Saturday, July 14, 2018

THE LAUGHING DUCHESS - by Virginia Woodward Cloud

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Virginia Woodward Cloud 1861 - 1938




The optimist, safely outside our own environs, prescribes the old formulas: “Look Around You and Write; Look Within the Human Heart”

“But, dear sir, where is the story ?”  Usually it is a “Sir,” and this time it was Felmer Prince.  “Look Around You !”

I mocked: “I defy you to find anything more stirring than old Sam Peters, driving a moth-eaten mule to the mill.”

“And you and I,” supplemented Felmer.  “The human heart”

But I retreated behind the gate and barred it upon the “human heart,” retorting that if the organ disturbed me as it did some people I should confine my conversation to “Yes” and “No.”

“You are sufficiently expert in the use of the negative,” said Felmer, switching at a dead brier, and I proceeded: “As for ‘looking within,’ when Martha and I reach the homicidal point I take a walk.”

“How many subscriptions have you gotten for that confounded thing, Enid ?” he asked, abruptly.  I temporized.

“One can live on very little after the habit is formed.”

Felmer shook the gate fiercely.  “I wish that you would listen to reason !”

“I do, to my own.  I’m thinking of selling”

“Not the place !” he broke in.  I asked him, as a man and a neighbor, if he thought that any sane tenant would invest in a left-over colonial, with roof leaking, paint off, shutters hanging; populated by generations of bats, and with a frog pond beside which Poe’s Raven was a pæan of joy ?

“A place with no remaining virtue”

“Except beauty,” he added.  I clung to the gate’s bars, my brow upon my hands, and pain shaking my heart.

“And I’m a fool about it!” I said, miserably.  “Every mossy old flagstone, and the very wizardry of its black woods against the sky, means me.  It is psychic with inherited memories.”

“Miss E-enid!  Are your shoes dry ?” screamed Martha from the back door.

“To sell ?” prodded Prince, relentlessly.

“The ivory Buddha and the Mercury, at the Collectors’ International Exposition opened up in town.  Now is my chance.”  He nodded.

“But be wary, Enid.  You women”

I reminded him that the vice president was Cary Penwick, a cousin of my own, the fear and fascination of childhood’s idolatry.  Prince said rather gloomily that he had never heard me mention this cousin, which was not surprising; the last time I saw Cary Penwick he was a wild boy of fourteen, with hair in his eves and a brain full of adventurous mischief.  I was an imaginative child of eight years, and memory’s tenderest association with Cary was a mutual and unappeased hunger.

“We roasted corn at the field’s edge and climbed the roof to steal bricks out of the chimney, to build the oven.”  I marched on, with Cary borne banner-like before, to relate how the poor boy’s father had been the family skeleton, grandma’s black sheep son, smirched with disgrace, who died in Paris.  Finally, Cary’s mother’s family had sent him off to school, from which he consistently ran away, and we never saw him again.  He had vowed that one day he would return.  At Prince’s laugh, I ended haughtily: “To get even with me for kicking him, when he carried me dripping from the frog pond.  I remember that he slapped me.  Now, the papers call him a famous collector, and I am sure Cary will help me dispose of the things to advantage.”

Prince dug wells in the mud with his stick.  “Of course, Enid, being a relative—but it is safer always to have the opinion of more than one before coming to a settlement.”

And, according to history’s human law, I laughed his caution to the winds.

“Are your feet dry, Miss Enid ?”

This being her perennial, I stuck them on the fender and drank tea, while Martha hovered, hen-like and solicitous.  “Did you get any, miss ?”

As on preceding afternoons, I explained that “The World at Home” did not drag subscribers in with a seine.

“You know that I got one last week, Martha, but the people look for me now.  Poor Mr. Petty was at the gate with a flaming sword.  I mean, the shovel.”

“Then he wasn’t sober, miss.”

“Obviously not.  I let sleeping Pettys lie, since he put me out of the house as ‘them agents.’”

“Eight sticks, some fence rails and three barrels,” chanted Martha, to the wood-basket on the hearth.

“And the last timber sold for the mortgage,” I ruminated.  “How’s the caravansary: the food, O faithful Achates ?  I can eat less.”

