ST. DENIS and the PLAGUE
E. LLEWELLYN HUGHES
AS USUAL Lord St. Denis stopped by the little curio shop in the Baccanello in the Porta di Castello and sighed as he gazed at the exquisite Cellini displayed with other pieces of the Italian Renaissance in the front of the window.
Giulio, the old goldsmith, had that morning given his window its quarterly cleaning, and had applied not a little elbow grease in the process. The result was illuminating! Not only did the Turkish arabesques and Tuscan poniards scintillate in their perfect designs, the arm leaves and figures, neatly filled in with gold, sparkle and fascinate, but the window, against its dark background, made an incredible mirror to his Lordship’s vanity.
Just now he jingled some coins in his pocket and, as was his custom, began to think of his ancestral home in Sussex; a fine old mansion which he longed to repair and put in order—but could not. How well those Tuscan poniards would look crossed over the library door; and as for that Cellini ewer could anyone, he surmised, place it to better advantage?
An odd smile, very whimsical and yet a little sad, flitted over his face.
“What a state to be in,” he thought. “To want something in the worst way and to see no possibility of ever getting it.”
Now and then, as he still feasted his eyes on the Florentian masterpiece, one or two shadows passed across the window. Even at this early hour of the afternoon the Porta di Castello was almost deserted. There had been whispers of the plague; that dreaded word the mere suggestion of which will make an Italian fly for his life. Two or three cases had been reported yesterday, and for the most part people kept to their houses.
HE WAS about to tear himself away when he became attracted by the clear-cut reflection of a girl, standing facing him, on the opposite side of the street. St. Denis was not impressionable as a rule, but there was something sufficiently arresting about this young girl to cause him to minutely re-examine the ewer while still managing to get a glimpse of her through the window.
She was about twenty; and Lord St. Denis, mildly interested, did not know if it was clothes, her hat, or her face which seemed to suggest she was an American. She was very pretty, but he found her attitude more entertaining. She hesitated, intending to cross the street towards him, turned her back, then suddenly looked over her shoulder and smiled.
There could be no mistaking that smile. St. Denis was a good-looking fellow, and many a woman lowered her eyes, or opened them, or turned them this way and that, as he passed by. But, as a rule, he paid little attention and it had always been beneath his well-bred dignity to attempt an advantage. With some he never could. This girl was just such another, he thought. Merely because she believed he spoke English she felt she had a right to claim him as a comrade in travel; a common idea of Bohemianism! Lord St. Denis frowned and walked away! Two seconds later a voice hailed him over his shoulder. “I’m sure you must”—she accented this word—“be English!” Her lips were moist and fresh; like roses early in the morning.
St. Denis promptly removed his silk hat, the gloss of which was doing its best to rival the silver sparkling on his walking cane. “I have that honor,” he confessed, staring hard at her.
She smiled good-naturedly and glanced up at his hair. It was fine and silky and smartly brushed back from his temples.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said meditatively, “but I can’t speak a word of Italian.” A blush came to her cheeks. “I’ve lost my way,” she explained.
This was just as he expected! In Rome it is so eâsy to lose one’s way if there is any advantage to be gained. But then, he thought—what advantage here?
“This is the Porta di Castello. What hotel are you at?” “The Majestic.”
The Majestic was the largest hotel in Rome and the Arcadia of the tourist. All these people were alike, he thought; all stayed if they could at the Majestic. Once there they sauntered about, losing their way and getting into everybody’s elbow and generally making themselves conspicuous. He had not known of one who, staying at the Majestic, did not think he was the first Englishman or American to grace the capitol of Italy with his distinguished presence, and, further, to take every opportunity to make the fact known broadcast.
He said plainly and suddenly: “What are you doing in Rome if you can’t speak Italian?”
She flushed slightly.
“Can you?” she returned, intending the question as a mark of appreciation.
“You go round this corner,” he said, ignoring her, “take the first—no, second street to the left, and then continue up that street until you come to the Medici Gate.” He paused and looked at her vaguely. “Do you know the Medici?”
Although he turned his head in the desire to hide it from her Lord St. Denis was plainly annoyed.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said.
“Never mind. It’s that—that what-do-you-call-it, at the end of the main thoroughfare. Then you turn directly to the left again, and—follow your nose! The Majestic is on the left side.”
THE moment she was gone he noticed she had left her small handbag lying on the sidewalk. Under his breath he swore an Italian oath. “Confound it! That’s too much of a good thing! Well, let it stay there. I refuse to chase haphazard tourists.”
But as he looked he noticed a card which, the fall having caused the bag to open, lay half in and half out. Stooping he picked it up and read the name: Estelle Harwood, Montreal.
