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- Castle Craneycrow - 3/48 -


"No; I remember something, that's all. Bob, I know where I've seen that Italian prince. He was in Rio Janeiro with a big Italian opera company just before I left there for New York."

"What! But he said he'd never been in America," exclaimed Saxondale, wide awake.

"Well, he lied, that's all. I am positive he's the man, and the best proof in the world is the certainty that he remembers me. Of course he denies it, but you know what he said when I first asked him if we had met. He was the tenor in Pagani's opera company, and he sang in several of the big South American cities. They were in Rio Janeiro for weeks, and we lived in the same hotel. There's no mistake about it, old man. This howling swell of to-day was Pagani's tenor, and he was a good one, too. Gad, what a Romeo he was! Imagine him in the part, Bob. Lord, how the women raved about him!"

"I say, Phil, don't be ass enough to tell anybody else about this, even if you're cocksure he's the man. He was doubtless driven to the stage for financial reasons, you know, and it wouldn't be quite right to bring it up now if he has a desire to suppress the truth. Since he has come into the title and estates it might be deuced awkward to have that sort of a past raked up."

"I should say it would be awkward if that part of his past were raked up. He wasn't a Puritan, Bob."

"They are a bit scarce at best."

"He was known in those days as Giovanni Pavesi, and he wasn't in such dire financial straits, either. It was his money that backed the enterprise, and it was common property, undenied by him or anyone else, that the chief object in the speculation was the love of the prima donna, Carmenita Malban. And, Bob, she was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. The story was that she was a countess or something of the sort. Poverty forced her to make use of a glorious voice, and the devil sent Pagani to young Pavesi, who was then a student with some ripping big master, in the hope that he would interest the young man in a scheme to tour South America. It seems that Signorita Malban's beauty set his heart on fire, and he promptly produced the coin to back the enterprise, the only condition being that he was to sing the tenor roles. All this came out in the trial, you know." "The trial! What trial?"

"Giovanni's. Let me think a minute. She was killed on the 29th of March, and he was not arrested until they had virtually convicted one of the chorus men of the murder. Pagani and Pavesi quarrelled, and the former openly accused his 'angel' of the crime. This led to an arrest just as the tenor was getting away on a ship bound for Spain."

"Arrested him for the murder of the woman? On my life, Quentin, you make a serious blunder unless you can prove all this. When did it all happen?"

"Two years ago. Oh, I'm not mistaken about it; it is as clear as sunlight to me now. They took him back and tried him. Members of the troupe swore he had threatened on numerous occasions to kill her if she continued to repulse him. On the night of the murder--it was after the opera--he was heard to threaten her. She defied him, and one of the women in the company testified that he sought to intimidate Malban by placing the point of his stiletto against her white neck. But, in spite of all this, he was acquitted. I was in New York when the trial ended, but I read of the verdict in the press dispatches. Some one killed her, that is certain, and the nasty job was done in her room at the hotel. I heard some of the evidence, and I'll say that I believed he was the guilty man, but I considered him insane when he committed the crime. He loved her to the point of madness, and she would not yield to his passion. It was shown that she loved the chorus singer who was first charged with her murder."

"Ravorelli doesn't look like a murderer," said Lord Bob, stoutly.

"But he remembers seeing me in that courtroom, Bob."

IV

AND THE GIRL, TOO

"Now tell me all about our Italian friend," said Quentin next morning to Lady Frances, who had not lost her frank Americanism when she married Lord Bob, The handsome face of the young prince had been in his thoughts the night before until sleep came, and then there were dreams in which the same face appeared vaguely sinister and foreboding. He had acted on the advice of Lord Bob and had said nothing of the Brazilian experiences.

"Prince Ugo? I supposed that every newspaper in New York had been devoting columns to him. He is to marry an American heiress, and some of the London journals say she is so rich that everybody else looks poor beside her."

"Lucky dog, eh? Everybody admires him, too, it seems. Do you know him, Frances?"

"I've met him a number of times on the continent, but not often in London. He is seldom here, you know. Really, he is quite a charming fellow."

"Yes," laconically. "Are Italian princes as cheap as they used to be? Mary Carrolton got that nasty little one of hers for two hundred thousand, didn't she? This one looks as though he might come a little higher. He's good-looking enough."

"Oh, Ugo is not like the Carrolton investment. You see, this one is vastly rich, and he's no end of a swell in sunny Italy. Really, the match is the best an American girl has made over here in--oh, in centuries, I may say."

"Pocahontas made a fairly decent one, I believe, and so did Frances Thornow; but, to my limited knowledge, I think they are the only satisfactory matches that have been pulled off in the last few centuries. Strange, they both married Englishmen."

"Thank you. You don't like Italian princes, then?"

"Oh, if I could buy a steady, well-broken, tractable one, I'd take him as an investment, perhaps, but I believe, on the whole, I'd rather put the money into a general menagerie like Barnum's or Forepaugh's. You get such a variety of beasts that way, you know."

"Come, now, Phil, your sarcasm is unjust. Prince Ugo is very much of a gentleman, and Bob says he is very clever, too. Did you see much of him last night?"

"I saw him at the club and talked a bit with him. Then I saw him while I slept. He is much better in the club than he is in a dream."

"You dreamed of him last night? He certainly made an impression, then," she said.

"I dreamed I saw him abusing a harmless, overworked and underfed little monkey on the streets of New York."

"How absurd!"

"The monkey wouldn't climb up to the window of my apartment to collect nickels for the vilest hand-organ music a man ever heard, even in a nightmare."

"Phil Quentin, you are manufacturing that dream as you sit here. Wait till you know him better and you will like him."

"His friends, too? One of those chaps looks as if he might throw a bomb with beautiful accuracy--the Laselli duke, I think. Come, now, Frances, you'll admit he's an ugly brute, won't you?"

"Yes, you are quite right, and I can't say that the count impresses me more favorably."

"I'll stake my head the duke's ancestors were brigands or something equally appalling. A couple of poor, foolish American girls elevate them both to the position of money-spenders-in-chief though, I presume, and the newspapers will sizzle."

At dinner that evening the discussion was resumed, all those at the table taking part. The tall young American was plainly prejudiced against the Italian, but his stand was a mystery to all save Lord Bob. Dickey Savage was laboriously non-committal until Lady Jane took sides unequivocally with Quentin. Then he vigorously defended the unlucky prince. Lady Saxondale and Sir James Graham, one of the guests, took pains to place the Italian in the best light possible before the critical American.

"I almost forgot to tell you, Phil," suddenly cried Lady Saxondale, her pretty face beaming with excitement. "The girl he is to marry is an old flame of yours."

"Quite impossible, Lady Frances. I never had a flame."

"But she was, I'm sure."

"Are you a theosophist?" asked Phil, gaily, but he listened nevertheless. Who could she be? It seemed for the moment, as his mind swept backward, that he had possessed a hundred sweethearts. "I've had no sweetheart since I began existence in the present form."

"Good Lord!" ejaculated Dickey, solemnly and impressively.

"I'll bet my soul Frances is right," drawled Lord Bob. "She always is, you know. My boy, if she says you had a sweetheart, you either had one or somebody owes you one. You've never collected, perhaps."

"If he collected them he'd have a harem," observed Mr. Savage, sagely. "He's had so many he can't count 'em."

"I should think it disgusting to count them, Mr. Savage, even if he could," said Lady Jane, severely.


Castle Craneycrow - 3/48

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