Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

The Turquoise Cup, and, the Desert, Page 2

Arthur Cosslett Smith


  They went on silently and soon they came to the Piazza.

  "I don't see her," said the earl; "perhaps she has gone back to thechurch."

  They crossed the Piazza and entered St. Mark's.

  "Not here," said the earl.

  They walked up the south aisle and came to the anteroom of the treasury.Its door was open. They entered what had once been a tower of the oldpalace. The door of the treasury was also open. They went in and foundthe sacristan and a woman. She held the turquoise cup in her hands.

  "Did you buy it, Bobby?" she exclaimed.

  She turned and saw that the earl was not alone.

  "Your grace," he said, "I present you to Lady Nora Daly."

  She bent with a motion half genuflexion, half courtesy, and thenstraightened herself, smiling.

  The cardinal did not notice the obeisance, but he did notice the smile.It seemed to him, as he looked at her, that the treasures of St. Mark's,the jewelled chalices and patens, the agate and crystal vessels, thereliquaries of gold and precious stones, the candlesticks, the twotextus covers of golden cloisonne, and even the turquoise cup itself,turned dull and wan and common by comparison with her beauty.

  "Your eminence," she said, "you must pardon Bobby's _gaucherie_. Hepresented you to me and called you 'your grace.' He forgot, or did notknow, that you are a cardinal--a prince--and that I should have beenpresented to you. Bobby means well, but he is an English peer and aguardsman, so we don't expect much else of Bobby."

  "He has done a very gracious thing today," said the cardinal. "He hasbrought me to you."

  Lady Nora looked up quickly, scenting a compliment, and ready to meetit, but the cardinal's face was so grave and so sincere that herreadiness forsook her and she stood silent.

  The earl seemed to be interested in a crucifix of the eleventh century.

  "While my lord is occupied with the crucifix," said the cardinal, "willyou not walk with me?"

  "Willingly," said Lady Nora, and they went out into the church.

  "My dear lady," said the cardinal, after an interval of silence, "youare entering upon life. You have a position, you have wealth, you haveyouth, you have health, and," with a bow, "you have beauty such as Godgives to His creatures only for good purposes. Some women, like Helen ofTroy and Cleopatra, have used their beauty for evil. Others, like myQueen, Margarita, and like Mary, Queen of the Scots, have held theirbeauty as a trust to be exploited for good, as a power to be exercisedon the side of the powerless."

  "Your eminence," said Lady Nora, "we are now taught in England thatQueen Mary was not altogether proper."

  "She had beauty, had she not?" asked the cardinal.

  "Yes," replied Lady Nora.

  "She was beheaded, was she not?" asked the cardinal.

  "Yes," said Lady Nora, "and by a very plain woman."

  "There you have it!" exclaimed the cardinal. "If Elizabeth had beenbeautiful and Mary plain, Mary would have kept her head. It is sad tosee beautiful women lose their heads. It is sad to see you lose yours."

  "Mine?" exclaimed Lady Nora, and she put her hands up to her hat-pins,to reassure herself.

  "Yes," said the cardinal, "I fear that it is quite gone."

  Lady Nora looked at him with questioning eyes. "Yes," she said, "I musthave lost it, for I do not understand you, and I have not always beendull."

  "My dear lady," said the cardinal, "the Earl of Vauxhall was good enoughto pay me a visit this afternoon."

  "Oh," exclaimed Lady Nora, clapping her hands, "if I only could havebeen behind the curtains! What did he say?"

  "He said," replied the cardinal, "that he had asked you to be his wife."

  "Indeed he has," said Lady Nora, "and so have others."

  "He also said," continued the cardinal, "that you had promised to marryhim when he brought you the turquoise cup."

  "And so I will," said Lady Nora.

  "He proposed to buy the cup," continued the cardinal. "He offered fourthousand pounds, which, he said, was all he had in the world."

  "Good old Bobby!" exclaimed Lady Nora. "That was nice of him, wasn'tit?" and her eyes glistened.

  "Yes," said the cardinal, "that was nice of him; but when I hadexplained how impossible it was to sell the cup he bade me good-by, and,as he was going, said, 'I shall have it. All is fair in love and war.' Ifeared then that he meant to take the cup. Since I have seen you I amcertain of it."

