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   Chapter 7 No.7

It Pays to Smile By Nina Wilcox Putnam Characters: 30468

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


At this point in my narrative I call to mind the fact that my dear father ever laid the greatest stress upon the importance of the effect which the pursuit of reading has upon the human mind and upon the minds of juveniles in particular. He was convinced that if Euclid were read to a point of thorough familiarity at the age of twelve years by every male American the result would be a marked effect upon the political life of the nation, I remember; and he recommended that girls from the age of nine to nineteen be made thoroughly conversant with Saint Paul. In his famous treatise on the subject, entitled The Education of Freedom Talbot, he dwells at length upon the supreme importance of young people having access to books of the best quality without "let or hindrance," and devotes three chapters to the influence upon the later life of the individual of those books which are perused during the preadolescent and adolescent periods.

And unquestionably his deductions in this matter, as in all others, were sound. For in looking back upon my conduct from the time of my leaving Euphemia, my home, and the carefully regulated routine of my existence in Boston I perceive that my course was unquestionably influenced by a volume of which I obtained possession at the age of eleven, though I have greatly feared since-indeed I was, in point of fact, greatly in fear at the time when I perused its fascinating intricacies-that it was not a book which my paternal parent would have selected as suitable for the sprouting of the young idea-especially for a sprout of the feminine gender. The title of this dubious but well-remembered literary production was Daisy Dashforth, the Girl Detective, and was the fruit of the pen of some lesser literary light whom Fame has allowed to sink into oblivion.

But there was in it some quality of keenness, of wit, of relish for adventure, of sharpness of observation, which remained with me, and which I refuse to dismiss as of no importance. Indeed it is quite possible that without the subconscious influence upon my mind of this book, which had remained in abeyance through the years until occasion called it forth-it is quite possible, I say, that without it I should never have had courage to take the initial step which pried me loose from the home of my ancestors and set me forth upon a career at a time of life when most females are drawing such careers as God has appointed for them to a close. Of course I had the incentive of keeping the ancestral roof over Euphemia's head to drive me forth from under it; but that was no doubt re?nforced by the memory of Daisy. Moreover, the book had sharpened my taste for mystery and my instinct for seeing beneath the surface of things, which faculty, in more commonplace surroundings, would in all probability have been turned to the viler uses of village gossip.

So it was from a combined motive of scientific research into a situation which to me at least had begun to savor of mystery and a sense of duty to my employer that I went to visit with Abby. Nobody could suspect me of the desire for gossip. It was simply my plain duty to discover what I could about this handsome young duke before my charge became hopelessly involved in his toils-in other words to find out if they were really toils, or merely addresses. And incidentally I wished to confirm my impression of how Abby dressed her hair, achieving that youthful effect with such success.

So packing up my knitting I put on a pair of Alicia's high-heeled shoes for practice, strapping them on with elastic bands; without, however, mentioning the circumstance to her for fear that she would ridicule my enterprise; and requesting of Richard, the chauffeur, that he convey me to San Remo, we set forth in company. Alicia was nowhere about when I left, but there was no doubt in my mind as to who was with her, wherever she was. Apparently there existed no doubt in the mind of Talbot, either. I was seated beside him so as to be nearer help in case of an accident, and as we bowled along over the perfect road with its enchanting vistas of sea and fascinating walled gardens I could not fail to note the grave look upon his clean, if somewhat rough profile. His long nose was particularly expressive. I was not surprised when he broke the silence with his customary freedom but without his habitual gay carelessness.

"Say, Cousin Mary," he began, using the absurd form of address of which I had been quite unable to break him-"say, Cousin Mary, lookit here. What do you think of this he-duke of Peaches'? Do you think she likes him pretty well?"

"It is a trifle dangerous to surmise what a young woman may think about a young man until a definite announcement is made," I replied.

We rode a little farther in silence and then he broke out again.

"He's a foreigner!" he said with all the distrust that a good American is capable of imparting to the term. "A foreigner! I can't see how he came to be such a bucko! But he is, all right, all right, and she's crazy over him! Damn it, I might have known I couldn't hold her!"