“For the land’s sake, don’t, Miss Enid!  You don’t weigh more’n a sparrow now.  It’s a long road that’s got no turnin’, but joy cometh in the mornin’, as the hymn says.”  Martha stood over me, her hands under her apron, her little shawl crossed and tied behind.  “There’s some corn meal left”

“Too fattening.”

“A quart of vinegar”

“Ah, now we are arriving!  Socrates and the hemlock!”

“No, miss, vinegar.  Half a ham, some rice”

“And you call it low rations !” I rebuked.  “I’ll bet my hard-earned subscription that your grandfather wasn’t a highwayman, Martha.”

“My soul, no, miss!  There wasn’t nothin’ of the kind in our family.  He was a elder.”

“I feared so.  There is nothing of the pirate concealed about you, else you’d not be toasting starvation with half a ham and a pound of rice in reserve.  You and Dr. Prince could do ensemble work as star pessimists.  Now, nature contrived me in a perverse and whimsical mood.  Give me a black night and a star’s twinkle, and I’ll dig for doubloons; a red sunset and a dark woods converts me into a doughty knight, ready to hew his way through the thorny hedge of the world!  Eight sticks and half a ham !  Woman, we’re good for flood or barricade.”

But Martha, hardened to a lifetime of like panegyrics, was not to be diverted.

“Yes, miss.  So I say.  We must do something.”

“The telephone!  It shall go at the end of the month.”

“And there’s that there Duchess, Miss Enid, sittin’ in there in a gold frame, not doin’ no good to nobody.  The collector gentleman said it would bring its price, miss.”

I came to earth with a thud, and retrod the battlefield peopled by ghosts of past encounters.  The Fierienti Duchess, my grandmother’s great-great-grandmother, had been the family mascot for generations.  Cary Penwick alone, as grandma’s last surviving male relative, should have the responsibility of the Laughing Duchess.

“But, don’t forget it’s yours, Miss,” Martha held on.  “Your grandma says, ‘Martha,’ she says, ‘take care of her always, and keep the Duchess dusted!’  ‘I will, ma’am,’ says I, ‘long as there’s breath in my veins!’ says I.  ‘Tenny rate, Miss Enid, there’s that there Chinese idol settin’ on his heels, lookin’ enough like Wung Loo at the laundry to be his brother”

This of thee, O shade of Buddha !

“—And that boy with wings on his feet, ’stead of skates”

And thou, immortal Mercury !

“—You could get as high as two hundred for ’em, maybe.”

I admitted the possibility, but was determined to submit the Fierienti only to the first authority among collectors.

And, at that moment, with the ringing of the telephone, the unexpected stepped in as stage manager, and gave me a protracted performance for twenty-four hours.

“I guess Dr. Prince’s ringin’ to see if we’re all right for the night,” speculated Martha, who invariably gambled upon a letter before opening it.

“Suppose you go up to town tomorrow, Enid, and consult Penwick,” came Prince’s kind voice.  “We are instructed to catch opportunity by the forelock.  And, if you want me to go along”

I cruelly ignored the eager implication.  I would go alone.

“Collecting becomes an unmoral science,” he went on.  “Knowing your incredible enthusiasms”

“Help !  Help !” I interposed.

“—Your incredible enthusiasms, you should not take the antiques with you.  Let a collector come out and value them.”

As I had a vision of starting with eight inches of Buddha and returning with five hundred cash, I demurred, but he held his point, and finally I capitulated, and for peace at any price agreed to telephone him which train to meet.  In the morning, I covered the two miles to the station with the elation of the adventuress who casts her last two dollars on the roulette of the railroad, and draws a possible fare to fortune.

In the exposition building, I went from office to committee rooms, only to discover that the vice president was away for the day, and not expected to return until evening, and, having dropped forty degrees mentally, I sat at the end of a corridor, killing time upon the pretense of examining a telephone register.  Three delegates, obviously wined and lunched, halted near, talking.

“Yes, yes, smart chap,” said number one, “but keen on the main chance.  Ever hear the story of old Mrs. Mace’s Romney ?  Old Mrs. Mace, widow of his friend, owned a great Romney.  He was hard on its track and sent an agent, who valued it, as a good copy, at two hundred.  The old lady indignantly refuses.  The collector goes off to Mexico to investigate the Talahiti excavations, but sends a second agent, who declares it to be worth all of three hundred.  The old lady, finally, at the cud of everything, sells.  The Romney disappears.  When her money goes, the old lady in despair dies.  Now, his Romney sells high in the thousands.  Not a nice story, what ?”