A sharp stab of memory took hold of him! It took him back, even more vividly than his occasional thoughts, to a girl he had known in England; the only girl he had ever cared for and wished to marry. But Lady Estelle Hope had not taken kindly to his impoverished estate and had found fortune elsewhere. The shock had embittered him, and he had used what influence he still had use of to enable him to play secretary to the British ambassador in Rome. That was years ago now-, but the name Estelle brought it back as if it were only yesterday. Slightly embarrassed he picked up the bag, and, replacing the card, hurried after the owner.
At the corner he looked down the Porta di Castello and found he was just too late. She was not in sight. Quickly walking along he took a mere glance down the first street to the left, surmising that she would surely have remembered his correction. But no; there she was sedately tripping along going completely in the wrong direction; since the first street went south-east and the second south-west.
“Look here,” he said unceremoniously, as he caught up to her. “Where are you going to now?”
She stopped and faced him, her eyelashes seeming to separate themselves as her eyes opened wide.
“Isn’t this right?”
“I told you the second to the left.” He seemed to be thoroughly serious in discovering her reason. “Now, tell me, why did you take the first?”
She smiled, and Lord St. Denis felt she did so for one purpose only: to reveal her white teeth!
“I must be very stupid,” she said. “Really I’m so sorry to give you all this trouble.”
“You evidently must be very well off. Otherwise you must surely have missed such a piece of valuable rubbish. I believe in honesty or else I might have kept it.”
“I’m always losing things. Mother says I’m the most careless person in the world. Thank you, once again.” She offered him her hand.
T N taking it Lord St. Denis once more gave critical eye to this, pretty girl whom he still felt sure was more or less alone in Rome and ready to flirt with anyone presentable. Her dress was of some thin material, and through it he could see the shoulder straps of some under-garment and the soft pink of her shoulders.
“I know your name, Miss Harwood.” She started, but he explained quickly. “Your card fell out of your bag. I could not help seeing the name. I will tell you mine and then we will be quits. It’s Denis.”
She regarded him carefully and wondered what he was and if he happened, like her, to be visiting Rome. Despite his unpleasant manner, she could not help liking him. He was tall and good looking and had the unmistakable air of a gentleman. She liked, too, his indifference, and some thoroughbred expression about his nostrils. She had seen but never met such men during her stay in England, and she had noticed they belonged to the smartest set and invariably were lords and dukes.
“It's the first to the left this time, isn’t it?” she asked timidly enough.
“Then I come to the Gate or something, don’t I? It's so absurd not being able to speak Italian.”
Lord St. Denis once again felt that her seeming bewilderment was exercised for his benefit, but suddenly something prompted him to say;
“AU right! I’ll come with you.”
He crossed to her right side and commenced walking as though wishing to get over a bad job as quickly as possible.
“Would you mind walking a little slower,” she asked, giving a little tug to his arm. “I’m wearing a tight skirt which I bought in Paris, otherwise I would be perfectly thrilled to run with you.”
He slackened his pace, but said nothing.
“I hope I’m not putting you out,” she faltered, her knees fighting with her skirt.
“You seem annoyed.”
They turned the corner.
“And I don’t see how anyone could be annoyed on such a beautiful day and in such a heavenly place as this.”
“I don’t see anything heavenly about it,” he retaliated. “It’s rather a dull hole. I’ve lived here five years.”
“I can tell you I wish I was a tourist like you. I'm far from being in love with Rome.”
She seemed amazed.
“And I was just thinking I could live here indefinitely.” She paused; and as he remained silent, “Then why stay?” she asked.
"Because, Miss Harwood, I am unable to afford to live where I want. Because I am a beggared prince. I sit in an office all day doing nothing. That is, for the most part,” he added defendingly.
COMEHOW the careless manner of explanation told her ^ more than if he had tried to claim sympathy in the longer and more familiar method.
They turned another corner, and he had pointed out the Medici Gate and one or two important sights before she could venture to return to the subject.
“It must be rather unhappy not to be able to live where one wants,” she remarked.
“That I am sorry for you!”
Her answer amused him, and was not at all the sort of thing he had expected. Although he prided himself upon a general knowledge of women he now began to feel somewhat at a loss how to place her. She was charming and her appearance left nothing to be desired. But he was still dubious of the beginning—particularly the dropped handbag.
“Tell me,” he asked suddenly, “how does it feel to be rich? I’ve often wanted to ask someone.”
“You are rich, I suppose?”
“Quite.” She marvelled at his impulsive mode of inquiry. But his next remark almost startled her.
“Sometimes I’ve thought of crossing the Atlantic and frying to bag an heiress. Do you think I would have any chance?”
She looked up at him fully expecting to see he was joking or making fun of her. But his face was quite grave and she felt he meant all he said.
“Were you serious?”
He signified that he was very serious.
“Then what are your qualifications?” she asked, sufficiently entertained to play up to him.
