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He confessed his wickedness to Madame de Vaurigard the next afternoon as they drove out the Appian Way. "A fellow must have just a bit of a fling, you know," he said; "and, really, Salone Margherita isn't so tremendously wicked."
She shook her head at him in friendly raillery. "Ah, that may be; but how many of those little dancing-girl' have you invite to supper afterward?"
This was a delicious accusation, and though he shook his head in virtuous denial he was before long almost convinced that he had given a rather dashing supper after the vaudeville and had not gone quietly back to the hotel, only stopping by the way to purchase an orange and a pocketful of horse-chestnuts to eat in his room.
It was a happy drive for Robert Russ Mellin, though not happier than that of the next day. Three afternoons they spent driving over the Campagna, then back to Madame de Vaurigard's apartment for tea by the firelight, till the enraptured American began to feel that the dream in which he had come to live must of happy necessity last forever.
On the fourth afternoon, as he stepped out of the hotel elevator into the corridor, he encountered Mr. Sneyd.
"Just stottin', eh?" said the Englishman, taking an envelope from his pocket. "Lucky I caught you. This is for you. I just saw the Cantess and she teold me to give it you. Herry and read it and kem on t' the Amairikin Baw. Chap I want you to meet. Eold Cooley's thyah too. Gawt in with his tourin'-caw at noon."
"You will forgive, dear friend," wrote Madame de Vaurigard, "if I ask you that we renounce our drive to-day. You see, I wish to have that little dinner to-night and must make preparation. Honorable Chandler Pedlow arrived this morning from Paris and that droll Mr. Cooley I have learn is coincidentally arrived also. You see I think it would be very pleasant to have the dinner to welcome these friends on their arrival. You will come surely--or I shall be so truly miserable. You know it perhaps too well! We shall have a happy evening if you come to console us for renouncing our drive. A thousand of my prettiest wishes for you.
The signature alone consoled him. To have that note from her, to own it, was like having one of her gloves or her fan. He would keep it forever, he thought; indeed, he more than half expressed a sentiment to that effect in the response which he wrote in the aquarium, while Sneyd waited for him at a table near by. The Englishman drew certain conclusions in regard to this reply, since it permitted a waiting friend to consume three long tumblers of brandy-and-soda before it was finished. However, Mr. Sneyd kept his reflections to himself, and, when the epistle had been dispatched by a messenger, took the American's arm and led him to the "American Bar" of the hotel, a region hitherto unexplored by Mellin.
Leaning against the bar were Cooley and the man whom Mellin had seen lolling beside Madame de Vaurigard in Cooley's automobile in Paris, the same gross person for whom he had instantly conceived a strong repugnance, a feeling not at once altered by a closer view.
Cooley greeted Mellin uproariously and Mr. Sneyd introduced the fat man. "Mr. Mellin, the Honorable Chandler Pedlow," he said; nor was the shock to the first-named gentleman lessened by young Cooley's adding, "Best feller in the world!"
Mr. Pedlow's eyes were sheltered so deeply beneath florid rolls of flesh that all one saw of them was an inscrutable gleam of blue; but, small though they were, they were not shifty, for they met Mellin's with a squareness that was almost brutal. He offered a fat paw, wet by a full glass which he set down too suddenly on the bar.
"Shake," he said, in a loud and husky voice, "and be friends! Tommy," he added to the attendant, "another round of Martinis."
"Not for me," said Mellin hastily. "I don't often--"
"What!" Mr. Pedlow roared suddenly. "Why, the first words Countess de Vaurigard says to me this afternoon was, 'I want you to meet my young friend Mellin,' she says; 'the gamest little Indian that ever come down the pike! He's game,' she says--'he'll see you all under the table!' That's what the smartest little woman in the world, the Countess de Vaurigard, says about you."
This did not seem very closely to echo Madame de Vaurigard's habit of phrasing, but Mellin perceived that it might be only the fat man's way of putting things.
"You ain't goin' back on her, are you?" continued Mr. Pedlow. "You ain't goin' to make her out a liar? I tell you, when the Countess de Vaurigard says a man 's game, he is game!" He laid his big paw cordially on Mellin's shoulder and smiled, lowering his voice to a friendly whisper. "And I'll bet ten thousand dollars right out of my pants pocket you are game, too!"
He pressed a glass into the other's hand. Smiling feebly, the embarrassed Mellin accepted it.
"Make it four more, Tommy," said Pedlow. "And here," continued this thoughtful man, "I don't go bandying no ladies' names around a bar-room--that ain't my style--but I do want to propose a toast. I won't name her, but you all know who I mean."
"Sure we do," interjected Cooley warmly. "Queen! That's what she is."
"Here's to her," continued Mr. Pedlow. "Here's to her--brightest and best--and no heel-taps! And now let's set down over in the corner and take it easy. It ain't hardly five o'clock yet, and we can set here comfortable, gittin' ready for dinner, until half-past six, anyway."
Whereupon the four seated themselves about a tabouret in the corner, and, a waiter immediately bringing them four fresh glasses from the bar, Mellin began to understand what Mr. Pedlow meant by "gittin' ready for dinner." The burden of the conversation was carried almost entirely by the Honorable Chandler, though Cooley, whose boyish face was deeply flushed, now and then managed to interrupt by talking louder than the fat man. Mr. Sneyd sat silent.