The chorus admitted that it was not, and I sat petrified, and thankful that I had a relative among the elect.  Number two spoke:

“There is big betting on his wager with Dantrè.  He swears to better Dantrè’s exhibits with a gem that will knock them into cockles.  Says he can produce a genuine original Fierienti.”

“Piffle !” exclaimed number three.  “There were two Fierientis, the Laughing Duchess, destroyed in the great fire of London, and its copy, made by Fierienti, now in the Metropolitan.”

Arguing this point they passed on and I sat with face bent over the book, and with thought rushing tumultuously.  My picture, at Brookchase, was the original Fierienti, the copy of which was in the Metropolitan.  Of this there had never been a doubt; the Chevalier de Russy, member of the French Academy, had vouched for it, when on a visit to grandma.  Besides, I had its records.  Who, then, was “he”?  And where could “he” find another original Fierienti?

I was on my feet to follow and find out, when Prince’s words swung back to me: “Knowing your incredible enthusiasms”  I sank back, crushing down impulse, and then, under a desperate desire for action, gave his number to the local exchange, and entered booth number four.

Inside the booth, through the blurred reflection of my own image upon the glass, I discerned the outline of a man, in the adjoining booth: a smooth, dark head bent upon a slender hand, above which was visible an odd cufflink, two swastikas in red Roman gold.  My call was answered by Prince’s old housekeeper.

“This is Miss Legree,” I said.  Then came Prince’s voice: “What luck, Enid ?”

“None,” I replied.  “Penwick is away for the day, and I am glad that I left the Fierienti at home, although I am eager to solve a mystery.  I overheard something about another Fierienti, whereas I know that there is no other.  I will be at Brookchase by the four o’clock express, but can walk to the gate at the crossroads.”

Prince laughed, and as I rang off I clearly heard the voice of the man in the adjoining booth, repeating his number.  He, in turn then, must have overheard me.  Dismissing this as irrelevant, I went to the station and waited morosely until the afternoon express bore me back to the realization of being the poorer by one railroad fare.

Driving between bare fields, Prince said: “Don’t worry.”

“If a woman loses an eye or has a toothache it is quite intelligible,” I resented.  “But if she collapses from nerves, or stares nothingness in the face, men tell her not to worry.  I shall write to Cary Penwick tomorrow, and hand the Laughing Duchess over to him.  He may sell it for what he can get.”

Prince flicked the colt to a trot, and said: “Better go slow.  I’ve heard some queer things about collectors.”

“Things like old Mrs. Mace’s Romney, I suppose,” I said.

He jerked the reins abruptly: “What of it ?  There was an old Mrs. Mace in our home town who owned a Romney.  Jove ! I’d forgotten all about that.  Why” he stopped short, his brows drawn sharply into a frown.  I related the story I had heard, but added that all collectors were not pickpockets.  Prince, however, drove in thoughtful silence.  “I wish you’d let me do more for you,” he began at the gate.  But I ran up the path, laughing back at him.

At seven o’clock the unexpected again rang the telephone, and thought instantly visualized the voice as fat, florid and fed.  The revolution was therefore complete when it said: “Cousin Enid, this is Cary Penwick.  I hope you remember me. . . .  Yes, my dear girl, twenty-five years!  You would not recognize me.”

“Oh, but I should!” I cried, happily.  “A dark-eyed boy with his hair in his eyes, and a brain set on adventure. . . .  But your voice does not in the least sound like you.  Do come out and let me see you.”

He assured me that such had been his intention, but an official banquet and a directors’ meeting intervened.  Finally, it was decided that he should motor out after the banquet, and remain at Brookchase for the night.  “Do not wait up for me.  Your man can meet me.  I shall be there by twelve,” he said.

Having recovered from the natural effects of hearing that there was no man, he added: “By the way, Enid, I seem to remember that your grandmother had some quaint old things.  Were there not several paintings and a carving or two ?  Trifles probably, but I might help you do something with them.”