"Talbot!" I exclaimed. "Don't swear! And you must remember that democracy is for the poor. Upon becoming so rich it was but-but American for Peaches to acquire a proper sense of her social superiority and to confirm it by marrying a title. Though in her case I believe we can feel sure that her affections would come first. If she marries this young man it will be simply and solely because she loves him. We can depend on that."

Then I caught sight of his face and wished I had not spoken.

"I guess he's a fine chap," he said slowly. "And he can give her a fancy handle to her name. Judas Priest! What can I give her? I'm-I'm a servant, I am. I've learned a lot since I came over here. Let's go back to California!"

"I know, Richard," I replied soothingly. "California, where there are no servants! I'm really sorry, dear boy, but remember we don't know anything definite yet. And we don't know anything against the duke, either."

"Do you know about his older brother?" asked Richard, the chauffeur, abruptly.

"No! What about him?" I answered quickly.

"He disappeared very mysteriously about ten years ago," said Richard. "Two guys that was on the boat coming over from England was talking to me about it. They are here now. I met them in a saloon and they told me a little something."

"Repeat it all, Richard!" I commanded. "What did they say?"

"Well, it seems this brother was the duke," elucidated my informant. "He was last seen in Africa on a hunting expedition with our duke. And then the both of them disappeared for a while. When the duke come back he had the title. There seems to be some doubt about his having a honest claim to it."

"What nonsense!" I said. "Talbot, you no sooner convince me that you are not a servant than you begin to talk like one. My Cousin Abby receives him, and that is enough! You should not listen to such wild stories!"

By this time we had reached the Villa Bordeaux, and taking my workbag I descended. Richard, the chauffeur, parked the car and settled back in it, presumably to dwell upon the unhappy course of his love while he waited for me; and I entered the villa, much disturbed by what he had just told me, and determined to find out the whole truth at once.

I found Cousin Abby immersed in newspapers, cigarette smoke and a most attractive negligee; and though I could never endure to see a woman lounging round the house in a wrapper I confess she looked charming. At my entrance she glanced up without rising.

"Hello, Free!" she greeted me over the dangling filthy weed that clung to her lip like-like Richard's! "Hello, old thing! Sit down. Smoke? Oh, of course not! I've been reading about this beastly war we are going to have. Won't it be a bore?"

"Do you really think England and Germany will break?" I said. It was what every one said in those days, a sort of formula of greeting like "Good morning" or "How do you do" without meaning it too seriously, don't you know? And then more vital matters would be taken up.

"Oh, I don't really suppose so!" she said. "I'm glad to see you, my dear. Did that charming Mr. Pegg enjoy my little party?"

"I am sure he did!" I replied, stiffening a little. Her tone was altogether too intimate. "So did I, and so did Alicia. It is about her that I have come principally, Abby."

"You mean about the duke?" inquired Abby, with surprising astuteness. "I noticed they were pretty thick."

"I assume you would not have invited the young man unless you knew him to be desirable?" I said earnestly.

"I didn't invite him!" said my sprightly relative. "He called me up in the afternoon and insisted upon coming! I would never have dared to take the responsibility of inviting Sandro to meet any woman-but he simply said that he knew them and knew they were coming, and so was he."

"But my dear!" I exclaimed. "He is simply a chance-a very chance acquaintance with us. You must know him well to call him by his first name. Tell me all about him!"

"I do know him well!" she admitted, lighting a new cigarette as I started a new row on my sock. "Everybody who is anybody knows Sandro. He plays about with the very best people. I've known him for ten years. But I know absolutely nothing about him. He has a good figure and a charming smile and never borrows money, though he gambles heavily at periods. And that's all I can say."

"But my dear!" I protested. "Who are his family? Surely you know that?"

"That's simple enough!" said Abby. "His mother was a Miss Winton, as you know-the daughter of the American consul here at San Remo. His father was the holder of one of our very oldest titles. There was a brother who was killed in Africa in a game accident-an older twin, I believe. Really, my dear, I don't think there is the faintest mystery about Sandy, as we call him. No money-land-poor with an old rat's nest of a castle back in the hills, and not fit, they say, for human habitation; a Harvard education, expensive tastes and an aptitude for recouping at the tables here-a clever amateur of the arts and a dear fellow. And that's all. Why, what more is there to know about any unattached young male?"

