Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
PRINCE AND PEASANTS
The peacefulness of fairyland was something which Brewster could not afford to continue, and with Bertier he was soon planning to invade it. The automobile which he was obliged to order for the mysterious marquise put other ideas into his head. It seemed at once absolutely necessary to give a coaching party in Italy, and as coaches of the right kind were hard to find there, and changes of horses most uncertain, nothing could be more simple and natural than to import automobiles from Paris. Looking into the matter, he found that they would have to be purchased outright, as the renting of five machines would put his credit to too severe a test. Accordingly Bertier telegraphed a wholesale order, which taxed the resources of the manufacturers and caused much complaint from some customers whose work was unaccountably delayed. The arrangement made by the courier was that they were to be taken back at a greatly reduced price at the end of six weeks. The machines were shipped at once, five to Milan, and one to the address of the mysterious marquise in Florence.
It was with a sharp regret that Monty broke into the idyl of the villa, for the witchery of the place had got into his blood. But a stern sense of duty, combined with the fact that the Paris chauffeurs and machines were due in Milan on Monday, made him ruthless. He was astonished that his orders to decamp were so meekly obeyed, forgetting that his solicitous guests did not know that worse extravagance lay beyond. He took them to Milan by train and lodged them with some splendor at the Hotel Cavour. Here he found that the fame of the princely profligate had preceded him, and his portly host was all deference and attention. All regret, too, for monsieur was just too late to hear the wonderful company of artists who had been singing at La Scala. The season was but just ended. Here was an opportunity missed indeed, and Brewster's vexation brought out an ironical comment to Bertier. It rankled, but it had its effect. The courier proved equal to the emergency. Discovering that the manager of the company and the principal artists were still in Milan, he suggested to Brewster that a special performance would be very difficult to secure but might still be possible. His chief caught at the idea and authorized him to make every arrangement, reserving the entire house for his own party.
"But the place will look bare," protested the courier, aghast.
"Fill it with flowers, cover it with tapestries, " commanded Brewster. "I put the affair in your hands, and I trust you to carry it through in the right way. Show them how it ought to be done."
Bertier's heart swelled within him at the thought of so glorious an opportunity. His fame, he felt, was already established in Italy. It became a matter of pride to do the thing handsomely, and the necessary business arrangements called out all his unused resources of delicacy and diplomacy. When it came to the decoration of the opera house, he called upon Pettingill for assistance, and together they superintended an arrangement which curtained off a large part of the place and reduced it to livable proportions. With the flowers and the lights, the tapestries and the great faded flags, it became something quite different from the usual empty theater.
To the consternation of the Italians, the work had been rushed, and it was on the evening after their arrival in Milan that Brewster conducted his friends in state to the Scala. It was almost a triumphal progress, for he had generously if unwittingly given the town the most princely sensation in years, and curiosity was abundant. Mrs. Valentine, who was in the carriage with Monty, wondered openly why they were attracting so much attention.
"They take us for American dukes and princesses," explained Monty. "They never saw a white man before."
"Perhaps they expected us to ride on buffaloes," said Mrs. Dan, "with Indian captives in our train."
"No," "Subway" Smith protested, "I seem to see disappointment in their faces. They are looking for crowns and scepters and a shower of gold coin. Really, Monty, you don't play the game as you should. Why, I could give you points on the potentate act myself. A milk-white steed, a few clattering attendants in gorgeous uniforms, a lofty nod here and there, and little me distributing silver in the rear."
"I wonder," exclaimed Mrs. Dan, "if they don't get tired now and then of being potentates. Can't you fancy living in palaces and longing for a thatched cottage?"
"Easily," answered "Subway," with a laugh. "Haven't we tried it ourselves? Two months of living upon nothing but fatted calves is more than I can stand. We shall be ready for a home for dyspeptics if you can't slow down a bit, Monty."
Whereupon Mrs. Dan evolved a plan, and promptly began to carry it out by inviting the crowd to dinner the next night. Monty protested that they would be leaving Milan in the afternoon, and that this was distinctly his affair and he was selfish.
But Mrs. Dan was very sure. "My dear boy, you can't have things your own way every minute. In another month you will be quite spoiled. Anything to prevent that. My duty is plain. Even if I have to use heroic measures, you dine with me to-morrow."
