Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
The Episode of the Marques de Valdeflores
By Thomas Allibone Janvier (1849–1913)
From Harper’s Magazine, 1891

ANTONIO HILARION DOMINGUEZ MEDRANO Y CORELLA, Marques de Valdeflores. When this brilliant name, with its pendent rubrica, was written by the nobleman to whom it pertained upon the register of the Casa Napoléon,—a modest hostelry, founded in the interest of the traveling Franco-Hispano public temporarily resident in the city of New York,—there ran through that establishment a thrill which may be said to have shaken it, figuratively speaking, from stem to stern.  1
  As a rule the frequenters of the Casa Napoléon were not noblemen. The exceptions to this rule were sporadic French counts, whose costly patronage by no means was to be desired. Thanks to Madame’s worldly wisdom,—sharpened to a very fine edge by five-and-twenty years of hotel-keeping,—these self-constituted members of the French nobility rarely got ahead of her. She “zized ’em up,” as she expressed it, promptly; and as promptly they received their deserts: that is to say, they were requested to pay in advance or to move on. Then they moved on.  2
  But a nobleman from Old Spain, a genuine nobleman, and so exalted a personage as a Marques, was quite another thing. This was a splendor the like of which was unknown in all the eighteen years during which the Casa Napoléon had run its somewhat checkered, but on the whole successful, career. Madame, though an Imperialist rather than a Legitimist in her political creed, had a soulful respect for a title; which respect she manifested on this occasion by putting the silk coverlet on the bed in the best apartment, and by hurriedly removing the brown holland slips from the red-plush sofa and from the two red-plush armchairs. Don Anastasio—whose royalist tendencies had led him into a revolution in Mexico, that had ended in not leading him but in most violently projecting him out of it—rejoiced in the honor attendant upon entertaining so distinguished a representative of the principles for which, he was accustomed to declare, he had suffered martyrdom. That he might lift himself to the high plane of the situation, he lighted one of the choicest of his reserved stock of smuggled cigars, and smoked it to the health of the King of Spain. Telésforo, the Cuban negro who waited in the dining-room upon the Spanish-speaking patrons of the house, retired hurriedly to his den in the basement and put on his clean shirt; which was not due, in the natural order of things, until the ensuing Sunday. Even Jules—the one-eyed French waiter; a pronounced Red, who openly boasted that he had lost his eye while fighting in the Commune behind a barricade—so far yielded to the spirit of the hour as to put on the clean paper collar that (keeping it in the rarely used large soup tureen) he held in reserve for occasions of especial festivity. Marie, the trig chambermaid, stuck a bow of cherry-colored ribbon in her black hair. No more was required of her. Without any extra adornment, Marie at all times was as fresh and as blooming as the rose.  3
  As it was with the proprietors and the retainers of the Casa Napoléon, so was it also with the habitués of that rather eccentric but most comfortable establishment. Colonel Withersby, who had not been wholly successful in his latest venture in tramway promotion in Nicaragua,—who had been compelled, in fact, to leave Nicaragua with such inconsiderate celerity that his exodus might with propriety be termed a flight,—was cheered by the hope that Heaven had thrown in his way an opportunity to promote a tramway in some city (any city, he was not particular) in Spain. Monsieur Duvent, the dealer in a very respectable French gambling establishment in South Fifth Avenue, stroked thoughtfully his respectable gray mustache, and made a few trifling mental calculations in regard to the relative values of current Spanish and American coins. Mrs. Myrtle Vane, who was connected with the press, perceived at least a society item in the situation; possibly, should the Marques prove to be in any way a scandalous personage, a half-column article for the Sunday edition. Mrs. Mortimer—who presumably was a person of substance, for she occupied a handsome apartment on the first floor, yet she toiled not, neither did she spin—listened to Marie’s account of the arrival of the Marques with an expression of much interest. Thereafter she descended to dinner clad in raiment of price that far outshone in splendor the modest beauty of the lilies of the field—a species of vegetation with which, in point of fact, Mrs. Mortimer had but little in common.  4
  Dr. Théophile (French creole, expatriated from the island of Guadeloupe) alone refused to accept the Marques at his face value. “Pooh!” said Dr. Théophile rudely, when Don Anastasio called him into the office that evening and showed him the magnificent name upon the register. “Pooh! He is not a real Marques. That is moonshine. A nobleman of that calibre, Don Anastasio, does not come to the Casa Napoléon. Now and then, I grant you, you have here a rich planter from the Islands or from the Spanish Main; and now and then a revolutionist who has been lucky enough—as you were—to get away with some of the revolutionary swag. But a genuine Marques, and from Old Spain, and rich? Oh no, Don Anastasio: that is only a dream! If he is a Marques he certainly is without money; if he has money he certainly is not a Marques—and the chances are that he has neither title nor cash. I saw something in the Epoca last week about a monté dealer who had to leave Barcelona in a hurry. No doubt your Marques is that very man.”  5
  However, Dr. Théophile was a natural-born remonstrant. It was he who assailed Don Anastasio’s claim to martyrdom in the royalist cause. The Doctor’s contention was that Don Anastasio would have lived a most miserable life, ending in an early and uncomfortable death, had not good fortune wafted him hurriedly out of Mexico and safely deposited him in New York; where his days were long in the land, and very pleasant to him in the comfortable haven in the Casa Napoléon that he had secured by his judicious marriage with Madame. Don Anastasio, who could afford to be heroic under the circumstances, denied Dr. Théophile’s points absolutely, and clung to the belief in his martyrdom with an affectionate fervor—that did not in the least interfere, however, with his contentedly wearing shabby raiment and soiled linen, and faring sumptuously every day. Indeed, the excellent food that Madame gave him to eat, and the sound Bordeaux that she gave him to drink, would have gone a long way toward squaring accounts with a martyr whose martyrdom had been of a much more vigorous sort.  6
  After this denial of the validity of the Marques there was something of a coolness between Dr. Théophile and Don Anastasio, that endured until too much of Madame’s rich food, and too much of that especial old Bordeaux, brought on one of Don Anastasio’s bilious attacks, and so compelled him to resort to Dr. Théophile for physicking. Madame, who was short and round, and of a most quick and resolute temperament, did not suffer her resentment of the aspersions upon the genuineness of the Marques to take the form of a mere coolness: it took the form of a very positive warmth. In her native clipped and softened French of Toulouse, she rated Dr. Théophile most roundly for venturing to call in question the honor of the nobleman within her gates—who, in a most nobleman-like manner, was running up a bill at the rate of from five to seven dollars a day. To this rating Dr. Théophile, in his much more clipped and still softer French of Guadeloupe, replied temperately that he would not then discuss the matter further; but that he would have much pleasure in resuming it at a later period, when time in its fullness should have tested their conflicting opinions in the crucible of practical results. He was wise in his generation, was this Dr. Théophile. His warrings were not with womenkind. With a man, he said, he was ready at all times to do battle with tongue or pistol or sword. But with a woman—no! A woman, he declared, was an inconclusive animal. You might grind her between irrefutable arguments until you had reduced her to figurative fragments, and at the end of this somewhat shocking process she simply would reiterate her original proposition with a calmly superior smile. Yet the women liked Dr. Théophile. There was current an old-time rumor that the cause of his leaving Guadeloupe was a dismal blight that had fallen upon his heart. A man whose past has in it a bit of sad romance like that is an object of tender solicitude to every right-natured woman; and he easily finds forgiveness on the part of such gentle judges for saying evil things about the sex that has done him so cruel a wrong.  7
  MEANWHILE, the Marques de Valdeflores—blissfully ignorant of the doubts cast by Dr. Théophile upon his wealth and his patent of nobility, and ignorant also of the very amiable designs formed by the resident population of the Casa Napoléon for assisting in the distribution of that wealth, and for rendering that nobility commercially valuable—continued in apparent contentment to occupy Madame’s best apartment, to eat largely of the admirable food which she caused daily to be prepared for him, and to drink most liberally of her excellent wines.
