"He has just discovered," Monty observed, "that the club is not the only place in the world."
"It's a funny thing," she answered, "that Dan should have been so misunderstood. Do you know that he relentlessly conceals his best side? Down underneath he is the kind of man who could do a fine thing very simply."
"My dear Mrs. Dan, you surprise me. It looks to me almost as though you had fallen in love with Dan yourself."
"Monty," she said, sharply, "you are as blind as the rest. Have you never seen that before? I have played many games, but I have always come back to Dan. Through them all I have known that he was the only thing possible to me—the only thing in the least desirable. It's a queer muddle that one should be tempted to play with fire even when one is monotonously happy. I've been singed once or twice. But Dan is a dear and he has always helped me out of a tight place. He knows. No one understands better than Dan. And perhaps if I were less wickedly human, he would not care for me so much."
Monty listened at first in a sort of a daze, for he had unthinkingly accepted the general opinion of the DeMille situation. But there were tears in her eyes for a moment, and the tone of her voice was convincing. It came to him with unpleasant distinctness that he had been all kinds of a fool. Looking back over his intercourse with her, he realized that the situation had been clear enough all the time.
"How little we know our friends!" he exclaimed, with some bitterness. And a moment later, "I've liked you a great deal, Mrs. Dan, for a long time, but to-night—well, to-night I am jealous of Dan."
The "Flitter" saw some rough weather in making the trip across the Bay of Lyons. She was heading for Nice when an incident occurred that created the first real excitement experienced on the voyage. A group of passengers in the main saloon was discussing, more or less stealthily, Monty's "misdemeanors," when Reggy Vanderpool sauntered lazily in, his face displaying the only sign of interest it had shown in days.
"Funny predicament I was just in," he drawled. "I want to ask what a fellow should have done under the circumstances."
"I'd have refused the girl," observed "Rip" Van Winkle, laconically.
"Girl had nothing to do with it, old chap," went on Reggy, dropping into a chair. "Fellow fell overboard a little while ago," he went on, calmly. There was a chorus of cries and Brewster was forgotten for a time. "One of the sailors, you know. He was doing something in the rigging near where I was standing. Puff! off he went into the sea, and there he was puttering around in the water."
"Oh, the poor fellow," cried Miss Valentine.
"I'd never set eyes on him before—perfect stranger. I wouldn't have hesitated a minute, but the deck was crowded with a lot of his friends. One chap was his bunkie. So, really, now, it wasn't my place to jump in after him. He could swim a bit, and I yelled to him to hold up and I'd tell the captain. Confounded captain wasn't to be found though. Somebody said he was asleep. In the end I told the mate. By this time we were a mile away from the place where he went overboard, and I told the mate I didn't think we could find him if we went back. But he lowered some boats and they put back fast. Afterwards I got to thinking about the matter. Of course if I had known him—if he had been one of you—it would have been different."
"And you were the best swimmer in college, you miserable rat," exploded Dr. Lotless.
There was a wild rush for the upper deck, and Vanderpool was not the hero of the hour. The "Flitter" had turned and was steaming back over her course. Two small boats were racing to the place where Reggy's unknown had gone over.
"Where is Brewster?" shouted Joe Bragdon.
"I can't find him, sir," answered the first mate.
"He ought to know of this," cried Mr. Valentine.
"There! By the eternal, they are picking somebody up over yonder," exclaimed the mate. "See! that first boat has laid to and they are dragging—yes, sir, he's saved!"
A cheer went up on board and the men in the small boats waved their caps in response. Everybody rushed to the rail as the "Flitter" drew up to the boats, and there was intense excitement on board. A gasp of amazement went up from every one.
Monty Brewster, drenched but smiling, sat in one of the boats, and leaning limply against him, his head on his chest, was the sailor who had fallen overboard. Brewster had seen the man in the water and, instead of wondering what his antecedents were, leaped to his assistance. When the boat reached him his unconscious burden was a dead weight and his own strength was almost gone. Another minute or two and both would have gone to the bottom.
As they hauled Monty over the side he shivered for an instant, grasped the first little hand that sought his so frantically, and then turned to look upon the half-dead sailor.
"Find out the boy's name, Mr. Abertz, and see that he has the best of care. Just before he fainted out there he murmured something about his mother. He wasn't thinking of himself even then, you see. And Bragdon"—this in a lower voice—"will you see that his wages are properly increased? Hello, Peggy! Look out, you'll get wet to the skin if you do that."
LE ROI S'AMUSE
If Montgomery Brewster had had any misgivings about his ability to dispose of the balance of his fortune they were dispelled very soon after his party landed in the Riviera. On the pretext that the yacht required a thorough "house cleaning" Brewster transferred his guests to the hotel of a fascinating village which was near the sea and yet quite out of the world. The place was nearly empty at the time, and the proprietor wept tears of joy when Monty engaged for his party the entire first floor of the house with balconies overlooking the blue Mediterranean and a separate dining-room and salon. Extra servants were summoned, and the Brewster livery was soon a familiar sight about the village. The protests of Peggy and the others were only silenced when Monty threatened to rent a villa and go to housekeeping.
The town quickly took on the appearance of entertaining a royal visitor, and a number of shops were kept open longer than usual in the hope that their owners might catch some of the American's money. One morning Philippe, the hotel proprietor, was trying to impress Brewster with a gesticulatory description of the glories of the Bataille de Fleurs. It seemed quite impossible to express the extent of his regret that the party had not arrived in time to see it.
"This is quite another place at that time," he said ecstatically. "C'est magnifique! c'est superbe! If monsieur had only seen it!"
"Why not have another all to ourselves?" asked Monty. But the suggestion was not taken seriously.
Nevertheless the young American and his host were in secret session for the rest of the morning, and when the result was announced at luncheon there was general consternation. It appeared that ten days later occurred the fete day of some minor saint who had not for years been accorded the honor of a celebration. Monty proposed to revive the custom by arranging a second carnival.
"You might just as well not come to the Riviera at all," he explained, "if you can't see a carnival. It's a simple matter, really. I offer one price for the best decorated carriage and another to the handsomest lady. Then every one puts on a domino and a mask, throws confetti at every one else, and there you are."
"I suppose you will have the confetti made of thousand franc notes, and offer a house and lot as a prize." And Bragdon feared that his sarcasm was almost insulting.
"Really, Monty, the scheme is ridiculous," said DeMille, "the police won't allow it."