"Poverty would be no crime in this case," I observed. "Though I think that if he is so hard up he ought to go to work."

"He's not hard up, except for a duke!" laughed Abby. "At least he always seems to have enough to get by with. There's no talk of debts, he doesn't keep a car, and lives extremely modestly."

"And you have never heard anything peculiar about him?" I persisted.

"Well, I wouldn't go quite as far as to say that!" said Abby, "for it was very vague. About a year ago I heard that the secret service was supposed to be shadowing him. We were staying at the same country house, the Welch-Finleys, and he left utterly without warning, and it gave rise to some talk. People remembered about his brother, and, of course, no one has ever understood quite how he died. They were devoted, however-mad about each other; I know it for a fact. And Sandy often speaks of him most affectionately.

"Still it isn't usual for the secret service to shadow people-the best people, is it?" I protested.

"Oh, quite!" said Abby. "At least in Europe it is. Nowadays everybody is suspected of being a Prussian or an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Italian, according as they proclaim themselves to be the other. You see, everybody is in the secret service of at least one nation, or say they are, and to be overlooked by the police would be rather a slight. So don't worry about the smiling duke, because he is quite all right as far as we know, and that is a long way in this wicked, sophisticated old world. And now do tell me more about dear Mr. Pegg! He has promised to drive me out to Sorrento to-morrow. And tell me all about lemons!"

"I'd rather you'd tell me who makes your stays, my dear!" I replied. "They are so youthful!"

Well, that was all I could learn from Abby-I mean about the duke. Upon the secondary subject she was most generously full of information. And I came away reassured to a certain extent.

On the other hand I did not like Abby's calling Mr. Pegg by his intimate name of Pinto, which she did once or twice during the remainder of our talk. Because I could not bring myself to the belief that Abby would be the proper stepmother for Peaches. Their tastes were too much alike. And though I had very little against Abby except her clothes, I was as yet unconvinced that clothes would make a man happy. And while I worked on the socks I was making for Mr. Pegg as I sat up late that night waiting for Peaches to return from a moonlit walk with the duke, I wondered again and again how a woman of Abby's age could think so much of such things.

When Peaches came in at last and I had helped her out of the dress of light gray satin which she had worn, I could not but think that the girl was daily giving greater justification to her pet name. Her skin was as smooth and soft as the satin from which it emerged, and as gleaming. The garment itself was like a piece of the silver night outside, and her eyes were deep soft pools, her head like a golden star. It hardly seemed right that any woman should be so beautiful. She had taken some softening quality from the Italian skies as if this corner of the globe which was so like and yet so unlike her native heath had rubbed off the crudities left by the sharper climate, and done so the more readily because the country was all so familiar to her-far more so than to Boston-bred me-and she was ripe for impressions, whereas I was merely ready for comparisons. She was unusually silent, though her glowing face was as easily read as a printed page. I helped her into a soft white negligee.

"Sandy!" she said, going to the window and looking down at the dimly twinkling town and the black, moon-cut shape of the sweeping coast line. "I am going to call him Sandy! I can put my head on his shoulder without leaning down, Free!"

"Eh?" I said sharply.

But the wretched child wouldn't tell me another thing. Not that it needed much telling. When they were together, which was practically all the time, one could have cut the atmosphere with a piece of wedding silver it was so thick and soft. When their eyes met suddenly it made my heart jump and I wanted to cry. It was lovely, lovely! And she said so little about it that I knew it must be serious.

One day in the garden at San Remo, where we now spent much of our time, she asked him to pick her a rose which was growing just out of her reach, but not out of his. It delighted her to confirm his superior height, and she did it at every conceivable opportunity. He reached the rose easily and she gave him her little gold penknife, which she had been using to gather a bouquet, to cut the stem with. It was a beautiful knife, with her name on it in diamonds, a most characteristic gift from her father.

"By jove, what a jolly one!" said the duke.

"Keep it, Sandy," said Peaches.

And while he smiled his protest she fastened it to his watch chain by the little ring through the end.

"Oh, don't do that!" I cried

, getting to my feet. "Don't give a knife! I am not in the least addicted to superstitions, but really you must not give him a knife!"