  He was a very affable personage, was the Marques. “You might think that he wasn’t a nobleman at all!” was Madame’s admiring comment when telling of the frank and entirely unaffected way in which he had borrowed a dollar of Telésforo, the Cuban negro, to pay his cab fare.  9
  “You might know that he was not,” was the cynical comment of Dr. Théophile, to whom this gracious fact was told.  10
  Fortunately for the credit for hospitality of the Casa Napoléon, Dr. Théophile was the only one of the several dwellers in or frequenters of that establishment who manifested the least disposition toward standing the Marques off. The others, to do them justice, more than atoned for Dr. Théophile’s coldness by their effusive friendliness. With a frank cordiality charming to contemplate, they severally and collectively did their very best to make him feel that, so far from being a stranger in a strange land, he was very much at home among genuine friends. As tending still further to emphasize this international comity, it was even more delightful to observe the gracious friendliness with which these friendly advances were met and reciprocated. Having lived long enough in the world—he was a personable man, in the prime of his mature manhood—to know how rarely the perfect flower of friendship blooms, and possessing moreover the open-hearted temperament of the South, it was only natural, though on that account none the less pleasing, that the Marques should do his part to show his grateful appreciation of the hospitable kindness that was showered upon him. That he did his part was admitted by everybody but the remonstrant Dr. Théophile, who declared morosely that he overdid it.  11
  Mrs. Myrtle Vane, who sat beside him at the ordinary, succeeded in getting a good column article out of him on the very first evening of their acquaintance. The Marques told her some very racy stories about Spanish court life; and she worked them up—her knowledge of Spanish, a language universally current in the Casa Napoléon, enabling her to throw in a word here and there that gave them local color—in a fashion that made them still racier. As special correspondence under a Madrid date, they were a decided hit in the Sunday edition. The editor voluntarily gave her six dollars and a half the thousand words, and told her to go ahead and get some more. It was as good stuff as he ever had come across, he said. It certainly was admirably scandalous. Mrs. Vane perceived that she had opened a gold mine,—for the story-telling powers of the Marques appeared to be inexhaustible,—and she worked it with a will. Feeling under a real obligation to the nobleman who so considerably was increasing her weekly income,—she was a kind-hearted soul, not nearly so sophisticated as her very highly spiced illiterary productions would have led one to suppose,—she was glad to have an opportunity to show her appreciation of his kindness by inviting him to accompany her, on a press order, to an evening at the play. In the spirit in which it was offered, the Marques accepted this polite invitation. It struck him that there was something slightly pathetic about it. After the performance he treated Mrs. Vane—at a certain restaurant well known for its shady reputation and for the brilliant achievements of its chef—to the very best supper that she had eaten in the whole course of her life.  12
  “He’s a perfect high-toned gentleman,” Mrs. Vane declared when recounting to Mrs. Mortimer rapturously—for little suppers came rarely in her life—this extraordinary and delightful experience. “He ordered all the highest priced things on the bill of fare, and he set up the wine as if it was water; and he never offered to do more than just nicely squeeze my hand. I don’t care what spiteful things Dr. Théophile says about him: after that I know that he’s a perfect high-toned gentleman all the way through!”  13
  Inasmuch as Mrs. Mortimer, according to the repeated assertion of Colonel Withersby, was a high-toned lady herself, it is reasonable to suppose that she found pleasure in listening to this handsome eulogy; and it is creditable to her generous impulses to suppose, also, that when a few days later she invited the Marques to a little supper in her own apartment, she was actuated by an amiable desire to repay his kindness to her friend in kind.  14
  Mrs. Mortimer was a delightful hostess, and her little suppers were renowned. To be sure, those who partook of them were apt to find that in the long run they came rather high; but this trifling drawback upon a pure enjoyment of her hospitality was immaterial, inasmuch as, with a characteristic thoughtfulness, she uniformly selected her guests from that moneyed class which is superior in matters of amusement to considerations of expense.  15
  On this particular occasion, it is needless to say that the Marques enjoyed his supper with Mrs. Mortimer. That Mrs. Mortimer enjoyed her supper with the Marques is a matter less absolutely assured. When he bade her good-night, bowing over her hand very gracefully, and with a gallant and high-bred courtesy kissing the tips of her white fingers, it is undeniable that he left her in a decidedly bewildered state of mind. All that Mrs. Vane had told of his dignified reserve she perceived was true. Her acquaintance with the higher nobility was extremely limited. If this were a fair specimen of that class, she was fain to admit that its members were anything but easy to understand. Her one coherent concept in the premises was the unpleasant conviction that her little supper had not been an unqualified success.  16
  Nor did Monsieur Duvent, as the result of his lavish expenditure of friendship upon the Marques, receive any very adequate return. Having traveled a great deal professionally in Spain, he began his friendly advances by intelligent encomiums of that country. The Marques met his complimentary comments by the polite declaration that praise of his native land always was dear to him, but that it was doubly dear when bestowed with accurate discrimination by one who obviously knew it well; after which he made several exceeding handsome speeches to Monsieur Duvent in regard to France. Their talk running lightly upon the more superficial characteristics of their respective countries, there was nothing forced in Monsieur Duvent’s remark that he had been much struck—he did not add that his opportunities for being struck in this fashion had been decidedly exceptional—by observing the passionate and universal devotion of the Spanish race to gaming. In reply the Marques courteously denied that the taste for gaming was universal among his countrymen, but at the same time admitted frankly that it was very general; he even added smilingly that he shared in it himself. To permit one’s self to be carried away by this passion, he observed with an admirable morality, was a most serious mistake; but within due bounds, he continued with a morality less severe, he knew of no amusement more interesting than judiciously conducted games of mingled chance and skill, played for heavy yet not excessive stakes.  17
  Naturally this discourse was very exactly to Monsieur Duvent’s mind; and still more to his mind was the prompt acceptance by the Marques of the obliging offer to afford him an opportunity for gratifying his taste for gaming in New York. As for the moral reflections that had accompanied the avowal by the Marques of his amiable weakness, Monsieur Duvent attached but little importance to them. In the course of his very extensive experience in these matters he frequently had heard expressed sentiments of this temperate sort; and as frequently had seen them scattered, in time of trial, like smoke before the wind.  18
