told her that she had no right to rest her happiness on the shifting
foundations of chance; that if she loved the duke, there was nothing
more to be said; but that, if she loved me, she had no right to permit
him to misconstrue her idly spoken words. Let her cut the Gordian knot
by yielding herself to me.

I had said all this to her, and my actions this afternoon had belied my
words. Could I explain away this apparently glaring inconsistency? I
should find it difficult to prove to her that I was the loyal lover I
had claimed to be. I hardly dared hope that she would listen and
forgive.

I was prepared for reproaches, for tears. It was not unlikely, I
thought, that she would even refuse to see me. But she came into the
reception-room of the hotel almost immediately after my arrival, and she
was smiling.

“Jacqueline!” I held her hand clasped in mine. I pleaded for forgiveness
with my eyes.

She withdrew her hand gently–not with impatience, or embarrassment
either, but quite naturally, with a frank smile that was altogether
friendly and affectionate.

“What do you think of me, Jacqueline? That I should have failed you?” I
murmured.

“I must suspend judgment until you tell me precisely why you have failed
me,” she cried cheerfully.

I took heart. I plunged into my story. I did not make light of my
offence. I did not exaggerate it. I told her the truth, but I spared her
details. I was too eager to hear her say that she forgave me to bother
now with long and elaborate explanations. I told her that I had come
across unexpected clues that had led me so far unerringly toward the
hiding-place of the casket. The existence of these new clues had
occurred to me, very strangely, in church while I was waiting for her.
Just how they had dawned on me, how I had traced them out, I would tell
her later. For the present, it was enough that I had found them. I had
not met her after the church service because I had yielded to the
temptation of putting them to the test. This latter task had taken me
all the afternoon. I reminded her that she had urged the great
importance of haste in accomplishing this task. Every moment was
valuable, if I was to anticipate the duke. Because I had taken her
precisely at her word, surely she would not find fault with that? Surely
her strong common-sense must help her to understand, even though I had
caused her some annoyance, perhaps vexation.

This was my plea. But even as I made it I felt its weakness. The fact
remained that I must have wounded her. The fact remained that love is
not logic. It is a thing so fragile that, like a sensitive plant exposed
to the cold blast, it withers if not guarded tenderly. It withers none
the less surely because one’s carelessness may not be deliberate. And I
knew that my carelessness in a way had been deliberate. My vehement
protestations did not ring true.

She heard me through without speaking. At the end of my story she
sighed, and I fancied that for the first time her cheerfulness gave way
to pain.

“You forgive me?” I asked humbly.

“Yes,” she answered slowly. “If you can say quite honestly that you feel
that there is nothing for me to forgive, I forgive you.”

I was silent.

“It would be unreasonable that I should blame you for doing only too
well what I had asked you to do,” she said gently.

“Only too well, Jacqueline?” I repeated anxiously.

“A year ago, Dick, I was at a luncheon given by one of my friends to
announce her engagement. There were twelve of us present. The talk at
the table drifted to a play that most of us had seen. It was a mediæval
play, the hero a knight, who had had a task given him–a difficult,
seemingly an impossible task, by the woman whom he professed to love.
Some one asked what the man of the twentieth century would do if such a
task were given him by the woman he loved. Would he obediently attempt
it? Or would he ridicule it? It was a question of character, you see.”

The discussion seemed to me rather silly, but I nodded gravely.

“And some one suggested,” continued Jacqueline dreamily, “that it would
be interesting for one to apply this test. It would be a test of love.
If the man really cared, he would undertake even the impossible.”

“So you applied this interesting test to me!” I exclaimed.

“When, some weeks ago,” she went on, “you told me that you loved me, I
could not help remembering that conversation at the luncheon. You did
not put yourself in the most favorable light. You confessed that you had
been living only to please yourself. You acknowledged that you had no
ambition, and no energy to fulfil an ambition.”

“That I _had_ no ambition before I met you, Jacqueline,” I interrupted.

“To apply such a test to you would be childish, I thought then. But I
did suggest that you should do something. In the meantime,” she added
very slowly, her chin resting on her clasped hands, “Duke da Sestos came
into my life. He, too, professed to love me.”

“I see. You saw in him the manly traits you found lacking in me. He was
ambitious; I was not. He was bold and confident, while I was only too
conscious that I had made rather a muddle of my life so far. I can
imagine that the contrast between us was not favorable to me.”

She looked at me pleadingly.

“Do not make it too hard for me, Dick. The duke interested me, I confess
it. I liked him. Perhaps I even admired him. Every day I saw something
of him. He was untiring in his devotion. I began to wonder, at last, if
he did not really love me.”

“Had you never been sure that I really loved you, Jacqueline?” I asked
sadly.

“No; not sure,” she answered steadily. “How could I be? You neglected
me. You went to Rome without excuse. You did not even write to me. And
then the duke asked me to be his wife, and this in spite of every
discouragement I could throw in his path. For if I admired him, I was
careful not to show him that.”

She drew herself up proudly, and looked at me with a calm dignity.

“You know how, quite involuntarily, I asked him to do what seemed an
impossible thing. If he would bring me the casket that belonged to the
chest he had given to me, I would listen to his declaration of love, and
not until then. Too late I realized that he had taken my words to be a
test of his devotion. I was terrified at the encouragement I had
unconsciously given him. I had not dreamed that he would take the
challenge seriously. And yet I wondered at his earnestness. Any woman
would be touched at such faith and courage. Here actually was a man who
dared to undertake the impossible! Then I thought of you.”

“Would I do as much? Is that what you mean?”

“I asked myself naturally that. And it seemed fair–I wished you to know
what I had said to the duke. I wished you to, because––”

“You wished to apply a similar test to me,” I prompted.

“And so,” continued Jacqueline, very pale, “I threw the whole issue into
the hands of fate. I sent for you. I told you that you must also try to
find this casket for me. And how did you receive this request? So
lightly that the last words you said were these: ‘Perhaps I shall find
time to write the legend of the clock as well as to find the casket.’
You failed to realize that the finding of this casket was a real crisis
in my life and in yours. You wrote twice, and only the shortest and most
unsatisfactory of notes. Not unsatisfactory because you were
unsuccessful, but because you were pursuing the search in so negligent a
manner. And when, at last, I saw you this morning, you met me with
reproaches. You were weary of the search. It was actually degrading you.
It was leading you from me.”

She paused, and looked at me imploringly. I was silent.

“You urged me to release you from it. But you wished me to understand
that it was only reasonable to do so. I was willing to listen. I wished
to understand that so much myself. I was ready to believe it–oh, so glad
to believe it. I waited for you eagerly. You failed to wait for me. What
was I to think? I do not reproach you for doing too well what I had
asked you to do. But, Dick, if you could have done it in a different
manner!”

“In a different manner?” I repeated obstinately, though I understood
only too well what she meant. “What does the manner signify, so long as
the thing is being done, and being done successfully?”

“It signifies to me, Dick,” she insisted gently. “Right or wrong, I have
the right to put on the facts just the interpretation that seems to me
fair.” She turned to me with sudden passion. “Supposing I _was_ foolish,
even heartless, in imposing this test, reckless and foolish in putting
my happiness in the hands of fate, yet if it ennobled the one, and
degraded, by his own confession, the other, why should I not let the
results plead for themselves? Why should I not abide by the decision of
fate? You have driven me, you see, in spite of myself, to this
question.”

“Oh, if it has ennobled the duke!” I could not help saying.

“Yes, ennobled,” she answered defiantly, “if constant love is ennobling.
Don’t, please, sneer at that. I fought against him. I could not help
feeling a prejudice against him, perhaps because he was a foreigner. If
he interested me, it was in spite of myself. He had every barrier to
break down. And, I repeat, we women are not indifferent to a man who
sets to work patiently and courageously to break down these barriers–or,
at least, to attempt to break them down. Every day, almost every hour, I
have been reminded that he cared for me. A hundred little
thoughtfulnesses and kindnesses that could not but appeal to a woman he
has unceasingly shown me. While you, Dick, while you––”

There were tears in her eyes. Unconsciously she stretched out her hands
to me. If I had not been blind–if I had only taken those dear hands and
drawn her to me–I might have been spared hours of pain. I might have
conquered then. But I was hurt, indignant, proud. She had not judged me
fairly. I forgot that I had not given her the opportunity to do that.

“And I?” I said quietly, “I have been doing what you asked me to do,
perhaps not in the most approved way, not so tactfully as Duke da Sestos
has conducted his discreet search, doubtless; though how he can have
been looking for the casket here in Venice, while he has found time to
play the lover in Bellagio, I fail to see.”

We arose. Jacqueline looked at me indignantly.

“You are unjust,” she cried proudly, “and you are quite mistaken. For
not only has Duke da Sestos found time to show me that he loves me, but
this afternoon he brought to me the casket that belonged to the steel
chest.”

“He has found the da Sestos casket! Impossible! It is impossible,” I
stammered.

“It stands on the table there,” she said with quiet dignity.

I walked unsteadily to the table she indicated, and I saw the casket.

It was an exquisite thing, a jewel-case worthy of holding a prince’s
diadem. It was about as long as my two hands interlocked, and a little
broader than the palm of my hand. Two medallions were in each of the
front and rear panels, and a medallion at either end. The design of the
medallions was the loves of the gods in silver-gilt, _repoussé_. The
cover rose to an apex, and on the apex was a nymph embraced by a satyr.
The material was ebony, thickly inlaid with silver of a quaint design. I
lifted the cover. There were several layers of little drawers. But I saw
no sign of the springs. I saw no compartments that held the more
precious of the Doge’s jewels. As I looked at it more carefully, I saw
that the workmanship was not Venetian, but French. In no way did it
answer to the description of the casket in the Diary of Sanudo.

I understood. The duke had despaired of finding the casket. It was so
much simpler to pretend that he had found it. Jacqueline would believe
that this was the casket as readily as if he had brought the real one.
Even if she had any doubts, how could she prove them? He was a clever
rascal, my lord duke. Unfortunately for the success of his ruse, he had
not counted on my intervention, or perhaps he despised me too much to
care.

