His Own People
by Booth Tarkington
I. A Change of Lodging
The glass-domed "palm-room" of the Grand Continental Hotel Magnifique
in Rome is of vasty heights and distances, filled with a mellow green
light which filters down languidly through the upper foliage of tall
palms, so that the two hundred people who may be refreshing or
displaying themselves there at the tea-hour have something the look
of under-water creatures playing upon the sea-bed. They appear,
however, to be unaware of their condition; even the ladies, most like
anemones of that gay assembly, do not seem to know it; and when the
Hungarian band (crustacean-like in costume, and therefore well
within the picture) has sheathed its flying tentacles and withdrawn
by dim processes, the tea-drinkers all float out through the doors,
instead of bubbling up and away through the filmy roof. In truth,
some such exit as that was imagined for them by a young man who
remained in the aquarium after they had all gone, late one afternoon
of last winter. They had been marvelous enough, and to him could have
seemed little more so had they made such a departure. He could
almost have gone that way himself, so charged was he with the uplift
of his belief that, in spite of the brilliant strangeness of the
hour just past, he had been no fish out of water.
While the waiters were clearing the little tables, he leaned back in
his chair in a content so rich it was nearer ecstasy. He could not
bear to disturb the possession joy had taken of him, and, like a
half-awake boy clinging to a dream that his hitherto unkind sweetheart
has kissed him, lingered on in the enchanted atmosphere, his eyes
still full of all they had beheld with such delight, detaining and
smiling upon each revelation of this fresh memory—-the flashingly
lovely faces, the dreamily lovely faces, the pearls and laces of the
anemone ladies, the color and romantic fashion of the uniforms, and
the old princes who had been pointed out to him: splendid old men
wearing white mustaches and single eye-glasses, as he had so long
hoped and dreamed they did.
"Mine own people!" he whispered. "I have come unto mine own at last.
Mine own people!" After long waiting (he told himself), he had seen
them--the people he had wanted to see, wanted to know, wanted to be
of! Ever since he had begun to read of the "beau monde" in his
schooldays, he had yearned to know some such sumptuous reality as
that which had come true to-day, when, at last, in Rome he had seen
--as he wrote home that night--"the finest essence of Old-World
society mingling in Cosmopolis."
Artificial odors (too heavy to keep up with the crowd that had worn
them) still hung about him; he breathed them deeply, his eyes half-
closed and his lips noiselessly formed themselves to a quotation from
one of his own poems:
While trails of scent, like cobweb's films
Slender and faint and rare,
Of roses, and rich, fair fabrics,
Cling on the stirless air,
The sibilance of voices,
At a wave of Milady's glove,
He stopped short, interrupting himself with a half-cough of laughter
as he remembered the inspiration of these verses. He had written
them three months ago, at home in Cranston, Ohio, the evening after
Anna McCord's "coming-out tea." "Milady" meant Mrs. McCord; she had
"stilled" the conversation of her guests when Mary Kramer (whom the
poem called a "sweet, pale singer") rose to sing Mavourneen; and the
stanza closed with the right word to rhyme with "glove." He felt a
contemptuous pity for his little, untraveled, provincial self of
three months ago, if, indeed, it could have been himself who wrote
verses about Anna McCord's "coming-out tea" and referred to poor,
good old Mrs. McCord as "Milady"!
The second stanza had intimated a conviction of a kind which only
poets may reveal:
She sang to that great assembly,
They thought, as they praised her tone;
But she and my heart knew better:
Her song was for me alone.
He had told the truth when he wrote of Mary Kramer as pale and sweet,
and she was paler, but no less sweet, when he came to say good-by to
her before he sailed. Her face, as it was at the final moment of the
protracted farewell, shone before him very clearly now for a moment:
young, plaintive, white, too lamentably honest to conceal how much
her "God-speed" to him cost her. He came very near telling her how
fond of her he had always been; came near giving up his great trip
to remain with her always.
"Ah!" He shivered as one shivers at the thought of disaster narrowly
averted. "The fates were good that I only came near it!"
He took from his breast-pocket an engraved card, without having to
search for it, because during the few days the card had been in his
possession the action had become a habit.
"Comtesse de Vaurigard," was the name engraved, and below was written
in pencil: "To remember Monsieur Robert Russ Mellin he promise to
come to tea Hotel Magnifique, Roma, at five o'clock Thursday."
There had been disappointment in the first stages of his journey,
and that had gone hard with Mellin. Europe had been his goal so
long, and his hopes of pleasure grew so high when (after his years
of saving and putting by, bit by bit, out of his salary in a real-
estate office) he drew actually near the shining horizon. But
London, his first stopping-place, had given him some dreadful days.
He knew nobody, and had not understood how heavily sheer loneliness
--which was something he had never felt until then--would weigh upon
his spirits. In Cranston, where the young people "grew up together,"
and where he met a dozen friends on the street in a half-hour's walk,
he often said that he "liked to be alone with himself." London,
after his first excitement in merely being there, taught him his
mistake, chilled him with weeks of forbidding weather, puzzled and
He was on his way to Paris when (as he recorded in his journal) a
light came into his life. This illumination first shone for him by
means of one Cooley, son and inheritor of all that had belonged to
the late great Cooley, of Cooley Mills, Connecticut. Young Cooley,
a person of cheery manners and bright waistcoats, was one of
Mellin's few sea-acquaintances; they had played shuffleboard
together on the steamer during odd half-hours when Mr. Cooley found
it possible to absent himself from poker in the smoking-room; and
they encountered each other again on the channel boat crossing to
"Hey!" was Mr. Cooley's lively greeting. "I'm meetin' lots of
people I know to-day. You runnin' over to Paris, too? Come up to
the boat-deck and meet the Countess de Vaurigard."
"Who?" said Mellin, red with pleasure, yet fearing that he did not
"The Countess de Vaurigard. Queen! met her in London. Sneyd
introduced me to her. You remember Sneyd on the steamer? Baldish
Englishman--red nose--doesn't talk much--younger brother of Lord
Rugden, so he says. Played poker some. Well, yes!"
"I saw him. I didn't meet him."
"You didn't miss a whole lot. Fact is, before we landed I almost
had him sized up for queer, but when he introduced me to the
Countess I saw my mistake. He must be the real thing. She
certainly is! You come along up and see."
So Mellin followed, to make his bow before a thin, dark, charmingly
pretty young woman, who smiled up at him from her deck-chair through
an enhancing mystery of veils; and presently he found himself sitting
beside her. He could not help trembling slightly at first, but he
would have giving a great deal if, by some miraculous vision, Mary
Kramer and other friends of his in Cranston could have seen him
engaged in what he thought of as "conversational badinage" with the
Comtesse de Vaurigard.
Both the lady and her name thrilled him. He thought he remembered
the latter in Froissart: it conjured up "baronial halls" and
"donjon keeps," rang resonantly in his mind like "Let the portcullis
fall!" At home he had been wont to speak of the "oldest families in
Cranston," complaining of the invasions of "new people" into the
social territory of the McCords and Mellins and Kramers--a pleasant
conception which the presence of a De Vaurigard revealed to him as
a petty and shameful fiction; and yet his humility, like his little
fit of trembling, was of short duration, for gay geniality of Madame
de Vaurigard put him amazingly at ease.
At Calais young Cooley (with a matter-of-course air, and not
seeming to feel the need of asking permission) accompanied her to a
compartment, and Mellin walked with them to the steps of the coach,
where he paused, murmuring some words of farewell.
Madame de Vaurigard turned to him with a prettily assumed dismay.
"What! You stay at Calais?" she cried, pausing with one foot on the
step to ascend. "Oh! I am sorry for you. Calais is ter-rible!"
"No. I am going on to Paris."
"So? You have frien's in another coach which you wish to be wiz?"
"No, no, indeed," he stammered hastily.
"Well, my frien'," she laughed gayly, "w'y don' you come wiz us?"
Blushing, he followed Cooley into the coach, to spend five happy
hours, utterly oblivious of the bright French landscape whirling
by outside the window.
There ensued a month of conscientious sightseeing in Paris, and that
unfriendly city afforded him only one glimpse of the Countess. She
whizzed by him in a big touring-car one afternoon as he stood on an
"isle of safety" at the foot of the Champs Elysees. Cooley was
driving the car. The raffish, elderly Englishman (whose name, Mellin
knew, was Sneyd) sat with him, and beside Madame de Vaurigard in the
tonneau lolled a gross-looking man--unmistakably an American--with a
jovial, red, smooth-shaven face and several chins. Brief as the
glimpse was, Mellin had time to receive a distinctly disagreeable
impression of this person, and to wonder how Heaven could vouchsafe
the society of Madame de Vaurigard to so coarse a creature.
All the party were dressed as for the road, gray with dust, and to
all appearances in a merry mood. Mellin's heart gave a leap when
he saw that the Countess recognized him. Her eyes, shining under
a white veil, met his for just the instant before she was quite by,
and when the machine had passed a little handkerchief waved for a
moment from the side of the tonneau where she sat.
With that he drew the full breath of Romance.
He had always liked to believe that "grandes dames" leaned back
in the luxurious upholstery of their victorias, landaulettes,
daumonts or automobiles with an air of inexpressible though languid
hauteur. The Newport letter in the Cranston Telegraph often referred
to it. But the gayety of that greeting from the Countess' little
handkerchief was infinitely refreshing, and Mellin decided that
animation was more becoming than hauteur--even to a "grande dame."
That night he wrote (almost without effort) the verses published in
the Cranston Telegraph two weeks later. They began:
Marquise, ma belle, with your kerchief of
Awave from your flying car,
And your slender hand--
The hand to which he referred was the same which had arrested his
gondola and his heart simultaneously, five days ago, in Venice. He
was on his way to the station when Madame de Vaurigard's gondola
shot out into the Grand Canal from a narrow channel, and at her
signal both boats paused.
"Ah! but you fly away!" she cried, lifting her eyebrows mournfully,
as she saw the steamer-trunk in his gondola. "You are goin' return
"No. I'm just leaving for Rome."
"Well, in three day' I am goin' to Rome!" She clapped her hands
lightly and laughed. "You know this is three time' we meet jus' by
chance, though that second time it was so quick--pff! like that--
we didn't talk much togezzer! Monsieur Mellin," she laughed again,
"I think we mus' be frien's. Three time'--an' we are both goin' to
Rome! Monsieur Mellin, you believe in Fate?"