  What very much surprised Monsieur Duvent, therefore,—when in due course the Marques was introduced into the quiet and intensely respectable gambling establishment in South Fifth Avenue,—was to observe that the temperateness of his new friend in deeds was precisely in keeping with his temperateness in words. The Marques played with a handsome liberality, but also with a most phenomenal coolness. He followed his luck boldly yet prudently; he dropped his bad luck instantly; and his experienced wisdom was manifested by the obvious fact that he adhered to no “system,” and recognized in the game no principle save that of the purest chance. At the end of an hour or so, when he nodded pleasantly to Monsieur Duvent and withdrew, the bank was much the worse for his visit. Monsieur Duvent, whose income was largely in the nature of commissions, was decidedly dissatisfied. In this case the commission had gone the wrong way. The unpleasant fact must be added that in the course of the subsequent visits paid by the Marques to the quiet banking establishment,—fortunately he did not come often,—his aggravating good fortune remained practically unchanged. Being only human, Monsieur Duvent suffered his friendship for the Spanish nobleman appreciably to cool.  19
  COLONEL WITHERSBY’S acquaintance with the Marques opened under circumstances so auspicious as to inspire in the breast of that eminent promoter the most sanguine hopes. At that particular juncture the Colonel, as he himself expressed it, was “in a blanked bad hole.” He had made the fatal mistake, in the hope of larger winnings, of standing by the Nicaragua tramway enterprise until it was too late for him to get out before the smash. As the result of his unwise greed he had lost—not what he had put into the tramway company, for he had not put anything into it, but what he had expected to take out of it. Further,—and this was where the pinch came,—his reputation as a promoter had been most seriously injured. Owing to circumstances over which he had had entire control, the Colonel’s reputation—either as a promoter or as anything else—was of a sort that no longer could be trifled with. There was very little of it left, and that little was bad. But until this unlucky twist in Nicaragua, his shrewdness in invariably getting out before the smash, and his handsome conduct in uniformly giving the straight tip to his fellow occupants of the ground floor, always had enabled him to smile at disasters in which only the innocent suffered; and presently, with a fresh supply of innocents, to make a fresh and not less profitable start.
  In the Nicaragua affair, no unpleasant reflections were cast upon the Colonel’s honesty by his immediate friends; had any one suggested that he possessed a sufficient amount of honesty to catch even a very small reflection, they doubtless would have smiled: but they frankly and profanely admitted that their confidence in his sagacity was destroyed. In their coarse but hearty manner they declared that they would be blanked before they would chip in with such a blank fool again. When the most intimate friends of a promoter use language of this sort about him, it is evident that his sphere of usefulness in promotion must be materially contracted. In the case of Colonel Withersby it was contracted about to the vanishing point. In his prompt military way (he had served, with a constantly increasing credit to himself, as a sutler in the late war) he perceived how shattered were his frontiers, and how gloomy was the outlook toward their rectification; and therefore it was that he described himself as being “in a blanked bad hole.” His profane emphasis was borne out by the facts.  21
  Naturally the coming of the Marques de Valdeflores at this critical juncture was regarded by the Colonel as nothing less than providential. Not only was the acquaintance of a rich nobleman desirable on general principles,—since such a personage might reasonably be expected to subscribe liberally to any stock, and to give strength to any company by permitting the use of his name on the board of direction,—but the Colonel saw much that was comforting in the opening possibility of shifting his promoting interests from Spanish America to Old Spain. In the colonies he was forced to contend against the adverse influence of his own widely diffused reputation as a far too skillful financier—a reputation that most seriously militated against his promoting anything whatever. In the parent country, as both hope and modesty advised him, there was a fair chance that he might carry on business quietly, unhampered by his own renown.  22
  Taking this cheerful view of what a friendship with the Marques was likely to do for him, he spoke only the literal truth when he told that nobleman that he would have much pleasure in showing him the town. As the event proved, the Marques was not desirous of seeing the town within the full meaning of the Colonel’s words; but he repeatedly did accept invitations to the theatre, and also accepted cheerfully the refreshments of a vinous nature offered to him by the Colonel, with an excellent hospitality, in the intervals and at the ends of the several performances which they witnessed together. That on these and on all other possible occasions he should have his attention pointedly directed to the subject of tramways was a foregone conclusion, for tramways were the very essence of the Colonel’s life. What was more surprising, and to the Colonel eminently pleasing, was the fact that he manifested in regard to tramways an intelligent interest. He mentioned, by way of explaining his possession of so unusually large a fund of accurate information upon this subject, that he owned some shares in a tramway company recently organized in Madrid. The enterprise had turned out very well, he said; so well, indeed, that he greatly regretted that when the shares first were put upon the market he had not taken a larger block. This was a sentiment that the Colonel never had heard advanced by a single one of the numerous purchasers of shares which he himself had floated. It surprised and delighted him. Here indeed was a field the working of which promised well. And so vigorously did Colonel Withersby proceed to work it, that within a week he and the Marques were discussing energetically the details of a plan for building an urban tramway—eventually to have suburban extensions—in the city of Tarazona. That the Colonel never before had so much as heard the name of this city—it was selected because the most considerable of the estates of the Marques lay near to it—did not in the least interfere with his going into the enterprise heart and soul. The name was a good one for a prospectus. That was quite enough for him. He sat down quickly at a writing-table and wrote a prospectus,—his skill was prodigious in this line of composition,—in which he proved conclusively that the Compañia Limitada de Ferrocarriles de la Ciudad de Tarazona y sus Alrededores was the most promising financial enterprise in which the investing public ever had been permitted to purchase the few remaining shares.  23