Jacqueline watched me with parted lips, a slight frown of anxiety on her
forehead. Her eyes seemed to plead with me. What did she wish me to say?
To tell her that the duke was a liar and a cheat? Or did she wish me to
say that this was indeed the casket? Would she be glad to hear that? Had
he conquered her so surely?

“It is very beautiful,” I said indifferently.

“You are convinced?” she asked, almost timidly.

“It is worthy of any museum in Europe.”

“You think it is really the casket?” she persisted.

“I imagined that there would be gems in the da Sestos casket,” I said,
smiling at her.

“You are not answering my question.”

“Will you tell me how the duke happened to find this–this pretty toy?
Did he honor you with so much information?”

“He brought it to me only this afternoon. I was so–so overwhelmed–I
should say, astonished–that I could say nothing. Presently, I suppose,
he will tell me.”

“And now that he has brought it, Jacqueline?”

“If this is the da Sestos casket, I must keep my word.”

“Then I do assure you that it is not. Do you hear me, Jacqueline? I
swear to you that this is not the da Sestos casket. I will prove to you
that this Duke da Sestos is the liar and cheat that I have long
suspected him to be.”

She looked at me without speaking, but her face was suddenly
transfigured. My courage came back by leaps and bounds. I felt
instinctively that the day was not yet lost.

“And how will the ingenious Mr. Hume accomplish that delightful task?”
demanded a cold voice. The duke walked in.

“How shall I do that, Duke da Sestos?” I repeated passionately. “I shall
do that by bringing to Miss Quintard the real da Sestos casket before
the week is over.”

“You are promising a great deal, my friend,” he sneered.

For the second time since we had met on the Piazza we looked steadily at
each other. It was to be the last grapple now.

“Will you wait that week, Jacqueline, before you listen to Duke da
Sestos?” I pleaded.

The duke made a gesture of entreaty. “Miss Quintard can not do that
without showing that she doubts my word.”

Jacqueline looked slowly from me to the duke, and then again at me. She
smiled–that same grave smile that had puzzled me so much the last half
hour.

“I shall wait that week,” she said.



                             CHAPTER XXIII


That night I could not sleep; and, indeed, I had enough to think about
as I lay in my troubled bed.

Now I remembered with joy that strange smile of Jacqueline’s, a smile as
vague and inscrutable as the immortal smile on the lips of the divine
Gioconda, that withholds so much. My dear Jacqueline had promised that
she would not pledge herself to the duke for a week. That assurance was
infinitely heartening. But I had made my promise before the duke, and so
it was but a foolish boast after all. If he had been villain enough to
attempt to impose upon her in this way, he was quite capable of setting
spies at my heels who would dog my every movement for the next eventful
few days. That would make my promise more difficult of achievement.
However, the words were spoken. There was nothing for it now but to bend
every effort to find the casket. I must make good my word at all costs.

If the casket were actually in existence, and in Venice, I would do
that, be the difficulties what they might. The foppish mantle of the
dilettante had slipped off my willing shoulders. I was aroused at last.
We should see now who was the better man–this Latin with feline,
sheathed claws, or the Anglo-Saxon with bulldog grip.

When I knew that sleep was quite impossible, I put on my dressing-gown
and went into the sitting-room to read. But it was impossible for me to
keep my attention on the book. I threw open the heavy shutters and
looked out.

The lights of Venice the mysterious glowed dimly in the distance. The
newly risen moon shone on campanile, dome and spire. Here and there a
gondola, a black speck in a lake of silver, drifted slowly by. I heard
the plash of the oars, the fragment of a song. Then my attention was
drawn to the fondamenta immediately beneath my window by the sharp,
persistent bark of a dog.

A white poodle was leaping in an ecstasy of joy at its master, who was
doing his utmost to quiet the beast. He cursed the dog volubly by the
evil spirits of his father and grandfather and all his numerous
relations and ancestors. At first this little scene only amused me, but
my idle amusement gave way to an eager interest when presently I heard
my name mentioned. Leaning far out, I saw that Pietro, my gondolier, was
conversing with the dog’s master. I tried in vain to hear what they were
talking about, but almost immediately the dog and his master slunk down
the quay, hugging the shadow of the wall. I had not seen the fellow’s
face, but something in his gait seemed familiar. I whistled to attract
Pietro’s attention, and beckoned to him. Before he had entered my room I
had made up my mind that I knew who this prowler was. I was convinced
that it was none other than the duke’s servant, whom St. Hilary and I
had seen that night the duke had paid his memorable visit to my rooms.

“Pietro,” I said, looking at him steadily, “I have had you in my service
ever since you left the penitentiary a few rods down the quay. It was an
affair of stabbing, I believe.”

Pietro nodded with unblushing countenance.

“Yes, monsignore, it was an affair of stabbing. But that I was innocent
as a three-years-old babe, I swear to you by all the holy saints in the
calendar, including the Blessed Virgin herself.”

“Pietro,” I continued, “I have been a fairly good master. You have
earned many a _buona lira_.” I paused suggestively.

He was voluble in his gratitude. Heaven was witness that he had been
faithful and honest.

“Then will you tell me who was talking to you a few minutes ago? Will
you tell me exactly what he said to you?”

Certainly he would, and with an ease born of years of careful
cultivation he lied as cheerfully and fluently as St. Hilary himself.

“The man, monsignore, is the cousin of the husband of my sister. He is
the concierge of the Pallazzina Baroni on the Rio Santa Barbara. Perhaps
you have seen, monsignore, the wonderful poodle that is the property of
the Principessa Fini, who lives in that palace. I assure you,
monsignore, that the Principessa adores the poodle with the woolly coat
that hangs in strings at the tail with a devotion that is as great as if
the wonderful poodle were her own son. But this poodle, you must
understand, is of an intelligence that is marvelous and a badness that
is lamentable. He is always running away from his dear mistress.
To-night he went for a ride on the steamboat–oh, he is of an
intelligence that is truly remarkable, and came to our fondamenta to
visit another dog, but a dog of so plebeian a birth as to be
disgraceful. And so the concierge has come swearing after the wicked
beast, and no doubt the monsignore heard the barking.”

It was useless to get anything out of Pietro. He lied because he loved
to lie, and then there had been the money that had crossed his palm.

“That will do,” I said gravely.

I did not inform St. Hilary the next morning of my foolish boast to the
duke. Nor did I tell him that the duke had already been bribing my
servant to spy on me. Hearing that, he would, I was sure, insist upon
our postponing the search for the casket until the week was over. That
would not suit my plans at all. But I did tell him of the duke’s pseudo
casket. He was delighted at this turn of affairs.

“So our friend the comedian has discovered a casket all by himself,” he
exclaimed, rubbing his hands with joy. “His object, of course, is to
gain the consent of Miss Quintard to marry him. Now that he has obtained
that, he will cease to bother us, if, indeed, he has concerned himself
about us at all. But I forgot,” he added hypocritically, seizing my
hands. “You, my dear Hume, do not consider this good news at all.”

“If it were true that Miss Quintard were actually engaged to the duke,”
I replied indifferently, “I should tell you and the casket to go to the
devil. But I happen to know that she will wait a week, at least, before
binding herself to him or any other.”

“Capital, my dear Hume, capital! In a quarter of an hour I shall be
dressed. A cup of coffee and a cigarette, and we will continue our
search. It is early, but not too early to interview a servant mopping a
doorstep.”

The Palace Cæsarini, as every tourist knows, is one of the most
beautiful and historic in Venice. Its distinguishing mark, however, is
the square tower that stands at its rear. The campanile, as bare of
ornament and as stolid as one of those towers of defence one sees at
Regensburg, is no more than a case for the stairway inside. Ugly as it
is, it serves to bring into more striking contrast the lightness and
delicacy of the Gothic jewel-work of the façade of the palace. Five
arches, richly carved with foliage, support the upper stories. The
loggia beneath is exquisitely proportioned. The broad marble steps,
leading to the water’s edge, extend the whole width of the palace front.
The pointed windows, Moorish in the profusion of their carving, are
noticeable because of the quaintly grotesque beasts, with monstrous
tails and protruding tongues, that are carved in niches between each
window.

Our interest in the palace, however, was centered in the tower. From
this tower we expected to be led to the eighth landmark. We thought it
most unlikely that the iron safes had any significance. For no
imaginable reason, surely, could the clock-maker have chosen so public a
hiding-place. Indeed, the casket might not be in the Cæsarini Palace at
all; yet we expected to find it there. At first thought this seemed
unreasonable. Why should he have hidden the gems in another house? The
existence of the iron safes suggests the answer.

St. Hilary had read in the Annals of the Inquisition that the last work
Giovanni had undertaken was the building of these safes. When once he
had determined to steal the casket he must have thought of a
hiding-place. He knew that his own house was impossible. The mechanism
of these safes was intricate and delicate. They would require constant
attention and repair. The clock-maker would have, therefore, frequent
access to the palace, and provided that he was successful in once hiding
the casket there, he could take away the stones at his leisure. Here,
then, if this theory was correct, the son had hidden the casket. For as
his father’s assistant he would naturally have had access to the palace.

St. Hilary and I rang the bell at the side door of the palace on the
Calle Bianca Madonna. It was a less conspicuous entrance than that on
the Grand Canal. The majordomo, summoned by us, peremptorily frowned on
our modest request to be permitted to see the curious tower and the
safes.

“No, signori,” he protested, swelling out a chest resplendent with gold
braid, “this is no time for tourists to visit the palace.”

“Tourists!” cried St. Hilary indignantly. “Have I not told you we are
distinguished architects?”

“Because,” continued the majordomo patiently, closing his eyes, as if he
had not heard the interruption, “all the palace is in confusion.
To-morrow night the Princess Cæsarini gives the famous _bal masqué_. You
can understand, then, that this is no time to visit our palace.”

“But we could at least see the safes. They interest us particularly.”

“The safes, signore! Pooh, pooh, they have been made into furnaces long
ago.”

“But the tower–we can visit that without troubling you. We are writing a
book on curious towers.”

The man shrugged his shoulders obstinately. “After to-morrow night,
perhaps. I do not know. Certainly not till then. And even then our
princess may not care to have the gentlemen come. She goes to Paris the
day after, and the palace will be closed.”