“Qualifications?Oh, well, I’m more or less of a bridge player, look well in a dinner suit, and—I think that’s all. Wait! Oh, yes; I’m rather a good shot with the rifle.
And I can ride. That do?”
Playfully she eyed him with disfavor, pouting her mouth doubtingly. “It’s a little ambiguous,” she replied.
“Yes, that’s the worst of it,” he answered without the trace of a smile Then he added, lamely; “I’ve got a title, of course. But it isn’t worth a damn!”
Miss Harwood displayed signs of a new interest.
“A peerage—if you know what I mean.
I really didn’t wish to bore you with this.
It’s nothing to boast of.” He sniffed. “I only wanted you to give me the odds, so I threw whatever I could lay claim to in the scales.”
“The chances; the betting! My finding an heiress!”
She laughed sincerely, and one or two people turned to look at them.
HIS Lordship also had doubts, for he turned to her and asked :
“May I ask what you find so amusing?”
“I’m an American,” she said, still laughing.
His eyes softened. “That explains it,” he exclaimed dryly. “I have always been told that Americans laugh’in the wrong places. I thought you were a Canadian.” “Montreal is in Canada,” she equivocated, lightly.
“So I believe.”
“I live in Montreal with my mother.”
“I see.” There was a twdnkle in his eye. “May I suggest that for an American you neglect to speak through your nose?”
Miss Harwood suddenly flushed. “There are several of us who don’t,” she replied, cynically.
“Really?” he said, as if hearing it for the first time.
“Does that surprise you?”
“No. I think I could easily swallow that.”
She wished to snub him but was not quite sure howto go about it.
“You ccnvey the idea that nothing would surprise you,” she said, speaking in her best style and trying at the same time to make it'sound salutary. “All Englishmen have it. A sort of superior contempt”—she paused on that word, buthe gave no sign—“for showing surprise or enthusiasm. Our boys are great enthusiasts! Never stolid!”
“Glad. I’m never surprised at anything. Why should I be? One is never surprised at being able to breathe and talk and jump and pull funny faces. W’e take the most complicated things for granted, and display our astonishment and enthusiasm for simple, understandable things lik volcanoes, or a house on fire.”
Before he had finished talking Miss Harwood had already made up her mind.
“Then,” she exclaimed, almost interrupting him, “it w-ould not surprise you if I told you I was an heiress?”
“Not in the least,” he answered mildly. “In fact there's every reason why you should be. We all have our misfortunes I suppose. Are you?”
Miss Harwood was silent.
“Tell me all about it,” he asked; and she felt he modulated his voice purposely as though mocking sympathy and asking her to confide her troubles in him. “Right from the start! But, excuse me, perhaps I shouldn’t ask?”
She tried to point out that his cynicism was purposeless, and, as far as she was concerned, wasted. Lord St. Denis,
looking at her, was surprised to find hersmiles had vanished. He felt suddenly he rather liked the effect. But he did not know why.
He stopped and nodded his head. “Here is your street,” he said quietly. “The Majestic is on this side. If you don’t cross over to the other side and keep right on you may see it.” He lifted his hat. “I’m glad to have been of slight service.”
Miss Harwood was sure he would ask if he could call, but seeing he was about to leave her she suggested it for
“Perhaps, since you have thoughts of marrying an heiress, you might like to call on us.” She could not help adding mischievously: “Mother is an heiress also."
He actually smiled, and she was forced to admit to herself that he was rather good-looking. But his reply was too off-handed to permit of excuse.
“Thank you,” he said, smiling; “but I don’t think 1 shall. You know too much about me now, and I wouldn't have a look in. Good afternoon.”
He turned and went round the corner, and Miss Harwood felt like stamping her foot in sheer annoyance. She asked herself why, and being a truthful young lady, concluded it was because she had not had the last word. And in that frame of mind she stamped her foot twice!
Hurrying on she began to wonder how the story would sound to her mother. She had lost her way, and had approached a man in a silk hat—yes, a silk hat, in the bystreets of Rome—who turned out to be blasé (she remembered he had only smiled at her onces disagreeable, vain, and an English lord—all in one. Still, she thought, he might have kept her handbag. He said he had little money, although he looked well dressed. Miss Harwood commenced to ponder out the whys and wherefores. Of course he might be nothing but an actor, or someone taking advantage of her position. The question rose in her mind as to whether or not she could “decide” a gentleman from one who was merely pretending to be a gentleman. If, as he said, he had lived in Rome for five years he must be known to the management of the Majestic Hotel.
“Yes,” said Miss Harwood; “I will ask at the office. Lord Denis! It’s too pretty a name to be a real one. They’ll say there is no such person. Besides what would an English lord be doing here—for five years?”
