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    V. Lady Mount Rhyswicke

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    Chapter 5
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    The four friends of Madame de Vaurigard were borne to her apartment from the Magnifique in Cooley's big car. They sailed triumphantly down and up the hills in a cool and bracing air, under a moon that shone as brightly for them as it had for Caesar, and Mellin's soul was buoyant within him. He thought of Cranston and laughed aloud. What would Cranston say if it could see him in a sixty-horse touring-car, with two millionaires and an English diplomat, brother of an earl, and all on the way to dine with a countess? If Mary Kramer could see him!... Poor Mary Kramer! Poor little Mary Kramer!

    A man-servant took their coats in Madame de Vaurigard's hall, where they could hear through the curtains the sound of one or two voices in cheerful conversation.

    Sneyd held up his hand.

    "Listen," he said. "Shawly, that isn't Lady Mount-Rhyswicke's voice! She couldn't be in Reom--always a Rhyswicke Caws'l for Decembah. By Jev, it is!"

    "Nothin' of the kind," said Pedlow. "I know Lady Mount-Rhyswicke as well as I know you. I started her father in business when he was clerkin' behind a counter in Liverpool. I give him the money to begin on. 'Make good,' says I, 'that's all. Make good!' And he done it, too. Educated his daughter fit fer a princess, married her to Mount-Rhyswicke, and when he died left her ten million dollars if he left her a cent! I know Madge Mount-Rhyswicke and that ain't her voice."

    A peal of silvery laughter rang from the other side of the curtain.

    "They've heard you," said Cooley.

    "An' who could help it?" Madame de Vaurigard herself threw back the curtains. "Who could help hear our great, dear, ole lion? How he roar'!"

    She wore a white velvet "princesse" gown of a fashion which was a shade less than what is called "daring," with a rope of pearls falling from her neck and a diamond star in her dark hair. Standing with one arm uplifted to the curtains, and with the mellow glow of candles and firelight behind her, she was so lovely that both Mellin and Cooley stood breathlessly still until she changed her attitude. This she did only to move toward them, extending a hand to each, letting Cooley seize the right and Mellin the left.

    Each of them was pleased with what he got, particularly Mellin. "The left is nearer the heart," he thought.

    She led them through the curtains, not withdrawing her hands until they entered the salon. She might have led them out of her fifth- story window in that fashion, had she chosen.

    "My two wicked boys!" she laughed tenderly. This also pleased both of them, though each would have preferred to be her only wicked boy --a preference which, perhaps, had something to do with the later events of the evening.

    "Aha! I know you both; before twenty minute' you will be makin' love to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. Behol' those two already! An' they are only ole frien's."

    She pointed to Pedlow and Sneyd. The fat man was shouting at a woman in pink satin, who lounged, half-reclining, among a pile of cushions upon a divan near the fire; Sneyd gallantly bending over her to kiss her hand.

    "It is a very little dinner, you see," continued the hostess, "only seven, but we shall be seven time' happier."

    The seventh person proved to be the Italian, Corni, who had surrendered his seat in Madame de Vaurigard's victoria to Mellin on the Pincio. He presently made his appearance followed by a waiter bearing a tray of glasses filled with a pink liquid, while the Countess led her two wicked boys across the room to present them to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. Already Mellin was forming sentences for his next letter to the Cranston Telegraph: "Lady Mount-Rhyswicke said to me the other evening, while discussing the foreign policy of Great Britain, in Comtesse de Vaurigard's salon..." "An English peeress of pronounced literary acumen has been giving me rather confidentially her opinion of our American poets..."

    The inspiration of these promising fragments was a large, weary- looking person, with no lack of powdered shoulder above her pink bodice and a profusion of "undulated" hair of so decided a blond that it might have been suspected that the decision had lain with the lady herself.

    "Howjdo," she said languidly, when Mellin's name was pronounced to her. "There's a man behind you tryin' to give you something to drink."

    "Who was it said these were Martinis?" snorted Pedlow. "They've got perfumery in 'em."

    "Ah, what a bad lion it is!" Madame de Vaurigard lifted both hands in mock horror. "Roar, lion, roar!" she cried. "An' think of the emotion of our good Cavaliere Corni, who have come an hour early jus' to make them for us! I ask Monsieur Mellin if it is not good."

    "And I'll leave it to Cooley," said Pedlow. "If he can drink all of his I'll eat crow!"

    Thus challenged, the two young men smilingly accepted glasses from the waiter, and lifted them on high.