  But pleased though the Colonel naturally was at having thus struck what had every appearance of being a pay streak of phenomenal thickness and width, he was not a little disheartened, as time went on without materially advancing the Tarazona tramway enterprise, by the conviction that the ore was of an eminently refractory type. So far as projection was concerned, the Marques was all that the most sanguine promoter could ask; but in the matter of coming down to the hard-pan, to use the Colonel’s phrase, he left a good deal to be desired. Under other and more favorable circumstances the Colonel’s vigorous method would have been to get his scheme into tangible shape by the organization of a company, which he then would have asked the Marques to join as chairman; and by the printing of some thousands of certificates of shares, a considerable portion of which he would have “placed” with his friends, and the remaining more considerable portion of which he would have asked the Marques to purchase. Then he would have strewn the prospectus broadcast throughout the land. If it took, and there was a demand for the stock—well, then the Colonel and his friends would see that the demand was supplied, even at the sacrifice of their own holdings. Should they be compelled by a high sense of duty to make a sacrifice of this nature, they would then of course retire from the management. Having enabled it to win its way to popular favor, they would permit the Compañia Limitada de Ferrocarriles de la Ciudad de Tarazona y sus Alrededores to go it alone.  24
  Under the existing highly unfavorable circumstances, this masterly line of action could not be pursued. Those who had been the friends of his bosom before the Nicaragua catastrophe, standing ready to help in the organization of anything, and willing to permit any number of shares of it to stand in their names, now would have none of him. Their disposition was wholly that of priests and Levites. They declined with maledictions to act as directors. They declared in the most profanely positive terms that they would not lend him a solitary imprecated cent. Yet without some slight advance of ready money—his own scant savings from the Nicaragua wreck being about expended—he could do nothing. His prospectus must be printed, and so must his share certificates; and even the most sanguine of the bank-note companies declined to execute his order save on a basis of fifty per cent. deposited in advance.  25
  The only line of action that appeared to be open to him in the premises was to induce the Marques to come down with the trifling amount demanded by the bank-note company, and to permit the use of his name as chairman of the yet-to-be-organized board. With that much of a start, the Colonel’s hopeful nature led him to believe that he could scare up a board of direction somehow; and if he could not, he was prepared to fill in the gap temporarily with a list of names copied from the nearest tombstones. Cut when this modest plan—not including, however, a statement of the source whence the names of his fellow directors might be drawn—was formulated and presented, the Marques toyed with it in a manner that provoked Colonel Withersby to violent profanity in private, and that seemed more than likely to end by driving him mad. One day he would manifest every disposition to fall in with the Colonel’s proposals, and the very next day he would treat the whole matter as though it had been at that moment opened to him for the first time. That he continued to accept the various entertainments, with their accompanying refreshments, which the Colonel offered him, only made the situation the more trying. Having been begun, these hospitalities could not well be abandoned. But it was entirely obvious to the Colonel that they could not go on much longer unless he could succeed in making some sort of a strike. As he put it, in the mining phraseology that was habitual with him, the dumps were cleaned up, there was nothing but wall in sight, and he had either to open a new prospect or go flat on his back on the bed-rock. Truly, by this time the hole that he was in was a desperately deep one, and he was at the very bottom of it. With all his vigor—and in the matter of cursing he had a great deal of vigor—he cursed the hour in which the Marques de Valdeflores had come out of Spain.  26
  Being in this bitter mood, Colonel Withersby turned to Monsieur Duvent and Mrs. Mortimer—whose disposition toward the Marques he shrewdly inferred was quite as bitter as his own—with a request for aid in realizing a little plan by which their several sacrifices of cash upon the altar of a singularly barren friendship certainly would be restored to them; and even might be restored to them as much as fourfold.  27
  In presenting his plan to his friends, Colonel Withersby’s supporting argument was statesmanlike. If the Marques were a genuine Marques, he said, and as rich as he professed himself to be, the loss of five hundred dollars, or even of five thousand dollars, could make no possible difference to him. If on the other hand he were a bogus Marques, and his wealth also a sham, no harm could come from shearing him in so far as he could be shorn, and thereafter turning him adrift to run away with the flock of black lambs to which, as then would be demonstrated, he properly belonged. Indeed, so far from harm coming of this preliminary snipping, it would yield the valuable result of proving beyond a peradventure the quality of the fleece; and so would determine whether or not his, the Colonel’s, time and talents could be employed to advantage in endeavoring to effect the more radical shearing that would remove every vestige of merchantable wool. In brief, the Colonel’s plan, the logical conclusion from these premises, was that they should relieve the Marques of a few of his Spanish dollars in the course of a quiet evening at play.  28
  Argument of this able sort, especially when addressed to persons already more than disposed to fall in with its conclusions, was convincing. Mrs. Mortimer, it is true,—she was a cautious person, who played slowly and prudently the interesting games in which she was engaged,—did hesitate a little; but presently said with an agreeable cordiality that the Colonel had done her many good turns in the past, and that she gladly would do him a good turn now by assisting to the best of her ability in making his plan a working success. Probably there was a great store of womanly tenderness and self-sacrifice in Mrs. Mortimer’s nature. Indeed, the accumulation of these gentle qualities must have been very considerable, for she rarely made any use of them.  29
  Monsieur Duvent did not hesitate at all. The chance of getting a shot direct at the Marques delighted him. Unhampered by the arbitrary and annoying regulations of a banking system that he despised but could not defy, he felt a comfortable conviction that he could balance, even to the extent of tipping it decidedly in the other direction, the account that stood so heavily against him. He therefore willingly promised to provide the five hundred dollars of visible capital that the occasion called for; and even consented to divide with Mrs. Mortimer—in the improbable event of failure to secure from the Marques at least this trifling amount—the cost of the little supper that would precede the more serious entertainment in which their Spanish friend would be requested to take part.  30
  BY those privileged to enjoy them, as already has been intimated, the coziness of Mrs. Mortimer’s little suppers was justly esteemed. Usually they were limited to herself and a single guest; under no circumstances were they suffered to exceed the sociable number of four. Mrs. Mortimer’s tastes were not precisely simple; but she was of a shy, retiring nature, and she detested a crowd.