“Trifles!  Why, Cary, surely you remember the Laughing Duchess ?  It has been the family treasure for generations, that and the Mercury.  It is about these things that I want particularly to consult you,” I replied.

“Well, well,” he said, tolerantly, “I vaguely recall the piece.  A very nice copy, no doubt, of Fierienti’s Duchess.”

“Copy !” I cried.  “Indeed, it is the original from which Fierienti made his copy.  I can prove it from grandma’s records.  It is the Fierienti thought to have been destroyed in the London fire.”

He laughed softly.

“I will have a look at it, Enid.  I hate to disillusion you, but old ladies attach exaggerated value to their treasures.  No doubt your grandmother believed in it.”

“She was your grandmother, too,” I found myself murmuring.

“Surely, surely,” he continued cheerfully, “but the things are yours, my dear girl, and it occurred to me as an opportunity now for you to raise a little something on them.”

He rang off, and I sat with my head in my hands.  The Fierienti a copy !  I could not credit it.  In spite of the disappointment which the mirage of a fortune almost invariably disguises, this alluring, laughing little figure’s identity had been family history.  Three centuries had staked their faiths upon it.  Yet, Cary Penwick was an expert. . . .  I paced the floor, assuring myself that even experts were not infallible; the Chevalier de Russy was an authority, whereas Cary had been but a careless boy when he saw the Fierienti.  My mercurial spirit soared upward again; I refused to believe the worst until confronted by it; then I would surrender gracefully.  I ran to tell Martha of the guest’s coming, and found her poised, Mahomet-like, between the ether of joy and the mundane condition of the larder.

“There’s enough coffee for one, with corn muffins, rice fritters and broiled ham”

“If he asks for truffles, serve the Buddha; if for partridge, bring on the Mercury !”

“Eight sticks and two barrels,” chanted Martha, “and I say it’s the Lord who sent him here at this time.  Maybe he’ll buy that there Duchess at your price, miss.  But, I can’t heat up the library: it would take the whole woodshed.  Many’s the time, when Mr. Cary wasn’t but ten year old, he would climb up on them shelves and pitch the books down on me.  And eat!  Anything this side of a tin can that boy could eat.”

The living room at Brookchase was early Victorian.  Its threadbare, flowered carpet, high cornices, brass fender and firedogs, with long mirror over them, its harpbacked chairs, and Dickens at Gadshill, were free of more modern innovation than a brass lamp and the crashing contrast of a telephone.

By nine o’clock three of the precious logs crackled on the andirons, and grandma’s armchair was drawn before them.  On various pretenses Martha peered in the door, like the prompter in the wings, at every few revolutions of the minute hand, and latterly found the house owner before the mirror, adjusting a stray lock of hair.

“That gray does become you, Miss Enid, if ’tis your grandma’s made down, you being so straight and slim.  But you didn’t put her pin on.  That weepin’ willer is a grand piece !”

This worshipful object was the cameo of a lachrymose female playing the harp over a mortuary urn.  “Yet, I don’t know but them amber beads has more style !” added Martha.  I assured her that unless Mr. Cary had changed beyond belief, he would be as impervious to beads as to sackcloth; and at the moment a motor horn sounded in the lane.

“He has come out early !” I cried, catching up a candle and lighting it, while Martha opened the outer door, like the warden of a castle, sending a beam of light straight into the eyes of a tall, slender man on the threshold.

“Cary !  Cary Penwick !” I cried, drawing him into the firelight’s glow, where he stood, smiling a little behind a dark, Van Dyke beard, and blinking a little behind horn-rimmed glasses.  Martha hovered with: “Are your feet dry, Mr. Cary ?  I’d best be bringin’ your grandma’s cordial !”

She hurried off, and I proffered the armchair.

“How good of you to leave the banquet early,” I said, conscious now that an intent, but veiled, gaze was studying me.

“I left it as the lesser attraction,” he said, in a reserved voice that gave me a sense of baffled surprise.

“Why, you do not in the least resemble your voice over the telephone!” I told him.  “Telephones are so misleading.”

“What was it like ?” he asked.

“Rather fat and clubby,” I confessed; “but you are really like my childhood’s vague dream-knight,” I laughed, as Martha reappeared with cordial, in infinitesimal glasses.  Inside the door she lingered.