With a beating heart he did.
Thence came the invitation to meet her at the Magnifique for tea,
and the card she scribbled for him with a silver pencil. She gave
it with the prettiest gesture, leaning from her gondola to his as
they parted. She turned again, as the water between them widened,
and with her "Au revoir" offered him a faintly wistful smile to
All the way to Rome the noises of the train beat out the measure of
his Parisian verses:
Marquise, ma belle, with your kerchief of
Awave from your flying car--
He came out of his reverie with a start. A dozen men and women,
dressed for dinner, with a gold-fish officer or two among them,
swam leisurely through the aquarium on their way to the hotel
restaurant. They were the same kind of people who had sat at the
little tables for tea--people of the great world, thought Mellin:
no vulgar tourists or "trippers" among them; and he shuddered at
the remembrance of his pension (whither it was time to return) and
its conscientious students of Baedeker, its dingy halls and permanent
smell of cold food. Suddenly a high resolve lit his face: he got
his coat and hat from the brass-and-blue custodian in the lobby,
and without hesitation entered the "bureau."
"I 'm not quite satisfied where I am staying--where I'm stopping,
that is," he said to the clerk. "I think I'll take a room here."
"Very well, sir. Where shall I send for your luggage?"
"I shall bring it myself," replied Mellin coldly, "in my cab."
He did not think it necessary to reveal the fact that he was staying
at one of the cheaper pensions; and it may be mentioned that this
reticence (as well as the somewhat chilling, yet careless, manner
of a gentleman of the "great world" which he assumed when he returned
with his trunk and bag) very substantially increased the rate put
upon the room he selected at the Magnifique. However, it was with
great satisfaction that he found himself installed in the hotel, and
he was too recklessly exhilarated, by doing what he called the "right
thing," to waste any time wondering what the "right thing" would do
to the diminishing pad of express checks he carried in the inside
pocket of his waistcoat.
"Better live a fortnight like a gentleman," he said, as he tossed
his shoes into a buhl cabinet, "than vegetate like a tourist for
He had made his entrance into the "great world" and he meant to
hold his place in it as one "to the manor born." Its people should
not find him lacking: he would wear their manner and speak their
language--no gaucherie should betray him, no homely phrase escape
This was the chance he had always hoped for, and when he fell asleep
in his gorgeous, canopied bed, his soul was uplifted with happy
II. Music on the Pincio
The following afternoon found him still in that enviable condition
as he stood listening to the music on the Pincian Hill. He had it
of rumor that the Fashion of Rome usually took a turn there before
it went to tea, and he had it from the lady herself that Madame
de Vaurigard would be there. Presently she came, reclining in a
victoria, the harness of her horses flashing with gold in the
sunshine. She wore a long ermine stole; her hat was ermine; she
carried a muff of the same fur, and Mellin thought it a perfect
finish to the picture that a dark gentleman of an appearance most
distinguished should be sitting beside her. An Italian noble,
He saw the American at once, nodded to him and waved her hand.
The victoria went on a little way beyond the turn of the drive,
drew out of the line of carriages, and stopped.
"Ah, Monsieur Mellin," she cried, as he came up, "I am glad! I
was so foolish yesterday I didn' give you the address of my little
apartment an' I forgot to ask you what is your hotel. I tol' you
I would come here for my drive, but still I might have lost you
for ever. See what many people! It is jus' that Fate again."
She laughed, and looked to the Italian for sympathy in her kindly
merriment. He smiled cordially upon her, then lifted his hat and
smiled as cordially upon Mellin.
"I am so happy to fin' myself in Rome that I forget"--Madame de
Vaurigard went on--"ever'sing! But now I mus' make sure not to
lose you. What is your hotel?"
"Oh, the Magnifique," Mellin answered carelessly. "I suppose
everybody that one knows stops there. One does stop there, when
one is in Rome, doesn't one?"
"Everybody go' there for tea, and to eat, sometime, but to stay
--ah, that is for the American!" she laughed. "That is for you
who are all so abomin-ab-ly rich!" She smiled to the Italian
again, and both of them smiled beamingly on Mellin.
"But that isn't always our fault, is it?" said Mellin easily.
"Aha! You mean you are of the new generation, of the yo'ng
American' who come over an' try to spen' these immense fortune'
--those 'pile'--your father or your gran-father make! I know
quite well. Ah?"
"Well," he hesitated, smiling. "I suppose it does look a little
by way of being like that."
"Wicked fellow!" She leaned forward and tapped his shoulder
chidingly with two fingers. "I know what you wish the mos' in the
worl'--you wish to get into mischief. That is it! No, sir, I
will jus' take you in han'!"
"When will you take me?" he asked boldly.
At this, the pleasant murmur of laughter--half actual and half
suggested--with which she underlined the conversation, became loud
and clear, as she allowed her vivacious glance to strike straight
into his upturned eyes, and answered:
"As long as a little turn roun' the hill, now. Cavaliere Corni--"
To Mellin's surprise and delight the Italian immediately descended
from the victoria without the slightest appearance of irritation;
on the contrary, he was urbane to a fine degree, and, upon Madame
de Vaurigard's formally introducing him to Mellin, saluted the
latter with grave politeness, expressing in good English a hope
that they might meet often. When the American was installed at
the Countess' side she spoke to the driver in Italian, and they
began to move slowly along the ilex avenue, the coachman reining
his horses to a walk.
"You speak Italian?" she inquired.
"Oh, not a great deal more than a smattering," he replied airily
--a truthful answer, inasmuch as a vocabulary consisting simply
of "quanty costy" and "troppo" cannot be seriously considered
much more than a smattering. Fortunately she made no test of his
linguistic attainment, but returned to her former subject.
"Ah, yes, all the worl' to-day know' the new class of American,"
she said--"your class. Many year' ago we have another class which
Europe didn' like. That was when the American was ter-ri-ble!
He was the--what is that you call?--oh, yes; he 'make himself,'
you say: that is it. My frien', he was abominable! He brag'; he
talk' through the nose; yes, and he was niggardly, rich as he was!
But you, you yo'ng men of the new generation, you are gentlemen of
the idleness; you are aristocrats, with polish an' with culture.
An' yet you throw your money away--yes, you throw it to poor Europe
as if to a beggar!"
"No, no," he protested with an indulgent laugh which confessed that
the truth was really "Yes, yes."
"Your smile betray' you!" she cried triumphantly. "More than jus'
bein' guilty of that fault, I am goin' to tell you of others. You
are not the ole-time--what is it you say?--Ah, yes, the 'goody-
goody.' I have heard my great American frien', Honor-able Chanlair
Pedlow, call it the Sonday-school. Is it not? Yes, you are not
the Sonday-school yo'ng men, you an' your class!"
"No," he said, bestowing a long glance upon a stout nurse who was
sitting on a bench near the drive and attending to twins in a
perambulator. "No, we're not exactly dissenting parsons."
"Ah, no!" She shook her head at him prettily. "You are wicked!
You are up into all the mischief! Have I not hear what wild sums
you risk at your game, that poker? You are famous for it."
"Oh, we play," he admitted with a reckless laugh, "and I suppose we
do play rather high."
"High!" she echoed. "Souzands! But that is not all. Ha, ha, ha,
naughty one! Have I not observe' you lookin' at these pretty
creature', the little contadina-girl, an' the poor ladies who have
hire' their carriages for two lire to drive up and down the Pincio
in their bes' dress an' be admire' by the yo'ng American while the
music play'? Which one I wonder, is it on whose wrist you would
mos' like to fasten a bracelet of diamon's? Wicked, I have watch'
you look at them-—"
"No, no," he interrupted earnestly. "I have not once looked away
from you, I could n't." Their eyes met, but instantly hers were
lowered; the bright smile with which she had been rallying him
faded and there was a pause during which he felt that she had become
very grave. When she spoke, it was with a little quaver, and the
controlled pathos of her voice was so intense that it evoked a
sympathetic catch in his own throat.
"But, my frien', if it should be that I cannot wish you to look so
at me, or to speak so to me?"
"I beg your pardon!" he exclaimed, almost incoherently. "I didn't
mean to hurt your feelings. I wouldn't do anything you'd think
ungentlemanly for the world!"
Her eyes lifted again to his with what he had no difficulty in
recognizing as a look of perfect trust; but, behind that, he
perceived a darkling sadness.
"I know it is true," she murmured-- "I know. But you see there are
time' when a woman has sorrow--sorrow of one kind--when she mus' be
sure that there is only--only rispec' in the hearts of her frien's."
With that, the intended revelation was complete, and the young man
understood, as clearly as if she had told him in so many words,
that she was not a widow and that her husband was the cause of her
sorrow. His quickened instinct marvelously divined (or else it was
conveyed to him by some intangible method of hers) that the Count
de Vaurigard was a very bad case, but that she would not divorce
"I know," he answered, profoundly touched. "I understand."
In silent gratitude she laid her hand for a second upon his sleeve.
Then her face brightened, and she said gayly:
"But we shall not talk of me! Let us see how we can keep you out
of mischief at leas' for a little while. I know very well what you
will do to-night: you will go to Salone Margherita an' sit in a box
like all the wicked Americans--"
"No, indeed, I shall not!"
"Ah, yes, you will!" she laughed. "But until dinner let me keep
you from wickedness. Come to tea jus' wiz me, not at the hotel,
but at the little apartment I have taken, where it is quiet. The
music is finish', an' all those pretty girl' are goin' away, you
see. I am not selfish if I take you from the Pincio now. You
It was some fair dream that would be gone too soon, he told himself,
as they drove rapidly through the twilight streets, down from the
Pincio and up the long slope of the Quirinal. They came to a stop
in the gray courtyard of a palazzo, and ascended in a sleepy
elevator to the fifth floor. Emerging, they encountered a tall man
who was turning away from the Countess' door, which he had just
closed. The landing was not lighted, and for a moment he failed
to see the American following Madame de Vaurigard.
"Eow, it's you, is it," he said informally. "Waitin' a devil of a
long time for you. I've gawt a message for you. He's comin'.
He writes that Cooley--"
"Attention!" she interrupted under her breath, and, stepping
forward quickly, touched the bell. "I have brought a frien' of our
dear, droll Cooley with me to tea. Monsieur Mellin, you mus' make
acquaintance with Monsieur Sneyd. He is English, but we shall
forgive him because he is a such ole frien' of mine."