MRS CLARENCE HARWOOD and daughter were visiting Italy for the first time. Already they had decided it would not be the last. Venice had charmed them. They had stayed there one week longer than they intended. They were cheated right and left of course, but the widow of Clarence Harwood was in receipt of not a few millions and both she and Estelle paid cheerfully for their new education.
From Venice they had wired for rooms at the Majestic. Wherever they went mother and daughter refused to be separated. They always managed to get two rooms, at least, with a door of communication. The telegram had been doubly explicit, and everything was in order when they arrived. The manager, Signor Pompeo, who rubbed his fat palms together and assumed a most benevolent air of hospitality, himself escorted them to their suite.
“Number twenty one,” he had beamed in accented English. “By Saint Peter, I swear it is the best in the house!” And he kept rubbing his hands and bowing and scraping at every turn. Which, was all very nice.
That had been in the morning. Estelle had been glad to get her mother to her room. The train journey had fatigued her, and although the passengers in their carriage had been companionable Mrs. Harwood had not felt able to enter into friendly conversation. She complained of a headache and wrapping her travelling rug about her knees had tried to sleep. Estelle, wishing to thoroughly appreciate the romanticism of things Italian, had chosen Browning as her tutor and willingly lost herself in his patronage. When they arrived at Rome it was found they were the only guests for the Majestic, and so, as often is the case when travelling abroad, acquaintances were dropped to make way for other .
AS SHE entered the hotel now Estelle * pause,i an(| looked for the clerk who spoke her language. Several of the staff seemed to eye her questioningly as she stood there, and one, his olive face surmounted by thick, greasy, black hair, approached her.
"I want to speak to the Englis clerk.
Soon the clerk to whom she had applied for rooms earlier in the day made his appearance. He inclined his tiead, signifying he was ready to hear her complaint.
“Are you really English?” she began.
“No; it is Italian I am. But I have master your language very well. Everyone he speak the English in this Hotel. But not so much as I am. What do you want?” “Oh!” said Miss Harwood. “Well I only wanted to know if there is a Lord Dennis in Rome. An English lord— Lord Dennis?”
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“Yes. I—I met him in London.” “One moment please.”
He turned away, and Estelle was surprised to notice how quickly he was surrounded by nearly all the attendants. There seemed to be much argument and questioning.
“He is not here,” said the clerk, returning to her. “We know all the English in Rome. There is no Lord Dennis.”
“Thank you,” commented Estelle.
As she went up the broad, handsome stairway she could not help feeling annoyed she had been taken in so easily. “Of course,” she thought, “now I think things over it seems absurd. But,” she added to herself, “I was lucky at that. I got back my handbag.”
Then she began to find a side of her taking up his defence. After all it was she. who had presumed. She had lost her way and asked him to re-direct her. That, he did; and there was no reason to think he had lied to her. “Didn’t he refuse to come and see mother and let her thank him?” she thought, glad that that argument seemed justifiable.
“But how could he show himself in the Hotel,” she said, criticizing her former reasoning. “How dare he say he was Lord Dennis—here?”
At this juncture she reached the suite of rooms taken in her mother’s name, and taking her key from her bag she opened the door. She was horrified at what she
THE room was bare! The chairs were gone, the tables, even the bed, her trunks and suitcases—everything. In fact the wall-paper was torn from the walls!
For one moment Estelle refused to believe her eyes, and she swung back the door to verify the number. But it tyas marked plainly, twenty-one. Then she hurried to the communicating door and opened it to the room where not more than three hours ago she had left her mother in bed, having given her some aspirin and watched her fall asleep before venturing out to see the city. It was just as bare and bleak as her own! The wall-paper pulled off the walls, and not an article of any description was to be seen anywhere.
Standing there in the doorway, to each side of her a deserted room, Estelle was suddenly taken by a sense of fear. The stillness oppressed her and she seemed alone in a strange land. For a second she hesitated. And then she fled out and ran as fast as she could down to the office.
Two or three clerks saw her coming, and came to the desk-counter to meet her, their faces betraying anxiety.
“My room; my mother,” began Estelle, trying hard to keep calm. “What has happened to our rooms, please?”
Signor Pompeo made his way forward, bowing and scraping as usual.
“Signorina,” he said, “what have you to complain of?”
Estelle, her heart still trembling in suspicion and fear, tried to explain.
“Amazing!” He rolled his eyes. “But say to me, if you please, your room number.”
“Twenty-one. On the first floor.” “Twenty-one.” He seemed puzzled and ill at ease. “Ho, there!” he cried, turning about and calling to one of the clerks.
“Quiek, you renegade! this young lady’s room. At once, the number of it!” “Forty-one. On the second floor.” Signor Pompeo again turned to Estelle, a comforting grin playing about his features. “By the Saints! but you gave me a fright,” he said disarmingly. “You make a mistake in the room number, my good young lady.”