  On the present occasion it was pleasant to behold—had there been anybody to behold it—the warm cordiality that was developed between these four agreeable people, as this charming little supper moved smoothly along from the cocktails which began it (cocktails before supper had the merit of novelty to the Marques; he took to them most kindly) to the coffee that brought it to an end. Mrs. Mortimer’s fine social qualities enabled her to make each one of her guests appear at his very best, and also to appreciate at its full value his own appearance. She was well acquainted with Colonel Withersby’s best stories, and she skillfully led up to them; she understood Monsieur Duvent’s professional disposition toward taciturnity, and covered it so admirably as to give the impression that he was positively loquacious; when the conversation showed the least tendency toward flagging, she herself was as prompt to fill the impending pause with sparkling anecdote as in its more lively periods she was ready still further to stimulate it by sprightly repartee. Being conducted in the French and Spanish tongues,—the Marques did not speak English,—the talk naturally followed the genius of these languages, and was possibly a trifle freer than it would have been had English been employed as the medium for the interchange of thought. As the evening advanced, this liberal tendency became somewhat more marked.  32
  It was, however, in her demeanor toward the Marques that Mrs. Mortimer’s admirable qualities as a hostess most brilliantly were displayed. Her gracious friendliness was manifested by a hand frankly placed upon his shoulder as she bent over him to offer coffee (her merry conceit being to serve this beverage herself); by exchanging glasses with him when she drank his health; by her use of her prodigiously handsome brown eyes—and in a hundred other artless and pretty ways. As to her cleverness in creating conversational situations that enabled him to say bright things, it really was astonishing. As has been stated, the disposition of the Marques at all times was friendly; under these exceptionally agreeable circumstances he became positively effusive. Yet, though his manner really was frankness itself, Mrs. Mortimer’s fine perception suggested to her mind the troubling doubt that perhaps his effusiveness in some small part was assumed. Possibly a similar thought was entertained by Monsieur Duvent; but in the case of Monsieur Duvent, the fact must be remembered that his professional experience had begotten in him what might be termed an almost morbid suspicion of his kind.  33
  Until the middle of the feast was passed, Colonel Withersby also debated within himself whether or not the good feeling that the Marques so liberally manifested was wholly genuine. After that period—his own generous nature being then warmed and stimulated by the very considerable quantities of the excellent food and drink which had become a part of it—he dismissed all such evil suspicions from his manly breast as being alike unworthy of himself and his noble friend. The Marques, as he declared heartily in his thought, was as straight as a string, and a jolly good fellow all the way through. It was a peculiarity of Colonel Withersby’s temperament—a peculiarity that on more than one occasion had betrayed his substantial interests—that his usually keen and severe judgment of men and things was subject to serious derangement by an access of what may be termed vinous benevolence. Mrs. Mortimer and Monsieur Duvent, being among the most intimate of the Colonel’s friends, were well acquainted with this genial failing in his lofty character; and because of their knowledge of it, they viewed with increasing alarm his evident intention to make the spirit of the occasion so largely a part of himself. They were sustained however by the comforting knowledge—bred of an extended acquaintance with his methods—that even when the Colonel had associated an extraordinary quantity of extraneous spirits with his own, he still could play a phenomenally good game of cards.  34
  Without thought of the anxiety that his cheerful conviviality was occasioning his friends, the Colonel rattled away in his most lively manner, and manifested toward the Marques a constantly increasing cordiality. Indeed, by the time that they had reached the coffee and cigars (Mrs. Mortimer was considerate enough to permit the gentlemen to smoke) his disposition was to vow eternal friendship with the Marques, and to seal his vow, in the Spanish fashion, with a fraternal embrace. But in despite of this tendency of his affectionate nature toward overflow, the confidence of his friends in his sound judgment remaining unimpaired in the midst of its alcoholic environment was not misplaced. His heart, it is true, was mellowed almost to melting; but it also is true that his head remained admirably cool. Sentiment with the Colonel was one thing; business was another. His warm fraternal feeling for the Marques did not for one moment interfere with his fixed intention to work him, as he somewhat coarsely had expressed it, for all that he was worth.  35
  It was with this utilitarian purpose full in view that the Colonel suggested—the pleasures of eating being ended but the pleasures of drinking still continuing—that they should end their agreeable evening with a quiet game of cards. Being gentlemen of the world, the Marques and Monsieur Duvent readily fell in with this proposal. Mrs. Mortimer, it is true, entered a gentle remonstrance against so engrossing a form of amusement, on the ground that it would check the flow of brilliant conversation, and also, as she playfully added, would deprive her of the undivided attention which was her due. The gentlemen however explained that as the game would be played merely as a pastime, and for insignificant stakes, it would not in the smallest degree interfere with conversation; and they vowed and protested that under no circumstances could they fail to pay their tribute of homage to Mrs. Mortimer’s charms. In view of this explanation, and of the gallant declaration that accompanied it, the lady was pleased to withdraw her objections, and even to consent to take part in the game. But she was a very stupid player, she said; and she expressed much good-humored regret for whoever should be unlucky enough to be her partner—she was so careless, she protested, and did make such perfectly horrid mistakes.  36
  There was a trifling delay in beginning the game, due to Mrs. Mortimer’s professed inability to find the cards with which to play it. She was perfectly sure, she said, that somewhere about her apartment there was a little bundle containing half a dozen new packs; they had been given to her quite recently by one of her friends: where she had put them she could not remember at all. Her memory was so outrageously bad, she added while continuing her search, that her life was made a veritable burden to her. Truly, Mrs. Mortimer’s memory could not have been a very good one, for the package had been presented to her—the amiable anonymous friend to whom she owed it being, in point of fact, Colonel Withersby—at a period no more remote than that very afternoon; yet a good ten minutes passed before she could remember that she had placed it in a drawer of her escritoire upon receiving it from the Colonel’s hands.  37
