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Monty's situation was desperate. Only a little more than six thousand dollars had been spent on the carnival and no opportunity of annihilating the roulette winnings seemed to offer itself. His experience at Monte Carlo did not encourage him to try again, and Peggy's attitude toward the place was distinctly antagonistic. The Riviera presenting no new opportunities for extravagance, it became necessary to seek other worlds.
"I never before understood the real meaning of the phrase 'tight money,' " thought Monty. "Lord, if it would only loosen a bit and stay loosened." Something must be done, he realized, to earn his living. Perhaps the role of the princely profligate would be easier in Italy than anywhere else. He studied the outlook from every point of view, but there were moments when it seemed hopeless. Baedeker was provokingly barren of suggestions for extravagance and Monty grew impatient of the book's small economies. Noticing some chapters on the Italian lakes, in an inspired moment he remembered that Pettingill had once lost his heart to a villa on the Lake of Como. Instantly a new act of the comedy presented itself to him. He sought out Pettingill and demanded a description of his castle in the air.
"Oh, it's a wonder," exclaimed the artist, and his eyes grew dreamy. "It shines out at you with its white terraces and turrets like those fascinating castles that Maxfield Parrish draws for children. It is fairyland. You expect to wake and find it gone."
"Oh, drop that, Petty," said Brewster, "or it will make you poetical. What I want to know is who owns it and is it likely to be occupied at this season?"
"It belongs to a certain marquise, who is a widow with no children. They say she has a horror of the place for some reason and has never been near it. It is kept as though she were to turn up the next day, but except for the servants it is always deserted."
"The very thing," declared Brewster; "Petty, we'll have a house-party."
"You'd better not count on that, Monty. A man I know ran across the place once and tried for a year to buy it. But the lady has ideas of her own."
"Well, if you wish to give him a hint or two about how to do things, watch me. If you don't spend two weeks in your dream-castle, I will cut the crowd and sail for home." He secured the name of the owner, and found that Pettingill had even a remote idea of the address of her agent. Armed with these facts he set out in search of a courier, and through Philippe he secured a Frenchman named Bertier, who was guaranteed to be surprisingly ingenious in providing methods of spending money. To him Brewster confided his scheme, and Bertier realized with rising enthusiasm that at last he had secured a client after his own heart. He was able to complete the address of the agent of the mysterious marquise, and an inquiry was immediately telegraphed to him.
The agent's reply would have been discouraging to anyone but Brewster. It stated that the owner had no intention of leasing her forsaken castle for any period whatever. The profligate learned that a fair price for an estate of that kind for a month was ten thousand francs, and he wired an offer of five times that sum for two weeks. The agent replied that some delay would be necessary while he communicated with his principal.
Delay was the one word that Brewster did not understand, so he wired him an address in Genoa, and the "Flitter" was made ready for sea. Steam had been kept up, and her coal account would compare favorably with that of an ocean liner. Philippe was breathless with joy when he was paid in advance for another month at the hotel, on the assumption that the party might be moved to return at any moment. The little town was gay at parting and Brewster and his guests were given a royal farewell.
At Genoa the mail had accumulated and held the attention of the yacht to the exclusion of everything else. Brewster was somewhat crestfallen to learn that the lady of the villa haughtily refused his princely offer. He won the life-long devotion of his courier by promptly increasing it to one hundred thousand francs. When this too met with rejection, there was a pause and a serious consultation between the two.
"Bertier," exclaimed Brewster, "I must have the thing now. What's to be done? You've got to help me out."
But the courier, prodigal as he was of gestures, had no words which seemed pertinent.
"There must be some way of getting at this marquise," Monty continued reflectively. "What are her tastes? Do you know anything about her?"
Suddenly the face of the courier grew bright. "I have it," he said, and then he faltered. . "But the expense, monsieur — it would be heavy."
"Perhaps we can meet it," suggested Monty, quietly. "What's the idea?"
It was explained, with plenty of action to make it clear. The courier had heard in Florence that madame la marquise had a passion for automobiles. But with her inadequate fortune and the many demands upon it, it was a weakness not readily gratified. The machine she had used during the winter was by no means up-to-date. Possibly if monsieur — yet it was too much — no villa —
But Brewster's decision was made. "Wire the fellow," he said, "that I will add to my last offer a French machine of the latest model and the best make. Say, too, that I would like immediate possession."