Estelle put her hand to her forehead. She felt certain that she and her mother had taken room twenty-one, and that they had only climbed one flight of stairs to get to it. The difference between one and two flights had been an agreeable observation of her mother. Yet, she thought, both had been tired out. They had had little or no sleep in the night train from Venice. Perhaps after all she had been mistaken. The manager pressed a bell.
“You will permit me to arrange. The maid, she will show you to your room,” he said. “She speak English also.”
ESCORTED by the pretty Italian, arrayed in white cap and apron, Estelle dreamily followed her up the stairs and along the corridor of the second floor until she came to the set of rooms marked “forty-one”. The girl, without first knocking upon it as Estelle expected, was about to unlock the door by means of a key attached to other keys around her waist. And on a sudden impulse Estelle interposed.
“One moment,” she insisted, stepping in front of her. “I have my own key.” She entered. Her trunks, suitcases, the travelling rug with its pattern of blue and gold, were certainly placed exactly as she had left them. But the room was unfamiliar, and she could see no trace of her mother’s belongings. She moved towards the dressing-table, and suddenly noticed she was in a single room!
She turned to the maid. “Where is the door leading to my mother’s room?” The girl merely shrugged her shoulders. “There was a door—there,” continued Estelle. “We especially asked in the telegram. And I distinctly remember it because I put mother to bed before I went out.” She stopped and regarded the maid. “We had a suite of rooms,” she said. “Two rooms.”
The pretty maid allowed a smile to escape her.
“I do not understand.”
“Don’t you understand what I am saying?” cried Estelle, becoming exasperated.
“Yes, Signorina. But I do not understand what you ipean. You—” she stopped short and surveyed Miss Harwood solemnly—“you came alone! There are your things. There is nobody else!” Estelle was horror-stricken. She gasped in surprise and wanted to rush to the mirror to make sure she was herself and not someone else.
“But my mother?” she pleaded, beginning to feel thoroughly alarmed. “Where is my mother?”
“Signorina,” interposed the maid, “there can be no mother. Look! Here are your clothes. You came alone. There is nobody else.” She smiled sympathetically at her and adopted a patronizing air of compassion.
This made Estelle’s fear turn to anger. She took a step nearer.
“You mean to tell me that I am telling what is not true?” she began, hardly knowing what she was saying. “I tell you I entered this Hotel with my mother this morning. Where is she? And where are the rooms we engaged?”
Again the girl moved her shoulders. “Signorina is tired, maybe?”
Estelle was on the verge of tears, but she made up her mind that neither this girl nor anyone else should see it.
“Tired?” she said, impressing the maid by her American determination. “We shall see. Come; first we’ll go down to the
SIGNOR POMPEO protested! The maid was perfectly right, he said. She, saying her name was Miss Harwood, had certainly arrived that morning from Venice. She had been given the room, forty-one. She came alone. And now, at this late hour of the day, she actually demanded of him, good, honest Pompeo, a mother. What was it all about? What mother?
“Has anyone,” he repeated in Italian, “seen the mother of this charming young lady? Did she or did she not come alone?” “But,” said Estelle, feeling utterly subdued, “you cannot deny my statements. Of what purpose my saying I came here with my mother if such was not the case?” “I am sorry,” remarked the manager.
“If there is anything I can do. . . ” But he signified his doubt by waving his arms in the air.
“Do?” cried Estelle. “You can tell me what has become of my mother.” Signor Pompeo assumed the same patronizing demeanor as the maid. “You have no mother here, Miss Harwood. What is it? A little lapse of the memory?” “Mother and I came to this desk this morning and. ...” She was now in tears. “Did you sign the register?”
“Yes.” A flash of hope manifested itself in her eyes. “My mother signed it.” The manager pushed the book over to her.
“Then, if you please, find for me. I am—as you call—at sea.”
There was no trace of her mother’s handwriting, and, although she examined it carefully, no sign of obliteration. Estelle gave way to tears, and the maid led her to a seat in the centre of the vestibule where she could be seen by everybody and where everybody watched her in amusement. A tall, distinguished man, in a moment of curiosity, crossed and stood in front of her.
“Is there anything the matter?” he inquired, stroking his long beard.
Estelle looked at him. “Are you English?” she asked.
“I am French. But I speak English, of course.”
She jumped to her feet. “Oh, I’m so glad!” She came towards him. “A most terrible thing has happened,” she said.
The Frenchman stepped back and placed himself gingerly out of harm’s way. He said again, watching her attentively: “What is the matter?”
“Oh! please may I tell you?” she implored.
SHE began again, this time commencing with Venice. She told him about her journey in the train, and about the passengers, who could easily verify her statements if only she knew where they were staying. _ She was now, she said, getting very anxious about her mother, whom she had not seen since that morning.