“What of the old Deacon, Mr. Cary ?  He died, of course, poor creature!  A body couldn’t help bein’ fond of him, for all his ways.”

“The Deacon, of course” he looked absently in his glass.  “Well, his habits killed him, after a while.  He drank too much, you know.”

“Then it wasn’t hydrophobia, sir ?  That was a blessing!  I never seen a dog more devoted than the Deacon was to you, Mr. Cary !”  Martha closed the door, and my guest stood on the hearth rug, smiling gravely, but with an expression best described as a listening face.  Glancing from ivory Buddha to winged Mercury, his look returned to me, and lingered, as in indecision.

“You are looking for the Fierienti,” I smiled back; “I am immune to the wiles of collectors.”

“Guilty !” he said, with the same shy aloofness.

“But you must see grandma’s last portrait first.  Brookchase remains primitive enough for candles.”  I held one under the picture above the mirror.  “The Chevalier de Russy sketched her in oils, to preserve what he called the expression ‘angelique,’ and afterwards sent me this from France.  The eyes always follow one with understanding.  See how they smile upon you, Cary !  As though she knew that you had fulfilled her pride and faith, and had become the honorable man she had aimed to make you in spite” I stopped.  His eyes were upon mine, in the glass, with profound questioning.  “In spite of all,” I ended.

“In spite of all !” he repeated, drawn to grandma’s look, and although aware that when a skeleton is safely locked in its closet, it is wise to lose the key, I felt the moment to be surcharged with unspoken confidence.

“You remember that she would not admit inheritance to be a menace to you, and held that a man’s character lay in his own hands.”

“You mean that because my father happened to be a rascal, I could successfully live over the effects ?” he asked, impersonally; but the question in his eyes caused me to motion him to the easy chair, and I sat beside him.

Prince calls me half irrepressible pagan, and Prince has an aggravating way of winning out; but there are moments when nothing more romantic than the protective hen seems uppermost.  Therefore, I attribute the hour which followed to the subconsciousness, groping to assert its right of divination.  Back of his impersonality lay an expression of profound solitariness, an appeal as impassioned as it was naïve: quickly masked, but revealing some dumb tragedy of soul.  The source mattered nothing to me.  Words from a modern philosopher swam through my thoughts: “All tormented souls are not in Inferno.  They sit beside us, smile in our faces, devoured by the flame of present torture.  Reach to them the drop of cold water.”

Imagination’s shuttle began to spin its swift, silent threads around this aloof personality, and I spoke without restraint of grandma’s enduring, pervasive spirituality, and of his boyhood’s promise.  Gradually, then eagerly, response came, his restraint unveiling boyishly under the luxury of sympathy.  He talked glowingly of Italy, of unconfessed adventure in Egypt, of wandering and wonder in Sahara, of unexplained mystery in India.  Conversationally, his proved to be a sentient comprehension, finely imaginative and suggestive, and momentarily revealing an unsuspected, dual side, alien to the wild boy that I had known in childhood.  At last, I said:

“Forgive me, but experiencing and appreciating life as you do, is it not remarkable that you have not married ?”

“No.  Some are born to be units,” he paused, “and the women I have known have not been like you.”

“Ah, now you shall see the Laughing Duchess !” I returned, rising for the candle.

He smiled down gravely upon me.

“It has been an unusual hour for me.  You have caused me to forget time and errand.  But, now I must look at your things and go.”

I reminded him of his promise to remain for the night at Brookchase, and he cast a wistful look around the room, but repeated:

“It is better that I should go.”

Feeling baffled, yet mentally exhilarated, I went into the adjoining library, but the cold draft blew out my candle.  Groping my way back, with the little picture, I was arrested by the scene in the room beyond.  My guest stood with arms folded and face lifted to grandma’s portrait, as though, in a tense moment, he were asking an impassioned question and receiving a benedictory answer.  When I entered, he turned to examine the Mercury through his glass, and presently said:

“This is undoubtedly a genuine Benvenuto, Miss Legree.  I believe your fortune lies here!”

“Miss Legree!” I chided, and be flushed slightly, adding: “Enid.”