This was alarming news.

“Closed!” persisted St. Hilary, and it was impossible to mistake the
note of satisfaction in his voice. “Closed! And does no one stay to take
care of it?”

“But certainly,” replied the servant suspiciously, “I stay and all the
servants; and then, let me tell the gentlemen, unless the princess
commands, no one, not even the king, has admittance.”

I thought St. Hilary’s eagerness most indiscreet, but he was in no way
abashed.

“It is to be a very exclusive ball, I suppose.”

“Of an exclusiveness that will exclude all _Inglesi_ and _forrestieri_,”
cried the servant maliciously, and shut the door in our faces.

“Do you think your suspicions and vulgar curiosity quite apropos, St.
Hilary?” I demanded vexatiously, as we turned from the door.

“Oh, thick of head and slow of understanding,” he retorted in wild good
humor. “Do you think that I asked my questions without reason? I wanted
to know if it were not better for us to postpone our explorations till
after this precious ball. I have learned definitely that it would be
quite useless. If Madame La Princesse goes to Paris immediately after,
it is not likely that she will bother her head giving tourists or
architects permission to explore her palace. As to forcing our way in
afterward, you heard what the man said. For my part I prefer to enter
the palace as a guest. We must resort to the jimmy and the dark-lantern
as a last extremity. Certainly we must go to that ball.”

“Without an invitation, and costumes?”

“Assuredly not. And the costumes I have in my mind’s eye for you and
myself will fit our figures to a marvel. You, the stolid pig, shall be
resplendent as the Doge. As for me, I shall be bravely clad in doublet
and hose as the captain of the guard. And behold, in that room yonder
probably repose our costumes this very moment.”

St. Hilary had tossed his head to a window of a pretentious apartment on
the second story.

“We are going to hire costumes from a shop?”

“What!” he cried in horror. “You have lived in Venice three years, and
mistake the apartments of one of the most aristocratic families of
Venice for a costumer’s shop. Fie, fie!”

“You are not going to steal the costumes and the tickets?” I cried in
dismay. St. Hilary’s methods were always so beautifully direct and
unscrupulous.

“I am not going to steal them. I am going, as it were, to squeeze the
costumes off the noble backs of two gallant cavaliers I know slightly,
and the tickets out of their pockets. Oh, they will gladly oblige me,
those young gentlemen.”

“But why?”

“Why, my friend? Because it so happens that I hold a little note that is
signed jointly in the writing of the noble youths. Now if I were to
postpone the necessity of their paying those notes for a month or two,
or if I removed the necessity of payment altogether, would they not be
duly grateful?”

As I have said, St. Hilary’s methods were always so beautifully direct
and unscrupulous.



                              CHAPTER XXIV


St. Hilary and I were smiling at ourselves before the pier-glass in my
bedroom. It seemed to me quite impossible that we could be recognized.

As a captain of the Inquisitorial Guard St. Hilary was inimitable. His
black eyes, as bright and piercing as any swashbuckler’s, glowed through
the velvet mask with a ferocity that was startling. His leanness and
agility, the stiff carriage of his compact and sinewy little body, the
gray goatee and mustachios, all distinctive of St. Hilary, were quite as
distinctive of the part he had taken. Nothing could be more thoroughly
foreign, more Italian.

He was pleased to approve of me. A magnificent robe of old Genoese
velvet, bordered with ermine, the Doge’s cap, with one great stone
glowing in the front, made of me a most imposing personage. The velvet
mask completed my disguise. We might or might not be mistaken for the
two gallant young noblemen whose costumes St. Hilary had “squeezed” from
them, but at least we were not ourselves.

And so, seated stiffly upright, not to crush our gorgeous costumes, we
started late in the evening for the ball at the Cæsarini Palace.

Propelled with vigorous strokes, we swept down the Grand Canal. It was
impossible not to enter into the adventure with spirit and abandon. Our
going to the ball was audacious enough. But the ball itself was a mere
bagatelle to us. We were about to loot a palace. It is not every day
that one has such big game to key one’s nerves to fighting pitch.

We glided silently and swiftly down the broad stream. Glimmering
lanterns of other gondolas danced about us. Every moment we overtook and
were passed by guests. Every Rio poured forth its tribute, a doge, a
monk, a queen, a knight. As we neared the palace the gondolas almost
touched, so dense was the throng. A compact mass, we drifted toward the
blaze of light pouring from the open hall of the Cæsarini Palace.

Slowly, one by one, the gondolas were deftly guided to the marble steps.
St. Hilary grasped my arm. He whispered his last instructions. I was not
an adept at this sort of thing.

“We must keep together as much as possible. But first, we shall have to
separate. To find our way to the tower, that is the main thing. If you
find the way clear thither, you must indicate it to me by resting your
forefinger lightly on your thigh. I shall show you I have found it by
resting the same finger on the hilt of my dagger. Once in the tower, we
can determine our next move. The chances are that it will be open to the
guests from the garden. A dark tower is an admirable retreat for a
couple to make love in.”

As St. Hilary was whispering these words in my ear, my attention was
distracted by the gondola floating by our side. Its oarsmen were vainly
attempting to cut across our bows. Our own gondoliers were unwilling to
give way. Before I could interfere, we had jammed the other gondola
against the variegated red and blue posts placed before every Venetian
palace. Instantly the curtains of the felsa of the neighboring gondola
were drawn aside. The head of a cardinal was thrust out. Forgetting that
I was in costume, I drew back to avoid being seen. The cardinal was Duke
da Sestos. He had doffed his mask while he shouted to our men to make
way. Awed by the ducal coronet on his gondola, our oarsmen paused. The
other shot forward and drew up at the steps of the palace. Alighting
there, the duke handed out two ladies. I recognized them as Mrs. Gordon
and Jacqueline, in spite of their masks and disguise.

In our turn we paused at the water’s edge. Servants dressed in the
costume of the gondoliers of the fifteenth century stood in a row to
receive us. Two of them steadied the gondola; another placed his little
platform of green baize; the fourth offered a deferential arm. I
gathered my robe about me, and we stepped from the platform to the
crimson carpet. Surrendering our tickets to our friend the majordomo,
who bowed to us much more courteously than he had done the day before,
we advanced slowly down the hall, glowing with a thousand candles. I
noticed with satisfaction that the doors of glass leading into the
garden were wide open. We should have no difficulty in entering the
tower, then, unless its gates were locked. The full moon fell with a
soft radiance on the playing fountain, the statues, and the bare
whiteness of Italian seats. But we dared not enter the garden.

With a Mephistopheles crowding me close on one side and St. Hilary on
the other, the train of a Lucretia Borgia dragging in front, and the
lance of a Don Quixote poking me in the back, I ascended a stairway,
impressively noble in its proportions. Along its entire length at
intervals were placed busts of some great ancestor of the House of
Cæsarini. They stood in niches of the wall and on the balustrade of each
turn of the stairway.

The grand staircase ended in a great square hall. A full-length portrait
of Prince Cæsarini on horseback looked down on us. A row of servants
stood at the two open folding-doors leading into the sala. On either
side of the sala were the usual reception-rooms and card-rooms.

This sala of the Cæsarini Palace, one of the most impressive in Venice,
both in size and plan, is a square apartment, one side facing the Grand
Canal, the other, a little side canal. Quite two-thirds of the room is
raised above the rest of the floor, and is ascended by three marble
steps. The effect on entering was indescribably brilliant. Dancing had
already commenced on this immense dais. Every moment a couple descended
and ascended the marble steps. The air was heavy with perfume. The
strange costumes were reflected in a score of mirrors sunk in the walls
at intervals between the tapestries. Through the velvet masks gleamed
dark and languorous eyes that beckoned and challenged seductively.
Already here and there a nymph fled with light laughter; a satyr pursued
with eager eyes. One felt that license would go far before these masks
were removed at supper.

I missed St. Hilary almost immediately. Jacqueline and the duke were
dancing. I watched them gloomily. On what mad errand were St. Hilary and
I bent to-night? We had forced ourselves here by browbeating two weak
young fools, who were no doubt quite ready to turn and rend us. If we
were exposed! And before Jacqueline! We were absolutely no more
respectable than two thieves whose eyes are fixed greedily on the silver
spoons.

My arm was jogged. St. Hilary stood beside me. His eyes danced. His
forefinger rested lightly on the hilt of his dagger. I strolled after
him. He led the way directly to one of the _camerini_. He paused before
a Titian. I stared at a Giorgione. He sauntered on. I kept him just in
sight. We passed through half a dozen of the square little rooms. We
entered the last of them, where several men were gathered about a
punch-bowl. St. Hilary dropped into a chair in the corner. I occupied
the chair next to him. Presently, when a burst of loud laughter came
from the men at the punch-bowl, he leaned forward and picked up an
imaginary pin. “I know where the casket is.”

I started violently.

“I have traced it from the tower.”

“You have traced it from the tower!” I repeated incredulously.

“To this room,” he whispered. “You remember the scene of the seventh
hour?”

“_And in the seven and twentieth day of the month was the earth dried_,”
I murmured.

“Precisely. The twenty-seven steps from the summit of the tower bring
one to a door that opens on a passage. The other door to that passage is
just to the right of your chair.”

“And how do you know that?” I demanded, staring at it.

“A lady fainted a few minutes ago. She was carried through that door to
the landing for air. While the door was open I made good use of my
opportunity, and I have taken the precaution to put the key of the door
opening on to the tower into my pocket.”

I looked about me eagerly for the eighth landmark. The four walls were
not suggestive.

“The painted ceiling,” prompted St. Hilary.

I looked upward. The decoration of the ceiling represented a king rising
from his throne in the act of greeting a woman who made obeisance before
him. I recognized the figures as those of King Solomon and the Queen of
Sheba. The throne had six steps. At the base of the steps crouched two
lions.

“And now that we have found the eighth landmark?” I asked quietly.

“The numbers are 6 and 2,” he whispered. Then aloud, in Italian, “Shall
we go into the ball-room?”

I took St. Hilary’s arm. We passed through a succession of
reception-rooms, and as we entered each room I felt the familiar and
significant pressure. Passing through six of these rooms, we were in the
sala again.