"Ah, yes," said Mellin. "Remember seeing you on the boat, running
across the pond."
"Yes, ev coss," responded Mr. Sneyd cordially. "I wawsn't so
fawchnit as to meet you, but dyuh eold Cooley's talked ev you
often. Heop I sh'll see maw of you hyuh."
A very trim, very intelligent-looking maid opened the door, and
the two men followed Madame de Vaurigard into a square hall, hung
with tapestries and lit by two candles of a Brobdingnagian species
Mellin had heretofore seen only in cathedrals. Here Mr. Sneyd
"I weon't be bawthring you," he said. "Just a wad with you,
Cantess, and I'm off."
The intelligent-looking maid drew back some heavy curtains leading
to a salon beyond the hall, and her mistress smiled brightly at
"I shall keep him to jus' his one word," she said, as the young
man passed between the curtains.
It was a nobly proportioned room that he entered, so large that,
in spite of the amount of old furniture it contained, the first
impression it gave was one of spaciousness. Panels of carved and
blackened wood lined the walls higher than his head; above them,
Spanish leather gleamed here and there with flickerings of red and
gilt, reflecting dimly a small but brisk wood fire which crackled
in a carved stone fireplace. His feet slipped on the floor of
polished tiles and wandered from silky rugs to lose themselves in
great black bear skins as in unmown sward. He went from the
portrait of a "cinquecento" cardinal to a splendid tryptich set
over a Gothic chest, from a cabinet sheltering a collection of old
glass to an Annunciation by an unknown Primitive. He told himself
that this was a "room in a book," and became dreamily assured that
he was a man in a book. Finally he stumbled upon something almost
grotesquely out of place: a large, new, perfectly-appointed card-
table with a sliding top, a smooth, thick, green cover and patent
He halted before this incongruity, regarding it with astonishment.
Then a light laugh rippled behind him, and he turned to find Madame
de Vaurigard seated in a big red Venetian chair by the fire.
She wore a black lace dress, almost severe in fashion, which
gracefully emphasized her slenderness; and she sat with her knees
crossed, the firelight twinkling on the beads of her slipper,
on her silken instep, and flashing again from the rings upon the
slender fingers she had clasped about her knee.
She had lit a thin, long Russian cigarette.
"You see?" she laughed. "I mus' keep up with the time. I mus' do
somesing to hold my frien's about me. Even the ladies like to play
now--that breedge w'ich is so tiresome--they play, play, play!
And you--you Americans, you refuse to endure us if we do not let
you play. So for my frien's when they come to my house--if they
wish it, there is that foolish little table. I fear"--she concluded
with a bewitching affectation of sadness--"they prefer that to
talkin' wiz me."
"You know that couldn't be so, Comtesse," he said. "I would
rather talk to you than--than--"
"Ah, yes, you say so, Monsieur!" She looked at him gravely; a
little sigh seemed to breathe upon her lips; she leaned forward
nearer the fire, her face wistful in the thin, rosy light, and it
seemed to him he had never seen anything so beautiful in his life.
He came across to her and sat upon a stool at her feet. "On my
soul," he began huskily, "I swear--"
She laid her finger on her lips, shaking her head gently; and he
was silent, while the intelligent maid--at that moment entering
--arranged a tea-table and departed.
"American an' Russian, they are the worse," said the Countess
thoughtfully, as she served him with a generous cup, laced with
rum, "but the American he is the bes' to play wiz." Mellin
found her irresistible when she said "wiz."
"Why is that?"
"Oh, the Russian play high, yes--but the American"--she laughed
delightedly and stretched her arms wide--"he make' it all a joke!
He is beeg like his beeg country. If he win or lose, he don' care!
Ah, I mus' tell you of my great American frien', that Honor-able
Chanlair Pedlow, who is comin' to Rome. You have heard of
Honor-able Chanlair Pedlow in America?"
"I remember hearing that name."
"Ah, I shall make you know him. He is a man of distinction; he
did sit in your Chamber of Deputies--what you call it?--yes, your
Con-gress. He is funny, eccentric--always he roar like a lion
--Boum!--but so simple, so good, a man of such fine heart--so
"1'll be glad to meet him," said Mellin coldly.
"An', oh, yes, I almos' forget to tell you," she went on, "your
frien', that dear Cooley, he is on his way from Monte Carlo in
his automobile. I have a note from him to-day."
"Good sort of fellow, little Cooley, in his way," remarked her
companion graciously. "Not especially intellectual or that, you
know. His father was a manufacturer chap, I believe, or something
of the sort. I suppose you saw a lot of him in Paris?"
"Eh, I thought he is dead!" cried Madame de Vaurigard.
"The father is. I mean, little Cooley."
"Oh, yes," she laughed softly. "We had some gay times, a little
party of us. We shall be happy here, too; you will see. I mus'
make a little dinner very soon, but not unless you will come. You
"Do you want me very much?"
He placed his empty cup on the table and leaned closer to her,
smiling. She did not smile in response; instead, her eyes fell
and there was the faintest, pathetic quiver of her lower lip.
"Already you know that," she said in a low voice.
She rose quickly, turned away from him and walked across the room
to the curtains which opened upon the hall. One of these she drew
"My frien', you mus' go now," she said in the same low voice.
"To-morrow I will see you again. Come at four an' you shall drive
with me--but not--not more--now. Please!"
She stood waiting, not looking at him, but with head bent and eyes
veiled. As he came near she put out a limp hand. He held it for
a few seconds of distinctly emotional silence, then strode swiftly
into the hall.
She immediately let the curtain fall behind him, and as he got his
hat and coat he heard her catch her breath sharply with a sound
like a little sob.
Dazed with glory, he returned to the hotel. In the lobby he
approached the glittering concierge and said firmly:
"What is the Salone Margherita? Cam you get me a box there
IV. Good Fellowship
He confessed his wickedness to Madame de Vaurigard the next
afternoon as they drove out the Appian Way. "A fellow must have
just a bit of a fling, you know," he said; "and, really, Salone
Margherita isn't so tremendously wicked."
She shook her head at him in friendly raillery. "Ah, that may be;
but how many of those little dancing-girl' have you invite to
This was a delicious accusation, and though he shook his head in
virtuous denial he was before long almost convinced that he had
given a rather dashing supper after the vaudeville and had not
gone quietly back to the hotel, only stopping by the way to purchase
an orange and a pocketful of horse-chestnuts to eat in his room.
It was a happy drive for Robert Russ Mellin, though not happier than
that of the next day. Three afternoons they spent driving over the
Campagna, then back to Madame de Vaurigard's apartment for tea by
the firelight, till the enraptured American began to feel that the
dream in which he had come to live must of happy necessity last
On the fourth afternoon, as he stepped out of the hotel elevator
into the corridor, he encountered Mr. Sneyd.
"Just stottin', eh?" said the Englishman, taking an envelope from
his pocket. "Lucky I caught you. This is for you. I just saw the
Cantess and she teold me to give it you. Herry and read it and kem
on t' the Amairikin Baw. Chap I want you to meet. Eold Cooley's
thyah too. Gawt in with his tourin'-caw at noon."
"You will forgive, dear friend," wrote Madame de Vaurigard, "if
I ask you that we renounce our drive to-day. You see, I wish to
have that little dinner to-night and must make preparation.
Honorable Chandler Pedlow arrived this morning from Paris and that
droll Mr. Cooley I have learn is coincidentally arrived also. You
see I think it would be very pleasant to have the dinner to welcome
these friends on their arrival. You will come surely--or I shall
be so truly miserable. You know it perhaps too well! We shall
have a happy evening if you come to console us for renouncing our
drive. A thousand of my prettiest wishes for you.
The signature alone consoled him. To have that note from her, to
own it, was like having one of her gloves or her fan. He would
keep it forever, he thought; indeed, he more than half expressed a
sentiment to that effect in the response which he wrote in the
aquarium, while Sneyd waited for him at a table near by. The
Englishman drew certain conclusions in regard to this reply, since
it permitted a waiting friend to consume three long tumblers of
brandy-and-soda before it was finished. However, Mr. Sneyd kept
his reflections to himself, and, when the epistle had been
dispatched by a messenger, took the American's arm and led him to
the "American Bar" of the hotel, a region hitherto unexplored by
Leaning against the bar were Cooley and the man whom Mellin had
seen lolling beside Madame de Vaurigard in Cooley's automobile in
Paris, the same gross person for whom he had instantly conceived
a strong repugnance, a feeling not at once altered by a closer
Cooley greeted Mellin uproariously and Mr. Sneyd introduced the
fat man. "Mr. Mellin, the Honorable Chandler Pedlow," he said;
nor was the shock to the first-named gentleman lessened by young
Cooley's adding, "Best feller in the world!"
Mr. Pedlow's eyes were sheltered so deeply beneath florid rolls of
flesh that all one saw of them was an inscrutable gleam of blue;
but, small though they were, they were not shifty, for they met
Mellin's with a squareness that was almost brutal. He offered a
fat paw, wet by a full glass which he set down too suddenly on the
"Shake," he said, in a loud and husky voice, "and be friends!
Tommy," he added to the attendant, "another round of Martinis."
"Not for me," said Mellin hastily. "I don't often--"
"What!" Mr. Pedlow roared suddenly. "Why, the first words
Countess de Vaurigard says to me this afternoon was, 'I want you
to meet my young friend Mellin,' she says; 'the gamest little Indian
that ever come down the pike! He's game,' she says--'he'll see you
all under the table!' That's what the smartest little woman in
the world, the Countess de Vaurigard, says about you."
This did not seem very closely to echo Madame de Vaurigard's habit
of phrasing, but Mellin perceived that it might be only the fat
man's way of putting things.
"You ain't goin' back on her, are you?" continued Mr. Pedlow.
"You ain't goin' to make her out a liar? I tell you, when the
Countess de Vaurigard says a man 's game, he is game!" He laid his
big paw cordially on Mellin's shoulder and smiled, lowering his
voice to a friendly whisper. "And I'll bet ten thousand dollars
right out of my pants pocket you are game, too!"
He pressed a glass into the other's hand. Smiling feebly, the
embarrassed Mellin accepted it.
"Make it four more, Tommy," said Pedlow. "And here," continued
this thoughtful man, "I don't go bandying no ladies' names around
a bar-room--that ain't my style--but I do want to propose a toast.
