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   Chapter 4 No.4

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 21479

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


The young man whom Alicia had hailed turned toward her with quite the nicest smile it had ever been my fortune to behold, a smile in which his white teeth, which were of a character to do any dentist credit, were the least important factor, beautiful as they were. It was the way his face lighted up which caught one. In any situation that smile would prove his shield and buckler. It would have been invaluable to a book agent, and a missionary would have needed no other credentials-at least certainly not on our street at home. We all smiled back at him instinctively, though it was to Alicia that he spoke.

"It was simply ripping of you people!" he said in excellent English and a delightfully modulated voice, yet with a curious intonation, as if it were not his native tongue.

"Not at all!" replied Peaches, her eyes holding his. "Glad to oblige you!"

He seemed a trifle blank at this.

"I didn't expect you to be here," he went on. "But I think it's awfully jolly. I suppose you motor a great deal, Lady Gordon!"

"Lady who?" gasped Peaches. "Gee-whiz! Who do you think we are?"

"Great Scott!" said the inadvertent guest. "Aren't you Lord and Lady Gordon?"

"Lord and Lady me eye!" remarked Peaches. "We are not!"

"Then why on earth did you call to me?" exclaimed the young man. "And who are you?"

Just then the Citrus King leaned forward and shouted a query against the wind.

"Who is your young man, Peaches?" he said. "Make me acquainted."

"I don't know who he is!" snapped his daughter. "Who are you yourself?" she demanded of him. "I am a low-life American bourgeois in trade and every bally thing-name of Alicia Pegg; and this is my father, Pinto Pegg, the Citrus King, and this is my chaperon, Miss Talbot, that I'm taking abroad to educate. Now who are you?"

"My name is Sandro di Monteventi," he said, getting out a little gold cardcase, from which he extricated a visiting card bearing a five-pointed coronet and the inscription Monteventi. A duke! As I glimpsed the card, which with proper breeding he handed first to me, I nearly fainted. We must have made a mistake somehow. Yet he was undoubtedly the young man of the theater. I could not have made so monstrous an error. As for Peaches, when I handed it on to her she simply gave a frank stare and a long whistle.

"Pleased to meet you, duke!" she said. "I guess we may have made a mistake. We thought-well, we thought you were a friend of ours-but I don't quite see how you fell for it. Dicky, turn round and take the gentleman back!"

"No, no!" said the duke hastily. "That is, you are going my way, so if you don't mind-my friends will be gone by now!"

"Certainly. Keep ahead, Dick!" said Pinto heartily. "Pleased to have a duke along. That's what we came to Europe for, you know-like all vulgar Americans. So we'll drop you any place you say."

"That's really frightfully kind, Mr. Pegg," said the duke. "You see, I am expected to visit the Gordons, who have rented a chateau at Deux Arbres and when you called, Miss Pegg, I thought they had come to meet me. We shall pass there shortly, and if you will just set me down in the village I shall be all right and fearfully grateful."

"Why, that's the place where the famous panels by Scarpia are!" I exclaimed. "They were painted at the order of Cardinal Perigino in 1754."

The duke looked at me in some surprise.

"Right!" said he. "Do you know the Gordons, by any chance?"

"No," I replied. "But I know my Burke's History of the Sixteenth Century Italian Painters."

"Oh!" said he. "How odd and delightful." And he smiled again that delectable smile of his, which somehow drew us into a delicious intimacy. His smile seemed at once to compliment my erudition and a thousand other lovely things. Then he turned again to Peaches and looking at her spoke to her father.

"Where are you bound for, sir?" he asked.

"Monte Carlo will be our final camp," said Silas. "It's a town I've always wanted to hit. I understand it's got it all over Hell River or even Dogtown, and I used to get a lot of comfort out of them two places when I was herding hop pickers round the head of the Sacramento Valley. But I understand Monte has them beaten three ways. It ought to, considering the game they named after it!"

I am convinced that this statement was as unintelligible to the duke as it was to me, but he laughed politely.

"I may be dropping down there a little later," he said. "In point of fact my home is not far from it-lovely old place back in the hills. I was born there!"

"That so?" said Mr. Pegg. "Well, you do talk English remarkably well!"

"I was educated at Harvard," said the duke. "My mother was an American, the daughter of the consul at San Remo."

"I knew you were a regular guy!" said Peaches, and then blushed furiously. The duke laughed.

"Thanks!" said he. "But I am an Italian, you know, really, and I love my country-as perhaps few men have!"

His eyes grew grave as he spoke. And after a few moments of curious silence that fell upon us unwittingly, he held up his hand as a signal to stop.