  "What larks!" cried Lady Nora. "Fancy Bobby with a dark lantern, abristly beard, and a red handkerchief about his neck. All burglars arelike that, you know; and then fancy him creeping up the aisle with hisJohnnie--no, his jimmy--and his felt slippers--fancy Bobby in feltslippers--and he reaches the treasury door, and just then the moon comesup and shines through that window and illuminates the key in St. Peter'shand, and Bobby says, 'An omen,' and he takes out his own key-ring andthe first one he tries fits the lock and the door flies open, and Bobbylifts the cup, locks the door, goes down to the steps by the Doge'spalace--no gondola--too late, you know, so he puts the cup in histeeth, takes a header, and swims to the yacht. When he comes alongsidethey hail him, and he comes up the ladder. 'Where's your mistress?' heasks, and they call me, and I come on deck in my pink _saut du lit_, andthere stands Bobby, the water running off him and the cup in his teeth.'There's your bauble,' he says. (Of course he takes the cup out of hismouth when he speaks.) 'And here's your Nora,' I say, and the boatswainpipes all hands aft to witness the marriage ceremony. No, no, youreminence," she laughed, "it's too good to be true. Bobby will neversteal the cup. He has never done anything in all his life but walk downBond Street. He's a love, but he is not energetic."

  "You are doubtless right," said the cardinal, "and my fears are but thetimidity of age; still--"

  The earl joined them. He had just given the sacristan ten pounds, andhad endeavored to treat the gift as a disinterested _pourboire_. He feltthat he had failed; that he had overdone it, and had made himself amarked man. The sacristan followed him--voluble, eulogistic.

  "Tommaso," said the cardinal, "this is the Earl of Vauxhall. He is tohave every privilege, every liberty. He is to be left alone if hedesires it. He is not to be bothered with attendance or suggestions. Hemay use a kodak; he may handle anything in the treasury. You will regardhim as though he were myself."

  Tommaso bowed low. The earl blushed.

  Lady Nora looked at her watch.

  "Five o'clock!" she exclaimed, "and Aunt Molly will be wanting her tea.The launch is at the stairs. Will you come, Bobby? And you, youreminence, will you honor me?"

  "Not to-day, my lady," replied the cardinal, "but perhaps some other."

  "To-morrow?" she asked.

  "Yes," said the cardinal.

  "Thank you," said Lady Nora; "the launch will be at the landing athalf-past four."

  "Is it an electrical contrivance?" asked the cardinal, with a smile.

  "Yes," replied Lady Nora.

  "Then," said the cardinal, "you need not send it. I will come in mybarca. Electricity and the Church are not friendly. We have only justbecome reconciled to steam."

  Lady Nora laughed. "Good-by," she said, "until to-morrow," and again shemade her courtesy.

  "Until to-morrow," said the cardinal; and he watched them down theaisle.

  "Tommaso," he said to the sacristan, "give me the turquoise cup."

  Tommaso handed it to him, silent but wondering.

  "Now lock the door," said the cardinal, "and give me the key."

  Tommaso complied. The cardinal put the cup under his robe and starteddown the aisle.

  "Tommaso," he said, "you are now closed for the annual cleaning. Youunderstand, do you not?"

  "Perfectly, your eminence," replied Tommaso, and then he added--"When astranger gives me two hundred and fifty lire it is time to lock mydoor."

  The cardinal went out of the church, the turquoise cup under hiscassock. He crossed the Piazza slowly, for he was both limping andthinking. He came to the shop of Testolini, the jeweller, und
er theNorth arcade, paused a moment, and entered. The clerks behind thecounters sprang to their feet and bowed low.

  "Signor Testolini?" asked the cardinal; "is he within?"

  "Yes, your eminence," said the head clerk. "He is in his bureau. I willsummon him."

  "No," said the cardinal, "if he is alone I will go in," and he openedthe door at the back of the shop and closed it behind him. In tenminutes he came out again. Signor Testolini followed, rubbing his handsand bowing at each step.

  "Perfectly, your eminence," he said. "I quite understand."

  "It must be in my hands in ten days," said the cardinal.

  "Ten days!" exclaimed Testolini; "impossible."

  "What is that strange word?" said the cardinal; "it must be a vulgarismof New Italy, that 'impossible.' I do not like it and I will thank younot to use it again when speaking to me. In ten days, Signore."

  "Yes, your eminence," said Testolini, "but it will be in the afternoon."

  "In ten days," said the cardinal, very quietly.

  "Yes, your eminence," said Testolini.

  "He looks like Napoleon," whispered the head clerk to his neighbor.

  The cardinal went limping down the shop. He had almost reached the doorwhen he stopped and spoke to a little man who stood behind the show-casein which are the enamels.

  "Ah, Signore!" he exclaimed, "how come on the wife and baby? I meant tosee them this afternoon, but I was diverted. I wish you to continue thesame diet for them--take this"--and he fumbled in his pocket, but drew ablank.

  "Signor Testolini," he said to the master at his heels, "I find I haveno money. Kindly loan me fifty lire. Here," he said to the little man,and he slipped the money into his hand, "plenty of milk for the child;"and he went out of the shop.

  "That was not like Napoleon," said the head clerk; and then he added,"Occasionally one meets with a priest who rises superior to hisprofession."

  The little man behind the enamel counter said nothing, but he drew hishand across his eyes.