"Won't they though!" said Monty, exultantly. "The chief happens to be Philippe's brother-in-law, and we had him on the telephone. He wouldn't listen to the scheme until we agreed to make him grand marshal of the parade. Then he promised the cooperation of the entire force and hoped to interest his colleague, the chief of the fire department."
"The parade will consist of two gendarmes and the Brewster party in carriages," laughed Mrs. Dan. "Do you expect us to go before or after the bakery carts?"
"We review the procession from the hotel," said Monty. "You needn't worry about the fete. It's going to be great. Why, an Irishman isn't fonder of marching than these people are of having a carnival."
The men in the party went into executive session as soon as Monty had gone to interview the local authorities, and seriously considered taking measures to subdue their host's eccentricities. But the humor of the scheme appealed to them too forcibly, and almost before they knew it they were making plans for the carnival.
"Of course we can't let him do it, but it would be sport," said "Subway" Smith. "Think of a cake-walk between gendarmes and blanchiseuses."
"I always feel devilish the moment I get a mask on," said Vanderpool, "and you know, by Jove, I haven't felt that way for years."
"That settles it, then," said DeMille. "Monty would call it off himself if he knew how it would affect Reggie."
Monty returned with the announcement that the mayor of the town would declare a holiday if the American could see his way to pay for the repairs on the mairie roof. A circus, which was traveling in the neighborhood, was guaranteed expenses if it would stop over and occupy the square in front of the Hotel de Ville. Brewster's enthusiasm was such that no one could resist helping him, and for nearly a week his friends were occupied in superintending the erection of triumphal arches and encouraging the shopkeepers to do their best. Although the scheme had been conceived in the spirit of a lark it was not so received by the townspeople. They were quite serious in the matter. The railroad officials sent advertisements broadcast, and the local cure called to thank Brewster for resurrecting, as it were, the obscure saint. The expression of his gratitude was so mingled with flattery and appeal that Monty could not overlook the hint that a new altar piece had long been needed.
The great day finally arrived, and no carnival could have been more bizarre or more successful. The morning was devoted to athletics and the side shows. The pompiers won the tug of war, and the people marveled when Monty duplicated the feats of the strong man in the circus. DeMille was called upon for a speech, but knowing only ten words of French, he graciously retired in favor of the mayor, and that pompous little man made the most of a rare opportunity. References to Franklin and Lafayette were so frequent that "Subway" Smith intimated that a rubber stamp must have been used in writing the address.
The parade took place in the afternoon, and proved quite the feature of the day. The question of precedence nearly overturned Monty's plans, but the chief of police was finally made to see that if he were to be chief marshal it was only fair that the pompiers should march ahead of the gendarmes. The crew of the "Flitter" made a wonderful showing. It was led by the yacht's band, which fairly outdid Sousa in noise, though it was less unanimous in the matter of time. All the fiacres came at the end, but there were so many of them and the line of march was so short that at times they were really leading the processional despite the gallant efforts of the grand marshal.
From the balcony of the hotel Monty and his party pelted those below with flowers and confetti. More allusions to Franklin and Lafayette were made when the cure and the mayor halted the procession and presented Monty with an address richly engrossed on imitation parchment. Then the school children sang and the crowd dispersed to meet again in the evening.
At eight o'clock Brewster presided over a large banquet, and numbered among his guests every one of distinction in the town. The wives were also invited and Franklin and Lafayette were again alluded to. Each of the men made at least one speech, but "Subway" Smith's third address was the hit of the evening. Knowing nothing but English, he had previously clung consistently to that language, but the third and final address seemed to demand something more friendly and genial. With a sweeping bow and with all the dignity of a statesman he began:
"Mesdames et Messieurs: J'ai, tu as, il a, nous avons,"—with a magnificent gesture, "vous avez." The French members of the company were not equal to his pronunciation and were under the impression that he was still talking English. They were profoundly impressed with his deference and grace, and accorded his preamble a round of applause. The Americans did their utmost to persuade him to be seated, but their uproar was mistaken by the others for enthusiasm, and the applause grew louder than ever. "Subway" held up his hand for silence, and his manner suggested that he was about to utter some peculiarly important thought. He waited until a pin fall could have been heard before he went on.
"Maitre corbeau sur un arbre perche—" he finished the speech as he was being carried bodily from the room by DeMille and Bragdon. The Frenchmen then imagined that Smith's remarks had been insulting, and his friends had silenced him on that account. A riot seemed imminent when Monty succeeded in restoring silence, and with a few tactful remarks about Franklin and Lafayette quieted the excited guests.
The evening ended with fireworks and a dance in the open air,—a dance that grew gay under the masks. The wheels had been well oiled and there was no visible failure of the carnival spirit. To Brewster it seemed a mad game, and he found it less easy to play a part behind the foolish mask than he expected. His own friends seemed to elude him, and the coquetries of the village damsels had merely a fleeting charm. He was standing apart to watch the glimmering crowd when he was startled by a smothered cry. Turning to investigate, he discovered a little red domino, unmistakably frightened, and trying to release herself from a too ardent Punchinello. Monty's arrival prevented him from tearing off the girl's mask and gave him an entirely new conception of the strenuous life. He arose fuming and sputtering, but he was taken in hand by the crowd and whirled from one to another in whimsical mockery. Meanwhile Monty, unconscious that his mask had dropped during the encounter, was astonished to feel the little hand of the red domino on his arm and to hear a voice not at all unfamiliar in his ear:
"Monty, you are a dear. I love you for that. You looked like a Greek athlete. Do you know—it was foolish—but I really was frightened."
"Child, how could it have happened?" he whispered, leading her away. "Fancy my little Peggy with no one to look after her. What a beast I was to trust you to Pettingill. I might have known the chump would have been knocked out by all this color." He stopped to look down at her and a light came into his eyes. "Little Peggy in the great world," he smiled; "you are not fit. You need—well, you need—just me."
But Mrs. Valentine had seen him as he stood revealed, and came up in search of Peggy. It was almost morning, she told her, and quite time to go back to the hotel and sleep. So in Bragdon's charge they wandered off, a bit reluctantly, a bit lingeringly.
It was not until Monty was summoned to rescue "Reggie" Vanderpool from the stern arm of the law that he discovered the identity of Punchinello. Manifestly he had not been in a condition to recognize his assailant, and a subsequent disagreement had driven the first out of his head. The poor boy was sadly bruised about the face and his arrest had probably saved him from worse punishment.
"I told you I couldn't wear a mask," he explained ruefully as Monty led him home. "But how could I know that he could hear me all the time?"