"We are coming into Deux Arbres now," he said. "There is the inn, and that trap looks as if it would take one to the chateau! I am a thousand times grateful for the lift!"

The car slowed down at Alicia's command, and the duke, despite our protests, insisted upon getting out.

"We could easily take you right to the ranch house-castle, that is!" Peaches offered.

"Not a bit more trouble, young man!" said Mr. Pegg.

But the duke would have no more of us. Charmingly, politely and firmly he shook us, as Alicia put it afterward. He disappeared within a little hostelry and we resumed our journey. When we had done so Alicia's father subjected her to a cross examination which I, rather than she, deserved, inasmuch as I had really been responsible for the more or less shocking performance. But Peaches nobly refrained from in any way implicating me.

"Look here, Peaches, what made you collect that young swell?" said her parent in an attempt to be properly irate.

"Why, pa, I thought it was Jake Keeting-you know, Giant Jake from the B-2 outfit, and I was so surprised I yelled before I thought," she lied with alarmingly casual promptness.

"Well, it's a good thing I and Miss Talbot was along to make it look respectable!" he boomed. "This isn't the coast, you know, and people round here have old-fashioned notions. But he seemed a mighty nice young feller."

Alicia glanced sideways at Richard, the chauffeur.

"I thought he was a wonder!" she said deliberately. And then no more.

That night, in the luxurious bedroom at the Ritz in Paris, which was precisely like all the other hotels at which we had stopped so far, Peaches and I discussed the mystery of the Ducca di Monteventi to our heart's content. And in the end we tacitly cleared him of connection with the incident of the London theater, Alicia insisting that I must have been mistaken in my identification of him, and I determinedly convinced that he was none other than the hero of my escapade, an opinion to which I privately held, though I refrained from expressing it when I discovered that she disliked the thought.

"Say!" she remarked. "I think he's a prince, that's what. You know what I mean-he's a duke, of course, but I should worry about that! I mean a prince in the American sense."

And curiously enough I understood her.

But fate removed the object of our interest from our lives for many weeks to come. We moved rather more slowly than I had anticipated, owing partially to Alicia's sudden interest in Parisian art galleries. We would plan our trip for the day within earshot of her parent, and in truth we did occasionally visit them as we had announced. But more frequently when we said we would go to the Louvre we meant the emporium of that title, and very shortly Peaches' wardrobe began to show the results of my restraining influence.

She was so beautiful that everything she put on became her, and so tall that everything had to be altered. And so it came about that we were some weeks in Paris; very pleasurable they were, too, and my knowledge of French came in most serviceably. Not for nothing had I taken a prize at Miss Hichbourne's Seminary and Finishing School for Young Gentlewomen with an essay entitled Un Matin de Mai, for it developed that I was the only person in our party possessed of even the rudiments of any foreign language, and I was constantly in demand as interpreter, requesting everything from un verre de L'eau glacée for Mr. Pegg to tabac et d'allumettes for Richard, the chauffeur, and, of course, in the purchasing of Peaches' clothes I was indispensable.

Moreover, out of my princely emolument I felt it but right to purchase for myself sundry garments of a more fashionable appearance than I had hitherto possessed, and to dispatch home by boat mail an embroidered shawl for my sister and some fine cambric handkerchiefs together with a pair of blue worsted knitted slippers for Galadia, which I purchased at the American Woman's Exchange.

I may here remark in passing that Alicia's speech and manner were becoming gradually modified under my earnest example and tuition, though her fiery spirit and impulsive nature remained the same. Also her conduct was impeccable, for with the exception of bringing home a perfectly strange young American sailor-a common seaman, he was-to dinner for no better reason than that she had found him sitting in the Jardin de Tuileries and he had professed to be homesick, she did nothing remarkable. It is a fact that upon one occasion she was barely prevented from using physical violence upon the driver of a fiacre, who she maintained was a dog-faced son of a muleteer and was ripe for admission to the nether world, his inevitable landing place. And all this because he was using a whip with more violence than discrimination upon his apathetic animal. Her extraordinary language was completely, and very fortunately, lost upon him, inasmuch as he understood no English, much less Californian, and thought she was merely trying to protest at the overcharge, and being used to that he remained undisturbed.

During our stay in Paris I wrote to and received an answer from my Cousin Abby, who in a dashing hand announced that she would be "charmed to see you, dear old thing, as it's a beastly season, dull as ditch water, and anything will be a diversion."