He secured it, and the crowd was transferred at once to fairyland. There were protests, of course, but these Brewster had grown to expect and he was learning to carry things with a high hand. The travelers had been preceded by Bertier, and the greeting they received from the steward of the estate and his innumerable assistants was very Italian and full of color. A break in their monotony was welcome.
The loveliness of the villa and its grounds, which sloped down to the gentle lake, silenced criticism. For a time it was supremely satisfying to do nothing. Pettingill wandered about as though he could not believe it was real. He was lost in a kind of atmosphere of ecstasy. To the others, who took it more calmly, it was still a sort of paradise. Those who were happy found in it an intensification of happiness, and to those who were sad it offered the tenderest opportunities for melancholy. Mrs. Dan told Brewster that only a poet could have had this inspiration. And Peggy added, "Anything after this would be an anti-climax. Really, Monty, you would better take us home."
"I feel like the boy who was shut in a closet for punishment and found it the place where they kept the jam," said "Subway." "It is almost as good as owning Central Park."
The stables were well equipped and the days wore on in a wonderful peace. It was on a radiant afternoon, when twelve of the crowd had started out, after tea, for a long ride toward Lugano, that Monty determined to call Peggy Gray to account. He was certain that she had deliberately avoided him for days and weeks, and he could find no reason for it. Hour after hour he had lain awake wondering where he had failed her, but the conclusion of one moment was rejected the next. The Monte Carlo episode seemed the most plausible cause, yet even before that he had noticed that whenever he approached her she managed to be talking with some one else. Two or three times he was sure she had seen his intention before she took refuge with Mrs. Dan or Mary Valentine or Pettingill. The thought of the last name gave Monty a sudden thrill. What if it were he who had come between them? It troubled him, but there were moments when the idea seemed impossible. As they mounted and started off, the exhilaration of the ride made him hopeful. They were to have dinner in the open air in the shadow of an abbey ruin some miles away, and the servants had been sent ahead to prepare it. It went well, and with Mrs. Dan's help the dinner was made gay. On the return Monty who was off last spurred up his horse to join Peggy. She seemed eager to be with the rest and he lost no time with a preamble.
"Do you know, Peggy," he began, "something seems to be wrong, and I am wondering what it is."
"Why, what do you mean, Monty?" as he paused.
"Every time I come near you, child, you seem to have something else to do. If I join the group you are in, it is the signal for you to break away."
"Nonsense, Monty, why should I avoid you? We have known one another much too long for that." But he thought he detected some contradiction in her eyes, and he was right. The girl was afraid of him, afraid of the sensations he awoke, afraid desperately of betrayal.
"Pettingill may appeal to you," he said, and his voice was serious, "but you might at least be courteous to me."
"How absurd you are, Monty Brewster." The girl grew hot. "You needn't think that your million gives you the privilege of dictating to all of your guests."
"Peggy, how can you," he interjected.
She went on ruthlessly. "If my conduct interferes with your highness's pleasure I can easily join the Prestons in Paris."
Suddenly Brewster remembered that Pettingill had spoken of the Prestons and expressed a fleeting wish that he might be with them in the Latin Quarter. "With Pettingill to follow, I suppose," he said icily. "It would certainly give you more privacy."
"And Mrs. Dan more opportunities," she retorted as he dropped back toward the others.
The artist instantly took his place. The next moment he had challenged her to a race and they were flying down the road in the moonlight. Brewster, not to be outdone, was after them, but it was only a moment before his horse shied violently at something black in the road. Then he saw Peggy's horse galloping riderless. Instantly, with fear at his throat, he had dismounted and was at the girl's side. She was not hurt, they found, only bruised and dazed and somewhat lamed. A girth had broken and her saddle turned. The crowd waited, silent and somewhat awed, until the carriage with the servants came up and she was put into it. Mrs. Dan's maid was there and Peggy insisted that she would have no one else. But as Monty helped her in, he had whispered, "You won't go, child, will you? How could things go on here?"