The day after the carnival Brewster drove his guests over to Monte Carlo. He meant to stay only long enough to try his luck at the tables and lose enough to make up for the days at sea when his purse was necessarily idle. Swearengen Jones was forgotten, and soon after his arrival he began to plunge. At first he lost heavily, and it was with difficulty that he concealed his joy. Peggy Gray was watching him, and in whispers implored him to stop, but Mrs. Dan excitedly urged him to continue until the luck changed. To the girl's chagrin it was the more reckless advice that he followed. In so desperate a situation he felt that he could not stop. But his luck turned too soon.
"I can't afford to give up," he said, miserably, to himself, after a time. "I'm already a winner by five thousand dollars, and I must at least get rid of that."
Brewster became the center of interest to those who were not playing and people marveled at his luck. They quite misunderstood his eagerness and the flushed, anxious look with which he followed each spin of the wheel. He had chosen a seat beside an English duchess whose practice it was to appropriate the winnings of the more inexperienced players, and he was aware that many of his gold pieces were being deliberately stolen. Here he thought was at least a helping hand, and he was on the point of moving his stack toward her side when DeMille interfered. He had watched the duchess, and had called the croupier's attention to her neat little method. But that austere individual silenced him by saying in surprise, "Mais c'est madame la duchesse, que voulez-vous?"
Not to be downed so easily, DeMille watched the play from behind Monty's chair and cautioned his friend at the first opportunity.
"Better cash in and change your seat, Monty. They're robbing you," he whispered.
"Cash in when I'm away ahead of the game? Never!" and Monty did his best to assume a joyful tone.
At first he played with no effort at system, piling his money flat on the numbers which seemed to have least chance of winning. But he simply could not lose. Then he tried to reverse different systems he had heard of, but they turned out to be winners. Finally in desperation he began doubling on one color in the hope that he would surely lose in the end, but his particular fate was against him. With his entire stake on the red the ball continued to fall into the red holes until the croupier announced that the bank was broken.
Dan DeMille gathered in the money and counted forty thousand dollars before he handed it to Monty. His friends were overjoyed when he left the table, and wondered why he looked so downhearted. Inwardly he berated himself for not taking Peggy's advice.
"I'm so glad for your sake that you did not stop when I asked you, Monty, but your luck does not change my belief that gambling is next to stealing," Peggy was constrained to say as they went to supper.
"I wish I had taken your advice," he said gloomily.
"And missed the fortune you have won? How foolish of you, Monty! You were a loser by several thousand dollars then," she objected with whimsical inconsistency.
"But, Peggy," he said quietly, looking deep into her eyes, "it would have won me your respect."
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 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 was 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 any one 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?"
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 accorded only 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 consomme, 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 you have 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."
AN OFFER OF MARRIAGE
The summer is scarcely a good time to visit Egypt, but Monty and his guests had a desire to see even a little of the northern coast of Africa. It was decided, therefore, that after Athens, the "Flitter" should go south. The yacht had met them at Naples after the automobile procession,—a kind of triumphal progress,—was disbanded in Florence, and they had taken a hurried survey of Rome. By the middle of July the party was leaving the heat of Egypt and finding it not half bad. New York was not more than a month away as Brewster reckoned time and distance, and there was still too much money in the treasury. As September drew nearer he got into the habit of frequently forgetting Swearengen Jones until it was too late to retrace his steps. He was coming to the "death struggle," as he termed it, and there was something rather terrorizing in the fear that "the million might die hard." And so these last days and nights were glorious ones, if one could have looked at them with unbiased, untroubled eyes. But every member of his party was praying for the day when the "Flitter" would be well into the broad Atlantic and the worst over. At Alexandria Brewster had letters to some Englishmen, and in the few entertainments that he gave succeeded once again in fairly outdoing Aladdin.
A sheik from the interior was a guest at one of Monty's entertainments. He was a burly, hot-blooded fellow, with a densely-populated harem, and he had been invited more as a curiosity than as one to be honored. As he came aboard the "Flitter," Monty believed the invitation was more than justified. Mohammed was superb, and the women of the party made so much of him that it was small wonder that his head was turned. He fell desperately in love with Peggy Gray on sight, and with all the composure of a potentate who had never been crossed he sent for Brewster the next day and told him to "send her around" and he would marry her. Monty's blood boiled furiously for a minute or two, but he was quick to see the wisdom of treating the proposition diplomatically. He tried to make it plain to the sheik that Miss Gray could not accept the honor he wished to confer upon her, but it was not Mohammed's custom to be denied anything he asked for—especially anything feminine. He complacently announced that he would come aboard that afternoon and talk it over with Peggy.
Brewster looked the swarthy gentleman over with unconcealed disgust in his eyes. The mere thought of this ugly brute so much as touching the hand of little Peggy Gray filled him with horror, and yet there was something laughable in the situation. He could not hide the smile that came with the mind picture of Peggy listening to the avowal of the sheik. The Arab misinterpreted this exhibition of mirth. To him the grin indicated friendship and encouragement. He wanted to give Brewster a ring as a pledge of affection, but the American declined the offering, and also refused to carry a bag of jewels to Peggy.
"I'll let the old boy come aboard just to see Peggy look a hole through him," he resolved. "No matter how obnoxious it may be, it isn't every girl who can say an oriental potentate has asked her to marry him. If this camel-herder gets disagreeable we may tumble him into the sea for a change."
With the best grace possible he invited the sheik to come aboard and consult Miss Gray in person. Mohammed was a good bit puzzled over the intimation that it would be necessary for him to plead for anything he had expressed a desire to possess. Brewster confided the news to "Rip" Van Winkle and "Subway" Smith, who had gone ashore with him, and the trio agreed that it would be good sport to let the royal proposal come as a surprise to Peggy. Van Winkle returned to the yacht at once, but his companions stayed ashore to do some shopping. When they approached the "Flitter" later on they observed an unusual commotion on deck.
Mohammed had not tarried long after their departure. He gathered his train together, selected a few costly presents that had been returned from the harem and advanced on the boat without delay. The captain of the "Flitter" stared long and hard at the gaily bedecked launches and then called to his first officer. Together they watched the ceremonious approach. A couple of brown-faced heralds came aboard first and announced the approach of the mighty chief. Captain Perry went forward to greet the sheik as he came over the side of the ship, but he was brushed aside by the advance guards. Half a hundred swarthy fellows crowded aboard and then came the sheik, the personification of pomp and pride.