I reminded him that grandma owned only originals, and related the history of the Fierienti; how it had been painted by the great Italian for the queen, who was godmother to the little Laughing Duchess; how it came into England with the eldest son of the duchess, and thence into France with a grandson, an émigré from the Revolution, who was grandma’s father.

“It was her treasure, but you, yourself, prevented us from making a fatal mistake,” I smiled back to the luring laughter of the picture.  “She needed money once, almost as badly as...”  I stopped.  In his bladelike glance of comprehension, quickly sheathed, lay the perception of a forlorn hope in the shape of half a ham and eight sticks of wood.  “As many do,” I added, tritely.  “The mortgage was due and I suggested selling this picture, but the sons of the family had owned it, and she wished to wait for your coming, that yours might be the decision.  You may call it an old lady’s over-scrupulous sense of loyalty, but I think it very sweet.  She sold, instead, the companion to the Buddha, and left the Duchess to me.  Now, I can, in a measure, fulfill her wish.  Sell the bronze and ivory, Cary, but do as you will about the Laughing Duchess.”

I put the picture in his hands, and he sat under the lamp examining it with an expert’s eagerness.  At last he said:

“I believe this to be the original Fierienti.  Will you trust me with it, irrespective of relationship?”

I said that I would trust him with anything, and he smiled, gravely, and took out pen and check-book.  “I must feel that you believe me to be acting for your best interest.  I confess that I came with the intention of buying the picture.  Its records were hazy where the London fire was concerned, and it is a gem, but the Cellini Mercury must be valued by the committee.  I will leave you a deposit to secure both as my property, and you will receive the maximum value after the final estimate is made.  But you may withdraw the sale at any time during the coming month, by wiring to the bank upon which this check is drawn.”

“You are not ” I tried to say.

“Acting merely upon a personal basis ?  Not in the least.  I am eager to own the things, but will hold them at your disposal for a time.”

“Then they are yours,” I said.  “For I confess having intended to sell them to the first collector tomorrow.  And probably rue it ever afterwards, like old Mrs. Mace and her Romney.”

He rose, frowning darkly.

“So !  You have heard of that nefarious transaction ?  Well,” he added, cryptically, “you may have cause to thank old Mrs. Mace’s Romney.  Justice has a strange, inexplicable way of working out her problems in spite of us.”

It was here that the clock struck eleven-thirty.

“I feel like Cinderella,” I said, my hand in a strong clasp which was folding a check in it.  “I do not want you to go, Cary!”  For something told me that I should see this brave, elusive personality no more.

“And I astonish myself by not wanting to go,” he said.  “This room, this hour, will linger like the perfume of a dream.  Adieu, Cinderella!”

His lips touched my hand.  A motor horn sounded sharply.  He caught up the antiques and his overcoat; there came a rush of cold air, a door slammed and the motor rolled off.  Then a blinding wave swept over consciousness, and for a second I saw two lamp flames instead of one.  I caught at the table, and stood helpless with fact hammering the thing upon unwilling reason, for, on the cuff, lifted to thrust into his coat sleeve, I had seen two swastikas, in red Roman gold.

Then, I knew.

The smooth, dark head, the slender hand, the swastikas, belonged to the man in the adjoining booth who had overheard my conversation with Prince, even to the Brookchase address.  Thought, like the wireless, was humming electrically, putting together the sinister puzzle, insisting upon me that I had been robbed.  My fortune was gone; and at the same time perverse subconsciousness was whispering: “No !  No !  No !”

Like the heroine of a movie melodrama, Martha advanced from the door, with face set to tragedy.  She held out a newspaper, uttering hoarsely:

“Look!  ’Tain’t him !”

The front page was lavishly decorated with the heads of officers of the International Exposition, the center one in large headlines: “Cary Penwick, vice president.”  Martha pointed dramatically to the heavy-jowled, baggy-eyed visage, fully illustrating the voice over the wire.  She looked over her shoulder fearfully, and around the room, before whispering:

“That’s him!  Then who’s the other one ?”

“Oh, he has gone,” I said, hysterically; “quite gone, and everything with him !”

Martha sank on the nearest chair, and the paper fell fluttering to the floor.