The decorous dancing of an hour ago had given way to a rout, a pageant,
a scene of childish abandon and folly. The younger of the aristocracy of
Venice had each assumed some classic character. Arm in arm, a wild
procession of shepherds crowned with chaplets, bacchantes, and goddesses
romped across the stage. There was Jason with his golden fleece, Thetis
with her sea-nymphs, Orpheus with a pair of loving-birds on his wrist.

Round and round the great ball-room, up and down the marble steps, swept
the procession. Presently it stopped abruptly. With a wild shout, they
swept down on the laughing spectators; each Jack chose an incongruous
Jill. Apollo made captive Catherine di Medici; Pomona, Falstaff; Hebe,
Mephistopheles.

Too late, St. Hilary and I turned to flee. A chain of flowers deftly
tossed by white arms made us prisoners, St. Hilary to Diana, myself to a
Mermaid. The grotesque mob again formed in procession. To the flourish
of trumpets and the beating of drums, after encircling the ball-room
once more, they proceeded to the supper-room. There, of course, each was
expected to unmask.

It was impossible to retreat. Every step brought us nearer to exposure
and disgrace. This knowledge, disagreeable enough in itself, was made
doubly embarrassing when my fair jailer whispered coyly in my ear that
not all the disguise in the world could deceive her. It was evident, of
course, that she had taken me for the man whose costume I wore, and that
tender passages had passed between the two before now. I muttered some
incoherent reply. I followed miserably after St. Hilary and his
inamorata.

But even at the eleventh hour came a reprieve. St. Hilary had guided his
fair unknown past the supper-room, down the stairway. I followed his
example. At the foot of the stairway we turned to the right, and so made
our way into the moonlight of the garden. The shades of Elysium are not
more grateful to perturbed spirits than was to us the dark bower
overgrown with yellow jessamine and honeysuckle. But the girl at my side
had become suspicious. I had spoken no word. She drew back in alarm. At
that instant St. Hilary’s Diana discovered her mistake. There was an
hysterical cry from each of the girls. Together they fled down the path
to the palace, while St. Hilary followed them with mocking laughter.
Then we plunged into the arbor. We were saved.



                              CHAPTER XXV


A moment we listened. St. Hilary lighted a cigarette.

“Idiot,” he chuckled, “to intrude on a doting couple. There might have
been kisses, who knows?”

“But why did she not recognize you sooner?”

“Because I happen to have a figure that is not unlike her swain’s, I
suppose. As to my voice, have I not heard many times the squeak of the
noble Conti, and am I not a mimic on occasions?”

“But surely I do not resemble the other noble Conti?”

“In that bulging robe, with that beard and mask, you might be equally an
angel of light or the very devil himself. I am glad you had wit enough
not to speak.”

“And now?” I asked impatiently.

“After we have slipped the bolt of that little gate in the garden wall
over there, we will make our way up the tower and hide until the guests
have gone. We dare not trust ourselves in the palace again after our
escapade. That gate opens on the side street. We shall be glad to avail
ourselves of it later.”

We were about to leave the arbor when a Punchinello strolled down the
garden path, a poodle at his heels. He was humming a French song, his
hands thrust deep into his pockets. He passed by a pergola of grapevines
without once turning in our direction. Recognizing the dog, I guessed
the identity of the clown. It was the man who had been tampering with
Pietro’s honesty a night or two before. His presence at the palace was
alarming, but I said no word to St. Hilary of my fears. Spies or no
spies, I was going to find that casket to-night!

When the garden was again deserted I drew the bolts of the gate, then
followed St. Hilary up the steps of the tower. All the guests were at
supper, and we met no one.

At the summit of the tower the sides were wide open to the sky. A low
parapet ran around the sides. The roof rose to an apex some ten or
twelve feet above. Two broad timbers, just out of reach, stretched
across the roof. Rusty rings were still embedded in them. In former days
this had been a bell-tower. I pointed out the timbers to St. Hilary.

“There is our hiding-place if any one comes. Could you reach those beams
if I gave you a back?”

He did not answer. He was looking down the dark stairway. He rose and
leaped on the parapet.

“It is time to make the attempt. People are coming up the stairs.”

In five seconds we were lying side by side.

“Whatever happens, you must not betray yourself. If you do, remember,
you betray me, and you promised to stand by me, no matter what
happened.”

I nodded; then, peering over, I saw my mask lying on the bench where I
had thrown it down. I pointed it out to St. Hilary.

“Shall I risk jumping down for it?”

“No, no. There is no logical clue between a mask on a bench and two
gentlemen playing eavesdroppers a few feet above.”

There was a rustle of silk; a faint sigh of a woman catching her breath;
then a ripple of light laughter.

“We are not the first, duke, to enjoy this wonderful view,” cried a
clear voice.

I leaned recklessly over. Jacqueline was holding my mask toward Duke da
Sestos. And they were alone.

I had just given my promise to St. Hilary, but I had not reckoned on
this. To leap down now would mean that I must betray him; to remain,
that I must listen. I was in an agony of indecision. Again I hesitated,
and again I was to pay a bitter penalty.

“Oh, it is worth the climb,” cried Jacqueline enthusiastically. “That
blaze of lights is the Piazza San Marco, of course. And the long line to
the north?”

“Are the lights of the Riva,” answered the moody voice of the duke.

His tone frightened me. I felt that he was regarding her with burning
glances. Jacqueline must have noticed it had she not been enraptured
with the fairy scene before her.

“The little splashes of light here and there are the campos, of course.
But the Grand Canal! I never dreamed of anything so wonderful. Look, it
has just one broad band of moonlight across its gloom. How fearfully
tragic it must look on a cloudy night! But now, it is beautiful. And the
tiny flickers of dancing light from the lanterns on the gondolas make
the effect magical. Is it any wonder that, after all, one is a slave to
the beauty of this Venice? Perhaps,” she added dreamily, “one might have
more ignoble dreams and ambitions than to live always in the midst of
this beauty. I believe there is nothing on earth so beautiful as this
scene.”

“There is yourself,” a hoarse voice broke in on her revery. “There is
yourself, and to-night you are more beautiful and exquisite than the
very citadels of Paradise.”

I trembled. It was to come, then, this declaration of love; and I must
listen. It was now too late to descend. I could only pray that they
would soon go. To my joy, this time Jacqueline did recognize the danger
of her lingering.

“And below, what a mass of gondolas! How little did I think that I
should ever go to a ball in a gondola! I can not thank you enough for
bringing me here. But my aunt is waiting at the next landing. She will
be wondering.”

“No,” broke in the duke’s hoarse voice, “she will not.”

“And why not, please?” demanded Jacqueline.

“I have told Mrs. Gordon that I must see you alone. You have avoided me
all the evening–all the day–ever since Mr. Hume insulted me by denying
that I had found the casket. And now that I have my opportunity it shall
not escape me.”

“If my aunt has given you permission to detain me here against my will,
she has gone beyond her right. That she is not waiting for me makes it
still more necessary to descend.”

“You must not go. You will not be so cruel. You shall not go. You shall
not go, by heaven until you have told mo why you refuse to listen to
me!”

“Do you think that my regard for you will grow stronger because you
detain me here against my will?” Jacqueline asked indignantly.

“My glorious one, you are beautiful when you are angry,” he cried
passionately. “I do not forget that you are only a nun for the hour.
Beneath those funereal robes beats a heart of passion and fire like
mine. Like mine, do you hear? It is time you were wooed and won.”

“I hardly understand you, Duke da Sestos.”

Even now there was no fear in her voice.

“Oh, you understand, my white dove,” he continued in a tone that made my
blood boil. “You understand perfectly. Even in America, I suppose, young
girls do not climb towers alone at night without first of all counting
the cost.”

I had heard quite enough. St. Hilary and his casket might go to the
devil. I gathered up my cumbersome robes. St. Hilary, his black eyes
glowing into mine a few feet away, made a fierce but cautious gesture to
lie still If I did so it was not because of St. Hilary, but
consideration for my own dignity. Jacqueline would never forgive me if I
appeared now, I thought. And by his next words the duke seemed to have
come to his senses at last.

“Heavens,” he cried despairingly, “I am mad! I have angered you. Forgive
me. Say that you forgive me. You shall go when you have said that.”

“If I forgive you,” answered Jacqueline in a cold voice, “it is because
I have failed to understand you.”

“But tell me, before we go, why have you promised only to deny? I have
been patient. I have endured all. But now, to-night, under this soft
moonlight, under these burning stars, with Venice, the Queen of Loves,
to listen, I tell you that I love you. Pledge your love to
me–here–to-night.”

“I insist that you let me go.”

“In one moment. Tell me why you refuse to keep your word? Is it because
that Mr. Hume made me ridiculous before you? If he had not interfered,
you would have loved me. I would have made you love me.”

“Really, Duke da Sestos, to be quite exact, you should say if _you_ had
not interfered.”

“But when once you know what I know, when I have told you that he is a
thief––”

“Thief!” cried my dear Jacqueline with scorn.

“Is he not a thief who breaks into your rooms, who binds you hand and
foot, who steals from you––”

“You dare say that he has done that?” cried Jacqueline, lingering in
spite of herself.

“I dare say to his face that he has done just that,” replied the duke
hotly. “He has done more than that. He has stolen your heart from me,
and for that I shall never forgive him. Never. But I shall yet win you.
You are mine. Give me my reward. I implore you. I command you. You are
in my power. One kiss, and you shall go. I swear it. No, no, you shall
not escape me.”

She screamed. I lifted myself on my elbow to leap down. It was
impossible to stay there longer. My robe caught on a nail. While I
struggled to free myself the duke saw me, and as I alighted he struck me
a violent blow.

He flung himself upon me and pinioned my arms. I struggled furiously,
but he had me at a disadvantage. I was down. The moonlight fell on my
face. He recognized me.

“Bah, it is our American friend; it is your Mr. Hume,” he cried, with a
contempt that was too careless for indignation. There was almost a note
of good-nature in his contempt, as if I were a loathsome but amusing
species of reptile.

I rose panting to my feet. Hell itself can have no greater torment than
I suffered then.