I won't name her, but you all know who I mean."
"Sure we do," interjected Cooley warmly. "Queen! That's what she
"Here's to her," continued Mr. Pedlow. "Here's to her--brightest
and best--and no heel-taps! And now let's set down over in the
corner and take it easy. It ain't hardly five o'clock yet, and we
can set here comfortable, gittin' ready for dinner, until half-past
Whereupon the four seated themselves about a tabouret in the corner,
and, a waiter immediately bringing them four fresh glasses from the
bar, Mellin began to understand what Mr. Pedlow meant by "gittin'
ready for dinner." The burden of the conversation was carried
almost entirely by the Honorable Chandler, though Cooley, whose
boyish face was deeply flushed, now and then managed to interrupt
by talking louder than the fat man. Mr. Sneyd sat silent.
"Good ole Sneyd," said Pedlow. "He never talks, jest saws wood.
Only Britisher I ever liked. Plays cards like a goat."
"He played a mighty good game on the steamer," said Cooley warmly.
"I don't care what he did on the steamer, he played like a goat the
only time I ever played with him. You know he did. I reckon you
"Should say I was there! He played mighty well--"
"Like a goat," reiterated the fat man firmly.
"Nothing of the sort. You had a run of hands, that was all. Nobody
can go against the kind of luck you had that night; and you took it
away from Sneyd and me in rolls. But we'll land you pretty soon,
won't we, ole Sneydie?"
"We sh'll have a shawt at him, at least," said the Englishman.
"Perhaps he won't want us to try," young Cooley pursued derisively.
"Perhaps he thinks I play like a goat, too!"
Mr. Pedlow threw back his head and roared. "Give me somep'n easy!
You don't know no more how to play a hand of cards than a giraffe
does. I'll throw in all of my Blue Gulch gold-stock--and it's worth
eight hundred thousand dollars if it's worth a cent--I'll put it up
against that tin automobile of yours, divide chips even and play you
freeze-out for it. You play cards? Go learn hop-scotch!"
"You wait!" exclaimed the other indignantly. "Next time we play
we'll make you look so small you'll think you're back in Congress!"
At this Mr. Pedlow again threw back his head and roared, his vast
body so shaken with mirth that the glass he held in his hand dropped
to the floor.
"There," said Cooley, "that's the second Martini you've spilled.
You're two behind the rest of us."
"What of it?" bellowed the fat man. "There's plenty comin', ain't
there? Four more, Tommy, and bring cigars. Don't take a cent from
none of these Indians. Gentlemen, your money ain't good here. I
own this bar, and this is my night."
Mellin had begun to feel at ease, and after a time--as they continued
to sit--he realized that his repugnance to Mr. Pedlow was wearing off;
he felt that there must be good in any one whom Madame de Vaurigard
liked. She had spoken of Pedlow often on their drives; he was an
"eccentric," she said, an "original." Why not accept her verdict?
Besides, Pedlow was a man of distinction and force; he had been in
Congress; he was a millionaire; and, as became evident in the course
of a long recital of the principal events of his career, most of the
great men of the time were his friends and proteges.
"'Well, Mack,' says I one day when we were in the House together"--
(thus Mr. Pedlow, alluding to the late President McKinley)--"'Mack,'
says I, 'if you'd drop that double standard business'--he was
waverin' toward silver along then--'I don't know but I might git the
boys to nominate you fer President.' 'I'll think it over,' he says
--'I'll think it over.' You remember me tellin' you about that at
the time, don't you, Sneyd, when you was in the British Legation at
"Pahfictly," said Mr. Sneyd, lighting a cigar with great calmness.
"'Yes,' I says, 'Mack,' I says, "if you'll drop it, I'll turn in
and git you the nomination.'"
"Did he drop it?" asked Mellin innocently.
Mr. Pedlow leaned forward and struck the young man's knee a
resounding blow with the palm of his hand.
"He was nominated, wasn't he?"
"Time to dress," announced Mr. Sneyd, looking at his watch.
"One more round first," insisted Cooley with prompt vehemence.
"Let's finish with our first toast again. Can't drink that too
This proposition was received with warmest approval, and they drank
standing. "Brightest and best!" shouted Mr. Pedlow.
"Queen! What she is!" exclaimed Cooley.
"Ma belle Marquise!" whispered Mellin tenderly, as the rim touched
A small, keen-faced man, whose steady gray eyes were shielded by
tortoise-rimmed spectacles, had come into the room and now stood
quietly at the bar, sipping a glass of Vichy. He was sharply
observant of the party as it broke up, Pedlow and Sneyd preceding
the younger men to the corridor, and, as the latter turned to
follow, the stranger stepped quickly forward, speaking Cooley's
"What's the matter?"
"Perhaps you don't remember me. My name's Cornish. I'm a newspaper
man, a correspondent." (He named a New York paper.) "I'm down here
to get a Vatican story. I knew your father for a number of years
before his death, and I think I may claim that he was a friend of
"That's good," said the youth cordially. "If I hadn't a fine start
already, and wasn't in a hurry to dress, we'd have another."
"You were pointed out to me in Paris," continued Cornish. "I found
where you were staying and called on you the next day, but you had
just started for the Riviera." He hesitated, glancing at Mellin.
"Can you give me half a dozen words with you in private?"
"You'll have to excuse me, I'm afraid. I've only got about ten
minutes to dress. See you to-morrow."
"I should like it to be as soon as possible," the journalist said
seriously. "It isn't on my own account, and I--"
"All right. You come to my room at ten t'morrow morning?"
"Well, if you can't possibly make it to-night," said Cornish
reluctantly. "I wish--"
And Cooley, taking Mellin by the arm, walked rapidly down the
corridor. "Funny ole correspondent," he murmured. "What do I
know about the Vatican?"
V. Lady Mount Rhyswicke
The four friends of Madame de Vaurigard were borne to her apartment
from the Magnifique in Cooley's big car. They sailed triumphantly
down and up the hills in a cool and bracing air, under a moon that
shone as brightly for them as it had for Caesar, and Mellin's soul
was buoyant within him. He thought of Cranston and laughed aloud.
What would Cranston say if it could see him in a sixty-horse
touring-car, with two millionaires and an English diplomat, brother
of an earl, and all on the way to dine with a countess? If Mary
Kramer could see him!... Poor Mary Kramer! Poor little Mary Kramer!
A man-servant took their coats in Madame de Vaurigard's hall, where
they could hear through the curtains the sound of one or two voices
in cheerful conversation.
Sneyd held up his hand.
"Listen," he said. "Shawly, that isn't Lady Mount-Rhyswicke's
voice! She couldn't be in Reom--always a Rhyswicke Caws'l for
Decembah. By Jev, it is!"
"Nothin' of the kind," said Pedlow. "I know Lady Mount-Rhyswicke
as well as I know you. I started her father in business when he was
clerkin' behind a counter in Liverpool. I give him the money to
begin on. 'Make good,' says I, 'that's all. Make good!' And he
done it, too. Educated his daughter fit fer a princess, married
her to Mount-Rhyswicke, and when he died left her ten million
dollars if he left her a cent! I know Madge Mount-Rhyswicke and
that ain't her voice."
A peal of silvery laughter rang from the other side of the curtain.
"They've heard you," said Cooley.
"An' who could help it?" Madame de Vaurigard herself threw back the
curtains. "Who could help hear our great, dear, ole lion? How he
She wore a white velvet "princesse" gown of a fashion which was
a shade less than what is called "daring," with a rope of pearls
falling from her neck and a diamond star in her dark hair. Standing
with one arm uplifted to the curtains, and with the mellow glow of
candles and firelight behind her, she was so lovely that both Mellin
and Cooley stood breathlessly still until she changed her attitude.
This she did only to move toward them, extending a hand to each,
letting Cooley seize the right and Mellin the left.
Each of them was pleased with what he got, particularly Mellin.
"The left is nearer the heart," he thought.
She led them through the curtains, not withdrawing her hands until
they entered the salon. She might have led them out of her fifth-
story window in that fashion, had she chosen.
"My two wicked boys!" she laughed tenderly. This also pleased both
of them, though each would have preferred to be her only wicked boy
--a preference which, perhaps, had something to do with the later
events of the evening.
"Aha! I know you both; before twenty minute' you will be makin'
love to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. Behol' those two already! An' they
are only ole frien's."
She pointed to Pedlow and Sneyd. The fat man was shouting at a
woman in pink satin, who lounged, half-reclining, among a pile of
cushions upon a divan near the fire; Sneyd gallantly bending over
her to kiss her hand.
"It is a very little dinner, you see," continued the hostess, "only
seven, but we shall be seven time' happier."
The seventh person proved to be the Italian, Corni, who had
surrendered his seat in Madame de Vaurigard's victoria to Mellin
on the Pincio. He presently made his appearance followed by a
waiter bearing a tray of glasses filled with a pink liquid, while
the Countess led her two wicked boys across the room to present them
to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. Already Mellin was forming sentences for
his next letter to the Cranston Telegraph: "Lady Mount-Rhyswicke
said to me the other evening, while discussing the foreign policy
of Great Britain, in Comtesse de Vaurigard's salon..." "An English
peeress of pronounced literary acumen has been giving me rather
confidentially her opinion of our American poets..."
The inspiration of these promising fragments was a large, weary-
looking person, with no lack of powdered shoulder above her pink
bodice and a profusion of "undulated" hair of so decided a blond
that it might have been suspected that the decision had lain with
the lady herself.
"Howjdo," she said languidly, when Mellin's name was pronounced to
her. "There's a man behind you tryin' to give you something to
"Who was it said these were Martinis?" snorted Pedlow. "They've
got perfumery in 'em."
"Ah, what a bad lion it is!" Madame de Vaurigard lifted both hands
in mock horror. "Roar, lion, roar!" she cried. "An' think of the
emotion of our good Cavaliere Corni, who have come an hour early
jus' to make them for us! I ask Monsieur Mellin if it is not good."
"And I'll leave it to Cooley," said Pedlow. "If he can drink all of
his I'll eat crow!"
Thus challenged, the two young men smilingly accepted glasses from
the waiter, and lifted them on high.
"Same toast," said Cooley. "Queen!"
"A la belle Marquise!"
Gallantly they drained the glasses at a gulp, and Madame de
Vaurigard clapped her hands.