Excusing himself the Frenchman crossed over to speak to the manager. Estelle could see the Italian waving his arms, and speaking emphatically in his native tongue. At one time it seemed as if they would come to blows.
“It seems to me,” said the Frenchman, after he had returned to her; “that your best plan will be to see the American consul. You are an American, I presume?” “But I am travelling with a British passport,” she explained. “I live in Canada.” He bowed. “The British consul then. His name is Lancaster.”
She caught at his sleeve. “Can’t you help me?” she begged.
“Well—” he began, coughing slightly to hide his embarrassment, and glancing suspiciously at the faces turned in their direction.
“You mean you can’t take my word,” said Estelle. “You mean that for all you know to the contrary I might be. . .” He interrupted her. “I have no desire to disbelieve you. But, of course, the manager and all his staff say one thing and you another. Your best plan is as I have proposed; to take a cab and put your case to the British consul. Allow me to direct you.”
At the entfance he whistled a cab and gave an address to the driver. Then, as a final act of courtesy, he removed his hat, and leaning towards her, said :
“Ask for Sir Arthur Lancaster.”
DISMISSING the cab Estelle ran up the white steps and through the open door into the large hall. Once there she looked about her, wondering what to do next. It was more like a residence than a consulate, she thought, and she began to fear she had been brought to the wrong place. Suddenly a door opened and a young man came towards her.
“Good afternoon,” he said.
The total absence of any accent other than English overwhelmed her with joy. She did her best to smile and appear calm.
“Can I see Sir Arthur Lancaster, please? It is very important.”
“I think so,” returned the young man, politely crediting her beauty. “Have you your papers with you?”
“Oh! it isn’t that,” she said hurriedly. “I must see him at once about something
“May I ask—”
“I’ve lost my mother! This morning. Here in Rome.”
He whistled. “By jove! That’s startling. Would you mind taking a seat for a moment? I will see if Sir Arthur can see
“But hurry, please,” begged Estelle.
In a few seconds the young man returned and Estelle rose to her feet.
“Sir Arthur is not in the building,” he said. “But Lord St. Denis, his secretary, will see you at once. Kindly step this
Át the mention of this name something floated through Estelle’s mind, but in her condition of anxiety and nervousness it conveyed nothing to her.
The door opened and closed behind her. Seated at a desk, the same expression of aristocratic calm on his face, was the man she had met that morning In the Porta di Castello.
His eyes gleamed in recognition.
“What can I have the pleasure of doing for you this time?” he said languidly, rising slowly to his feet. “Have you lost your way again?”
Estelle opened her mouth. “Then you are a lord!” she said, a touch of amazement creeping into her tone.
“1 warned you about it,” he retorted pleasantly. “I’m sorry—but there it is! Won’t you sit down?”
She sank into an upholstered armchair, and a strange sense of comfort coming to her from she knew not where, it caused a sudden relaxation which, in its turn, once more brought tears to her eyes. She covered her face with her hands.
“Why! What’s all this?” he said, springing towards her, his casual attitude changing to one of consideration and feeling.
Through her fingers she tried to explain. “I did not believe you this afternoon and now—now I suppose you won’t believe me,” she sobbed. “Like all the others. But it’s true; it’s true!”
“Please,” he said, bending down and putting "his head close to hers. “Tell me what is wrong. What’s true? I want you to believe I will do -anything to help you.”
With the tiniest of lace handkerchiefs she dried her eyes and allowed the movement in her soft throat to subside. She turned to look at him. His face was close, and his eyes clear and steady. And in that moment Estelle felt she could trust this man always; while he, suddenly flushing, became aware that he could see his reflection in the almost violet pupils of her eyes, and read his destiny there.
THEY took a cab and in ten minutes were back at the Hotel.
“Don’t say anything to the office,” he suggested, skillfully guiding her by the arm. “Let us first go up to twenty-one. You said your key opened the door.” Whether they were observed or not did not disturb Lord St. Denis. He set his jaw, and piloted Miss Harwood up the stairway. Never for an instant had he questioned her story. And as she recited her wrongs he became convinced that something unusual had occurred.
"You see,” said Estelle, looking about the room; “everything gone. And I’m positive that these were the rooms we entered this morning.”
Lord St. Denis was not listening. He was examining the torn wall-paper with the scrutiny of a detective. There was one small piece still clinging to the wall, having resisted all efforts to remove it. And this seemed to concern him more than anything.
“Urn!” he said.
Estelle followed him into the other room, her heart beating violently as, watching his manoeuvers, a persistent thought of foul play began to govern her feelings. She saw her companion go on his knees and examine the floor. Rising again he chuckled as he brushed the dust from his hands and clothes.
“Well?” she inquired.