Monty recognized defeat when he met it, and graciously accepted her very kind invitation. The next moment they drew up at the opera house and were ushered in with a deference only accorded to wealth. The splendor of the effect was overpowering to Brewster as well as to his bewildered guests. Aladdin, it seemed, had fairly outdone himself. The wonder of it was so complete that it was some time before they could settle down to the opera, which was Aida, given with an enthusiasm that only Italians can compass.
During the last intermission Brewster and Peggy were walking in the foyer. They had rarely spoken since the day of the ride but Monty noticed with happiness that she had on several occasions avoided Pettingill.
"I thought we had given up fairyland when we left the lakes, but I believe you carry it with you," she said.
"The trouble with this," Monty replied, "is that there are too many people about. My fairyland is to be just a little different."
"Your fairyland, Monty, will be built of gold and paved with silver. You will sit all day cutting coupons in an office of alabaster."
"Peggy, do you too think me vulgar? It's a beastly parade, I know, but it can't stop now. You don't realize the momentum of the thing."
"You do it up to the handle," she put in. "And you are much too generous to be vulgar. But it worries me, Monty, it worries me desperately. It's the future I'm thinking of — your future, which is being swallowed up. This kind of thing can't go on. And what is to follow it? You are wasting your substance, and you are not making any life for yourself that opens out."
"Peggy," he answered very seriously, "you have got to trust me. I can't back out, but I'll tell you this. You shall not be disappointed in me in the end."
There was a mist before the girl's eyes as she looked at him. "I believe you, Monty," she said simply; "I shall not forget."
The curtain rose upon the next act, and something in the opera toward the end seemed to bring the two very close together. As they were leaving the theater, there was a note of regret from Peggy. "It has been perfect," she breathed, "yet, Monty, isn't it a waste that no one else should have seen it? Think of these poverty-stricken peasants who adore music and have never heard an opera."
"Well, they shall hear one now." Monty rose to it, but he felt like a hypocrite in concealing his chief motive. "We'll repeat the performance to-morrow night and fill the house with them."
He was as good as his word. Bertier was given a task the next day which was not to his taste. But with the assistance of the city authorities he carried it through. To them it was an evidence of insanity, but there was something princely about it and they were tolerant. The manager of the opera house was less complacent, and he had an exclamatory terror of the damage to his upholstery. But Brewster had discovered that in Italy gold is a panacea for all ills, and his prescriptions were liberal. To him the day was short, for Peggy's interest in the penance, as it came to be called, was so keen that she insisted on having a hand in the preliminaries. There was something about the partnership that appealed to Monty.
To her regret the DeMille dinner interfered with the opening of the performance, but Monty consoled her with the promise that the opera and its democratic audience should follow. During the day Mrs. Dan had been deep in preparations for her banquet, but her plans were elaborately concealed. They culminated at eight o'clock in the Cova not far from the Scala, and the dinner was eaten in the garden to the sound of music. Yet it was an effect of simplicity with which Mrs. Dan surprised her guests. They were prepared for anything but that, and when they were served with consommé, spaghetti — a concession to the chef — and chops and peas, followed by a salad and coffee, the gratitude of the crowd was quite beyond expression. In a burst of enthusiasm "Subway" Smith suggested a testimonial.
Monty complained bitterly that he himself had never received a ghost of a testimonial. He protested that it was not deserved.
"Why should you expect it?" exclaimed Pettingill, "when have you risen from terrapin and artichokes to chops and chicory? When have you given us nectar and ambrosia like this?"
Monty was defeated by a unanimous vote and Mrs. Dan's testimonial was assured. This matter settled, Peggy and Mrs. Valentine, with Brewster and Pettingill, walked over to the Scala and heard again the last two acts of Aida. But the audience was different, and the applause.
The next day at noon the chauffeurs from Paris reported for duty, and five gleaming French devil-wagons steamed off through the crowd in the direction of Venice. Through Brescia and Verona and Vicenza they passed, scattering largess of silver in their wake and leaving a trail of breathless wonder. Brewster found the pace too fast and by the time they reached Venice he had a wistful longing to take this radiant country more slowly. "But this is purely a business trip," he thought, "and I can't expect to enjoy it. Some day I'll come back and do it differently. I could spend hours in a gondola if the blamed things were not more expensive by the trip."
It was there that he was suddenly recalled to his duty from dreams of moonlight on the water, by a cablegram which demanded $324.00 before it could be read. It contained word for word the parable of the ten talents and ended with the simple word "Jones."