"Good ole Sneyd," said Pedlow. "He never talks, jest saws wood. Only Britisher I ever liked. Plays cards like a goat."
"He played a mighty good game on the steamer," said Cooley warmly.
"I don't care what he did on the steamer, he played like a goat the only time I ever played with him. You know he did. I reckon you was there!"
"Should say I was there! He played mighty well--"
"Like a goat," reiterated the fat man firmly.
"Nothing of the sort. You had a run of hands, that was all. Nobody can go against the kind of luck you had that night; and you took it away from Sneyd and me in rolls. But we'll land you pretty soon, won't we, ole Sneydie?"
"We sh'll have a shawt at him, at least," said the Englishman.
"Perhaps he won't want us to try," young Cooley pursued derisively. "Perhaps he thinks I play like a goat, too!"
Mr. Pedlow threw back his head and roared. "Give me somep'n easy! You don't know no more how to play a hand of cards than a giraffe does. I'll throw in all of my Blue Gulch gold-stock--and it's worth eight hundred thousand dollars if it's worth a cent--I'll put it up against that tin automobile of yours, divide chips even and play you freeze-out for it. You play cards? Go learn hop-scotch!"
"You wait!" exclaimed the other indignantly. "Next time we play we'll make you look so small you'll think you're back in Congress!"
At this Mr. Pedlow again threw back his head and roared, his vast body so shaken with mirth that the glass he held in his hand dropped to the floor.
"There," said Cooley, "that's the second Martini you've spilled. You're two behind the rest of us."
"What of it?" bellowed the fat man. "There's plenty comin', ain't there? Four more, Tommy, and bring cigars. Don't take a cent from none of these Indians. Gentlemen, your money ain't good here. I own this bar, and this is my night."
Mellin had begun to feel at ease, and after a time--as they continued to sit--he realized that his repugnance to Mr. Pedlow was wearing off; he felt that there must be good in any one whom Madame de Vaurigard liked. She had spoken of Pedlow often on their drives; he was an "eccentric," she said, an "original." Why not accept her verdict? Besides, Pedlow was a man of distinction and force; he had been in Congress; he was a millionaire; and, as became evident in the course of a long recital of the principal events of his career, most of the great men of the time were his friends and proteges.
"'Well, Mack,' says I one day when we were in the House together"-- (thus Mr. Pedlow, alluding to the late President McKinley)--"'Mack,' says I, 'if you'd drop that double standard business'--he was waverin' toward silver along then--'I don't know but I might git the boys to nominate you fer President.' 'I'll think it over,' he says --'I'll think it over.' You remember me tellin' you about that at the time, don't you, Sneyd, when you was in the British Legation at Washin'ton?"
"Pahfictly," said Mr. Sneyd, lighting a cigar with great calmness.
"'Yes,' I says, 'Mack,' I says, "if you'll drop it, I'll turn in and git you the nomination.'"
"Did he drop it?" asked Mellin innocently.
Mr. Pedlow leaned forward and struck the young man's knee a resounding blow with the palm of his hand.
"He was nominated, wasn't he?"
"Time to dress," announced Mr. Sneyd, looking at his watch.
"One more round first," insisted Cooley with prompt vehemence. "Let's finish with our first toast again. Can't drink that too often."
This proposition was received with warmest approval, and they drank standing. "Brightest and best!" shouted Mr. Pedlow.
"Queen! What she is!" exclaimed Cooley.
"Ma belle Marquise!" whispered Mellin tenderly, as the rim touched his lips.
A small, keen-faced man, whose steady gray eyes were shielded by tortoise-rimmed spectacles, had come into the room and now stood quietly at the bar, sipping a glass of Vichy. He was sharply observant of the party as it broke up, Pedlow and Sneyd preceding the younger men to the corridor, and, as the latter turned to follow, the stranger stepped quickly forward, speaking Cooley's name.
"What's the matter?"
"Perhaps you don't remember me. My name's Cornish. I'm a newspaper man, a correspondent." (He named a New York paper.) "I'm down here to get a Vatican story. I knew your father for a number of years before his death, and I think I may claim that he was a friend of mine."
"That's good," said the youth cordially. "If I hadn't a fine start already, and wasn't in a hurry to dress, we'd have another."
"You were pointed out to me in Paris," continued Cornish. "I found where you were staying and called on you the next day, but you had just started for the Riviera." He hesitated, glancing at Mellin. "Can you give me half a dozen words with you in private?"
"You'll have to excuse me, I'm afraid. I've only got about ten minutes to dress. See you to-morrow."
"I should like it to be as soon as possible," the journalist said seriously. "It isn't on my own account, and I--"
"All right. You come to my room at ten t'morrow morning?"
"Well, if you can't possibly make it to-night," said Cornish reluctantly. "I wish--"
And Cooley, taking Mellin by the arm, walked rapidly down the corridor. "Funny ole correspondent," he murmured. "What do I know about the Vatican?"
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