I announced the fact of the receipt of this letter but kept its exact contents to myself, as I rather feared for our reception. Mr. Pegg, however, seemed to consider the mere fact of her reply an encouraging sign, and with his customary abruptness of decision gave orders th

at we pack up at once and proceed to Italy by train instead of by motor as we had planned, thus expediting the matter of starting upon what he persisted in terming the "commencement of Peaches' social career."

"Since your cousin, the countess, is at her castle," he informed me, "we will break camp right now, Miss Talbot, and hit the trail for the Italian citrus country. I am anxious to start looking the lemon situation over, and it's only fair to give the Paris shops a chance to restock. So to-morrow we will pull out."

"Very well, Mr. Pegg," I assented. "Though it is a pity to miss the chateau country."

"Not much sense in looking at the outside of chateaux if you don't know the folks living in them," the Citrus King commented. "And perhaps on the way back we will have a few invites from your cousin's friends."

I could only bite my lip and refrain from going into the question further at the moment. Mr. Pegg's social and geographical ideas were at that time in sad need of correction. But then correction made so little impression on him. If his mind was made up to get a thing he would brush aside all else until the attainment of his object. Already I was learning not to dispute his decisions. Besides, it was conceivable that Cousin Abby did know some French nobility, or the lessees of some, and that if she accepted us at all we might possibly make their acquaintance in due course. Indeed the circumstances were far less improbable than so much which had actually occurred during the past month that I dismissed the question momentarily, wrote Euphemia a brief note informing her of our prospective change of address, and then sought out my charge for the purpose of imparting her father's instructions.

At first I experienced some difficulty in locating her, but after a diligent search of our sumptuous suite I at length discovered her in the public corridor near the elevator, where she was engaged in explaining some game of cards-a form of solitaire-to the youth who operated the elevator. They were seated upon a bench near the shaft, and the youth was completely negligent of his duty. At my approach Miss Alicia looked up and nodded, but continued her explanation.

"The jack on the queen," she was saying; "the ten on the jack; move 'em over-that makes a dollar you owe me!"

"Alicia!" I exclaimed. "Stop it at once! What are you doing?"

"Canfield," she replied mysteriously. "Want to take me on?" She gathered up the cards, which I then discovered to be part of what I may term her personal equipment, being small and easily contained in that part of her vanity case usually occupied by rouge and lip stick, for which, thank heaven, Alicia had neither need nor desire, though perhaps when one stops to consider the matter it is somewhat doubtful if her substitution of a pack of playing cards had a greater moral value.

"I don't want to take you on; I want to take you away!" I said. "Come back to the apartment and pack. We are to proceed to Monte Carlo in the morning.

"Suffering cats!" exclaimed Peaches. "No wonder you don't want to stop for any of this piker stuff." Then she turned to the elevator boy, who still lingered, seemingly in a state of semihypnosis. "Thanks for the paper, captain," she said. "Keep that dollar you owe me for a tip!" And then she slid her arm around my neck and strolled down the corridor with me, while the youth, with a parting grin, at length perceived the buzzing of the indicator, and vanished into his elevator contraption, not having uttered a single word since my advent.

"I had him try to find me a San Francisco paper," Peaches explained as we returned to our royal apartments. "I get so sick of these Frenchy ones that I can't read, and of the London ones that have only news which could never have been fresh to me. I wanted to see a good comic sheet. Gee! How we used to rush for 'em out on the ranch. When Bill Hovey's mule team came into sight over Bear Ridge Dick and I used to commence matching for who'd open the bag. And generally we'd look at the comics together. Don't you love Krazy-Kat?"

I shook my head slowly, more in despair at her simplicity than as the negative she took the gesture for.

"Well, you wouldn't, no, nor Buster Brown, either, I suppose. But we didn't have any volumes of Webster or any such light stuff on the ranch, and had to take what we could get."

"You have a newspaper of some sort, I see," I replied, feeling it useless to explain that I preferred Byron to Webster, and not feeling in the least convinced that Peaches knew of the existence of Daniel as well as of Noah. She pulled out a copy of the Paris Herald from under her arm.

"Not from the coast," she said, "but at least it's printed in American. The boy was a nice kid. He comes from Texas. He showed me a peach of a trick, and I was showing him a new Canfield when you breezed in with something really big. Hello! Here's something about Mr. Markheim!"

She had been scanning the front page of the paper as she talked, and now she fell silent for a moment as she read.

"Who is Mr. Markheim?" I inquired. "Not Sebastian Markheim, the great banker?"

"Yeah!" said Peaches assentingly. "But it's nothing much. He's bought another picture, that's all. And paid the price of a couple of first-class orange-groves for it."