“Eavesdropper!” cried the duke, regarding me cynically.

Jacqueline looked at me in horror. “You were listening? And you made no
effort to help me?”

The words were not spoken in reproach. It was as if she had uttered a
simple truth that was convincing, hopelessly convincing.

I was silent. I could say nothing without betraying St. Hilary.

“Is every one low and despicable? Is there no honor in any one? You–my
aunt–” she groped her way toward the stairs.

For the third time the duke and I looked into each others eyes. He was
smiling still in his amused, cynical way, but thoughtfully, too.

“So,” he said at last, “you really were listening? Or had you other
motives?”

“No,” I said, quite truthfully. “You know perfectly well that I was not
listening.”

“I thought so. I am so sorry that I have disturbed Mr. Hume. And now
to-night, I suppose, it is useless to keep an eye on him longer. There
will be no adventures to-night, I am afraid.”

There was a note of real regret in his voice. Had he really known that I
was here, or was he lying as usual? In any case, if I could convince him
that for to-night, at least, I should make no further attempt to find
the casket, he would leave St. Hilary in peace.

“You have beaten me to-night, it is true, but there are other nights.
Remember that there are yet five days.”

We descended the tower. I walked deliberately through the palace. The
duke pretended not to watch me, but I knew that I should be followed. It
was some minutes before my gondola came; for the last of the guests were
leaving. I went at once to my rooms. I lighted the gas and exchanged the
mummery in which I was clad for a suit of tweeds. Then, with an ulster
and golf-cap for St. Hilary, I turned out the gas, made my way out into
the garden at the rear, and in ten minutes had pushed open the little
gate in the garden wall.



                              CHAPTER XXVI


The garden was dark. Only the bloom of a cherry tree and a line of
lilies planted the length of the pergola showed white against the gloom.
The waning moon hardly touched the top of the garden wall now, but fell
full on the palace windows and the tower.

No light was to be seen. The last guest had departed. The Princess
Caesarini was grand enough lady to have her own ways in spite of those
of the world; and one of them was to be in bed by two o’clock.

The question was, where should I find St. Hilary? I should look for him
first, of course, in the tower. It was barely possible that he had
waited for me. Scarcely half an hour had passed since I left the palace.

He was seated on the parapet, quietly smoking. He greeted me grimly.

“Well, you have made a nice mess of things. I should have known that
failure is always the result of one’s mixing up business and sentiment.
There can be no search for the casket to-night. Come, let’s be going.”

“Nonsense, St. Hilary,” I cried sharply. “You know very well we shall
finish our search to-night. It is natural that you should feel some
annoyance–not with me, but with circumstances. I promised you I would
not betray myself; but could you have lain quiet in my place?”

“Of course I could,” he mumbled.

“As to there being no further search, why did you wait here if you
intended to relinquish it? Why did you not go on with it alone? You have
waited, hoping I should return.”

“But you deliberately told the duke that you were hiding, waiting for a
chance to find the casket. At least you hinted as much. He understood
you to mean that. For aught we know he has put the palace on its guard.”

“Yes,” I answered angrily, “I told him that–deliberately. What else
could I do? He must have guessed. But after discovering me, would he
think it likely that I should return to continue the search? No. He has
seen me leave the palace. He has followed me, or had me followed, to my
rooms. He thinks that I am in bed. I am certain that no one has followed
me here. He has seen me go out of the palace. He has not seen me return.
There is the matter in a nutshell.”

“But has he seen me go out?” demanded St. Hilary.

“Are you sure he knows you were at the ball?”

“Ah, that’s the question. I think we ought to fling up our search for
to-night.”

“I do not. The finding of that casket is my only chance for happiness
now. Where is the key?”

“It is quite useless. It unlocks the outer door of the passage, but the
inner door defies this key and some skeleton keys I have with me.
Confound these old Italian locks! That round window over your head is
the only chance. If you give me a leg up, I think I can pry it open and
squeeze through.”

So that was why he had waited! He had attempted, then, to carry on the
search without me; he had waited for me only because he had found my
help absolutely necessary. Suddenly, I mistrusted St. Hilary. It seemed
difficult for his mind to work in normal grooves. Deceit and lying were
as natural to him as breathing. And yet, with one exception, he had been
fair and generous with me. Was it only to discard me when I was of no
further use?

“But where does the window lead?” I demanded.

“We must take our chances as to that. I am the slighter. Let me go
through first.”

I stooped down and braced my arms against the wall. He lightly sprang on
my shoulders. I felt him strain and tug at the casement. Then I heard a
crack. Waiting a moment to be sure that the slight noise had not aroused
any one, he spurned my shoulders, and leaped upward. For an instant his
body hovered comically in mid-air. Then it disappeared.

I stood motionless against the wall, listening with all my ears. Five
minutes passed, and I began to wonder if he had deserted me, when his
head appeared through the window.

“I am standing on a bench. Jump, and catch my hands. This is the only
chance to get into the palace that I can see.”

I measured the window with my eye. I kicked a bit of mortar from between
two stones in the wall. Edging my toe in, I sprang up. Twice I failed to
reach his outstretched arms, but the third time I was successful. A
strenuous minute, and I stood panting beside him.

We entered a draughty passage. St. Hilary went confidently to the door
at the end, and pushing it open, he struck a match. We were in an
anteroom. Huge presses ran up to the ceiling on three of the walls. The
fourth wall was paneled, and in spite of my excitement, or perhaps
because of it, I saw that it was covered with names carved in the oak.
In other days this had undoubtedly been the page’s room. And now I had
another proof of St. Hilary’s keenness. He opened the door of what I
supposed to be one of the presses, and we were in the sala. The air was
yet heavy with the smell of perfume and crushed flowers.

“Shall I light one of these candles?” I whispered. “Is it safe?”

He nodded, and I took one of the candles from its sconce. St. Hilary
stood by the great fireplace, where two lions crouched.

“These must be the two lions of the eighth landmark,” I said.

I held the candle high above my head. As the light flared, vague
spectral forms seemed to spring out of the darkness and to vanish. Our
shadows, gigantic and monstrous, danced grotesquely on the polished
floor. In a dozen mirrors our figures were dimly reflected.

“The ninth hour?” demanded St. Hilary hoarsely.

“_And Joseph said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream, and behold, the sun
and moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me_,” I answered.

He clutched my arm. He pointed far above the mantel.

At first I did not understand. In front of us yawned the great
fireplace. Two bowed and wearied giants supported the hooded marble
mantel, their feet braced fantastically against the two crouching lions.
The polished breasts and thighs of the figures glowed in the faint
candle-light. Above, the space from the mantel to the very ceiling was
filled with paneling, dark and somber with age and smoke, all richly and
delicately carved, a design infinitely confusing with its entwined and
intricate figures. A medley of chariots and horses, armored warriors and
banners, all impossibly crowded together, like a frieze in a Greek
temple–that is my vague impression of the carving.

“The sun and the moon and the eleven stars,” muttered St. Hilary, still
pointing.

Suddenly I understood. It was the scene of Joshua going forth to battle,
commanding the sun and moon to stand still. On the right shone the sun,
its rays naively depicted; on the left shone the moon. Joshua held a
banner in his hand, and on the banner were eleven stars.

“There must be a spring concealed in the paneling. If we strike one of
those stars––”

St. Hilary did not finish his sentence. He carried a console table
toward the mantel. For once I was the quicker. I caught the mantel,
braced myself on one of the giants, and so lifted myself up on it.

I struck each of the stars in turn sharply with my palm.

“Here–the dagger,” cried St. Hilary, and taking the dagger he wore from
his belt he tossed it up to me. Again I struck each of the stars with
the hilt of the dagger. One moment I was staring at the paneling; the
next, the paneling to the right of the chimney had slid noiselessly up
and I was looking into a square hole big enough to admit one’s body.

A clock somewhere in the palace struck the hour of four.

“It is the hour,” I whispered, staring down at St. Hilary. “We are to
inherit Time’s legacy at last.”

St. Hilary did not answer. He was scrambling up on the table.

I waved him back imperatively. His lack of self-control restored mine.
Now that I was here I had no intention of giving way to him.

“Get down,” I cried. “Are you mad? One of us must keep watch. Before I
crawl up into the shaft I shall lower the paneled door. Push away the
table there. If any one should come––”

The sentence died on my lips. His sallow face, lighted by the feeble
flicker of the candle, was flushed with intense excitement. One thinks
of the taper as standing before holy altars, shining on meek-eyed
Madonnas and saints. But the candle he held before him revealed
something of the cunning greed of the miser in his glittering eyes,
something of the fierce desire of the madman. He stood perfectly
motionless, gazing upward at the ceiling. One might have thought he was
in a trance.

“St. Hilary! St. Hilary!” I cried, shocked at this display of emotion.
“What is it, man?”

His lips tried hard to speak, but no words came from them. Then he
pointed upward to the beams above his head. I followed his tense gaze.
Then I understood his strange excitement.

As in all Venetian palaces, the ceiling of this _sala grande_ was made
of massive beams stretching from wall to wall. The space between these
sunken beams was covered with boards nailed on top of them.

In one of these sunken beams da Sestos had hidden the casket. I could
see it as I stood on the mantel, just out of my reach.

The spring that had released the paneling must have opened at the same
time a tiny door at the side of this beam. As I moved my candle, I
caught the gleam of shining metal. We had found the casket. The last
three scenes of the hours, then, were meaningless.

I crawled into the shaft. I stood erect. My head was on a level with a
space hardly more than a foot high between the ceiling of the sala and
the floor of the apartment above. I drew myself painfully along this
narrow interstice, St. Hilary’s dagger in one hand and the candle in the
other. When I had reached what I thought to be the location of the
casket, I brushed the dust away, and I saw several brass nails driven
into the boards, forming a small circle. I struck at the circle with the
sharp dagger until I could thrust my arm through the aperture I had
made. I felt along the beam immediately below, and I touched the cold
metal. My fingers traveled lovingly over its smooth surface. Slowly and
carefully I drew the casket from its hiding-place. It was
heavy–incredibly heavy. Very faintly I heard St. Hilary utter a cry of
joy. I closed the little door of the beam, then I lowered myself into
the shaft again, the precious casket clasped in both my hands. But the
shaft was too narrow for me to leave it and still hold the casket. I
must hand it first to St. Hilary. I stooped down and held it out. I had
heard him step from the table to the mantel.