  She laughed merrily over her own stupidity when at last the missing package was found; and she laughed still more when, having cut for partners, what she gayly referred to as the dreadfully bad luck of the Marques made them allies against Colonel Withersby and Monsieur Duvent. Their defeat, she declared, was a foregone conclusion: it really was too bad! The Marques, for his part, vowed that he was so indifferent a player that he would be grateful to her for the mistakes which would keep his own lapses in countenance; and politely added that defeat in her company would give him a pleasure far superior to that conferred by a victory in which she had no share. In the matter of making handsome speeches the Marques de Valdeflores was not easily to be outdone.  38
  Yet in despite of Mrs. Mortimer’s bad play,—concerning which, politeness aside, there could be no question,—and in despite of the far from brilliant play of her partner, the game for some little time went decidedly in their favor. This was in part accounted for by the fact that the hands which they held were phenomenally good, while the hands held by their adversaries were correspondingly bad. So marked was the run of luck in their favor—being most marked, indeed, when the deal lay with Colonel Withersby or Monsieur Duvent—that the Colonel swore in his bluff, hearty way, that the devil himself was in the pack, and was manipulating it for the express purpose of punishing him, the Colonel, for his sins; at which humorous sally there was a general laugh.  39
  However, at the end of an hour—by which time rather more than half of the capital provided for the occasion by Monsieur Duvent was arranged before Mrs. Mortimer in a gay little pile—the Colonel said quite seriously that the luck of the pack certainly was against him, and begged that it might be changed. There was a smile, of course, at the Colonel’s superstition; but the Marques promptly conceded the favor requested, and induced Mrs. Mortimer also to grant it: which was not an easy matter, for she declared that she needed all that good luck could do for her in order to hold her own. The event really seemed to justify the Colonel’s superstitious fancy; for with the very first deal of the new pack—he dealt it himself—the luck entirely changed. In view of this fact, of the agreement that the stakes should be increased so that the losers might have a better chance to recoup, and of the marked increase in the number of Mrs. Mortimer’s mistakes, it will be perceived that there were several excellent reasons why the handsome accumulation of gold in front of Mrs. Mortimer should go even more quickly than it had come. But oddly enough it did not go. The play of the Marques was made in the same negligent manner that it had been made from the start; but Monsieur Duvent observed—not without a touch of that admiration which every professional, even though unwillingly, concedes to professional skill—that its quality had entirely changed. It was not brilliant, but it was cautious, firm, and extraordinarily sure. When he dealt, his own hand was as strikingly good as it was strikingly bad when the deal lay with the Colonel or with Monsieur Duvent; Mrs. Mortimer’s mistakes—they were very numerous—were handsomely covered, and even sometimes were turned to advantage; his conduct of the game, in short, was masterly—and the gay little pile in front of his partner, so far from diminishing, steadily increased. Monsieur Duvent shot an inquiring glance from under his bushy gray eyebrows across the table at the Colonel. As understood by that gentleman it meant, “Who have we got here, any way?” The Colonel’s answering glance was intended to convey his strong conviction that—to paraphrase euphemistically his thought—the cloven hoof of their adversary was invisible only because it was covered with a neatly made patent-leather boot. At the end of the second hour the entire capital provided by Monsieur Duvent had changed hands.  40
  At this stage of proceedings Monsieur Duvent and the Colonel, taking advantage of an interruption in the game caused by the serving of fresh coffee, held a short conference. Monsieur Duvent expressed decidedly the opinion that they had better stop. The Marques, if he were a Marques, evidently knew more than they did. The part of prudence was to make the best of a bad bargain and to drop him then and there. But the Colonel, whose fighting spirit was thoroughly aroused, would not for a moment consent to such ignominious surrender. He insisted that Monsieur Duvent should provide another five hundred—merely for a show, he said—and that the game should go on. By sheer force of will—the Colonel was a most resolute person—he succeeded in carrying his point. Sorely against his better judgment, but still yielding, Monsieur Duvent produced from a reserve fund in his private chamber the sum required; whereupon, the coffee being finished, the game went on. But it went on so disastrously that at the end of another hour the fresh supply of capital was exhausted, and Monsieur Duvent’s thousand was arranged in front of Mrs. Mortimer in ten neat little piles. Gratifying though it was on abstract grounds to perceive his own wisdom thus triumph over the Colonel’s fatuous folly, there was such substantial cause for annoyance in the situation that Monsieur Duvent found no enjoyment in it. With a smile that lacked a little in spontaneity, he suggested that they now had played long enough.  41
  In this temperate proposition, with excellent good-breeding, the Marques at once concurred. But the Colonel—having continued as the night wore on to expand his spirits factitiously—would not listen to it at all. He was for fighting as long as any sort of a shot remained in the locker. He advanced this view with emphasis; and suggested that in lieu of cash the Marques should receive—should his very extraordinary luck continue—his, the Colonel’s, written promises of payment, to be redeemed on the ensuing day. Monsieur Duvent, of course, could not reasonably object to going on when capital of this possibly attenuated nature was employed; and the Marques accepted the proposal with a polite alacrity that quite touched the Colonel’s heart.  42
  On the promissory basis thus established, but with the luck steadily against the Colonel and his partner, the game was continued until four o’clock in the morning. When this hour arrived, the Marques announced placidly that inasmuch as he was habitually an early riser, it really was time for him to go to bed. He had greatly enjoyed his evening, he said; it was one of the most agreeable and amusing evenings, in fact, that he had ever passed. In handsome terms he smilingly congratulated Mrs. Mortimer upon the good luck that had attended her bad play, and insisted that two-thirds of their joint winnings should be hers. Nothing could be more liberal than this arrangement. In pursuance of it he turned over to her the two thousand dollars represented by Colonel Withersby’s paper, and slipped the thousand dollars in gold into his own pocket as his own modest share. Then he shook hands heartily with the gentlemen; gallantly kissed the tips of Mrs. Mortimer’s white fingers; and bidding the company a most cordial good-night, left the room. As the door closed behind him there was a moment of silence, and then the Colonel accurately expressed the sense of the meeting in the terse observation, “Well, I’ll be ——!”  43
  IN the early afternoon of the day that had begun for them so disastrously, a little council of war was held by the vanquished in Mrs. Mortimer’s apartment. In a general way, the council was swayed by a common motive; but its several members contemplated this motive through the media of widely different moods.