"Where is she?" he asked in his native tongue. The passengers were by this time aware of the visitation, and began to straggle on deck, filled with curiosity. "What the devil do you mean by coming aboard in this manner?" demanded the now irate Captain Perry, shoving a couple of retainers out of his path and facing the beaming suitor. An interpreter took a hand at this juncture and the doughty captain finally was made to understand the object of the visit. He laughed in the sheik's face and told the mate to call up a few jackies to drive the "dagoes" off. "Rip" Van Winkle interfered and peace was restored. The cruise had changed "Rip" into a happier and far more radiant creature, so it was only natural that he should have shared the secret with Mary Valentine. He had told the story of the sheik's demand to her as soon as he came aboard, and she had divulged it to Peggy the instant "Rip" was out of sight.
Brewster found the sheik sitting in state on the upper deck impatiently awaiting the appearance of his charmer. He did not know her name, but he had tranquilly commanded "Rip" to produce all of the women on board so that he might select Peggy from among them. Van Winkle and Bragdon, who now was in the secret, were preparing to march the ladies past the ruler when Monty came up.
"Has he seen Peggy?" he asked of Van Winkle.
"Not yet. She is dressing for the occasion."
"Well, wait and see what happens to him when she gets over the first shock," laughed Monty.
Just then the sheik discovered Peggy, who, pretty as a picture, drew near the strange group. To her amazement two slaves rushed forward and obstructed her passage long enough to beat their heads on the deck a few times, after which they arose and tendered two magnificent necklaces. She was prepared for the proposal, but this action disconcerted her; she gasped and looked about in perplexity. Her friends were smiling broadly and the sheik had placed his hands over his palpitating heart.
"Lothario has a pain," whispered "Rip" Van Winkle sympathetically, and Brewster laughed. Peggy did not hesitate an instant after hearing the laugh. She walked straight toward the sheik. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes were flashing dangerously. The persistent brown slaves followed with the jewels, but she ignored them completely. Brave as she intended to be, she could not repress the shudder of repulsion that went over her as she looked full upon this eager Arab.
Graceful and slender she stood before the burly Mohammed, but his ardor was not cooled by the presence of so many witnesses. With a thud he dropped to his knees, wabbling for a moment in the successful effort to maintain a poetic equilibrium. Then he began pouring forth volumes of shattered French, English and Arabic sentiment, accompanied by facial contortions so intense that they were little less than gruesome.
"Oh, joy of the sun supreme, jewel of the only eye, hearken to the entreaty of Mohammed." It was more as if he were commanding his troops in battle than pleading for the tender compassion of a lady love. "I am come for you, queen of the sea and earth and sky. My boats are here, my camels there, and Mohammed promises you a palace in the sun-lit hills if you will but let him bask forever in the glory of your smile." All this was uttered in a mixture of tongues so atrocious that "Subway" Smith afterward described it as a salad. The retinue bowed impressively and two or three graceless Americans applauded as vigorously as if they were approving the actions of a well-drilled comic opera chorus. Sailors were hanging in the rigging, on the davits and over the deck house roof.
"Smile for the gentleman, Peggy," commanded Brewster delightedly. "He wants to take a short bask."
"You are very rude, Mr. Brewster," said Peggy, turning upon him coldly. Then to the waiting, expectant sheik: "What is the meaning of this eloquence?"
Mohammed looked bewildered for a moment and then turned to the interpreter, who cleared up the mystery surrounding her English. For the next three or four minutes the air was filled with the "Jewels of Africa," "Star," "Sunlight," "Queen," "Heavenly Joy," "Pearl of the Desert," and other things in bad English, worse French, and perfect Arabic. He was making promises that could not be redeemed if he lived a thousand years. In conclusion the gallant sheik drew a long breath, screwed his face into a simpering grin and played his trump card in unmistakable English. It sounded pathetically like "You're a peach."
An indecorous roar went up from the white spectators and a jacky in the rigging, suddenly thinking of home, piped up with a bar or two from "The Star Spangled Banner."
Having accomplished what he considered to be his part of the ceremony the sheik arose and started toward his launch, coolly motioning for her to follow. So far as he was concerned the matter was closed. But Peggy, her heart thumping like a trip-hammer, her eyes full of excitement, implored him to stop for a moment.
"I appreciate this great honor, but I have a request to make," she said clearly. Mohammed paused irresolutely and in some irritation.
"Here's where the heathen gets it among the beads," whispered Monty to Mrs. Dan, and he called out: "Captain Perry, detail half a dozen men to pick up the beads that are about to slip from his majesty's neck."
THE SHEIK'S STRATEGY
Peggy gave the sheik an entrancing smile, followed by a brief glance at the beaming Miss Valentine, who nodded her head approvingly.
"Won't you give me time to go below and pack my belongings that they may be sent ashore?" she asked naively.
"Thunder!" gasped Monty. "That's no way to turn him down."
"What do you mean, Monty Brewster?" she cried, turning upon him with flashing eyes.
"Why, you're encouraging the old guy," he protested, disappointment in every inflection.
"And what if I am? Isn't it my affair? I think I am right in suspecting that he has asked me to be his wife. Isn't it my privilege to accept him if I wish?"
Brewster's face was a study. He could not believe that she was in earnest, but there was a ghastly feeling that the joke was being turned on him. The rest of the company stared hard at the flushed Peggy and breathlessly waited developments.
"It won't do to trifle with this chap, Peggy," said Monty, coming quite close to her. "Don't lead him on. He might get nasty if he thinks you're making sport of him."
"You are quite absurd, Monty," she cried, petulantly. "I am not making sport of him."
"Well, then, why don't you tell him to go about his business?"
"I don't see any beads lying around loose," said "Rip" tormentingly. The sheik impatiently said something to the interpreter and that worthy repeated it for Peggy's benefit.
"The Son of the Prophet desires that you be as quick as possible, Queen of the World. He tires of waiting and commands you to come with him at once."
Peggy winced and her eyes shot a brief look of scorn at the scowling sheik. In an instant, however, she was smiling agreeably and was turning toward the steps.
"Holy mackerel! Where are you going, Peggy?" cried Lotless, the first to turn fearful.
"To throw some things into my trunk," she responded airily. "Will you come with me, Mary?"
"Peggy!" cried Brewster angrily. "This has gone far enough."
"You should have spoken sooner, Monty," she said quietly.
"What are you going to do, Margaret?" cried Mrs. Dan, her eyes wide with amazement.