“We shall see. Follow me. We are going to say a few words to Signor Pom-
To the clerk he spoke in Italian. . “Let me see Signor Pompeo at once; without delay. Here is my card. Present it quickly.”
Estelle put her hand in his arm.
“Please,” she begged, “tell me what do you think? Is my mother safe?”
“I think,” he replied, again allowing himself the pleasure of seeing his reflection, “that ycu will see her in less than half an hour. That is if she has not got—” He breke off suddenly. “I mean,” he
corrected, “if you are permitted to see her. Ah! here is the man I want to see.”
Signor Pompeo rested his prodigious waistcoat against the desk counter, and bowing to Lord St. Denis commenced rubbing his hands, a little slower than
His Lordship turned to Estelle. “You will excuse my speaking in Italian,” he said. “I want this fellow to appreciate all I say.”
She nodded her head.
For a moment, in order to acquaint the manager of his mettle, Lord St. Denis stared at him without speaking. Then he said :
“This young lady has come to me with a serious complaint, and in the absence of the English ambassador, I am undertaking her cause. You will kindly give me your attention, and I demand that you tell the
Signor Pompeo moistened his lips. “Yes, sir,” he said.
“All right! Let me see your guest book to begin with.”
Lord St. Denis examined it carefully and so minutely that his nose almost touched the ink contained in the last signature. Signor Pompeo watched him until he pushed the hook away.
“Now,” said Lord St. Denis, facing him, “what’s your story?” The manager shrugged his heavy shoulders.
“Never mind expressing your feelings like that. I want to hear your exptana-
At once Signor Pompeo flew into a rage. “What’s all this disturbance about?” he demanded. “Am I a thief or the child of the devil, that I should be treated in this manner? I swear, by the Saints, that I know nothing about it. Ask any of my staff. They will tell you the same story. We know nothing of this young lady but that she came here this morning alone. What mother does she speak of? The curse of a father of five upon such mothers. I believe only my eyes.”
Lord St. Denis laid his hand on the guest book.
“How about this?”
“The young lady has not yet signed,” explained the manager, frowning.
“This is Thursday. I see by this registry you have had no guests since Monday morning,” urged his Lordship, grinning like a schoolboy.
The manager became trebly irate!
“Dario, the rascal, spilt some ink. We tore out the pages!” he screamed, brandishing a pudgy fist in the direction of the far end of the office.
A SLIGHT pressure on his arm brought out Lord St. Denis’s fighting qualities. “Signor Pompeo,” he said calmly, “you are right about the tearing of the pages. But about the spilt ink you are drawing on your imagination—and a liar in the bargain!”
“By Saint Peter!”
“You demolished this lady’s suite, removed the furniture, the carpets, and tore down the wall-paper about three hours ago. People in this country tear the wall-paper off the walls for one reason only. The plague!”
The manager took a step back, the whites of his eyes coming into prominence, and his complexion sallowing. He shot a venomous look at Lord St. Denis and clasped his hands; but dared not utter one word.
“Mrs. Harwood was ill,” continued his Lordship deliberately. “While her daughter was out she became worse. A doctor was summoned and he pronounced a verdict. Without delay she was packed off to the hospital, and you, or your assistants, tore everything from the room to be either fumigated or destroyed. Am I right?” No confirmation by word of mouth was necessary. The manager trembled in every limb, and was showing every sign of collapse.
“The police may now inquire further into your participation in this affairAll I require is your telephone and telephone book.” He swung over and helped himself.
Signor Pompeo came forward heavily. “Not. . . not the police, Signor excellency,” he panted. “Ah! it would ruin my business. What could I do? See all these guests I have in the Hotel. They would leave at once if they heard it was the plague. I would be ruined—beggared. But, not the police.” He regarded Miss Harwood with hateful eyes. “You!” he shouted wildly, gesticulating and pointing in her direction. “You come here with your mother. She gets ill in my house. The plague! Ah! what a business. I am ruined, and all because of you. Ah! what is to be done? what is to be done?” He danced around, his hands up to his aching head.
All this had been said in a tongue Estelle was at a loss to understand. She knew that something terrible was at stake, but she steeled herself to remain patient and not question Lord St. Denis until he saw fit to tell her. She heard him telephone and mention, in a sententious phrase, something which had the effect of making Signor Pompeo throw himself into a chair and give way to short staccato sobs. His Lordship paid no attention, and after using the telephone a second time he banged down the receiver and hurried her out of the Hotel.
In the cab he took her hand and held it. “I’m afraid I have serious news to tell you,” was the way he commenced, very quietly.
Miss Harwood’s face was white.
“I think you told me your mother was far from well, even on the train from Venice?”
Lord St. Denis considered and chose his words before speaking.