“Here it is, St. Hilary,” I said hoarsely.

It was clutched, brutally, out of my lingering grasp. A sharp blow
struck my hand, then there was darkness. The paneled door had been
closed. I heard the spring click as it shut tight. St. Hilary had played
me false. Too late I thought of my distrust of him.

I pulled myself up into the shaft again to fetch the dagger I had left
on the floor above. I struck the paneling along the edge of the top
until I had located the spring. Then I hacked at the hard board till I
felt it give way. I raised it cautiously and stepped out on the mantel.
It had taken me half an hour to free myself.



                             CHAPTER XXVII


Closing the panel door after me, I sprang lightly to the floor. I did
not dare attempt to escape from the palace by the way of the tower. I
stole across the polished floor out to the landing. I listened at the
head of the stairs. In the hall below I could hear the clatter of wooden
pattens on the marble flags. There was the swish of a broom. A door
slammed, then all was still. I descended the stairway rapidly.

To my joy the double doors of glass leading out into the garden were
open. I might be seen from the window of the palazzo while crossing the
garden to the little gate, but I had to take the chance. I stole out
into the garden. I gained the shelter of the pergola. I reached the
gate, slipped out into the street, and closed it behind me. In two
minutes I had lost myself in the market crowd in the Campo San
Bartolomeo.

And now what should I do? It was impossible to avail myself of the
ordinary channels of the law. I had no more legal right to the casket
than had St. Hilary. I must rely on my own wits.

Would he already have left Venice? Perhaps. In that case it would be a
stern, almost a hopeless, chase. But if he had not done so, how would he
attempt to escape from me?

I looked at my watch. It was not quite five. I knew that the next train
leaving Venice was at eight-thirty. A boat sailed to Trieste three times
a week. One left Venice this evening at seven. At twelve a P. and O.
liner sailed for Brindisi. These were the regular means of travel. But
nothing could be more simple than for him to hire a craft. If one pays
enough, one can go anywhere. The search seemed almost hopeless.

Obviously, the first thing for me to do was to go to St. Hilary’s hotel.
I was not so simple as to expect to find him there, but I might learn if
he had made any plans beforehand to leave Venice.

His hotel was on the Riva, not far from Danielli’s. The concierge knew
me well, and in answer to my careless inquiry as to whether St. Hilary
had been in his rooms since last night, he went up-stairs to inquire.
There was no answer to his knock. I bade him open the door, and told him
I would wait for my friend. He did so, and I entered.

My worst fears were realized. Two heavy trunks were strapped and
labeled. The address was simply in the care of a forwarding agent in
London.

His razors and hair-brushes, however, were still on the dressing-table,
and an open bag on the chair. If he had planned returning to his rooms
he would not imperil the loss of the casket by bothering about these
paltry toilet articles. That was my first thought. But even as I was
closing the door behind me I paused. Would he not, indeed? He was still
in the fancy costume of the ball. True, he had my ulster and golf cap,
but the day promised to be warm. Could he travel thus without attracting
attention? Unless he were to leave Venice by private boat, he would be
almost sure to change his clothes. I abandoned my intention of going to
the railway station. I would remain here at his rooms. And yet I must
send some one. Whom could I trust? There was Pietro, of course; he knew
St. Hilary. But Pietro had played me false; he would play me false
again, unless I made it worth his while not to do so. I must make it
worth his while. I sent one of the hotel servants to fetch my man. In
twenty minutes he arrived, smiling.

I had taken the precaution the night before to put a considerable sum of
money in my pockets. I did not know what emergency might confront us
before the dawn, or how soon it might be convenient for us to leave
Venice. I dangled a hundred-lire note suggestively before Pietro’s nose.
I assured him that I knew he was an arrant rogue. I sympathized with him
(or pretended to) in his determination to sell his rascally services to
the highest bidder. I hinted that this hundred-lire note should not be
the last if he could only make up his mind to obey me implicitly for a
few hours or days.

Pietro gulped with emotion. He swore by all his hopes of heaven and with
tears that he loved me dearly. He could not take my money. He would
cheerfully murder any enemy of mine out of sheer gratitude for my
kindness to him; but he could not take the money. No, no, not for
himself, but–for expenses, yes. He pocketed the note with an oily smile.

My directions to him were simple. He was to betake himself to the
railway station. He was first of all to assure himself that St. Hilary
was not on the eight-thirty train. If he were not on that train, Pietro
was to keep watch for him on the landing of the railway station until
six o’clock in the evening. If the dealer was on the eight-thirty train,
or if he appeared later, Pietro was to go where he went, if that meant
to the ends of the earth. But, above all, he was to keep out of sight.

I had still the P. and O. liner and the boat to Trieste to watch. The
liner I could take care of myself from St. Hilary’s window, or better
still, a seat on the Riva under the hotel awning. She was anchored not a
hundred feet away, and I could readily make out every passenger who
boarded her. As for the boat to Trieste, it did not go until seven in
the evening, and I could recall Pietro from his post at six if
necessary; for there was no train between six and nine.

I could do nothing more at present except keep a watchful eye open for
St. Hilary, and that, as I have said, I could do as well, or even
better, from the Riva below. And now that I was forced to inaction for
the present, I was conscious that I had had nothing to eat since the
evening before.

I locked St. Hilary’s door after me. I settled myself at a little table
under the red-and-white striped awning, where, quite inconspicuous
myself, I could see every one who entered or came out of the hotel.

The sun rose higher and higher over San Georgio’s. The golden angel on
the campanile grew brighter and brighter, until she seemed a thing
alive, quivering in her eagerness to spring into that deep lake of blue.
The dazzling whiteness of the pavement toward the Molo gradually became
alive with moving spots of variegated color. The teeming life of the
broad street amused me for a while. But now that the excitement was
passed, now that I was very near despair, though I would not acknowledge
it, I found it difficult to be alert. It seemed useless to make any
pretence at watching at all. I felt very sleepy.

The heat of the early afternoon became almost intolerable. I struggled
and fought against an almost overpowering drowsiness. Suddenly I was
wide awake. Duke da Sestos had just come out of Danielli’s. He was
walking toward me. He saw me. He raised his hat, and smiled.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII


“Ah, it is my friend Hume,” he purred. “I had thought that Mr. Hume had
left Venice.”

I ignored the left hand he extended negligently toward me. He had as
many changes of front as a Russian diplomatist. Then I laughed. His cool
effrontery was downright amusing.

“And why should I have left Venice?” I asked easily. “Did you think you
had frightened me off last night?”

“Ah, ha,” he twirled his mustache with the utmost good-nature, “I know
my friend Hume too well to think that he is so easily frightened. But it
is a pity that your wit, my friend, is not as great as your courage.”

“And how is my stupidity manifesting itself just at present?”

He threw back his head and laughed silently–at least, insofar as a cat
can laugh. Then he lowered himself into a chair by my side, leaned
forward, and tapped me lightly on the shoulder.

“I am clairvoyant. _Par example_, you are waiting for a friend, _n’est
ce pas_? Oh, I do not mean myself. Shall we call that friend Mr. St.
Hilary?”

“And then––”

“And then,” he continued jocularly, “if this Mr. St. Hilary should not
come–if he had not a notion of coming?”

“I should be a fool to sit here–is that the inference?”

His shoulders shook, as if he found the joke amusing. But how should he
know anything of St. Hilary’s movements? Or, guessing them, that I could
be seriously affected by them?

“Am I to understand,” I demanded, sitting upright, “that you have
information as to Mr. St. Hilary’s whereabouts?”

“Very precise information, I assure you, my friend,” he cried, his blue
eyes dancing. “When one sees a gondola racing to the railway station,
with two rowers, so great is the hurry, one may reasonably infer that
the gentleman who sits under the felsa smoking a cigarette is on his way
to take a train, hein?”

“So you saw Mr. St. Hilary on his way to the railway station?” I said
slowly. “And the time?”

“It was not so late as seven, and certainly not before half-past six.”

My worst fears were realized. Pietro had let him slip through his
fingers at the eight-thirty train. But at least I would not give this
Italian the satisfaction of seeing the consternation the news gave me,
and I answered indifferently:

“A little trip to Milan, I suppose. If he had been going far I should
certainly have seen him before his departure.”

“But, Mr. Hume,” cried the duke in triumph, “when the gondola is piled
high with boxes, is it reasonable to think that our friend simply runs
off to Milan? No, no; Naples, perhaps, or Paris, or London.”

“What! You saw his trunks?” I cried.

The duke held up his five fingers.

“So many.”

I turned easily in my seat and looked him over coolly. I had every
reason to believe that St. Hilary possessed only two trunks, and that
these two trunks were in his room up-stairs.

“Yes, it is strange that he should not have said good-by to me,” I said
musingly.

“_Is_ it so strange?” queried the duke, and again he tapped me on the
shoulder. “Come, come, Mr. Hume, have I not said that I am clairvoyant?”

“Your proofs have not been convincing. Suppose that you give me a better
illustration of this remarkable gift of yours.”

“Well, then, I could have told you yesterday that your friend would bear
watching.”

“You seem to know a good deal about the character of Mr. St. Hilary,” I
said, and rose from my seat with a yawn.

The duke rose and took my arm. He had not yet done with me, it appeared.

“You walk toward the Piazza? Permit me to walk with you. Yes, yes, I
know a good deal of your friend’s character. We have had many
interesting talks together before now; and, let me tell you, Mr. St.
Hilary did me the honor of bidding _me_ good-by.”

“And is that the reason you are so happy?” I asked, staring at him. My
question had been put seriously. For the first time this afternoon I was
interested in his answer.

“So happy?” he retorted, shrugging his shoulders; then, with apparent
frankness, “But I am to see Mr. St. Hilary again. Yes; I am to join him
presently at Naples, perhaps, or Paris, or London. By the way, you have
yet three days in which to prove me a liar,” he added good-humoredly.