"I'll give her a penny for it, Miss Talbot," said he. "That makes it quite all right, you know."

And laughingly she took the coin and slipped it inside her girdle. I found it there that night, and it had made an ugly red mark which must have been painful. But girls are such absurdly sentimental things that it is quite-quite, well, charming. And as for the little gold knife, we had later good cause to remember that it was in his possession.

What a gay month it was! Such festas, such expeditions into the country, such evenings of excitement, with the beautiful romance between Alicia and the duke weaving in and out through all our adventures like a golden thread in a bright embroidery! The duke was as care free and gorgeous a lover as any princess could have desired.

Only two things marred what would otherwise have been a perfect period, and one was the absurd way in which Abby set her cap for Mr. Pegg. The other was my personal discomfort in becoming accustomed to the strait-jacket furnished by the corsetiere to whom Abby sent me. But the effect unquestionably justified the means, and they did make me look younger. Not that Mr. Pegg seemed to observe the circumstances. He was monopolized in the most outrageous way by that unscrupulous cousin of mine. Not that I cared in the least, but the way men can be taken in by a lot of falderals and clothes and artificial aids to beauty is certainly astonishing; and Abby made no scruple of using them all. Indeed, she was a most worldly woman and was infecting us all with her worldliness. Perhaps the culmination of this tendency occurred at a garden party which she gave, and at which a great many things happened that had far-reaching consequences.

I may say at once that wine was one of the primary causes for the phenomenon which developed during the course of the evening. I recall that my dear father had a very concise philosophy concerning wine and its effect upon the human system, though, of course, the feminine portion of his household never partook of it with the possible exception of a glass of port at Christmas; or a portion of gin upon the occasion of a fainting spell, when it was considered most beneficial in its medicinal effect. But outside of its uses as a restorative for the vapors, we never used it, and I may state in the interests of accuracy that though my father referred to the substance which he imbibed in the masculine seclusion of the dining room after the departure of the ladies as "wine," it was in truth rum, imported direct from Jamaica, in which he indulged, if indeed so lax a term may be properly employed in connection with him. Nevertheless, "wine" was a sort of generic term with him for all alcoholic stimulants, and he believed in its judicious usage and even quoted from the Old Testament in its behalf, referring in particular and most frequently to the incident of Noah's having planted a vineyard immediately upon the opportunity for so doing having arisen.

"Wine," my dear father would often remark, especially when in argument with our worthy pastor-the subject was often debated between them-"wine is the immemorial link which man has made with which to hitch himself to the gods; it is the weak man's courage, the poor man's wealth, the coward's glory and the failure's apology. Through wine man becomes the things he dreams of being-great, strong, powerful. The grape absorbs the sun, and the wine puts sunshine into men's hearts; without it the world would begin to look for vices to take the place of conviviality."

It will thus be seen that we were reared in a proper attitude toward Bacchus-indulging mildly ourselves, but properly condemning any misuse on the part of our neighbors. Of course we knew how to use it, but so, too, did we know how to act toward those weaker ones who could not discriminate between discretion and Saturday night.

This is not a digression. It is rather an explanation of how and why I came to be a participant in the festival which Abby gave in the gardens of her villa at San Remo.

Up to the date of her entertainment I had never touched a drop of any alcoholic stimulant except in poundcake or ignited upon plum pudding, partially because I had not felt that my dear father's dissertations applied to the gentler sex but were intended principally for what Peaches was wont to term an "alibi" for his own.

But in Europe things were so different. Women smoked without loss of reputation, and even mere babes were given claret in their drinking water in the superstition that it prevented fever or bowlegs, I forget which. At any rate the taboo was lifted-I mean the lid, again to quote my charge-and being so near Rome I thought it no harm to do as the, as it were, Romans did.

And hard indeed must the heart have been to refuse any part of the conviviality upon such a night as this was. The moon was marvelous beyond words. All the flowers in the world seemed to have gathered together in that little pleasance between the gleaming whitewashed, vine-burdened walls. Lanterns hung like strings of dull golden moons from tree to tree. Dear Mr. Pegg walking with me beneath them compared them most poetically to oranges.