"Bravo!" she cried. "You see? Corni and I, we win."
"Look at their faces!" said Mr. Pedlow, tactlessly drawing attention
to what was, for the moment, an undeniably painful sight. "Don't
tell me an Italian knows how to make a good Martini!"
Mellin profoundly agreed, but, as he joined the small procession to
the Countess' dinner-table, he was certain that an Italian at least
knew how to make a strong one.
The light in the dining-room was provided by six heavily-shaded
candles on the table; the latter decorated with delicate lines
of orchids. The chairs were large and comfortable, covered with
tapestry; the glass was old Venetian, and the servants, moving
like useful ghosts in the shadow outside the circle of mellow light,
were particularly efficient in the matter of keeping the wine-
glasses full. Madame de Vaurigard had put Pedlow on her right,
Cooley on her left, with Mellin directly opposite her, next to Lady
Mount-Rhyswicke. Mellin was pleased, because he thought he would
have the Countess's face toward him. Anything would have pleased
him just then.
"This is the kind of table everybody ought to have," he observed
to the party in general, as he finished his first glass of champagne.
"I'm going to have it like this at my place in the States--if I ever
decide to go back. I'll have six separate candlesticks like this,
not a candelabrum, and that will be the only light in the room. And
I'll never have anything but orchids on my table--"
"For my part," Lady Mount-Rhyswicke interrupted in the loud, tired
monotone which seemed to be her only manner of speaking, "I like
more light. I like all the light that's goin'."
"If Lady Mount-Rhyswicke sat at my table," returned Mellin
dashingly, "I should wish all the light in the world to shine upon
so happy an event."
"Hear the man!" she drawled. "He's proposing to me. Thinks I'm
There was a chorus of laughter, over which rose the bellow of Mr.
"'He's game!' she says--and ain't he?"
Across the table Madame de Vaurigard's eyes met Mellin's with a
mocking intelligence so complete that he caught her message without
need of the words she noiselessly formed with her lips: "I tol' you
you would be making love to her!"
He laughed joyously in answer. Why shouldn't he flirt with Lady
Mount-Rhyswicke? He was thoroughly happy; his Helene, his belle
Marquise, sat across the table from him sending messages to him
with her eyes. He adored her, but he liked Lady Mount-Rhyswicke
-—he liked everybody and everything in the world. He liked Pedlow
particularly, and it no longer troubled him that the fat man should
be a friend of Madame de Vaurigard. Pedlow was a "character" and
a wit as well. Mellin laughed heartily at everything the Honorable
Chandler Pedlow said.
"This is life," remarked the young man to his fair neighbor.
"What is? Sittin' round a table, eatin' and drinkin'?"
"Ah, lovely skeptic!" She looked at him strangely, but he continued
with growing enthusiasm: "I mean to sit at such a table as this,
with such a chef, with such wines--to know one crowded hour like
this is to live! Not a thing is missing; all this swagger furniture,
the rich atmosphere of smartness about the whole place; best of all,
the company. It's a great thing to have the real people around
you, the right sort, you know, socially; people you'd ask to your
own table at home. There are only seven, but every one distingue,
She leaned both elbows on the table with her hands palm to palm,
and, resting her cheek against the back of her left hand, looked
at him steadily.
"And you--are you distinguished, too?"
"Oh, I wouldn't be much known over here," he said modestly.
"Do you write poetry?"
"Oh, not professionally, though it is published. I suppose"--he
sipped his champagne with his head a little to one side as though
judging its quality--"I suppose I 've been more or less a dilettante.
I've knocked about the world a good bit."
"Helene says you're one of these leisure American billionaires like
Mr. Cooley there," she said in her tired voice.
"Oh, none of us are really quite billionaires." He laughed
"No, I suppose not—-not really. Go on and tell me some more about
life and this distinguished company."
"Hey, folks!" Mr. Pedlow's roar broke in upon this dialogue.
"You two are gittin' mighty thick over there. We're drinking a
toast, and you'll have to break away long enough to join in."
"Queen! That's what she is!" shouted Cooley.
Mellin lifted his glass with the others and drank to Madame de
Vaurigard, but the woman at his side did not change her attitude
and continued to sit with her elbows on the table, her cheek on
the back of her hand, watching him thoughtfully.
VI. Rake's Progress
Many toasts were uproariously honored, the health of each member
of the party in turn, then the country of each: France and England
first, out of courtesy to the ladies, Italy next, since this
beautiful and extraordinary meeting of distinguished people (as
Mellin remarked in a short speech he felt called upon to make) took
place in that wonderful land, then the United States. This last
toast the gentlemen felt it necessary to honor by standing in their
[Song: The Star-Spangled Banner--without words--by Mr. Cooley and
When the cigars were brought, the ladies graciously remained, adding
tiny spirals of smoke from their cigarettes to the layers of blue
haze which soon overhung the table. Through this haze, in the
gentle light (which seemed to grow softer and softer) Mellin saw the
face of Helene de Vaurigard, luminous as an angel's. She was an
angel--and the others were gods. What could be more appropriate in
Rome? Lady Mount-Rhyswicke was Juno, but more beautiful. For
himself, he felt like a god too, Olympic in serenity.
He longed for mysterious dangers. How debonair he would stroll
among them! He wished to explore the unknown; felt the need of a
splendid adventure, and had a happy premonition that one was coming
nearer and nearer. He favored himself with a hopeful vision of the
apartment on fire, Robert Russ Mellin smiling negligently among the
flames and Madame de Vaurigard kneeling before him in adoration.
Immersed in delight, he puffed his cigar and let his eyes rest
dreamily upon the face of Helene. He was quite undisturbed by an
argument, more a commotion than a debate, between Mr. Pedlow and
young Cooley. It ended by their rising, the latter overturning a
chair in his haste.
"I don't know the rudiments, don't I!" cried the boy. "You wait!
Ole Sneydie and I'II trim you down! Corni says he'll play, too.
Come on, Mellin."
"I won't go unless Helene goes," said Mellin. "What are you going
to do when you get there?"
"Alas, my frien'!" exclaimed Madame de Vaurigard, rising, "is it
not what I tol' you? Always you are never content wizout your play.
You come to dinner an' when it is finish' you play, play, play!"
"Play?" He sprang to his feet. "Bravo! That's the very thing
I've been wanting to do. I knew there was something I wanted to do,
but I couldn't think what it was."
Lady Mount-Rhyswicke followed the others into the salon, but Madame
de Vaurigard waited just inside the doorway for Mellin.
"High play!" he cried. "We must play high! I won't play any
other way.--I want to play high!"
"Ah, wicked one! What did I tell you?"
He caught her hand. "And you must play too, Helene."
"No, no," she laughed breathlessly.
"Then you'll watch. Promise you'll watch me. I won't let you go
till you promise to watch me."
"I shall adore it, my frien'!"
"Mellin," called Cooley from the other room. "You comin' or not?"
"Can't you see me?" answered Mellin hilariously, entering with
Madame de Vaurigard, who was rosy with laughter. "Peculiar thing
to look at a man and not see him."
Candles were lit in many sconces on the walls, and the card-table
had been pushed to the centre of the room, little towers of blue,
white and scarlet counters arranged upon it in orderly rows like
"Now, then," demanded Cooley, "are the ladies goin' to play?"
"Never!" cried Madame de Vaurigard.
"All right," said the youth cheerfully; "you can look on. Come and
sit by me for a mascot."
"You'll need a mascot, my boy!" shouted Pedlow. "That's right,
though; take her."
He pushed a chair close to that in which Cooley had already seated
himself, and Madame de Vaurigard dropped into it, laughing.
"Mellin, you set there," he continued, pushing the young man into
a seat opposite Cooley. "We'll give both you young fellers a
mascot." He turned to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke, who had gone to the
settee by the fire. "Madge, you come and set by Mellin," he
commanded jovially. "Maybe he'll forget you ain't a widow again."
"I don't believe I care much about bein' anybody's mascot to-night,"
she answered. There was a hint of anger in her tired monotone.
"What?" He turned from the table and walked over to the fireplace.
"I reckon I didn't understand you," he said quietly, almost gently.
"You better come, hadn't you?"
She met his inscrutable little eyes steadily. A faint redness
slowly revealed itself on her powdered cheeks; then she followed
him back to the table and took the place he had assigned to her
at Mellin's elbow.
"I'll bank," said Pedlow, taking a chair between Cooley and the
Italian, "unless somebody wants to take it off my hands. Now,
what are we playing?"
"Pokah," responded Sneyd with mild sarcasm.
"Bravo!" cried Mellin. "That's my game. Ber-ravo!"
This was so far true: it was the only game upon which he had ever
ventured money; he had played several times when the wagers were
allowed to reach a limit of twenty-five cents.
"You know what I mean, I reckon," said Pedlow. "I mean what we
are playin' fer?"
"Twenty-five franc limit," responded Cooley authoritatively.
"Double for jacks. Play two hours and settle when we quit."
Mellin leaned back in his chair. "You call that high?" he asked,
with a sniff of contempt. "Why not double it?"
The fat man hammered the table with his fist delightedly. "'He's
game,' she says. 'He's the gamest little Indian ever come down
the big road!' she says. Was she right? What? Maybe she wasn't!
We'll double it before very long, my boy; this'll do to start on.
There." He distributed some of the small towers of ivory counters
and made a memorandum in a notebook. "There's four hundred apiece."
"That all?" inquired Mellin, whereupon Mr. Pedlow uproariously
repeated Madame de Vaurigard's alleged tribute.
As the game began, the intelligent-looking maid appeared from the
dining-room, bearing bottles of whisky and soda, and these she
deposited upon small tables at the convenience of the players,
so that at the conclusion of the first encounter in the gentle
tournament there was material for a toast to the gallant who had
"Here's to the gamest Indian of us all," proposed the fat man.
"Did you notice him call me with a pair of tens? And me queen-
Mellin drained a deep glass in honor of himself. "On my soul, Chan'
Pedlow, I think you're the bes' fellow in the whole world," he said
gratefully. "Only trouble with you--you don't want to play high
He won again and again, adding other towers of counters to his
original allotment, so that he had the semblance of a tiny castle.
When the cards had been dealt for the fifth time he felt the light
contact of a slipper touching his foot under the table.