“And three days are a long time sometimes,” I said curtly. “Good
afternoon; I take a gondola here to my rooms.”

“Adieu,” he purred, but he still held my arm. “Do you remember that
charming afternoon we spent, all four of us, in my poor palazzo? I
presented to each of the ladies a little souvenir. To Mrs. Gordon I gave
the useless old clock; to Miss Quintard, the chest that once contained
the casket I have found and given to her. But to you I gave nothing. Our
dealer, I have reason to think, has consoled himself. To you alone, my
friend, I have been remiss.”

“Your regret is touching,” I murmured.

“But there is a little book I came across the other day when I was
packing up my few belongings. It is only fourteen pages, but these
fourteen pages are interesting. I have known travelers go all the way to
St. Petersburg to consult them. Would it amuse you–this little souvenir?
Or am I to infer that since the departure of your co-laborer in
antiquarian studies you are no longer interested in curiosities?”

If I could have flung him into the muddy waters of the canal I should
have been a little less miserable, but I affected the utmost delight. In
the first place, I was really interested in seeing those pages. Again, I
hoped to understand a little more clearly the drift of this afternoon’s
talk. His reference to St. Hilary mystified me.

“I shall be charmed to receive it,” I cried.

The duke had watched my momentary indecision with evident anxiety. Now
he seized my arm again and squeezed it in the warmth of his
satisfaction. His face was radiant.

“Good! Good! My rooms are but a few feet from the Capello Nero.”

“So St. Hilary informed me,” I said pointedly.

“Ah, he is a wonderful man, your friend. Such resource, such
imagination! And always on the lookout for himself, hein?”

The duke’s apartments were almost empty of furniture. There were no rugs
on the floor, no belongings of a personal nature in sight. The pictures
were covered, and the chairs formally ranged about the walls. The clock
on the mantelpiece had stopped. Some old newspapers and magazines heaped
on the library table were the only sign that the room was lived in.
Otherwise the room was bare.

“You must excuse the appearance of my poor chambers; I leave Venice this
evening.”

“All the world seems to be leaving Venice to-day,” I observed lightly.

“Absolutely. First of all, your friend Mr. St. Hilary, and now Mrs.
Gordon, her niece, and myself. My poor friend, you will be lonely, I
fear.”

“Your concern touches me,” I said, and walked to the window. “When I
have received from you my souvenir, I am going to my rooms to make
preparations for leaving Venice myself.”

The duke was turning over the magazines and papers on the library table.

“Everything is in confusion. I can not find my little book. Old Luigi is
an imbecile. Perhaps he has destroyed these precious fourteen pages. May
I trouble you to ring the bell near that window? We will ask Luigi.”

I was puzzled, I confess it. Why had he brought me to his apartment?
Simply to gloat over me? Or had he some purpose more useful than that?

There was a knock at the door. Instead of bidding the servant enter, the
duke himself answered it, stepping out in the hallway, closing the door
carefully after him.

I walked over to the table, and turned over carelessly the papers and
magazines. The glint of steel caught my eye. He had hidden a revolver
under the rubbish while pretending to look for the fourteen pages. In
two seconds it was in my pocket and I had taken my stand at the window
again, one hand in my coat pocket, the other pulling at my mustache.

“That imbecile Luigi had put away the pages for safe keeping in a
portfolio. But he is to fetch the portfolio at once.”

He seated himself carelessly on the table, swinging one leg. He picked
up an illustrated weekly.

“Are you interested in horses? Here are some capital snap-shots of good
riding during the manœuvers at Asti.”

I crossed the room and looked over his shoulder. When we had exhausted
the magazines he bethought him of the pictures hanging on the wall. He
lifted the muslin coverings and showed them to me, one by one,
expatiating on their beauties. Evidently he was trying to kill time.
Unconsciously I glanced at the clock, a modern timepiece about three
feet high, standing on the mantel. I had forgotten that it had stopped.
The hands, I noticed, stood at half-past six.

The duke now took up his position at the window, while I stood with my
back to the mantel. It just reached my shoulder. For the first time it
occurred to me that he had wished to get me away from the window. He
wished the post of observation for himself. I wondered if it were worth
while for me to join him.

For perhaps thirty seconds there was silence between us. I say thirty
seconds, and I measured that interval by thirty ticks. At first I heard
them listlessly. They were faint, muffled, and strangely slow. Then I
remembered with a start that the clock had stopped. It was impossible
for them to come from the watch in my pocket. They sounded close to my
ears, and my ears were not two inches away from the clock that had
stopped.

For a moment the strange phenomenon bewildered me. Then I understood.
The casket was inside the clock; and the mechanism that would release
the cover in twelve hours had been set going.

As if the duke were the clairvoyant he had mockingly pretended to be, he
turned sharply on his heel. I was gazing up at the ceiling.

“Luigi is a long time,” he muttered. “It is possible that the thieves
who broke into my rooms some months ago stole it after all.”

“Thieves!”

“Yes, my friend, thieves. But I am taking precautions for my safety in
the future.” He laughed shortly, and looked out of the window again.

That hint was as foolish as my boast a few days before. So he had sent
old Luigi for the gendarmes. He was holding me here. Well, I hardly
cared to see the gendarmes just now. It was time for me to act.

I reached swiftly up. I lifted the clock from the mantel to the floor.
The jar of the wheels as it touched the floor made him spin about like a
mechanical toy. I was pointing the muzzle of his useful weapon at him
over the clock.

“Sit down,” I said quietly.

He clutched the edge of the chair, his mouth drooping.

“And quickly!” I cried sharply.

He sank into the chair behind him, his hands trembling violently.

“But–but–this is an outrage!” he gasped.

“My dear duke, you are not the only clairvoyant. In my poor way I can
see through a wooden case. But this propensity of yours to play the cat
with the poor little mouse is dangerous. Sometimes the little harmless
mouse turns out to be a rat. And rats sometimes bite.”



                              CHAPTER XXIX


For the second time I held the casket in my hand, but even now it was
impossible for me to look at it. I had to keep my eye on the duke. I
picked it up and walked to the table near which the duke was seated.

“Tell me,” I asked laughingly, “did you bring me to this room for the
sheer joy of gloating over my nearness to this toy that I have been
struggling to possess for the past month, knowing how impossibly far it
was from me? Did it afford you so much pleasure to play with me, to
tease me, that you pushed your game so dangerously far? If so, you are
an artist, my dear duke.”

“Mr. Hume is generous in his compliments.”

“Or,” I continued, thrusting my face nearer to his, “am I mistaken in
thinking that most of your words and deeds are spoken and acted with
some purpose in view?”

“For example?” he asked lightly.

“For example,” I repeated, “it was hardly for love of me that you spoke
to me this afternoon.”

“Hardly,” he sneered, pale with rage and disappointment. “Rather because
I hated you so much that I wished to amuse myself at your expense.”

“Or is there a third possibility?” I continued scornfully. “That you
wished to avenge yourself? While you were taunting me with St. Hilary’s
perfidy, or his supposed perfidy, the idea occurred to you that if you
could induce me to come to your rooms, if you could hold me there while
you sent Luigi for the gendarmes, you might have me committed to jail
for assault, perhaps, or complicity in breaking into your rooms. On the
whole, I am inclined to think that this view of the case is the most
reasonable.”

“As you will, Mr. Hume,” he answered, his lips white and trembling.

“Now listen to me, Duke da Sestos. Granting that I am correct, the
gendarmes will be here presently. Luigi has been gone some time. Before
they come, I wish to put the case clearly before you. This casket and
these jewels belong neither to me nor to you. They are the property of
the state. When your gendarmes come, be sure I shall make that clear.”

“Pooh! I have always known that you were a fool,” he cried
contemptuously.

“Ah, I thought you would listen to reason,” I said quickly. “Now tell me
frankly: Why have you been so keen on this hunt for the casket? Was it
to please Miss Quintard or to please yourself?”

“Why not both? In pleasing myself perhaps I should be pleasing Miss
Quintard.”

“And perhaps not,” I replied drily. “A truthful answer, duke, if you
please. We have no time to lose–if you care anything for the baubles in
this casket.”

“Well, then, for myself,” he said, looking at me curiously.

“And if I had not surprised you just now, you would have taken your
casketful of jewels to London or Paris to dispose of them at leisure?”

“Perhaps,” he assented insolently.

“Or would you have taken this casket to Miss Quintard and apologized for
making a slight error?”

“Why could I not have done both?” he cried. “Yes, Mr. Hume, even if you
give it to the gendarmes, the casket is mine–legally and morally. The
state will grant my claim, and then––”

“That is the point I was coming to. Supposing you were offered a share
of these baubles–I do not say how great a share–is it possible that you
could be induced to give up the casket?”

“I have heard there is an English proverb that it is better to have a
bird in one’s hand than two birds in the bushes.”

“But allow me to remind you that in this instance the bird is in my
hands.”

“For the present,” he interrupted with a meaning glance.

“Come, come,” I cried sharply, “we have had enough of this quibbling. I
make you a sporting proposition. I will give you a share of these jewels
for the casket.”

“I am afraid,” he said suspiciously, “my share would be rather a small
one.”

“It would be one-third,” I said quietly. “I am not a thief. I covet no
stolen property, and these stones were stolen. The price of blood is on
them. Whether they were stolen to-day or five hundred years ago, the
moral aspect of the case is the same. But I want that casket, and I must
have it.”

“Who gets the other two-thirds?” demanded the duke, like a greedy
glutton. “St. Hilary, I suppose.”

“If he can prove to me that he has played fair.”

The duke thought a minute. “Very well, I agree.”

I emptied the chambers of the revolver’s cartridges. I put them into my
pocket. I pushed the weapon carefully under the newspapers again.

“And now that the strain of the past five minutes is over, I suppose I
may have a look at my casket?”

“With pleasure.” The duke bowed sardonically.

In shape and size it was not unlike the pseudo da Sestos casket with
which the duke had attempted to deceive Jacqueline.

It was of bronze, overlaid with plaques of gold, enriched with cloisonné
enameled work and precious stones, cut for the most part _en cabochon_.
The cover rose to an apex. At the apex was a knob of wrought gold, in
shape a monster’s head, the eyes formed of minute rubies. At the four
corners of the cover were large semi-precious stones of chalcedony,
rock-crystal, carbuncle, and turquoise. From these four stones to the
knob of gold ran lines of pearls.