"I am going to marry the Son of the Prophet," she replied so decidedly that every one gasped. A moment later she was surrounded by a group of excited women, and Captain Perry was calling the "jackies" forward in a voice of thunder.
Brewster pushed his way to her side, his face as white as death.
"This isn't a joke, Peggy," he cried. "Go below and I'll get rid of the sheik."
Just then the burly Algerian asserted himself. He did not like the way in which his adored one was being handled by the "white dogs," and with two spearmen he rushed up to Brewster, jabbering angrily.
"Stand back, you idiot, or I'll punch your head off," said Brewster, with sudden emphasis.
It was not until this moment that Peggy realized that there might be a serious side to the little farce she and Mary had decided to play for the punishment of Brewster. Terror suddenly took the place of mirth, and she clung frantically to Monty's arm. "I was joking, Monty, only joking," she cried. "Oh, what have I done?"
"It's my fault," he exclaimed, "but I'll take care of you, never fear."
"Stand aside!" roared the sheik threateningly.
The situation was ominous. Frightened as they were the women could not flee, but stood as if petrified. Sailors eagerly swarmed to the deck.
"Get off this boat," said Monty, ominously calm, to the interpreter, "or we'll pitch you and your whole mob into the sea."
"Keep cool! Keep cool!" cried "Subway" Smith quickly. He stepped between Brewster and the angry suitor, and that action alone prevented serious trouble. While he parleyed with the sheik Mrs. DeMille hurried Peggy to a safe place below deck, and they were followed by a flock of shivering women. Poor Peggy was almost in tears and the piteous glances she threw at Brewster when he stepped between her and the impetuous sheik, who had started to follow, struck deep into his heart and made him ready to fight to the death for her.
It took nearly an hour to convince the Algerian that Peggy had misunderstood him and that American women were not to be wooed after the African fashion. He finally departed with his entire train, thoroughly dissatisfied and in high dudgeon. At first he threatened to take her by force; then he agreed to give her another day in which to make up her mind to go with him peaceably, and again he concluded that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.
Brewster stood gloomily on the outside of the excited group glowering upon the ugly suitor. Cooler heads had relegated him to this place of security during the diplomatic contest. The sheik's threats of vengeance were direful. He swore by somebody's beard that he would bring ten thousand men to establish his claim by force. His intense desire to fight for her then and there was quelled by Captain Perry's detachment of six lusty sailors, whose big bare fists were shaken vigorously under a few startled noses. It took all the fight out of the sheik and his train. Three retainers fell into the sea while trying to retreat as far as possible from danger.
Mohammed departed with the irate declaration that he would come another day and that the whole world would tremble at his approach. Disgusted with himself and afraid to meet the eyes of the other men, Brewster went below in search of Peggy. He took time to comfort the anxious women who crowded about him and then asked for Miss Gray. She was in her stateroom and would not come forth. When he knocked at the door a dismal, troubled voice from within told him to go away.
"Come out, Peggy; it's all over," he called.
"Please go away, Monty," she said.
"What are you doing in there?" There was a long pause, and then came the pitiful little wail: "I am unpacking, please, sir."
That night Brewster entertained on board the yacht, several resident French and English acquaintances being the guests of honor. The story of the day was told by Mrs. Dan DeMille, commissioned especially for the duty. She painted the scene so vividly that the guests laughed with joy over the discomfiture of the sheik. Peggy and Brewster found themselves looking sheepishly at one another now and then in the course of the recital. She purposely had avoided him during the evening, but she had gamely endured the raillery that came from the rest of the party. If she was a bit pale, it was not surprising. Now that it was over the whole affair appalled her more than she could have suspected. When several of the guests of the evening soberly announced that Mohammed was a dangerous man and even an object of worry to the government she felt a strange catch in her throat and her now mirthless eyes turned instinctively to Brewster, who, it seemed, was the sheik's special object of aversion.
The next day she and Monty talked it over. The penitence of both was beautiful to behold. Each denied the other the privilege of assuming all the blame and both were so happy that Mohammed was little more than a preposition in their conversation so far as prominence was concerned. But all day long the harbor was full of fisher boats, and at nightfall they still were lolling about, sinister, restless, mysterious like purposeless buzzards. And the dark men on board were taking up no fish, neither were they minding the nets that lay dry and folded in the bottom of their boats.
Far into the night there was revelry on board the "Flitter," more guests having come out from the city. The dark hours before the dawn of day had arrived before they put off for shore, but the fisher boats still were bobbing about in the black waters of the harbor. The lights gradually disappeared from the port-holes of the yacht, and the tired watch was about to be relieved. Monty Brewster and Peggy remained on deck after the guests had gone over the side of the vessel. They were leaning over the rail aft listening to the jovial voices of the visitors as they grew fainter and fainter in the distance. The lights of the town were few, but they could plainly be seen from the offing.
"Are you tired, Peggy?" asked Brewster, with a touch of tenderness. Somehow of late he had often felt a strange desire to take her in his arms, and now it was strong upon him. She was very near, and there was a drooping weariness in her attitude which seemed to demand protection.
"I have a queer feeling that something awful is going to happen to-night, Monty," she answered, trouble in her soft voice.
"You're nervous, that's all," he said, "and you should get to sleep. Good-night." Their hands touched in the darkness, and the thrill that went over him told a truth of which he had been only vaguely conscious. The power of it made him exultant. Yet when he thought of her and her too quiet affection for him it left him despondent.
Something bumped against the side of the ship and a grating sound followed. Then came other gentle thuds combined with the soft swish of water disturbed. Peggy and Brewster were on the point of going below when their attention was caught by these strange sounds.
"What is it?" she asked as they paused irresolutely. He strode to the rail, the girl following close behind him. Three sharp little whistles came from above and behind them, but before they had time even to speculate as to their meaning the result was in evidence.
Over the sides of the ship came shadowy forms as if by magic; at their backs panther-like bodies dropped to the deck with stealthy thuds, as if coming from the inky sky above. There was an instant of dreadful calm and then the crisis. A dozen sinewy forms hurled themselves upon Brewster, who, taken completely by surprise, was thrown to the deck in an instant, his attempt to cry out for help being checked by heavy hands. Peggy's scream was cut off quickly, and paralyzed by terror, she felt herself engulfed in strong arms and smothered into silence. It all happened so quickly that there was no chance to give the alarm, no opportunity to resist.