That slipper, he decided (from the nature of things) could belong to
none other than his Helene, and even as he came to this conclusion
the slight pressure against his foot was gently but distinctly
increased thrice. He pressed the slipper in return with his shoe,
at the same time giving Madame de Vaurigard a look of grateful
surprise and tenderness, which threw her into a confusion so
evidently genuine that for an unworthy moment he had a jealous
suspicion she had meant the little caress for some other.
It was a disagreeable thought, and, in the hope of banishing it,
he refilled his glass; but his mood had begun to change. It seemed
to him that Helene was watching Cooley a great deal too devotedly.
Why had she consented to sit by Cooley, when she had promised to
watch Robert Russ Mellin? He observed the pair stealthily.
Cooley consulted her in laughing whispers upon every discard, upon
every bet. Now and then, in their whisperings, Cooley's hair touched
hers; sometimes she laid her hand on his the more conveniently to
look at his cards. Mellin began to be enraged. Did she think that
puling milksop had as much as a shadow of the daring, the devilry,
the carelessness of consequences which lay within Robert Russ Mellin?
"Consequences?" What were they? There were no such things! She
would not look at him--well, he would make her! Thenceforward he
raised every bet by another to the extent of the limit agreed upon.
Mr. Cooley was thoroughly happy. He did not resemble Ulysses; he
would never have had himself bound to the mast; and there were
already sounds of unearthly sweetness in his ears. His conferences
with his lovely hostess easily consoled him for his losses. In
addition, he was triumphing over the boaster, for Mr. Pedlow, with
a very ill grace and swearing (not under his breath), was losing
too. The Countess, reiterating for the hundredth time that Cooley
was a "wicked one," sweetly constituted herself his cup-bearer;
kept his glass full and brought him fresh cigars.
Mellin dealt her furious glances, and filled his own glass, for
Lady Mount-Rhyswicke plainly had no conception of herself in the
role of a Hebe. The hospitable Pedlow, observing this neglect,
was moved to chide her.
"Look at them two cooing doves over there," he said reproachfully,
a jerk of his bulbous thumb indicating Madame de Vaurigard and her
young protege. "Madge, can't you do nothin' fer our friend the
Indian? Can't you even help him to sody?"
"Oh, perhaps," she answered with the slightest flash from her tired
eyes. Then she nonchalantly lifted Mellin's replenished glass from
the table and drained it. This amused Cooley.
"I like that!" he chuckled. "That's one way of helpin' a feller!
Helene, can you do any better than that?"
"Ah, this dear, droll Cooley!"
The tantalizing witch lifted the youth's glass to his lips and let
him drink, as a mother helps a thirsty child. "Bebe!" she laughed
As the lovely Helene pronounced that word, Lady Mount-Rhyswicke was
leaning forward to replace Mellin's empty glass upon the table.
"I don't care whether you're a widow or not!" he shouted furiously.
And he resoundingly kissed her massive shoulder.
There was a wild shout of laughter; even the imperturbable Sneyd
(who had continued to win steadily) wiped tears from his eyes, and
Madame de Vaurigard gave way to intermittent hysteria throughout
the ensuing half-hour.
For a time Mellin sat grimly observing this inexplicable merriment
with a cold smile.
"Laugh on!" he commanded with bitter satire, some ten minutes after
play had been resumed--and was instantly obeyed.
Whereupon his mood underwent another change, and he became convinced
that the world was a warm and kindly place, where it was good to
live. He forgot that he was jealous of Cooley and angry with the
Countess; he liked everybody again, especially Lady Mount-Rhyswicke.
"Won't you sit farther forward?" he begged her earnestly; "so that
I can see your beautiful golden hair?"
He heard but dimly the spasmodic uproar that followed. "Laugh on!"
he repeated with a swoop of his arm. "I don't care! Don't you care
either, Mrs. Mount-Rhyswicke. Please sit where I can see your
beautiful golden hair. Don't be afraid I'll kiss you again. I
wouldn't do it for the whole world. You're one of the noblest women
I ever knew. I feel that's true. I don't know how I know it, but
I know it. Let 'em laugh!"
After this everything grew more and more hazy to him. For a time
there was, in the centre of the haze, a nimbus of light which
revealed his cards to him and the towers of chips which he constantly
called for and which as constantly disappeared--like the towers of
a castle in Spain. Then the haze thickened, and the one thing clear
to him was a phrase from an old-time novel he had read long ago:
"Debt of honor."
The three words appeared to be written in flames against a
background of dense fog. A debt of honor was as promissory note
which had to be paid on Monday, and the appeal to the obdurate
grandfather--a peer of England, the Earl of Mount-Rhyswicke, in
fact--was made at midnight, Sunday. The fog grew still denser,
lifted for a moment while he wrote his name many times on slips of
blue paper; closed down once more, and again lifted--out-of-doors
this time--to show him a lunatic ballet of moons dancing streakily
upon the horizon.
He heard himself say quite clearly, "All right, old man, thank you;
but don't bother about me," to a pallid but humorous Cooley in
evening clothes; the fog thickened; oblivion closed upon him for
a seeming second....
VII. The Next Morning
Suddenly he sat up in bed in his room at the Magnifique, gazing upon
a disconsolate Cooley in gray tweeds who sat heaped in a chair at
the foot of the bed with his head in his hands.
Mellin's first sensation was of utter mystification; his second
was more corporeal: the consciousness of physical misery, of
consuming fever, of aches that ran over his whole body, converging
to a dreadful climax in his head, of a throat so immoderately
partched it seemed to crackle, and a thirst so avid it was a
passion. His eye fell upon a carafe of water on a chair at his
bedside; he seized upon it with a shaking hand and drank half its
contents before he set it down. The action attracted his
companion's attention and he looked up, showing a pale and
"How do you feel?" inquired Cooley with a wan smile.
Mellin's head dropped back upon the pillow and he made one or two
painful efforts to speak before he succeeded in finding a ghastly
semblance of his voice.
"I thought I was at Madame de Vaurigard's."
"You were," said the other, adding grimly: "We both were."
"But that was only a minute ago."
"It was six hours ago. It's goin' on ten o'clock in the morning."
"I don't understand how that can be. How did I get here?"
"I brought you. I was pretty bad, but you--I never saw anything
like you! From the time you kissed Lady Mount-Rhyswicke--"
Mellin sat bolt upright in bed, staring wildly. He began to
"Don't you remember that?" asked Cooley.
Suddenly he did. The memory of it came with inexorable clarity, he
crossed forearms over his horror-stricken face and fell back upon
"Oh," he gasped. "Un-speakable! Un-speakable!"
"Lord! Don't worry about that! I don't think she minded."
"It's the thought of Madame de Vaurigard--it kills me! The horror
of it--that I should do such a thing in her house! She'll never
speak to me again, she oughtn't to; she ought to send her groom to
beat me! You can't think what I've lost--"
"Can't I!" Mr. Cooley rose from his chair and began to pace up and
down the chamber. "I can guess to within a thousand francs of what
I've lost! I had to get the hotel to cash a check on New York
for me this morning. I've a habit of carrying all my money in
bills, and a fool trick, too. Well, I'm cured of it!"
"Oh, if it were only a little money and nothing else that I'd
lost! The money means nothing." Mellin choked.
"I suppose you're pretty well fixed. Well, so am I," Cooley shook
his head, "but money certainly means something to me!"
"It wouldn't if you'd thrown away the most precious friendship of
"See here," said Cooley, halting at the foot of the bed and looking
at his stricken companion from beneath frowning brows, "I guess I
can see how it is with you, and I'll tell you frankly it's been the
same with me. I never met such a fascinating woman in my life: she
throws a reg'ler ole-fashioned spell over you! Now I hate to say
it, but I can't help it, because it plain hits me in the face every
time I think of it; the truth is--well, sir, I'm afraid you and me
have had little red soldier-coats and caps put on us and strings
tied to our belts while we turned somersets for the children."
"I don't understand. I don't know what you're talking about."
"No? It seems to get more and more simple to me. I've been
thinking it all over and over again. I can't help it! See here:
I met Sneyd on the steamer, without any introduction. He sort of
warmed into the game in the smoking-room, and he won straight along
the trip. He called on me in London and took me to meet the
Countess at her hotel. We three went to the theatre and lunch and
so forth a few times; and when I left for Paris she turned up on
the way: that's when you met her. Couple of days later, Sneyd
came over, and he and the Countess introduced me to dear ole friend
Pedlow. So you see, I don't rightly even know who any of 'em really
are: just took 'em for granted, as it were. We had lots of fun,
I admit that, honkin' about in my car. We only played cards once,
and that was in her apartment the last night before I left Paris,
but that one time Pedlow won fifteen thousand francs from me. When
I told them my plans, how I was goin' to motor down to Rome, she
said she would be in Rome--and, I tell you, I was happy as a
poodle-pup about it. Sneyd said he might be in Rome along about
then, and open-hearted ole Pedlow said not to be surprised if he
turned up, too. Well, he did, almost to the minute, and in the
meantime she'd got you hooked on, fine and tight."
"I don't understand you," Mellin lifted himself painfully on an
elbow. "I don't know what you're getting at, but it seems to me
that you're speaking disrespectfully of an angel that I've insulted,
"Now see here, Mellin, I'll tell you something." The boy's white
face showed sudden color and there was a catch in his voice. "I
was--I've been mighty near in love with that woman! But I've had
a kind of a shock; I've got my common-sense back, and I'm not, any
more. I don't know exactly how much money I had, but it was between
thirty-five and thirty-eight thousand francs, and Sneyd won it all
after we took off the limit--over seven thousand dollars--at her
table last night. Putting two and two together, honestly it looks
bad. It looks mighty bad! Now, I'm pretty well fixed, and
yesterday I didn't care whether school kept or not, but seven
thousand dollars is real money to anybody! My old man worked pretty
hard for his first seven thousand, I guess, and"--he gulped--"he'd
think a lot of me for lettin' go of it the way I did last night,
wouldn't he? You never see things like this till the next
morning! And you remember that other woman sat where she could see
every hand you drew, and the Countess--"
"Stop!" Mellin flung one arm up violently, striking the headboard
with his knuckles. "I won't hear a syllable against Madame de
Vaurigard!" Young Cooley regarded him steadily for a moment.