  Mrs. Mortimer, sitting with her back to the carefully adjusted light, apparently was none the worse for her late hours; and she was by no means cast down by the defeat that she had witnessed but in which she had not precisely shared. Her net loss, after all, was only half the cost of the little supper; and she was not by any means certain that this loss was absolute—rather was she inclined to look upon it in the light of an investment. Marques or no Marques, the Spanish gentleman had commended himself heartily to her good graces by his obviously masterful qualities in the acquisition of property. Mrs. Mortimer had seen too much of the world to be dazzled by a title: that which inspired her respect and won her esteem was substantial wealth—and her liberal spirit held her high above all petty and trivial objections to the manner in which the wealth was acquired. That it actually existed was quite enough for her. She was absolutely indifferent, therefore, as to whether the Marques de Valdeflores possessed large hereditary estates in Spain or large hereditary skill in playing games of so-called chance. In either case the result practically was the same: he was a man of substance, with whom the most friendly relations eminently were to be desired. She had observed also with pleasure that his caution was equal to his skill. Although herself the sufferer by it, she had commended him rather than blamed him for his intelligent division of their joint winnings. On the face of it, this division had been characterized by a magnificent generosity; but no one knew better than she did that the generosity was more apparent than real. Before retiring, she had used twelve hundred dollars’ worth of Colonel Withersby’s paper in crimping her hair, and carelessly had thrown the remainder of these valuable securities into her waste-paper basket. Some disagreeable reflections, it is true, had attended her prodigal use of the impotentiality of wealth that the Marques had lavished upon her; but at the same time, she had been unable to withhold her profound respect for the delicate adroitness that his conduct of this transaction had displayed. His method had nothing coarse about it. It was not bludgeon work: it was the effective finesse of the rapier. Mrs. Mortimer was not a bad hand, in a ladylike way, at rapier practice herself. She felt that could she but ally herself with such a past master of the art as the Marques had proved himself to be, her future would be assured. She came to the council therefore in the spirit of doves and olive branches, with every fibre of her tender being prepared to thrill responsive to the soft phrase of peace. Her proposition was, the Marques having proved himself to be a good deal more than a match for them, that they should cease to regard him as an enemy, and should frankly invite him to be their associate and friend.  45
  In opposition to these peaceful views of Mrs. Mortimer’s, Colonel Withersby—coming to the council with the vigor and in the temper of a giant refreshed with cocktails—was all for war. The Colonel’s pride was wounded; his finer sensibilities were hurt. The very qualities which Mrs. Mortimer most admired in the Marques—his delicate method, his refined skill, his perfect savoir-faire—were precisely the qualities which the Colonel most strongly resented. It was cruelly galling to his self-respect to be conquered with weapons which he perceived were infinitely superior to his own, and which he also perceived were hopelessly beyond his power to use. In the course of his rather remarkably variegated career, Colonel Withersby repeatedly had received what he was wont to describe, in his richly figurative language, as black eyes; but he always had had at least the poor satisfaction of knowing how and why the darkening of his orbs of vision had been achieved. In this case however he did not know how, still less why, his adversary had triumphed over him. Certainly Monsieur Duvent had made no mistakes; save in the matter of unwisely prolonging the play, he himself had made no mistakes; and Mrs. Mortimer, to do her justice, had made all the mistakes expected of her, and even a few to spare. Rarely had three intelligent persons contrived a more effective programme; rarely had such a programme been more exactly carried out. Humanly and logically its results should have been honorable victory attended by substantial spoils. Yet its diabolical and illogical result actually was humiliating disaster attended by substantial loss. Being at the best of times but a heathen, it is not surprising that under these trying circumstances Colonel Withersby raged; nor that raging, he cast his voice for war.  46
  Monsieur Duvent, whose temperament was conservative, rejected the Colonel’s truculent suggestions and ranged himself with Mrs. Mortimer on the side of a profitable peace. Their Spanish friend, he declared, speaking out of the wealth of his experience of the world, evidently was not a Marques: he was one of themselves. It was generally conceded, he continued, that dog ought not to eat dog (Monsieur Duvent expressed this concept, of course, in its French equivalent, les loups ne se mangent pas entre eux); and it was universally admitted that when a feast of this unnatural sort took place, only the dog who did the eating got any real good from it. They themselves, he pointed out,—especially he himself, since his was the capital that the Marques had absorbed,—occupied the position of the other dog, the eaten one. Obviously that position was as unprofitable as it was humiliating. Consequently, he concluded, their rational course in the premises was that which Mrs. Mortimer had indicated: to seek an alliance with this most accomplished person—which should be continued at least until they had mastered the secrets of his superior skill. When they knew as much as he did, said Monsieur Duvent, they could throw him over and have done with him; just at present he knew a great deal more than they, and it was largely to their interest to make him their friend. There was no false pride about Monsieur Duvent. His thirst for professional knowledge was inexhaustible, and he was eager at all times to slake it at any source.  47
  Colonel Withersby was not pleased to find himself in so conspicuous a minority; and he was open, not to say violent, in expressing his displeasure. His was a bold, aggressive nature, and the cocktails wherewith he had refreshed himself had not tended to take any of the fighting spirit out of him. Had he not occupied the trying position of a dependent,—for without the assistance of his friends he would lack sinews for his intended war,—he would have been abusive. Under the existing circumstances he was argumentative. The Spaniard, he admitted, certainly knew a great deal about cards; in that line of gentlemanly amusement, no doubt, it would be well to avoid any further trial of conclusions with him. But when it came to dice the case was different. In throwing dice, the Colonel declared with a sincere immodesty, he had yet to meet the man who could get ahead of him. Let him but have a square chance to settle matters on that basis with the Marques, and all would yet be well. The others, if they did not want to, need not appear in the matter at all. If they would but set him up with a beggarly hundred—merely enough to make a show with—he would ask no more of them. Being thus started, he would go ahead and win the victory alone. And finally, with the most convincing self-imprecations if he didn’t, the Colonel protested that he would divide on the square.  48