Brewster felt himself lifted bodily, and then there was the sensation of falling. He struck something forcibly with all his weight and fell back with a crash to the deck. Afterward he found that the effort to throw him overboard had failed only because his assailants in their haste had hurled him against an unseen stanchion. Peggy was borne forward and lowered swiftly into arms that deposited her roughly upon something hard. There was a jerky, rocking motion, the sudden splash of oars, and then she knew no more.
The invaders had planned with a craftiness and patience that deserved success. For hours they had waited, silently, watchfully, and with deadly assurance. How they crept up to the "Flitter" in such numbers and how the more daring came aboard long before the blow was struck, no one ever explained. So quickly and so accurately was the abduction performed that the boats were well clear of the yacht before alarm was given by one of the watch who had been overlooked in the careful assault.
Sleepy sailors rushed on deck with a promptness that was amazing. Very quickly they had found and unbound Brewster, carried a couple of wounded shipmates below and had Captain Perry in his pajamas on deck to take command.
"The searchlight!" cried Brewster frantically. "The devils have stolen Miss Gray."
While swift hands were lowering the boats for the chase others were carrying firearms on deck. The searchlight threw its mighty white arm out over the water before many seconds had passed, and eager eyes were looking for the boats of the pillagers. The Arabs had reckoned without the searchlight. Their fierce exultation died suddenly when the mysterious streak of light shot into the sky and then swept down upon the sea, hunting them out of the darkness like a great relentless eye.
The "Flitter's" boats were in the water and manned by sturdy oarsmen before the glad cry went up that the robber fleet had been discovered. They were so near the yacht that it was evident the dusky tribesmen were poor oarsmen. In the clear light from the ship's deck they could be seen paddling wildly, their white robes fluttering as though inspired by fear. There were four boats, all of them crowded to the gunwales.
"Keep the light on them, captain," shouted Monty from below. "Try to pick out the boat that has Miss Gray on board. Pull away, boys! This means a hundred dollars to every one of you—yes, a thousand if we have to fight for her!"
"Kill every damned one of them, Mr. Brewster," roared the captain, who had retired behind a boat when he became aware of the presence of women on deck.
Three boats shot away from the side of the yacht, Brewster and Joe Bragdon in the first, both armed with rifles.
"Let's take a shot at 'em," cried a sailor who stood in the stern with his finger on a trigger.
"Don't do that! We don't know what boat holds Peggy," commanded Brewster. "Keep cool, boys, and be ready to scrap if we have to." He was half mad with fear and anxiety, and he was determined to exterminate the bands of robbers if harm came to the girl in their power.
"She's in the second boat," came the cry from the yacht, and the searchlight was kept on that particular object almost to the exclusion of the others. But Captain Perry saw the wisdom of keeping all of them clearly located in order to prevent trickery.
Brewster's brawny sailor boys came up like greyhounds, cheering as they dashed among the boats of the fugitives. Three or four shots were fired into the air by the zealous American lads, and there were loud cries from the Arabs as they veered off panic-stricken. Monty's boat was now in the path of light and not far behind the one which held Peggy. He was standing in the bow.
"Take care of the others!" he called back to his followers. "We'll go after the leaders."
The response from behind was a cheer, a half dozen shots and some of the most joyous profanity that ever fell from the lips of American sailors, mingled with shrieks from the boats they were to "take care of."
"Stop!" Brewster shouted to the Arabs. "Stop, or we'll kill every one of you!" His boat was not more than fifty feet from the other.
Suddenly a tall, white-robed figure arose in the middle of the Egyptian craft, and a moment later the pursuers saw Peggy's form passed up to him. She was instantly clasped by one of his long arms, and the other was lifted high above her. A gleaming knife was held in the upraised hand.
"Fire on us if you dare!" came in French from the tall Arab. "Dog of an American, she shall die if you come near her!"
THE RESCUE OF PEGGY
Brewster's heart almost ceased beating, and every vestige of color left his face. Clear and distinct in the light from the yacht the Arab and his burden were outlined against the black screen beyond. There was no mistaking the earnestness of the threat, nor could the witnesses doubt the ghastly intention of the long, cruel knife that gleamed on high. Peggy's body served as a shield for that of her captor. Brewster and Bragdon recognized the man as one of Mohammed's principal retainers, a fierce-looking fellow who had attracted more than usual attention on the day of the sheik's visit.
"For God's sake, don't kill her!" cried Brewster in agonized tones. There was a diabolical grin on the face of the Arab, who was about to shout back some defiant taunt when the unexpected happened.
The sharp crack of a gun sounded in the stern of Brewster's boat, and an unerring bullet sped straight for the big Arab's forehead. It crashed between his eyes and death must have been instantaneous. The knife flew from his hand, his body straightened and then collapsed, toppling over, not among his oarsmen, but across the gunwale of the craft. Before a hand could be lifted to prevent, the dead Arab and the girl were plunged into the sea.
A cry of horror went up from the Americans, and something surprisingly like a shout of triumph from the abductors. Even as Brewster poised for the spring into the water a flying form shot past him and into the sea with a resounding splash. The man that fired the shot had reckoned cleverly, and he was carrying out the final details of an inspired plan. The Arab's position as he stood in the boat was such as to warrant the sailor's belief that he could fall no other way than forward, and that meant over the side of the boat. With all this clearly in mind he had shot straight and true and was on his way to the water almost as the two toppled overboard.
Monty Brewster was in the water an instant later, striking out for the spot where they had disappeared, a little to the left of the course in which his boat was running. There was a rattle of firearms, with curses and cheers, but he paid no heed to these sounds. He was a length or two behind the sailor, praying with all his soul that one or the other might succeed in reaching the white robes that still kept the surface of the water. His crew was "backing water" and straining every muscle to bring the boat around sharp for the rescue.
The sailor's powerful strokes brought him to the spot first, but not in time to clutch the disappearing white robes. Just as he reached out an arm to grasp the form of the girl she went down. He did not hesitate a second but followed. Peggy had fallen from the dead Arab's embrace, and that worthy already was at the bottom of the sea. She was half conscious when the shot came, but the plunge into the cold water revived her. Her struggles were enough to keep her up for a few moments, but not long enough for the swimmers to reach her side. She felt herself going down and down, strangling, smothering, dying. Then something vise-like clutched her arm and she had the sensation of being jerked upward violently.