"Why, Alicia Pegg!" I exclaimed. "What an extraordinary young female you are! Sebastian Markheim is one of the greatest collectors of antique paintings in the world. He is an authority on the subject. How do you come to know him?"

"He came to know us!" she averred cheerfully. "Bought a ranch near our home outfit, and came over to get some pointers from pa. We see him a lot whenever he's in California."

"How amazing!" I exclaimed. "Sebastian Markheim, the great millionaire! What manner of man is he, Alicia?"

"Oh, he's a widower of about fifty or so," she said carelessly. "He's in love with me."

"Alicia!" I exclaimed. "Can you never learn to be more reticent about these-these delicate personal matters?"

"He isn't a bit delicate!" she responded mildly. "In fact he's awfully rough. He hounds me, but I can look out for myself."

I felt the subject too dangerous to pursue. As my dear father used to say, most unpleasant subjects thrive on reproof. So I diverted her attention from her immediate theme.

"What picture did he purchase that is worthy of such comment?" I inquired.

"It is called the Madonna of the Lamp by some bird named Raphael, last name not mentioned," replied the young heathen cheerfully. "What's all this about Monte Carlo to-morrow?"

But I had taken the newspaper from her.

"The Madonna of the Lamp!" I exclaimed. "Why, Alicia, child, that is one of the most famous paintings in the world. It was done in Italy, hundreds of years ago, by one of the greatest artists that ever lived. The extraordinary part of such a sale is that any private individual should own it. Its proper place is a museum. I am surprised it ever got out of Italy. They have a strict law which prohibits any important works of art from being taken out of the country, you know."

"I do not know," said Alicia. "But you'd think they'd be glad to get such a price for a thing as old as that, wouldn't you? Now if it was an original by Gibson or Christy--"

But I did not attend to the remainder of her sentence. My eye had fallen upon another item of even greater importance, which had evidently escaped her attention. It was small and inconspicuously placed, but its interest was overwhelming. It ran thus. I copy from the original:

Scarpia Panels Stolen

"Calais, March 15th. The commissioner of police here was informed last night that the four famous panels by Scarpia had been mysteriously removed from the chateau belonging to Baron Richt at Deux Arbres, seventeen miles from this city. The house has been rented to Lord and Lady Ellis Gordon for the past two years. The uttermost mystery surrounds the disappearance of the four panels, which have been one of the show features of the place. How the panels could disappear in the brief interval between the announcement of dinner and the return of the guests to the drawing-room is one of the most baffling features of the case. The fact of the theft was discovered by one of the house guests, the Ducca di Monteventi. Every effort will be made to discover the criminals, for whose capture Lord Gordon has already offered a large reward."

That was all, but as Peaches put it, it was "an eyeful." In other words, it was sufficient. Or almost so, for, of course, our native feminine curiosity was enormously piqued. We stared at each other in amazement for a moment, and then Peaches heaved a long sigh.

"That tall man!" she said cryptically. "Why, it was the place we left him at; the Gordon outfit! It seems like every time we hear of him he's mixed up in a mystery."

"It certainly does," I assented. "And here we are headed for the Riviera, while I don't suppose he will get away, now that he's mixed up with that theft."

"How do you know he's mixed up with it?" demanded Alicia with quite unnecessary violence. "He-he's a corker-couldn't you tell? Mixed up, my eye!"

"I meant as a witness or in some similar capacity," I protested. "If he were not a duke, Alicia, I should be inclined, upon mature consideration, to believe him a detective."

"Secret service?" she said doubtfully. "Sleuth? Why, no. He's a swell, that's all. You mustn't let your girlish imagination run away with you, Free. And anyhow, why worry, as we probably'll never see him again?"

"That is probably too true," I assented. Then I consulted dear father's chronometer, discovered that time was pressing, and proceeded to the packing of my bags and the problem of getting into my trunk some new materials which I had purchased with the intention of having Miss Stimpson, our local seamstress, make them up for me the very minute we returned to Boston. I had also a new coat which Alicia had insisted upon presenting to me, and some garments of a more private nature which I had secretly purchased to gaze upon occasionally, though I would never wear such unladylike garments, for suppose there were to be a train wreck, how would one explain that a pink satin ah-er-interior was not belying a respectable alpaca surface, if you divine my meaning?

Well, at any rate, I found that my small trunk could not possibly be made to hold all these new possessions, and so packed a few substantial petticoats with handmade crochet edging and my second-best dolman into a paper parcel, which I addressed to Euphemia and having thus completed my visit to the French capital I was ready to, as it were, conquer Italy.

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