  Monsieur Duvent stroked doubtfully his respectable gray mustache. On the one hand he had great confidence in the Colonel’s skill in the manipulation of dice. On the other hand his estimate of the skill of the Marques in all directions was very high. It was altogether probable, he thought, that a man who evidently had made so profound a study of the scientific possibilities of pasteboard had pressed his researches not less deeply into the scientific possibilities of ivory. If he had, then would the Colonel be but as wax in his hands. Therefore Monsieur Duvent hesitated; and with each moment of his hesitation his disposition tended the more strongly to take the ground that he declined to throw good money after bad.  49
  Fortunately for Colonel Withersby, the tender nature of Mrs. Mortimer had not been appealed to in vain. As she herself had said, the Colonel had done her many good turns in the past; and she saw no reason for doubting that he might do her many more good turns in the future—which latter consideration may have been remotely the cause of the flood of kindly intention that now welled up within her gentle breast. She was a pronounced free-trader, and her knowledge of the world assured her that reciprocity could not always be only on one side. Had the Colonel asked her to join him openly in carrying on his campaign against the Marques, she certainly would have refused his request. That would have been asking too much. But the Colonel’s proposal to fight his battle alone—and to divide the spoils in case he should be victorious—put the matter on a basis that enabled her to give free play to the generous dictates of her heart. She therefore added her entreaties to his appeal to Monsieur Duvent for assistance; and even went so far as to offer to join equally with that gentleman in providing the small amount of capital without which the little venture in ivory could not be launched.  50
  Whether or not this liberal offer would have sufficed to overcome Monsieur Duvent’s parsimonious hesitancy, never will be known. At the very moment that he opened his mouth to speak the words which no doubt would have been decisive, there was a knock at the door; then a servant entered bearing a great bunch of magnificent roses—all of which, however, being very full-blown, were somewhat past their prime. An envelope directed to Mrs. Mortimer was attached to this handsome yet slightly equivocal floral tribute. Within the envelope was the card of the Marques de Valdeflores, on which was penciled the request that she would accept the accompanying trifling souvenir of the very agreeable evening that he had passed in her company and in the company of her friends. In the right-hand bottom corner of the card were added the letters P. P. C. In many ways Mrs. Mortimer was not a perfect woman; but among her imperfections was not that of stupidity. As she looked at this bunch of too-full-blown roses, and realized the message that it was intended delicately to convey, the dove-like and olive-branching sentiments departed from her breast—and in their place came sentiments compounded of daggers and bowstrings and very poisonous bowls!  51
  As for Colonel Withersby, having but glanced at the fateful letters on the card that Mrs. Mortimer mutely handed him, he descended to the office of the Casa Napoléon in little more than a single bound. In little more than two bounds he returned to the first floor. Consternation was written upon his expressive face, and also rage. In a sentence that was nothing short of blistering in its intensity, he announced the ruinous fact that the Marques de Valdeflores had sailed at six o’clock that morning on the French steamer, and at that moment must be at least two hundred miles out at sea!  52
  DR. THÉOPHILE had but little to say when Madame told him with triumphal sorrow that the Marques de Valdeflores had paid his bill in full and had departed for his native Spain. Madame’s mixture of sentiments was natural. Her triumph was because her estimate of the financial integrity of the Marques had been justified by the event; her sorrow was because so profitable a patron was gone from the Casa Napoléon. The few words which Dr. Théophile spoke, in his softened French of Guadeloupe, were to the effect that a man was not necessarily a Marques because he happened to pay his bill at a hotel. Madame resented this answer hotly. It was more, she said, than ungenerous: it was heartlessly unjust. She challenged Dr. Théophile to disprove by any evidence save his own miserable suspicions that the Marques was not a Marques; she defied him to do his worst! Dr. Théophile said mildly that he really could not afford the time requisite for abstract research of this nature, and added that he had no worst to do. Madame declared that his reply was inconclusive; an obvious endeavor to evade the question that he himself had raised. Dr. Théophile smiled pleasantly, and answered that as usual, she was quite right.
  Had Madame only known it, she might have called Colonel Withersby as a witness in her behalf; for the Colonel, had he been willing to testify, could have made her triumph over Dr. Théophile complete. Being curious to get down to what he termed the hard-pan in regard to the Marques, he had made an expedition of inquiry to the Spanish consulate on the very day that that nobleman had sailed away.  54
  “Certainly,” said the polite young man who answered his pointed question: “the Marques de Valdeflores had been in New York for nearly a month. His visit had been one of business: to arrange with a firm of American contractors for the building of a tramway in the city of Tarazona. He had completed his business satisfactorily.”  55
  The Colonel’s usual ruddy face whitened a little as he listened to this statement. The tramway project really, then, had been a substantial one after all! This was bitter indeed. But perhaps it was not true; the young man might be only chaffing him. His voice was hoarse, and there was a perceptible break in it as he said, “Honest Injun, now—you’re giving it to me straight?”  56
  The young man looked puzzled. He was by no means familiar with the intricacies of the English language, and his mental translation of these words into literal Spanish did not yield a very intelligible result.  57
  Perceiving the confusion that was caused by his use of a too extreme form of his own vernacular, the Colonel repeated his question in substance in the Spanish tongue: “Of a truth he is a Marques, and rich? There is no mistake?”  58
  The young man perceptibly brightened. “Oh, of a truth there is no mistake, señor,” he answered. “He is a Marques, and enormously rich. To see him you would not think so, perhaps; for his habits are very simple, and he is as modest in his manner as in his dress. You see he has given much of his time to business matters; and he has traveled a great deal.”  59
  Colonel Withersby withdrew from the consulate. His desire for information was more than satisfied: it was satiated. In the relative privacy of the passageway outside the consulate door, his pent-up feelings found vent.  60
  “Traveled, has he?” ejaculated the colonel, with a series of accessory ejaculations of such force that the air immediately around him became perceptibly blue. “Traveled! Well, I should say he had! I’ve traveled a little myself, but I’ll be”—the Colonel here dropped into minor prophecy—“if he hasn’t gone two miles to my one every time!”  61

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