The sailor fought his way to the surface with the girl, and Brewster was at his side in an instant. Together they supported her until one of the boats came up, and they were drawn over the side to safety. By this time the abductors had scattered like sheep without a leader, and as there was no further object in pursuing them the little American fleet put back for the yacht in great haste. Peggy was quite conscious when carried aboard by the triumphant Brewster. The words he whispered to her as she lay in the bottom of the boat were enough to give her life.
The excitement on board the "Flitter" was boundless. Fear gave way to joy, and where despair had for a moment reigned supreme, there was now the most insane delight. Peggy was bundled below and into her berth, Dr. Lotless attending her, assisted by all the women on board. Brewster and the sailor, drenched but happy, were carried on the shoulders of enthusiastic supporters to a place where hot toddies were to be had before blankets.
"You have returned the favor, Conroy," said Brewster fervently, as he leaned across the heads of his bearers to shake hands with the sailor who was sharing the honors with him. Conroy was grinning from ear to ear as he sat perched on the shoulders of his shipmates. "I was luckier than I thought in saving your life that day."
"It wasn't anything, Mr. Brewster," said young Conroy. "I saw a chance to drop the big nigger, and then it was up to me to get her out of the water."
"You took a big risk, Conroy, but you made good with it. If it had not been for you, my boy, they might have got away with Miss Gray."
"Don't mention it, Mr. Brewster, it was nothing to do," protested Conroy in confusion. "I'd do anything in the world for you and for her."
"What is the adage about casting your bread upon the water and getting it back again?" asked "Rip" Van Winkle of Joe Bragdon as they jubilantly followed the procession below.
There was no more sleep on board that night. In fact the sun was not long in showing itself after the rescuers returned to the vessel. The daring attempt of Mohammed's emissaries was discussed without restraint, and every sailor had a story to tell of the pursuit and rescue. The event furnished conversational food for days and days among both the seamen and the passengers. Dan DeMille blamed himself relentlessly for sleeping through it all and moped for hours because he had lost a magnificent chance to "do something." The next morning he proposed to hunt for the sheik, and offered to lead an assault in person. An investigation was made and government officials tried to call Mohammed to account, but he had fled to the desert and the search was fruitless.
Brewster refused to accept a share of the glory of Peggy's rescue, pushing Conroy forward as the real hero. But the sailor insisted that he could not have succeeded without help,—that he was completely exhausted when Monty came to the rescue. Peggy found it hard to thank him gently while her heart was so dangerously near the riot point, and her words of gratitude sounded pitifully weak and insufficient.
"It would have been the same had anybody else gone to her rescue," he mused dejectedly. "She cares for me with the devotion of a sister and that's all. Peggy, Peggy," he moaned, "if you could only love me, I'd—I'd—oh, well, there's no use thinking about it! She will love some one else, of course, and—and be happy, too. If she'd appear only one-tenth as grateful to me as to Conroy I'd be satisfied. He had the luck to be first, that's all, but God knows I tried to do it."
Mrs. Dan DeMille was keen enough to see how the land lay, and she at once tried to set matters straight. She was far too clever to push her campaign ruthlessly, but laid her foundations and then built cunningly and securely with the most substantial material that came to hand from day to day. Her subjects were taking themselves too deeply to heart to appreciate interference on the part of an outsider, and Mrs. Dan was wise in the whims of love.
Peggy was not herself for several days after her experience, and the whole party felt a distinct relief when the yacht finally left the harbor and steamed off to the west. A cablegram that came the day before may have had something to do with Brewster's depression, but he was not the sort to confess it. It was from Swearengen Jones, of Butte, Montana, and there was something sinister in the laconic admonition. It read:
"BREWSTER, U.S. CONSULATE, ALEXANDRIA.
"Have a good time while good times last.
His brain was almost bursting with the hopes and fears and uncertainties that crowded it far beyond its ordinary capacity. It had come to the point, it seemed to him, when the brains of a dozen men at least were required to operate the affairs that were surging into his alone. The mere fact that the end of his year was less than two months off, and that there was more or less uncertainty as to the character of the end, was sufficient cause for worry, but the new trouble was infinitely harder to endure. When he sat down to think over his financial enterprises his mind treacherously wandered off to Peggy Gray, and then everything was hopeless. He recalled the courage and confidence that had carried him to Barbara Drew with a declaration of love—to the stunning, worldly Barbara—and smiled bitterly when he saw how basely the two allies were deserting him in this hour of love for Peggy Gray. For some reason he had felt sure of Barbara; for another reason he saw no chance with Peggy. She was not the same sort—she was different. She was—well, she was Peggy.
Occasionally his reflections assumed the importance of calculations. His cruise was sure to cost $200,000, a princely sum, but not enough. Swearengen Jones and his cablegram did not awe him to a great extent. The spending of the million had become a mania with him now and he had no regard for consequences. His one desire, aside from Peggy, was to increase the cost of the cruise. They were leaving Gibraltar when a new idea came into his troubled head.
He decided to change his plans and sail for the North Cape, thereby adding more than $30,000 to his credit.
Monty was on deck when the inspiration seized him, and he lost no time in telling his guests, who were at breakfast. Although he had misgivings about their opinion of the scheme, he was not prepared for the ominous silence that followed his announcement.
"Are you in earnest, Mr. Brewster?" asked Captain Perry, who was the first of the company to recover from the surprise.
"Of course I am. I chartered this boat for four months with the privilege of another month I can see no reason to prevent us from prolonging the trip." Monty's manner was full of self-assurance as he continued: "You people are so in the habit of protesting against every suggestion I make that you can't help doing it now."
"But, Monty," said Mrs. Dan, "what if your guests would rather go home."
"Nonsense; you were asked for a five months' cruise. Besides, think of getting home in the middle of August, with every one away. It would be like going to Philadelphia."
Brave as he was in the presence of his friends, in the privacy of his stateroom Monty gave way to the depression that was bearing down upon him. It was the hardest task of his life to go on with his scheme in the face of opposition. He knew that every man and woman on board was against the proposition, for his sake at least, and it was difficult to be arbitrary under the circumstances. Purposely he avoided Peggy all forenoon. His single glance at her face in the salon was enough to disturb him immeasurably.
The spirits of the crowd were subdued. The North Cape had charms, but the proclamation concerning it had been too sudden—had reversed too quickly the general expectation and desire. Many of the guests had plans at home for August, and even those who had none were satiated with excitement. During the morning they gathered in little knots to discuss the situation. They were all generous and each one was sure that he could cruise indefinitely, if on Monty's account the new voyage were not out of the question. They felt it their duty to take a desperate stand.