“She was taken worse while you were out this morning,” he said. Then finding she intended to remain silent he went on: “A doctor was called immediately. We are now on our way to the hospital to inquire further into the nature of herillness. I will find out all particulars for you when we get there. I am sure you will be brave. Given good general health your mother will pull through.” He looked at her and smiled kindly. “There is no cause to
She turned to him, questioning only with her eyes. She seemed so bewildered and nervous that, to comfort her, he was seized by a strange idea to take her in his arms. He felt bitter at the thought that anything should cause her pain. And he was suddenly conscious of the fact that the mute expression of anxiety dimming the light of her beautiful eyes tended to disturb him far more than all his personal worries put together.
“Don’t you think you should tell me?” she asked suddenly.
“It’s an infectious disease,” he said, purposely looking out through the window. “That was why they—they tore the wall-paper from the walls.” He clenched his fist. “That damned, heartless wretch only thought of preserving his trade. He was content to puzzle you and let you find your mother as best you could as long as it would not injure his custom. They are all the same here in Italy. Money, money, money! The more they have the readier they seem to sell their souls to the devil to add to it.” He paused. “I hate the insufferable greed which invariably goes with people who have money: it becomes their God. Sometimes I think I am lucky to be without any. You’ll pardon me, but that’s the way I feel about it.”
She lowered her head, dismissing his contradiction from her mind—wishing to think only of her mother. She was vaguely conscious, however, that he still held her hand.
AT THE entrance to the hospital he persuaded her to remain seated in the cab until he had made inquiries. Estelle, longing only to throw herself into her mother’s arms no matter what the sickness, wished to enter with him. But she agreed when he told her he would return to her in five minutes.
“A lady was admitted here about two o’clock,” he said to the doctor who received him in the waiting-room. “Her name was Mrs. Harwood.”
The doctor looked at the visitor’s card. “The plague?” he asked.
Lord St. Denis held his breath. “I understand so,” he confirmed reluctantly. “She came from the Majestic Hotel. Her daughter is outside waiting.”
The doctor having concluded his examination to a point of satisfaction pressed a bell, and a nurse entered from the left. Casually, as though he were asking the time, he said: “Can this gentleman see Mrs. Harwood?”
Lord St. Denis felt a shudder run through him. Living in Italy sooner or later the fear of plague creeps into one’s marrow. He was no exception.
“Yes,” said the nurse. “She is, I believe, still awake. We have sent to the Hotel for her daughter.”
“Where is she?”
“We have put her in the private room.” She turned to Lord St. Denis. “There is no danger of infection,” she said assuringly.
Lord St. Denis gasped; and his face suddenly relaxed.
“There is no danger,” confirmed the doctor smoothly. “Mrs. Harwood has no traces of the plague. Probably our Italian spaghetti does not agree with her. That is all the matter.” He lit a cigarette and did it so tamely that the turmoil and excitement rampant in his Lordship’s breast pained by contrast. He turned and aimed for the door.
“You do not wish to see her?”
“I will bring Miss Harwood,” said Lord St. Denis joyfully, his coat tails flying round the corner.
“DUT you had no objection to letting -Dme hold your hand in the cab,” he said one afternoon, two weeks later, when they were seated out in the country under a perfect Italian sky.
“That was different,” she answered guiltily. Then she blushed and said suddenly: “Don’t you think we should look for mother? Heaven only knows where she’s strayed to.”
Lord St. Denis glanced around and caught sight of a parasol in the near distance; a parasol purposely exhibited, yet purposely hiding a motherly head and a pair of dear grey eyes which had lately told him he would not be regarded as an unworthy addition to a little family of two.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think we should.” Then he thought and said :
“About that cab. . .
“I felt, even that day, I was ready to go to the far ends of the earth for you. You took it all so bravely.”
Her lashes touched her cheeks, and she laughed a little.
“After all it was only a tempest in a tea-cup,” she returned.
“I didn’t think so at the time. I was told that your mother had the plague. Didn’t you know that hospital was the plague hospital?”
Estelle lifted her head.
She shivered. “How dreadful!” For a moment they were silent. Then she leaned towards him impulsively and said: “Lord St. Denis, I can never thank you sufficiently.”
“I thought it was to be Jimmie,” he reminded her.
Her hair touched his cheek. “Well, then, Jimmie,” she corrected.
AND that same night on the balcony of the Hotel just before he kissed her good-night Estelle suddenly remembered an objection.
“What am I to do with my money?” she pretended, seriously enough.
“What do you mean?”
“You told me, that day in the cab, that you loathed people who were rich; and I don’t want you to loathe me.” She jumped round and clapped her hands.
“Jimmie, I have it! I’ll give my money away to relieve the plague!”
He took her in his arms.
“You told me I plagued you,” he suggested cleverly. “Beside we want to buy that Cellini ewer. . . ”