“I said we’d wake up some mornin’ and find ourselves murdered in our beds on account of that there Duchess!” she wailed.  I laughed helplessly; so after all, I was juggled by fate into old Mrs. Mace’s successor!  I smoothed out the bit of crumpled paper, under the light, and read it mechanically.

    “To Enid Legree. . . .  Forty thousand dollars. . . .  Signed Ettère Dantrè.”

Dantrè! . . .  And Dantrè had a wager on with Penwick. . . .  And somebody had vowed to exhibit a Fierienti!  And Dantrè had cried out about old Mrs. Mace’s Romney!  What did it mean ? . . .  And that heavy, shifty-eyed countenance in the paper. . . .  I sprang up, as the telephone again rang, with hope surging upward.  It was the voice of the vice president of the Exposition:

“I could not get out tonight, my dear girl. . . . ’Fraid you’d wait up.  I’ll see you in the morning.”

The sharp contrast of that voice’s quality enhanced the memory of the other.  I thanked him, and proceeded to play the game.

“What should you say an original Fierienti would bring ?” I asked.

“Your old copy ?  Well, about two-fifty, as it’s you, Enid.”

“And a genuine Cellini Mercury ?” I added.

“A Cellini ?  Oh, my dear girl, that is nonsense!  No doubt, though, yours is a nice little imitation that ought to bring you as high as fifty dollars.”

I thanked him, and rang off.

“Martha,” I said, breathlessly, “something tells me that we are on the brink of a fortune.”

Martha shook her head.  “You always have been, Miss Enid,” she said.  But I went to bed with a sense of elation and fearlessness, prompted by the memory of a voice.

At seven the next morning I had Prince over the wire.

“Are you willing to catch the eight-thirty express, and to stop first and relieve me of a check for forty thousand dollars?” I asked.  “Stop, you will hurt the receiver!”

After all, an ideal supplanted is hardly overthrown.  I confess, however, to a day of apprehension until the rural free delivery handed me a letter.  It was consistently terse:

    “When you greeted me as another, I knew that it was the only way to insure the safety of your valuables.  Had you suspected me you would not have trusted a stranger.  Yours is the right to withdraw the sale.  Otherwise, a check for the maximum value will go to you.  Forgive me, Cinderella, and think gently of

    Dantrè.”

Withdraw it ? . . .

When I ran to the gate at sunset to hear Prince’s sequel, it was with high heart, for I felt that the day of the lady agent had waned.  Martha was joyfully trolling a somber tune in the kitchen; ahead of me was the radiant vision of a new roof, a basket laden for Mrs. Petty, and sticks innumerable in the woodshed.  The vision materialized, when Prince gravely placed a bank-book in my hand.  His measures had been summary.  He went first to Penwick’s hotel, and called him up to say that his estimate of Miss Legree’s antiques was too low; she had sold them.

“Oh, I am sorry!  After all, he was a relative,” I said, regretfully.

“Stick to the past tense, please,” said Prince, briefly.  “His language over the wire wasn’t publishable.  He is safer at a distance, and I implied as much.”

“And...Dantrè ?” I ventured.

“Banks conjure by that name.  You did a wonderful stroke of business, Enid for a woman.”

Had I ?  I hid a smile.

“Dantrè is a Richard Burton for wandering, and an infallible expert.  Collectors swear by him.  I heard an odd thing about the man today.  It seems that Dantrè is not his name.  His father was a notorious criminal speculator, and ruined many before he served his time in the penitentiary, Dantrè is equally keen on the trail of tricksters in collecting, but the disgrace made a recluse of him.  He has gone again, and his agent was placing the Fierienti on exhibition today.  I’ve no doubt that he turned up from the end of the earth just to get even with...”  Prince hesitated.  “You see, Enid, I remembered the name of the collector who bought old Mrs. Mace’s Romney.  I hated to tell you.  It was Cary Penwick.”

But memory swung back to a firelit hour and a dark, listening face upon a slender hand, with two swastikas 

“Oh, I am glad it wasn’t Dantrè !” I breathed to the spring sunset.

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/62/Rembrandt_-_Portrait_of_the_Young_Saskia_-_WGA19172.jpg/267px-Rembrandt_-_Portrait_of_the_Young_Saskia_-_WGA19172.jpg
Bust of a Young Woman Smiling - 1633 - by Rembrandt Van Rijn




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