The half-hearted little gatherings resolved themselves into ominous groups and in the end there was a call for a general meeting in the main cabin. Captain Perry, the first mate, and the chief engineer were included in the call, but Montgomery Brewster was not to be admitted. Joe Bragdon loyally agreed to keep him engaged elsewhere while the meeting was in progress. The doors were locked and a cursory glance assured the chairman of the meeting, Dan DeMille, that no member of the party was missing save the devoted Bragdon. Captain Perry was plainly nervous and disturbed. The others were the victims of a suppressed energy that presaged subsequent eruptions.
"Captain Perry, we are assembled here for a purpose," said DeMille, clearing his throat three times. "First of all, as we understand it, you are the sailing master of this ship. In other words, you are, according to maritime law, the commander of this expedition. You alone can give orders to the sailors and you alone can clear a port. Mr. Brewster has no authority except that vested in a common employer. Am I correct?"
"Mr. DeMille, if Mr. Brewster instructs me to sail for the North Cape, I shall do so," said the captain, firmly. "This boat is his for the full term of the lease and I am engaged to sail her with my crew until the tenth of next September."
"We understand your position, captain, and I am sure you appreciate ours. It isn't that we want to end a very delightful cruise, but that we regard it as sheer folly for Mr. Brewster to extend the tour at such tremendous expense. He is—or was—a rich man, but it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is plunging much too heavily. In plain words, we want to keep him from spending more of his money on this cruise. Do you understand our position, Captain Perry?"
"Fully. I wish with all my soul that I could help you and him. My hands are tied by contract, however, much as I regret it at this moment."
"How does the crew feel about this additional trip, captain?" asked DeMille.
"They shipped for five months and will receive five months' pay. The men have been handsomely treated and they will stick to Mr. Brewster to the end," said the captain.
"There is no chance for a mutiny, then?" asked Smith regretfully. The captain gave him a hard look, but said nothing. Everybody seemed uncomfortable.
"Apparently the only way is the one suggested by Mr. Smith this morning," said Mrs. Dan, speaking for the women. "No one will object, I am sure, if Captain Perry and his chief officers are allowed to hear the plan."
"It is very necessary, in fact," said Mr. Valentine. "We cannot proceed without them. But they will agree with us, I am sure, that it is wise."
An hour later the meeting broke up and the conspirators made their way to the deck. It was a strange fact that no one went alone. They were in groups of three and four and the mystery that hung about them was almost perceptible. Not one was willing to face the excited, buoyant Brewster without help; they found strength and security in companionship.
Peggy was the one rebel against the conspiracy, and yet she knew that the others were justified in the step they proposed to take. She reluctantly joined them in the end, but felt that she was the darkest traitor in the crowd. Forgetting her own distress over the way in which Monty was squandering his fortune, she stood out the one defender of his rights until the end and then admitted tearfully to Mrs. DeMille that she had been "quite unreasonable" in doing so.
Alone in her stateroom after signing the agreement, she wondered what he would think of her. She owed him so much that she at least should have stood by him. She felt that he would be conscious of this? How could she have turned against him? He would not understand—of course he would never understand. And he would hate her with the others—more than the others. It was all a wretched muddle and she could not see her way out of it.
Monty found his guests very difficult. They listened to his plans with but little interest, and he could not but see that they were uncomfortable. The situation was new to their experience, and they were under a strain. "They mope around like a lot of pouting boys and girls," he growled to himself. "But it's the North Cape now in spite of everything. I don't care if the whole crowd deserts me, my mind is made up."
Try as he would, he could not see Peggy alone. He had much that he wanted to say to her and he hungered for the consolation her approval would bring him, but she clung to Pettingill with a tenacity that was discouraging. The old feeling of jealousy that was connected with Como again disturbed him.
"She thinks that I am a hopeless, brainless idiot," he said to himself. "And I don't blame her, either."
Just before nightfall he noticed that his friends were assembling in the bow. As he started to join the group "Subway" Smith and DeMille advanced to meet him. Some of the others were smiling a little sheepishly, but the two men were pictures of solemnity and decision.
"Monty," said DeMille steadily, "we have been conspiring against you and have decided that we sail for New York to-morrow morning."
Brewster stopped short and the expression on his face was one they never could forget. Bewilderment, uncertainty and pain succeeded each other like flashes of light. Not a word was spoken for several seconds. The red of humiliation slowly mounted to his cheeks, while in his eyes wavered the look of one who has been hunted down.
"You have decided?" he asked lifelessly, and more than one heart went out in pity to him.
"We hated to do it, Monty, but for your own sake there was no other way," said "Subway" Smith quickly. "We took a vote and there wasn't a dissenting voice." "It is a plain case of mutiny, I take it," said Monty, utterly alone and heart-sick.
"It isn't necessary to tell you why we have taken this step," said DeMille. "It is heart-breaking to oppose you at this stage of the game. You've been the best ever and—"
"Cut that," cried Monty, and his confidence in himself was fast returning. "This is no time to throw bouquets."
"We like you, Brewster." Mr. Valentine came to the chairman's assistance because the others had looked at him so appealingly. "We like you so well that we can't take the responsibility for your extravagance. It would disgrace us all."
"That side of the matter was never mentioned," cried Peggy indignantly, and then added with a catch in her voice, "We thought only of you."
"I appreciate your motives and I am grateful to you," said Monty. "I am more sorry than I can tell you that the cruise must end in this way, but I too have decided. The yacht will take you to some point where you can catch a steamer to New York. I shall secure passage for the entire party and very soon you will be at home. Captain Perry, will you oblige me by making at once for any port that my guests may agree upon?" He was turning away deliberately when "Subway" Smith detained him.
"What do you mean by getting a steamer to New York? Isn't the 'Flitter' good enough?" he asked.
"The 'Flitter' is not going to New York just now," answered Brewster firmly, "notwithstanding your ultimatum. She is going to take me to the North Cape."
A FAIR TRAITOR
"Now will you be good?" cried Reggie Vanderpool to DeMille as Monty went down the companionway. The remark was precisely what was needed, for the pent-up feelings of the entire company were now poured forth upon the unfortunate young man. "Subway" Smith was for hanging him to the yard arm, and the denunciation of the others was so decisive that Reggie sought refuge in the chart house. But the atmosphere had been materially cleared and the leaders of the mutiny were in a position to go into executive session and consider the matter. The women waited on deck while the meeting lasted. They were unanimous in the opinion that the affair had been badly managed.