"Almost as big as Golden Americans!" he exclaimed jokingly.

Below us, down the moon-swept hillside, lay the Mediterranean, reflecting the mystery and romance of Italy almost, as it were, audibly. And audible also, but not too violently so, was the gayly costumed orchestra which sang as it played, and swayed with the rhythm of its own music. There were uniforms and beautiful dresses everywhere, picked out and accentuated by the sombre formal clothes of the civilians. Indoors there was laughter and dancing. The ballroom was a pool of yellow light in which the dancers seemed to swim in a melted sweetness of sound. Every one was gay. I was gay because of that lovely romantic reference of Mr. Pegg's to the lanterns. And then a series of events rose out of which my gayety seemed curiously to increase.

I was sitting outside alone, my escort, Sir Anthony, having gone off to speak to some one, when I saw Peaches and the duke emerge laughingly from the ballroom. I have often seen her beautiful, but never so beautiful as on this occasion. She was clad in an amber satin gown of the exact hue of her marvelous hair, and her only ornament was a huge string of amber beads. She looked like the incarnation of all the gold and sunshine of her native State, and the duke was gazing upon her in a way that sent shivers up and down my back. They came along the path slowly, utterly absorbed in each other. The dance music inside had ceased and the orchestra was singing again-a sweet agony of sound with the ancient words: O dolce Napoli!

The lovers passed into the darkness just beyond me-the darkness pulsating with that utterly unrepressed foreign music. And then somebody opened an upper window, from which came a ray of light. It lifted the heads of the two out of their seclusion as though with a knife. But they were oblivious of it. Never have I hoped-I mean, expected-to witness anything like those two blind faces pressed together. They were mouth to mouth, immovable, like Rodin's statue. There is something very terrible in seeing a thing like that-in seeing something which even the participants close their eyes upon. I staggered to my feet and made a run for the house-as efficient a run as my new high-heeled slippers would permit, and there encountered Sir Anthony on the terrace.

"Miss Talbot!" he exclaimed. "You look quite upset! Allow me to get you a glass of wine!"

"I am upset-but oh, so happy!" I exclaimed.

But I accepted the wine. It was a very mild yellow fluid which tickled the throat pleasingly and, far from administering any shock to the system such as I had anticipated, it seemed to have no effect whatsoever beyond creating a feeling of thirst. I took a second glass, which only increased my need, and as it was so light and harmless I partook of a third.

I then began to realize more fully what a truly delightful evening we were having, and even whispered to my escort that I had good reason for believing that Peaches and her Sandy were engaged. I even called him Sandy, I recall. Sir Anthony at once proposed that we drink their health-quite between ourselves, of course. Which we proceeded to do, and followed it by drinking that of Nedra, a race horse belonging to His Lordship, which was to-er-perform in some race on the morrow.

And after that my memory becomes a trifle dimmed, except for dancing with dear Mr. Pegg. It was a species of quadrille, I recall, except that we seemed to be doing it alone. There was great applause, so it must have been successful, and I remember Cousin Abby exclaiming, "Just see what Europe does for us Boston girls!" but that was only her jealousy because of Mr. Pegg's stealing my slipper.

My entire being was diffused with a marvelous sense of well-being, and I made an engagement to ride muleback with Sir Anthony next morning at ten o'clock-indeed to ride with him at ten precisely every morning for the remainder of our sojourn upon the Riviera. And this was the more remarkable inasmuch as I had never ridden upon any animal whatsoever and have a peculiar aversion to mules. But at the time nothing seemed difficult. It was a wonderful night.

I completely forgot my charge; or when I thought of her at all it was only to recall that she was in safe hands, if not arms, and to pursue my own amusement. Then abruptly and most annoyingly the party was over. I can't think why they wanted to end it. I, for one, was not in the least ready to go home. But once out in the open air I had a dim realization that all was not quite well with me. I became possessed of a sudden desire to be alone, and a distaste for allowing either Peaches or her father to see me until I was in some way different from the way I was at the moment. And actuated by this motive I managed with uncanny cunning to elude my party and find our automobile ahead of the other members of the family. Richard, the chauffeur, was sitting in it alone, and I begged him for assistance.