The sides of the casket were composed of rectangular plaques,
alternately covered with symmetrical designs in colored cloisonné
enamel, partly opaque and partly translucent. These plaques were studded
with pearls framed with a cunning design of scrolls and filigree work.

“It would fetch a thousand pounds at Christie’s any day,” I mused.

“Will you tell me how long that toy must tick before the cover can be
opened?” interrupted the duke.

“When did you set the mechanism?”

“At precisely twenty-five minutes to seven.”

“Then in half an hour the casket will be opened.”

There was a loud knock on the door.

“Ah, your gendarmes,” I said coolly.

“And, as host, may I receive my guests?”

“Do,” I urged, and seated myself in his chair, the casket on my knees.

He opened the door. Two impossibly solemn gendarmes entered, precisely
alike as two files. Keeping step, each with each, their hands on their
sword hilts, they advanced to the middle of the room and saluted. Old
Luigi stood discreetly without. I hope it is no disgrace to confess that
I awaited the duke’s orders with some trepidation.

“We have received word,” said the duke calmly, and he waved his hand
toward me, “that an American gentleman, returning from the _bal masqué_
at the Cæsarini Palace, early this morning, was assaulted by ruffians
near the Calle Bianca Madonna, and knocked insensible. He was then
carried to an empty house in the Jewish quarter. It is the third
right-hand house on the quay of the Mestre Canal as you enter it.
Release the gentleman. Tell him that his friend, Signore Hume, wishes to
speak with him here. See that he comes. That is all.”

The gendarmes saluted as one man, spun about on their heels and marched
from the room, their red and white plumes nodding.

“The gentleman to be found in the Jewish quarter is, of course, St.
Hilary. It requires no great imagination to guess that you had him
confined there. It would interest me to know how you managed last
night.”

“Oh, believe me, nothing could have been simpler,” replied the duke. “I
knew, you may be sure, that you were not spying on Miss Quintard and
myself in the tower. As a matter of fact, I was bitterly disappointed
when you showed yourself; for, frankly, Mr. St. Hilary and you had been
seen ascending the tower, and it was known that you were concealed
somewhere. But we had not thought of the beams up there. When you were
discovered I had presence of mind enough not to rout out your friend.
All we had to do, then, was to watch him. We made our way into the sala
after you, and, lying concealed until the dramatic moment, my
Punchinello took care of your friend, while I took care of your casket.”

“But how did you know we were to take the casket that night?”

“You have been watched for a week. It is so much easier and more
sensible to reap where others have sown than to dirty one’s own fingers
with the plow.”

“Then,” I said with a sigh of relief, “St. Hilary played fair?”

“So far as I know,” replied the duke indifferently. “But I hear him
coming up the stairs. You can ask him for yourself.”

The door burst open, and St. Hilary rushed in. A bandage stained with
blood and dirt was wrapped about his head. He was still in my ulster and
golf cap. He looked as if he had spent a few bad quarters of an hour.

“You are just in time, St. Hilary,” I cried, “to see the casket opened.”

“What! You have beaten him after all!” He glared at the duke.

“With neatness and despatch,” generously complimented the duke.

St. Hilary did not answer. He stood looking down at the casket, holding
his watch in his hand. It was now six-thirty. The clock on the Piazza
told the half-hour.

“Did you set the mechanism at six thirty-five precisely?” I asked
anxiously.

“At six thirty-five precisely,” answered the duke, frowning too in
anxiety.

“Tut, tut! Do you expect the accuracy of a watch of the twentieth
century in this mechanism?” replied St. Hilary irritably. “It may be
several minutes before the casket opens.”

“In that case, I fear, Mr. Hume, that you may have to delay fulfilling
your promise to Miss Quintard.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Do you forget that she leaves Venice at seven-thirty?”

“What are you talking about?” asked St. Hilary roughly, his eyes fixed
on the casket.

“The duke has just been reminding me that the casket is legally his, and
that, if necessary, he will lay his claim before the state.”

“But we are not fools enough to care a straw about his claim,” growled
the dealer. “We have beaten him at his own game. It is too late for him
to cry out.”

“On the contrary,” I said coolly, “the duke has induced me to recognize
that claim.”

“Yes, I have exchanged my casket for a share of its contents,” added the
duke suavely.

For a moment St. Hilary forgot to keep his eye on the casket. He glared
at me with bloodshot eyes.

“Surrendered his claim! To you? By heavens, do you think, Hume, that you
can ignore me?”

“I have not ignored you, St. Hilary. If you lose the casket, you have
two-thirds of the gems. It is better, I should think, to have that
two-thirds than to have any trouble with the state.”

“Precisely,” beamed the duke.

“Very well,” agreed the dealer grudgingly.

It was now a quarter to seven. Still we could hear the muffled tick.

“It really looks as if Mr. Hume would miss his train,” mocked the duke.

At that instant there was a loud click. The duke started perceptibly.
St. Hilary, pale with excitement, flung up his hands. I threw back the
cover.

The room seemed suddenly irradiated with a flash of multi-colored light.
Five great gems glowed in their compartments of purple velvet in the
topmost tray. St. Hilary and the duke uttered cries of joy. If I must
confess it, these stones affected me hardly more than a display in any
jeweler’s window in Bond Street or Fifth Avenue.

“The minutes are more precious to me than those gems,” I cried. “Take
out the trays, or I shall empty the contents of the casket on the
table.”

“When once we have closed the shutters,” said St. Hilary.

He started to go to the windows, but noticing that the duke did not
move, he halted suspiciously. They were like two beasts with their prey
between them.

“I will close the shutters for you,” I said, laughing grimly at the
greed that distorted their faces.

As I left the room with the casket in a bag which the duke procured for
me, my last look caught a glimpse of the two men seated one on each side
of the table. A lighted candle was at each elbow, and the trays of gems
lay between them.



                              CHAPTER XXX


It was twenty minutes past seven when I paid my gondolier his fare at
the railway station. I bought a first-class ticket to Milan and hurried
down the long platform. Already the guards were calling to the
passengers to take their places, and were closing the doors of the
carriages.

Jacqueline herself I did not see, but her maid sat at the open window of
a compartment reserved for women. Fortunately, it was a corridor train.

Before taking the casket to Jacqueline I cast one long look back at
Venice. Never had her fairy architecture looked more entrancing, more
ethereal. She was more mystical in this golden light than Arthur’s City
of Avalon. But this enchantress of the seas had proved but a siren after
all. For me her beauty had crumbled to ashes. Like my dreams, she had
proved bitterly disappointing; for these dreams had been as intangible
and difficult to realize as her charm.

I was turning my face away from the city of dead hopes and vanished
dreams confidently to a workaday world; and if I could melt Jacqueline’s
pride, and win her forgiveness, I might yet look forward to love and
happiness.

I walked slowly down the corridor to her compartment. I stood quietly at
the door a moment. She turned from the open window where she had been
standing. There were tears in her eyes.

“Do you not think that you have caused me enough pain and embarrassment
without troubling me further just now?”

“Jacqueline, you asked me to bring you the casket. You promised that you
would listen to me when I brought it. There it is. It has cost me
something, that casket–your love and your respect. In doing precisely
what you asked me, I have lost all that is dearest to me in the world.
But there it is. It is really the casket of da Sestos.”

I placed it on the seat beside her.

“All this is painfully theatrical, Mr. Hume,” she said disdainfully. “I
can have no possible use for it. Will you please take it again? I wish
to heaven that I had never heard of it.”

“Can you really be in earnest, Jacqueline?” I asked sadly. “Are you
determined to be unjust? Are you quite resolved not to listen to me?”

“I am quite resolved,” she answered scornfully, “to be just to myself.
And now will you please go?”

“I must go if you insist,” I said gravely, and I stooped to pick up the
casket.

Then I saw that I was indeed the fool St. Hilary had so often called me.
For her dear eyes belied her cruel words. They were full of doubt and
despair. They beseeched me to be strong, to be ruthless, to break down
her outraged pride. She longed to understand, to forgive me, but I must
make her understand.

I sat beside her; I held both her hands firmly in mine.

“Jacqueline, it is impossible for me to go like this. My happiness, yes,
and your happiness as well, is at stake. You must listen to me. It is my
right. I refuse to go until I have told you the story of this casket.
But I want you to listen to that story without prejudice. When I have
told you everything, I hope you will see that I have tried to do just
what you wished me to do. I am trying to be, now, just what you wished
me to be. Though I hurt you by staying, yet I shall stay; for you told
me that the man you loved must have something of the relentless about
him. I shall remain relentless until I have gained my happiness and
yours.”

“If it were possible for me to dispute the evidence of my own eyes, how
gladly I would listen and exonerate you!”

“Then listen, Jacqueline.”

I told her of my search for the casket. I let the story plead for
itself. When I had finished, she sat very still, her face shaded from
the dim lamp in the center of the carriage by the partition of the seat.

“It was a foolish thing to ask,” she said, her eyes shining. “But oh,
Dick, I am glad I did ask it. I know now that you are really strong and
patient. You would dare much for the woman you love. Forgive me that I
did not trust you. I wanted to, but last night it seemed––”

She leaned toward me, and I caught her in my arms.

Without, the moonlight fell on the mulberry trees, rows and rows of
them, their branches festooned fantastically from tree to tree. They
looked like figures stiffly dancing to an old-time minuet.



                                THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                           Transcriber’s Note

The hyphenation of compound words which occur on a line break are
removed or retained based on other instances.

Errors deemed most likely to be the printer’s have been corrected, and
are noted here. The references are to the page and line in the original.
The following issues should be noted, along with the resolutions.

  21.19    I said impatiently[.]                          Added.
  37.25    Sudd[d]enly this wall gave way                 Removed.
  38.3     and Lu[i]gi appeared,                          Inserted.
  114.8    Jacqueline had added her urgen[t] telegram     Added.
  140.8    we can amuse ourselves with our clock.[”]      Added.
  223.5    he would undertake even the impossible.[”]     Added.





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