"Have you remembered yet," he said slowly, "how much you lost
"I only remember that I behaved like an unspeakable boor in the
presence of the divinest creature that ever--"
Cooley disregarded the outburst, and said:
"When we settled, you had a pad of express company checks worth
six hundred dollars. You signed all of 'em and turned 'em over
to Sneyd with three one-hundred-lire bills, which was all the cash
you had with you. Then you gave him your note for twelve thousand
francs to be paid within three days. You made a great deal of
fuss about its being a 'debt of honor.'" He paused. "You hadn't
remembered that, had you?"
Mellin had closed his eyes. He lay quite still and made no answer.
"No, I'll bet you hadn't," said Cooley, correctly deducing the fact.
"You're well off, or you wouldn't be at this hotel, and, for all I
know, you may be fixed so you won't mind your loss as much as I do
mine; but it ought to make you kind of charitable toward my
suspicions of Madame de Vaurigard's friends."
The six hundred dollars in express company checks and the three
hundred-lire bills were all the money the unhappy Mellin had in
the world, and until he could return to Cranston and go back to
work in the real-estate office again, he had no prospect of any
more. He had not even his steamer ticket. In the shock of horror
and despair he whispered brokenly:
"I don't care if they 're the worst people in the world, they're
better than I am!"
The other's gloom cleared a little at this. "Well, you have got
it!" he exclaimed briskly. "You don't know how different you'll
feel after a long walk in the open air." He looked at his watch.
"I've got to go and see what that newspaper-man, Cornish, wants;
it's ten o'clock. I'll be back after a while; I want to reason
this out with you. I don't deny but it's possible I'm wrong;
anyway, you think it over while I'm gone. You take a good hard
think, will you?"
As he closed the door, Mellin slowly drew the coverlet over his
head. It was as if he covered the face of some one who had
VIII. What Cornish Knew
Two hours passed before young Cooley returned. He knocked twice
without a reply; then he came in.
The coverlet was still over Mellin's head.
"Asleep?" asked Cooley.
The coverlet was removed by a shaking hand.
"Murder!" exclaimed Cooley sympathetically, at sight of the other's
face. "A night off certainly does things to you! Better let me get
"No. I'll be all right--after while."
"Then I'll go right ahead with our little troubles. I've decided
to leave for Paris by the one-thirty and haven't got a whole lot
of time. Cornish is here with me in the hall: he's got something
to say that's important for you to hear, and I'm goin' to bring him
right in." He waved his hand toward the door, which he had left
open. "Come along, Cornish. Poor ole Mellin'll play Du Barry with
us and give us a morning leevy while he listens in a bed with a
palanquin to it. Now let's draw up chairs and be sociable."
The journalist came in, smoking a long cigar, and took the chair
the youth pushed toward him; but, after a twinkling glance through
his big spectacles at the face on the pillow, he rose and threw the
cigar out of the window.
"Go ahead," said Cooley. "I want you to tell him just what you told
me, and when you're through I want to see if he doesn't think I'm
Sherlock Holmes' little brother."
"If Mr. Mellin does not feel too ill," said Cornish dryly; "I know
how painful such cases sometimes--"
"No." Mellin moistened his parched lips and made a pitiful effort
to smile. "I'll be all right very soon."
"I am very sorry," began the journalist, "that I wasn't able to get
a few words with Mr. Cooley yesterday evening. Perhaps you noticed
that I tried as hard as I could, without using actual force"--he
laughed--"to detain him."
"You did your best," agreed Cooley ruefully, "and I did my worst.
Nobody ever listens till the next day!"
"Well, I'm glad no vital damage was done, anyway," said Cornish.
"It would have been pretty hard lines if you two young fellows had
been poor men, but as it is you're probably none the worse for a
lesson like this."
"You seem to think seven thousand dollars is a joke," remarked
Cornish laughed again. "You see, it flatters me to think my time
was so valuable that a ten minutes' talk with me would have saved
so much money."
"I doubt it," said Cooley. "Ten to one we'd neither of us have
believed you--last night!"
"I doubt it, too." Cornish turned to Mellin. "I hear that you,
Mr. Mellin, are still of the opinion that you were dealing with
Mellin managed to whisper "Yes."
"Then," said Cornish, "I'd better tell you just what I know about
it, and you can form your own opinion as to whether I do know or
not. I have been in the newspaper business on this side for
fifteen years, and my headquarters are in Paris, where these people
are very well known. The man who calls himself 'Chandler Pedlow'
was a faro-dealer for Tom Stout in Chicago when Stout's place was
broken up, a good many years ago. There was a real Chandler Pedlow
in Congress from a California district in the early nineties, but
he is dead. This man's name is Ben Welch: he's a professional
swindler; and the Englishman, Sneyd, is another; a quiet man, not so
well known as Welch, and not nearly so clever, but a good 'feeder'
for him. The very attractive Frenchwoman who calls herself
'Comtesse de Vaurigard' is generally believed to be Sneyd's wife,
though I could not take the stand on that myself. Welch is the
brains of the organization: you mightn't think it, but he's a very
brilliant man--he might have made a great reputation in business
if he'd been straight--and, with this woman's help, he's carried out
some really astonishing schemes. His manner is clumsy; he knows
that, bless you, but it's the only manner he can manage, and she
is so adroit she can sugar-coat even such a pill as that and coax
people to swallow it. I don't know anything about the Italian who
is working with them down here. But a gang of the Welch-Vaurigard-
Sneyd type has tentacles all over the Continent; such people are in
touch with sharpers everywhere, you see."
"Yes," Cooley interpolated, "and with woolly little lambkins, too."
"Well," chuckled Cornish, "that's the way they make their living,
"Go on and tell him the rest of it," urged Cooley.
"About Lady Mount-Rhyswicke," said Cornish, "it seems strange
enough, but she has a perfect right to her name. She is a good
deal older than she looks, and I've heard she used to be remarkably
beautiful. Her third husband was Lord George Mount-Rhyswicke, a man
who'd been dropped from his clubs, and he deserted her in 1903, but
she has not divorced him. It is said that he is somewhere in South
America; however, as to that I do not know."
Mr. Cornish put the very slightest possible emphasis on the word
"know," and proceeded:
"I've heard that she is sincerely attached to him and sends him
money from time to time, when she has it--though that, too, is
third-hand information. She has been declasse ever since her
first divorce. That was a 'celebrated case,' and she's dropped
down pretty far in the world, though I judge she's a good deal the
best of this crowd. Exactly what her relations to the others are
I don't know, but I imagine that she's pretty thick with 'em."
"Just a little!" exclaimed Cooley. "She sits behind one of the
lambkins and Helene behind the other while they get their woolly
wool clipped. I suppose the two of 'em signaled what was in every
hand we held, though I'm sure they needn't have gone to the trouble!
Fact is, I don't see why they bothered about goin' through the form
of playin' cards with us at all. They could have taken it away
without that! Whee!" Mr. Cooley whistled loud and long. "And
there's loads of wise young men on the ocean now, hurryin' over to
take our places in the pens. Well, they can have mine! Funny,
Mellin: nobody would come up to you or me in the Grand Central in
New York and try to sell us greenbacks just as good as real. But
we come over to Europe with our pockets full o' money and start in
to see the Big City with Jesse James in a false mustache on one arm,
and Lucresha Borgy, under an assumed name, on the other!"
"I am afraid I agree with you," said Cornish; "though I must say
that, from all I hear, Madame de Vaurigard might put an atmosphere
about a thing which would deceive almost any one who wasn't on
his guard. When a Parisienne of her sort is clever at all she's
"I believe you," Cooley sighed deeply.
"Yesterday evening, Mr. Mellin," continued the journalist, "when
I saw the son of my old friend in company with Welch and Sneyd, of
course I tried to warn him. I've often seen them in Paris, though
I believe they have no knowledge of me. As I've said, they are
notorious, especially Welch, yet they have managed, so far, to avoid
any difficulty with the Paris police, and, I'm sorry to say, it
might be hard to actually prove anything against them. You couldn't
prove that anything was crooked last night, for instance. For
that matter, I don't suppose you want to. Mr. Cooley wishes to
accept his loss and bear it, and I take it that that will be your
attitude, too. In regard to the note you gave Sneyd, I hope you will
refuse to pay; I don't think that they would dare press the matter."
"Neither do I," Mr. Cooley agreed. "I left a silver cigarette-case
at the apartment last night, and after talkin' to Cornish a while
ago, I sent my man for it with a note to her that'll make 'em all
sit up and take some notice. The gang's all there together, you
can be sure. I asked for Sneyd and Pedlow in the office and found
they'd gone out early this morning leavin' word they wouldn't be
back till midnight. And, see here; I know I'm easy, but somehow
I believe you're even a softer piece o' meat than I am. I want you
to promise me that whatever happens you won't pay that I O U."
Mellin moistened his lips in vain. He could not answer.
"I want you to promise me not to pay it," repeated Cooley earnestly.
"I promise," gasped Mellin.
"You won't pay it no matter what they do?"
This seemed to reassure Mr. Cooley.
"Well," he said, "I've got to hustle to get my car shipped and make
the train. Cornish has finished his job down here and he's goin'
with me. I want to get out. The whole thing's left a mighty bad
taste in my mouth, and I'd go crazy if I didn't get away from it.
Why don't you jump into your clothes and come along, too?"
"Well," said the young man with a sympathetic shake of the head,
"you certainly look sick. It may be better if you stay in bed till
evening: a train's a mighty mean place for the day after. But I
wouldn't hang around here too long. If you want money, all you have
to do is to ask the hotel to cash a check on your home bank; they're
always glad to do that for Americans." He turned to the door.
"Mr. Cornish, if you're goin' to help me about shipping the car,
"So am I. Good-by, Mr. Mellin."
"Good-by," Mellin said feebly--"and thank you."
Young Cooley came back to the bedside and shook the other's feverish
hand. "Good-by, ole man. I'm awful sorry it's all happened, but
I'm glad it didn't cost you quite as much money as it did me.
Otherwise I expect it's hit us about equally hard. I wish--I wish
I could find a inice one"--the youth gulped over something not
unlike a sob--"as fascinatin' as her!"
Most people have had dreams of approaching dangers in the path of
which their bodies remained inert; when, in spite of the frantic
wish to fly, it was impossible to move, while all the time the
horror crept closer and closer. This was Mellin's state as he saw
the young man going. It was absolutely necessary to ask Cooley for
help, to beg him for a loan. But he could not.
He saw Cooley's hand on the doorknob; saw the door swing open.