    "Same toast," said Cooley. "Queen!"

    "A la belle Marquise!"

    Gallantly they drained the glasses at a gulp, and Madame de Vaurigard clapped her hands.

    "Bravo!" she cried. "You see? Corni and I, we win."

    "Look at their faces!" said Mr. Pedlow, tactlessly drawing attention to what was, for the moment, an undeniably painful sight. "Don't tell me an Italian knows how to make a good Martini!"

    Mellin profoundly agreed, but, as he joined the small procession to the Countess' dinner-table, he was certain that an Italian at least knew how to make a strong one.

    The light in the dining-room was provided by six heavily-shaded candles on the table; the latter decorated with delicate lines of orchids. The chairs were large and comfortable, covered with tapestry; the glass was old Venetian, and the servants, moving like useful ghosts in the shadow outside the circle of mellow light, were particularly efficient in the matter of keeping the wine- glasses full. Madame de Vaurigard had put Pedlow on her right, Cooley on her left, with Mellin directly opposite her, next to Lady Mount-Rhyswicke. Mellin was pleased, because he thought he would have the Countess's face toward him. Anything would have pleased him just then.

    "This is the kind of table everybody ought to have," he observed to the party in general, as he finished his first glass of champagne. "I'm going to have it like this at my place in the States--if I ever decide to go back. I'll have six separate candlesticks like this, not a candelabrum, and that will be the only light in the room. And I'll never have anything but orchids on my table--"

    "For my part," Lady Mount-Rhyswicke interrupted in the loud, tired monotone which seemed to be her only manner of speaking, "I like more light. I like all the light that's goin'."

    "If Lady Mount-Rhyswicke sat at my table," returned Mellin dashingly, "I should wish all the light in the world to shine upon so happy an event."

    "Hear the man!" she drawled. "He's proposing to me. Thinks I'm a widow."

    There was a chorus of laughter, over which rose the bellow of Mr. Pedlow.

    "'He's game!' she says--and ain't he?"

    Across the table Madame de Vaurigard's eyes met Mellin's with a mocking intelligence so complete that he caught her message without need of the words she noiselessly formed with her lips: "I tol' you you would be making love to her!"

    He laughed joyously in answer. Why shouldn't he flirt with Lady Mount-Rhyswicke? He was thoroughly happy; his Helene, his belle Marquise, sat across the table from him sending messages to him with her eyes. He adored her, but he liked Lady Mount-Rhyswicke --he liked everybody and everything in the world. He liked Pedlow particularly, and it no longer troubled him that the fat man should be a friend of Madame de Vaurigard. Pedlow was a "character" and a wit as well. Mellin laughed heartily at everything the Honorable Chandler Pedlow said.

    "This is life," remarked the young man to his fair neighbor.

    "What is? Sittin' round a table, eatin' and drinkin'?"

    "Ah, lovely skeptic!" She looked at him strangely, but he continued with growing enthusiasm: "I mean to sit at such a table as this, with such a chef, with such wines--to know one crowded hour like this is to live! Not a thing is missing; all this swagger furniture, the rich atmosphere of smartness about the whole place; best of all, the company. It's a great thing to have the real people around you, the right sort, you know, socially; people you'd ask to your own table at home. There are only seven, but every one distingue, every one--"

    She leaned both elbows on the table with her hands palm to palm, and, resting her cheek against the back of her left hand, looked at him steadily.

    "And you--are you distinguished, too?"

    "Oh, I wouldn't be much known over here," he said modestly.

    "Do you write poetry?"

    "Oh, not professionally, though it is published. I suppose"--he sipped his champagne with his head a little to one side as though judging its quality--"I suppose I 've been more or less a dilettante. I've knocked about the world a good bit."

    "Helene says you're one of these leisure American billionaires like Mr. Cooley there," she said in her tired voice.

    "Oh, none of us are really quite billionaires." He laughed deprecatingly.

    "No, I suppose not--not really. Go on and tell me some more about life and this distinguished company."

    "Hey, folks!" Mr. Pedlow's roar broke in upon this dialogue. "You two are gittin' mighty thick over there. We're drinking a toast, and you'll have to break away long enough to join in."

    "Queen! That's what she is!" shouted Cooley.

    Mellin lifted his glass with the others and drank to Madame de Vaurigard, but the woman at his side did not change her attitude and continued to sit with her elbows on the table, her cheek on the back of her hand, watching him thoughtfully.
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