"Dicky," I said, "I want to go right back to the hotel an' get my handkerfish. You take me, and come back for the resh."

"Lit to the eyelids!" exclaimed Richard.

I haven't the faintest idea of what the boy meant, but he was most helpful, I will say that. He got me into the car, and somehow we reached the hotel. The wind in my face had revived me and I managed by the exercise of great dignity to give a sufficient appearance of self-reliance. Richard, the chauffeur, left me with reluctance, but it was necessary for him to hurry back at once for Mr. Pegg.

I experienced no difficulty in reaching my floor of the hotel, but once there I realized to my annoyance that I had forgotten my key. I somehow disliked the idea of calling upon the office for assistance, and determined to chance the door being unlocked. It was possible at any rate.

The corridor was a long one-altogether too long and with too many doors in it. I remember thinking Mr. Pegg ought to speak to the management about it in the morning. But after some hesitation I selected my own door, opened it without difficulty and entered, to face the two rascals of men whom I had tripped up in the London theater.

"What are you doing in my room?" I demanded.

"Madam, this is not your room," said the one with the mustache. And as he spoke I dimly realized that though it was an hour when most persons are in bed, both were dressed-even to hats and gloves. And they seemed profoundly disturbed at my appearance.

"It is my room!" I insisted, sitting down by the door, which remained open. "It's my room, and I'd like you to explain what you are doing in it."

"Madam," said the other imploringly, "you are mistaken. I assure you this room is ours. I can prove it--"

"I don't want to dispute you," I replied with dignity, "but leave my room at once!"

I don't know how long we sat there arguing but it seemed like months. And then all at once I heard Peaches' voice behind me.

"Good heavens! What are you doing there, Free Talbot?" she said, striding in and seizing me by the shoulder.

"I'm trying to put these brigands out of my room!" I said. "Don't interfere, my dear!"

"But it's not your room!" shrieked Peaches. "Oh, pa, come help me to get my chaperon out of these strange men's room!"

Mr. Pegg was close behind her, and as she spoke I realized that she was quite right. I got up with dignity and left, accompanied by the Peggs, and the next thing I knew somebody was putting ice on my forehead, and it needed it.

I opened my eyes, feeling very ill, and there was Peaches, in street clothes. It was broad noon and she had been crying. I felt as though I-as though all of us-had been going through vast experiences of misery for ages and ages. With a tremendous effort I struggled to a sitting posture in the bed, and addressed my charge.

"Peaches," I said, "I saw you kissing that young man last night! Now, my dear, though I feel very ill this morning-I think I must have eaten something at Abby's last night that disagreed with me-still, I am well enough to protest at your behavior!"

Peaches stared at me for a moment and then burst into unaccountable laughter.

"Free!" she said. "I hope we can get you home a fit woman to take up your foreign missions work. We'll have no back talk from you to-day!"

And then she suddenly burst into tears, throwing herself on the bed and sobbing hysterically. Now thoroughly alarmed I forgot my own wretchedness and comforted her as best I could.

"My dear, my dear!" I said. "Don't take on so! What if you did kiss him? There is no real harm done! You love each other! You can be married soon. You have everything in the world to be happy about!"

Slowly Peaches straightened up to her glorious height and dried her eyes on the cold towel from my head.

"Free," she sniffed, "Sandy has gone! Gone, do you get that? After our promising to marry each other, after his dating up Pa to talk it over this afternoon, after promising to come and take me to lunch and to buy a ring this noon-gone without a word except this."

Dramatically she handed me a note written in a clear firm hand. I read it as well as my throbbing head would allow.

"Dear Alicia: I regret that I shall be unable to keep my engagement. Unforeseen circumstances have arisen which make me realize I have been living in a fool's paradise. Forgive me and God bless you.

"Sandro di Monteventi."

"His things are gone from his hotel," she said bitterly. "He's not coming back!"

"Nonsense!" I said as vigorously as Nature permitted. "Nonsense. No man could have got such a kiss and forgotten it. Once engaged to you, always engaged to you. Peaches-he'll be back this evening."

"If he does it'll be in chains!" said Peaches. "You see, he shot a man at the depot-winged him as the train moved out. It was your friend of the black mustache whom you were visiting with last night!"

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