"Good-by, again," Cooley said; "and good luck to you!"
Mellin's will strove desperately with the shame that held him
The door was closing.
"Oh, Cooley," called Mellin hoarsely.
"J-j-just good-by," said Mellin.
And with that young Cooley was gone.
A multitudinous clangor of bells and a dozen neighboring chimes rang
noon; then the rectangular oblongs of hot sunlight that fell from
the windows upon the carpet of Mellin's room began imperceptibly
to shift their angles and move eastward. From the stone pavement
of the street below came the sound of horses pawing and the voices
of waiting cabmen; then bells again, and more bells; clamoring the
slow and cruel afternoon into the past. But all was silent in
Mellin's room, save when, from time to time, a long, shuddering
sigh came from the bed.
The unhappy young man had again drawn the coverlet over his head,
but not to sleep: it was more like a forlorn and desperate effort
to hide, as if he crept into a hole, seeking darkness to cover the
shame and fear that racked his soul. For though his shame had been
too great to let him confess to young Cooley and ask for help, his
fear was as great as his shame; and it increased as the hours passed.
In truth his case was desperate. Except the people who had stripped
him, Cooley was the only person in all of Europe with whom he had
more than a very casual acquaintance. At home, in Cranston, he had
no friends susceptible to such an appeal as it was vitally necessary
for him to make. His relatives were not numerous: there were two
aunts, the widows of his father's brothers, and a number of old-maid
cousins; and he had an uncle in Iowa, a country minister whom he had
not seen for years. But he could not cable to any of these for
money; nor could he quite conjure his imagination into picturing any
of them sending it if he did. And even to cable he would have to
pawn his watch, which was an old-fashioned one of silver and might
not bring enough to pay the charges.
He began to be haunted by fragmentary, prophetic visions--confused
but realistic in detail, and horridly probable--of his ejectment
from the hotel, perhaps arrest and trial. He wondered what they
did in Italy to people who "beat" hotels; and, remembering what some
one had told him of the dreadfulness of Italian jails, convulsive
shudderings seized upon him.
The ruddy oblongs of sunlight crawled nearer to the east wall of the
room, stretching themselves thinner and thinner, until finally they
were not there at all, and the room was left in deepening grayness.
Carriages, one after the other, in unintermittent succession,
rumbled up to the hotel-entrance beneath the window, bringing
goldfish for the Pincio and the fountains of Villa Borghese. Wild
strains from the Hungarian orchestra, rhapsodical twankings of
violins, and the runaway arpeggios of a zither crazed with speed-
mania, skipped along the corridors and lightly through Mellin's
door. In his mind's eye he saw the gay crowd in the watery light,
the little tables where only five days ago he had sat with the
loveliest of all the anemone-like ladies....
The beautifully-dressed tea-drinkers were there now, under the green
glass dome, prattling and smiling, those people he had called his
own. And as the music sounded louder, faster, wilder and wilder
with the gipsy madness--then in that darkening bedchamber his soul
became articulate in a cry of humiliation
"God in His mercy forgive me, how raw I was!"
A vision came before his closed eyes; the maple-bordered street in
Cranston, the long, straight, wide street where Mary Kramer lived;
a summer twilight; Mary in her white muslin dress on the veranda
steps, and a wistaria vine climbing the post beside her, half-
embowering her. How cool and sweet and good she looked! How dear
--and how kind!--she had always been to him.
Dusk stole through the windows: the music ceased and the tea-hour
was over. The carriages were departing, bearing the gay people
who went away laughing, calling last words to one another, and,
naturally, quite unaware that a young man, who, five days before,
had adopted them and called them "his own," was lying in a darkened
room above them, and crying like a child upon his pillow.
X. The Cab at the Corner
A ten o'clock, a page bearing a card upon a silver tray knocked upon
the door, and stared with wide-eyed astonishment at the disordered
gentleman who opened it.
The card was Lady Mount-Rhyswicke's. Underneath the name was
If you are there will you give me a few minutes? I am waiting
in a cab at the next corner by the fountain.
Mellin's hand shook as he read. He did not doubt that she came as
an emissary; probably they meant to hound him for payment of the
note he had given Sneyd, and at that thought he could have shrieked
with hysterical laughter.
"Do you speak English?" he asked.
"Spik little. Yes."
"Who gave you this card?"
"Coachman," said the boy. "He wait risposta."
"Tell him to say that I shall be there in five minutes."
"Fi' minute. Yes. Good-by."
Mellin was partly dressed--he had risen half an hour earlier and
had been distractedly pacing the floor when the page knocked--and
he completed his toilet quickly. He passed down the corridors,
descended by the stairway (feeling that to use the elevator would
be another abuse of the confidence of the hotel company) and slunk
across the lobby with the look and the sensations of a tramp who
knows that he will be kicked into the street if anybody catches
sight of him.
A closed cab stood near the fountain at the next corner. There was
a trunk on the box by the driver, and the roof was piled with bags
and rugs. He approached uncertainly.
"Is--is this--is it Lady Mount-Rhyswicke?" he stammered pitifully.
She opened the door.
"Yes. Will you get in? We'll just drive round the block if you
don't mind. I'll bring you back here in ten minutes." And when he
had tremulously complied, "Avanti, cocchiere," she called to the
driver, and the tired little cab-horse began to draw them slowly
along the deserted street.
Lady Mount-Rhyswicke maintained silence for a time, while her
companion waited, his heart pounding with dreadful apprehensions.
Finally she gave a short, hard laugh and said:
"I saw your face by the corner light. Been havin' a hard day
The fear of breaking down kept him from answering. He gulped
painfully once or twice, and turned his face away from her. Light
enough from a streetlamp shone in for her to see.
"I was rather afraid you'd refuse," she said seriously. "Really,
I wonder you were willin' to come!"
"I was--I was afraid not to." He choked out the confession with
the recklessness of final despair.
"So?" she said, with another short laugh. Then she resumed her
even, tired monotone: "Your little friend Cooley's note this
morning gave us all a rather fair notion as to what you must be
thinkin' of us. He seems to have found a sort of walkin' 'Who's-
Who-on-the-Continent' since last night. Pity for some people he
didn't find it before! I don't think I'm sympathetic with your
little Cooley. I 'guess,' as you Yankees say, 'he can stand it.'
But"--her voice suddenly became louder--"I'm not in the business
of robbin' babies and orphans, no, my dear friends, nor of helpin'
anybody else to rob them either!--Here you are!"
She thrust into his hand a small packet, securely wrapped in paper
and fastened with rubber bands. "There's your block of express
checks for six hundred dollars and your I 0 U to Sneyd with it.
Take better care of it next time."
He had been tremulous enough, but at that his whole body began to
"What!" he quavered.
"I say, take better care of it next time," she said, dropping again
into her monotone. "I didn't have such an easy time gettin' it back
from them as you might think. I've got rather a sore wrist, in
She paused at an inarticulate sound from him.
"Oh, that's soon mended," she laughed drearily. "The truth is, it's
been a good thing for me--your turning up. They're gettin' in too
deep water for me, Helene and her friends, and I've broken with the
lot, or they've broken with me, whichever it is. We couldn't hang
together after the fightin' we've done to-day. I had to do a lot
of threatenin' and things. Welch was ugly, so I had to be ugly too.
Never mind"--she checked an uncertain effort of his to speak--"I
saw what you were like, soon as we sat down at the table last night
--how new you were and all that. It needed only a glance to see
that Helene had made a mistake about you. She'd got a notion you
were a millionaire like the little Cooley, but I knew better from
your talk. She's clever, but she's French, and she can't get it
out of her head that you could be an American and not a millionaire.
Of course, they all knew better when you brought out your express
checks and talked like somebody in one of the old-time story-books
about 'debts of honor.' Even Helene understood then that the
express checks were all you had." She laughed. "I didn't have
any trouble gettin' the note back!"
She paused again for a moment, then resumed: "There isn't much
use our goin' over it all, but I want you to know one thing. Your
little friend Cooley made it rather clear that he accused Helene and
me of signalin'. Well, I didn't. Perhaps that's the reason you
didn't lose as much as he did; I can't say. And one thing more:
all this isn't goin' to do you any harm. I'm not very keen about
philosophy and religion and that, but I believe if you're let in
for a lot of trouble, and it only half kills you, you can get
some good of it."
"Do you think," he stammered--"do you think I'm worth saving?"
She smiled faintly and said:
"You've probably got a sweetheart in the States somewhere--a nice
girl, a pretty young thing who goes to church and thinks you're a
great man, perhaps? Is it so?"
"I am not worthy," he began, choked suddenly, then finished--"to
breathe the same air!"
"That's quite right," Lady Mount-Rhyswicke assured him. "Think
what you'd think of her if she'd got herself into the same sort of
scrape by doin' the things you've been doin'! And remember that
if you ever feel impatient with her, or have any temptations to
superiority in times to come. And yet"--for the moment she spoke
earnestly--"you go back to your little girl, but don't you tell
her a word of this. You couldn't even tell her that meetin' you
has helped me, because she wouldn't understand."
"Nor do I. I can't."
"Oh, it's simple. I saw that if I was gettin' down to where I was
robbin' babies and orphans...." The cab halted. "Here's your
corner. I told him only to go round the block and come back.
Good-by. I'm off for Amalfi. It's a good place to rest."
He got out dazedly, and the driver cracked his whip over the little
horse; but Mellin lifted a detaining hand.
"A spet," called Lady Mount-Rhyswicke to the driver. "What is it,
"I can't--I can't look you in the face," he stammered, his attitude
perfectly corroborative of his words. "I would--oh, I would kneel
in the dust here before you--"
"Some of the poetry you told me you write?"
"I've never written any poetry," he said, not looking up. "Perhaps
I can--now. What I want to say is--I'm so ashamed of it--I don't
know how to get the words out, but I must. I may never see you
again, and I must. I 'm sorry--please try to forgive me--I wasn't
myself when I did it—-"
"Blurt it out; that's the best way."
"I'm sorry," he floundered--"I'm sorry I kissed you."
She laughed her tired laugh and said in her tired voice the last
words he was ever destined to hear from her:
"Oh, I don't mind, if you don't. It was so innocent, it was what
One of the hundreds of good saints that belong to Rome must have
overheard her and pitied the young man, for it is ascribable only
to some such special act of mercy that Mellin understood (and he
did) exactly what she meant.